chris: (mobius-scarf)
OK, this is geeky even by my standards, but you expect nothing less, right? It's too geeky for my Facebook and Twitter audiences, but I feel safe here.

10, 16, 25, 40, 64, 100, 160, 250, 400, 640, 1 000, 1 600, 2 500, ... (each later item is ten times the one five previous)

The powers of 2 and 5 in this sequence give it a particularly attractive feel to me, and I am deliberately using deliberately fluffy, imprecise language here that I do not feel the need to justify this on any more than the vaguest of aesthetic grounds.

It is not a geometric progression, with the ratios between successive powers being 23/5, 52/24, 23/5, 23/5, 52/24, (etc.) but 25/16 = 1.5625 is hand-wavingly not too far from 1.6 to give it a reasonably consistent sort of feel. Additionally, the ratio between powers and their next-but-one values are 2.5, 2.5, 2.56, 2.5 and 2.5, etc., and the ratio between powers and their next-but two values are 4, 4, 4, 4 and 3.90625 etc. OK, these aren't all the same as would be the case in a geometric progression, but they're mostly really close, and isn't that cool?

The sequence was, putting it politely, adapted from Herman's Top Olympians scoring system, and bears a distinct resemblance to the R5 sequence of Renard numbers - in fact, it essentially is the R5 sequence of Renard numbers except that there they replace 64 with 63. Now I reluctantly conclude that 100.8 is closer to 6.3 than it is to 6.4, making the ratios between successive members of R5 closer to each other than the ratios in my sequence above and with similar knock-on effects to the other properties. However, I choose to prefer increased frequency of repetition at the cost of making the absolute difference between some ratios a little higher. Similarly, giving preference to the fact that all the numbers have only prime factors of 2 and 5 is arbitrary, and there may well be situations where the inclusion of 63 = 3*3*7 is a useful factorisation. I choose not to care.

The whole phenomenon of preferred numbers is quite fun. I enjoyed spotting the similarity between the R10" progression and the progression of the blind structure in the World Series of Poker main event from about level five onwards. I don't know if this was independent reinvention (or, perhaps more likely, redevelopment) by coincidence or deliberate, but it goes to show a practical use of the principle. I don't claim there particularly needs to be a practical use for any of this, but this might be one, and issues of coinage selection in currency design also present themselves here as well.

I also have long had a liking for the sequence

1, 2, 4, 10, 30, 100, 400, 2 000, 12 000, 100 000, 1 000 000 (and not yet really defined after that)

because it again has a strong focus on factors of 2 and 5, with only a couple of incidental 3s, but also has a somewhat factorial-like nature whilst there is the additional property that I'm really attracted to whereby only one of the sequence members has more than a single significant figure - and "12" about as friendly and familiar as two-significant-digit numbers get. Again, no particular reason for this other than a vague claim to aesthetic neatness, but you just might agree with me that it non-specifically feels quite neat.

The ratios between subsequent members are 2, 2, 5/2, 3, 10/3, 4, 5, 6, 25/3 and 10. Other than the first, these are strictly increasing, and the size of the increase is not very far off being strictly increasing itself. This increase is slower at first than the factorial sequence (which is, by definition, 1, 2, 3, 4, ...) but does speed up towards the end.

Again, I don't claim to have a practical use or consideration for this series, but it does have a "money tree" sort of feel to it, if successive later activities are significantly more challenging than earlier ones, and continue becoming increasingly challenging at an increasing rate, to the point where a geometric progression does not feel appropriate. It would also offer the potential of "getting to" 1 000 000 under a praeternaturally unlikely series of events where in practice it may be very unlikely that the payout might even be as high as 30, 100 or 400.

That is all. No real point, just tickled me.
chris: (swings)
The US Puzzle Championship is taking place online on June 15th, which is this Saturday; the details will be posted at the USPC 2013 site imminently. US solvers interested in consideration for the perennially-top-contender national team at the World Puzzle Championship need to start solving at 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern / 6pm UK time; last year, unofficial contestants had the freedom to choose when to start their participation, with the same 2½-hour time limit.

It's always a good contest and you'll be able to download the instructions for the types of puzzles in advance, so you can see whether this year's bundle suits your taste or not. (The event isn't being used to determine a place on the UK team this year; UK solvers only have one online contest to earn one of three spots on the team. Hey, I don't make the rules.)

After DASH a week and a bit ago, I've been in a puzzle-y mood pretty much non-stop. Accordingly, now is as good a time as any to make a post I've been planning to make for over four months, about this year's MIT Mystery Hunt. This is the point where you'll know whether you're interested in reading or not. )

The world's different puzzling traditions. )
chris: (mobius-scarf)
After a spectacular weekend, there's more than a little come-down to come back to a dull week in which the most pressing engagement is to look after your beloved who has sadly been hit by a nasty infection. After a convoluted and exhausting process trying to get out-of-hours care on a Bank Holiday weekend, Meg has the right medication, but even that's really taking it out of her. Accordingly, I'm going to try to cheer myself up by reminding myself just how good the weekend was.

The main event of the weekend was the fifth edition of DASH, a federated puzzle hunt where (practically) identical puzzles are offered in cities around the world. The first installment was held in eight US cities; the fifth one, this year, was held in 14 US cities and also in London, marking the first time that the hunt had been run internationally. I sounded the alarms as soon as I had heard about the London event and then again in more detail when there were more specifics, so don't say I didn't warn you about it. You can expect me to mention the event again perhaps twenty or thirty more times over the next year, in the context that a few specific gaming/puzzling parents really might find it worth their while to start saving a day's worth of space in their calendars and booking baby-sitters...

The US events had been held the previous week, with participants asked not to spoil the puzzles between then and now, mostly for the benefit of us UK solvers. As far as I can tell, the embargo was completely impeccably observed, and I thank everyone who played a part in keeping it. The puzzles and answers are expected to be posted on the DASH 5 web site soon, but I think it's OK to start discussing things in detail now.

My report of my DASH 5 experience, full of spoilers for the puzzles. )
chris: (stockton-on-tees)
Make Better Please is the name of a show presented by the Fuel theatre company, featuring the Uninvited Guests company as players and director. It was performed tonight at the ARC arts centre here in Stockton-on-Tees. Full disclosure: a local friend of mine wrote a preview of the show and was comped two tickets; he couldn't attend, so I went in his place. Tickets would have been £10 (or £8 for concessions) and included a voucher for one free drink. Here are some highly preliminary thoughts after just a couple of hours' vague reflection. As ever, this is far from being a considered review, but reflects a couple of hours' worth of thought-dumping; sometimes I use my blog as my outboard brain.

The show is one of those partially interactive performances, inasmuch as they draw upon contributions from the audience who are invited to participate in precisely delineated fashions at certain points. My prejudice is that I am a sucker for This Sort Of Thing, having written at great length about Who Wants To Be...? previously, and taken great interest from afar in the work of Punchdrunk and the developing world of pervasive, playable theatre (Hide and Seek, The Larks, Coney and so on). Accordingly the default assumption is that it might be a bit difficult to explain, though the company's own attempt at it is a pretty good shot.
We call on the people to gather with us, to read the day's newspapers together, to speak and to listen.

We will give voice to the concerns of the hour!
We will question the powers that be!
We will make things better! We will make things better!

This is a town hall meeting and a radio broadcast, a public protest and the news of your world. In these times of crisis we make a collective ministry with you, our society of friends. Possessed by the spirits of corporate fat cats, cabinet ministers and media tycoons, we invoke the demons of the day, in order to banish them forever. Frothing at the mouth, we dance it out, rock out and rage on your behalf.

Each show will draw on the day's news and will be about whatever matters to you; in it we'll be whoever you want us to be. We'll speak the unspeakable and do the unthinkable for you.
In practice, what it is might be considered a ritual to generate targets and develop causes for a spectacular, kinetic Two Minutes' Hate. Arguably there's not a lot of ritual around in these secular times, but the ritual that still exists, at its finest, most sympathetic level (for instance, a good wedding, where the ritual runs at least from stag/hen night through to honeymoon) can generate Peak Experiences for those involved. It's fun to read about the Sunday Assembly "atheist church" and there might be analogies to be drawn.

It's hard to know how much detail to go into what actually happens; I'll err on the scanty side because it is such a participatory thrill, but if you want to know specifics, there are a couple of really enjoyably written write-ups that are rather heavier on the spoilers.

As all good rituals do, it starts very gently and in an accessible fashion and works its way up to an impassioned climax. The audience all sit back-stage - possibly the first head-trip for the unexpecting - about four circular tables, each holding up to ten members, bedecked with a variety of that day's local and national newspapers. I'd hazard a guess that there were about two dozen there today, about two-thirds female-presenting, ages maybe twenty to sixty.

Over tea and biscuits, with the guidance of a facilitator from the troupe, we are given ten or so minutes in which we each pick a story that makes us angry, writing the headline down. Each participant presents their own story to the group; each group then decides on one story that particularly resonates among them en masse.

The groups then sit at the four quadrants of a circle, with gaps between the quadrants, and in turn one representative of each group briefly brings the group's story to the performance at large. At one gap is a detuned / honky-tonk prepared piano; at the gap opposite, a drum kit.

The next step sees the performers, in turn, declare themselves to be certain prominent figures from the news, and we are posed the question "If you could say anything to e.g., Nigel Farage, what would it be?". It's an interesting activity in very mild public speaking, but there's enough intimacy among the group already that the performers effectively generate a safe space. (As it happens, I espoused one of my favourite dangerous extremist political views, and they must be extremist because I only got one Like when I ran them up the flagpole on Facebook. The homophily among this particular audience was such that I got a couple of "what he said"s.) A few atonal clusters from the piano start to set the mood.

The next level sees the facilitators get us starting to think about some of the more horrific stories referenced in the newspapers, and get us to place ourselves in specific roles in those stories. No actual improv is required, just a bit of communal "think about what it must be like" - and by the third of these, pretty much everyone has at least a place in a crowd in a harrowing scenario to consider. This tension is broken by a performer going to one of the gaps in the circle and having a good old 30-second all-out primal scream. This was perhaps five or six feet away from one of my lugholes... er, yeah, thanks for that.

After that, the next level of the conceit is that we are each given the death mask of a recent obituary recipient and invited to whisper, one by one, the names of the deceased into the ear of the otherwise newsprint-hooded Charon banging at the piano with increasing frequency. While this goes on, another performer continues to prepare and desecrate the communal circle by spitting tea within, an act that apparently did succeed in generating its intended disgust among some of the audience.

From here the intensity ratchets up further, as one of the performers attempts to metaphorically morph himself into adopting the mantle of Bad News itself, a combination of all that we have declared we despise and many other good targets besides. Other performers adorn him with newsprint tools of bedevilment, and this is a several-minute sequence in which Bad News is summoned and eventually exorcised, with audience members contributing dousings of ceremonial tea to the ritual.

That description sells it very short. Suffice to say that the audience later referred to it as the "thrash metal concert" section of the piece; lights flash, the drumkit and piano are brought into full effect, all the lighting at hand (and many more lights beside) is cycled at speed, there's plenty of smoke and running and pushing and chaos... and an exorcism, of sorts. There is no question of suspending disbelief - this is sheer theatricality, perhaps more Dr. Dre than Dr. Dee - but it is a sufficiently sensual experience that it gets over, the audience bought into it.

There is a quieter final section in which we reflect on the good news as well as the bad, and as much as we have shared stories with each other that have made us angry, we share the stories that we have seen which give us hope. The performers leave us outside for the final part of the ritual and to provide us with some closure using the headlines we identified at the start of the show before the performers disperse to the several winds. It's a simple, neat conclusion and really satisfied me.

Does it work? It attempts the impossible, but it's a heck of a worthwhile try. The exorcism section attempts to be all things to all people and different people will have radically different tolerances for attempted sensory overload. I can imagine some audiences actually preferring a more violent still performance, and there surely might be the scope for a tremendous piece of stagecraft if the performer somehow were to use stage magic to escape (conceal himself within a prop, perhaps?) and leave a husk of the Bad News body behind, so that Bad News might not just be driven away from the circle but literally, as well as figuratively, crushed.

There could be the temptation to engage as many different senses as possible, and I'm wondering if the ritual section might be more participative still. (I'm thinking of the Grand Finale of the Blue Man Group shows here to demonstrate the state of the art, even twenty years back, for a high level of completely benign sensory mayhem... though they have hundreds, or thousands, times the budget.) There are sensual routes that I'm very glad that the show chose not to go down, and I have a suspicion that a reviewer who set out to be grizzled and cynical might consider parts of it a little, well, undergraduate in its attempts to shock.

The show also racks up points for technical accomplishment through deliberately seeking to surround us with stimuli from all four sides and for so quickly responding to our input. The act of recording us supplying our hopeful stories and playing them back to us a little later is a simple one, but they got it right first time (tick!) and it worked well in context. A spirited and admirable job all round from the performers, both the ones throwing themselves completely into their work within the circle and those mixing the mayhem without it.

While the whole package might not completely, to use what can only be a hand-wave-y verb, work, and it may well not be physically possible for it ever to do so, choosing to consider all the things the show does right, I pretty much loved it. There's scope in the slightly loose format for all sorts of interesting things to happen.

There was a reasonable degree of consensus among the broadly rather socially liberal audience as to sources of annoyance in the media; on another day, the first group to present its communal source of anger might happen to be annoyed by one story and the second group might happen to have radically dissimilar political leanings, possibly even being angered by the same story but from the opposite perspective. A single performance of the show cannot demonstrate all the tricks required in terms of setting up a list of targets to skewer and include within Bad News, but a radically split audience might be really difficult to deal with. I sort of want to see it happen, once, but I don't want to feel it.

This review would not be a complete reflection of all the things that affected my feelings about the show, without awarding generous but well-deserved extra credit for a couple of other aspects of the show as distinct from the performance.

After the conclusion of the ritual, probably about three-quarters of the audience gathered in the bar at tables marked (IIRC) "Theatre Dialogue Club" and good-naturedly talked about what did and didn't work for them. It was fascinating, it demonstrated the backgrounds of many of the audience members (plenty had something of a professional interest, to a greater or lesser extent!) and I would be delighted if it were to happen after every performance ever. It also gave me an impression that the audience I was in were also a benevolent, supportive audience to have shared the experience with. Very good company.

Huge bonus points also for the programme. One sheet of newsprint, possibly Berliner (i.e. Guardian) size, but the inside has detailed instructions for holding your own Make Better meeting yourself, fully in keeping with the participative nature of the performance. They look like they've been written by people who know a lot about the practice of active listening, too. The back page also has a huge list of influences, far too many of which I do not recognise but which I am tempted to explore. That's got to be worth considering for best practice.

The show is not for the photosensitive (no strobing on this occasion, but nevertheless I fear it must trigger the Shiny Alert) or those likely to respond to deliberately strong stimuli for other senses. (I think I would have liked to see some warning at the start of the presentation, too.) Likewise, the unusually empathetic or easily distressed may not enjoy the call to proactive consideration of those in distress and anger, and I think some sense of irreverence towards religion is also necessary. The show was billed as suitable for 12+; in general, I tend to believe age ranges tend to be usually fairly conservatively set, but I suspect I would have been too shrinking a violet for this until somewhat into my teens.

I cannot understand the business model, or the business model of any show with a good half-dozen staff and which can only cater for possibly 40 audience members at a time. Sure, it's far from the most extreme case - I love reading about shows for audiences of one - but it's remarkable that it has come around the country. At one level, artists care about art first and business model second, but people gotta eat. (And people like me who only go because they've been comped a ticket don't help at all, I'm sure.)

Comparisons are invidious; if this is the sort of thing that you think you might like, I think it's well worth a try in practice. I can't say whether it'll work for you or not, but it's a really interesting shot at the very least. Perhaps I might have to only award it a figurative 4½ loaves and 1¾ fish because I can't see it having rocked my world quite as much as some other shows, but it was easily good enough for me to be very well-disposed towards giving Fuel and Uninvited Guests a go the next time they want to try something interesting and damn the consequences.
chris: (crisis)
Tonight I went out to the local cinema to see the unwieldily titled Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of The Worlds – Alive on Stage! The New Generation. (*) It was a recording of the performance of the show at London's O2 Arena last year. The show is somewhere between a musical and a concert, but there are extended graphic sequences played on big screens in the background. In one sense they detract a shade from your own mental images; in another sense, they're lavishly and beautifully done, completely in keeping with the rest of the show and would be very difficult to improve upon.

The show has a full string orchestra of dozens and a band of ten playing the songs, with half a dozen actors coming on-stage to sing the vocals. The musicians were first class, everyone was dressed gorgeously steampunkily and I may have something of an instant crush on the harpist Julia Thornton doing what she does. The narration is performed by a hologram of Liam Neeson projected into various places and almost interacting with the cast. There was plenty of stage trickery and very clearly huge sums invested in the production.

Almost front and centre is the titular Jeff Wayne himself as conductor, often dancing away as he keeps the rhythm, like a younger and more artificially stimulated Lionel Blair. There are gorgeous sweeping camera shots all around, including among the musicians, illustrating an extremely interesting tablet-like system that appears to have replaced printed sheet music (which I'm sure isn't original, but I hadn't seen it before) and effectively a digital metronome per player keeping track of the bar and beat number. As the second act got somewhat into four figures of bars, I can see the point.

The orchestration of the show was slightly different to the one I consider canonical, but not obviously better or worse. The only obvious infelicities were those introduced by Marti Pellow, expressing the sung thoughts of the narrator, and they could well have been deliberate and stylistic. The whole show is very synth-heavy, possibly to... not a fault, but a point where I might have hoped that a couple more instruments might have been deployed as visually obvious instruments. It's tempting to wonder how much mixing was required to keep the audio balance, and not displayed on-stage.

I particularly enjoyed the somewhat scenery-chewing (but, again, appropriate in context!) turn by Jason Donovan as Parson Nathaniel. By and large, I reckon the score is at its least interesting (or, perhaps, least appealing to my taste) in the first part of the second act, but the visuals and the acting do much more for the overall experience of the production here than they do when the music is sufficiently compelling to carry itself along.

In general, I fully approve of the use of cinemas to broadcast "alternative content" such as this; late last year, Meg and I went to see a cinema broadcast of the New York Philharmonic Concert Version of Company, not least because anything with Stephen Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris is something of an easy sell. (As it happened, the audio was consistently out from the video, so we got some vouchers to come to the cinema again for free... which I don't think we've ever used, and which may have expired. No such issue with TWoTW, not least because it was apparently digitally broadcast.) Apparently some cinemas also broadcast live footage of the BBC coverage of the most recent Olympic Games and it would surely have been a good place to watch them as a communal event.

Both that broadcast and this had an intermission and there was even a cart in the corner of the theatre selling ice-cream, as opposed to having to go out to the lobby, and the till on the cart rang a bell with each sale. I point this out as the whole thing felt as retro as a milkman, and even more appropriate in context.

The theatre had - at a guess - sixty people in attendance, and I suspect I was one of the youngest there of my generation. (It was fun to speculate that electronic dance acts may, in time, still be doing revival tours and attracting us children of the '70s and '80s even when the musicians - and we listeners - get as old as, say, the still-multi-million-per-year Rolling Stones of these days.) Tickets were more expensive than a standard admission, lacking (I suppose) the synergy of being tied to a major distributor who will supply films week in, week out and can take the misses with the hits. Nevertheless, I came out feeling that I had got pretty good value for my money and that I was glad to see it on a big screen with a beefy sound system, rather than on someone's DVD player.

I'm a fan of (JW'sMVo) TWoTW in the first place. I can't imagine it's uncommon for people's musical taste to be heavily influenced by what they listened to growing up, and it's no secret that games can be a huge part of that influence. Again this is far from rare, as borne out by - for instance - the growth of video game music concerts. Specifically, TWoTW will always take me back to playing Quasar, the brand of laser tag prevalent in our locality, and back to 1992 (+/- 1). Rofo's Theme (as used on The Hit Man And Her) and a couple of other tracks as well have similar effects. Ding! Good shot. (Seeing the show again also reminded me of my flight of fancy that the whole of the brilliant soundtrack to Scavengers, a short-lived game show with little to commend it other than its outstanding score, was based on a six-note motif appearing twice in TWoTW. Unlikely, but not implausible.)

The cinema broadcast of TWoTW is a two-off; if you're thinking "oh, I wish I had known" then you have a second chance; I believe it's being broadcast as a matinee at 2pm this Sunday in some chains of UK cinemas. Check your local for details!

(*) It's very tempting to append And Then Some 2 + 1 in the Peter Kay stylee, but I fear it would lose credibility and, more to the point, cause people to apply the credibility loss at the wrong point.
chris: (mobius-scarf)
1) As previously hinted at, the DASH puzzle hunt is coming to London this year. This will be the fifth annual-ish occurrence of DASH, whose full title - Different Areas, Same Hunt - neatly explains the premise. One big problem with real-world puzzle hunts is that they only take place in one location; DASH runs the same hunt in lots of different cities. Historically all the locations have been in the US; this year, there will be an event in a to-be-disclosed Central London location starting at 10am on Saturday 25th May, and fourteen events across the US one week beforehand. (Not quite sure how that will work in practice whether we'll all be required to avoid spoilers for a week; we'll see.)

Teams of 3-5 take place and travel a distance of probably 2-3 miles over the course of most of a day, solving something like 8-10 hunt-style puzzles. I believe that the travel is not timed, so (a) there's no advantage to jogging around (good, otherwise I would cry) and (b) there's no problem in stopping for toilet breaks, snacks and so on. The hunt is expected to take most teams 4-7 hours, and other cities seem to be applying a hard deadline of 8 hours. I don't know who's running the event, other than "not me", though I have my suspicions. It's a non-profit event and fees are £25/team. You can see previous years' puzzles from DASH 4, DASH 3, DASH 2 and DASH 1. They are salty enough to be worth spending a day on them, especially if you're not familiar with the hunt "work out what you're meant to be doing" format.

On the other hand, DASH does go out of its way to be accessible:
  • it's possible to register for Easier Puzzles at the very start of the hunt;
  • it's always possible to take hints on each puzzle if they're required, and there's no worse punishment than a missed scoring opportunity for not solving a puzzle;
  • I believe there really is an ethos of offering as many hints as are required in order to get people through as many puzzles as possible and making sure people are having fun at all times.
I reckon that, particularly for the first year in London, the organisers will be erring on the side of keeping things newcomer-friendly because so many participants will be newcomers - so if you find yourself thinking "this looks potentially fun but may be too hard for me", I reckon people will be almost bending over backwards to make it worth your time and effort, before later years offering the potential for people to send themselves down black-diamond slopes.

I'm very confident about this being a spectacular event - and, more to the point, I'm quite hopeful about it being a tremendous social event, bringing together lots of interesting people who would surely be interested in other interesting puzzle-related events over time. I've been snapped up onto a team already, but I can quite easily think of a couple of dozen of you who I think would enjoy it and I hope to see you there. Registration is open now and set to remain open for another three weeks, though there is a generous limit on places; I believe London is limited to 25 teams, of which two spots have been taken... and I hope to get our spot in the next day or two.

If you have questions, you can find out more about the London event and more about DASH in general. One open question: is there any significance to "Catch DASH Fever!" in tiny writing in the footer of one of the DASH web pages, or the "S" in some of the logos being replaced by what appears to be a twisted double helix? I have no answers, though am interpreting this as a potential nudge towards a possible medical or weird-science theme.

2) Why has nobody told me about Hint Hunt in London? It appears to have existed for at least eight months, and I go looking for This Sort Of Puzzle-y Game-y Thing fairly often, so it does not speak volumes about their marketing. It appears to bear a resemblance to the Real Escape Game things that happen in the US and Japan - sixty minutes for a team of (concidentally) 3-5 of you to crack the codes, puzzles and so on and Escape The Room.

The price is a little on the steep side; we're looking at a good twenty quid a head, including VAT, though this is probably not unreasonable for London rates, and it is somewhat targeted towards corporate entertainment where it would be cheap at twice the price. Furthermore, I have seen a spoiler which suggests that there are some cool toys involved that may make it worth the money regardless of the quality of the game material. I also get the impression that the game has been cunningly playtested to guarantee a fair share of in-the-nick-of-time wins and other happy endings, though there is a second harder game available as well. It's probably a good sign that you have to book in advance and lots of the time slots appear to have gone. Anyone interested? Sadly it doesn't seem to mesh well with DASH weekend but you'd have thought that there would be likely to be natural crossover between the two constituencies.

3) Unrelatedly to either of the above, the Hide and Seek company have a Kickstarter in progress for the production of an iPhone app which will attempt to suggest an appropriate real-world game for the situation and number of potential players you find yourself with. For those of us who don't have a way of running iOS apps, or would prefer just to have a list of all the games rather than an app that will (presumably, rather playfully) attempt to deal with the picking-which-one-is-appropriate process, the same £8 donation will produce the list of game rules in ebook form. There are some delightful-looking higher-priced options if you wish to supply your patronage further.

The campaign has not quite had the vitality that some recent successful Kickstarter campaigns have had, and one of the videos they put out made quite a misstep in poor taste which I would have hoped would have been dealt with. The campaign is just past half-way in time, and just past half-way towards its £25,000 goal, so I think the way of Kickstarter probably makes it narrowly odds-on to meet its funding target but short odds-against reaching any of the stretch goals. After having a good old grumble about it, I have stuck in my eight quids' worth; [ profile] several_bees is lovely and I regard Hide & Seek as having good form. At worst case, you're paying £8 for a book with lots of short game rulesets, and I reckon there are bound to be eeeeasily £8 worth of original, interesting, fun ideas in there.
chris: (stockton-on-tees)
Nothing too exciting going on here. UK readers may have heard that our town has been one of many recently badly affected by relatively heavy rainfall; we happen to be OK, but this news story has a photo that we think was of a road about 250 metres south of here - but, more importantly, about ten or so metres lower in elevation. For those who know where we live, look on the map about 150 metres south of our house and there is a wide open grassy park, with a cycle track running through it, by what is usually a sleepy stream. The stream burst its bank and the park became a flood plain. Our house is somewhat the worse for wear as a result of all the rainfall, but we're one of the lucky ones, compared to those who probably did not appreciate the irony of the rescue shelter being at Splash!, the local swimming centre.

I'm slowly building up a post of interesting games-related links. It's already probably got too long to be practicable. Accordingly, I'm just going to post links to three really good blogs, connected by little other than my recent discovery of them, which might be considered games blogs but happily only really by a rather liberal definition of the term. If you like this, and you're not just reading it because you know me in real life, then these are well worth a try. I am prepared to stake large portions of any tipster credibility that I might have earnt by betting at very short odds that they will continue to feature cracking posts further down the line.

Clavis Cryptica started off as being focused around puzzles and mysteries, but there's a lot of overlap with things that can have gameplay verbs applied to them. Natalie is really throwing herself into the world of interesting events and games that she's only started to learn about over the last two or three years, has an admirably open mind and broad-based approach, alongside an artistic background. (Possibly the most essential way is her delightful "my perfect day in five years' time" post, depicting an enchanting dream - now there's a thought for an interesting post to make, or at least an interesting thought-exercise.) On top of that, she's accomplished in her achievements and a corking writer displaying both charming enthusiasm and a clearly-explained make-no-assumptions writing style, with a lovely sense of fun.

Look, Robot came to my attention for a really exciting, vital write-up of one of the games at the Hide and Seek Festival, then before it had a fantastic piece about emergent gameplay. In this case it discussed emergent gameplay in similar live action games, but it's a point that generalises to all sorts of other things and resonated with me in the context of Nomic. Author Grant then described a game he ran as "a cross between Ocean's Eleven, Supermarket Sweep and The Crystal Maze" and I was sold. That's yer actual microcontent, right there. Even bearing in mind the swallows-to-summer exchange rate, three tip-top posts in a row alone would be enough for a red hot recommendation in my book, but his archives show that the man has form, with this discussion of the impromptu device of a NERF LARP evoking the sensation of what I imagine attending the best ever Unconference session might feel like.

Si Lumb's Posterous, for if I quote its title you will get completely the wrong idea, definitely fits into the more traditional, weblog-gy sort of definition of a blog: it's a bit more like this paragraph and the two beforehand - here's a link, here's why it's good. However, Si and his team work on games and social (I like that "social" can exist as an adjective alone, and not actually need a noun these days!) for the BBC, and his weblog contains reading material for other members of the Games Interest Group. Accordingly, the stakes are high for him to find really sparkling content, and he delivers with aplomb. Lots of really nicely-curated videos as well as links to reading material. There is a rather tighter on video and computer games than is the case with the two blogs above, but the way the world works, that won't last long! *rubs hands with glee*

In other news, three months ago, I wrote here about the then-upcoming Croco-League online team logic puzzle contest. Upcoming has now upcame, and so far - all of one match in! - the league has been everything I had ever hoped for from it. If the premise of being part of a representative team in a logic puzzle competition has ever appealed (for instance, if you've ever wanted to be on a World Puzzle Championship team) then this is your best opportunity yet; genuinely global competition, if you can pick your way through the German language interface, a relatively low level of commitment (no more than THREE puzzles every TWO weeks) and a core activity that should entertain at levels of logic puzzle accomplishment even more modest than mine. (Y'all saw how badly I did in the UK and US Puzzle Championships, right?) If the principle appeals then the practice fulfills the promise of the premise - and it's not too late to join!
chris: (mso)
The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park may be taking a breather between the two halves of its summer of sport, but in between are two independent attempts to be a counterpart for mental activities rather than physical ones.

The second World Mind Sports Games is taking place - techncially, just about to conclude - in Lille, France; like the first one, it features tournaments in chess, bridge, go, draughts (specifically, members of the draughts family) and xiangi ("Chinese chess"). The organising body has representatives of the governing bodies of the first four of those; xiangqi may be there more for the historical reason that the first event took place in China than for any other reason. The governing body's statutes have provision for other mind sports to join, but I'm not sure whether this is more than merely theoretical; it's interesting to note that those four mind sports are the only ones sufficiently well-established and big-business to have been accepted into SportAccord, the general sports' governing bodies' congress. (For instance, there was a poker group associated, promoting a "Duplicate Poker" format, in a similar way to the one used in bridge to mitigate the "luck of the deal" factor - but they don't seem to appear on the books any more.)

The World Mind Sports Games has a daily bulletin, though sadly it's not as dynamic as I would hope; most of the features have a pre-written feel to them, the interviews are really merely non-interactive questionnaires and it's not even as if there's analysis of the games that were played. The most interesting item was a passing mention of a "mathematical games" match between Belgium and France, but no mention of what these games were or how they might be played. (I have half a feeling that these games also appear in the annual games festival in Cannes, which are no more specific.) Another interesting part of the World Mind Sports Games web site is a suggestion that SportAccord will be organising another World Mind Games in China this December; same again. If there's sufficient local support to make the business model work in China on a regular basis, great!

More accessibly, the fifteenth annual edition of the Mind Sports Olympiad started yesterday in London and runs until Monday 27th. Impressive number, fifteen. This features tournaments in forty or so different mind sports; while the event does not change particularly quickly, more and more relevant games are being introduced over time. I'm particularly tickled by the presence of a Scrabble Variants tournament, which is new to the MSO and reasonably imaginative, plus the return of the Mystery Game tournament. The history suggests it happened before in MSOs 3 and 4 - '99 and 2000 - but I have a vague recollection of having played in one myself in 1998. That year's mystery game was a pure-skill card game from an excellent games rulebook, but the game was sufficiently crunchy and bereft of giggles to be not so much to my taste.

Credit to the MSO for moving a wider selection of events to the evening, which ought to go some way towards making the event more of a practical proposition for those who live and work office hours in London but still want to participate. Entry is available to everyone who ponies up, and the prices have also been more reasonable in the last year or two than they were in the first few years when I worked behind the scenes. Fingers crossed that the MSO can keep doing its thing and getting the word out to the masses. I'm particularly glad this year that it didn't have nomenclature issues with use of the O-word; whether this reflects common sense on the part of LOCOG and associates (because the event has used it long before London started planning a bid, and the name follows the eighty-year-plus tradition of the Chess Olympiad) or just the event flying under their radar will probably never be known.

If you don't feel like travelling to play face to face, there are plenty of remote-solving puzzle contests available this weekend and next weekend; actually, almost too many. This weekend sees the fourth Skyscrapers and Variations contest; while it's held at the Logic Masters Germany site, both site and instruction booklet are German-English bilingual; how convenient for us Anglophiles that English is the lingua franca of the puzzle world. Choose your own starting-point and you have two hours to complete the contest, up to midnight tonight. I'm not sure which time zone applies, but German local time (i.e. Central European Summer Time) would be my guess. The instruction booklet suggests that it has quite a few puzzles that look likely to be deliberately kept towards the accessible end of the spectrum; the variants look well-balanced on the familiar-to-innovative spectrum, as well. It's nice to see another format develop its own variants and contests, even if it is a "numbers once per row, once per column, one more constraint" sort of puzzle.

This weekend also sees the online UK Sudoku Championship and the latest Logic Masters India monthly puzzle contest. Each of these last two hours; again, start any time, but you also have the whole of Monday to complete them. (The UK Sudoku Championship is conducted in UK local time; LMI uses Universal Time, effectively GMT, so an hour off from British Summer Time.) The UK Sudoku Championship has one standard and thirteen variants, and I'm inclined to believe that the standard is set to try to discriminate between the top solvers, for the top two earn places on the UK team. This month's LMI test uses examples of original formats from a Turkish magazine; eleven formats, eight of which have multiple puzzles in the contest. I get a very good feeling about this one, not least the variety of formats mean it's likely to be particularly good practice for next weekend, because...

Next weekend sees both the US Puzzle Championship and the UK Puzzle Championship take place online. Now this makes me say "[annoyed grunt]"; I am glad that the puzzle season is not just a single qualifying contest long any more, but having those two championships the same weekend strikes me as solver-unfriendly. (The UK announced their date first, and I don't think the US can use a "we're always this weekend" argument without history not being on their side. Nevertheless, nobody agreed with my call for the UK to reschedule, so the clash is going ahead.) Both tournaments are 2½ hours long and neither has their instruction booklet published yet, but both are likely to be extremely high quality and I think there's a fair chance that the UK test is likely to be more accessible.

For what it's worth, the UK championship was just about my single favourite contest last year, though LMI had a couple of very good ones as well, and I think that people who think "oh, I quite like puzzles but I'm not very good at them" are likely not just to enjoy, but to really be able to get their teeth stuck into, the UK event. The US one will likely be at least as good, but harder.

If you want to qualify for the US team then you have to use the official start time of 1pm EST - but both tournaments will be open all weekend (again, not sure on the precise times or time zones) so that solvers around the world can take part at their convenience. A big thumbs-up to the US for adopting global best practice in this regard, though US puzzle bloggers who are used to posting wrap-ups after the mandatory 2½-hour window are kindly requested to hold off posting their (nevertheless very welcome!) wrap-ups until after the window has closed to let the rest of the world have their go. One place in the UK WPC team will go to the top-placed UK solver in each of next weekend's contests.

So two weekends, five contests, eleven hours of puzzles; at least they've fallen well with my shift pattern. Looks like I need to get a new printer ink cartridge! As a reminder, Angela and Otto Janko kindly maintain a calendar of online puzzle contests; while I'm very grateful to anyone who has the creativity and generosity to put together an online puzzle contest (for instance, I've never done it, and I don't think I actually could, because the established standards are so high), I think there is scope for increased co-ordination in the future. With a similar degree of output, we could have a contest pretty much every weekend, rather than alternating deluges and droughts!
chris: (swings)
DASH - Different Area, Same Hunt - is a puzzle hunt that is run identically, or at least similarly, in puzzle-hunt-heavy locations across the US. There have been four so far, and with the three most recent ones being in the three most recent Aprils; while there hasn't been a date announced for the fifth iteration, I'm guessin' at late April 2013, and a date which might be revealed this month, next month or by the end of the year. More excitingly, earlier today, there was a post on the official Facebook group suggesting that DASH 5 would happen in London as well as everywhere else. Hurrah! I know nothing about the specifics yet but this is about as relevant to my interests as things ever get and you can expect me to post more on the matter when I discover more.

Also, the programme for this year's Hide And Seek Weekender has been published. The event will take place in London from Friday 14th September to Sunday 16th September (with a conference on Monday 17th) and the line-up looks pretty painfully brilliant, featuring many of the most successful games from previous Sandpits, from other festivals (e.g. Scotch Hoppers from the big New Year bash in Edinburgh) and plenty of original material. I never posted about this at the time (though I did hint about it on Facebook, *blush*) but I went to a Hide and Seek playtest session on a previous occasion when I went to London and it was tremendous - lovely people, fun and original games and plenty to inspire fun game-related thoughts. I've been saying for years that I'll eventually get to one of these; perhaps this might just be the year! (Then again, I do have a crazy thought about trying to get tickets for the Paralympic cycling - that would be spectacular, too...)
chris: (mso)
The Olympics are always one of the highlights of my - er - Olympiad (OK, "quadrennium") and so far, despite the lack relative paucity of gold for Great Britain (not forgetting our representatives from Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and quite possibly the Channel Islands) the whole event has exceeded my expectations. I won't claim that things have been perfect, but at worst there has been a valiant effort to attempt to fix the bugs that have arisen. Ticketing. )

TV coverage has been a quantum leap forward from that of previous events. The BBC, and many of the other rights-holding broadcasters, have made almost all the action available live. It has broadly been a very good Games for the BBC, though - again - far from perfect. )

It amuses to me to consider the likely reactions of a theoretical alien visitor who came to visit the Olympics and make a ludographic study of them. The different sports display a great variety of procedure and inconsistencies; there does not seem to be nearly the extent of sharing of best practice from one sport to another that there could be, and there seem to be few or no reasons for the differences other than preserving tradition - tradition often borne of historical accident. This is an example of the sort of social conservatism of which I am generally disfavourable. I'll go on... )That fencing controversy in full, and technological limits on timing. )One day I want to produce a meaningful ranking table of sports. )On target sports: bad shooting, good shooting, archery and the tragedy of darts. )

In conclusion, I am delighted that London was selected to host the Olympic events for the year, from torch relay to Paralympics, and so far consider that it has done the job tremendously well and is likely to carry off the rest of the job with aplomb. That said, a nagging doubt leaves me thinking that the French passion for grands projets and public engineering means that they might have done it better still. Part of me would be happy to live in a world where Paris got the Olympics and we got the 2018 World Cup instead, even considering that FIFA are actually even worse than the IOC for being over-reaching self-interested supra-governmental global detriments and general public nuisances. We all know that Malthusian bargains don't work that way, and more likely we would have been left onlooking everything, again.

Hosting an Olympic Games is inherently an unreasonable proposition. Then again, so was building a Millennium Dome. It may have been fashionable to criticise the Millennium Experience at the time (and I will say that there was a lot of "try lots of different things to see what works" playing safe to it, though the results were not without high spots) but I do think that the continued existence of the building as an indoor arena adds to London life. Fingers crossed that the Olympic infrastructure does find a good eventual use. I am far more convinced, and far less merely hopeful, than ever before that it will all prove to have been well and truly worth it.
chris: A birthday cake in the shape of a slightly cartoon-like panda (Default)
Comment to this post, and I will list seven things I want you to talk about. They might make sense or they might be totally random. Then post that list, with your commentary, to your journal. Other people can get lists from you, and the meme merrily perpetuates itself.
Please bear in mind that it has taken me four months to reply to [ profile] huskyteer's fun prompts. Alternatively, if you prefer, I'd be happy to ask five questions (in the style of the old journal interview routine that rolls around every few years) rather than to provide seven prompts; please let me know either way.

Pottermore, pandas, cats, adulthood, cars, weather and entertainment. )

Meg and I had a more active weekend than usual this weekend past, in part because we've long had lots of "oh, we'll do that this summer" plans and finally this has been a weekend with passable weather where I've not been at work.Moonrise Kingdom and American Football. )

My favourite news story that I've seen recently is this one about bookmakers quoting odds on long-term and niche, or even personal, markets; the most common example comes about when parents want to bet on their child growing up to play for England, or pass their exams with perfect grades, or so forth. Discussion of betting on long shots, including Doctor Who, the longest shot of them all. )
chris: (crisis)
In May, Camelot, the operators of the UK National Lottery, inaugurated an instant-win scratchcard at higher stakes than they had ever offered before. Previously, the highest-stakes scratchcard in the UK cost five pounds sterling; most five-pound games have top prizes of one million pounds, though the first five-pound game in 2003 had a small number of two million pound jackpot prizes. For completeness... ) This new card costs ten pounds and has a top prize of four million pounds.

I am moderately opposed to developments in this direction. IMHO: poker good, casino table games good, one big lottery good, lots of small lotteries bad, scratchcards bad, slot machines bad, $5,000-a-spin slot machines bad but funny. )

The interesting thing about Camelot's scratchcards in the UK is that, well, I'm not sure quite how their economics work. They both rip you off and pay back too much in prizes at the same time. )

Possibly the most troubling part of the whole enterprise to me - and, remember, I'm starting from a fairly anti-scratchcard stance - comes in Schedule 4, which (not unreasonably) says that "The Licensee shall use reasonable endeavours not to market a Licensed Lottery that might encourage excessive play habits." Now my view - and I stress that I'm getting really subjective here - is that I'm getting uncomfortable here. The existence of a £10 ticket cannot do anything but encourage people to play it, even if only once for the novelty. I might consider a single £10 play to be excessive (and when the payback is so low - even for a 74% payback ticket which is crazily high for the genre! - then, in practice, I do) but others may not.

I've also seen the ticket discussed within an advertising feature within the Stockton Herald and Post as being "ideal for a gift or a treat", which is a form of wording that I consider uncomfortably close to upselling. I am deliberately not making any accusations here, not least because I suspect that Camelot would use considerably more cautious language, but I am opposed to the notion that a higher-stake card is any more of a treat than a lower-stake card. It bears too many similarities to the implication that gambling for high stakes is more fun than gambling for low stakes. Any operator who permits such a notion to continue is not, in my view, operating in good faith.

And finally, to undermine everything I've been saying... )
chris: (mso)
As discussed in my last post (edit: last-but-one post), there are now separate Northern UK and Southern UK teams for the forthcoming Croco-League online puzzle league. UK readers, both teams have vacancies if this is of interest at all; sign up according to whether you feel Northern or not. The Czech and Austrian teams look very strong, as do some of the regional German teams; I'm sure there could be many extremely strong Canadian and US teams if the North American puzzle infrastructure were prepared to break the language barrier and dive on in. Read more... )You've seen how much I go on about an online chess league in another country; you can guess how excited I am about actually taking part in a league further down the line.

I've also been taking an interest in, and am surprised to read that I haven't actually ever blogged about, Learned League, an online quiz league that has been running for fifteen years. The core activity is based around a series of twenty-five daily six-question trivia quizzes, more or less spread over the weekdays of five weeks. You are told your opponent in advance; each day, not only do you have to attempt to answer the questions correctly, but you also have to predict which questions your opponent is most likely to struggle with and so determine which are most and least valuable for them to answer. This gives a sense of attack and defence, common in so many sports. The competition proceeds as a series of single-round-robin divisions, roughly once per quarter, with lower divisions often being run through the Swiss system.

Testament to how well the core activity works is the league's history and its growth. Over its first roughly ten years, it has grown by a factor of seven from 20 entrants in the first season (and also its fourth season upon return from a hiatus in 1999) to 140 in the thirty-fourth, and it has grown by another factor of about seven, in just under five years, to having almost a thousand participants at the moment. Most impressive!Read more... )

At present, participation in the league is free. There is a fund-raiser a couple of times a year; the invited levels of donation are sociable and carry with them some elements of swag and some degree of (tastefully done) non-gameplay advantages. However, the organiser has announced that henceforth players will have to contribute an annual membership fee in order to play in the league, beyond their first season. The organiser is doing this on a "pay what you like" basis and has expressed a desire not to exclude participants, which shows his heart is in the right place.

It is clear that running the league has generated a lot of good for the world at large over the years, and I certainly am happy that someone who does this much for the world at large gets rewarded for his labour, if he wants to be. The decision that he has taken (and confirmed) seems to slightly jar, for a couple of reasons.Read more... )

Nobody gets it right all the time, and nobody should be expected to; I don't recall the pithy saying, but if people only ever did things for which they could expect not to receive criticism, nobody would ever do anything at all. The continued strength and growth of Learned League, and its popularity with its competitors, indicate that the organiser is getting far more right than wrong. Conversely, the extent to which the Croco-Puzzle UK ladder that I have run for fifteen months has struggled and not caught alight in the manner that I had hoped it might - not least, inspired by the strength and success of Learned League - may indicate flaws in my design or my moderation.

Nevertheless, the organiser has not previously taken such a decision to change the necessary relationship between himself and his players, and this may be a more fundamental alteration that may have a more significant change in the mood of the competition than any that comes before it. I hope that the test of time proves that the organiser has read the mood correctly, and balanced things against the demands in his own life as effectively as possible. I look forward to writing about the league again in future as not just an isolated but interesting Internet quiz, but as one of the the highlights - in terms of quantity as well as quality - in all of online mind sports.
chris: (crisis)
I'm part-way through writing another post (well, I'm part-way through many other posts) but this one interrupts all of them as it's timely.

A particularly interesting tournament has been taking place at the World Series of Poker for the last two days, and it's due to reach a conclusion today. Forty-eight players started the Big One for One Drop, each paying one miiiiiiiiillion US dollars to enter the tournament, which is generally accepted to be the highest buy-in to a poker tournament yet. (Hat tip to the fictional $10 million tournament in Daniel Craig's Casino Royale.)

One-ninth of each buy-in is donated to the titular One Drop, a charity whose tagline and mission statement are "ensuring everyone has access to water". This means that five and a third million dollars (give or take 48 times 11-and-one-ninth cents) are going to the charity even before anyone picks up the cards... and that the remaining forty-two and two-thirds million dollars are being redistributed as prize money. The prize structure is unusually flat, with nine of the 48 starters being paid; top prize is a little over $18 million, second prize is over $10 million, then things taper away quickly with fifth to ninth all receiving just a little over the million back. It will be the largest poker tournament prize yet, and sufficient to take the winner to the top of the All Time Money List based on one tournament alone.

The All Time Money List is not beyond criticism as a way of ranking poker players, not least because it does not consider losses - not least the cost of entering tournaments and failing to win them. It's also arguable that the biggest swings come in cash games, which are not tracked; it would be speculative to compare this tournament with the cash games played by banker Andy Beal - both the original series of matches in 2006 and rumoured further matches last year. There's also another argument that how much you win from other players at poker doesn't matter if you end up giving it back to the casino by losing at table games such as blackjack and craps - and, in the long-term, you will. This is why it's more frequent to compare poker accomplishments through quality tournament victories, rather than just cash sums.

The 48 starters have been split by commentators into 29 known poker pros and 19 "businessmen". Very few of the businessmen are simple rich moguls willing to drop a million dollars on a lark either to show how rich they are or to take a shot at the glory of the title, though I think there are at least two or three; the majority of the businessmen are known poker players, or at least have extensive experience in the gambling industry.

Additionally, very few - if any - of the pros will have paid their entire million-dollar stake themselves, simply because the variance is so high. It is far more usual for players to sell stakes in themselves to their backers, thus sharing both wins and losses with others. While there could be confident, rich players entirely paying their own way, in a sense, the only players putting up all their own money are likely to be the least likely to win. We will never know the truth, though it's fun to speculate.

Even Phil Hellmuth Jr., arugably the most famous poker player of them all, having won a record-setting 12 bracelets (i.e., tournaments) at the World Series of Poker over the years, publically tweeted a few days before the event about still looking for another $400,000 of backing. Hellmuth has since been quoted as saying "I have three billionaires investing in me, one of which I hardly know. You don't want to let your friends down." (And yet rumours persist that the way he managed to get the money for his tournament seat was slightly unclear.)

The magnitude of the buy-in is a very considerable barrier to entry, and in strict terms of expected value, the fact that one-ninth of the entry fees is going to charity also makes the opportunity less attractive. However, the more "businessmen" enter, the more attractive the tournament becomes to the pros. High-stakes tournaments have been built in the past around many highly talented pros of comparable skill who will effectively pass around money between themselves dictated principally by chance, but who seek to split up the entry fees of less talented entrants. While poker has enough players who consistently outperform what you would expect by chance, even in the long term, to demonstrate the degree of skill involved, a single tournament (even a three-day one, or a 9/10-day one like the World Series' Main Event) has sufficient luck that the businessmen can still win if they get lucky at the right times - and they sufficiently frequently do in order to keep playing.

Accordingly, even playing in the tournament is some degree of status symbol, with the entrant list being something of a "Who's Who Right Now" showing who's either rich or sufficiently well-considered to attract investment. Gary Wise writes about who's in and who's surprisingly out. It's fun to read about the big names who only qualified through subsidiary satellite tournaments, i.e. tournaments where the prize is participation in the Big One, so that someone has a chance of entry for an investment as "small" as $25,000. One of these satellite tournaments paid two million-dollar prizes, with third place being $400,000 and fourth place being nothing - not even a set of steak knives. The Big One was capped at 48 players and reported ended up turning potential players away, so only one of the two winners got to play in the tournament, the other taking the million in cash. The decision whether to take the cash or the tournament entry is an interesting one.

All 48 starters happened to be men on this occasion, even as female players continued to perform well elsewhere in this year's World Series of Poker. For instance, Allyn Jaffrey Shulman beat 4,127 rivals to win the Seniors' Event (one of the largest tournaments ever outside the Main Event) and Vanessa Selbst won the 10-game mixed event, showing considerable skill not just at individual poker variants like Hold 'Em, Omaha or Stud but at pretty much every recognised form of the game. It may well be that female players have outperformed proportionately; certainly the reason why so few bracelets are won by women is that the proportion of female entrants is very low.

Most of the entrants came from the US, though two pros and two businessmen were from the UK, there were at least four Candian residents and at least one US-based Canadian, and representation from France, Germany, Russia and several Asian nations. (It's a telling reflection of stereotypes that some businessmen are listed with the name of their company, others are just listed as businessmen and the two Malaysian residents are listed as Asian Businessmen.)

The two UK pros entered were Roland de Wolfe and Sam Trickett. Both are in the top three of the all-time UK winnings list, with the caveats mentioned above; de Wolfe is one of only four (?) to have won the Triple Crown, reflecting past tournament success not just at the World Series but also at the rival World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour, and Sam Trickett has not only apparently "been crushing the cash games in Macau" (arguably the poker counterpart of a band being "big in Japan") but had a tremendous track record of winning big at two six-figure-entry-fee tournaments in Australia in early 2011. Clearly they represent the state of the art in terms of UK poker.

On the first day, the tournament fell from 48 players to 37, and the second day was played down to the official final table of eight. Affable old Mike Sexton, as well-renowned a player as you would expect any participant here to be, as well as a TV commentator and Vince McMahon double, finished in the "final table bubble" but picked up the ninth place prize of his million stake back plus a few extra.

The most notable hand so far has come when a player deliberately folded cards that made four eights face up, on the basis that he was confident that his opponent had made a straight flush - one of the very few hands that could beat him. On this occasion, we don't have the benefit of cameras showing the hole cards; this was either one of the highest-stakes, highest-profile, most brilliant folds of all time or one of the counterpart similarly elevated bluffs of all time, but we have no way of telling which. Hands ranked so high come about in fact incredibly seldom, no matter how frequently they are depicted in fiction.

Of the eight players on the official final table, the three smallest stacks all belong to businessmen, but one of whom is a hedge fund manager and another of whom designs casinos and won the Main Event about a quarter-century ago when it was very small. Fourth and fifth go to pros Brian Rast and Phil Hellmuth Jr.; no matter how much of his prize money he ends up keeping, we can be in no doubt that Hellmuth would expound at great length about how a victory would extend his legend as not just greatest poker player ever but probably also the greatest sportsman ever. Third is Guy Laliberté, the inaugurator of the tournament and its charity. He's paid top dollar to be a space tourist out to the ISS, so money is clearly no object. Second place is Sam Trickett of the UK, who I will dearly be shouting for, especially as he is only slightly behind big stack Antonio Esfandiari. Esfandiari has his fans but he is one of the few poker players with a sense of humour I feel comfortable judging negatively.

Apparently the final table will be streamed to TV, with some element of delay (15 minutes? and hour?) on ESPN tonight in the US; outside the US, some final tables have been broadcast without hole-card cameras on the WSOP site itself and tonight's might be one of them.

I am delighted that this tournament exists, really being a step up from poker tournaments we have had in the past, and attracting the sort of attention that you might hope from it. I also hope that the initiative is repeated, but not for another - say - five years, in order to keep it special and attract as much attention to the next one. (Let's have, say, $100,000 Big One tournaments for the next four World Series, then another million-dollar one in 2017?) Big-money tournaments are nothing new, but the $50,000 Players' Championship WSoP events have not taken off with the pros to nearly the same extent, probably because the field has been so strong; separation between the biggest of Big Ones is probably necessary in order to attract the businessmen who will in turn attract big fields of professionals.

Shuffle up and deal - and good luck, Sam Trickett!
chris: (puzzle)
If anyone has e-mailed me since June 18th, I have just accidentally deleted your mail without looking at it. Sorry about that; please mail me again. (And what a world we live in where we tell each other about such mishaps this way...)

About eighteen months ago, I posted about the croco-puzzle site featuring logic puzzles of around three dozen different types and a walk-through (now slightly out of date) for participation in its daily puzzle structure. Since then I have been solving the daily puzzles most days, though I know to look in advance and see whether the puzzles are likely to take me half an hour or not and decide whether I have the time to spare. It's provided me with plenty of fun puzzles and a great deal of the most enjoyable sort of frustration.

I made passing mention of a ladder competition that I have run for most of that time on the UK Puzzle Association forum, which has added a little something to participation for about a dozen or so of us. In truth, the ladder has not quite taken off to the extent I had hoped, in part because of the degree of commitment it has required and possibly in part due to some slightly erratic administration on my part. We may have drawn about as much fun as there is to be had from the ladder already and in about three months' time, we'll take a break.

The timing of this is based on the forthcoming inauguration of the Croco-League, a team competition based on solving puzzles on that site. The description is all in German, and consequently I haven't heard as much discussion about the forthcoming league as I think there should have been. The league structure is cleverly designed, welcomes puzzle solvers of all standards so long as they have a basic familiarity with at least some of the site's puzzle types, and will require players to solve no more than three puzzles in alternate weeks. Participation is free.

Description of play. )

In conclusion, I think this looks tremendous. Looking at the sign-up list there are teams from Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Japan, China, the Czech Republic and Serbia as well as different parts of Germany. I know of at least seven UK solvers who are interested in being on a team, so it's likely that there will be at least two UK teams.

I reckon the "national team" approach doesn't work so well if there are more than six people from a nation who want to take part; I'd much rather represent a smaller part of the UK rather than representing a UK B- (or, more likely, D- or E-) team, but this is a personal viewpoint. Similarly, I would expect there are enough US- and Canada- based solvers to generate several US teams, when the US logic puzzle family gets as excited about the existence of the league as it should. (There is one "Team US/UK", but I don't know anyone on it; I don't even know where the people are based.) US logic puzzle family, consider yourselves informed!

Some familiarity with the Croco-Puzzle interface would be helpful but is by no means essential - after all, you can practice with several years' worth of prize puzzles, in conjunction with the English-language translations of the puzzles' rules. If you've ever wanted to be part of a logic puzzle team in a meaningful team competition, but (like me) have no chance of getting on one of the national teams for the world championships, there are no better opportunities.

Anyone else, particularly UK-based, interested in signing up for a team? I can put you in the right place!
chris: (mso)
In May, reigning world chess champion Viswanathan Anand of India will defend his championship against challenger Boris Gelfand of Israel. The match will take place over twelve games, with a prize fund valued at around two and a half million US dollars. Gelfand won the right to challenge Anand by narrowly winning each of three short Candidates matches - and, in turn, qualified to take part in the Candidates matches by very narrowly winning the 128-player single-elimination Chess World Cup of 2009 in, effectively, triple-overtime blitz chess. Gelfand has played much of his most successful chess in the world championship cycles over the years and bookmakers estimate Anand to be around a 73% favourite to defend his title.

The winner is expected to go on to defend his title again in 2013; three weeks ago, it was announced that the next challenger will be determined by a Candidates' Tournament (an eight-player double round-robin, rather than short matches) to be held in late October and early November in London in the UK. The eight players qualifying will be the loser of the world championship match, the three top finishers in the Chess World Cup of 2011, the three remaining highest-rated players and a sponsor's nominee - not an unreasonable way to generate a line-up, and it'll be a very strong field.

Chessbase comment "The nomination of Teimour Radjabov as the organiser's choice might surprise some – but there is no English player in sight who has an adequately high rating. [...] The Vice-President of the Azerbaijan Chess Federation, Mair Mammadov, confirmed Radjabov's participation." According to today's latest FIDE chess ratings, England's top player Michael Adams is #18 in the world - so certainly exceptionally competent but no longer #4 as once he was a decade or so ago and thus not quite as essential to the tournament as once he was.

(As an aside, England's top chess players are on something of an upswing at the moment, though they all struggle for consistency. Adams is still world class, winning the gold medal for being best Board One at the European Team Chess Championship. Nigel Short, ranked #40. earned £25,000 by winning the very strong open tournament in Gibraltar in January. Luke McShane, ranked #49, impressed at the London Chess Classic in December by holding his own against the global talent and spanking the other English players. Gawain Jones, ranked #114, and matte David Howell, ranked #157, continue to develop apace, and even one-time top-20 Matthew Sadler has come back out of retirement and is nestled at #143. If they can all be funded to play at the Chess Olympiad in Turkey in August-September and if they all play to their potential by really pounding on their weaker opposition like they sometimes can in opens - a huge if - then the English team may have the strength in depth to contend for a medal as they did in the '80s and '90s.)

An open question is why there might be a chess tournament featuring no English players being held in London. An interview with the FIDE President (bottom of the page) suggests that Azerbaijan are sponsoring the Candidates' Tournament, in preparation for a bid to host the world championship match in 2013. It would certainly explain the selection of an Azerbaijani player for the wild card spot, not that the selected player isn't a worthy one. My grasp of global geopolitics is not the best, but ill-feeling caused by the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan might also suggest why the tournament isn't happening in Azerbaijan itself; one of the top competitors is Armenian. (For that matter, Garry Kasparov himself was born in Baku, in Azerbaijan, to an Armenian mother. I'd say "I'd love to know his views on the matter", but in truth, I'd love to know more about the politics of the Caucasus region first and then to know his views.)

Speculation that they will say "Well, it's on an end of the Metropolitan line, so it must be in London" and hold the tournament in Chesham, overlooking the River Chess, was made up a few minutes ago by me, but I hope it catches on.

The other interesting twist of the politics of the match is that FIDE have granted the rights to the World Championship structure (final match, Candidates' Tournament, World Cup and the set-to-reappear Grand Prix) (middle of page) to a company called Agon, in return for a guarantee of 10+ million Euros and a cut of the profits. Agon, a new enterprise to me, is run by one Andrew Paulson. As this article, with reference to Bloomberg Businessweek, points out, Paulson's background includes the fact that he is co-founder of, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of, the SUP company that bought LiveJournal from Six Apart a few years ago. Coincident with all this, the BBC News Magazine ran an article on the significance of LiveJournal, particularly in Russia, earlier today. (I did enjoy the way the BBC News front page referred to LiveJournal not by name but as "minor blog site", too.)

The job of adding all this together should be left to far more informed analysts of Russian politics to me, but I don't think there's coincidence to this. It strikes me - and I may be talking out of a less informed orifice here - that taking a high-profile involvement in the advancement of chess has something of a history as being an old-school way to attain some degree of public prominence within Russian politics. At the very least, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, being the former President of Kalmykia, would seem to be a useful and well-placed political ally.

It's all too complicated a game for me to truly understand, but I love hearing what the better-informed Grandmasters really think about it!
chris: (mobius-scarf)
One of my new favourite Wikipedia pages is List of world championships in mind sports, which lives up to its name. At one point I had a long-term slow-burning plan to start a low-volume blog which detailed the existence of the various mind sports world championships that existed, updating each of perhaps forty or fifty once every year, or two years, or less frequent, as appropriate. This hasn't happened, and the Wikipedia page now gives me a good excuse not to be the one to make it happen.

One thing I haven't yet found online is a survey of festivals at which many different mind sports are played. There used to be a brilliant site with the counterpart for physical sports, but it has closed and Wikipedia's list of multi-sport events is nearly as good.

The International Mind Sports Association (IMSA) attempts to be a co-ordinating board for mind sports' governing bodies, and held an event they called the World Mind Sports Games in 2008. There are suggestions that a second one might happen in August 2012, with at least one source suggesting it might happen in the UK.

(Edit: I have taken so long to write this that the World Bridge Federation now quote the IMSA as announcing - though doing so on their web page would be too easy, obviously - that the venue will be either Cardiff, Wales or Strasbourg, France. Decision to follow around, er, the Thursday before last.)

More information about multi-mind-sport festivals around the world in the UK, Greece, Czech Republic, US, Germany and France. )

Wi' jam in

Feb. 21st, 2012 11:55 pm
chris: (mobius-scarf)
As hinted at a few months ago, in a Friends-locked post, MathsJam is a monthly collection of nearly ad hoc meetups of random people who like, well, maths. "MathsJam is a monthly opportunity for like-minded self-confessed maths enthusiasts to get together in a pub and share stuff they like. Puzzles, games, problems, or just anything they think is cool or interesting." There's one in Newcastle, just up the road, so I went tonight. It was fun.

I had woken up at 5am to work the day shift from 6:15am to 6:15pm, so got home at about 6:45, fed the cats, ate some toast and a sandwich and then hit the road again. The journey up was nice and easy, though something seemed to give the car a heck of a whack at some point. (I probably just ran over a large twig.) Entering Newcastle by the A184 and across the Redheugh Bridge is surprisingly easy and surprisingly logical. Newcastle also have a very visitor-friendly policy of making the council-run car parks free after 5pm, of which I approve. I picked the Eldon Garden multi-storey car park and got slightly panicked by a sign suggesting it closed at 10pm.

I got to the Charles Grey pub shortly after 8pm and wandered around until I found some stairs that led to another floor with, among other things, a triple table of people writing things and a Rubik's Cube. This seemed likely to be the right one, so I nipped back downstairs, picked up a drink and eventually found a gap at the tightly-packed table. People did seem somewhat caught up in their conversations and activities, but the guy in charge said "Well, I was hoping to try a card game about set theory at one point..." so I said I was interested.

He later described it as being a game about Abelian groups. It's a long, long time since I studied set theory, and the only thing I remember about Abelian groups is that - all together now - as maths' one good pun goes, they're purple and commute. While the game is effectively based around an Abelian group as promised, describing it as such is possibly not the best way to sell the game, even among maths-friendly folks; the game might more simply be described as being about modulo arithmetic. It's actually rather fun, if not a little mind-bending, and called Mad Abel.

Read more... )

A few of you, half a lifetime ago, might be in the position to compare this with the sort of fun we had at the Invariant Society... or, specifically, when we were hanging around chatting after the lectures finished. Based on a tiny sample size, I think it would be fair to say that there was more maths actually going on here than used to happen there, or perhaps my experience of the Invariants tended to err on the passive side. It would probably not be unfair to raise that same comment about my experience of maths at university in general.

An issue MathsJam meetings face is trying to set the level of assumed mathematical experience to something that is sufficiently accessible not to be off-putting, but sufficiently toothsome to be of interest to the participants. There is no subjectively correct answer here, as the clientele varies from meeting to meeting. I wound up also trying a couple of pencil-and-paper problems from a schools' contest, and my geometry and trigonometry are really, really rusty, and my algebra is not what it was. In truth, I'd probably consider it a fairly tight mathematical contest between my 13-year-old self and my 36-year-old self of today, with my 14- to 21- year old selves leaving us both firmly in the dust. This was quite uncomfortable at times, though the fault was purely my own, rather than being that of the MathsJam meeting or other people there.

There were about a dozen or so people there (see this photo of the throng), mostly current students, but a couple of faculty members and possibly a couple of other non-academics as well. I didn't get the chance to speak to very many of them outside an actively mathematical context, but they were impressive, enthusiastic and remarkably far from cynical. Many - most? - of them were from Durham, which leads me to believe that the Durham Uni Mathsoc is likely flourishing. Good for them! I also enjoyed getting to meet guest star Matt Parker, whose brand of comedy leads him to style himself a stand-up mathematician.

I had brought a set of octiamonds, which I considered unusual and fun. Unfortunately, people started playing with them fairly late, and mindful of the 10pm garage lock-up time, I did not properly allow time to put the octiamonds back away. Accordingly, I swept them into my bag, but may well have lost one on the floor; certainly 66 octiamonds went out, 66 octiamonds were still there just before I started to get them ready to come home, but only 65 octiamonds have made it home. (I'm missing a number 14.) Sulk. My fault and nobody else's, though I fear it will be very hard to replace.

All told, an entertaining evening. Slightly awkward in parts, as I was so different from the majority of the clientele, and frankly a little out of my depth. (Never nice to have the truth brought home.) Still, not more awkward than you would expect - or, considering this was the first time I had been there, and people had been drinking and talking for over an hour that day and up to half a dozen sessions previously, only about as awkward as you'd hope.

If part of the MathsJam mission is to bring something of the university maths society feel to a slightly wider audience, perhaps there is some scope to work on outreach and accessibility, to ensure that newcomers are absolutely made to feel welcome and can contribute and participate at their level... whatever it might happen to be. This is a fairly self-selecting audience but if it is to cope with the amateur (and the word essentially comes from the Latin verb amare, to love) as well as the academic and thus professional, whether student or teacher, then thought and preparation may be required.

Nevertheless, I had a good time and was glad I went. The schedule is regular, though the monthly frequency is not demanding. The journey is just long enough, especially after a long day shift, to give me pause for thought - and, cynically, wonder whether the event might be better-suited still to be held in Durham if that's where so many of the students are based. I certainly enjoyed myself and look forward to getting stuck into further MathsJam in the future.
chris: (stockton-on-tees)
Meg and I have enjoyed a recent trip to the South to stay with [ profile] malachan for three nights, headlined by a very enjoyable and successful party (where I got to see people who I hadn't seen for far too long!) to warm his new house. The trip also featured a diversion even further still to stay overnight with [ profile] frayer and [ profile] radinden in Brighton. The standard of hospitality throughout was tremendous and we are very grateful to our friends for their kindness.

I am slightly disappointed, as a proud Northerner, to learn just how much I liked Brighton. It's definitely a bluff Northern sense of cultivated ignorance that led me to be completely unaware of the Royal Pavilion; while this is not a proper Pavilion, like that of Thornaby, it's a stately home well worth a visit.

Brighton may have the single most interesting town centre I have yet visited, with road after road of distinct, distinctive sole traders. Now many of the boutique stores were full of wares more of interest to my wife than to me, but nevertheless they made enjoyable window-shopping, well away from the chain stores, all present and correct at the other end of town. Sure, I bet (for instance) Manchester and Birmingham have at least as many, but they do not have a single cohesive town centre in quite the same way. Perhaps it's the difference between a focused town centre and the dispersion of a city centre; it's Whitby on a much bigger scale, Blackpool on a classier scale.

The town does give me the impression of being a somewhat impractical place to live, unless you have many other things going in your favour already, but I liked the atmosphere and look forward to returning, not least to see the many parts of it which I have not yet seen. Thumbs up, too, to the uninspiredly-named El Mexicano; not every starter for our party of five was a huge hit, but I really enjoyed both the Quesadillas and Tacos on the lunch set menu.

London was great fun, as ever, and a tremendous time sink. One particularly enjoyable day was filled with transport geekery that I had been looking forward to for a long, long time. A quick journey down to Lambeth saw me try some fusion Indian-Mexican street food - pretty good, but firmly at the Indian end of the spectrum, not so good as to obviate more straightforward Mexican and I have a strong suspicion that I was diddled of 50p in my confusion, which is why the cart gets neither an outright recommendation nor a link.

After that, I took a Boris Bike from Lambeth North, followed a few cycle routes, and decided that I had probably had close to my legs' tolerance, if maybe not my free half hour, by the time I reached somewhere between Blackfriars and Temple, so about a mile and a half away. I note firmly that credit for the scheme should go to previous mayor Ken Livingstone, if to any mayor at all, but Boris Bike is an inherently euphonious name and far better than the current official, corporate-sponsored name.

Boris Johnson himself suggested that the scheme would feature "the Rolls-Royce of bikes"; the comparison is apt, though only in an unflattering way, by virtue of the bikes' considerable mass. Additionally, my bike had a tendency to slip out of first gear, though it was remarkably good at unslipping in order to find second again. I'm not sure of the overall transport benefits of the scheme but the fun benefits are high and the stealth exercise benefits likewise. In conclusion: hurrah, and fingers crossed that the scheme may flourish in the years to come.

After that, I took the Tube down to Heathrow Terminal 5 to have a mosey around the new terminal. Oddly enough, it looks like an airport terminal, with little of particular interest to commend the landside. If it turns out that the relationship between uninteresting landside and interesting airside matches that of LHR's Terminal 4, it'll certainly do the trick. Lovely big, sweeping lifts, but otherwise the architecture didn't particularly catch the eye.

However, Heathrow Terminal 5 does have its own Personal Rapid Transit system. Driverless cabs, holding no more than 4-6 people, shuttle between the terminal and your choice of two remote stations at a business car park. If the saying runs "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", these are Hogwarts' Horseless Carriages powered by electricity, not Thestrals. (I assume.) The ride is smoother than that of a bus, but still a shade shaky; the constraints of the airport location force a surprisingly convoluted (curvy and gradient-y) route, which is dealt with very easily. The safety of the London system looks tremendous; you would have to work hard if you wanted to get hurt by it.

People have been talking about such personal systems for decades; a small system in West Virginia has been decades ahead of its time for longer than I have lived, and Heathrow's system is not even the first of the current generation with family-scale, rather than group-scale, vehicles. I have been following the progress of the business for about six years and am delighted to have got to try an application of the system for real.

Heathrow's system (effectively a long, thin isosceles triangle) so far attempts only a very small task at quite considerable expense but the infrastructure is in place for considerable expansion. Compare with plans for High Speed 2 in the UK; a system that cuts the Birmingham-to-London time by a third is of limited use, though a system that serves Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and maybe the East Midlands and/or Liverpool is a much more attractive proposition, even before we start expanding up this way or as far as Scotland.

Only time will tell whether the economics of the system really do work in practice and whether this has a a future outside the highest-end airports and cities. A good sign is that the system's manufacturers have convinced Amritsar, India to invest in a serious urban system; it may be that conurbations with the least well-developed ratios of population to effective transit, mass or otherwise, turn out to be the best fits. I recommend this old-school blog for following the industry.

At one level, this is as close as we get in fact to a roller-coaster with an interactive route. At another level, it is one of several parallel early steps towards putting the entirely respectable, though decades-old, career of driver out of business. The interactivity, personalisation and lack of direct human involvement feel really futuristic, but also feel really ordinary, which may be the most impressive trick of all. I gave the system a one-person standing ovation after I concluded my journeys. Well worth a visit; possibly better sooner rather than later before it becomes more branded than the IPL.
chris: (mso)
For a long time, there's a a post I've been meaning to make. Sometimes tunes just hang around and you sort of know what they are, or know where they have come from, without knowing where they originally came from. I've been meaning to post to try to find out what they were, possibly even with a LiveJournal phone post in which I attempt to recreate the tunes in a possible attempt to help convey what they are.

Serendipitously, I have been able to resolve three out of the four tunes that have been bugging me, at the rate of one every three or four months. "The music from the M&S commercials" turns out to be "At the River" by Groove Armada, "some tune we were humming at work" turns out to be the end of "A.M. 180" by Grandaddy (I think I've got the band and song name the right way round) and "the music from the Sports Review of the Year that they used to use as a tribute for the remembrances" turns out to be the quiet bit of "the Olympic Fanfare and Theme for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Summer Games" by John Williams, or somesuch.

Three down, one to go; inevitably, this probably will be the most difficult one. Can anyone provide an identification for, or a recording of, "the theme tune for UK commercial television channel ITV's gymnastics broadcasts from about 1981"? This may be tricky, as it may well have been specially commissioned for the broadcast and thus not known by any other name. More likely, it's a piece of library music, which might be identified. I'm secretly hoping that it, too, was another light classical tune that might be known under some other guise. I know, mhp-chat is that way, but asking here is more fun.

Here are some book reviews. These were going to be short, but they grew. I've not been feeling in much of a communicative mood recently, explaining the radio silence.

Dave Gorman vs. The Rest Of The World: one day, last July, British author/comedian Dave Gorman tweeted "Does anyone play any games? Real life, not computer games. Would you like a game?" Plenty of people respond yes; Dave travels the country, learning and playing lots of new games, and eventually he decides to turn some of the stories into a book. As is usual, Dave's work is really more about the people he meets rather than the adventures on offer, and the balance is fairly firmly further away from the games than would suit my personal preference. Accordingly, there is a tendency to focus on games played against big characters, or against public figures. He's strongest at writing about the games with which he's most familiar, particularly poker.Read more... )

However, I choose to believe, based on the body of evidence of his life's work, that Dave is very firmly on the side of the angels; he likes people in general and I enjoy his chatty style. I'm not sure that he has written more than one really satisfactory ending in his four books, but endings are difficult to write; while this one is a miss, it's not a disaster. Certainly the book is a very entertaining read, generating a handful of snorts of laughter, but it describes a pretty identifiably smaller adventure than as described in his previous books, and proves a much slighter success as a result. I'm not sure I would go so far as to recommend the book to someone who was a fan of neither Dave Gorman's previous work nor writing about games, but if you like the thought of reading about "a nice bloke playing lots of different games and writing entertainingly about them" then you'll probably enjoy it at least as much as I did.

For Richer, For Poorer, Victoria Coren's poker memoir, is a tremendous hit that I have thoroughly enjoyed devouring in full twice in as many days. The book makes no secret that the book's eventual destination is the 2006 European Poker Tour event in London at which Coren wins £500,000, but the journey is a fascinating one, and the motif interlacing details of that final table - with thought patterns in full, which might be considered an (independently reinvented) analogue for the way The Master Game covered chess - with Coren's near-twenty-year journey to get there.

The narrative is roughly chronological, so skips between different strands. There's an element which just considers Coren's development of her poker skills over time, playing in bigger and bigger games with more and more success, a pleasingly "get rich very slowly" story. There's an element which concerns journalistic observations, either professional (for instance, when she has a reason to sell a story about poker to a newspaper, or when her journalistic credentials have qualified her as a celebrity) or when the rest of her life has taken her to where the action is. Lastly, there's an element that concerns her private life, turning this into a true memoir. The book's subtitle, "a love affair with poker". has more than one meaning.Read more... )

It's definitely the more successful book of the two; it's probably the book I've enjoyed most (though it's competing against fairly shamefully slim pickings here) over the past year or two. Again, I'm not sure I would go so far as to recommend the book to someone who was a fan of neither the author's previous work nor writing about poker, but if you think you'll be well-disposed towards the book in theory, then you're very likely to love it in practice. More, please, Ms. Coren; I look forward to the behind-the-scenes story of Only Connect some day!