Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SnoutCast #9: Questions and Answers

In which Curtis gives highly opinionated and possibly ill-informed answers to questions from one of our listeners, and DeeAnn presents well-reasoned and insightful responses to those same questions. It all sort of balances out in the end. Maybe.


[ Download mp3 - 33 MB ]

00:00 - Teaser: multitasking mythbusting (there's a study)
02:52 - Welcome!
04:20 - Question 1: Have there been any activities intertwined with Games that you think worked especially well?
05:21 - ...that Shinteki when we were supposed to peek at each others' name-badges?
08:40 - ...the trading game in Mooncurser's?
13:52 - INTROVERTED XENOPHOBES (thanks Brian)
16:06 - setting expectations; comparisons to Dragon Age: Origins
19:40 - Question 2: Has Team Snout ever considered doing something like this and then decided not to?
22:05 - Question 3: Teams who leave "calling cards" at clue sites: Bane or boon?
22:55 - HLOTF call: following the Notorious T.E.A.M.
27:10 - Question 4: Are there things that player teams do that boost your morale when you're on GC?
30:09 - HLOTF call: positive Nitinol feedback
32:50 - Two weeks from now, on the SnoutCast: Game Themes!
33:22 - Plugging DASH 2
34:02 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "First of May," "Tom Cruise Crazy," "Chiron Beta Prime," "You Ruined Everything," and "Shop Vac" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SnoutCast #8: On the Having of Fun

We're trying something different now: addressing only one topic in each SnoutCast episode (and thus limiting the length to half an hour), and trying not to digress too much. So far, we're doing better at the former than the latter.


[ Download mp3 - 24 MB ]

00:00 - Jaspurr!
01:15 - "Welcome to SnoutCast!"
03:45 - claiming responsibility for "underwear puzzles"
05:06 - the SECRET ORIGIN of NOT HAVING FUN ANYMORE
12:00 - secondhand anecdote: "Less phone, more math!"
17:08 - Team Snout wants you to have fun
25:03 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "The Future Soon," "First of May," "Mandelbrot Set," and "Tom Cruise Crazy" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Jasper

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

No SnoutCast Today

New episode in two weeks. Apologies for the delay.

Meanwhile, you can listen to some Nebula Award-nominated short stories from Asimov's.

CKL

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

1,772 miles

Last week, D and I drove down to the San Francisco bay area for the Game Control Summit and to see friends. We saw quite a few people at the GC Summit, but also did our best to squeeze in other visits--which is how we ended up having breakfast, dessert, tea, and dinner, pretty much one right after the other, on Saturday.

We went to opening night of Foothill College's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which is a great show, and made even more hilarious by my fellow Richter Scale David Mister, who plays William Barfée; had lunch with Pauline and Brian, who just got engaged (she ran a birthday/proposal treasure hunt for him, natch); and I got in-person critiques from various "beta readers" on my novel manuscript.

Finally, on our way home, we stopped at Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park in Napa to scatter Bayla's ashes. That was the reason we drove instead of flying. I'm glad we did it. Bubbling Well is the same place where Amber was laid to rest, and now our girls are together again.

CKL

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SnoutCast #7: Dungeons, Dragons, and Dealin' With It

Longest. Podcast. EVER So far.


[ Download mp3 - 59 MB ]

0:00:00 - Disclaimer, à la Better off Ted
0:02:14 - Belated trivia answer: Corby sculpted the final DRUID case design
0:02:59 - How is Dungeons & Dragons like The Game?
0:05:05 - Dragon Age: Origins (speaking of dragons...)
0:08:45 - Role-playing in different types of games (and Games)
0:11:00 - Debating stargate physics for no good reason
0:14:05 - Adjusting a game experience on the fly
0:17:46 - The meta-rule for D&D, when no rules are specified
0:18:32 - "Never have a door that's not actually a door"
0:20:48 - When is a clue not a clue?
0:25:15 - Curtis is an uncle!
0:26:03 - Why we always confirm our solutions
0:29:13 - One way to deliver semi-automated hints (Wonka, 1999)
0:30:45 - Why Team Snout prefers phone hints
0:32:19 - Just like clinical trials in the medical industry!
0:33:59 - Newspaper headlines lie!
0:36:57 - On not giving too much of a hint
0:40:09 - Funny stories about telephone problems
0:41:31 - Recording of the infamous "Tri-PEZ" call (Note: first dispatcher is Andrew, not Jeff)
0:45:09 - The Game is more than just puzzles; editorial considerations
0:48:33 - Plug: GC Summit 2010
0:49:20 - Info: Brooklynite seeks puzzle hunt interviewees
0:50:21 - Plug: DeeAnn at Ignite Portland 8 (March 3rd)
0:52:36 - Plug: Curtis published in 100 Stories for Haiti (March 4th)
0:54:23 - Plug: DASH 2 (April 24th)
0:54:53 - DeeAnn is quite contrary
0:56:13 - Steal this idea: The Accountant Game!
1:01:30 - Steal this idea: The Sports Draft Game!
1:03:32 - THE END

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Chiron Beta Prime," "You Ruined Everything," and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

SnoutCast #6: Poor Time Management

We apologize for sucking even more than usual this week. Please send us your ideas for future show topics. We're dying here.


[ Download mp3 - 39 MB ]

00:00 - Disclaimer
01:25 - let's talk about timing!
03:30 - DeeAnn hates maps so much
07:00 - anyway, yeah, timing
09:05 - Clue design: how long should it take to solve a puzzle?
12:34 - don't call it skipping: bonus and emergency clues
13:10 - a must-see clue: the Bat-Blinker (device, action shot)
17:06 - how players experience The Game
20:58 - FoBiK follies
28:42 - event planning: not starting with puzzles
30:52 - how other GCs do it
34:49 - setting expectations through GC identity
36:44 - neither of us only DeeAnn has actually seen Field of Dreams
37:31 - plug for GC Summit 2010 (February 18th)
39:27 - plug for DASH 2 (April 24th)
41:40 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Skullcrusher Mountain," "The Future Soon," "First of May," "Tom Cruise Crazy," "Re: Your Brains," and "My Monkey" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

SnoutCast #5: Proto-Skypecast with JRA

No, we are not actually speaking from inside a tin can this week; we're trying something new: Skypecasting! Which basically amounts to recording an international telephone call, with all the attendant audio problems.

I had to do a lot of "fix it in post," and if you hear a vacuum cleaner in the background, it's because I scheduled the recording session at the same time as our monthly house cleaning. Hopefully there is still enough good content for you to enjoy this comedy of errors.


[ Download mp3 - 43 MB ]

00:00 - Random Teaserâ„¢: explaining Crisco
02:45 - introducing our special guest: Jeff!
06:32 - Clue prototypes, generally; why tactile?
08:53 - FoBiK "shrinky dinks" (2002) inspired by Tantrix tiles
16:44 - FoBiK PVC pipe decoder
20:27 - FoBiK "bloody blocks"
24:05 - FoBiK "meat necklace"
26:52 - packaging the Justice Unlimited ruler (2004)
29:06 - Curtis and Jeff get yelled at by their old boss
31:40 - recreational vacuum-forming... for great Justice
37:00 - Dragonhunt (1998): no paper clues!
40:29 - working with Nitinol in Homicide: Life On The Farm (2001)
41:02 - DeeAnn waxes nostalgic about Sutro Baths
45:10 - The End

Oh, yeah: trivia contest! Be the first to e-mail hotsheet@snout.org with the correct answer and you will win...

One(1) FREE team entry to the DASH 2 event in Portland, Oregon (the hunt happens on April 24, 2010. More information coming soon; meanwhile, you can read about DASH 1).

Good luck! We'll reveal all on our next episode, in two weeks.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Ikea," "Baby Got Back," "Chiron Beta Prime," "Shop Vac," and "Mandelbrot Set" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Jeff

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

SnoutCast #4: Thanks for the Memories

In this episode, we discuss some memorable moments from the six Games we've run. Thanks to Rich for the suggestion! Maybe next time we'll answer the question you actually asked...

Apologies for running over an hour this time, the incessant digression (we often discuss a different Game or topic than the one listed for each section below), and constant breath noises. We're working on it. Really.


[ Download mp3 - 56 MB ]

0:00:00 - knock-knock joke intro FAIL
0:02:16 - hello listeners; subscription links
0:04:20 - Homicide: Life on the Farm (2001)
0:12:40 - FoBiK (2002)
0:19:00 - Justice Unlimited (2004)
0:26:09 - Hogwarts and the Draconian Prophecy (2006)
0:37:18 - Midnight Madness: Back To Basics! (2008)
0:50:12 - DASH 1 PDX (2009)
0:57:31 - what have we learned, Charlie Brown?
1:00:27 - The End

That quacking you hear is our attempt to use a timer to limit the length of our ramblings. Clearly, we failed at that, too. Oh well.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "A Talk With George," "Tom Cruise Crazy," "Mandelbrot Set," "My Monkey," "I Feel Fantastic," "First of May," and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Jasper

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Subscribe to SnoutCast



You can now subscribe to SnoutCast, the bi-weekly podcast wherein DeeAnn and I talk about The Game, other puzzle hunts, various tabletop and video games, and random word definitions!

Get every episode delivered to your listening device of choice using one of these handy links:

CKL DeeAnn

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

SnoutCast #3: Story Time

Apologies for the audio artifacts this time around. I forgot to unplug my laptop before recording and had to remove the 60-cycle hum (and harmonics) using a software notch filter. Which is ironic, because I warned about this very problem on the Wired How-To Wiki.


[ Download mp3 - 39 MB ]

00:00 - random teaser
01:25 - shout-out to our two confirmed listeners!
02:10 - "Which Game had the most coherent story?"
06:25 - DeeAnn votes for The Goonies Game
12:20 - stories in Snout Games
13:45 - clue difficulty distribution; dromedary vs. camel
21:27 - Curtis actually means Mickey Rooney
22:47 - "Go to Hogwarts" (see what she did there?)
37:46 - in other gaming news...
41:04 - The End

Happy Holidays, y'all!

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Skullcrusher Mountain," "Tom Cruise Crazy," and "Chiron Beta Prime" by Jonathan Coulton

CKL DeeAnn Jasper

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

SnoutCast #2: Old People

Not only do we talk about old people, DeeAnn and I also talk like old people in this podcast. It's a performance. Like improv! As far as you know.


[ Download mp3 - 53MB ]

00:00 - "Old People" GC prototype (Sean & Crissy)
04:23 - discussion of same
10:55 - the origin of "we're not having fun anymore"
12:13 - getting back to the prototype...
17:39 - inside baseball and randompodcast.com
19:10 - following up on the 10,000 hour rule from Outliers
20:55 - asshats and gaywads (as seen on Daily Show & Colbert Report)
23:30 - we are not experts; doing the math
31:09 - DASH 2 and trying new things
44:23 - "Old People" Clue recorded live (Sean & Lisa and coed astronomy)
56:23 - The End

You can also hear Jasper-cat yelling in the background every now and then.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "A Talk with George," "Mandelbrot Set," and "First of May" by Jonathan Coulton

CKL DeeAnn Jasper

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SnoutCast #1: ZombiePortLand

After writing one "GC Musings" blog post in September, it occurred to me that any such discussions should include my lovely wife DeeAnn, who's been an integral part of every Snout Game. She handles the budget, most of the logistics, and many other planning aspects.

As the latest of our various experiments, she has grudgingly agreed to join me in an irregular podcast about games (note lowercase "g"--we will definitely talk about puzzle hunts, but we reserve the right to digress).

Here's the first episode. It's pretty rough, but either we'll get better, or we'll stop:


[ Download mp3 ]

Oh, yeah, it's also 53 freakin' minutes long. Show notes below so you can skip all the boring stuff.

00:50 - We start with the profanity right away.
04:42 - Left 4 Dead 2 (buy from Amazon)
15:35 - Curtis' talk at Ignite Portland 7 (video and slides)
26:39 - Recap of Shinteki Field Trip: Disneyland
50:21 - Happy Thanksgiving! The end.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Baby Got Back," and "Re: Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton

P.S. If you'd like to join our zombie-killing party sometime, we're sparCKL and SoleChen on Xbox Live.

CKL DeeAnn

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to Solve Any Puzzle in Less Than 47 Minutes

For those who couldn't attend, here are not one, but two recordings of the puzzle hunt talk I gave at Ignite Portland 7 on November 19, 2009!

From the live stream, with cutaways to slides:


And a one-shot from stage left:


The talk includes a walk-through of one Clue from the MegaHard Game (2000), and I love that several people in the audience applauded for the "a-ha" moment and the solution at the end. That's what it's all about, folks.

It's difficult to see the complete slides in those videos, so if you want to solve the embedded puzzle, you should look at these still images:



As noted, tweet @teamsnout if you figure it out. First person to post the correct solution wins verifiable, time-stamped bragging rights. :)

Thanks to all the Ignite Portland staff, volunteers, speakers, and attendees for contributing to a great event, and to Jeff Stribling of MegaHard GC for providing a copy of the Clue for me to photograph.

CKL

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In a Crowded Theater

This Thursday night, I'll be presenting "How to Solve Any Puzzle in Less Than 47 Minutes" at Ignite Portland 7. The title is, of course, hugely misleading; I'll be discussing puzzle hunts in general and walking through one Clue from the MegaHard Game (2000) at breakneck speed.

For those unfamiliar with the Ignite format: Each speaker gets exactly five minutes to present. You submit twenty slides, and each one advances automatically after fifteen seconds. Topic-wise, pretty much anything goes; this time around there'll be talks about DB Cooper, robots, karaoke, hooping (with live demo), and more.

I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an embedded puzzle in my slides.

Check out the complete lineup, and if you're not in Portland, visit the web site on Thursday for info on the live video stream.

CKL

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

GC Musings: The Dry Run Effect

Now that The Muppet Movie Game is postponed indefinitely, those of us interested in Game planning will have to go elsewhere to get our fix of behind-the-scenes discussion.

This is the first in an ongoing, irregular series of articles I'm going to write about my own GC experiences. I encourage other GCs to contribute their thoughts as well, either in comments here or on their own blogs.


THE DRY RUN EFFECT
By Curtis Chen, Team Snout

Background

Last Sunday, DeeAnn and I ran the Portland DASH, a one-day walking puzzle hunt in downtown PDX. "DASH" stands for "Different Area—Same Hunt," and we had worked with people in seven other cities to organize this event. For us, it was a much smaller event than we're used to, and we saw some interesting differences.

When Team Snout has run full-weekend, driving Games, we always see a huge "spread" between the fastest teams and the slowest teams. Some people are puzzle fiends; others like to take their time and forgo hints for hours. We do our best to support both styles of play, but in some of our later events, we spent a lot of effort trying to manage the spread and cause teams to finish within a two-hour window. (That may sound like a long time, but the natural spread is eight to ten hours. That's no good when your end party location is only open for six hours on Sunday.)

In 2006, we did a "dry run" (full-scale, on-location playtest) of the Hogwarts Game with three teams, two weeks before the actual event. We had an observer riding along with each team, so we got very detailed data about how they were solving throughout the event. (One team also inconvenienced a couple of young lovers, but that's another story...)

The most interesting thing we observed on the Hogwarts dry run was the complete lack of a typical spread, despite our preparation of several "bonus clues" to keep faster teams occupied. The three dry run teams never let themselves get more than three clues apart at any time. According to our observers, whenever one team saw another team pulling out of a location, the remaining team would suddenly become more motivated to take a hint and speed up their solving of that clue. Nobody likes being left behind.

I've started calling this "the dry run effect," and we recently saw it in action during the Portland DASH.

So Crazy It Just Might Work

During most of the Portland DASH, DeeAnn and I were the only GC staff available. (Another long story.) This meant we had to cover all the tasks: handing out clues at each location, answering the telephone help line, monitoring clue sites, and taking care of any other little crises that came up. We knew we wouldn't be able to handle doing hints by phone if more than two teams called at once, so we decided to give pre-printed hint envelopes with each clue.

Every single one of our teams finished ahead of schedule: we started around 10:15 AM, and the first team hit EndGame around 2:30 PM. Our scheduled hard cutoff time was 4:30 PM, but even the slowest team arrived an hour before that. I'm pretty sure being able to take hints at any time, without having to call GC and admit you were stumped, caused more teams to take hints earlier and more often. But there was another important factor--we ran the event as a relay.

This is, to my knowledge, something that no other GC has done in this type of event. (If you know of someone who has, please tell me; I'd love to compare notes.) Our goal was to make clue distribution possible for a two-person GC to handle. This is how it worked:
  • GC waited at each location for the first team to arrive.
  • When the first team showed up, GC handed all the sealed clues to that team.
  • The team opened one copy of the clue and started solving it.
  • When the next team showed up, the first team handed all the remaining, sealed clues to them.
  • This process repeated for every subsequent team. If a team ever finished solving their clue before the next team showed up to "hold the bag," they contacted GC for further instructions. (We were usually able to return to the location and hold the remaining clues until the next team arrived.)
This worked out pretty well; it even fit the Old West theme, because GC was the "Sheriff" and each team captain was a "Deputy." At the end party, one team told us they really liked this system because it caused them to see more of the other teams throughout the event.

But remember the spread I was talking about? We had seven teams in the Portland DASH, and we never saw them spread across more than three clue locations--the same as in the Hogwarts dry run. I haven't done all the number crunching and statistical modeling, but the following is my intuition about what's going on.

Three in 3

When Team Snout discusses "the spread," we talk about three sub-groups of all the teams that are playing: We have (1) the fast teams, (2) the middle of the pack, and (2) the slow teams. (Please note that none of those terms is intended as pejorative; we recognize that people play at different speeds, and we do not force anyone to conform to a specific timeline. We want everyone to have fun.)

This spreading-out happens in many circumstances, even down to the team level. Think about it: When a Game team arrives at a location, there's always the one guy who jumps out of the van and runs flat-out to get the clue, then the rest of the team who tumble out after it's parked, and finally the driver, who has to lock up. (If it's Sunday morning, there may also be one or two nappers who stay behind.)

With twenty-plus teams, the atomic units become clusters of teams instead of individual team members. But with a smaller number of teams--say, three in the Hogwarts dry run, or seven in the Portland DASH--I believe players recognize each other more easily, and they're more aware of where they are in the pack. If a team thinks they're falling behind, they may think about taking a hint sooner.

Nobody likes being left behind. With only seven teams, you'll know when you've encountered most of them. With twenty teams, there are some you're never going to see, and unless told otherwise by GC, you can always hold out hope that some of them are still behind you; therefore you have less motivation to speed up your solving.

Conclusions

This is just an observation. I don't think this is a problem that requires fixing, but if confirmed, it will be useful for other GCs to know. Your dry runs will not show the same spread as your full event, and if your event is small, you won't see much of a spread at all. This will affect your timeline and staffing requirements. Plan accordingly!

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