Book Report: A Far Country

Scouting game locations for a puzzle hunt, e.g. BANG 19, is time-consuming but fun. It's a good excuse to go out on a tour of not-in-front-of-your-computer. Plus, since you're trying to find places that are good for puzzle-solving, you spend most of your time in comfortable places, carefully observing: is this place quite comfortable enough for puzzle-solving? Is it perhaps even more comfortable than that previous place? Don't rush to any conclusions, now. Loiter a little longer if you have to. Not all places are so comfortable, of course. These places are not so good for puzzling and/or visiting; you might want to read about them, though.

You saw my book reports about Shadow Cities and Planet of Slums and thought, "I dunno if I want to read some rant about mass migrations of third-worlders from rural land to urban slums... maybe I'll just wait for the novel." Your wait is over, Daniel "The Piano Tuner" Mason has written that novel; it's named A Far Country. A family is torn apart, clings together. Country folks make their way through a city which works by its own rules. Life in a shantytown. Bleak, bleak, bleak. People take risks and harm passes over them. People play it safe and fate crushes them. And yet... the story is compelling. I read it through, not even put off when Magical Realism reared its ugly head.

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Book Report: Eleanor Rigby

I have so many of these book reports written up. I should post them more often. I don't post them because lately I'm working long hours. (Which sounds impressive until you find out the reason I'm working long hours is incompetence and ignorance, not dedication. It turns out that learning Javascript, learning a browser compatibility API, and learning a bunch of other things... makes for slow progress on writing useful Javascript code.) So I come home, I fall asleep. Which is silly. Pushing the "publish" button on an already-written book report is easy. So anyhow: Eleanor Rigby, another little novel by Douglas Coupland.

This book brought me up short in a couple of places.

The protagonist's name is Liz Dunn. She points out that there is a pattern to the lives of most of the world's Liz Dunns. I thought, Didn't I go to high school with a Liz Dunn? Then I wondered Did I really go to high school with a Liz Dunn, or did I just convince myself of that, fooled by this book? So I pulled out my high school yearbook, and I really did go to high school with a Liz Dunn.

Coupland generally has a good ear for language, so I wondered what went on here:

How many people with MS does it take to put in a light bulb?

Answer: Five million - one person to do it, and four million nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine to write depressing on-line web logs.

That "on-line web logs" sounds so wrong. Who says this instead of "blogs"? The person in the novel who says this... is this phrasing supposed to suggest that this person doesn't know much about the internet?

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Book Report: Cosmonaut Keep

There's a parallel story; humanity's learning the secret of a light-speed interstellar starship drive; humanity's rediscovery of same, hundreds of years later. There is politics, humor, ... I dunno, this book had a lot going for it, but I never got into it.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Including a State of Inebriation

Rich Bragg of Blood and Bones sent me some mail about turning BANG 18 into a drinking game, vis a vis a strategy to avoid being obliged to run a future BANG.

...By the way, re: your blog post, while we know it significantly lowers our chances, we don't actually play not to win when we drink after each clue. You know I've always said that winning is fun, but it turns out solving puzzles while drunk is also fun. And in fact, one day we aspire to do both at the same time, and will happily take on the responsibility of running another BANG when it lands on us. :)

...Also as evidence to my claim, the first time we played in this manner was in coed's leisurely mini-game, where there was no threat/promise of having to/getting to run a subsequent event.

Rich (and the rest of Blood & Bones, from what I know) have shown themselves to be honorable in the past, so I'm inclined to believe him. Of course, this raises an interesting question. If you were running a Bay Area Night Game and you wanted to maximize the chance of a drunk team winning, what activities would you choose?

I'm thinking....

  • Stereogram. I've never solved one of these, but I understand that you need to unfocus.
  • Physical challenge: Walk a crooked line.
  • ...

Oh, I'm out of ideas.

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Book Report: Giant Robot 55

I don't know if anyone mailed an announcement to the Bay Area Night Game list about the upcoming BANG 19, a.k.a. a "simulcast" of Seattle's SNAP 4. I don't want to think about it. I'm too sleepy to do much beyond post this previously-composed blog post about the recent issue of Giant Robot magazine:

It's a new issue of Giant Robot! Probably the best thing this time was a two-page spread with some photos of pencil boxes from the 80s. People see my Hello Kitty pencil box and they compliment it. But I'm not sure if they compliment it because they like it, or if they're trying to cover up the fact that they started to laugh at, you know, the big shambling guy with the bright pink Hello Kitty pencil box. Anyhow, they compliment it and I usually look at them funny. I'm not exactly sure how to take the compliment. It's a nice pencil box. But I remember the pencil boxes of my youth.

They're here, pictured in this magazine. Back when pencil boxes had more compartments than you could stand. Mood-sensing panels to touch. Actually, most of the pencil boxes in this photo spread are more elaborate than those I remember. There are pencil boxes with features I'd forgotten, if I ever knew about them: a plastic dial-driven calendar, pushbuttons, thermometers, articulated pencil-rack raisers. Useless frippery, sure. But now I look at my pencil box which lacks these features and think "This ain't nothing special." That's probably healthy. You don't want to invest too much feeling in your pencil box. Instead, concentrate on what you do with your pencils.

I mean, be creative. With the pencils. Not like that, you pervert. Never mind.

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Book Report: The Lindbergh Child

It's rough being famous. You just want to go about your life, but there are jerks out there watching you. It's creepy. And some of those jerks do worse than just watch.

The comic book The Lindbergh Child is by Rick Geary. It's about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Just in case you don't remember how that story went, this book is another in Geary's books about historical murders. So, yeah, it ends sadly. But it's an interesting story and Geary, as usual, tells it well with his not-exactly-stipple-I-don't-know-what-you-call-it style. Check it out.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: Iron Puzzler BANG

BANG 18, the Iron Puzzler BANG was last weekend and it was awesome. The excellent organizers--the Burninators, Coed Astronomy, BootyVicious, Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow, Platonic Solids, and Wrong Ideas--say that other folks might want to re-use the puzzles in other puzzle hunts, and thus I have an excuse to skip writing a puzzle-by-puzzle recap. But there were some notes that I wanted to jot down.

For this hunt's team, I mixed together peer groups: Instead of playing with just friends-who-I-would-hang-out-with-anyhow; there was also one of of the Mystic Fish serious-puzzlers contingent. It was Peter Tang, Steven Pitsenbarger, and Alexandra Dixon. People seemed to get along pretty well, whew! But there was one puzzle, which had a crosswordish section... in hindsight, I noticed that Alexandra and I hogged that puzzle, old instincts kicking in, crowding out the less-pushy folks. But there wasn't much of that--and a good thing, too. This BANG called for insights, not just word puzzling skillz, and Peter and Steven delivered.

There was an interesting system of figuring out where to go for the next puzzle. If you'd figured out that the solution to the puzzle was LEMON, you'd look at a sheet of paper with ~50 definitions on it. You'd find a definition that fit LEMON, like maybe "Citrus fruit". That definition was associated with a spot on the map. If you'd asked me ahead of time, I would have guessed that this system wouldn't work well. I would have whined something like What if more than one definition fits the answer? But in practice, that didn't happen. And if it did GC had a good backup plan--there was a GC volunteer at each puzzle station. So if you had to ask "We think that the answer is 'LEMON' but is that the 'citrus fruit' or the 'automobile type'?" you could get an answer right away. "This is not supposed to be part of the puzzle." It's a good system--if you've got enough volunteers to staff every location.

Afterwards, Peter, Alexandra and I had dinner in the Marina district to work on the puzzles we didn't solve during the event itself. I walked home via the Lyon Street Steps. It was dark, which made them pretty scary. Rather, they weren't scary, but I bet that skunk wouldn't have been ambling around during the daytime. This skunk slunk out of a hedge beside the stairs. I was walking towards it--but decided to stop walking. The skunk saw me and eased back into the hedge. I wasn't really sure if it was heading far away, though. If I kept walking, was I going to end up walking threateningly-close to a hedge-concealed skunk? I kept walking, no skunk sprayed me, and all was right with the universe.

I also thought, of course, about how to figure out which team should run the next BANG. I kinda liked the rule in recent BANGs that if your team had hosted a BANG, you were immune from having to host another. In BANG 18, that rule wasn't in place. I don't ?think? it made a difference--I don't think those guys have hosted a BANG yet (unless maybe Nick Baxter worked on a Burninators BANG?). But... I worried about the effects of that lack-of-rule. Team Blood and Bones, who've run many BANGs, were drinking shots after each puzzle. By the end of the game they were staggering. This ensured that they wouldn't win, wouldn't be obliged to run the next BANG. But I wonder if there's some other way, some healthier way. Like, maybe if your team is one of the top three in the Hall of Fame of teams who have run the most BANGs, then you're immune. Something like that.

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Book Report: The Loneliness of the Electric Menorah (Cometbus #51)

This is a 'zine, the latest issue of Cometbus. This is a history of Berkeley's Telegraph avenue--mostly of the shops which arose out of a place called Rambam, which predates my Berkeley days. But thence sprang Moe's Books, Cody's, Shakespeare & Co, Lhasa Karnak, Black Oak Books. It's a tale told by Aaron Cometbus, who grew up amidst this, but wasn't privy to the stories until he started asking around. It's the story of the slovenly Ken who runs Rasputin Records and Blondie's Pizza. The SLA is is in there; the riots of the 90s, the inter-generational tension between the hippies and the punks. There is reflection upon the nature of a pig in mud. There is bookselling, there are books, there are ideas, there are ideals. I recommend it.

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