Not-Really-Puzzlehunts are Everywhere, even Denmark

At work, I work with training/educator folks. Tonight, I posted a message about stuff I'd read this evening. But it's not confidential or anything so I guess I'll post it here, too:

LARPers run a school

LARPers are Live Action Role Players. These people don't think Dungeons and Dragons is geeky enough, so they act out what their characters are doing. Do you remember a video on YouTube a while back in which people whacked each other with foam swords while a "wizard" tossed rocks while yipping "Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!" Yeah, those were LARPers.

A bunch of LARPers set up a school. And to teach real stuff, not just, uhm, imaginary dragon thwacking or whatever. For some lessons, they present material in, you know, the usual way with someone talking in front of a chalkboard. But when they can, they try to teach by means of acting out role-playing games. They describe themselves at An excerpt:

1st narrative structure was Godsplay. On the first day of school, the students were divided into different pantheons and were told, that they would compete to name the different parts of the school for the rest of the week. In the first day they sought information on the pantheon and chose god-characters for each of them, composing a text in Danish describing their character. On following days, they worked with geometrical structures on the premise that all gods want their followers to build as big and impressing as possible. ...

I found out about this school from, so help me, a free online book of articles about LARPing. Don't judge me. Book available from . Article "The Role-Players’ School: Østerskov Efterskole" starts on page 12. An excerpt:

In the third week of the World War II theme, the pupils were engaged in the East Front. For most of the week, they were not playing individual soldiers but rather taking charge of whole military units. They were fighting the battle for Stalingrad –one half played Germans and the other half played Russians. But instead of deciding every battle with a die roll as you would do in a board game, the result was dependant on the solving of arithmetic problems.

This article also reminds us that people are not wearing enough hats:

"Wear-a-hat –teaching is a unique method where the pupil behaves according to the social conventions of a normal classroom setting with the only notable exception being that both the pupil and the teacher are wearing costumes. By any rational definition, wearing a hat hardly counts as role-playing: It is simply practicing ordinary teaching, be it classroom or group work in the roleplaying gear. Nevertheless, engagement and concentration are usually higher than without the gear."

So now people at work know I've been reading about activities dangerously low on the geek hierarchy. We'll see if they're still willing to talk to me.

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Meta Vanity Searching: Nearby Search Suggestions

You know how some people are so shallow that they Google themselves? I do that. I did that today. But this time was different. You know how when you type a little into the Google search box, it pops down a little list of suggestions? Well, my name showed up on the list of search suggestions when I'd typed in larry hos:

I thought things only showed up on that list if a bunch of people searched for it, but apparently not that many people need to search, because... there I am. It still seems strange. I got kind of curious about other people on the list. How about that Larry Hoskinson guy? I just visited his MySpace page, which lets you play some songs by him including the darned good "King of the World". I admit I hadn't heard of him until just now and yet I found myself absurdly proud to be in his "neighborhood," if that makes any sense.

Larry "Hoss" Pearson is a retired US Navy pilot. As I click and read around, I get the impression that "Hoss" is pretty talented at flying, but it's tough to get recent information.

Who is the "Larry Host" that appears below me? Let's see, if I search for him, RipOff Report, scam warnings? Convicted felon? Doesn't pay child support? Wow, OK.

So... people above me on the list are searched for because they do impressive things—make music, fly airplanes. The guy just below me on the list shows up on Gee, I almost feel like I should try to do something to move up the list, get into a "better neighborhood", as it were.

What's your search suggestion neighborhood like?


Book Report: The Mythical Man-Month (leftover cheap joke)

Last week, I posted a rough draft of a study guide for The Mythical Man-Month. I left a cheap joke out of that study guide. That study guide was serious business and had no room for cheap jokes. So I'm posting this separately.

One part of the book discusses how to divide up a programming team's labor among a few people, letting the best programmer concentrate on programming, while offloading minutiae to others. They use the analogy of a surgical team:

A proposal by Harlan Mills offers a fresh and creative solution. Mills proposes that each segment of a large job be tackled by a team...organized like a surgical team... one does the cutting and the others give him every support that will enhance his effectiveness and productivity. ... Can it work? Who are the the anesthesiologists and nurses on a programming team, and how is the work divided?

Because I'm a technical writer, I was flattered that this proposed team has a role for a technical writer: the Editor.

The editor. The surgeon is responsible for generating the documentation—for maximum clarify he must write it... The editor, however, takes the draft or dictated manuscript produced by the surgeon and criticizes it, reworks it, provides it with references and bibliography, nurses it through several revisions, and oversees the mechanics of production.

Why mention a tech writer? Maybe Brooks was thinking about this because he was writing a book. I have another theory, though: he wanted to answer the question he raised earlier: Who is the anesthesiologist of the surgical team? Anyone who's tried to stay awake while reading my documentation can answer that question. Uhm, they can answer it after you wake them up again, I mean.

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Zine Report: Cometbus #52 "the Spirit of St Louis"

Punk is about community--but this (fictional, keep reminding yourself it's fictional) story is the story of a punk community that's too small, too self-involved. The protagonist came from Berkeley, moved to St Louis as a way to break free--and then lives in St Louis from then on. Other members of the local punk scene try to break away, but are pulled back in. It's obvious that these people aren't good for each other. When outsiders come in, they are lionized--but then they too are trapped in the tarpit. Yet there's still love of the punk scene here. Just a reminder not to leave your blinders on, not to get provincial.

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Book Report: Myth-Nomers and Im-Pervections

I read this book years ago, but I read it again more recently. It was on sale as a tiny paperback. Sometimes it's useful to have a pocket book that, you know, fits in your pocket. That way you can still bring something to read with you even if you don't want to lug around your manpurs^W backpack. So I picked up this book and I read it. It was good!

It's a sequel in Robert Aspirin's Myth series. In this episode, our hero Skeeve grows up, takes responsibility for his actions, and thus becomes a better leader. Yes, this is a magical fantasy book with wizards and trolls and such. And yet, in this book, the protagonist succeeds by becoming more mature. This book was probably sneakily educational the first time I read it.

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Book Report: Old Man's War

In this science-fiction novel, it's the far future and yet recognizably-human (albeit heavily-augmented) humans are somehow still relevant? Humans are better at fighting than human-controlled robots are... psshyeah right. The good news: This book is well-written, it's a quick read, it successfully distracts from a bus ride.

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Puzzle Hunts aren't really Everywhere

I saw a campaign poster for Obama. It read

Fired Up
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 am trying to use the time-delayed publishing feature again. We'll see how that goes.)

[Edited to add: the line breaks, without which this post didn't make much sense]

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David Hill on Hypotheses and Blurting

David Hill replied to yesterday's blog post on hypotheses in puzzle-solving. He replied on Facebook, so you probably didn't see it. I'll post his reply here. I have a couple of reasons for wanting to post his reply here. First of all: he makes some relevant and cogent observations. Second of all: His reason for posting this on Facebook is astounding.

sorry to post my reply on facebook and not your blog proper but here at work your blog is blocked by sonicwall as "personals - dating."

i enjoyed reading this a lot and thought about how teams i've been on have dealt with this problem on other games.

in new york, where our team has been as large as 20 people, we often try to huddle around a puzzle and do the blurting thing. but i can't deal with that because it is uncomfortable and i don't think well in that situation.

but my experience has also shown me that puzzles are rarely solved by one person suddenly cracking them, often the group has to brainstorm and share all their ideas, "blurt" them if you will, in order to get someone to that "a-ha" moment.

i think figuring out a set amount of time for each person to come up with ideas then everyone sharing them is a good marriage of these two approaches.

i also think having a copier available to make sure everyone can take a paper puzzle a quiet place to think is helpful.

This prompts some questions: How many of you people are using this site to find dates? How many of you would use this site to find dates if only your local firewall wasn't blocking it? Should I try to make matches among my single friends via this website? Which do you consider to be a better source of dates: or Should I think harder about what David wrote about collaboration instead of getting totally sidetracked by the whole "dating site" thing, or would that be out of character?

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2007: Year in Review

Here is a summary of my 2007 blog posts, generated via Markov Chain:


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Site Update: The Basic Eight vs Lowell High School

(Today is April Fool's Day, but this is not an April Fool's Day prank.)

The Basic Eight is a novel by Daniel Handler. It's set in Roewer High School. Daniel Handler went to Lowell High School a year behind me. I've heard rumors of this book, that it's a roman a clef or whatever. I finally got around to reading the book, recognized a couple of English teachers. I tried searching the internet to find out if someone had noted down the Roewer/Lowell parallels. There were a couple of scattered mentions, but no big list. So I guess it's up to me to start one and to solicit help. Behold a link to a new web page:

The Basic Eight vs. Lowell HIgh School

So far, it's a short list of "knowns" and a long list of "I have no idea". And an email address by which you can set me straight.

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Book Report: Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

Last night, I watched Word for Word perform Lorrie Moore's short story "Which is More than I can Say About Some People." Wow, what a great short story. It was fun seeing it performed, but it was also fun remembering reading that story the first time.

After the performance, Lorrie Moore got up on stage and conversed with local author Dan Handler. One thing she mentioned is that many short story writers get people pestering them: "You should write a novel." She said that she herself had never been so pestered. Anyhow, I read her Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?. And it was nice, but not so exquisite as the stories in Birds of America. Am I damning Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? with faint praise? I hope not.

This novella has symbolism--our heroine has a job working at a place called Storyland, an amusement park of illusory innocence. When she grows up, she gets kicked out. It's about learning to live with acknowledged imperfections, about figuring out what doesn't matter, about friendship. If I were a high school student taking an English class, I'd probably prefer to read this book than to read, say, A Separate Peace.

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Link: Book Report: Prank the Monkey (pages 91, 92)

You might think yesterday's book report was obnoxious, only covering the first third of a book. If so, you'll find this even more obnoxious: a review of pages 91-92 of a book. Rob "How Much is Inside?" Cockerham organized a massively-parallel book review; I was a worker in this effort.

Warning: the above link is abstractly not safe for work, as it contains a photo of me holding up a book page which itself has a photo, a photo of a kielbasa which is a metaphor for the book author's... uhm, sausage-like appendage.

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Book Report: Treasure Island

I kicked myself off of Game Control for the Pirate BATH game. I was getting tired of reading about nothing but pirates. Factual pirate research isn't much fun. Pirates were bullies, they killed people, they enslaved people, they set peoples' homes on fire. Awful people, just awful. Pirate fiction is often pretty good, though. Does that count as research? Maybe. I remember that over the holidays, I was talking with friends when conversation drifted, as it does, to Genghis Khan. We were trying to figure out if Genghis Khan had been tall or short. Someone pointed out that in the movie "Time Bandits", Napoleon had mentioned Genghis Khan as one of the small-but-powerful forces of history. I pointed out that in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Genghis Khan hadn't seemed so short. Could we trust Napoleon? In the end, we decided to trust Napoleon because Time Bandits felt like it had been more carefully researched than Bill & Ted.

I forget what my original point was.

Oh, right, so I read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. If you want to know where that "Black Spot" from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie came from--it's from Treasure Island. "15 Men on a Dead Man's Chest"--that song is either from Treasure Island or else popularized by it. The story itself is fluffy, a ripping adventure yarn. Still, it does a good job of portraying the pirates as horrid people. They are treacherous and dissolute--and that is their undoing. Overall, it was a fun read.

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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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