A couple of links for late May

A golden chain of linksA pair of fun things to look at, just to keep things ticking over…

Ken of The Logic Escapes Me (etc.) points to Jack Hurst’s puzzle blog. Jack is rightly considered a Countdown legend, winning 16 games on the trot before coming up against Conor Travers – and if you know Countdown at all, you’ll know that while your first eight games can be against anyone and everyone, then the tournament structure starts to throw only the best against you. As Jack says in his first post, “I’ve been spending a lot of my spare time in recent months working on a software project to help me compile different puzzles. I’m now happy to share with you some of the fruits of my labour.” The site features word, number and logic puzzles; the logic puzzles do have something of a computer-generated feel to them, though the word puzzles clearly display the author’s touch more obviously. The highlights, for my money, are some original-feeling hex grid number placement puzzles called Conqueror.

I didn’t cover this at the time, but Intervirals did; after the success of the short puzzle trail that started with a Christmas card in 2015, GCHQ released a puzzle book last Christmas. Royalties from it, so far, have raised practically a quarter of a million pounds for the Heads Together campaign which works in association with a number of mental health charities. Notably, the book featured an eight-puzzles-plus-a-metapuzzle puzzle hunt, which started reasonably accessibly before getting quite abstruse. (This may also be an introduction of the term “puzzle hunt” to thousands, or tens of thousands, of solvers who weren’t familiar with it.) Stephen Peek explains how you use the answer to the metapuzzle, plus the answers to two other ciphers in the book, to reach the final stage of the puzzle, an open-ended optimisation puzzle. Stephen’s site also points to sample mathematics papers used in the GCHQ applications process; happily, these are as rigorous as you would hope for an agency which needs our brightest and best!

Exit games in the media

Newspaper graphicHere’s a collection of stories of exit games making their impression on the public.

Coming up on Friday: Geekeasy, Pablo’s Hunt and more Handmade Mysteries

Lady Chastity's Reserve comes to East LondonFriday will be busy! This site talks about exit games most of the time and about puzzle hunts frequently. There’s good reason to talk about something different this Friday: a comedy night. Needless to say, not just any comedy night: one themed around The Crystal Maze. That’s interesting.

Project2 curates Geekeasy ((…)) We populate the bill with emerging and award-winning acts. ((…)) Each month we pick a niche theme and throw some acts at it. Expect musical comedy, stand up, improv, sketch and a Powerpoint competition. This month we’re in The Crystal Maze, with guest comedians, improvisers and musicians competing to win a taxi ride home.

Project2’s background is improv comedy with a sci-fi theme; the The Crystal Maze theme was announced three months ago so people will have had considerable preparation time. It would be easy to “punch down” but the genuine fandom and love for the genres that the group have shown, plus good reviews from an improv player that this site trusts, gives this site hope that more acts than not can stay on the right side of the fine line: irreverent good, impudent goo-ooo-oood, insolent bad. The show starts at 8pm at The Miller pub in Southwark, London, between London Bridge and Borough.

Other exciting things happen on Friday, too. Handmade Mysteries open an East London location at The People’s Park Tavern pub in the part of south-east Hackney best served by the 388 bus from Hackney Wick, Cambridge Heath or Bethnal Green. This is a slight remix of their original Lady Chastity’s Reserve game played in South London; the larger location permits teams of up to six, rather than up to five, and some extra gags along the way. This site just likes saying “My! Brother! Knows Karl Marx! He met him in the bushes at The People’s Park!

If you don’t want to leave your house, there’s still fun to be had: as discussed, the 2015 edition of Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt also starts on Friday, though the teaser poster will already get you started. True, there’s a hidden box to be found somewhere in the south of England, but there’s a mighty bundle of research and thinking to be done before you can even start to work out where it is!

The Imitation Game

"The Imitation Game" theatrical release poster(If Wikipedia can claim fair use for low-resolution scans of film posters, seems like fair game here…)

The Imitation Game is a recently-released film starring Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing, depicting his code-breaking work during the second World War. The titular imitation game is one form of the competition in natural language and artificial intelligence proposed by Turing which became more widely known as the Turing test; that came towards the end of a career arguably first notable for a hypothetical abstract computing device also later named after him.

So the Turing machine and the Turing test bookend his cryptographic work, which is another field where his work is still celebrated today. (His wartime papers on the subject were so influential that their contents were restricted for 70 years as a matter of national security.) The school of mathematics at the University of Manchester run an annual cryptography competition named after him; this site has already written about the University of Southampton’s National Cipher Challenge and there is some degree of similarity, though the NCC permits sixth-formers to take part and the Turing competition restricts teams to those in Years 11 and below. Registration starts in December for the next competition, expected to run through the spring term of 2015.

Cryptography isn’t just for schoolchildren, though, and nor are its competitions. While some puzzle hunts use its techniques, at least in part, and armchair treasure hunts use the field extensively, explicit competitions are less frequent. Not unknown, though; see Simon Singh on his Cipher Challenge at the end of his The Code Book. GCHQ have also occasionally run competitions like 2013’s Can You Find It?, now sadly offline.

All this leads up to another cryptography competition, open to all ages, tied in with the new movie release and featuring film merchandise donated by StudioCanal as prizes, some of it signed. There are three codes to crack (from first glance, two likely relatively accessible and one more… thematic…) whose deciphered messages provide clues as to which square on a slightly abstract map to explore for fictional buried silver.

The film has its general release in the UK this Friday, on 14th November, with the competition (whose entrants must be resident in the UK) open until midday on Friday 28th November. Happy hunting!