Killer frogs in San Francisco

CBS news reports:

According to KPIX-TV contributor and San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phil Mattier, the city is preparing to do something to stop the African clawed frogs. While they are just 5 inches in length, the frogs are eating everything in sight -- including turtles, fish and other frogs.

SFGate continues:

In 2003, the state Department of Fish and Game was going to drain the pond, but at the last minute, it pulled back. Fish and Game reps didn't return calls for comment, but [Richard Schulke, president of the city's Animal Control and Welfare Commission] said outrage over the department's poisoning of pike up at Lake Davis about the same time may have given the state cold feet.

Wikipedia describes the frogs as:

...up to 12 cm long with a flattened head and body but no tongue. Its name derives from its three short claws on each of its hind feet, which it probably uses to stir up mud to hide it from predators. It is found throughout much of Europe, North America, South America, and Africa.


MIT's The Restaurant Plays You

Customer finds exploring more interesting than achieving.
ROFFLE, let's make fun of the graphics. AHahahah.
More alcohol, more alcohol, he continued to shout.

The Restaurant Game is a research project at the MIT Media Lab that will algorithmically combine the gameplay experiences of thousands of players to create a new game. In a few months, we will apply machine learning algorithms to data collected through the multiplayer Restaurant Game, and produce a new single-player game that we will enter into the 2008 Independent Games Festival. Everyone who plays The Restaurant Game will be credited as a Game Designer.

I took it for a spin as a waitress and received my first customer within minutes. Funnily, this first scene progressed very similarly, I imagine, to real life: initial handshakes and posturing (wherein small chit-chat of "man, this is weird" in-game is like "oh, what lovely weather" in-life), to actually serving the food and receiving payment, to mindless wandering and wondering ("can I get drunk?" in-game vs. "can I get no bacon and extra sour cream?" in-life) and, most curiously, the personal opinions we develop with little actual data.

After "completing my objective", I was asked to fill out a personality poll about the other (anonymous) player, with questions like age, location, what they ate for breakfast, and a rating scale of 1 through 10 for the aspects of intelligence, funny, considerate, honest, well spoken, and patience. Due to my customer's constant demand for more alcohol, I judged him a 20 year old male ("so, are you really a girl?" he asked) with no occupation (in college) who eats leftover pizza for breakfast. He was certainly considerate (he did his job, which allowed me to do mine) and patient, average on honesty and clarity, but relatively low on intelligence and humor.

Unbeknownst to me, after profiling is complete you get to see what the other person said of you. This is quite unlike real life (unless, of course, you "whisper" loudly and deliberately) and, knowing my second customer will see it will probably affect my ratings even though everything is anonymous. While you can't respond to these profiles in-game (chatting is disabling once your objective is complete), I did second-guess my own cynical analysis. I received the following ratings (age defaults to 50):

Gender = M
Age = 50
From = don't know
Occupation = waitress
Breakfast = nothing
Intelligent = 7
Funny = 3
Considerate = 7
Honest = 4
Well Spoken = 8
Patient = 9


Spore's magic crayon and magnetic poetry

Along with everyone else, I'm frothing at the mouth waiting for Spore to release later this year. Design lead Chaim Gingold's talk at this year's Game Developer's Conference mentions both magic crayons and magnetic poetry as the sweet spots of user creativity. From coverage by

Photoshop is not a good magic crayon, for example, because it is very hard for most people to use. Neither is Super Mario Bros., since you are not changing anything in the world. Kid Pix fits the schema for a magic crayon, as does the Mii creator, which is an "absolutely beautiful, wonderful magic crayon," he said ... Magnetic poetry was an inspiration for the building editor, which Gingold wanted to work so that it would take "three clicks to make something good ... You also want to support the 1,000 clickers who make amazing things."


Connections: Rent and Developing Online Games

I just love how unseen connections can be made in entirely disparate environments.

  • I am a huge fan of the musical Rent, as is my significant other. One of my favorite and most treasured moments with her has been going to a performance of Rent, and I tear up thinking of those memories, the message, and the music. One song, the Tango: Maureen, dialogged the following regarding the tango itself: "Mark: It's hard to do this backwards. Joanne: You should try it in heels."
  • In reading Developing Online Games, the following is mentioned on page 106: "The old joke about Ginger Rogers being a better dancer than Fred Astaire (she did everything he did, backward and in high heels) applies here."

After having listened to the Rent musical from start to finish nearly 100 times over the years, and doing so again this morning only to find something I read just yesterday (!) gives me new insight, tickles my fancy.

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #057 - #060

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #057 - Volume: This one reminds me of #020: Barbecue, which caused me grief too. Von refers to Die Hard 3, where John McClane had a similar problem: "They have to use a 3 gallon jug and 5 gallon jug to put exactly 4 gallons of water onto a scale to deactivate a briefcase bomb." Another hint is how Von "watered a nearby plant", suggesting that there's some water dumpage going on. The final answer: "First fill the 500ml cup from the watercooler", "Then fill the 300ml cup from the 500ml cup" (200ml remains in the 500ml cup), "Then dump the contents of the 300ml cup" (in a nearby parched plant), "Then fill the 300ml cup from the 500ml cup" (200ml is now in the 300ml cup), "Then fill the 500ml cup from the watercooler", "Then fill the 300ml cup from the 500ml cup" (100ml fills the 300ml cup). "There is now 400ml in the 500ml cup".
  • #058 - Breaking and Entering: Bah, math. There are five letters on each of the three dials, creating 125 different combinations (5x5x5). Multiply that by 10 seconds and it'll take 1250 seconds, or 20 minutes 50 seconds, to open the lock. Now, technically, the lock starts out on one combination that you don't have to manually try, which brings it down to 124 possibilities in 20 minutes 40 seconds. That likelihood is not accepted.
  • #059 - Urban Myths: A fan of Snopes, I am, but my best guess on this one was that Van Halen's penchant for brownless M&Ms was true. I was right, and Snopes has more information on each: the M&M's, Marilyn Manson's Wonder Years, Adidas' sex dreams, Port Out Starboard Home, Captain Pugwash's entendres, golf as gentleman's game, The Great Wall's unique visibility, and The Angry Raisins. And, to make it more obvious, the background of the card is a bowl of M&M's without, ahem, the brown ones.
  • #060 - Celebration: For someone who grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, the fact that I don't know Christian, or even traditional, holidays (and feel "weird" celebrating them, a habit I need to break out of for my daughter's sake) doesn't bode well for cards like this. Apparently all the holidays on the card share lights or candles, and a quick Google search drops us into Lighting in Old Town Begins Renewal, an article which begins "Recently-appointed chairman Raoul Valentin of the Old Town Renewal Committee announced that fresh efforts to bring commerce and interest to the area will begin with a special week-long celebration of the Lighting of the Way." More information, including exact Earth celebration times, over at the Perplex City Wiki.

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #053 - #056

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #053 - Etaoin Schrdlu: MemmoOOries! I first ran across SHRDLU in #swhack back in 2004; herein, it refers to the "the approximate order of frequency of the twelve most commonly used letters in the English language, best known as a nonsense phrase that sometimes appeared in print in the days of "hot type" publishing due to a custom of Linotype machine operators." As the card suggests, this factoid isn't strictly related to the answers (which are 6 and 0). La Disparition (English: A Void) is quite famous for having not used the letter "e" on any of its 300 pages. "Uwierz mi", at the bottom right of the card, is Polish for "Believe me!"
  • #054 - 9 Ball: The question is specifically about the minimum number of weighings that have to be made to "find out" (not prove, merely "find out"), and 1 is as decent a minimum as any. There's a crapload of forum discussions about probabilities and case scenarios and yadda yadda yadda, but eh, glossy eyes and unfeigned indifference. Weigh 3 balls against 3 balls. If one set is lighter, there's your minimum of 1 weigh. If they balance, the set of balls you didn't weigh must be lighter (this presumes you know one ball is lighter, when the card only suggests you were "convinced" of it). Once you know which set is lighter, you'd narrow it down to the exact ball using the same approach, making it 2 weights total. More at (no, no, it's not).
  • #055 - Speed Sight: A relatively simple card: simply remove the polygons in order of their depth, and you'll get yellow, white, red, pink, purple, blue, orange, grey, green, and brown. The strictest definiton of a polygon ("a closed plane figure bounded by three or more line segments"), however, doesn't allow for the final brown circle to be included as part of the answer (unless, of course, it's not really a circle but a polygon of visually acute angles).
  • #056 - Gravity: This was another one of the first cards I ever solved, as it had been a free puzzle on the Perplex City website (thus, my physical card remains forever unscratched). I think it's fairly obvious: ball 4 will build up the most amount of speed due to the greater acceleration of its drop - the "gravity" of the card title.

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #049 - #052

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #049 - Bookworm: This card caused a lot of confusion: were the books on a shelf (you'd assume "yes") and are "pages" considered single sheets of paper (in which case a volume of 1000 pages would contain 500 sheets of paper)? If the books are placed vertically on a shelf, then page 1 of Volume 1 is closest to page 1000 of Volume 2, meaning that the worm skipped the physically first 999 pages of Volume 1 and stopped at the first physical page of Volume 10 (page 1000). The accepted, but contentious, answer is 8002 (an assumption of 1000 pages regardless of sheets, but you could complain about how the worm could eat through page 1000 without it also breaking through page 999 on the other side). 8000 is also considered an acceptable answer. This is apparently a well-known puzzle - the BBC once asked a similar question.
  • #050 - Eight States: Grumble, cards that don't entertain me, grumble: Denver, Colorado, Boise, Idaho, Salem, Oregon, Tallahassee, Florida, Madison, Wisconsin, Dover, Delaware, and the final sentence has two: Juneau, Alaska and Augusta, Maine.
  • #051 - Jigsaw: Cancun! Hawaii! Florida! Any of a thousand other vacation spots I'll never visit! Excelsior! When you place the actual puzzle pieces together, you'll receive the answer: "not here" is spelled out in the remaining whitespace. Maybe a hidden chastisement for not actually doing the physical puzzle.
  • #052 - The View From Here: Cancun! Hawaii! Florida! Any of a thousand other vacation spots I'll never visit! Excelsior! New York is the answer, but Empire State Building is also acceptable. /me sighs: this set of four was just boring and unexciting.

Perplex City ARG Starts Season 2

With a £100,000 prize for Season 1, and the promise of smaller but more frequent rewards for Season 2, the alternate reality game (ARG) promises "new mysteries, new adventures, [and] new gameplay" for its 50,000 UK and US players, and began yesterday with the news of a grisly murder. If you've never heard of, or played, an ARG, you're certainly not the first. While Microsoft, Electronic Arts, ABC (for its show LOST), Nine Inch Nails, and others have dipped their hand into the ARG arena (sometimes twice, as with Microsoft's A.I. and Halo 2 ARGs), they all share the "This Is Not A Game aesthetic ... [dictating] that the game not behave [like one]."

Wikipedia continues with other key factors of the ARG experience:

"... the design was directed at a collective of players that shared information and solutions almost instantly, and incorporated individuals possessing almost every conceivable area of expertise. While the game might initially attract a small group of participants ... they would reach out and draw in others with the knowledge they needed to overcome the obstacles ...

Although more recent games like Perplex City offered prizes (for the finding of the Receda Cube, which took three years and earned its discoverer Andy Darley £100,000; read his endgame discourse), ARGs share a communal aspect where solutions and answers are never hoarded but always shared: it's the game playing community, not the individual, that keeps the game moving forward. The BBC continues:

[ARGs] use real world events and clues planted on the internet, television and newspapers to guide players on a real-life treasure hunt ... Perplex City also used puzzle cards, bought in shops and on the internet, that contained optical illusions, cryptography, and riddles. The rarest cards have traded hands for more than £200 on online auction sites.

With the finding of the Cube, designers Mind Candy Design concluded Perplex City's Season 1, drew back the curtain to give the players a look and, wasting no time, launched Season 2 on March 1st, 2007. Season 2 puzzle cards have either been shipped, or are on their way, to retailers in the UK and the US. They are also available online at

For Season 2, however, they've made a clearer line in the sand: the primary site, We Love Puzzles, collects many different types of "casual" online puzzles, including Daily Puzzles that increase your standing in the Season 2 Leaderboard, as well as the physical puzzle cards themselves (granted to us Earthlings from the intellect-loving puzzlistas of Perplex City). The alternate reality game, on the other hand, was renamed "Perplex City Stories" and has started trickling teasers at, with a full launch in April.

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #045 - #048

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #045 - Snake Eyes: This 'ogram was immediately recognizable as Albert Einstein, as too the mirror'd quote attributed to him (also hinted at by the card): "I shall never believe that God plays dice with the universe." There's also the teaser, "The Clue is in th", in the upper right corner of the card, a trick I've played in the past too. The card title refers to his quote but also to the image, which is made up of black dice.
  • #046 - Sum Shortcut: I am, most assuredly, not a fan of math, but this "sum shortcut" would be, I think, pairing numbers: 1 and 99, 2 and 98, 3 and 97, et cetera et cetera. I'm being told this is "(50 * 100) + 50" (or 5050, the accepted answer) and, more generically, "(n^2 + n) * 1/2". This is apparently some sort of arithmetic progression but, you know what? I find Pokemon evolutions more fascinating than this. 5050. Moving on.
  • #047 - Opposites Attract: Relatively simple, though some take a bit of a leap of faith: "Look before you leap" (1) to "He who hesitates is lost" (6), "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" (2) to "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." (10), "Too many cooks spoil the broth" (3) to "Many hands make light work" (18), "Never judge a book by its cover" (4) to "Clothes make the man" (8), "Seek and ye shall find" (5) to "It's better to be safe than sorry" (11), "Time waits for no man" (7) to "Haste makes waste" (9), "Curiosity killed the cat" (12) to "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." (17), "Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" (13) to "One man's meat is another man's poison" (16), and "Silence is golden" (14) to "The squeaking wheel gets the grease" (15).
  • #048 - Pop Words: Without poking around, my guess would be 2000 (A), 1950 (B), 1960 (C), 1980 (D), 1970 (E), and 1990 (F). There's a Guardian article on Dent's book, which suggests I was off a bit: 1990 (A), 1910 (B), 1960 (C), 1920 (D), 1970 (E), and 1980 (F).

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #041 - #044

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #041 - Whipsmart Wordsearch: The wordsearch here is not actually related to the puzzle - simply going to the Whipsmart Ice site will score you the answers of Coffee Annan, Cube Berry, David Hassletoffee, Isaac Neopolitan, Monkey Puzzle, Pear De Fermat, Piquant Pecan, Quantum Cherry, Rummy Descartes, and Vanilla. With that said, if you ROT13 the first three rows of the wordsearch, you'll find the hidden message "wordsearches are the puzzle equivalent of watching paint dry". In addition, there's a "wordsearch" easter egg on the "Pastures Green" section of the Whipsmart site (the same image that the wordsearch of the card overlays) where rubbing in the bottom right corner (underneath the "Home" sign) will reveal the word "hello".
  • #042 - Pirates vs Ninjas: Two of these statements are true ("The treasure is not here" pointing to Dog's Isle, and "It's not on Dog Isle") and the other, pointing to Catan ("The treasure is buried here"), is false. Therefore, the treasure must be buried on the remaining island, Rompecabezas (which is Spanish for "puzzle" and break [romper] heads [cabezas]).
  • #043 - Use Your Anterior Cingulate: From Wikipedia: "According to research by Alcino Silva and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, the anterior cingulate cortex is responsible for rendering new memories permanent ... The classic Stroop task involves naming the color ink of words that are either congruent (RED written in red) or incongruent (RED written in blue). Conflict occurs because people's reading abilities interfere with their attempt to correctly name the word's ink. A variation of this task is the Counting-Stroop during which people count either neutral stimuli ('dog' presented four times) or interfering stimuli ('three' presented four times) by pressing a button." The "Stroop effect" is named after John Ridley Stroop and was first published in 1935.
  • #044 - You Are Here: Remember: it's only the second level of difficulty and a sad number of people don't actually recall our planets and their specific order. The mnenomic on the side of the card, "My very excellent memory just sums up nine planets", is yet another clue to the answer, being: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.


Subscribe to RSS