Larry Hosken: New

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even DC Metro

I am back from Washington DC. I have puzzler gossip. Folks there are organizing a series of afternoon hunts, a la BANG or SNAP or BAPHL. At the start of Washington DC DASH, Todd Etter and Evan Davis intro'd the idea to the crowd. They're looking for a name for this beast. I was going to suggest WAPHL, but then I thought that suggestions would best come from (a) locals and/or (b) people who like waffles more than pancakes if the name's going to be a pun on waffle sheesh. I guess I should write more, but wow I've been awake for a long time today see ya.

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2016-05-05T00:00:52

Photo: nerdy glasses, good griefBroke my glasses; hauled my spare pair out of storage. Can't remember whether I purposefully chose extra-nerdy frames to prompt swift replacement, but that's sure how it's working out.

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2016-04-25T20:48:38

Today I handed out puzzle pieces for Shinteki. If you're a SF-area puzzle nerd, you probably perked up when you read that and though Aw FOMO, I better not have missed a Shinteki event. Settle down: this wasn't a puzzle aimed at puzzle nerds. This was an activity for a TEDx event. There were hundreds of attendees, few of them puzzlers. The idea was that they'd collaborate on solving the puzzle. How do you design a puzzle to be solved by so many people? Now that I've watched the Shinteki folks in action, I have some idea. And I also know that isn't the only tricky part. In real time, they had to figure out which pieces of information to give the players. Players "earned" bits of the puzzle by carrying out tasks. Depending on how confident GC was that someone would solve this beast in time, GC could reward players with bigger or smaller bits of the puzzle. It sounds impossible, but after having watched them in action, I think I have some idea of how to read a crowd's reaction to a puzzle. It was kind of tricky since these weren't puzzlers, though. Some of them sounded pretty baffled, but it was just because they hadn't encountered something like this before. Once you told them they were looking for a secret message, they hunkered down. But some of them stayed baffled. What if they had all stayed baffled? I guess in practice that doesn't really happen for large crowds. Assuming you're not running the puzzle tent at the clueless circus, some members of the audience will pick up on what's going on. It's the law of averages or something.

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2016-04-25T03:25:23

That was an amazingly fun playtest! I am just back from Palace Games, the folks who do the Houdini Escape Room in San Francisco. They're putting the finishing touches on a new room. After we playtested it, Chris the designer walked us through it. I'm glad he did. It had a three-act structure, which I didn't notice while in solving-frenzy, but which was pretty cool in hindsight. There was one team activity which was really cool because redacted redacted redacted oh gee whiz you should play this thing so we can talk about it without spoilering.

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2016-04-21T06:26:18

Worlds Colliding, well, Lightly Brushing anyhow

QuizUp, a trivia quiz app, is built using Pants, that build tool I wrote documentation about.

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2016-04-20T21:24:34

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even San Mateo

OMG OMG OMG

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2016-04-19T17:49:55

Book Report: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes And Other Lessons from the Crematory

What happens to our bodies after we die? This book talks about preparing bodies, funerals, that sort of thing. We've got plenty of taboos around death. E.g., the author figures that leaving your body to science is about the best thing you can do… but the idea grosses her out, so she wants something else done with her body after she dies. (Me, I still want to donate to science, though from this book I learned of some "scientific" uses that aren't so uplifting…) If you don't go around with a layer of makeup on all the time, then you do not want an open coffin viewing thingy after you die—the funeral folks must slap plenty of paint onto you lest you look grosser than Hollywood's grossest zombie.

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2016-04-18T18:08:59

I wanted to watch this sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's a Netflix exclusive. Sometimes publishers do crazy stuff with their content. Instead of publishing it ina straightforward manner, they try to control it. Netflix didn't release this show to other streaming services. And their strategy worked: to see this show, I was willing to sign up for Netflix.

I wanted to watch this sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's a Netflix exclusive. So I went to Netflix and tried to watch it. But instead I got an error message saying my browser didn't support Microsoft Silverlight. Microsoft deprecated their Silverlight plugin a couple of years ago. Who still uses Silverlight? I didn't think anyone did. But Netflix still does. How much did I really want to see this show? Enough to figure out how to install a plugin that's been deprecated? I didn't want it that much. So I gave up for a year.

I wanted to watch this sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's a Netflix exclusive. But Netflix released season 1 on a couple DVDs. Maybe for folks who didn't want to get Silverlight running but who still had DVD drives? So a few weeks back, I checked out season 1 from the library. I watched disc 1! It was pretty good. Then I tried to watch disc 2, but just got an error message. The DVD had been made by Sony. Sometimes publishers do crazy stuff with their content. Instead of publishing it in a straightforward manner, they try to control it. Sony was known for breaking stuff in bass-ackwards attempts to control what they publish. So I gave up again. Maybe I could research around and find out how Sony had broken this disc. But how much trouble were these videos worth? (Heck if I knew; I couldn't see 'em.)

I wanted to watch this sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's a Netflix exclusive. When I donate blood, the blood donation folks have tablets on which you can watch movies. Historically, I've ignored the tablet. Why pass up a chance for uninterrupted reading? But BUT this last time I checked and: those tablets are hooked up to Netflix. Does Netflix donate service to the blood banks? Maybe? So the last time I donated blood, I watched a couple of episodes from disc 2. Over the next few months, I hope to watch the rest.

So it all worked out. Maybe someday the Netflix folks will develop a format that works on some device I own so I can pay them for it. But meanwhile, I'm happy to pay in blood.

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2016-04-17T22:42:12

Book Report: Liar's Poker

When Hillary Clinton took Wall Street money and passed laws to help Wall Street companies, was that so bad? Read this book for the practical jokes but also to remember Wall Street's outrages. Liar's Poker tells funny anecdotes about bond salesmen bullying each other and their customers. It also reminds us how Wall Street harms America. Wall Street firms cheat customers and buy each other up. If a firm doesn't cheat its customers, it's soon be acquired by one that does.

It doesn't have to be this way. The book's author was in a foreign office of Salomon Brothers. He couldn't get customers: in that country, there were more financial firms; unlike Americans, those folks had choices. ("Too big to fail," apparently, implies "too big to leave room for competitors".)

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2016-04-14T20:05:43

Computer programmers say "premature optimization is the root of all evil" because it encourages our tendency to complicate programs for negligible benefit. But here's another reason: the start of a programming project is already pretty fun. Why not save some of that fun for later? Once you have the basics of your code sketched out and things are getting kind of humdrum, optimization is an excuse to slip back into design thinking for a while.

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2016-04-09T17:29:12

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