In 2007 a group of my work friends and I organised the first CiSRA Puzzle Competition as a means of promoting our company to clever people who might want to come work for us. It was a success and we’ve repeated it every year. And now, we have just opened the 7th annual competition for team registration! The first puzzles are released on 22 July. If you enjoy puzzles and brain-benders, check it out.
Archive for the ‘Puzzles’ Category
I tend to have quite a few projects going all the time. I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to list them all in a note-taking program. I was somewhat surprised with how long the list turned out to be. So I thought I’d share, so you have some idea of what sort of stuff I do in my “spare” time.
- Irregular Webcomic! – I did this as a daily comic strip from 2002-2011. I’m no longer making daily comics, but am rerunning strips with additional writer commentary.
- Darths & Droids – This strip started in 2007, and is ongoing, three times a week. I write it with a group of friends at work. We usually spend one lunchtime a week writing new strips and reviewing upcoming ones just before they are published.
- mezzacotta – This is a combination webcomic and irregular blog of odd stuff. The comic actually needs no writing or maintenance, so it’s just the occasional blog post here.
- Square Root of Minus Garfield – A Garfield parody webcomic, started in 2008, updating daily. Most of the strips are submitted by readers – my role is mostly selecting submissions to publish and adding them to the database.
- Lightning Made of Owls – An original comic which readers contribute strips for. Started in 2008, updated three times a week for a long time but now subsisting on a trickle of submissions.
- Comments on a Postcard – A “high concept” webcomic, again generated by reader submissions. Started in 2008, updated daily.
- There are also two old webcomics which have petered out, so I’m not counting them as active projects.
- Drumming – I’ve been taking weekly drumming lessons at Big Music since April last year.
- Forming a band – With the friends from work who write Darths & Droids. We’ve only had a couple of practice sessions, but we plan more.
- Italian – Learning on Duolingo.
- Irregular Webcomic! essays – Since the daily new comics ended, I’ve been writing a weekly essay about some topic, often scientific, which appears on Sunday’s update instead of a rerun strip.
- Travel diaries – Whenever I take a trip, I keep a daily travel diary. I stick them on my website when I get home.
- Secret project – I have a secret writing project I’ve started and hope to finish some day.
- Photography – I love taking photos. I take them on trips. I take walks and short drives around where I live to visit places just to take photos. I get up an hour before sunrise to go to the beach and photograph the sunrise. I post some of my photos on Flickr.
- 365 Days Photography – This is a specific photography project. I’m aiming to take a photo every day during 2013. There’s a special set on Flickr for these.
- Travel photo books – After an overseas trip, I like to assemble some of the best photos into a print-on-demand book, to give a copy to family members and keep a nice printed copy myself.
- Puzzle solving – My work friends and I enter the annual MUMS and SUMS puzzle competitions. Our team is the CiSRA Puzzlers, and we have won a few prizes, including first place in MUMS in 2007.
- Puzzle creating – My work friends and I run the annual CiSRA Puzzle Competition. We create our puzzles in our own time and test solve them during lunchtimes at work.
- Sketching – I occasionally doodle and sketch things using Paper by 53 on my iPad.
- Roleplaying games – I haven’t actually run one for a while, but I always have roleplaying campaigns and adventures bubbling away in the back of my mind. I plan to run my friends through Tomb of Horrors (on the understanding that many characters will die and we shouldn’t treat it too seriously). I also plan to run a campaign based in the giant city of Ravnica, borrowed from Magic: The Gathering.
- Magic: The Gathering booster drafts – My friends and I play semi-regular Magic booster draft tournaments, using the latest sets published by Wizards of the Coast. We also have a stash of old unopened booster packs going as far back as the original Ravnica block, which we occasionally mix and match to create weird hybrid draft formats. We do this sometimes during lunch breaks, and sometimes on Friday evenings.
- Magic: The Gathering cube drafts – We create custom cubes for drafting Magic as well. So far, most of my playing group have created a cube which we have used. We’ve done powerful cubes full of high-powered cards, and quirky cubes, such as the off-colour cube (cards whose abilities violate the modern colour pie).
- Magic: The Gathering invented sets – Not satisfied with what Wizards prints, we create our own entire sets and draft those. We’ve done a total of six different invented sets (from memory, it may be one or two more), and at least one of us is always working on another entire new set.
- Board games – Sometimes we play board games at lunch. Favourites change over time, but have included Settlers of Catan, Formula De, Modern Art, Ra, Citadels, Poison, Tigris & Euphrates, Power Grid, Dominion, Blokus, Ingenious, Puerto Rico, Goa, Alhambra, Seven Wonders, Notre Dame. (I won’t link them all, look them up on BoardGameGeek.)
- Invent board games – Not content with existing board games, we invent our own. Some are actually card games. Collectively we’ve invented something like a dozen games.
- Physical activities
- Walking project – I share this project with my wife. We have a map of North Sydney Council, in which we we live. We are in the process of walking the full length of every street and every walking track in the council area. We began two years ago, and might complete it this year. (The rule is: for a walk to count, we must do it together, and start and end the walk at our home – no car or public transport allowed.)
- Stretching – Every weekday I do a short series of stretching exercises to strengthen my lower back muscles and keep my limbs flexible.
- Swimming – From about October to April I swim. Usually 1200 metres, three times a week.
- Tennis – I play tennis once a week. Well, up until a few months ago when my opponent had an injury. We should start again soon.
To close this post, I’d just like to say one thing. If your reaction to my list is to think, “Man, you have too much spare time,” then you are wrong. Please read this essay I wrote about creativity and spare time. I don’t think I can say it any better than that here. :-)
The 2011 CiSRA Puzzle Competition is in its last few days. It’s hard making new and interesting puzzles, but what’s even harder is figuring out how difficult they are for other people to solve.
We test all of our new puzzles on each other, to make sure that it’s possible for someone to actually solve them. Then we provide feedback and suggestions to tweak the puzzle, make it more elegant, make difficult steps more compelling, provide extra hints within the structure of the puzzle where we think they’re needed. And once we’re done, before we publish the puzzles, we assign a difficulty rating in three relative levels: Easy, Medium, or Hard.
This is a very subjective thing. It’s really, really tough. Of course some people will solve some puzzles faster than others, while other people will find them to be of opposite difficulty. We try to factor in the amount of work, the amount of knowledge, the level of logic needed to progress, and – hardest of all – the difficulty and non-obviousness of any intuitive leaps that you need to make. We come up with a rating, stick it on the puzzle, and then it goes out in the competition.
In Group 4, we published 4 puzzles, three of which we rated Medium, and one Hard. After 24 hours, the Hard puzzle had more teams solve it than all the others put together, and one of the Mediums – in fact the one that several of us puzzle creators thought was the easiest of the group – had no teams manage to solve it. In five years of running this competition (that’s 100 puzzles), we’ve previously only ever had one puzzle go unsolved after 24 hours before, and that was a puzzle we all knew was the hardest thing we’d ever published until then.
But this one, this year… we’re flabbergasted that it proved so hard for the competition teams. Assessing puzzle difficulty… is Very Hard.