Friday, June 27, 2008

Mysterious apartments and treasure hunts

Stories like these never fail to enchant me. Thank goodness there are more people out there in the world wanting to make life more enchanting. I may just leave a couple clues to the people who live in this apartment after me, but nothing so elaborate.

There are some people who know me through my persona firewall and would know that I love these kinds of treasure hunts. I have created seven of them in my lifetime, even though I only ran five of them and only three of those were solved (one was too hard and one didn't generate enough interest). I even got my pseudonym through the design of my second treasure hunt (the one I made too hard). When I was younger, I ran a few of them, and learned a lot of unique life skills and lessons through them, such as how to build puzzles backwards, how to keep people motivated to solve problems, and how to generate excitement. I even learned how to age paper in a microwave :D .

If you don't know what a treasure hunt would entail, you could go to the crappy Wikipedia page on the subject which I refuse to link to, or you could read about some real treasure hunts. The first one I was introduced to was the book Masquerade by Kit Williams. In it, people had to find a golden hare buried in the countryside, using a series of intricate clues hidden in ornate drawings masquerading as a children's book. It created quite a stir, with treasure hunters scanning the countryside and digging in many plots, some of them private property. Other puzzle books such as The Egyptian Jukebox and stories about fictional treasure hunts such as The Westing Game or Poe's The Gold-Bug fostered a desire to create one of my own.

My hunts were usually in a more linear fashion and involved more diverse puzzle solving aspects, some concepts of which I have liberally borrowed from books (I started one hunt with a puzzle very reminiscent of The Westing Game, where players had to match words together to get the next clue). There is a great movie about hunts of this fashion called Midnight Madness about the Luskin hunts in San Francisco. There are still a lot of groups out there that do these competitions and they pass the organization of these hunts to the people who solved the last one.

Nowadays the fashion has hit the web with the Alternative Reality Game, or ARG for short. An ARG would involve finding usually steagographed clues in web pages that would lead you to another clue with a hint that would make you find another hidden clue in an otherwise innocous site. TV shows have been using these to great effect; the ARGs for Lost (, Find 815) used these to great effect in order to enhance the viewing experience.

Seriously, I forgot how much fun it was to run treasure hunts. It's a bit harder nowadays, with Google making it that much easier to look up trivia and puzzles easily mined by properly written algorithms. I could get involved in one of the more recent hunts and maybe use that to get my feet wet again. According to the Wikipedia site on Luskin's hunts, there are three that are hosted in the NYC area, and summer is the right season for these kind of adventures. I'll have to check it out.

(PS -- I just found out that the draft system posts in a way that dated by the creation of the post, not when the post is complete... so this post is actually a duplicate. What a dumb system!)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I can ride my bike with no handlebars...

but I didn't think that I could split the atom of a molecule, since a molecule needs at least two atoms in it.

Or so I thought!

It seems that there's a disagreement on the internets over whether or not a molecule needs two atoms or just one. Some pages have dodged the issue by just saying that a molecule has as few atoms in it to guarantee the chemical properties of that unit. Even Wikipedia splits hairs, saying in one sentence that a molecule needs two atoms, but recognizes that some gases may be formed from atomic divisions of an element and that each division is a single atom classified as a molecule (such as the molecules in a noble gas such as Krypton or Argon).

However, I just think that the Flobots just didn't understand the chemistry or deliberately manipulated the truth to sound better. In any event, the verse sounds better as "and I can split the atoms of a molecule, of a molecule, of a molecule", regardless of whether or not the author was trying to foreshadow nuclear war as it is in the end stanza of the song. It doesn't matter; the song still rocks, and the rest of their album is also pretty good.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Long time no post...

...and this is where I pretend that I haven't been slacking for the last seven months. :D

Actually I have started a new job at TopCoder and that has been keeping me extremely busy. At the time that I post this, I'll have a few posts ready, so I will be posting regularly. Here it goes to posting regularly again.