kottke.org posts about games

Changing chess openingsMay 30 2014

Chess Openings

The moves that expert chess players use to open a game have changed significantly since the 1850s.

It's a well-known fact that White has a small advantage at the beginning of the game. To maintain this advantage, White should press their advantage to take over the middle of the board as quickly as possible. The most popular first White moves from 1850-2014 are shown below. Note that all of these are fairly aggressive openings that build toward control of the middle of the board.

In 1850, White openings were fairly homogeneous: Most chess experts played King's Pawn. Chess players didn't begin to explore variants of the King's Pawn in earnest until the 1890s, when Queen's Pawn (moving a Pawn to d4) started to replace King's Pawn in some player's repertoires. The 1920s saw another burst of innovation with the rising popularity of the Zukertort Opening (moving the Knight to f3) and the English Opening (moving a Pawn to c4), which completed the set of staple first-turn openings that are really ever used nowadays.

Reimagining MonopolyMay 14 2014

Mike Merrill reimagines the game of Monopoly to better represent the modern financial system by adding the banker as a player, convertible notes, and Series A financing.

Each player starts with only $500. That's a nice bit of cash, but it's going to be expensive to build your capitalist empire. Baltic Avenue will cost you $80, States Avenue is $140, Atlantic is $260, and that leaves you just $20. Even if you're the first to land on Boardwalk you won't be able to afford the $400 price tag. Another $200 from "passing Go" is not going to last that long. You need more money.

At the start of the game the banker will offer each player a convertible note of $1000 at a 20% discount and 5% interest*. Armed with $1500 the player is now ready to set out on their titan of the universe adventure! (Of course players are not required to take the convertible note.)

That sounds fun? (via waxy)

Game of PhonesApr 21 2014

Ooh, I really like the idea of this smartphone card game on Kickstarter: Game of Phones.

One player picks a card and gets to judge that round. They read the prompt to everyone else. Something like 'Find the best #selfie' or 'Show the last photo you took'. Everyone finds something on their phones and shows the judge, who gets to choose a winner for that round. First to win 10 rounds is the overall winner.

This is pretty much what people do when they get together anyway, why not make it a game?

Grit, chess, and how to thinkMar 13 2014

Shane Parrish's excerpt and exploration of Paul Tough's How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character made me want to stop everything and read the book all the way through.

"Tell me about your game," Spiegel said. Sebastian flopped into the chair and handed her his notepad, where he'd recorded all the moves for both players in the game.

Sebastian explained that the other guy was simply better. "He had good skills," he said. "Good strategies."

And this is the point where many of us would simply say something along the lines of "did you do your best?," in which case the likely response is "Yes." Everyone is at least let off the hook. The teacher for ensuring students try their best, the student for having lost to someone better. Spiegel did not take this approach.

You may remember Tough's 2011 piece on grit in the NY Times Magazine.

The most critical missing piece, Randolph explained as we sat in his office last fall, is character -- those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. "Whether it's the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful," he said. "Strangely, we've now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT's, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they're doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they're screwed, to be honest. I don't think they've grown the capacities to be able to handle that."

Magnus Carlsen chess appFeb 27 2014

The best chess player in history, 23-year-old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, has released an iOS app where you can play simulated games against Carlsen at various stages of his career, from age 5 up to the present. The Telegraph has the details.

Anyone who wants to find out more about his playing style can do so with Mr Carlsen's new app, which allows users to play him at the different levels he has achieved since the age of five.

The app is built on hundreds of thousands of different positions from Mr Carlsen's games, be they classical, rapid or blitz, to determine what moves he would make at those ages.

The aim is to promote chess among as many people as possible to make the sport more popular and accessible.

"The good thing is that you can play me at any age. At age five, anyone has a chance to beat me," Mr Carlsen said.

So what is it like for Mr Carlsen to play against his younger self?

"He is really tricky," the champion said. "Even Magnus at 11 years old was a very gifted tactician. A while ago I played as a test Magnus [aged] 14. I outplayed him at some point positionally. And just boom, boom, he tricked me tactically.

"But he makes mistakes as well, so I just have to be patient."

(via mr)

Regular expression crossword puzzleJan 28 2014

No one can solve this. Not Ken Jennings. Not Marilyn vos Savant. Not Alan Turing. Not Ada Lovelace. Not Watson. Not even Richard Feynman. (Ok, maybe Feynman.)

Regexp Crossword

(via @lhl)

Update: Here's the answer to the puzzle, presumably by some time traveling super-being from the future. (via @grimmelm)

Mate-in-one chess puzzlesJan 23 2014

Mate In One

I played chess with my dad growing up, but actually learning how to play (studying openings, notation, etc.) seemed daunting and at cross purposes with what I liked about the game. So I stopped playing sometime in college and never really picked it up again. But I've maintained a non-playing interest in the game and have even been playing a little bit recently again, teaching my son how to play. The other day I ran across mate-in-one puzzles (iOS app), which seem more my speed.

How to quickly get good at chessNov 26 2013

Gautam Narula on how you can improve your chess game rapidly.

The tl;dr of this training plan is, play a lot, analyze your games, and primarily study tactics. Your knowledge of openings, endgame, middlegame, etc. will come from analyzing your games and going over grandmaster games. Only study one of those specific topics if it is clear you are specifically losing because of that topic.

How to win at The Price is RightNov 15 2013

It turns out that for many of the games on The Price is Right, a simple application of game theory is all you need to greatly increase your chances of winning. You don't even need to know any of the prices.

In one instance, when Margie was the last contestant to bid, she guessed the retail price of an oven was $1,150. There had already been one bid for $1,200 and another for $1,050. She therefore could only win if the actual price was between $1,150 and $1,200. Since she was the last to bid, she could have guessed $1051, expanding her range by almost $100 (any price from $1051 to $1199 would have made her a winner), with no downside. What she really should have done, however, is bid $1,201. Game theory says that when you are last to bid, you should bid one dollar more than the highest bidder. You obviously won't win every time, but in the last 1,500 Contestants' Rows to have aired, had final bidders committed to this strategy, they would have won 54 percent of the time.

See also how a man named Terry Kniess solved The Price is Right.

Best chess sacrificesSep 24 2013

Another excellent link from Quora's weekly newsletter: What is the best sacrifice in the history of chess? A game played in 1934 featured the sacrifice of the queen & both rooks and was over so quickly (14 moves) that it's referred to as The Peruvian Immortal. I found it easier to follow the game by watching it:

Exercises in unnecessary censorshipAug 28 2013

Building on yesterday's "The dirty BLEEP," here are a few more great moments in the artful use of censorship (or its illusion):

  • Neven Mrgan and James Moore have an iOS game called "Blackbar" that involves playful use of blacked-out text. (If my last name were missing an expected vowel, I'd be interested in intentional omissions too.) It's described as "serious," "artsy," and "texty," all adjectives I hope I will one day earn.
  • Jimmy Kimmel has gotten a lot of mileage out of "Unnecessary Censorship," a recurring sketch that uses bleeps and blurs for comedic effect. A proprietor of a popular internet site named J--n K----e confided in me this week that "Kimmel's... skit always makes me laugh until I pee my pants," a pretty stirring endorsement if I've ever heard one.

Also, besides using the appearance of censorship to remix existing text, audio, and video like "Unnecessary Censorship" does or fully scripting the bleep ahead of time like Arrested Development or South Park do, there's been a real rise in a mode that's in between, something that's deliberate but has the feel of being off-the-cuff. This is probably best exemplified by The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Check out Ashton Kutcher's "surprise" experience on Colbert:

Here the tension isn't just between what you've heard and what you know was said, but also between the live experience and that of broadcast. It used to be that if you heard a bleep of an event that was recorded live, someone had gone off the rails, like Madonna on the David Letterman show.

Now, TV mostly just lets anything and everything rip for the people in the room, knowing it will amp up the energy in the crowd, but can be bleeped for broadcast later. Then sometimes (like with The Daily Show or Chappelle's Show on DVD or Netflix), you can catch the uncensored cut at home.

So we get the live, the censored, and the edited-but-encensored experiences, and we're always mentally bouncing between all three. We know it's not really spontaneous, but knowing is part of what lets us in on the joke, even though we can't be in the room.

Acceleration chessAug 02 2013

In acceleration chess (aka progressive chess), each player gets to make one more move than the previous player.

White moves first, but then Black gets to move twice. Then White gets to move three times in a row, then Black four times in a row, then White five times in a row, and so on, with continuing escalation as the game proceeds.

You can see some gameplay here:

A day at the chess matchesAug 01 2013

Cennydd Bowles spends a day at the World Chess Championship Candidates Tournament. Lovely little piece.

I'm overwhelmed to be in the same room as these men. I played through their games (well, except the younger ones) as a teenager, developing a love or dislike of their styles, and scratching my head at their depth. The skill gap in chess is remarkable: these Grandmasters would demolish someone who would easily beat someone who would wipe me off the board. Amid my admiration, I feel a vertiginous impulse: I could leap out of my seat, scatter the pieces, and make history as the world's first chess streaker. The temptation soon fades.

Each player aligns the pieces, although the boards are already laid out in pristine formation. It's a curious habit I recognise from my own experience. It helps to get your hands on the tools of your trade, to feel they're yours.

I expected more left-handers.

(via @beep)

Try to hit 1:00Jul 18 2013

Play the one-second stopwatch game...it took me 62 tries to hit 1:00 exactly. We used to play this in school with an actual digital watch. We also had a version where we'd see how fast we could start and stop the timer. Good wholesome times...we weren't rotting our brains with Candy Crush or Angry Birds Star Wars or social studies. (thx, nick)

Meta tic-tac-toeJun 25 2013

Meta Tic Tac Toe

Innovation in tic-tac-toe? A meta version of the game is actually challenging and fun to play if you're not 4 years old.

This lends the game a strategic element. You can't just focus on the little board. You've got to consider where your move will send your opponent, and where his next move will send you, and so on.

(via waxy)

GeoGuessrMay 09 2013

This is like CSI for geography dorks: you're plopped into a random location on Google Street View and you have to guess where in the world you are. So much fun...you get to say "wait, zoom in, enhance, whoa, back up" to yourself while playing. My top score is 14103...what'd you get? p.s. Using Google in another tab is cheating! (thx, nick)

The game of shoppingApr 16 2013

Ms. Fobes, who lives in Raymore, Mo., plans meals around discounts offered at the grocery store and always checks coupon apps on her cellphone before buying clothes. When, a little over a year ago, J. C. Penney stopped promoting sales and offering coupons and instead made a big deal about its "everyday" low prices, Ms. Fobes stopped shopping there. It wasn't that she thought the prices were bad, she said. She just wasn't having any fun.

"It may be a decent deal to buy that item for $5," said Ms. Fobes, who runs Penny Pinchin' Mom, a blog about couponing strategies. "But for someone like me, who's always looking for a sale or a coupon -- seeing that something is marked down 20 percent off, then being able to hand over the coupon to save, it just entices me," she said. "It's a rush."

That's from an article in the NY Times about J.C. Penney's recent overhaul by Ron Johnson, who sought to apply his Apple Store experience to the mid-range department chain. Being the sort of person who a) doesn't like to shop, and b) doesn't want any nonsense when I do need to shop, I don't often think about shopping as a game. But it clearly is a game for some. As we don't spend so much time on the savana anymore, the hunting of bargains and the gathering of sale items is about as primal as we get these days, aside from Halo and Call of Duty. But not every shopping experience is the same type of game. And maybe that's where Johnson slipped up. The Apple Store game is more aspirational: buying the best products for reasonable prices and feeling part of a place & company that's so minimalist, simple, smart, and cool. Maybe Penneys shoppers didn't want to play that game...not at Penneys anyway.

The standardization of chess set designApr 05 2013

As chess increased in popularity across Europe in the 1800s, the proliferation in the variety of chess sets caused confusion amongst competitors, especially those hailing from different countries. The English typically used Barleycorn sets:

Chess Sets Barleycorn

or St. George sets:

Chess Sets St Georges

The Germans often used Selenus sets:

Chess Sets Selenus

Regence sets were popular in France:

Chess Sets Regency

Chess set collector Ty Kroll explains the confusion:

English saw a different design for every chess club: St. George sets with their appearance of stacked disks, Dublin sets with more rounded middles, and Northern Uprights with columns instead, as well as elaborate, easily tipped Barleycorn sets. Germany had delicate Selenus sets, beautiful beyond belief, but fragile, tippable, and problematic for play. To tell which piece is which on some of these sets one must count the stacked crown. France saw elegant Regence style sets with some of the most confusing signatures in history. As in the English sets, queen's were represented by orbs. The king's floral crown closely resembles the modern Staunton signature for the queen. Knights were always taller than bishops the old French sets. Bishops were represented as fools, not clergymen, and therefore lacked the signature miter. What was worse, the knights in these sets were sometimes simple turned designs, not the recognizable horse's head. This lead to common confusion as to which minor piece was which. The confusion of antique French knights and bishops is still a common problem today.

Then in the 1849, Nathaniel Cook designed and John Jaques began to sell a set that eventually came to be called the Staunton chess set:

Chess Sets Staunton

Howard Staunton was regarded as the top chess player of his era and organized the first international chess tournament in 1851. Staunton endorsed the set and it soon became the standard in chess competitions and, later, the official standard of the World Chess Federation. The most recent iteration of the official Staunton set is Daniel Weil's design for World Chess:

Chess Weil

If you're interested in learning more, Jimmy Stamp has a nice piece about the design of the original Staunton set and Weil's update at Smithsonian magazine.

Game of tag has been going for 23 yearsJan 29 2013

Ten friends started playing tag in high school and just never stopped. Now they fly across the country, hide in the bushes, and sneak into houses to tag the other players.

"You're like a deer or elk in hunting season," says Joe Tombari, a high-school teacher in Spokane, who sometimes locks the door of his classroom during off-periods and checks under his car before he gets near it.

One February day in the mid-1990s, Mr. Tombari and his wife, then living in California, got a knock on the door from a friend. "Hey, Joe, you've got to check this out. You wouldn't believe what I just bought," he said, as he led the two out to his car.

What they didn't know was Sean Raftis, who was "It," had flown in from Seattle and was folded in the trunk of the Honda Accord. When the trunk was opened he leapt out and tagged Mr. Tombari, whose wife was so startled she fell backward off the curb and tore a ligament in her knee.

"I still feel bad about it," says Father Raftis, who is now a priest in Montana. "But I got Joe."

(via @torrez)

How casinos fight cheatersJan 25 2013

The Verge has a long look into casinos which includes an interesting section on the first blackjack computers. It also describes the main strategy employed by casinos to prevent and catch cheating: a shit ton of cameras.

They keep a close eye on the tables, since that's where cheating's most likely to occur. With 1080p high-definition cameras, surveillance operators can read cards and count chips -- a significant improvement over earlier cameras. And though facial recognition doesn't yet work reliably enough to replace human operators, Whiting's excited at the prospects of OCR. It's already proven useful for identifying license plates. The next step, he says, is reading cards and automatically assessing a player's strategy and skill level. In the future, maybe, the cameras will spot card counters and other advantage players without any operator intervention. (Whiting, a former advantage player himself, can often spot such players. Rather than kick them out, as some casinos did in the past, Aria simply limits their bets, making it economically disadvantageous to keep playing.)

With over a thousand cameras operating 24/7, the monitoring room creates tremendous amounts of data every day, most of which goes unseen. Six technicians watch about 40 monitors, but all the feeds are saved for later analysis. One day, as with OCR scanning, it might be possible to search all that data for suspicious activity. Say, a baccarat player who leaves his seat, disappears for a few minutes, and is replaced with another player who hits an impressive winning streak. An alert human might spot the collusion, but even better, video analytics might flag the scene for further review. The valuable trend in surveillance, Whiting says, is toward this data-driven analysis (even when much of the job still involves old-fashioned gumshoe work). "It's the data," he says, "And cameras now are data. So it's all data. It's just learning to understand that data is important."

Ultimately, catching cheaters is a small part of what casino surveillance teams do. There simply aren't that many cheats out there, compared to the number of purse-snatchers and pickpockets, the ordinary criminals that people like Ted Whiting deal with almost every day. When it comes to cheating, Whiting says, "We're never going to be ahead. Remember that people who get paid to catch the bad guys get paid whether they catch them or not. The cheats don't get paid unless they figure it out. So they're motivated, and they've succeeded. But once they do, we go full in."

Crossword author uses puzzle to reveal he's dyingJan 22 2013

Long-time crossword puzzle builder John Graham (aka Araucaria) is dying of esophageal cancer and used a crossword puzzle in the Guardian to reveal the news.

Above cryptic crossword No 25,842 sat a set of special instructions: "Araucaria," it said, "has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15".

Those who solved the puzzle found the answer to 18 was cancer, to 19 oesophagus, and to 13 15 palliative care. The solutions to some of the other clues were: Macmillan, nurse, stent, endoscopy, and sunset.

Speaking from his home in Cambridgeshire, Araucaria said this particular puzzle had not taken him very long, adding that a crossword had seemed the most fitting way to make the announcement.

"It seemed the natural thing to do somehow," he said. "It just seemed right."

(via @daveg)

AOL's history as told by NY Times crossword cluesDec 06 2012

Over on Quartz, Zach Seward takes a neat look at the 14 year rise and fall of AOL through the zeitgeist-y lens of clues for that short, double vowel word being used in the New York Times crossword.

Mar. 29, 1998: Netcom competitor
Jun. 17, 1998: Chat room inits.
Oct. 4, 1998: Part of some E-mail addresses

(via ★faketv)

The antimonopolist origins of Monopoly differ from Hasbro's official storyNov 16 2012

According to Hasbro, Monopoly was invented by Charles Darrow in 1933 and sold to Parker Brothers soon after. But that's not quite the whole story.

The game's true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow's patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to "own" land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an "erroneous and destructive principle" and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as "the general landlord."

Magie called her invention The Landlord's Game, and when it was released in 1906 it looked remarkably similar to what we know today as Monopoly.

But it was Monopoly with a significant twist:

The game's most expensive properties to buy, and those most remunerative to own, were New York City's Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Wall Street. In place of Monopoly's "Go!" was a box marked "Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages." The Landlord Game's chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property's title holder but into a common pot-the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, "Prosperity is achieved."

With a lengthy section on the philosophy underpinning the original version of the game, this is more interesting than an article about a board game has the right to be.

How do claw arcade games work?Sep 05 2012

Here's a Quora answer about how those claw arcade games work. You know the ones, you've probably won once, but just once. My inclination was to call this a 'fascinating Quora answer,' but upon thinking about it, it's not fascinating. The machines work exactly how you think they would. The operators can vary the strength of the claw to screw you just bad enough you keep sliding in your dollar bills.

Basically, most crane games are designed so the claw is randomly (and only once in many games) strong enough to let players win. Some even weaken in strength after a short time so players get close to victory only to see it slip from their grasp! Since the manuals for many skill games are available online, this is not hard to verify.

The answerer then goes on to link to many manuals so you can see for yourself. (via @sunilnagaraj)

The little games we playAug 20 2012

There are all these simple little games that people play using their surroundings: don't step on the cracks, balance beam railroad tracks (or curbs), bicycle slalom, etc.

My game in the car was to use my hand to jump over driveways & telephone poles and swoop down into ditches...just a small flick of the wrist in the wind is all it took. Haven't done that in years. I still occasionally play don't step on the cracks and fight the daily urge to jump and touch. (via ★interesting)

The robot that always wins rock/paper/scissorsJun 27 2012

The trick with the roshambot is that it waits until its opponent has made her choice and then chooses the winning throw in about 1 millisecond. I.e. it cheats.

I wonder what would happen if you put two of these robots against each other? (via @dens)

10 year game of Civilization II turns into Eternal WarJun 13 2012

I'm not sure this will make it from Reddit to the movie screen, but one intrepid gamer has been playing Civilization II off and on for 10 years. Lycerius's posted some pictures that illustrate a "hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation" indeed. A sub-Reddit has been created complete with logo, Zuck is into it, and if you're feeling lucky, punk, you can download the game as it stands and try your hand at ending the Eternal War.

The only governments left are two theocracies and myself, a communist state. I wanted to stay a democracy, but the Senate would always over-rule me when I wanted to declare war before the Vikings did. This would delay my attack and render my turn and often my plans useless. And of course the Vikings would then break the cease fire like clockwork the very next turn. Something I also miss in later civ games is a little internal politics. Anyway, I was forced to do away with democracy roughly a thousand years ago because it was endangering my empire. But of course the people hate me now and every few years since then, there are massive guerrilla (late game barbarians) uprisings in the heart of my empire that I have to deal with which saps resources from the war effort.

Actually, I changed my mind. I bet this does get turned into a movie. (via @zittrain / ★adamkuban)

Interview with top chess player Magnus CarlsenJan 13 2012

I don't particularly follow chess or play the game, but I'm fascinated by Magnus Carlsen. This line from him about how he approaches the game is great:

Having preferences means having weaknesses.

Nigel Richards, Scrabble's Bobby FischerDec 06 2011

In an outtake from his 2001 book Word Freak, author Stefan Fatsis introduces us to Nigel Richards, perhaps the best Scrabble player in the world.

If Nigel has a weakness, it's that his wide-open, high-scoring style often leaves him vulnerable to counterattack by opponents who also have prodigious word knowledge. And Nigel is regarded as having a less-than-proficient endgame, which is variously attributed to his lack of interest in strategic play or his reluctance to study board positions. Indeed, Nigel doesn't record his racks, doesn't review games, rarely kibitzes about particular plays. The other top experts, particularly the Americans, talk disdainfully about this gap in Nigel's ability, how it makes him an incomplete player. Naturally, Nigel doesn't care.

According to Wikipedia, Richards has continued his winning ways since 2001...he's a two-time World Championship winner and has won the U.S. National Scrabble Championship three out of the last four years.

The "rules" of MonopolyJul 26 2011

If you've ever played Monopoly, you probably haven't followed the rules. The Campaign for Real Monopoly (via marco) would like to remind you of the real rules and the reasons for sticking to them.

BUYING PROPERTY...Whenever you land on an unowned property you may buy that property from the Bank at its printed price. You receive the Title Deed card showing ownership; place it face up in front of you.

If you do not wish to buy the property, the Banker sells it at auction to the highest bidder. The buyer pays the Bank the amount of the bid in cash and receives the Title Deed card for that property. Any player, including the one who declined the option to buy it at the printed price, may bid. Bidding may start at any price.

Although, as Andy Baio notes, the rules of Monopoly weren't always the rules of Monopoly.

Contrary to popular belief, Charles Darrow didn't invent Monopoly in 1933 from scratch. It was heavily based on The Landlord's Game, an innovative board game patented in 1904 by Lizzie Magie, to be a "practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences."

An amazing crossword puzzleJul 22 2011

On the day before the 1996 US presidential election, the NY Times ran a crossword puzzle that correctly predicted the winner.

Amazing crossword

Click through to see how they did it.

How to beat a chess grandmasterJul 06 2011

Watch as magician Derren Brown beats a room full of grandmasters and other top chess players even though he doesn't really play chess all that well. At the end, he explains how he did it...it's a dead simple clever method.

Social health solutionsFeb 03 2011

Riffing in part off of Atul Gawande's recent piece in the New Yorker about controlling healthcare costs, Jay Parkinson argues that most health solutions aren't medical, they're social.

In the past 4 months, I've changed my life for the better in three significant ways.

Why?

My relationships changed, and thus my everyday changed. I began eating with someone who ate differently than me. I adopted her eating habits, which spurred me to change how I ate. I also spent more time with Grant, who introduced me to the world of urban cycling. I adopted his lifestyle and his interests. And then I changed myself and started pushing my heart in the gym.

I'm playing Health Month this month, mostly just for the hell of it. The game is built to be social...there are teams, players offer each other support, etc. Just two days in, I can see why this might work for me: it turns private goals into public rules.

The world's fastest crossword puzzle solverDec 08 2010

Dan Feyer can solve a NY Times crossword puzzle in as little as a minute and twenty-two seconds.

His brain is jammed with factoids: the names of songs and rock bands that lived and died before he was born, far-flung rivers and capitals, foreign sports equipment, dead astronomers, fallen monarchs, extinct cars, old movies, heroes of mythology, dusty novelists and the myriad other bevoweled wraiths that haunt the twisted minds of crossword constructors. He has learned their wily tricks and traps, like using "number" in a clue that most people would take to mean "numeral" but that really meant "more numb."

The article includes a sped-up video of Feyer solving the notoriously difficult Saturday NY Times puzzle in under six minutes.

Wheel of Fortune puzzle solved in one letterNov 12 2010

Caitlin Burke solved a Wheel of Fortune puzzle after only guessing a single letter...and she didn't even really need that.

From a blog post by Chris Jones, who previously wrote about the guy who aced The Price is Right.

But something about Burke's moment -- the mean-girl giggles in the audience when she asked to solve the puzzle; Sajak's speechlessness after she did -- better captured the imagination. People watching her clip as it crackled across the Internet responded the same way the stunned contestant standing next to her did. Like that poor guy named Rick, they looked at her, and back at the puzzle, back at her, and back at the puzzle, trying to figure it out: How did she do that?

"There are a million things I'm not good at," she told me on Tuesday. "But Wheel of Fortune, I can do."

Massively multiplayer ScrabbleOct 14 2010

Scrabb.ly is a massively multiplayer game of Scrabble...everyone plays on one gigantic board. It's insane how large the board is. (thx, zach)

The Wire MonopolyOct 07 2010

A version of Monopoly based on The Wire.

Wire Monopoly

(via @tcarmody)

Making a game of getting healthySep 14 2010

Health Month is a game designed to help you improve your health.

There are about 50 different kinds of rules. Half of them are rules about what to avoid - things like alcohol, white flour, artificial sweeteners, and illegal drugs. And half of them are rules about what you do more of - things like exercise, sleep, greens, and multivitamins. Choose however many you like, and ignore the rest (you can always add more next month, right?). After choosing your rules, you have the option of making a promise to yourself about how to reward yourself if you stay in the game all month, or to build in consequences if you don't make it. It's all about self-accountability, in public. It works.

Games can make you wellJul 26 2010

When Jane McGonigal got a concussion last year, her recovery was taking longer than expected and she got discouraged. Then she decided to make her recovery process into a game called SuperBetter.

SuperBetter is a superhero-themed game that turns getting better in multi-player adventure. It's designed to help anyone recovering from an injury, or coping with a chronic condition, get better, sooner - with more fun, and with less pain and misery, along the way.

The game starts with five missions. You're encouraged to do at least one mission a day, so that you've successfully completed them all in less than a week. Of course, you can move through them even faster if you feel up to it.

McGonigal recently gave a short talk about SuperBetter:

and has plans to make a SuperBetter game guide so that anyone can play. (via mr)

What is a Jeopardy playing supercomputer?Jun 22 2010

After pretty much solving chess with Deep Blue, IBM is building a computer called Watson to beat human opponents at Jeopardy. It's not quite at Ken Jennings' level, but it's holding its own versus lesser humans.

Deep Blue was able to play chess well because the game is perfectly logical, with fairly simple rules; it can be reduced easily to math, which computers handle superbly. But the rules of language are much trickier. At the time, the very best question-answering systems -- some created by software firms, some by university researchers -- could sort through news articles on their own and answer questions about the content, but they understood only questions stated in very simple language ("What is the capital of Russia?"); in government-run competitions, the top systems answered correctly only about 70 percent of the time, and many were far worse. "Jeopardy!" with its witty, punning questions, seemed beyond their capabilities. What's more, winning on "Jeopardy!" requires finding an answer in a few seconds. The top question-answering machines often spent longer, even entire minutes, doing the same thing.

The shortest possible game of MonopolyJun 15 2010

Here are two people playing the world's shortest Monopoly game (21 seconds long):

The four turns required are detailed here.

Anand is world chess champMay 11 2010

Viswanathan Anand defended his title as world chess champion by beating Veselin Topalov in the final game of their 12-game match today.

The match between Anand and Topalov was hard fought, partly because Topalov invoked a rule for the contest that forbids the players from offering draws to each other. The rule, named after the city where the match was being played, insured that there would be no short draws. As the match wore on and fatigue took a toll, both players began to make mistakes with greater frequency.

"Anand" was briefly a global Trending Topic on Twitter this afternoon, which was unexpected and nice.

Super Mario Bros remixedApr 28 2010

Oh, man. Now you can play the original Super Mario Bros game as Link from Zelda, Mega Man, Samus Aran, and others. Really really fun. The only thing that could make this better is if you could play as NHL94's Jeremy Roenick or Tecmo Bowl's Bo Jackson. (thx, will)

Negative Twenty QuestionsApr 09 2010

Physicist John Wheeler devised a variant of the Twenty Questions game called Negative Twenty Questions in which, unbeknownst to the guesser, everyone privately picks their own object, resulting in a game where both the guesser and the object choosers are required to narrow their choice in object with each round.

When returning Joe (let's call him) asks the standard bigger-than-a-breadbox question, if the first person says no, then the other players, who may have selected objects that are bigger, now have to look around the room for something that fits the definition. And if "Is it Hollow?" is Joe's next question, then any of the players who chose new and unfortunately solid objects now have to search around for a new appropriate object. As Murch says, "a complex vortex of decision making is set up, a logical but unpredictable chain of ifs and thens." Yet somehow this steady improvisation finally leads -- though not always, there's the tension -- to a final answer everyone can agree with, despite the odds.

Wheeler thought the game resembled how quantum mechanics worked.

New Scrabble rule: proper nouns allowedApr 07 2010

So one day Mattel said, let's piss a lot of people off. I know, we'll change the Scrabble rules to allow proper nouns. Kids love branding!

A spokeswoman for the company said the use of proper nouns would "add a new dimension" to Scrabble and "introduce an element of popular culture into the game". She said: "This is one of a number of twists and challenges included that we believe existing fans will enjoy and will also enable younger fans and families to get involved."

I also like this part:

Mattel said there would be no hard and fast rule over whether a proper noun was correct or not.

So you can just make shit up! Or maybe you don't have to...look at all these useful and real brand abbreviations: BMW, IEEE, XHTML, VW, SQL, QT, BBC, AAA, NAACP. No vowels, lots of vowels, more Q and X words...no more discards.

Update: Woo, that was fun but really there's nothing to get bent out of shape about.

Here's what's actually happening. Mattel, which owns the rights to Scrabble outside of North America, is introducing a game this summer called Scrabble Trickster. The game will include cards that allow players to spell words backward, use proper nouns, and steal letters from opponents, among other nontraditional moves. The game will not be available in North America, where rival toy company Hasbro owns Scrabble. Hasbro, I'm told, has no plans for a similar variation.

Chess with KubrickApr 06 2010

Jeremy Bernstein remembers playing chess with Stanley Kubrick...and witnessing the legendary Fischer/Spassky match.

All during the filming of 2001 we played chess whenever I was in London and every fifth game I did something unusual. Finally we reached the 25th game and it was agreed that this would decide the matter. Well into the game he made a move that I was sure was a loser. He even clutched his stomach to show how upset he was. But it was a trap and I was promptly clobbered. "You didn't know I could act too," he remarked.

The iPhone blowsMar 25 2010

Speakers move air to make sound. Some clever developer has used this fact to make a foosball game that uses small puffs of air from the iPhone's speakers to move a tiny real-life Styrofoam ball around. Video (or it didn't happen):

Another app from the same company called the iPhone Blower can blow out birthday candles. (via convo.us)

Magnus Carlsen, the chaotic and lazy chess championMar 22 2010

You never expect too much from the first few questions of an interview, but this interview of chess world #1 Magnus Carlsen is good right out of the gate.

SPIEGEL: Mr Carlsen, what is your IQ?

Carlsen: I have no idea. I wouldn't want to know it anyway. It might turn out to be a nasty surprise.

SPIEGEL: Why? You are 19 years old and ranked the number one chess player in the world. You must be incredibly clever.

Carlsen: And that's precisely what would be terrible. Of course it is important for a chess player to be able to concentrate well, but being too intelligent can also be a burden. It can get in your way. I am convinced that the reason the Englishman John Nunn never became world champion is that he is too clever for that.

SPIEGEL: How that?

Carlsen: At the age of 15, Nunn started studying mathematics in Oxford; he was the youngest student in the last 500 years, and at 23 he did a PhD in algebraic topology. He has so incredibly much in his head. Simply too much. His enormous powers of understanding and his constant thirst for knowledge distracted him from chess.

SPIEGEL: Things are different in your case?

Carlsen: Right. I am a totally normal guy. My father is considerably more intelligent than I am.

His comparison of his abilities with Garry Kasparov's later in the interview is interesting as well.

How computers changed the way people play chessFeb 03 2010

Garry Kasparov discusses the very interesting history and evolution of machines playing against humans in chess.

The heavy use of computer analysis has pushed the game itself in new directions. The machine doesn't care about style or patterns or hundreds of years of established theory. It counts up the values of the chess pieces, analyzes a few billion moves, and counts them up again. (A computer translates each piece and each positional factor into a value in order to reduce the game to numbers it can crunch.) It is entirely free of prejudice and doctrine and this has contributed to the development of players who are almost as free of dogma as the machines with which they train. Increasingly, a move isn't good or bad because it looks that way or because it hasn't been done that way before. It's simply good if it works and bad if it doesn't. Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.

The section about people using computers *during* matches is particularly interesting.

When work is a gameDec 08 2009

Dennis Crowley notes that Target is turning checking people out into a game for their cashiers in order to speed things up.

Girl running the checkout [...] said the whole thing "makes work feel like a game".

Update: A Target employee chimed in with more information in the comments here.

Pinball economicsNov 17 2009

This fun little post talks about how the economics of pinball changed as it became more and then less popular.

In 1986, Williams High Speed changed the economics of pinball forever. Pinball developers began to see how they could take advantage of programmable software to monitor, incentivize, and ultimately exploit the players. They had two instruments at their disposal: the score required for a free game, and the match probability. All pinball machines offer a replay to a player who beats some specified score. Pre-1986, the replay score was hard wired into the game unless the operator manually re-programmed the software. High Speed changed all that. It was pre-loaded with an algorithm that adjusted the replay score according to the distribution of scores on the specified machine over a specific time interval.

How to win at ScrabbleSep 14 2009

How to win at Scrabble if you're perhaps not that good at the words thing.

Scrabble isn't a game of who can get the best 6 letter words. It's a game of points and squeezing 2 letter terms into corners. Mehal Shah takes us through clean and sometimes dirty ways to win at Scrabble.

(via radar)

rating: 3.5 stars

Last Year at MarienbadJul 14 2009

Several times in Last Year at Marienbad, the characters play a game called Nim. The gameplay is simple: a) players take turns removing objects from rows, b) they can remove as many objects as they want from a single row in one turn, and c) the player who removes the last object loses. The strategy is somewhat more difficult to understand, even though the player who goes first and follows the optimal strategy will always win. Although somewhat less glamourous than the film version, a Flash version of Nim is available to play.

You keep using that word...Apr 21 2009

From a promotional email sent out by Wired Magazine:

For a limited-time, subscribe to WIRED and get the Mystery Issue guaranteed!* Edited by J.J. Abrams, co-creator of Lost and director of the new Star Trek movie, this issue is sure to be like no other.

*while supplies last

Guaranteed? Inconceivable! And speaking of that issue of Wired, be prepared to read a bunch about how it is going to save print media by moving the crossword from the games page into the entire rest of the magazine.

So, as Mr. Bevacqua wrote on his blog, he spent the next several days following the hidden clues he believed he'd found, using Morse code, alternative computer keyboard layouts and even electrician's wiring codes to solve the covert brainteasers. Finally he was directed to a hidden Web site, from which he sent an e-mail message to a secret account. A short while later he learned that he was the first Wired reader to solve an extensive hidden puzzle embedded throughout the magazine.

(thx, lloyd)

BallDroppingsApr 08 2009

BallDroppings might be the next Line Rider. Or maybe it was the original Line Rider. If you don't know what that means, congratulations and go play this fun thing with musical balls and lines. You can also get it for Windows or the Mac. Has anyone made actual music with this sucker? If you take a crack at it, send me a link to a video of the results. (via this is that)

American Checkers for the iPhoneApr 03 2009

Damn you, Gruber, for getting me hooked on this checkers game for the iPhone. My checkers strategy, honed in many childhood games against my dad, is slowly coming back to me.

April Fool's that actually aren'tApr 01 2009

From across the pond, here's a list of 10 stories that could be April Fool's but aren't. On the list:

Pubs are telling expectant mothers when they've had enough to drink.

Entirely unfunny. For a more joke-filled first of the month, you can always get that yodeling game for XBox360.

On Crayon PhysicsMar 30 2009

Petri Purho, the rapid-prototyping enthusiast and mastermind behind Crayon Physics Deluxe, talked to The Onion's A.V. Club about the puzzle's point, the process, and winning the prize.

"I didn't want to do a cheery kids game, where you'd have bright colors and cheerful music."

thx john

Scrabble points inflationMar 25 2009

Recent additions to the official Scrabble dictionary -- like za, qi, and zzz -- have upset the letter distribution balance of the game, causing high scoring letters like z & q to become overvalued. The three-point line in college basketball and Monopoly's Vermont Ave. are similarly mispriced.

Game (almost) NeverendingMar 25 2009

Even after two weeks of letting Tetris HD play by itself, the screen is only about 2/3rds full. It's a fun image to see but the browser chrome is perhaps just as interesting...the Google search for "fuck fuck fuck" and a tab containing the Wikipedia page for "Anal sex" for example. (thx, my main man dj jacob)

ElissMar 12 2009

People on the internet seem to be enjoying a game for the iPhone called Eliss. Offworld:

It was exactly one week ago last night that I fell in love, and to be quite honest I'm still at a little bit of a loss for words. The new object of my desire? She's Eliss, an iPhone game, and I say that only slightly facetiously, because I'm not entirely exaggerating when I admit to getting goosebumps every time I even just see her in the video above.

And Touch Arcade:

Simply stated, Eliss perfectly demonstrates what iPhone gaming can be. It's a highly challenging game that's near impossible to put down and it could not exist on any other platform.

I just d/led it and have only played it a little. The aesthetic is great...it feels more like art than a game. The game's developer, one Steph Thirion, is up for an award for Innovation in Mobile Game Design for Eliss.

Tetris HDMar 10 2009

Who knew that radically expanding the size of the game board in Tetris makes the game almost completely unplayable, unless the object is to die in the least amount of time possible. Reports, which I have sadly corroborated with my own play, say that it take 15 minutes to complete one line. OCD, anyone? (via waxy)

The Space GameFeb 26 2009

From the folks who brought you Desktop Tower Defense comes The Space Game. The gameplay looks daunting (a huge mistake for online embeddable games like this) but skip the training crap and click on the missions tab to get right into it. Playing The Space Game, I'm fondly reminded of Dune II...loved that game. (via buzzfeed)

Totem Destroyer 2Feb 10 2009

Yet another addictive puzzle + physics Flash game: Totem Destroyer 2.

Balance gameJan 30 2009

Perfect Balance is one of those "I'll just play it for a bit" games and then you're all like, wait, it's 2:30am? (via waxy)

More on Candy LandJan 28 2009

Two counterpoints to Steven Johnson's argument that Candy Land is rubbish...the first is from Greg Costikyan, written two months ago.

As such, it is a metaphorical representation of the fundamental ideology of the United States; the past is no constraint on the future, and each individual should strive resolutely for personal advance despite whatever the past may hold. The child born in a log cabin may achieve the presidency, an immigrant boy who grows up in the slums of Brooklyn may become a real-estate magnate, an Ivy-educated scion of wealth may wind up on a bread line, and a double green will speed you to the fore. Though there are winners and losers, initial conditions are no determinant of outcome in the freedom of America.

Tom Armitage references both Johnson and Costikyan in his response, Taking Turns.

Candyland is a great first game; literally, the very first. It teaches turn-taking. It teaches the mores, the manners, the culture of playing boardgames. Later, when a child comes to a game where the rules are more complex, the turn process more intricate, the customs of gameplay are already learned; rather than focusing on learning the social interactions, they can focus on the complexity of the game itself.

Two Rooms gameJan 27 2009

Two Rooms is a simple Flash game, part puzzle and part fast-twitch, in which you move items around in two adjacent rooms in order to get one of your movers to a goal. (via buzzfeed)

Every second countsJan 27 2009

Fun little game from Ze Frank that I hadn't seen before: Every Second Counts. You're challenged to hold the mouse button down for 0.2 seconds, 0.4 seconds, then 0.6, 0.8, and so on. You need to be within 0.1 seconds of the target time to advance to the next time. Because the increments get increasingly smaller in comparison to the overall times, it quickly becomes difficult to gauge how long to hold the button, i.e. 0.4 is twice as long as 0.2 but 3.2 and 3.4 are almost indistinguishable. (It's also difficult because the button is kinda hinky.) I made it to 1.8 seconds...is it even possible to get to 4 or 5 seconds?

I found this via Frank's recent post about differences in scale.

Update: Several readers made it to 4, 5, and even 8 seconds. Most were musicians who have strong sense of timing. I'm also reminded of a story about how Richard Feynman developed his sense of timing to the point where he could keep time in his head even while reading. (thx, everyone)

You mean bored games, right?Jan 26 2009

Continuing his argument from Everything Bad is Good for You, Steven Johnson writes about the lameness of most children's board games, including Candy Land.

I'm not big into the "moral message" interpretation of pop culture, but plenty of critics of digital games are, so just for the record: what sort of message does Candy Land send to our kids? (And I'm not just talking about all the implicit advertisements for cane sugar products.) It says you are powerless, that your destiny is entirely determined by the luck of the draw, that the only chance you have of winning the game lies in following the rules, and accepting the cards as they come. Who wants to grow up in that kind of universe?

On the other hand, games of chance allow children of all ages and abilities to play the same games together and experience both winning and losing.

AuditoriumJan 26 2009

Your next 45 minutes are spoken for: Auditorium. I wish this game went on forever but it's only a demo for an eventual larger game.

Video game physicsJan 16 2009

An examination of gravity in the Super Mario Bros series.

We determined that, generally speaking, the gravity in each Mario game, as game hardware has increased, is getting closer to the true value of gravity on earth of 9.8 m/s^2. However, gravity, even on the newest consoles, is still extreme.

In Super Mario 2, Mario experiences a g-force of 11 each time he falls from a ledge, a force that would cause mere humans to black out. In Madden 2006, the game's fastest cornerbacks can run the 40 in 2.6 seconds. (via waxy)

Dotter DotterJan 07 2009

Dotter Dotter features 3-D representations of 2-D games like Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, and Excitebike.

SMB 3-D

(via clusterflock)

A Wii-playing Lego robotDec 18 2008

Wiigobot is a robot built out of Legos that can bowl a perfect game in Wii Sports bowling. Just another step on the way to total human obsolescence. See if you can stay awake during a video of a robot playing a computer in bowling. (via thih)

Tower defense game for the iPhoneDec 12 2008

If I am to maintain my current levels of productivity and balance in my life, I do not need a tower defense game on my iPhone. But if I *were* to bring such a thing into my life, Fieldrunners looks like a good candidate. I can't wait until playing video games falls under the rubric of parenting. (Just kidding, Meg.)

Also, after a long period with no activity, Desktop Tower Defense is set to be updated soon (hopefully):

Version 1.9 announced! I am working on an updated version DTD which will include multiplayer, extra modes and extra creeps. It will be released in the next few weeks so stay tuned!

But they have a lot of other games under development so I'm not holding my breath.

Update: DTD 1.9 is available here. (thx, christopher & jason)

If gamers ran the worldDec 08 2008

Tom Armitage imagines If Gamers Ran The World. For instance, what happens if the President of the United States in 2018 is the same age as Barack Obama is now.

They're 45 in 2018 when they stand for office - that means they were born in 1973. They would have been four when Taito released Space Invaders came out; seven when Pac Man came out. In 1985, when they were 12, Nintendo would launch the NES in the west. At 18, just as they would have been heading to University, the first NHL game came out for the Genesis/Megadrive and might consumed many a night in the dorm. At 22, the Playstation was launched. At 26, they could have bought a PS2 at launch; at 31, they might have taken up World of Warcraft with their friends.

(thx, glenn)

Nano WarDec 08 2008

Fun Flash game: Nano War. It's pretty easy to brute force your way through level 10 but after that there's some strategy required that I didn't have the patience to work out. (via buzzfeed)

Don't Shoot the PuppyNov 28 2008

Don't Shoot the Puppy is a simple but difficult Flash game, the perfect Friday time waster. I drained my reserves of patience in doing so, but I finally finished level 15.

Flash game: SplitterNov 19 2008

Wednesday noontime timewasting game: Splitter. Reminiscent of Crayon Physics and Fantastic Contraption, but you should be able to finish it by the time your lunch break is over.

Lemonade Stand for the iPhoneNov 17 2008

Lemonade Stand, a remake of the popular Apple II game of the same title, is now available on the iPhone (@ iTunes Store). Everything I know about business I learned from playing Lemonade Stand.

Making of Gears of War 2Nov 03 2008

New Yorker writer Tom Bissell follows game designer Cliff Bleszinski and his mates at Epic Games as they prepare for the release of Gears of War 2 (out this Friday).

The story line and the narrative dilemmas of Gears are not very sophisticated. What is sophisticated about Gears is its mood. The world in which the action takes place is a kind of destroyed utopia; its architecture, weapons, and characters are chunky and oversized but, somehow, never cartoonish. Most video-game worlds, however well conceived, are essenceless. Gears felt dirty and inhabited, and everything from the mechanics of its gameplay to its elliptical backstory was forcefully conceived, giving it an experiential depth rare in the genre.

The trailer for the first Gears of War is the best video game trailer I've ever seen.

The Unfinished SwanOct 28 2008

The Unfinished Swan is a maze game set in an entirely white world and you use a gun that shoots black paint balls to navigate your way around. Check out the demo video:

(via snarkmarket)

The eyeballing gameOct 16 2008

The eyeballing game tests how good you are at lining things up. I got a 4.46 on my first try, but my hand slipped on one of them so I'm going to try again... Leave your best (or worst) score in the comments. (via core77)

Update: 4.34. I suck at parallelograms and triangle centers.

The Ambition of the Independent Video GameOct 09 2008

By substituting "independent video game" for "short story" in The Ambition of the Short Story, (mashedmarket) turned the essay into a manifesto of sorts for indie game developers.

The Triple-A game is exhaustive by nature; but the world is inexhaustible; therefore the Triple-A game, that Faustian striver, can never attain its desire. The independent video game by contrast is inherently selective. By excluding almost everything, it can give perfect shape to what remains. And the independent video game can even lay claim to a kind of completeness that eludes the Triple-A game -- after the initial act of radical exclusion, it can include all of the little that's left.

Helvetica MonopolyOct 03 2008

A Helvetica-themed version of Monopoly. (via df)

Whiteboard Tower DefenseSep 30 2008

Fans of Desktop Tower Defense, if you're tired of the same old boards and enemies, check out Whiteboard Tower Defense. Can you feel that? The afternoon slipping away? (via buzzfeed)

Squirt gun battles on the streets of NYCSep 29 2008

On the streets of New York City, a (squirt) gun battle rages.

"I told my doorman that if he sees anyone suspicious with a water pistol, then he's not to let them in the building," Mr. Deane said. He shaved the beard he wore for the picture his pursuer is carrying. He is considering borrowing a wheelchair to use as part of a disguise. By Friday evening, he had logged four kills; he was one of 16 players left. "I've been walking around like a crazy person," he said, "wondering when they're going to get me." His wife, who works promoting nightclubs, is very patient about the whole thing.

Oh, and people use umbrellas as shields! The final day of StreetWars is today. (Tried to work in a "don't make me go all Evian on your ass" joke but failed. (Or did I?))

Blindfold chessSep 25 2008

Blindfold chess is playing chess without a board or pieces...you've got to remember where everything is in your head. The world record holder played 45 games of blindfold chess simultaneously. More at Wikipedia. (via panopticist)

YouTube video turned into gameSep 25 2008

Someone has turned a YouTube video into a rudimentary game using the annotation feature.

You get to the "next level" by clicking annotations, which loads the next video. If you want to cheat ahead, all of the videos are available here.

Update: Andy points out that this YouTube text adventure game predates the game above.

Soulja Boy reviews BraidSep 17 2008

Video of rapper Soulja Boy reviewing Braid, an innovative Xbox 360 game in which a player can rewind the action to travel back in time to change previous actions in different ways. Soulja Boy *really* likes the time travel aspect of the game. I wish all game reviews were this exuberant. (via waxy)

Why people pirate gamesSep 16 2008

Last month, indie game developer Cliff Harris asked on his blog: why do people pirate the games I make? That question made its way onto some popular web sites and he got hundreds of thoughtful responses. Kevin Kelly summed up the responses that Harris received.

He found patterns in the replies that surprised him. Chief among them was the common feeling that his games (and games in general) were overpriced for what buyers got -- even at $20. Secondly, anything that made purchasing and starting to play difficult -- like copy protection, DRM, two-step online purchasing routines -- anything at all standing between the impulse to play and playing in the game itself was seen as a legitimate signal to take the free route. Harris also noted that ideological reasons (rants against capitalism, intellectual property, the man, or wanting to be outlaw) were a decided minority.

The gaming, music, and movie industry would do well to take note of the key sentence here: "Anything that made purchasing and starting to play difficult -- like copy protection, DRM, two-step online purchasing routines -- anything at all standing between the impulse to play and playing in the game itself was seen as a legitimate signal to take the free route."

Last week, I tried to buy an episode of a TV show from the iTunes Store. It didn't work and there was no error message. Thinking the download had corrupted something, I tried again and the same problem occurred. (I learned later that I needed to upgrade Quicktime.) Because I just wanted to watch the show and not deal with Apple's issues, I spend two minutes online, found it somewhere for free, and watched the stolen version instead. I felt OK about it because I'd already paid for the real thing *twice*, but in the future, I'll be a little wary purchasing TV shows from iTunes and maybe go the easier route first.

Chronotron Flash gameSep 10 2008

I know it's only Wednesday, but I'm going to lay ruin to your productivity for the rest of the week with this little number: Chronotron. It's a Flash game where you and your past selves work together to complete puzzles. Just like in The Five Doctors. (Sort of.)

Chess #1 is 17 years oldSep 08 2008

According to these unofficial rankings, 17-year-old Magnus Carlsen is the #1 chess player in the world. The Norwegian became a grandmaster at 13 and is the youngest player ever to reach #1. (via mr)

Oh, in other #1 news, Serena Williams will be the new #1 in women's tennis after beating Jelena Jankovic in the final of the US Open. On the men's side, world #1 Rafael Nadal lost in the semis to Andy Murray but won't lose the top spot in the rankings.

LED football game for the iPhoneAug 27 2008

[To be read in a hyperventilating voice.] They're making a version of electronic handheld football for the iPhone. [Ok, now do the busy fingers gesture and hop from foot to foot.] BB Gadgets has the scant details. Next week! [Make "squee" noise.]

Fantastic Contraption, addictive Flash gameAug 25 2008

Warning, addictive Flash game: Fantastic Contraption. You build a little machine to push, pull, drag, or fling a special wheel into the goal. The best part is that when you complete a level, you can see how other players completed it (and how unimaginative you are). Really, really fascinating. For a level requiring some stair climbing, one fellow built a Theo Jansen-like beast that walked right up those stairs. For another level, another person built a catapult. (via buzzfeed)

You vs. Usain BoltAug 20 2008

Race Usain Bolt in this button mashing Flash game. I was a fair Track & Fielder back in the day so I beat Bolt on my first attempt. [Insert elaborate archery pose emoticon here.] (thx, scott)

Drunken Mario KartAug 20 2008

Is Mario Kart any easier while drunk? Actually yes, although they only went to .08 BAC...I'd like to see the results at .20.

The weight loss gameAug 19 2008

Clive Thompson on Weight Watchers as an RPG (role playing game).

As with an RPG, you roll a virtual character, manage your inventory and resources, and try to achieve a goal. Weight Watchers' points function precisely like hit points; each bite of food does damage until you've used up your daily amount, so you sleep and start all over again. Play well and you level up -- by losing weight! And the more you play it, the more you discover interesting combinations of the rules that aren't apparent at first. Hey, if I eat a fruit-granola breakfast and an egg-and-romaine lunch, I'll have enough points to survive a greasy hamburger dinner for a treat!

How to solve crossword puzzlesAug 19 2008

NY Times resident crossword puzzle master Will Shortz on how to solve the NY Times crossword puzzle.

Mental flexibility is a great asset in solving crosswords. Let your mind wander. The clue "Present time" might suggest nowadays, but in a different sense it might lead to the answer yuletide. Similarly, "Life sentences" could be obit, "Inside shot" is x-ray and my all-time favorite clue, "It turns into a different story" (15 letters), results in the phrase SPIRAL STAIRCASE.

Hedgehog launchJun 30 2008

Addictive Flash game of the week: Hedgehog Launch. There's something really clever about the game play here but can't quite put my finger on what it is. The objective of the game -- to launch the 'hog into space -- is so beside the point the first time around that you forget all about it until it actually happens. My best time was 7 days. (via cyn-c)

Update: Woo, 5 days! My technique: upgrade to a parachute as quick as you can, use it to float for valuable multiplier, then get rockets and band/launcher.

Update: Got it down to 4 days. 3 days is possible but I'm retiring.

Spore Creature Creator outJun 17 2008

If you can't wait to get your hands on Will Wright's new uber-game Spore until it's released on September 7 (pre-order!), you can download a free trial of the Spore Creature Creator.

Mario Kart in JavaScriptJun 16 2008

Mario Kart in JavaScript.

Moving MarioJun 12 2008

Moving Mario: imagine Super Mario Bros as created by Michel Gondry. Check out the video to get the gist.

Architecture scavenger huntJun 12 2008

A wonderful story about how an architect took it upon himself to build a scavenger hunt into one of his client's apartments, all without telling them.

Finally, one day last fall, more than a year after they moved in, Mr. Klinsky received a letter in the mail containing a poem that began:

We've taken liberties with Yeats
to lead you through a tale
that tells of most inspired fates
iin hopes to lift the veil.

The letter directed the family to a hidden panel in the front hall that contained a beautifully bound and printed book, Ms. Bensko's opus. The book led them on a scavenger hunt through their own apartment.

And it wasn't an easy hunt either.

In any case, the finale involved, in part, removing decorative door knockers from two hallway panels, which fit together to make a crank, which in turn opened hidden panels in a credenza in the dining room, which displayed multiple keys and keyholes, which, when the correct ones were used, yielded drawers containing acrylic letters and a table-size cloth imprinted with the beginnings of a crossword puzzle, the answers to which led to one of the rectangular panels lining the tiny den, which concealed a chamfered magnetic cube, which could be used to open the 24 remaining panels, revealing, in large type, the poem written by Mr. Klinsky.

(thx, john)

Print your own Monopoly moneyMay 23 2008

Unlike the US government, Hasbro lets you print out your own Monopoly money. There are PDFs for 1,5,10,20,50,100, and 500 dollar bills.

Wii Balance Board reviewsMay 16 2008

The Wii Balance Board, the new exercise peripheral for the Nintendo Wii, was reviewed favorably by a number of people for the New York Times. A fitness professional at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers gave it pretty high marks:

"Actually I think it's pretty good," she said. "You can definitely get a workout. When I started doing it, I realized all the activities were pretty much on point. There were some things I didn't like, like the alignment in a couple of places. But over all, I thought they did a good job and this will be a good tool for people who can't make it to the gym."

The Wii Balance Board will be released in the US and Canada early next week.

Update: Joel Johnson has a nice round-up of exercise-themed video game accessories, from the unreleased Atari Puffer to the Wii Fit.

Grand Theft Auto, circa 1985May 07 2008

Commercial for the little-known version of Grand Theft Auto for the circa-1985 NES. The Tanooki Suit is the best part. (via house next door)

Grand Theft Auto foodApr 30 2008

An attempt to find real-world analogs to the fictional NYC restaurants in Grand Theft Auto 4.

How NYC has been depicted in videoApr 25 2008

How NYC has been depicted in video games through the years. (via waxy)

Starcade was an 80s TV game showApr 25 2008

Starcade was an 80s TV game show where contestants competed against each other on various arcade games like Joust, Burgertime, Dragon's Lair, and Mr. Do. I watched it whenever I could and now they've put 15 full episodes online for your viewing pleasure. I found this on the Secret Fun Blog, written by the Vice-President of the official Starcade Fan Club.

On a Spring morning Brad showed up to homeroom with the crazed look of inspiration on his face. He erupted into babble and I sensed that he'd been waiting many hours to unload his revelation upon me. It was something about Starcade, and a club, and titles and duties, and other foreign concepts. I patronizingly agreed to his wishes and I even signed something. It was a letter...

Django-MMO is an open source clone ofApr 16 2008

Django-MMO is an open source clone of Game Neverending. It needs a new name. (via waxy)

Crayon Physics is PC-only so I can'tApr 07 2008

Crayon Physics is PC-only so I can't play it, but Magic Pen will do in a pinch. Don't start playing unless you've got a few hours to spare. (via waxy)

Ooh, there's going to be a Dr.Apr 02 2008

Ooh, there's going to be a Dr. Mario game available for the Wii at some point, playable over the network. It's already downloadable via WiiWare in Japan...which should not be confused with the Virtual Console downloadable games even though the difference is really confusing.

A review of Outside (i.e. theApr 01 2008

A review of Outside (i.e. the outside world) as if it were a video game.

In terms of the social environment, almost anything goes. Outside has a vast network of guilds, many of its players are active participants in designing the game's social environment, and almost any player will be able to find company to undertake their desired group quests. On the other hand, gold-buying is rife, the outskirts of virtually every city zone in the game are completely overrun by farmers, and the developers have so far proven themselves reluctant to answer petitions, intervene in inter-player disputes, or nerf broken skills and abilities. Indeed this reviewer will go so far as to say that the developers are absent from the game entirely, and have left it to its own devices. Fortunately, server uptime has been 100% from day 1, despite there being only one server for literally billions of players.

The reviewer gives it a 7/10.

Mario Kart Wii out soonMar 27 2008

Mario Kart Wii will be out in the US on April 27!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why so many exclamation points? Feast thine eyes on this:

This game has been announced as supporting the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service. This will feature online racing and battle modes, both of which are capable of up to 12 simultaneous players. It has also been confirmed that there will be online leagues, with international and local rankings. This will take place from within an entirely separate Wii Channel. This channel will also feature the option of sending saved time-trial ghost data.

IGN has several videos for your online viewing pleasure.

New trailer for Speed Racer...watch itMar 16 2008

New trailer for Speed Racer...watch it in full HD glory if your internet connection can take it. The courses remind me even more of Mario Kart than in the first trailer.

A guy who started working as aMar 12 2008

A guy who started working as a game programmer for Atari when he was 21 years old recounts his experiences, notably his work on the Donkey Kong cartridge.

Basically, Atari's marketing folks would negotiate a license to ship GameCorp's "Foobar Blaster" on a cartridge for the Atari Home Computer System. That was it. That was the entirety of the deal. We got ZERO help from the original developers of the games. No listings, no talking to the engineers, no design documents, nothing. In fact, we had to buy our own copy of the arcade machine and simply get good at the game (which was why I was playing it at the hotel - our copy of the game hadn't even been delivered yet).

(via girlhacker)

Remember the Wii Tennis competition held lastMar 10 2008

Remember the Wii Tennis competition held last year at Barcade in NYC? The organizers are taking on the road with Wiinnebago this summer.

Wiimbledon's back, and this year we're kicking it 3,000 miles clockwise from NYC to San Francisco. The plan: Leaving the first week in June, we'll 'Bago it Madden-style cross-country, stopping here and there for mini-tournaments, and gas, and probably your couch. We'll hit SF June 20th. The 2nd Annual Wiimbledon Tournament'll be held Saturday, June 21st.

Trailer for an amazing-looking game called CrayonFeb 28 2008

Trailer for an amazing-looking game called Crayon Physics Deluxe; it's part Line Rider, part The Incredible Machine. Deluxe is a sequel to the more rudimentary Crayon Physics (sadly, PC-only). (via clusterflock)

rating: 3.0 stars

King of Kong: A Fistful of QuartersFeb 14 2008

If you've already seen King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, I'd suggest reading Jason Scott's pair of posts about the movie. In The King of Wrong, Scott suggests that the filmmakers left out crucial details and fudged others in order to make the actual events fit the story they were trying to tell.

What I'm saying here is that a good percentage of what makes the documentary "good" are made up conflicts, inaccurate reporting, smoothed-over narratives that are meant to make you root for one side or hate the other, when in fact reality doesn't hold up to these allegations. The whole point of the narrative is that Steve is wronged, denied his rightful place in the record books because of internal machinations. But he had the championship for 3 years! He had played Billy one-on-one. Billy was not on this campaign to cut Steve off at the knees at every turn so to humiliate him and dismiss him, to his own aggrandizement.

In a follow-up post, Scott elaborates on his poor opinion of the film, drawing upon his experience making a documentary about another nerd subculture, the BBS.

Is Billy Mitchell "real"? I have no doubt that he says things that are over the top. I have no question that he goes off the rails on certain subjects. I also know that if you interview people for hours on end, at various days, you will get some pretty crazy stuff. How you choose to deal with that stuff is a little bit of who you are as an interviewer and editor and director. There's no question you can "filter for crazy", or "filter for nice", or filter for whatever the hell you wish to. I never claim that Billy's not capable of throwing out whoppers. I'm saying that when you lace his words with an implication of malice, of cheating, of lying to stay on top, then you are moving into caricature and needless trashing of a real person to achieve your goals. Chasing Ghosts has Billy Mitchell and a whole other range of players, and gives you the story without turning the whole experience of video games, and arcades, into a petty small-minded pissing match.

Scott nearly comes off as holier-than-thou about the standards that documentary filmmakers should be held to, but he clearly put his money where his mouth is when filming his BBS documentary. After a rough interview with Thom Henderson, a controversial figure in the compression software community, which interview caused Henderson to recall, with pain, a particularly difficult period in his life, Scott offered him the chance to edit it out of the movie...and something else too:

But you know, when I put together the ARC-ZIP episode (later renamed COMPRESSION) and sent it to him to see, I told him flat out. "If you're not comfortable with this, if you don't like it, let me know and it won't go in." He wrote back and said he and his wife were fine with it. I then told him I was giving him irrevocable, permanent rights to the film such that he could distribute and copy and even sell it however he pleased. He's the only other person besides myself with any rights to my films. He has it for download from his site to this day.

I enjoyed King of Kong, but reading that some of the movie's tension was manufactured sure takes the polish off of it for me.

Update: The Onion AV Club has an interview with Billy Mitchell about the movie and his take on it.

I invited [Steve Wiebe] to the Classic Gaming Expo, 2004. I invited him there, and I went up to speak onstage, as I do at each expo there. When I went up and spoke onstage, I called him to the stage, in order to honor him. I unveiled the poster in his honor, honoring his accomplishments. I did that in 2004. He was onstage with me. And I'm sorry to tell you that you can't see that, 'cause they forgot to put that in the movie.

The quintessential modern parental dilemma: What doFeb 13 2008

The quintessential modern parental dilemma: What do you do with the kids when mommy and daddy need to meet up with their WoW guild to do raids?

We have two small children who need to eat dinner and raids start at 5pm. Ack! How are we going to make dinner?! There are no problems with the kids running around playing and such while we raid. They're already used to that, they play in the computer room and we can get them things that they need (you know, cups of juice, snacks, what have you) when we have breaks. Before it was easy because if I was running an instance and in the middle of combat my husband might be in a a space between pulls where he could safely go afk for 30 seconds you know. But now we'll be on the same schedule essentially. We both play support classes too (he's a holy priest, I'm a resto druid) so the guild ideally would want us to both be in a forty man raid. It's not like we can easily switch off any raid nights other than say, ZG and AQ20 runs.

(via cyn-c)

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