The Guardian’s Blind Date column has been going for over seven and a half years now, but I always struggled to read it. There was something missing — I didn’t just want to peer into these people’s lives and be left feeling bad for them if things hadn’t gone well.

Well the missing thing was The Guyliner’s sort-of reviews, which are brilliant. I only found out about his blog recently and binged a bit on them.

One thing I find interesting is the way the daters’ scores for each other, which are meant to be out of 10, are stuck in a limited range between 7 and 9. (7 being “a gentleman’s one”.)

In a recent entry — which mentions a letter to the Guardian about the limited range of scores used — the two seem to get on really well, want to see each other again but the scores are 7.5 and 8.

To get a bit of perspective on the scoring I went through all of the Blind Date columns from January 31 2009 through October 31 2016. The Guardian’s API makes this easy, although what wasn’t immediately obvious is that you can use subsection paths (such as Blind Date at lifeandstyle/series/blind-date) as an alternative to an imprecise search for the same articles. Use the interactive explorer to see for yourself.

I used a bit of Python to grab all the articles, save them to disk and pull out two things: the score each dater gave their opposite number and whether or not they wanted to see them again.

The data needed cleaning up by hand, usually to parse whether a person wanted to see their opposite number again. This often required a bit of judgement on my part, so it’s not perfect. “Just as friends” counts as a No: only seeming romantic interest gets a Yes. I excluded people who in whatever way refused to answer the scoring question. (This includes “The food was a 10” etc.) I was left with 637 individual responses.

I want to stress two things: the scores are the scorer’s judgement on their date and don’t reflect mutual agreement; answers to the “Would you meet again?” question might be swayed by their partner’s reaction. So, for example, a person might rate their date a 9 but say No to the latter question if their date didn’t seem interested. I wouldn’t worry too much about this for our purposes, but I’m also not claiming this is rigorous work.

So, how frequently do the scores come up?

A bar chart showing the distribution of scores in the Guardian’s Blind Date column.

Dominating the scoring are 8 and 7, with 9 a distant third. 6 and 10 get a look in but only that.

Very few people award less than a 6 — in fact, you’re more likely to get a half-point score between 7 and 9 than a 5.

Overlaid on the grey total bars are red bars, which are daters who would like to meet their partner again. The way 8 dominates the scoring, it’s not surprising that there are more Yes answers to the “meet again” question for 8-awarding daters than any other score.

But what happens when we look at how likely a person wants to see their date again for the score given?

A bar chart showing percentage of people giving a certain score who would like to meet their date again.

Because no-one’s ever awarded less than a 6 and also wanted to see their date again, I’ve limited this plot to scores 6–10. It’s seriously unlikely that someone who awards a 6 wants to see their date again; at 7 it’s not hugely better at about one in four.

7.5 is an interesting score. I was initially tempted to round half-scores but I’m glad I didn’t (though I did round silly scores like 8.9 to the nearest integer). If someone awards a 7.5 they are much more likely to want to see their date again than a straight 7, at just under half the time, but still noticeably less than the rate for 8.

The same can’t be said about 8.5, though, which really is a cautious 9. Someone who gives an 8.5 or 9 is pretty likely to want to see their date again.

More so actually than 10, but I’ve got a theory here: 10 is the refuge for a certain group of people who had a good time but didn’t feel anything for their date. Given the relative rarity of 10, I think it’s enough to bring down the Yes percentage to beneath that for 8.5 & 9.

(We can ignore the 100% Yes rate for 9.5, a score which has only been awarded twice.)

Lessons, then. The real scoring range is 6 to 10, but within that there are only real differences in the fundamental question — Would you meet again? — up to 8.5, after which things level off.

That’s it. I did pick up a few scoring bugbears while doing this, though:

  • “Cute” scores. 6.1, 7.4, 7.75 (twice!). These come up not often but enough that people really should resist.

  • Not answering the scoring question. My favourite was:

    What is this, a baking competition? All I’ll say is “top marks”

    If you can award a numerical score to a cake you can award one to a date.

  • People who say they won’t answer the scoring question because they’re above it but who actually do answer the scoring question:

    That seems rather ungentlemanly, but since you insist, 7.

    The date? 7. Jo? I wouldn’t be so vulgar…

    It’s men that do this. Please stop.

And lastly, our favourite fairly common sort of cop-out answer: spark.

Across the 357 articles I downloaded (a handful of which aren’t actual Blind Date columns), spark is mentioned 45 separate times — about once every eight articles, which is much less frequently than I expected.