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I drank more beer while I was in Boston than I ever had in my life. Now, this isn't saying much. I'm not a big fan of beer, so I don't drink it. I much prefer the taste of a well-mixed cocktail. A Rum and Coke is usually pleasant, and there's nothing that can beat a Margarita mixed with good tequila and a whole lot of machismo. I know there's good beer out there, but since I don't drink often, there's really no point in going out and finding the few kinds that I like amid the amber waves of unappealing brew.

It's kind of like Country Music, in that way.

Anyway, the advantage of going to Boston was that there were lots of people who drank beer a lot and knew what was good. Chief among them was Beer Goddess Hathor who, in addition to giving tips on what to drink where, also brewed some fine beer herself. (She has a website [link removed 8/13/11; originally ""], though I have no idea where in there I'm supposed to look for a homepage.) And when all of the bars are closed, having personalized beer in a hotel room . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The story behind the Pub Puzzle Crawl )

So, Monday evening. It was the first chance I got to see people NPLers, mostly locals. Since there were too many people to easily manage, some of them split off into a Ice Cream Puzzle Crawl through Boston. The puzzles, in this case, were provided on the fly by [ profile] tahnan and [ profile] thedan. Sadly, the Ice Cream Crawl had far fewer stops, since the participants got brainfreeze or something. The cool kids ([ profile] wesleyjenn, QED, Sprout, Sue++, Sir+, [ profile] joecab, [ profile] cazique, [ profile] heaneyland, Otherwise, D. Ness, ln sin t, Niff, Ucaoimhu, Artistry, [ profile] foggyb, Hathor, and I) went off and drank for seven hours.

I wish I could tell you more about the bars and the beers, but I can't, really. I know they were good, but since I don't have much experience with beer (for reasons detailed above), I couldn't really tell you why. I can't even recommend things because I was mostly echoing what other, more knowledgeable people were ordering. I can give you the itinerary [link removed; originally ""] of the crawl, since [ profile] foggyb has been kind enough to upload it. The itinerary also has most of the puzzles.

The puzzles were really well designed considering what they needed to do. They were simple and fun and rarely required too much thought. The KISS mentality showed up many places in this Con, to the benefit of all. Certainly, the NPL is not a group that will shy away from the obscure, the complex, the byzantine, or the difficult. But there's a lot more going on at a convention. There are things to see, people to talk to, games to play. You have to make sure that nothing gets to frustrating, or else solvers will start to wonder why you're wasting their time when they could be doing something else with someone else. (Also, of course, everything has to be solved without references.) In this case, the puzzles couldn't overstay their welcome, because people wanted to be able to drink and chat. Also, puzzles had to be specially coordinated so that they could be easily solved after drinking beer for several hours.

One of my favorite puzzles was one of the more complex ones: Boston Beer Works [link removed 8/13/11; originally ""]. It was an early puzzle, and one of the only ones where everyone dug in and did some pencil solving. What I enjoyed the most was that, although solvers were warned that the beer list incorporated into the puzzle was out of date, it still represented the menu very well. Pretty much everyone ordered their drinks off of the puzzle without really looking at the menus. I also sat near Cazique, QED, and the right shoulder of Sprout, triviaites all, who offered and solved variuos sports trivia questions.

At Bukowski's [link changed 8/13/11; originally ""], we settled in for the inevitable Pub Trivia [link removed 8/13/11; originally ""] game. The theme was "Dead Authors," since Bukowski's is the home of the Dead Authors' Club. (Although it wasn't explained then, I now know that some patrons of this bar undertake to sample every beer on the menu, though mercifully not on the same night. Those who succeed get mugs engraved with their names placed on the wall. And by "their names," I mean "the names of dead authors they choose.") I did predictably poorly, especially compared to some of the general knowledge hotshots. But still, I don't think the questions [link removed 8/13/11; originally ""] were balanced all that well. (I'll try to explain more about the balancing trivia, but it's a tough subject and I'll need a separate entry.) Anyway, the balance of the knowledge is definitely a nitpick in this situation. Everyone had fun, even when losing, which is much more important, and difficult to accomplish.

Also, while I was at Bukowski's, I recorded an Audblog. I'd say more about that, but I can't listen to it while I'm work.

The last puzzle I'll talk about is the one from Redbones. This is a fantastic puzzle, though you can't see it or solve it online. Go visit the redbones site, and you'll see lots of wonderful artwork. That original artwork is all over the downstairs barroom. It was the artwork that we were looking at back in January when we thought about a Pub Puzzle Crawl. And it was the artwork that made our last stop an Eyeball Benders-style extravaganza.

We got a huge pile of letters. Each letter seemed to have been cut out of the pictures along the walls. We had to locate, then put them in order according to their position around the room. It was great fun. This might seem a complex puzzle to deal with after seven hours of drinking, but I think that the lowering of the inhibitions helped us to take over the more-or-less empty room staring at pictures. Also, they had great dessert. And great meat. And good margaritas. (Wow, I didn't realize how out of it until I tried to remember it just now. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if someone there told me that I said, "I love you man! You're like my brother! My puzzle brother! Mi hermano de crucigramas!")

At some point at Redbones, I got a picture of QED, Sprout, Toonhead! and somebody's hair. You can see the wacky Redbones artwork, along with the cute and very helpful bartender who decided to be a semi-waitress even though she didn't have to be. Also, at some point earlier, I got a picture of [ profile] wesleyjenn and [ profile] heaneyland, probably in a T station somewhere.

After all of this, those of us who remained were directed by Foggy Blotto to the best beer in Boston. By this time, many of our crew had ducked out to return to their homes or the hotel. Thus, when I snapped a picture, en route to our final destination, only [ profile] foggyb, QED, Ucaoimhu, Hathor, Artistry, and [ profile] joecab. Sprout was also there, though he cannot be seen in this picture. As we staggered toward the terminus, Hathor tried to scare us by saying that once we were there, we were going to have to solve a cryptic crossword by Ucaoimhu, known for his labyrinthine crosswords that involving learning Sanskrit [link changed 8/13/11;"] or decoding Cuneiform [link changed 8/13/11; originally ""].

Well, the best beer in Boston turned out to be at Hathor's house. But the crossword turned out to be no empty threat. We were provided with two beers that were brewed specifically for this convention. (There was a third prepared beer, but it had been part of an auction, and thus, we were not allowed to drink it.) The labels were designed by [ profile] joecab, and as you can see, Hathor's threat turned out not to be empty.

And, with no more puzzles, we just kept drinking without puzzles.

And really, who needs the puzzles? )

I recorded an Audblog after one of these beer sessions. As I mentioned above, I can't relisten to it right now. But I'm pretty sure I talked about Toonhead!, aka [ profile] joecab. I may even have mentioned a picture.

See, I was "cosolving" [ profile] thedan's cryptic with [ profile] joecab very late one evening / very early one morning. I don't know why I thought attempting this was a good idea at all. [ profile] foggyb was there, and I he may have had a hand in convincing me, since it would have been very amusing for him. We actually managed to do rather well, though all together, we found a completely and utterly wrong answer to the end game of the cryptic.

At a certain point, after the grid had been filled and [ profile] foggyb and I had started puzzling through the final steps, [ profile] joecab crawled around us on the bed, then fell down. He didn't get up again. After a while, we noticed.

We took this as a sign of two things: (1) we should probably get out of his room, (2) we should probably take a picture and post it on the Internet.

And here it is:
Man, this Toonhead! guy should learn to hold his liquor better )
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On Friday, after everyone returned from the special screening of Word Wars [link changed 8/13/11; originally ""], many of us assembled in the lobby of the hotel for a game of dubious existence, supposedly named Troggle. It turns out that Troggle didn't exist. Instead, we got Schroggle. We couldn't tell the difference.

A pretty good summary is presented by Nancy White, who happened to walk through the courtyard at the time. She has a much better camera than I do.

But before I knew that there'd be a travelblogger with a fantastic camera coincidentally recording all of this, I took some pictures of my own.

I was on Team 4, which was on the 14th floor. I took a photo of the team, but it didn't turn out too well. (I also forgot to rotate it, but I'll fix that when I get home.) After waiting for a while for everything to get set up, the people below arranged themselves into a 4x4 grid of letters. We looked down onto the grid from the window to see the grid of letters and tried to find the longest word. Somehow points were scored, though I don't know anyone who is entirely clear on how the scores worked. After each round, the players who had been in the longest word found were sent back to their teams, and new players were sent to the courtyard to be letters. So after a bit, I went down and found out how things worked from there.

People chose random pieces of posterboard from a pile and stand in a square of the 4x4 grid. On cue, they'd run frantically to some other square. Then, on a different cue, they'd spin around and display their letters to the sky. People had very different methods of doing this. Sidhe and Nori held their letters directly above. Ged and Hathor had a bit of an angle. Others, as recorded again by Ms. White, decided to lay back and enjoy it. I did this once, so that I could take a picture of what the whole thing must look like from the persepective of a letter.

The game was invented and run by a crew of four people. Murdoch was in charge of coordinating the grid. You can kind of see him standing to the far left under the tree, getting the last letter into position. Xemu was in charge of scoring, and he used a cell phone to get the compiled reports from the teams. (The person behind him is Dart, I believe.). Finally, Trazom and G Natural were in the Skybox. From the second floor of the hotel, they had a decent view of the grid. They used their cell phones to call the four teams elsewhere in the hotel and get the answers, then they called Xemu and informed him of the round's score. As you can kind of see from that picture, they had an energy and intensity that made it appear as though they were trading on the futures market.

When the game was over, the letters in the grid spelled out GOOD GAME CMON DOWN. And somebody won, I guess. I don't know who. I don't know that anyone does. But like any good game, it didn't and doesn't matter. Everyone was extremely happy to have been a part of it, just like the Convention in general.
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I'd like a copy of Mulder's "I Want to Believe" poster where the UFO has the Clippers logo on it.


Jun. 13th, 2004 04:35 pm
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Just woke up early. I'm probably going to go back to bed for a few more hours, but in the mean time, here are some highlights of my dream, before all of it fades away.
  • An episode of Crime and Punishment (link changed 8/2/11; originally "") about the trial of a man stalking the Fab Five (link changed 8/2/11; originally "").
  • Excerpts from a old journal describing the first experiences with popcorn:
    • After the kernel was expanded with oil and flour B------ and S------ both expressed concern that what they had swallowed moments before was some sort of jewel or stone that would expand after eating more food . . .
    • "How does the expansion occur when there is clearly no water without the kernel?"
    • "The kernel is infused with Entertainment Tonic, which is excited by heat . . ."
  • Searching for a point of a "Bermuda-like" triangle with a GPS receiver.
And back I go.
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And now it's time for everyone's favorite game: Internet Headline or Random Nouns?
Crash Mars Iran Quake Rescue Bid
(pointed out by [ profile] jrw)

Also, I am claiming creation of the words "philosotheory" and "commassacre". A commassacre is a flood or drought of punctuation that completely kills the meaning of a printed text. I don't know what the other one means, but it's mine. MINE!
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Two days ago, I put up a poll to look at differences between British English ("BrE") and American English ("AmE"). My Thoughts . . . )

If you have any thoughts or insights on the questions, the answers, or the poll results, feel free to post them. I'm certainly interested in them.

FriNYTX: 26.
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This has been a busy weekend. And I need to write about it quickly so that [ profile] ladytabitha doesn't drop me.

Saturday was the puzzle party, and it was decidedly lackluster. I solemnly swear not to care about bringing things that are new and innovative. If necessary, I'll bring in something that's been done before and that takes me ten minutes to prepare. We could have used some of that.

One nice thing was that, since there were fewer puzzles, there seemed to be a bit more plain old socialization. Not everyone may have seen this as a plus, but I did. A lot of the discussion was with Eric Chaikin [link changed 6/22/11; original link to ""], an irregular puzzle party attendee, whose movie Word Wars [link changed 6/22/11; original link to ""] is hitting theaters now. It's a documentary following the lives of the nation's top tournament Scrabble players, and looks to be a combination of Crumb and Spellbound. Wrap your mind around that. It's playing in Silver Spring, MD, and it will be opening in New York shortly. Apparently, the success of the movie in New York on its opening weekend will dictate, how much it gets seen across the country, including in LA. And since I want to see it, I'm making you see it. Specifics on the NY opening when I get them.

But yesterday was much more eventful. Artistry and I planned to spend a day exploring a few local sites in preparation for the NPL Convention of 2005, which will be held right here in Los Angeles. Artistry has really wanted to do a big hunt on Hollywood Boulevard, and I was going to go along to listen to his ideas and offer new ones. [ profile] cramerica was also interested, so we thought we'd meet up with him at another site we'd heard about, The Museum of Jurassic Technology.

This is a place I will recommend to everyone reading this journal, certainly. If you're in LA now, you should visit. If you're not, you should make it a point to hit when you're in town. Inspired less by the Smithsonian and more by the museums of earlier centuries, such as P.T. Barnum's American Museum. Most of the exhibits are of dubious import, consequence, or existence, and it takes quite a while to get used to things.

The first gallery is a grab back of information, including detailed information on Noah's Ark [link removed 6/22/11; original link to ""] (which was, of course, "the most complete Museum of Natural History the world has ever seen"). One of the more famous items of the collection is the Human Horn, mounted on the wall.

Some collections are more straightforward, though still not precisely effable. "No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again" is a collection of unsolicited letters received by the Mt. Wilson Observatory in the period between the two world wars, explaining, in definitive terms, such mysterious as the composition of the moon, the location of God, and why that woman won't leave me alone. The Napoleon Library houses an collection of Napoleona so eccentric it might actually be Napoleona-ana. The art exhibits currently installed require the use of microscopes and magnifying glasses to make visible the works of art displayed on glass slides and within the eyes of needles. The back rooms of the museum are dedicated to an even more diverse subject matter. There are several celluloid dice from the collection of Ricky Jay, dioramas depicting antique stagecraft, and a gallery of three-dimensional X-ray images of flowers. The second floor features a Tea Room and a small theater showing short films.

And then there are several exhibits dedicated to curious persons or ideas, presented, in large part, without a clear concept of why these particular persons were chosen. The Delani and Sonnabend Halls are dedicated to the lives of Madelena Delani and Geoffrey Sonnabend, two very interesting individuals who have little in common except their proximity within the museum. The lights in the Delani room periodically darken, although none present could determine why. Another section is devoted to embodiments of the scholarly and theological writings of the 17th century Jesuit Athanasius Kircher. And one of the most stunning exhibits, "Tell the Bees: Belief, Knowledge and Hypersymbolic Cognition" provides examples and demonstrations of various vulgar medicines.

It was a fascinating place, and I do hope to prepare a puzzle handout to entice Krewe to visit it, although it will, undoubtedly, be much easier to solve than the museum itself.

[ profile] cramerica, feeling ill, decided to not to continue on with us to Hollywood. I can only hope that he made it home safely and got much rest because today is his birthday, according to LJ. Hooray for him! On our way back to Hollywood, Artistry convinced me to stop at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to visit an exhibit they're currently showing: "The Secret Life of Sets: Set Decorators at Work" [link removed 6/22/11; original link to ""]. The first floor features photographs of movie sets, sometimes accompanied by the decorators' notes, but the real show is on the fourth floor. Several, often major, pieces of actual set dressing, along with more detailed notse from the decorators, have been installed. It's a chance to get up close and personal with bits of the classrooms of Madame Trelawney and Remus Lupin, to see what Van Helsing's vision Dr. Victor Frankenstein's writing desk looked like, or lounge in the stylish apartments of Catcher Block and Barbara Novak from Down with Love. It's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area, but do yourself a favor and skip the first floor.

Then, Rwth called and invited us to see Coffee and Cigarettes. We tried to visit Hollywood before the showtime, but problems finding parking caused us to head for the theater first and try to grab some dinner. We met up at the Gaucho Grill and had a whole lot of meat, which we split. Then we walked across the street to catch the film. It's a bit uneven, as would be expected from what is actually a series of several short films, but there are an inordinate number of brilliant moments, and it's definitely worth catching, especially if you're a fan of any of its actors.

And after that, finally, we made it to Hollywood. I'd already seen it, of course, but this time I was looking at it with puzzle-design eyes. I wan't say much about it here, but this trip may have made it possible to turn a few puzzles meant for a touristy morning into a full-fledged event with a wow finish.

And now, the real adventure begins. The adventure of sleep organization!
tablesaw: A tablesaw in action. The blade disappears when it comes in contact with a hot dog. (Virtually Unscathed!)
(No, I didn't forget. I just didn't feel like finishing. Now I do, again.)

The green eggs held clues reading compass points, rag, every 24 hours, latest information, Personals,
Top Secret, commercial, and PICTURESQUE announcement. These clues led to the classified section of the April 11 Daily News. There, after a bit of searching, one could find the following ad under "Announcements":
PICTURESQUE landing site found! Cmdr. Grad flipped his space helmet!
The words "picturesque", "grad", and "space helmet" clued my graduation portrait from the University of California, Santa Barbara, which I attended wearing a toy space helmet under my mortarboard. By flipping the photograph around, the agents found a memo from the aforementioned Cmdr. Grad, accompanied by four photographs taken from the landing site. The memo mentioned that an alternate landing site was needed, as well as a means of directing aliens to it.

At the landing site, there was no egg, but taped to a pole was another photograph. This photograph was also from a nearby location, directed to the landing site. When the agents tracked down the source of this new photo, there was another photo taped to another pole. Repeating the process twice more led to a final photograph, apparently taken from among some trees. By taking the position of that last picture, the agents were situated to find the gold egg, which had previously been concealed from view.

Background and Construction
This was one of the first puzzles I came up with, and it went through a few changes. I'd been thinking about using a classified ad for a while. They have been used to great effect for things such as magic tricks, and I thought it would be fun to find something in plain site. Then, as I was walking around the neighborhood one day, I saw a sign for a lost dog. I thought it might be fun to use signs saying "Lost Egg" to lead solvers on a path through the streets by my house.

I decided to use photographs to direct solvers to the first "Lost Egg" sign. But as I got a clearer idea of the theme of the hunt, I decided that it would be better to do something with a landing site. Seeing my graduation photo made me think that the alien name "Grad" and the clue "space helmet" would be a good combination that would fit well in a short ad.

At this point, I was planning on using basic "Detour" signs to lead the runaround. It wasn't until I went out with my borrowed digital camera that I thought of using more pictures to direct the solvers. It clicked as a good idea, and it helped me finalize the route they'd need to follow.

Agents in Action
This was the first clue tackled by the agents, and so there was some prompting involved. When it was clear that they were thinking about a newspaper, I said, "You know I picked up the Sunday newspaper, if you think that would help." I had culled the classified section to get rid of unnecessary employment and used-car ads, but there was still a whole lot of space to look through. There were several agonizing minutes where the page was open to the right area, and I was staring right at the ad, but nobody else could see it. I probably should have dedicated more clue space to focusing on "Announcements", but eventually it was found.

I'm sure that many of you, reading above, thought that it would be a stretch for solvers to think of my graduation picture from that ad. It certainly wasn't for my parents, who immediately began quizzing me on where I had put that helmet. After convincing them that they didn't need the actual helmet, they began looking for he picture.

My cousin, who lives next door, definitely took the lead on this step, since she new the area the best. She very quickly identified the landing site from the given photos, and she, my other younger cousin, and K. ventured off to find it. More than any other puzzle, I was worried that the components of this one might have been taken or blown away, so I made sure to give them my cell phone in case they encountered problems.

After a little while, they called, confused as to what to do next. I talked them through the idea of using the picture as a detour method, which they generally had figured out, but they were still unable to find the next step. After taking care of some business, I ran off to meet them.

As I approached the second location, I got very worried. The girls weren't by it, and I couldn't see the photo. Thankfully, it was because, on my way there, they had found the photo, taken it down, and were already looking for the next location. I waved them on, and went back to headquarters. The agents did need some more cell-phone prodding to finally find the golden egg. I was told by K. that it had more than a bit to do with the three girls, still in pretty, pastel Easter dresses, not wanting to go too close to the bushes where the egg was hidden.

(This puzzle can't be solved by you at all anymore, so I didn't try. I am trying to find a good scan of my graduation picture, and if I find one, I'll add it to the entry.)
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So, earlier today, [ profile] saxikath cut out of work early to spend some time Letterboxing. Like her, it's something I'd heard about, but haven't found time to follow up on. So I surfed over to And started poking around. It looks cool, and there appear to be dozens of them in the LA area, but somewhere along the FAQ, I followed a tangent to Geocaching.

This grabbed me. Perhaps it was that, where there were dozens of nearby letterboxes, there were hundreds of nearby geocaches. Perhaps it was that the geocaching site is more organized, making it easier to tell if the caches were still active, compared to letterboxing information pages that hadn't been updated in months. Perhaps it was the existence of a geocache less than a mile from my house. Perhaps it was the variety of the types of hunts involved.

Mostly, though, there is something about many of the descriptions that remind me of the wanderings of my youth. When I was younger, teenaged mostly, I'd go on long walks or bike rides to muse quietly to myself. Up hills, around confusing residential zones. I'd just set out and be gone for hours. In the west Valley, there were plenty of ways to get a great view, as well. Now, though, I just don't get the same itch to light out and stay out until my feet can't take anymore. There's always something that I could accomplish instead, and having my own apartment obviates the need to escape into the outdoors.

Scanning across the geocaching site made me think this might be a way to recapture that. There are, of course, many caches based on hiking or exploring state parks, but there are also those in the Valley that simply direct a person to hidden spots. The small, out-of-the-way parks that spring up among the various suburbs. Museums and landmarks that many don't know about. It seems like a way to recapture that sort of wandering, disguised as a minor accomplishment. To get out occasionally and explore a new area. And it also looks conducive to getting a few people to join.

So al in all, it seems like an interesting hobby to pick up. Now all I need is a GPS device.
tablesaw: "The Accurate Tablesaw" (Accurate)
Step 2: Red CluesThe red eggs held clues reading assassinate, murder, physician, surgeon, sport on a plank, fortunate, beneficial, and inexpensive butt. Which suggested my copy of the game Kill Doctor Lucky [link changed 6/22/11; original link to ""]. Inside, instead of the low-overhead, high-concept game we've all come to know and love, there were several pieces of paper.

First, there was an alien communication regarding Step 2: Drawing Crop Circles. Corporal Flerg has returned his notes to Ensign Dronn, making special mention of the section of the design that crosses itself like an X and explaining the concept earth crops to the young ensign. It's clear to see why this was needed, because also included in the box was a diagram of the prospective site of the circle. Finally, there were twenty-five pieces. (The agents' tetragrams were already cut, but that's difficult to do over the Internet. If you'd like to solve on your own, you can download an image in which the pieces have been randomly arranged and rotated.)

After correctly reconstructing the original crop-circle design, the agents used the clues in the alien communication to dig in an area in my backyard that corresponded to the place on the diagram where the X ended up. After going down a short way, they found the next gold egg.

Background and Construction
This puzzle was changed in probably every possible way before it was finished. Originally, I wanted the location of the golden egg to be located around the church down the street from me. But as Easter grew closer, I became worried about two things. One: The church would attract a lot of families. A lot of families means a lot of nosy kids. A lot of nosy kids means a higher likelihood that the egg might be located and messed with before the agents reached it. Two: I wasn't sure what parts of the church and its grounds would be accessible at what times. The spot I wanted to use (adjacent to a rosary of stepping stones around a garden of roses dedicated to Mary) might or might not be locked by the time the party got started.

At about this time, I decided to try to use the movie Signs as an inspiration for the aliens. It didn't completely pan out, especially since I couldn't locate a Signs-inspired font for the messages, but it did leave me with the idea of a crop-circle puzzle. While eating dinner at the local Chinese restaurant, I mused about the piles of mostly loose dirt in my backyard not being conducive to crops. From there, I thought that the idea of digging up my yard might be pretty fun, or at least surprising.

More on Puzzle Design )

I drew a 10x10 grid on graph paper, selected a good area for a 2x2 square to hold an X, then divided the rest of the grid into non-square tetragrams. Then I drew a loop. Then I cut out the pieces. Then I tried to figure out how to give information to make the placement of the pieces easy.

The grid I'd drawn just didn't want to be easy. I tried so many things, but nothing gave enough information without providing a shortcut to placing the square piece. I also had trouble fighting against the urge to turn the loop into a logic puzzle. There are lots of pencil-and-paper logic puzzles based on figuring out how a loop fills out a grid. I had to keep reminding myself what it would look like. In my mind, I saw Bartok quickly filling it out while Mel and Maria looked dazes/bemused/bored. I quickly shook it off.

Finally, I accepted that the answer would be to give the outlines of all of the pieces. To do this, though, I had to scrap the hours I'd already put into the grid and draw a new one so that, instead of only one square piece, there would be several. Karmically, once I had recut the tetragrams and drawn a new loop, the puzzle was satisfyingly difficult. Clarifying which pieces were "end pieces" by adding the dark borders made it easy enough for me to consider it complete.

I went into my backyard and took pictures of four patches of dirt, after digging them up a little bit and smoothing them with a rake. Then, I arranged them into a square, and lined up my prospective burying spot with the area that would hold the X piece. I overlaid the outlines of the pieces, and the puzzle was finally complete.

Agents in Action
This was the last communication found by the agents. In retrospect, I wasn't incredibly happy with the cluing, but things worked out satisfactorily in the end. My biggest regret was that "sport on a plank" was way, way too ambiguous for "board game", especially since one of my cousins is on a diving team. Regardless, they figured out that "killing" and "doctors" were important, so when my mother stumbled upon the box of Kill Doctor Lucky (conveniently laid on the top of a stack of boardgames), she immediately knew it was right.

I left the house to help the agents working on Step 3, and soon, I saw some agents wandering around my backyard with the diagram. When I found out they hadn't solved the puzzle, but were hoping to shortcut by finding loose earth, I sent them back inside.

Later, I found them digging. In the wrong place. They had solved the puzzle, but couldn't locate it in my backyard. I realized I'd made a foolish mistake. Although the diagram I have online is nice and colorful, clearly showing four different locations, the printed version, in black and white, isn't so clear. In my enthusiasm, in printing, I didn't realize how hard it would be to distinguish the sections. So the agents were using the main resource they had (two flower pots in one shot) and using them to orient the X. I clarified their locations, and soon they were digging in the right place. I had to do the ultimate excavation, though, since they were still a bit hesitant about digging in my yard.

So, though it had troubles, I liked this puzzle a lot, probably because I went through so much grief putting it together. But all of the wrinkles ironed rather well, and the hunt went on.
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Step 1: Yellow CluesThe yellow eggs held clues reading: etching, hanging, holy men, up, down, staircase, illusion, and frame. These clues suggested the print of M.C. Escher's "Ascending Descending" hanging in my living room. When the framed picture was removed from the wall, a sheet of paper was found taped to the side. It was a communication from the aliens researching Earth: "Step 1: Gather Information". (Remember, for best results install Catharsis Cargo.) The instructions from Lieutenant Skit-Tee ask Cadet Grumk to find the information listed below, compress the findings using a set of formulae, then call back for further instructions.

To make sure that people didn't try to solve this by jumping onto my computer, I expressly told solvers not to use the "In-tor-net" in their research. The trick here, was that all of the information was findable within my living room, most of it on my coffee table. In fact, solving at home may be impossible because at least one item is definitely not on the Web, and another answer was taken from a cute, but outdated resource.

The formulae have been removed from the online version of the puzzle because they manipulated the numbers to create a phone number. Specifically, the phone number of a very appreciated journal reader, [ profile] skitty. At my request, she had modified the outgoing message on her voice mail, giving the solvers a final equation. That equation led solvers to my next-door neighbor's house and to the golden egg underneath the decorative numbers of her address.

Background and Construction
The idea of coffee-table trivia came pretty early, and festered for a while. While looking at one of the books which would become a reference, I thought that a Calculatrivia-style quiz would be good, because it would help me narrow down the answers I was looking for around my house, and it would allow me to easily manipulate the answers into an answer-ish form. I collected answers as I cleaned my house. Anytime I found something that was interesting, likely to contain numbers, or that seemed appropriate for my coffee table, I would flip through it looking for some good digits. I collected a small list, and they managed work into the parts of the phone number very well.

Agents in Action
This was the third puzzle found, and it was found pretty easily. My mother and a young cousin picked up on what it meant pretty easily, and they directed my father to take down the picture. I was helping some people get Step Three started, and when I turned around, my father was swinging the print around, showing everyone (except himself, of course) the hidden sheet. Bartok looked at it and said, "Oh great, we're going to have to use the Internet for this one." Alarmed, I pointed out that actually, they probably didn't.

I lost track of this puzzle for a while, and so I can't tell exactly what happened. Most people were focusing on the other puzzles, but after a while, agents returned to it. A few tentative answers had been put in, but most were mysteries. As more people started working on the puzzle, people started to realize that they'd seen related objects before. You see, when DeB and Bartok got arrived earlier than everyone else, they amused themselves by looking at the strange and interesting items on my coffee table. So many of the questions seemed very familiar.

This was the last puzzle completed, and it ended with my mother reading off questions and having everyone else scour my coffee table for books likely to have the answer. When it came time to do the formulas, however, there were some problems. First, I had forgotten to bring a calculator. I thought I had one, but it turned out to be a remote control to a stereo system I never used. So there multiplication bits took a little while. Second, there were two typos in the formulas, causing two of the numbers to be slightly off.

A Digression on Puzzlers and Nonpuzzlers )

So, finally armed with the correct phone number, the agents called Commander Skit-Tee. It took them two calls to get the message correctly, but the directions and the number led them clearly down the street. It didn't take long for them to swarm onto my neighbor's yard and grab the egg.

(The puzzle can be solved without being in my living room, but I would say it's decidedly less fun. Anyway, the answers are available, regardless.)
tablesaw: -- (Default)
Most of the briefing was just atmosphere patter, nothing that wasn't included in the documents I mentioned in the last entry. I did field some questions though to straighten out how things would work.

Something I had neglected to put in the documents was that everyone was on a single team, working together. This was one of the most important changes, I felt, from last year and from other hunts I've seen run like this. One of my goals was to make the hunt more accessible to people who would just be dipping their toes into the water, as it were. I think that a competitive atmosphere hinders that, since dabblers feel they need to get out of the way of the true competitors or get confused about who they are supposed to be helping. Definitely no complaints, and everyone worked well together.

For the first step, everyone was to collect thirty-two eggs hidden in and around my house. They were divided into four colors: red, yellow, blue, and green. Inside each of the eggs was a clue. Taking the eight clues of each color would suggest an object in or around my house that would contain an intercepted communique between the alien invaders. That communique could be solved to lead to a location that was within a five-minute-walking radius of my house.

The first four communiques related to the first four steps of the aliens' plan. Step 1: Gather Information. Step 2: Draw Crop Circles. Step 3: Land Spacecraft. Step 4: Kill All Humans. By foiling each of these steps, the agents learned more about the final step of the plan. Step Five, the Alien Genetiforming Dance, was a complicated process the aliens were using to adapt their DNA so that they could safely live on their conquered planet. If the agents could follow the instructions of the Alien Genetiforming Dance, they could find the birthplace of the aliens (and the berthplace of their ship) and save the earth.

I'm going to tackle each step/puzzle separately, talking about how it was supposed to run, how it did run, how it was designed, problems that arose, and what I learned. But first, I'll talk about the first eggs. They were pretty simple, and they were all found fairly quickly. Last year, I was singularly devious with my egg hiding, but this year I decided to ease up. One reason was that I had used up lots of the good spots last year, and I didn't want it to be a game of Husker Du for the returning players. Also, last year was very egg-finding based. This year, I had more to go on, so I thought that easier eggs would speed things along. I avoided putting eggs in unlikely containers, and instead I opted to place them in locations that were hidden unless you were standing in a particular spot.

Sadly, the egg that I hid the best did not survive. With great care, I had managed to wedge a yellow egg in between the citrus fruits on the tree in my back yard. The colors blended perfectly. But, just as the guests were arriving, I noticed that the cool canyon breeze had interceded, and my favorite egg was now lying exposed on the patio cement. Briefly, I considered tape, but thought better of it. Maybe next year.

Also, two eggs went unfound. They weren't noticed, so much, because not all eight of the clues were necessary for each color. One was in my hot pot (as I discovered when I went to make tea the next morning), the other was on the window sill behind my sink.

The easy eggs, and the accessible first step were a big help too, since even my parents, whom I thought would be hanging back, found it easy to get involved merely by wandering around the premises peeking around corners. Of course, as usual, the star egg sniffers were the youngest players, my cousins Maria and Maggie, who went at things with full force.

When about 80% of the eggs had been found, people began to trickle into my living room to start opening them. Pretty soon, the agents were on their way to finding the puzzling alien messages.
tablesaw: A tablesaw in action. The blade disappears when it comes in contact with a hot dog. (Virtually Unscathed!)
As you may know if you listened to the AudBlog, I was still frantically cleaning as the beginning of the party came around. Bartok was the first to arrive, punctual as ever at 2:30. He was pleasant and accommodating as I continued to run around the house, cleaning things. We chatted, etc. Things were pretty much in order by three, when DeB showed up, and I started set out the chips and dips and jelly beans.

(I'd like to mention that Ken's Peppercorn Ranch) is a very fine dressing for crudites. However, I was disappointed that the baby broccoli that I procured from Trader Joe's didn't get eaten as much as the celery or carrots.)

Eventually, everyone arrived, [ profile] cramerica, [ profile] wjukknibs, K., Mel, two of my cousins, and my parents, in addition to DeB and Bartok. Artistry called and said he'd be late, so I held the opening till about 3:45, when I started to explain the investigation/game to the assembled agents.

I don't think I'll have time to go through all of it, so I'm just going to link to copies of the files, for now. You, like my guests, can read over them and ponder their meaning while I drive home from work to continue writing. I will tell you that your experience of these documents will be greatly enhanced by installing the X-Files and Catharsis Cargo fonts.

The first document was a brief introduction from Special Agent Fox-in-the-Henhouse Mulder. Attached were two procedural documents. One explained the course of the investigation to come, and was titled HOW TO STOP THEM. The other document was the beginning of the final puzzle, the Alien Genome Dance. The other steps of this complicated mating ritual would be revealed later.

Because it wasn't clear whether everyone there was going to be working very actively, I devised a system of Field Agents and Supervising Agents, which, I hoped, would allow people to feel free to participate only as much as they wanted. There was an extra document for each. The Field Agents received general instructions on how to attack the puzzles. Supervising Agents got tips on how to stay involved without feeling obliged to run around too much.

I handed these out early because I'm the type of person who likes to read through the program before the show starts. So were most of my guests, so there was much reading of the documents before things even got started. Then, the briefing began . . .


Mar. 26th, 2004 06:40 am
tablesaw: -- (Safety)
I know there are folks out there who make (or know people who make) animated LJ icons. So, how do I get one from this fantastic disappearing tablesaw footage?

Thanks to Lunch Boy ([ profile] heaneyland) for the pointer.

FriNYTX: 14. I don't think 8A is phrased correctly.
tablesaw: -- (Default)
So, some people are have been softening their words, but I'm going to come right out and bluntly say that I hated this year's MIT Mystery Hunt. Yes, I enjoyed spending time with my team and the people in New York and Boston during my vacation surrounding, but if I could have the fifty hours or so I spent staring at those puzzles I'd grab them in a second.

I've been trying to write up my thoughts and opinions on this Hunt, and it's been difficult, because sometimes I just get too angry writing, and I lose my focus.

If you examined the Hunt minutely, you might come to the impression that the things that were wrong were minor. But each of those minor things had a major impact, and the things that were bad, unsatisfying and unfair overshadowed what was fun and well-designed, even if it did not outweigh them.

The entry I started writing today is titled "Skinned Knees on the Marathon Trail." I like comparing the Mystery Hunt to a marathon. They're both very strenuous, but very rewarding tests of endurance. But the marathon works because it is pure running over a long period of time. The route is clearly marked, the path is clear, and supplies are freely available along the way. Any non-running distraction. The amount of screw-ups, gaffes, miscommunications and awkward logic made this Hunt feel less like a marthon and more like a very, very, very long, haphazard obstacle course. I felt like I was dealing more with route directions and potholes in the road than with actual running.

I've saved a draft of what I've been writing, and I'll come back to it soon, but for now, I think that a lot of my attitude is summed up in this excerpt:

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them )

More eventually, including the stuff I liked.

FriNYTX: 19. ThuNYTX: 8:45. Written by [ profile] canadianpuzzler. What very good taste. You! Go solve it now!
tablesaw: -- (Default)
Thought I got a full night's sleep, but actually I woke up after seven hours.

It occurs to me that, given Liv Tyler's role in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Aerosmithril should get at least one hit on Google. Soon enough, it will, I suppose.

ThuNYTX: 13.
tablesaw: -- (Default)
Savage in Limbo goes up in fifteen hours. I won't be there, but the Whackedor will.

And I'm pissed.

I wasn't angry when the Whackedor went insane. I have better things to do than care about that. But the decisions the company has been making are beyond idiotic, and that pisses me off.

Apparently, the "understudy" for the Whackedor is unprepared and unwilling to take over. My friend, the one who's like family, the one who has been going through more hell than me since Sunday, has been informed that she can't step out because her "understudy" is unprepared and unwilling to take over.

So I'm sending in the board my resignation letter in a few hours. You might notice that I'm slightly miffed at them. Notes are appreciated.

Dear Sirs and Madams, )

(Update: Sent at 9:15 PST.)


Jan. 28th, 2004 05:13 am
tablesaw: -- (Default)
It wasn't until an hour or so ago that I started to wind down from the altercation. Back at work, back in normal life, back reading a list of patent applications for typographical errors, I felt like the breath had finally been let out.

Although I've firmly and clearly extricated myself from the situation, the situation is not resolved, and my body and mind reflect it. I'm still spending the energy to stand my ground. More than that, I'm still trying to provide the cast and company with a model of strength and resolve that they seem to be fumbling for. My friend hasn't been able to sleep for two days. Another cast member has burst into tears on two separate occasions since Sunday's performance. One producer, who wasn't present on Sunday, is having to hold himself back from going to punch the Whackedor in the face. (Note the difference: this produce is able to show restraint even though he really wishes he didn't have to.)

I'm not pushing too hard, because I feel that there's too much personal bias on my part, but I'm trying to get them to do the right thing. In a normal theater setting, where the producers weren't cast members and the director wasn't in the lobby handing out programs, it would have been my call as the stage manager. In that world, the Whackedor would have gotten thrown out after five minutes, and the show would have gone on, probably with an address to the audience ambiguously explaining the last-minute change. I probably would have ended up on stage with a book in my hand.

Today, after the second production meeting where no decision was made, I brought my friend over because I was worried about her. She's been very affected by this on far more levels than I have. I love the company (and I should clarify that the Whackedor is not a member of the company, merely an actor hired to be in their show), and I'm always glad to help them out, but I have no problems walking away from a job under these circumstances. (And it is a job; Rwth and I are getting paid. It's not much, but it's more than the actors are getting, since they're mostly doing it for recognition and resume building.) For her, it's different. She's a founding member of the company, she's been handling finances for the past two years.

My friend feels she can't do the show with the Whackedor. Not only has she been deeply affected by somebody threatening someone she's known almost as family for over a decade, she's was also verbally abused by the Whackedor while she tried (somewhat inexpertly) to talk him down. She told the company that she was considering stepping down and was told that her understudy wouldn't be able to replace her. Apparently, she was horrible during understudy rehearsals, but since there was not going to be any planned night that my friend took off, they figured everything would be fine. So for the past three weeks, my friend (and I, for that matter) believed she had an understudy when, in fact, she didn't.

There's just a paralysis afflicting the group that's keeping decisions from being made. I think that many believe that the "easiest" thing to do would be for everyone (including me) to come back on Thursday and just deal for the next six performances. But that's not going to happen. It's not going to happen because I'd leave first. It's not going to happen because Rwth may leave too. It's not going to happen because my friend can't make eye contact with the Whackedor. It's not going to happen because my friends' husband who's been helping with concessions wants to get some friends and a few baseball bats and go after the Whackedor for threatening his beloved. And yet this seems "easier" than rehearsing a new understudy for anyone.

And it's Wednesday, and a final decision still hasn't been reached. These people seem to have no concept of time. It's certainly not going to be easy to rehearse an understudy if you don't make a decision until less than twenty-four hours till the next show.

I'd just like them to start acting like producers, realize that there's nobody who'll make this decision for them, and tell everyone what they're going to do. I'd like to know whether or not I'm going to be able to sleep in on Thursday. More importantly, I'd like to be able to prepare if I'm going back. There're going to be a lot of people looking for me to set a tone if I come back, and if I'm going to rise to the occasion, I'll need some preparation.

Just pass the soap so I can wash my hands of it, already.
tablesaw: -- (Default)
As I mentioned earlier, I was assaulted by one of the actors in the show I am (or possibly was) stage managing. Here's what happened . . .

When the producers rented this space, they agreed to a few very absurd provisions. The most annoying involves where we store our props and set dressing. When we are running the show, we have to keep our stuff backstage right, but when we're not, we have to keep it backstage left. So when we do the last show of the week, we have to move all of their stuff out of the way, so that we can move our stuff into its new home, then put their stuff back where our stuff used to be. All of which is lots of fun because, since the actors are generally out front networking (read "drinking wine and chatting with friends"), it's Rwth (my co-stage manager) and I who have to do most of the moving.

To streamline this process, Rwth and I decided to rearrange part of the back stage before the show, so that we wouldn't have to stay out for so long dealing with the movement. In the process, we apparently blocked part of the backstage area used by two male actors as a dressing room. I learned this when one of the two, (I shall call him "the Whackedor") complained about our positioning of a large table with several props on it. It blocked off the sofa they liked to use to relax (not ours, part of the theater's rotating set pieces), and made it difficult for them to reach a mirror. I explained to them why we had moved it where we had: we were going to be doing a lot moving after the show, and we we usually can't count on the actors to help, so we were doing as much before hand as possible. He asked if we could put it somewhere else, and I said that next time, I would think about it, but for now it was best to leave things as they are.

I should note that during this conversation, I said something I immediately regretted. I can't recall what it was, but I remember thinking that my voice and word choice had made the statement slightly more acidic than it should have been. It wasn't anything horribly bad, I didn't see (then) any noticeable effects, and I couldn't see a way to immediately backtrack to it, so I just moved on. In fact, that was my tone toward the entire conversation. I didn't really care to much about it. Everyone had been given a later call, so we didn't have much time to care about it, and there were plenty of other things I was going to have to do.

Now, the Whackedor is cold. Always. When we moved into the theater, we kept the heat on. We soon realized, though, that the only person complaining of it being too cold was him. Eventually, the director, Rwth and I agreed that we'd keep the heater on before the show in most cases, but we would turn it off before we let the house in. Between the hot lights and the large crowd we often got, there was plenty of heat for everyone else, and keeping the heater on occasionally made it sweltering.

At about five or ten minutes to house open, Rwth came into the office next to the booth and told me that she turned the heater off. She wanted me to make sure I double checked it, because the Whackedor had recently been turning it back on after she turned it off. I told her that I was going into the booth and that I'd keep my eye on it from there. If anyone tried to turn it on again, I'd tell them not to.

At about three minutes to house open, I was surprised to see the Whackedor leaning over the heater. I had expected that he might have earlier, but now, we were minutes away from letting in the audience, and he was minutes away from leaving the theater to wait in the office anyway. The booth had no god mike, so I opened the window and asked, "Are you turning on the heater?"

"Yeah, I'm turning on the heater."

"Can you turn it back off? We're about to open up the house."

"No, I'm not going to do that."

"Whackedor, you can't turn the heater on right now, we're letting the audience in in a few minutes. Turn off the heater."

"Hey, fuck you. I'm freezing up here, and I'm turning the heater on. So just fuck off, all right?"

At this point, I got pissed. If he wasn't going to turn off the heater, I'd go down the and turn it off myself. If I had to stand there for the next three minutes before Rwth returned to take him to the waiting area, so be it. But the climate control of the house was my responsibility, I was the stage manager, and I do not going to back down.

I came into the theater and turned off the heater. Because the theater was small, the thermostat was located on the wall at about the line where the stage ended and the audience began. The stage was not raised, and so I was effectively on stage. The Whackedor turned to me and said, "What do you think you're doing." "I'm turning off the heater." Then the Whackedor begna to fully live up to the name I have here given him.

I can not remember the stream of invectives hurled at me. They weren't interesting at all, just verbal standins for the primal primate yell of anger that it was. There were several witty things that shot through my mind. The one I remember most clearly, in response to the Whackedor moving mere inches away from my face then screaming, "You'd better get out of my fucking face," was "I haven't moved an inch in the last sixty seconds please get out of my face." I didn't, partly because I knew it couldn't help, but mostly because I never got a chance to even say anything non snarky. After each harangue, I would start to say, calmly and quietly, "Whackedor, I am responsible for this theater." Each time, I managed to get as far as "resp." I said I don't back down, and I didn't. I wouldn't. I didn't feel the need to match his insane anger, but I didn't move an inch. Not when he started yelling at me. Not when he moved within an inch of my face, not when he threatened me.

In fact, I didn't move at all until he grabbed my shirt and shoved me backwards, still swearing at me.

There had been several actors on stage preparing for the show. I don't know specifically what they had been doing up to that point, but when the Whacked grabbed me, they immediately ran forward to hold him back. He didn't calm down. In fact, at this point, he began insulting the other cast members as well. As far as I can tell, he never calmed down. He claimed that I had disrespected him so much, between the backstage conversation and refusing to let him adjust the heater that he had no choice but to do what he did, what he was continuing to do. He threatened that if they tried to fire him, he'd refuse to go and that they'd need to call the police to haul him out.

Eventually, the director, who had been out front covering for the missing box office attendant, entered the room. At this point, seeing someone higher in the hierarchy than either myself or the actor, I relaxed and let him take the steps necessary for the situation. I didn't try to explain my side of what happened. The Whackedor seemed to want to say much more, and it seemed that any case I might want to make was better made letting him rant and threaten everyone in the room. I did say, softly, to the director and to a personal friend of mine in the cast who was also a producer, that I refused to work with him. And that if he continued to be on the cast, I would quit.

They considered cancelling the show, something they were loath to do because it was full house and a benefit performance to boot. They considered spot-replacing the Whackedor, something I think most of them were frankly afraid to do. Ultimately, they decided to go on with the show, so I informed the director and producer that I was leaving. I believe the director took my place with Rwth in the booth.

So that's why I was shaken up yesterday. I'm still a bit shaken up, but it's getting better. Last night, I had a momentary flashback to the episode. I remembered the Whackedor screaming face in front of mine; I remembered the adrenaline; I remembered grounding myself and steeling my face. But I had to laugh when I realized what had happened. I was watching The Bernie Mac Show, and Bernie Mac's girlfriend had angrily called him a whiny baby. The flashback had been triggered by thinking about how insecure, whiny, and self-centered the Whackedor is.

Yeah, I think I'll be okay.
tablesaw: -- (Default)
I just got assaulted by one of the actors at the show I'm stage managing.

I'll tell more later, but for now, I want to talk, not write. Feel free to call me, if you want to hear.

(Update at 6 p.m.: Feeling a bit better, although I have no idea when I'll be ready to sleep. Talked with several people, some related to the show, and am feeling not so freaked out. Thanks to all leaving messages and calling. I'll give the full scoop soon. For now, I'm going to eat some greasy comfort food and relax with [ profile] wjukknibs.)


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