A puzzle snob reviews The Witness

(Content note: this is a spoiler-free review, though I can’t speak for commenters.)

The Witness is a puzzle game created by Jonathan Blow, famed creator of Braid. The central mechanic of this game is a path-drawing puzzle, which looks like this:

Several grid-shaped puzzles in a row

When I first saw this mechanic, my reaction was, “So adventure game designers finally discovered Nikoli-style puzzles, eh?” Nikoli is a Japanese publication that popularized a certain genre of puzzles using numbers or symbols on a grid. The best known puzzle of this genre is Sudoku, but there are many others, like Fillomino, Heyawake, Numberlink, Masyu, Slitherlink, and Nurikabe (almost all of which I think are better than Sudoku).

Outside of Nikoli, you can find many more created by Grandmaster Puzzles, and you can try the annual US Puzzle Championship. I should mention that I am fairly competitive in the USPC.

The advantage to Nikoli-style puzzles is that they’re scalable. Contrast with the Myst series, where most puzzles revolve around poorly-designed user interfaces for fantastic mechanisms. Could you really pack hundreds of such puzzles in a game? It would be too hard to write all those puzzles, much less make the graphics to support them. And since there are so few of those puzzles in the game, you have to make sure each one counts for every player, without being so challenging that players start looking for solutions online.

On the other hand, as far as Nikoli-style puzzles go, dedicated puzzle-crafters will have video game designers beat. Sorry, Professor Layton! What I want to see in a video game are puzzles that could only be done in a video game. Luckily, The Witness passes this test, being a lot less like a Nikoli puzzle than it first appears, and not just because solutions are non-unique.
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Celibacy, and its use by asexuals

This post is being cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda, and is written for a general audience.

“Asexuality is not the same as celibacy” is a common line in introductory explanations of asexuality, but as I discussed in an earlier post, mocking celibacy can still be asexual-unfriendly. Here I will go further in depth.

The distinction between asexuality and celibacy plays the same role that “born this way” plays for LGBT people. The purpose of each talking point is to establish that LGBT/asexual people did not choose their orientations. The slogans can be useful, particularly in hostile environments. However, if people become more accepting, if people realize it does not matter if it is chosen, perhaps we can move beyond slogans.

Aside from the politics, there is also a question to what extent it is really true that LGBT people are always “born this way”. If you look, you will find people who subjectively experienced a choice, people who emphasize that their identity or behavior are chosen, and people who would like an honest look at the empirical evidence.

Similar questions may be raised about asexuality and the extent to which choice plays a role in it. While asexuality and celibacy certainly have distinct meanings, we want to know exactly how far that distinction goes. For example, some people take that to mean that asexuals and celibates are non-overlapping groups. But is that really true?
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Specialness personified

One difference I’ve noted between me and my robot boyfriend is that he wants to celebrate holidays on the designated day. I, on the other hand, don’t particularly care if our celebrations are off by a week or more. In fact, I just don’t get holidays in general. I never would have thought to invent them myself.

Holidays are all about declaring a particular day special. And then we go on to do something special, or maybe we just talk about something special. Sometimes it’s nice to have some variety in the things we do and what we talk about, but it’s only nice. It’s not special to me at all.

Another thing I don’t get are graduations. While variety is nice, dressing in a gown and receiving a piece of paper is not really the sort of variety I ever would have thought to ask for. I find it bizarre, and thoroughly unpleasant. And yet I’m still expected to participate and express enthusiasm about it. People seem to operate under the belief that everyone finds graduation special, and if I admit I don’t find it special, then I’m being ungrateful.

This is also a metaphor for religion.
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Before you mock celibacy, listen

Asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy. This is something we can agree upon. However, when people mock celibacy, it can be done in a way that is particularly unfriendly to asexuals. This is a particularly common occurrence in atheist spaces, where people often make fun of clerical celibacy.

Nearly ever time I’ve ever raised the issue, the defense is that asexuality is not the same as celibacy. While true, I want to show why it is uncompelling as a defense.

The bottom line: It is okay to not have sex. First corollary: it is okay for asexuals to not have sex. Second corollary: it is okay for literally anyone else to not have sex.

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The Extremely Simple Model of Orientation

I’m trying a monthly feature where I repost things from my archives.  This one is from 2015, and is very silly.  It’s also a great example of talking about asexuality without talking about it.  A preoccupation with modeling orientation is flamingly ace.

When it comes to models, simplicity is a value. The point of a model is not to tell you everything, but to isolate the information that you actually want to know. When people try to model human sexuality, they often undervalue simplicity, leading to such misguided attempts as the following:

Transcript: an equation for W, the amplitude of a quantum transition, including parts from quantum mechanics, spacetime, gravity, other forces, matter, and Higgs.
The Universal Equation Model of Orientation (TUEMO). Image borrowed from Sean Carroll.

Proponents of this model argue that they are making simplifications, and far too many. For instance, they already graciously ignore quantum gravity, under the assumption that black holes aren’t involved in most human relationships. But I say it still doesn’t go far enough. I propose a bolder simplification…

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You wouldn’t use “uneducated” as an insult

Several bloggers on FTB and The Orbit brought to my attention the ableism challenge, which is a call to sympathetic bloggers to try, for one month, to stop using ableist insults. The list of insults includes “stupid”, “crazy”, and “blind”.

I’m going to say a few mixed things about this. First, I’ll say why I’m critical of calls to taboo words. Then I’ll say why I’m more sympathetic to this ableism challenge. Then I’ll explain why I personally don’t use ableist insults.

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Linkspam: April 10th, 2016

I don’t typically post linkspams, but maybe I should do it more often, particularly if I want to connect more with FreethoughtBlogs and The Orbit.  Here are a few links, with my brief commentary:

“Self-entitled ungrateful fuckoff”

Niki of Seriously?!? explains how pathetic welfare is in the US, and how people feel the need to micromanage the things people on welfare buy.  Speaking for myself, the one thing that made me strongly pro-redistribution was reading about the current programs, SNAP and TANF.  To qualify for SNAP (food stamps), you need to find work within three months, which sounds like a recipe to trap people in terrible jobs.

The danger of legislating on what ifs

Thoughts of Crys is on of my favorite new blogs on FTB.  This post counters what-if arguments made by pro-lifers.  The problem with these kinds of arguments is that they prove too much.  For example, you should never refuse sex with a partner, because what if that sex would have led to a child, it’s like you’re murdering that child!  This is a general issue in consequentialist ethics: how far in the future are the consequences still relevant?

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