The “spinning beachball” effect is very bright. It looks great in person, but really overpowers and washes out the camera's sensors when filming. Trust me. It looks way better than this.

Halloween goggles

This is one in a series of Halloween elec­tron­ics posts. Read the full series:

Last Halloween I built some ani­mated light-up steampunk/mad-scientist gog­gles. I did this at the same time I did the creepy motion-activated eyes and the ambi­ent light­ing with sur­prise thun­der and light­ning. Because I was build­ing and refin­ing up until the last minute, I never got around to show­ing off and doc­u­ment­ing the project. This post, a year later, will try to fix that.

The “spinning beachball” effect is very bright. It looks great in person, but really overpowers and washes out the camera's sensors when filming. Trust me. It looks way better than this.
The “spin­ning beach­ball” effect is very bright. It looks great in per­son, but really over­pow­ers and washes out the camera’s sen­sors when film­ing. Trust me. It looks way bet­ter than this.

I have seen sim­i­lar projects posted before, but they always had full cov­ers over the lenses and came with warn­ing about not wear­ing them over your face. Light-leakage and the strobe of the LEDs can lead to headaches. Knowing that I’d only have a nar­row field of view any­way (like most masks), I wanted a design that allows for wear­ing them over the eyes for extended peri­ods of time with­out the light-leak and headaches. Between laser cut­ting, 3D print­ing, and lib­eral amounts of Sugru, I think I worked it out.

My addi­tions included:

  • Laser cut rings (54mm out­side diam­e­ter, 31.75mm inside)
  • 3D printed “blinder” tubes (31.75mm out­side diam­e­ter, 12mm tall)
  • A small push­but­ton to change ani­ma­tion modes
  • A ton of elec­tri­cal tape (later, I switch to Sugru) to seal around the edges

The whole project is a riff on the Adafruit Kaleidoscope Eyes project, with some of my own hard­ware and soft­ware cus­tomiza­tions. Unfortunately, I do not have many pic­tures of the steps dur­ing the build process. It was tedious and detail-oriented. It was mainly cut­ting and rout­ing wire and sol­der­ing things in-place, as opposed to build­ing sep­a­rately and cram­ming it all into the gog­gles after­ward. The code lives in the GitHub project as well as assorted other build files (laser cut­ter paths, 3D mod­els).

Behind the metal wire connecting the two goggle halves is a segment of heat shrink tubing acting as a channel for wires.
Behind the metal wire con­nect­ing the two gog­gle halves is a seg­ment of heat shrink tub­ing act­ing as a chan­nel for wires.

Instead of cram­ming the Trinket inside the gog­gles, which would obscure vision, I attached it to the out­side strap. This has sev­eral added ben­e­fits: it’s eas­ier to access for pro­gram­ming and it gives it that extra sci-fi touch. I also added a small but­ton on a perf board to the strap. This is used to switch ani­ma­tion modes.

2013-11-10 17.01.58

The gog­gles are great. They are com­fort­able and high qual­ity. The thick glass lenses are retained by a metal ring and spring clips, mak­ing them easy to pop out, mea­sure, and replace. It was easy to find acrylic of a sim­i­lar thick­ness. I laser cut some rings — a 54mm out­side diam­e­ter to match the lenses and a 31.75mm inside diam­e­ter to match the inside diam­e­ter of the neopixel rings.

Measuring for new lenses.
Measuring for new lenses.

With the acrylic in place and the NewPixel rings crammed in as far as they could go, I mea­sured the dis­tance I’d need for the “blinder” tubes. I’d need a light-proof chan­nel that allows me to peer through the cen­ter of the NeoPixel and acrylic ring. I ended up with plugs that are 12mm tall (includ­ing the height of the retain­ing lip around the acrylic ring. You can find my 3D STL file on Github, which is kind of cool because you can spin it around in your browser. The OpenSCAD source code is there, too.

Drafting the inner light-blocking tube.
Drafting the inner light-blocking tube.
Diffuser ring and blinder-tube in place.
Diffuser ring and blinder-tube in place. If you look closely, you can see the elec­tri­cal tape that made the orig­i­nal light seal.

Between exact mea­sure­ments and 3D print tol­er­ance, it was a fairly decent fric­tion fit. I used a few drops of hot glue to bet­ter bridge the tube-to-NeoPixel junc­tion, just in case. There was still quite a lot of light leak­age, though. Because the rub­ber of the gog­gles is not per­fectly cir­cu­lar, there was some gap­ping there that light came through. There was also a lit­tle bit of gap­ping between the tube and the NeoPixel ring. Unexpectedly, the cir­cuit board itself had a few via holes that let light through. My first round of seal­ing, from Halloween last year, was with elec­tri­cal tape. I cut strips and sealed around the NeoPixel-to-goggle junc­tions as well as the NeoPixel-to-tube junc­tions. The vias got cov­ered as a byprod­uct of all the tape I used. It used what I had on hand and it mostly worked. The tape doesn’t stick all that well to the ABS plas­tic of the tube, so would occa­sion­ally peel back and obscure vision for a bit. I’d have to poke my fin­gers into the eye holes (ew, gross!) and flat­ten it out. Since then, I’ve embraced the cool­ness of Sugru. I ripped out all the tape and plas­tered the whole thing in Sugru.

This pic­ture, from after I’d ripped out the tape, shows the dif­fer­ence in light leak between Sugru (left) and noth­ing at all (right):

Light leakage: after Sugru (left) and before (right).
Light leak­age: after Sugru (left) and before (right). On the unfin­ished side, you can see some of the routed wires as well as hot glue.

Because there was zero light leak­age, every time I switched ani­ma­tion modes, I’d have to hold my other hand in front of my face. The light that bathed my hand and reflected back to my eyes told me what color and motion was actively dis­played.

I hope this blog post gives you some insight and inspi­ra­tion on your own project. It wasn’t intended as a step-by-step how-to, given how cus­tom it is. I’m not even sure I could find equiv­a­lent gog­gles again. My design files and source code are linked in the above arti­cle and on GitHub. Feel free to down­load, edit, and tweak them to suit your own needs.

Posted in: MakerBot Projects


Portland’s Escape the Room

crimson_roomAbout a decade ago, before smart­phones and tablets, when Flash games were a big thing, there was a genre of Flash games known as “Escape the Room.” One of the first pop­u­lar such games was The Crimson Room. I simul­ta­ne­ously love and hate the genre. I like the aspect of puz­zling your way out of a locked room, but a lot of the “puz­zles” you typ­i­cally encounter are pretty arbi­trary. It’s not always obvi­ous what you can click on, what items you can inter­act with, or what views you can move to. At some point it becomes a point-and-random-click adven­ture, where you’re just blan­ket­ing the screen with mouse clicks to dis­cover that you can look under a dresser or between the bed and the wall but only by click­ing a small sliver of screen real estate. The way your inven­tory items inter­act with one another or the world is often baf­fling in sim­i­lar ways.

In recent years, room escape games have escaped the realm of com­put­ers and into the real world. I know of at least one in Japan, one in the Bay Area, and one in Seattle. I have a group of friends who aced the Seattle room escape game, Puzzle Break, fin­ish­ing it in record time. Alas, I had another com­mit­ment and was unable to ven­ture out with them that week­end. On the car ride home, they pon­dered build­ing one here in Portland. It took them nearly a year, but they recently announced it’s open for busi­ness.

deskSpark of Resistance opened their doors in inner SE Portland, a short walk from Guardian Games, in a for­mer tea ware­house. I must admit that I didn’t par­tic­i­pate in the design, except indi­rectly with vague elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing ques­tions. It was a secret for most of the year, and then it became a sit­u­a­tion where they needed to bal­ance let­ting friends help, but not hav­ing too many cooks in the kitchen and keep­ing some pure playtesters in reserve that haven’t seen the room yet. They ran live playtest­ing in a full dress rehersal a few week­ends ago (again, alas, too many com­mit­ments on my cal­en­dar for me to join).

I’m told from one of the design­ers: “These puz­zles are designed to be solv­able by peo­ple with no prior expe­ri­ence. No codes or any­thing weird.” I am also aware of a poten­tial built-in hint­ing sys­tem for the more casual play­ers. He con­tin­ues: “Our room has amaz­ing puz­zles, and a stronger story than any other room we’ve heard of. I’m really proud of what we’ve pro­duced.” A few of the tweets I’ve seen from play­ers agree that it has an amaz­ing immer­sive story joined together with fun puz­zles.

If you’re in Portland, or just vis­it­ing, I would highly encour­age you to check them out.


Posted in: Dear Diary Portland Puzzle Games

2014-09-01 13.29.44

Virgin Vices: e-Cigarettes

This is part two of my vir­gin vices series. For part one, take a look at vir­gin cock­tails.

I am not a smoker — which is not to say I don’t know how to smoke. I just never got fully hooked. I’m one of the “social smok­ers” that the hard­core smok­ers have grown to hate. In my par­ty­go­ing hey­day, I’d go through about a pack a week, but I con­sciously decided to drop that to near-zero one day. These days, I smoke a few times a year. I do it at bars (though less-so, with the smok­ing ban and chilly patios), clubs, and par­ties. Sometimes it’s Camels. Sometimes it’s cloves. Sometimes it’s what­ever I can bum from some­one. But always, if I buy, I have to give away the rest of the box. Or not, and dis­cover, months later, a stale pack in a jacket pocket or the back of a drawer.

Although I’m not phys­i­cally addicted, spe­cific sit­u­a­tions (the afore­men­tioned bars, clubs, par­ties) often leave me jonesing for a cig­a­rette. Maybe its reliv­ing happy mem­o­ries. Maybe its a social crutch. Maybe it’s just get­ting out of the crowd and into a more quiet and inti­mate space. What I do know is that I’ll end up bum­ming sev­eral from folks, have a great time that evening, and end up pay­ing for it with sinus and throat prob­lems the next morn­ing.

Given the recent rise of e-cigarettes, the FDA not ban­ning them (though not prais­ing them either), the cor­ner “vape” shops pop­ping up like mush­rooms, and the increas­ing vis­i­bil­ity of peo­ple using them, I thought I would inves­ti­gate and share the results. Keep in mind that this is entirely my opin­ion and my point of view. A griz­zled multi-pack-a-day smoker with a Tom Waits voice may find use­ful points here, but is not nec­es­sar­ily the tar­get audi­ence of this research. I am also inten­tion­ally avoid­ing dis­cussing how healthy they are for you, even sans nico­tine. Anecdotal and light sci­en­tific evi­dence points to these as bet­ter for you than real cig­a­rettes, but the jury is still out. Long-term stud­ies are still incon­clu­sive. Live on the edge and use them at your own risk.

What is an e-cigarette?

If you’re not famil­iar with e-cigarettes, they have three main parts: a bat­tery, an elec­tric atom­izer, and a reser­voir of fluid or “juice.” The juice sits in a tank or in fibers (sim­i­lar in con­cept to the cot­ton that holds the fluid in Zippo lighters). When you’re ready to smoke, the atom­izer heats up a lung­ful of juice, which turns it to smoke.

There are many vari­a­tions on this theme. The con­nec­tion between bat­tery and atom­izer could be a sim­ple push­but­ton. Alternately, it could be pressure-sensitive, acti­vat­ing auto­mat­i­cally when you take a breath. The form-factor could be small and white and cylin­dri­cal, look­ing like an actual cig­a­rette. It might even have a red LED on the tip, giv­ing it a cherry, mak­ing it look like its lit. It might be stealthy and black, with a blue LED. It might be bulky and sil­ver. The atom­izer — the part that heats up, con­vert­ing juice to smoke — dete­ri­o­rates over time. It car­bonizes, black­en­ing from burnt juice. It (or the entire cig­a­rette, depend­ing on how dis­pos­able it is) you must replace every cou­ple of months.

The juice is another piece that can vary tremen­dously. At its base, all juice is propy­lene gly­col and/or veg­etable glyc­erin. The first is an alco­holic sol­vent used in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals (for instance, turn­ing solids into oral, top­i­cal, or injectable med­i­cines). The sec­ond is a sugar sub­sti­tute. They’re found in lubri­cat­ing eye drops (“arti­fi­cial tears,” as opposed to red-eye drops). They’re also both found in the “fog juice” that you load into fog machines. In fact, there are more than super­fi­cial sim­i­lar­i­ties between fog machines and e-cigarettes. The cig­a­rettes are more portable. Beyond this base com­mon­al­ity, the juices can have any amount of nico­tine and any amount of fla­vor. They can even have crazy fla­vors that you’d never find in a cig­a­rette: marsh­mal­low, birth­day cake, orange, apple, cof­fee, bour­bon, energy drink. You can even mix fla­vors (fruit loops = cherry + lemon + gra­ham cracker, or so I’m told). Given the increas­ing num­ber of teens that are tak­ing up e-cigarettes, I can only guess the tar­get audi­ence for the can­dy­like fruity fla­vors.

Since I’m not look­ing to wean off of nico­tine, I have pur­chased nicotine-free flu­ids. This isn’t like decaf­feinated cof­fee, where an extrac­tion process leaves trace amounts of caf­feine behind. The nico­tine has to be specif­i­cally added to the juice, so they are truly nicotine-free.

Hardware Comparisons

I enjoy research. I like read­ing reviews from mul­ti­ple sources and cross-referencing and cor­re­lat­ing the obser­va­tions and results. In this case, though, it was hard to find gen­uine qual­ity reviews that I could trust. With many other top­ics — com­put­ers, con­sumer elec­tron­ics, books, restau­rants, doc­tors — there are a hand­ful of trusted go-to sites that you can hit up for reviews. With e-cigarettes, none of the gad­get sites had touched them. The major­ity of Google results looked fishy — as if they were SEO Google-bait and/or spammy fake reviews. Deeper in the page two and three results, I found a few reviews that didn’t seem scammy. Alas, I no longer have the links to share. You’ll have to do your own research on this one.

I ended up going with two prod­ucts from VaporFi (for­merly VaporZone). There were one or two pop­u­lar and high-rated dis­pos­able e-cigarettes from another man­u­fac­turer, but I didn’t go with them. I don’t like the idea of throw­ing away the bat­tery. (Yes, there are some­times dis­counts with trade-ins, but that seems like an awk­ward workaround, at best.) The two VaporFi mod­els I looked at were reusable aside from the atom­izer, which breaks down over time due to wear and tear, any­way.

2014-09-01 13.26.17 2014-09-01 13.29.44
Express Platinum Pro


The Express is one that looks more stealth­ily like a con­ven­tional cig­a­rette. The cig­a­rette uses a breath-activated switch in the bat­tery, rather than a push­but­ton switch, to heat the fluid. The end has an LED and reflec­tor that lights up when you take a breath, fad­ing up quickly, then slowly fad­ing out, like the flame of a real cig­a­rette. Sure it’s a lit­tle gim­micky and skeuo­mor­phic, but I kind of like it. The main body of the cig­a­rette holds the recharge­able bat­tery. In fact, the kit comes with two types of bat­tery: the stan­dard and an extra-long one that holds more power. It includes a USB don­gle that you screw the bat­tery into for charg­ing. What would nor­mally be the fil­ter on a con­ven­tional cig­a­rette is a semi-disposable mod­ule that screws into the bat­tery and holds the fluid and atom­izer. I have not had to yet, but I under­stand that you can fill it about five times before you have to throw it away.

2014-09-01 13.26.44 2014-09-01 13.26.34

This setup is con­ve­nient in that you can eas­ily swap out fla­vors with­out hav­ing to deal with flu­ids and reser­voirs. Just keep a few car­tridges on you, in dif­fer­ent fla­vors, and inter­change them as needed. It’s tiny and fits in a pocket, ready at a moment’s notice. The down­side is that once you’ve put a juice fla­vor into a car­tridge, you’re stuck refill­ing it with that fla­vor. You can’t put in a dif­fer­ent juice with­out mix­ing and taint­ing the fla­vor. Also: when fill­ing ditch the instruc­tions that come with them and fol­low VaporFi’s instruc­tional video.

2014-09-01 13.28.41

Platinum Pro

2014-09-01 13.29.44

The Platinum Pro doesn’t pre­tend to be a real cig­a­rette. It’s a Sonic Screwdriver with a hookah tip. It’s totally mod­u­lar and uses inter­change­able, replace­able parts. Want a dif­fer­ent tank? Bigger bat­tery? Different set of col­ors? Swap the pieces out. Build your own. The one expend­able part, the atom­izer, is easy and cheap to replace. The bat­tery is large enough to have a mini-USB port under the end­cap for charg­ing.

2014-09-01 13.30.16

The Platinum Pro is a lit­tle big and chunky, def­i­nitely not as pock­etable as the Express. But the bat­tery lasts seem­ingly for­ever. It uses a tank instead of juice-soaked fibers so you have more oppor­tu­nity to sam­ple dif­fer­ent fla­vors of juice. Buy one you didn’t like? Dump it, clean out the reser­voir, and try a new fla­vor. Be care­ful when you do this though, as you can end up with a sticky mess  on your hands. But on the plus side, you didn’t just expend a car­tridge on a hor­ri­ble fla­vor you’ll never use again, which would be the case with the Express. Because the reser­voir has a win­dow, you can see how much remains and top it off as need be. The Express car­tridges are done when they’re done. Their out­put tapers off toward the end, but you don’t have a ton of warn­ing.

Having a but­ton to acti­vate the atom­izer is kind of nice. You can hit it a sec­ond or two before you’re ready to take a drag so that it’s up to tem­per­a­ture when you start to use it. The breath-activated switch of the Express means that it’s not heated until you’re a few hun­dred mil­lisec­onds into your draw. That doesn’t sound like much, and you prob­a­bly wouldn’t notice if that was your only e-cigarette, but when you put the two in con­trast, it’s a lit­tle annoy­ing.

At this point, I’m using the Pro to sam­ple fla­vors. I’ll prob­a­bly fall back to the Express for most sit­u­a­tions because it’s small, con­ve­nient, and stealthy. Your needs may vary from mine. I found that both mod­els suf­fer from “rolling around.” Both are cylin­dri­cal, with no flat edges or nubs. Pencils (both the hexag­o­nal wooden and mechan­i­cal with pocket clip) solved the roll-across-the-table prob­lem long ago. Because you’re not putting the cig­a­rette into an ash­tray, you end up plac­ing it on the table, which, if uneven, can roll around.


I eval­u­ated the juices by buy­ing the small 3-pack sam­pler packs. The juices I tried fell into two groups: “I’m try­ing to be a cig­a­rette” and “holy crap, this would be a weird fla­vor in an actual cig­a­rette.” My results were just as polar­ized.

But first, let’s talk about tofu. I like tofu. Whether it’s firm tofu or silky tofu, or even a tex­tured veg­etable pro­tein in the right sit­u­a­tion. Marinate it, cook it, do some­thing inter­est­ing and cool with it. Tofu that tries really hard to be a meat, though? Fake chicken? Fake beef? Not so much. Embrace your strengths and weak­nesses; don’t pre­tend to be some­thing you’re not. Pretend meats are bad.

So back to the juices… I feel that the juices that really try to be an actual cig­a­rette prob­a­bly have a fla­vor ele­ment in the nico­tine that just isn’t repro­duced in the zero-nicotine ver­sion, much like meat vs. tofu. More than any­thing, I tasted the sweet fla­vor of the poly­eth­yl­ene gly­col, with hints of some­thing else in there. But they were just too sweet and wrong to me. The fla­vors I sam­pled were:

If I know you and you’re in Portland and want to take the remain­der off my hands, let me know. I’m never going to use them.

On to the other fla­vors:


I felt the Clove fla­vor was miss­ing fla­vor pro­files that the tobacco fla­vors were also miss­ing. It was clove, that’s for sure. It tasted like the clove (or was it nut­meg?) chal­lenge, where some­one dares/bribes you to eat a tea­spoon of ground clove. (Okay, I never did that—maybe it’s an urban leg­end?) It hon­estly did taste strongly of clove; it just didn’t taste like clove cig­a­rette. It was inter­est­ing, but I’m unsure if I will con­tinue with this fla­vor.

Menthol Ice

I undoubt­edly like the Menthol Ice. It tastes pretty close to a men­thol cig­a­rette (from what I remem­ber; they weren’t nec­es­sar­ily my thing back in the day). It’s enjoy­able and feels like breath­ing a box of Altoids.


I also greatly enjoy the Java Jolt. I selected the “dou­ble shot” fla­vor strength on this one, for what it’s worth. And really — what goes bet­ter with cof­fee than cig­a­rettes?


Yep, there is a Top-Shelf Bourbon. I also got this in the “dou­ble” fla­vor strength. I might argue with the “top shelf” qual­i­fier, but it is unmis­tak­able bour­bon. It’s a lit­tle sweet for my bourbon-tastes (prob­a­bly the car­rier, sim­i­lar to the tobacco fla­vor prob­lems). If the VaporFi folks are lis­ten­ing and want to mix up a smoky, peaty scotch, I’d be more than will­ing to give it a try!

Cinnamon Red-Hots

I must admit that I haven’t yet tried the Red Hot Cinnamon, but I have got­ten a whiff of the juice. I have full expec­ta­tions that I will enjoy this in the same way that I enjoy the men­thol.

Juice Review

In sum­mary: fake tobacco: bad; men­thol and cof­fee: good; oth­ers: okay.


I am happy that I picked up both styles of hard­ware. I do like the sci-fi look of the larger Pro model, but will likely end up using the Express due to porta­bil­ity and spon­tane­ity. I don’t think I’ll ever try a zero-nicotine fake-tobacco fla­vor of juice again. They were just too far off the mark. The other fla­vors were inter­est­ing enough that I’ll stick with them. I see a lot of cof­fee juice in my future. My main con­cern, now, is the shelf-life of the juices.

Unless some­one can point me to fur­ther vir­gin vices, I think this con­cludes the series of posts. Chime in in the com­ments or over Twitter if you have ideas to con­tinue the series, or if you have addi­tional infor­ma­tion to con­tribute to either of these top­ics.

Posted in: Dear Diary Food Gadgets


Virgin Vices: Cocktails

A few weeks ago, based on a Boing-Boing review, I picked up a book called Kiddie Cocktails.


This is a book of cock­tail recipes con­tain­ing exclu­sively vir­gin cock­tails. I got it because I some­times get a lit­tle tired of fizzy water from the Soda Stream, even if I have five dif­fer­ent kinds of bit­ters to give it a lit­tle fla­vor. And I totally love the color and pre­sen­ta­tion of fancy tiki drinks; I just don’t want to drink one every night.

On my own, I’ve messed around with using car­bon­ated water to make fun non-alcoholic drinks. The one I like the most includes orange juice and a few drops of vanilla extract. It’s a liq­uid cream­si­cle. I thought I’d see what drinks the pro­fes­sion­als came up with.

Making a vir­gin cock­tail is some­times as easy as using the non-virgin recipe and sim­ply delet­ing the alco­hol from the mix. Other times, it takes a lit­tle more swiz­zling of ratios or sub­sti­tute ingre­di­ents. And some­times a vir­gin recipe is totally made up, not sourced from any alco­holic drink. This book starts with the clas­sic Shirley Temple and Arnold Palmer, then pro­gresses through clas­sic cock­tails, trop­i­cal drinks, punch­bowls, desserts (lots of ice cream-based drinks), and cus­tom con­coc­tions of the author’s own design. Everything is described, explained and well-tested.

Although I really enjoy the sen­ti­ment behind the book and a few of the recipes, I must admit that the major­ity of the drinks are not for me. Most of them (even out­side the “trop­i­cal” chap­ter) are based heav­ily on fruit juices or sim­ple syrup. Although I enjoy a sweet cock­tail on occa­sion, my tastes tend to lean toward the savory. I like mar­ti­nis (vodka and gin), absinthe, char­treuse. As much as I love the look, I don’t often go for tiki drinks. Sugar fre­quently leaves me with stom­ach aches.

That being said, I still do rec­om­mend this book. Even if they’re not all my favorite recipes, it’s nice to have them avail­able when enter­tain­ing guests. Could you find sim­i­lar recipes on your own on the web? Yes. But it’s so con­ve­nient hav­ing them all together in one vol­ume. Plus the art­work is fun. It’s good to leave out for vis­i­tors to paw through. The ladies at the Powell’s check­out counter all wanted to buy the book based on the art­work alone. And if you’re not already a cock­tail per­son, the open­ing chap­ter does a great job at walk­ing you through equip­ment and tech­niques.

Stay tuned tomor­row when my reviews of vir­gin vices con­tinue. I will take a look at e-cigarettes.

Posted in: Books Food

2014-07-06 18.57.03

Dissecting ARGFest’s FestQuest

This is one of many posts at Netninja dis­sect­ing puz­zle design. You may want to explore the “puz­zlegames” tag for more. Also note that major spoil­ers lie ahead.

As read­ers of this blog may know, I help run a monthly puzzle-solving event called Puzzled Pint. (And if you look at the web­site right now, you’ll see the loca­tion puz­zled posted for Tuesday’s events in Portland, Seattle, London, Chicago, Phoenix, and the Bay Area.) We dis­trib­ute every­thing that Puzzled Pint cre­ates under a Creative Commons license. You can find all those puz­zles in the archives, avail­able for non-commercial use. This year, ARGFest asked us to build FestQuest, a light­weight puz­zle hunt that dou­bles as a walk­ing tour of the city. Instead of just dump­ing all the puz­zles on a web­site, I thought it would be more fun to walk through some of the behind-the-scenes revi­sions and work.

Bag Handouts

Each con­ven­tion bag received a lit­tle Puzzled Pint sam­pler hand­out. The sim­plest one was new. We culled two of the puz­zles from the archives. We designed the fourth, a stan­dard no-frills cryp­togram, fresh. The front side has some fun bee-related puz­zles. The reverse alludes to time travel and, if you decode the cryp­togram beyond the quote, talks about being recruited to save human­ity.


Although a few peo­ple saw that the star-ratings weren’t stars for the four-star puz­zle, I’m not sure that folks noticed until after FestQuest began that there were four vari­ants of the same cryp­togram. The PDF linked from the above thumb­nails con­tains all four vari­ants.

The Puzzled Pint playtest group solved the cryp­togram by hand. This is a rea­son­able attack, given the coded text is so long and falls fairly well into stan­dard let­ter dis­tri­b­u­tions. I had expected ARGFest folks to just plug it directly into a cryp­togram solver (one of my favorites is quip qiup, which spits out the cor­rect answer in less than a sec­ond). I was a lit­tle sur­prised to see one team, hav­ing noted that the quote’s author is in plain­text, look up famous Jonathan Swift quotes to dis­cover which one fit. I love see­ing peo­ple attack puz­zles in unex­pected ways. That’s part of my hacker upbring­ing, I guess.


Kickoff Puzzle

The FestQuest kick­off puz­zle was an uncon­ven­tional cryp­togram — a polyal­pha­betic vari­ant that you can’t just plug in to a solver.


In addi­tion to recruit­ing the team on a mis­sion to save the world, its job was to be an ice-breaker, allow for dis­trib­uted solv­ing, and used one of my favorite puz­zle tropes: “you had the key to the answer with you the whole time!”

Once you hit the a-ha moment of notic­ing the four sym­bols in the cryp­togram match the four vari­ants of the hand­outs, it’s just a mat­ter of solv­ing the hand­out cryp­togram once and copy­ing the let­ters over to the kick­off puz­zle.



This puz­zle went through some minor revi­sion after playtest­ing. The coded alpha­bet is assigned through a vari­ant of key­word cipher. To gen­er­ate the code key, you pick a key­word, strip out the dupli­cate let­ters, then fill in the remain­der of the alpha­bet after. For exam­ple, with DIAMOND:


This is a hor­ri­bly unsat­is­fy­ing solve because the let­ters from P onward — includ­ing the pop­u­lar let­ters R, S, and T — match between the plain­text and cipher­text. Reversing the alpha­bet from Z to A fixed that. I over­heard one team notice that the key­word for cir­cles used some vari­ant of “disc” with extra let­ters. This is because both cir­cle and disc popped out match­ing let­ters in the mid­dle of the alpha­bet. Given more time, we may have used a totally dif­fer­ent shape (for instance, replac­ing cir­cle with hex or pen­ta­gon) for a more sat­is­fy­ing holis­tic solve. Due to hard dead­lines we went with “good enough.”


The first stop along the tour was Waterfront Park, specif­i­cally the Battleship Oregon Memorial. Teams picked up an unusual sudoku.


It is a stan­dard sudoku except crossword-style clues replace the hard-coded starter num­bers. Certain spaces have cir­cles, indi­cat­ing data to “pull out” from the grid. Indexing those into the alpha­bet (one of the sim­plest codes in the handy-dandy code sheet) spells out the answer.



The orig­i­nal proof-of-concept puz­zle had fewer clues and a rather unsat­is­fy­ing answer. (As I recall, it was some­thing like “bad ice dog.”) The next revi­sion fea­tured a bet­ter answer, but the live playtest the week­end before ARGFest revealed a flaw in the puz­zle. There were not enough clues given to arrive at a sin­gle unique answer. This dry run also had play­ers going out to Saturday Market, which is a won­der­ful touristy spot. Our playtesters quickly dis­cov­ered it was a lit­tle too busy to find a spot to sit down and fin­ish a puz­zle. It was also fur­ther out of the way than the other spots, adding to the length of the walk.

Defenders of the Park

The next step of the tour was Mill Ends Park, the small­est park in the world. This fea­tured topo maps and army men.

map1 map2 map3


Find the right place­ment of the troops, who hold a mes­sage for you.


The pro­to­type of this puz­zle used actual green plas­tic army men. Many boys know from their child­hood that a mag­ni­fy­ing glass, matches, or lighter will let you bend and warp the small plas­tic fig­ures. It turns out that bak­ing them in the oven also makes them mal­leable enough to bend their arms into sem­a­phore shapes. The under­side of the bases held the printed matching-pictures. This led to a pretty fun a-ha moment.

I was out of town and off-the-grid when the deci­sion came down to use printed tokens instead of army men. I can only assume it was some com­bi­na­tion of the sem­a­phore being a lit­tle ambigu­ous (we had prob­lems with elbows and arm-direction vs. forearm-direction in the pro­to­type playtest) and the pro­duc­tion work involved in cre­at­ing mul­ti­ple sets of army men.

Not in Portland / QRossword

This puz­zle is a cross­word, but with num­bers. You pull some of the num­bers from a sign­post sculp­ture at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Others are trivia. I’m just glad that, despite the Major League Soccer event held that week­end in The Square, the sign­post was still vis­i­ble.


I heard, after the fact, that one team devel­oped an amaz­ing sys­tem for solv­ing this one. The divided the tasks: pulling num­bers from the sign, look­ing up trivia on Google, per­form­ing the math, con­vert­ing to binary, and fill­ing in the puz­zle. They even took it a step fur­ther. After enter­ing each answer in the grid, they’d attempt to QR scan the puz­zle. Because there’s a cer­tain amount of redun­dancy in QR code data (to com­pen­sate for dam­aged codes, poor light­ing con­di­tions, and bad cam­eras), they fig­ured they didn’t nec­es­sar­ily need to have all the answers entered before the QR scanned. (They were right.)



First off, I have to say that this puz­zle is a jab at Steve Peters’ hate of QR codes. There were very changes to the puz­zle itself between pro­to­type and final. The main one was that one of the answers lit­er­ally solved to zero, with no shad­ing in the grid. The playtesters didn’t think that was very sat­is­fy­ing. We shifted the blank up by one; a zero is still a major part of the math lead­ing to the answer (lots of near-impossible trivia mul­ti­plied by zero), but you do end up shad­ing in a box for that ques­tion.

Cinnanom Cookies

The next stop was a quick jump over to Director Park for one of the tasti­est puz­zles I have ever expe­ri­enced.


Accompanied with this were a set of deli­cious cin­na­mon alpha­bet cook­ies:

  • A x 6
  • C x 3
  • E x 8
  • F x 1
  • G x 1
  • I x 5
  • L x 4
  • M x 1
  • N x 6
  • O x 1
  • P x 1
  • Q x 1
  • R x 3
  • T x 5
  • U x 2
  • V x 1



The pro­to­type of this puz­zle had a sin­gle list of words from which you had to deduce pairs. Half-way through a rough solve we all con­cluded that it would be eas­ier to split the words into two columns, pick­ing one from each. A few of the words changed after playtest­ing for clar­ity.

Book Hive

The Powell’s puz­zle fea­tures col­or­ful hexes with book depart­ments.


When you arrange the hexes so that the depart­ment labels are adja­cent to their room col­ors, you can spell out the two answer words around the cen­tral hex.



In test solv­ing the pro­to­type puz­zle, we made a few mis­takes. We were not actu­ally at Powell’s that evening. It was one of our Tuesday location-scouts for Puzzled Pint. It turns out that Powell’s has shuf­fled depart­ments between the col­ored rooms over the years. The cur­rent state of things doesn’t match the October 2003 PDF map that comes up first in a Google search. In fact, due to con­struc­tion, the cur­rent state is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the state seen ear­lier in 2014. We had to be cer­tain that: (1) the puz­zle matches the real world and (2) every­one had a copy of the “2014 Construction Map” in their hand­out so that every­one was work­ing from the same (cor­rect) set of data.

Honeycomb Drive

Each loca­tion gave the teams a piece of “the Honeycomb Drive.” Once a team col­lects all of the pieces, a quick puz­zle shows how to assem­ble it.


Information from the pre­vi­ous five puz­zles more-or-less feed into this one. This gives you the final answer word to dis­able the evil AI.



If any­one wants to have their very own Honeycomb Drive, I have the source files avail­able in a Ponoko-compatible for­mat.


Until pretty late in plan­ning, this was called sim­ply “The Device” or “The Communications Device.” Ana picked out Honeycomb Drive as a great “mar­ket­ing name” only a few weeks before ARGFest.

This puz­zle went through three phys­i­cal revi­sions and two revi­sions of the cor­re­spond­ing paper hand­out. I started the phys­i­cal design months pre­vi­ous to the event. Originally, each piece was giant. It took up a sat­is­fy­ing amount of space in a clasp enve­lope.

2014-07-06 18.57.03 2014-07-06 18.58.03

Using foam­core board as a pro­to­typ­ing mech­a­nism, I felt the assem­bled device was a lit­tle too big. Additionally, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through the local tech shop or Ponoko, so I shrunk it and opti­mized the design to fit on Ponoko’s “P1” acrylic sheet.

I even­tu­ally did go with Ponoko. The local tech shop is easy and great for wood­work­ing and met­al­work and have an ever-expanding elec­tron­ics work­bench. Their laser setup still requires a lot of babysit­ting. They don’t have a mate­ri­als library and don’t let you use the cut­ter directly. I end up hav­ing to go to Tap Plastics myself to grab the acrylic, then set­ting up an appoint­ment to meet some­one at the laser cut­ter. A 20-minute job takes sev­eral hours out of the day (and takes a few days lead time to set up). Since I was only going to be out of town for one day in the two weeks lead­ing up to ARGFest, I went with Ponoko. This also accounts for some of the color choices (and cor­re­spond­ing team names). Their translu­cent color selec­tion is a lit­tle odd.

2014-07-18 10.44.42

The first man­u­fac­tured revi­sion of this puz­zle had etched words that, in my opin­ion, were a lit­tle too small. The playtesters had no prob­lem read­ing them, but I wasn’t happy with the clar­ity. This was on red acrylic and was a backup “Red Team” in case we had enough peo­ple play­ing to war­rant five teams. It also had pieces that fit a lit­tle loosely. I designed the pieces for 3mm acrylic. I think the slots ended up at 3.1mm to accom­mo­date a lit­tle bit of tol­er­ance dif­fer­ence. Unfortunately, this batch of “3mm” acrylic from Ponoko actu­ally mea­sured out at 2.7mm, giv­ing a whole lot of slop space. Most of the laser cut projects I work on are enclo­sures; I err on the side of extra slop because the pan­els are held in place with ten­sion bolts. (See The Chubby Tricorder Project for an exam­ple.) Given more time, or were I to do this again, I would have put lit­tle tension/friction bumps in the slots to bet­ter hold things in place (and pos­si­bly cor­re­spond­ing etch-points to bet­ter cap­ture them in place).

2014-08-10 11.48.47

The sec­ond, and final, man­u­fac­tured ver­sion was the one every­one played with on game day. I didn’t feel I had enough time, given my lim­ited avail­abil­ity, to tweak much more than font size.

As far as paper-handout revi­sions go, the first one was more activ­ity than puz­zle. In fact, a few of the answers weren’t pulled directly from the puz­zle answers (“green” for the army men, “cin­na­mon” for the cook­ies) because, by the time I needed final-ish designs of the rotors, those puz­zles were still in a pro­to­type form. DeeAnn did a great job at rewrit­ing them into a more puzzle-y form.


ckWe used ClueKeeper to han­dle all of the back-end logis­tics: val­i­dat­ing answers, dis­trib­ut­ing hints, and lead­ing teams to their next loca­tion. Although I didn’t do any work design­ing the ClueKeeper end of the puz­zle hunt, I did learn how amaz­ingly flex­i­ble it can be. We’re start­ing to work on the design of a replayable Portland hunt, reusing a cou­ple of the FestQuest loca­tions. If you’re in Portland, stay tuned.


I hope this gives a lit­tle more of a behind-the-scenes view of how Puzzled Pint han­dles puz­zle design. At a min­i­mum, puz­zles go through a pro­to­type, at least one playtest, and final QC before the pub­lic sees them. With events in live spaces, there’s a playtest or dry run. This tests not only the puz­zles, but the envi­ron­ment. This is also why we scout bars on Tuesday nights — to bet­ter see what the crowd might look like, to see if we run into event clashes like music or trivia nights, and so on. In fact, this iden­ti­fied the crowd­ing prob­lem with using Saturday Market as a loca­tion.

If this hasn’t scared you away from writ­ing puz­zles or run­ning hunts, Puzzled Pint is always look­ing for guest authors and ClueKeeper is happy to talk to you about their author­ing tools and infra­struc­ture. And if you think you want a longer puz­zle hunt, I encour­age you to get involved with DASH as a player, a playtester, or vol­un­teer.

Posted in: Portland Puzzle Games


Storytelling through aspect ratios

I work in the tech­ni­cal video field, so when watch­ing dig­i­tal video, I often notice things. Macroblocking, smear­ing, edge ring­ing, blurred edges. They’re the type of things that most “video mug­gles” don’t notice, so I tend to let them slide. This week­end I watched Grand Budapest Hotel and chuck­led a lit­tle at the open­ing slate:


As if. I thought it was a lit­tle joke. Pretty much every­thing capa­ble of dis­play­ing video these days does 16x9. I thought it to be some­thing like “in stereo, where avail­able.” I watched the whole thing, front to back, in one sit­ting, get­ting totally sucked in to the story. I don’t think it was Wes Anderson’s best, but it was still a great movie.

It wasn’t until later, when I went back to review a scene that I noticed. The aspect ratio was... odd... And that I didn’t notice the first time through just shows how strongly the story pulled me in.

It took a bit of fast-forwarding and rewind­ing, but I even­tu­ally con­cluded that the film uses FOUR dif­fer­ent aspect ratios — one for each time period depicted. Okay, tech­ni­cally, three (but two dif­fer­ent sizes of one ratio), and then the open­ing slate itself is a fourth or a fifth, depend­ing on what you’re count­ing.

Widescreen tele­vi­sions these days are 16:9. For every 16 pix­els across, you get 9 pix­els down. That’s a ratio of 16:19, or 16 ÷ 9 which is 1.78:1. (Laptops are a funny thing and have all sorts of dis­play ratios. Mine hap­pens to be 16:10 or 1.6:1.)

The open­ing slate itself is a lit­tle weird in that it’s 16:8, or 1.871:1.

The movie is book­ended by pre­sum­ably modern-day shots of a girl vis­it­ing a memo­r­ial to “The Author.” These shots are the same 16:8, but they’re let­ter­boxed down to a smaller size. They’re 1.85:1, or Academy widescreen. This is one of a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent non-proprietary widescreen for­mats that cam­era mak­ers, stu­dios, and the­aters agreed upon in the 50s. The image size is the same as the “please set your mon­i­tor...” slate above, but I’ve high­lighted the let­ter­box­ing in green.


We get a few quick scenes of The Author speak­ing about his past, address­ing the audi­ence, nar­rat­ing the story. These scenes end up being the same ratio, but on a smaller area of the print.


He talks of vis­it­ing the hotel in the 60s. The hotel has seen bet­ter days, but the reluc­tant owner has a few sto­ries to tell.


This is a full edge-to-edge aspect ratio, 2.31:1. It’s a dif­fer­ent acad­emy widescreen stan­dard that’s a bit more wide than the other.

When we delve into the hotel owner con­vey­ing sto­ries of his days as a Lobby Boy in the grand hey­day of the hotel, we switch to a very odd 4:3 aspect ratio. You’d rec­og­nize it from older standard-definition TV. You might even rec­og­nize it from the orig­i­nal Edison movie equip­ment.


Each era, each with a dif­fer­ent res­o­lu­tion or aspect ratio, all a sub­tle part of sto­ry­telling. And yet, oddly, the sto­ry­telling was strong enough that I missed it the first time through.


Posted in: Movies


17 years of Netninja

Today turns 17. It’s been a long jour­ney through sev­eral dis­tinct phases. The early his­tory is a lit­tle fuzzy in my mind. This lit­tle nar­ra­tive is my best-effort attempt at recall­ing the details, to bet­ter doc­u­ment them for the future.

defcon-2-logo-8My first glimpse into web­pages was at DefCon 2, the hacker con­ven­tion in Las Vegas in 1994. That was after com­mu­nity col­lege, just as I was get­ting set­tled in to a four-year uni­ver­sity. I’d been using the inter­net (through school) for some time. It was all mail­ing lists, usenet groups, FTP, and gopher sites. I’d either not heard of web pages, or I had but they hadn’t reg­is­tered solidly on my radar. At DefCon, there was some talk about using the inter­net to order pizza. The archi­tec­ture was some­thing dumb and hacked together, like a web­page hooked to a fax­mo­dem. But I didn’t quite get it. The colon-slash-slash and all that. I hadn’t seen URIs before. They were a com­bi­na­tion of for­eign and famil­iar. I could see how they might be use­ful short­hand for, but this “http” thing was new. I learned quickly. It wasn’t too log after that that I ran my own lit­tle web page from the tilde-home direc­tory of the school’s com­puter. It was about as cheesy and bad as you’d expect.

netNinjaFast-forward three years. Between hacker talk and lit­tle plas­tic ninja toys dis­pensed from vend­ing machines, “net ninja” had become a reg­u­lar part of my vocab­u­lary. In the inter­ven­ing time, I had also learned a lot about writ­ing and host­ing web pages, includ­ing the fact that a nor­mal Joe — not directly asso­ci­ated with an edu­ca­tional facil­ity or cor­po­ra­tion — could pur­chase and use a domain name. This would have been the sum­mer lead­ing up to DefCon 4. June 1997, specif­i­cally. I grabbed the domain name and put up a web­site. I don’t have any imme­di­ately avail­able archives of that site. You can rest assured that it had a black back­ground and hor­i­zon­tal rules ani­mated with drip­ping blood and torches.

Since the begin­ning, I had a robots.txt file block­ing it from being indexed by search engines (and’s way­back machine, for that mat­ter). My line of think­ing was that you had to know about the site through some­one or some other site. You couldn’t just dis­cover it on Yahoo or AltaVista. Unfortunately, that also blocked it out from being archived. I think I may still have a cvs repos­i­tory some­where around here with the early his­tory, but it’s likely on a CD that is slowly dete­ri­o­rat­ing. Although I care enough about Netninja’s anniver­sary to write this post, I don’t care enough to find and dig through an old source con­trol sys­tem. The ear­li­est cap­ture on was from 1998, a year and a half after start. This was the sec­ond or third major revi­sion of the site.


spin_ninja21998: black was the new black and webrings ruled the inter­net. The site was basi­cally a col­lec­tion of sta­tic pages. I think there might have been a lit­tle bit of PHP glue to main­tain a nav­i­ga­tion, but it was mostly hard-coded web con­tent. The major­ity (or pos­si­bly entirety?) of the site was devoted to hack­ing and friends. You’ll note that “Brian Enigma” and “The Ninja” are two sep­a­rate entries. It’s been clear in my mind from the start that they are two sep­a­rate enti­ties.  I am not “a” or “the” Netninja. Netninja is either a gum­ball machine toy or a mys­te­ri­ous entity, depend­ing on con­text. And yet, the major­ity of email I received usu­ally equated the two.


smallbutton2_blinkBy 2000, I’d upgraded from Notepad.exe to vi. And hand-tested every­thing in Netscape and Lynx. Screw Internet Explorer. <hipster>You’ll note that I was steam­punk before steam­punk was cool.</hipster> I even 3D mod­eled and ani­mated the glow­ing but­tons myself. And yet, I hadn’t yet learned that webrings were lame.


By 2002, I’d writ­ten an honest-to-goodness blog­ging engine. We have the same bad steam­punk stylings, but all the pages switched from html to php, with a com­mon nav­i­ga­tion.

netninja-20040402 netninja-20050403

We go through a cou­ple iter­a­tions of the same, 2004 and 2005, improv­ing nav­i­ga­tion and adding a side­bar.


The biggest change (in infra­struc­ture and con­tent) was about 2007. I moved from my cus­tom site code to run­ning an instance of WordPress. This meant I could import a bunch of LiveJournal con­tent (of ques­tion­able qual­ity) going back to 2001. Typical LJ con­tent was what I did that day, navel-gazing intro­spec­tion, and angsty posts about music, movies, and tele­vi­sion. Existing hacker-related con­tent from the “old” site had to be man­u­ally migrated. The impor­tant stuff did, but I left a lot out. The new site for­mat also meant it was much eas­ier to post new con­tent. Adding a page to my cus­tom site frame­work usu­ally involved writ­ing HTML files that the tem­plate would pick up, pos­si­bly mak­ing changes to the tem­plate itself, and sync­ing the whole thing from my desk­top to the web­site. With WordPress, of course, you just open the edi­tor page and start typ­ing. Easy.


corporate_americaBy 2009, my pri­mary blog­ging engine was WordPress run­ning on Netninja. Everything got auto­mat­i­cally cross-posted to LiveJournal and a lot of the com­ment dis­cus­sion lived there, but the con­tent was mine. It lived here. I also did some tem­plate cus­tomiza­tion (though the css is a bit glitchy in the cap­ture) to make my site feel a bit more like LiveJournal, with cus­tom per-post user icons (such as the bar­code flag here).


We next go through a few more wood-grain iter­a­tions while the con­tent sub­tly shifts from per­sonal diary to things other peo­ple might actu­ally care about. That lat­ter ver­sions add a bit of parch­ment paper.


By 2011, is much more focused on tech and Portland and less about my daily life. We’re also in the graphic design phase I lov­ingly call “I can’t read this thin serif text on that Apple-inspired linen back­ground.”


We then, of course, have today’s Netninja. And that ret­ro­spec­tive con­cludes our digres­sion back to navel-gazing.

Posted in: Dear Diary

2014-05-26 16.48.57-2

On accurately measuring 2oz

I picked up some lab­o­ra­tory glass­ware, specif­i­cally for kitchen use, the other week. It’s all borosil­i­cate, so it’s effec­tively the same as Pyrex. Some of it will get used for drink­ing glasses but one item I picked up was a grad­u­ated cylin­der. My plan is to use it for mixed drinks. With a cock­tail jig­ger, it is easy to mea­sure out 1 or 2 ounces. But with a strong ingre­di­ent like cel­ery juice, 1oz may already be too much. Accurately exper­i­ment­ing with small vari­ances in vol­ume felt like the right way to go.

I did some math and found that 2oz ≈ 59mL. A 100mL cylin­der should work well. I ordered, it showed up, and I started to doubt my math. Or my abil­ity to order the cor­rect cylin­der. That doesn’t look quite right. I double-checked the mark­ings. Yep, it’s the right size cylin­der.

2014-05-26 16.48.57-2

In this pic­ture, the cylin­der is filled with col­ored liq­uid for bet­ter con­trast and there is a rub­ber band at the 59mL mark. Next to the cylin­der is my mea­sur­ing jig­ger: 2oz up top, 1oz down below. Even tak­ing into account that the jig­ger is a misleading-to-estimate cone whose open end is a lit­tle wider than the cylin­der, it feels like 59mL is way too much. Like maybe 30 would be more accu­rate.

I double-checked my math, asked Google and Wolfram Alpha, and it all worked out. 2oz = 59.15mL.

Of course, I then went the other direc­tion: I filled the jig­ger and dumped it into the cylin­der. That’s when things became a bit more clear.

2014-05-26 16.37.19-2

2oz as 60 mil­li­liters feels more accu­rate, but now I’m left to dis­cover that the unmarked jig­ger that I pre­vi­ously assumed was 2oz was really 50mL or 1.7oz.

I’ve been mak­ing weak drinks this whole time! (Well, admit­tedly, I often pur­posely make weaker-than-bar drinks because I often find myself look­ing for liq­uid refresh­ment more than I’m look­ing to get toasted.)

And, oddly enough, the 1oz jig­ger clocks in at roughly 31.5mL, or 1.1oz.

2014-05-26 17.13.42-2

Posted in: Dear Diary Food Projects

2014-05-26 16.03.11-2

Designing a fair 3-sided coin

A cou­ple of week­ends ago I played Betrayal at House on the Hill with a few friends. One of the stranger fea­tures of the game are the dice. They’re 6-sided die that act as 3-sided. They have pips for 0, 1, and 2 — two faces with each value.

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During the game, Jonathan brought up the fact that Von Neumann worked out a fair 3-sided “coin” of a dif­fer­ent geom­e­try that could work the same for this game. Instead of the coin being a cylin­der so short you don’t think of it as a cylin­der any­more, it’s extruded to have a sig­nif­i­cant height. There’s a num­ber on each end (the heads and tails of a tra­di­tional coin) plus a third option on the now-not-insignificant edge.


In my research, I have also run across a design that looks a lit­tle more like a Toblerone: a tri­an­gu­lar prism that’s either so long you couldn’t land it on either end (which seems too long for a sat­is­fy­ing roll) or one that is a lot shorter, but whose ends taper to a point. I am going to skip this vari­ant dur­ing this dis­cus­sion. It’s triv­ial to see how to make this one fair: start with an equi­lat­eral tri­an­gle and extrude it to a prism.


I have inten­tion­ally only skimmed the papers that talk in detail about the design of this 3-sided coin and how to arrive at the cor­rect ratio of diam­e­ter to height. I thought I might work it out for myself before run­ning off to view the spoil­ers.

The tall extreme (height)

If feels like the tallest you could pos­si­bly go would be to match the diam­e­ter of the cir­cle to its height. You effec­tively take a 6-sided die and lathe it down to a cylin­der.

h = 2r

But this intu­itively feels wrong. On the uni­form cube of a 6-sided die, you have one face at each end, but around the out­side (the edge of the cylin­der in this case) are four faces. It feels like you’d have a much higher prob­a­bil­ity of hit­ting the edge. Looking at a 3D model, it even looks dif­fi­cult  to hit either end:


The short extreme (sur­face area)

On a stan­dard 6-sided die each face has the same sur­face area, so maybe that’s the best way to go? If we try to match the sur­face area of one end to the sur­face area of the edge, we get to use a bit more math:

\text{end surface area} = \text{edge surface area} \\ \pi r^2 = 2\pi r h \\ \frac{\pi r^2}{r} = \frac{2 \pi r h}{r} \\ \pi r = 2 \pi h \\ \frac{\pi r}{\pi} = \frac{2 \pi h}{\pi} \\ r = 2 h \\ h = \frac{r}{2}

That makes the height half the radius. That’s a quar­ter of the diam­e­ter. Intuitively, that feels pretty darn short. In fact, it feels like the short­est pos­si­ble extreme. In a 3D ren­der, the edges look impos­si­ble to hit, like more of a 2-sided coin than a 3-sided one:


Conclusion (so far)

There is some middle-ground between the two extremes that I’m miss­ing. So far, I have been unable to come up with a good hypoth­e­sis that fits between the extremes. If I don’t come up with a good hypoth­e­sis in a week or so, I’ll “cheat” and dig into the papers for the cor­rect solu­tion (and hope it doesn’t involve any of the cal­cu­lus I’ve for­got­ten since col­lege).

Posted in: Games Projects

2014-05-11 11.42.03

And introducing: Cornelius

I real­ized that I’ve men­tioned this on Instagram and to a few friends, but have not yet made any ref­er­ence on this blog: I have a new kit­ten! His name is Cornelis!

He was born on February 21st at Enchanted Sphynx. I vis­ited him and his brother about a month ago.


And he came home two week­ends ago. It was an inter­est­ing road trip:

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We’re still get­ting fully set­tled in. He absolutely adores Norman, the indoor/outdoor tuxedo that showed up semi-feral on our doorstep. He shad­ows Norman around and tries to play with his tail. For the most part, Norman is indif­fer­ent (except for the tail-playing, which he dis­likes). The Precious is a dif­fer­ent story. She hates change and doesn’t like him. She’s warmed up to him slightly over the past cou­ple of weeks, but is still pretty frigid. It took her a few months to get used to Ebenezer, but they even­tu­ally became best bud­dies.


Posted in: Dear Diary