It Takes Two to Tango

Not a real headline: may contain traces of Photoshop. The cat is called Wadsworth.

[This post was originally published in March 2013 on the blog of Stubble & Glasses, which sadly no longer exists.]

“Average [English] man has 9 sexual partners in lifetime, women have 4”
The Telegraph, 15th December 2011

I see a headline like the above every so often, and when confronted with such a significant finding (or any finding, or really just any number) the first thing I do is apply a sense-check. In this case, the result clearly makes no sense.

It takes two to tango

Imagine all men are on one team, all women on another, and the two teams are playing a very long, inadvisable, and poorly-thought-through game to see who can get the highest average number of sexual partners from the other team. The big problem is this: any time one team ‘scores a point’, shall we say, the other team necessarily gets a point too.

Since we also know there are roughly the same number of women as men, the game is always going to result in a tie: with each team fielding the same number of players and each team getting the same number of points, the average score has to come out the same. Cracked helpfully have some diagrams demonstrating this just in case you’re not sure.

So, the sense-check failed. Let’s understand this discrepancy, while keeping things completely Safe For Work.

Fix 1: Confirm figures at source

The Telegraph provided a citation. There, we find that the methodology is fairly standard, and that more specifically the figures are actually Men 9.3, Women 4.7. This means the male team is claiming a 98% higher score than the female (rather than the more dramatic original figure of 9 to 4, or a 125% more), but this is still a long way beyond the expected 0% difference.

Fix 2: Check assumptions

There’s one major assumption in the sense-check which you probably noticed already: that the figures quoted are for heterosexual pairings only. Fortunately (for the purposes of this analysis) according to the original study, they are.

Fix 3: Estimate loopholes

There’s a major loophole with the argument that the game should result in a tie: this is technically only true if we’re considering the entire viable population of the world. This particular survey only applies to England, so we should consider what we might call ‘away games’.

In the absence of data, let’s just make a rough guess and see where it gets us. What if 1 in 10 of the men’s scores came from away games, and only 1 in 20 for the women? (Of course, this is going to bias the figures the other way for the rest of the world, and the real figure might even be reversed – we’re just trying to get a feel for how much of the discrepancy this might explain).

Well, applying those adjustments would leave the men with an 87% higher score, at 8.4 to 4.5.

Fix 4: Allow for subjectivity

There is no referee in this game, which means there’s a certain amount of… interpretation as to what really counts. This could prove a highly diverting side-track if you were discussing this in the pub, but for now let’s just imagine men might overstate the case 5% of the time, and women might understate 5% of the time. This takes the score to 8.0 : 4.7, with the men down to a 70% claimed lead.

Fix 5: Misreporting due to societal pressure

Having corrected for any major discrepancies arising from the methodology, we’re left with one major problem:people lie. So, perhaps men are tempted to exaggerate and women to down-play their actual scores when it comes to number of sexual partners.

They say you should divide a man’s claim in this area by three, and multiply a woman’s by two – this overcorrects for the data we’re considering, but perhaps that’s because people are slightly more honest in a survey than in the casual conversation this rule of thumb is probably meant to apply to.

Fortunately, a widely reported study was carried out on exactly this effect. Men and women were asked this same question, but in different settings. Some were told a researcher may look at their answers, raising fear of social judgement. Others were hooked up to a (fake) polygraph machine, creating pressure to be more honest. (If you’re interested, check out the original paper here).

Women reported 2.6 partners when worried someone would look at the answer, but 4.4 under a fake polygraph. Men reported 3.7, but this went up to 4.0 under the fake polygraph. Ah-ha!

This is interesting because it suggests both men and women down-play their actual figure, but most of the discrepancy is coming from the women. If we apply these corrections to our estimated figures so far, we have men at 8.4, women at 8.0 – much closer.

Unfortunately the study was small (with just 200 participants answering this question), so while these particular results are suggestive, the researchers concede that they are not statistically significant. (As with any emotionally charged research subject, this didn’t stop the media reporting on the result as an established fact).

If you want to get technical about it

As well as being small, that study was only conducted on college students aged 18-25 in the US, who one would frankly hope behave somewhat differently to the general population of England.

Even in the original more robust English data set, there are some fascinatingly subtle problems. Sexual behaviour will change over decades (some of which is covered in the study), and the extent to which people lie about it will also presumably vary significantly by age. In combination with the fact that men and women have different life expectancies, and that cohorts by age group are not actually equal, this introduces some additional distortions to our assumption that we should see a tie – although a few quick calculations suggest these effects are likely to be smaller in magnitude than those we estimated above.

Okay but what’s the actual answer

This excellent paper goes beyond aggregated data to study the distribution of responses, and convincingly finds an explanation. It turns out that the discrepancy is driven primarily by those claiming over 20 sexual partners, because these rare-but-average-biasing individuals evidently round their score (which they may have difficulty remembering accurately) in the direction they deem to be more in keeping with society’s expectations – so men round up and women round down.

In Conclusion

If you skipped straight here, you should know that you missed some fun stuff where we talked about some subtle issues with the parity assumption, and you probably didn’t notice that that compelling-looking chart was actually not statistically significant. But if you just want the two-line answer, it’s this:

The overall average number of heterosexual partners has to be almost identical for men and women. The discrepancy found in studies like this arises primarily due to people with >20 partners rounding the figure they report, which they probably can’t remember exactly, up (for men) or down (for women), in response to perceived societal pressure.

More practically, always sense-check your data, especially if it’s self-reported and on a sensitive subject. And if you can’t make sense of the data, ask an analyst.

–        Tim Mannveille


S&G Summer Games Day – Puzzles & Polaroids at the British Museum

[This post was originally published in September 2012 on the blog of Stubble & Glasses, which sadly no longer exists.]

By day I’m a Senior Analyst at Stubble & Glasses, but outside of work you’re most likely to find me making tabletop/party/pervasive games as part of Octopus Fruitbat. So when S&G wanted a game-based away-day, Octopus Fruitbat was asked to come up with something.

We knew we wanted something that involved getting everyone out of the office, that encouraged teamwork, and that gave everyone a feeling of achievement at the end.

The game we came up with combined elements from a few others Octopus Fruitbat had run in the past:

  • The game would be set in the British Museum
  • Teams would first solve British-Museum-themed-puzzles
  • The solution to each puzzle would be a room number
  • In that room, the team would take an instant photo with a Fuji Instax camera…
  • … and the photo had to feature the team executing one of the given creative challenges (things like ‘a scene from a fairy tale’)
  • Points were awarded for correct room numbers and creative challenges successfully met
  • Bonus points were awarded for photos that combined elements of the room with the creative challenge, or that were just plain awesome

As a games designer and analyst, I’m particularly interested in the way teams are structured and balanced, and in this case I had a lot of data to work with – individual preferences for team-mates, relative strength in puzzles vs creativity, teamworking style, and competitiveness. Based on this, I had to come up with three evenly-matched teams of 4 (which is actually much harder than, say, eight teams of 5).

On the day, each team member was secretly told their team’s greeting (high-five, fist-bump, or shake-hands), and they then attempted their greetings with one another until they discovered their team-mates. I’m going to crudely caricature each team as follows:

  • Team High-Five: The Extroverts
  • Team Fist-Bump: A mini version of Stubble & Glasses (Director, PA, Tech, Analyst)
  • Team Shake-Hands: The Introverts

Who would win?

Team Fist-Bump / Mini-S&G ran into some trouble with a couple of the puzzles, which ultimately put them out of the running – but they did produce my favourite photo from the whole day, the world’s most epic fist-bump:

So it came down to Introverts vs Extroverts:

It was close, with a single point separating the two in the final reckoning, but with their commitment for some particularly insane/ambitious photos, the extroverts clinched it:

The winning team won cupcakes, but special (chocolate) gold medals were awarded for individual achievement, such as Benexecuting a perfect photobomb:

What did we learn?

The format seemed to be successful – everyone really did get to contribute something, and every team had quite a few photos they could be proud of. And actually, team Mini-S&G were only one point behind the Introverts in the end, so the team balancing seemed to work.

But what should we do next time? Given an almost entirely flawless performance in puzzles (as we might have expected from a bunch of analysts), and with photo creativity now well tested, perhaps it’s time for something else entirely…

Tim Mannveille (@metatim), writing as part of @OctopusFruitbat


Smash Cops Heat: Guide to achieving 150/150 stars

[Full disclosure: I posted this guide in August 2013. As of January 2014, I have started working for Hutch Games, partly because I loved this game so much. I’m not working on Smash Cops Heat, but I feel I should explicitly state that I’m leaving this post exactly as I originally wrote it.]

I also reviewed Smash Cops Heat here.

Smash Cops Heat can get quite tricky in the later stages of the game, and getting 150/150 stars is especially challenging. I didn’t see any advice online for the later stages of the game, so now I’ve achieved 150/150 stars I figured it would be worth sharing my tips and level strategies for anyone out there that’s having trouble!

First, one big caveat: Hutch are evidently improving and tweaking the game quite often. Over three months, I’m pretty sure the duration of a Supercop changed twice (and the power of an Instaram probably changed as well). As such, the precise number of power-ups you need to use may well differ from those I list below, depending on which version you have. Also, of course, it’s entirely possible you’ll be more skilled than me, in which case you won’t need as many!

Difficulty curve: the three phases
My playthrough experience of Smash Cops Heat had three very distinct phases, with the difficulty curve changing quite steeply with each one. These were as follows:

  1. Progress all the way up to ~119 stars (out of a total of 30 levels x 5 stars = 150) was steady and smooth, with no need for Instarams or Supercops
  2. Getting from 119 to 135 stars (to unlock the Guardian) was much harder, requiring strategic use of Instarams and Supercops on some levels and/or a lot of focus on learning felon routes
  3. The Guardian enables you to relatively easily ‘complete’ the game, getting at least 1 star on each level. At that point, the game points out you should really try to get5 stars on every level. If you want to achieve this, you’ll find the difficulty level escalates again, requiring more Instarams and Supercops, a lot of route learning, and a deeper understanding of exactly how the game calculates damage.

Even for the final stage, I got by using only the Instarams and Supercops given for free once a day. Someone less patient than me might prefer to buy them though, as my complete playthrough took about 2 months playing a little each day, and I practiced some of the later levels extensively to find out the smallest number of power-ups possible. Alternatively, someone more skilled than me might need fewer of these power-ups to begin with!

Guide and Tips
There are two things that can help you out if you’re struggling with the game: specific strategies for levels, and general tactics or tips about game mechanics. Figuring these out is a big part of the fun though, so to reduce the potential for spoilers, I’ll list both level guides and general tips in the order I needed to discover them. That way, if you’re stuck, you’ll hopefully find the one bit of advice you need by working your way down this post.

Phase 1: The quest for the Reaper

Getting the first ~119 stars and unlocking the Reaper (by collecting 20 donuts) is the first and easiest phase of the playthrough. I didn’t find I needed to use Instarams or Supercops, although they could have saved me some time on a few of the more challenging levels. That said, there’s still a few useful things to figure out on this part of the journey.

Tip #1: You don’t need to use a RAM to cause a Smash
The game heavily encourages you to damage the felons by ramming them from the side or front, which results in a satisfying slow-mo ‘Smash’. This is indeed a great way to deal damage while sustaining relatively little yourself.

However, it’s not the only way. In levels with time pressure, it’s useful to know you can also create a Smash by colliding with the felon front or side with a high closing speed – most easily, by getting in front of them and then turning around to collide head-on. In a level with a whole series of felons in a row, if you can get ahead of the pack, you can Smash each one sequentially as they attempt to drive past you. The slow-mo generated by a Smash helps you manoeuvre to pull this off.

Tip #2: Focus on the end of level report
To  get a full 5 stars for a level, you need to achieve a gold ranking for time, health, and suspects arrested (with one notable exception that I’ll get to later). By paying attention to this report, you can get an idea of how to improve your strategy to get the full 5 stars. If you’re really struggling, you might have to figure out the exact criteria for achieving gold by trial and error, so you know just how much you can compromise on the easiest criteria in order to achieve the hardest. For the levels I struggled with, I list below what I was able to work out about the exact criteria needed. Do note, though, that these might also change with future updates of the game.

Tip #3: Get the donuts
For me, the balance of skill required vs vehicle unlocked played out perfectly until around 110 stars. By this point I had the incredibly fast Raptor (unlocked at 105 stars), but was really struggling to get the additional stars to unlock the Sabre (unlocked at 120 stars). Then, even with the Sabre, it becomes extremely hard to get the additional 15 stars needed to unlock the mighty Guardian.

I assume this was deliberate, because this is exactly where the Reaper comes in. Unlike any other vehicle, you can get the Reaper once you’ve got 20 donuts.  The Reaper is very fast and strong, but has a huge tendency to drift – which actually makes it a lot of fun to master. I didn’t get anywhere with the Sabre at all – I used the Reaper pretty much all the way in order to unlock the Guardian. So, collect those donuts and unlock the Reaper as soon as you can!

Tip #4: Donut strategies
Of course, you have to find the donut pieces first. Although the potential for going off-route is high, I found the donuts were only ever just off the path you would naturally follow to complete the level, and in the majority of cases can be spotted just by keeping your eyes peeled.

Each level holds 3 donut pieces. The good news is that if you find any piece and then successfully complete the level, that piece will be locked and you’ll never have to pick it up again. The bad news is you do have to actually complete the level, and in some cases this is pretty tough (especially level 20). For those levels, you have to focus on picking up one donut piece in any given playthrough, and you might even want to use a Supercop to help you take the diversion necessary and still qualify (although I didn’t find this was necessary for any of the levels, even the later ones).

Once you have the Reaper, it’s not too hard to reach ~119 stars without using any power ups.

Phase 2: The quest for the Guardian

Pushing through to 135 stars is quite tough. I found that where before I could complete a few levels and net 5-15 stars per playing session (of about 10-20 minutes), at this stage it became more like just 1-3. There were a few levels where this took some extra effort, so I’ll list my tips for those here.

By the way, if you’ve enjoyed the game so far, this would be a good point to show your appreciation by buying a different skin for the cars! That’s what I did, anyway, and I appreciated the variety it added to the experience.

Level 20: Transfer high profile prisoner across town
Once you have the Reaper, this isn’t too bad – the important thing to note is that you’ll need to take out 3 suspects along the way to get the full 5 stars.

Level 22: Pursue and arrest the two stolen security trucks
This was the first level I encountered where it was really tough to get gold for all 3 criteria. Based on the best I did when getting silver, and the worst I did when getting gold, achieving gold needs the following:

Time: Between 1’33” and 1’35”
Health: Between 72 and 80
Felons:  You have to get both the security trucks and the green vehicle!

What makes this particularly hard is that the location of the green vehicle isn’t indicated with an arrow. It’s also quite tough to eliminate all three felons without sustaining too much damage yourself. In the end, I found that using the Reaper I needed one Instaram to take out the green vehicle, and simple route memorisation was enough to do the rest.

Level 23: Pursue and arrest the three mafia suspects
Despite initially seeming difficult, I ultimately found I could complete this level using the Reaper without any power ups – it just took a lot more route-learning and practice than earlier levels. Criteria for gold are:

Time: At least within 37″
Health: Between 81 and 76
Felons:  All 3

The most important strategy to use was the one I mentioned earlier – getting ahead of all three felons, then turning around, ramming the first, and then just colliding into the next two as they drive towards you. While they’re all recovering, you have enough time to turn around and get ahead (provided you know the route they’re going to take) in order to repeat the manoeuvre when your RAM recharges.

Level 24: Collect all the evidence in time and take out suspects
This is tough because you have to be quick, but also take down 5 suspects while sustaining very little damage yourself. After trying a few different strategies, it seemed to me the only way was to make use of two supercop powerups.

Criteria for gold are:
Time: Between 1’11” and 1’12”
Health: Between 72 and 78
Felons: 5

Fortunately, the gang of felons is ready to set upon you right at the start. I used the Reaper, and I started by using a couple of Supercops to take out the requisite 5 felons immediately (making sure to count them carefully), then set off to collect all the evidence in a roughly circular route, starting with the piece that’s immediately towards the right from the starting position.

This is still quite tough to pull off, so I practiced quite a bit first: taking out the felons without any Supercops, and speed-running the route a few times. This way I could make sure those Supercops weren’t wasted when I did deploy them. Even then I only got it on my fifth try, so burned through 10 Supercops in total.

Level 26: Pursue and arrest the two chop shop suspects
The speed and route taken by the felons make this level a bit of a challenge. I used the Reaper, and once I learned the route, I still needed one Instaram to make all the gold criteria, which are as follows:

Time: Between 1’02” and 1’17”
Health: 81 was sufficient
Felons:  2

Beyond standard route learning, this one required a bit more planning and figuring out shortcuts to get ahead of the felons. For example, at the start, I didn’t follow the suspects down the alley they turn left into but instead went straight on to take the next left and intercept them both as they emerge. This same trick can then be repeated along their route. Even then, as I mentioned above, it took one Instaram to make sure I took them out in time and without sustaining too much damage myself.

Tip #5: Damage calculation
To progress beyond this point, it’s really useful to know a bit more about how damage is calculated in the game so you can apply it for maximum advantage.

I studied physics, so at the back of my mind I had this idea that in a collision, the closing speed of the two vehicles was the most important factor, and they would both encounter a roughly equal force that would cause about equal damage to each. Granted, there will be differences based on the exact point of collision and the structure of the two cars – one car driving into the side of another will probably fare better, for example – but in general both should take some damage, a bit like this:

In practice, that’s clearly not the case in Smash Cops Heat. The game explicitly lists tiered levels of ‘ATTACK’ and ‘HEALTH’ as characteristics that vehicles possess, so we could assume a vehicle with a high Attack crashing into one with low health will deal out a significant percentage of damage while taking relatively little itself – but experimenting in the game suggests there’s actually more to it than that.

From what I can tell, in any collision there are separate damage calculations for each vehicle. You as the cop will damage the felonious vehicle in proportion to your absolute speed towards it at the moment of impact. This impact will be boosted if your vehicle has a high attack stat, and will do a higher percentage of damage to the felon if they have a lower health stat.

Meanwhile, the same logic applies in reverse. Your vehicle will suffer damage in proportion to the speed of the felon towards you, again boosted by their attack and your health stats.

What this means in practice

This is particularly important in levels where you have to take out a large number of tough felons while sustaining very little damage yourself. In particular, if you Ram a tough felon head-on, while they are driving at full speed towards you, you will take noticeable damage. Over the course of the level, this can add up and easily put you below the ~80 or so health you’ll need to get gold.

So in those kind of levels, you’ll need to focus on ramming felons when they have a relatively slow speed coming towards you. This is most easily done when they’re turning a corner, but it’s also very advantageous to ram them while they are briefly stationary immediately after righting themselves after a successful smash. While this is very unlikely to cause another smash, it should still do a good deal of damage while you suffer none yourself, and is especially useful if time constraints are tight.

Level 27: Pursue and arrest the four race drivers
This is pretty much the definitive level for the strategy of getting ahead of the pack, then ramming them all in sequence as they approach you. It took some practice, but in the end I achieved 5 stars using the Reaper without using any power-ups.

Time: Between 1’12” and 1’40” (when I eventually made it, I did so by a big margin!)
Health: between 70 and 79
Felons:  4

The first 15 seconds of this level are crucial. I wait briefly for the other cop to pass on the left, then take the immediate left turn and follow around to the right in order to intercept the felons head on. Having smashed them all (ideally as they’re all cornering, as per Tip #5 above), it’s possible to quickly get ahead and repeat the process on the next bend. At this point you should be able to quickly finish off one or maybe two of them, before going on to chase the rest down. If you’ve learned their route and take some shortcuts, you can take them all out before any of them even cross the bridge.

That said, I think I got pretty lucky on the playthrough in which I eventually achieved 5 stars, and that was after a lot of practice. It would probably help a lot to use a Supercop or two near the start to reduce the need for so much trial and error.

Level 28: Smash away the offensive protest signs
This level is very different to any of the others, and is a lot of fun. In terms of achieving 5 stars, the biggest difference is that you don’t need to get a gold for speed. This is because the difference between a bronze and gold for speed is just 400 points, whereas you get 100 points for every sign you smash. As such, the only real criteria for 5 stars is this:

Smash between 193 and 204 signs.

Naturally, you’ll want to use the Raptor – it’s very hard to even qualify without it. Given the above, the key strategy is to swerve all over the road to take out as many signs as possible, while still making it to the end in time. But also be aware that there’s some street furniture which is easy to mistake for signs, so try not to waste time smashing into that.

Timing of Rams is crucial – it’s tempting to use one to get a jump-start at the beginning, but I found that didn’t work out so well. It’s pretty much essential to use a RAM to help quickly get around the sharp corner towards the end.

It took quite a bit of practice, but in the end I got 5 stars without any power ups. It’s possible that a Supercop or two would make this slightly easier, since they increase your speed.

Unlocking the Guardian

By this point you should have been able to unlock access to the final levels. It’s very hard to get more than one or at most two stars on these without the Guardian – although those stars are still useful of course for helping you edge closer to unlocking it. Level 31 is just fine with the Reaper though, so I’ll cover that as the last part of this section.

Level 31: Destroy as many containers as you can
In the first instance, it’s quite easy to get a few stars out of this level just by avoiding the felons and smashing all the containers you can find. Getting 5 stars is quite tough though, and I used the Reaper and one Supercop to do so.

Time: At least within 1’59”
Health: between 71 and 83
Containers:  All 12

What makes this level hard is the three very tough felons, who make it very difficult to finish with sufficient health to get gold. The advantage is that they won’t start to chase you until you go near them. Because of that, I went with a strategy of smashing all the unguarded containers first, then smashing the guarded ones in quick succession to reduce the likelihood of being damaged before getting them all. Unfortunately, one container is placed in a cramped corner where it’s difficult to avoid getting hit – this is where I used the Supercop.

What’s critical therefore is the route that you take. I drew my own crummy little map of every container and felon and planned my route out based on that, and I found this worked pretty well. I’m not about to share that map here, because I’d be embarrassed, and also, I don’t want to take away the fun of making a map from you. I mean, how often do you have to do that in game these days? It’s proper old-school!

Phase 3: The quest for 150 stars

Given the above, you should now have unlocked the Guardian. It should be pretty easy to finish off the remaining levels with at least one star and technically ‘complete’ the game. But of course what you want to do now is get a full 5 stars for every level. This is going to take even more practice and power-ups than the previous levels – but is eminently possible. Here’s how I did it.

Tip #6: Get the rest of the donuts anyway
Even though you don’t need them for anything, I found it really beneficial to hunt down the remaining donut pieces using the Guardian.  This turned out to be a great way to get used to its handling, learn a bit about the pathing on the final levels, and practice taking out the felons. As such it provided an achievable-yet-challenging objective that’s not quite as hard as getting the last stars.

Level 29: Stop the three runaway carnival floats
The difficult part here it taking out all three floats quickly enough, as they’re quite fast and wily. I did it using the Guardian, but had to use 5 supercops and 4 instarams to take them out quickly enough while sustaining little damage!

Time: Between 2’01” and 2’04”
Health: 85 was enough
Suspects:  All 3

Routing and order is crucial to finish within the gold time. Here’s what worked for me. Start by turning immediately left, then turning into the 3rd parking lane (the one before the end) and ramming the head of the hilarious runaway monster float. Turn straight back on yourself and you should be able to run into the float’s body coming up behind you. Now, you can alternate back and forth between the head and body Ramming, Instaramming, or just driving into each one in turn. If you’re lucky (or very skilled) you can even have them run into each other.

Eventually they’ll manage to slip past (they are wily, after all). At this point, focus on the head – you should be able to eliminate it with a few more rams. If you’ve done this quickly enough, you should now be well placed to intercept the already-weakened body along its route, and take that out with a few more rams.

Finally you just have to hunt down the tail. Remember damage calculation as described above – it’s advantageous once you’ve smashed it to quickly get distance then drive into it again, even without a ram of any kind. This way you should be able to keep it pinned and finish it off pretty quickly.

I practiced the above route quite a bit without using any power ups, until I could do it reliably – but I’d always end up with at most 20 health. I then played it seriously, deploying a bunch of Supercops each time I was attacking a float, and instarams from time to time. I used a total of 5 Supercops and 4 Instarams, and got the five stars right away.

Level 30: Get to the picket line and arrest anyone in your way
This level took me more practice and attempts than any other, and is where I finally needed to figure out the damage calculation (as described above). You can snag 2 stars using the Raptor and just dodging all the cement mixers on your way to the finish, which is pretty fun, but to get the full five stars, you really do have to arrest anyone in your way. Using the Guardian, I was only able to do it with the help of 5 Supercops and 4 Instarams.

Time: Between 2’04” and 2’11”
Health: Between 93 and 74
Suspects:  All 5!

Damage control is a huge challenge here: even if you use a Ram, if you’re driving into a cement mixer coming towards you at full speed, you’ll take damage. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure you’re either using a Supercop, or ramming them while they’re stationary or turning a corner.

There’s one other good trick here: the cement trucks are slightly faster than the Guardian, so if you’re driving directly away, they’ll creep up behind you and drive into your rear end, nudging you slightly. This gives you a slight boost in speed and slows them down, so if you spin on the spot and ram them at that moment, they’ll be slow enough that you don’t take any damage.

In terms of route, it’s already defined, so it’s just a matter of where you make your stand. After ramming the first truck, I would turn around to drive into it one more time (not causing a Smash, but dealing some free damage), then using the above damage control techniques to slowly take it down while following the route, and finishing it off before reaching the next set of trucks on the bridge.

On the bridge, after ramming through the blockade (it’s possible to hit both with one ram if you’re lucky), there’s just time to turn around and re-ram, drive past, then turn around and hit them again on your way back along the route.

Similarly when you reach the next two trucks you can ram them, then turn around and hit all four of the trucks now on your tail, then turn around and hit them all again on your return to the normal direction of the route.

From this point it’s a matter of continuing along the route and using the damage control methods to whittle them down – keeping careful count of how many are left (I would count down from 5), as you need to make sure you destroy them all.

Finally, in terms of practice, I tried doing all the above without power-ups until I could make it in within gold time and take out all 5 trucks (while sustaining a huge amount of damage). Then I tried properly, replaying until I successfully took out the first truck without any power ups or taking much damage, then using Supercops and Instarams to help with the remaining four. Even then, I burned through pretty much all the Supercops and Instarams I had accrued by this point re-playing it until I finally got the full five stars. Fortunately, you don’t actually need any more after this. (Unless you count the bonus levels!)

Level 32: Stop the five trucks intent on destruction
The final level looks initially almost impossible. You have to take out 5 garbage trucks, all of which are dropping garbage on the road to damage you and slow you down. Fortunately, with the right route, it’s possible to 5 star this with the Guardian without even using any power ups!

Time: Between 2’03” and 2’20”
Health: Between 77 and 72
Suspects:  All 5

Two of the trucks make an immediate right – follow them, ramming the one that’s slightly behind. That one will continue to head off to the right, and you should pursue it and ram it (while the other one splits off) – with a few rams, and charging back into it while it recovers from a ram (as per the damage calculation tip above), you should be able to finish it off quite quickly.

At this point, just following the arrows should allow you to meet the remaining 4 head on and all in a line – a perfect opportunity to ram the first and smash into the others in sequence. Once you become familiar with their route, you can even make sure to do this while they’re cornering and so at their lowest speed, significantly reducing the damage they do to you as you smash into them. You can then take the time to quickly finish one of them off as you did the first.

Once again, if you follow the arrows and get familiar with their route, it’s quite easy to get ahead of the remaining 3 once again all in a line, and as they corner, allowing you to ram and smash them in sequence, and finish one or even two of them off on the spot. From that point it’s quite simple to chase down any left over.

If you’re not done by 2’30”, you may as well start over, since it’s mostly about finding and practicing that initial route. As I mentioned above, if you catch them on the corners, you can do without power-ups entirely, although I imagine using a Supercop at those points would help a lot too.

Well, that’s it! The congratulations message is a little underwhelming, but it’s the achievement that counts.

If you’re on iOS, you could go on to try the next in the series at this point – Smash Bandits.

Bonus Missions
Once you’ve unlocked all the vehicles, 5-starring the bonus missions is pretty easy, with the exception of B2 – “Get to work on time”!

Since it’s all about speed, you’ll naturally want to use the Raptor. However, without using power-ups, my best time was 35.95″ – still a bronze. Using Supercops almost continuously and with instarams used on pretty much every straight, I eventually got gold. Based on my best scoring silver, I can therefore state the gold time is as follows:

Time: Between 31.11″ and 32.34″

So, that’s it. If you have any questions or comments, go ahead and add them below.


[Full disclosure: I posted this guide in August 2013. As of January 2014, I have started working for Hutch Games, partly because I loved this game so much. I’m not working on Smash Cops Heat, but I feel I should explicitly state that I’m leaving this post exactly as I originally wrote it.]


Smash Cops Heat: Post-completion review

[Full disclosure: I posted this review in August 2013. As of January 2014, I have started working for Hutch Games, partly because I loved this game so much. Given the chronology (and lack of influence this blog actually has), you can see that this should be objective review, but I’ll let you be the judge of that!]

Succinct and factual contextual opener: Smash Cops Heat (iOS | Android) is the free-to-play incarnation of the original Smash Cops (iOS only) by Hutch.

The game involves chasing down criminal vehicles and “arresting” them (or as below, cautioning illegally parked cars) by repeatedly ramming them until they blow up. So, the theme is clearly compelling.

In terms of controls, there’s something rather innovative happening: wherever you put your thumb on the screen, your vehicle will try to drive away from it. This leaves your other thumb free to hit the RAM button which will give you a brief burst of speed, which, if you were so moved, you could use to smash into another vehicle to assist with an arrest. And this turns out to be rather brilliant, with a nice learning curve and the potential to develop a lot of skill.

On top of all that, the game is free. Free!

But of course at this point, even if you’ve bought into the above, this freeness does mean some alarm bells start ringing. The criticism levelled at many free-to-play skill games is that as you progress, they try to slowly turn into a ‘pay to win’ game without you noticingby ramping up the difficulty to the point where paid power-ups are the only way to progress.

In theory, Smash Cops Heat is doing exactly this. It does offer you things you can buy to make it a little easier, and ramps up the difficulty with periodic gates to new content. But it’s actually fine. I’ll explain why I think it’s fine later, but first, here’s how the paying bit works.

Things to buy
That RAM button takes a little while to recharge, but at the start of the game you are given a small number of ‘Instarams’, which you use by hitting the RAM button while it is in a recharging state (which is therefore very tempting to do). You’re also given some ‘SuperCops’, deployed by hitting another button, that will make your vehicle practically invincible and a little faster for a short time.

Once per day you are given 4 Instarams and 2 Supercops, and you can of course also buy these power-ups in much larger quantities. So, the scene is set for ‘buy to win’.

Difficulty ramp / gating
When you complete each level you get a star rating out of 5. Later groups of levels are only unlocked when you achieve a certain cumulative total number of stars. But more compellingly, better vehicles are unlocked for achieving certain (different) numbers of stars.

Therefore, if you’re a few stars shy of unlocking a new vehicle, maybe you want to use some Instarams and Supercops to get there, and then the new, better vehicle will let you achieve more stars – and so unlock more levels.

What actually happens
Despite the above, what really matters is just how difficult the levels get (against your own skill at the game), and just how many Instarams and Supercops you need, given that you get a small number for free each day.

To their credit, Hutch have actively been updating and optimising the game: the difficulty curve is pretty smooth (at least for the first 2/3 of the game), and the duration of Supercops and power of Instrams  was even increased by around 50% in an update that came mid-way through my playthrough.

As such, with some effort, I was ultimately able to achieve the maximum star rating for all the levels, without paying for any additional power-ups. The game is therefore definitely not buy-to-win – it’s at least possible, albeit not easy, to do everything without paying.

Incidentally, since I was getting a huge amount of fun out of it, I went ahead and paid for some of the cosmetic upgrades as a way to show appreciation to the developers. In particular, I went for the gold chrome skin, which is twice as expensive as the other skins, but as you can see is much more than twice as good:

Just a standard-issue police Ferrari
The UK version, which being a Brit, I found pretty hilarious
Gold Chrome police Ferrari. If you’re going to arrest people by ramming them until they blow up, this is the best way to do it.

Difficulty curve: the three phases
My playthrough experience had three very distinct phases in which the experience of playing the game was quite different. These were as follows:

  1. Progress all the way up to ~119 stars (out of a total of 30 levels x 5 stars = 150) was steady and smooth, with no need for Instrams or Supercops – so I ended up accruing quite a few due to the daily allowance of these.
  2. Getting from 119 to 135 stars (to unlock the Guardian, which is a, er, police articulated lorry) was much harder, requiring strategic use of a few Instarams and Supercops on some levels and/or a lot of focus on learning felon routes
  3. The Guardian vehicle enables you to relatively easily ‘complete’ the game, getting at least 1 star on each level. At that point, the game points out you should really try to get 5 stars on every level. If you want to achieve this, you’ll find the difficulty level escalates again, requiring many more Instarams and Supercops (pretty much the entire supply I’d built up to this point), a lot of route learning, and a deeper understanding of exactly how the game calculates damage.

As I said, I got by using only the Instarams and Supercops given for free once a day. Someone less patient than me might prefer to buy them – my complete playthrough took about 2 months playing a little each day, and I practiced some of the later levels extensively to find out the smallest number of power-ups possible. Alternatively, someone more skilled than me might need fewer of these power-ups to begin with!

Overall, I’d highly recommend it as one of the best mobile games I’ve played. It involves real skill, has an enjoyable learning curve, and is balanced in such a way that you don’t have to buy the power-ups if you’re prepared to take the time to improve your skills and strategies. Perhaps most importantly, doing so felt like a real achievement (unlike finishing a lot of mobile games), to the point where I feel more proud of these pixels than is sensible:

(I’ve now posted a guide to getting all 150 stars here).


[Full disclosure: I posted this review in August 2013. As of January 2014, I have started working for Hutch Games, partly because I loved this game so much. Given the chronology (and lack of influence this blog actually has), you can see that this should be objective review, but I’ll let you be the judge of that!]