The Snow In The Summer or So-So

Knowledge is liberation


C_J_Benton: The British public have demanded a triangle with four sides, and now it's the government's duty to deliver. #

5 October 2016
Puzzled Pint for September 2016

The theme for September was rats.

Mark scheme: we give a base mark of 6, deduct 0-2 points for unclear answers, deduct 0-2 for cultural specificity, and add or remove marks for style (usually -2 to +2). Average these together - meta counts double - and award an Oxford degree. We mark harshly.

Star Rats - seven famous rats. Rufus! (the Naked Mole Rat from Kim Possible.) Find them in the wordsearch - straightforward, too straightforward. Ah, good one. Plus one-and-a-bit for style, minus a bit for slight cultural biases (the Brits who watched Kim Possible and do Puzzled Pint may be this blog and this blog only.) 7.

Lab Rats - geography puzzle? No, branching puzzle. Nifty swerve, though the number of possible solutions and their arrangement renders the puzzle open to a brute-force attack. Plus one for style. 7.

Rat genetics - a fairly simple letter-pair puzzle, with a lovely twist. Plus two for style, minus a snidge for the Yankee spelling (but it's acknowledged). 8.

Missing rats - sixteen parts of a grid, we expect to find something missing in the middle. But - ack, another word puzzle, and look-a-bit-like combinations to form letters. We're slightly generous elsewhere, so will dock a mark for style. 5.

Rat king - straightforward indexing makes no sense, but there's a movement to use. That gives an instruction, to determine another message hidden. Refreshingly simple. 7.

Sewer rats - yet another Braille decode, this time with blocks on the pipework. Reminds us a bit took much of a bad puzzle from DASH6. Well executed, we'll give it 6.

Overall, that's a solid Second Class set of puzzles, and we found them all enjoyable. No particular weak spots, and a few highlights.

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22 September 2016
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Cursed Child. What's it like for people who don't know much about the Harry Potter canon? We'll answer that question. We'll also give some sizable spoilers, so if you don't want to know anything about the production, look away now.

Cursed Child is a "short" story by Jack Thorne. Like any number of fan fictions, it draws on the characters created by JK Rowling. Unlike any other fan fiction, it has been written with input from Rowling.

The story claims to be short. This is not true. It is, in fact, very long. You might think it's a long way to the end of the universe, but that's naught compared to the length of Cursed Child. Across its various parts, the play runs for over five hours.

More: We consider the production from all angles: effects, plot, stagecraft, acting, all the business of show. (2000 words)

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2 September 2016
Puzzled Pint for August 2016

A Star Trek theme.

To recall, we give a base mark of 6, deduct 0-2 points for unclear answers, deduct 0-2 for cultural specificity, and add or remove marks for style (usually -2 to +2). Average these together - meta counts double - and award an Oxford degree. We mark harshly.

Location Clues are clearly in two parts: a straightforward clue and a Star Trek character. The character answers mix first and last names, characters and real world, which doesn't help. The answer doesn't feel like an answer unless you speak fairly fluent Trekish. -1 for a combination of that cultural note, and for mixing names. 5.

Trouble with Tribbles Anagrams plus animals, straightforward letter decoding before the point, then a nifty final twist. Plus 1 for style and novelty. 7.

Make It So Ooh, block capitals in a hideous font. Again, a decent puzzle - find the key code, replace it, work with what you've replaced a couple of times. We're leaning towards plus 1 for puzzle style, but take it away for presentation. 6.

Wormhole Alien Vision Nasty. A letter sudoku is fine, if all nine letters are different. But "dEEPsPacE" only uses six symbols, so this is a beast to fill out. Then there's a tedious Braille section before the final segment. We gave up on this after 40 frustrating minutes, and we don't think we're alone. -3 for lack of style - the reveal isn't worth it. 3.

Number Theory Two-digit numbers on a 7x5 grid. Not Braille, probably not semaphore. The actual encoding isn't something we'd expect, but it is on the code sheet, and yields a sensible answer. Plus 1 for style, -1 for an answer that only make sense to speakers of Trekish. 6.

Final Frontier Fairly clear that there's a path to trace, and that marks out four letters on the chart. It took a bit of blank staring to work out the expansion, apparently it's a cliché in Trekish. Spelling out on a grid is less common than it was 18 months ago, so no style deduction, but -1 for direct cultural references. 5.

Which leaves this as a Third-Class set. Even without the deductions for Trekish, this would still be Third-Class, and killed by the sudoku.

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19 August 2016
Popular in late 2001

As it's been a long time, a reminder of the rules. This is Not Quite as Popular, a wander through the CIN top 5 singles at the same rate as Tom E Wing's Popular project. We bundle up discussions into six month blocks, and wander off point.

We didn't get a TEN POINTS! record of brilliance in the first half of 2001. That changed at the start of July, with Roger Sanchez's sublime Another chance. To say it's "based on a Toto sample" is true, and completely misses the point. Here, Sanchez takes a familiar riff, adds a typical beat, and a downcast lyric: broadly, "if I had another chance, I'd do better". The song is made by its video, a bizarre tale of a woman carrying her heart around.

(In this half-year: we remember the So Solid Crew, pass judgement on Bob the Builder versus DJ Ötzi, and describe someone as "wants to be Donna Summer, but is more Done Autumn". But who?) With number ones for Atomic Kitten, So Solid Crew, Five, Blue, Bob the Builder, DJ Ötzi, Kylie Minogue, Afroman, Westlife, S Club 7, Daniel Bedingfield.

The Christmas number one went to Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman, with a cover of Something stupid. Robbie has a love of big-band music, enough to make a whole album of it. And he was a big enough star that his fans would buy any old tat that he pushed out, even a very moderate album of big band numbers. This version wasn't as good as Frank and Nancy Sinatra, and we couldn't believe that Nicole would sing a love duet with a parochial star like Robbie. Three weeks at number one, including the Christmas week, but deservedly forgotten within months.

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18 August 2016
Sixes and sevens
  1. The seven sacraments of Harry Potter. We interpret these as the outward signs of the Hogwarts-canon-universe; original authors Mockingbird draw more direct parallels to their Christian theology.

    From the same site, The Blessing of the Cursed Child. It includes the critical comment, "the writing style in Cursed Child is jarringly different from Rowling's."

  2. The woman who fits all her rubbish into one glass jar... and has almost infinite time to make things like soap.

  3. Life with and without punctuation, Erica Brown prefers adverbs and eschews exclamation points.

  4. Is Romeo + Juliet the most erotic film of all time? (No, unless you think Leo di Caprio was a role model for Shane L Word.)

  5. David Globlatt on the Crass Spectacle of jingoism and commercialism and exploiting certain sportsfolk.

  6. Where is the Greenwich meridian? The answer is complex: it depends by what you mean by "straight down".

    This causes problems for experienced space navigators. You'll remember that Duck Dodgers started his mission by going "33,600 turbo miles due up". But was he using "due up" in its local definition, or from the earth's centre of gravity?

    That sort of uncertainty could cause a tremendous deviation from his proposed course. Why, he might miss Planet X on first attempt, and cede first dibs on the supplies of Illudium Phosdex to the Martians. And then where would we be?!

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12 August 2016
Puzzled Pint for July 2016

We took a pass on June's Puzzled Pint puzzles, for referendum reasons. For July, secret societies.

The mark scheme: base of 6, minus 0-2 for imprecise answers, minus 0-2 for gratuitous Americanisms, add or deduct marks for style (rarely more than 2 in either direction). This month, we've only awarded style marks. Any meta puzzle counts double in the weighted average, and we award a final grade according to Oxford degree classifications.

Location: a simple wordfit puzzle, with the message contained in the indicated cells. +1 for being accessible for beginners. 7.

Illuminati: heavy construction and this really needs a bit of thin card. Even without assembling the things, it's possible to reconstruct the triangles from inspection. Not convinced the alpha letters were legible, bonus points as we've not seen pigpen in years. 6.

Knights Templar: Oof! Rather than moving like normal pieces, the pieces move like knights. Once that's been gleaned, the puzzle is fairly trivial: work out the finish square, read off the grid. Plus two for a very unusual construction, but minus two for being trivial after the opening. 6.

Skull and Bones: Again, oof! "Further research won't help" tells us the answer is on the page. There's a fingernail as the last set only has three statements. One could almost guess the later twist to hide the answer. Decent idea, but very much feels like "we're thinking of this, can you think the same"? 5.

Freemasons: "Over" is the key: it's this-over-that to form words, and we didn't find any false leads. Solved it without spotting the "before" part: <inu><det> only has one sensible anagram. Feels like the most difficult part is cutting out the grid. Giving a slight benefit of the doubt, 5.

Meta: Utterly trivial. Nothing wrong with that, but not very impressive. 5.

Overall, we dub this a Third-class set of puzzles. An experimental set, introducing many new ideas, some of which worked well.

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10 August 2016
Dixie Chicks lit

A sixpack of things crossing our path lately.

  1. From the Dallas Observer, a long history of the Dixie Chicks and their relationship with Dallas.

  2. The dangers of Westphalia: Ronan McCrea argues against Ireland's liberal citizenship.

    Citizenship is fundamental to the collective self-government involved in democracy. The welfare state is also very dependent on the idea of citizenship.

    Social welfare systems involve taxpayers undertaking to economically support people they do not know. Such an undertaking is impossible without the sense of shared identity and solidarity that citizenship provides.

    McCrea's argument only works if you agree that a) the nation state is inevitable, and b) people owe their allegiance to one and only one nation state. Both of these are axioms: things that McCrea believes and builds from. It doesn't matter that one can build a viable society without either or both of these fundamental beliefs. It doesn't matter that Ireland implicitly rejects the latter axiom, expecting people to be Irish and British, or Irish and Canadian, or Irish and Belgian.

  3. How to have a good wedding, according to Christian Today. Wear comfortable shoes, take supplies, and get "lost" between church and wedding (ie dive into a layby for a nap).

    Eat canapes because the meal will be too late, talk to old people, and dance

    And, if you're of that particular religious persuasion, reflect on marriage, worship wholeheartedly, and bother people about your god. You may never see the bride's cousin Brian again, but you will remember the marvellous view of his fist just before it comes into contact with the bridge of your nose.

  4. Teletext lives! Pages come down from a server, pass through a Raspberry Pi, come out as composite video, and appear on television. And there's a teletext convention in Cambridge at the start of October.

  5. From 1972 to the present day, the evolution of host broadcaster graphics. The 92 graphics were a cut above anything in the past, the 94 set still look clean and elegant. 98's visuals were very similar to the News 24 look, and we also like the 04 package.

  6. An air conditioner made out of plastic bottles. Simple technology, and apparently very effective.

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3 August 2016
The New European, same as The Old European?

Archant Media's "pop-up" newspaper launched on 9 July. It's a 48-page paper, in the format pioneered by Le Monde: slightly wider and somewhat deeper than a tabloid. It's full colour throughout, and each page is set in four columns plus a thin gutter - a format almost identical to Het Manchester Grauniad. Each edition costs £2.

The paper splits into three unequal sections. "Agenda" covers the first 14 or so pages. It's a summary of news and events. Regulars include a news-in-brief column, short stories from around Europe. High-profile opinion pieces appear in this section - Richard Branson and Dave Brailsford have written on page 4-5.

"Expertise" goes on for about ten more pages, a series of opinion pieces written by invited guests. The centre spread is ten events in Europe, dotted around a weather forecast for Saturday. The paper concludes with "Eurofile", a loose collection of cultural activities, tourist sights, and poetry.

We're experienced enough to remember The European, Robert Maxwell's ambitious attempt at a pan-European paper from the 1990s. That broadsheet's front section was a fair mix of hard news and opinion, though as The European actually employed journalists, its news was reasonably comprehensive. We could just about read The European and feel that we had a fair grasp of the week's news.

The European also had a woolly back section, mostly going on about "high culture" (because that's where the money was). We'd love to see The New European give a book review, or profile a Great European Film. Instead it's fairly mundane tourist photos, and "lifestyle" pieces about mindfulness.

The biggest difference is in the middle: The European had comprehensive business coverage and a substantial sports section. Neither appear in The New European: the Tour de France and Euro 16 each merited a two page photo-essay, and that's all the sport. No hardcore business at all.

There's no substantial journalism in The New European yet, everything feels slightly re-heated, and the back half could be any in-flight magazine.

It feels that The New European is a bolt-on, an addition to an existing weekend paper or news magazine. Worse, the editions have become indistinguishable: every week, the same articles revising the same points.

We appreciate the severe constraints, the paper went from idea to newstand in nine days. We don't regret taking out a four-edition subscription. But we're not renewing, not just yet. The paper isn't good enough, we need something more substantial from it.

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