Larry Hosken: New

Link: "Puzzle World" Discord

I joined the Puzzle World Discord, a set of chat rooms for puzzlehunt and gnarly-puzzle enthusiasts. If you're not into Mystery Hunt and peek at this Discord today, you might think "oh gee whiz maybe I shouldn't join;" there's been a lot of Mystery Hunt chatter lately. But it's not supposed to just be about Mystery Hunt. I guess that most people on this Discord found out about its existence the same way I did: at the Ask-Me-Anything followup to the recent Mystery Hunt. There are spaces to talk about other puzzle hunts and puzzles.

(I also lurk on a Slack for puzzle constructors, which lately gets, uhm, about one message per month. Maybe a Discord for constructors and solvers will have more people and thus have more sustained conversation? I can hope.)

(I also lurk on a Discord for Pikmin Bloom players, which gets so much conversation that I don't care about. Like, there are too many chatty people so in practice I never look at what's going on there, I just set up some notifications to ping me if someone's trying to talk shit about me behind my back. I hope Puzzle World gets just the right number of chatty people… oh man, the Pikmin Bloom main channel in the last few minutes has had a "Hello" and a "What's up" and I don't know why those chatters think that thousands of people needed to see that.)

Anyhow, if you follow this here blog for the puzzlehunty bits, then there's a decent chance you'd enjoy chatting in Puzzle World, check it out.

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2022-01-23T18:20:55.098504

Link: ‘Epically heroic and tragic’: how a family treasure hunt ended with a son lost at sea

Article in the Guardian: Hunter Lewis spent years creating the adventure, but it ended tragically when he didn’t return from preparing the final clue

The searches took participants all over Humboldt county, rappelling down a cliff, climbing a railroad trestle and hiking secret trails. Dozens of people participated in the adventure, which had elaborate clues, involving code and, in one case, Braille.

When I read "elaborate clues, involving code and, in one case, Braille" I think Here's a kid who knew how to have fun.

But when I read "rappelling down a cliff" I think I wish the youth of today knew about the safety problems of past puzzlehunts.

Rest in peace, kid.

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2022-01-22T14:50:40.439582

Months ago, anticipating wildfire season, I ordered an air purifier from my local hardware store, along with some other stuff. But they sold their last air purifier before they could fill my order. Someone from the store called up to ask what to do and then I think they canceled the order. But yesterday I got mail saying that maybe the store is getting ready, months later, to ship the "some other stuff" part of my order. Except then I looked at the planned ship date and now I think that maybe some bored shop clerk at this store (a few blocks from the Haight Ashbury district) is just fooling around in the order system.

Your item(s) will be delivered Tue, Apr 20

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2022-01-19T19:06:34.377111

Because of the recent COVID-19 surge, I've kept my morning walks close to home. E.g., this morning I walked past this building on the hill across the street from my apartment.
Sign in front of a building. The sign proclaims: Surge Building

In other news for my neighbors: Look out for that tsunami.

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2022-01-15T17:47:04.707632

Book Report: S v Z

This book accompanies Tauba Auerbach's exhibit now showing at SFMoMA. It's an interesting piece of art in its own right. That's a good thing, I guess? I find myself comparing it to an earlier book documenting Auerbach's early work, How to Spell the Alphabet. The earlier book does a pretty darned good job documenting those early works. It's relatively easy: those early works are mostly flat images (aside from some mapping typewriters that can be satisfyingly understood by means of simple pictures and something to demonstrate their map transformations; and a zine-like booklet that can be pretty well appreciated as a series of flat images). But Auerbach's later works are more complex; e.g. "Non-Invasive Procedure," a set of concentric glass tubes that glisten with soap-film-like color when viewed through a polarizing filter (oh yeah on a medical-procedure table thingy). You can't imagine what it's like to approach this work, to observe it with and without filters. You can't imagine it based on my words, based on now-hazy memory. I can't imagine it based on the picture in S v Z, sadly, even though I have some now-hazy memories to help me. It wouldn't be reasonable to expect a mere book of images to capture these works. Yet—the book is nevertheless interesting.

two pages with images that (forgivably, reasonably) fail to convey an experience

(Those of you looking closely at this picture are wondering some things. Why does this book have two pages 32? Why do those page numbers look fisheye when other stuff doesn't? Why is Larry holding a piece of black marble(?) in the foreground? Look, I'll get around to explaining all of this, but you need to be patient.)

The book S v Z is not exactly an exhibit catalog. Some items exhibited aren't in the book; some items pictured in the book aren't in the exhibit. E.g. the book shows some octothorpe lapel pins; I don't know that there were any of those at the exhibit (although I guess I could have Heisenberg-ly known if'd worn my pin when I visited). At the exhibit, I spotted some Yin Yang pins stuck in the wall; but they're not pictured in the book. The exhibit includes some items that clutter Auerbach's studio (presumably providing inspiration), not necessarily created by them. Among these exhibited items was a simple almost-Klein Bottle from Cliff Stoll's Acme Klein Bottle company. In the book, there's no simple almost-Klein bottle. However, there is a picture of a more complex triple-layer almost-Klein bottle (the physical bottle is by Alan Bennett and lives at The Science Museum in London), really quite extraordinary. The interpretive text for this picture doesn't explain its relation to Auerbach. Do they have this picture in their studio? Do they just think it's neat? In my imagination, they have picture in their studio; when the museum asked to borrow it for the exhibit, Auerbach said, "Aw, go ahead and exhibit a simple one-layer bottle from Acme; I want to keep my picture around; it's not like most people visiting the exhibit have listened to Cliff Stoll ranting about Klein bottles for minutes on end; they'll probably think this simple one-layer dealie is mind-blowingly exotic." Yeah, so anyhow: contents of the book ≠ contents of the exhibit.

OK, so the book (reasonably) can't fully document the works; it's not a complete catalog. Why is it worthwhile? It has other things going on.

edge of the book; page ends are marbled; the spine design pictures two ribbons twisted into helices

The title S v Z refers to (brace yourself) the chirality of helixes; that is, for corkscrew shapes, whether the corkscrew twists clockwise or counterclockwise. Depending on that direction, when you look at the corkscrew from the side, its edge might look like an S or Z. Chirality in general is the concept of "handed-ness". Your hands have chirality; scissors have it, too; this book has it. Well, all have handed-ness. Left-hand pages and right-hand pages usually have roughly opposite layouts so that each two-page spread will be kinda symmetric. S v Z goes above and beyond, chirality-wise. Auerbach's into chirality; and channeled their interest into this book's design. Most books start at the front and progress to the back. This book starts from both ends, working in towards the middle; one side is S; the other Z. Earlier, you perhaps wondered why the book had two pages 32. These are pages 32S and 32Z. Both pages 32 address the same artwork. Thus, you can see something like a two-page spread about an artwork by gripping together pages 33S–33Z upright and wobbling your head from side to side to see around them. (I'm not sure the head-wobbling was their intent, but it's how it turned out.)

(With the opposite-sides-of-the-book-pages being related, I kinda expected those pages to be from the same piece of paper, like a staple-bound magazine. But the book's not bound like that. So that's two ways that the book's not bound in the way I might have guess if…but I'm getting ahead of myself again; it's all interconnected. We'll get to it, we'll get to it.)

The book's font also uses handed-ness. As you flip from 127Z forward to 1Z, the font goes from upright to angled to exaggeratedly-illegibly angled. It's darned annoying; you really have to squint to read the last several pages; and that's where the interpretive text is. (There are essays by art scholars in the 120s; those are quite legible, thank goodness. But I, a philistine, only halfway understand the scholarly essays nonetheless; but I'd appreciate knowing the materials and titles and… anyhow.) If you flip backwards through the book from 127S to 1S, the font again goes from upright to angled to exaggeratedly-illegibly angled; but now it leans left. Earlier, you perhaps wondered why the page numbers looked "fisheye"; that's because their font was angled in opposite directions.

I'm not sure why this book isn't a pair of spiral-bound volumes with one volume's spiral-binding going the "wrong way." This seems to fit the S-helix/V-helix theme better. The artist already makes such "handed" spiral-bound books. Maybe SFMoMA folks worried their fancy-pants usual visitors wouldn't buy a book that didn't show off its artsiness on a spine. (The GEOS documentation books were wire-bound; because they couldn't display titles on their non-existent spines, for a while I could recognize different volumes by their thicknesses.) It's fine; bound the way it is, there will probably be less wear on the pages than if they were spiral bound.

pages 110s, 110z

The edges of the paper are decorated with a marble pattern; specifically the part of the pattern of Flow Separation, in which they decorated a decommissioned New York fireboat. If you wondered why it looked like I was holding a chunk of marble; it was marbled pages.

And there's more to the book. There's art, of course… oh good grief, this Book Report is already so long, maybe I'll let someone else write about the actual book contents instead of structure. From the scholarly articles, you find out that Auerbach grew up reading Martin Gardner and Flatland, which perhaps explains why their art makes as much sense as it does.(But whence the interest in codes and signals? Back in my day, we had the KnowHow Book of Spycraft, but the artist may have been born too late for this.) And some of the art pieces documented in this book are themselves books (though most aren't).

There's a lot going on here; the artist's decisions, as ever, resist easy interpretation. It's a fine book for a puzzlehunter to ponder. There's no hidden message; this isn't one of those puzzles. Maybe it's more like one of those metal-rings puzzles; an intricate interconnected system. As you think about how it was put together, it's a good way to stretch your brain.

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2022-01-11T20:19:43.658533

Okay, now RAISE is my new Wordle starter word. As before, I am not the first to figure this out. Last night, I was measuring a starting word's quality based on how many green and yellow squares it yielded on average. That's a pretty good measurement, but not quite rigorous. E.g. you have to guess "how much more valuable is a green than a yellow?"

A more algorithm-ly rigorous measure is: on average, for a starter word when the game shows you the green and yellow squares, how many wrong-choices get eliminated? Sorry, that's kind of a mouthful. Maybe more clearly:

If you've wallowed in classic puzzles, you've probably seen plenty of coin-weighing problems a la you have 12 coins, one of which is counterfeit and a little light; you have a balance scale; can you find the counterfeit in just three weighings? In many of these coin-weighing problems, the key is to divvy the 12 coins into 3 groups of 4 instead of the the obvious-but-wrong 2 groups of 6. This lets you rule out eight coins in the first round instead of six.

My new measurement looks at a potential starter word. Then it considers all the potential answer-words; for each, what green-and-yellow-squares does the game report? Put all answer-words that get the same green-and-yellow-squares into the same "bucket". You're hoping for many buckets, all about the same size. Because English isn't smooth, you won't get many-many-equally-sized buckets. But you can measure the buckets you do get to see how closely they approach the ideal.

This is a subtle difference. Last night, my favorite word using the the how-many-green-and-yellow-squares measure was SLATE. According to this new measure, SLATE is 99.97% as good as RAISE. I don't know the exact point of diminishing returns for thinking about this problem, but I'm 100% sure I'm way past it.

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2022-01-05T17:25:48.861330

Update: This blog post, which superceded another blog post, has since then itself been superceded. Try to keep up.

I changed my mind about my Wordle starter word. Now I like SLATE. (I'm not the first/only/whatever person to figure this out.)

Someone on the internet pointed out that Wordle's source code contains its word list. (Well, there are a couple of word lists in there. I don't know for certain, but one looks like a list of awesome words; and one looks like a list of ugh-acceptable-words.) When I picked my earlier starter word, I considered many many five-letter words. I worried that my word-list wasn't like the game's word-list. It turns out I was right to worry. The game favors, uhm, root words. E.g. BOXES is a lovely five-letter English word in my word list, but it is not in Wordle's word list—I bet that's because BOXES is a plural, not a root. When I search Wordle's list for other lovely plural words, I don't find 'em. My previous starter-word-picking system thought S was a very likely last letter. But if you cross out plural words, S isn't so common.

Anyhow, now I like SLATE. SAUCE and SLICE are nice too.

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2022-01-05T17:27:16.929330

Today I got the second half of a shingles vaccine.

width: 300px; height: 200px;

That's not thrilling news, but when I wake up tomorrow morning with a boatload of side effects and wondering "Did the omnichrons finally get me?" I'll see this and remember what's really going on.

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2022-01-04T22:24:00.259522

UPDATE: This post has been superceded.

I've been playing Wordle, the online game that's like a cross between Mastermind and guess-the-word. It occurred to me that the ideal "starting word" would have commonly-appearing letters. And it would be even better if those letters appeared in their most common positions. E.g., it would be good if my starting word contained the most common letter E, but EARLY might not be a great word because E is much more likely to appear at the end of words, not at the beginning. But I've got a list of words and can write a little program to find out which letters are most common at which positions in five-letter words et voila:

position
1 2 3 4 5
s a a e s
a o r a e
t e n i a
b i e o y

…so I eyeballed that data and chose my new starter word. (No, I didn't choose SAAES; I picked a real word out of that mess.)

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2022-01-05T01:18:32.928178

Please enjoy these snapshots from my morning walk:
Fort Scott Golden Gate Bridge

New year, new me folder to set up to hold my blog pictures, please pardon my dust ♫ la la la ♫

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2022-01-01T18:27:57.545532

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