Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SnoutCast #58: "Humans vs. Robots"

Well, dudes, if you ever wanted to hear DeeAnn breathing heavy into your ear, I guess this is the episode for you.

Also: we talk about using automation vs. human volunteers when running Games and similar events!

[ Download mp3 - 36 MB ]

00:00 - Too Many Monkeys Teaser
02:20 - "organic"
04:00 - what is a robot, really?
05:56 - (this topic prompted by GameStorm)
08:02 - paper audit trails for convention registration and GC help calls
12:20 - automation does make hint/confirm systems more fair...
14:05 - ...but some GCs have more fun talking to teams on the phone
14:46 - the workplace RTFM analogy
19:07 - lightning round: 3 examples!
21:06 - (Paul and Storm have much to answer for)
21:23 - Example 1: GC Help/Hint Line (already discussed)
21:34 - Example 2: Clue Locations
27:40 - Example 3: Applications
31:33 - DeeAnn explains the meaning of life
33:02 - Curtis may need to make another flowchart
33:54 - closing statements (and rebuttals)
36:32 - check PuzzleHuntCalendar.com for upcoming events!
38:55 - The End

Got a comment or question? E-mail podcast@snout.org or post at snout.org/podcast !

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Subjective Measurement Blues

Warning: lamentations ahead.

I've been feeling some self-doubt lately about this whole writing-as-a-career thing. In large part, it's because very often when I read a piece of published fiction--sometimes an award-winning or critically acclaimed genre story--I feel like I just. Don't. Get it. And I know my tastes aren't that far out of the mainstream, so I wonder if I've simply lost the ability to distinguish between good and bad prose.

Then, last night, I looked up Rebecca Black's "Friday" music video, because Hank Green mentioned it at the Portland Nerds & Music show. And I was reassured that YES, I can, in fact, still tell good writing from bad. (If you know the song, and you're not a twelve-year-old girl, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't know the song, there is absolutely no need for you to seek it out. Trust me. Save yourself!)

Which brings us back to this old saw from the Homicide Lexicon:

It's good to be good. It's better to be lucky.

But all the luck in the world will not make a difference if I'm not ready to take advantage of it. I know I'm a pretty good writer. I know I still have blind spots and deficiencies, and I will get better if I keep working at it. I have people who support and encourage and believe in me, and that already makes me luckier than some.

So I'll keep writing, and I'll keep improving, and someday (hopefully before I die) it'll all amount to something.

By the way, The Doubleclicks totally stole the show on Friday night. Go check them out now, and listen to your new favorite song:


You're welcome.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction: "Shoot First"

Tangentially related, but important: If you have not already done so, please consider donating to help tsunami victims in Japan.

Read "Shoot First" at 512 Words or Fewer


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SnoutCast #57: "Iron Puzzler 2011 Debrief"

This week, we talk to Greg deBeer (the mastermind behind Iron Puzzler) and Jesse Morris (captain of this year's winning team, Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow)!

[ Download mp3 - 32 MB ]

00:59 - "magnetic"
01:22 - who are you guys again?
03:56 - how does the Iron Puzzler event work?
05:08 - and how did it work this year?
06:16 - how does Greg choose each year's ingredients?
10:24 - the player's perspective: Jesse says some stuff
13:19 - who's on Jesse's IP team?
16:26 - how many total teams participated this year?
20:35 - coming soon: another Iron Puzzler BANG!
23:36 - memorable moments from IP 2011
30:12 - for upcoming events, check PuzzleHuntCalendar.com
31:15 - Listener Mail: Larry comments on "game kits"
32:26 - "How do you get a crew to want to get off a nuclear submarine?"
34:36 - The End

Got a comment or question? E-mail podcast@snout.org or post at snout.org/podcast !

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Ikea" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Greg Jesse

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction: "It's Better to be Lucky"

If this week's story doesn't make a lot of sense, it's because I had to cut out the first scene--which set up the whole bad situation--for length. I apologize for any confusion.

You should really just be reading Scalped anyway.

Read "It's Better to be Lucky" at 512 Words or Fewer


Thursday, March 17, 2011


I received a couple of odd unsolicited e-mails this week. Odd not because they were spammy (spammish?), but because they were clearly personalized and "hand-crafted" (or at least hand-cut-and-pasted-into-a-mail-client). See for yourself below.*

Here's the first one:

Subject: Star Trek creative writing

I see that you've listed Star Trek as an interest in your Google profile. Would you be interested in joining an online Star Trek creative writing/simming group? Basically, about 10-12 fans from around the world collectively write the story of a starship and her crew through email. I'd write a piece of the story (called a post), then you might post, then another might post, and so on.

You can spend as much or as little time with it as you like. Some people post almost daily; some once a week; and some only a couple times a month -- there is no set quota. If this is something you might enjoy, email me back. We'd love to have you join a new adventure. This is just for fun; no pressure.

Thanks again for your time. If you're already a member of another group, just ignore this email.

[signature redacted]

That one, at least, is friendly, if somewhat clueless. A quick web search of the sender's e-mail address revealed that he (and others from the same group) have been contacting others, including posting to forums and blogs, with nearly identical messages. I wish them well, but writing fanfic is really not for me.

Now the second message:

Subject: Hello from Facebook - Have you tried our puzzles?

Hi Curtis,

I hope all is well with you. I came across your name on Linkedin and I see that you're a puzzle enthusiast! That's very cool!

Out of curiosity - Have you tried out Facebook's Puzzles?


In any case - I wanted to reach out to you to see if you might be interested in exploring engineering opportunities with Facebook?

We are currently experiencing tremendous growth with 600+ million active users and we are looking for great engineers to join our team. With our data growing daily with photos, users, feeds, etc., we are dealing with many interesting challenges and unique problems relating to scalability, capacity, reliability, performance, etc. Our team is relatively small with roughly 500 engineers, so the exposure and chance to impact such a large technical environment and user base is very exciting.

Interested ..or not... please let me know!

Thank you in advance and I look forward to hearing from you.

[signature redacted]

I'm not looking for a job, but this wasn't a complete waste of my time. I helped my former employer run a puzzle-based recruiting campaign back in the day, so I was curious to see what Facebook had come up with. I was disappointed to find that their "puzzles" are all computer programming exercises. Dude, if I wanted to do problem sets, I'd be in grad school.

Obviously, all spammers play the percentages--send out enough e-mails, and the fraction of a percent of suckers you hook will more than pay for the negligible costs of running the campaign. In the two cases above, the perfunctory targeting of each "cold call" doesn't really improve its chances of getting a response. They made it past Gmail's spam filter, but my human intellect is not fooled.

* For the record: If you send me a message, and I find it amusing or otherwise notable, there is a possibility I'll blog or tweet about it. Especially if I don't know you. Strangers have no reasonable expectation of privacy when sending me, well, anything.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SnoutCast #56: "Summer Reruns"

Other than Running More Games, what are some ways to let more people play in puzzle hunt events? This week, DeeAnn and Curtis talk* about reruns, simulcasts, and hypothetical Game Kits.

* You'd think we would have more conclusions to offer, given how long we blather on, but... Sorry. No. Maybe you have ideas? Send us some feedback!

[ Download mp3 - 49 MB ]

01:00 - "repetitive"
01:35 - topic inspired by Shinteki Aquarius Remix: how to allow more people to play Games?
04:09 - people have suggested re-running Games
05:45 - other solutions, NOT including raising the price
08:09 - simply allow more players in a given Game?
10:34 - bottlenecks in Midnight Madness
12:38 - limiting event size in Hogwarts Game
14:58 - the live-theater analogy
18:38 - what about a "Hogwarts Game Kit?"
20:45 - quick recap of options being discussed
21:34 - looking up past Games on the Internet
25:02 - Gamers mostly like to follow the rules... mostly
27:16 - what would be in a "Game Kit?"
33:21 - intellectual property rathole
37:28 - simulcasts!
39:39 - getting over puzzle creation anxiety
42:19 - enumerating specific problems with each option
46:20 - the movie-production analogy
51:25 - Next Week: Iron Puzzler 2011 Debrief
51:49 - upcoming events: Puzzled Pint (3/15, Portland); DASH (4/30, various cities); Shinteki Aquarius Remix (5/14, bay area); World Henchmen Game (6/17-19, Seattle); BANG 28 (7/9, bay area).
53:11 - The End

Got a comment or question? E-mail podcast@snout.org or post at snout.org/podcast !

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Re: Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rainforest Writers Village, Day Five

Last day of the retreat! We gathered in the lounge for a group photo and some wrap-up activities, including a word count tally (DeeAnn came in 6th overall) and door prize drawing. There was a giant gummy bear involved.

DeeAnn's name was drawn for one of the door prizes, and she selected a bundle of an autographed paperback copy of Kat Richardson's Underground and this nifty, color-coordinated notebook:


After that, everyone dragged out their goodbyes for a while--some of us hadn't actually talked much during the retreat, because we'd all been busy writing. Cards and e-mail addresses and hugs were exchanged. Pretty much everyone said they'd love to come back next year (including Patrick, fortunately).

On our way out, DeeAnn and I stopped down the road to check out the world's largest spruce tree. It wasn't quite as large as the cedars we saw on Wednesday, but it certainly looked more alive.


After visiting the spruce, we realized we were just at the other end of the road that led from the Rain Forest Resort Village cabins, so we walked back that way. It was less muddy than the trail we'd come in on, and we got to take a closer look at the ruins we'd driven past a few days ago.


All in all, we had a great time at the retreat; I could have wished for a little more socializing, but DeeAnn and I accomplished our main goals, which were to write a story together and celebrate our anniversary. We talked a little in the car about our next writing collaboration, and what we're going to do for our anniversary next year.

It's been raining pretty hard all day today. We don't mind the rain.


Rainforest Writers Village, Day Four

Today's sightseeing highlight: Roosevelt elk!

We had to drive a couple of miles down the road to find them, but there they were. One of them had antlers.

Also in that field: cats! Two of 'em.

I know what you're thinking. Cats and elk, living together? Madness! Relax. It was only a temporary cohabitation, as the cats ran off shortly after they realized they had been seen.

Also: still snow on the mountains.

In writing news, DeeAnn and I missed Jennifer's morning talk on multitasking (today was our wedding anniversary--we slept in), but we enjoyed Kat's afternoon chat on "Voice and Inner Dialogue," which turned into a group discussion about the use of various points-of-view.

Tonight, the nice folks from University Bookstore set up shop in the lounge and sold us a couple of anthologies, which we got signed by their respective editors and some of the contributors. Then everyone watched a repeat performance of Mary's Little Tiny Puppet Show™. After that, talk inevitably turned to theater war stories and tales of animal penises.*

We finished our collaborative short story this morning, and a couple of people have asked to read the final draft. We've also been told to submit it to Clarkesworld first, since they publish a wide range of stories and are fast on the draw for rejections. So we'll see how that goes.

In any case, DeeAnn and I both enjoyed the collaboration process, and are already talking about the next story we'll write together. I love my wife!

* "Tales of Animal Penises" is the name of my Bloodhound Gang cover band.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rainforest Writers Village, Day Three

"Fiction? I hate fiction!"

That's my new rallying cry. Sorry, you kinda had to be there.

It snowed a little last night. We could still see some of it in the trees up on the mountain this afternoon:

Today was Mary Day, since she cooked an excellent, gluten-free lunch for everyone, gave a talk on "Puppetry and SF," and even put on a little tiny puppet show:

For dinner, DeeAnn made a tasty crockpot jambalaya, and fellow writer Janka came over to eat with us and share bird-watching tips.

Oh, what? Writing? Yeah, we did some of that, too. DeeAnn finished the 5,200-word first draft of our collaborative short story last night, and I did a revision today and inflated it to 5,500 words. We read the first part of it tonight in Cabin 6, and it was very well-received. She's just done another pass over the document, and I'll look at it as soon as I finish blogging here. Then we'll be done! For now.

I also glued together all the various pieces of my novel-in-progress to get a sense of where it's at. Current word count is 140,000, but there's a lot I know I need to cut, and I still have to rewrite the ending. That won't get done this weekend, but it's a lot more progress than I've made in many months.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction: "Touchy"

I know, this one's kind of all over the place. I couldn't really get a good handle on it. But hey, it's done. And that was the goal. (You? You get what you pay for.)

Read "Touchy" at 512 Words or Fewer


Rainforest Writers Village, Day Two

First, the good news:

- enjoyed a lovely pancake breakfast, courtesy of Patrick.
- enjoyed a lovely talk on setting by Kat.
- delicious sandwiches for lunch!
- enjoyed a lovely talk on reading aloud by Mary.
- nice salmon dinner and conversation with Erin.
- figured out how the pieces of my novel-in-progress all fit together. (Mostly.)
- ended the day with a total word count of 4,211.
- DeeAnn finished the first complete draft of our collaborative story!

And the bad news:

- cat-sitter reports that Jasper threw up. Nothing serious, but I feel bad that DeeAnn and I aren't home to comfort him.
- devastation in Japan, and tsunami warnings for the Washington coast. We're about 150 feet above sea level and at least 20 miles inland, so I think we'll be okay, but I still worry. I guess we'll find out what happens at 7:30 AM.

When I attended Viable Paradise in the fall of 2008, it was right in the middle of the financial crisis, and I have a distinct memory of looking over Patrick's shoulder at his laptop, as he read out the news about the federal government seizing WaMu. (I also have a later memory of seeing JoCo tweet about it, but that's another story.)

And now this.

It's almost as if the universe is trying to tell me something, daring me to care about art while other, more important things are happening in the world. What good is writing fantasy and science fiction when there are people dying, and you can't do anything about it?

Well, the short answer is right there. I can't do anything about the natural and manmade disasters that are sometimes too big to even contemplate. But I can, as Neil says, Make Good Art. That's what I can contribute to the world. And so I will.

But first, sleep, and hopefully no bad dreams. (Though I also have a history of turning those into halfway decent stories.)


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rainforest Writers Village, Day One

Highlights from our first day at the Rainforest Writers Village:

We arrived last night so we could spend today sightseeing, and we did. Recommended by both the AAA guy who gave us our Olympic Peninsula map and Shawn(sp?), the front desk clerk here at the resort, we drove up to Ruby Beach and wandered around for a while. It was pretty foggy, but still beautiful:

Someone ahead of us had left behind some Goldsworthy-esque rock art:

Which inspired DeeAnn to create her own mini-monument:

After enjoying a picnic lunch in the car and observing high tide, we headed back to the resort, stopping along the way to visit a couple of big old cedar trees:

Hey, is that tree giving us the finger? The nerve!


For dinner, DeeAnn made a tasty crockpot chowder. The bad news: we put the leftovers in a covered plastic bowl out on the porch to cool, and then some raccoons stole it. Just stole the whole damn thing! I heard a noise outside and came to the window in time to see them making off with the entire bowl. Furry small-handed bastards. The nerve!

No photos of that, but it did generate this amusing Twitter conversation:

After the evening meet-and-greet with other retreat attendees, we helped one woman call in her leaking roof (spotty cell phone reception here), then retired to our cabin and spent some time breaking the story we're going to write collaboratively over the next few days. It'll be a continuation of my 512 Words flash fiction "Defeated," and should be pretty interesting. I will also be writing this week's 512, plus working on at least one of the novels I have yet to finish.

If you're interested, look for our Twitter updates tagged #rainforest2011a. I may not be blogging much more until Monday...


Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Presented without comment:


Thank you and good night.

Posted by Picasa

SnoutCast #55: "Get on a Podcast with Ian, Part 2"

The conclusion to our two-part interview with Ian Tullis of Get on a Raft with Taft and Shinteki!

[ Download mp3 - 33 MB ]

00:59 - "impolitic"
02:12 - how ideas turn into puzzles
04:18 - contributing to Only Connect
06:09 - writing a New York Times crossword
07:59 - the advantages of collaboration
09:40 - "I don't mind killing some kittens when it comes to puzzles."
10:54 - Introverted Xenophobe™
16:02 - embracing the holistic Game experience
18:16 - what is The Prisoners' Dilemma?
20:50 - the Matilda analogy
22:12 - memories of Hogwarts
26:49 - the Snout philosophy of Game planning
30:47 - looking forward to Shinteki Decathlon 7
32:15 - upcoming events: Puzzled Pint (3/15, PDX); GameStorm (3/24-27, PDX); DASH 3 (4/30, various cities); Shinteki Aquarius Remix (5/14, SF bay area); BANG 28 (6/18; SF bay area).
35:51 - The End

Got a comment or question? E-mail podcast@snout.org or post at snout.org/podcast !

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Shop Vac" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Ian

Friday, March 04, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction: "Godwin's Law"

It was pretty much inevitable that I'd use this title at some point.

Also interesting: the scene in the archives comes directly out of a dream I had earlier this week, and there will be a longer version of this story. (I already know the general shape of the ending, but like most writers, I have second act problems.)

Read "Godwin's Law" at 512 Words or Fewer


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

SnoutCast #54: "Get on a Podcast with Ian, Part 1"

This week, hear part one of our two-part interview with Ian Tullis of Get on a Raft with Taft and Shinteki!

[ Download mp3 - 27 MB ]

01:00 - "politic"
02:28 - Presidential pet trivia FAIL
04:24 - current projects, generally speaking
05:30 - the day job
07:20 - reflections on commercial hunts
10:23 - secret origins
12:58 - yet another pizza analogy
16:25 - memories of Justice
18:36 - more secret origins
21:19 - chronological confusion
24:19 - ("Tasty But Ill-Conceived" is the name of my Poison cover band.)
26:15 - upcoming events: Puzzled Pint (3/15, PDX); GameStorm (3/24-27, PDX); DASH 3 (4/30, various cities); Shinteki Aquarius Remix (5/14, SF bay area); BANG 28 (6/18; SF bay area).
28:56 - The End

Got a comment or question? E-mail podcast@snout.org or post at snout.org/podcast !

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Shop Vac" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Ian