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Posts Tagged ‘games

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”*…

In the Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit, based on a novel by Walter Tevis, a burly custodian in an orphanage basement, hunched over a chess board, intrigues a nine-year-old girl named Beth Harmon, who sees him playing, under a dim light, against himself. This Mr. Shaibel can tell Beth’s a bit desperate to understand what he’s doing, and begrudgingly agrees to teach her to play. At night, high on the tranquilizers the staff administers to orphans—this is the early 1960s—she practices tactics in bed, staring up at a chess board that she hallucinates on the ceiling. Beth advances rapidly in skill, until Mr. Shaibel, who plays in a club, can no longer reserve how impressed he is at her abilities. He invites a fellow chess player, who heads the local high school chess group, to meet Beth, and recruit her. She ends up playing the boys in the club simultaneously, including last year’s champion. A crowd of students forms as she bests each one.

As I watched Beth dreamily focus on her imaginary chess board, simulating alternative possibilities, I thought about how that must be shaping her brain, particularly the part dedicated to planning and decision-making, the frontal cortex. Compared to other regions, it’s uniquely malleable, or plastic. Stanford behavioral endocrinologist Robert Sapolsky calls it “the brain’s hotspot for plasticity.” Our brains are changing, forming new neural connections and severing others all the time, of course. But at a young age the brain’s plasticity is much more pronounced. This is something that Tom Vanderbilt discussed in his Nautilus feature, “Learning Chess at 40,” in which he reports what it was like taking up the game with his four-year-old daughter. Neil Charness, a psychologist who has studied cognition through chess for years, told Vanderbilt, “If you’re talking about two novices, your daughter would probably pick things up about twice as fast as you could.” In that way it’s like learning a language—children can assimilate the game’s complex rules and action much more intuitively and quickly than an adult.

This means that chess offers a unique opportunity. It could perhaps be the ultimate window through which we might see how our mental powers shift during our lives. This is because the moves of professional chess players in games, going back over a century, are recorded, and so researchers can objectively analyze the quality of players’ moves over their career, inferring cognitive rise and decline. And that’s exactly what a recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, did…

How a game that dates from the 6th century can teach us about ourselves and how we change as we age: “Scientists Analyzed 24,000 Chess Matches to Understand Cognition.”

The study- is here: “Life cycle patterns of cognitive performance over the long run.”

* George Bernard Shaw


As we consider our next move, we might recall that it was on this date in 1877 that the first meeting of the Manhattan Chess Club was held; the entrance fee was $1 per person and dues were $4 per year. MCC was, until it closed in 2002, the second-oldest chess club in the U.S. (The oldest, The Mechanics Library Chess Club in San Francisco, first met in 1854– and is still in operation.)

Bobby Fischer, left, played a speed match against Andrew Soltis in 1971 at the Manhattan Chess Club


“Sometimes the only way to move forward is to revisit the things in your past that were holding you back”*…

Adobe Flash was the language of choice for a generation of game developers, helping kickstart an indie revolution on the still-young web of the 1990s and 2000s. But it withered on the proprietary and insecure vine, and both web browsers and Adobe have now canned it, threatening countless games and interactive presentations with the memory hole. The Internet Archive comes to the rescue, not only archiving the flash files but emulating the player itself, allowing history to live on.

“The Internet Archive has begun emulating Flash Animations, Games and Toys in a new collection,” wrote archivist Jason Scott on Twitter. “It’s at https://archive.org/details/softwarelibrary_flash and it’s going to be past 1,000 items in 24 hours. You can add your own and get them running, and the animations have never ran smoother or better.”…

From our friends at Boing Boing: “Internet Archive turns on Flash emulation, already has 1000 items to check out.”

* “Barry Allen” (The Flash)


As we celebrate that what’s old is new again, we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Albert Einstein presented the Einstein Field Equation to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.  Einstein soon after elaborated it into the set of 10 equations that account for gravitation in the curved spacetime that he described in his General Theory of Relativity; they are used to determine spacetime geometry.

(German mathematician David Hilbert reached the same conclusion, and actually published the equation before Einstein– though Hilbert, who was a correspondent of Einstein’s, never suggested that Einstein’s credit was inappropriate.)

On the right side of the equal sign, the distribution of matter and energy in space; on the left, the geometry of the space, the so-called metric, a prescription for how to compute the distance between two points.


“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty”*…

Readers will know of your correspondent’s deep affection and respect for Martin Gardner (c.f., e.g., here), so will understand his inability to pass up this appreciation:

You may think that the most interesting man in the world has a scraggly gray beard, drinks Mexican beer, and hangs out with women half his age. But you’re dead wrong. I discovered the real deal, the authentic most interesting man in the world, on the shelves on my local public library when I was a freshman in high school. His name was Martin Gardner.

I first stumbled upon Gardner’s work while rummaging around a bottom shelf in the rear of the library, right below my favorite book in the building, Jean Hugard’s The Royal Road to Card Magic. The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions, published by Gardner in 1959, represented a big leap from Hugard, yet I devoured as much of it as my 14-year-old mind could comprehend. Much of the math was too advanced for me, but the parts I understood charmed and delighted me. I came back the next week to check out The Second Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions. I followed up with Gardner’s The Numerology of Dr. Matrix and Unexpected Hangings, also on the shelves on the library, and soon purchased a copy of his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science at a used bookstore. Around this same time, I bought, at great expense, a brand new hardbound copy of 536 Curious Problems and Puzzles by Henry Ernest Dudeney, and learned that this treasure trove of strange and peculiar diversions had been edited by (yes, you guessed it) Martin Gardner. I felt like shouting out: “Mama, there’s that man again!”

Later I learned that Gardner’s expertise extended far beyond math and science. I can’t even begin to explain my delight when I discovered that Gardner fraternized with magicians. During my teen years, I spent countless hours practicing card tricks and sleights-of-hand — I never realized my ambition of performing as a card magician, but the finger dexterity later helped when I switched my focus to playing jazz piano — and I was thrilled to learn that Gardner knew Dai Vernon, Frank Garcia, Paul Curry, Ed Marlo, and other masters of playing card prestidigitation. They were not household names. In my mind, someone like Dai Vernon was way too cool to be known by the uninitiated. But these were precisely the kind of mysterious masterminds of obscure arts that Martin Gardner would include among his buddies.

And finally as a humanities student at Stanford I learned about Martin Gardner’s contributions as literary critic and scholar. His annotated guide to Lewis Carroll is a classic work of textual deconstruction (although Gardner would never have used that term), and my boyhood hero also applied his sharp analytical mind to deciphering the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, G.K. Chesterton, and L. Frank Baum. I could continue the list, but you get the idea. Whatever your interests — whether the theory of relativity or “Jabberwocky,” the prisoner’s dilemma or a mean bottom deal from a clean deck, Martin Gardner was your man. He ranks among the greatest autodidacts and polymaths of the 20th century. Or, as I prefer to say, he was the most interesting man in the world, the fellow I would invite to that mythical dinner party where all parties, living or dead, are compelled to accept your invitation…

Read on for Ted Gioia‘s (@tedgioia) appreciation of Gardner’s autobiogrphical works: “Martin Gardner: The Most Interesting Man in the World.”

* Bertrand Russell


As we add it up, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to J. H. C. (Henry) Whitehead; he was born on this date in 1904. A mathematician (and nephew of Alfred North Whitehead), he was a topographer, one of the founders of homotopy theory, an approach to mapping of topological spaces.

Born in Chennai and educated at Oxford and Princeton, he joined the codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War II and by 1945 was one of some fifteen mathematicians working in the “Newmanry,” a section headed by Max Newman that was responsible for breaking a German teleprinter cipher using machine methods– which included the use of Colossus machines, early digital electronic computers.

He spent the rest of his career at Oxford (where he was Waynflete Professor of Pure Mathematics at Magdalen College). He served as president of the London Mathematical Society, which created two prizes in his memory: the annually-awarded Whitehead Prize and the biennially-awarded Senior Whitehead Prize.


“By reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events”*…




In the Regency era (early 1800s), live theater was so popular that it regularly inspired riots. In 1809, when the Covent Garden Theater tried to raise ticket prices, audiences were so incensed that they revolted. For more than two months straight, they shouted, shook rattles, rung bells, and even brought pigs into the theater to drown out the actors. The protest was successful, and the administration gave up on the price hike.

Meanwhile, crowds packed into the “blood tubs,” unofficial performances held in abandoned warehouses and holes dug into the ground. The typical fare included lewd songs, dramatizations of shocking local crimes, and twenty-minute abridgements of Shakespeare. The shows changed so frequently that the actors tended to make up the stories as they went along. The theaters were unlicensed, meaning that both audiences and actors risked imprisonment for participating. Nonetheless, the blood tubs were so popular that they sometimes gave as many as six performances a day to audiences of hundreds, most of them children.

Clearly, people were hungry for entertainment. And in this time before Netflix and YouTube, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring entertainment into the home: paper theaters. For “one penny plain, two cents colored,” you got a tiny cardboard stage about the size of a paperback book, complete with a proscenium arch, curtains, and sometimes even a paper audience. The characters were laid out on sheets of paper, frozen in dramatic poses: villains brandish revolvers capped with clouds of gunpowder, jolly sailors hook arms and dance, clowns emerge from barrels…

This short-lived children’s toy left… an enduring cultural legacy. Before Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, before Jean Cocteau directed his iconic, dreamlike Beauty and the Beast, before Wagner composed his Ring Cycle, they each acted out their big stories on these tiny stages. As the literary scholar Monica Cohens points out, Stevenson’s Treasure Island reads almost like a paper-theater drama writ large. Pirates were an unshakeable cliché of Victorian melodrama, and the grim tales of cruelty and violence that featured on the Victorian stage were brightened into candy colors in their miniature theater editions. Likewise, Stevenson’s dashing pirates come to us filtered through a sunny lens…

In the nineteenth century, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring theater into the home.  An appreciation of the Dungeons and Dragons of its day: “Paper Theaters: The Home Entertainment of Yesteryear.”

* G. K. Chesterton


As we revel in role-playing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1951 that I Love Lucy premiered on CBS.  The chronicle of Lucy Ricardo’s (Lucille Ball’s) efforts to break into show business alongside her bandleader husband Desi (Desi Arnaz) via schemes hatched with her neighbors (William Frawley and Vivian Vance), it ran for six seasons, 180 episodes, it became the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and it was the first to end its run atop the Nielsen ratings (an accomplishment later matched only by The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998).

A pioneer– it was the first scripted show shot in 35mm, the first ensemble cast, the first “three camera” scripted production– it created the template for sit-coms to come.  It won five Emmys and is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. In 2012, it was voted the ‘Best TV Show of All Time’ in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine.

ILoveLucyTitleScreen source




Written by LW

October 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one”*…




You’ve probably heard of the wisdom of crowds. The general idea, popularized by James Surowiecki’s book, is that a large group of non-experts can solve problems collectively better than a single expert. As you can imagine, there are a lot of subtleties and complexities to this idea. Nicky Case helps you understand with a game.

Draw networks, run simulations, and learn in the process…

Spend an extremely-fruitful half hour with “The Wisdom and/or Madness of Crowds.”

[via Flowing Data]

* Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds


As we contemplate connection, we might compose a birthday rhyme for Torquato Tasso, the 16th Century Italian poet; he was born on this date in 1544.  Tasso was a giant in his own time– he died in 1595, a few days before the Pope was to crown him “King of the Poets”– but had fallen out the core of the Western Canon by the end of the 19th century.  Still, he resonates in the poems (Spencer, Milton, Byron), plays (Goethe), madrigals (Monteverdi), operas (Lully, Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn, Rossini, Dvorak) , and art work (Tintoretto, the Carracci, Guercino, Pietro da Cortona, Domenichino, Van Dyck, Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Tiepolo, Fragonard, Delacroix) that his life and work inspired.

220px-Torquato_Tasso source


Written by LW

March 11, 2019 at 12:01 am

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