Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Google Pursuit

A former professor of mine points to a Slate article by Bryan Curtis from last week about the death of generalist trivia and rise of specialist trivia. I responded with a comment in the professor's blog, but thought this might be an appropriate topic for here, as well.

Since many puzzles are, at their root, trivia puzzles (crosswordese, after all, is largely words known and used for no other purpose than crosswords), I would say that both generalist and specialist trivia are still going strong. Generalist trivia can serve you well in crosswords and pub quizzes; specialist trivia can serve you well in pop culture puzzles and the like. But really, both will always serve you well. Any trivia game, but especially a team game, practically demands a group of capable generalists, each with a different specialization.

Another complaint the article makes is of Google as the death of trivia. Aside from the ridiculous notion that people would be playing Trivial Pursuit with their laptops open in front of them, any more than they'd play Scrabble with an anagram generator on hand, it ignores the notion that trivia writers are capable of adapting to the situation. The Mystery Hunt has had to adapt to the new situation and my comment in the above-linked blog points to some of the many ways it has done so. Similarly, trivia competitions like those at Williams have found ways to make trivia difficult and enjoyable, even with Google readily available.

If Trivial Pursuit is dying (a claim Curtis' own story belies with statements like "23 years after its American debut, the original edition still accounts for a huge percentage of Trivial Pursuit's 80 million units sold."), it is because it is 23 years old and not suited to today's audiences, not because the trivia game is dying.
Spoilers Ahead

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Logic Problem

I'll throw this out there as a general question, but how does one gauge the difficulty of a logic problem, and more importantly, how does one write a logic problem intentionally of a specific difficulty level?

I've faced these questions recently and in the past when attempting to write logic problems as part of larger extravaganza. Since most have time constraints, it's difficult to justify writing a logic puzzle that could take 3 hours, but I also don't want to come up with a super easy puzzle that can be finished in 15 minutes.

My own experience, both solving and constructing, has shown the following:
1) Number of data categories and values within the data categories. If you've got three men with three hats and three dogs, all of different types, you can create a very simple logic puzzle. Whereas eight space aliens from different planets who are all different colors carrying different cargo and flying to the same eight planets as before (just not their own) in a certain amount of time would require a lot more clues.
2) Number of data categories with unknown data points within the category. For example, in the previous space alien one, the times could be given as from 1 to 10 light years, in 0.5 increments. That gives 19 possible values, of which only 8 will be used.
3) Complexity of the first few break-ins. Knowing Tex owns the mastiff is an obviously easy clue. Using four different clues to establish that the alien who travelled the least is one of two, thereby eliminating one of two planets that could have been the least, is a pretty difficult piece of reasoning.
4) Sequential rankings. I find that if a puzzle uses clues that order data, not eliminate certain matchups, this can be especially difficult.

For my money, Official actually makes the best logic puzzles. Usually over 70, with the 5-star puzzles truly deserving of the ranking. The first 1/3 of the book is a great warm-up, while the later 3 and 4-star puzzles have challenges all there own. But I've easily spent a good two days on a 5-star from them before. Dell's not too bad, but the only reason to get Dell, IMHO, is to follow the continuing saga of Barnaby and Dorabella.
Spoilers Ahead

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Black and White's Anatomy.

The Kevin McCann's indispensable site Cruciverb.com has hosting a series called "Anatomy of a Crossword Construction." There are two entries so far, with promise of more to come. In the first, "Anatomy of a Record-Breaking 19-Black Square Puzzle," Manny Nosowsky talks about his record-breaking March 11 puzzle (available to subscribers). The second is "Anatomy of the 2005 ACPT Playoff Puzzle" by Byron Walden (available with all American Crossword Puzzle Tournament puzzles at their website).

It's started a something of a trend, and readers of Eric Berlin's blog were able to badger him into writing an informal anatomy of yesterday's New York Sun puzzle, "The Edge of Reason."

(Puzzles require AcrossLite, and all Anatomies contain spoilers for their respective puzzles.)
Spoilers Ahead