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, and took some awesome photos. So I guess it's real after all.

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Yosemite Photos

I went to Yosemite earlier this month. While I was there, I took some Yosemite photos, which I now make available to you, the internet. Thank goodness, right? I mean, the internet totally suffered a dearth of Yosemite photos until I came along. Next, I might try taking some cute photos of cats.

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Posted Chicago Photos

I went to Yosemite! But that was this week. Last-last week my parents and I went to Chicago. I posted some photos, some mine, some other folks'. They're more likely to interest you if you're related to me. Or if you like to look at photos of tourists who are looking up. A lot of stuff in Chicago is tall. Tourists look up a lot.

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Book Report: A Feast for Crows

I was a tourist in downtown Houston. I'd brought a couple of books with me--I finished those and left them behind. So now I had room in my bag for a new book. And I'd need a new book or else I'd have nothing to read on the airplane ride home, in spare touristy moments, etc. So I picked up A Feast for Crows, a book in the fantasy novel series "A Song of Ice and Fire" or whatever it's called. You may recall that I picked up another book in the series when I was travelling in New Zealand and... needed reading material because I'd read everything I'd brought with me.

It's a fun read! This series is still a good soap opera. The books are good enough such that "good airplane book" would be a backhanded compliment. They sprawl amongst many characters. The bad news is that means the book spends time on some characters I don't care about... but the good news is that there's still plenty of good stuff.

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Book Report: Fire Time

Fire Time is a science fiction novel from the early 70s. It brings you back to an earlier kind of science fiction. The author Poul Anderson drew out a solar system based on a trinary star. Then he thought about how life might evolve on one of the planets--sometimes it gets close to two stars instead of to just one. That's a hot time, a "Fire Time", if you will. All this against a space-operatic backdrop of interstellar war and diplomacy. Sketchy characters, long stretches of exposition (usually preceded by an apology), interesting science to think about. It's a darned fine airplane book--you can read it and enjoy it if you're not thinking too hard. I picked it up as a used cheap paperback, read it on a plane, and left it behind in Texas. I have no regrets.

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Texas Travelog

A while back, I asked for Texas travel advice and y'all had good advice. Where by "y'all" I mean "Curtis" Thank you, Curtis! (I think Darcy told me to go to Austin; this advice was disqualified on the grounds of "My Texas travel guide drew a blank on things to do in Austin") So I went to Texas. And I came back with results.

Let me be clear: the main thing I found out is that my plan to use census data to pick a vacation spot was a bad plan.

Anyhow, you can read the whole thing: Texas 2009. Or see it. It's mostly photos. I gave up on trying to impose a narrative on this one. I ended up leaving out some detaily stuff that I might normally include, but maybe wasn't so interesting. I ate at a Waffle House! That's pretty exotic cuisine for me. But maybe folks aren't so excited to read about it.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Tampa

A few years back, I pointed out a multi-day Game shaping up in New Zealand with a bionic theme. That game never came together. But all was not lost! Eagle-eyed Justin Graham got word: The GC for that game is running a Game in Tampa in September! There's a critical mass of teams signed up, so figure that the game will come together. Wow, there's a lot of material on that website.

Hmm. I dunno if I'd go all the way to Tampa for a The Game, but combine that with a trip to Disney World to play their Kim Possible treasure hunt game and maybe a trip to Cape Canaveral and suddenly you're talking about an interesting outing. Uhm, but I don't really think I know anyone around here who's interested in such an outing. But I can dream.

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Dear Lazyweb: Texas Travel?

  • Any advice on things to see in Texas? Specifically, things in the east-ish Dallas-Houston-ish parts that might not make it into a guidebook? Maybe engineering-geekish things?
  • If you're a friend of mine and you'd like to go to Texas with me, uhm, March-ish or maybe April-ish let me know. What could be more fun than going to the land of perhaps the world's best beef with a vegetarian?

My plan to visit USA regions as decided by census data continues apace. I bought a Texas guidebook and riffled through it. I also came up with a new way of slicing up the map, which I like better than my previous way. Fortunately, even with this new way of slicing up the map, I need to visit Texas--so the Texas guidebook wasn't a waste. (With this new way of slicing the map, I shouldn't go to Michigan, at least not until after I go to Texas. I'd try to explain this, but when I explain it to people, they look bored.)

I like the idea of going to Texas because it's very exotic to Californians. I hung out with some of my high school chums last night and asked for Texas travel advice. They said "Texas? Don't." "I read your map-slicing travel plan. It's a bad plan." "Dude, Canada." I'm kinda reconstructing this from memory, but you get the idea. Only one of them had been to Texas--an exhausted stop in Amarillo, grabbing some sleep during a cross-country road trip. I can come back from Texas and tell my friends that I found the Big Rock Candy Mountain, that the natives anoint themselves with orange dye and dress themselves in a sort of "tree-wool". My California friends have no way to prove me wrong. At least, not the ones I've asked so far.

But I'm not sure what to do in Texas. Except that the Doc Porter Telephone Museum has a great name. And Galveston has some maritime stuff. But if Dell, TI, or RadioShack have factory tours, I haven't found them.

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Link: USA Census Tract Data

I want to travel somewhere, but where? I like the places that I've been. I could keep going back to them. Then again, one reason to travel is to see new things. How do I keep from falling into a rut? How do I decide to travel to someplace that I wouldn't necessarily think of on my own?

I could throw darts at a map. This idea has a few problems. One, it makes holes in my map. Two, I don't actually have any darts. Three, maybe that dart lands in North Dakota. There's nothing in North Dakota. Well, I'm exaggerating. (Or undera-ggerating. Obviously, there is stuff in North Dakota.) And yet, if my dart landed in North Dakota, I'd be disappointed.

OK, suppose that people tend to congregate in interesting places. New York City is pretty interesting, and plenty of people live around there. So maybe I shouldn't throw darts at a map.

Instead, I'll try slicing my map into pieces so that each piece contains about the same number of people. Then I'll cross cut each of those slices, again, so that each piece has the same number of people. That sounds like something my computer could do, if only I had fine-grained population data.

Those lovely lovely people at the US Census provide USA census data in an easy-to-parse form. So crank crank crank through the data, spew out some rectangles in a KML file, feed that to Google Earth, and I have the USA in slices. Making four slices in each dimension, I see that I haven't visited four major pieces of the country.

[Map of USA mostly grayed out, but with some middle states highlighted]

Four pieces, all contiguous. Why, I could take care of all four of those in just two trips: I could visit Dallas and Pittsburgh. Each of those is on/near the border between pieces. That seems kind of silly, though. Once I visit those places, I'll probably feel obliged to slice my map more finely and keep going--and then I might be sorry I went all the way to Texas and just visited Dallas.

[Map of USA more finely sliced]

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Book Report: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

It's a recent railway travelogue by Paul Theroux. It was difficult to read in places, perhaps because it is so recent. His trip was in 2005-2006-ish. He sees stirrings of trouble around Ossetia--so this was unsettling reading as there was fighting going on in Ossetia. He travels through Europe and Asia; not every place is the site of some historical massacre, but there were plenty of massacres. He goes to Sri Lanka--yes, even though the Tamil Tigers were attacking.

But this journey, like others, is mostly about meeting interesting people along the way. Some are helpful, some are awful, some are tragic, at least one is a sourpuss. There are hard-working rickshaw drivers, one of whom made me cry. Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge. Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka. Murakami in Tokyo--visiting a French Maid cafe, no less.

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Book Report: Daemon

(If you posted a guess about the secret message in the jack-o-lanterns photo, then you were right! Especially considering that was an unplaytested "I have no idea if this is possible" puzzle, I am suitably impressed.)

Busy with work, busy with BANG 19. Things should calm down mid-November. Meanwhile, here's a book report I put together ages ago, I guess I can post it now:

Daemon is a techno-thriller. I read it on an airplane, because that's what you do with techno-thrillers. Daemon fulfilled its purpose admirably; at no point during the flight did I lose my mind with boredom.

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Book Report: War and Peace

Russian novels are long.

Back in high school, my English class was supposed to read Crime and Punishment. Our teacher asked for a show of hands: how many of us had finished reading the book. Mine was the only hand to go up--and I was making a waggling so-so gesture. Mr Tresize asked why my hand was waggling. "Uh, I only read the odd-numbered pages." I'd reached the end, but only by skipping. The describing and re-describing of the anti-hero's situation... it was more fun to reconstruct the gaps than it was to read the material.

Russian novels are long.

A few weeks back, my mom loaned me a fraction of War & Peace. One problem with long novels--if you mostly read during a bumpy bus ride, heavy books are rough on your wrists. I'm not exactly sure when I'm going to break down and buy a Kindle/Iliad-like device--but I bet it will be around the next time Neal Stephenson publishes another 10kg novel. (Disclaimer: I have not actually tried weighing any of Stephenson's novels--that way lies despair.) My mom has a low-tech solution. She sliced her copy of War & Peace into sections. She loaned me a section. I read it. She loaned me the next section.

Yestere'en, I stopped by the SF Minigame after-party. The talk turned to Gamers' blogs. Justin Santamaria pointed out that I read a lot. I apologized, giving the excuse that I had a long daily bus ride. Lessachu remembered back when she was studying in France, she'd read on the Metro. She could polish off a Russian novel in a couple of days--she was in an immersion program, and these books were a welcome bit of English.

I remember really enjoying Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog, but part of why I liked it is that I read it in Japan and it was so nice to just understand something without straining my brain with translation.

I didn't finish reading War & Peace. I'm here in California. I have choices available to me.

And Russian novels are long.

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Book Report: Uncommon Carriers

I'd read most of these John McPhee essays already, and it was nice to read them again. This collection includes the essay about riding in the hazmat truck. That essay is darned good.

Look, not all of these book reports can be multi-day multi-page epics.

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Book Report: Cometbus #50

Yesterday, it was too hot. In the evening, the neighborhood finally cooled off--a breeze blew through. My apartment was still too hot. So I applied my Game equipment to writing about the game--I went outside to write. I had on my headlamp so I could see; I had my written notes on my clipboard so that they wouldn't blow away; I typed away on the laptop. I looked like a dork, but it was the longest stint of writing I got in this weekend that wasn't disrupted by heat prostration.

That was pretty hard-core. Which brings me to the latest issue of Cometbus.

The latest issue of Cometbus and it is, unsurprisingly, awesome. Which parts were awesome? There's an interview with Ian MacKaye which doesn't wallow in the same old talk about the True Meaning of Straight Edge, but instead delivers an anecdote around an old Ramones show in D.C.

Then there's an article about great (and not-so-great) used bookstores in NYC. I could have used this back when I visited New York in January. I wasted some time trying to find the Gotham Book Mart in the diamond district. But Cometbus would have steered me right: that store moved.

...For fifty years GOTHAM BOOK MART was a delightful albatross right in the heart of the diamond district. Then, in 2004, they found more spacious digs a block away (16 East 46th) but lost all their charm in the move. The store got a high-class makeover and came out looking like a cross between a museum and a funeral parlor. Two years later, the place still reeks of privelege and McSweeney's. Only on the second floor does the stench thin out a bit. There, past shelves of precious, mylar-wrapped first editions I discovered one relic, one remnant of old Gotham...

OK, so when I was looking for the Gotham Book Mart nestled amongst a bunch of diamond shops, it had long since moved. Have you ever stood on a street full of diamond stores, just stood there looking at a building and scratching your head? You will draw attention. You look like a jewel thief; you look like you're casing the joint.

Hopefully, the next issue will come out soon. Hopefully, the next issue will come out in time to save me from looking for bookstores in the wrong places.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even New Zealand Again

Ages ago, I went to New Zealand and observed that Puzzle Hunts are everywhere in New Zealand or at least Christchurch and Nelson. Now it looks like some outfit wants to run a Big Game in New Zealand: a week-long game around Thanksgiving 2007. And they're hoping to bring in U.S. players. Oh, wait, now that I look at the details, they say that the game will last 2-4 days, but that the length of ?something else? is eight days.

I'd love to head back to New Zealand. I don't know if I want to attempt a four-day-long game, though. Or maybe I'm just saying that out of sour grapes--I couldn't finish off their application puzzle. Maybe if I was smart enough to solve that in a timely manner, then my hypothetical team would only take two days to get through the puzzle hunt.

Update: I got some nice mail from the organizers:

The game we are doing in New Zealand will most likely be 3 days which is just a little longer than what is played in the states only because we are doing it out of the country. We couldn't really see asking people to come to NZ for just three days so we made the trip longer so that when people aren't racing across country focused on puzzles, they can really see NZ on their own time. That's why the dates are longer than the actual game time.

We would love for you to play if you would like to. We have had a few teams solve the puzzle for the application but we haven't heard back from anyone that it was too hard. We were surprised to read that you were unable to solve it but glad because otherwise we would never have known. It's just a game and we are trying to have a little fun and not make it so serious. We happen to travel a lot and always thought it would be fun to have puzzle or role playing games in other countries.


Update on the Update: after they got tired of me whining, they made the application puzzle easier. I can solve this one, yay!

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Curtiss H. Anderson: Three more / Lea W., one for the Road

I continue to type up these Curtiss Anderson essays which fell into my possession. Today, three of his travelogs:

Speaking of travelogs, you might remember that the first time I went to St Louis, one of my favorite spots was The Chocolate Bar, a bar that served hot chocolate instead of, you know, real drinks. I lamented that San Francisco didn't have anything similar. Now we have something sorta similar: Bittersweet, a cafe that serves chocolate instead of coffee. No live DJ. But their spicy hot chocolate is sufficiently spicy and chocolatey for my standards.

Speaking of travel notes, we were at Bittersweet for Lea W.'s send-off party. Lea's moving to Cincinatti, of all places, to do more awesome medical research. One person at this gathering had family in Cincinatti and had thus been there. But she was on call, and thus didn't get to join in the conversation to let us know what Cincinatti was really like. But her husband, Andy, had accompanied her there. He talked about driving out of town to see the rust belt towns. Ironton had been a big steelmaking town; now there were a few people hanging on--but not many. Portsmouth had some big murals--but most of the people were gone. So it was kind of scenic, kind of eerie checking these places out.

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Book Report: My Kind of Place

As a snack on Saturday, I had some hummus on good bread. For dinner, I had some more. I didn't think to put the hummus in the fridge in between, but I thought It will probably be OK. But it wasn't OK, and I spent Sunday and Monday... uhm... reading magazines. I've talked with folks about their uneasiness with their backlog of magazines--but when food poisoning strikes, you'll be glad to have those magazines.

Thus, it's an appropriate time to review My Kind of Place. It's a collection of magazaine articles by Susan Orlean, so you know you're in for some easy breezy writing about some interesting topics.

I'd already read a bunch of these articles, but there were some that I hadn't seen--she went to Cuba. She talked with people about politics, restaurants, baseball, and stranger things.

If you've already read a lot of Susan Orleans articles in magazines--under whatever circumstances--you might want to flip through this book before picking it up. There might not be anything here new to you. But it's all good.

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Site Update: New York Travelog

I went to New York for a couple of weeks. I didn't emerge with any exciting anecdotes. But you can read the travelog anyhow. The main thing I got out of the trip: the best New York pizza is not so great, but there are rumors of greatness in New Haven.

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Book Report: the Zero Game

I just got back from a business trip to New York. I stayed in a corporate apartment. When I entered the apartment and looked around the living room, I saw that previous tenants had left some books to read, yay! But then I looked at the books--they looked like books that one buys in an airport bookstore out of desperation. One shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But I could have judged The Zero Game by its cover just fine.

It's a tale of spine-tingling intrigue and murder as our hero and heroine maneuver the halls of the Capitol in the chase of their lives and zzzzzz...

There were some nice glimpses of the way the US Government budget gets made, but not enough to make it worth slogging through a thriller.

On the positive side, this book kept me busy for a couple of days, until I had a chance to go to The Strand and pick up some better books for the apartment.

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Book Report: Beyond the Hundredth Meridian

On the one side: snake-oil salesmen selling land, politicians seeking more consituents, consultants boosting their chances at government grants with Pollyannish lies of a land of plenty in need of settlement.

On the other side: responsible surveyors saying "We shouldn't move so many people into this area; it's a desert."

It's a true tale of the old West by Wallace Stegner, talking about the life of John Wesley Powell, an explorer, surveyor, and breaker of bad news ("It's a desert.").

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Book Report: Portuguese Irregular Verbs

I posted a new travelog on this site, but I don't think it turned out very well. So I'm not going to link to it from here. I won't take the time to point out stuff I've done that doesn't read well. Instead, I'll point out someone else's stuff that doesn't read well. That will be much more satisfying.

Wow, Portuguese Irregular Verbs stunk on ice.

I made it three chapters into this book before gave up. I think they were supposed to be funny? The premise: there are three professors who lack common sense. One of them is very self-important. They get into trouble.

Ah, I feel better now.

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Link: ExistentialTraveller

In June of 2005, Tom Manshreck drove from Brooklyn to Alaska. And he wrote about it.

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Site: Uploaded St Louis Photos

Last weekend, I went to St Louis. I didn't emerge with any exciting stories, but it's an exciting time for St Louis--there's a lot of rebuilding going on. I took some photos of some old St Louis buildings, new St Louis buildings, and more. Special bonus photo: cub scouts digging a gratuitous hole.

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Site Update: Jan 05 Road Trip Report

Just nine months after the fact, I uploaded a write-up of the road trip that Tom Lester and I took back in January.

You could argue that in 2004-2005 span, I thus completed another unemployed travel trilogy. If so, I hope it's the last one for a while.

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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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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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Book Report: Road Fever

What does it take to drive from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay in less than a month? Will, determination, and paperwork. A big stack of paperwork. Folders and folders of paperwork. Visits to consuls. Border crossings. Bribing customs agents.

Driving from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay is not the story I expected it to be. Author Tim Cahill and adventure driver Garry Sowerby described themselves as documenteros, and they spend a lot of time in South America shuffling documents.

The result is a surprisingly good book. Thanks to Tom Lester for pointing me at it during our January road trip.

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