May 2005 Archives

Au Jeux

asdor.jpgWell, knock me over with a fleur. I just learned that Time's Up, a game I developed about 5 years ago, just won the French As D'or (Golden Ace) award for best game of the year (it's eligible because the French edition was first published this year). Now, given that the award is announced in Cannes, you might expect I got flown to attend a lavish red carpet gala with fine foods, tuxedos and sequined gowns. If you're more down to earth, you might think I was notified via an excited transatlantic phone call from the French publisher, or perhaps an equally gushing call from my American publisher.

No.

I found out via a little pop-up from my RSS aggregator, courtesy of Rick Thornquist and Gamefest. Welcome to the glamorous world of board games.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I have no idea how the As D'or gets awarded, or what the criteria are. Is it a jury, a magazine editorial board, a popular vote? I dunno. Nor do I know what kind of significance it has, although I'm sure it's nothing like the Spiel des Jahres in Germany.

I am relieved to note, however, that it has quite the spiffy logo, indicating they're at least a big enough deal to hire a professional designer to craft their public image.

Frankly, *I* would have voted for Puerto Rico. But thanks-- er, merci-- to everyone who didn't.

Comments (14) | last by cedrick a sombrero, Jun 1, 12:17 AM

Lost Explained!

This is one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. But then, some of my fondest childhood memories involve Infocom text adventures.

No, I didn't date much.

No, I still don't.

Comments (6) | last by Eddie, May 31, 3:44 PM

They say that before you criticize, you should first praise. So let me start by saying that the season finale of Alias finished with the most genuinely shocking, untelegraphed surprise I've seen since... well, since last night's Arzt-burst, but you get my meaning. Completely effective, although as a season cliffhanger it lacks a certain degree of credibility. We know Sidney and Vaughn survive. Sidney's already had amnesia-- they're not going to pull the same trick with Vaughn. So it's just a matter of going through the motions at the start of the season until things are back to what passes for normal in Aliasville.

Now, about that criticism. Am I the only one who's just a tad disappointed that the whole Rambaldi plot a) made no sense, and b) wound up being a tired retread of 28 Days Later? The rip-off was truly egregious, even by Hollywood standards.

I like the secondary characters-- Marshall, Weiss, and Irina-- better than any of the stars. And the whole thing has become so incestuous and soap operatic, it feels like they're just going around in circles. Next season, I'm in a bit of a pickle. Alias, Survivor, and Smallville are all on in the same timeslot, and my Tivo has but two tuners. So something's got to give. And sadly, I think Alias is going to get shunted to the BitTorrent queue. The show's been on a steady decline since the big Superbowl reset (that's the first series reset, not to be confused with the 3-year amnesia reset or this season's APO reset) when they axed SD-6. As much as I love watching Jennifer Garner kick butt while looking mah-velous, the show's just been chasing its own tail for too long.

Comments (3) | last by Stephen Glenn, May 31, 11:16 PM

Best... gratuitous death... ever.

Comments (12) | last by Stephen Glenn, May 31, 11:27 PM

...And Back Again

Can't get enough of Ken Jennings? If you have cable, you're in luck-- because Ken's coming back to star in a new daily game show on Comedy Central. Do people really want to watch this guy outside of his Jeopardy! habitat? It all depends on whether Michael Davies, the man behind Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Win Ben Stein's Money, can work his magic again. I'm far more curious about the format than the personalities involved. The idea of taking The Price is Right/s mini-game format and moving it from the world of dollars and cents to trivia and skill games has a lot of potential.

Except, of course, that it's on Comedy Central, which means the focus will probably be less on the game than on the funny. Not that I'd turn down a chance to play, mind you, as long as Madagascar hissing cockroaches aren't involved...

Comments (2) | last by dana, May 24, 6:49 PM

He's Baaaa-aack

For the past few months Jeopardy! has been running an Ultimate Tournament of Champions, in which all the top players from the entire modern run of the show have been slugging it out. This week we finally get down to brass tacks, as the final 3-game match against Ken Jennings gets underway. The challenger to watch is Brad Rutter, winner of the previous high water mark in the Jeopardy canon, the Million Dollar Masters tournament. If anyone can take down Jennings, he's the man. At stake? Significant bragging rights... and a cool two million dollars. The loser must also say everything in the form of a question for the next six months. Tune in, won't you?

Comments (5) | last by Eddie, May 24, 12:57 PM

Whaddya know... it didn't suck.

Comments (13) | last by Q, Jan 10, 10:23 PM

I watch all three C.S.I. shows, but the spin-offs are only filler. The flagship show is and always has been the original. It's like something straight out of 1950's science fiction: they cloned the show's format well enough, but they couldn't duplicate its soul. Ostensibly, part of C.S.I.'s success is that it's a self-contained procedural drama-- that it's all about the hows and the whys. But it's not. As fun as all of that is, it's built on a solid foundation of the whos. The cast, and the characters they embody, have terrific chemistry. The details of Grissom's character are brilliant, from his social ineptitude to his entomological obsession. The subtleties of the relationships among the characters that have been built up over five seasons form a vital subtext. Quentin Tarantino is a fan of the show. He's seen every episode. He loves the characters and their history. And he didn't waste his opportunity to play in their sandbox.

Tonight's 2-hour C.S.I. finale, written and directed by Tarantino, was brilliant. Snappy, poignant, clever, and unexpected, the finale gave all of the show's characters their moments. This is what great television can be. It doesn't matter if you don't know that there's been sexual tension between Grissom and Sara, or that Catherine only recently discovered that billionaire casino mogul Sam Braun is her father, or that Grissom almost lost his hearing and can read lips, or that Nick is like a little brother to the rest of the team, or that Greg used to be the DNA guy. It doesn't matter. This is a season finale that should not be missed.

And so I leave you with a single parting word.

BitTorrent.

Comments (2) | last by ranger, May 24, 9:53 AM

Brainmelt

Ian dug his own grave on Survivor in so many ways, it's hard to know where to begin. He didn't do anything other Survivor players haven't done-- agreeing with whatever BS plan everyone around him was talking about to avoid drawing heat on himself. The problem was he had no exit strategy. Katie also agreed to vote Tom out, but Ian never seemed to drag her into the hot seat with him. Ian just blubbered and made no convincing argument. But bowing out after twelve hours on a bobbing pole? What the heck was he thinking? He must have woken up the next morning and kicked himself. All this talk about friendship and integrity... don't these people remember what game they're signing up for? Greg was a complete hypocrite, accusing Tom of betraying him when he plotted on the boat to do the exact same thing to Tom. Cody played the catty gay guy card for no apparent reason. And Katie did herself no favors in the way she answered the questions.

At least the right person won. Tom was the strongest, most successful player in the history of the game, and had he not taken home the money it would have been a huge injustice.

Comments (2) | last by dana, May 16, 9:24 AM

The Spanish Prisoner

I expected to love this movie, like I did House of Games and Glengarry Glen Ross. I certainly loved all the people in it-- Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay, Steve Martin, Campbell Scott. And Mamet's got a bizarre stranglehold on the English language. His characters don't speak like real people do, but in a noir patois more at home on stage than on screen. His dialogue has an ebb and flow to it that's seductive. Aaron Sorkin has a similar talent. And this is a caper film (or more precisely, a con game film), and who doesn't love a good caper? So with the deck so heavily stacked in its favor, imagine my surprise to come out of the film disappointed. The reason is simple.

I figured it out.

I was one step ahead of Mamet the entire way. I saw the con coming, knew who was involved and who wasn't (although I thought even the mother in the airport was involved, because her repeated comments about ripping the book and getting fingerprints on it seemed particularly heavy-handed), and felt no surprise at any of Mamet's attempted trickery. I kept waiting for the rug to get pulled out from under me, but the darn thing was bolted to the floorboards. And that, of course, is the joy of a caper film. Mamet was trying to con the audience, and the audience generally goes for the ride because that's why they've come to the theater. When you're able to follow the queen the con doesn't work, and neither did this film.

Comment (1) | last by Nathan Beeler, May 15, 10:50 AM

Not Even Wensleydale?

Forget Sith. Forget the Chocolate Factory. This is my most-anticipated film of the year.

Comments (5) | last by Stephen Glenn, May 13, 11:04 PM

The Curse of the Car

What is it about a car that makes emaciated, sleep-deprived, isolated men into idiots? Ian and Tom had a plan. A smart one. As soon as they found out about the reward challenge, they made the very wise agreement that if one of them won, they wouldn't choose the other to go with him. So who hit Ian with the Stupid Stick? When he said he was going to take Tom, I thought Tom was going to whack him upside the head.

That Katie wound up sticking with Ian is a miracle, and yet another example of players going with their emotions instead of their brains. Katie's odds seemed much better with the women than with the men. But she apparently decided to trust Ian... which may ironically put Ian into the a no-win situation. If Ian wins the final immunity challenge and doesn't take Katie with him, the jury will vote against him and Tom will win in a landslide. If he takes Katie, the jury will vote for her. I think the only way Ian can win is to pull a Richard Hatch and tank the final immunity, trusting that both Katie and Tom would rather take Ian with them to the finals.

Comments (3) | last by Stephen Glenn, May 14, 12:07 PM

I've talked in this space about various short and long Game events in which I've participated. Late this summer, as part of a cabal with a bunch of friends, I will be running one. We're trying to kickstart the Seattle Game community out of slumber, and expect a number of first-time teams to express interest. If this kind of thing has sounded fun to you, now's your chance to experience it first-hand. For details, including an informative FAQ, check out www.galacticconsortium.com. And be sure to drop me a note if you apply!

Okay, okay... Uchenna and Joyce won me over when they refused to stiff their cabbie even though they were just a few feet away from the finish line. They're good people, and it's hard not to be happy they won the race.

But.

Of the final three teams, Rob and Amber was the only team to not finish last in a non-elimination leg. They had a 6 hour lead on Uchenna and Joyce, and would have won easily had the last stop in San Juan not closed so early. The jetway had rolled back, and they would have had an hour lead on Uchenna and Joyce had the pilot not consented to let them board. Rob and Amber did everything right... except find a cabbie who knew Spanish. That one happenstance cost them one million dollars.

That's one of the things that irks me most about The Amazing Race. That final leg should be all about the teams testing their own abilities, and yet numerous times it's come down to who lucked into the best cab driver. Feh.

Not that anyone feels bad for Rob and Amber. "Rob and Amber Get Married"? Sheesh. I suppose when a broadcast network offer to pony up the green for your wedding-- and likely a nice bonus on top of it-- it would be hard to say no. But that doesn't make it any less tacky.

Comments (9) | last by Dave, May 16, 2:42 PM

Now that the final run of the event is over, I can talk in more detail about Shinteki: Decathlon. As I said a few days ago, it was generally a great event with none of the hitches we experienced in Shinteki: Untamed. Our team finished a very strong second, and if it hadn't been for a complete shutdown of higher brain function on clue #6, we might even have tied for first. The clues, while often not well-themed, were nevertheless solidly constructed and fun. None of them had us scratching our heads for long. When they wouldn't give up their secrets right away, there were nevertheless enough bread crumbs to follow to find the correct path. This resulted in a great head-scratching:fun ratio for us.

A big change in this event was that it was not a race. Aside from having 12 hours to solve the 10 clues, time was irrelevant. And I found that a big disappointing. There's nothing like the adrenaline rush of arriving at a clue site after another team, but leaving before them. That euphoric moment of passing other teams and moving up in the rankings was definitely missed. But then, we were at the front of the pack. Teams farther behind might have had a different viewpoint.

One reason for the change was the new hint system, in which teams were able to purchase hints through their Palm. Each clue had a maximum value of 100 points. Each clue a team asked for reduced that value. This system worked remarkably well, and special kudos to the Shinteki team for thinking the system through. Early hints often became free after a certain amount of time, and the Palm recognized partial answers so that, once entered into the device, clues which were no longer useful to the team also became free. This greatly reduced the likelihood of purchasing a hint that told you something you already knew. Whether or not to take a hint became a factor of a team's level of frustration and overall time remaining in the event. A nice balance for an event intended to be more recreational than competitive. In a full 30 hour Game, I'd miss the rush of catching up to / passing other teams even more.

Here are some of the clue highlights:

After entering a code of FERNANDO at Ikea, we received a deck of cards with subtle markings on none, one, or both of the indices. After carefully recording the data in two Excel columns, it looked like Braille-- but that quickly failed to pan out. Ikea (Swedish) and Fernando suggested ABBA, which led me to Morse code (a-b-b-a as dot-dash-dash-dot). Treating cards with no markings as spaces, one marking as a dot, and two markings as a dash, the deck spelled out a message: PULL OUT FACE CARDS. Doing so and re-reading the remaining deck gave us PULL OUT RED CARDS. Reading the remainder again gave us ORDER ME. Putting the black cards in traditional deck order (clubs A-K, spades A-K) gave us the answer, MASTERY. I thought this was a terrific puzzle, with great recursion and elegance. And if we hadn't pulled the classic teen horror movie blunder of splitting up in the Ikea, and if the person who found the deck of cards hadn't left his Talkabout in the van, we'd have been out of there fifteen minutes earlier.

The next clue was a nice word search puzzle, but to get it we had to use a pedal boat to reach a raft floating in a lake. Even rotating our foursome so that each of us pedaled only halfway in each direction, it was exhausting. The customized Wheaties box we received, with our team photo on the cover, was a nice touch-- but I was a bit disappointed that it didn't factor into the puzzle as anything other than a delivery vehicle for the word search contained inside.

A set of four speakers at our next stop played a synchronized recording of someone shouting "Ready!" "Set!" and "Go!" at regular intervals, each speaker with a different series. To envision this, imagine a device that reads a Scantron sheet of rows of 3 circles each, and on each row 0-3 of the circles are filled in. Now imagine the device examines a new circle every half second, and calls out the appropriate word (READY, SET, or GO) if that circle is filled in. Now imagine four of these devices running simultaneously, each with a different Scantron sheet as input. That was the puzzle (if you replace the Scantron devices with iPods and speakers taped to trees out of reach). The member of our team with the best rhythm transcribed all the outputs. Another teammate looked at the data and noted that everything came in groups of five rows. I then looked at it and saw that they were 3x5 grids, and said at that size they really wanted to be letters. Almost immediately we began putting all the READY marks from all four outputs together, then the SETS, then the GOs. Whaddyaknow-- letters! We were out of there in record time, over an hour ahead of the average.

The next clue took the form of a Mad Libs book delivered at the top of a steep hill climb. Before we were an eighth of the way back down, one of our team members realized that the correct answer for each word in the Mad Libs was an anagram of the words filling the matching blanks in the other Mad Libs. We had our list by the time we reached our van and finished the solve in minutes.

Then... disaster. The next clue wasn't a puzzle, it was a challenge. 10 straws. 50 cm of tape. A model chasm. Build a bridge to span the chasm and support a 1kg brick for ten seconds. A van full of software engineers completely overengineered the hardware problem. Knowing that triangles are one of the strongest shapes, we set about painstaking creating a train-trestle bridge of triangles. We should have realized there were simpler solutions, especially when the leading team-- only five minutes ahead of us-- dashed off successfully while we were still drawing up plans. But we blundered blindly ahead. Ninety minutes later another team finally showed up and we still weren't done. And then our tape ran out, before we could shore up a key join. Our gorgeous bridge collapsed. We bought another 2 straws and 10 cm of tape for ten points. Then another. And another. Meanwhile, other teams had come and gone with vastly simpler designs, some just barely eking out 10 seconds before giving way. Incredibly, one team even succeeded with the most brain-dead design possible: make two long straws and tape them together. Ten point five seconds. We finally achieved success two and a half hours after arriving, well past the "we're not having fun anymore" stage. This wasn't the kind of activity I enjoy, and it's soooooo cliched. I was enormously disappointed when we found out what the challenge was. But our failure was clearly our own doing. Other teams succeeded in a tenth of the time we took, and we should have had the sense to realize our approach was silly. But dang, our bridge looked nice.

A later clue had us assemble a jigsaw puzzle (always a good team activity to which everyone can contribute) of a bunch of overlapping circles of various colors and sizes. Counting the number of circles in each color, arranging by the rainbow, and coverting to letters gave us WIDTH J. The device told us this was good progress. So we switched to the harder thing-- counting circles by width, and arranging from smallest to largest. This gave us OVERBLUE. Sure enough, there were precisely eight blue circles, one of each size. Counting all the circles on top of those blue circles gave us the final answer. Another very nice puzzle, especially the embedding of the WIDTH hint in the color data.

The final puzzle I want to comment on is the audio identification puzzle. Just as in Untamed, we got a CD full of music. This time, they gave it to us in an area where it was easy to find a wireless internet connection. One of the songs was impossible to ID, however, so we bought it for 5 points. This was the penultimate puzzle, and after the bridge debacle we were concerned about having enough time to go all the clues. Had not flubbed the bridge, we'd never have bought this hint and would have solved the puzzle without it, but we all decided it was more important to reach the final clue with enough time to solve it. But that's besides the point, which is that audio identification puzzles like this are not fun!. Or more precisely, they're great fun when you know the songs, but are utterly not fun when you don't. If you don't know the songs all you can do is try to search for the lyrics. And that's simply not entertaining. So if you're going to do an audio identification puzzle, the content being identified should be stuff 95% of the American populace-- or at least, the target demographic of Game players-- can be expected to recognize. Musical tastes vary so widely that identifying popular songs is not a slam dunk. We've had a pop music ID puzzle in the past two Shinteki events. Please, retire the form and find something else-- perhaps a clue where listening carefully to the music is more important than identifying the songs, artists, or albums.

Comments (2) | last by cz, May 11, 5:27 AM

Cell Out

Matthew Baldwin and I have been locked in battle for the title of last person on the planet to be without a cell phone, but I'm teetering on the edge of throwing in the towel for an upcoming project. Thing is, I know squat about cell phones. I've virtually never used one. I have DSL at home, so I can't get rid of my land line. A cell phone would primarily be used for incoming calls, and not very frequently. Here's what I'm looking for:

  • low monthy fee
  • built-in camera
  • address book
  • small form factor
  • POP3 email would be nice, but not essential
  • ability to use Google would also be nice, but not essential

    Any suggestions for cell phone models, carriers, and rate plans for someone who wants mobile telephony on the cheap?

  • Comments (19) | last by rakesh, Oct 16, 5:22 AM

    What Was He Thinking?

    You and team #2 are 90 minutes ahead of teams 3 and 4. Teams 2 and 3 are strong, team 4 is weak. You have the opportunity to delay one of the other teams by 30 minutes. Which team do you pick?

    An easy choice, right? Not if you're Rob. Yielding Ron and Kelly made no sense at all. The gap between them and the other teams was too large to be overcome by a yield. Uchenna and Joyce are equally strong, and yielding them would have knocked them out of the race. Rob's logic about wasting the yield was exactly backwards. The proper move was to forget about Ron and Kelly and yield Uchenna and Joyce instead. If Uchenna and Joyce win the race, Rob has nobody to blame but himself.

    In other news... what the heck does Kelly see in Ron? The guy's a chauvinist jerk.

    Comments (10) | last by Danielle, May 9, 9:21 PM

    The U.S. Treasury just sent me a check for $39.02. A pleasant surprise, but also a mysterious one. No letter accompanied the check, and the note field reads only "TORT CLAIM 2004102265550\". So, super-sleuths, can you shed any light on this mystery?

    Update: Mystery solved. Got a letter in the mail today from TSA, informing me that this is the settlement of my claim against them for lost property due to their negligence when my flashlight got stolen from a bag I was forced to check. Eight months later-- and many months after Alaska ponied up their own reimbursement-- the government finally came through. When Alaska paid me, I figured they'd talked with TSA and decided it was their fault, but apparently they never spoke to each other. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your government at work. You may now proceed to divest yourselves of all your screwdrivers and flashlights, while bringing your pens, keys, and heavy laptops onto the plane with you.

    Comments (5) | last by Nathan Beeler, May 3, 1:44 PM

    Shinteki: Decathlon

    This past weekend I went to Palo Alto and participated in Decathlon, the latest 12-hour Game event run by the good folks at Shinteki. Our team finished a very strong second, and had a lot of fun doing so. The game will be run again this weekend, so I can't discuss any details yet lest I spoil things for other players. I'll post a full recap next week. I can say that the clues were generally very well designed, and that most of the complaints I had about Shinteki: Untamed were fixed this time out. Teams playing in Decathlon this weekend should have a great time.

    Comments (2) | last by Nathan Beeler, May 9, 12:18 PM

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