kottke.org posts about A.J. Jacobs

Solving the World’s Hardest Puzzle Would Take You Until the Heat Death of the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2022

In an excerpt in The Atlantic from his new book about puzzles, A.J. Jacobs writes about the puzzle he commissioned from Dutch puzzle creator Oskar van Deventer, a “generation puzzle” that will take him almost literally forever to solve.

And then, on a Friday morning, I woke up to an email from Oskar. He had finished making the puzzle — and it worked. He had made a 55-pin Jacobs’ Ladder. Solving it would take 1.2 decillion moves1 (the number 1 followed by 33 digits). Written out, that’s: 1,298,074,214,633,706,907,132,624,082,305,023 moves.

We’d crushed the old record by 13 orders of magnitude. Oskar did some delightfully nerdy calculations on just how long it would take to solve this puzzle. If you were to twist one peg per second, he explained, the puzzle would take about 40 septillion years. By the time you solved it, the sun would have long ago destroyed the Earth and burned out. In fact, all light in the universe would have been extinguished. Only black holes would remain. Moreover, Oskar said, if only one atom were to rub off due to friction for each move, it would erode before you could solve it.

Here’s a video about the puzzle from the guy who designed and built it:

FYI: Jacobs’ book, The Puzzler, includes a “a hidden, super-challenging but solvable puzzle that will earn the first reader to crack it a $10,000 prize”. Good luck!

  1. Small rounding error here…it’s actually 1.3 decillion moves.

Operation Glasshole

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2013

A.J. Jacobs, who has done everything from attempting to become the world’s smartest person to living Biblically for a year, got ahold of Google Glass and used it the way that he was advised by Google not to. Jacobs used Glass to cheat at poker:

My cousin and I spend the day practicing our scheme. On his computer, he can see my cards. On my walnut-sized screen, I can see a teensy version of him holding up handwritten signs, like FOLD. Or RAISE TEN DOLLARS. Or CALL. I keep my cousin on mute for two reasons: First, I don’t want my fellow cardplayers to hear him. And second, he’s kind of a cocky bastard.

At 8:00 P.M. on a Thursday, my three unsuspecting friends come to my apartment. They know I’m testing Glass, but I tell them it’s only for e-mail. “Are you going to look up whether a straight beats a flush?” my friend Carl jokes. “Ha, ha,” I chuckle. “No, nothing like that.” (Though it’s true I barely know the rules.)

But he also uses it, Cyrano-style, to help a friend score with the ladies:

I’m married with three kids, and my wife has made it clear that Glass is not an aphrodisiac for her. So I figured I’d lend my device to a single twenty-six-year-old editor at Esquire. The plan: He’ll wear it to a downtown New York bar, and I’ll watch the live-stream video from home and tell him what to do. I’ll be his Cyrano. I’ll get a vicarious night on the town, all while eating my butternut-squash soup in the comfort of my home. I can’t wait.

I could imagine Glass Concierge becoming a future job title, basically a personal assistant who looks in on your Google Glass video feed to make helpful suggestions and advice, basically a rally co-driver for your life. (As long as your co-driver isn’t Vivek Ponnusamy.)

The unitasking lifestyle

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2010

An overstimulated A.J. Jacobs ditches multitasking for a month and does just one thing at a time.

I’ve got to do something about my desk. This is where most of my crimes against focus occur. There are so many temptations. So many needs to fulfil. Snacks, cups of water, caffeine, curiosity about what Julie’s doing. I pop up from my desk once every five minutes.

I decide to engage in some light bondage. I once read about how Odysseus demanded his sailors tie him to the mast so he wouldn’t take a swan dive off the starboard side when he heard the alluring singing of the Sirens. So, in an homage, I’ve tied myself to the chair in front of my computer with a long extension cord. It feels safe, like a seat belt.