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Posts Tagged ‘games

“Reality is broken”*…

 

Paperclips, a new game from designer Frank Lantz, starts simply. The top left of the screen gets a bit of text, probably in Times New Roman, and a couple of clickable buttons: Make a paperclip. You click, and a counter turns over. One.

The game ends—big, significant spoiler here—with the destruction of the universe.

In between, Lantz, the director of the New York University Games Center, manages to incept the player with a new appreciation for the narrative potential of addictive clicker games, exponential growth curves, and artificial intelligence run amok…

More at “The way the world ends: not with a bang but a paperclip“; play Lantz’s game here.

(Then, as you consider reports like this, remind yourself that “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”)

* Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

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As we play we hope not prophetically, we might recall that it was on this date in 4004 BCE that the Universe was created… as per calculations by Archbishop James Ussher in the mid-17th century.

When Clarence Darrow prepared his famous examination of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes trial [see here], he chose to focus primarily on a chronology of Biblical events prepared by a seventeenth-century Irish bishop, James Ussher. American fundamentalists in 1925 found—and generally accepted as accurate—Ussher’s careful calculation of dates, going all the way back to Creation, in the margins of their family Bibles.  (In fact, until the 1970s, the Bibles placed in nearly every hotel room by the Gideon Society carried his chronology.)  The King James Version of the Bible introduced into evidence by the prosecution in Dayton contained Ussher’s famous chronology, and Bryan more than once would be forced to resort to the bishop’s dates as he tried to respond to Darrow’s questions.

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Ussher

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Written by LW

October 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

“He does nothing, but he does it very well”*…

 

It might look like a simple chess problem, but this puzzle could finally help scientists uncover what makes the human mind so unique, and why it may never be matched by a computer…

The chess problem – originally drawn by Sir Roger Penrose – has been devised to defeat an artificially intelligent (AI) computer but be solvable for humans. The Penrose Institute scientists are inviting readers to workout how white can win, or force a stalemate and then share their reasoning…

The backstory– and a chance to crack the puzzle– at “Can you solve the chess problem which holds key to human consciousness?

P.H. Clarke after his match with Tigran Petrosian

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As we make our moves, we might note that today is International Tabletop Day, a day devoted to the celebration of tabletop gaming.  Find a place to play here.

 

 

Written by LW

April 29, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance”*…

 

Roman 12mm dice

Random numbers are central to more than we may realize.  They have applications in gambling, statistical sampling, computer simulation and Monte Carlo modeling, cryptography (as applied in both communications and transactions), completely randomized design, even sooth-saying– in any area where producing an unpredictable result is desirable.  So how they’re produced– the certainty that they are, in fact, random– matters enormously.

It’s no surprise, then, that random number generation has a long and fascinating history.  Happily, Carl Tashian is here to explain.

“As an instrument for selecting at random, I have found nothing superior to dice,” wrote statistician Francis Galton in an 1890 issue of Nature. “When they are shaken and tossed in a basket, they hurtle so variously against one another and against the ribs of the basket-work that they tumble wildly about, and their positions at the outset afford no perceptible clue to what they will be even after a single good shake and toss.”…

From I Ching sticks and dice to the cryptographically-secure PRNG, “A Brief History of Random Numbers.”

[TotH to the eminently-numerate Reuben Steiger]

Robert Coveyou

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As we roll the bones, we might spare a thought for Samuel “Sam” Loyd; he died on this date in 1911. A chess player, chess composer, puzzle author, and recreational mathematician.  A member of the Chess Hall of Fame (for both his play and for his exercises, or “problems”), he gained posthumous fame when his son published a collection of his mathematical and logic puzzles, Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles after his father’s death.  As readers can see here and here, his puzzles still delight.

Loyd’s most famous puzzle was the 14-15 Puzzle, which he produced in 1878. His original authorship is debated; but in any case, his version created a craze that swept America to such an extent that employers put up notices prohibiting playing the puzzle during office hours.

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Written by LW

April 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Brief murmurs only just almost never all known”*…

 

Q1: What is, traditionally, the principal unit of measurement for measuring floorspace in Taiwan? Taipei 101’s floorspace of 379,296 square meters converts to about 114,737 of the unit in question.

Q2: If you’re playing Magic: The Gathering, what slangy verb (synonymous with poke, zap, and Tim) might you use to signify dealing one hit point of damage to a target?

Q3: Analogies: Rosalind is to Ganymede as Éowyn is to Dernhelm as Fa Mulan is to whom?

Q4: What fictional wanderer, introduced in a 1933 book often read by Captain Kangaroo, lives with “his mother and his father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins”?

Q5: What networking utility, first written for 4.2a BSD UNIX in 1983, sends echo request packets and reports on echo replies?

All is revealed in the 21st installment of James Callan‘s wonderful series of newsletters, “Five Questions, One Answer.”

* Samuel Beckett, “Ping.”

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As we sign up for the next pub quiz, we might spare a thought for John Baskerville, English printer and typefounder; he died on this date in 1775.  Among Baskerville’s publications in the British Museum’s collection are Aesop’s Fables (1761), the Bible (1763), and the works of Horace (1770).  And as for his fonts,  Baskerville’s creations (including the famous “Baskerville”) were so successful that his competitors resorted to claims that they damaged the eyes.

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Written by LW

January 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If it’s zero degrees outside today and it’s supposed to be twice as cold tomorrow, how cold is it going to be?”*…

 

One of the most famous literary riddles in literature is also the most frustrating … because it came without an answer! In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter poses this puzzle to Alice:

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Eight other head-scratchers (with answers to all) at “9 of History’s Best Riddles.”

* Steven Wright

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As we puzzle, we might spare a thought for Terry Southern; he died on this date in 1995.  Best remembered as a novelist and screenwriter–  Dr. StrangeloveThe Loved OneThe Cincinnati KidEasy Rider, Candy, and The Magic Christian, among others; Southern’s work on Easy Rider helped create the independent film movement of the 1970s.  But perhaps as importantly, Tom Wolfe credits Southern with inventing New Journalism with the publication of “Twirling at Ole Miss” in Esquire in 1962.

Southern, photographed by Stanley Kubrick

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Written by LW

October 29, 2016 at 1:01 am

“That’s when I gave up pinball”*…

 

 

Readers will recall the hysterical efforts of “Dr.” Frederic Wertham to protect children from the dangers of comic books; pinball machines faced a similar challenge…

During the decadent reign of Louis XIV, restless courtiers at Versailles became enchanted with a game they called ‘bagatelle’ which means a ‘trifle’ in French. This game was played on a slanted felt board. A wooden cue was used to hit balls into numbered depressions in the board – usually guarded by metal pins. The game arrived in America in the 19th century, and by the turn of the 20th century attempts were being made to commercialize the game. According to Edward Trapunski, author of the invaluable pinball history Special When Lit (1979), the first successful coin operated bagatelle game, Baffle Ball, was produced by the D Gottlieb Company at the end of 1931.

Soon the metal plunger took the place of the wooden cue stick, and lights, bumpers and elaborate artwork appeared on the machines. The game had arrived at the right time – the Depression had just hit America hard, and the one-nickel amusement helped entertain many struggling citizens. It also kept many small businesses afloat, since the operator and location owner usually split the profits 50/50. The game was particularly popular with youngsters in claustrophobic cities like New York, which boasted an estimated 20,000 machines by 1941. That year, one local judge who was confronted with a pinball machine during a case voiced the complaint of many older citizens when he whined: ‘Will you please take this thing away tonight. I can’t get away from these infernal things. They have them wherever I go.’

Although pinball was quickly vilified in many parts of America, the poster child for the vilification was none other than ‘the little flower’ himself: the pugnacious, all-powerful Fiorello H La Guardia, mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945. La Guardia argued that pinball was a ‘racket dominated by interests heavily tainted with criminality’, which took money from the ‘pockets of school children’…

The whole sad story at: “A menace to society: the war on pinball in America.” (And more on the history of pinball machines here and here.)

* Haruki Murakami, Pinball

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As we limber up our flipper fingers, we might spare a thought for a man who’d surely have approved of neither the comics nor pinball, Increase Mather; he died on this date in 1723.  A major figure in the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Province of Massachusetts Bay (now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), Mather was a Puritan minister involved with the government of the colony, the administration of Harvard College, and most notoriously, the prosecution of the Salem witch trials. His piety ran in the family: he was the son of Richard Mather, and the father of Cotton Mather, both influential Puritan ministers.

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Written by LW

August 23, 2016 at 1:01 am

“We’re supposed to keep evolving. Evolution did not end with us growing opposable thumbs”*…

 

The CEO of Enron – now in prison – happily applied ‘selfish gene’ logic to his human capital, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Assuming that the human species is driven purely by greed and fear, Jeffrey Skilling produced employees driven by the same motives. Enron imploded under the mean-spirited weight of his policies, offering a preview of what was in store for the world economy as a whole…

Frans de Waal on the flaws in the “competition-is-good-for-you” logic: “How Bad Biology is Killing the Economy.”

* Bill Hicks

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As we concentrate on cooperation, we might spare a thought for Martin Gardner; he died on this date in 2010.  Though not an academic, nor ever a formal student of math or science, he wrote widely and prolifically on both subjects in such popular books as The Ambidextrous Universe and The Relativity Explosion and as the “Mathematical Games” columnist for Scientific American.  Indeed, his elegant– and understandable– puzzles delighted professional and amateur readers alike, and helped inspire a generation of young mathematicians.

Gardner’s interests were wide; in addition to the math and science that were his power alley, he studied and wrote on topics that included magic, philosophy, religion, and literature (c.f., especially his work on Lewis Carroll– including the delightful Annotated Alice— and on G.K. Chesterton).  And he was a fierce debunker of pseudoscience: a founding member of CSICOP, and contributor of a monthly column (“Notes of a Fringe Watcher,” from 1983 to 2002) in Skeptical Inquirer, that organization’s monthly magazine.

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