“88. Recite affirmations in front of a mirror each morning. A few possibilities: ‘I am a honed killing machine.’ ‘My street fighting ability is feared by all.’ ‘My adult son respects me.'”

Linked Onlist

Oh right! Another thing that has been slowly changing about the actual HTML markup of xorph dot com slash nfd is the “My Town” and “My Neighborhood” menus that appear at the bottom of any given archive page. The latter is a good old-fashioned friend blogroll; the former is the roll of links for friends who have nice internet sites that are not blogs. If you, like me, are avoiding tasks at the moment, you could do a lot worse than picking one of them to click on! You can even use this special magic link to do the picking for you.

Linked Nonlist

I have to imagine that both of you, my readers, consume my blog by way of a feed subscription. So you likely have no idea that I have a secret rule about what kinds of posts I allow myself to make and when. But I am the one who actually looks at the front page of this thing, so I have developed aesthetic preferences about it! Back in my micropost social media days, I got very used to the format of a-small-quote-excerpt-and-a-link, and I have carried that over to this blog. But the theming here renders those differently than regular posts—in a way that I like!—and I prefer to look at them interspersed between regular non-quote posts, not back-to-back.

Am I just writing this so I can get another of the quote-and-link posts out of my backlog? I guess we’ll never know.

“The diamonds seem to be pure geometry, the clubs simple machines (the king of clubs has a rather amusing nut-cracker), the hearts are (maybe) generative geometry, and the spades comparative geometry.”

“If you are intrigued by the idea of writing a sequel but you haven’t yet written the first thing, may I suggest pretending the first thing is already a sequel. It really greases the wheels for me.”

Lea Stans does very good work

Up here in Rogers Park, the northeasternmost neighborhood of Chicago, we used to have a beloved, ramshackle neighborhood movie theater that was casually shut down by its current ownership after over eleven decades of operation. Said ownership expressed a complete lack of interest in figuring out a way to keep it going, preferring to focus on being a Starbucks lover, but the same was not true of our neighbors. There was a real grassroots effort to make the business viable—things like people buying popcorn even if they didn’t have tickets, and sold-out Silent Film Society fundraiser screenings with live music. I was glad to attend some of those screenings, even if they didn’t end up changing the owner’s mind. Having the organist play for hours, uninterrupted and without a single note wrong, made my first time seeing Metropolis (1926) a transformative experience.

I got to watch Nosferatu (1922???) in the same way, which was borderline hallucinatory. It’s only by reading that linked Silentology entry that I came to realize the film could have played in that exact theater almost a century ago: same location, different world. I wonder if there will ever be blogs that persist in some form for a hundred years. I hope so.

“Before we try to uncover more information about the untimely death of Harry Lemaster, let’s see what else we can ‘dig up’ about him.”

Setec Astronomy

I’ve played Connections like four times now, which of course you can understand means that I am ready to issue a wise verdict from the top of Game Design Mountain. The verdict is: this game’s interface and its incentives are at odds, which irritates me, but there are simple changes that could make it more fun and less frustrating without changing its difficulty.

I became aware of the game to begin with because part of the NYT Games team’s marketing strategy is working. Finishing a given day’s puzzle yields one of those little block patterns of color-square emoji, the ones that look like 🟩🟨🟦🟪 instead of 🟩🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️. It’s enough like Wordle to make one curious, but different enough to be distinguishable even if you have reduced color vision, and it takes good advantage of their ownership of Wordle’s IP and its most potent promotional idea. It’s also a big bet on the long-term appeal and viability of the game, because you only get so many uses of the shareable grid before it loses its brand value. But actually playing Connections has given me a new appreciation for the elegance of Wordle’s quality-of-life support, because Connections does not support life.

In one abstract rendering, both games could be reduced to “solve a puzzle in X educated guesses from a fixed domain of discourse.” Per Wyna Liu, the game’s editor and credited creator, the placement of the initial squares in its grid is deliberate, a choice designed to lead you down false paths before you sort out the right ones. The editors clearly enjoy coming up with grid items that fit more than one potential answer, and in my experience it’s easy to come up with multiple groups that are conceptually closer than the ones they chose (DOG and HEEL belong with JERK and SNAKE instead of FETCH and SIT? Really?).

That means that the actual game pitch is “solve for all four answers at once, and don’t get greedy by jumping to conclusions!” Which, fine, whatever, there’s nothing wrong with that in isolation. Liu herself, in the brief interview above, expresses support for the “pen and paper method” of working on solutions. Which is again fine, if we were talking about a game that the NYT printed on paper. But it’s not! It’s a web app! If the editor believes that the right approach is to sort out all four groups and check them through before submitting your answer, why doesn’t the user interface allow you to do so?

I’m not an interaction designer, but even I can come up with a simple solution here: make the tiles draggable, and allow the player to move them all into a solution grid before hitting submit. Instead, the only ways to move the tiles the developers have offered are a random shuffle button or a jump to a conclusion. The tiles shift themselves to the top available row when you make a successful guess, which is telling the player “go ahead and take your shot, I’ll reward you by reducing the complexity of the board if you do.” But that’s a contradiction of the editorial strategy laid out above. If you do fall for the temptation of the UI, your wrong guess might yield a cue like “one away!” that is of very limited utility, and that then vanishes, leaving only a record of your punishment. The effect is more like a taunt of “skill issue lol” than an encouragement. That’s reinforced by sharing-based marketing gimmick and the way many players use the pen-and-paper attack to solve the puzzle with no record of wrong guesses, so any mistakes at all come across as failure rather than tactical work.

This is what I mean about Wordle’s comparative elegance. Wordle gives you more guesses, more information per guess, and a persistent record of those guesses in both the solution rows and its keyboard. That means you can walk away from the game and retain your context when you come back to it later. Perfect solutions are possible only through a rare stroke of luck (or cheating), so if you’re competing against your in-laws on a group chat, it’s easy to evoke a sense of mingled competition and camaraderie. Even if sometimes everyone gets grumpy about HOMER or __GHT, there’s a real difference in the play experience between “ah, that was my fault” and “oh fuck off, you smug jerk/dog/heel/snake.”