Puzzle solving skills

Back when I was looking for a job, I did a lot of interview prep with other people. Among other things, that means practicing brainteasers in front of white boards. But as it turns out, I am extremely good at this already and don’t need the practice. Recreational math was a hobby in my youth, I participated in math competitions in college, and I’m mildly competitive in the US Puzzle Championship. I don’t want to brag, but friends have told me I ought to brag more often, so I am bragging. I am ridiculously good at puzzles.

So if I’m “good” at puzzles, what skills does that mean I have?  It’s hard to say.  (Does this imply that I’m also good at the jobs I interview for? Eh.)

There are, of course, many very different kinds of puzzles, and perhaps each category of puzzles requires unique skills. To name a few categories: programming puzzles where you seek to write an algorithm; logic problems where you deduce a solution from structured clues (e.g. Sudoku); puzzles where you make multiple moves in sequence (e.g. Sokoban); math problems; jigsaw puzzles; and what I call “linchpin” puzzles, where the goal is to have a particular realization. Some puzzle solving “skills” are more properly understood as puzzle-solving knowledge–knowing the solution to a bunch of common puzzles gives you a set of tools to solve new puzzles. But I also think there are a few general puzzle-solving skills, which I’ll try to describe.

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Conference notes from QGCon 2020

QGCon is a queer games criticism conference that I attended in 2013 and 2014, because it was next door, and it made a pretty big impression at the time. Not entirely in a positive way, but it was just so out there, it was fascinating. I’ve also been to GaymerX before, and the contrast is stark, with GaymerX being geared towards the player (“gamer”) community, and QGCon being a weird intersection of academic queer theory, academic games studies, and very indie game devs. I come from a player perspective, but I appreciate the academic stuff.

But QGCon moved away, and I never attended again. I recently realized that it has been putting its talks online, so that I can attend even years later, without travel. So, I took notes on the QGCon Online 2020 sessions, and I’m sharing them.  There are even more sessions I didn’t talk about–often because I was critical of them or didn’t have anything to say.

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Too many topics, not enough time

Like many writers, I have a long list of ideas that I never got around to writing about. I’m not very consistent about writing them down, but still the list gets longer and longer, until I start deleting old ideas that no longer make any sense to me. Some of them I missed the moment to write them, or they required more research than I had energy to put into it. Some of them were just bad and non-starters.

Here is a short list of ideas that I made after deleting the ones that I’m obviously never going to write about. If any of these interests you, let me know, your comment might cause it to happen!

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Link roundup: September 2021

Fixing Led Zeppelin with Autotune | Adam Neely (video, 17 min) – It’s common to hate on autotune, but at least some of the people who hate it are just thinking of that robotic voice effect, which is not really what autotune is.  This video applies autotuning to some classic songs, so that you can hear what it really sounds like.  The effect is fairly subtle, but you would be justified in complaining that it flattens out some of the expressiveness of the voice.  At the same time, I’m sure some listeners won’t be able to hear the difference at all, and they would be justified in being completely apathetic about it.

There are 48 regular polyhedra | Jan Misali (video, 29 min) – I’m interested in geometric oddities like this, because they’re artistic inspirations.  That said, I feel like he plays pretty fast and loose with the definitions and assumptions here.  Once he starts talking about regular apeirogons (which have infinite number of edges), it’s unclear what exactly distinguishes a regular apeirogon from a non-regular apeirogon.  (Wikipedia’s definition, “a partition of the hyperbolic line H1 (instead of the Euclidean line) into segments of length 2λ” is not too helpful either.)

I’m also wondering what’s to stop you from constructing a “regular polyhedron” consisting of an infinite number of heptagons densely packed into a sphere.  Well, you can’t make origami of it, so there’s that.

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Origami: Four Cubes

Four cubes

Four Cubes, designed by David Mitchell

Four cubes is a fairly simple design, and the instructions are freely available through David Mitchell’s website.  My recollection about this one, is that I was at an origami convention, and someone showed me David Mitchell’s website, and the next minute I produced this thing.  I clearly thought this was really easy stuff, because I felt the need to make it super tiny.  I believe it is less than 2 cm across.

I checked the date on this photo, and clearly my memory is completely fabricated, as I did not go to an origami convention that year.