So while Scrabblers still fancy bingos, they increasingly hold off on other high-scoring moves, such as six-letter words, or seven-letter terms that only use six tiles from the rack. Instead, by spelling four- or five-letter words, a player can keep their most useful tiles -- like E-D or I-N-G -- for the next round, a strategy called rack management. The Nigerians rehearse it during dayslong scrimmage sessions.
Also, thanks to a design quirk, the board is oddly generous to short words. Most of the bonus squares are just four or five letters apart.
"The geometry of the Scrabble board rewards five-letter words," said Mr. Mackay, who lost to Mr. Jighere in the world championship final, during which the Nigerian nabbed a triple word score with the antiquated adjective KATTI, meaning "spiteful." "It's a smart tactic."
Using behind-the-scenes footage shot over the past decade, Magnus is a feature-length documentary about reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen.
From a young age Magnus Carlsen had aspirations of becoming a champion chess player. While many players seek out an intensely rigid environment to hone their skills, Magnus' brilliance shines brightest when surrounded by his loving and supportive family. Through an extensive amount of archival footage and home movies, director Benjamin Ree reveals this young man's unusual and rapid trajectory to the pinnacle of the chess world. This film allows the audience to not only peek inside this isolated community but also witness the maturation of a modern genius.
I have been following with fascination the match between Google's Go-playing AI AlphaGo and top-tier player Lee Sedol and with even more fascination the human reaction to AlphaGo's success. Many humans seem unnerved not only by AlphaGo's early lead in the best-of-five match but especially by how the machine is playing in those games.
Then, with its 19th move, AlphaGo made an even more surprising and forceful play, dropping a black piece into some empty space on the right-hand side of the board. Lee Sedol seemed just as surprised as anyone else. He promptly left the match table, taking an (allowed) break as his game clock continued to run. "It's a creative move," Redmond said of AlphaGo's sudden change in tack. "It's something that I don't think I've seen in a top player's game."
When Lee Sedol returned to the match table, he took an usually long time to respond, his game clock running down to an hour and 19 minutes, a full twenty minutes less than the time left on AlphaGo's clock. "He's having trouble dealing with a move he has never seen before," Redmond said. But he also suspected that the Korean grandmaster was feeling a certain "pleasure" after the machine's big move. "It's something new and unique he has to think about," Redmond explained. "This is a reason people become pros."
"A creative move." Let's think about that...a machine that is thinking creatively. Whaaaaaa... In fact, AlphaGo's first strong human opponent, Fan Hui, has credited the machine for making him a better player, a more beautiful player:
As he played match after match with AlphaGo over the past five months, he watched the machine improve. But he also watched himself improve. The experience has, quite literally, changed the way he views the game. When he first played the Google machine, he was ranked 633rd in the world. Now, he is up into the 300s. In the months since October, AlphaGo has taught him, a human, to be a better player. He sees things he didn't see before. And that makes him happy. "So beautiful," he says. "So beautiful."
Creative. Beautiful. Machine? What is going on here? Not even the creators of the machine know:
"Although we have programmed this machine to play, we have no idea what moves it will come up with," Graepel said. "Its moves are an emergent phenomenon from the training. We just create the data sets and the training algorithms. But the moves it then comes up with are out of our hands -- and much better than we, as Go players, could come up with."
Generally speaking,1 until recently machines were predictable and more or less easily understood. That's central to the definition of a machine, you might say. You build them to do X, Y, & Z and that's what they do. A car built to do 0-60 in 4.2 seconds isn't suddenly going to do it in 3.6 seconds under the same conditions.
Now machines are starting to be built to think for themselves, creatively and unpredictably. Some emergent, non-linear shit is going on. And humans are having a hard time figuring out not only what the machine is up to but how it's even thinking about it, which strikes me as a relatively new development in our relationship. It is not all that hard to imagine, in time, an even smarter AlphaGo that can do more things -- paint a picture, write a poem, prove a difficult mathematical conjecture, negotiate peace -- and do those things creatively and better than people.
Update: AlphaGo beat Lee in the third game of the match, in perhaps the most dominant fashion yet. The human disquiet persists...this time, it's David Ormerod:
Move after move was exchanged and it became apparent that Lee wasn't gaining enough profit from his attack.
By move 32, it was unclear who was attacking whom, and by 48 Lee was desperately fending off White's powerful counter-attack.
I can only speak for myself here, but as I watched the game unfold and the realization of what was happening dawned on me, I felt physically unwell.
Generally I avoid this sort of personal commentary, but this game was just so disquieting. I say this as someone who is quite interested in AI and who has been looking forward to the match since it was announced.
One of the game's greatest virtuosos of the middle game had just been upstaged in black and white clarity.
AlphaGo's strength was simply remarkable and it was hard not to feel Lee's pain.
Let's get the caveats out of the way here. Machines and their outputs aren't completely deterministic. Also, with AlphaGo, we are talking about a machine with a very limited capacity. It just plays one game. It can't make a better omelette than Jacques Pepin or flow like Nicki. But not only beating a top human player while showing creativity in a game like Go, which was considered to be uncrackable not that long ago, seems rather remarkable.↩
There are two types of Parker's puzzle duplications that the database has laid bare: what I'm calling the "shady" and the "shoddy." The shady are puzzles that appeared in Universal or USA Today with themes and theme answers identical to puzzles published earlier and in separate, unrelated publications, most often The New York Times and occasionally the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. In every such case I saw - roughly 100 cases - the theme answers were in identical locations within the grid, and in many cases, the later puzzle also replicated the earlier puzzle's grid and some of its clues.
Players in the top ranks of the world's professional bridge organizations have been caught cheating and the evidence is on YouTube.
On deals in which Fisher and Schwartz ended up as declarer and dummy, they cleared away the tray and the board in the usual manner. But when they were defending-meaning that one of them would make the opening lead-they were wildly inconsistent. Sometimes Fisher would remove the tray, and sometimes Schwartz would, and sometimes they would leave it on the table. Furthermore, they placed the duplicate board in a number of different positions -- each of which, it turns out, conveyed a particular meaning. "If Lotan wanted a spade lead, he put the board in the middle and pushed it all the way to the other side," Weinstein said. If he wanted a heart, he put it to the right. Diamond, over here. Club, here. No preference, here."
Here's a video showing what Fisher and Schwartz were doing:
Once you see it, it's obvious they're cheating.
What an odd seeming game when played at the professional level, BTW. Players seated so they can't see their teammates. Information is passed through bidding, but only through signals that everyone is aware of. And some available information you can use and some you can't:
Expert poker players often take advantage of a skill they call table feel: an ability to read the facial expressions and other unconscious "tells" exhibited by their opponents. Bridge players rely on table feel, too, but in bridge not all tells can be exploited legally by all players. If one of my opponents hesitates during the bidding or the play, I'm allowed to draw conclusions from the hesitation -- but if my partner hesitates I'm not. What's more, if I seem to have taken advantage of information that I wasn't authorized to know, my opponents can summon the tournament director and seek an adjusted result for the hand we just played. Principled players do their best to ignore their partner and play at a consistent tempo, in order to avoid exchanging unauthorized information -- and, if they do end up noticing something they shouldn't have noticed, they go out of their way not to exploit it.
As the story goes on to say, there are technological fixes that would curtail the cheating, but would get rid of the actual cards in a card game. Why not get rid of the humans as well and just run games as computer simulations? Again, odd game. (via @pomeranian99)
If you're forced into playing Monopoly by friends, you can employ this simple strategy to ensure they will never ever ask you to play again.
With a second monopoly completed, your next task is to improve those properties to three houses each, then all of your properties to four houses each. Six properties with three houses will give you more than half of the houses in the game, and four houses each will give you 75% of the total supply. This will make it nearly impossible for your opponents to improve their own property in a meaningful way. Keep the rulebook nearby once the supply gets low, as you will undoubtedly be questioned on it. At this point, you will be asked repeatedly to build some friggin' hotels already so that other people can build houses. Don't.
At this point, you more or less have the game sewn up. If losing a normal game of monopoly is frustrating, losing to this strategy is excruciating, as a losing opponent essentially has no path to victory, even with lucky rolls. Your goal is to play conservatively, lock up more resources, and let the other players lose by attrition. If you want to see these people again, I recommend not gloating, but simply state that you're playing to win, and that it wasn't your idea to play Monopoly in the first place.
It is difficult to read this without thinking about income inequality in the real world.
So, this is a time travel movie with Keanu Reeves (narrator) and Alex Winter (director), but it's not Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Part 3? No, of course not. It's actually a video about quantum chess featuring Paul Rudd, Stephen Hawking, and music from The Matrix. Like, WHAT?! If The Chickening hadn't dropped earlier, this would be the oddest thing you'll watch this week. (And it's not quite clear, but the video appears to be an advertisement for a quantum chess game that's launching on Kickstarter next week. Nothing about this makes any sense...) (via @gavinpurcell)
I love this piece from NPR about how poker player Annie Duke uses her male opponents' stereotypical views of women against them.
I figured it was part of the game that if somebody was at the table who was so emotionally invested in the fact that I was a woman, that they could treat me that way, that probably, that person wasn't going to make good decisions at the table against me. So I really tried to sort of separate that out and think about it from a strategic place of, how can I come up with the best strategy to take their money because I guess, in the end, isn't that the best revenge?
She noticed there were three types of chauvinist players and approached each with a different strategy.
VEDANTAM: She says she divided the men who had stereotypes about her into three categories.
DUKE: One was the flirting chauvinists, and that person was really viewing me in a way that was sexual.
VEDANTAM: With the guys who were like that, Annie could make nice.
DUKE: I never did go out on a date with any of them, but you know, it was kind of flirtatious at the table. And I could use that to my advantage.
VEDANTAM: And then there was the disrespecting chauvinist. Annie says these players thought women weren't creative.
DUKE: There are strategies that you can use against them. Mainly, you can bluff those people a lot.
VEDANTAM: And then there's a third kind of guy, perhaps the most reckless.
DUKE: The angry chauvinist.
VEDANTAM: This is a guy who would do anything to avoid being beaten by a woman. Annie says you can't bluff an angry chauvinist. You just have to wait.
DUKE: What I say is, until they would impale themselves on your chips.
I got this link from Andy Baio, who also linked to the video of the specific match referenced in the NPR piece and noted "Phil Hellmuth attributes all of Annie's wins to luck, all of his own to skill".
Over the years, however, I've started to wonder whether Netflix's big decisions are truly as data driven as they are purported to be. The company does have more audience data than nearly anyone else (with the possible exception of YouTube), so it has a reason to emphasize its comparative advantage. But, when I was reporting a story, a couple of years ago, about Netflix's embrace of fandom over mass culture, I began to sense that their biggest bets always seemed ultimately driven by faith in a particular cult creator, like David Fincher ("House of Cards"), Jenji Leslie Kohan ("Orange is the New Black"), Ricky Gervais ("Derek"), John Fusco ("Marco Polo"), or Mitchell Hurwitz ("Arrested Development"). And, while Netflix does not release its viewership numbers, some of the company's programming, like "Marco Polo," hasn't seemed to generate the same audience excitement as, say, "House of Cards." In short, I do think that there is a sophisticated algorithm at work here -- but I think his name is Ted Sarandos.
I presented Sarandos with this theory at a Sundance panel called "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Algorithm," moderated by Jason Hirschhorn, formerly of MySpace. Sarandos, very agreeably, wobbled a bit. "It is important to know which data to ignore," he conceded, before saying, at the end, "In practice, its probably a seventy-thirty mix." But which is the seventy and which is the thirty? "Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment," he told me later. Then he paused, and said, "But the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense."
Some of you will know that Average is Over contains an extensive discussion of "freestyle chess," where humans can use any and all tools available -- most of all computers and computer programs -- to play the best chess game possible. The book also notes that "man plus computer" is a stronger player than "computer alone," at least provided the human knows what he is doing. You will find a similar claim from Brynjolfsson and McAfee.
Computer chess expert Kenneth W. Regan has compiled extensive data on this question, and you will see that a striking percentage of the best or most accurate chess games of all time have been played by man-machine pairs. Ken's explanations are a bit dense for those who don't already know chess, computer chess, Freestyle and its lingo, but yes that is what he finds, click on the links in his link for confirmation. In this list for instance the Freestyle teams do very very well.
I wonder what the human/cyborg split is at Buzzfeed or Facebook? Or at food companies like McDonald's or Kraft? Or at Goldman Sachs?
In terms of comparison, Magnus Carlsen, the world's current #1 and owner of the highest ranking ever, is 2-1-4 at the same tournament. Which is pretty typical; the best players draw a lot. Over his career, Carlsen has drawn almost 50% of the time and Caruana about 40%.
The modern times of chess have a new king, king Fabiano Caruana. One has to look back to 1968 where in Wijk Aan Zee the legendary Korchnoi started with 8,0/8. The times now are so different and the competition so fierce that already Fabiano's success can be proclaimed as the most memorable streak in the history of chess.
Along the way, Caruana has beaten Carlsen (#1), Levon Aronian (#2), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (#9) twice, Hikaru Nakamura (#7), and Veselin Topalov (#6) twice. If you look at the unofficial live chess ratings, you'll see he has moved into the #2 position in the world, jumping a whopping 34.1 points in rating. He also owns the fourth highest rating in history, behind Carlsen, Kasparov, and Aronian. Caruana plays Carlsen again today, starting from the more advantageous white position. (via @tylercowen)
"Minecraft is a game about creation," writes Robin Sloan. "But it is just as much a game about secret knowledge."
There's no official manual, so the game's teeming network of devotees, young and old, proper publishers and web-based wildcats, have worked to create them by the score. Not just guides, but wikis, videos, hints, tricks. The rules can only be discovered by observation, reasoning, and experiment. Like science -- or magic:
Imagine yourself a child. Imagine yourself given one of these books: not merely a story of exploration and adventure, but a manual to such.
Imagine yourself acquiring the keys to a mutable world in which you can explore caves, fight spiders, build castles, ride pigs, blow up mountains, construct aqueducts to carry water to your summer palace... anything.
Imagine yourself a child, in possession of the secret knowledge.
Maybe the most interesting thing about this, Robin writes, is how the game "calls forth" the books -- another kind of magic. Is this a function of how much Minecraft players love the game? Or is that arcane, indirect, networked, bottomless well of knowledge, asking to be impossibly filled, what they love about it?
It's a well-known fact that White has a small advantage at the beginning of the game. To maintain this advantage, White should press their advantage to take over the middle of the board as quickly as possible. The most popular first White moves from 1850-2014 are shown below. Note that all of these are fairly aggressive openings that build toward control of the middle of the board.
In 1850, White openings were fairly homogeneous: Most chess experts played King's Pawn. Chess players didn't begin to explore variants of the King's Pawn in earnest until the 1890s, when Queen's Pawn (moving a Pawn to d4) started to replace King's Pawn in some player's repertoires. The 1920s saw another burst of innovation with the rising popularity of the Zukertort Opening (moving the Knight to f3) and the English Opening (moving a Pawn to c4), which completed the set of staple first-turn openings that are really ever used nowadays.
Mike Merrill reimagines the game of Monopoly to better represent the modern financial system by adding the banker as a player, convertible notes, and Series A financing.
Each player starts with only $500. That's a nice bit of cash, but it's going to be expensive to build your capitalist empire. Baltic Avenue will cost you $80, States Avenue is $140, Atlantic is $260, and that leaves you just $20. Even if you're the first to land on Boardwalk you won't be able to afford the $400 price tag. Another $200 from "passing Go" is not going to last that long. You need more money.
At the start of the game the banker will offer each player a convertible note of $1000 at a 20% discount and 5% interest*. Armed with $1500 the player is now ready to set out on their titan of the universe adventure! (Of course players are not required to take the convertible note.)
Ooh, I really like the idea of this smartphone card game on Kickstarter: Game of Phones.
One player picks a card and gets to judge that round. They read the prompt to everyone else. Something like 'Find the best #selfie' or 'Show the last photo you took'. Everyone finds something on their phones and shows the judge, who gets to choose a winner for that round. First to win 10 rounds is the overall winner.
This is pretty much what people do when they get together anyway, why not make it a game?
"Tell me about your game," Spiegel said. Sebastian flopped into the chair and handed her his notepad, where he'd recorded all the moves for both players in the game.
Sebastian explained that the other guy was simply better. "He had good skills," he said. "Good strategies."
And this is the point where many of us would simply say something along the lines of "did you do your best?," in which case the likely response is "Yes." Everyone is at least let off the hook. The teacher for ensuring students try their best, the student for having lost to someone better. Spiegel did not take this approach.
The most critical missing piece, Randolph explained as we sat in his office last fall, is character -- those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. "Whether it's the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful," he said. "Strangely, we've now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT's, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they're doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they're screwed, to be honest. I don't think they've grown the capacities to be able to handle that."
The best chess player in history, 23-year-old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, has released an iOS app where you can play simulated games against Carlsen at various stages of his career, from age 5 up to the present. The Telegraph has the details.
Anyone who wants to find out more about his playing style can do so with Mr Carlsen's new app, which allows users to play him at the different levels he has achieved since the age of five.
The app is built on hundreds of thousands of different positions from Mr Carlsen's games, be they classical, rapid or blitz, to determine what moves he would make at those ages.
The aim is to promote chess among as many people as possible to make the sport more popular and accessible.
"The good thing is that you can play me at any age. At age five, anyone has a chance to beat me," Mr Carlsen said.
So what is it like for Mr Carlsen to play against his younger self?
"He is really tricky," the champion said. "Even Magnus at 11 years old was a very gifted tactician. A while ago I played as a test Magnus [aged] 14. I outplayed him at some point positionally. And just boom, boom, he tricked me tactically.
"But he makes mistakes as well, so I just have to be patient."
I played chess with my dad growing up, but actually learning how to play (studying openings, notation, etc.) seemed daunting and at cross purposes with what I liked about the game. So I stopped playing sometime in college and never really picked it up again. But I've maintained a non-playing interest in the game and have even been playing a little bit recently again, teaching my son how to play. The other day I ran across mate-in-one puzzles (iOS app), which seem more my speed.
The tl;dr of this training plan is, play a lot, analyze your games, and primarily study tactics. Your knowledge of openings, endgame, middlegame, etc. will come from analyzing your games and going over grandmaster games. Only study one of those specific topics if it is clear you are specifically losing because of that topic.
In one instance, when Margie was the last contestant to bid, she guessed the retail price of an oven was $1,150. There had already been one bid for $1,200 and another for $1,050. She therefore could only win if the actual price was between $1,150 and $1,200. Since she was the last to bid, she could have guessed $1051, expanding her range by almost $100 (any price from $1051 to $1199 would have made her a winner), with no downside. What she really should have done, however, is bid $1,201. Game theory says that when you are last to bid, you should bid one dollar more than the highest bidder. You obviously won't win every time, but in the last 1,500 Contestants' Rows to have aired, had final bidders committed to this strategy, they would have won 54 percent of the time.
Building on yesterday's "The dirty BLEEP," here are a few more great moments in the artful use of censorship (or its illusion):
Neven Mrgan and James Moore have an iOS game called "Blackbar" that involves playful use of blacked-out text. (If my last name were missing an expected vowel, I'd be interested in intentional omissions too.) It's described as "serious," "artsy," and "texty," all adjectives I hope I will one day earn.
Jimmy Kimmel has gotten a lot of mileage out of "Unnecessary Censorship," a recurring sketch that uses bleeps and blurs for comedic effect. A proprietor of a popular internet site named J--n K----e confided in me this week that "Kimmel's... skit always makes me laugh until I pee my pants," a pretty stirring endorsement if I've ever heard one.
Also, besides using the appearance of censorship to remix existing text, audio, and video like "Unnecessary Censorship" does or fully scripting the bleep ahead of time like Arrested Development or South Park do, there's been a real rise in a mode that's in between, something that's deliberate but has the feel of being off-the-cuff. This is probably best exemplified by The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Check out Ashton Kutcher's "surprise" experience on Colbert:
Here the tension isn't just between what you've heard and what you know was said, but also between the live experience and that of broadcast. It used to be that if you heard a bleep of an event that was recorded live, someone had gone off the rails, like Madonna on the David Letterman show.
Now, TV mostly just lets anything and everything rip for the people in the room, knowing it will amp up the energy in the crowd, but can be bleeped for broadcast later. Then sometimes (like with The Daily Show or Chappelle's Show on DVD or Netflix), you can catch the uncensored cut at home.
So we get the live, the censored, and the edited-but-encensored experiences, and we're always mentally bouncing between all three. We know it's not really spontaneous, but knowing is part of what lets us in on the joke, even though we can't be in the room.
White moves first, but then Black gets to move twice. Then White gets to move three times in a row, then Black four times in a row, then White five times in a row, and so on, with continuing escalation as the game proceeds.
I'm overwhelmed to be in the same room as these men. I played through their games (well, except the younger ones) as a teenager, developing a love or dislike of their styles, and scratching my head at their depth. The skill gap in chess is remarkable: these Grandmasters would demolish someone who would easily beat someone who would wipe me off the board. Amid my admiration, I feel a vertiginous impulse: I could leap out of my seat, scatter the pieces, and make history as the world's first chess streaker. The temptation soon fades.
Each player aligns the pieces, although the boards are already laid out in pristine formation. It's a curious habit I recognise from my own experience. It helps to get your hands on the tools of your trade, to feel they're yours.
Play the one-second stopwatch game...it took me 62 tries to hit 1:00 exactly. We used to play this in school with an actual digital watch. We also had a version where we'd see how fast we could start and stop the timer. Good wholesome times...we weren't rotting our brains with Candy Crush or Angry Birds Star Wars or social studies. (thx, nick)
Ms. Fobes, who lives in Raymore, Mo., plans meals around discounts offered at the grocery store and always checks coupon apps on her cellphone before buying clothes. When, a little over a year ago, J. C. Penney stopped promoting sales and offering coupons and instead made a big deal about its "everyday" low prices, Ms. Fobes stopped shopping there. It wasn't that she thought the prices were bad, she said. She just wasn't having any fun.
"It may be a decent deal to buy that item for $5," said Ms. Fobes, who runs Penny Pinchin' Mom, a blog about couponing strategies. "But for someone like me, who's always looking for a sale or a coupon -- seeing that something is marked down 20 percent off, then being able to hand over the coupon to save, it just entices me," she said. "It's a rush."
That's from an article in the NY Times about J.C. Penney's recent overhaul by Ron Johnson, who sought to apply his Apple Store experience to the mid-range department chain. Being the sort of person who a) doesn't like to shop, and b) doesn't want any nonsense when I do need to shop, I don't often think about shopping as a game. But it clearly is a game for some. As we don't spend so much time on the savana anymore, the hunting of bargains and the gathering of sale items is about as primal as we get these days, aside from Halo and Call of Duty. But not every shopping experience is the same type of game. And maybe that's where Johnson slipped up. The Apple Store game is more aspirational: buying the best products for reasonable prices and feeling part of a place & company that's so minimalist, simple, smart, and cool. Maybe Penneys shoppers didn't want to play that game...not at Penneys anyway.
As chess increased in popularity across Europe in the 1800s, the proliferation in the variety of chess sets caused confusion amongst competitors, especially those hailing from different countries. The English typically used Barleycorn sets:
English saw a different design for every chess club: St. George sets with their appearance of stacked disks, Dublin sets with more rounded middles, and Northern Uprights with columns instead, as well as elaborate, easily tipped Barleycorn sets. Germany had delicate Selenus sets, beautiful beyond belief, but fragile, tippable, and problematic for play. To tell which piece is which on some of these sets one must count the stacked crown. France saw elegant Regence style sets with some of the most confusing signatures in history. As in the English sets, queen's were represented by orbs. The king's floral crown closely resembles the modern Staunton signature for the queen. Knights were always taller than bishops the old French sets. Bishops were represented as fools, not clergymen, and therefore lacked the signature miter. What was worse, the knights in these sets were sometimes simple turned designs, not the recognizable horse's head. This lead to common confusion as to which minor piece was which. The confusion of antique French knights and bishops is still a common problem today.
Then in the 1849, Nathaniel Cook designed and John Jaques began to sell a set that eventually came to be called the Staunton chess set:
Howard Staunton was regarded as the top chess player of his era and organized the first international chess tournament in 1851. Staunton endorsed the set and it soon became the standard in chess competitions and, later, the official standard of the World Chess Federation. The most recent iteration of the official Staunton set is Daniel Weil's design for World Chess:
If you're interested in learning more, Jimmy Stamp has a nice piece about the design of the original Staunton set and Weil's update at Smithsonian magazine.
Ten friends started playing tag in high school and just never stopped. Now they fly across the country, hide in the bushes, and sneak into houses to tag the other players.
"You're like a deer or elk in hunting season," says Joe Tombari, a high-school teacher in Spokane, who sometimes locks the door of his classroom during off-periods and checks under his car before he gets near it.
One February day in the mid-1990s, Mr. Tombari and his wife, then living in California, got a knock on the door from a friend. "Hey, Joe, you've got to check this out. You wouldn't believe what I just bought," he said, as he led the two out to his car.
What they didn't know was Sean Raftis, who was "It," had flown in from Seattle and was folded in the trunk of the Honda Accord. When the trunk was opened he leapt out and tagged Mr. Tombari, whose wife was so startled she fell backward off the curb and tore a ligament in her knee.
"I still feel bad about it," says Father Raftis, who is now a priest in Montana. "But I got Joe."
The Verge has a long look into casinos which includes an interesting section on the first blackjack computers. It also describes the main strategy employed by casinos to prevent and catch cheating: a shit ton of cameras.
They keep a close eye on the tables, since that's where cheating's most likely to occur. With 1080p high-definition cameras, surveillance operators can read cards and count chips -- a significant improvement over earlier cameras. And though facial recognition doesn't yet work reliably enough to replace human operators, Whiting's excited at the prospects of OCR. It's already proven useful for identifying license plates. The next step, he says, is reading cards and automatically assessing a player's strategy and skill level. In the future, maybe, the cameras will spot card counters and other advantage players without any operator intervention. (Whiting, a former advantage player himself, can often spot such players. Rather than kick them out, as some casinos did in the past, Aria simply limits their bets, making it economically disadvantageous to keep playing.)
With over a thousand cameras operating 24/7, the monitoring room creates tremendous amounts of data every day, most of which goes unseen. Six technicians watch about 40 monitors, but all the feeds are saved for later analysis. One day, as with OCR scanning, it might be possible to search all that data for suspicious activity. Say, a baccarat player who leaves his seat, disappears for a few minutes, and is replaced with another player who hits an impressive winning streak. An alert human might spot the collusion, but even better, video analytics might flag the scene for further review. The valuable trend in surveillance, Whiting says, is toward this data-driven analysis (even when much of the job still involves old-fashioned gumshoe work). "It's the data," he says, "And cameras now are data. So it's all data. It's just learning to understand that data is important."
Ultimately, catching cheaters is a small part of what casino surveillance teams do. There simply aren't that many cheats out there, compared to the number of purse-snatchers and pickpockets, the ordinary criminals that people like Ted Whiting deal with almost every day. When it comes to cheating, Whiting says, "We're never going to be ahead. Remember that people who get paid to catch the bad guys get paid whether they catch them or not. The cheats don't get paid unless they figure it out. So they're motivated, and they've succeeded. But once they do, we go full in."
Above cryptic crossword No 25,842 sat a set of special instructions: "Araucaria," it said, "has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15".
Those who solved the puzzle found the answer to 18 was cancer, to 19 oesophagus, and to 13 15 palliative care. The solutions to some of the other clues were: Macmillan, nurse, stent, endoscopy, and sunset.
Speaking from his home in Cambridgeshire, Araucaria said this particular puzzle had not taken him very long, adding that a crossword had seemed the most fitting way to make the announcement.
"It seemed the natural thing to do somehow," he said. "It just seemed right."
The game's true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow's patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to "own" land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an "erroneous and destructive principle" and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as "the general landlord."
Magie called her invention The Landlord's Game, and when it was released in 1906 it looked remarkably similar to what we know today as Monopoly.
But it was Monopoly with a significant twist:
The game's most expensive properties to buy, and those most remunerative to own, were New York City's Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Wall Street. In place of Monopoly's "Go!" was a box marked "Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages." The Landlord Game's chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property's title holder but into a common pot-the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, "Prosperity is achieved."
With a lengthy section on the philosophy underpinning the original version of the game, this is more interesting than an article about a board game has the right to be.
Here's a Quora answer about how those claw arcade games work. You know the ones, you've probably won once, but just once. My inclination was to call this a 'fascinating Quora answer,' but upon thinking about it, it's not fascinating. The machines work exactly how you think they would. The operators can vary the strength of the claw to screw you just bad enough you keep sliding in your dollar bills.
Basically, most crane games are designed so the claw is randomly (and only once in many games) strong enough to let players win. Some even weaken in strength after a short time so players get close to victory only to see it slip from their grasp! Since the manuals for many skill games are available online, this is not hard to verify.
The answerer then goes on to link to many manuals so you can see for yourself. (via @sunilnagaraj)
There are all these simple little games that people play using their surroundings: don't step on the cracks, balance beam railroad tracks (or curbs), bicycle slalom, etc.
My game in the car was to use my hand to jump over driveways & telephone poles and swoop down into ditches...just a small flick of the wrist in the wind is all it took. Haven't done that in years. I still occasionally play don't step on the cracks and fight the daily urge to jump and touch. (via ★interesting)
The only governments left are two theocracies and myself, a communist state. I wanted to stay a democracy, but the Senate would always over-rule me when I wanted to declare war before the Vikings did. This would delay my attack and render my turn and often my plans useless. And of course the Vikings would then break the cease fire like clockwork the very next turn. Something I also miss in later civ games is a little internal politics. Anyway, I was forced to do away with democracy roughly a thousand years ago because it was endangering my empire. But of course the people hate me now and every few years since then, there are massive guerrilla (late game barbarians) uprisings in the heart of my empire that I have to deal with which saps resources from the war effort.
Actually, I changed my mind. I bet this does get turned into a movie. (via @zittrain / ★adamkuban)
If Nigel has a weakness, it's that his wide-open, high-scoring style often leaves him vulnerable to counterattack by opponents who also have prodigious word knowledge. And Nigel is regarded as having a less-than-proficient endgame, which is variously attributed to his lack of interest in strategic play or his reluctance to study board positions. Indeed, Nigel doesn't record his racks, doesn't review games, rarely kibitzes about particular plays. The other top experts, particularly the Americans, talk disdainfully about this gap in Nigel's ability, how it makes him an incomplete player. Naturally, Nigel doesn't care.
According to Wikipedia, Richards has continued his winning ways since 2001...he's a two-time World Championship winner and has won the U.S. National Scrabble Championship three out of the last four years.
If you've ever played Monopoly, you probably haven't followed the rules. The Campaign for Real Monopoly (via marco) would like to remind you of the real rules and the reasons for sticking to them.
BUYING PROPERTY...Whenever you land on an unowned property you may buy that property from the Bank at its printed price. You receive the Title Deed card showing ownership; place it face up in front of you.
If you do not wish to buy the property, the Banker sells it at auction to the highest bidder. The buyer pays the Bank the amount of the bid in cash and receives the Title Deed card for that property. Any player, including the one who declined the option to buy it at the printed price, may bid. Bidding may start at any price.
Contrary to popular belief, Charles Darrow didn't invent Monopoly in 1933 from scratch. It was heavily based on The Landlord's Game, an innovative board game patented in 1904 by Lizzie Magie, to be a "practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences."
In the past 4 months, I've changed my life for the better in three significant ways.
My relationships changed, and thus my everyday changed. I began eating with someone who ate differently than me. I adopted her eating habits, which spurred me to change how I ate. I also spent more time with Grant, who introduced me to the world of urban cycling. I adopted his lifestyle and his interests. And then I changed myself and started pushing my heart in the gym.
I'm playing Health Month this month, mostly just for the hell of it. The game is built to be social...there are teams, players offer each other support, etc. Just two days in, I can see why this might work for me: it turns private goals into public rules.
His brain is jammed with factoids: the names of songs and rock bands that lived and died before he was born, far-flung rivers and capitals, foreign sports equipment, dead astronomers, fallen monarchs, extinct cars, old movies, heroes of mythology, dusty novelists and the myriad other bevoweled wraiths that haunt the twisted minds of crossword constructors. He has learned their wily tricks and traps, like using "number" in a clue that most people would take to mean "numeral" but that really meant "more numb."
The article includes a sped-up video of Feyer solving the notoriously difficult Saturday NY Times puzzle in under six minutes.
But something about Burke's moment -- the mean-girl giggles in the audience when she asked to solve the puzzle; Sajak's speechlessness after she did -- better captured the imagination. People watching her clip as it crackled across the Internet responded the same way the stunned contestant standing next to her did. Like that poor guy named Rick, they looked at her, and back at the puzzle, back at her, and back at the puzzle, trying to figure it out: How did she do that?
"There are a million things I'm not good at," she told me on Tuesday. "But Wheel of Fortune, I can do."
Health Month is a game designed to help you improve your health.
There are about 50 different kinds of rules. Half of them are rules about what to avoid - things like alcohol, white flour, artificial sweeteners, and illegal drugs. And half of them are rules about what you do more of - things like exercise, sleep, greens, and multivitamins. Choose however many you like, and ignore the rest (you can always add more next month, right?). After choosing your rules, you have the option of making a promise to yourself about how to reward yourself if you stay in the game all month, or to build in consequences if you don't make it. It's all about self-accountability, in public. It works.
SuperBetter is a superhero-themed game that turns getting better in multi-player adventure. It's designed to help anyone recovering from an injury, or coping with a chronic condition, get better, sooner - with more fun, and with less pain and misery, along the way.
The game starts with five missions. You're encouraged to do at least one mission a day, so that you've successfully completed them all in less than a week. Of course, you can move through them even faster if you feel up to it.
McGonigal recently gave a short talk about SuperBetter:
and has plans to make a SuperBetter game guide so that anyone can play. (via mr)
Deep Blue was able to play chess well because the game is perfectly logical, with fairly simple rules; it can be reduced easily to math, which computers handle superbly. But the rules of language are much trickier. At the time, the very best question-answering systems -- some created by software firms, some by university researchers -- could sort through news articles on their own and answer questions about the content, but they understood only questions stated in very simple language ("What is the capital of Russia?"); in government-run competitions, the top systems answered correctly only about 70 percent of the time, and many were far worse. "Jeopardy!" with its witty, punning questions, seemed beyond their capabilities. What's more, winning on "Jeopardy!" requires finding an answer in a few seconds. The top question-answering machines often spent longer, even entire minutes, doing the same thing.
The match between Anand and Topalov was hard fought, partly because Topalov invoked a rule for the contest that forbids the players from offering draws to each other. The rule, named after the city where the match was being played, insured that there would be no short draws. As the match wore on and fatigue took a toll, both players began to make mistakes with greater frequency.
"Anand" was briefly a global Trending Topic on Twitter this afternoon, which was unexpected and nice.
Physicist John Wheeler devised a variant of the Twenty Questions game called Negative Twenty Questions in which, unbeknownst to the guesser, everyone privately picks their own object, resulting in a game where both the guesser and the object choosers are required to narrow their choice in object with each round.
When returning Joe (let's call him) asks the standard bigger-than-a-breadbox question, if the first person says no, then the other players, who may have selected objects that are bigger, now have to look around the room for something that fits the definition. And if "Is it Hollow?" is Joe's next question, then any of the players who chose new and unfortunately solid objects now have to search around for a new appropriate object. As Murch says, "a complex vortex of decision making is set up, a logical but unpredictable chain of ifs and thens." Yet somehow this steady improvisation finally leads -- though not always, there's the tension -- to a final answer everyone can agree with, despite the odds.
Wheeler thought the game resembled how quantum mechanics worked.
A spokeswoman for the company said the use of proper nouns would "add a new dimension" to Scrabble and "introduce an element of popular culture into the game". She said: "This is one of a number of twists and challenges included that we believe existing fans will enjoy and will also enable younger fans and families to get involved."
I also like this part:
Mattel said there would be no hard and fast rule over whether a proper noun was correct or not.
So you can just make shit up! Or maybe you don't have to...look at all these useful and real brand abbreviations: BMW, IEEE, XHTML, VW, SQL, QT, BBC, AAA, NAACP. No vowels, lots of vowels, more Q and X words...no more discards.
Here's what's actually happening. Mattel, which owns the rights to Scrabble outside of North America, is introducing a game this summer called Scrabble Trickster. The game will include cards that allow players to spell words backward, use proper nouns, and steal letters from opponents, among other nontraditional moves. The game will not be available in North America, where rival toy company Hasbro owns Scrabble. Hasbro, I'm told, has no plans for a similar variation.
All during the filming of 2001 we played chess whenever I was in London and every fifth game I did something unusual. Finally we reached the 25th game and it was agreed that this would decide the matter. Well into the game he made a move that I was sure was a loser. He even clutched his stomach to show how upset he was. But it was a trap and I was promptly clobbered. "You didn't know I could act too," he remarked.
Speakers move air to make sound. Some clever developer has used this fact to make a foosball game that uses small puffs of air from the iPhone's speakers to move a tiny real-life Styrofoam ball around. Video (or it didn't happen):
Carlsen: I have no idea. I wouldn't want to know it anyway. It might turn out to be a nasty surprise.
SPIEGEL: Why? You are 19 years old and ranked the number one chess player in the world. You must be incredibly clever.
Carlsen: And that's precisely what would be terrible. Of course it is important for a chess player to be able to concentrate well, but being too intelligent can also be a burden. It can get in your way. I am convinced that the reason the Englishman John Nunn never became world champion is that he is too clever for that.
SPIEGEL: How that?
Carlsen: At the age of 15, Nunn started studying mathematics in Oxford; he was the youngest student in the last 500 years, and at 23 he did a PhD in algebraic topology. He has so incredibly much in his head. Simply too much. His enormous powers of understanding and his constant thirst for knowledge distracted him from chess.
SPIEGEL: Things are different in your case?
Carlsen: Right. I am a totally normal guy. My father is considerably more intelligent than I am.
His comparison of his abilities with Garry Kasparov's later in the interview is interesting as well.
The heavy use of computer analysis has pushed the game itself in new directions. The machine doesn't care about style or patterns or hundreds of years of established theory. It counts up the values of the chess pieces, analyzes a few billion moves, and counts them up again. (A computer translates each piece and each positional factor into a value in order to reduce the game to numbers it can crunch.) It is entirely free of prejudice and doctrine and this has contributed to the development of players who are almost as free of dogma as the machines with which they train. Increasingly, a move isn't good or bad because it looks that way or because it hasn't been done that way before. It's simply good if it works and bad if it doesn't. Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.
The section about people using computers *during* matches is particularly interesting.
This fun little post talks about how the economics of pinball changed as it became more and then less popular.
In 1986, Williams High Speed changed the economics of pinball forever. Pinball developers began to see how they could take advantage of programmable software to monitor, incentivize, and ultimately exploit the players. They had two instruments at their disposal: the score required for a free game, and the match probability. All pinball machines offer a replay to a player who beats some specified score. Pre-1986, the replay score was hard wired into the game unless the operator manually re-programmed the software. High Speed changed all that. It was pre-loaded with an algorithm that adjusted the replay score according to the distribution of scores on the specified machine over a specific time interval.
Scrabble isn't a game of who can get the best 6 letter words. It's a game of points and squeezing 2 letter terms into corners. Mehal Shah takes us through clean and sometimes dirty ways to win at Scrabble.
Several times in Last Year at Marienbad, the characters play a game called Nim. The gameplay is simple: a) players take turns removing objects from rows, b) they can remove as many objects as they want from a single row in one turn, and c) the player who removes the last object loses. The strategy is somewhat more difficult to understand, even though the player who goes first and follows the optimal strategy will always win. Although somewhat less glamourous than the film version, a Flash version of Nim is available to play.
So, as Mr. Bevacqua wrote on his blog, he spent the next several days following the hidden clues he believed he'd found, using Morse code, alternative computer keyboard layouts and even electrician's wiring codes to solve the covert brainteasers. Finally he was directed to a hidden Web site, from which he sent an e-mail message to a secret account. A short while later he learned that he was the first Wired reader to solve an extensive hidden puzzle embedded throughout the magazine.
Even after two weeks of letting Tetris HD play by itself, the screen is only about 2/3rds full. It's a fun image to see but the browser chrome is perhaps just as interesting...the Google search for "fuck fuck fuck" and a tab containing the Wikipedia page for "Anal sex" for example. (thx, my main man dj jacob)
People on the internet seem to be enjoying a game for the iPhone called Eliss. Offworld:
It was exactly one week ago last night that I fell in love, and to be quite honest I'm still at a little bit of a loss for words. The new object of my desire? She's Eliss, an iPhone game, and I say that only slightly facetiously, because I'm not entirely exaggerating when I admit to getting goosebumps every time I even just see her in the video above.
Who knew that radically expanding the size of the game board in Tetris makes the game almost completely unplayable, unless the object is to die in the least amount of time possible. Reports, which I have sadly corroborated with my own play, say that it take 15 minutes to complete one line. OCD, anyone? (via waxy)
From the folks who brought you Desktop Tower Defense comes The Space Game. The gameplay looks daunting (a huge mistake for online embeddable games like this) but skip the training crap and click on the missions tab to get right into it. Playing The Space Game, I'm fondly reminded of Dune II...loved that game. (via buzzfeed)
As such, it is a metaphorical representation of the fundamental ideology of the United States; the past is no constraint on the future, and each individual should strive resolutely for personal advance despite whatever the past may hold. The child born in a log cabin may achieve the presidency, an immigrant boy who grows up in the slums of Brooklyn may become a real-estate magnate, an Ivy-educated scion of wealth may wind up on a bread line, and a double green will speed you to the fore. Though there are winners and losers, initial conditions are no determinant of outcome in the freedom of America.
Tom Armitage references both Johnson and Costikyan in his response, Taking Turns.
Candyland is a great first game; literally, the very first. It teaches turn-taking. It teaches the mores, the manners, the culture of playing boardgames. Later, when a child comes to a game where the rules are more complex, the turn process more intricate, the customs of gameplay are already learned; rather than focusing on learning the social interactions, they can focus on the complexity of the game itself.
Fun little game from Ze Frank that I hadn't seen before: Every Second Counts. You're challenged to hold the mouse button down for 0.2 seconds, 0.4 seconds, then 0.6, 0.8, and so on. You need to be within 0.1 seconds of the target time to advance to the next time. Because the increments get increasingly smaller in comparison to the overall times, it quickly becomes difficult to gauge how long to hold the button, i.e. 0.4 is twice as long as 0.2 but 3.2 and 3.4 are almost indistinguishable. (It's also difficult because the button is kinda hinky.) I made it to 1.8 seconds...is it even possible to get to 4 or 5 seconds?
Update: Several readers made it to 4, 5, and even 8 seconds. Most were musicians who have strong sense of timing. I'm also reminded of a story about how Richard Feynman developed his sense of timing to the point where he could keep time in his head even while reading. (thx, everyone)
I'm not big into the "moral message" interpretation of pop culture, but plenty of critics of digital games are, so just for the record: what sort of message does Candy Land send to our kids? (And I'm not just talking about all the implicit advertisements for cane sugar products.) It says you are powerless, that your destiny is entirely determined by the luck of the draw, that the only chance you have of winning the game lies in following the rules, and accepting the cards as they come. Who wants to grow up in that kind of universe?
On the other hand, games of chance allow children of all ages and abilities to play the same games together and experience both winning and losing.
We determined that, generally speaking, the gravity in each Mario game, as game hardware has increased, is getting closer to the true value of gravity on earth of 9.8 m/s^2. However, gravity, even on the newest consoles, is still extreme.
In Super Mario 2, Mario experiences a g-force of 11 each time he falls from a ledge, a force that would cause mere humans to black out. In Madden 2006, the game's fastest cornerbacks can run the 40 in 2.6 seconds. (via waxy)
If I am to maintain my current levels of productivity and balance in my life, I do not need a tower defense game on my iPhone. But if I *were* to bring such a thing into my life, Fieldrunnerslooks like a good candidate. I can't wait until playing video games falls under the rubric of parenting. (Just kidding, Meg.)
Tom Armitage imagines If Gamers Ran The World. For instance, what happens if the President of the United States in 2018 is the same age as Barack Obama is now.
They're 45 in 2018 when they stand for office - that means they were born in 1973. They would have been four when Taito released Space Invaders came out; seven when Pac Man came out. In 1985, when they were 12, Nintendo would launch the NES in the west. At 18, just as they would have been heading to University, the first NHL game came out for the Genesis/Megadrive and might consumed many a night in the dorm. At 22, the Playstation was launched. At 26, they could have bought a PS2 at launch; at 31, they might have taken up World of Warcraft with their friends.
The story line and the narrative dilemmas of Gears are not very sophisticated. What is sophisticated about Gears is its mood. The world in which the action takes place is a kind of destroyed utopia; its architecture, weapons, and characters are chunky and oversized but, somehow, never cartoonish. Most video-game worlds, however well conceived, are essenceless. Gears felt dirty and inhabited, and everything from the mechanics of its gameplay to its elliptical backstory was forcefully conceived, giving it an experiential depth rare in the genre.
The Triple-A game is exhaustive by nature; but the world is inexhaustible; therefore the Triple-A game, that Faustian striver, can never attain its desire. The independent video game by contrast is inherently selective. By excluding almost everything, it can give perfect shape to what remains. And the independent video game can even lay claim to a kind of completeness that eludes the Triple-A game -- after the initial act of radical exclusion, it can include all of the little that's left.
"I told my doorman that if he sees anyone suspicious with a water pistol, then he's not to let them in the building," Mr. Deane said. He shaved the beard he wore for the picture his pursuer is carrying. He is considering borrowing a wheelchair to use as part of a disguise. By Friday evening, he had logged four kills; he was one of 16 players left. "I've been walking around like a crazy person," he said, "wondering when they're going to get me." His wife, who works promoting nightclubs, is very patient about the whole thing.
Oh, and people use umbrellas as shields! The final day of StreetWars is today. (Tried to work in a "don't make me go all Evian on your ass" joke but failed. (Or did I?))
Blindfold chess is playing chess without a board or pieces...you've got to remember where everything is in your head. The world record holder played 45 games of blindfold chess simultaneously. More at Wikipedia. (via panopticist)
He found patterns in the replies that surprised him. Chief among them was the common feeling that his games (and games in general) were overpriced for what buyers got -- even at $20. Secondly, anything that made purchasing and starting to play difficult -- like copy protection, DRM, two-step online purchasing routines -- anything at all standing between the impulse to play and playing in the game itself was seen as a legitimate signal to take the free route. Harris also noted that ideological reasons (rants against capitalism, intellectual property, the man, or wanting to be outlaw) were a decided minority.
The gaming, music, and movie industry would do well to take note of the key sentence here: "Anything that made purchasing and starting to play difficult -- like copy protection, DRM, two-step online purchasing routines -- anything at all standing between the impulse to play and playing in the game itself was seen as a legitimate signal to take the free route."
Last week, I tried to buy an episode of a TV show from the iTunes Store. It didn't work and there was no error message. Thinking the download had corrupted something, I tried again and the same problem occurred. (I learned later that I needed to upgrade Quicktime.) Because I just wanted to watch the show and not deal with Apple's issues, I spend two minutes online, found it somewhere for free, and watched the stolen version instead. I felt OK about it because I'd already paid for the real thing *twice*, but in the future, I'll be a little wary purchasing TV shows from iTunes and maybe go the easier route first.
I know it's only Wednesday, but I'm going to lay ruin to your productivity for the rest of the week with this little number: Chronotron. It's a Flash game where you and your past selves work together to complete puzzles. Just like in The Five Doctors. (Sort of.)
Oh, in other #1 news, Serena Williams will be the new #1 in women's tennis after beating Jelena Jankovic in the final of the US Open. On the men's side, world #1 Rafael Nadal lost in the semis to Andy Murray but won't lose the top spot in the rankings.
Warning, addictive Flash game: Fantastic Contraption. You build a little machine to push, pull, drag, or fling a special wheel into the goal. The best part is that when you complete a level, you can see how other players completed it (and how unimaginative you are). Really, really fascinating. For a level requiring some stair climbing, one fellow built a Theo Jansen-like beast that walked right up those stairs. For another level, another person built a catapult. (via buzzfeed)
As with an RPG, you roll a virtual character, manage your inventory and resources, and try to achieve a goal. Weight Watchers' points function precisely like hit points; each bite of food does damage until you've used up your daily amount, so you sleep and start all over again. Play well and you level up -- by losing weight! And the more you play it, the more you discover interesting combinations of the rules that aren't apparent at first. Hey, if I eat a fruit-granola breakfast and an egg-and-romaine lunch, I'll have enough points to survive a greasy hamburger dinner for a treat!
Mental flexibility is a great asset in solving crosswords. Let your mind wander. The clue "Present time" might suggest nowadays, but in a different sense it might lead to the answer yuletide. Similarly, "Life sentences" could be obit, "Inside shot" is x-ray and my all-time favorite clue, "It turns into a different story" (15 letters), results in the phrase SPIRAL STAIRCASE.
Addictive Flash game of the week: Hedgehog Launch. There's something really clever about the game play here but can't quite put my finger on what it is. The objective of the game -- to launch the 'hog into space -- is so beside the point the first time around that you forget all about it until it actually happens. My best time was 7 days. (via cyn-c)
Update: Woo, 5 days! My technique: upgrade to a parachute as quick as you can, use it to float for valuable multiplier, then get rockets and band/launcher.
Update: Got it down to 4 days. 3 days is possible but I'm retiring.
Finally, one day last fall, more than a year after they moved in, Mr. Klinsky received a letter in the mail containing a poem that began:
We've taken liberties with Yeats to lead you through a tale that tells of most inspired fates iin hopes to lift the veil.
The letter directed the family to a hidden panel in the front hall that contained a beautifully bound and printed book, Ms. Bensko's opus. The book led them on a scavenger hunt through their own apartment.
And it wasn't an easy hunt either.
In any case, the finale involved, in part, removing decorative door knockers from two hallway panels, which fit together to make a crank, which in turn opened hidden panels in a credenza in the dining room, which displayed multiple keys and keyholes, which, when the correct ones were used, yielded drawers containing acrylic letters and a table-size cloth imprinted with the beginnings of a crossword puzzle, the answers to which led to one of the rectangular panels lining the tiny den, which concealed a chamfered magnetic cube, which could be used to open the 24 remaining panels, revealing, in large type, the poem written by Mr. Klinsky.
"Actually I think it's pretty good," she said. "You can definitely get a workout. When I started doing it, I realized all the activities were pretty much on point. There were some things I didn't like, like the alignment in a couple of places. But over all, I thought they did a good job and this will be a good tool for people who can't make it to the gym."
The Wii Balance Board will be released in the US and Canada early next week.