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April 20, 2012

Neal Stephenson Talk

Went to an excellent talk by Neal Stephenson at MIT on Tuesday.

Posted by aarondf at 11:08 AM | Events | Comments (0)

November 21, 2011

Bark before Zog!!! - BGG.Con 2011

Got back from BGG.Con yesterday where Susie sweetly picked me up. Had a really nice time although didn't play very many Essen games. On Friday played Poseidon's Kingdom, Hawaii and Dungeon Petz and did enjoy all of them - probably all about 7s.

I am posting though mostly about Hanabi and the Puzzle Hunt. Finally got to play my copy of Hanabi and ended up playing 7 or 8 times and really enjoying, even more than I expected - rating for now is a 9. Many of the games were a bit frustrating as a person didn't do what one thought they should (me included) and then often discussion ensued sometimes interfering with the play - this was fine with me as I was more interested in why things went wrong than in what our final score would be but bothered others. Anyway, I'd definitely like to play this more with a strong consistent group using conventions. This isn't available online is it?

For the puzzle hunt, Peter and I again teamed up and Sean joined us again and then we added Jason and David to round out the team. The hunt this year was run by Ken, rather than the usual team of Dave & Aaron. Puzzles this year were probably not quite as interesting and lacking in the wonderful whimsy factor I think many of Aaron's puzzles have, but were still for the most part very enjoyable and I certainly had a great time. Part of that was definitely due to the format, which I thought worked just GREAT so am going to detail it as I think elements of it could very smartly be reused by others.

Hunt Format:

1) Teams assigned to one of seven starting locations and once you left a location you would not return. Answers checked at your current location. Teams rotate through the locations so from location N you go to (N + 1 mod 7). This avoided the clog of teams all turning in answers at one spot and just generally greatly reduced crowding issues. Did of course require more staffing.

2) Hunt final score was determined as the time you turn in the final answers minus one minute for every bonus point you have. Thus if you took 120 minutes but had 30 bonus minutes, you would be treated as taking 90 minutes.

3) At each location, 5 puzzles of value 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (15 total). To leave a location you must score at least 10 points but can solve more and extras (points at location minus 10) are treated as bonus points. This was the best thing to me. No single puzzle can be a roadblock - can only get stuck if there are two puzzles you can't solve at a single location. Also allows for variety of puzzle difficulty with total sense - if you have a fun but super-easy puzzle you can use it fine. And finally there is an interesting choice to be made once you get to 10 points. Lets say we have 11 and the 4 point puzzle not yet solved - do we think we can solve it in 3 minutes or so? If so, we should stay; if not move on now. Interesting decision every time we came to it and we went both ways at various stations.

4) Expensive but available and unlimited hints. Hints for any puzzle cost 5 points but you started with 10 points (-10 minutes from final time if didn't use) and could actually go negative. They were thus a horrible idea for competitive teams to use but made it so that weaker teams could use what they needed to get past the 10 point barrier in each room and move on to see the other puzzles when they got frustrated at a given station.

There was also a minor bonus puzzle at each location and a meta-bonus. We ended up being the second team to turn in our final answers by 9 minutes but had 12 more bonus points than the first team so won by 3 minutes.

Oh, the title of this post! Jason was generally acting as our team runner and doing most of the turn-ins (and you could also check answers). We were working on a puzzle called "You can count on it" where the answer was three letters long and we had the right idea with it but hadn't quite gotten the answer and weren't sure anyway of some things. Jason had checked one answer (Bit) for it and Peter was on the phone with him and telling him that he should try Dog and they obviously had a bad connection so Peter was saying "Dog as in Woof Woof, Fido" and I think even another example. I was even joking with Peter that he should start barking as I thought (very wrongly as it turned out) the triple indicating of Dog was over the top. Well, Jason tried an answer and reported it was wrong so we said just turn it in anyway (we had 10 points without this) so we could move on and he did. Well, we had to wait for him to bring the new puzzles and Dog really seemed like it should be right, both based on the title and an actual possible solution, so we asked him when he got back if he had submitted it and he said "Oh no, I thought you said 'Zog'" which we all laughed about (and joked about after), at the same time telling him it was fine. Cost us three points/minutes and Jason felt bad (and went back to try to get the points but they refused, quite reasonably) but it was very amusing. Very glad didn't cost us winning. Would not have bothered me but Jason would have felt awful about it.

Also played three friends' separate but thematically very similar prototypes and liked all three. Congratulations also to Sean and Alex for winning the Tichu tournament. They were my pick to win both last year and this (I played both years but with two different partners who aren't nearly as experienced as I am) and this year they met my expectations ;) .

Had a really good time with friends, old and new, both playing and eating (including two excellent outings to Hard Eight). Particular thanks to Stephanie for grabbing me for a couple of meals and for Deduce or Die and sorry we didn't get in a Hanabi game. Again, is it playable online anywhere?

Posted by aarondf at 02:55 PM | Events | Comments (0)

July 05, 2011

And the Sky Full of Stars IV

With finally having a rack for my car to take my kayak, decided a while back that I must get out on the Charles again for the Fourth fireworks. Susie was up for it too and we were initially going to rent a boat for her from Charles River Canoe & Kayak but then thought to ask Bill and Catherine to borrow one of theirs (and paddle and vest) which they were very kind to let us do. This made the logistics a bit more complex as my rack will only hold one boat but I have a foam rack set I bought years ago and never used so we decided to take both cars and use that for the second boat on her car. We decided to put in at Allston/Brighton on Soldier's Field Road for easier parking and live with the longer 3-4 mile paddle down to the barge. I knew I could handle this length but Susie hadn't been in a kayak for a long while but was game for trying it. We picked up the boat at Bill's at around 7:45, took a while to load it on Susie's car and headed to the put in where there was ample parking luckily. Probably got on the water around 8:30.

Paddle down was long but very nice and Susie wisely brought her portable radio to listen to the Pops concert during the paddle. Got nervous when the barge launched a few things at 9:50 and we were between the BU and Harvard bridges but this was just a special thing for one song I guess. Got in place in front of the MIT sailing pavilion around 10:10 where we had a snack of chocolate chip cookies. Had to paddle a bit to keep reasonably in place which was tricky with two boats together and got us both a bit wet but managed it reasonably well. Fireworks started just after 10:30 as scheduled and were just amazing. The 360 degree view from out on the water is just incredible and there were no boats, small or large, at all near us. During the fireworks we drifted close enough to the barge that I am pretty sure we were the two closest non-official boats on the river to the barge and got lightly warned to move back just as the finale started but we just back paddled a bit and didn't miss anything. Just a wonderful show and time for both of us!!! A few photos and a two minute video are on Facebook but wasn't worrying too much about those - just wanted to enjoy the moment.

Paddle back was long but very safe and uneventful (and Susie was a great sport about the long paddle) and great weather for it so even though tiring I found it really fun. We got back, loaded up the kayaks again, dropped Susie's off at Bill's on the way back, and got to bed just before 2.

Posted by aarondf at 07:13 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 21, 2010

Mystery Hunt 2010

Now that the puzzles are online again (albeit no solutions yet), going to write my report on the 2010 Hunt. I felt it was just a great hunt in terms of puzzles, themes, lack of mistakes, and lack of hinting. My only problems of any sort were the interminably long film showing (REALLY should have only shown one version of each movie, determined randomly or by preference) and some arcane answer extractions/phrases but these were both minor issues. Great job Beginner's Luck; your coin is also just gorgeous! Probably best or second best run hunt since I started solving (this was my 10th year, 8th on Palindromes).

Every single puzzle I worked on for a significant amount of time (say 1hr+) got solved, which probably contributes to my good feelings about the hunt. Also, a note that again this year I didn't solo solve any puzzle, always working with teammates. I started the Hunt with Banner Headline. Perhaps because of a mistake in the PDF creation, we got the Marseillaise connection (and some extra odd letters "partresb") in the first few minutes due to trying to select the wordsearch grid so I could paste it into a text file and run my preexisting wordsearch Perl code on it. Getting the category groupings took longer than it should have and then we were being pretty completist about filling them in rather than focusing on the French flag colors/overlay so this took a good while to finish. Of course, if we had ever gotten to the training Meta, we would have needed most of the extra colors anyway so not useless. Anyway, very good puzzle but caused me to barely look at any of the other round 1 puzzles.

We then as a team went on the runaround where I ended up being pretty useful, being the first person to figure out the correction for a wrong turn we made and first to get to the Library endpoint. Also ended up answering the Holy Grail questions (including reading a paragraph of text from a teammate's tiny lcd camera screen) when Eric didn't realize what was going on right away.

In 2009, the only puzzle I worked on significantly was Computer Games but Debby was the only one on the team at that moment with an Athena account and had to leave so several of us tried for a while to do this without an account and gathered some data before deciding to wait for Debby or Kat to be available to finish it, which happened a couple hours later. This puzzle did have the only flat-out mistake (errata'd by email) of any puzzle I worked on but was pretty obviously a mistake anyway so wouldn't have affected us even if correction wasn't sent.

In 2000 I worked on Bits and Pieces and Wacky Poker. Bits and Pieces was fine - I identified about half the German board games right away and then it took us a good while to figure out the remaining half (3,3 was last to figure out). The binary method at the end was nice as well. Wacky Poker was straightforward and we (mostly Mike K.) pulled the answer right away once we did the data collection/analysis.

Only puzzle in 1983 I worked on was Almost Loaded with Foggy and others. Straightforward but I am definitely not the best crossword clue solver so my role was fairly small.

1952/Witch Round I basically completely missed, due to sleeping or whatever. Was also the first Meta we solved (Anderson having the idea and executing it; to order by date of Witch introduction) so pretty quickly wasn't that important. Right after that Meta and knowing what to expect for the others, we also solved two more Metas in about 30 minutes (one in like 5 minutes and the other in a guess of 25).

For 1926, Anderson and I co-solved Queasy Reaction with help from Erik in making the bitmap. Anderson almost immediately figured out the QR code idea and I ran the image through the Google QR solver to get the Minesweeper puzzle. We ended up taking a LONG time to solve the Minesweeper, almost certainly way longer than we should have, and Anderson had to make guesses at several points to push us forward but we eventually got it fine and quickly had the bitmap and answer.

In 1903, the only puzzle I did anything on (due to length of Minesweeper solve) was Safecracking where got a few answers looking over the main solvers' shoulders but didn't stick with it until the end.

In 1871, I was brought in by Jeremy to figure out the "board game" for A Journey to the Center of the Earth and spent some time on that looking at the 10 Days series (despite knowing they had no start space) and Around the World in 80 days games and others without success before googling the flavor text to instantly realize what we wanted was the Mapparium. Unfortunately, the online images weren't great and I decided to leave Jeremy and Gavin to working at solving the path (which I don't think ever happened by the end - we would have sent someone to the Mapparium on Sunday if things had kept going). I went over to help Anderson with the answer extraction step of Tower House. We came up with and worked through about five different methods for this before finally finding the right one. Kind of think several of our methods were better than the used one but it was fine.

For 1804, I looked a bit at Lighten Up with no insights before moving on to the Lost Cities puzzle, Expeditions. Jeremy, Gavin and I co-solved this with a bit of help on one particular thing from I forget who. We were only able to take straight deductions so far before just trying a bunch of things and seeing how it went and adjusting. We eventually got to the answer off one letter due to a misreading of rule 6, thinking that Betty could play any number of sixes. The letter string was good letters but didn't make a lot of sense. However, we did have the "tired" comment in the flavortext which I was sure meant something and when googled to find 'oscit' meant yawning knew we were on the right track. Eventually Gavin decided Oscitances was likely right and made a change to the tableau and hit the call button. I actually kind of tried to stop him as realized that the change he made both made the tableau clearly violate another rule and didn't even change the letter value (went from -1 to +1 which here are equivalent) but then I managed to realize the issue with rule 6 and correctly adjust things to get the -3 we needed. Kind of lame word - page I found listing all sorts of oscit- words doesn't even list this one, but the 'tired' clue helped enough to get it.

Barely saw the 1752 puzzles, and instead moved on to 1710's Bulls and Cows Mastermind variant. Worked on by hand for a few minutes but I am a totally mediocre Mastermind player and seemed that some of them were going to be quite tough to do by hand, given the noisy guess information. I thus decided to write a solver for it. Anderson did solve the first one but left the rest to my solver and was nice to know the answer for one as confirmation for the solver. Solver was pretty straightforward code (wrote from like 1-2:30AM Sunday morning) and worked fine right away for four of them and, with a minor tweak, got the fifth too. We were thinking we would then use these five zip codes with the set of extra letters for each one as guess answers as input to a second level of the game at which point we would use as the answer the town name at that zip code, and still think this would have been a much better scheme. However, when you want to clue "Aphthous Fever", I guess allowances need to be made. I was too tired to figure out the last tricks of this but Asher came over to help and figured out the town length-># guesses mapping and then the letter pulling. Went home to bed right after this so away for last 2.5 hours of the Hunt.

Was great solving with everyone on Palindromes as usual and a big congratulations to Anderson, who as a high school sophomore was almost certainly either our MVP or MVP runner-up this year. Just absolutely amazing solver and his maturity was wondeful as well, like the great job he did working with the young kid on the video game character selection screens puzzle.

Looking forward to the Metaphysical Plant hunt next year.

Posted by aarondf at 02:50 PM | Events | Comments (2)

August 24, 2009

Party Wrapup

So my house warming party went well and my current count is that 46 people came. Spread out over enough time that despite the terrible heat/humidity outside things never seemed cramped though - wow was good that the A/C was working however - thanks Gary! Was sorry that some people couldn't make it but that is inevitable although a number of the people who I am the most in party-karma debt to couldn't make it which was too bad. Had tons of left-over beer as very little was drunk and my brother sent extras. A fair amount of wine was drunk but I still ended with more than I started due to how much people brought. Also tons of left-over grill food.

Huge thanks to my mom for cooking, buying, bringing tons of stuff and thanks to those who brought gifts, a totally unnecessary thing but those that did made great choices.

Posted by aarondf at 12:17 PM | Events | Comments (0)

June 19, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Well, now own a house in Framingham, and since I rarely make resolutions nice to achieve one I did make (buy a house by Nov 2009). Closing went fine yesterday. Moving in tomorrow and spending some days getting settled. Will end up needing lots of stuff, particularly outdoors stuff (lawn mower, grill, deck chairs, etc...) and to get used to home maintenance stuff. Should be interesting. Am hopeful the commute will be alright - think in the morning it will - much less sure of the evenings.

Will have a house warming party but maybe not until August.

Posted by aarondf at 03:51 PM | Events | Comments (0)

May 26, 2009

Gaming in NH

Had a really fun weekend gaming in NH at Brian's event. I think, amazingly, I only played one new game (Black Sheep - pretty bad) and also only one game that I rate less than an 8 (obviously Black Sheep again). Played lots of Tichu, Dominion, and Crokinole but also got in games of Titan, Race for the Galaxy, Merchants of Venus, Spinball, and St Petersburg, and won a 9 person poker tournament. Was really happy with this, as most events end up dominated by the 'cult of the new' and, honestly, most games aren't really that great.

I ran a small Tichu tournament which went very well with Brian and AaronW beating Nate and I in the 1500 pt final in an incredibly close game. My Grand on the final hand which would have won it for us was hurt badly enough by Brian's King call with a 1-6 straight for them to stop me and win. However, given I had called it with only Phx KK, can't complain too much (ended up with DPAAKK) and overall they played really well, while I definitely made mistakes, like losing track of the Phoenix not being played on the first hand and thereby giving them a 1-2.

Also helped AaronW run a small puzzle event which ran just the right length and which 3 of the 7 teams finished all of the puzzles for, only one of them meaningfully early. He is amazingly good at judging the lengths of these things, something I really don't understand how he does.

Posted by aarondf at 02:36 PM | Events | Comments (0)

April 24, 2009

Bought a House Today!

Well, put in an offer and had it accepted on a house in Framingham today. At the maximum of my price range unfortunately but really loved the place, even though a bit small (but also has a very nice unfinished basement so the potential for a bunch more space if I need it in the future). All in all, saw 11 places and this place was BY FAR the nicest one, in nearly every respect other than location and that just because a bit long of a commute but in a really nice spot in Framingham - and in Framingham the commuter rail is a completely reasonable option if I find the drive too painful.

Hopefully the inspection and the rest of the process goes well as I really don't want to end up back out looking and comparing other places to this one, as they just aren't going to stand up to it.

I am really excited and not having or expecting to have the slightest bit of buyer's remorse.

Btw, the place only has two bedrooms but both of them are effectively masters and will be very happy to have guests if people are in town once I am there and settled in - closing at the end of June. Also, will plan to definitely have a housewarming party.

Posted by aarondf at 06:42 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 20, 2009

Mystery Hunt 2009

Had a great hunt this year - thanks Bombers. Our team ended up only solving one Meta but were very close (although one might never have gotten) on two others and this honestly didn't surprise me that much. Most of the team did not want to win and it is hard for that to not influence things. In some ways this was good, as this year was definitely a more relaxed atmosphere but don't think it helped solving. For example, I went home every night for a full 8 hours of sleep and even doing a couple of other minor things at home too. By midnight Sunday, we only had two active solvers left - was glad to find Mike did finish this puzzle on his own at 3AM.

I worked on a bunch of puzzles and with the site not up not going to try to list individual ones. Every one of them I worked on with other people (particularly as usual Mike K. who is just brilliant and great to co-solve with), no solo-solves (which is totally fine with me, even great) but the Star Wars constraint problem I was basically the lead solver on with lots of help. That one I saw as right up my alley right away and got two color copies printed but then didn't get to working on it for probably two hours as other things distracted me and then Matt Z reminded me of it and four of us very quickly group-solved it.

I was also happy to play clean-up hitter on a couple of puzzles which other people did 90+% of the work on but didn't figure out how to end and to get several other puzzles like that to completion by bringing in other solvers to do the clean-up in just a few minutes.

My most amazing moment however was also a bit painful as my brilliantly lucky guess/insight into the answer to the Virtual Sectors Meta got wasted as we couldn't figure out how to actually produce the answer and the associated way to save Harold/Foggy. I managed to guess Mr. Mxyzptlk as the "wierd little guy" who had captured Harold just from that description and the vowels theme of the round somehow. I came up with this during a team meeting and went and googled to be sure I was right his name had no vowels. I then very sheepishly brought up this idea to the team but thankfully others on the team believed in it much more than I did and so we called it in. This clearly flustered HQ and they ended up having to call us back confirming it as the answer but saying we still needed to figure out how to defeat him (we had given this as "getting him to say his name backwards" even though we knew this was the "normal way" and thus probably wrong but had to say something). Unfortunately, we somehow never managed to find the way to produce this answer even with a bunch of us looking to produce the string "SPRMN". Turns out that quite late my colleague and friend Erik B. did find this string (but with two letters missing) but he didn't realize its importance and didn't bring it up to the rest of us.

My one bad note on this hunt was the "grid" for the Combat Simulator Meta. This was a great round in all sorts of ways badly hurt by using a completely arbitrary 7x8 (or 8x7 - don't know which) rectangle missing its corners as the grid to tile using 52 squares of Pentominoes. On the board of Inner Zyzzlvaria there were TWO much better 52 square grids (the 8x8 minus either the 12 white spaces or the Core Reactor and starting Pawn spaces). We really respect the Bombers and their elegant puzzle construction and just couldn't believe they had given us two great choices for tiling 52 squares and then intended us to use something as arbitrary as a 7x8 rectangle missing corners - we did try the 4x13/13x4 despite not liking nearly as much as the board. I talked to Foggy afterwards who did this Meta and he said they constructed this puzzle not having the board which I find completely understandable but still feel someone should have noticed when they added a grid to the game components that this would be what people would try to tile and was a much better thing to tile and switched things. I don't think you can fairly use a 7x8 rectangle missing corners as the tiling surface without cluing it. Anyway, though, an overall minor thing in a great hunt.

Also, huge congratulations to Beginner's Luck! which includes many of our ex-teammates. I personally am much happier you guys are constructing than that we are ;)

Posted by aarondf at 04:55 PM | Events | Comments (0)

November 05, 2008

Obama Wins

Congratulations to Obama and hope for a new day in the USA. The image of Jesse Jackson with tears just pouring down his face really got to me as did the ecstatic look on the faces of many others. It is only a step but still a big step against racism. A bunch of other races didn't go so well (Stevens apparently reelected, Prop 8 in CA passing, others) but still a really good day.

Oh, also, I wanted to compliment John McCain on a really nice concession speech. Could have done without Palin and the crowd yelling, but McCain himself was pitch perfect I felt.

Posted by aarondf at 02:51 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 22, 2008

Tichu Event for MIT Mystery Hunt 2008

I am not really that creative at writing standard puzzles, particularly ones of the right (incredibly hard but still solvable) level for Mystery Hunt. As such, I decided to do something different as part of my general evangelism for the game Tichu, forcing teams to learn the game on their own, a nice break for me from all the people I have taught. My only real concern for this event was that a huge number of teams would have people who already knew the game really well, and for whom this really wouldn't be that interesting an activity. Thankfully, I was correct in guessing that only around 25% of people would have played before.

This puzzle/event had teams learn (if they did not already know it) the rules of the partnership card game Tichu (finding the rules online themselves) and then come to Mystery Mystery Hunt HQ to beat two experienced players at a single hand (deal) of the game by having a higher score (such as 55-45). Approximately five teams got access to and did this puzzle via the intended access scheme of solving a Witness Group (from the Little Black Book) Meta - I should note that these teams also probably had the hardest games as those of us on Dr. Awkward were not yet quite so sleep-deprived and probably playing better than we did later - yes, I can play Tichu in my sleep but not quite as well as when fully alert. The rest got access to it as a group at 5PM on Saturday. Fortunately, since teams took a variable time to learn the game, when teams wanted to come was spread out somewhat.

Still, from 5PM Saturday on, we had two tables going basically constantly until midnight. Overall we played a total of 27 teams (think pretty much all of the teams still active on Saturday night) and I believe every team who came once and was sent away based on mistakes (teams were sent away for at least 30 minutes if they made 3 illegal plays over the course of a session) came back and eventually completed the task successfully. Although there was some delay in bringing down teams due to the simultaneous access to it for so many, I don't think the delay was ever too bad and no team complained to me about this during the Hunt. I had the feeling that the great majority of people enjoyed this event, despite or because of its differences from a normal Mystery Hunt puzzle and I hope some of the new players liked the game enough to keep playing in the future.

I should make a special note of the first team to complete this event, Codex Bodley. This team had several quite skilled Tichu players on their team (who are also friends of mine) but they got access to the puzzle in the middle of Friday night and only one of them, Daniel W., was awake. Rather than waiting for the others to arrive in the morning, Daniel taught three of his other teammates to play and they came down as a group of four. Daniel played every hand of the 5 they needed to beat us, while the other 3 switched off each hand to get a chance to play, each of them making sure they got their turn. I thought this was a great start to the event.

Thanks so much to Joe, John, Nate, Jeremy and Erik for their many hours of Tichu play for Dr. Awkward (our team running the hunt).

Below are a bunch of statistics on the games. I find them interesting as will be very unusual to have a sample with such a large skill difference between the teams as there was here. I probably should have cut out the experienced opposing teams (who despite being not that many people called a lot of the Tichus not surprisingly) but didn't do so.

Statistics on Teams

28% of people had played before. This included 5 full pairs and then one person of the pair from another 5 or so teams.

# of Times teams sent away for mistakes: 9

Shortest game (some of these with brand new players): 1 Hand
Longest game (interestingly against both experienced players): 8 Hands

Number of games where we won the game by normal scoring rules (>1000 points) before they won a hand (not that this mattered in this format): 2

Tichus Called/Missed
Dr. Awkward: 40/6 (Made 85%)
Teams: 15/5 (Made 66%)

Grand Tichus Called/Missed
Dr. Awkward: 5/0 (Made 100%)
Teams: 1/1 (Made 0%)

One-Twos (One team went out 1st and 2nd):
Dr. Awkward: 13
Teams: 1

Posted by aarondf at 06:15 PM | Events | Comments (0)

Mystery Hunt 2008

Well, the Hunt is over, after 56.5 hours. This went somewhat longer than we had intended for sure but teams seemed to still be really enjoying it so I guess that is fine. Congratulations to the Evil Midnight Bombers on finding the coin and I am certain they will again write a great Hunt for next year.

My part in organizing this Hunt was not huge, doing some testsolving, some web stuff, and organizing and running my Tichu puzzle which had teams send people to our HQ to play Tichu against two of us experienced players. I'll write a much longer entry on this later with some stats and all as need to write this up for the solutions page anyway but overall I think it went really well and teams seemed to quite enjoy it. Thanks so much to Joe, John, Nate, Jeremy, and Erik for playing, some of us for basically 7-8 hours straight after we released the puzzle to all teams.

Posted by aarondf at 12:25 PM | Events | Comments (0)

October 15, 2007

Monster Mini-golf/Red Sox

Went Saturday to a birthday party for Matt, Kim and Brian where about 30 people (of which I knew all but 3 or 4 so too many names to list) played mini-golf inside on a monster-themed course under blacklight and with fun music playing. I lost in our foursome by one stroke but think I had the overall like 3rd best score which was nice given it has been a very long time since I played. Given how many people were on the course and how oddly organized the course was (each hole went straight into the next with no barriers between them at all), I was surprised how little waiting there was. We almost never had to wait for the group in front of us and also almost never delayed the group behind which was great. Had a really good time at golf and afterwards at dinner for 20 at The Chateau, where the food was only ok but for the size of the group the service was very good which is unusual. I also did the for me very unusual thing of bringing my camera and taking a bunch of pictures.

Had to carefully avoid the tvs playing at the bar in the restaurant and beg people to not give me Red Sox scores as was TiVoing it at home. Well, the game started at a little after 8 and I got home a bit before 11. Was an excellent and very close game so I watched it a bit slower than I normally do but still caught up to the live game at around 12:15 but amazingly the game still had another 1:15 to go as the Indians broke things open against the dregs of the Sox bullpen in the 11th. I still have a fair amount of confidence in the Sox winning the series but we'll see. Figure they just need to win one of the next two to stay even, win the Beckett game and go home up 3-2 but we'll see how it goes.

Posted by aarondf at 12:34 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 16, 2007

Dr. Awkward wins MIT Mystery Hunt - Yeah!

(Edited a bit to fix a couple of typos and add some other notes on Wednesday.)

My team of the last 5 or so years (known generally as Palindromes and this year as Dr. Awkward) won the MIT Mystery Hunt for the first time since I joined and we'll be running it next year. I solved for 33 of the 38 hours the Hunt ran.

The hunt, run by the Midnight Bombers, was a generally absolutely excellent hunt with a ton of great puzzles. The round 8 Meta which our team (and many others) was stuck on for many hours was almost certainly in hindsight too hard but certainly not broken. I (and I am sure basically everyone else on all the teams) am incredibly glad it didn't come down to hinting, which no matter what way you do it will be problematic. Also, since this year there really was no endgame at all, whichever team got this first was almost guaranteed to win the hunt.

That actually brings me to my second objection to this year's otherwise excellent hunt - the extremely basic (and for me anti-climactic) endgame. I had never gotten to participate in an endgame before and was really looking forward to it and was pretty disappointed in what it was. I am using the term 'endgame' here and not 'runaround' very carefully as I have done many standard runarounds (and did the Good/Evil one this year) but what I was looking forward to were the cool set pieces at different locations (like defusing bomb last year) that don't really happen at any other time. Makes me even more sorry I was asleep a couple of years ago for the Normalville endgame which Palindromes got to do, even though not winning the hunt.

On the other hand, the small prizes for individual members of many of the teams (including certificates for our souls for all of Dr. Awkward), I thought was a really great addition and I hope this becomes a tradition for at least the winning team members. Google sponsored the hunt this year for the first time and this money was in part what allowed this - I hope they are willing to do so again.

Some of the particular puzzles I worked on solving and really enjoyed were the very difficult Squad Car which only two teams solved, the great minesweeper variant, the Wrath Sin meta sudoku variant, and the Mass Manipulation Meta which was based on Illuminati (which I have played since the original Pocket Box version in 1983) - pretty easy puzzle but up my alley and I had it solved (with a final assist by Mike who knew the name of the current MIT president) within 30 minutes or so of seeing the video based on around 4-5 of 9 answers - somehow I had missed seeing the video when we first got it - Toonhead also made a great card for us to turn in. I think I was also the first person on our team to realize how the Sin puzzles worked, guessing that our packet (which was out being photocopied at the time) contained 7 puzzles and each would match up with one of the Sin puzzles and then combine for the Evil answer which turned out to be the Super-Meta this year.

I also did really enjoy the Super-Meta. Wasn't that difficult really, especially with it being projected so everyone could work on the word connections and such, but really elegant and cool. Was fun to see Titan listed as one of the games too. Various teammates were asking if Titan was really a game and I could pretty confidently answer them ;) Still, certainly true that not nearly as well known as the other four.

Oh, I also must admit to my moment of complete obliviousness on War Dances. I was the first person on our team to see this and ended up watching the whole video like 3 times as people came over and wanted me to start it from the beginning again. Despite this, I had no clue at all that it was a World of Warcraft puzzle (and this despite knowing that Jenn, the dancer, was a big WoW fan). I barely pay attention to the dancing in WoW but still, I have played the game for a TON of time and watched people dancing while waiting around in Raids or whatever. I think my trouble was that I immediately realized it was a music/dance puzzle and just turned off the puzzle solving part of my brain to take a break (was also like 3 AM or something at the time). Anyway, definitely feel a fool for completely missing this.

On a more personal level, as always one of the things I like so much about this hunt and the big team sizes is the cosolving aspect of it. There was only one puzzle I really solved alone and it was the most trivial one of the hunt, the basic 10 differences puzzle but I worked with tons of different people on lots of different puzzles. I particularly enjoyed all the co-solving I did with Mike Korn, who is a great solver and also incredibly knowledgeable about MIT. We made a really good team on a bunch of different puzzles, including 3 of the 4 above, the Good/Evil runaround and others. Its too bad we never figured out the Round 8 Meta, which Mike in particular worked on a ton long before it became the sticking point for the entire team.

I was also really glad that a second of my BU colleagues came this year and ended up solving for like 18 hours or so total and really enjoying it and making significant contributions. Our team in total had around 7 people that either I had invited or those I had invited in the past had invited.

I hope we can live up to the standard set by the Bombers next year and am certainly looking forward to trying.

Posted by aarondf at 02:53 PM | Events | Comments (0)

December 14, 2006

Jury Duty

Had to do Jury Duty for the first time ever (which is quite lucky) on Tuesday and, annoyingly, was assigned to a courtroom 30 miles away in Ayer, rather than in Cambridge or something. We sat around in the jury pool room from 8:30 to 11:15 until finally brought down to be empaneled for the one case that hadn't been settled. I probably could have gotten out of it but didn't and did end up on the jury along with 7 others - the other 8 people were sent home then. We then heard the case but got interrupted just before closing arguments for lunch. After lunch, heard closing arguments and a quite long explanation from the judge of the law and such. Two of the eight of us were then randomly selected as alternates and the other six of us went to deliberate which only took like 10 minutes and probably would have taken 1 minute if they hadn't asked us not to take an immediate straw poll - very easy unanimous not guilty verdict. We then went back down to give our verdict and then back to our room where the judge came to talk to us and answer questions we had for a while which was nice and then out of there around 3:30.

The actual case REALLY should NOT have been brought by the District Attorney. The case was a criminal case for 'Cruelty to an Animal' based on the defendant kicking a dog (which wasn't even hurt that badly and not taken to the vet until 36 hours later). However, it was a straight "he said, she said" case of two women out walking their dogs, passing on the road, and the two dogs getting into a dog fight. The defendant had the smaller dog and involved herself to protect her dog, trying to kick the other dog away. This part was agreed upon by all and isn't at all illegal. There was a bunch of debate about which dog started the fight and such things but really that had nothing to do with the case we were asked to decide. Even if the defendant's dog had started the fight, if she had involved herself to protect her dog, she was fine. The woman with the other dog claimed that AFTER the dog fight was broken up, the defendant came back again to kick her dog some more and if this had occurred, she would probably have been guilty of the charge. However, she (and her boyfriend who was with her) both denied this happened and the Assistant DA prosecuting the case didn't even push it so I don't see any way any jury was going to decide beyond a reasonable doubt that the one woman was telling the truth and the other woman (and her boyfriend) lying. We actually asked the judge why a case like this was brought and he basically indicated it was probably for political reasons.

Anyway, despite the stupidity and smallness of the case, the day was kind of interesting - was only the sitting around, particularly the 3 hours at the beginning, that bothered me. Neither lawyer impressed me but I did like the judge and thought his coming up to talk with us at the end and being very open to our questions then was quite nice. The rest of the court employees were obviously just going through the motions of their assignments.

Posted by aarondf at 02:43 PM | Events | Comments (0)

September 25, 2006

Erik and Randie's Wedding

Went to Erik & Randie's wedding on Saturday which was wonderful and I really had a great time. The ceremony was to be held outside and Saturday was overcast and a bunch of rain at times but it stopped in time for the wedding (and stayed stopped) and we all walked down from the reception site to the immense lawn of a friend 5 minutes away and right on the Rhode Island coast. I absolutely loved the wild, really windy weather there, even more I am sure than if it had been sunny. The ceremony was pretty casually done but really nice and the reception had the same kind of casual but wonderful feel. Five of us from work came down for it and it was really nice to see everyone in such a different context and setting (and dress ;) ) and to meet Robert and Glenn's significant others. Ray entertained the incredibly cute daughters of the Greek couple sharing our table with various magic tricks which was fun. The younger daughter's name was Artemis which I think a really beautiful name.

Congratulations and best of everything going forward, Erik and Randie!

Posted by aarondf at 12:58 PM | Events | Comments (0)

August 28, 2006

Move Done

Well, the main move is done and now living on other side of Cambridge. Thanks so much to helpers Bill K., Bill S., Mark and Jeremy who all did a great job and were able to fit everything in one load (unexpectedly to me) and whole move start to finish was done in 2:40. Also really glad I switched to Budget for the truck rental as the truck was great and less than 5 minutes to pick up and drop off. Of course, I spent the rest of the day doing tons of unpacking but since we were done early enough actually managed to get most of the place into pretty livable shape. Going to have to get used to the new place and foibles it has which will probably take a while. Having overnight guests will be more of a problem but otherwise I think I'll be ok with the reduced space.

Anyway, new address is 40 Clifton St. #11; Cambridge, MA 02140 and for now my number is my cell which is (505) 574-7936 or can call my work number of (617) ELF-TALK.

Posted by aarondf at 04:19 PM | Events | Comments (0)

August 22, 2006

Busy Weekend

Saturday was Unity Games XI and I went and played games for 13 hours. Played a bunch of differnt things, new and old. Think the 3 I learned were Blue Moon City (quite good), Elasund (good mechanics but too much take that) and Fab Fib (fun but not as good as Liar's Dice). Also played two games of Tichu with three people who I rarely play with - interestingly, in like the first 5 hands I went out first every hand but never called, or really even considered calling, Tichu. Anyway, good time all around.

Sunday I was busy doing early moving stuff with my mom's help for like 8-9 exhausting hours. Packed up a ton of stuff and moved two carloads of stuff over to the new place. Will see how things go with this place but have a feeling I am going to be looking to buy and move pretty much as quickly as I reasonably can due to the small space and too many near neighbors and all. Main move is this coming Sunday.

Posted by aarondf at 12:06 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 18, 2006

Mystery Hunt 2006

Eric Berlin from my team posted a nice wrapup report.

Huge congratulations to Random Hall for their incredibly well-done hunt (and add me to the people who were amazingly pleasantly surprised by how good it was) which was probably even better than Setec's great hunt last year and of course congratulations to the Bombers for winning.

I was still kind of sick so wasn't at the Hunt quite as much as I would have liked or as effective as I would have hoped. Still, the Hunt did seem to manage to knock me out of my illness and the puzzles were just great. The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern skit (which was redone at the wrapup luckily) really was hillarious and huge kudos to the writers and performers.

Posted by aarondf at 01:23 PM | Events | Comments (3)

November 08, 2005


Back from BoardGameGeek.Con on Sunday and figured I'd write quick reviews of the new games I played. Was also great to see and play with so many people I either knew before but hadn't seen in a long time or knew by name but hadn't met. It was particularly nice playing with David, Peter, Ted (who I hadn't met or heard of before but was great to play with and an excellent game teacher and player), Michael, Derk and Aldie, Daniel, Ray (who I also hadn't met before) and many others. I unfortunately didn't get in games with Mark Johnson or Chris Brooks, but was glad to meet both of them.

Travel was uneventful and I arrived Wednesday but unlike other cons I have been to there seemed to be no pre-con gaming going on but I helped Vickie and her elves with setup for several hours before the exhaustion of travel and having gotten very little sleep the night before caught up with me and I crashed. Given things, probably would have been smarter to not come till Thursday and save the vacation day and hotel room cost and only miss a few hours of gaming.

The rest of the days were mostly nonstop gaming with only one excursion out of the hotel zone for a great Texas all you can eat barbecue dinner. Played mostly new stuff during the days and Tichu from midnight on. I unfortunately got very few good hands during the Tichu games and only went 2 and 2. David was my partner for three of these games and had very bad luck with his Tichu calls, running into a ton of bombs (particularly from Peter in one game) and other bad luck and must have missed at least 60% of his calls overall but I am not sure he was wrong to try most of them.

Peter's game show software and mc'ing were absolutely excellent but the actual clues were not really up my alley and some of the answers were stretches in my opinion but we had a good time and at least finished in the top half - was also hard to see the screen for many teams, including ours, and hard to chat with the team to combine the shared knowledge needed to answer many questions. The poker tournament also was fun although I got poor cards (AJs and 77 were my best hands of the night and I was in from 90 players down to 30) and the blinds went up fast enough that playing tight-aggressive and waiting for cards (my usual style) wasn't great and I did a poor job adjusting. The hand I went out on was kind of annoying the way it played out. I was in the big blind at 100/200 with a 900 stack and two players were up to 900 (one all-in also with exactly 900) when it got to me and I decided to take my shot with A8s. They had 77 and AJo and I had the worst shot with the 77 having the plurality chance. Flop came Axx and the 77 was in trouble. Turn came an 8 and now I had to dodge only 5 cards to triple up but the river was a J and two of us were out. A friend of mine, Brian, ended up winning (had like half the chips when got down to final table), having never really played at all even in home games but a very smart guy and had watched lots of the WPT. He did have to get an 80-20 suckout when all-in pre-flop with TT against QQ to make it that far but very nice job and the tournament prize of $200 in gift certificates and a bunch of other lesser things was nice for a freeroll tournament.

This has gotten long enough I'm going to put the reviews in a separate post which I'll post first so the order makes more sense.

Posted by aarondf at 11:24 AM | Events | Comments (1)

November 07, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me

Posted by aarondf at 10:35 AM | Events | Comments (1)

July 05, 2005

And the Sky Full of Stars III

Well, 2nd year on my kayak but third year posted here.

Went out again in my kayak to watch the fireworks from just across the river from the barge where they launch them and had a great time. Absolutely gorgeous with fireworks filling my entire field of vision. Just an incredible experience that I incredibly recommend to anyone who can do it - so much nicer than watching in the middle of crowds from the shore.

This post definitely does feel like a copy of my one from last year, though, as I again want to try to get a group together for this next year. I tried to get a couple people to come this time but they had logistical problems - definitely does take a bit of planning. Even for me, things were a pain this year as they have completely changed things at the Magazine Beach river edge where I used to put in and I had to go much farther down to a spot not nearly as good for launching. For take-out, I followed a couple of canoers to a good spot by the new BU boathouse but this was only a good spot last night when the roads were closed and would not work at all normally. I also continue to have big problems with the two wheel cart I use to take the boat to/from the river and really want to work on improving that. In the picture above, you can clearly see that this is my first trip out this year, given all the dust on the prow (that picture was taken as I paddled down and one brief burst of fireworks happened - not the main event). Once at the fireworks point, I was just way too close to take good pictures and am a terrible photographer, anyway. Did try out the fireworks mode on my camera for interesting results.

Posted by aarondf at 02:25 PM | Events | Comments (1)

June 13, 2005

Dark Star Orchestra

Went to see the excellent Grateful Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra on Friday evening and had a great time. They came on at about 8:10 and played till after midnight with a 30-minute set break. I had seen them play before at the Oregon Country Fair but what I didn't realize is that not only do they play Dead songs but in many cases they actually duplicate entire shows but Friday turned out to be a rare original setlist and not a dupe. They played a number of older (70s era) songs that I didn't know at all but still had a great time and danced the whole time. They aren't quite the Dead but close and the much smaller, more intimate venue made up for a good part of the difference. I got there just in time and still was easily able to grab seats in the 3rd row center section and have room to dance.

I was sorry to leave Peter's birthday/dance party so early to go to the show but have to say I am really glad I did. Both the music and the dancing style at the DSO show just appealed so much more to me - at the party I probably would have just played games but I get to do that all the time and the DSO show would have been stupid to miss when it was so nearby. Also too bad it was conflicting or I might have been able to get others to join me for the DSO show which would have been really nice.

Posted by aarondf at 01:32 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 21, 2005

Mystery Hunt Notes

The team solving stats have now been posted and we were 3rd on this as well as on the overall hunt. Looking at solutions for a few of the puzzles we missed found that Joe had been on the right track with Ginormous but had trouble doing the second factoring step so I think must have had an error in his number somehow. Still, pretty tricky puzzle with three levels of factoring and a different trick at each stage for pulling out the info you wanted and no midway for-sure confirmations you were on the right track. Last year had a bunch of (imho bad) puzzles like this but this year had almost none.

Little People, OTOH, had a very reasonable solution and I can't believe we didn't get it, particularly given the obviousness of the flowers in the first image and the all green guys box. We worked on this puzzle quite a lot and its amazing to me that nobody figured it out - it just doesn't seem that tricky. It may have made a big difference that for a bunch of the time, people were looking at B&W prints so the all-green guys box doesn't leap out as much, and in general the characters don't seem as distinctive. I think we need to make a point of printing more puzzles in color to at least have one easily available color copy. Certainly the 'find the location of this photo on campus' puzzles are really helped by having good color prints.

I am not at all surprised that very few teams solved Square Mess. I personally think having a non-dictionary word in the solution makes this an unfairly difficult puzzle and I'm glad I didn't try to code it as at least three people on our team did without success. The basic search space is 19! and you have to limit it and dictionary search is the only reasonable way to do so. The solution talks about getting the start of the message using dictionary search and then working from there but I think this is pretty unreasonable. There are just too many possible starts to pick out the right one (even with the correct guess I made very early that the message would start "find "). We also guessed the exact answer to the puzzle based on backsolving so really no great need to solve this one.

Posted by aarondf at 12:28 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 18, 2005

MIT Mystery Hunt 2005

Thanks to Setec Astronomy who did a great job with this year's hunt, puzzles with linked solutions available here. The puzzles were almost uniformly clean and excellent, sometimes even a bit too excellent where the answer was so linked to the puzzle that it was guessable without solving the puzzle. Our team ended up third but easily could have won if we could have solved the final two super-metas more quickly, although I guess Acronym was stuck for even longer and lost their sizable lead and the hunt for it. The Purple meta wasn't even that tricky and I think only sleep deprivation explains why it took us so long. The Orange meta was a bit of different story, but we still should have solved it. View Source should be a standard thing to do when stuck and would have worked in all browsers. Interestingly, without that, Firefox on the PC worked well, Mozilla on the PC not at all (which was what I was using during the hunt unfortunately) and Mozilla on Linux worked a bit.

There was basically zero hinting till the very end (when it didn't matter for determining the winner) which is great, as it means the puzzles are solvable without it, and hinting really messes up hunts in a big way for all sorts of reasons.

There were so many good puzzles that I don't think I'm going to try to single out a few this time although if someone wants recommendations for particular knowledge/skill sets I would try to give them. Two more gaming friends came this year and made contributions, although each of them could only make it for part of the hunt.

My only real regrets are missing the endgame as I didn't sleep till too late, as I misjudged how long the hunt would go, and missing the wrap-up meeting as it was in the morning and not posted to the website, which must have been an oversight.

Posted by aarondf at 12:07 PM | Events | Comments (2)

December 09, 2004

Trivia Last Night

There were a couple of interesting things at trivia last night. The first was around a question which asked "Which NYC building has inscribed on it a quote from Herodotus about 'Persian Messengers'?" I guessed the Post Office and overrode Bill's idea of the Library and we turned it in. However, after we turned it in but before the answer was read I suddenly thought, "But, wait, I know exactly what quote is on the Post Office buildings (partly reminded of by recent reading of Pratchett's Going Postal) and did they have 'snow and sleet' in Persia?" Well, turns out they did and this was the quote.

The second issue was over the final question of "What country in the world has the most universities?" Well, they gave the answer of India and I found a web site which supports this but I found a ton more which give much smaller numbers and seem to indicate the US (which we went with) has far more. The US has at least 900 Universities, another 900 colleges and possibly as many as 4000 - couldn't find a definitive number. India according to two sites only had 177 in '91 and 219 in '97 so the idea that they have more in '04 is totally unrealistic. I therefore think the site listing them with about 8000 is including places that we here, at least, would not call 'universities' like shorter 2yr community college or trade school equivalents. If anyone knows a good cite for more information on this, I'd love to see it. I spent a good while doing searches and really couldn't find a definitive answer from an authoritative site.

Posted by aarondf at 04:43 PM | Events | Comments (0)

December 06, 2004

The Tomb

Matt arranged a group of 16 of us to go to The Tomb near Fenway Park on Saturday which is a kind of puzzle haunted house where people take on the role of archaeologists exploring a newly discovered tomb and solving puzzles and traps to advance through it. The cost was $16 each ($2 group discount) and it was around 40 minutes long.

Overall, I think most of us enjoyed it but felt that we were definitely too big a group (8 would be a good number I think) and it was kind of expensive for the length. For myself, I definitely thought it was worth going the once but would not go back again. Our guide was also too helpful in getting us to solutions, particularly annoying that he interfered several times when we were 90% done to do the last 10%. If others go, I might recommend that they ask the guide not to give them any help unless they ask for it.

Ok, on to a more specific description of some of the puzzles but this is going to include serious spoiler info on some things so stop reading here if you plan to do this.

Spoilers Below!

There were I believe overall some 9 puzzles/activities in 3 rooms as well as a couple of other notable events at the beginning and end, of which I'll describe a few. We started out having a tape played giving us the theme and general information which was pretty nicely done. 5 people were then handed flashlights, after the guide carefully checked they were all working in front of us. We then all headed in to the tomb and the door (sliding stone slab) closed behind us. All of the walls of all the rooms had various hieroglyphic markings. Once we had all been in for a minute or so, the flashlights suddenly all stopped working (a very neat touch) although of course the LED light on my keychain still worked ;) A small curtain of water started falling in a corner alcove and projected on the water (a very neat way to do a removable and transparent screen) was the dead Pharoah explaining that he had planned to kill us but was instead going to give us a chance to prove our worth and pass four tests. The first test was the most interesting and good for a group as it involved finding specific spots all over the large room and pressing in on them a few inches, causing them to glow red. Once we had found enough (all?) of them, we advanced to the next test. After passing three more tests (including a neat group musical test and another which was a neat idea but didn't work at all in reality as they put on low lights and it could only work to the desired effect in absolute darkness), we advanced to the next room.

This room only contained two puzzles, the first of which was my favorite of the experience. On the floor was a large circle composed of about 16 symbols (numbers are approximate - I didn't count). It turned out that half the symbols (every other one) were fixed in position while the other 8 could be picked up and moved. Each of these tiles also had a symbol on both sides. On one wall was shown two similar wheels of 16 symbols, one on the left side and one on the right. The voice over instructed us that the floor puzzle currently matched the guide on the right and we needed to make it match the guide on the left. To solve this puzzle analytically on paper would actually take a bit of work and wasn't practical here but a trial and error solution was, and was probably easier anyway. We had 8 people each pick up a tile (overall 8 symbols each repeated twice I think), found the wall wheel (which eventually started slowly rotating to make things more complicated) orientation based on the fixed symbols, and had people drop in the symbols needed. We got all but one in place (pretty lucky I think) and then just had to do a couple of swaps to fix things. This unfortunately was one of the points where the guide really annoyingly interfered and helped us do the swaps. One particularly neat thing about this puzzle is that the organizers don't have to do anything to reset it. Just change the voice-over to say the left side guide wheel is currently matching and they need to make it match the right side guide wheel. The second puzzle in this room was a 4 piece Towers of Hanoi which we of course solved in seconds and is not a good group puzzle at all. Also, this puzzle had no effects or instrumentation (leds, electronics, whatever taking effect when solved automatically) to it at all as almost all the other puzzles did.

The third room had three puzzles, the first two each with multiple copies. The first puzzle involved rotating two movable sections of a column to be in the right alignment with two fixed sections. Unfortunately, the key for the four columns (one in each corner of the room) apparently was only in one corner so the people there quickly solved their column and then had to show the rest of us on the other columns once we realized the key was shared. The third puzzle here involved a beam of light being let into the room and us provided with two copper plates to reflect the light. We were supposed to do a double reflection onto a specific spot but it took us a while to find the spot and somehow the people finding the spot activated it without us doing the reflecting (leds or lights on cell phones or something) which was too bad as it was a nice idea.

General points. The guide had a device which I assume advanced the plot to the next point which we debated over how much was used. I felt that the great majority of things happened automatically and that he only acted in a couple of cases where things weren't instrumented (Hanoi in particular) or if things went wrong or a group couldn't solve a given task. Others felt he had to do this more often and less was automatic. Another thing was that the Pharoah warned us of traps for mistakes but even intentionally making mistakes in one of those cases did nothing so I am not sure whether this was just talk or something additional could happen.

Posted by aarondf at 03:13 PM | Events | Comments (0)

October 21, 2004

Wow, Wow, Wow!!!

Wow!!! What a game and what a night! I am absolutely euphoric and at my office after coming over to the Kenmore Square/Fenway Park area immediately after the game ended. I have never in my lifetime experienced a sports moment as powerful as this one. There are still many thousands of people there. I tried to reach Fenway but eventually the cops or something started pushing people back and things for a few minutes really became crazy and dangerous with people being shoved (unintentionally in all cases I saw) around as the crowd mass moved in no controllable fashion. I am a big, strong, tall guy and even I was feeling in danger. The small women there were really in difficulty and also couldn't even see enough to even consider trying to find a way out and there was really nothing others of us could do to help them. I finally managed to make it to the side and wait for the problem to subside. Anyway, aside from that, amazing to be in such a mass of people so euphoric. The chant of choice was "Yankess Suck!". This is going to be a crazy place to be next week and absolutely insane if they win. The Sox winning would certainly be one of the most important sports moments anywhere in history I think given their importance as a franchise, the curse stuff and the 86 year drought!!! I think it would rival the 80 Olympics Hockey win and am having trouble thinking of any other events that would compare.

Well, despite the euphoria, I guess I''ll persevere with my game analysis. This was of course a pretty easy game compared to the last 6 thanks particularly to Damon doing as I asked and picking up 6 RBIs on 2 HomeRuns including the incredible Slam he hit. Waiting for the pitch, I said 'All is forgiven if you drive in 2+ here, particularly if you hit the Slam' and when he did I jumped up and was screaming YES!!!, even TiVo delayed by like 1.5 hours at that point. Ortiz's Homer in the first and my man Damon's 2 walks and Homer didn't hurt either. On the pitching, what an amazing job by Lowe giving the best performance of any Boston pitcher this whole series.

My one negative is on Francona who I thought made the two worst bullpen moves of the entire series on a single pitching change, the first very bad, and the second really crazy. Taking out Lowe who had only thrown 69 pitches and was doing incredibly was the bad thing but maybe he saw something I didn't. Putting in Pedro was insane for a ton of reasons: 1) Pedro only had two days of rest and in the past has not pitched well even on 3 days. 2) Pedro is a starting pitcher and always has been and is a bad choice from the bullpen. 3) Pedro seems to have a psychological issue pitching against the Yankees (Game 7 last year, the "Who's your Daddy?" thing) 4) Partly because of 3, there is no better way to seriously get the Yankees crowd into the game than bringing in Pedro and having him do badly. 5) We want Pedro fully able to start a game as early as possible in the World Series. I really felt that they should bring Pedro in only after ALL of Timlin, Embree, Foulke, Arroyo and Wakefield and this is absolutely not hindsight - just before leaving work tonight I said the same thing to a colleague.

My final thanks is to TiVo which as I mentioned last year is the only thing which makes baseball games watchable for me and was impossible before TiVo. My practice is to start recording the game and then start watching like 2 hours in. Doing this, I usually catch up to live action right around the 9th inning. In Game 6 I caught up right between the break before the 9th inning and so watched the final inning live. Tonight I caught up in like the 7th and then switched a few minutes elsewhere and only watched the bottom of the 9th live. Baseball for me is just too slow and, with these games, too tense and stressful, at regular speed. With TiVo, the slowness is totally gone and the tension is greatly reduced because it is caused more than anything else by the waiting to see what happens which now takes a fraction of the time. Watching a game that is already over does almost nothing for me but this delay effect while the game is still going on reduces the interest for me only a tiny fraction. For this reason, this TiVo effect would be impossible to achieve using a VCR. Oh, since I'm on effectively this huge Ad for TiVo, if anyone buys one and isn't giving the referral to someone else, let me know as they now have a nice rewards program.

Go Sox and Thanks!

Posted by aarondf at 01:23 AM | Events | Comments (0)

September 16, 2004

Pub Trivia N

Trivia last night ended up being just Mark, Alec and I as several people couldn't make it and one who said he would come didn't show. However, it turned out to be one of the best trivia nights yet as we all heavily contributed and ended up winning first prize even though we were in second place on points due to the top team having more than 6 people and we would have also had the most points if I had just been more agressive on the final bid. I ended up personally running the first quarter of questions and then we got to the picture round which is usually a killer and aced it with 10/10 as each of us had a guess for one person and all three guesses turned out right (the other 7 we were pretty sure of) and we then had a perfect second round as well. After this things got harder as we only got 4 points on the 'points go down from 10' question even though Alec had the right person at 8. Despite our difficulties, though, somehow we picked up a few points and went into the final two questions with a 2 point lead (over the strong team with 7 players) for 1st and a 13 point lead over the 3rd place team. This was mostly thanks to Alec's excellent job on the state capitols' third quarter bonus question which we aced. As it turned out, only I on our team had any knowledge of the final two bonus questions - the first one I was 90% sure of and got right for 10. The second, OTOH, asking what actor has voiced a role in all 5 Pixar feature films (and it turns out will also be inThe Incredibles), I was not nearly so sure of but I did get right but we bid conservatively to assure us of at least second place score and 1st place prize.

The really nice thing, again, was that we all seriously contributed. Mark got all 3 science questions right as well as the Muppets band name question. Alec led us on the state capitols bonus and got a rap music question that Mark and I had no clue on (which unfortunately we convinced him to bid too low on). I got the final two questions as well as another sports question, an opera question amazingly and a number of others.

Posted by aarondf at 11:29 AM | Events | Comments (0)

September 09, 2004

WorldCon Report

The World Science Fiction Convention (short form: WorldCon) is a large (around 6000 this time), moving around the country and world, all volunteer convention bringing together those interested in Speculative Fiction and related areas (movies, anime, filking, etc...) annually. This year it came to Boston for the first time in 15 years as Noreascon 4 (Noreascon 3 was the previous one in Boston in 1989) and so I went for basically the whole thing (began noon Thursday and went through Monday). This report is going to be pretty long despite the fact that I am going to be very brief and focus on the highlights. To start off with, I really, really enjoyed the whole experience and am actually going to consider going to ones outside the area although at those I wouldn't know nearly as many people and that would make the experience considerably less enjoyable. I will probably also go to Arisia next year for the first time as it doesn't conflict then (as it usually does) with the MIT Mystery Hunt.

Highlights for me included the George RR Martin reading from A Feast for Crows and very interesting discussion afterwards on why this book is taking him so long to write, fully interesting and believable enough for me to forgive him for at least a while longer on not getting this book out, the book I am without question most eagerly anticipating. I think this series is probably for me the best Fantasy series since Earthsea 35 years ago. Martin was also kind enough to sign my copy of A Game of Thrones afterwards, sparing me the long autographing lines which I just don't have the patience for. The Neil Gaiman reading from Anansi Boys and Terry Pratchett reading from Going Postal (both forthcoming) were also excellent.

Another highlight which I am not going to try to describe the task and vehicles/devices for was Junkyard Wars where teams had 90 minutes to construct from a bunch of junk (but lots of tools to manipulate it) a device to complete a given task. A bunch of the devices were absolutely great but the device which took a very close second was absolutely brilliant and amazing they could design and build in so little time. Thanks, Mark, for pointing this item out to me as I think I would have completely missed it otherwise.

The evening programs were generally pretty well done although with some significant delays and audio problems (which the smaller panels and thinks didn't have at all and went almost entirely like clockwork) and the best of them were the Hugos (with Gaiman doing a great job MCing and Robert Silverberg giving a great retrospective on the past 50 Hugo ceremonies, all of which he's been to) and the Masquerade which had some beautiful costumes but went way too slowly and then the judging took absolutely forever, despite giving awards to almost every single entry. I also was not a fan of the MC who seemed to constantly want to fight with the audience. I was particularly impressed with the Discworld entires A Pale Rider (particularly the wonderful remote controlled Luggage briliantly driven by Rincewind) and Not the Usual Unusual but missed seeing due to taking a soda break the Best in Show winner Arctic Circle. Blight in the Novice division was also excellent. Still, the whole program inculding the judging ended up lasting 5 hours which was ridiculous although Charles Ross's one-man halftime show presenting the entire original Star Wars Trilogy in 45 minutes was a tour-de-force but it occurred so late I could only manage to keep myself sitting still for half of it. The only good thing about the length was that I managed to chat a couple of times with Terry Pratchett and get him to sign my (just bought second) copy of Good Omens. Unfortunately, that means I now really need Neil to sign it also and didn't manage that here. A young woman in the costume contest with a Discworld entry (Death's granddaughter Susan Sto Helit) also got her picture taken with Terry and the Death of Rats miniature he was given which I imagine was one of the highlights of her entire life and was really sweet to witness. I didn't find the Retro Hugos or the Opening Ceremonies all that interesting other than the amusing Pratchett interviews Weston segment.

The one Hugo I was of course disgusted by (although totally expecting) was Return of the King winning Best Dramatic Presentation. I went to three Tolkien themed panels, two of which (both of which had bloggers Jo Walton and Patrick Neilsen Hayden on them) on Tolkien's Techniques and the Theme of Loss in Tolkien I tthought were quite interesting and generally excellent. Both focused entirely on the books and refused to even here mention of the movies. The third, on the book-movies relationship, I knew I would probably not like but felt obligated to go to. However, when I discovered that the entire panel absolutely loved the movies, I left the panel after 15 minutes to avoid either screaming in pain or getting into a fight with probably almost the entire room which I just wasn't up for and would serve no purpose. I still just can't understand how people can forgive the massive problems these movies have but I guess things will stay that way.

Other interesting panels I went to were on the amazing anime of Hayao Miyazaki , Must-See (SF) TV and Movies, The Art of Screen Writing: Big and Small (nicely moderated by George RR Martin), The World Map of 2100 - What Does It Look Like? (with very interesting demographics and commentary by panelist and author S.M. Sterling), a panel on the Simpsons, a panel on The Character of Death and a very funny panel (almost entirely due to the outspoken and Devil's Advocate comments of panelist Rick Berry) on SF cover art portraits. Berry was advocating completely ignoring the author's character descriptions in his art but amusingly an author stood up to thank him for the accuracy of his cover painting for her book. Finally, I went to a couple of Cory Doctory (of BoingBoing fame) panels on privacy and other issues and a bunch of other panels for brief periods or longer.

The Dealer's Room was pretty good but there wasn't really much of anything I really wanted surprisingly and I basically didn't buy a thing. I looked over the Tshirts particuarly a lot and there were a ton with Dragons on them but none that I really loved. One thing I was blown away by was the cost of signed first editions of quite modern books including a $1500 copy of Snow Crash and $250 copy of A Game of Thrones (just like the one I had had Martin sign for me) - I was just astounded by these prices. The Art Show was also very good but generally prices were just way high. I did buy one cute print of two kittens with wings (a SF concept I have always loved) which I ended up giving to my Mom due to their similar look to her cats. The other thing I seriously considered was a Margaret Organ-Kean piece entitled "Redmond Ho!" showing three penguins girded out in battle gear (bow, pole axe and spear I believe) and in marching formation. I thought the piece was beautiful and given the theme it would have been perfect to hang at work but although I was willing to pay $200 for it when bids got to $400 I decided it was just too much for me but I somewhat regreat this.

The other thing worth mentioning is the room parties every evening, of which there were ten or so representing convention location bids, SF groups and other random interest groups. The ones I enjoyed most were Xerps in 2010 (fake bid party - great tightly integrated theme and decorations), Boxboro (old Mass group regrouping - excellent Death theme and themed deserts), George RR Martin fans (excellent drinks) and the final party we went to Sunday night for Norwescon (excellent food including chocolate fondue and a full bar which they had us take a bunch of away as this was the last night and then they were returning to Seattle - thanks!).

A final thanks to all the people I hung out and/or chatted with for various periods including Mark, Julia, Cally, Andy, MarkK, Bill, Paul, David (whose Guitar Circle performance was really interesting and wonderful), Heidi, Ricardo & Kate, and a bunch of others I am sure I am forgetting.

Posted by aarondf at 11:28 AM | Events | Comments (2)

August 30, 2004

Davis Mega Maze and Cirque's Varekai

Cthulia arranged a big group outing Sunday to the Davis Mega Maze which is a very large cornfield maze in Sterling, MA designed by Adrian Fischer and featuring 11 bridges to massively complexify the topology. We managed to make it through but had missed a couple of Bridges and other interest points so went back in to complete them (with a bunch of help from the Maze staff). Quite fun but an exceedingly hot day to do it and I ended up completely drenched in sweat. Others went off to get ice cream afterwards and I tried to join them before realizing I just didn't have time and rushed home to grab shower before going out again.

In the evening, we went to the Cirque du Soleil's Varekai, a travelling show currently in Boston. I had earlier seen the absolutely incredible O in Las Vegas and been blown away by it but, for a variety of reasons, didn't have nearly as high expectations of this show. Well, although it is true that I didn't think Varekai was as good as O, I thought it was still amazingly good and incredibly worth seeing. I wonder what the objections of those who warned me against it were.

Posted by aarondf at 01:01 PM | Events | Comments (1)

August 26, 2004

Oregon Trip

Went last week again to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon with time also in Portland. The plays we saw were The Royal Family by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber and, by Shakespeare, King Lear, Much Ado about Nothing, Comedy of Errors, and Henry VI Parts I, II and III (as two plays). All the plays were wonderfully done but King Lear was definitely my favorite as the overall acting, set and costumes were all wonderful and it is simply an amazingly good play. Oddly enough, I liked it the most despite a couple of flaws including that Lear's Fool was played by the understudy (due to some kind of emergency for the regular Fool) and he was actually reading his lines onstage at times from a held script which certainly took one out of the scene to a significant degree.

Other highlights of the trip were a visit to the Portland Rose Garden and the absolutely wonderful and gorgeous Portland Japanese Garden which I was completely blown away by the beauty, serenity and craftsmanship of. On an opposite note, the ride down the Rogue River on a 40MPH Jetboat out of Grant's Pass was really exciting and fun. A final highlight was the excellent food, ambience, and service at the Chateaulin restaurant in Ashland. I have now eaten their twice and both meals number among my best 25 or so in my life probably.

A minor lowlight was our trip to Klamath Falls when we came unbelievably close to running out of gas (and had to beg a tiny bit of gas to make the last 9 miles to a station) and then had a one minute trip in a canoe before we returned to the dock as we were sure we were going to capsize if we continued. I think this later incident was mainly the fault of the very tippy canoe but was annoying.

Thanks to Katharina for her wonderful hospitality to us.

Posted by aarondf at 04:00 PM | Events | Comments (0)

August 02, 2004

Dead Show Friday

Went to an excellent Dead show on Friday evening with Mark (and ran into Paul and friends there). The second set was universally excellent starting with Terrapin Station into an absolutely rocking St Stephen and later Scarlet-Fire. I was totally into it and dancing throughout till the eventual R&R during the excelent Drums. The show finished with China-Rider and a Ripple encore. Best show (and certainly set) I have been to since they came back. The first set also had something a bit off with the sound that was fortunately fixed for the second. The evening was also beautiful once the sun was down and it cooled off and there was a day-off Full Moon which was gorgeous. At one point I took a nice walk around just really enjoying the evening and vibe.

Posted by aarondf at 04:51 PM | Events | Comments (0)

July 29, 2004

DNC Area

Wandered down with a colleague to the Fleet Center area. The so called 'free speech zone' is almost worst than it appears in the photos I had seen. It is an absolute travesty of a pen/ghetto and rightly almost none of the protesters are entering it. Whoever's idea this thing was should be fired - absolutely sickening. We also, as I had expected we would, ran into my friend Common Terry who was protesting and had a very amusing sign which read on one side "Bush raped Iraq and didn't pull out." and on the other side the punchline "Kerry will try a different position." He had apparently over the course of the day run into Kerry twice while out on his bike as Kerry was along the river. While we were there he got interviewed once although it was a no-name press group that sounded from their questions like they were pro-lifers mainly but Terry handled it very well.

Also, on a completely different note sad to learn that Warren Buffett's wife Susie died as I have come to really like and admire Buffett so am sad for him although they have been separated (and with other people but still married in an interesting relationship that has worked for them) for a very long time.

Posted by aarondf at 05:32 PM | Events | Comments (0)

July 06, 2004

Kayaking the Fireworks

As I had planned to do from the moment I bought my kayak (and was sorry I couldn't do last year when my kayak took too long to arrive after I special ordered it to get my choice of color), I took my kayak out so that I could watch the fireworks on the 4th from right near the launching barge on the Charles. Years ago, I went out in a canoe with an MIT group to do this and found it to be an amazing spot to view the fireworks from, gorgeous, not crowded, with fireworks also reflecting off the water! I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get as close due to 9/11 but, atlhough there was more security, I didn't find it to interfere at all and didn't notice the security boats ever hassling people where I was. Absolutely beautiful. I may try to arrange a group to do this next year. Where I was I couldn't hear the Pops music but I didn't care much about that and probably could have gone somewhere that I could hear it if I wanted.

Paddling back was a bit choppy due to the wind and the motor boat wakes and I was a bit worried but my kayak did fine and I got no water at all over the top of the boat, let alone into the cockpit. I unfortunately still can't seem to figure out how to reliably strap the kayak onto the 2 wheeled cart I have to take it down to the river. I can get it to work but it slips about and makes me nervous, particularly crossing Memorial Drive.

Posted by aarondf at 05:22 PM | Events | Comments (0)

June 15, 2004

Beach and Volleyball

Went to a party over the weekend on Plum Island where I only went in knowing a couple of people but ended up having a really nice time, particularly playing a ton of Volleyball (at least 7 games) on the beach. I jammed my thumb which was mildy annoying but it is almost recovered now and was well worth the fun. The host, Joe, has a really nice 3-story place right on the Plum Island beach and was really generous to invite all of us over.

Posted by aarondf at 11:31 AM | Events | Comments (0)

June 03, 2004

Trivia last night

We continue do do trivia every couple of weeks or so and usually place 2nd or so, sometimes taking the win. Anyway, last night had a question which disgusted me at the lack of common sense some teams showed. The question was "Of the three astronomical objects, the Moon, Sun and Earth, which is between the other two at the time of a Lunar Eclipse." The answer is the Earth occulding the Moon (would be the Moon in the case of a Solar Eclipse) but what was amazing was that two teams actually submitted "The Sun" as an answer (and Matt on our team liked this too as a first impression). I just can't imagine how little common sense understanding of the Solar System you have to have to think that the Sun could ever come between the Earth and the Moon (and us alive to tell of it ;) ).

By the way, if the Sun's center of gravity was placed between that of the Earth and Moon, it would massively cover the Earth and Moon so everyone on Earth would not just be cooked by heat but actually inside the Sun. The Sun has a diameter of 1,390,000 km and the Moon orbits only 384,400 km from the Earth. Numbers from the excellent site The Nine Planets/

Posted by aarondf at 12:00 PM | Events | Comments (0)

April 28, 2004

Mini Puzzle Hunt

Went to an NPL mini-con/puzzle hunt hosted by Hathor on Saturday and had a really nice time with the pre-hunt games and particularly doing the hunt, developed by Foggy and Ucaoimhu. There were a few minor typo-like errors but generally the puzzles were excllent and really fit well together. The final meta-puzzle was of the "follow a very long and complex sequence of instructions accurately" type but worked well, except that it turned out that a ton of the stuff we were doing wasn't really necessary to finding the final answer. For this hunt, this was fine but in a hunt where teams were really competitive, it would have been by far the most efficient thing to focus on the meta-puzzle from the start and skip doing huge sections of some of the other puzzles. Our team did get the final solution, solving pretty much everything, but about 15 minutes after the winning team. Thanks so much to Foggy, Ucaoimhu, and Hathor.

In the pre-hunt games, I was surprised that nobody in the crowd knew enough about the BBC television series The Office to know that it took place in Slough, England and that the main character, played by Ricky Gervais, is named David Brent. I thought this would be a show right up the alley of this group of people.

Posted by aarondf at 12:58 PM | Events | Comments (0)

March 04, 2004

Trivia Redux

Trivia again last night with four of us. We ended up winning with a wire-to-wire lead but it was incredibly close at the end with scores of 110-109-108 as we blew both of the last two questions (What did TV Guide choose as the best television show in history? {Seinfeld turns out to be the answer which is ridiculous in my opinion - we went with MASH] and What sport has been featured on the Sports Illustrated cover the most? [Football by a tiny margin (less than 2%) over Baseball which we guessed]). However, the only team to get both right and bet the full amount started out 27 points behind us and ended up 1 point behind us. Other than the final two questions, we missed only a possible 6 points and could have actually had 5 of those points if we had gone with Bill's answers. On the other hand, Bill's ideas were somewhat contradictory as on one question he wanted us to go with one answer but when we decided to go with another answer he still wanted us to bet a lot of points which doesn't make a lot of sense. Fun game, anyway, although it was too bad that it started almost 45 minutes late as the regular guy again couldn't make it.

Posted by aarondf at 03:21 PM | Events | Comments (0)

March 01, 2004

Alf's Puzzle Hunt

Alf's annual puzzle hunt was Saturday and this year the theme was Harry Potter. As usual, I really enjoyed it although things went very long till 2am, even with a couple of puzzles being dropped. I submitted one small puzzle which I was worried was too hard for its slot in the hunt but turned out to be of just the difficulty I was aiming for I think. Particularly enjoyable puzzles were Shari's cryptograms and watching others work on the musical puzzle which I am useless at but which make for a really nice cooperative puzzle type. The dragon egg hunt in the park was also a really nice break from an intense day of mental effort. I hope the puzzles this year get on the web finally and will volunteer to help with this.

Posted by aarondf at 05:24 PM | Events | Comments (0)

February 12, 2004

Trivia Again

Went to Trivia again last night at a new place in Somerville. I lobbied to stick with the Overdraught but was outvoted. The new place was ok but by no means great and the DJ running it was certainly no better than the guy at the Overdraught and there was a problem with the waitress at the end so we won't likely be returning. If others want to keep checking out new places, I may just let them until they find a really good place and THEN try it. We also ended up being 6 last night and this place had a 5 per team limit, the result of which was we were disqualified from 1st place but could win 2nd.

The first few questions were way too easy with almost all of us knowing almost all of them but they got much harder in the second half. My guessing was really on last night and scored us a lot of extra points which we otherwise had no idea on with soccer goalie Tony Meola, Best Supporting Actor winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Nevada as the fastest growing state. All of this was just enough to take the theoretical win over the other 6 person team and get us the 2nd place prize ($15 gift certificate and an added on pitcher of Bass). Richard came for the first time and knew several questions (on poetry and golf) that none of the rest of us were sure of, which was also really helpful.

We did also submit one of our stupider guesses on ANOTHER golf question asking what a "stimpmeter" is for. Mark had us go with "counting the number of dimples on golf balls" which I thought was pretty crazy although my random guess ("measuring the distance to the hole") was also wrong. The answer was that it measures how fast the greens are.

Posted by aarondf at 11:37 AM | Events | Comments (0)

January 29, 2004

Trivia at the Kinvara

Returned to the Kinvara pub last night for trivia for the first time since December. Unfortunately, they have now switched Trivia hosts from a person (DJ Michael), format and questions we really liked to a really stupid format so we likely won't be back, which is also too bad in that we like the pub and our waitress, Leah, a lot. Still, they were extremely busy last night so this change may be a good one for them, but alas not at all for us. We did manage to take second despite the bad format.

As a gamer and strategist, a brief description of the format and why it is poor seems in order. The previous bidding element which added a ton of strategy to the game is now gone for the 16 'standard' questions, so mostly it is just a simple matter of knowing a question or not knowing it. They have also now added two shot questions which basically allow you to buy points in the game by buying shots at the bar. A funny idea, but one I still don't particularly like is the cell phone question which legalizes for one question the common cheating practice of many teams of calling friends for answers or to do Google searches.

Worst of all, though, is the change to the multiple of 5 questions (#5, #10, #15, #20). These questions now allow you to bid as much as you want of points you have previously earned and thus either double them or lose them. Also, based on last night, these questions are all related to a single theme (last night's was the New England Patriots). This has all sorts of problems: 1) Rewards the teams ahead as they can gain more if they know the answers. 2) Tells you you should instantly give up if you are really bad at the theme as these questions become the deciding point of the game and if you don't know them, you have no chance (we were 2nd last night only because Matt knew the answers to all of these so we doubled our score every time). 3) Causes you to be unrecoverably out of it if you bid it all and miss one of these.

Posted by aarondf at 04:50 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 27, 2004

Talk: Visual Illusions

Went to a very interesting talk today by Al Seckel of CalTech on visual illusions. He showed quite a few amazing illusions including the Ted Adelson checkerboard illusion that made the rounds a while ago. Another interesting one which we tried successfully later involves two people and a mirror and is called the "Cheshire Cat" illusion, as it causes you to see only parts of your partner's face, particularly the eyes and mouth which are most used for recognizing people. Many of the other images he showed are also shown on the site I link to above.

The basic deal with all of these illusions is that our brain expects to see one thing and thus fills in gaps or misinterprets information to better fit our expectations. Basically, we are willing to be wrong in very unusual cases in order to be right in the vast majority of cases. Whether this is genetic or due to experience isn't fully clear. Very cool talk.

Posted by aarondf at 06:01 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 20, 2004

MIT Mystery Hunt 2004 - Maps and Time Bandits

Well, I as usual had a great but exhausting time with this year's Mystery Hunt as a member of ecroForce/Palindromes. Kappa Sig/The French Armada put on a Pirates/Time Bandits themed hunt which had a lot going for it in terms of cool organization, not too much errata and amazingly nice maps and things, but in the end didn't really work for me.

They were first-time constructors mostly and it unfortunately showed. The hunt was way too long with 131 puzzles, almost all of them multi-stage affairs, and a ton of good puzzles but bad answers and with too many stages. A friend wisely said "With a good puzzle, you should never have to call in the answer - it should clearly be right." where here we would have 13 of 15 letters in a string which should be more than enough to figure it out, only to call in like 12 wrong answers before finally picking the, largely arbitrarily, 'right' one.

Congratulations to Setec for winning despite having a very small team of 20-25 and I confidently expect a great hunt from them based on past experience. Their 2002 Monopoly Hunt was definitely the best hunt I have participated in (I have done the last four on campus and one before lightly off-campus).

Our team ended up about 6th, solving 3 of the 7 meta-puzzles, but we definitely got a lot of help from hinting, although this was necessary here because of the bad answers and unreasonable leaps the designers often expected people to make. I was glad that every puzzle I worked on significantly got solved in the end and particularly glad when we finally finished Best Mate and the Yukon meta Private Diaries. No individual puzzles I absolutely loved this year, however. As with last year, I didn't solve a single puzzle (other than the trivial RummiKub playing activity one) on my own, but I'm not at all unhappy about that as the collaboration is really fun. I would have easily solved Snowfield on my own if I'd realized it was MineSweeper but there were so many puzzles I had only glanced at it for seconds. Once someone pointed it out as MineSweeper, I got the trick immediately and solved it in minutes, not surprisingly given I've written a clone.

Thinking towards next year, I think the main thing our team would need to move up is to have more of our top solvers there for more of the time. The committed core group who were there for the whole thing (excluding sleep time) was only about 15 so although we had 30 or so total, we really didn't have quite enough resources. Obviously having a couple more super-solvers would be a huge benefit too. Not sure either of these is that practical however. We could also organizationally do some things better although I didn't feel we were terrible on this other than our mediocre handling of our quite strong but small group of remote solvers, but this was our first year with significant remote solving (other than an individual calling a friend/relative for help on a particular puzzle which is always good and works well because there is a solid single coordination person in the room for each of these contacts).

Posted by aarondf at 05:20 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 15, 2004

Trivia Again

Well, the Kinvara doesn't start its trivia till next week but Bill and Matt convinced me to join them for Trivia at another pub in Cambridge, which turned out to be a nice place. The rules were very similar to those at the Kinvara despite being run by a different group, with a few minor differences like an "identify these pictures" round. We did pretty well the whole night but were still significantly behind till almost the end and thought we were mostly out of the running but we ended up coming back and taking second and getting $20. One team was amazingly good and led wire-to-wire, only blowing the last two questions except for 3 points lost earlier, but they had a big enough lead they could afford this with no problem. We were, I believe, the only team to get the last question and we bid the max so bounced over several teams for 2nd.

This was nice but I personally didn't contribute that much. I don't think there was a single question where I was the only one to know the answer. I knew quite a few answers but always ones that Matt or Bill or both also knew. Still, having multiple people who agree lets us bid higher so I was helpful to a limited degree. Fun time, regardless.

Posted by aarondf at 12:54 PM | Events | Comments (0)

January 13, 2004


Haven't posted in a while as I've been travelling for the holidays and then very busy since getting back. Had a very nice trip over XMas to visit my brother and his family in New Mexico. My nephew Isaac spent like nine hours opening presents. Also had some nice games (board and Diablo II), cooking and watching Babyon 5 DVDs which I gave to my brother. I got a bunch of things but a GPS is the coolest toy from Stefan and Samira although it isn't behaving quite right in some respects. Other family toys included a 15 foot trampoline for Isaac and a helium, remote-controlled blimp for Stefan.

Posted by aarondf at 03:35 PM | Events | Comments (0)

November 10, 2003

NYC Trip: WWtbaM and Foxwoods

Pete and I on Thursday went down to New York City to be in the audience for two Who Wants to be a Millionaire? episodes and to test/audition to be on a future episode. The written test was harder than expected and I missed at least 3 of 30 and neither of us were called to audition. Of course, even if I had been, I doubt I would have been picked (Pete, I think, would have a much better shot). Also, the trip turned out to be pretty slow and traffic was stressful and there was a ton of time just waiting around. I doubt I'll try again but I'll see.

On the way back, we stopped at Foxwoods casino for Pete to play Craps and me to play Poker. Pete explained a bunch of the MANY Craps bets that were possible but it is clearly a straight losing game with pretty bad odds and I couldn't bring myself to play. I played 2-4 Hold'em after waiting a long while for a table and had a really nice time and made $80 in two hours of play. I was in the zone probably as much as I have ever been with poker, almost never needing to recheck my cards and feeling quite comfortable with the casino atmosphere which I hadn't before. I also was making excellent calls on what hands people had although I still paid off too many people and our table was a fun group. I may consider going more often, at least if I have company for the trip.

Posted by aarondf at 03:40 PM | Events | Comments (0)

October 16, 2003

Kinvara Trivia #?7

Went to the Kinvara last night again with Greg added to our team who was a huge addition. We scored 118, which was by far our best ever, and won with a wire-to-wire win over another strong team. We actually could have gotten even more if we had gone with a couple of other of Greg's guesses. I was the first one to get a Music question, too, which was a first (it was a guess and a Beatles question which is one of the few bands I know pretty well). Usually I am useless on the Music questions. I also got the first big bonus question and Greg got the final bonus question (which I also would have gotten on an educated guess I think after some thought but he actually knew it 100%).

Posted by aarondf at 12:39 PM | Events | Comments (0)

October 09, 2003

Neal Stephenson Talk

Neal Stephenson, author of the amazing Snow Crash and many other really good books was at the Harvard Coop last night to talk about his newest book, Quicksilver. His talk was only 45 minutes and I didn't stay around to wait through the long signing line but it was still well worth going to. He almost immediately went to Q&A with no reading and just a very quick introductory comment but he was absolutely wonderful about handling the Q&A. Even to some not very interesting questions, he managed to give very interesting answers that were absolutely on topic to the question. The most interesting answer he gave was over why he had chosen to switch to writing with a fountain pen rather than using a computer with this book. He feels that he produces a much better first draft by having a slower output method. Because he can't physically write so fast, sentences are forced to wait longer in his mind to be written and, while they are there, they are mentally edited to be better rather than just being blasted out on a keyboard. He also finds crossing stuff out on the page to be a bit easier than editing it on the computer. Finally, he does his own typing and, in the process, does another level of editing. The end result is that once he has a draft in the computer, although it will have taken longer, it will be a much more advanced draft and save him a lot of editing time later. He also finds that stuff typed in immediately achieves an unjustified status of permanence which makes it harder for him to edit so making the quality of this higher to start is very helpful. He is therefore intentionally introducing an inefficient method at one stage to increase the efficiency overall which I find fascinating (and very believable). Stephenson also recommended Matt Ruff's newest book which is nice as Matt is not nearly as well known an author and is writing excellent stuff.

Posted by aarondf at 11:25 AM | Events | Comments (0)

September 15, 2003

Charbanova Hunt '03

Saturday was the day of Aaron Weissblum's annual Charbanova treasure hunt which benefits Cape Ann Animal Aid and takes place in Gloucester. This year it was at a YMCA camp there that Aaron has a long relationship with.

I put together a full team of 6 (in past years we had gone with 4 since teams only get 4 prizes but this year we decided to have a full team so that we would be sure to get prizes at all and to have a chance to compete for first) and we were the first full team to arrive (in 4 separate cars). Our team was fellow gamers Matt, Alec, Nate and Rob and Erik from my work. Being there early let me do a favor for Paul (AaronW's partner) in going to change some money to assist with people paying.

The hunt started a bit late which was kind of nice as it gave us a chance to talk as a team and to talk with other teams. I now know probably more than half the people at the hunt whereas the first year I went I only knew my own team and like two others and interestingly this is not because I met people there but because many people I know from other activities are joining this hunt each year.

The theme this year was Dogs and Bones and, although every year has a run-around element, this year's was very different. In past years, we were always sent by each puzzle to a specific location. This year we were not given any directions and instead had to wander all over the camp and trails to find 21 bones hidden around and then match them up with the puzzles. This wasn't a bad idea but ended up causing our team (and many others I think) a lot of headaches. First off, we probably spent like 6 (of 18) hours of team time or more looking for these bones which seems excessive. In addition, the structure encouraged one person to do all the running about since they would know which areas they had already looked at and not repeat stuff. The other scheme let the running more easily be split between all the team members. We did eventually find all the bones but only with like 20 minutes to go and it was just too much trouble and not that much fun I thought.

The puzzles on the other hand were generally very good and enjoyable but I personally was at a pretty low ebb for solving. The one puzzle we didn't solve (resulting in us being like 6th rather than 2nd or 3rd) I feel a complete fool for not having solved as I noticed enough of the trick that I should have seen the rest and somehow didn't. I also goofed up another puzzle as a result of continuing doing what a teammate had started on rather than taking a fresh look at what was not a difficult puzzle and right up my alley. The one we didn't solve also had issues because of a major misunderstanding that got passed on to everyone else on the team and caused us a ton of time barking up the wrong tree.

I have realized that two of my great puzzle strengths are in general organization (what should be done when and what to focus on - I am NOT good at the detailed organization stuff) and in my puzzle intuition. Almost all of my intuitions about things Saturday were on the nose but I screwed up specifics enough that I couldn't take enough advantage of it.

We ended up with no mistakes and all the puzzles solved but one and ended like 6th or 7th of 14 teams with 9 getting prizes. It turned out this year, though, that prizes were computer printouts rather than the nice wooden paintings of past years and that there were multiple copies of each. As such, in terms of prize choosing there was almost no benefit at all to being first. Our team also did my 'divide 4 prizes between 6 people auction scheme' which worked ok but only a few of us really understood it - not sure why; its not that confusing. The prizes were effectively valued at $15 by the system. I still think the system is pretty perfect at achieving the goals I had for it - basically that everyone should walk away happy, whether they get a prize or money.

The most amazing thing of this hunt was the winning team of David and Jess Kuznick (who I'd invited to join us earlier in forming our team) and Craig and Cori Swanson. They were a four person team in a hunt which really wanted lots of people so you could have people on the trails and solving. They got a perfect score and finished as one of the earliest teams - absolutely incredible and kudos to them. They are all good solvers and Craig in particular is absolutely brilliant about many things but I was still amazed at this performance.

Because of the Bone run-around and my own poor solving, I probably didn't enjoy this hunt quite as much as the previous years but that is also a really high standard to meet and I still had a great time and absolutely will continue to do it every year. Thanks so much, Aaron Weissblum and helpers!!!

Posted by aarondf at 12:51 PM | Events | Comments (0)

August 07, 2003

Red Sox Game

A friend from California was in town last night in his annual vacation following the WBC which he is taking in Boston this year. He had Red Sox tickets and offerred to take me with him and I accepted as I don't go to nearly enough games, given I work three blocks away and they are my favorite team - I am just not that into baseball. We arranged to meet at BeerWorks 1.5 hours before the game but that turned out to be not nearly early enough - there was a one hour wait - so we tried a second and then third alternative of Longhorn steakhouse which was actually very good.

We arrived in Fenway just as the National Anthem was being sung and found our good but very cramped seats. Fortunately, the people next to us didn't show up till like the 5th inning which made it a little less bad. Security was also poor and didn't notice my can of soda so I avoided paying $4 for a soda. Pedro Martinez was pitching for the Sox and ended up pitching a complete game to win 4-2 over the California Angels. The ninth inning was made interesting by an error at 1st base by a sub and the Angels ended up getting a man at bat with the bases loaded and a chance to probably win but Pedro picked up the final out for the win.

Posted by aarondf at 11:59 AM | Events | Comments (0)

August 06, 2003

WBC After Action Report

Got back from the World Boardgaming Championships (yeah, I know, pretentious name - I voted against it) Sunday night after a long and exhausting week and drive and slept for 18 hours, waking up only long enough to take a shower and call in sick due to the cold I had got from lack of sleep. Still, it was all worth it as I had a really good time and completely escaped from normal life.

Surprisingly, I don't think I played a single new game but eleven games of Titan takes a ton of time out of the week. I ended up winning the 2 Player tournament giving me my first Titan tournament win in like 18 entries and a ton of finals. Unfortunately, I had to beat my teammate Dave in the final but he returned the favor in the multiplayer final. Not surprisingly, we had them reversed as our team events so scored like 3 points rather than 15 ;(. As usual for the multiplayer final, I was totally exhausted and didn't play well but also was demoralized by horrendously bad masterboard dice. The two player tournament took me 7 games to win 5 rounds as David desJardins and I mutual'd twice and had to restart - thanks David for agreeing to change the rules on this in the middle of the tournament. I also had to come back from big deficits in the first two games and play a bunch of tough players and get a bunch of luck at the end so I was quite proud of the win. Only one easy game in the lot.

I also did well in the Battle Line tourney, making it to the finals and in doing so again having to beat another teammate although here it wasn't either of our team games. Its funny to play such a quick tourney that took a total of like 3 hours for the 6 or 7 games. Ken Guttermuth beat me in a 10 minute final with somewhat better cards. Not sure if I could have done better with my excellent Tactics cards but poor Troop cards.

I also played a bunch of Tichu and a few other games in between things but where I didn't have time for the later rounds. The only semifinal I was particularly sorry to miss was the Euphrat & Tigris one but I have nobody but myself to blame as I only scored literally 1 point in the one heat game I could play, which ran out of tiles. This was by far my worst game ever, but I was trying to win and so had to keep going for big gambles as things got worse and worse. The winner simply always had every tile he could possibly want.

Had a couple of nice dinners and chats as well, including a nice talk with Mike Fitzgerald who found me Saturday morning just before the Titan semis. He has a number of games coming out which all sound quite interesting, if light, and is just a great guy and wonderful at handling both praise and criticism of his games.

I also picked up the Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage email plaque for winning the PBEM tournament 6 months or so ago which was nice. I also had a nice dinner, if quick due to interrupting a game for it, with my father.

Posted by aarondf at 04:45 PM | Events | Comments (0)

July 06, 2003

Movies: Winged Migration

This movie is basically entirely footage of birds, mostly flying in their annual spring and fall migrations, with a bit of commentary. Simple, but the photography is incredibly beautiful, and the movie covers a huge number of species and locations and is done with no special effects - how they managed to get all of this material I don't know but imagine it is mostly a lot of people and a LOT of time. If you are going to see it, well worth seeing it in the theatre where it will likely only be for a very short time now. ****

Posted by aarondf at 06:33 PM | Events | Comments (0)

July 04, 2003

And the Sky Full of Stars

Happy Fourth! Just got back from the Boston fireworks which were wonderful. The entire sky from my viewpoint was lit up a bunch of times and there were some fireworks types I had never seen before and they did a nice job putting up speakers so the music could be heard in Cambridge. I had a quite nice view from the balcony of Walker at MIT but I am annoyed I don't yet have my kayak as out on the water is the 99 percentile view and cooler and so nice on the water (I did this one year with the MIT Outing Club). I definitely will plan to be on the water in my kayak next year.

Spent the earlier part of the day with my family having a nice barbecue late lunch/early dinner and playing with Isaac. Also ordered a new air conditioner as mine is no longer up to the task. I hope the new one I ordered isn't too heavy and overkill but would rather one too powerful than not powerful enough.

Posted by aarondf at 11:51 PM | Events | Comments (0)

June 30, 2003

Seattle Trip

Went to Seattle for Global Grid Forum, a work conference after a hectic day at work last Monday between trips. The weather in Seattle this past week was absolutely amazingly nice, a perfect temperature, low humidity, and light till 9:15 - wonderful! The hotel pool and jacuzzi were also wonderful, being on the 35th floor with a great view and I went 4 times in the 4 days I was there.

I also took advantage of the trip to meet with Seattle friends, both met through gaming. Andrew and I went to a really nice but casual restaurant on Tuesday evening after I arrived and were able to sit outside for a wonderful dinner. Afterwards, we had a couple of drinks at a bar across the street and ran into a fellow Microserf ( ;) ) and friend of his and chatted about games and computers. Later in the week, I took the bus out to Redmond (catching a wonderful view of Mt Rainier across Lake Washington on the way) to meet Peter and chat and head over to a barbecue and gaming party. It turned out that amazingly I knew via the net two of the other people at the party including the host - small world. Played a bunch of games including a game of Funkenschlag which Peter won by an amazingly tiny $2 tiebreaker. We then chatted about puzzle hunts till dawn when Peter gave me a ride back to catch a few hours of sleep before my flight in the early afternoon which fortunately went super-smoothly.

Posted by aarondf at 04:10 PM | Events | Comments (0)

Dead Show at the Tweeter Center

I arranged to return from Atlanta in time to meet up with my brother and his family and then go to The Dead (all of the surviving members of The Grateful Dead) show last Sunday. There was unbelievable rain before and after the show but it fortunately took a break during the show although Stefan had managed to get me a pavillion seat so this wasn't much of an issue anyway. The first set wasn't great but the second set was really hot. I left before the Encore in order to hurry out and successfully beat all the traffic and given the monsoon started right up again I was particularly glad of this. Got home exhausted but had a great time at the show and seeing Stefan, Samira and Isaac.

Posted by aarondf at 04:00 PM | Events | Comments (0)

Games at the Oasis of Fun

Went to Atlanta the week before last for the inaugural Oasis of Fun and it was also my first trip to Atlanta. Had a really nice time, particularly spending time with old friends DavidS and Snoop among others and meeting a bunch of people I only knew through email including Stven, Angela, Dave and Theresa, Gee, MichaelW and many more. Both taught and learned a bunch of games and also did well at the big social games, being very near to winning at both of them.

I also went out to eat a few times and was amazed at the low prices for food near the hotel (which was also extremely inexpensive), particularly the very good barbecue place. We also went for one very nice, long, enjoyable lunch at Einstein's which DavidS knew about. Excellent food and conversation!

I will most likely return next year. Thanks, Stven and helpers, for a great inaugural Oasis.

Posted by aarondf at 03:48 PM | Events | Comments (0)

June 15, 2003

Cirque du Soleil: 'O' and Varekai

Last December, I went to see Cirque du Soleil's show O at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and, although, I don't want to compare it to theatre, it was certainly the best and most spectacular production/performance piece I have ever seen. Absolutely Fabulous! Despite paying over $100 for my ticket, I would love to go see it again and think it alone would have been worth the trip to Vegas. One of the reasons it would be worth seeing again is that at all times many things were happening on the incredible stage so I could never watch everything at once. This also kept the show from ever getting boring. The comic clown interludes were also brilliant and incredibly funny. I, who am a very impatient person, was not bored for one second of the performance. The water stage and the amazing things they could do to cover it, fully or partially, were definitely a huge sixth man for the show and I love water. The highlight for me was the Russian Swing towards the end where they did (estimated) 50' vertical launches and 70' horizontal launches of acrobats who did tricks and then dives into the water - Incredible! Simply one of the most amazing things I have ever been to!

I unfortunately did not get to see Mystere due to the time near the holidays and the shows just going dark during my days there so I had to make a choice and only see one.

Anyway, what makes me comment about this now is I just watched on my TiVo the Cirque's new show Varekai on the Bravo channel. After returning from Vegas and discovering all the Cirque stuff on Bravo, I have taped and watched a bunch, including the entire season of Fire Within, the Cirque reality show on the casting and training for Varekai so I was looking forward to seeing this. I quite enjoyed Fire Within.

Unfortunately, as with the other Cirque shows I have seen on Bravo (which is I think most of the travelling shows and not the set shows like O and Mystere), it just didn't work for me. I don't know if it was the show or not being live but really think it is a combination. A lot is lost on TV, particularly as the filming unwisely makes way too many cuts, dissolves, replays, slowmos, etc... that detract from the viewing. However, I also just didn't find this show nearly as interesting as O. Not nearly as much was happening on stage at once and some of the pieces definitely did get boring. The interludes in particular were very poor. Both the singer/spotlight skit and the lightbulb guy skit made it obvious what was going on after 10 seconds but kept with the, not very good in the first place, joke for like 5 long minutes. Nowhere near the fun or interest of the O clowns. Still, there were of course some amazing acrobatics and highlights for me were seeing the people I'd gotten to know in FW, particularly Oleg and Tatianna (sp?), the incredible balancing maneuvers, the mouth juggling and the Russian swing finale. However, the Russian swing, while excellent, wasn't half as enjoyable as the one in O, probably mostly due to lacking the water to dive into and thus allowing more extreme manuevers. I will probably go to see any Cirque show I can but I have a strong feeling I have already seen what for me will be my great favorite.

Posted by aarondf at 06:27 PM | Events | Comments (1)

April 28, 2003

The Game in Boston details

The Game is another treasure-hunt style puzzle hunt where teams competitively solve puzzles and the first team to complete the full puzzle set generally wins (sometimes there are some other factors affecting scoring). The two things that make The Game unusual are that it is generally entirely linear (each team must solve the first puzzle in order to get the second and so on...) and it takes strong advantage of the location it is set in, visting local landmarks and often doing interesting activities at them.

I had never done The Game before and was interested in giving it a try, especially when it was a shorter version than the usual 26hr marathon and local to boot. I thus put together a team of friends from Matt's gaming. I didn't think our team was that strong but that didn't bother me as I just wanted to have a good time. I thought we would have no chance to win and thus no chance to have to put on The Game next year and these pretty well balanced out for me ;).

This one got off to a bit of a rocky start when Game Control (GC) didn't contact us for more than a week after I sent in our registration money. I finally emailed Matt Enlow and he got back to me quickly and it was soon clear The Game (TG) was still on.

The pre-puzzle (a standard TG feature which gives the location where TG will start) started when Nate and I were each called at 3AM on a weekday morning. Not surprisingly, I hung up on them without hearing much they had to say, convinced it was an insane telemarketer ;). Nate got a bit more info but still didn't realize it pertained to the game. We also thus did not understand their reference in their email when they did contact us to an "earlier conversation". We did learn in this email that we were to be Team Orange (all teams in TG are named after colors). Fortunately, they left clearer messages on Joe and Doug's machines although Joe misheard his and so we couldn't find the right web site and he had to get help from GC on the correct spelling. Once there, we found the puzzle based on the info on Doug's machine and worked on solving it Friday. We had the right idea from the very beginning but there was a lot of trial and error to it and Doug finally found the answer at around 7:30 PM. We were then set to meet at my place at 7:45 AM the next morning and be at Dapy's store at the Prudential shops by 8:30.

Doug and Chau got lost on their way to my place (not a great sign as Doug would be our driver all day) but Chau called me and I was able to redirect them to my place in time. We all hopped in his SUV with our stuff (we had lots of tools including 3 laptops but used almost none of it) and made it to the Pru in time and even found on-street parking. We saw the other teams and chatted briefly with the NPL/MysteryHunt team as Joe and I both knew some of them. The GC person then showed up and checked that all the teams (7) were there and then led us off to the Pru's food court where we were given a folder with general instructions, GC's phone number and our first puzzle. We were also given a bag of bottled waters and snacks and some Dunkin Donuts Munchkins. This was a very nice way to start and we immediately had table space to sit and work on the puzzle in the food court.

The puzzle was in the form of a greeting card like thing in the shape of Charlie Brown's head. On the inside was a long 1440 degree spiral with dots at every 30 degrees (48 total), some of which had numbers ranging from 1-8 (but no 6s and 7s) on them. There was also a quote: "Good Grief...Where do we Start?". We got nowhere with this puzzle other than noting some interesting properties of the numbers and called in for a hint the first time we could, after 30 minutes. This hint indicated this puzzle was musically based which meant I would be useless except in brainstorming and the others on the team weren't that musically expert either. We thus needed a second hint (not a good start and each hint costs us 15 minutes of time at the end) which indicated the numbers were note pitches and the other dots were rests. Doug and Nate then tried to sing the tune but their tempo was way off and nobody recognized it. Doug then called a friend who was more musically inclined than any of us and she was able to realize the tune was "Row, Row, Row your Boat". I then came back and quickly realized this, combined with the card in the shape of Charlie Brown's head, probably referred to the Head of the Charles regatta. The quote on the card suggested we were to head to the race starting line so we headed out in the car. Still not sure exactly where to go, Nate called a friend and I spoke to her and she pulled up the website and we were able to figure out that the new BU boat house two blocks from my house was the place to go - thanks Sue.

We reached the boathouse and had an enjoyable walk though the interior where a bunch of women crew were hanging out before finding the puzzle attached to the railing outside. We were in 2nd to last place and this didn't count the 30 minutes of hint time we had spent. The second puzzle was a page showing 17 pictures of celebrities with four boxes below each one's picture with one or two of the four filled in and there was a quote saying "Around here, they all start with nothing". We started filling in the people but even with pulling up pictures of people who we thought they might be on the web (Google Image search), we still weren't sure if we had the right person for 3 of them (all turned out to be wrong) and another one or two we had no idea who they were. We eventually called GC to get a hint that what we were looking for is a commonality in the celebrities, probably in their names. We eventually realized that many of them had a first or last name that was a town in MA and MapQuest led us to be sure this was the right track even though it didn't work for a couple (which we turned out to have the names wrong for). We plotted them on a map but this seemed to lead nowhere. I then went to the bathroom and just as I was walking in I had the AhHa that the numbers were zip codes, all of which start with 0 in MA. We pulled up the ZipCodes on the USPS site and found that then pulling the appropriate digits always led to numbers from 1-26 so we used the trusty A=1, B=2, ... code to turn the numbers into letters. We had only 12 correct and 2 wrong and 3 missing but were able to figure out 'Hatch Shell Fiedler' and confirm there is a Fiedler statue at the Hatch shell and we were off.

As we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the hatch shell area, we ran into the NPL team - now only about 10 mins ahead of us but we had now used 3 hints. There turned out to be 5 statues near the Hatch Shell and we found the Fiedler one (which was farther off) last. Once we got there, a GC person came up to us and semi-proposed, presenting us with a wedding ring box and saying 'Will you accept this ring?'. We did and headed back for the car and then again to my place. The box contained the puzzle foled up nicely into a ring shape. There were a bunch of lines of forms like "B:B:C:G:K:AIHC". I noted that the single letters were monotonically increasing (although there could be duplicates). Joe did a histogram of the singles and groups and realized a bunch of things: that the singles using the A=1 code were all Primes and that only the singles went above 10 using this code. We thus converted the singles into numbers and the groups into digits of larger numbers and realized this was probably a prime factoring so multipled all the numbers on a line. When all these came out to be 7 digits, we knew we were on the right track and that they were phone numbers. Nate tried calling one without any luck so I started looking them up in Google (and then at Chau's suggestion in Switchboard which was more complete). All of them were business in the 617 area code and all had names like Lace, Wood, Steel, etc... in the business name. Joe realized these were all traditional wedding anniversary gifts and I pulled up a list of these and we then used the year numbers as indexes to letters and got HOODMILKBOTTLE which we looked up and found was right by the Children's Museum. We solved this puzzle, which had a bunch of steps, in probably like 35 minutes when it would have taken like 20 minutes if one knew exactly what to do from start to finish. This is an amazing speed and required no hints and is probably what jumped us into the lead. Most of the credit on this one goes to Joe. This was also my vote for most elegant puzzle with every element from the phone numbers to the anniversary gifts tying in to the wedding ring theme.

We drove over to the Hood milk bottle (our first drive of like 5 across the Longfellow bridge) and Nate got us slightly lost as he was confused where we were going but I got us back on track and went to get the puzzle from the GC person waiting there. This one turned out to be a piece of tile from which pieces of the covering were kind of routed out. Nate realized these looked like pieces of letters and we made several rubbings of the tile using crayons. Nate tried cutting the pieces out and assembling letters but Doug had the major AhHa here when he realized that if we had multiple copies of the tile, a second would tile over the first. Joe was the first to achieve the necessary tiling which read 'Pi Alley' when read in a mirror (apparently the intent was to ink the tile and then stamp connected copies) and we looked it up on the web and I printed directions and we were off after another pretty quick solution with no hints (albeit to a much simpler puzzle).

We quickly found the GC Logo in PI Alley pointing up (which other teams had real trouble finding) but this may have hurt us as we then went up the elevator quickly trying every floor unsuccessfully and even me going out on the roof through the metal trap door. We then descended via the stairs with no luck. I then had the thought to try to go to the location as close to just above the GC Logo as possible. This turned out to be the right idea and I got our enveloped. However, Doug was lost in the garage structure and then Joe got lost when he went to find him and this cost us like 10 a bit annoying minutes.

This puzzle was 4 lines of Arabic (with the first line being in heavier type) presented as a speech balloon from a Taxi. We thus thought we had to find an Arabic speaker or a translation reference so walked around and quickly found a Border's bookstore and cafe. Doug went and got xeroxes made of the puzzle and found an Arabic speaker who told him that while, yes, the letters were arabic, the words didn't make any sense. We then found Arabic to English references in Borders and went to their cafe with them and started doing the conversions which was very tricky but we managed it, mostly done by Joe. We still weren't sure what to do although thout it might be a substitution cipher cryptogram. We called for a hint and GC basically confirmed this and said 'None of us know Arabic'. Joe got started on the cipher and Nate noticed the first line contained 22 non-duplicate letters. We thus realized the first line might be a translation key for the cipher and when, reading right-to-left as one does in Arabic, the spaces came out to be on 4 very unusual English letters, we knew we were right and did the translation. It came out to ".... so sue us. d c and h". The 'sue us' part suggested lawyers and Joe quickly realized that, given this, the 'd c and h' stood for Dewey, Cheetham, and Howe, the fictional lawyers for the Car Talk guys on NPR. We headed off to Harvard Square where anyone who listens to the show knows their offices are at.

We asked at the Information Booth by Out-of-Town News (after the clerk there didn't know their exact location) and he pointed across the street to the window on the second floor above the Curious George store. We headed up and I found them on the 2nd floor but their door was closed so I tried the next door place which was open. This turned out to be right and a nice guy who ran that shop and had been recruited by GC after TG started gave us our pick of the baskets (we were now in the lead so the first team to see him) which contained a big box of 64 Crayola Crayons and our puzzle. I chatted with the guy for a minute, discovering he had accidentally given away a few crayons to kids before GC explained things to him, and then we headed back to my place.

The puzzle was a set of 22 large boxes, each of which contained 4 small boxes, each colored in a different color (there were some repeats over the 88 boxes). There was also a quote basically indicating that what we needed was the names of the colors and that they would have something in common. As we had again returned to my place, I dealt with a few phone messages while the others figured out,
without yet identifiying any colors, that we would likely find that the names of all 4 colors in each large box shared a single letter in common. This would turn out to be right and we got to work on the color id'ing. This turned out to be very tricky as many colors were VERY similar. We ended up making 'paint chip' type sets of each group of similar colors (reds, blues, greens, yellows, greys, browns). Using these made things much easier and I probably had the best sense of which colors matched so I looked most of them up while others wrote them in and developed the 'paint chips'. We got 'Ryan Amusement' as the start and looked it up
(although I had been by Ryans many times, I hadn't been in and didn't remember the name) and called it in without needing to figure out the 'Lansdown' part and we were off.

As it would turn out, I think at this point we had won The Game. We will go on to do one more puzzle before the final puzzle but all the other teams are (I think significantly) behind and will be redirected to the final puzzle without doing the Scrabble one we will do in between.

Anyway, we arrived at Ryan's and found Matt Enlow of GC (although we didn't know his name then) dressed as a cowboy and playing a video game. He seemed more intent on the video game than on us but basically just redirected us to The Compleat Strategist store on Mass Ave. Apparently, GC had intended us to have to play the game Dance Dance Revolution for this information but this had been dropped due to time which was too bad.

At The Compleat Strategist, I ran into a colleague of mine and chatted for a moment but then got the puzzle which turned out to be a Scrabble board with all the tiles and racks glued on. I borrowed a sheet of paper and copied down enough information to reconstruct the board and we headed back to my place. On the way, Joe transferred my notes onto a graph paper version of the board. When we got to my place, we started to try all sorts of things but weren't getting great results until we found that one player could play the word 'Coke' on a Triple Word score (and the K on a Triple Letter) for 50 points. I was sure this was on the way to the solution but turned out to be wrong. This puzzle turned out to be by far the worst puzzle of the day and I think other teams should be glad to have not needed to do it. I honestly believe this puzzle is impossible without at least one hint. We ended up needing 3. The first was that the puzzle used Scrabble's version of Chess notation as a major element. The second was that we shouldn't think like we were playing Scrabble and that the tiles left on players racks were a key used to unlock a message encoded on the board. This information would have been enough to solve the puzzle except that they had done the bizarre thing of having each player treat the Scrabble notation as being from his own board perspective which honestly just doesn't make any sense. I understand why they did this (to give them access to more of the board, given their notation scheme) but it just doesn't make sense. This caused us, when we tried the right thing, to only get 25% of the right answer (that for the player who the board was oriented towards). GC's third hint indicated this rotation and we then quickly figured out the answer of 'Improv Asylum' in the North End.

By this time we had been solving for like 12 hours with no real food and just come off a long and frustrating puzzle and were hungry. However, GC made it clear our next puzzle would be our last and, when we called to ask, let us know that would have food for us at the final location so we should not stop to eat. This puzzle turned out to be two interlocking circles of letters. Most of these letters, but not quite all, spelled words but I nevertheless instantly guessed when I saw the puzzle that the words were irrelevant and only the letter strings mattered. However, others on our team weren't so sure so we did our best with the words after I tried a few Perl scripts I had on the strings of letters with no success. Anyway, after the requisite 30 minutes, we called GC and they clearly wanted us to finish and basically told us the trick to the puzzle. Joe did the work to apply their information and we were off to an apartment in Somerville.

We got a bit lost on the way but eventually found the place. All of the other teams were already there, having been redirected prior to the Scrabble (and in some cases other puzzles as well I believe) puzzle (which took us like 2 hours plus 45 minutes of hint time) and congratulated us as the winners (due to completing more puzzles and the mutual set all teams did faster) which was quite nice. There was also lots of food and drink (pizza, Indian, Chinese, beer, sodas, etc...) and a nice chance to chat with other teams and the organizers. I also got the extra 4 puzzles which no team had gotten to. We also agreed to accept the mantle of running The Game in Boston next year.

Highlights: My favorite three puzzles were the Wedding Ring puzzle, Crayons puzzle, Tile, all of which were excellent. The Arabic, Charlie Brown and Zip Codes puzzles were also good.

Lowlights: The Scrabble puzzle which I really thought was terrible. Also, for our team, our poor start on the musical Charlie Brown puzzle. which was probably a fine puzzle but we just didn't have the right skills.

I overall had a great time, as I think did the rest of Team Orange, and thanks so much to everyone at Game Control for an excellent hunt and I hope we are able to equal it next year. The one main thing I would like to add at this point is to not just go to really interesting locations around town as we did this year but also to do interesting things at those locations. They had apparently intended on a few of these (like the Dance Dance Revolution mentioned above) but ended up not doing any, unfortunately.

Posted by aarondf at 06:07 PM | Events | Comments (0)

The Game in Boston

I put together a team for The Game in Boston on Saturday and, to make a long story short, we amazingly ended up winning. This also means we will be running The Game in Boston next year which I was initially nervous about but am now looking forward to.

There were seven teams, each named after a color (we were Team Orange), competing. I didn't know most of the people but one team was a subset of an NPL/MIT Mystery Hunt team and I thought they would definitely beat us.

Anyway, I'll write a second entry with some details of the hunt. Thanks to Doug for keeping sane driving all around town with multiple people giving him directions and having to park illegally a bunch, Joe for excellent general solving, Nate for excellent phone work in keeping Game Control updated and in getting excellent hint information from them and then giving it to us in an complete, accurate and unbiased way, and Chau for all her support and making sure Doug didn't get into any accidents.

Posted by aarondf at 04:39 PM | Events | Comments (0)