Comic Book Shop News

After spending all of yesterday tinkering with the New Zealand travelog, I needed to get out of my apartment today. So I walked to Isotope Comics' new location. I got my fortnightly fix and looked around. The new space has no air hockey table, and does have comfy benches for reading. I could imagine loitering there in comfort.

As I checked out, the ever-debonair proprietor, James Sime, apprised me of upcoming store events.

A band would soon play at the shop. No, really. A band from Japan. No, really. He said that the band, PINE*am, sounded like Kraftwerk as re-interpreted in Japan. On 8/31 they would play at the Rickshaw; on 9/1 they would play at Isotope. I was still re-drawing the boundaries between the pop-culture areas in my brain when he snapped back to comic books.

Isotope's own Kirsten Baldock wrote a comic book, a comic book that will soon hit the stands: Smoke & Guns, about warring gangs of cigarette girls. No, really. When the book is released, the party plan is to go to Jackson Arms and shoot guns. Exact date, when known, to be announced the store web site.

So I'm having one of those I-love-this-town moments, sort of like when I was walking on Haight and saw the sign announcing Banghra Espanol. But you have to watch yourself. I imagined myself smoking clove cigarettes and announcing to no one in particular: "I attend only two shows each year. One must be Sleater-Kinney. And the other must be from Japan." When you surf a wave of culture, you must make sure you don't wipe out and become trapped in a whirlpool of degeneracy. Or something like that.

Still, I made a note to listen to some PINE*am sound clips and maybe show up for the show. And I gratefully accepted a preview showing a few pages of Smoke & Guns. It looks pretty funny, in a violent kind of way. Something to look forward to.

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site update: New Zealand 2004 Travelog

Waaaay back in December, I went to New Zealand. I caught glimpses of puzzle hunts, looked at giant ferns, paddled kayaks, talked about old telegraph equipment, snapped lots of photos, rode a train full of Japanese tourists, ferried a strait, ate pizza, visited museums, went sailing for a few days, rode buses, got rained on, got hailed on, caught cold, and came back.

Then I got busy with other stuff, forgot most of what happened, tried to recall it, and finally typed up what I remembered. The result is Larry Hosken's New Zealand 2004 Travelog. Enjoy.

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Bay Area Night Game Wiki

Puzzle hunts are everywhere, but it's not easy to find out about them. Some mysterious person started a Bay Area Night Game wiki, so now BANGers will have a place to look for information. A place that's easier to maintain than an icky Yahoo! Groups page.

(My opinion of the ickiness of Yahoo! Groups is mine. It's not my employer's opinion.)

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Book Report: Game Physics

David Eberly wrote this computer programming book about physics and numerical methods. Where "numerical methods" means making quick accurate calculations. It's an interesting subject, and this is an interesting book. Plus, the pages of the book are full of calculations, so the guy next to you on the bus will think you're a genius. There's a lot in this book, and I flipped past a bunch of stuff I wasn't interested in, and wish I'd flipped past more--I'm still not sure why there's so much material about LaGrangian dynamics--how often is there a game where the player is stuck on a track?

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Park Challenge

Today Team Unwavering Resolve (a.k.a. Steven Pitsenbarger, Paul du Bois, and I) played in Park Challenge, a puzzle hunt game organized by the Desert Taxi folks. It was a fun stroll in Golden Gate Park. The puzzles were elegant. What more could you ask for?

Anyhow, I'm now going to brain dump about the game here. No detailed game report this time. No attempt at organization here. I guess it's true, I'm turning into a blogger. Anyhow...

Also there was Team (Something) Monki, friends of Paul's: Bret Mogilefsky, Kelly, Matt, and Julia. They were fun to hang out with. Alexandra was there with Dwight and Rachel Freund. Anna Hentzel with some folks.

The first activity was a bingo game for which teams were allowed to fill in the numbers on their cards. The smart teams filled in cards that looked like

 1 16 31 46 61
 1 16 31 46 61
 1 16  * 46 61
 1 16 31 46 61
 1 16 31 47 61

...that way, if any of those numbers was called, you had an immediate bingo. Our team did not have that insight. When the numbers were called, I was pretty confused when someone called out "bingo!" on the first number.

But eventually we had our bingo, which meant we received our first packet of puzzles. The solution to each puzzle would be a word. Each word keyed to a location on the map.

There was a deck of cards and a Scrabble Board. Which did Paul and Steven like? They both liked Scrabble. I went for the deck of cards, which was accompanied by the diary of someone learning to be a Blackjack dealer. The diary gave a strong clue about what to do with the cards--strong if you've played a lot of these games, I guess. Chatting with Greg de Beer, Team Desert Taxi's puzzle-design guru, afterwards, I heard that plenty of recreational teams used a hint on this one.

Meanwhile, Paul and Steven were finishing off the Scrabble puzzle. This had the transcript of a Scrabble game with words and scores. The challenge was to reconstruct the game board by placing the words in the right places. They had placed all the words but one. I looked at the board and saw the word "REMOVE", and declared it the solution.

So we thought we walked to the solution of the Blackjack puzzle (actually, we walked to the solution of the Scrabble puzzle) and then walked across the park to the fly-casting pools, thinking that was the destination of the Scrabble puzzle. There was a guy with a big stack of chessboards at the fly-casting pool. He wanted to check our answers--teams had been showing up early--we weren't supposed to see him until we had solved four puzzles.

I had been quick to spot the word "REMOVE" and declare victory. But really the secret message in the Scrabble board was "REMOVE AS SAEVAEAN": "seven". When we thought we'd gone to our first goal, we'd really gone to our second. And we'd skipped our first, at the "seven" location. So we walked back across the park to the location "seven" marked on the map. There, a little past a group of people doing wu xia with shiny swords, was a locked box. We'd been given a locker combo at the start. Now we knew what to do with it. We grabbed the puzzles. There were a few teams that walked past the box without spotting it, and seemed distressed. Some of them thought they were looking for a person passing out puzzles. This allowed me to put on my veteran smirk and point out the locked box, taking some of the string out of having misled my team to the fly-casting pools.

So we had puzzles three and four. Puzzle four was photos of the six pockets of a pool table, each with some balls sunk. Thanks to some cues that had been left on the table, you could figure out which pocket was which. There was also a shot of the balls laid out, grouped into clusters. We figured out that the six pockets mapped to the six Braille dots, and and that the cluster of balls meant to consider those four balls as a Braille letter, noting which pocket they were sunk in. Nice.

Puzzle three kicked our ass. Halfway. It kicked one of our ass-cheeks. This was a sheet of paper dotted with colored triangles, numbers, and colored dotted lines. We figured out that we could fold this sheet of paper to make triangles line up--this was the right approach. But it didn't seem more right than any of the several wrong approaches we tried. Eventually, with one copy of the puzzle snipped apart, we gave in and took a hint--we should have done more folding and less cutting. So OK, we did that and soon we were on our way to the fly casting pool, this time after a legit solve.

There we got three more puzzles.

Puzzle six was a chess board and some chess pieces. Paul grabbed this one. The chess board squares were labeled with piece names or with letters. Putting the pieces on the appropriately labeled squares gave you a white king facing a board scattered with black pieces: a maze for the king to move through the maze, avoiding getting in check. As he moved, note the letters that he goes over.

Puzzle five was Taboo Word Search. Steven grabbed this one. In this word search, the word list didn't give you the list of words to find. Instead it would give hinty words, as in the game of Taboo. So the words "February", "Winter", and "Punxsutawney" would give you "GROUNDHOG" which was in the puzzle. But the hints weren't clumped together--all the hints for all of the words in the puzzle were in one big list. So you had to scan the list for related terms, figure out what related them, and then find it in the puzzle. After Steven and Paul had done the hard work, they didn't know what to do. My big contribution: I'd solved enough word searches to know that the "leftover" letters often spell out a message. So soon we had that one. Though I hardly saw this puzzle, I strongly suspect it would have been my favorite.

Puzzle seven was a set of five partial dart boards, each showing four wedges of a dartboard. Some wedges had darts in them, sometimes in the double- or triple-score ring. Below each partial dart board was a score. The wedges in each partial dartboard weren't numbered. But by looking at the score and trying different rotations, you could figure out the numbers in the wedges. So then what to do? I fixated on the empty wedges: I could map their number (1-20) to letters in the alphabet. D K Q M... this did not look promising. But I couldn't stop fixating on those empty wedges--why include them if they weren't used? Someone pointed out that there were different colors of darts. Maybe we should ignore the empty wedges, use the 1-20 values as letters, and figure that the red-dart letters spelled one word, yellow-dart letters another word, etc? This gave didn't lead to anything promising. Eventually we took a hint for this one, too--ignoring the empty wedges was smart. We were on the right rack with the red-dart, yellow-dart approach--but instead of using just the (1-20) values, we should have noticed darts that were in double- or triple- score ring and doubled their value. Whoops.

Soon we were back at the start/finish. We had just missed the (Something) Monki team--but a quick phone call and we found out that they were eating lunch in the Haight. Paul asked: What was your favorite puzzle?

Julia liked Scrabble and Taboo--she likes word puzzles. Most folks thought that the folding puzzle was very creative and elegant--but it had kicked all of our butts. Someone (Matt?) liked the blackjack puzzle best.

Someone talked about his student experimentation with LARPing. Wait don't laugh--it turns out that LARPing is not as dumb as you (okay I) have been led to believe. It's not just SCA stuff with a plot. There are puzzley aspects. You don't whack people with sticks. You only virtually whack them. But you really have to run a lot if a King of the Undead is after you. (Maybe the hierarchy needs a re-write. Or maybe not--I talked with a furry once and he wasn't a complete dork. Actually he was funny--intentionally so. Whatever.)

We talked about what happens if you get whacked in the head by a paddle if you're pregnant. You want to know: do you have a concussion? But it's tricky--many symptoms of concussion are normal life for a pregnant woman.

Along with puzzley things, I learned that the Golden Gate Park fly-casting pools have a relatively clean restroom.

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Book Report: Sister Age

A collection of short stories, some of them autobiographical, by M.F.K. Fisher. I was not so fond of the Twilight Zonish ghost stories, but the rest were awesome. There was one story about going out in a little boat on Morro Bay and it talks about the fishing there, and the story is poignant. And there is a story about a quirky old man in France (which sounds like the formula for a horrible story which snobs pretend to like as they chuckle over "exquisite eccentricity", but really this was a loving description of an interesting character, so don't trust your first instincts upon your first reading of that description). There were stories about loss and grief, which were hard to take during a time when I was grieving over a couple of lost relatives, but they were good stories nonetheless.

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Practical Physics

Outside the San Francisco main library, there is a bin where one may return borrowed things. I walked up to it, ready to return a few books. A lady was already there, looking inside, noticing something amiss.

She said that the bin was too full to put anything else in. I thought Oh well, guess I'll bring these books around again when I pass by this evening and got ready to turn around. But she wasn't turning around. She kept looking at the bin. Maybe she didn't go past a library that often. Maybe her stuff was due today. Whatever. Not my problem. Then I noticed that one of the things she was carrying was a My Neighbor Totoro DVD. Hmm, was she the kind of awesome lady that introduces her kids to Totoro? Maybe I should help her out. I looked inside the bin.

The door of the bin was a sort of counterweighted see-saw. The door swung down, you could put books on it. When you let the door swing back up/closed, the books would slide down the see-saw into the holding area. But the holding area was mostly full. With the door open, you couldn't reach the holding area, but there was a grating through which you could see it. Books were piled up in the middle--but there was room at the sides. However, the pile was high enough such that the see-saw couldn't swing all the way. Thus, books might not fall down into the holding area. There was already one book stuck on the see-saw.

So I shifted the book to the side. I swung the see-saw up and down, got its rhythm. Kept swinging, reached inside, twisted the book, kept swinging--and the book slipped down into the holding area, going along the side, away from the high/full part of the pile.

I had this thing figured out. I turned to the lady and said, "Give me--"

And then the nice librarian lady walked up and said, "Oh, is it full? I can take those for you." And for an instant, I was disappointed. Getting books into the overfilled bin was a fun game! Why was she spoiling my game?

But I got over it, and handed over my books. And I thanked the nice librarian.

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Book Report: American Hero

It's a noir political thriller. It kept promising to turn into something very interesting, but did not keep that promise.

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Current Events

This is a blog; it is largely about books. Today the blogosphere is abuzz with news about a book: the new Harry Potter book is out.

I spent the day sailing. Thus, I had a fun time with Piaw and Lisa. Lea W. was there, awesome as ever. Speaking of blogs, I met pioneering blogger Eric Case. Vianna was there; I met her sweet patootie Dan. These were good people to spend a day with on a boat. There was fun sailing; there was relaxing sitting; there was enlightening conversation.

Afterwards, I got to meet Lea W's housemate Jonathan Blow. I've only been hearing about this guy for, like, forever.

We went to Lalime's, a restaurant which I'd heard about often, but had never tried.

Old friends, new friends. A restaurant I can cross off my list.

Have I made all of the Potter-reading people envious? I hope so. I hope they try to one-up me by going outside more often on nice days. Then I can borrow someone's copy of the new Harry Potter book.

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Book Report: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

In this collection of essays by David Foster Wallace, I was glad to read the title essay. It's about his experiences on a cruise ship. I've always wondered if I would like being on a cruise ship, and now I know the answer: nope. It was better to learn this by reading of Wallace's suffering than by suffering myself. Strangely, I didn't like his essay about a state fair, perhaps because I figured that if I wanted to know what a state fair was like, and it turned out I didn't like it, then I could just leave. I probably couldn't just leave a cruise ship, unless I wanted to live the rest of my life in the Bahamas. So there wasn't so much urgency in reading about the state fair. Not that "urgency" is the word I'm looking for here. No-one is pressing me to take a cruise any time soon. There was also an essay in here which might have been full of insights about David Lynch, but I couldn't bring myself to read past the first few paragraphs. There were early stories about being a tennis prodigy, in which you can see what Wallace was like before he learned to write well. I wish I'd skipped them.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere

I stepped off the streetcar two stops early tonight. I wanted to walk a ways. I had recovered from my wild and crazy weekend. I was no longer hobbling around--I could walk. So I wanted to walk, get a bit of excercise. So I walked up a hill fast. I was breathing hard, puffing out my cheeks, looking down.

So I was looking down at the ground as I crossed a street. Down on the ground, I saw a chalk arrow drawn with a double head. Was it the spoor of the Hash House Harriers, or was it something completely different?

I looked up, looked around. I had just crossed Alpine Terrace. I looked down the street towards the lack of 118 Alpine Terrace, and saw the Mystery Machine again.

I stood there a few seconds, getting my breath back. There was a lot more going on at this intersection than met the eye of the casual observer. Then I kept walking home, watching the fog roll in.

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Book Report: A Walk In the Woods

Bill Bryson confirms that hiking is difficult. This book was OK.

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Switching Gears

Today I felt like I'd lost a fight with the interior of a passenger van, but that wasn't the problem. I'd had a great weekend playing in the Griffiths Game, a 24+ hour puzzle hunt run by the Burninators and their band of merry volunteers. This morning, I was paying the price: bruises everywhere (from stumbling around inside a van) and achy bones (from sitting still inside a van), and more bruises (from walking into things after staying awake for too long). But that wasn't the problem.

The problem was how I prepared my backpack this morning. I remembered to untie the magic lasso, dumped out many spare sheets of not-exactly-hex paper, and carefully extracted a plastic bag full of puzzles. But I forgot to pack a book.

So it was a long bus ride this morning. I sat and stared out the window.

That wasn't bad, though. I looked at things outside the window and I thought of puzzles based around those things. I had a few ideas. It wasn't many by a true puzzler's standard. But up until this point, I'd had about one half-baked puzzle idea per month, so having a few ideas in one hour was quite a jump.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

On the bus ride back from the office, I read an office copy of the book Effective Java. Thus I spared myself the ordeal of trying to think of any more puzzles. Exercising your creativity every so often is OK, but you wouldn't want to make a habit out of it.

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Book Report: The Man Who Would Be King

A U.S.A. citizen went to Afghanistan and got mixed up in the local wars and politics. In the 1830s. This is his story. Ben MacIntyre wrote this book about Josiah Harlan, foreign meddler. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to have been a huge culture of journalism in 1830s Afghanistan, so much of the story relies on Harlan's own memoirs--and those parts aren't always self-consistent. So there are at least a few lies scattered about.

But it's a ripping yarn none-the-less. And it's nice to read about a time when Kabul had good fruits and veggies.

(This is not an example of light summer reading from the San Francisco Public Library. This is an example of spring reading from the U.C. Berkeley library. But I'm just now getting around to uploading the book report.)

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere

Peter Tang just rented a new apartment. Today Steven, 'Lene and I went over to paint some of the walls.

Watching paint dry is not interesting. So between coats we headed out for lunch. As we walked towards Chestnut Street, we ran into Alexandra. She was carrying a printout of puzzles. These were not just any puzzles, these were puzzles I'd found this morning.

I had been surprised to find them--they were on a blog about programming, knitting, and the Swedish language. Who knew that Raymond Chen liked puzzles? But he'd thrown a puzzle hunt for a departing friend of his.

Anyhow, I'd spent most of the morning on those puzzles; they'd almost made me late for the painting party. Now Alexandra was reading them. It was good to see her; and it was good to see her dog Liberty Belle, who was friendly as always.

* ~ * ~ *

Not exactly a puzzle hunt, but it came up the same day:

After the painting party, I caught the 43 bus. It went up through the Presidio. At the Presidio Street exit, next to the House of Pixels, I noticed an arrow drawn on the sidewalk. Was it a chalk arrow? Was it the spoor of the Hash House Harriers? Or was it some spray-painted thing indicating the presence of water pipes? As the bus went along, it went past more arrows. Who had left them? Then an arrow pointed off to the side, Beside it in big letters: "ON IN". I recognized that phrase. That was some sodden socializing at the end of a Hash.

Ah, mystery solved; hypothesis confirmed. I settled back in the seat and let the bus carry me home.

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Not Quite Letting Go of Spring

Did I mention that White Mughals mentions a doctor treating a bladder infection?

And the doctor is named George Ure.

Ure should totally be the root of the word "urea", though it isn't, really.

That book was full of great stuff. I will call myself lucky if Birth of the Chess Queen has half as much.

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Summer Reading

For Fourth of July weekend, the U.C. Berkeley libraries are closed. Nevertheless, they recalled the book I was reading. I'm not sure how that works. In theory, I was returning the book because someone else had requested it. But the library won't be open for a few days, so that person won't have any way to check the book out.

Thus, I gave back White Mughals I wasn't finished with it.

I returned all of the books I had checked out from the U.C. Berkeley library. The BART train workers are threatening to strike, so it could be a hassle getting over to Berkeley to return those books later.

I checked some books out of the San Francisco library instead. Its books tend to be a bit less serious than those of UCB. I guess I've switched over to my light summer reading.

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