PUZZLE: Sir Edwyn de Tudor

“In the illustration we have a sketch of Sir Edwyn de Tudor going to rescue his lady-love, the fair Isabella, who was held a captive by a neighboring wicked baron. Sir Edwyn calculated that if he rode fifteen miles an hour he would arrive at the castle an hour too soon, while if he rode ten miles an hour he would get there just an hour too late. Now, it was of the first importance that he should arrive at the exact time appointed, in order that the rescue that he had planned should be a success, and the time of the tryst was five o’clock, when the captive lady would be taking her afternoon tea. The puzzle is to discover exactly how far Sir Edwyn de Tudor had to ride.”

from Henry Dudeney’s Amusements in Mathematics


Aviator Cards: A Closer Look

Aviator: Then and Now
I’m glad that Aviators are still made. Even though they’ve been redesigned over the years, this is still the brand that was introduced in 1927 to commemorate Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight. They’ve become somewhat hard to find in most stories, which is why I was surprised to walk into my local 5 & 10 and find a stack of them along with Bicycles and Bees. (Also: I’m continually surprised that I have a local 5 & 10, but that’s one of the benefits of living in a small town.)

These are actually my least favorite card among the USPC roster. The faces are standard Bicycle-style art, and the backs are an elaborate design that seems purpose-made for card-marking. The feel is a bit stiff and slick. Some people like this, which is why Aviators have a devoted following. I personally prefer a more textured feel.

App O’ The Mornin’: Isaac Newton’s Gravity Review

Namco is confusing me. I spent a couple of moments playing “Isaac Newton’s Gravity” and feeling a strange sense of déjà vu. Then my brain caught up and I realized that I was playing “Professor Heinz Wolff’s Gravity,”  a PC game from a couple years back. I guess Professor Wolff (who appears to be a real person, although the bow tie gives me some doubts) wasn’t enough of a marquee name, so he was bumped in favor of Sir Isaac for Namco’s mobile port of the game.

This a pretty straightforward “Incredible Machine”-style physics game. It has 50 puzzles, which is about half as many as the original game, and Isaac Newton providing some commentary. Visually, it’s fairly appealing, but the graphics are little more than nice backgrounds and the infrastructure for each puzzle.

These puzzles are clever, and some are very challenging. The object is to hit a button located in some awkward spot of the level. To do this, you have a limited palette of objects which need to placed to cause a chain reaction in order to reach the button. Place everything, start the ball rolling, and see if the chain reaction works. The puzzles require careful observation and planning, but seem perfunctory and almost cold. I never really felt the spry intelligence and wit found in the best moments of the “Incredible Machine” series, or the wild imagination on display in “World in Goo.” The puzzles in Gravity are just kind of … there.

The other problem is that it’s obviously a port from the PC, and thus meant to be controlled using a mouse. (Professor Wolff also made the leap to Wii and DS, but I never saw either of these, so I can’t compare.) It was not designed for smaller devices, and the port for iPhones and iPod Touch is problematic in places. Some of the objects are very, very tiny and almost impossible to place with any precision. Although I have very large hands, I’ve gotten used to working on the small touchscreens. Gravity, however, challenged and frustrated me more than once.

I imagine some of my problems with Gravity probably disappear when it’s played on the larger screen of an iPad. The small version, however, is a little too finicky for my taste.

Media Incompetence and Gaming: Perfect Together!

The actual SmallWorlds.

Look, I’ve been a career journalist for 20 years, and even I hate the media. Journalism has become a rank fever swamp of incompetence, mendacity, and bias. Look at the recent “Koran burning pastor” fooforaw. There was a time when a knucklehead with a congregation that could fit in my den would say something crazy, people would ignore him, and the press would do what they do best: pay no attention and go back to the bar. Now, they splash his idiocy all over the 24-hour news stream, and people die.

It makes me wonder if there ever was a golden age of journalistic competence. Was there a time when writers did the legwork and checked their facts? Or were they always phoning it in from the bottom of a glass, only we didn’t know because there was no army of internet fact checkers watching the store? 

One thing always strikes me when I spot a piece of journalistic media malpractice on a subject I know (primarily history, religion, or gaming): if I can spot hard errors all the time in reports in which I already know the facts, how many untruths get by me on a subject about which I know nothing? 

Sorry, just had to bleat a bit before I got to the latest bit of media stupidity. Now go check out this story, and tell me what’s wrong with it. Addicted to a fantasy world: Mother obsessed with computer game let her children live in squalor and left her dogs to starve to death

It’s a tragic and horrifying story of a woman who lost her grip on reality. It’s hardly a new story. People have suffered tragedy and spiraled into madness as long as there have been people, but when there’s some clever “angle” for the media to play, suddenly human anguish becomes a spectator sport. It’s grotesque.

If the writer of the story got the name of the game right, then it was an online game called SmallWorlds. It’s a social network game made from bits of other games like Second Life, Sims, Farmville, Nintendogs, and so on.

But writer Jaya Narain couldn’t be bothered to figure out that much. Not only is the entire story illustrated with multiple photos from Days of Wonder’s Small World, which is obviously a board game, but super-journalist Jaya Narain actually smooshes together descriptions of SmallWorlds (the online game) and Small World (the board game) in the text of her story, creating nothing but a gibberish stew. The two games have nothing to do with each other, and have no common characteristics other than the word “game” somewhere in their description.

And as if to prove the old saw that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on, CNET blogger Chris Matyszczyk glossed the story and failed to correct any of the errors. [NOTE: The CNET story was subsequently amended and the correct illustration inserted.] Since his spot at CNET is called “Technically Incorrect,” maybe this is just some kind of ironic new-media meta-parody? I used to write for CNET. I remember them being a pretty tight ship. I guess standards have slipped.

Days of Wonder has already responded rather caustically, but as of now (9:00 Monday evening) the story has not been altered or corrected, leaving people with the impression that a charming and inventive board game is some kind of mindsucking epicenter of internet addiction.

Heck, I wouldn’t even say that the online SmallWorlds (or any online game) is capable of that. In the electronic age, people who may have once escaped from mental suffering with drugs, alcohol, food, or any number of compulsive behaviors now find that escape in virtual worlds. It’s no less tragic, but we need to realize that only the instrument of escape is new: the illness underlying it is the same age upon age.
Screenshot from original article