Ripples and effects

This is just a quick note: the puzzles that I’ve been working on with Krazydad–Ripple Effects, as made not-very-famous by Nikoli–went live this evening!  You can even solve them online, no need for a printer.  The online version can be found here, and if you’re the sort that would rather print them out and solve them the old fashioned way, the PDFs are here.  I will definitely be doing a Phil’s Puzzle Primer on them soon, so stay tuned, but there are instructions in both places that will help you get started.  Enjoy!  And you may even see more collaboration the two of us in the future.  We’re currently discussing a new puzzle type of my own devising.  We’ll see what happens.

This is the first of the super-tough puzzles.  I… strongly recommend you don’t start there.

Weekly status update [0043/????]

This week was even more low-key than last week, with one major exception.  And that’s fine by me.

  • I’m still reading Ash: A Secret History.  It’s very, very good, and also very, very long; I’m on page 716 as I write this, which is almost precisely two-thirds of the way through the book.  Most days I manage somewhere between fifty and a hundred and fifty pages.  It’ll be done soon, and it’s likely the last (physical) book I read this year; I’ll jump to my Kindle, because…
  • …the power went out at my house Saturday morning at 3am and was off until around 2pm.  It was cold.  I ended up bundling under two blankets on my recliner and starting the second Wheel of Time book on my Kindle, which was half-charged.  (Thanks, battery pack I still have from my job!  You kept my phone and my Kindle going.)  Fortunately the power did come back on before I had to find somewhere else to crash for the evening.
  • Most evenings have been spent watching Twitch, and specifically NickCapricorn, a small streamer who has been playing various classic games.  I do mean small; it’s not uncommon for there to only be one or two of us active in his chat.  But he’s a nice guy and he keeps up conversation… and he’s currently playing StarTropics, one of my favorite old NES games, for the first time.  It’s been a delight watching him do so very badly at it.
  • I continued working with Krazydad on the Ripple Effect implementation, by which I mean I wrote a bit of code and did quite a lot more test solving of puzzles while he messed with a bunch of parameters.  I suspect the new puzzle type will be going up on his website relatively soon, which is pretty exciting.  They’re not quite as good as human-made ones… but I now have code to generate an infinite number of them for the rest of my life, so that seems like a reasonable trade-off.
  • I’ve also continued to solve paper puzzles during the day, mostly as a break from reading Ash.  I’m only eight puzzles away from finishing this dang Sudoku book I’ve been working on for years.  (Of course, those eight puzzles are the hardest ones, and they generally take me half an hour or so to solve, so there’s still plenty of time left in there…)
  • And on the videogame side, I was turned on to Tametsi by folks in a puzzle-related Discord.  It’s basically “extremely hard Minesweeper,” and is very very good.  Also very cheap ($3).  I’m excited to work my way through it.  (It says that it’s Windows-only, but tametsi.exe is actually a Java JAR file, so if you know the proper incantations it’s perfectly playable on both Mac and Linux “natively.”)
  • I also put a lot of time into Let It Die this week, and particularly today.  No, I still haven’t beaten it, because I know when I do I’ll stop playing, and I still really enjoy the game hundreds (and hundreds) of hours in.  But I think I’m really, truly going to push to beat the game before I head home for the holidays.
  • After being a good boy for Thanksgiving, I utterly exploded the diet on Monday with some delicious pizza.  Well, lots of delicious pizza.  I ended up fasting for the rest of the week, breaking it this morning, which will hopefully help me get back on track.  I’ve already written off the holidays–in fact, I spent time yesterday figuring out which snacks I’m going to have shipped to my Mom’s house before I get there–so the better I do before then the less catastrophic my time home will be.  And then it’ll be back to the grind come January… but isn’t that what Januaries are for?

(As a side note, I managed to finagle the right bits to go to my old job’s holiday party one last time, mostly thanks to the efforts of a friend who still works there.  I’m looking forward to it; the party itself is always pleasant, but I started a tradition of playing card games and other fun easy group games in the lobby of the hotel until the wee hours of the morning after the party, and getting to do that one last time will be nice.  That’s not for a couple of weeks, though.)

…for a week where not a lot happened, I sure wrote a lot.  Huh.  I’ll try to be more brief next week.  Maybe my fingers just wanted to type a bunch again, now that NaNo’s over?

Weekly status update [0042/????]

Ahh, the sweet return to normalcy after the pressure that is NaNo.

  • I don’t allow myself to read while I’m writing in November; it has a habit of over-influencing what I put on the page.  So, with the novel knocked out, it’s time to dig back in, right?  Well, yes and no.  I still had an enormous stack of books from the library that I had been renewing as I wrote, and when I was in the middle of reading the second post-NaNo one I realized that I kept glancing at that stack with trepidation, and (worse) I wasn’t even enjoying the book I was reading.  Not that it was a bad book!  It just felt like an obligation rather than, you know, the pleasure that reading should be.  Ugh.  So I bit the bullet and brought almost everything back to the library, knowing that I can check them out again in the new year at a more leisurely pace.  The only one I kept is Ash: A Secret History, which is famous for being the longest single-volume fantasy novel ever written.  It’s so long that the US printing is actually four books, but one of the libraries in Cardinal has the single-volume edition.  It weighs three or four pounds, easy.  So, yeah, I’m reading, and this is still a lot of book to finish in the next three weeks, but it’s just the one.
  • I’ve also jumped back into the puzzle books full-force, which has been nice.  I’m so very close to being done with a book of sudoku that I’ve been poking at off and on for something like four years, and my goal is to knock it out before I go back home for the holidays so I can swap it out for a new one.  Hopefully it won’t take as long.
  • As mentioned earlier this week, I’ve even been doing some programming, which has been nice.  I still want to jump into the rewrite of DXV’s Dudes of Stuff and Things, but I’m going to hold off on that until the new year, since I know I’m not going to work on it when I’m back home for the holidays.
  • Oh yeah, it was Thanksgiving this week, wasn’t it?  I went to a coworker’s house for the evening and made the (very hard, given my predilections) decision to not meaningfully stray from my diet, even though there were so many delicious carbs there.  So many.  But I felt better afterwards for staying strong, and I still got to hang out with friends for a while, so it all worked out.  (We also played CrossTalk, which is a fantastic family/party game.)
  • On a meta note, it seems like most of the problems with the new Gutenberg editor in WordPress have been fixed.  That’s nice!

The time when I travel back home for the holidays rapidly approaches.  I’m looking forward to it, to be sure.  If anything, Thanksgiving made me kinda excited to go back and see family and some of my old friends.  Soon!

The preservation of collaboration

For the last two days, I’ve been working with someone on a program.

This came about because they run a rather famous puzzle website, full of puzzles of tons of different types that they generate via computer.  That site has a puzzle type that is close, but not quite, like one of my favorite Nikoli types, Ripple Effect.  And their site has a bit that says “Don’t see your favorite puzzle type?  Let me know!”

So I did.  I even sent them photos from a puzzle book I just got this past Saturday, that I’m in the middle of solving, which happens to have some Ripple Effects in it.  They said that they’d take a look at it, and honestly I thought that that would be the end of the whole deal.

Then they contacted me, asking: are you willing to transcribe some puzzles, so that they can be used as test cases for the solver?

Here’s a (puzzle) thing: I like to transcribe puzzles.  I’ve done so for the tiniest fraction of the number that I’ve solved over the years, although if I had infinite time and energy I would put every single puzzle I’ve ever solved in a computer-readable format.  That probably sounds really stupid, but I feel that puzzles are a fascinating form of entertainment, and one we treat entirely too ephemerally, tossing the magazines once we’re done with them.  I fully realize that I have a biased view here, but is it so crazy to think that in 100 years someone wouldn’t want to try and solve a full issue of, say, Nanpure Fan in the same way that I sometimes enjoy leafing through old advertisements?  It’s not like the type of puzzles I do (i.e. non-crossword-y ones) have an expiration date.  That sudoku will solve just as well in 2118 as it does here in 2018.

Anyhow, of course I said yes, and set about immediately to transcription.  Well, no.  It turned out that the format that was being suggested was actually a bit of a pain to write by hand, and I thought of a way to make it easier, so the website’s author sent me the code he was using and I ended up banging on it to suit my will.

As of today we’re sharing our work in a Github repository; I’ve mostly done transcription (of course) and some code cleanup, and he’s been working on the actual solver and friends, since this is all based on code he’s been the master of for years.

If the generated Ripple Effect puzzles actually get published, I’ll link them here, but even if not it’s been nice to work on some code for the first time since I retired.  And it’s been nice to collaborate, to bounce ideas back and forth on how to do a thing.  That’s definitely something I miss from the job.

And, if nothing else, it got me to preserve at least a few more puzzles from a couple of books I have.  Probably no one else cares, but perhaps one day they can be used to reconstruct a puzzle book, to be solved by our ancestors who may have never touched a physical magazine at all, to be experienced all over again.

Weekly status update [0038/????]

As promised (and expected), a comparatively peaceful week.

  • I read eight or nine more novels in the pre-NaNo rush.  Five of them were The Long Earth and its sequels, a collaborative effort by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.  They were… fine, I guess?  The setting was neat, but none of the books really had a plot, per se, other than the fourth.  Mostly they were picaresques.  Easy reads, though.  Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net was much more interesting, a pretty obvious reaction to the typical cyberpunk stories that the man had popularized with his Mirrorshades compilation.  I’m currently in the third (of four) “Okie” novels by James Blish.  The compilation sorts them chronologically rather than in publication order, and it shows; this third one was the first written, and feels a lot rougher than the others, in the weird sort of way ’50s sf often does: absolutely crazy stuff happens (like sending a planet out of the galactic plane as if it’s no big deal), and the book treats it as a fait accompli.  It’s weird, but a nice change from the headier modern stuff I’ve been reading otherwise, so I’ll finish it up in the next day or two.
  • That said, I’m still going to have a ton of books left on my sofa at the start of NaNoWriMo, only four days away now, which means I’ll have to keep reading throughout the month.  It’ll be less of a problem than usual, I guess, since I don’t also have a job sucking up the oxygen (and time), but it’s going to be something of a first for me.
  • Speaking of NaNo, I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about my upcoming novel, including thoughts about how it’s likely to end.  I think I have a pretty workable (if very rough) outline of the main body in my head.  That sort of thing often changes with the writing, and I’ll definitely let it if it needs to, but it’s a good start.
  • As part of the prep work for said upcoming novel, I had to look into the modern state-of-the-art for Google Web Fonts.  (You’ll see why… hopefully.)  I think I’ll be able to do what I need to do with a minimum of pain, although I’ll have to write a custom text-to-HTML translator for this novel so it’ll look right.  I’m… actually kinda looking forward to that?
  • Still watching a bit of TV.  I manage an episode of Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine most days, and Luke Cage and Orange is the New Black every other day or so.  I’m looking forward to finishing both of the latter shows, mainly because I want to bump The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina up on the queue for timeliness/thematic reasons.
  • Other than my usual free-to-play gaming, I’ve put quite a bit of time into video pinball in the last week or two.  Pinball FX3 has the Williams licenses now, and those tables have been fun to mess around on, but I’ve mainly been grinding Sorcerer’s Lair, which I still think is the best table Zen’s ever made.  I find it really strange that it’s their free-to-play table, particularly given how many hundreds of dollars I’ve sunk into all the other ones… but that’s fine.  It was interesting watching a Twitch streamer play the table for the first time, having the same dawning sense that I did many years ago of “oh, there is actually something to this whole pinball thing!”  Yes.  Yes, there is.
  • The diet’s been pretty much derailed for the last couple of weeks, at first due to the visit and then later because it’s always easier to say “tomorrow” than it is to actually buckle down and do the right thing.  I’m typing this up as a bit of public self-shaming to, you know, buckle down and do the right thing.
  • On a meta note, the new Gutenberg editor for WordPress is horribly buggy; it tends to eat anything after italics in a bullet point unless you do some stupid shenanigans, as one example that I had to deal with several times while writing this update.  I may go back to the classic editor for a while until they fix more of the bugs.

In the middle of next week begins the month-long adventure of NaNoWriMo, which will be… interesting, for sure.  I look forward to it with no small amount of trepidation every year (and wrote about it earlier this week), but I do look forward to it.  I don’t know how it’ll mess with my posting schedule here, though.  We’ll find out together, I guess!

(Also, Gutenberg ate the last couple of sentences of this post three times because of that stupid italics bug.  Ugh.  Back to the classic editor I go.)

Weekly status update [0031/????]

After the (relatively) busy times of last week, we’re back to something rather more like my usual speed.

  • I read a lot.  A lot.  I still have a stack of a good dozen books I checked out at the library (which prompted me to write my paean to the institution earlier this week), but on the whole I made a bunch of forward progress.  Most of it was fiction; Lamb by Christopher Moore stood out, although it suffers from the problem that those most likely to get the most out of it are also those most likely to never, ever read it.  The sole non-fiction book was Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, which was impressively readable.  I typically take two to four times longer to read non-fiction, but I tore through Peak in a single afternoon.
  • I also watched a whole bunch of TV for basically the first time in months.  For whatever reason I was in the mood to give The Good Place a shot; cue spending much of three days tearing through both already-aired seasons.  It’s extraordinarily good, probably the most clever show I’ve seen in years, with a bunch of genuine laugh-out-loud moments and a stellar cast.  Most impressive (to me) is the showing that the main actors who aren’t Ted Danson and Kristen Bell make; I had never heard of Jameela Jamil, not being British, and she is absolutely fantastic in her role as a do-gooder aristo.  The real find–I assume everyone in Britain already knew of her awesomeness–is William Jackson Harper, who plays against Bell’s “banality of mediocre not-quite-evil” with a combination of exasperation and existential dread that is absolutely pitch-perfect.  Never has the word “what?” had such an impact.  I don’t want to write an article on the show, because to really cover what I’d like to cover it’d be spoiler-y as heck, but if you haven’t watched it yet: what the fork are you doing?
  • After getting my second Burnout Paradise Platinum trophy (per my past article, the game thankfully only has one really stupid one), I went back to mostly just playing my daily free-to-play stuff on my PS4.  The computer’s another matter, though; I’ve been on a huge “old strategy game” kick, playing the original Heroes of Might and Magic and Warlords and other games of that ilk.  Most of the time has been with Creeper World 2, which is… wildly different from the first and third games, not just in raw design–the side-view thing is a big twist–but also in its heavy use of timed stages.  Lots of fun, though.
  • Other than all of that, just the typical “spending too much on games I don’t need,” on both the digital and board-type front.  You know, the usual.
  • I haven’t touched the code for Dosat yet.  Soon.

To be fair, after the relative excitement of last week, it was nice to mostly just curl up with a stack of books and get my literature on.  Which I will likely continue this coming week… to my distinct pleasure.

Weekly status update [0030/????]

A busier week than usual, that’s for sure.

  • I spent a non-trivial amount of time this week playing Burnout Paradise Remastered on my PS4.  I spent something like 60-70 hours in the game back on the PS3, and it was a delight to play it again… although I don’t plan on doing nearly everything there is to do in the game like I did back then.  Racing games generally leave me cold, but there’s something about Paradise that makes it a delight to play.  Except for the fact that it plays “Paradise City” every time it boots up.  Ugh.  I have to mute the TV each time I start the game.
  • We had a board game night Tuesday at Fercott.  We played the second edition of London; previously, I enthused about the game, and I still think it’s really good, but I also think that you probably shouldn’t play it with more than three people, and really two is best.  There’s too much “luck of the draw” for the result to be very stable at four.  (I’m not just saying this because I got crushed… but I got crushed.)
  • I spent much of Wednesday up in the hills and mountains with a friend; we went to Wiseman’s View.  A non-trivial amount of the trip’s time was spent on the barely-maintained gravel road leading to the View, and we were the only people there, which was a bit surprising; the day was beautiful, if warm, and the sight down into the gorge utterly stunning.  I had a really good time.  It was nice actually getting out in the woods and into the sun; as I lose weight, my desire to take up hiking is beginning to grow again.  Perhaps next season.
  • I went to the library Thursday to get a single book I had on hold and ended up with ten, which went into a stack with a bunch of other books I’m behind on reading (mostly thanks to Burnout Paradise Remastered).  I’m almost done with one today, though, and plan on tearing through much of the rest in short order.  Libraries are awesome and people don’t use them nearly enough.
  • The programming urge has been growing steadily stronger, so I finally steeled myself and bugged Donald X. Vaccarino (of Dominion fame) to release a game he wrote for himself as open source.  He actually went for it, to my mild surprise.  It’s written in Object Pascal with some very old DOS graphics and mouse tech; my current plan is to basically rewrite it 1:1 in C so that it’ll actually be maintainable into the foreseeable future.  Once I get that done I’ll look into actual improvements to the game itself.  I haven’t actually started coding on it yet; I plan to begin with some of the tools he wrote to mess with the data files, so as to get my feet wet again.  But I am excited!
  • I watched the first episode of Jack Ryan, mostly to get the Twitch bits.  It was… fine?  I mean, I love Wendell Pierce to bits, and after seeing A Quiet Place I’m down with John Krasinski in serious roles, but it sure feels not nearly enough removed from the torture porn of 24 for my liking.  I may watch another episode or two… or I may not, given how little TV I’ve managed these last couple of months.  We’ll see.

So, yeah, lots of stuff going on this past week, including some things I hadn’t done in ages.  I look forward to working on the game, reading these books, and, y’know, in general continuing to chip away at the infinite rock face of “things I want to do.”  As one does.

Weekly status update [0028/????]

This was a week that even I found surprisingly quiet.

  • After over a month of off-and-on effort, I finally managed to order a bunch of back issues of Akıl Oyunları, a Turkish puzzle magazine that comes highly rated from several people.  It’s basically impossible to get in the United States without some serious shenanigans.  Whether they’ll actually arrive successfully at my house or not is another matter entirely…
  • I actually watched a tiny bit of television this past week, namely two or three more episodes of the second season of Jessica Jones.  It definitely got better from the first, rather dire, one.  I’m still not sure it’s good, and it definitely comes across as particularly weak after the fantastic first season, but I’m going to finish it off… if only so that I can watch the second season of Luke Cage.
  • I even watched a couple of movies, another rare event for me.  The Avengers: Infinity War was pretty much exactly what I suspected it’d be; I don’t want to talk about it too much, for fear of spoilers, but I can imagine some people who aren’t aware of comic book tropes were Real Shook Up by that ending.  I also watched A Quiet Place, which was excellent.  It had a couple of silly bits, but overall it was a finely-crafted bit of horror.  It’s basically Signs but only 5% as stupid.
  • After working on it off-and-on for well over a year, I saw the end credits of Picross 3D Round 2… which unlocked a whole other set of puzzles.  Heh.  This wasn’t surprising to me, as that result had already been spoiled… and I hadn’t gotten the final score emblem yet even though I’ve received a perfect score in every level.  I’m taking the post-game easy, though, as I solved a lot of puzzles in a rush to get there, and it’s one of the few videogames that actually hurts a bit to play, due to the weird claw grip you have to hold the 3DS in.
  • I’m not playing this one, but Landail is: he’s made it to Panzer Dragoon Saga, a game I played back in the late ’90s or early ’00s on a loaned copy from a friend.  It goes for over a thousand bucks now (!!).  I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t hold up to my memory… but, no, it’s still a beautiful, well-designed game.  Phew.  Sometimes it’s not Happy Sappy Delusion Syndrome muddling your memories of the past.  It’s been a blast to watch.
  • I actually made more-than-single-line changes to Giles over the past week.  Nothing too exciting, mind, but it required me to actually look at some Python documentation, which is more of a commitment than I had made to programming in quite a while.

As is often true for a quiet week, I still somehow figure out how to write several hundred words…

Weekly status update [0017/????]

I had a couple of conversations yesterday evening about my blog; I was at a social going-away party thing that had a lot of people I hadn’t really talked to since before I retired.  And it made me realize that in some ways, yeah, this blog is exactly the sort of obligation I’m trying not to have this year.  I’m not gonna lie.  Sometimes it’s hard to come up with something even semi-interesting to write about, and I feel that as a sort of weight around my shoulders.  But I also realized that a little obligation, a little “hey, you need to do this at least a couple of times a week” is actually a good thing.  Never mind the practical, useful side of it, the fact that writing here is good de-rusting for whatever future tippy-tappy endeavors I embark on.  A tiny bit of discomfort that results in something that others seem to enjoy?  That’s the best kind of obligation.

  • I don’t think I even cracked a puzzle book once this week.  That might be a first since retirement.
  • It’s because almost all of my time has been spent reading.  After finishing off King’s The Outsider, I immediately put his “crime trilogy” on hold at the local library.  It was a long weekend, so I couldn’t get them until Tuesday, but snag them I did.  I’ve already finished the first two and plan on spending the rest of today reading the third.
  • I got them in large print, too.  It’s nice.  I had already jacked the font size way up on my Kindle back when I read the first Wheel of Time book, and having something much like that in a physical volume is handy.  Unfortunately not a lot of my favorite genre (science fiction) gets large-print editions, so I’ll have to enjoy this luxury while I can.
  • I didn’t really watch TV either.  I did play some video games, but it’s mostly the usual free-to-play suspects.
  • Keto’s going well.  I still haven’t weighed myself, but I had the most important signifier Friday morning: the shorts I had been wearing off and on the last few weeks were loose enough I had to hitch them up repeatedly at Walmart.  Woo!
  • I saw Deadpool 2 with some good friends from work last Saturday.  It was… exactly what I wanted out of Deadpool 2.  If you saw the first, and thought of it as “a comic book movie cranked to 11,” then Deadpool 2 was the same thing cranked to 13 or 14.
  • No further movement on the “getting rid of boardgames” front to report.
  • Dove deep into reading about modern abstract boardgames again, which happens every six months or so.  The result this time was some code changes to Giles to make one particular game more flexible.  The desire to implement a whole new game or two has mostly passed, unfortunately, but even this little bit of programming felt good.
  • Still no actual prose on a page, although stuff is aggressively percolating.  Soon.  Soon.

Soon.  (Man.  That doesn’t even look like a word to me now.)

Weekly status update [0013/????]

Getting back into the groove of being home.  I honestly miss being around other people… but I also really like being by myself.  The eternal conflict.

  • After months of very laissez-faire eating habits, I’m back on keto.  I’m actually in the middle of a mini-fast; I had been eating many thousands of kilocalories more than I should have per day, and fasting is the… er… fastest way I know to get my body back to a more regular level of craving.  It’s miserable, of course, but it’s also almost over.  I plan on shifting to a regular ketogenic diet come Monday.
  • Did quite a few puzzles, mostly Sudoku; I’m at that point in one of my puzzle books where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, which means I tend to focus on it rather than the fifteen others sitting next to my chair.  I think I’m going to intentionally not replace that particular book for a bit, so as to give some of the other puzzle types a bigger part of the rotation.
  • Still watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine (hilarious) and The Punisher (tolerable).
  • I actually wrote some small patches for Giles this week.  For a brief, shining moment I thought I might be diving back into coding.  Then I remembered that no one cares about Giles other than me and I have nothing to prove in re: my coding ability, so… not so much.
  • Still grinding out dailies in the same four games, although I actually put some real time into Let It Die.  I think I’m actually going to try and make some real forward progress this weekend or, at the latest, next week.
  • We had an “extended game night” this Tuesday; it was supposed to be at Fercott Fermentables, but they were closed.  One of the players stepped in at the last minute to host.  Thanks, Derrick!  It was an excellent game of Antike II, and one I’m still thinking about now.
  • I ordered board games for the first time this year while still riding high on the high from that game night.  As always, I bought way more than I should have.  Sigh.
  • Not a lot of reading, alas.  The Eye of the World is fine, but it’s not exciting me… and I feel obligated to finish at least that first book in the Wheel of Time series before moving onto something else.

All in all, pretty much the same stuff that I was doing before the trip, plus the whole diet thing.  If you find any of this surprising… you haven’t been paying attention.