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Bamboozle

The Teletext Archaeologist recently updated their site with a set of snapshots from various years of what various channel's teletext service looked like. Which for the purposes of this blog means an opportunity to revisit Bamboozle. But some background on teletext as a whole. Analogue television was transmitted in a series of lines, divided into alternating fields, with each field containing half the number of lines in a picture. However, the transmission included lines that weren't part of the picture - the vertical blanking interval - in between fields. This gave sets enough time to move back to the start of the picture and you could encode information into the vertical blanking interval, which was the basis of the World System Teletext standard. A television set could then decode the signal into a displayable format - For teletext that meant a series of 8 colour pages and by typing in the number of the page you wanted, the television would wait until it was next transmitted - the more pages the channel was transmitting the longer this would take. The standard was that there were 8 'magazines' - indexed with the initial digit 1 through 8, each containing up to 256 pages represented by the hexadecimal numbers 00 through FF, for a theoretical maximum total of 2048 pages. However, since most home users were accessing the pages via standard television remotes, for practical purposes, only 100 pages per magazine were available outside of those used for internal usage. Each page could also have a maximum of four 'fast text' links per page, corresponding to four coloured buttons on the remote - red, green, yellow and blue - which worked as if you'd typed a corresponding page number but without needing to look up the page number on a table of contents. And since they didn't require the user to type the number themselves, any page number could be accessed on home sets, not just the subset of hexadecimal numbers that overlapped with the digits 0-9, allowing for pages that could only be expected to be accessed via fast text, while the user didn't know what page number the option corresponded to. Bamboozle made use of fast text's functionality to present a short multiple-choice quiz - in the May 24th 1994 teletext snapshot, it was of 20 questions. Correct answers progressed you to the next question, incorrect answers sent you - via a commiserations screen - to the last checkpoint. You weren't able to skip to a question, because all the questions, and commiserations screens, were on pages with A through E in them. At the end of the questions, a ranking was available if you were keeping track of how many questions you got right the first time. Could this have been tracked by the game itself given teletext's structure? Sure, technically. Would it have been worth it? Probably not - It would have needed them to instead of giving one bad luck page per checkpoint, plus a page per question, had made 1 page for question 1, 2 for question 2, 3 for question 3, and so forth. For the 20 question format of 1994, that would have required 210 pages for the questions. And the more pages that are being transmitted, the slower teletext became due to it working by the set waiting for the next time a given page is transmitted. By the snapshot from the 13th November 1998, Bamboozle was down to just 12 questions. This, weirdly, improved the game. It became easier to keep track of your score, and teletext could easily take 15-30 seconds to load a page, which meant that even a perfect play of the 20 question format could take over 10 minutes, which given that the checkpoint system could easily double that due to needing to redo questions each time you got one wrong, for the concept of a quick, daily, general knowledge trivia quiz this was a fairly large time investment. The shorter 12 question game was far more reasonable for the technology - The Teletext Archaeologist snapshots work a lot faster than actual Teletext worked, and even there the page loading times start to add up to frustration. Bamboozle, then, was a fun idea implemented on technology that wasn't quite fast enough and didn't have quite enough room (or interactive capability) to implement it to it's fullest. And it was well-loved and is remembered fondly despite its flaws because there really wasn't anything else quite like it in the early 90s - A short daily quiz beamed into your home that you could do at your leisure. And one that became stronger when the amount of content it had shrunk since it wasn't running up to the practical limitations of the format at that point, though I doubt many of us would have acknowledged that at the time of the reduced amount of questions.

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