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Saturday, July 23rd, 2011
8:44 pm - R1Q6: CAT, KO, T, MMM
These are all the stock symbols of <a href="http://money.cnn.com/data/dow30/">Dow Jones Industrial Average components</a>: Caterpillar, Coca Cola, AT&T, and 3M.

Why I Wrote It:
I wanted to draw on something in the US economy, something that would reward knowledge of the Business section as well as the World, Us, Sports and Lifestyles sections. This was the first group I came up with, back when I was watching the show for the first time. I loved the capital letters being important, I loved the flow of the clues, and I liked that it was in a fair but unused section of trivia.

How It Played:
All right, but not wonderful. Too many people got to stock symbols, and then entered Prompt Hell. I accepted S&P 500, since these are all on that as well. I was happy to claim the free point in the large-group game when asked to come up with a single-letter stock symbol.

What I Learned:
Only Connect isn't Quiz Bowl. Answers don't need to be exactly accurate, but things are fairer if there's really only one decent connection, and not a less-good and a more-good one. This is a trap that I've seen the show deal with too, where 'they all died the same way' is true, but contestants really need to get to 'they were all defenestrated' or something. People generally have fun when I grant points freely, since the after-hours games are fairly non-competitive. But if I ever try to adapt this for more people, I'll have to watch out for these judgement calls.

This entry was originally posted at http://pfirework.dreamwidth.org/1846.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
6:51 pm - R1Q5: Alcohol Taxes, Teapot Rock WY, French Psydonyms, Watergate Complex
These are all the namesakes of US political scandals (the Whiskey Ring, Teapot Dome, the XYZ Affair, and Watergate)

Why I wrote it:
I wanted a good US history puzzle. I think this one came inspired from an original question about numbered groups in British scandals/court cases. I couldn't go anywhere with that in the US (Little Rock 9?), but some neurons were firing, and I saw this connection. The wikipedia page on US Political Scandals filled in the rest.

How it played:
Well! Basically every game got it for 1 point, maybe someone someone got it for 2 once. Most people had a nice 'oh right' on the XYZ affair, though the Whiskey Ring didn't excite enough people (some experts, but not even an average of one per game, which is kind of my cutoff. I want at least -someone- at the table to recognize it).

What I Learned:
There's no shame in truly giveaway 1-point clues. It makes the first round feel more accessible, and rewards the bold guess at the buzzer, making more drama and more interactivity. 
This entry was originally posted at http://pfirework.dreamwidth.org/1786.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Monday, July 18th, 2011
5:44 pm - R1Q4: The Audio Question
These songs (Don't Leave Me This Way, SIlly Love Songs, I Will Always Love You, and Your Song) were all part of the Moulin Rouge love medley.

Why I wrote it:
I wanted to try something a little different from the Only Connect  audio rounds, something that went one step beyond the title- or artist-identification that they did. Moulin Rouge was a great source, and hopefully popular enough.

How It Played:
Not popular enough. Nobody got it, and there just wasn't enough time to put the connection together. I used clips that were too obscure for the first two. 

What I Learned:
When Only Connect makes things easier, I should listen. Specifically, make identification most of the battle on the audio questions, and the connection simple (unless I'm going for Finals-difficulty, in which case a harder connection between the titles or artists (bible books, Arthurian legend) is acceptable. Also, convention room audio is hard enough, make all the clips the most famous portion.
This entry was originally posted at http://pfirework.dreamwidth.org/1381.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Thursday, July 14th, 2011
7:52 pm - R1Q3: The Picture Question
 These are all Juno: The Roman Goddess, the music award, the D-Day beach, and the character.
Why I wrote it:
I think this was the first one I thought of. The visuals came out really well: I had to do some digging to find a nice iconographic image of Juno Beach, turns out there's a lovely museum there which had exactly what I needed. This seemed right in line with the kind of picture questions that the show loves.
How it played:
A little harder than I figured. I thought at least someone would recognize the beach or the music award. Turns out nobody recognized either, even the person who attended the Juno Awards a month prior. Answered correctly about 3-4 times, with lots of 'Greek goddeses' or such. I'm happy with its performance, there's not much I could have done to make it clearer except use a marble statue instead of a Rembrandt painting, and most people don't know Juno's iconography.
What I learned:
Even the easy stuff is hard. I have hours to see these things, the contestants have 40 seconds. My biggest problem as a constructor is leaning a little too far toward considering elegance instead of difficulty. When my flagship connection of round 1 goes under 50%, I need to re-evaluate. On the other hand, almost everyone was in the ballpark, so I don't need to move far.
This entry was originally posted at http://pfirework.dreamwidth.org/1184.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Wednesday, July 13th, 2011
These all appear, as written, on Lord Stanley's Cup.

Why I wrote it:

I had another sports one in this spot (which will probably show up next time), but this one just felt better. It's a story that pops up many years around Stanley Cup playoff time, and it's interesting trivia.

How it played:
This was an odd kind of success: a memorable category that I think maybe 1 team got right in 11 games. Most people went for the Seinfeld reference, instead of focusing on the hockey like I intended with the Ilanders. But every time, it led to a few astonished gasps, more than a little laughter, and general 'yes, that's a good one.' 

What I learned:
I can't have too many of these in a game, but one or two 'aren't I clever, and aren't you cleverer for having seen it' is acceptable. 40 seconds isn't too long to spend stumping everyone, but it had better be a good tada at the end.

This entry was originally posted at http://pfirework.dreamwidth.org/841.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Tuesday, July 12th, 2011
5:09 pm - R1Q1: Boromir, Sir Frances Drake, Big Pussy, Osama bin Laden
And they all...Collapse )I knew I wanted a current-events flavored question and UBL was a great hook for it. From there, I went looking for others who were buried at sea. The list of real-life people known to be wasn't as impressive as I hoped. Fortunately, I found a site offering sea burials (not an endorsement) which had a list of fictional characters buried at sea, which even Wikipedia didn't have. In the category at first, but narrowly missing the 'truthiness' cut was James Bond, who was given a fake burial at sea during You Only Live Twice, giving name to the movie. My wife found Big Pussy while looking for a replacement. 

How it played:
Rather well. About 3/11 solves, but plenty of good 'Wait, what?' as each new one was revealed and 'Ohhh, that's nice' at the answer. I think this question was a good example of the tone and reactions I wanted throughout the game. I'd like it to have been a little easier, but this is an obscure fact about almost everyone besides UBL. I could have included Adolf Eichmann as a more recognizable case, but I didn't really want two people buried at sea for about the same reason. 

What I learned:
Misspellings are forgivable. Sir Francis Drake was misspelled Frances on the card, as in the title here. A simple 'misspelling not intentional' as I turned it was enough. It looked a little less professional, but people seemed to roll with it fine. This also applied to my other bad misspelling, Psydonyms (I have no idea how that happened). Copy-editing is important, as always, but when it's not on the critical path to the solution, it's correctable. 
This entry was originally posted at http://pfirework.dreamwidth.org/641.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Monday, July 11th, 2011
8:02 pm - Only Con-nect
Thanks to everyone for making the 2011 NPL Convention in Providence, RI possible, and as much fun as it was. The heartiest thanks go to Geneal and Junebug for hosting. As I know, it's a long and hard process to make the logistics happen, and their innovations (good midnight snacks, excellent desserts, and probably lots of behind-the-scenes improvements that I don't even know about) led to an absolutely fabulous experience for me and my 175 closest friends.
Only very slightly less robust thanks go to the 66 people that made the 11 times I ran my Only Con-nect game so much fun. You all rose admirably to my challenge, and it seemed you all had as much fun on the business end of the cardstock as I had hosting. Most of the feedback I got, both directly and indirectly can be summed up as "It's brutal, but it's great." I want to take a closer look at how it was brutal, how it was great, and see what lessons I can learn to help make my next convention game even more of a success. And yes, there will certainly be another OC at the next convention, though I don't know yet which convention that will be.
Only ConnectOver the next few weeks, I want to offer you a kind of liner notes for the game. I'll discuss the questions I set, why they turned out the way they did, and what happened when actual players got involved. Hopefully, some of the players and observers will be able to chime in with additional commentary as I go on. But there's no reason the other few billion Internet denizens should be left out. Here, then, are the questions themselves. As I post commentary in later days, I'll link it here to the relevant question(s), so that you can have one place to track all the answers and discussion. Some knowledge of how the original game works will be helpful.

Round 1: What connects the following four items?
Round 2: What comes fourth in the sequence?
Round 3: The Wall
  • Aloysious, Bean (replaced with Floyd for final evening), Biscuit, Boot, Flat, Guy, High, Hot, Lift, Live, Lumber, Pants, Prairie, Rawhide, Rock, Telly
  • Aft, Ayes, Bloom, Brace (replaced with Broth for final evening), Crash, Dams, Faith, Fit, Frenzy, Murder, Party, Plain, Play, Rant, Repertory, Sport
Round 4: Missing Vowels
  • Statistical distributions
  • US territorial acquisitions
  • Musicals currently running on Broadway
  • Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavors
  • Vowels removed from answers earlier this round

This entry was originally posted at http://pfirework.dreamwidth.org/304.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Friday, May 20th, 2011
9:39 pm - Evil Monty Hall
Monty Hall DiagramI won't go into the details of the Monty Hall problem here*, but I'm sure you all know that it's the bane of many a probabilist's confidence in themselves as a good tutor. There are just certain facts about probability, information, and evidence that human brains need special tools and training in order to get 'right'. We're so highly optimized for certain kinds of events, that we can go badly wrong on others. 

But today, I'm thinking about the fiddly bits that people complain about, the rules that the Monty Hall problem takes for granted, specifically the requirement of an Honest Monty. In the canonical problem, Monty always knows where the car is, and will always reveal one of the two zonks at the middle stage. Monty won't give any other information, and has none to provide. Monty won't end the game after the first selection by revealing the car, whether in favor or not. But if Monty were truly evil, he wouldn't need three doors. He can do it in two. Phillip Escoffey is proving that.

On the new British gameshow-themed magic show Impossible?, Escoffey plays on the crucial semi-suspension of disbelief that makes practical magic so much fun to marvel at. Over the first five rounds, a pair of contestants watch the set-up for a trick, then have to decide whether the claimed effect is possible or impossible to produce under the given conditions. Surprisingly, I haven't found any good online discussion yet about people planning to demonstrate one of the Impossible tasks, so they must have vetted these fairly well. Each correct decision adds money to their prize fund. Which is all fun window dressing, but the last round is truly interesting. Escoffy goes from a fairly neutral but impish arbiter to adversary. It's Monty Hall with two cases, but an Evil Monty. Escoffey knows where the money is, and his job is to make choosing the correct case 'impossible'. It's a straight-up force; he's had 40-odd minutes to learn the two contestants, and thus far always calls back to earlier things he's learned or seen during the show. He's 2 for 2 so far this series.

Note I don't say the contestants are 0 for 2. What I like about this conceit is that it falls firmly in the Win Ben Stein's Money category of gameplay. I'm not watching to see the contestants get lucky, I'm watching to see the host beat the contestants. He's the one plying his skill. And we get to enjoy seeing him do it. I recommend giving this show a try. If you have trouble finding good clips, there arrr alternatives.

*Except to say, woah, NPOV tagged in Wikipedia? I love that even people who agree on the solution can go to virtual fisticuffs over the correct argument for the correct solution.

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Saturday, May 14th, 2011
7:26 pm - Scouting Report
LearnedLeague schedules are out! Let's see how I'll be spending my first two weeks in Rundle R West ...

1: Ben Monreal [Monreal], MIT for PhD thesis
2: Raymond Rosing [Rosing Madison], UW Madison identified in local press reports.
3: McCarthyE (Irish last name at Notre Dame? No chance.)
4: Bret Agins [Agins Vassar -against -aging] Also, swapping Vassar for Portland gives a crossword construction credit

5: LiebovichA [There's a Prof. Liebovich at Urbana-Champaign, but -Louis didn't help]
6: David DiGiuseppi [DiGiuseppi Washingtion] confirmed with UMich affiliation. Commish's invite, ooo.
7: SchachterM 
8: OmarM
9: WhiteS

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Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011
8:24 pm - Different Hunts, Same Area of Expertise
courtesy @playdashLast weekend, I helped run DASH 3 in Washington, DC. It was good to get a chance to see the area puzzlers, and a few from out of the area! I'll take the opportunity to talk a little bit about what I saw in terms of organizing a one-day walk-around puzzle hunt.

I started playing such games with, well, The Game, at least as it was played on the Stanford campus. I've only done dorm-level games, but they were quite fun. On the West Coast, we don't expect people to walk, but we do expect them to solve and drive all night. The answer to each clue would be a location within 50 miles to find the next clue. The clues were dead-dropped around the Bay Area, which led to other problems when parks would close or 'helpful' people would dispose of the envelope. This led to a more independent-feeling hunt, but one with a lot more variance and creativity on the part of Game Control.

Dash 3 had about 8 people running it, on the day of, to cover 8 clue sites. But wisely, they were not just assigned one to one. Instead, one was running one stop ahead of the lead team, one was running with whatever team was last, and two were assigned to each of the first three sites. As the first site was drawn down, one of the two people there ran ahead to site 4, and so on, until basically all of the first seven sites were manned by one person. Then someone jumped up to site 8, and the sites were double-manned as the other sites were cleared. This meant that nobody was alone at a site for too long, so they could go do whatever needed to be done without disrupting the solving experience. About 6 of the 23 teams didn't make it to clue site 8 before the end, and had to be skipped straight to the restaurant for meta solving and announcements.

I was alone at site 7, which wound up being the third site with a scissors puzzle. This was generally met with groans when I announced it would require more cutting. Unfortunately, it sounded like the main organizers were printing up to the night before. Of the three puzzles, I'd say only one was improved by having the teams go from flat paper to components (I'll be vague, as the puzzles may still show up at www.playdash.org for your enjoyment). But cutting a few hundred non-rectilinear pieces just wasn't possible ahead of time. This may be one of the downfalls of the distributed writing and editing that goes on with DASH, where different host cities contribute each puzzle. I still think it's a great idea, and has quickly become one of the more exciting and unifying events on the annual puzzle calendar. I look forward to possibly enjoying it with Laura and Melinda next year!

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Sunday, April 17th, 2011
12:53 pm
So, many of my friends and acquaintances have been posting 'woah, right LJ' posts recently. Mostly with a 'Yeah, been facebooking, but somehow, I feel like I miss my friends' chaser. This isn't an accident. Facebook, over the last month or three, has made some changes that are literally driving people away from their friends. The prevalence of generic polls and questions seems to have broken the signal-to-noise ratio. It's fallen under some threshold of direct communication. Where status updates at least felt like user-generated content, now the snippets I get from my friends aren't even from their lives, they're single bits of 'yes/no/other'. Basically, Facebook started to mediate my interactions too much. It's time for us to reclaim our communities. Ironically, I'm starting to nudge over to Dreamwidth. My friends aren't all here, but they can be signposted with the cross-posts. If this works well enough, I'll probably put in the work to migrate all my reading lists over here. Leave a comment if you have problems leaving a comment.

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Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
9:34 pm - Shallot compare thee...
Cooking 101, almost wherever you go, will spend a few days on 'What does our culture do with an onion?' Onions seem to be a universal ingredient. Facts from the Oxford Companion to Food:
  • They go back at least to Ancient Egypt and Ur.
  • Though wild onions were indigenous to the New World, the larger, more mild varieties quickly gained traction.
  • Onion skins can be used to color soups.
If cooking 101 is the use of the onion, the first lesson of cooking 201 is 'Forget onions, let's talk shallots.' They just scream 'I'm willing to pay a little more to get a better product'. They're milder, they're more flavorful, and like all truly good tasting foods, they're more unruly. I was surprised, when I peeled mine for a dead simple mustard pan sauce, that it really was more like garlic than onion, with two separate bulbs. And it minced so much more easily than onion, because the folds were so much thinner. It's the second most satisfying thing I've ever hit with a knife (the first being a good quick celery chop). It's amazing how quickly intimidation and pretentious reputation can turn into a staple of the pantry. Go use some shallots, in something where you'd normally mince onion and garlic. See what happens.

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Sunday, March 27th, 2011
5:34 pm - Oh, Right, This
This has been a wonderful half-year. My wife and I have gotten 3 cats, most of which don't vomit most of the time. The house has performed wonderfully, the new dishwasher and heat pump are fitting right in. I'm able to do graduate-level work in math, at least at an 'engineering for professionals' level of difficulty. I've made a few creative leaps that may lead to many of my friends having fun at geek gatherings in the next 3-10 months. The next half year should look suspiciously like the prior half year, hopefully with fewer new household appliances. -eyes kitchen suspiciously-

The half-hear after -that- will look radically different. Round about September 20th, my wife will hate me for a few hours, and then we'll have a child. A mundane miracle. Most wise men would say knowledge about the future is an illusion. Children doubly so. I just hope that I'll be able to say a few wise things about myself, and those around me, along the way.

Hey, LJ. Been a while. Is this thing on?

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Wednesday, September 1st, 2010
3:27 pm - Journal Rules of Engagement
Posting in my flocked entries is a privilege I've extended to you by adding you as a friend. If you abuse that right, I reserve the right to kick you out of the locked posts. This is the same as always.

Specifically on FB/LJ integration: the way they chose to do comments is weird and vaguely wrong, and I hope it changes. I'll never use the comment functionality, I'm only tying it together so that I can show all my benighted Facebook-only friends how much richer the engagement is on these communities. Which I totally forgot was a shadow of its former self since the Dreamwidth schism. But LJ is still may main combination social site and RSS feed, Facebook is just a way to play Bejewelled against my family (400k? Every week?).

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Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
10:49 pm
I'm going to fight to convince myself that my daily life is interesting enough again to inform everyone of. Let's see if anyone agrees. Reverse chronological order, any and all of which may get full entries in the future:

- A class that I expect to be among the hardest I've ever taken starts tomorrow. But I married someone who's passed it, so I have the support I need to succeed.
- I got to see Alaska while it was still breathtaking. Some glaciers are stationary, most aren't.
- We got a third cat, a stray who was probably dumped by a dead neighbor's kids. The house is feeling full with 5 occupants who mostly get along.
- I changed jobs at work. Same idea, different part of the process. Much quicker pace, much more immediate impact. Former boss felt it was a better fit for me, and I haven't proven her wrong.
- I got to tour Vancouver while my wife went to a conference. Failed to meet local friends because I apparently slept through one of the last 5-hour pavement delays in US aviation.
- Codex failed to win the Mystery Hunt again, in more spectacular fashion than recent years. They're a great experience for remote-solving, and the community is good. But I keep looking at some of my friends who regularly get the kick-ass local team experience in envy.
The time from August to December 2009 is probably a loss, as far as public recordkeeping.

The great irony: clinging onto LJ because I love the community and the long-form writing, but defaulting back to a series of unwritten Facebook updates. Tomorrow, discipline returns.

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Saturday, August 29th, 2009
9:50 pm - Cheap wine of the decade
I'm starting to think that the key to finding good wine at $10 is to avoid any variety that has its own section or aisle in the store. I've found a few Maryland bottles I trust, and a lot I don't (I'm already putting myself on the hook for another wine journal entry!?). This entry is for Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. What's working to make this varietal cheap?
  1. You have to remember a nine-syllable name. Not even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has that many.
  2. It's an Italian table wine. Chianti has already sucked the oxygen out of that arena in the American headspace.
  3. It's a fairly soft, accessible wine. Most people who look for less-well-known wines are already bored with the major names, and want something that pushes one edge or another of the Why Wine is Interesting space. M d'A sits in the center: soft tannins, dry but with plenty of fruit and spice flavor.
  4. M d'A has much less pleasant association. Jerry Lewis telethon unpleasant.
Why do I say decade? Not because it's that good. Just because, when I find a series of good affordable table reds, I want to stick with it. M d'A will hopefully carry me through many years.

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Sunday, August 16th, 2009
12:06 am
The two bookend radio shows to a wonderful party. Sometimes, when I think about the food and music that I like best, I wonder if I'm a Louisiana boy.

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Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
8:00 pm - NaNoWriMo
I may try it this year. Typing it here makes it more likely I will. Let's hope I do!

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Friday, June 26th, 2009
9:22 pm
I own a wii. My wife is upstairs watching TV, I'm downstairs watching History Channel. I love my life some days.

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Thursday, June 26th, 2008
8:15 pm
I'm on the laptop and watching Good Eats. My fiancee is on the DS Lite* and listening to her iPod. I love my life some days.

* Still on the lookout for a Wii.

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