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kottke.org posts about games

Reimagining Monopoly

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2014

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.)

That sounds fun? (via waxy)

Game of Phones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2014

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?

Grit, chess, and how to think

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2014

Shane Parrish’s excerpt and exploration of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character made me want to stop everything and read the book all the way through.

“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.

You may remember Tough’s 2011 piece on grit in the NY Times Magazine.

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.”

Magnus Carlsen chess app

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2014

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.”

(via mr)

Regular expression crossword puzzle

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2014

No one can solve this. Not Ken Jennings. Not Marilyn vos Savant. Not Alan Turing. Not Ada Lovelace. Not Watson. Not even Richard Feynman. (Ok, maybe Feynman.)

Regexp Crossword

(via @lhl)

Update: Here’s the answer to the puzzle, presumably by some time traveling super-being from the future. (via @grimmelm)

Mate-in-one chess puzzles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2014

Mate In One

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.

How to quickly get good at chess

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2013

Gautam Narula on how you can improve your chess game rapidly.

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.

How to win at The Price is Right

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2013

It turns out that for many of the games on The Price is Right, a simple application of game theory is all you need to greatly increase your chances of winning. You don’t even need to know any of the prices.

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.

See also how a man named Terry Kniess solved The Price is Right.

Best chess sacrifices

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2013

Another excellent link from Quora’s weekly newsletter: What is the best sacrifice in the history of chess? A game played in 1934 featured the sacrifice of the queen & both rooks and was over so quickly (14 moves) that it’s referred to as The Peruvian Immortal. I found it easier to follow the game by watching it:

Exercises in unnecessary censorship

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 28, 2013

Building on yesterday’s “The dirty BLEEP,” here are a few more great moments in the artful use of censorship (or its illusion):

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.

Acceleration chess

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2013

In acceleration chess (aka progressive chess), each player gets to make one more move than the previous player.

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.

You can see some gameplay here:

A day at the chess matches

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2013

Cennydd Bowles spends a day at the World Chess Championship Candidates Tournament. Lovely little piece.

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.

I expected more left-handers.

(via @beep)

Try to hit 1:00

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2013

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)

Meta tic-tac-toe

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2013

Meta Tic Tac Toe

Innovation in tic-tac-toe? A meta version of the game is actually challenging and fun to play if you’re not 4 years old.

This lends the game a strategic element. You can’t just focus on the little board. You’ve got to consider where your move will send your opponent, and where his next move will send you, and so on.

(via waxy)

GeoGuessr

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2013

This is like CSI for geography dorks: you’re plopped into a random location on Google Street View and you have to guess where in the world you are. So much fun…you get to say “wait, zoom in, enhance, whoa, back up” to yourself while playing. My top score is 14103…what’d you get? p.s. Using Google in another tab is cheating! (thx, nick)

The game of shopping

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2013

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.

The standardization of chess set design

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2013

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:

Chess Sets Barleycorn

or St. George sets:

Chess Sets St Georges

The Germans often used Selenus sets:

Chess Sets Selenus

Regence sets were popular in France:

Chess Sets Regency

Chess set collector Ty Kroll explains the confusion:

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:

Chess Sets Staunton

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:

Chess Weil

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.

Game of tag has been going for 23 years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2013

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.”

(via @torrez)

How casinos fight cheaters

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jan 25, 2013

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.”

Crossword author uses puzzle to reveal he’s dying

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2013

Long-time crossword puzzle builder John Graham (aka Araucaria) is dying of esophageal cancer and used a crossword puzzle in the Guardian to reveal the news.

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.”

(via @daveg)

AOL’s history as told by NY Times crossword clues

posted by Sarah Pavis   Dec 06, 2012

Over on Quartz, Zach Seward takes a neat look at the 14 year rise and fall of AOL through the zeitgeist-y lens of clues for that short, double vowel word being used in the New York Times crossword.

Mar. 29, 1998: Netcom competitor
Jun. 17, 1998: Chat room inits.
Oct. 4, 1998: Part of some E-mail addresses

(via ★faketv)

The antimonopolist origins of Monopoly differ from Hasbro’s official story

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2012

According to Hasbro, Monopoly was invented by Charles Darrow in 1933 and sold to Parker Brothers soon after. But that’s not quite the whole story.

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.

How do claw arcade games work?

posted by Aaron Cohen   Sep 05, 2012

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)

The little games we play

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2012

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 robot that always wins rock/paper/scissors

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2012

The trick with the roshambot is that it waits until its opponent has made her choice and then chooses the winning throw in about 1 millisecond. I.e. it cheats.

I wonder what would happen if you put two of these robots against each other? (via @dens)

10 year game of Civilization II turns into Eternal War

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jun 13, 2012

I’m not sure this will make it from Reddit to the movie screen, but one intrepid gamer has been playing Civilization II off and on for 10 years. Lycerius’s posted some pictures that illustrate a “hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation” indeed. A sub-Reddit has been created complete with logo, Zuck is into it, and if you’re feeling lucky, punk, you can download the game as it stands and try your hand at ending the Eternal War.

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)

Interview with top chess player Magnus Carlsen

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2012

I don’t particularly follow chess or play the game, but I’m fascinated by Magnus Carlsen. This line from him about how he approaches the game is great:

Having preferences means having weaknesses.

Nigel Richards, Scrabble’s Bobby Fischer

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2011

In an outtake from his 2001 book Word Freak, author Stefan Fatsis introduces us to Nigel Richards, perhaps the best Scrabble player in the world.

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.

The “rules” of Monopoly

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2011

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.

Although, as Andy Baio notes, the rules of Monopoly weren’t always the rules of Monopoly.

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.”

An amazing crossword puzzle

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2011

On the day before the 1996 US presidential election, the NY Times ran a crossword puzzle that correctly predicted the winner.

Amazing crossword

Click through to see how they did it.