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Letters, I get letters

April 5th, 2012

Dear Krazydad,
My husband just started doing KenKen and really loves it. I have a question for you as most of your Inky puzzles seem to have this symbol in them: What does the symbol / mean?

Confused

Dear Confused,

The / symbol is used to mean division (as in 12/4 = 3). It means the same thing as รท, the division sign. I used the slash because the division symbol is easily confused with a plus sign at small font sizes.


Krazydad,

I must be dense, but I don’t understand the cheat sheet(candidate cage set)for the Killer Sudoku puzzles. Why are some
numbers in red? What do the exclamation points mean? Please advise!

Dora the Killer

Dear Dora,

The red ones with explanation points mean “all numbers except these ones”. I should fix those, as this is the second letter asking for clarity. :)


Krazydad,
I am having trouble getting to your puzzles to print. Every time i try I get a message that Internet Explorer has stopped working. Any comments or suggestions?
Printless

Dear Printless,

It sounds like the Adobe Reader plug-in, which IE uses to view and print PDF files, has stopped working.

I recommend that you reinstall Adobe reader. You can get a new copy on Adobe’s website (link).

If you can’t get Adobe Reader to stop crashing your browser, a workaround is to download the puzzles to your desktop, and view/print them there. To download a puzzle, right-click the link (likely the same link that is crashing your browser) and select Save-As from the menu that appears. Double-click on the PDF file that you’ve downloaded and print it when it opens.

Good luck, and let me know if you run into more trouble.


Hi Jim,

I wanted to contribute my praise and thanks for your site.

I work as the librarian in a maximum security federal prison in Canada, and there are many offenders here who have received printed out puzzles since I found your site. They are unable to pay for things like this, so finding Krazydad has been a Godsend.

There are several ways this helps here. First of all, decreasing idleness is an important contributing factor to prison security. I often provide them especially to men who are in segregation and may not have regular access to other humans, books, or television. If they are occupied, they can put in time without causing needless disruptions.
Secondly, for our older offenders, keeping the mind active (thereby contributing to overall health) can be very challenging in this setting, and puzzles help out a lot.

So thanks again, especially for providing your service free of charge to those who can’t pay, and keep up the good work!

Shh the Librarian

Dear Shh,

Wow, what a nice letter! I’ve gotten a few letters from spouses of inmates, but this is the first from someone working on the inside. I wish there was a way I could get more puzzles out to inmates in a more organized way. If you have any ideas, let me know.

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Lego Mindstorms used to make artificial bones

March 13th, 2012

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Wonderment Rank

March 1st, 2012

The other day, I idly wondered about the band-aids or surgical tape visible on Michael Jackson’s fingertips. I took out my smartphone, and started typing in the query “why did michael jackson wear bandages on his fingers“. As I typed the first few words, the search box filled with a slew of Google search suggestions:

Why did michael jackson die?
Why did michael jackson turn white?
Why did michael jackson change his nose?
Why did michael jackson bleach his skin?
etc…

It occurred to me that the number of questions like these would be higher for some celebrities, like Michael Jackson, than for others. I decided to try to measure this, so I wrote a little script that measures the “Wonderment Rank” of various people and things.

You give the script a word or phrase, such as “michael jackson” or “kittens”, and it constructs a series of partial search queries:

why did ____
why does ____
why do ____
how come ___
why didn’t ___
why doesn’t ___
why don’t ___

It then counts the total amount of Google search traffic for all these partial phrases, using this undocumented API and reports the results. Wonderment Rank is reported as a single number, which represents millions of searches.

For the record, here is the Wonderment Rank of Michael Jackson, along with a few other celebrities.

whitney houston 2393.62
steve jobs 1112.22
the beatles 1344.29
lady gaga 1095.69
michael jackson 960.31
justin bieber 621.47
angelina 176.97
jack black 119.30
ben franklin 50.82
davy jones 0.40
sacha baron cohen 0

As you can see, the recently deceased tend to score highly (except for Davy Jones). Some celebrities, such as Sacha Baron Cohen, score nary a blip, which leads me to believe that Google has some kind of arbitrary cutoff in reporting results.

The results (and my methodology) suggest that Wonderment Rank is strongly correlated to overall search popularity. It’s not the same thing, however. Consider kittens. Google Trends reveals that “kittens” have roughly twice the search traffic of “jack black”, but kittens merit a relatively low wonderment rank of 21. Yes they are cute and playful, but not exactly mysterious.

kittens 21.80
puppies 134.74

Celebrities and kittens aren’t the only things people wonder about. They also wonder about politics.

republicans 2286.87
democrats 1277.82
politicians 1612.73
romney 4374.55
ron paul 2320.61
gingrich 2110.03
obama 1379.45
santorum 733.16

And we all wonder about existential questions. We wonder about the motivations of God, and about Jesus. We wonder about life, death, taxes, and why do birds suddenly appear?

life 9238.58
jesus 6199.19
god 4560.73
death 2247.20
tax,taxes 1813.87
birds 1145.98

Men wonder about women. Women wonder about men, but not to the same degree. As a man, I expected women to score more highly, but apparently, I was wrong:

men 10774.63
women 6900.09

Parents wonder about their kids:

kids 12749.90
boys 10196.22
girls 8862.12
babies 3068.72

And people wonder about anybody, anyone, someone, and nobody:

no one 14135.55
anyone 11386.79
nobody 2663.10
anybody 4845.46
someone 3743.05

For the nerds in the audience, here is the perl script I wrote to measure wonderment rank, and here is a version I made in ruby.

Over the next few days, I’ll post a few more results.

UPDATE: A few days after I wrote this, Google stopped providing search-query counts in their suggest API. This change makes this metric much less precise, although the API can still be used to detect some level of interest.

EDIT: I corrected the spelling of Sacha Baron Cohen – thanks Clive!

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Wau!

February 13th, 2012


One of the wonderful mathematical notebook videos from Vi Hart. This one contains a curious puzzle – can you identify Wau?

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Sheet Music for “Being There” soundtrack

February 2nd, 2012

I first saw the Peter Sellers movie “Being There” in 1979, and fell in love with Johnny Mandel’s two piano pieces on the soundtrack. For years, pre Internet, I didn’t know what the pieces were. Although they sounded like classical piano music, they are not credited in the film, there is no soundtrack album, nor sheet music available. Finally, some time in the 90s, I heard Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes #4 and #5, which they are derived from, and recognized them immediately. I learned the Satie pieces, but then when I saw the movie again, I realized that Mandel’s versions of the Gnossiennes differ significantly from the originals. Mandel’s version of Gnossienne #4, “The Room Upstairs” can be heard in this clip on YouTube, starting around 2:40.

While Satie’s Gnossienne #4 maintains an ambient glasslike stasis throughout, Mandel’s “The Room Upstairs” contains some more straightforward harmonies, giving it a stronger emotional impact, suitable for a film score. Mandel’s version of Gnossienne #5, “Goodbye Louise”, which you can here in the end credits, introduces some Joplin-like motifs that aren’t present in the original. At the risk of offending purists, I think Mandel’s melody lines are more appealing, as well.

I eventually tracked down a decent MIDI arrangement of “The Room Upstairs”, by an unknown arranger, here. There is also a good recording of the two piano pieces from the film on Stephen Edward’s album, Piano Music from the Movies, which also contains some other great piano recordings of obscure film pieces, all available as MP3s from Amazon.

Using these source materials, I was finally able to make sheet music versions of the “The Room Upstairs”, and “Goodbye Louise”, which I thought I’d share. I haven’t completely finished marking all the phrasing, but there’s enough here for a competent pianist to work with.

Being There: The Room Upstairs, Johnny Mandel, Sheet Music

Being There: Goodbye Louise, Johnny Mandel, Sheet Music

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Perplexible

February 1st, 2012

David Millar, of the excellent puzzle site The Griddle, has launched a new collaborative puzzle site called Perplexible. The intent is to provide a forum for diverse puzzle authors to post new creations. I’ve posted an unusual Slitherlink there, and hope to post more unique puzzles, in the future.

I occasionally get emails from puzzle constructors, who want me to publish their new puzzles. If you are one of those people, consider posting it on Perplexible.

Enjoy!

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Happy Puzzle Day!

January 29th, 2012

Happy National Puzzle Day!

The Jerry Slocum Mechanical Puzzle Collection is now online, featuring images from the collection of over 34,000 mechanical puzzles. This Dutch puzzle shoe from 1790 contains a hidden snuff compartment.

via MetaFilter


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Dinosaur Mazes are here!

January 27th, 2012

I’ve added two new collections of Dinosaur mazes to the puzzle collection, which are great for kids.

Each collection contains 50 booklets, with 12 mazes per booklet. Within each booklet, the mazes start out easier, and then get progressively harder.

If you’d like to see mazes in other shapes, let me know!

Easy Dinosaur Mazes

Not-so-easy Dinosaur Mazes

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Flickr Magick

January 11th, 2012

In the first few years of Flickr‘s existence, I made a lot of interesting composite images, using large quantities of Flickr photos, Perl, and the ImageMagick library. A few of these images have historical interest, illustrating the rapid growth of both Flickr and YouTube. This slideshow shows a few of these images, and provides descriptions of each slide.

Many of the techniques used to produce these slides can be found in my book, Flickr Hacks.

Enjoy!

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It takes 17 clues to make a Sudoku

January 10th, 2012

The science journal Nature reports that a mathematician has proven that it takes 17 clues to make a Sudoku.

Gary McGuire of University College Dublin showed this in a proof posted online on January 1st (apparently he wasn’t partying on new year’s eve). This means that sudoku puzzles with 16 or fewer clues do not have a unique solution.

link

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