Monday, September 28, 2009

UR Doin It Write

From House writer-producer Doris Egan's LiveJournal:

Most people in the world can draw a firm divide between working and not working. You could take a picture of them, and see whether they’re working or not working. But a writer hitting keys could be far less productive that day than they were while walking the dog last night. I suppose a filmed documentary of a writers’ room would translate to most people as “work” -- but anyone who isn’t a writer is not at those meetings. They generally aren’t standing in the doorway watching the typing, either.

They do see a script, eventually, but I swear, somewhere in the back of people’s minds they believe what I believed of books as a child – that they’re found objects that washed up on shore that way. If you only ever see a cut of beef wrapped in plastic in the supermarket, the idea that someone had to separate it from a cow is alien.

-- "writers, Emmys, and Hollywood logic"

Much of the rest of the post is about TV production nuts and bolts, but even if you don't care about that, skip to the end for a nice little Shakespeare riff.


Last Day to Register for the Browncoat Ball

That would be today. The 2009 Browncoat Ball happens this Saturday, October 3rd, at the Governor Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Register now: $80 for just the Ball, $130 for all day Saturday (includes touring around PDX), $175 for the full weekend (includes Friday game night and Sunday breakfast).

Need more convincing? Check out the promotional comic and some photos from past Browncoat Balls.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hey, I know that guy

I freely admit that I am not part of the mainstream cultural conversation. (I had never heard any part of that Beyoncé song until last week's episode of Glee.) And I'm generally pretty bad about keeping in touch with friends. But it's always nice to hear about people I know finding success and happiness, even if it does remind me how out of touch I am with, well, most things.

From the current issue of Stanford magazine:

I got to know Alder pretty well in my senior year, when we took a writing workshop class together, and I'm thrilled that he's actually getting somewhere with his writing--even if it's not fiction. (We all know that non-fiction pays better anyway.)

I'm not a wine connoisseur, but if I were, I'd definitely subscribe to Vinography.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Wake-Up Call"

Have I really been doing this for a full year already? Wow. Time flies.

Read "Wake-Up Call" at 512 Words or Fewer

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's Spelled B-A-Y-L-A.

Just to clear this up. I know humans are easily confused.

I am not a 20th-century Hungarian composer.

Nor am I the leader of a fusion-jazz musical group.

And I am definitely not that dude who played Dracula.

My name is Bayla, and it's derived from the Spanish word for "dance." The humans claim it's because I have a special way of drinking water. Whatever.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Many Nicknames!

The humans like to call me lots of different things, and sometimes you can actually figure out why! Here's an example:
  • Jasper turned into a fake-Spanish diminutive becomes Jaspito (with a long "e" sound)!
  • Shortening that gives you Pete!
  • Adding a title produces Master P, which will be my moniker if I ever start rapping!
Of course, some of the nicknames just make no sense at all. "Tinito Mio?" Is that supposed to be Italian? Humans are weird!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

GC Musings: The Dry Run Effect

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

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

By Curtis Chen, Team Snout


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

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

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

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

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

So Crazy It Just Might Work

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

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

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

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

Three in 3

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Xenotypography"

Just last year, this might have been considered a fantasy story, as it features a Commander-in-Chief who knows about carbon dating and understands the scientific method. Now it's just science fiction! (Rimshot.)

Read "Xenotypography" at 512 Words or Fewer

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Casting Calls

I signed up with a local casting agency earlier this year, mostly so I could be an extra on Leverage (fun times, plus they paid me!), and I'm still on their mailing list, so I get the occasional "Talent Needed" e-mail alerts.

It's interesting to see how different each production's requirements can be. For example, last week I got this very brief message:
[###] Sporting Goods shoot THURSAY SEPTEMBER 17!
Ages 18+
Rate: $150
To submit email extras@[####].com ASAP with name, phone number and a JPEG!

I'm guessing that was some kind of big crowd scene, and they got more respondents than they could possibly need.

Today I received this notice:
We're casting a job for [#####] Dental that requires the following talent:

1 woman - 25-45 to play a veterinarian
1 woman - 18-35 to play a front desk assistant
1 man - 18-35 to play veterinarian's assistant
SHOOTS: 9/24/09 (next Thursday)
RATE: $140 for a half day; $280 for a full day

Talent should not be allergic to or frightened of animals. You MUST have good teeth to be considered.

Email extras@[####].com with a current picture of yourself smiling (with teeth!), your phone number and full name. [#####] must be your subject line.

That's not the most specific casting call I've ever seen, but I love the "MUST have good teeth" part. Sorry, British expats, you'll have to wait until someone wants scheming villains or foppish snobs in their show.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Modest Proposal

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

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

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

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Portland DASH Recaplet

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

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

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

I also took some photos.

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


Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "World Trader"

This week's story went up late because I've been sick for the past few days. But it's out now.

Read "World Trader" at 512 Words or Fewer


Friday, September 04, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Newbody Does It Better"

If you like unattributed dialogue, you'll love this week's story. (Okay, I cheated by always indenting one character's lines. And you should listen to the podcast for a real trip--I had some fun with stereo effects.)

Read "Newbody Does It Better" at 512 Words or Fewer