Monday, October 15, 2007


There is a special special place in hell for refs who change their call when friends on one team whine at them. Bad calls happen, I get that, but for both the up and down ref to call a ball on the court but then reverse it and award the team a point because their friends don't like it? Lame.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What a Difference Spelling Makes

Linnsey and I often eat at Kapps Pizza on Castro Street. It's not the best pizza ever, and the service is variable, but it's close by and it's better than delivery. When we were there the other night, they had an additional "specials" menu added to their regular menu, which had steak and wine on it.

Kapps isn't exactly all too upscale, and it's pretty well known as a pizza joint, so the steak and wine seemed a bit out of place. Reading further, I was rather surprised to find that their chardonnay was "nicely pared with our steak". Linns and I decided that if the wine were frozen and you used the sharp t-bone from the steak, this would be possible, though not desirable. Needless to say we got a salad and a pizza.

Really, though, what can you expect from a restaurant started by a couple of Berkeley grads? =)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Law and Order: Scrabble Victims Unit

I know I haven't posted in a long time, but I guess it took an extra special amount of serendipity to get me to post today. I received the following phone call yesterday afternoon while waiting for a meeting:

Me: Hello?
Caller: Hello, I'm calling from the Pittsburgh area, is this the emergency number for Scrabble?
Me: Umm...
Caller: You know, like the board game. I found a couple of phone numbers on the internet listed as the emergency contacts for Scrabble, but it was odd because they're residential numbers. Do you know anything about this?
Me: Nope...
Caller: Yeah, neither did the other person. Thanks anyway, though.

This would have been funny enough as it is, but this morning I read Jan's blog, and found out that she received the exact same call. The answer to this mystery can be found in the following page that we gave out as the reference packet for the 2004 Section Leader Game, which just happened to have a board game theme. As best as I can figure, our mystery caller probably had a Scrabble rules dispute on her hands and went to the internets to solve it. She found our reference packet and had no idea what the SL Game is and thought that our emergency contact numbers were for the boardgames listed.

Bonus points to anyone who can find a set of reasonable Scrabble rules search terms that bring our reference into the top 10 results on Google...

Thursday, July 5, 2007


For once, I'm posting something not about puzzles or the game (I promise I'll do a Google Puzzle Hunt write-up soon...)! I used to play a lot of volleyball back in the day. I was on the high school team, and I played for a club team in the off season. I was never particularly good in comparison to many of my teammates, but I always enjoyed it.

Ever since then, I've tried playing volleyball with dorm IM teams, with friends on the weekend, etc, but it's just not the same. If you know how to play, you usually wind up as the setter. And don't get me wrong, I love setting, but only when there is someone there to hit the ball. I make it my goal to get one solid hit in every time I play, and more often than not, I fail in this goal. Any game where the optimal strategy is to just pass the ball back over rather than setup a real offense just doesn't cut it in my book. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm not having fun, but it's just not volleyball to me.

So on Monday, I finally got to play a solid game. Serendipitously, I had been mentioning to Peter that I really missed volleyball, and he told me that someone he knew was short a person for their league team. He forwarded along the email, and I wound up playing with them this past Monday. The team basically had two *amazing* setters who were about as desperate for someone to set to as I was for nice sets to hit. So it all worked out well. We only won one game, but we kept the other 3 pretty close. I probably got to hit more on Monday night than in all of the time since high school. Needless to say, I will be going back next week.

I was trying to explain to Linnsey how exhilarating it was to finally play on a team of good players, but she's not particularly big on team sports and didn't seem to really be getting it. So I tried the following explanation:

Me: So you know how sometimes we wind up doing a Shadow Labs pug and the tank can't hold aggro and then the hunter can't figure out how to trap and keeps unsheeping mobs and then we wipe over and over?
Linnsey: Yeah.
Me: That's what the last eight years of volleyball have been like for me.
Linnsey: Oh...

Saturday, June 30, 2007


This summer has had a lot of games crammed into a short time. Or maybe it just feels that way because we were so busy with NMS. Anyway, coed astronomy recently played in BATH3 on June 9-10 and the Google Puzzle Hunt on June 23-24. Here the write-up for BATH3.

BATH3 (Picasa Album)

BATH3 was a Pirate themed all-weekend game (yes, everyone said "Yarrrrrr"... a lot...). There were several major differences between BATH3 and other weekend games, however. First, the majority of the puzzles were written by other teams, rather than by GC. Secondly, we were asked to bring tents and sleeping bags, and we actually camped over night, rather than solving clues non-stop. And lastly, there was this weird point based side-economy for bartering for hints and help.

The Clues

Each team playing had the opportunity to write a clue. The benefits of this were that during the application process, you had priority over teams who didn't write a clue, and then during the game, you basically got to skip a clue for free. It was an interesting idea, though not one that coed astronomy would ever be likely to consider. It's all of the painful stuff (logistics and site scouting) with non of the fun stuff (clue writing)!

I'm curious to know how this worked from a GC perspective, since it meant less work, but I'm sure it was also much more difficult to ensure quality control on the clues. There was also an incentive for teams to make their clue as difficult/time consuming as GC would allow, and I'd be curious if GC had to deal with this issue at all.

I think my general reaction to the clues was mixed. There were some really awesome ones in there (Lowkey's crates clue was awesome, and puzzles by Ian never disappoint), but there were also some not-so-great or at least could-have-been-much-better puzzles. For example, I'm usually a fan of origami puzzles, but there's nothing like spending a ton of time trying to get the parrot to fold right, only to find out that you didn't need to have folded him at all. Also, the battleship/nautical flags clue (is that a French pinnace in your pants or are you just happy to see me?) was such a good idea, but it was so hard for more than 2 people to work on it at once.

There was one clue that we got skipped over, and while we were pissed at the time, I think it was probably good in the long run that we got skipped. From NMS, my elements clue may have been "[h]ands down, the worst puzzle in the event", but at least it didn't get peed on by not one, but two pirates! I would imagine that Stanford would be a little miffed by gamers peeing in the hallways of Terman.

Along with the regular puzzles, there were a set of mini puzzles. Since we weren't driving or navigating, Jan and I monopolized most of these early on. They were a nice diversion when we were stuck on the actual clues, or when we were doing something that not all of us could work on. Because they were a lot of fun, it was rather unfortunate that they really didn't matter much at all until the meta puzzle, which I think most teams didn't get to do.

The Camping

So, unlike the members of my team who are frightened of earwigs or don't like the outdoors or whatever, I was actually very excited at the prospect of camping. I haven't gone camping in a long long time, and this game was an excellent excuse, and I thought this was the coolest "innovation" that BATH3 brought to the game. This also meant I was tasked with solving the "tent" clue. Really, it's only like 5 steps to assemble the tent, but when Yar pulled out one of the poles and said "ok, so we put this down on the ground like the foundation, right?", I decided it might be best if I took the lead.

GC provided burgers and hotdogs, as well as soda and chips at the camp site. Given the $100/person entry fee and the likely low budget of most of the clues, we were hoping for something a little better. Having just run our game a few weeks prior, we were very familiar with the costs of various game expenses, and so I think we were a little more critical of things like this than we would have been otherwise.

After dinner, we hit up the mini-carnival for our various dubloons. After looking over the trading game and realizing that it was conceptually mostly the same as my BANG12 trading game (start with a random hand and a limited amount of information, trade with teams for rules or cards, various combinations of cards are worth points), Yar and I immediately sold our whole hand to Ian's team for skulls. This is not to say that my BANG12 game was in any way original, but more that I thought it was such an awesome idea at the time, but hated it afterwards and don't plan on doing anything similar in the future. Trading games are so cool in theory--optimization, limited information, interaction with other teams--but in practice, I simply don't like them.

On the plus side, though we kicked ass on all of the other carnival dubloons. I solidly bested Captain Bloodbath at liar's dice (the Captain really needs to learn to bluff better!), Jan turned in her pirate panda (sword, treasure map, eye patch, and all!), Justin did something involving a canon, and Yar and I wrote a limerick which I will attempt to reproduce here from memory:
Captain Bloodbath was a terrible menace,
He sailed the high seas on his pinnace,
But when he went ashore,
To consort with a whore,
She said "my that's an awful small....... nose"

The actual camping was what you might expect--everyone was smelly, the tent was a little cozy, there was some sort of pinecone under the tent right in the middle of my back, etc. At least there were warm showers in the morning. I thought it was fun enough that I'm trying to organize a coed astronomy camping trip, at least.

The Skull Economy

At the beginning of the game, we were given some number of skulls (50?), each of which were worth a single point. For comparison, a clue was worth 100 points if solved without hints. We were told we could trade the skulls to other teams for any form of assistance. Because the hint system was very restrictive, this generated an entire economy out of the skulls. GC had a bare-bones (har!) staff, and so all of the hints were given to us at the beginning on pages with that silver scratch-off stuff.

As with most pre-made, non-timed hint systems, if you were stuck on the very last step of the clue, you had to take all of the hints telling you everything you did over the past 2 hours just to get the hint that you need. And in the process, you would lose something like 55 points. So instead, teams would purchase hints from each other for 5-10 skulls. It caused unprecedented amounts of inter-team cooperation, to the point that the 3 lead teams solved the popsicle clue together.

While it was an odd diversion, I'm not entirely sure how I felt about the skull economy. It was interesting to see Darcy going car to car pimping out hints, and it did cause more non-contrived inter-team interaction than I've seen previously. However, when it comes down to it, I would have liked to have had a better hint system instead, I guess.

The Route

Oddly enough, we soon discovered while playing BATH3 that they had a very similar route as ours during NMS, for the first day, at least. Coming only 3 weeks after, it's not as if they had any time to change anything after playing our game. Humorously enough, I think we were actually quite happy with their route. Unlike the teams that had played in NMS, I was the only one on our team who had actually seen all of our Santa Cruz sites, and we actually kept hoping they would send us to more of the same sites. Sadly most of coed astronomy still has never seen Blue Ball Park!


All in all, BATH3 was, as most games are, a great way to spend the weekend. We came in 5th or 6th, depending on whether you saw the stats on the day of or what they posted on their website. We're not sure, but we think the difference may be some shenanigans involving the beach boardwalk clue that we were suppossed to have been given credit for. Maybe somewhere on one of Rich's spreadsheets, we have a little asterisk next to our placing, indicating that under more correct scoring systems, we actually did much better. =)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Clues Postmortem

Sorry for the lag between my last postmortem post and now--I was taking time to get re-acquainted with *my life*.

Today I'll be talking about my favorite part of the game, the clues. We've talked about it a lot, and while good plotting and good sites are certainly appreciated, what coed astronomy tends to remember most about games and judge them upon is clues. So, when making a game of our own, our focus from the very beginning was on puzzles.

Answer Words

The use of palms, phones, magic wands, and word to location mappings a la BANG has really changed the nature of clues that can be used in games. In particular, there's a wider variety of encodings possible when the answer can be more arbitrary--things like encodings that require all answer letters to begin with a dash in morse or encodings where the answer has to have certain substrings.

But, even more importantly for NMS, it allows the clues to be completely divorced from the route. We *really* like writing clues. Scouting sites and planning a route... not so much. In fact, I would be willing to bet we had at least 15 clues written and playtested before we even began to talk about a route. On top of that, if clues came out poorly on the playtest because they were in the middle of the night, as long as they didn't have heavy site or plotting requirements, it wasn't too hard to swap them with other clues before the real game.

I realize that some teams don't like the weird disconnect between solving to an arbitrary word and having to do some sort of lookup to figure out where to go next. I also realize that our game made it even worse with first a phone entry followed by a laptop lookup. But for us, the clues are so much more important that we made an easy decision early on and never looked back.

Clue Types

We tried very hard to have a wide range of clue types represented in NMS. All teams have their likes and dislikes (we like word puzzles and hate data collection), and to create only a few types of clues would be to create a game that lacked broad appeal. We realized that this would be a problem pretty early on, when Jan, Yar, and myself compared notes and noticed we were all working on at least one word puzzle and had others in mind.

After that, we made a concerted effort to broaden the types of clues we made. Our big fear was that most of our clues would be paper clues, and teams would complain that they could have done all of our puzzles from the comfort of their own living rooms.

In several cases, we simply took clues that could have been done on paper and tried to translate them to a different format. For me, both Blinkenlights and Bugged (the No Morse Egrets) clue started out on paper and made the transition away from paper at various stages of their development.

As it turns out, we wound up being surprised with the number of non-paper clues we were able to put on our route. And doing the field offices means we had somewhere to put all of the extra paper clues we wrote. We hoped it wouldn't be too much of a letdown to get *another paper clue* at a field office, given that they were bonus clues meant for teams in the lead.


Playtesting is actually surprisingly hard to do, but it's something we got a lot of practice with while making our game. In particular, the difficulty lies in picking the optimal number of people to show the clue to. If you show it to a large group, you get great feedback, but you limit the number of playtest runs you can do because you quickly run out of people.

Given the number of core GC members and the number of people we could pull into helping us playtest, we found the optimal number of people to playtest a clue at once was often 2-3. Having a single person test is usually pretty rough, especially if the clue requires an "aha! moment". For any clue we were unsure on or thought might need a number of revisions, the creator would usually run it past their roommate/significant other with copious hints and then some subset of GC to test it on. This would hopefully save a couple of people for additional feedback or to test a revision on. Obviously some clues, particularly those where it's obvious what to do but takes some time to do it are better tested in larger groups.

We also had a sit-down playtest and a full route playtest, as well as roping in a few friends to test a final version of a couple clues. Thus, any clue that really needed it probably could have gotten 6 tests/revisions if need be. Of course, the clue that really needed it, the elements data collection clue, didn't get such treatment. Unfortunately, the clue went through multiple major revisions, and we simply weren't able to get enough testing. Eh, you win some, you lose some, I guess.

The one thing playtesting really didn't get us was accurate times for clues. When we were playtesting on ourselves, we didn't have a full 6. And as we found out, even the full route playtest didn't get us accurate times. For example, all of our playtest teams took a good hour longer on the Cellular Automata clue than the average team during the real game.

Route Clues vs. Bonus Clues

Going with the whole bonus site thing means we had a lot of clues to write, which was great. It also meant that we got to select the best clues to be on the route, which probably made the game a better experience for most teams, even if it meant that the top teams had to slog through some tedious puzzles.

Our decision process for whether to put a clue on the route or in the bonus queue was as follows:

  • If it's way cool, it goes on the route
  • If it's non paper or could be made into something non-paper, it goes on the route
  • If it requires the internet (the countries clue), knowledge the average gamer may not have (cryptics), or if it's a long grind (wordsearch), it goes into bonus land
  • For everything else, high spread clues go in the bonus queue, and low spread clues go on route

So that's more or less what we did in the way of clues for our game. This post has seriously been at least 2 weeks in the making, and while I was really excited to finally be able to talk about all of the stuff we did for our game, the effect has kinda worn off by now. I loved running the game, but it was a lot of work, and it's nice to not have to come home with it hanging over my head. So, I think this may have inadvertently become the last post in my NMS postmortem, at least until I can look back on it with more nostalgia and less *oh my god I'm so glad it's finally over*.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

New Camera

So my old camera, an Olympus Ultra Zoom is busted. There seems to be some sort of short in the power supply, but regardless of how simple the issue may be to fix, it's a $175 flat rate to repair, plus shipping. It's a nice camera, and it's decently new (though not new enough to be under warranty), but at that price, it's simply not worth fixing.

I wanted to be able to take pictures last weekend when we ran the game, since I was going to be at the start site and the end party, and Linnsey was going to be staffing a number of clue sites.
I've also been meaning to learn how to take much nicer pictures. So I caved and bought a Canon Digital Rebel XT, which was recommended to me by several friends, as well as half the goddamn internet. It's a digital SLR, 8 megapixels, 7 point auto focus, a few thingymajigs, some whosamawhatsits, and I think, if I can navigate the menus right, that it will make me some toast as well.

I have no clue how to work this thing! But you can see my pictures anyway! Here's my picasa gallery!

Terrarium Fun

Many of you may remember a goal I set in a previous post: "after May 19th, I plan to ... tak[e] on any side projects for a minimum of 2 months." Well, I am happy to report that I have kicked off the voracious pet project undertaking by building a terrarium out of my leaky 20 gallon tank. I have posted some pictures in a picasa album. For those of you familiar with the layout of our apartment, the terrarium has replaced our TV, which we no longer need now that I have a nice projector.

For anyone interested, some good instructions for building terrariums can be found here. The plants in my terrarium are:

  • Maidenhair Fern (back left)
  • Big leafy plant whose name escapes me and whose plant tag thingy I can't seem to find (back middle)
  • Pink Polka Dot Plant (back right)
  • African Violet (front left)
  • Button Fern (front middle)
  • Blue Star Creeper (ground cover)
I selected the plants both for looks and because they should all do reasonably well in slightly moist, medium light conditions. I also put in a frog decoration and a couple pieces of deadwood I picked up at the local fish store. Since it used to be my fish tank, I have a hood that fits and a nice bulb that mimics solar light. Add water, close the top, put the light on a timer, and it should go for months without maintenance!

On a somewhat related note, I've already started porting my comics script to python, I'm researching names for when I open source my puzzle solving scripts (Pyzzle is already taken), and Linnsey and I are discussing where and when we want to have our wedding. Yay for staying busy!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Server Postmortem (plus graphs)

Upon solving a clue, teams would call in the answer to an automated server, which would tell them where to go next, assuming they were correct. During the course of the game, the server received almost 2000 calls from 66 different phones. Here are some graphs of interesting data:

The phone load graph is particularly interesting, as you can see when the phone server blew up on the first clue, as well as when teams started to hit the Virus clue or when they left a bonus site.

Note: I am a complete gnuplot n00b, and so if you have suggestions as to how to make the graphs look better or suggestions on other data that might be interesting to graph, drop me an email at

The System

Well in advance of the game, we purchased VoIP service from VoicePulse Connect. They have a deal that's really nice for planning a game, in that the first 4 channels are only $11/month. This allowed us to work on and test the server for a period of 4-5 months for very little money at all. Then, a week in advance of the game, we upgraded to 8 channels, just in case we got a lot of teams on the Virus clue at the same time.

On our end, I ran a Linux box with Ubuntu, Asterisk, Apache and MySQL. When someone called in, a python script triggered by asterisk looked up their phone number in the mysql database, associating it with their team, as well as the clues they were currently on. All guesses and advancements were logged through the database.

Upon solving a clue, the server would lookup the next site on the route that was neither closed nor marked compromised and move the team there. At two points in our game, we had branches where teams followed different routes to reduce the load on certain sites. The server was able to dynamically route teams based upon how many teams it had sent down which route.

Since we were able to log everything in a central place, unlike a palm based system, GC could tell where all teams were headed at any given time. We were also able to change the route at a moment's notice if necessary. This allowed us to have backup sites in case of rain and to mark sites as compromised if something went wrong. Corey (of The Burninators) had told me how useful this would be, and I don't think it was until we were actually running the game that I realized it.

On the GC end of things, we had a set of mod python psp scripts running on my apache server. This let us lookup the location of teams and add notes every time they called. We also had a giant leaderboard, which for a giant table of very slowly changing numbers, was amazingly interesting to watch.

What Worked
  • As I said before, the server answered almost 2000 calls. That is 2000 calls that GC did not have to manually answer and gave GC a surprising amount of down time.
  • Both Twisters Gym and the Bank Heist were restricted in terms of the number of people we could have on the clue at a given time. In this case, we split teams across 3 and 2 sites respectively. Handling this sort of routing would have been very difficult manually, but it happened seamlessly through the server.
  • At several points, we had to have backup sites in case it rained or in case we couldn't use a building at Stanford. We actually had to use the backup site, and we had to change site closing times in a few other cases. Each of these actions was pretty easy to do over a web interface.
  • As with most recent games, having an automated system allowed us to use arbitrary words as answers, making it easier to use various encodings, and making clue writing mostly independent of route.
  • Because the leaderboard was a website, it was accessible over the internet and all GC members out in the field with an internet enabled cellphone could see where all of the teams were and how long they'd been there.
What Didn't
  • The server on the first clue. The last 5 teams to leave Plaza Del Sol had to be manually routed because a hoard of rabid squirrels attacked my server. I've poured over the logs generated by asterisk, my python scripts, and mysql, and for the life of me, I can't figure out what happened. Somehow, a runaway mysql process began eating 100% CPU, and for lack of a quicker fix, I had to restart the whole server. After that, it worked fine--go figure. Then I had the fun task of cleaning the bad data that got entered and manually fixing things to route the teams on the server where we had told them to go over the phone.
  • The server basically tied me to my apartment. We had generally planned to have me around GC for most of the game, but after that first snafu, it became clear that I really couldn't leave. Despite being a team of too many coders, I was the only one familiar enough with my code to fix it if it broke. If we had it to do over again, I'd have more actively tried to distribute the server knowledge.
  • There's nothing like 20 teams running through the game to test the code. Obviously, I should have written more tests, but I write code all day, and as much as I love coding, I don't always get home itching to do more of it. Other than the big crash, Here Be Dragons was incorrectly skipped over charades. Fortunately, the leaderboard acts as a manual double-check. I actually got calls from 2 GC members out in the field before I was able to fix this. All I have to say for myself is that 3-value logic is a scourge that should be cleansed from the land.

We really liked the server. It was a lot of work before hand to put it together, but it really paid off on the day of by allowing us to do creative re-routing on the spot and by taking some phone load off of GC. It had it's bugs, but none of them were fatal. I'd highly recommend a centralized server system to other new teams who have a coder or two on their team. It takes a good amount of uncertainty and guess-work out of the route.

No More Secrets Postmortem

Links to postmortem writeups:

  1. Server
UPDATE: Jan has also written a postmortem of our game on her blog. It can be found here.

As you may know, coed astronomy ran a Sneakers themed game this past weekend, titled No More Secrets. Some things went right, some things went wrong, and I'm going to slowly write up a postmortem for posterity and so that I can finally tell friends what I've been doing with the past year of my life instead of hanging out with them.

This is the first major game that coed astronomy has planned (as a team we have done 2 smaller games, and as individuals we have planned or run various other things in the past), and so before I begin to forget the details, I'd like to write out my thoughts on the process we went through. Hopefully what I write here will be useful to any other new teams who are considering running a game. I make no warranties that what worked for us will work for you or even that my opinions are shared by the rest of coed astronomy.

Over the next several posts, I'll take several different aspects of our game and try to go into detail about them and where they worked and where they failed. Since I have a somewhat personal interest in it, and since I can't presume to know how other people felt, I'll try not to comment on how I thought the game went for the players and instead stick to how it went for GC. So without further ado...

Sunday, May 20, 2007


The game that I spent the last year of my life helping to put together is finally over. I think it went well, but now I have to sleep for the next million or so years. More info later.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lloyd Alexader: Gone, but not Forgotten

This past week, another icon of my childhood passed away. Lloyd Alexander holds a singularly special place in my childhood memories, tucked in between C.S. Lewis, whom I read before I could quite understand what was going on, and J.R.R. Tolkien, whom I read long after the fantasy genre had lost its magic over me. By the fourth grade, I had already read the entire Chronicles of Prydain series more times than I've ever read any other book in my life.

Though they lack the intricacies and popularity of Harry Potter, through their simplicity and timelessness, they allow the reader to grow with the characters, rather than forcing the reader to grow up just to read all 800-some-odd pages of the next book. Despite winning a Newbery Medal, among other awards, The Chronicles of Prydain really is the best children's series you've probably never heard of.

Lloyd, your books have inspired the hearts and minds of young assistant pig keepers everywhere to do great things. You will be missed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Champagne of Puzzles

Sorry for the lack of new posts. I'm super busy working on game stuff, as you might imagine. Just 4 more days!!

Anyway, for those of you who haven't seen it, it's The Champagne of Puzzles, brought to you by The Champagne of Teams.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Obama on Open Presidential Debates

Regardless of your political views, I don't think it's possible to make a rational argument that this won't improve the public discourse in this country. That political parties and TV networks could potentially use copyright claims to stifle political commentary is pretty ridiculous. Who knows, being legally able to post this stuff to YouTube might even get my generation to actually vote for a change!

Obama didn't exactly come up with this idea himself, but I think it's a bold step to be the first major presidential candidate to come out in support of it. It's nice to see a politician understand copyright and technology for a change.

More info on Prof. Lessig's Blog.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Our 20 gallon fish tank sprung a leak! =( So that's what I got to spend my Sunday afternoon dealing with. I had to drain the whole tank and catch all the fish so that I could swap the whole thing out for a new one.

It wasn't all bad though--we got rid of a bunch of plants that had gotten overgrown, as well as the dingy looking black gravel. I rearranged the tank to show off the piece of driftwood I got a while back for our pleco. The java ferns have finally gotten well attached to the driftwood, so it looks kinda neat. The gravel is also replaced with much more natural looking pebbles. Even kitty thinks the tank is improved now that the fish have fewer places to hide. I'll post pics as soon as I get my camera fixed.

Any ideas for what to do with the old tank? I'm such a pack-rat that I feel bad just throwing it away. We already have 3 fish tanks (plus a quarantine tank), so even if we could fix it, I'm putting my foot down against filling it with water. Current ideas involve a terrarium, maybe with cacti or lizards or something. Now that we have a projector, we can get rid of our tv and put it there.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Van Eck

When we win the lottery (twice) and run our obligatory game in Monaco, this will be required to solve a clue. That is all.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


It's kinda sad, but sleeping after a game is just about as rewarding as the game itself some days. I'd been going on ~4 hours of sleep per night for the past week or two preparing for our playtest. And between 8am Saturday and 5:30pm Sunday, I got no more than 15 minutes of sleep at a time while running the playtest.

It turns out, it's just not like it was in college. I can't chug soda and listen to loud techno in lieu of sleep anymore. Caffeine has really started making me feel jittery and hyper in ways that it didn't used to. Maybe I'm becoming an old man. I don't drink soda because it's unhealthy and makes me fat, I don't listen to loud music because I worry that I'll wreck my ear drums, and when I'm not dealing with a game, I actually try to get enough sleep on a regular basis.

The playtest really paid off, though. I got 16 hours of sleep Sunday night, and because we had such a big push to get ready for the playtest, I'm able to sleep normal hours again. Sorry I can't say much more about it, but I don't want to spoil anything for the teams who are going to play in May.

Just watch out for the cyborg dragons.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Allergies or Pot?

That was the question posed to me today by a coworker upon seeing my bloodshot eyes. I didn't have the heart to say, "Well, you see, I'm planning this big puzzle hunt, and I stay up late working on clues and writing puzzles and programming and... this one time... at band camp..."

I'm such a dork. I've tried to explain The Game to coworkers and non-puzzley friends, and they're generally supportive, but when it comes down to it, I really don't think they understand how I can possibly pour so much of my life into this. When they ask what I do with my weekends, I have to tell them things like, "Well I drove around all Sunday looking for places to put clues."

I've done some back of the envelope calculations, regarding our game and our level of commitment to it. We have 20 teams with roughly 6 people per team, and we're charging $75 per person for this game to offset the cost of materials for building and printing clues, renting out space, running a playtest, doing secret stuff that we can't talk about or it would ruin the surprise, etc.

If this were all some sort of elaborate con where we took the money and didn't run a game, it would be the worst con ever, because by my estimates, we'd be getting paid less than minimum wage ($7.50 in CA) for all of the time we've put in! If you're bored, assume there are 5-6 of us putting in the majority of the hours on this, and see how many hours we would have had to put in for this statement to hold... it's enlightening because I really think we have put in that much time.

This is really a labor of love (or insanity) on our parts, but now you know why I'm awake to post this at 4 in the morning. Now if you'll excuse me, this clue isn't going to build itself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Rock

As tempting as it was, I did not get Linnsey The Rock. Instead, we went online looking for a good engagement ring. She wasn't all that into diamonds and wound up choosing a ring made with lab created alexandrite. I had never heard of alexandrite before, but when the ring came, I looked at it, and it was duller than it had appeared on the website. I hesitantly gave it to Linnsey, but when she put it on, it was a nice deep purple.

Turns out alexandrite changes color based upon the lighting. Indoors, it's purplish, but with even the fading evening sunlight, it's a bright green. This caused a fun game of move-Linnsey's-hand-all-around-the-house. "Ok, now put it by the window. Ok, now a fluorescent light. Ok, now incandescent. Ok, now in front of the computer monitor." It's like I got her some sort of classy mood ring for our engagement!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

No More Secrets, No More Projects, No More Flakiness

So as you might guess, I've been rather busy working on No More Secrets. Running a game is not the sort of undertaking one should get into idly, but then again, I'm the same guy who decided to co-teach a course at Stanford with all that "free time" I had. Unfortunately, all this busyness means I've been a total flake--I don't return emails and phone calls, I stop playing WoW, I don't go rock climbing, I basically just drop off the radar.

That's why, after May 19th, I plan to abstain from taking on any side projects for a minimum of 2 months. That means no planning of any sort of puzzle hunt or game. That means no hacking on my webcomic script. No joining an open source project. No open sourcing my puzzle solving python utilities. No working on my pet programming language. No 20% project at work. No nothing but video games, movies, rock climbing, and board games.

Well, that and planning the wedding... So I guess I can't escape side projects after all. =)

Monday, April 2, 2007

Why I Love Google

I don't really plan to post much about work here, but I should add the following disclaimer anyway: this post (and everything else on my blog) is representative of my own personal opinions, not those of my employer.

It's well known that Google gives us free food, and that it's pretty darned good. So for April Fool's day, someone snuck in and installed a full vending machine in one of the micro kitchens. Some of us even put in money to make sure it worked. I don't think I've ever had a need for money at work before--such a novelty! Sadly, I have no pictures but will point to some if I find them.

Also, randomly, there was an awesome mechanical puzzle just sitting there in the lobby. Sort of like the pool ball machine at the San Jose Tech Museum, but on a much smaller scale. There were knobs on the side that let you control the route of the balls, and you had time some of them just right to solve the puzzle and get the balls to end in a certain place. Found some pictures here, but they don't really do it justice. Really, though, this is the sort of thing that would make for an awesomely memorable clue if there were a way to work it into a game!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Simplexity Theory

Short post today, but this has got to be one of the best papers I've read in a long time. I guess you have to be a CS dork to find it funny. Sort of like this, I guess.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

22,000 Days

Waiting on a compile job at work today I started idly calculating how many months/days/hours/seconds old I was, in hopes of finding a metric for my age that was close to a power of 2. I've gotta wait almost 7 more years before I'm 100000 years old (that's 32 written in binary for you non-cs-geeks), but I figured maybe I'd be able to celebrate my 2^n day/hour/second birthday sooner for some value of n. Super dorky and narcissistic, I know, but what computer scientist doesn't love large powers of two.

Well, it turns out that I'm a little over 9000 days old, so I missed my 2^13 day birthday by a few years, but it got me thinking. I happened to be listening to the Moody Blues at the time, and I finally got what the song 22,000 Days was about. 22,000 days is around 60 years, and minus the 18 years to grow up/go to school/whatever, 22,000 days is "not a lot, it's all you've got" if you're lucky.

So, what are you going to do with your 22,000 days? I guess now I have some idea (see post below).

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Said Yes!!! =)

Ok, so it doesn't have the same ring to it as "she said yes", but it doesn't make me any less crazy happy about it! We've been telling friends and family, and everyone is some combination of really happy for us and totally tripping out. Best comment so far is: "Well it's about time someone around here got married!" Anyway, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to *totally freaking out*. =) =)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

No More Secrets

So coed astronomy is putting on a game May 19-20 called No More Secrets. App deadline is this Saturday, and the apps have started to trickle in. They're looking pretty awesome, and I'm stoked that we're going to have some really cool teams playing. We have spent and are continuing to spend tons of time on this game, and I hope it won't disappoint! =)

First Post

Well, I figured it would probably be completely un-hip to go this long without a real presence on teh intarweb and all of it's new fangled tubes. Plus, with no more website at Stanford, a Google search for Dale Neal brings up everyone but me, and I aim to fix that.

As for what I actually intend to post to this blog, that's a little less clear. In all likelihood, I'm probably mostly going to use this as a way to keep in touch with friends and family. Boring and unoriginal, I know, but at least you know I won't be posting lame poetry and talking about how emo I am.