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November 20th, 2016

05:48 pm - An interesting time in the world of chess
Between 2005 and 2010, I made a habit of making one post each year about chess. Now seems like a reasonable time to restart the habit.

The world's number one player is Magnus Carlsen from Norway. (There is no decisive number two.) Magnus is now 25, so thinking of him as a child prodigy is a little out-of-date. Carlsen won the World Championship in 2013, defeating six-year titleholder Vishy Anand of India; Anand won the Candidates Tournament in 2014 to earn a rematch and Carlsen beat him a second time. Carlsen is currently defending his world championship title against Sergey Karjakin, another former prodigy of comparative vintage; their stars shone brightly during their mid- and late teenage years, representing the current generation of talent. The first two games of the twelve in the match were both drawn; the third game is in progress, taking place through the afternoon and early evening in New York, and Magnus is trying to press a very slight advantage into a possible win. (Edited the next day: due to slight inaccuracies in the sixth hour of play, it was a draw as well. Games four to six, completed while I wrote this slowly, also proved drawn.)

British chess has not notably kicked on in the past few years. Michael Adams had a fantastic result at a very strong tournament in Dortmund in 2013 but is gently falling from being a firm top-ten player to being a fringe top-twenty player; Nigel Short is the oldest player in the top 100 at age 51. David Howell briefly represented the generation after (well, half a generation after, being 16 years younger than Adams) in the top forty, but has since faded; there are no British players in the top 100 juniors list. The British Isles' 4NCL has got larger but it's been a while since there's been a team to seriously challenge Guildford for the title.

The London Chess Challenge has been one of the very strongest tournaments in the world in the last couple of years, being part of a small Grand Chess Tour circuit along with a counterpart similarly strong event in St. Louis. Chess in St. Louis is hugely strong thanks to benefactor Rex Sinquefield, who was even able to drag Garry Kasparov briefly out of retirement for a blitz chess tournament in April; Kasparov remained competitive against opponents roughly half his age.

I've long been fascinated by the online United States Chess League from the perspective of sport organisation, both considering chess as an e-sport and considering a mind sport as a spectator sport, or at least a sport that might develop a following. Over the course of eleven seasons, from 2005 to 2015, it grew from eight teams to twenty. It has long been an initiative very much in the image of its commissioner, IM Greg Shahade, though not without very considerable assistance from Arun Sharma and others. Greg has a blog worth reading; a recurring theme is calling out sexism where he sees it, which helps me feel he's on the side of the angels. (Anyone who volunteers to run something starts with a ton of credit in my book, but calling out sexism is more important.) Another recurring theme is the promotion of rapid chess, even at the expense of classic-time-control chess, and this has inspired his latest major change in his online chess league.

The United States Chess League is no more. Instead, starting in January 2017, welcome the Professional Rapid Online Chess League in its place. In practice, it's referred to as the PRO Chess League; this is not quite a GNU's Not Unix recursive acronym, but a little artistic licence for the sake of a really good acronym can only be a good thing.

Read more...Collapse )Mind sports e-leagues are a fascination of mine; I have followed the USCL through its existence, I have written about the Learned League quiz phenomenon, I keep an eye on the Pandanet European Go Championship and I wrote about taking part in the Croco-League, for logic puzzles, from 2012 to 2014. The PRO Chess League is one of the most interesting and ambitious yet.

I'd need some pretty serious convincing that this whole operation might work in practice if it had been organised by someone who had no track record, but Greg's track record is a very strong one. It's worth noting that as well as starting exciting schemes up, Greg also has a habit of closing them down when he feels they are no longer working (see the USCL, but also see his Scramble With Friends league, which has a few similarities in league design philosophy, and also see his New York Masters live tournaments) so I would be inclined to believe that the PRO Chess League might not be around forever, and not just in a trivial "nothing lasts forever" sense. It's definitely going to be fun to follow while it's around, though!

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May 7th, 2016

12:22 pm - Liars' Dice and Rule-Changers' Dice
Meg and I are in Wales this weekend! We are staying with friends and playing board games. We arrived fairly late last night after coming up from London by train. (There was a braying wedding party on one of the trains we took, then we were joined by several fat, drunk Scousers who had mostly lost money at Chester races. It wasn't the most pleasant journey.)

After our late arrival, I only played one game last night, but it was such a good one that it's worth sharing. it started off as regular Perudo (Liar's Dice) but - as tends to happen sometimes with this crowd - we reasonably quickly started seeking a little variety. I choose not to explain the basic rules of Perudo, deeming it sufficiently familiar; Quintin Smith of revered-but-slightly-hipster board game site Shut Up and Sit Down tells the tale of having travelled in China, not speaking Chinese, but still ingratiating himself with the locals by getting into games of Perudo with them.

Fourteen years (and more than one blog) ago I posted about a remarkable game of rule-changing Perudo that I once played. Last night generated a rather less alcoholic and rather more restrained inadvertent sequel, but nevertheless we spawned some variants worth sharing. We were playing with four players, leaving the blue and yellow sets of dice alone.

Before long, we substituted one blue die per player in for a regular die, with the variant rule that a 1 on the blue die wasn't wild and that the blue die had to be lost last. Tracking the number of unseen dice became slightly trickier as you now had to track the number of blue dice separately.

This left one spare coloured die per player. The next stage of the variance was to roll these spare dice to generate a fresh turn order per round; while rolling them to try to find a highest-to-lowest order generated far too many ties, rolling the handful and seeing which die rolled farthest worked well and added a little amusement.

The real winner of the night was substituting the blue dice for yellow dice with a different variant property still: they counted as minus one die of the colour they rolled. Yes, rolling a wild one on a yellow die counted as minus one to everything. (The yellow die, again, had to be lost last.) The game broke down somewhat towards the end, though not without great entertainment, but everyone's first topic of discussion this morning was how to fix it because it was sooooo-o-o-o-o-o nearly there.

The current plan to fix it is that higher bids are measured by magnitude. A bid of minus one of a number suggests that there is at least one more yellow die than coloured die of that number. Bids of minus numbers outrank bids of positive numbers of the same magnitude - so the sequence goes one 2 to one 6, minus one 2 to minus one 6, one 1, minus one 1, two 2s and so on.

Worth a try. Variants do not often survive rule-changing mayhem where the games created are generally intended to be played only once, but this one has legs.

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Current Mood: excitedexcited


January 27th, 2016

05:06 am - How little changes
I'd say that I was getting myself onto night shift mode, but I just have a headache and cannot sleep. Normally I would post this elsewhere except that colleagues might worry about my ability to work the night shift tonight, which should be fine.

I'm at Dad's house and, in this insomnia, have been looking through drawers for a letter that I received, literally half a lifetime ago, from someone who has been in the news recently. I didn't find it but there are other places to look yet.

However, I did find some exercise books from the late '80s and early '90s with pencil-on-paper designs for games and game systems: some RPG character attribute systems, a few adventures, but mostly pencil-and-paper designs that I might have got round to programming in Sinclair BASIC - or, later, AmigaBASIC - some day. It's unclear that any of them would stand up on their own merits, but fun personal nostalgia all the same.

A frequent theme is comparing games to each other in slightly unnecessarily complicated ways. One notebook has one particular comparison scheme for ZX Spectrum games, iterated several times in 1988, a couple of times in 1989, an "end of the decade special" and a retrospective edition from, gasp, 1997. Would it be fun to go back and create one more edition, comparing memories of games I haven't played for twenty years? Would it be worthwhile to run them through emulators to refresh my memory? Perhaps if I still can't get to sleep in another hour or two. Nevertheless, it's cute to know how I thought of them at the time, even if giving reasons to the scores was beyond me.

It's also a reminder - hopefully salutary, though I doubt it - that my taste in games has changed little if at all over the last two-thirds of my life. Ever since I became fully aware of the depth of the football pyramid system, I have loved the idea of a game where you manage a football club that starts in a hypothetical league made up of teams representing parts of Middlesbrough, then in successive leagues covering larger and larger areas of population still, onto the national stage and beyond.

What have I been doing on and off for the last couple of days when concentration has permitted? Why, trying to work out which teams would be in which leagues so that I might produce a customised data pack for the (pro version of the) Football Chairman management game for iOS and actually play out a much better version of the game that I idly dreamt of back then. Given that my pencil-and-paper notes from the previous version of the exercise had Liverpool as top team in the land, they probably date from late 1988, give or take, at a guess.

If you'd told me then that I would still have been actively interested in the concept when three times my age, I think tiny!Chris would have been amused. He would also have been impressed that my taste in computer games still hasn't grown beyond games that cost £2.99.

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Current Mood: tiredheadache-y


April 8th, 2014

02:07 pm - A once-in-a-lifetime puzzle hunt
I've mentioned Dan in the past, haven't I? Over the course of the past year, Dan has become family-by-choice to both Meg and me. Dan was part of our DASH 5 puzzle team, then we hunted together remotely on some online hunts, then he came up for ChrisCon and played our Puzzled Pint recast, then he has started (co-)running Puzzled Pint in London. Five months in, and to his great credit it has proved a hit, to the point where I'm not worried that "a bad month" or two will put the event in danger of fizzling out. (April's event happens on Tuesday 8th; the location puzzle is out now!) Dan is very dear to us both.

So this story starts nearly six months ago when Dan tweeted "It's my birthday in November. Please make me a treasure hunt around London. Thanks.", as you do. Remarkably, Scott took up the request. In December, the day after the second London Puzzled Pint, Meg accompanied Dan around London on this hunt. A great day was had by them both. Accordingly, they purchased a commercial self-guided London hunt for a trip to London for New Year's Day and enjoyed that as well. In February, Meg and I went down for PP, and the day after, the three of us played and enjoyed HintHunt, as discussed. Meg was very specific about wanting me to come down for the March Puzzled Pint, but also mysterious about the reason.

It wasn't hard to guess. The March Puzzled Pint was excellent and happened ten years to the day from the day Meg and I first met, but the main event of the trip was on 12th March, ten years to the day from the day Meg and I first... told each other that we loved each other. (I wrote about the day only a couple of months after the event - nothing changes there, then - back at the time as a Friends-locked post on my steam-powered LiveJournal.) We tend to have a lot of anniversaries (legal marriage date, real marriage date...) and there's the small matter of Valentine's Day as well, but 12/03/04 was always a memorable date, thus 12/03/14 was quite a milestone to celebrate.

Meg and I both busily prepared for the event in our own way, in the days up to the event. I stayed up late the night before Puzzled Pint, making her an anniversary 'zine with 100 (almost entirely happy) memories from the first ten years, which raised some hand-squishes, a few laughs and lots of happy reminiscence while we were waiting for a train. Meg had been working long and hard on her particular project and managed to give nothing away before the day, even when I did rather rudely attempt to discern what was on her screen once or twice.

In practice, on the 12th of March 2014, we first travelled out to Heathrow in order to see gwendolyngrace and etakyma for the first time in years (since our real wedding and since a HPEF event, respectively) sharing lunch with them at the airport; happily, theirs was a friendship where it was very quick and easy to get back up to speed. Meg had told me that she wanted to spend the afternoon with me, but hadn't said why.

After waving them off to airside, Meg handed me an envelope. Opening it, it contained a puzzle. *grin* Over time, it transpired that she had written me my own hunt, even more special and personalised than the ones that she had been on. To do this is a great labour of love and the finest gift that one puzzle fan can receive from another (or, if they're very lucky, from a whole community - see also the slideshow and the podcast with a fuller description). It turned out to be the case that the hunt retraced our first day together. Could there be a sweeter or more perfect anniversary celebration?

Puzzles within!Collapse )

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Current Mood: lovedloved


April 7th, 2014

11:23 pm - There needs to be a UK puzzle hobby web site: part II
I have recently taken on a new Project. Having ranted in late December that there needs to be a UK puzzle hobby web site, I have started one, about four weeks ago. Nominally it's about exit games (also known as escape games or locked room games; there isn't really a great generic term for "things like HintHunt and ClueQuest", but there are currently seven others in the UK and one in Ireland) but the thinking is that they're very popular and can be used as a hook to get people interested in all sorts of other puzzle-related topics. It's an "as and when" blog, but I've written a couple of dozen entries over the course of a month or so. In theory I'm trying to be happy with entries as short as 200 words or so, plus an appropriate picture, but in practice they're working out longer than that.

The site hasn't really caught fire yet, but not many things ever do in the first month, which is really all about getting a baseline down and gaining credibility, which I can use to make contacts and then things will get easier. I reckon I'm not actually far off the point where just writing about news will make for an adequate blog, though there are some rather more background-y and 101-ish articles to start with.

Nevertheless, if you want to read about my UK and Irish puzzle-related writing, the best way is to follow the RSS feed (which happens to be syndicated to LiveJournal as exit_games_uk) or to follow the site Twitter which, so far, has been used in a similar way in practice. (If you want to do me a favour, please like the Facebook page, whether you're ever going to follow the site or not - a few dozen more "Like"s would help. Thank you!)

I'm still going to keep writing here from time to time, especially longer and more personal pieces, but this will always have the "personal blog" sort of arguably negative slant to it that an independent Wordpress site will hopefully not. Nevertheless, I am going to demonstrate some sort of discipline by concluding this post here and starting a different one for a different, but related, topic.

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Current Mood: accomplishedunusually productive


March 10th, 2014

12:02 am - Stranger and stranger still
OK, I started writing this literally months ago, and got stuck quite early on through the piece. This won't be the version I wanted to write, but if I don't get any version of it it out, I won't get it out at all.

Stranger was a show that billed itself as a life-sized board game, played at the Stockton International Riverside Festival this weekend on the weekend of 3rd-4th August. It was created by Emke Idema from the Netherlands and has seen a fair degree of activity in avant garde theatre festivals in northwestern continental Europe; the Stockton festival may well have been its UK debut.

The show describes itself, accurately, as "a playfull platform that tries to reveal the tension between our social norms and our intuition". I am not aware of it having been booked for any further such festivals or other performances in the UK. (Edit: Salisbury Arts Festival at the end of May.) Having seen the show twice this that weekend, I would strongly recommend getting a ticket if you get the chance at some point in the future. I guess there's probably a higher volatility in show quality between different performances of a not-entirely-scripted show like this than of a completely scripted show, but this is well worth a try.

A fuller discussion, with minimal spoilers, but definitely a few.Collapse )

You'll not often get the chance to see Stranger performed; it's a brave festival that will take a chance on booking something like it. In order to find out if you'll ever get the chance, follow the creator's agenda. It looks like the show is coming to the UK as part of the Salisbury Arts Festival on 31st May and 1st June. You lucky Salisburians; you have a treat coming! Sadly Wiltshire is, near enough, the other end of the country from here. Nevertheless, strongly recommended, and I'm only sorry that this review is being published closer to the 2014 Stockton Festival than the 2013 one at which the event happened.

More excitingly, it looks like Emke Idema has produced a follow-up, RULE, which had previews last year and is getting its official debut performances from Tuesday to Saturday next week in Amsterdam. Hurrah! The description, in translation, suggests "a game about hospitality and border ethics, a game about the boundary between personal values ​​and existing rules", to which I say "papers, please!". Fingers crossed that either show, or Emke's future work, continues to flourish and that we can see it again in this neck of the woods.

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Current Location: Stockton-on-Tees
Current Mood: rushedlate - 6 months late!


March 1st, 2014

04:44 pm - Puzzled Pint, HintHunt and more
1) A couple of weeks ago, meggitymeg and I went down to London and stayed overnight, with the focus of the trip being to attend the fourth month of Puzzled Pint in London. Meg had been to the first three, and indeed is the only person to have solved at all of them; this was my first time down. The event was a glorious success, exceeding my expectations by far. It was a treat to catch up with delightful puzzle people, some of whom I haven't seen since DASH 5 last May, plus first known face-to-face meetings with i_am_magoo and [personal profile] pseudomonas, though I have long enjoyed both their blogs.

It occurs to me that I have written far more about Puzzled Pint on Facebook than in long-form blogging. Imagine taking part in a pub quiz with your friends...Collapse )

Meg and I turned up a good half-hour early and were far from the first to arrive, with others we knew arriving in fairly rapid succession; Meg brought malachan along last month and he has become a convert, we brought another friend (M.) along for the first time and it was good to see Nick who had come some way up from the south coast as well. (Not nearly as far a journey for him as visiting us for our MIT Mystery Hunt cell, but still a trek!) Meg had also previously solved with some of the people on the next table along, and so on and so on. Very seldom do I get to see so many lovely people in the same room at the same time, short of games cons. This is effectively a monthly evening-long puzzle con.

Delightfully, this month had a rather bigger attendance than the previous three months. (I believe the figures are something like 24 in 5 teams - 14 in 3 teams - 23 in 5 teams followed by, this month, 49 in 12 teams.) This big jump did cause a problem for the London organisers who weren't expecting the number of teams to more than double, but good news all round - not least for the bar hosting us! - and everybody ended up with puzzles to solve in the end, a couple of teams after some degree of pause.

The puzzles were fun, though I think it's probably fairer to Puzzled Pint to consider the accumulated mass of puzzles over the months as a whole than to pick on individual months' puzzles. It's probably important to say that this month's was probably more of a speedwork challenge than most for people who recognised some of the themes. (See also the talk by Ian Tullis at the most recent Game Control Summit, passim.) Nevertheless the theming was particularly cute and the meta especially well-suited. Many thanks to everyone who constructed, edited and tested the puzzles, and particularly to Dan and Lisa for being lovely and running the event.

I am happy to recommend Puzzled Pint, particularly in London. It's always fun to introduce existing friends who do not consider themselves particularly puzzle-oriented (after all, Meg has really caught the bug...) and I would be happy to team up, at least once, with anyone reading this, particularly if you think you won't know anybody else there. (That is, assuming I'll be there. Meg and I should be there in March for a casino-themed event, at least.) Let me know and I shall mark my dance card accordingly.

As an aside, in other Puzzled Pint news, this weekend, Meg and I went to [personal profile] xorsyst's in-laws' holiday flat in Llandudno for the most glam housecon ever. The venue was stunning and better-appointed than even the rare-splash-out hotels we've used. (We're pretty low rollers, though.) The company was great, too; several people I hadn't seen for far too long, and delightful to get to properly spend time with [personal profile] alobear and Dave. Meg reran the January Puzzled Pint for our two teams of three, which was great fun once again, and a bigger chunk of that fun. It was also a rare and wonderful opportunity to be introduced to new board and card games of recent years; there were no immediate stand-outs, just several 7/10 games in 9½+/10 company.

2) The day after Puzzled Pint in London, Dan, Meg and I went to Hint Hunt in a rather... insalubrious part of London, a couple of minutes along the road from Euston station. We played their original "John Monroe's Office" room and escaped with a little over three minutes of our allotted hour remaining. It was tremendous fun and rather thought-provoking.

Locked room escape games have existed for a couple of years now and are reasonably familiar, so I cheerfully admit to being quite behind the times in only getting to play now. I have blogged about them in passing before, updating that post from time to time when I have more news. In London, ClueQuest's second room opened at the weekend; further ahead, Escape Hunt's ambitious-looking expansion plan calls for them to open in June.

The staff at HH were both professional and lovely, erring - if at all - on the lovely side. The young lady who briefed us on our introduction, and also hinted us through our game, was pretty much a consummate example of what you'd hope for from room escape customer service. Her accent was clearly Central European, though her English perfect; I asked her if she was Hungarian, which turned out to be an excellent icebreaker question, particularly if you have a geeky interest in the history of the genre.Collapse )

Players are requested not to spoil the experience for others, so it's hard to know how much to say. However, the verbs describing the actions you will do most frequently during your hour are search, read, unlock and (to a limited extent) decode. There are a great many unusual and fun toys to play with during your hour, a strong sense of progression between the layers of the puzzle and plenty of pleasant surprises. You are kept very busy for the entire hour and it's very easy to feel you have attained a sense of flow, and I write that purely so that I can name-check Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Some of the leaps of logic feel a little arbitrary, particularly at the very end, but in practice that doesn't matter much. Was it enjoyable? Yes, hugely so.

I'm now going to wildly extrapolate based on having played one (1) locked room exit game and looked at the web sites of at least half a dozen others, and say that I suspect there is a wide variety of approaches taken, across the world, to the issue of difficulty, and take a wild guess in great detail.Collapse )

Anyway, very nicely done and firmly recommended to those who think they might enjoy it, yet with a sense that playing only one room at one centre merely scratches the surface of what the genre has to offer. I will continue to look out for developments, not least because new ventures tend to be good matches for crowd-purchasing sites and you can occasionally pick up a Groupon Wowcher or somesuch to play a new centre at an attractive rate. Come on, new centres: be closer to here!

3) OK, let's rush around the other things more quickly. You've hopefully seen my post about DASH registration being open, so I won't go into detail again. Still: very cool, strongest recommendation.

3a) While looking for more English-language information about the incredible Czech-language puzzle hunt tradition TMOU, I discovered puzzlehunt.eu, an English-language puzzle hunt in, of all the places, Saarbrucken, Germany. (It's just over the border from France, a few dozen miles around from Luxembourg. If you hit Switzerland then you've gone too far.) Investigation by others suggests that it's something of a pan-European educational mecca, hence the hunt being in English.

The really remarkable thing is the independent reinvention of so many coding, encryption and other administrative properties that are very similar to the ones that evolved in the US-based puzzle hunt tradition, without me being aware of established contact between the two, and that's practically anthropology for your anthology. Disappointingly, the same investigation has suggested that the games in 2010, 2011 and 2012 were not followed up by one in 2013 and might not be followed up again in the future; "three up and three down", and I'm very sad not to have heard about these at the time. Still, at least players there would only have hundreds, rather than thousands, of miles to travel in order to play in DASH. :-/

3b) Another online hunt coming up is Puzzle Boat 2, sequel to you-guessed-it The Puzzle Boat, both by the hyper-prolific Greg ("Foggy") Brume, who also displays his exceptional creative fecundity in his P&A Magazine. Both the first and second liners are available online for solvers to have at in their own time, but the second voyage also offers a prize for the first team to solve it after the opening date of March 23rd. The first Boat is free, the second carries a $60 charge - which might seem a little sticker-shock-y at first, but the 100+ puzzles (and metas) are expected to take a sizeable team many hours, so that's an eminently reasonable price and I suspect it may well be a spectacular labour of love.

3c) If you prefer your puzzles logical, the World Puzzle Federation are staging a circuit of 90-minute logic puzzle contests, each available over the course of a long weekend every fourth week. The first contest was set by German constructors; I enjoyed it, but it was deliberately World Championship calibre. There were 12 puzzles to solve in the 90 minutes, the median performance was around four correct answers, and I came far from the bottom of just the 375 names that made it onto the scoreboard (mind you, about three times further from the top...) by getting a second puzzle correct.

The second contest is the Slovakian Grand Prix, taking place this weekend. There are sixteen puzzles rather than a dozen so fingers crossed that there are more at the relatively accessible end of things than there were in the German round. You have until the end of Monday (by central European time, GMT+1) to solve it, so don't hang around too long, particularly if you're stumbling for a humbling.

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Current Mood: pleasedpuzzled


07:47 am - The DASH 6 puzzle hunt is coming to London next month
Registration has recently opened for the sixth annual DASH puzzle hunt, which is being run in cities across the United States and also in London on Saturday 26th April. I'll bet sovereigns to satoshis (because doughnuts cost more than a dollar these days...) that it'll be tremendous. If you like the idea of getting together with a team of friends, exploring your city and solving puzzles along the way, pitting your skills against the rest of the world, this is probably the best social event of the year. At worst, it's a fun and unusual yet mild sort of adventure to share with your friends. Get time off work, get childcare, get your team together, get it in your diary and just get in there.

A little more background, and why I"m probably talking to you. Yes, you. Don"t make me name names.Collapse )

Last year's event was superb; I wrote about the ways in which it was superb at length at the time. I'm hopeful that the puzzles will be at least as good this year. I'm also hopeful that the social side of the event will be better this year than it was last year, not least because people will know each other from last year's DASH, but also because quite a few people will meet each other at Puzzled Pint in London from month to month. Word of mouth has got to have a strong effect, too - likely there will be networks of friends, and friends at one remove, to get to know.

I know quite a few people who are going already, so the precise combinations of team formation are yet to be finalised. I can quite easily think of a couple of dozen of you who I think would enjoy it and I hope to see you there. (Make enquiries about team formation below - or, perhaps, if you're interested in puzzle events in London, you might like to pop along to Puzzled Pint?) Registration is open now. I haven't seen a closing deadline, but each location has a limit on places. I believe London is limited to 25 teams, and four of those spots went in the first 12 hours. Last year London had eight teams; this year I'd be shocked if it didn't have at least twice that many, and it may well at least come close to filling up altogether. Further afield...Collapse )

If you have questions, you can find out more about the London event and more about DASH in general at the web site, or the London Twitter feed and so on. Fingers crossed that I get to see many of you there next month, and fingers crossed again for kind weather that day. :-) Until then, we can but ponder over the citrus-looking logo!

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Current Mood: excitedexcited


February 2nd, 2014

09:28 pm - Some football gambling ephemera
Meg's sister Sarah has been staying with us for the winter, since just before Thanksgiving. As usual, she has brought joy and laughter to our house. She has an exciting deadline to meet in the US, so unfortunately her time in the UK has had to come to an end. Accordingly, the last couple of weeks have been sad. The most faintly silver of linings of the recent Polar Vortex and its impact on Atlanta has been that her original flight home was cancelled and thus we got three extra days of sister time for free, but even that has come to an end. Today has been as sad as we feared - and, with taking her to Manchester to check in early for a morning flight, a tiring day as well. There is space in our house, but this does not make up for the space in our hearts. Long distance things don't get easier.

I have, as often is the case, retreated to find comfort in mathematics. The football pools were one of the foremost forms of gambling in the UK until the National Lottery launched, nearly twenty years ago. Simplifying, participants attempted to predict which (association) football games from a list would end as a draw - ideally, a score draw (1-1, 2-2, etc.) rather than a 0-0 draw. If a participant picked eight such games from a list of fifty-some - and some weeks there might only be four to find, whereas other weeks might have four times as many - then they would share a prize made up of a reasonably high proportion of the total entry fees. A scoring system shared some of the entry fees as consolation prizes ("second dividend", "third dividend" and so on) among players whose selections were near misses.

The relative difficulty of determining which matches would be drawn in this way made picking such a winning line a very difficult challenge, and a great degree of public interest was placed in trying to make accurate selections. There was a considerable degree of luck in the enterprise and its prominent place within public life was more a historical accident than anything else. Accordingly, it would be usual for participants to select more than eight matches and submit every possible combination of eight matches from the larger number selected. This was, technically imprecisely, referred to as a full permutation. However, the more possible matches were covered in this fashion, the more attempts at the competition were required and the greater the cost. In fact, the number of attempts required increased very rapidly as more matches were named.

The mathematically interesting part was a little bit complicated.Collapse )

Another discovery on a related search that I considered interesting was this index comparing different UK bookmakers' football gambling offerings in the year 1960. If Ray Winstone had wanted to "have a bang on that" at the age of three, what options might have been available to him? Again, they're quite intricate and interesting from a gaming perspective. Even then it was possible, though highly unlikely, to win many thousands of pounds for a stake of just pennies - and pre-decimalisation pennies, at that. There's also a degree of commonality in appearance between these bookmakers' coupons and the standard format of the football pools coupon that survived over the decades.

The conclusions I draw are again pretty technical and I"m going to assume a degree of familiarity with the terminology.Collapse )

None of which will help you make money betting on football, of course, and will only confirm how strongly the oddsmakers of the world tilt things in their favour. Still interested me, though.

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Current Mood: sadsad and avoidant


January 20th, 2014

09:32 pm - A good time for the UK game show fandom
This weekend, xorsyst, Nick as mentioned in my birthday weekend write-up and Martin who I've known from board game cons for, ooh, a good fifteen years all came to join Meg, Sarah and me. Sitting in Stockton-on-Tees, we helped rhysara's team, Left As An Exercise For The Reader, in the MIT Mystery Hunt this weekend. I had been hoping to do this for years and the event in practice was everything I had hoped for. There were a couple of spectacular solo solves in the UK and some strong contributions to larger team efforts; everybody had a part to play. Thanks to everyone who came to visit and to rhysara for enabling our fun. I get the early impression that this hunt will be very favourably treated by history, not least for its really good attitude and cleanliness; many thanks to everyone who spent so long organsing, writing and running the hunt. I may have more to say on this at some point, but this is not that post.

What I'm thinking about right now is that I'm eagerly looking forward to the next episode of the Fifty50 show podcast, which will have the results of the 2013 UK Game Show Poll. This will be the ninth year of the poll so it's a relatively big deal, especially as this year's poll apparently has a record number of votes. (I guess that this may still be low triple digits, but, hey, moving in the right direction.) It's generally felt that 2013 was not a good year for UK game shows. People say this quite frequently, but 2008 comes out as a good year and 2009/2011 had their moments. That said, even if this has been a bad year for UK game shows, I would argue that the UK game show fandom has never been in as good health as it is now.

And I shall do so at length behind a cut.Collapse )

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Current Mood: pleasedpleased


January 2nd, 2014

10:45 pm - The Finnish Line
Earlier on today, I was idly wondering whether the increased tensions between China and Japan would be likely to cause World War III. The defence pact between Japan and the US looks like it wouldn't be likely to help avoid this, but further than that, I haven't a clue, don't ask me. However, it did lead to something much more fun.

So I was looking to see whether the UK had any other military alliances that I didn't know about, and while I'm no history buff, there weren't any particularly pleasant or displeasant surprises. On the other hand, on that Wikipedia page, I was amused to see the number of countries that have such things as Honorary Consulates in various parts of the UK. Finland has 26 such things, and in some somewhat unlikely, unglamorous locations that you might not have guessed.

Most entertainingly, one of them is within about a couple of hundred yards or so of where I work. That was a pleasantly surprising discovery! It's not something I had ever heard about before, and not something that I had previously ever thought to look for.

Investigating further, this story about a new Honorary Consul at the other end of the country suggests a little more about what an honorary consulate is and what an honorary consul might do. To begin with, it's an unpaid position, with a considerable emphasis on developing trade and commercial relationships between the two countries. I particularly enjoyed learning that this new Finnish Honorary Consul was already a Norwegian Honorary Consul, which strikes me as charmingly part-time and delightfully multiply international. I also enjoyed learning that this new Finnish Honorary Consul has not yet visited Finland, but this does not disqualify her from the position. (Similarly, the local Swedish Honorary Consul has a lovely web site, in passing suggesting that she does not speak Swedish.)

So, without intending disrespect, I am rather charmed by the thought that being an Honorary Consul might not be quite as big a deal as at first I thought it might be. With this in mind, I wonder whether it might be possible to embed my wife as an Honorary Consul for Georgia? The fact that she's from the state of Georgia, rather than the state of Georgia, might not actually seem to be that much of a handicap.

Sadly I will probably never have reason to visit the local Honorary Consulate; it struck me to be a fun and friendly thing to do, if I'm on shift on Finland's Independence Day (that's December 6th, Finn fans), to pop around at lunchtime waving a big flag and, I don't know, bring some flowers and a cake. It's not that it's a bad idea, it's just that the Finnish Embassy web site strikes me as being more official than consulate-info.com and suggests that the consulate has moved from one shipping company's office to another shipping company's office, about five miles further north. So flowers, cakes and international relations might yet happen, in theory, but it just wouldn't be something I could do by foot on a work lunchbreak...

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Current Mood: peacefulpeaceful


December 22nd, 2013

10:46 pm - There needs to be a UK puzzle hobby web site
There needs to be a UK puzzle hobby web site, for a broad definition of the puzzle hobby at large. I am as flaky as a cronut (*) and so am very unlikely ever to be the person to produce it, unless I get a sudden fit of enthusiasm and spoons over the coming Christmas period, but believe it when you see it, or when someone beats me to it.

Top priority list:

1) A list of UK live room escape games. At the moment this is easy: Hint Hunt in London, Clue Quest in London, Cryptopia in Bristol (as of last month), Keyhunter in Birmingham (as of last week), with at least Live Escape Game in Brighton and Puzzlescape in Manchester under construction, and I'm sure several others that I don't know about. I don't get the impression that they talk to each other, and I have only been able to construct this list through judicious engine searching. I think they should, and that people who like one might like playing others.

2) An aggregator of puzzle calendars. Excerpt parts of Puzzle Hunt Calendar that can be played from the UK, excerpt the janko.at puzzle event calendar ditto, add details of the UK Puzzle Association's events, Puzzled Pints and other UK events as and when they arrive. There was a big crossword shebang a day or two ago to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the cryptic, not that I heard about it in advance.

3) A list of puzzle hunts, contests, trails and other similar Thynges that you can do at home at your own convenience on your own schedule, even if you cannot make it to any of the above.

I also have a moderately long list of other things that a puzzle blog might include at some point but considering how badly I'm doing at keeping this one up to date, let's not run before we can walk! :-)

(*) This is an analogy that could not have been made a few months ago. Because I've never actually had a cronut, I don't know whether it works or not. Worth a go, though!

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Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful


December 18th, 2013

01:12 pm - Travis Penery, 1984-2013
This morning, social media passed through the very sad news that Travis Penery, one of the most passionate and knowledgeable members of the UK game show fandom, passed away far too young. We had heard a few days ago that he had suffered a stroke and was in intensive care; sadly he did not recover. A quick search suggests he had been a member of the fandom for over ten years, which feels about right; looking at the archives of the ukgameshows mailing list, back when it was really busy in 2002, Travis provided a great deal of the enthusiasm and excitement. You can see his love and desire to know all about the topic back even then, and you can see how spending a decade thinking hard and learning about the topic affected him in his more recent contributions to the respected buzzerblog, or his appearances on the wonderful fifty50 podcast. He was instrumental in keeping the records and drawing the connections that would require an expert's insight.

A few house moves ago, when it was clear I had to radically downsize my game show tape collection - because that's what we used to do back in those days, and I'm still not completely convinced it's not better than relying on the video sharing services of the world not to apply copyright restrictions - I was happy for a big chunk of it to end up with Travis, knowing there would be few who would enjoy it more.

There are a great many members of the UK game show fandom in mourning today. Even if you concentrated your fandom on just one show, you probably knew Travis. He will be widely missed. My condolences to his friends and family.

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December 14th, 2013

06:51 pm - A brief attendance analysis of the DASH puzzle hunt
I've never seen a table like this published anywhere, but there surely should be one and I have just been looking in the wrong places. It details the number of teams on the scoreboard for each city in each edition of the DASH puzzle hunt to date.

Albuquerque, NM---66+1
Austin, TX-2111213+4
Bay Area, CAY(SF)
Boston, MAY18262927+2
Chicago, IL--171410+1
Davis, CA-16151613+7
Houston, TXY----
London, UK----6+2
Los Angeles, CAY7222115+4
Minneapolis, MN----8+7
New York, NY-12242530+7
Portland, ORY6171919+2
San Diego, CA--7--
Seattle, WAY32474949+2
South Bend, IN---1-
St. Louis, MO---22+3
Washington, DCY14223331+1

Here are my initial thoughts:

1) Errors and omissions excepted, with my apologies in advance.

2) The numbers are drawn from the scoreboards and may not reflect teams that participate but do not make the scoreboard for whatever reason, or other infelicities. DASH 1 does not have a public scoreboard on the web site and thus "Y" represents the hunt having happened there with an unknown number of participants. For DASH 5, the numbers represent numbers on the experienced and newcomer tracks respectively.

3) Interpret "Bay Area, CA" using the following key: SF = San Francisco (1, 4, 5), PA = Palo Alto (1), SR = Santa Rosa (2,3), LA = Los Altos (2), SM = San Mateo (3), HMB = Half Moon Bay (5). I apologise if some of those locations are not really in the Bay Area. (If you tell me that I am a bad person for jumbling Santa Rosa in with the others, I'd believe you.) Meg and I had our honeymoon in San Francisco and went out to Half Moon Bay one day. We had fantastic crabby cheesy bread there.

4) It's not a competition to see whose DASH can be the largest; all DASH organiser teams are glorious, generous paragons of virtue, whether their event had one team or 70+, and the community at large thanks them all for the time and effort that they put in.

5) Welcome to Phoenix, AZ and Pittsburgh, PA, both of which are new for DASH 6. Fingers crossed for good turnout for them even in their first year - but even if the first year is small, this shows how turnout can grow over time.

6) In my opinion, it probably reflects well on the decision to have parallel "experienced" and "newcomer" tracks at DASH 5 that every city had at least one team playing each track.

DASH 6 will take place on 26th April, 2014. There are some cities with popular DASH locations of several years' standing which have not yet signed up; fingers crossed that the event proves the most popular and most successful yet!

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Current Mood: hopefulhopeful


November 20th, 2013

11:28 pm - Puzzle Hunts past
Quickly wrapping up some puzzle hunts past: Ghost Patrol Reconstructed, the Octothorpean Order and the first Puzzled Pint in London.Collapse )

I think a large part of why I've been so obsessed with puzzle hunts over the last (grief, I wish I knew how many) years, and have increased the extent of my participation over the last year or so, is a long-held belief that puzzle hunt participants and organisers are the people having the most interesting, exciting and relevant-to-me fun on the planet at the moment. It would be interesting to trace my obsessions over the years as to which different groups of gamers have borne that mantle as technology and availability have changed, but would take some serious research.

I've long kept a slightly suspicious but mostly admiring sidelong glance at the work of Fire Hazard's street games. Their action-movie-paralleled mission, with a serious focus on physical exertion, is seriously Not My Jam, but I love the thought they have put into clarifying their manifesto over the years and their generosity into making their assembly kit available for free. Effectively, it's the collected wisdom from years of design documents and experimentation. Similarly, I admire the clarity of thought that FH's principal Gwyn Morfey puts into his blog posts, but his preferences and drivers make it hard for me to feel I can relate to him. Interesting, cool, very likely to have lessons for puzzle hunt people to learn from - at least, if they're more open-minded than me - but very, very Other.

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Current Mood: impressedintrigued!


November 10th, 2013

09:50 pm - Some birthdays are better than others
Some birthdays are better than others. Last year, on my birthday, we moved house, then went out to the supermarket. It wasn't the best. In contrast, this year was one of the good ones - the really good ones.

Most of the fun came at the weekend before my birthday.Collapse )

My birthday itself was rather lower-key. Includes a recipe for my favourite lime ice cream ever.Collapse )

Other than that, there are plenty of puzzle events coming up through the year from now to then, and already we've proved that it's practical for a team to keep in touch with Skype to work on a puzzle event together. If you've ever read stories of how spectacular these can be but thought that they were likely too difficult, I would particularly recommend the Octothorpean Order starting at 7pm GMT on Saturday 16th November (and probably clashing with all sorts of fun things like Georgia-Auburn and Schlag den Raab, so we'll need to get cracking). While it will have around a hundred puzzles, many of them will be deliberately introductory in nature so people can gain confidence in using and applying standard puzzle hunt codes and techniques. Start your own team or let me know if you want to join ours!

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Current Mood: jubilantjoyful! Also, old


October 13th, 2013

10:25 pm - Online puzzle hunts coming up in November
There are two online puzzle hunts coming up in November. These are designed to be solved by teams of people from around the world, so you can take part wherever you are. Particularly if you've liked the thought of taking part in a puzzle hunt but they've always been in the wrong place at the wrong time, why not get a team together and take part? You don't have to be in the same place at the same times - just keep in touch through e-mail, IM, or video chat, and work on the puzzles together.

1) Ghost Patrol Reconstructed

I'll selectively quote the official web site.
"Ghost Patrol Reconstructed" is an online, short-format, print-and-solve game. All the puzzles are brand spanking new. It's not a retooling of an old ghost. (...) As a player, you can expect a fair amount of cutting, pasting and/or taping, solving, light trivia, subtle weeping, and very few internet look-em-ups. And no codes!

There are a couple tasks that might be nice to split up, but a lone player could also do fairly well. A team of 4 can expect 4—6 hours solve time average. Complete noobers and super teams are anyone's guess. There is an online hint and answer confimation system that is mobile device friendly. And there won't be any GC around judging you with their judgy eyes and furrowed brows. So pants optional, amirite!?

The game will be online permanently and anyone can register and play at anytime and have the same experience. Registration is incredible easy and takes about 15 seconds. So don't worry about registering before you want to play. Specific instructions will be available October 28th, but a simple, intuitive system is our goal.
The part that I excised concerns the start date and start time. The main event game will launch at 3PM (PST) on Halloween 2013. Teams can start playing anytime after launch, but they do not have to begin right at 3PM. The main event game will end at 3AM.

Now this timing isn't at all convenient for UK solvers like me. If you see the official web site, it talks about private parties. What this means is that there will be a GMT version of the same hunt, starting at 2:30pm in the afternoon (UK time) of Sunday 3rd November 2013. The time is to be confirmed, but the theory is that the event should make for a pleasant afternoon's puzzle-solving on a Sunday when the weather is likely to be lousy. It would be pretty trivial to spoil yourself for the puzzles and answers in advance; please don't do that.

The official web site suggests that "there's no charge, but you will need a printer (black and white is fine). The puzzles are not solvable without printing. You will also need basic office supplies — pens, pencils, scissors (the more the merrier), tape, rulers, highlighters and such. You will also need internet access."

More details closer to the time, but start getting your team together now!

2) Octothorpean Order

Again I'll quote the official web site:
The Octothorpean Order online puzzlehunt opens at 11am Pacific Time (2pm Eastern Time, 7pm GMT) on Saturday 16th November 2013. (...)

# How many puzzles? How long will this take?
About a hundred puzzles plus a meta.

Several (~8) puzzles will be unlocked at the same time. A large team could probably crack the meta in a couple of hours. A 10-12-person team who wanted to keep solving puzzles that "feed" the meta though they've cracked the puzzle… three to eight hours. Yes, that's quite a range, sorry.

# What's the maximum team size?
There isn't one. If you gather 100 friends and finish in an hour, good for you.

# What do we need? How do we prepare?
A computer with an internet connection; if your team plans to solve N puzzles in parallel, you might want N machines. A printer helps. You probably want to register a team ahead of time.

# Is this for n00bs? I heard Octothorpean's for n00bs.
The first puzzles are for folks who haven't yet learned to recognize Morse code, Caesar shift ciphers, etc. Experienced teams will rush past those puzzles to those of a difficulty they'll recognize.
So the Octothorpean Order puzzle hunt is definitely deliberately more accessible to newcomers, at least to begin with, but they both have internal hinting systems and if you get a team together then, between you, you'll make progress. The people responsible have impeccable track records and playtesters have been raving about the quality of the puzzles.

Again: get excited, get your friends excited and keep 'em peeled for more information!

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Current Mood: excitedexcited


October 5th, 2013

02:32 pm - Lotto changes tonight
Probably the least interesting of the world's games with which I am obsessed is the UK's own national lottery game, "Lotto". Players choose six numbers from 1 to 49 and aim to match at least three of the six winning numbers; ideally all six for a share of the jackpot, but there is a bonus prize for matching five out of the six and the bonus ball. There are some moderately large changes to Lotto, starting with this evening's draw.

What are the main changes?
  • The entry fee is increasing from £1 to £2 per play.
  • The (theoretically not quite) guaranteed prize for matching three numbers is more than doubling from £10 to £25.
  • The prizes for matching all six numbers and four of the six numbers are expected to increase, but not quite double.
  • The prizes for matching five out of the six numbers, with or without the bonus ball, are expected to fall.
  • There will be an additional raffle in each draw, which will see at least fifty tickets per draw selected to win £20,000 each. Rollover draws will have more than fifty winners.
Are your chances of winning improving?

Not so you'd notice. Technically: yes, but only very marginally, as a result of the introduction of the raffle.

Do the changes make the game more generous?

Er.... probably, a bit, but it depends what you count? The truth is disappointingly opaque and a little complicated. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't be posting if this had an easy answer. Eyes down for a full house.Collapse )

Hmm. So why have these changes been made?

It's probably fair to note that the price of a lottery ticket has always been £1 since the game's start in 1994, and £1 then is worth around £1.69 now. (70% inflation over 20 years? Strikes me as fairly low.) On the other hand, I thought £1 was a pretty aggressively high price at the time when the game started. As a point of reference, I know three sandwich shops within walking distance of work where you can still get a mighty good sandwich for £1.

I have three theories:

1) Any publicity is good publicity

This change has not attracted positive comment. Lotto sales figures have been falling for years. Making an unpopular change and then changing back within reasonably short order might be the shot in the arm to attract attention. (On the other hand, it didn't really work for Coca-Cola.) I reckon there is at least a 10% chance that the raffle element will be removed by the end of 2015. They might or might not wind the price increase back, too.

2) Profit

I suspect that the reason why these changes have not proved popular is partly the increase in price and partly because it will be awfully fiddly to check whether your ticket has won the raffle or not. (Checking against one winning number is fine, checking against fifty is... laborious. It's possible to get ticket sellers to check for you, but I think people will think it's rather lame in practice. You don't often see people getting their tickets checked - people think it just holds up the queues - and I don't think people will get into the habit.) Consequently, I think a lot of raffle prizes will end up going unclaimed, and I suspect that this may not be accidental.

Now it's not the case that Camelot get to keep these unclaimed prizes; prizes unclaimed after 180 days go to the good causes along with the statutory 28% of sales revenue. On the other hand, Camelot are only permitted, by the terms of their licence to operate the national lottery, to keep profit according to how much money is generated for good causes - the more they generate for good causes, the more profit they can keep. That said, if sales suffer as a result of the changes, it's hard to see this route for diverting more money to good causes making up the difference.

3) Perhaps they're right

There's always the outside possibility that Camelot might actually have got things right and know things that we don't...

I'd be prepared to believe that Camelot have done their research and found that players can't get excited about winning a few thousand pounds these days and that £20,000 is the lowest sum which starts to excite people. It's roughly the price of a top-end family car, or a deposit on a house. TV producers may also have some useful input into current trends in mass psychology in this regard. It's not as if there hasn't been a reasonably consistent undertone of "there are too few big winners and the big prize is too big", so this seems like an obvious response to it.

If this is the case, then going from maybe a jackpot winner or two and a handful of winners of 5+bonus per week to at least a couple of thousand winners of £20k per year might actually prove popular; the chance of you knowing someone who has had such a pleasant, but not overwhelming, win will go right up. It might be hard to get excited about winning £20,000 and sharing it as part of even a small syndicate, though.

Tonight's draw, as the first of the new format, has a guaranteed £10,000,000 jackpot and a guaranteed thousand £20,000 winners. Is it worth playing?

Depends on how many players there are. Here"s my working.Collapse ) We can expect there to be more paid out in this draw as prizes than taken in ticket revenue if there are fewer than roughly 21,100,000 tickets sold.

So how many tickets will be sold?

Now that's the interesting question. Let us look at Richard K. Lloyd's sales figures page. The general trend is that Saturday draws were getting about 26 million tickets sold - slightly more during rollovers, but they don't make anything like the difference that they used to.

Reasons why sales might fall include, but are not limited to:
  • Some people have said they'll stop playing now the tickets have gone up from £1 to £2;
  • Other people have said that they'll transfer from playing Lotto to playing EuroMillions for the same reasons;
  • Other people have said that they'll cut the number of tickets they buy in half;
  • Tickets have only been on sale for this particular draw on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, rather than the whole week as usual, which I reckon may be a huge factor;
  • Multi-draw tickets have only been sold up to and including the last £1/ticket draw, so anyone wanting to put a multi-draw ticket on has had to do so in the last two days likewise.
However, there are many people who will have not registered the price change at all, many people who are so attached to their numbers that they will keep playing no matter the price and other people who don't normally play but might be attracted by all the added money this week. (The added money strikes me as being a huge factor, but there's only been one draw in the last 18 months with over 32 million tickets sold, so I don't think it's going to have as much of an effect as might appear to be the case.)

Perhaps the most telling indication is Camelot's own estimate quoted above that Wednesday draws might be expected to have 9 million Lotto entries and Saturday draws might be expected to have 16 million Lotto entries. Putting it all together, I reckon that there will be 22 million sales for tonight's draw, but am no more confident than estimating a range of 16 million to 28 million sales. Another way of looking at it is that I expect the number of drop-outs, cut-downs and (most significantly) those who intend to play but don't get around to it to exceed the number who don't normally play but choose to do so for tonight only.

So will you be playing tonight?

I haven't decided. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this Lotto draw is a good one to play, but - at the very least - it is rather less bad than usual.

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September 15th, 2013

09:38 pm - The mathematics of the Million Second Quiz
The Million Second Quiz is a quiz event taking place in the United States on the NBC TV network, online and in person at the moment. It consists of a series of quiz bouts between a champion and a series of challengers, taking place around the clock over the course of a million seconds, or about eleven and a half days.

The champion earns a nominal $10 per second while they remain the champion, whether the quiz bouts are in progress or not, until they are defeated by a challenger. Defeated champions only convert their nominal prize into an actual payout if they are the reigning champion at the end of the million seconds or if they are one of the four most successful defeated champions along the way, and there is set to be an extra competition at the end of the million seconds to pay out an extra bonus to one of them. My opinion of the show.Collapse )

The quiz bouts during the live televised program follow what I consider to be a reasonably interesting structure. They last for either three hundred or four hundred seconds, as announced in advance, and are made up of a series of multiple-choice questions with four answers. The two contestants are asked to identify the correct answer from among the four each time within a five-second time limit. Contestants earn points for correct answers and the contestant with more points at the end of the quiz wins the bout.

Questions started in the first hundred seconds have a base value of one point, questions in the second hundred seconds have a base value of two points and so on. Both contestants independently answer the same question and earn the base value if their answer is correct.

However, as an alternative to answering the question, either contestant may press their "doubler" button at any time. This pauses the bout. The doubling contestant's opponent then has five seconds to answer the question. If the opponent answers correctly, they score double the base value; if they answer incorrectly, the doubling contestant scores double the base value.

That said, the doubling contestant's opponent can go on to "double back" and return the question to the original doubling contestant. The original doubling contestant then has no choice but to answer the question within a further five seconds. If they answer correctly, they score four times the base value; if they answer incorrectly, their opponent scores four times the base value.

So there are two interesting gameplay decisions alongside trying to answer the questions:
1) Should I double a question?
2) If my opponent doubles a question to me, should I double back?

I think these are worthy of a little Expected Value analysis. I haven't seen anyone perform this analysis yet, so I shall go ahead and do so. In summary, the mathematics confirms some intuitive predictions about what optimal strategy might seem to be and extends this by formalising the parameters used to make the decision.

The mathematics of the televised bouts of the Million Second Quiz.Collapse )

So in conclusion, in order to decide whether to double or not, you must work out whether your opponent is likely to think you know it or not.

If you think your opponent is likely to think you don't know it, you should assume that they will double back and you should choose to double it if you have a 58% chance of being right, or less (as low as 42%) if you think your opponent knows it.

If you think your opponent is likely to think you do know it, you should assume that they will answer and you should choose to double it if your opponent has less than a 67% chance of being right, or less (as low as 33%) if you know it for sure.

If your opponent doubles a question to you, whether or not to double back depends twice as much on whether you think your opponent knows it than on whether you know it. Even if you are almost certain about the answer, you should choose to double it back if your opponent is guessing completely by chance.

I would not expect these conclusions to be considered counter-intuitive or surprising at all, but the maths underpinning them interests me. Additionally, I do not think it realistic to be able to calculate exact probabilities within the timespan of a few seconds given by the show, though only a general sense is required, and I think that that is realistic. It is far more important to be able to answer the questions correctly, particularly the crucial ones, than anything else!

(With thanks to K. for improvements to a draft of this.)

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August 22nd, 2013

05:00 pm - Coming soon: the Croco-League, season two!
Three highlights of my involvement in puzzles over the past year have been the UK Puzzle Championship, DASH and the Croco-League. I've written in detail about DASH, an in-person team-competition sequential mostly-word-puzzles hunt held in London and in fourteen US cities. This year I didn't write about the UK Puzzle Championship, an online individual 2½-hour contest with, this year, 26 puzzles (mostly logic, some overtly words or maths) and a track record of an accessible difficulty level. There was certainly plenty to keep me entertained and I came pretty near the bottom.

I wrote a preview of the Croco-League last June, before the league started, and have mentioned it in passing from time to time ever since. The first season completed without unexpected hitches and exceeded my expectations about how much fun it might be in practice. The second season is due to start soon. Accordingly, if you had even tangential passing interest in reading about either of those two puzzle events, consider yourself warned about a puzzle event that can provide fun from September through to June, on and off.

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So who is this contest for? If you like logic puzzles and can get over the fact that the interface is solely in German, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you like puzzles, have an established team and like solving puzzles with a particular group of your puzzling friends, I think you'd find it well worth the effort to learn these puzzles and this interface. I have a slightly old walkthrough of the interface - it's changed, but not all that much - and am happy to answer questions.

Possibly the biggest draw: if you like team sports at large and want to join a team for the purpose of playing a team sport and getting to know your teammates, but are happier with it being a thought sport than a physical sport, again it comes strongly recommended as well worth the effort. I've enjoyed getting to know the rest of my team better as a result and am really looking forward to the second season!

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Current Mood: excitedexcited


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