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January 21st, 2013

08:09 pm - First 2013 Mystery Hunt thoughts
I don't know whether or not I'm going to get the chance to put together a longer set of thoughts on this year's mystery hunt. Thus, this post, which is relatively brief and general.

I'm not going to mince words here, because I think some tough love is in order, because I fundamentally disagree with the philosophies I believe to have been behind the hunt. Please be advised that I don't think that the hunt itself was horrible per se - and in fact I think that there are some things that the Manic Sages did very well - but I do think it is very important to talk about some of the things that were not done as well, because they are things that will help future teams, possibly even including the Sages themselves, run a better hunt.

Some points of disagreement:

* interesting solves are better than longer solves by an order of magnitude. I fundamentally disagree with puzzles which are long at the expense of interesting. Hunt puzzles which are long *instead of* interesting are a serious problem.

* A puzzle with a really good "aha!" is like an optical illusion. An aha experience in a puzzle should come from seeing what you have in a new light, not from guessing what there is to the experience that you cannot see. This is for two reasons: firstly, because it makes the solver feel really, really smart; and secondly, because it protects the puzzle from being too hard or too grindy. There were puzzles which required you to be an Iron Chef contestant without knowing what the required ingredients were, and without knowing that the required ingredients were not even supplied in the kitchen, and that's a serious problem.

If the Manic Sages are somehow adamant that puzzles in which you must supply something you are not given and which you are not given the tools to identify, then the next time we win a hunt, I will propose a special guess-the-number-between-one-and-a-googol puzzle for Manic Sages and Manic Sages only, and man the call queue for that puzzle myself.

* Puzzles should be tested, not only to ensure that they are solvable -- that is, not broken, without identified alternate solutions, and with a clear termination point where the answer is apparently the answer -- but to ensure that the organizers have a handle on the difficulty level of the specific puzzles and in so doing have tuned them for difficulty appropriately. it is clear from the hunt experience itself that, the latter did not happen, and that tends to suggest that the former did not happen uniformly either, and if that's the case, then that's a serious problem.

A few words on why this is important... because hunt puzzles so often involve inferential solving rather than conventional solving only, it is important to have an unspoken contract between the puzzle constructor and the solver that the puzzle constructor is a) always playing fair in the first place and b) is providing a puzzle whose reward is proportional to the effort involved. Testing for difficulty ensures the latter part of the contract is fulfilled, while testing the for solvability and lack of brokenness ensures the former is. When the puzzle provider fails to fulfill the contract, the solver goes through progressive stages of disappointment and apathy and eventually disengages from the solving process altogether.

More specific and hopefully equally useful information may be coming after I've survived travel home and completed my work week. Until then, I feel better for saying this.

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January 12th, 2010

11:33 pm - Heads-up to LJ friends in the Boston Area
I will be travelling soon to the MIT Mystery Hunt, which happens this coming weekend. I'm a member of the team that is putting it on, so I don't expect to see much of any you before the hunt starts (unless you're also on my team), but if the hunt ends by the time most people typically hope it will, I may have availability afterward, between then and my Tuesday flight home. And for those of you who actually participate, I hope to be able to drop in on at least a few teams over the course of the weekend. If you lack a more direct way of providing contact information, post here and I'll make sure I check back here post-hunt.

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April 17th, 2008

07:42 pm
Courtesy of my folks, actually:
What's Ben Stein been doing lately?

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February 15th, 2008

12:14 am - For those of you watching Craig Ferguson right now...
... Not only is the cartoon short Evangeline Lilly just talked about a real National Film Board short that was sometimes broadcast between other programs, I now have the song from going through my head.

If I remember the lyrics right, some of them go, "It's burning down and down/white water/That's where a log driver learns to step lightly/It's burning down and down white water/a log driver waltzes his girl completely".

You should see some of the other weird stuff I have rattling around my brain...

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January 2nd, 2008

07:58 pm - It's a new year, and I resolve...
... to post here at least once this year. And... done. Well, except for the content of the post, of course.

So, what are today's headlines, Bobby?

  • One enterprising fellow who is handy at reverse engineering has discovered, among other things, that Amazon's Kindle book reader is also capable of playing minesweeper.
  • Tyler's counterpart in the world of logic puzzles has added a feather of somewhat different sort to his cap.
  • Judd Hirsch looks older in Independence Day than in Numb3rs. Either that's some nice subtle makeup work, or Judd has invested in David Copperfield's latest business venture. Updated to add: you're telling me the White House doesn't have cable? and: Is Jeff Goldblum's boss supposed to be a gay stereotype, a Jew stereotype, or both? and: "Fire at Will"?! No! He's one of the good guys!
  • Irregular Webcomic usually makes me laugh. Today, however, it cracked me up at the third panel.
  • Nigeria is infamous amongst techie for the e-mail scams it exports. Here's a bit of domestic chicanery in the tech arena.
  • Updated: Haven't actually looked at this yet, but I can tell it's a good one just by the URL.
  • Updated again: ... in the interests of Good taste and decency
  • Updated one last time: ... in the interests of Pizza.

And I think that's all for now. (I mean it this time, I think.)

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October 19th, 2007

10:21 pm - Not-so-random link
The link in this post was a serendipitous discovery from earlier this week while I was doing other surfing. Be advised, however, that this link could be considered a potential spoiler for the NY Times second Sunday puzzle. You might even want to avoid mousing over it...

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October 11th, 2007

09:39 pm - It seems all I ever do here is dump links....
... but here's another bunch anyway.

For those of you knitters (not nitters, that's Orange's blog) who are bored with scarves and toques and baby booties, there are other things

This poem was linked to off of Ken Jenning's weblog recently and caught my attention - it's a good example of how art can be artistic and accessible at the same time.

Every once in a while the realms of banditry and absence of athletic ability do intersect.

Via dougo, a nice concept video that surely falls under the rubric of "Fun with computer algorithms".

That's all for now.

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September 14th, 2007

01:32 am - Minor miscellany
I got to play on a Nintendo Wii for the first time last weekend - wheee!

So on Monday, when I went to work, I failed to suspend Lappy correctly. I figured this out when I did my every-so-often webmail check from work and found the messages that were there the first time, weren't there the second time. Oops. (I set the webmail box to keep-but-forward and thus was able to read my incoming messages for the rest of the day, but it was still momentarily disorienting to see it happen.)

I strongly encourage those of you with access to the WGN superstation (that is, the one available on cable) to check out the half-hour comedy series Corner Gas, imported from the Canadian province where I was born. It's well-written, well acted, and generally a lot of fun.

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August 17th, 2007

07:34 am - Linkdumpage
Assorted links, presented without commentary (so I can close Firefox and reboot, and not lose them completely).







(Updated - missed a few)




Updated again to stash this link to a story featuring an egregious lack of corporate ethics.


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June 20th, 2007

02:37 pm - Miscellaneous links
I'll comment on these links... eventually. Maybe. But right now there here for your pleasure anyway.






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