Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Ghost Patrol"

This week's short is an excerpt from a story I'm revising for my Clarion workshop application. (I need two stories to apply; the other one will be an expanded version of "Martian Standard Time.") And yes, I did steal the title from an unrelated 2008 puzzle hunt event. Wish me luck!

Read "Ghost Patrol" at 512 Words or Fewer


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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, 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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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.


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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.


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Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Harold & Kumar Get Left 4 Dead Once Upon A Time In Mexico"

Rights holders: Please don't sue me. Here--I'll even link to all your products! Fair use! Fair use!

Read "Harold & Kumar Get Left 4 Dead Once Upon A Time In Mexico" at 512 Words or Fewer


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Monday, October 26, 2009

My Strange Love Live Interview

Last Friday night, despite host Cami Kaos' excellent guidance, I still managed to be all over the place topic-wise, and what the hell did I do to darken up my voice like that? Anyway, here I am, warts and all:

Thanks to Cami Kaos and Dr. Normal for having me on the show!


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Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I'm looking forward to Shinteki Field Trip: Disneyland on Saturday, as are 43 other teams. At four people per team, that's 176 total players, which may well be the largest Bay Area(ish) Game ever. Excitement!

However, I do have to wonder what the teams named "Tragic Kingdom" and "The Crappiest Place on Earth" were thinking. It's one thing to be ironic and attend a concert wearing a different band's T-shirt, but to (figuratively) wear a "Your Favorite Band Sucks" shirt seems rather impolitic. Maybe it's just me.


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Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday Night Live

Mark your calendars: On Friday, October 23rd, at 10PM Pacific, I will be a guest on Strange Love Live, a weekly online show featuring "the movers and shakers of the social web." I'm not sure I qualify for that lofty mantle, but who am I to refuse the invitation?

I first met SLL host Cami Kaos and producer Dr Normal at BarCampPortland III, the last such event to take place at the now-defunct CubeSpace. In the manner of such unconferences, they asked for any interested parties to sign up for brief interviews on that week's show, which they broadcast live from CubeSpace. I was one of the first interviewees, and I guess I didn't completely bomb. I've also seen both of them at other events since then, including CloudCampPDX and the local roller derby.

Anyhow, I will be talking about 512 Words or Fewer, writing in general, the Portland DASH and other puzzle hunts, PDX Browncoats, and whatever other random topics come up during the hour. Tune in, won't you?

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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.

By Curtis Chen, Team Snout


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.


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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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Modest Proposal

I've just submitted a talk proposal to Ignite Portland 7, with the completely misleading title "How to Solve Any Puzzle in Less Than 47 Minutes."

If you're a PDX local (perhaps even one of our recent Portland DASH participants?) and would like to hear more about puzzle hunts, feel free to visit the site and send a comment to the organizers--or submit a proposal of your own! Deadline is October 4th.

They'll be selecting talks sometime next month, I think. If they pick me, I hope to present something half as interesting as my friend Jeff's "IT in Africa" talk (O'Reilly Ignite UK North, 22 Jan 2009).

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Portland DASH Recaplet

Thanks to all the teams who played in today's puzzle hunt! For those who missed it, and other interested parties:

We fielded seven teams, totaling about 30 people. All our teams blew through the puzzles much faster than we expected--we started at 10:15 AM, and the first team hit the EndGame party location around 2:30 PM--but they were all happy to hang out with food and beer and work on the meta-puzzle (which we had offered as optional). Most teams got through the meta with a few hints on Part 2, and the last team finished just before 6:00 PM.

You can sort of follow the timeline from my sporadic tweets.

I also took some photos.

Full recap coming soon at, with hard numbers and the naming of names and such.



Monday, August 03, 2009

Puzzles in Portland

During our time in the bay area, DeeAnn and I ran several puzzle hunt events ("The Game") with Team Snout, and now we're starting a new tradition in Portland...

We're collaborating with Game Controls (GCs) in nine cities across the US to create a one-day, walking puzzle hunt called DASH (Different Area, Same Hunt). Each city is contributing one puzzle, and players in every city will solve the same set of puzzles on the same day--albeit in different locations.

Interested? Get more information and sign up here:

(We're also looking for some volunteers in the Portland area to do playtesting over the next few weeks and help run the event on September 13th. We don't expect a lot of teams, but we'll do our best to make it fun for everyone. E-mail if you'd like to help.)

Please spread the word to your puzzle-loving friends in PDX!



Sunday, August 02, 2009

We're going to Disneyland

It's official: Team Snout has registered for the Shinteki Field Trip: Disneyland on October 17th. We were, serendipitously, the 17th team to sign up (current total: 24), and since this sounds like a self-guided puzzle hunt, there's probably still plenty of room for anyone else who wants to play.

Karl, Cary, DeeAnn, and I will also be spending the day before (Friday) in the park, since Karl hasn't been there in nearly two decades, and DeeAnn and I will arrive in Los Angeles a few days before that to visit with my family and friends. If it weren't for those two factors--and a third, which I'll get to in just a moment--I would have been inclined to pass on this adventure.

From the FAQ: "Shinteki is not associated in any official way with the Walt Disney Company, its subsidiaries, or its affiliates. You'll be subject to all of the normal rules for guests in the park, and won't have any sort of special privileges." When the Shinteki folks first put out feelers via e-mail to gauge interest in a puzzle event at Disneyland, I told them flat out that unless they were offering some special access to backstage/secret areas of the park, they'd have to work pretty hard to get me down to Anaheim just for this.

My exact words were: "For most people, going to Disneyland is already pretty special; I think you need to make it clear exactly how the Shinteki event is going to be $30-$60 more special." (They originally suggested a maximum per-team fee of $120.) Brent and company did a good job of addressing most of my concerns in the official announcement and FAQ, without giving away any specifics, but in the end, the thing that won me over was the aforementioned third factor: I don't want to miss out on what is sure to be a unique experience.

Back in 2002, I passed on The Jackpot Game because of the prohibitive $420 per person entry fee, and because it seemed like a very different event from the Bay Area Games I'd become accustomed to. I wasn't convinced it would be an entirely successful endeavor (and maybe it wasn't; they never sold it as a documentary film or reality TV series), and I didn't want to burn all that time, money, and effort on a new and unproven concept. I've since had occasion to regret that decision.

However this Disneyland event goes, I want to be there to witness it myself. If this is the only "Field Trip" Shinteki ever runs, this will be my only chance to try it; if this is merely the first of many such events, it will still be unlike any subsequent Field Trips. And hey, I'm going to be at Disneyland. How bad could it be?

Given the Shinteki crew's track record, I'm confident they'll be more successful than not, and I always want to support and encourage other Game Controls when they try new and different things. I guess that'd be a fourth reason. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!)



Friday, June 19, 2009

Jotting Notes on my 'Clues' talk from GC Summit 2007

(with apologies to Larry Hosken)

Some of this information is out of date, but there's still useful stuff in here. And no, I didn't do this merely out of narcissism; I'm writing up a "clue design primer" for general reference (and specific application to a planned upcoming multi-city puzzle event--more on that later), and I needed something to get me started.

  • What are your goals for the game?
    • Immersion, theme, cool puzzles, other?
  • Weekly GC meetings
    • frequency maintains momentum
    • there's always something you can do (even just talking)
  • Starting the clue design process:
  • Someone will have an idea
  • Bring a prototype to meeting
  • Example: "meat clue" from FoBiK called "food cryptogram" in development
    • Original idea was pencil, string, raw hot dog? ("gross food clue")
    • CKL: "There were only two kinds of meat."
      Sean: "Rancid and rotten!"
  • Set criteria for including clue in game
    • For FoBiK, every clue had to be scary, creepy, or disgusting
  • Packaging is very important
  • DeeAnn (logistics maven) isn't really into puzzles
  • Use previous clues as models/templates for new clue
    • Steal from clues you liked (cool encoding/construction)
    • Change it up, repackage it
    • Only so many encoding schemes available
    • Take an old idea and put a new twist on it
  • First playtest (clue prototype) within GC
    • Saves outside playtesters for more polished versions of clue
  • Playtesting parties!
    • More like conference-room puzzle hunts
    • You can draw playtesters from people who wouldn't play in your event
    • Usually go through 3 puzzles in 1 session (4-5 hrs, depending on attendance)
    • What did they like? Was it fun?
    • Worksheet - time data is crucial, helps us estimate average timing & spread
  • (DeeAnn should do a talk just about skipping)
  • Example: Hogwarts dry run
    • Good for testing integration of everything (clues, locations, etc.)
    • Also forced wand-maker to finish gadgets earlier
    • Showed us several problems we fixed before actual game weekend
  • Example: 8-ball was not significantly less work to do than full weekend game
  • Argument in JU about whether to do dry run
  • Living room playtest != in a van at 3am playtest
  • Every team eventually hits "the stupid hours"
  • Red: we find it takes any team at least 15 minutes to start working on a clue
    • confirmed; Crissy rode along with several teams on Zelda
  • Playtesting is like usability testing
  • Documentation? We do our best - Hogwarts wiki
  • We like to give our phone force a lot of latitude in giving hints
  • We're all about customer service - everyone has fun!
  • Red: Team Snood takes detailed notes during playtesting
    • Note times when solvers make each "leap of faith"
    • Help system comes directly from those notes
    • Sean: important to note false starts and red herrings
    • dry run helps to identify additional environmental elements which interact with clues
  • Red: in Overnightmare, noted playtest times including false starts
    • actual solve time + false starts = spread
    • not necessarily red herrings
  • Sean: "the perfect clue"
    • each predictable false start reveals a "signpost" to steer you back to right track
    • avoids too much feeling lost
  • little things can help you sort out extraneous bits of data
  • usually you find a dead end when you decode to gibberish
  • "Only Game Control thinks that's funny"
  • goes along with "not having fun anymore"
    • allows teams to give GC non-bitchy feedback (this isn't working)
  • JU Saturday night traffic on bay bridge - another argument in favor of dry runs



Saturday, June 13, 2009

You know you're obsessed...

...with a video game when you start thinking about installing a special utility just so you can get hotkeys to make your gameplay more efficient.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.


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Monday, May 18, 2009


In the same vein as today's "Writer's Block" prompt on LiveJournal ("Same Name"), here are a few other people and things with similiar names...

Ken Levine: There's the TV comedy writer and the video game designer. I met the former at last year's Sitcom Room, and heard the latter give the keynote speech at last year's PAX. They're both quite accomplished in their respective fields.

Chocolat/Chocolate: One is the Academy Award-nominated 2000 film directed by Lasse Halström and starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. The other is a 2008 Thai action movie featuring "[a]n autistic woman with powerful martial art skills" (IMDb). Don't get them confused when you're at the video store.

John Sheppard/Jack Shephard: John is the officer in charge of military operations on Stargate Atlantis. Jack is the Doctor who makes bad decisions on Lost. And there are, apparently, way too many Jesus freaks naming TV characters these days.


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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Reasons to Buy a Blu-ray Player

The way I see it, there are only three right now:
  1. Pushing Daisies, Season 1
  2. Pushing Daisies, Season 2
  3. LittleBigPlanet (NSFW)
Because, let's face it, if you're going to spend $400 on a DVD player, you might as well get one that can play some games, too.


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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Stigma of Self-Publishing, Part 3: Eragon vs. Hogwarts

My favorite anecdote regarding Eragon comes from our friend Suzie, who saw a billboard for the movie adaptation and thought to herself: "Hey, they misspelled DRAGON."

I haven't read Eragon, and I don't intend to. The history of its publication is similar to Daemon and Scratch Beginnings, the two self-published books I read recently, and if its quality is also similar, I have better things to do with my time. Besides, I'm more of a science fiction than fantasy man. And I spell "dragon" with a "D."

Anyway. Teenage author Christopher Paolini's parents printed their son's first novel and marketed it themselves, but by all accounts Eragon was not considered a success (or, I imagine, remotely profitable) until Knopf acquired it and reissued it in hardcover. I'll admit I haven't done extensive research, but I've yet to hear of a single self-published author who turned down an agent or editor after attracting media attention.

It seems pretty clear that "self-publishing" is a misnomer; it's really just printing up bound versions of your manuscript, which may or may not be any good, and then selling it yourself. It's no different from the people who make arts and crafts to sell at swap meets or street fairs or on Etsy, except that there is some status associated with being "an author" and not just "a writer."

There's nothing wrong with printing your own book--we've done it with our 2008 road trip photos and the Hogwarts Game textbook, and every year I print a copy of my finished NaNoWriMo novel because my wife doesn't like reading 50,000+ words in Courier font. But that's not publishing. That's printing. We're doing these things for fun, not as a business.

If you're crafty and like making things, it can be a lot of fun to make a book and sell it at your local flea market. Print on demand (POD) services are great for low-volume, special-interest items like the Hogwarts textbook. Ironically, we moved 107 copies of that thing in 2006, which makes it more successful than many actual, published books:

"Here's the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million [in print] tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies."
-- Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006

Of course, we weren't trying to turn a profit, or even offer the book as a separate product--it's just a souvenir of The Game. We also want to stay under the radar so Ms. Rowling's lawyers don't come after us.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Game Theory 123

I can't comment on Peter Sarrett's blog (hello, 500 server error), so I'm posting my remarks on "Puzzle Hunt 123" here:

Wei-Hwa said: "Except for the teams at the top, most teams don't realize when they can be meta-event-ing to increase their fun."

I think what's actually happening is that newbie teams, who are less familiar with how puzzle events run, are more likely to adhere to whatever explicit rules have been given. If there are no rules for something--e.g., how often they can ask for hints--they go by their own prejudices or assumptions about the event.

More experienced teams, on the other hand, know more about what happens behind the scenes, and in some cases may even know the event organizers personally. You're much more likely to call your friend for a hint than to call a total stranger who you know only by his or her imposing title of "Game Control."

Both experienced and newbie teams are following the rules as they understand them; it's just that more experienced teams have a better understanding of the unwritten/unspoken rules. There's no way to eliminate that knowledge gap, but GC can do their best to be explicit with the most important stuff and treat everyone fairly and equally.

There have been times when Team Snout was running a Game, and we had to make up a new policy on the spot to deal with something unexpected. We didn't always make the right call, but we had to stick with our decision until the end of the event to be fair to everyone. It's always tough, because the issues that come up are inevitably ones that players care deeply about (in our case, skipping and scoring). But we didn't decide to run a Game because it was easy.

And now for something completely different. :)


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Monday, March 30, 2009

OnLive: Behind the Scenes

My friend--let's call him "Kojak"--shared some interesting details about his employer, OnLive, who made a big splash last week at GDC (read more about it: company web site, press conference video, Penny Arcade comic).  Some highlights from his email to me:

Still recovering from several days of stress and almost no sleep, but I'm relieved that our big announcement is over. I wish it had been all smoke and mirrors, but unfortunately it was all live and relied on servers in our Santa Clara datacenter.  This necessitated insane fallback options, including the "Tertiary Contingency," which I can't really go into.  Let's just say we're all very grateful it wasn't necessary, leaving us instead worrying how far Steve [Perlman] would stray from the script.

Most of these facts have been mentioned elsewhere, but some journalists missed the significant bits, so to speak:


This is of course the big one that everyone's talking about.  A couple of early news articles misinterpreted what Steve said in previous interviews.  All the bloggers picked this up as gospel truth, and distorted it further.  On the morning before the press conference, almost every mention I saw had our total round trip latency being <1ms. Anyone with half a clue pointed out this is completely impossible, and it led many to assume we're just another in a long line of charlatans.

Steve tried to clear this up a bit in the announcement, saying that "encoding latency" means what we add by running it through our proprietary encoding card in the datacenter (this is really our key technology). "Last mile latency" can add anywhere from 5 to 25ms, depending on your ISP and other factors. Improvements in that in recent years are key to making this all possible. The latency from Moscone to our Santa Clara datacenter ~50 miles away is <2ms (I wouldn't have thought that possible a few years ago).

He's also talked about the contribution other sources of latency make, in particular your display. Gamers who switched from CRT to LCD may have added more latency to their experience that we could ever add (assuming worst case LCD and best case network). As you probably know, LCD TVs can be even worse, especially for those who don't know how to turn off the various "pixel shining" features. We literally only found one model of Sharp LCD TV that was really optimal for games (and apparently we bought every one in northern CA). Many people happily play Halo 3 on some of the worst latency TVs without ever knowing the difference. What's great for movies isn't necessarily great for games. Don't even get me started about the latency added by most wireless controllers.

It's expected that certain titles might not really be playable due to latency, but I've been pretty surprised so far (we've all been forced to play lots and lots of games at work!). Mirror's Edge was one I really didn't figure would work, but it's done pretty well.

Bandwidth caps

This is probably the most valid concern I've seen people raise, besides those who don't think they can get a consistent 4-5Mbps in their area from any ISP.  I don't know what the official Comcast monthly limit is in most areas, but Steve has been saying 250GB.  Since you're rarely pushing the peak bandwidth, average use is much less (and varies widely between games and play style, even if everything's running at 720p60). If it's ~2Mb, that gives you 278 hours or 11.6 days of continuous game time per month (assuming you're not using the connection for much else).

We expected the major ISPs to be pretty hostile, but they ended up almost scaring us with their enthusiasm. As long as we're causing a predictable load and we're willing to peer closely with their networks, they don't seem overly concerned (and Steve talked about various bundling possibilities here and in other interviews). So, it's realistic to expect either a special "OnLive" tier from your ISP with no cap, or some other arrangement where our data usage doesn't contribute towards your cap.

That doesn't mean it won't be a rocky upgrade path for some of them.  If this takes off like we hope, they're going to be very busy, and it won't work perfectly in all areas for a while. This is part of the purpose of the Beta.

Target audience

We're targeting all segments of game players, but we don't expect we'll ever satisfy the most discriminating/insane gamers (the ones who shell out $5K/year for a top-of-the-line beast to play first person shooters at one frame/sec faster than their friends).  However, by leading most of our demos with one of the most demanding FPS out there (Crysis), we try to make it clear that we're "good enough" for most who would want to play even the most extreme titles.

We have hopes of eventually combining our MOVA facial capture technology with customized servers to allow experiences beyond anything a console or PC game could offer.  We'd certainly give anyone willing to do an exclusive title access to some interesting technology, though I'm not sure who would buy "Benjamin Button: The Video Game."

As with WebTV and other resource-intensive services, our ideal customer is someone who pays their bill and hardly ever logs in.  Some have said we're ideal for the mythical "casual hard-core gamer"--someone who likes to play the latest high-end games, but only a few hours a month, and thus can't really justify maintaining a PC capable of playing them.

We're also really interested in true casual gamers (people who enjoy Xbox Live Arcade titles more than any of the $60 ones from the store).  As Steve mentions, the hope here is that many of these titles will eventually be able to be "virtualized". This isn't quite as far fetched as it sounds, as Xen already has experimental support for GPU virtualization (so one video card could really be shared between multiple users).

Though Steve touted that we were demonstrating "every type of game from all major publishers," you'll notice one obvious omission: no MMOs. This is not a coincidence. Most of these games would be difficult to virtualize (they're not Crysis, but some are getting closer), and MMO gamers neither sleep nor work, apparently. So even though MMO games work great on our service for several reasons (slightly less demanding of resources and their users are accustomed to poor service), it's hard to imagine any business case that would make sense. Sadly, many of the bloggers that seem most enthusiastic about our service hope to use it exclusively to play MMOs. It could happen, but don't hold your breath.


We're not a "streaming" service.  Apparently voice actors now insist on certain clauses in their contracts that refer to streaming.  Thus, we do not "stream" games, but instead provide them in real time, over the Internet. It's easy to see how there might be some confusion here.

Meanwhile, at the demo booth...

Highly skeptical gamer shows up and plays for quite a while. Finally, he says, "I'm an Atheist, but I feel like I've just seen the face of God!"

Someone from the Xbox Live group at Microsoft drops by our booth.  After briefly playing a game, he quickly makes a cell phone call and says, "It works." Then he dashes off.

Thanks, Kojak!

D and I have both signed up to be beta testers, because we may actually be examples of that mythical casual hard-core gamer.  Before buying her last two computers, D literally checked their specs against the system requirements for the current version of The Sims.  And I maxed out my laptop's graphics, memory, and processor speed when I bought it last January so I could use it to play Spore.

I remain skeptical about OnLive, given that we still have trouble with streaming video (Hulu, Netflix, etc.) over a supposed 12Mbps connection, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I know several people who work there, and they're all pretty smart cookies.  If anyone can make this crazy scheme work, it'll be them.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Putting the ON in Clarion

I just submitted my application for the 2009 Clarion workshop at UCSD, with a whole ten minutes to spare. (In case you're curious, the two stories I submitted were expanded versions of the 512 Words or Fewer pieces "Prisoner" and "Bachelor of Science" (which I renamed "Persuasion").) I'm pretty happy with the drafts I submitted, especially since I only decided to apply this week. Huge thanks to D for helping me whip those stories into shape.

So I probably shouldn't have played in the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt 12 simulcast this weekend--even if I was only a remote adjunct to the bay area Drunken Spiders. It was fun, except when it wasn't. More on that later. And yes, I am going to sleep now.


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Saturday, February 14, 2009

GC Summit 2009 Debriefing

Thursday night's gathering was a rousing success, thanks in large part to the Shinteki folks, who got us a meeting room and free parking at the San Francisco Zoo. See for yourself:

Thanks also to Larry Hosken, who (via his employer) loaned the video equipment I used to record the talks. They'll be online Real Soon Now. Meanwhile, you can flip through the slides:

All the presenters had great things to say, but I want to repeat just one phrase: RUN MORE GAMES. Volunteer to help playtest or staff an event. Ask past GCs about their experiences. It really is a lot of fun, and it's something every Gamer should try at some point.

Part of it is, as Red says, about giving back to the community, but it's also about challenging yourself even further. If you've played more than one Game, you know you can survive (and, hopefully, thrive) solving puzzles in a van for 36 hours. You've already pushed yourself to the edge of that envelope.

Maybe it's time to explore a bigger envelope.

Run a Game.


P.S. In case anyone's still looking for it, here's my Open Letter to Aspiring GCs.

(UPDATE: You can now view all the presentation videos online.)


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why I wasn't writing last weekend

This game was called Ghost Patrol. The conceit was that we were hunting and exorcising ghosts. Slime was involved. There was an entry fee, but all the money is right up there on the screen, as they say. I saw - and I only lasted 11 hours - a specially made kung fu DVD, names carved on grains of rice, specially doctored Frisbees, rubber chickens with clues somehow sealed inside, special coinlike objects with words written on them (these were buried in the sand near Crissy Field) and photographs of tombstones with apparent ectoplasm blurring certain words.

Plus, there was a brand-new invention called the SharC, which was a GPS-based range finder thingie (sorry to be unclear - as a friend said, explaining the Game is sort of like explaining the Internet), special software to be loaded into a laptop, plus an extensive handbook that included a list of I Ching ideograms, a Chinese calendar, the periodic table of the elements, descriptions of all known ghosts with "photographs" of same, a color wheel, a Morse code chart and ever so much more.

-- Jon Carroll, "Forget it Jake, it's the Game," San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 2008

Team Snout had a great time playing in Ghost Patrol, which was a well-run Game by any standard.* The fact that it was put on by a first-time Game Control (lowkey, Desert Taxi, and many helpers) makes it even more impressive, and speaks to the increasing strength and camaraderie of the bay area Game community.

I admit, when Snout first started running Games, I was a bit possessive and even defensive about making our events "better" than previous ones in some way. Now that we've run a few Games and I have a bit more perspective, I'm glad that every new Game seems to be improving on its predecessors. A successful event is good for everyone involved, and trying new things and sharing those experiences allows all of us to learn. Think of it as evolution in action!

For that reason, and a few others, I'm very excited about next fall's Muppet Movie Game. It'll be interesting to hear from another GC as they're actually planning an upcoming event, and to compare how they do things with how we've done them in the past.

Now, though, it's back to NaNoWriMo for a couple of days, then off to The Sitcom Room next weekend. Life is busy. Life is good.


* By GC's own count, they only had 13 FAILs and one major hint line snafu. Read more in the GP Forum.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

NaNoWriMo Has Begun

That's National Novel Writing Month to you. My current progress:

D and I got a head start at a midnight write-in on Friday, and an after-hours library write-in on Saturday night. Then we totally slacked off today and played Rock Band and watched movies and ate pancakes. Tomorrow, it's back to work.

It's going to be a bit of a crazy month. Since I've won NaNoWriMo the last three years--by writing at least 50,000 words during the month of November--I decided to challenge myself this year to write 100,000 words. There are also practical reasons for this upping of the ante; most novels run around that length, and my output is going to be a meandering, bloated first draft that will need to be cut by at least 25% to have any chance of selling.

(On a related note: this will probably be my last NaNoWriMo, at least as a participant. Since I'm spending the next two years working toward becoming a professional writer, pretty much every month should be a novel writing month for me. I'll likely stay involved to some degree, since the community is a lot of fun, but I'd feel like a bit of a ringer.)

Anyway. As if reaching 100k wasn't enough of a challenge, I've also booked every other weekend this month. Next week D and I drive down to the bay area for Ghost Patrol; the weekend after that, I go to LA for The Sitcom Room; then we fan out at OryCon 30; and finally, our friend Mike and his girlfriend Amy have invited us over to their house for Thanksgiving. At least the last two events are local.

But it's all in the NaNoWriMo spirit. As founder Chris Baty says in his book: "If you have a million things to do, adding item number 1,000,001 is not such a big deal."


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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gamer Syndrome

This past Sunday, the Seattle Times ran a story titled, simply, "The Game." It's about those weekend-long puzzle hunts that I often discuss here; in particular, it's about one which took place in Las Vegas in 2002 and resulted in one participant, Bob Lord, being paralyzed from the neck down.

Lawsuits followed, of course, and the dust has mostly settled now. There's still a devoted Seattle Game community, mostly Microsofties, but they've only attempted one large-scale event since 2002--most of their energy has been focused on smaller and often Microsoft-centric activities (e.g., intern puzzle hunts). Which is fine; Microsoft casts a long shadow, but I always thought one of the strengths of the San Francisco bay area Game scene was the more, shall we say, open-source nature of it.

Not to reinforce stereotypes or anything. What happened in 2002 was tragic, and I don't doubt that if it had happened to a bay area GC, we'd all have been gun-shy for the last six years, too. The silver lining is that more and more Seattle teams have been traveling to bay area Games, and in doing so proven that Google and Microsoft (or, at least, their employees) actually can play nice.

But let's get back to Bob Lord. Here's how the Seattle Times described his thought process as he headed into the wrong mine shaft, where he would fall and break his neck:
The clue also had an unusual message: "1306 is clearly marked. Enter ONLY 1306. Do NOT enter others." To Lord, this was just another clue, perhaps a head-fake from Game Control. Enter 1306? What could there be 1306 of in the desert, he wondered. Parking stalls? Telephone poles?

Lord led the way until his recalculated bearings pointed directly into an opening. He flashed back to the video dropped from the helicopter: This must be the right place, he thought.

The "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!" spray-painted in fluorescent orange was no deterrent. Again, Lord flashed back to an earlier point in The Game: "NO!" had been part of a previous clue. Absorbed in his own musings, Lord missed one other salient clue: the number 1296 spray-painted in blue next to the opening.

Followed closely by other team members, Lord walked into the opening nearly 100 feet, until the only light was the LED screen on his GPS.

His team members heard him slip. Bob? they called. Bob?


Now, one could make an argument for personal responsibility. One could say that the warnings not to enter that mine shaft were obvious and explicit, and any reasonable person would have heeded them. But, without assigning any blame, it's important to remember that The Game is intended to remove its participants from reality.

The goal of every Game Control is (or should be, IMHO) to create a fantastic experience which would be impossible in their players' normal lives--as one Gamer described it, "like being the star of your own action movie." The Game challenges you to do things you never thought you could, take risks you might not even imagine otherwise. Nowadays, this is the stuff of reality TV, but when I started playing in the mid-1990s, you couldn't get it anywhere else.

And behind the scenes, pulling all the strings, making the impossible into an alternate reality, is Game Control. Especially on your first Game, it's easy to fool yourself into thinking that they're all-powerful. How did they hide that clue in a cash register receipt? How did they build this amazing electronic device? It seems plausible that they could anticipate and plan for every contingency.

(The truth is that it's an awful lot of work. The two most important qualities for a successful GC are adaptability and resourcefulness. You can never anticipate everything, but when things go sideways, you have to deal with it. If The Game is an action movie for the players, it's an entire season of 24 for GC.)

And all that willing suspension of disbelief can lead to what certain theme park employees call "Disneyland Syndrome." As the wonderful Teresa Nielsen Hayden (kayn aynhoreh) describes in Making Book:
Disneyland Syndrome is simply forgetting that you can get hurt; that walking hatless in the sun for ten hours, not eating or drinking except at whim, can hospitalize you. That if you lean over the boat railing you can fall in, that water over your head will drown you if you can't swim just like in the real world, and that if the paddlewheel of the Mark Twain runs over you your chances do not improve.

She goes on to cite other places where Disneyland Syndrome occurs, including Las Vegas, giant suburban shopping malls, and Yellowstone Park, where the introductory pamphlet includes the admonition "Don't seat your four-year-old on the bear's back in order to take pictures" (paraphrased, I'm sure).

I would add The Game to that list. Despite the fact that you're locked in a weekend-long battle of wits with GC (they present clues, you solve them, repeat for 30 hours), you're still under their wing, following their lead, protected by their power. At least, that's how you feel. Except it's not real. You just want to believe. But wishing does not make it so.



Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sitcom Room, etc.

Today, I registered for Ken Levine's Sitcom Room, wherein I will spend 33 hours in a hotel with 19 other TV writer wannabes, working in a team of 5 to rewrite and improve a comedy scene.

That happens one week after Ghost Patrol, during which I will spend 30 hours in a van, competing against 21 other teams, working with my team of 6 to complete a marathon puzzle hunt.

Of course, this all takes place in the month of November, also known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), when I'll be pounding out 50,000 words of a first draft.

Before then--just over a week from now, in fact--I'm flying back east for Viable Paradise. I'm stocking up on sleep now. Starting tonight. Really.

And, on October 3rd, something wonderful will happen. (It will continue happening for at least the next year, but that's another story.)

My point is this: Break's over.


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Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Twenty-two is probably about the total number of hours (so far) that I've spent playing Spore or fiddling with the Creature Creator. I also felt like I was living a Catch-22 paradox this afternoon, when I ran into a crash-to-desktop bug several times. D and I have played our first creature up to the Space stage, but now every time our homeworld gets attacked (which is way too much--a different gripe, see below), after we fend off the invaders and try to save the game, CRASH.

Now there's probably bad code there, but there are also two big design flaws: no auto-save option anywhere in the game, and no way to save the game while you're in a planet's atmosphere. You have to go into orbit before you can save, which means switching view modes, and that's when the crash occurs. You can't save without going into orbit, you can't go into orbit without crashing the game. Grr. Arg.

The debugger in me is curious about what's actually causing this problem--one forum poster thought it might be a bloated graphics cache file, but further experiments disproved that hypothesis. Other suggested workarounds include turning all the graphics quality settings to LOW, or performing a very specific sequence of actions after an attack. None of them seems reliably successful.

The gamer in me is annoyed that EA might have rushed this thing to market and forced its biggest fans to become beta testers. I know it's a complex simulation and all, but Half-Life 2 and Portal never crashed on me once. Not once. Maybe I should just stick to waiting two or three years before trying a game, so I know my hardware will exceed the system requirements. Nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

All that said, Spore really is a remarkable achievement. D and I still have problems with the twitchy camera and movement controls, and the Space stage requires way too much micro-management, but overall, it's amazing how much fun the game is. When it's not crashing.


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Monday, September 01, 2008


Jonathan Coulton is a fine musician and showman...

...a gentleman, who will share the stage with a lady...

...and, sometimes, a bit of a dick.


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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Riddle Me "DHis"

This weekend at PAX, Turbine--makers of The Lord of the Rings Online--had a bunch of banners up promoting their new Mines of Moria expansion. Each banner had a riddle on it, written in Tolkien-ish runes, and Turbine's ad in the program book provided the translation guide.

D teased me about not trying to solve the cryptograms without the alphabet, but the runes were a very loose "phonetic" translation. I use quotation marks there because their phonemes were not consistent--they put a caret (^) over some letters to indicate a long vowel sound, but the runes themselves didn't always spell words as they should have sounded. (I know, taste of our own medicine, laugh it up.) And they kept using the "dh" rune for "th" sounds, which was mildly annoying.

Anyway, the first five riddles were pretty easy, but the last one--which you had to go to the exhibitor's booth to see--was a bit of a bear. I didn't actually end up solving it, because I lost interest after learning that the "prize" was just an entry into a drawing for unspecified stuff. Lame.

Here's my translation of the final riddle:
My twin dark reds(?) no longer hide
The greens once set so deep inside
Below a pair of rows(?) is found
Of jagged silvers up & down
This indigos(?) a barren bin
A brown(?) was once contained therein

The original runes:

(Photo from

And here's the "Cirth alphabet." See what I mean? How is an ampersand a phoneme? Sigh.

Post a comment if you think you know the answer. It's a five-letter word, and it's not "mouth." (For reference, the other answers were "treasure chest," "ring," "spark," "tombstone," and "gem.")

Read more about CKL+D@PAX on Travels With Our Cats!



Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Movie Poster Letters Quiz

Here's a fun way to waste a few minutes: Can you guess the movie from just one letter? I only got 24 out of 46, but at least I kicked Mark Evanier's ass.


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Monday, July 28, 2008

Everyone's a Comedian

Team Snout has been accepted to play in the Ghost Patrol Game! I mailed off our entry fee yesterday and reminded the team to keep any receipts they may have from the making of our application video.

This was Sean's response:
Re: Ghost Patrol Expenses

So far we've racked up:
$0 bedsheet
$0 ghostbusting gun
$0 foley royalties
$0 stale Pale Ale
$0 editing software
$0 YouTube hosting fees

$75 rental of shop vac by Acorn from the Treehouse
-$75 owed to Acorn for rental of shop vac by Acorn
Hence the title of this post.*

D pointed out that it's still July, and isn't that a bit early to be accepting teams for a Game in November? (Team Snout usually does it about a month before.) We speculated that GC may have wanted an accurate headcount before starting to build clues, or in order to book certain locations. I really hope we're not in for three months of pre-clues.


* I'm toying with the idea of putting rimshot and laugh-track sound effects on my PalmPilot for easy playback during the weekend. Don't push me.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Ghost "Busters"

Since everyone seems to be doing it... here's Team Snout's application video for the Ghost Patrol Game:

And, of course, outtakes and extras (warning: explicit language and adult references):

D and I weren't able to participate in the making of these videos, but we applaud our team's creativity and hard work! Especially Karl, who had to wear that gigantic shop-vac on his back, and Chris, who I'm hoping didn't need more than one take for that "slimed" shot. But what do I know? Maybe raspberry jam is good for the pores.



Monday, July 14, 2008

Team Snout FTW

Following yesterday's tax notice, D called the California FTB this morning and set them straight--it was indeed a clerical error, and Team Snout is now officially listed as a non-profit unincorporated association. We can disregard the bill, and don't even have to file any extra paperwork! (Thanks to Loretta, Stephanie, and John at the FTB for their help.)

D also called the hotel at which we stayed in DC about an erroneous extra charge, so in effect, she just spent 45 minutes on the phone and saved us $1,100. w00t! Now we're going to go celebrate by running some errands and seeing Hellboy 2.



Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rhymes with FAIL, Part 2

(In case you missed Part 1)

Guess what we got in the mail today?*

That's right, it's a notice from the California State Franchise Tax Board saying that Team Snout owes over a thousand dollars in back taxes! Also check out the dates: the FTB gave us only two weeks to pay up, and it took the USPS nearly two weeks to forward our mail correctly.

The phrase "good enough for government work" does not come to mind.

Anyway, here's the breakdown of the pound of flesh:

We're pretty sure this is a clerical error, since Team Snout is an unincorporated association, and $800 is the annual franchise tax due from any California corporation, limited partnership, or LLC. We already paid our 2006 taxes, which is where that $5.00 credit comes from, and the reason we established ourselves as an unincorporated association was to avoid these kinds of fees and paperwork.

Whatever. D, our team treasurer, is going to call tomorrow and sort this out. Wish her luck.

UPDATE 7/14: It's all good.


* Actually, our friends Sean and Crissy got it, since they're getting our forwarded mail while we're on the road, and they probably received it yesterday but didn't have time to sort their mail until today.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Updated Things To Do

Because I know you're so interested (roll your eyes when you say that, pilgrim)...

I voted for the Hugo Awards at least four hours before the deadline on Monday. Yay me. I didn't have time to read all the nominees, but I got through most of the novels (I'd read two of them already) and all of the novellas and novelettes. I had also seen all of the long-form dramatic presentation nominees already. I didn't feel qualified to vote in any other categories--except Fan Writer, where I knew two of the nominees personally.

I just submitted my application for the SIE Alumni Mentor Program. So that's done. This is the first time they've done this, so I'm not sure what to expect as far as being accepted. But I figure it can't hurt to apply. It also got me to update my LinkedIn profile, which serves as my résumé these days. (Weirdness: LinkedIn seems to have removed the "self-employed" option on profiles, so I couldn't update the "aspiring screenwriter" section of my employment history without making up a company name. It feels like a bug, but I can't make myself care enough to report it.)

So, the new list (with deadlines):
  • Find and book a hotel room in/near Rapid City, SD. We're scheduled to arrive in the badlands on 7/26, for our visit to Mount Rushmore et al., and this appears to be the busy season there. D got a little overwhelmed doing legwork, so I'm taking over. Hopefully we can stay within our travel budget without compromising too much on amenities. (7/10)
  • Solve Ghost Patrol application pre-clues. It may be time to ask for a hint on these, although if GC is using them to weed out teams, they may not be very forthcoming. On the other hand, if we're already not having fun anymore... (7/18)
  • Audition for the Stanford Singer's Showcase. They want one to three mp3's of me singing, which I don't currently have since all our home computers got packed up in April. But our current hotel has pretty fast broadband, so I'm going to see if I can do a network restore from Mozy. Low priority, since the event happens in November and I plan to be busy with at least two writing projects that month. (7/20)

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Third Time's the Charm, Right?

Early this morning, I email-submitted my application for the Viable Paradise writer's workshop. Then I went to sleep, and after breakfast, went to the post office to send a hard copy of my manuscript. Yes, today is the deadline for applying, and yes, I do wait until the last minute (Adverb? Really? Whatever.)

You may recall that I applied to Clarion and Clarion West earlier this year, but was not accepted to either. No big--it actually made planning our road trip a little easier. VP happens at the end of September, by which time we'll be settled in Portland (or at least planted in a hotel nearby, looking for an apartment).

But even if I don't get into VP, I have an idea for a year-long writing project which I plan to start this fall. More details to come. And, of course, I'll be doing NaNoWriMo in November.

Meanwhile, here's my new list of things to do, with deadlines:
  1. Vote for Hugo Awards - July 7
  2. Apply for Stanford in Entertainment (SIE) Alumni Mentor Program - July 15
  3. Help Team Snout finish application for Ghost Patrol Game - July 18 (solve remaining pre-clues)
  4. Audition for Stanford Singer's Showcase - July 20 (find audio recordings)


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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You Googlers and Your Damn Puzzles

It's always got to be some kind of Treasure Hunt or something, doesn't it?



Thursday, May 08, 2008

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Ghost Patrol, apparently, to avoid any copyright issues.

Appropriately enough for an east bay-based Game Control (Lowkey and Desert Taxi), this Game is starting in Emeryville--at the Woodfin Suites Hotel, which Team Snout considered for the start of our egregiously-trademark-infringing Hogwarts Game, but decided against because of cost issues.

FUNNY STORY. We went with a nearby movie theatre instead, but the guy who was supposed to open the doors was over an hour late, and we ended up doing our start activity outside, on the sidewalk, with a tiny MacBook screen and dinky portable speakers. The flash-bang gag didn't work either, but that's another story.

(The problem was that we'd rented the theatre through a national rental program which sub-contracts out to local exhibitors, so we didn't actually have a local contact number and had to depend on the middleman for all communications that morning. It was not efficient or effective.)



Thursday, March 20, 2008


First of all, let's be honest. Midnight Madness is an awful movie. It's dreadful, really. Terrible. There are only two reasons it should ever be discussed in polite company: 1) it was Michael J. Fox's first feature film; and 2) it was the direct inspiration for The Game.

At last night's Captain's Meeting, Team Snout (plus some Drunken Spiders) revealed that we are running the previously announced Game on April 5th. We had discussed keeping our identity secret for longer, but not only would that have been very difficult for us, it would also have prevented us from fully participating in the event. And, in the end, we thought it was more thematically appropriate to do the big reveal at the Captain's Meeting. We even put together our own version of Leon's slide show, as a tribute to the original presentation for "The Great All-Nighter."

But let's get back to the movie. It was made in 1980, and is chock-full of the high dairy content which distinguished many of that decade's entertainments. I suspect that Joe Belfiore and his cohorts, the first people to take on the role of "Game Control," felt that they could make better puzzles than those depicted in the movie--which is not that hard, but making everything work in a live event can be very challenging.

We, Team Snout, wanted to get "back to basics" for a few reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to run one last Game before DeeAnn and I move out of the bay area, and we had limited time to plan. A smaller, more simple event made sense and fit (barely) within our timeline for the move. More generally, GCs tend to want to one-up each other all the time, either designing more elaborate clues, finding more impressive locations, providing better meals, or otherwise adding complexity and cost to their events. (We are also guilty of this--we'll be the first to admit that our last Game was a logistical nightmare.)

So we view this Midnight Madness Game as a sort of encore to the Hogwarts Game, and a reminder to everyone in the community of what makes these events fun in the first place. You don't need train rides or fancy meals or electronic gadgets to put on a great event. All you need is...well, you'll find that out on April 5th. But feel free to speculate in the comments. :)


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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No More Secrets, you see

Better late than never, right? Here's Crissy's highlight video from last year's Game:

My favorite of her photos is this group shot:

But Karl re-enacting a scene from the movie runs a close second:

I'm also looking forward to Jan's NMS post-mortem at next Friday's GC Summit. As noted previously, Team Snout were not huge fans of the "field office" structure, which slowed down faster teams by holding them at certain locations and throwing "bonus clues" at them until it was time to move forward. But we did enjoy most of the rest of the event, especially the many entertaining variations on word puzzles. It'll be fun to hear GC's perspective.


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Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Cake is a Lie

This was the front page of yesterday's San Jose Mercury News:


Aaaaand for tonight's performance, the part of GLaDOS will be played by Hillary Clinton. She does what she must, because she can, for the good of all of us...

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oscar Fever

On Sunday, D and I threw our annual Oscar Party to watch the Academy Awards with friends. Favorite moment: our audience's boo/yay/meh cheers for each movie during the 80-years-of-Best-Pictures montage. (Gladiator: BOO! Lord of the Rings: YAY! Crash: meh.)

Nearly thirty people showed up, which is more than we've ever hosted. A thermometer at the edge of the crowd topped 74 degrees Fahrenheit, but I suspect the temperature was higher near the center of the room. And that's with an air conditioner and two fans running.

Even our TiVo was feeling the heat. Here's the internal temperature log from tivoweb:

As you can see, it always runs pretty hot, but 118F is unprecedented. Of course, the drives could have gone up to 50C (122F) and still been within acceptable operating limits.

That's hot. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

This was our last shindig in the bay area. We'll continue throwing Oscar parties in Portland next year, but Ken has offered to carry on the tradition down here. He, and anyone else who's interested, is welcome to use my Oscar Acceptance Speech BINGO cards for future events--I'll continue updating them every year and improving the word-sifter algorithm.

Last but not least, some photos from the evening:


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Friday, February 22, 2008

Madness? THIS. IS. THE GAME!

Game season is here! In addition to the GC Summit in March, there's another Shinteki on May 3rd and 10th, coed astronomy just announced a mini-game on April 19th, and last week I received an invitation for "Midnight Madness: Back to Basics" on April 5th:

(click through for more photos)

D and I are moving to Portland in April, so we're going to miss Shinteki and the coeds' mini-game, but we'll definitely stick around for Midnight Madness, which appears to be based on the movie that started it all.

I played my first one of these puzzle hunts in 1996, and still have fond memories of those older events, which were more secretive and mysterious. You didn't know who GC was, and teams had to be invited to play. (There was a talk about this at last year's GC Summit--perhaps someone was inspired?)

Of course, "Back to Basics" could be good or bad. One of the oldest complaints from players is "too many paper clues." And though some teams say they miss searching locations to find clues, we've found (as GC) that they get frustrated within ten minutes. Also, we have no idea who's running this Game, and while I'm all for more people running more Games, I'm not so keen on rookie GCs with limited experience trying too many wacky new things.

But, as the saying goes, cold pizza is better than no pizza. And on the plus side, these guys made their invitations look less like junk mail than The Genome Game (whose postcards several teams discarded at first). I guess that suggests a non-newbie GC, or at least someone who's been active in the Game community since 2004. Or earlier. Hmm.

Joe Belfiore, who started the tradition at Stanford and carried it on to Microsoft, has more to say about the history of The Game...


UPDATE, 20 Mar 2008: Team Snout have revealed that we are the ones running this Game. Thanks for putting up with our charade. :)


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