January 22 2003 RussCon Report

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Evening's Soundtrack
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20 of us played 21 games.
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Comicollage: daily ongoing comic jam with 7 artists and no planning ahead! There's a russ strip every Tuesday.
I make exquisite corpses at deepmachines.


the easterlings & gandalf the white leia wins the vote

Mail call: The other Brad in New Zealand mailed me this newspaper article about a campaign to educate voters about Australian style elections, aka Single Transferrable Vote (adopted by Wellington City voters but ruled out for Auckland City residents by Auckland City Council). STV has attracted criticism for being more expensive and too complicated, so this demonstration walked through the voting and calculation process clearly. Our Most Assiduous Reader knows that the RussCon Management believes STVs are a better election system than US-style "simply vote for one candidate, period" elections. Stack up STV with LOTR and Dylan Horrocks, and there are just so many reasons I'd like to live in New Zealand.

Lynne Serpe, organizer for the Electoral Reform Coalition, said, "the fact that people on the street, when given a little ballot and a one line description could grasp the concept of ranking candidates in order of preference and vote for as few as or as many as they like, I think demonstrates how simple STV really is."

Princess Leia won the election; after the first round, Hans [sic] Solo had the fewest votes and was eliminated, then Luke Skywalker was eliminated, and then Princess Leia had a majority over Darth Vader. "Thank you very much. Prettiness wins out," said Princess Leia -- Saphron Hastie in real life.

We didn't notice it, but the 5th Anniversary of RussCon was last week (I think it's January 14.) Yay us.

Next week is Zack's last RussCon (how pleasing that he will be the Meta Devil and the Devil!) He's moving to Santa Fe to pursue glass-blowing! There's been quite a RussCon diaspora over the years, with RussCon people dispersing to exotic locales all over the world... New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, England, Paris, New York, Athens (Texas and Georgia), and many more...

We also may not see Daniel for a while, thanks to our government calling up reservists for the War for Oil on Iraq. Good luck Daniel, and we hope to see you back at RussCon soon!

Note the final Clandestine appearance in Austin is this weekend. While attending Friday's late show, Clayton and I saw BobR emerge from the early show. Some of us will be back tonight (Saturday) at the late show and doing dinner first at Veggie Heaven around 8:15 or so.

Game Results

Blokus4RussW 3 BobR 1 BradS -1 Dan -3
Blokus4BradS 2 Dan 2 RussW -1 BobR -3
ClueTheCardGame5BradS 4 Fina -1 BobR -1 Dan -1 RussW -1
TooManyCooks5Ben 4 Marty 1 MarkH 1 Dan -2 Carly -4
Rome5Zack 4 Steve 2 JimG 0 Fred -2 William -4
Exxtra3MarkY 2 Clayton 0 Ben -2
Rome3Zack 2 JimG -1 Fred -1
WebOfPower3RussW 2 Steve 0 Dan -2
King'sGate4Matt 3 Marty -1 JP -1 MarkH -1
Settlers4William 3 Fina 0 BobR 0 BradS -3
Tichu2( Zack Dan ) 1 ( Fred JimG ) -1
Hive2JP 1 Matt -1
Blokus4BradS 2 BobR 2 Fina -1 William -3
PuertoRico3JP 2 MarkH 0 Matt -2
BattleCry2Ben 1 MarkY -1
CarcassonneHunters5Pauline 4 RussD 1 RussW 1 Steve -2 Clayton -4
Cathedral2RussW 0 Steve 0
Blokus4JP 3 Zack 1 Matt -2 Dan -2
Blokus4Dan 3 JP 1 Matt -1 Zack -3
Blokus4Zack 2 Steve 2 JP -1 RussW -3
Tichu2( Ben MarkY ) 1 ( MarkH William ) -1

Even more Blokus! Woohoo! It does have the problem/feature of diplomacy and potential for ganging up. E.g. it's not the first time I've won a game, then gotten smacked down by all 3 opponents in the next game. But it's still cool.

I feel more confident in my belief that Clue The Card Game is faster than the boardgame, but too chaotic/lucky. But it has the virtue of being pretty short.

Fun to play Web Of Power again. I unwittingly won... it had been so long since I played that I forgot about the trans-Mediterranean link lines and so hadn't realized that I'd be getting 10 more advisor points than I thought I was, thanks to my advisors way over in Italien... It's like finding 10 dollars in your wallet you didn't know you had!

An interesting rules question arose in Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers: if a river completes with the same lake capping it at both ends, do the fish in the lake count double or not? As best we could interpret the rules ("1 point for each river segment and 1 point for each fish in the lakes (if any) at the ends of the river"), the answer is "no, they do not." And so RussD tied for 2nd with me instead of knocking me to 3rd! I feel like such a dirty rules lawyer now.

Meta Game

BradS was the Meta Devil. Here is the Meta Game he mailed out... it began with a news post:

The annual MIT Mystery Hunt is a game where small teams of MIT students solve games of all types to race to discover the location on campus of a small coin. The clues and games are fantastic and fascinating, so we might all want to look. The primary Mystery Hunt web site is at http://web.mit.edu/puzzle/www/index.html, while the clues for this year's challenge is at http://www.acme-corp.com/0101/. The puzzles are beautifully wrought and ingenious.

The challenge started in 1980 and has been the lead story in Games Magazine. The reward for winning is only pride and the responsibility of running the next year's hunt. (Well, when it started, the prize was a keg of beer or $50 to charity, but most years it was translated into a binge for everyone at the great Toscanini's Ice Cream.) In each year, roughly 300 people spend 50 hours (with 10 of sleep) before the winning team finds the penny. (Originally, it was an Indian Head penny, but now it has gone to a specially minted commemorative coin.) I am amazed that this contest has likely 'wasted' ~10,000 man-days of MIT students over the years.

We might see a Russcon Mystery Hunt on Wednesday!

Brad later posted some tales from the first few years that he ran the Mystery Hunt, of which this was my favorite:

One of my clues was simply "The longitude of Hun Kal". Well, we'd all stare at this for a minute then reach for the biggest atlas we can find. In it, you would find a town called "Kal" in HUNgary, which happened to have a longitude 20 degree east. So this would be the answer that some groups got. Alternatively, one group got the answer by one of the group noticing while flipping through a MAYAN dictionary (EGAD!!!) that "hun kal" is the Mayan word for 'twenty' and jumped to the conclusion that the answer was '20'. [Zowie, what a coincidence!] But it turned out that the real answer was from a totally different means, based on my knowledge as an astronomer. The tactic that I hoped people would use was to reason, 'ok, so there is no Hun Kal on Earth, so let me look on the planets--ah, and here on a map of Mercury is a prominent crater named "Hun Kal" and its longitude is 20 degrees'. Gad, sometimes you just can't lead people astray.

As for the RussCon Meta Game, this email soon followed:

I will be handing out individual clues to individuals. Each clue will give part of a sentence that describes where the coin is already hidden. In some cases, the one extra word in the clued sentence will give perhaps significant constraints on the coin's location. The 14 clues together will give four sentences that pinpoint the coin's location.

I expect that many people will spend 0-4 minutes solving their own clue, then look to a friend or neighbor to share clues. By sharing with fewer people, your own chances of making the discovery are improved since fewer people are in on it. But sharing with more people will increase your clue base. So it will be a fine juggling act to minimally share clues until some point where you think you have enough to start doing a search in the public areas of Russ' house and beat out other people. (The coin is hidden in one of Russ' living room, dining room, or kitchen.) I expect that the winner will be the person who puts together 3-6 clues and makes a keen guess and starts searching in the right area. I also expect that this will all happen fast. So I'l distribute clues at 9PM sharp, regardless of whether games are going on, and it might be best to just anticipate a short break in regular games at 9:00 to ~9:05. The winner will get to keep the coin, which is a neat one I picked up in my travels.

So at 9:00 Brad passed each person a paper with a clue (generally of the form of a sentence with blanks, e.g. "The coin is _ _ _", with various puzzles supplying the word in one of the blanks). After about 5 minutes of communal head scratching and clue-sharing in subgroups, Zack found the coin taped under the dining table. How did he do it? Zack explained he partially solved a puzzle which said the coin was under the TAB__ and figured the remaining letters were LE, so it was under the table. Brad was amused and disgusted that this wasn't the right interpretation at all: The word was LAMP not TABLE (referring to the chandelier over the table). Ha, it's the longitude of Hun Kal all over again!

So Zack is next week's Meta Devil! Also congratulations and condolences to JimG who figured it out shortly after Zack and went to find it after Zack had snagged it but hadn't yet revealed his discovery. And the coin itself? I believe it was a low-denomination Italian lira coin, if I heard right.

Reminder of the new incentive to compete in the Meta Game: The Meta Devil gets full table rights, just like a regular Devil from now on, so they could stake out the dining table or the kitchen table. Of course Vice-Devils continue to get secondary dibs on the tables if no higher-ranking Devil or Meta Devil takes a table.

Evening's Soundtrack

Clandestine, The Ale is Dear
Clandestine, The Haunting
Clandestine, To Anybody At All
Jen Hamel, Fine Small Storm
Clandestine, Music from Home

Saturday January 25 is their last Austin performance. I am sad.


New Multiplicative Rank Ratings:   
 3.1135 22.5000 Zack (6)
 2.8904 18.0000 JP (6)
 1.8971 6.6667 Ben (4)
 1.6094 5.0000 Pauline (1)
 1.2040 3.3333 BradS (5)
 1.0986 3.0000 MarkY (3)
 0.7577 2.1333 RussW (7)
 0.6931 2.0000 Steve (5)
 0.2877 1.3333 RussD (1)
 0.0000 1.0000 Marty (2)
-0.5108 0.6000 BobR (5)
-0.6286 0.5333 Fina (3)
-0.6931 0.5000 MarkH (4)
-1.0986 0.3333 JimG (3)
-1.3218 0.2667 Dan (8)
-1.5041 0.2222 Matt (5)
-1.6094 0.2000 Carly (1)
-1.6094 0.2000 Clayton (2)
-1.7918 0.1667 Fred (3)
-2.3026 0.1000 William (4)
New Multiplicative Win Ratings:
 3.5190 33.7500 Zack won 4 of 6
 2.5903 13.3333 Ben won 3 of 4
 2.4204 11.2500 BradS won 3 of 5
 1.9095 6.7500 JP won 3 of 6
 1.6094 5.0000 Pauline won 1 of 1
 1.3455 3.8400 Dan won 3 of 8
 1.0986 3.0000 MarkY won 2 of 3
 0.6523 1.9200 RussW won 3 of 7
-0.1586 0.8533 Steve won 2 of 5
-0.2231 0.8000 RussD won 0 of 1
-0.2231 0.8000 Carly won 0 of 1
-0.2231 0.8000 William won 1 of 4
-0.2877 0.7500 Matt won 1 of 5
-0.5108 0.6000 Marty won 0 of 2
-0.6286 0.5333 Clayton won 0 of 2
-0.7985 0.4500 BobR won 1 of 5
-1.2040 0.3000 Fina won 0 of 3
-1.3218 0.2667 JimG won 0 of 3
-1.3218 0.2667 Fred won 0 of 3
-1.6094 0.2000 MarkH won 0 of 4

Zack is the Devil! How pleasing, since next week will sadly be Zack's last RussCon. Ben and JP are Co-Vice-Devils. BradS and Pauline are Co-Vice-Vice-Devils.

Noticing that my program says I won 3 of 7 games and Steve won 2 of 5 games got me pondering on what a "win" is. One of the three was the Cathedral game in which Steve & I tied. I've defined a "win" as "no one did better than you". Joint victories and ties have always seemed like legitimate wins to me (e.g. Steve's other win was tying Blokus with Zack). But it occurs to me that "win" often also has a connotation of "...and you did better than at least one other player", so one could question whether a situation where ALL players tie is a win or not. Shrug. The definition of "win" doesn't have any direct effect on the ratings calculations anyway.

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