John Evan Dickson, 6th October 1937 - 28th April 2021

My father has passed away.

No contact for now, please; I choose to assume your best wishes and condolences.

(Edited: the date in the original title was 29th April 2021, despite the message being posted on 28th April 2021, so it looked like a prediction from a day in the future! Clearly I didn't know what day it was under the circumstances, and I had written it down incorrectly elsewhere.)

New game: Currency Cat

Here is a simple, free-to-enter game to celebrate the recent turn of the decade.

As I type at 2000 local UK time on 13th January 02020, the following sums of money are worth approximately the same:

GBP 10.00 (10.00 British Pounds)
EUR 11.67 (11.67 Euros)
USD 13.00 (13.00 US Dollars)
AUD 18.82 (18.82 Australian Dollars)
CAD 16.96 (16.96 Canadian Dollars)
INR 919.9 (919.9 Indian Rupees)
AED 47.74 (47.74 Emirati Dirhams)
ZAR 187.2 (187.2 South African Rand)
THB 392.3 (392.3 Thai Baht)
NZD 19.60 (19.60 New Zealand Dollars)

Which three of these are, on average, going to be worth the most on 13th January 02030? You don't have to use just those ten; you can use GBP 10.00 worth of any other reasonably major currency instead, if you prefer, including (but not limited to) Swiss Francs, Japanese Yen, Chinese Yuan Remnimbi, Russian Roubles, CFA Francs and so on.

You name the reasonably major currency, I'll establish the starting value (you don't need to work it out yourself!) and I'll come back and work out the 02030 value in ten years' time. Submissions must be entered within two weeks of me making this post. You don't need any sort of account to play, but do identify yourself so that I can award you a prize in 02030 if you win.

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"The Floor is Lava" mini golf

Insomnia last night inspired this game idea; maybe there's something to it, maybe there isn't. I might give it a try next time I'm at a games event.

"The Floor is Lava" mini golf, version 0.01
Remixing and improvement encouraged. Released under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Players: (at a guess) 6-10 at a time, freely subbing in and out between rounds
Duration: three minutes per round, plus 5-10 minutes for setup
Equipment needed: a dedicated area (maybe 20 yards by 10 yards) that's probably outdoors, one golf putter per player, one easily distinguishable golf ball per player, one numbered target per player, three or four pieces of detritus (pizza boxes, buckets, paint cans, car tyres, plant pots, album covers, sheets of newspaper, carpet underlay offcuts... really, anything that can be stood upon and is perhaps 1.5-5 times as large as an adult foot) per player, one timer.

It's not a very prescriptive game in terms of equipment. The putters are presumably picked up second-hand from charity shops for peanuts. In a perfect world the targets might be, say, gateball hoops which come with their own numbers, but croquet hoops or pegs would be almost as good, or tent pegs, or wooden spoons, or whatever you can imagine and distinguish. Similarly, if you end up using other sorts of bats and balls then that's fine as well.

Dot the detritus and targets around the playing area. Ensure that the sequence of targets does not make a simple circle but a path that crosses the area from one side to the next and criss-crosses itself several times. There should be at least one piece of detritus in the way of the straight route from one target to the next. The items of detritus should be sufficiently far apart that the player with the shortest step cannot quite step from one to the next, but not much further than that - just far enough apart that every player has to jump a bit. Once the detritus is down, the extent of the playing area is defined as "anywhere that can be reached while standing on any of the detritus".

Starting position: each player is given their own putter and ball, picks their own numbered target (one player per target), then places the ball at that target and stands on the nearest piece of detritus to that target. When the stopwatch is started, players then attempt to putt their golf balls from one numbered target so that it hits the next one in sequence, then the one after that, and so on, before the time expires. If you reach the highest-numbered target, then your next target is the lowest-numbered one.

Special difficulty: the playing area is lava and players must be standing on detritus at all times; Players who step onto the playing area are disqualified. Additionally, players must move to a different piece of detritus after each shot, so it's more important that you putt your ball to somewhere that you can reach from another piece of detritus than that you actually hit the targets. Also, all players putt and move simultaneously at their own speed.

Victory condition: the game ends after three minutes. The player, or players, who have hit most targets in sequence during that time win that round. Play as many rounds as there is interest, substituting players in and out and/or redistributing the targets and detritus between rounds.

There are some deliberately vague issues left to vary from game to game, or from round to round, as the players see fit. Deliberately putting other players' balls with your putter is cheating, though groups may consider players' balls hitting each other to be part of the fun. (I suppose players can step outside the playing area if they need to - for instance, if their ball gets knocked out of it. Alternatively, you might prefer to disallow that but instead to put some sort of physical boundary rope in place.) I decline to rule whether or not the detritus may be moved while the game is in progress; whatever's more fun goes. This is not intended to be a roughhousing game where you attempt to dislodge your competitors off the detritus into the lava, but if everyone gives enthusiastic informed consent to the thought of it then you go for it.

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  • Current Mood
    silly silly

Show me the games and I will show you the man

The first meme to have really caught my imagination for a few years popped up on Twitter the other day.

Originally, Jennifer Scheurle asked: Let’s play the game version of this: Name 5 games that you’d recommend to someone to play to convey you best as a person. Go!

You would have to have a time machine to play mine but here we go:

It's A Crime!
Brian Clough's Football Fortunes
The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze
The DASH 5 puzzle hunt
Liar's Dice

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  • Current Mood
    nostalgic bloody hell, a blog post

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.

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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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
    excited excited

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
    tired headache-y

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?

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  • Current Mood
    loved loved

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
    accomplished unusually productive

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.

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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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