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Puzzle Keepers of Palau #3: Alice’s Birthday

IMG_0133 Recently, my girlfriend’s niece turned 5 years old and as such, was invited to become a member of the Puzzle Keepers of Palau.

The puzzle in this case takes the form of a book (“Alice’s Birthday”) with hidden messages, revealed by looking at the illustrations through a red lens. Solving the puzzle requires tearing/cutting through the last page of the book to reveal a lock, with combination being revealed in the secret messages. Once the lock is off, a panel can be removed to reveal a key, which in turn unlocks a briefcase full of treasure.

For a full album of the puzzle process, head here.

Puzzle Keepers of Palau #2: the metal Apple

3nb0uG5A year ago, I created a secret society for my nephew for his 5th birthday, called the “Puzzle Keepers of Palau”. The society is a long-standing group dedicated to seeking out puzzles and solving them. He recently had another birthday, and I created another puzzle for the occasion.
The idea is that he has to use a set of physical components to solve a substitution cipher, which he can then use to solve a web-based riddle.

Check out the physical components here
and the web-based riddle here

While there’s only one copy of the physical clues, anyone with some experience with cryptograms should be able to solve the web-based component without them.

I’ve also put the files for the cryptogram up on github

Plush DNA Nucleotides

dna_plush For a while now, I’ve thought that there are lots of great opportunities to expose kids to concepts that are generally considered “advanced” but might not be so if introduced at an early age. This project was an attempt to do just that with a few of the key concepts surrounding DNA.

The toy is a set of plush nucleotides that can snap together to form chains, and connect with velcro across the thymine-adenine and cytosine-guanine bonds. The objects are soft and of a size to be easily handled by a baby. The hope is that kids can use it at different ages, learning different things as they go, something like the following:

  • infant: manual dexterity, help with letter recognition (A,T,G, and C, at least)
  • childhood: that DNA is a thing that forms chains, is made of up four different kinds of blocks, and that there’s some logic to how those blocks connect
  • teenager/college: beloved toy from early childhood that just happens to be a handy reminder of the actual names and chemical structures of the nucleotides

The project was a ton of fun to build, and seems to be being enjoyed greatly by the kids that have received a set. For more info, check out this album of the build process.

LD27: Ten Seconds

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 1.16.48 AMThe theme for LD27 was “10 Seconds”. I wanted to avoid doing anything time-based, as that seemed a bit obvious. Instead, I took “seconds” to mean the people that sometimes accompany combatants to a duel. In my game, the player takes on the role of a person summoned to duel (pistols at dawn, of course). This particular duel allows each party to bring up to five seconds along, leading to… 10 seconds on the field.

The seconds themselves don’t directly participate in the duel, but they can catch bullets, making it harder for the combatants to hit each other.

Gameplay consists of rounds where both the player and AI opponent fire a single shot. To fire a shot, the player must swipe with the mouse (web) or finger (tablet), which sets both the angle and force with which the bullet is fired. Firing before the signal is given is poor form, and will not count. Any seconds that are hit are killed. This continues until either the player or the opponent is hit.

I wrote the game in HaXe, which means that it can go to multiple platforms easily. I find it a lot more satisfying to play on my ipad, as the swipe-to-shoot mechanic is much better on a touch screen, but I’ve also created a SWF version for ease of sharing. To play it for yourself, either click on the image, or head here.

Puzzle Keepers of Palau #1

My nephew recently turned 5, and as it’s his first “big” birthday, I wanted to do something special for him. So, I created a secret society dedicated to ferreting out hidden knowledge, and invited him to join.

My longtime friend and business partner, Blair Erickson was kind enough to help me with the creative, and suggested that the society be set in the Pacific Ocean. And so, the “Puzzle Keepers of Palau” was born.
Continue reading →

Cardboard Paint v1

I’ve continued the work from my last post, and gotten to the point where it’s presentable as a first pass. In addition to creating shapes with cardboard, the user can also apply paint and marker marks on top of the cardboard.

Paint and marker marks only show up on top of cardboard, and can be erased independently of each other.

To try it, click on the image to the left.

The start of something… cardboard

This is an experiment in using composite modes with canvas rendering to achieve a 3d effect, allowing users to “paint” shapes in cardboard. At present, it’s possible to draw shapes with the mouse, and to erase them, all the while maintaining the illusion of 3d cardboard, thanks to both an interior and exterior layer.
This is just a start though- I’m hoping to develop this into something much more interesting.
To see what I have so far, head here, or just click on the image.

Number by Colors

I’ve been thinking a lot about puzzles recently, thanks to re-discovering the excellent Perplexcity set of puzzles, as well as coming across the Clavis Cryptica blog.

As a result, I thought I’d try my hand at making a puzzle of my own, with the results here. The answer to the puzzle is a single word. Enter your answer into the form field below the image to test it.

A few hints to get you started, should you decide to try solving it:

  • Everything you need to solve the puzzle is inside the image
  • The colors are important
  • The answer is not a simple reordering of the letters

SETI: the game

A few months ago, I attended SETIcon, which was all-around wonderful. However, I thought that the panel on science and videogames left quite a bit to be desired. Several SETI-themed games were presented, but I felt that they were more about overlaying a SETI theme on unrelated mechanics.

Which got me thinking… what would a game that lifted its mechanics (as well as its theme) from SETI look like? I had an idea that I thought could work, and it sat around in my notebook until this past Sunday when I found myself at a laundromat with a laptop and some time to kill.

setigame v0_1

The game takes the form of a puzzle game, where the player has to tweak settings to extract a digital image from a noisy analog signal. The fiction of the game is that aliens are sending a sequence of 1s and 0s that will create an image when properly viewed. However, there are a couple of obstacles in the way:

  • traveling through space has rendered the signal noisy
  • the player doesn’t know the specifics of the alien transmission standard

So, the player has three things that they can alter:

  1. the threshold of what amplitude constitutes a 1 This translates the analog signal (the top-left waveform) into a digital one (the bottom-left)
  2. the width (in time) for each sample This alters the way in which the analog signal is translated into the digital.
  3. the width of the image This controls how many pixels there are per row of the final image (displayed to the right

The threshold value can be changed by clicking and dragging the gray box, and is represented by the green horizontal line. The other two values have to be entered in the fields at the bottom of the interface (for now- I plan on making them visually draggable as well).

I wrote a small Python script that can be used to translate a given low-resolution image into a sequence of noisy values (like this). The demo only has one image, but it’s one that’s bound to be familiar to SETI enthusiasts and science nerds in general.

To try it for yourself, head here.

algoclass: week 1

As I work my way through Stanford’s excellent online class on the design and analysis of algorithms, I’ve decided to up the ante a bit on the homework assignments- not only will I do the stated assignment, but I will also wrap it up in some manner of game or game-like interactive demo. This is the first such demo.

This week’s assignment was to implement merge sort and then to modify the merge sort implementation to count the number of inversions (or out-of-order numbers) in an array of integers. Inversions are useful, as they allow two lists to be compared, with the number of inversions functioning as a metric of how similar they are.

In this game, the goal is to guess the correct ordering of the eight colors. Each time the page starts, a random order is selected. To play, try to guess what it is by clicking on the color swatches to the left in an order of your choice. Once you’ve ordered the eight colors, you’ll see a small version of the order with a red/green bar at the bottom. The red/green bar corresponds to how far away you are (number of inversions / max possible number) from the correct order. The game (although a very hard, possibly unfun one) is to use the information about past guesses to inform your choices.