Book Report: A Feast for Crows

I was a tourist in downtown Houston. I'd brought a couple of books with me--I finished those and left them behind. So now I had room in my bag for a new book. And I'd need a new book or else I'd have nothing to read on the airplane ride home, in spare touristy moments, etc. So I picked up A Feast for Crows, a book in the fantasy novel series "A Song of Ice and Fire" or whatever it's called. You may recall that I picked up another book in the series when I was travelling in New Zealand and... needed reading material because I'd read everything I'd brought with me.

It's a fun read! This series is still a good soap opera. The books are good enough such that "good airplane book" would be a backhanded compliment. They sprawl amongst many characters. The bad news is that means the book spends time on some characters I don't care about... but the good news is that there's still plenty of good stuff.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even in the News

Alert reader Mahlen spotted this article at SFGate, an essay by Dave Blum of Dr Clue:

..."The Amazing Race" definitely has boosted interest in treasure hunts, but that sort of competition and dysfunctional, cutthroat behavior is not what we do. We don't set this up so that people are shrieking at each other. We want people at the end of the day to feel like, "We are one company, all geared towards the same goals."

...I have 15 people around the country who are trained to administer the team-building treasure hunts. I have a primary clue writer, a very experienced treasure-hunt person, Alexandra Dixon. Occasionally, my wife writes treasure hunts.

There's a whole treasure hunt subculture, people who like nothing better than to write puzzles. I don't write as many of the hunts as I used to because there are people who are just dynamite at it.

--What I do: Dave Blum, treasure hunt designer

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Book Report: The Box

It's a book about cargo boxes. You know, intermodal freight containers. That was enough to get me to read the book. There's interesting stuff in here for economists, policy wonks, labor history folks, ... One thing that was missing was illustrations and photos--there are passing references to some physical designs for brackets, cranes, and joins that didn't work out. Oh well, what is in here is plenty interesting.

Regulation-haters will find plenty to point out here. Freight transport was covered with layers of regulation and protectionism. If you come up with a more efficient way to ship stuff, you might not be allowed to use it.

Some railroads sought to take advantage of the container not simply by lowering rates, but by changing the way they charged shippers. Since the onset of federal regulation in the 1880s, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) had held firm to the principle that each commodity required its own rate, which of course was subject to ICC approval. With containers, though, the railroads were not handling commodities; the size and loaded weight of the container mattered far more than the contents. ... After four months of hearings in 1931, the commission ruled weight-based rates illegal. Although it found the container to be "a commendable piece of equipment," the commission said that the railroads could not charge less to carry a container than to carry the equivalent weight of the most expensive commodity inside the container. With that ruling, containers no longer made economic sense on the rails.


The ICC controlled almost every aspect of the business of common carriers--truckers whose services were on offer to the public. A common carrier could haul only commodities the ICC allowed it to haul, over ICC-approved routes, at ICC-approved rates. If a new firm wanted to begin service, of if an existing one wanted to serve a new route or carry a new commodity, it had to hire lawyers to plead its case at the commission. Any major change required hearings at which other truck lines and railroads had the opportunity to object.

In 1980, the ICC lost its rate-approval power, and things got smoother.

Shippers wanted to upgrade to use the new equipment, wanted to stop paying longshoremen. And few shippers wanted to share their savings with the longshoremen. This led to strikes. Those ports that got their act together early benefitted--because it turned out that the world didn't need as many ports in the container era. It took less time to load and unload ships, ships spent less time in ports, less ports were needed. Ports that deadlocked on their way to containerization lapsed into disuse. Previous labor wrangling had already led to bizarreness:

...a trucker delivering palletized cargo to a pier would have to remove each item from the pallet and place it on the dock. Longshoremen would then replace the items on the pallet for lowering into the hold, where other longshoremen would break down the pallet once more and stow each individual item&emdash;all at a cost so high that shippers knew not to send pallets in the first place.

When containers came along, the first reaction of some longshoremen was that there should be rules requiring that longshoremen unpack and re-pack each container. Before I read this book, I thought of Harry Bridges as heroic. Having read this book, I realize that I hadn't understood the scale of what he brought us. It's like he lifted us out of some kind of stone age.

Standards wonks might like the stories about how folks figured out which sizes of container to standardize on.

[Marad] voted unanimously that 8 feet should be the standard width, despite the fact that some European railroads could not carry loads wider than 7 feet; the committee would "have to be guided mainly by domestic requirements, with the hope that foreign practice would gradually conform to our standards."

So when I went to Japan and saw that they had smaller-sized cargo containers there, I shouldn't have been surprised. Determining standards for intermodal freight would affect maritime, rail, trucks--and these people weren't in the habit of talking to each other.

The history of shipping in SF bay shows up for a few paragraphs. how did Oakland get ahead of San Francisco?

Through the start of the 1960s, Oakland was a sleepy agricultural port one-third the size of Long Beach, Seattle, or Portland, and far smaller than San Francisco. Its waterfront was lined with industries&emdash;a dog food plant, a dry ice plant, a brake shoe factyory&emdash;that had long since ceased to be important port users. Oakland had almost no incoming traffic; typically, European ships would arrive at San Francisco, unload, and then sail across to Oakland to take on canned fruit, almonds, and walnuts for the voyage home. The Oakland Port Commission, a city agency, had issued its first revenue bonds in 1957 to repair a few old docks, but it had no grander plans. Then came an unexpected development. Officials in San Francisco, where Matson had based its container service to Hawaii, ignored Matson's request for a separate container terminal, because the city's port director through container shipping a passing fad. When Matson installed the world's first land-based container crane in 1959, it was built not in San Francisco, the West's greatest maritime center, but in Alameda, a small city within plain view of the Oakland docks.

Matson's operation focused the attention of Oakland port officials on container shipping. In early 1961, they learned of American-Hawaiian Steamship's application for government subsideies to build a fleet of large containerships. The vessels would run through the Panama Canal, mainly carrying fruit and vegetables from California canneries to East Coast markets. This was a natural cargo for Oakland to capture. Port director Dudley Frost and chief engineer Ben Nutter prepared two binders of facts and figures, added leather covers stamped "American-Hawaiian Steamship Company," and flew east in April 1961. Meetings with government and industry officials in Washington changed their plans. "Somebody said, 'Oh, forget those guys. They're no good. Go and see Sea-Land," Nutter recalled. "I said, 'Sea who?' " The cover on one of the binders was quickly replaced by one stamped "Sea-Land," and Frost and Nutter made their way to Port Newark. A Sea-Land executive stopped their presentation to inform them that it had already decided to run containerships from Newark to California. If they could offer a suitable site at a reasonable price, Sea-Land would establish its northern terminus at Oakland.

Oakland did more, too. They earned those At-At Walkers.

Part of the reason that Japanese electronics took off in the 70s? Because it was much harder for a shipping employee to filch small items from a cargo container, and cargo containers were on the rise in the 70s.

I learned a new shipping coinage. I'd already learned "Post-panamax", for cargo ships that are too big to fit through the Panama canal. "Malacca-max" is the author's word for a hypothetical cargo ship that's just barely big enough to fit through the Straits of Malacca. OK, I guess this book got kinda speculative towards the end. It's a fun read.

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Book Report: The Complete Annotated Oz Squad, Volume One

There's this comic book called Oz Squad. It's old. I read it long ago. At one point in the comic, one of the characters, Scarecrow, writes some graffiti:


That phrase stuck with me for years. It had to be a quote. Didn't it? It sounded so artsy, not so comic book-y. Every so often I'd try a web search, hoping to track it down. Nothing. But more recently, I tried a Google book search... and found out that Oz Squad's writer had released an annotated version of the comic book. And there in the book search window was the annotation for that phrase, which was indeed a quote:

52-5 All Art Must Perish: I saw this as graffiti on the remains of a demolished theater in Providence RI.

Well, that explained why I hadn't found the quote elsewhere. The rambling of some past theater major, perhaps. Anyhow, I was so happy to found out that there was an annotated version of the comic that I sent off for a copy. Here's another annotation:

I wrap up the story but can't resist talking about the existential futility of fighting for transient gains in the end. Why can't I write a simple action comic?

In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have been so sure that "All art must perish" was a quote.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Brevard County, Florida

Brevard County Florida was already cool what with Cape Canaveral and all. But it's even cooler now: they have Midnight Madness Brevard. It's pretty The Game-like, but different. The activities are likely to be less puzzle-y and more likely to be a rebus whose answer is a location. It's team based, vehicle based; you're driving at night. Local knowledge seems useful--some of these puzzles seem like they'd be pretty hard if you didn't know local street names. There's activities which are different from what I've seen--creative, make you think "Oh hey wow I wouldn't have thought of that; diversity's a good thing."

  • Midnight Madness Brevard
  • Rules they start out like the Bay Area stuff, but pay attention: towards the end, they mention a scavenger hunt. And maybe there's something non-linear about how teams find Challenge Areas?
  • Game write-ups with descriptions of puzzles, challenges, and stranger things

It looks like the same organization runs these, and it runs a few each year. This suggests that they don't try to do some extravaganza. And, OK, a quick rebus isn't as exquisite as a word search with an embedded ternary message and letter-forms (which is darned exquisite, and I appreciate that). But... it seems like people keep playing anyhow. One suspects that these folks are having plenty of fun. What's that thing Curtis says about cold pizza vs no pizza? Yeah, that.


Book Report: Elephant Memories

This book is subtitled "thirteen years in the life of an elephant family". It's by Cynthia Moss, who watched the elephants at what became Amboseli National Park north of Mt Kilimanjaro. The book reflects years of observations, many of them of the same elephants. Each chapter starts out as a slice of life in a family of elephants. There's a compelling soap-opera feel as characters recur. Not all of the book is told from the elephants' point of view. That's good--not too much conjecture sneaks into the slice-of-life parts, but some sneaks in. It's good that we also get to hear about the scientists observing the elephants, the things they see.

For the information architects, an excerpt about how they chose names for elephants:

Numbers would have been simplest, but experience had taught us that numbers were hard to remember once we had several hundred. "Now is she F 121 for F 132?"... We tried to choose common English and European names for the elephants because they were the easiest for us to remember. I am very thankful that we did so because today [late 1980s], with over 500 elephants named, it would have been very difficult to remember any obscure names. To this day I cannot remember who is who among four young males with Russian names in the "V" family. Vladimir, Vostok, Vasily, and Vronsky are forever confused in my mind and I always have to look them up before writing them down. Also, and this is a key, I was not the one who named them--they were named by colleagues later in the study. Naming is a fascinating phenomenon and a surprisingly powerful process. Somehow by naming something one possesses it, almost creates it. At the same time one feels a closer relationship to that thing. I did most of the naming in the early days of the study, but Harvey named a few of the animals, and although he has had little to do with the study in the last ten years I still think of Tania, Filippa, Justine, and Jezebel as "Harvey's elephants." When Filippa died in 1982 it was Harvey I thought of and wanted to call.

For fans of punch cards, an example of them being used in the wild:

Part of Joyce's work involved bringing the recognition file [i.e., notes by which an observer can figure out whether the elephant bull they're looking at is Vladimir versus Vasily versus...] for the bulls up to date. She took more photographs and worked with the photographs I had not yet sorted. I had devised a different filing system for the bulls from that of the cows, using a punched-card method. A friend, Chris Hillman, had used these cards in his study of eland and had suggested it might work well with elephants. Each card had 102 numbered holes running around the entire outer edge. I made a key, assigning various recognition factors to the numbers, such as "large hole in left ear," or "right tusk higher than left." Three of the holes indicated three general size classes of the bulls&emdash;young, medium, and large. Each bull's characteristics were assessed and the holes for these characteristics cut through on his card. Thus, out in the field, when I came across a medium-sized bull with a large V out of his right ear and a broken left tusk but I did not know who he was, I could take the stack of cards, run a spike through the hole for "V nick right," and all the cards for bulls with that characteristic would fall out from the bottom of the pack. I could then take those cards that had fallen out, run the spike through the hole for "right broken tusk," and more cards would fall out. If the number of cards that dropped down was still many, I could run the spike through the hole for medium-sized bull. By that time only a few cards would probably fall out and I could just quickly look through them.

This system worked well for the bulls because a bull could be anywhere and with anyone and thus there were no clues as to who he was other than his ears, tusks, and size. The cow pictures were pasted onto plain cards and carried in alphabetical order by their family. If one member of the family could be recognized, that provided a huge clue and the pictures of that family could be taken out of the file to compare the elephants present. Eventually we put the cows onto punched cards as well, and new researches used the system when they were first learning the elephants. if you're writing elephant-recognition software, be aware: you'll want to use different signals depending on the elephant's gender. I love it when problems are more complicated than I thought--when I'm not trying to solve those problems.

The scientists see elephants in musth, and don't identify it at first. This seemed strange to me--I'd read a book from the 1930s whose author knew about musth. I mean, he didn't describe all of the symptoms--maybe because he was trying to spare the delicate sensibilities of his audience. But... folks obviously knew about it. Elephant handlers in Asia surely hadn't forgotten about musth. It turns out that folks knew that Asian elephant bulls went into musth. But they didn't recognize it in African elephants. One different thing about the African elephants--they tended to go into musth at, uhm, about the same time. At least, compared to Asian elephants, which were less synchronized. Thus, it was all too easy to think it was symptoms of some communicable disease spreading through the population.

A tale of controversy amongst the scientists:

When Iain Douglas-Hamilton did his study in Manyara he found that family units were remarkably stable in composition...

The results of an extensive radio-tracking study carried out in Zimbabwe by Rowan Martin called into question Iain's description of the degree of family-unit stability. Martin found that a female was rarely in a group of the same size or composition and that the most consistently stable association was between a female and her youngest offspring...

Fortunately, it turned out to be a case of no one being "wrong" but of elephants behaving differently under differing ecological conditions. In the early days of wildlife research many of the scientists were inflexible. If someone studied a species in one place and someone else got incompatible results in another place, it caused all sorts of anger and backbiting. It was almost as though each researcher thought his or her study animals displayed the Platonic ideal of the species' social behavior and thus anything that contradicted his or her description had to be wrong.

Ah, focusing on one detail and wrongly extrapolating to draw conclusions about the whole. She doesn't stoop to making a joke about the blind men and the elephant, so I guess I won't either.

This was a darned good book! I searched the internet for [cynthia moss] to see what the author was up to nowadays. It turns out that she's still associated with the Amboseli elephants--and even better, the folks watching those elephants have a blog! So I subscribed to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants blog, so I can catch up on the soap opera.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even the Marin Headlands and maybe the Seat in Front of me on the Bus

There was that awesome Shinteki Decathlon game a couple of weeks ago. One of the clue sites was Hawk Hill, a high hill in the Marin Headlands. It seemed like a neat site, so... yesterday I went back there. I tried to snap a photo once every 5-10 minutes and mostly stuck to that. Well, every 5-10 minutes of travel. I think I waited half an hour for the Sausalito ferry, but I didn't snap so many photos of that.

So you ask, why am I calling this a "Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere" blog post. Well, most of my time in the Marin Headlands has been, uhm, for puzzlehunts. So I kept hitting these spots and thinking Hey, why do I know Battery Spencer--was I here before? Maybe in the dark? (Yes.)

Furthermore, when I was looking over these photos to caption them, I noticed something. I think I was sitting behind puzzle champ Tyler Hinman on the bus. (And you're going to make fun of me for not noticing this at the time. But I'm telling you, that was a distracting bus ride--a Haight Street bus on its way to the annual Haight Street Fair. Imagine the Haight. Now imagine a bus ride. Now squish them together. Now: street fair. Some folks had got a head start on their inebriation. Yeah, it was like that.)

Oh yeah, I guess the link would help: a page of photos showing how I got to Hawk Hill and back.

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Book Report: Casanova book one: Luxuria

This comic book made no sense. It feels kinda plot-holish. You find out that the main character can make guns fall apart through mysteeeeerious powers, but earlier he didn't seem to use this power and seemed pretty worried about guns. And if this secret organization he works with--if this organization has invisibility cloak technology, why didn't they use it when... I guess I was supposed to just relax and go with the flow and be happy that there were so many pictures of scantily-clad chicks, but I mean c'mon, really, he can just make guns fall apart by invoking some spiders in his brain but he only does it sometimes? Why doesn't he use this power on hostile robots? Wh-- Oh, forget it.

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Jotting Notes on the Ghost Patrol talk at GC Summit 2009

[I went to the GC Summit 2009, at which various folks talked about how they run The Game. I didn't take notes then, figuring I could watch the video later. So now I'm watching the video, specifically the video where Greg deBeer and Brian Mendenhall talk about the Ghost Patrol Game. And I'm taking notes. Mostly I'm just trying to paraphrase them. When it's me interjecting my opinion, I'll use [square brackets]. I'm kinda assuming that you already know about the Ghost Patrol game. My write-up of the game is not so coherent, but has links up top to some better ones.]

  • It's Greg! Mostly covering how Ghost Patrol handled some of the common issues that arise in GC.
  • Ghost Patrol was more of an interlocked series of mini-games than one big game. That was all part of the plan. It added up to 65 total puzzles. OMG!!
  • Goals: fun game. story-driven. players of all levels could enjoy it. Non-goals: keeping "top teams" blissed out.
  • GC had complementary skill sets. Technical, creative, production, logistical. But not so much on the puzzle-making. [Some good designers, but not many who were enthused about that part?] Also, no-one was into location scouting.
  • Part of the reason for walkish mini-games: SHaRC devices don't work very well in vans.
  • Skipping was a point of contention. Remember, we're not trying to bliss out top teams. We want the not-so-top teams to have fun.
    • Some people don't like being skipped. You get to the end of the game, folks are raving about some puzzle--which you didn't see. Hey...
    • But can you avoid skipping people? Probably not.
    • Can you use "bonus" puzzles instead? Again--these are just puzzles that not everyone sees.
    • Could we skip folks over one ghost, over one mini-game? Didn't want that either. Since there was a meta-game at the end, incorporating elements from all the mini-games, players needed to finish all the mini-games.
    • So what do you do?
  • The Ghost Patrol skipping system revealed: for each mini-game: team sees at least the first puzzle and the last puzle. Brian points out: kept the first puzzle and the last puzzle pretty simple.
  • Playtesting Greg playtested Paparazzi and Hogwarts. Playtesting is awesome! [true.] You feel like you're part of it. You're having fun. You're playing for free. There's less pressure, more fun--hey, if we can't solve it, it's probably Game Control's fault, not our fault.
  • If you plan to run a game soon, I recommend playtesting a game soon. Be part of the playtest process. Then volunteer during the game. See things from the inside. [Huh. Yeah, that seems like good advice.]
  • Ghost patrol playtests.
    • In addition to "living room" playtests, did two day-long playtests (3 ghosts each) and an overnight playtest (all 8 ghosts).
    • Not just puzzle feedback. SHaRC feedback, too. "It really sucks to use the SHaRC under these circumstances..." ["live" playtest versus "living room" playtest]
    • Brian points out: did one playtest really early. That was darned good, because that pointed out lots of things to change in the story mechanic--which was a big part [and big success] for Ghost Patrol. Greg says yeah we had people driving from one end of SF to the other, navigating by SHaRC. It was a nightmare.
    • Also good for deadline-driven people on GC! Gotta get this done by the playtest! Otherwise, meetings would have been more "Let's talk some more; let's see how we're feeling. Let's talk about skipping some more."
    • Didn't get so much hard solving data. Got kinda giddy watching teams have fun. Didn't note down times.
    • A playtesting team got stuck. Sometimes GC said "Yeah, well, other teams won't get stuck." [Sigh, me too.] Trust your playtesters. You're using them for a reason.
  • Were meeting twice a week for 6-8 months before the game. [Oy.]
  • It's Brian! He's talking about the Story, a big part of Ghost Patrol
  • Goals: Do something different! [don't dry to out-Snout Snout, don't try to out-Shintek Shinteki. Don't try to out-coed coed. Try something new.]
  • How to convey a story through puzzles? [This gets into stuff that people argue back and forth in computer game design plenty: what is the place of Story in games?] In most games, though the game is themed, when you sit down to solve a puzzle, it's just a puzzle. [Smart move on Midnight Madness: use a puzzle-solving story as your story.] Can we make it so that there's a story-driven reason that your team is sitting in a van decoding this thing?
  • In most games, stories and puzzles are tenuously connected. Teams are goal-oriented--so they ignore the story, concentrate on the puzzles. But if the story is conveyed through puzzle, then by golly teams will get a chance to appreciate that story.
  • (Not claiming that Ghost Patrol 100% succeeded in pulling the story in.)
  • Didn't go for a strong over-arching storyline. Part of the team is going to be asleep for some parts--won't be able to piece it together. Asking teams to remember something that happened 25 hours ago is mean.
  • Instead, did "world-building". This situation in which puzzle-solving captures ghosts.
  • Did have 9 self-contained stories/mini-games.
    • Easier to do theme for a 3-hour story than a 30 hour over-arching uber story.
    • Divvy up responsibility: not everyone has to agree on everything. Different people might have 'stake' in different stories.
  • Non-goal: make players role-play the story Some players really don't like it. We're a bunch of introverted xenophobes--we wanna grab our puzzles and retreat back to our van to solve.
  • Puzzles are part of story. Need to keep players immersed in story.
  • Ghosts were a good choice. They've been known to leave mysterious messages. Ghosts are open-ended. If this ghost knows Braille, no player is gonna say "No way would any ghost have known Braille". They're invisible.
  • Because Ghosts are "making" these puzzles, nudged GC away from paper puzzles, since ghosts don't usually use paper.
  • Slime collection--fits the game mechanic, but not super puzzle-y
  • Game up with a ghost's story first. That, in turn, suggested the answer words for the puzzles. This favors strong theme over strong puzzles.
  • Hard to write puzzles w/so many constraints. The theme constrains the answer word, constrains the way the puzzle might work.
  • Expectations. Could have pushed things further--but hesitated to go to far away from the canonical "The Game".
  • Making activities fit themes--argh.
  • Non-paper puzzles take so much more work.
  • Logistics--65 puzzles, many of which were planned for public space.
  • Questions
    • Rich Bragg Liked the game! [hey, a strong puzzle solver liked a game that wasn't aimed at the strong puzzle solvers!] Liked that tried new things! What was that about "Expectations"? What would you have liked to do, but held back from? Brian Can we have a game where we don't make teams drive? Can we have a game where, instead of solving puzzles, team infer things? How about a game where every location is somebody's house--not fun places?

      Original vision for game: Teams would pick up a dossier from GC. Dossier would send the team to a house, a haunted house. And maybe there'd be strobe lights and stuff. And eventually, teams would figure out that those things were actually puzzles. So it felt like you were in a haunted house, but really you were solving all of the puzzles all at once. All locations would be open all during the game [feasible if not so many sites need watching, I guess, as with folks' houses]. So GC could choose which house to send teams to based on which location is least crowded at the moment. BUT then a team would be obliged to solve all puzzles at a location, puzzles aren't skippable. Team doesn't necessarily want to sit in somebody's house for three hours. Teams might expect something linear, something racelike [but in this original plan, if I'm in the same house with the Burninators, that doesn't mean I'm fast.]

      So there's risk of creating something that teams won't enjoy. You spend a year of your life working on this game. How much do you want to risk?
    • Red Byer The value of real-world playtesting vs "living room" playtesting. : Yes. If you let a team solve under nice conditions, ok. But then you take another team, it's cold out, you shove them in a car with a couple of pencils that they have to find--and it doubles the time-to-solve. Brent Holman chimes in on that: if you're trying to figure out how long your event will take, that's not just solve time. There's also this intangibles category. That's the big difference between the fastest teams and the slowest. Some teams will never stop, they will pee out the window, they will bring all their food with them, they're just go go go go go. Other teams, they'll just go to a bar for a couple of hours, you just never know. Greg Yeah, we did our full-day playtests. But it wasn't until late in the process that we learned of "stupid o'clock". In hindsight, should have had more rough playtest conditions. But it's hard, you know, hard to put your playtesters through that. "Hey why don't you come over at 3 a.m. and solve this puzzle?" OK, so how did we think about timing? Consider how long it would take a team to crank through a puzzle if they got every "aha" instantly. But then consider: not every team is gonna do that on every puzzle, right? Wrong! Or rather, there's some team that's gonna do that, at least for a while. (someone in audience points out that frontrunners are nice, because they fix broken puzzles) Greg continues: Yeah, and we had Ian Tullis on GC, so we were thinking of standing him out in a field and having him make up puzzles for teams as they showed up. Brian You should have Ian Tullis on your GC.
    • Teresa Torres says on the Expectations thing: be transparent about what you're doing. If some team doesn't want to hang out in your house for three hours, they don't have to show up. Brian Yeah... but every single team would have signed up anyway. And, uhm, we didn't know what our gameplay mechanic was going to be yet, even as we accepted applications. Greg Yeah, we were figuring a lot of that stuff out. Teresa You could tell teams what you're talking about. E.g., tell them that you're talking a lot about story. Then they can make a decision. It's all about the players--that's the part of Curtis' letter that so important. Brian Yeah, I re-read that three months before the game and was "Oh yeah, right: the Players" Greg It's easier for experienced GC folks to be able to watch and describe what they're doing. We were mostly pretty green. David Mendenhall We tried to let our application process show what we were aiming for. We made it silly and creative. In hindsight, we should have said outright: this is what we're trying to accomplish. Brian Speaking of Expectations, though: GC normally isn't transparent. So we weren't transparent.
    • Sean Gugler How hard and expensive were the SHaRC devices to make? I ask because you guys came up with a really strong framework. I'd love to see another Ghost Patrol--even if you didn't run it. Greg OK, there's two aspects to this. Ghost Patrol as a "franchise" and the SHaRC. Jesse was our SHaRC master: Jesse Morris The SHaRCs ended up being around $150 each. The revision that you guys had--they had enough problems so that I didn't want to see them ever again. It would be a lot easier to make the second time--it took a lot of work the first time. I'd never done any industrial design before. The housing was actually more work than anything. But the electronics and everything... if I were doing it again--I'd want to do it differently. Brian Yeah, it would be easier to re-do than re-use. Jesse Morris Yeah, no, reusing it? It's glued together, if you want to change it, you'd need to pry stuff apart, get past some epoxy... David Mendenhall Yeah, our original plan at the end, we were gonna tell teams, OK, you're Ghost Patrol franchises, so go forth. Folks who want to run a Ghost Patrol, you're welcome to... we don't wanna. Brian Yeah, anyone wants to run a Ghost Patrol, we'd love to see it, we'd love to play.

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Book Report: The Crossroads of Time

In this parallel-worlds scifi adventure, our hero meets some people who are largely, but not 100% like him; he figures they will all get along OK, and they do. He goes to strange places similar to our own world, but not quite like it. I read this book while riding a Greyhound bus through Texas; it all seemed to fit, somehow.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Russia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Ukraine

According to an article linked from the Pervasive Games blog, Dozor is a Russian team-based game that sounds Game-like. You'd think I'd be glad to hear about it. Except I'm not so glad. Because--why is this game in the news? The article is about some poor kid who died playing this game fetching something from on top of an electrical transformer.

Here is the article at Russia Today: Urban Adventure Game Kills Entrant.

Similar to the globally-known urban game ‘Encounter’, Dozor, which can be translated as 'Watch' [as in "night watch"], has been gaining popularity since its birth in 2005. The players from 175 cities in Russia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Ukraine form teams and carry out different tasks including night ground navigation, extreme and logic puzzles as well as role plays. The aim of each team is to collect ten so-called codes before the other contenders.

(Dear local GC folks: I never thought to thank you for the fact that you never hid a clue on top of an electrical transformer. Thank you.)

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Book Report: Fire Time

Fire Time is a science fiction novel from the early 70s. It brings you back to an earlier kind of science fiction. The author Poul Anderson drew out a solar system based on a trinary star. Then he thought about how life might evolve on one of the planets--sometimes it gets close to two stars instead of to just one. That's a hot time, a "Fire Time", if you will. All this against a space-operatic backdrop of interstellar war and diplomacy. Sketchy characters, long stretches of exposition (usually preceded by an apology), interesting science to think about. It's a darned fine airplane book--you can read it and enjoy it if you're not thinking too hard. I picked it up as a used cheap paperback, read it on a plane, and left it behind in Texas. I have no regrets.

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Information Architecture: There Oughtta be a Law

I recently read an article by London Times writer Alan Brien in which he wrote

"I used to think that I was the first reader, enraged by the difficulty of tracking down a passage in a long work of reference without re-scanning every single page, who proposed that all non-fictional [sic] books without indexes should be denied copyright."

"Indexes–pleasures of; pitfalls in; regrettable absences of; penalty for failing to provide"
Feb 23 1968 London Times

I encountered this quote as I hunted for an article by Mr Brien--an article I might have found right away if only the publishers of the Times had seen fit to provide an index.

To be clear, though this passage pissed me off when I first encountered it, I don't think Brien was being hypocritical. I think he was being humble. I guess he didn't expect that anyone would go through the Arts sections of decades-old newspaper microfiches looking for his old articles. Manual indexing takes effort. It almost seems an act of hubris to create an index of one's own writing.

(It's times like this when I love my job.)

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Book Report: Super Spy

It is a comic book, a collection of little spy stories. I bought it because it was an Amazon recommendation (albeit a tepid Amazon recommendation) and it had Morse Code on the cover. I didn't like it much, though, not the parts I made it through. I read some brief stories of love and loss amongst spies and informants. Nothing gripped me. Maybe the stories were too quick? I couldn't sympathize with a character so quickly sketched? If I'd kept going, apparently the stories intertwine. But I didn't stick with it.

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White Ninjas-Specific Show Report

Hey, somebody tell Bay Area Night Game Team White Ninjas that I found the perfect band to play their theme song. It's Leather Feather! Most of the people in the band dress up as white ninjas! (Or else maybe as some characters from THX 1138. But let's say ninjas.)

Let's see if I can figure out how to embed one of their videos:

What's that? You say the team changed its name to the League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen? Uhm... OK. Dang. I don't know any bands for that. Never mind. But Leather Feather is still pretty rockin'.

(Oh, and Holy Fuck is another rockin' band, albeit one whose name doesn't obviously relate to any team that I know of. And 'Shreck played some School of Seven Bells afterwards, and that was pretty good too.)

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Book Report: Grayson

I read this book because it was an Amazon recommendation, albeit a tepid one. Wow, what a great book! Remember Lynne Cox, the lady who swam to Antarctica? She wrote this book about a long swim off the coast around Catalina. Along the way, she runs into whales, a nice bait salesman, dolphins, life guards, anchovies, sunfish, and offshore oil platforms. There's stuff about gray whales, and where they fit in with other whales. There's stuff about training for long-distance swimming. There's stuff about the power of positive thinking... but not too much, fortunately, since I'm such a cynic. I've liked other things that Cox wrote about the feel of swimming in the ocean--observing the currents, the water, the life. This book pretty much all takes place in the water, and so there's plenty of that. It's a short book. If it were fiction, it would be a novella rather than a novel. It's a quick, fun read; check it out.

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Link: Plain ol' Tasha

Tasha draws a comic. It's pretty good. She was inspired by Jim's Journal, and that inspiration shows.

You might think I'd link to a good comic to recommend it. But I never got around to it.

Yesterday, I bought toenail clippers. I suddenly recognized that Tasha and I shop at the same drugstore.

So I linked to that.

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Book Report: An Evil Guest

Amongst books set in the Lovecraftian "Mythos" universe, this is the best I've read so far. That's kind of a backhanded compliment. I dislike H.P. Lovecraft's Mythos books. I suppose it's guilt by association, but I dislike the Mythos universe so much that I occasionally go back to the Temple ov thee Lemur's War in Heaven just so that I can vote against the Mythos deities a few times. Yeah, so, backhanded compliment. But it is a compliment, and I enjoyed reading this book. It's set in a strange future in which humanity has traveled to distant stars but Baskin-Robbins and Applebee's still exist. There is also a musical play called "Dating the Volcano God", which begs the question of which Dead Milkmen song would be most apropriate here: Born to Love Volcanoes? or The Fez?

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