This spoileriffic talk was not recorded. So I'd better jot down some notes. Steering around the spoilers, but that's OK, because the non-spoilery stuff was interesting.
Pizza ahead of time was fun. Much discussion of past Escapes, rafting injuries, Iron Puzzler, LA Crossword Puzzle tournaments and the logistics of finding time to play in all the puzzle events coming up in the next few weeks (oh and that real life thing too).
And the talk? The talk indeed had some spoilers, some explanations of past puzzles. Including some "ahas" that should not be blurted out. But to me the interesting part was in the stuff around the puzzles—how do you make an event that's not all about the puzzles, something that "civilians" can enjoy? Because Real Escape is going for a wide appeal: thousands of players, not just a coupla hundred Bay Area Night Gamists.
You want to have a variety of difficulty—and not just so that you can front-load the easy puzzles. There should be some easy, accessible puzzles. (One of their easy-puzzle examples was a crossword; since Tyler Hinman was in the audience, I reflected that easy or not, some folks might rip through that one faster than other folks. Anyhow…) There might be some tougher puzzles, even in an earlier batch: folks will finish off the easy ones and then the whole team is looking at that last toughie that doesn't just fall over. Then when one team member has the "aha" to carry them over, the whole team gets to experience it because the're right there, concentrating on the same thing. He also talked about the importance of "operations" to help folks have fun. Some of this consists of noticing when a team is stuck and giving them a hint. So if you're playing Real Escape and you're stuck, make sure you clearly mime your stuck-ness, I guess.
There was Q&A. Hey Chris in England, I asked your question about comparing/contrasting Japan and Hungary in terms of Escape Game mania. And he says… uhm, I think you know more about the Hungarian Escapist scene than he does. He knew of one outfit running games there. The Japanese version arose without Hungarian influence (some event-planners who wanted to make a real-life version of the online flash room-escape games), but he doesn't know which came first.
Los Angelenos, the game is coming to your town in a few days. It is not yet sold out. If it doesn't sell out, you know us San Francisco people are going to roll our eyes at you. And it's probably coming to more cities. We know you hate it when we call you non-intellectual showbiz types, but you know that's what's gonna happen. Oh, but even if you're not in LA, look out. If you're a puzzle nerd (or even a fun-loving "civilian") in New York, Seattle, or even that guy in Chicago, they might be coming to your town soon. They might even be interested in hearing from you.
And he wants to run an Escape from Alcatraz Game, but it's difficult because apparently you can't normally just rent out a national park for some puzzle event. But he's hoping that us crazed puzzlehunters will lobby the government to let us onto the island…so that we can escape, which sounds kind of Sisyphean when I type it out, but there you go.
He also gave us a puzzle to solve which involved ransacking the space. Which was kind of dicey because it was Go Game Headquarters, and we want to be invited back for future events. As we were shoving a sofa around, it, uhm, kinda fell apart. It was supposed to fall apart; the Go Game folks have take-apartable furniture so they can rearrange their space. Except it wasn't so obvious to us how to put the sofa back together. In the end it was me working together with an artist-who-specializes-in-audiences-of-one and a parkour specialist to repair the sofa. Meanwhile Paul Rundle had the puzzle solved backwards and forwards before most folks had figured out what was going on.
And @hoverbird was there, so I could tell him he should follow @realegame, so I'm pretty sure I can deduct this talk as a work expense on my taxes. Oh wait, it was free. Never mind.
Greg Costikyan has designed more games than you have, so I pay attention when he writes something. Uncertainty in Games didn't contain any startling revelations that knocked me out of my chair, but it did gently point out some things sometimes forgotten in the frenzy of development. For example:
…in designing most interactive products, the elimination of uncertainty is desirable. In designing games, a degree of uncertainty is essential. This is why people who try to apply, say, the theories of HCI expert Jakob Nielsen to games often err; interface clarity may still be desirable, but eliminating challenge is not.
Once the player has clicked a cow, there should be more for them to do. Maybe, as in a simple puzzle Bejeweled-ish game, they won't have to think about what to do next, they'll just do it. Or maybe you want them to pause. You need to design the experience you want.
Many students (and designers) of games are fans of the work of Csikszentmihalyi, and feel that games ideally induce in player a sense of "flow," as Csikszentmihalyi defines it: an almost ecstatic feeling of action, reaction, and mastery in which time is lost and a feeling of creative impulse suffuses the person in question… while this may be desirable for some games, it is far from desirable for all…many games benefit precisely from from jarring the player out of any sense of flow. Puzzle games are one example. Upon completing one puzzle and encountering the next, a player of this sort of game is not likely to feel "I am in the zone, I am the master of this, I react and do the next thing with preternatural ease"—rather, he is likely to think "Holy crap, what do I do now?"
(This was a fun bit for me to read since it was a game designer who convinced me to actually read Csikszentmihalyi's Flow; and yeah once you actually find out what he has to say you know there's more to creating enjoyable experiences than getting players "in the zone." Good game designers know this. It's not so surprising that Costikyan's tussled with some that don't.) (And games that help one to achieve trance state are fine things. Back in my day, it was called Tetris and it was amazing.)
I learned of the existence of The Campaign for North Africa, a ludicrously detailed wargame. That seems like a good thing to be able to refer to later, so I'll make a note of it here.
It's young adult fiction in which young adults solve a Real Crime by solving some common codes. Set in the alternate universe like this one, but if you want to get a message to nice people without that message being intercepted by mean people, you put that message in plain old Morse code. This sounds dicey, but then have you ever met a criminal at a gathering of HAM radio operators? Yeah, I didn't think so. With that in mind, I'm going to post my password here so that you folks can fix up my accounts if I'm ever incapacitated: / .... / .._ / _. / _ / . / ._. / .._ _ _ /
I guess that's what I like about the Winston Breen books: they're about puzzle hunts as such. Someone sets up a birthday hunt; a potato chip company wants to run a contest; some dude reminiscent of Sondheim runs a hunt that Sondheim could run… This world makes sense to me.
So… The Code Busters Club is fun unless you think too hard about the premise. Wow, these book reports have been short lately. And this one doesn't even describe a book about a secret book containing a more-secret message about even-more secret magic. Maybe you should go read about a Nerf gun modded to play music instead of firing darts.
Hmm, Gabe was a fine introducer, but he wasn't microphoned.
You might want to skip ahead two or three minutes into the
video to where things make more sense.
Abe Burickson, Odyssey Works ringleader talks.
Starts by having the audience close their eyes so we could
better use our imaginations for the "walk-through" of part
of an O.W. experience. (It's a relief to watch the video and
find out I wasn't missing some amazing visual presentation.)
The walk-through… the dentist office, the color red,
the dancers, the clock radio, the cafe, the theme
"The Map is Not the Territory"…
This experience is described as it would have been performed
for Abe—the color red means something to him; if the
performance was for you and red has negative connotations for
you, then they would have used another color.
Ayden Grout, documenter, speaks. Took on the challenging
task of documenting these performances.
Going to talk about the performance documented in the book
Isolation and Amazement, a.k.a. "The Map is Not The Territory".
We're going to start by learning about Carl.
(So is "The Map is Not the Territory" something for Abe or something
for Carl? Now that I've read Isolation and Amazement,
I see that the clock-radio bit, e.g., was part of this performance
for Carl. So what experience was described in that walk-through?
Was there a "first draft" of "The Map is Not the Territory" sketched
out by Abe for Abe? But then adapted for Carl?)
Carl was an information architect, somewhat scattered, with a strong
Candidate participants fill out a survey. Part of this is keeping
a dream journal; and O.W. works with a dream analyst who can pull
out unusual bits.
Oh, Abe's too excited to let Ayden keep talking at us, he's
When sketching out the overall piece, use a timeline.
The timeline shows location and activity; but since they're trying
to pace an experience, they also have a tempo and an
indication of whether each part is more experienced with mind vs body.
(Probably it's good to let the audience reflect a bit after the
The mind vs body: this was just for Carl's experience.
O.W. thought he might be
living in his head too much; much of their thought was when to
take him Dionysian vs Apollonian. For another audience, the
timeline might have shown something else.
Well, the overall piece doesn't show up in the timeline.
That's just the 36 hours containing the main part of the piece.
It doesn't show the foreshadowing that they snuck in during the
weeks ahead of time.
Abe: "In the past we've tried to videotape these [performances]
and it's hard. It's a 36-hour performance." (Sounds familiar
to folks who've experience a proper weekend
The Game game, and sympathized with TV and/or video documentarians
trying to record this activity where so much of the experience
happens inside the participants' heads.)
Ayden's talking about how she documents things: pull together
still photos and written materials created for the piece.
Lots of collaborators create things; gather those things.
Put 'em in a book.
It's good to be the documenter. All this cool stuff passes through
How strange it is to be so aware of the audience.
She's learned what Carl looks like, his gait.
Talks about sneaking foreshadowing into Carl's life ahead of the
main performance. An actor playing "Jen" showed up at a friend's
party, got Carl talking about dancing, roped him into some movement
classes in the park. Jerk in a goat mask occasionally harassed Carl,
smooshing him in the face with a pie, squirts him with a water pistol.
Carl was a Borges fan; so they made a fake book by Xul Solar, like Bacon
to Shakespeare, is sometimes suspected of having written Borges'
novels. Added notes in the margins, hinting at secret knowledge
within the book.
When he woke up on game art day, had text messages
from friends: his friend Miles was missing
Heard the radio excerpt. Sent him to cafe.
Met Bjorg (Bjorn?), who shared a name with character in Xul novel.
Mute, gave Carl written notes for instructions on how to spend
rest of day: going places in the city to map their "intensity".
This would aid the search for Miles.
At these locations, there were actors in green shirts doing variations
on the theme of making maps: might be drawing map on the ground, might
be doing something else. Pace is frantic.
Cab ride to Samsara Mapping HQ--here, there's mapping, but the pace
is slow. Actors here dressed in red. Where green-shirts in park had
been twitchy, the red-shirts here are calm, studious, perhaps
meditative in their map-making process.
This mapping might be traditional cartography; or not.
One map: on a window with a view of a skyline, someone drew outlines
of the visible buildings. Then adhered cards to the window where
the, uhm, energy level of the cards matched those of the
A quiet lunch, making a map that will help find Miles.
Then goat man chases Carl for 20 blocks. Carl runs to subway
station (guided, I suppose, by a companion from GC who knew
this was part of the plot?), boards a train, sits down.
Is surprised when two passengers near his seat are conversing
about the acceleration and decerlation of the train, how it
maps to the myth of Sisyphus. Then they turn to Carl and tell
him it's time for him to leave the train.
At the next station, Jen the movement instructor is there.
She hands him a rock. Carl's task: let Jen lead him through Central
Park as he carries the rock and doesn't talk.
Various set pieces in the park: friends of Carl's greet him; walk
in a pack around him; then go away, taking with them his cell phone,
his wallet, his money.
Abe jumps in to tell us: this wasn't just hazing. They
were trying to put Carl into a mood to receive the impressions
he was about to experience.
…Three ladies on a bench reading a book Carl had put together.
Dancers dancing to his favorite song.
Carl's next task: walk on his own, carrying the heavy rock, for
another 50? blocks to a community garden.
Abe met him there: had scripted some dialog, but when he saw
how meditative (exhausted?) Carl was, skipped that and went
straight to a quiet dinner.
After dinner, the Goat Man appeared with some of Carl's friends
who tied Carl up and blindfolded him.
They put Carl into a box that his girlfriend
had constructed to keep him from getting too banged around for
the subsequent van-ride-abduction.
After the ride, he's let out of the box, still blindfolded.
He's outdoors; there's chanting. He's led to a wooden stake,
tied to it. There's tinder at his feet, he feels the heat of
And he's freed by Miles, the friend who he was supposed to be trying
to rescue all day.
The bacchanal: in the woods, dancing and chanting around a fire.
The rending of flesh; tearing bites from haunches of meat.
Several hours of this.
Blindfolded again, put in car. He fell asleep, exhausted.
Woke up in a bed in a house in the country, "a new life".
"Living" in the house were actors Roger the gardener and Ayden
They feed Carl breakfast, lead him out to the porch where a typewriter
awaits him. Carl sits at the typewriter and writes for four hours
while Ayden works on her artwork nearby and Roger gardens; each
working on their craft. Ayden made some lunch, brought it to Carl,
told him that his odyssey was over.
Gave him the choice between making his own way back or getting a ride
from O.W. They had in mind one of Carl's experiences: hitch-hiking.
And he chose to make his own way back.
After the Odyssey
Carl bought the exact same model of typewriter that he'd worked on
at the country house. He wanted to keep writing.
In the months that followed, Carl changed many things in his life.
Broke up with girlfriend. New job. Moved. These changes common
after being the audience for a performance.
Abe breaks in to say: "And that's just the participants; to say nothing
of the artists we work with." Kind of a strange thing to point out, is
he teasing someone about some gossip?
It's not that O.W. wants to change everything about the audience's
life. But they do want to shake things up, to show that there's a
possibility for change.
Background: was at artists' retreat with friend Matt. Talking about
subjectivity of art experience; you can create a piece of art, hoping
it will change folks. But since folks view each piece of art differently,
it's going to affect them differently; few of them will experience it
in the way that you hoped.
What if you could investigate the audience's point of view? What if
you built your art around that?
A tangent that suggests O.W. spends too much time trying to explain
themselves to artists and not enough time talking with folks who
just want to get things done:
But then what kind of art is this?
Most art is made for a multitude, not for one well-understood person.
The question about the definition of art became moot when a urinal
was put up on a pedestal. (This makes me wonder how I'd pronouce
the "Mutt" in "R. Mutt" if I were French.)
Whether you're talking about art or games, you want to think of it
in terms of the experience, not the object.
How do you understand your audience then? Give 'em a survey, a
questionaire that takes 3-10 hours to finish. Give
surveys to the folks around 'em.
Influences: John Fowles' The Magus. You should read it,
but don't see the movie
Systems Theory: Abe was an architect. But it's not enough to think of
a building as an object. You must think of how it fits into its context,
the surrounding network of streets etc.
Don't want their art to be in art's equivalent of the "magic circle".
Want art meant to be experienced in the context of a life.
Two Tenets Generosity, Intimacy
When Ayden met Abe, she was a jaded NYC art student. But she'd been
writing letters to a friend for the past 10 years. Was there some way to
capture that intimacy in art? When professors asked "Who is your audience?"
There's not a great answer when your answer is "Whoever shows up."
Abe doesn't think about letters, but about a love poem: you don't write it
because you call yourself a poet; you don't write in the same way you'd try
to write a cool song. You write it with someone in mind. The art's result
isn't public accolades, but a change in a relationship.
More O.W. folks come up front for Q&A:
Q Do you have a measurement of pleasure vs pain so you know
how far you can take your audience?
Abe: Nope. Our audience is one person and that would be so
particular. Also, we're not trying for some The-Game-movie mindfuck.
(Ayden jumps in—when you heard about Carl's ordeal, you might think
that's what we were going for, but not all odysseys are so intense)
Abe: like Shoshana here was in the second odyssey, and sure we had her
tied up in the back of a van
Shoshana: but that's because I was supposed to be in a chrysalis and
would emerge with wings
Q Ever do any smaller odysseys?
Yep, for each other. And try smaller experiments.
Q (Difficult-to-follow question:) I work in non-profit around
art. Folks ask who audience is, it's never easy to answer. Your approach
is a breath of fresh air. How do you talk with people about it?
(Maybe she means trying to write grants?)
Nell: our artists, our actors, volunteer. They get stories.
Ayden: it's weird how it takes over your life. Afterwards, walking around
NYC, I saw places and thought more about why they were important to Carl
than why they were important to me.
Q (was this Deb?) How did you get him to run into the subway station?
Ayden: Text messaging helps.
Abe: It's rigid; you have to work with all kinds of flexibility.
There are backup systems.
Nell: Trial, trial, trial and error.
Q But the actors that he overheard…
Abe: OK, they were waiting on the platform. So they could see him run in,
he's chased in. They know what he looks like. So they could board after
him, sit near him.
We rehearsed, tried it out with fake participants. But people got on the
wrong train before. People got arrested before.
Shoshana: Because they saw a protest, thought it must be part of the
Abe: He thought "Aw these aren't real cops; they've got cloth badges.
They'd have real handcuffs, they wouldn't zip-tie me."
Q What's the closest you've been to something going terribly wrong?
Nell: You mean like getting pulled over and there's someone tied up in
the back of the van? Abe's all "Can't they see I'm in the middle of
some performance art right now? I'm changing this woman's life!"
Q How do you get funding?
Abe: Commissions. Like, you can commission it for somebody else.
We used to get grants. But now we do festivals. It's a
little weird. Like coming up in Brookly, the BEAT Festival, we had to work
with them to figure out a way that we're engaging their public.
Q (This question got lost in the room's echoes to me. Might have
been about strangeness of knowing so much about a stranger?)
Nell: (something about generosity and intimacy and a fake book
signing that might make more sense if I'd understood the question?)
Ayden: Carl had a strange experience meeting me at my apartment a week after
his odyssey. He thought of me as that woman who lived at that house.
Nell: It's amazing that people share as much as they do. But it has a good
effect; it pulls me out of my own neuroses; makes me care about their life.
We're generous if we're given a chance to be.
Shoshana: We started doing this by giving odysseys to each other. We were
close; we knew each other really well. We started with that.
Q When you do foreshawing-ish things in the weeks ahead of an
Odyssey, how do you keep the audience from suspecting?
Ayden: They don't figure it out. We make it sound like it's obvious.
(But in the audience's life, there's no spotlight on those events to
say "pay attention to this part".)
Abe: It's amazing how credulous we all are.
Like every novel-reading San Francisco bay area tech worker, I enjoyed Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Its computer and code bits are more science-fantasy than hard science fiction, but they support a fun ride of a story. A secret society; a secret book containing an even more-secret message about even-more secret magic. Book nerds and computer nerds and… a lot of fun stuff going on.
This isn't jotting notes on @writerguygames' presentation at the Adventure Design Group meetup hosted by the lovely folks at The Go Game. Rather, this is notes on the conversation afterwards. Because that didn't get recorded on the video so I should scribble it down now, before I forget.
When I arrived at the place I was sorry that I didn't see any puzzlehunters. But I was wrong. Actually, Tyler Hinman was there. But he was sitting up front on a sofa, and I didn't recognize him from the back of his head.
Afterwards, he discreetly refused to tell me any NPL con gossip. What a gentleman.
And I was doubly wrong because there were more puzzlehunters there—two members of Viscosity Breakdown. Not that I knew who Viscosity Breakdown are. I didn't even recognize them as puzzlehunters; I thought, oh they say they're puzzlehunters, they must be new. But they're not new. Apparently, they were playing puzzlehunts more than 10 years ago as team Secular Hedonists. But then folks moved away to grad school, and that team fell apart. But now a couple of them are back in the area, getting back into games. (But still they're not new; they've been playing again for years. I'm just clueless. And really grateful they introduced themselves.) So if you run into team Viscosity Breakdown, ask 'em about the good old days, I guess. Well, they seem pretty happy with the new days. Anyhow.
The Secret Puzzle Hunt Cabal is a treasure. You can tell 'em "I'm thinking of running a hunt on the 13th" and, between them, they know when the MS Intern Hunt is, the NPL convention, the MS Puzzle Safari, … And thus you may find yourself running a hunt on the 21st, instead. A date that looks about the same on the calendar, but doesn't exclude umpty-ump percent of the likely participants is a good thing.
I attended a talk by some folks from
(the inaugural talk of the
Adventure Design Group Meetup). O.W.
presented about their art: situations, each with an audience of one.
It works like this.
O.W. announces that they're considering doing some art. Hundreds of
potential audiences (a.k.a., "people") fill out a long survey.
One person is chosen as the audience and is subjected to further
study. Months later, for 30+ hours some weekend, Odyssey Works puts
the audience through a series of crafted experiences.
It was an interesting talk; it was recorded. If the recording ever
shows up, maybe I'll jot down some notes about it. But now I'm going
to jot notes about something that wasn't recorded, some of the
after-talk conversation. I'll forget if I don't write this stuff down.
After the talk, I clumped together with other puzzlehuntists who attended.
(Fans of meetups would point out that I wasted an opportunity to talk
with folks with other hobbies, to broaden my horizons. They'd
be right; but on the other hand, I don't get to see puzzlehuntists in
non-frantic-running-around and/or exhausted-post-game settings so often.
I have no regrets.)
Someone guessed that Odyssey Works was anti-intellectual. The O.W. folks described
one performance in which they'd had their audience start the weekend
contemplating maps and symbols; but as the weekend wore on, they wore him
down: had him carry a rock for some miles; chased him; tied him up;
fake-kidnapped him; subjected
him to a dionysian revel…
Are they anti-intellectual? It's hard to say. We heard about one performance
and fractions of others. For this audience, they bypassed the
intellect, went for the viscera. Did that reflect a favored method? Or
was this rare for them?
Some groups want to bypass the intellect, take the easy route to getting
an emotional reaction. The puzzle-huntist who'd brought up the question of
anti-intellectualism had gone to some
(nowadays, we'd call it a brain-washing "self-help" group)
meetings back in the day.
Was this rare for Odyssey Works? Maybe there was something special about
this audience. It's hard to know; for this short talk, they gave a
sketch of his personality. Did he need a psychological jolt, or was it
gratuitous, a cheap shot to make more strongly-affecting art?
Maybe both were true? Was OdysseyWorks more likely to choose an
audience that would appreciate the art that O.W. already wanted to make?
One member of Odyssey Works likes to
work with meat. The audience was put through a Dionysian revel
replete with dancing and the rending of flesh. Was the revel her idea?
Was it the part of the art which kept her interested in being a creator?
If the audience had been a vegetarian and OdysseyWorks had decided not
to use meat, would this artist have sat out that performance?
Hundreds of people apply to be the audience of a performance. Do they
choose an audience that will react well to the art they wanted to make
anyhow? Put aside the applications from the vegetarians; they won't
appreciate the meat. If you're working with a sound designer, then by
all means include a
sound bath into the art,
but make sure you choose an audience who will find this moving.
Why even go out of your way to create an emotional experience? Once someone's
been through anything for 30+ hours, it will become
an emotional experience. If you feel like you've achieved a higher state
of existence while struggling through the sunrise
to solve a Penrose-tile-grid minesweeper puzzle
printed on a huge piece of onion-skin paper, does that
mean there's something amazing about minesweeper? Or does that mean that
your brain was ready to be amazed after having been kept awake and
stimulated for umpty-ump hours?
Why the fake-kidnap? Having ceded so much control over their work to the
audience's whims stated on a survey… do the artists want control
back? Is it a way to keep a
frame around the world? "While he's caged in this van, we control what he
sees; when he's out in the world, he might be looking at anything."
Does it give more control over the experience? Or just a comforting
illusion of control?
If we're not trying to inspire a feeling of epiphany, but instead a sense
of challenge and fun, which of these ideas can we rip off?
Talked to a lady who'd been put off by most paper-and-pencil RPGs because rules assumed a male audience. But the Vampire game rules examples used ladies in half their examples; this helped her feel welcome.
When designing a game, ask yourself: Who's it for? Who will feel welcome? Who won't feel welcome? Who won't even be able to participate?
His day job is LajvVerkstaden, which he can totally pronounce, which runs educational LARPs for schools. The kids can't opt out, so if the game doesn't make them feel welcome oh well, the little stinkers have to play anyhow he feels extra sorry.
The Three Ways
1. No Wall of Text In LARPing as in life, copious documentation is not a feature but rather a warning sign.
2. Gender-neutral roles The kids can pick their roles, so don't build a gender into any role. [I guess this means I could role-play a fishwife, perhaps the only historical role I have the skills for -ed.]
3. Elf ears for everyone He ran a LARP in which some kids played goblins. He got some costume-ish elf ears for the goblin players to wear—but the ears were all colored for white folks. Not even in Sweden does that work for all kids.
Listen to your players. If you're messing up on the inclusiveness and your players try to tell you, will you pick up on it?
Think about your design choices; don't get complacent.
[If you're guessing that inclusion's on my mind as I try to figure out what features of puzzlehunts are off-putting to potential new players, you're right. The good news: already pretty gender neutral. The bad news: nobody gets elf ears -ed.]
All those good things you read about The Cave are true; you should go play it. All those good things you read about The Cave are probably more interesting than anything I'd write; there are a lot of video game journalist people out there.
OK, here's a Gaming Industry Insight I haven't seen other people talking about. There's been a lot of hullaballoo about modern games requiring an always-on internet connection. Look, even if the game program didn't require it, do you really think you could get through a modern computer game without an internet connection? News flash, Einstein, all the walkthroughs are on the internet. Printed-on-paper "Game Guide" books aren't really a thing anymore.
Oh man I bet someone already pointed that out. I should go back to reporting on books, there's less competition.
I watched the new Studio Ghibli film, "From up on Poppy Hill" and of course all I could think about was the marine signal flags. In the movie, our heroine, who lives in portside Yokohama, hoists signal flags each day saying UW. Why UW? Was she a fan of the University of Washington? University of Wisconsin? Was she sad that her father, lost at sea during the Korean War, was Under Water? Was she cheering on Yokohama's boats as Under Way?
Then I read some wiki that said those flags meant "I wish you a pleasant voyage" which didn't seem to have anything to do with UW. But that's because I didn't know about The International Code of Signals. These are protocols by which folks on one ship can contact folks on another ship and convey the notion "I would like to communicate by means of semaphore flags." You could just start waving semaphore flags, but if the folks on the other ship want to use some other method, how do you work that out? The Code of Signals isn't just a code-as-in-protocol. It's also a code-as-in-encoding. It defines some things like "UW" means "I wish you a pleasant voyage."
There are also shorthand ways to say, "We are going to jump by parachute" (BO), "Further explosions are possible" (JD3), and "My vessel is a dangerous source of radiation" (MS). You know, the kind of everyday shipboard phrases you don't want to have to spell out each time. I guess?
I'd seen books of merchant codes. If you were a New York manufacturer who wanted news from your traveling salesman in Omaha, you wanted him to telegraph you. But since telegraph companies and clerks were often into industrial espionage, you wanted to use a code. So each big company had a code with boring shorthand ways to say boring things like "5 bushels of oats at the agreed-upon price." But the International Code of Signals has more drama. "I have to cut the warps. The trawls are entangled" (TU). That's some delicate news to convey, right there.
The Maze of Games is going to be a book with at least 30-something (I lost count) puzzles by folks you've heard of. These are the last 30-something hours of its kickstarter. So if you haven't ordered yours yet, hurry up.
Have you gotten around to ordering @MazeofGames yet? It's gonna be a puzzly choose-your-own-adventure book. Like The Dextrus of Tempus, only moreso. (But I bet if you know what The Dextrus of Tempus is, you probably already ordered @MazeofGames. Anyhow.)
I would have spell Hanuka the ‚Äúnormal‚ÄĚ way, Hanukkah, but I ran out of scrapbook paper since I kept having issues until I figured out my tape solution.
Suppose you have enough material to make eleven letters. How many signs celebrating reasonably-popular occasions can you make from these letters? If you chose them carefully, I mean? Hmm, eleven's not many. Maybe there should be more letters.
Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Kickstarter
The Puzzazz folks want to send you a puzzle a month, a sort of time-release extravaganza. Or something like that, check it out. Be sure to watch the video for a new entry in your "Wei-Hua Puts His To...
Book Report: Lightning Man
It's a biography of Samuel F. B. Morse, the namesake of my favorite puzzlehunt code. So it's about time I read up on the man's life. He wanted to be an artist. He wanted to paint beautiful scenes, n...
When we figured out that Black Bart's Hidden Hoard would take us to a labyrinth in SOMA, I was certain what GC meant, but wasn't too pleased. Though it turns out I was certainly wrong. On 8th Street,...
Book Report: How to Sharpen Pencils
I'm a technical writer. I write instructions. I often team up with a "Subject Matter Expert," someone who's really good at doing something. I ask them what they do and they write it down. You might w...
Jotting Notes on Fundamentals of IRL Game Design
It's a seminar by @jettstein. (You think I'm typoing "GC summit talk by Bob Schaffer" really badly, but no: instead of watching a GC Summit video today, I did something else.) I attended Fundamentals...
Saw a Hash House Harriers pack run past, my first time seeing a live pack instead of just leftover chalk marks on the ground. At first I was kind of disappointed. I thought "If I were the hare, I wo...
Speaking of "what's this kind of puzzle called?", what is "Put together the letter-triples ION ISS NSM TRA to form a word"? It's kind of an anagram, but easier since you've got three triples instead ...
Tauba Auerbach's 50/50 Floor is on display at SFMOMA. You may recall that Auerbach is an artist who can think like a code-y puzzler though she sidled away from signal and over to noise for a while. T...
This week's snoutcast had an interesting tidbit "future events: bikes? Seattle? stay tuned!" And also some thoughts on puzzle-based learning if you're an educator. They're interviewing a math teache...
Book Report: The Vanishing Violin
It's another YA puzzle-mystery featuring the Red Blazer Girls. (You might vaguely remember that I read the first book in the series a while back. This time, the puzzlehunt story is a bit more believa...
Link: Anagramr anagramming game
This is me with the high score at an anagramming game: Leaderboard: @lahosken:170 @stalefries:111 @nwerneck:67 @ixpu:56 @ckolderup:55— An Anagram Game (@anagramr) August 30, 2012 You might wo...
Book Report: The Mysterious Benedict Society
It's a young adult adventure novel that starts out with a puzzly quiz. Kids who do well in the quiz team up to battle an evil conspiracy. This book is science fantasy, and the fantasy lost me. It's t...
Pencil Bandolier: Subtle Counterweight
During puzzle hunts, I run around wearing a bandolier to hold my pencils jauntily across my chest. Pencils don't weigh much, but they weigh something. Thus, I put a counterweight on the back of my ba...
Book Report: Kobold Guide to Board Game Design
Professional game designers write essays on topics in Board Game Design. Along the way, they get into project management, prototyping, usability, playtesting, and other good stuff. As a professional ...
Pencil Bandolier: the new configuration
Before: After: I tested out the pencil bandolier at the Real Escape Game. You ask: How did it go? I say: That's why we test. Perhaps the bandolier's boldest feature were the colored carpenter penc...
Book Report: Glued to Games
It's a book about the psychology of games. Why do we enjoy them? It's all very well to say that "Games are fun." You could say "Paper clips are fun," but then folks would tell you that you need to be...
Book Report: Crossworld
You'd think that I'd like to read a book about competitive crossword-puzzle solving featuring a first-hand report on playing in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Crossworld is such a book, fr...
More Tyro Crossword Construction ramblings
Some days ago, I posted some noobish thoughts about crossoword construction. I'd figured out that Nutrimatic's default word lists were good for Nutrimatic's use case, but not so great for a list of c...
Crossword Compiler Noob Diary
Unsurprisingly, creating mediocre crossword puzzles is easy but creating good crossword puzzles is hard. Mind you, I don't feel pressured to create great crossword puzzles. For puzzlehunts, I only ne...
Crossword Compiler is a Windows application. The last time I tried running it on Linux, a few years back, it didn't work. But today it works. Kinda. Far enough to fill in a grid with words, which is ...
Comics Report: Torso, Goldfish
It was a good holiday season. My cousin-once-removed Paul was in town, and once again wanted a treasure-hunt game. And once again, he wanted to be on Game Control, not just playing. So he and his dad...
Dr Who's Martians as Puzzle Designers #badpuzzles
Cramming for the Doctor When game, I watch Doctor Who. The Pyramids of Mars arc aims at being puzzle-huntish... kind of... Towards the end, there's a Martian stronghold guarding a treasure chamber; ...
Two steps forward, one slide back I bought a couple of clip-on lights. Also, I bought a new counterweight. To keep this whole mess from sliding forward (until all the pencils are under my elbow), I'...
Book Report: Tactile Morse Code
Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover. I don't feel that I need to read the book Tactile Morse Code because its cover explains its system pretty well. Bonus irony points for being a book about...
Book Report: Deep State
If you've been listening to the recent Snoutcast podcasts, you've heard interviews with some ARG (Alternate Reality Game) folks. If you listened to this week's podcast, you might have heard of a Walt...
Why I love Puzzalot Forum
Post by Robotguy: I am working on a type of crossword that is played on the surface of regular polyhedra... [more explanation...] I would appreciate any feedback. And this yielded relevant, practic...
Book Report: Adventures in Puzzling
The cover promises multi-puzzle extravaganzas, and it delivers. There's a fun variety of puzzles here. And they're organized into extravaganzas—into groups of puzzles, with each group leading u...
Book Report: Puzzle-Based Learning
I recently reported on the first couple of Winston Breen books. And then Joe Fendel asked me if I'd read the Gollywhomper Games book. Apparently, puzzle-based young adult fiction is a thing? Back in ...
Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even in NYC audibly
Remember how I went to New York and kinda figured out that some of the puzzle nerds there were into some kind of puzzly-geocaching combination thingy that I never really figured out? This week's Snou...
Swedish Rebusrally team name I would gladly steal: Baron Bosse Beh√∂ver Bet√§nketid. I don't know what that means, but I'm sure I bet√§nk like a bosse. On the other hand, not so much: The Sammanswet...
puzzlehuntcalendar.com makes a difference
A few people have been playing the 2-Tone Game this past weekend—referred by puzzlehuntcalendar.com. I checked the IP addresses of three of the players; they were from the East Bay, Spain, and ...
Book Report: Colossal Book of Wordplay
It's a book by Martin Gardner (the Mathematical Games guy), edited by Ken Jennings (the Jeopardy! guy). So you might expect it to be pretty amazing. But it's a book of little word puzzles of the so...
Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even the Art World
There's this comic book artist, Jason Shiga. He makes these comic books that are puzzles; choose-your-own-adventure books that play with the flow of pages and frames within a comic book. You might ...
Shopping is Hard; Let's Coin Phrases
It turns out that REI's selection of headlamps is not as good as Hallmark's, depending on your criteria. In related news, the Triclops Headlamp is still missing; all hail the Quadruped Headlamp. ...
Book Report: Tilings and Patterns
I know what you're thinking: Oh no, Larry tried to read another math book. No doubt this means the blog's"unfinished" tag will soon be attached to another book report. But I made it to the end of t...
Comic Report: City of Spies
My parents did pretty well playing the 2-Tone Game. Like, I don't think that the Burninators team needs to worry any time soon. But my parents did pretty well. And as they were walking from the &l...
Comic Report: Meanwhile...
The local members of the National Puzzler's League had a party last weekend, their Equinox party. I didn't go—I'm still not quite enough of a puzzle enthusiast to want to join the NPL. But I wa...
Book Report: Between Silk and Cyanide
It's the autobiography of the codemaster of the SOE an English spy organization during WWII. Wait! Dont' run away! It's not just math and cryptography and war. There's good stuff in here, too. Th...
Link: Puzzle Forum @ Puzzalot
If you're a puzzle-huntist, I'm sure you're already subscribed to the excellent Puzzalot blog, so I don't know why I even bother to link to link to his post announcing that he set up a puzzle forum. ...
Puzzle Things are Everywhere, with Local Witnesses
A while back, I blogged about Stuart Landsborough's Puzzling World, a tourist spot in New Zealand with a big maze and other weirdness. Why do I bring this up? Local gamist Chiu-Ki Chan went there, a...
Book Report: The Snowball
It's a biography of Warren Buffet. It's pretty long. But there are some good stories in here, the writing is good, and it smells well-researched. It edges around some touchy topics, but it's prett...
Link: Stuart Landsborough's Puzzling World
Puzzling World is a tourist destination in New Zealand. It started out as a big maze for people to wander around in. Then they added some strange attractions. Some of the ad copy worries me, thoug...
Book Report: Lewis Carroll in Numberland
This book is about Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson as a mathematician. There were errors in the parts that I understood. So I didn't trust the other parts to help me to understand new stuff. Maybe I...
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 ...
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 ...
Zine Report: Wired 17.05 (May 2009)
I picked up the latest issue of Wired. A bunch of famous puzzlers made puzzles for it. There's, like, hidden puzzles inside. I didn't make it very far. There's a lot of stuff in Wired magazine. ...
Link: Ken Jennings roolz San Francisco
City Hall runs this town. And who runs city hall? Not Gavin Newsom--he's bumbling around, grooming himself for a gubernatorial run. Fortunately Jeopardy star Ken Jennings stepped in to keep city ha...
Link: Warren Spector, Playing Word Games
Warren Spector does not, as far as I know, play uppercase "T" The uppercase "G" Game. But he designs lowercase "g" games. He worked on some good stuff for the Paranoia pencil-and-paper RPG... uhm, ...
Book Report: Going Postal
Skott raises an excellent point: The diskworld novels also have golems. E.g., I read Going Postal. I read this Diskworld novel because it's where the puzzler team "The Smoking GNU" got their name. ...
Jack O' Lantern Hidden Message
Pumpkins? This year, I can't deal with pumpkins. This year, I'm leting Hallowe'en slide. My free time goes into BANG 19. Puzzles and logistics, logistics and puzzles. That's plenty to think about....
Not exactly Puzzlehunts
Tom Lester and Annie Burnham got married today. You might remember them from BANG 13... but it's been a couple of years, so you don't have to feel bad if you don't remember. But they're married now,...
Puzzles from Down Under
I don't know anything about the puzzles announced at the Google Australia Blog which is a little frustrating because I'm apparently not supposed to register to look at them.Labels: link, puzzle scene...
PuzzleHunters.com : Register or be Anti-Social
Behold a lovely forum for discussing puzzle hunts, puzzle magazines, and stranger things. It's new, so there's not much there yet. Scott Blomquist set it up and seeks your frankest feedback. He wri...
Puzzle Hunts aren't really Everywhere
I saw a campaign poster for Obama. It read Fired Up And Ready To Go ...laid out with those line breaks. I'm so acrostically minded that I found it crudely funny. I blame the puzzle hunts. (I a...
Not-exactly Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere
Item: Saturday, I wanted to vote, so I walked through the Haight and down to City Hall. In the Haight, I noticed some young folks in matching t-shirts scurrying around. So I observed and eavesdroppe...
Puzzles are Everywhere, Maybe Even mental_floss
I work at an internet search company. I think that the awesome part about internet search is that you don't have to remember stuff anymore. If you might need to know the capital of California in th...
Book Report: Brainiac
It's a book about trivia by Ken Jennings, that guy who kept winning at Jeopardy!. Fortunately, this book is about a lot more than just Jeopardy!. The author explores the world of trivia--the histor...
Link: Changing Roles of Katakana (and Italics)
I just read an article with some conjectures about the cultural significance of the rise and fall of katakana amongst Japanese writing systems. Hey, gimme a break, I'm waiting for a slow download, I...
Book Report: Ilium
Raymond Chen, celebrity blogger, gave a talk at my place of employment yesterday. Afterwards, I went up to ask him a question. (Well, OK, to request that he apply his combination of knowledge of En...
Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere / Sad News
If you've played in bay area puzzle-hunt games, you might have met a sweet dog named Libby. She traveled in the company of Alexandra Dixon, captain of Team Mystic Fish. Libby died on Friday night; s...
Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere as Is Music
Yes it is the Shinteki Decathlon II report, in which team Underlying Metaphors ("We will not be understood until it is TOO LATE") sweats a lot. Fair warning: there's not much in there abou...
Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere I Go
Long day at work; long bus ride back to my neighborhood; I blearily walk along Irving Street, thinking about dinner. But then I recognize the map-festooned jacket ahead of me. It's Dwight Freund, f...
Links: Quality Content on the Internets
Wow, it's a blog entry with a small pile of misc links. That's so retro. If you're into puzzles, set up your Personalized Google Home Page, and add some content to it. What content should you add?...
Hiding Data in Metadata
I'm flipping through this telegraphic code book which E. E. Morgan's Sons used for encoding messages long ago. Most of it consists of code words to convey phrases. E.g., instead of sending "one hund...