SSP 2007 : aftermath

I just finished up attending the 2007 Statistical Signal Processing Workshop in Madison. Normally I would have blogged about all the talks I saw, but (a) the only “talks” were tutorials and plenaries, and (b) I’m a little burned out to write much. Despite the fact that I applied to grad schools for signal processing and took the DSP prelim exam at Berkeley, I’m not really much of a signal processing guy these days. All of the submitted papers were given as posters, and despite being organized into “sessions,” all the posters were in the same room, so there were about 30-40 talks going on at the same time in parallel for 2 hours. I was a bit dubious at first, since my experience with poster presentations is that they have a large effort-to-value ratio, but this format worked for me. I was unfamiliar with about 80% of the problems that people were trying to solve, so going to talks would have made me confused. Instead, I could at least talk to someone and get the point of what they were trying to do, if not the scale of their contribution.

The one downside to the conference for me was that several of the posters that I wanted to see were in the same session as me, so I ended up missing them! Luckily I was next to “Distributed Average Consensus using Probabilistic Quantization,” which is right up my alley (from my work on gossip algorithms), but I could only listen in every once in a while. If only we could encode our talks using an erasure code — then if I listen to 7 minutes our of 10 I could interpolate the other 3…

Hello Kitty : the mark of shame

Thai police use Hello Kitty armbands as punishment:

The armband is large, bright pink and has a Hello Kitty motif with two hearts embroidered on it.

So if you come late to work at the station — you have to wear Hello Kitty! I know so many people for whom this would not be considered punishment that it just seems plain weird to me. Of course, the arm band probably clashes horribly with the uniform color…

Shinteki 3 :

Yesterday I competed with my lovely teammates Darcy, Michael, and Val, as team Get on a Raft with Taft in the Shinteki 3 Puzzle Decathlon. We came in 6th, just 5 points (out of 1200) behind number 5, which was pretty good, I thought. Many of the puzzles were designed by Ian Tullis, who is quite adroit at constructing physical clues of the sort that we rarely get at the Mystery Hunt. Shinteki’s tend to emphasize the running-around aspect of things quite a bit (like the Game, which I still haven’t done — shelling out $200 to play would break my already too-large puzzling budget). The theme this year was space and time, or something along those lines. At the start of the race they give each team a Palm (like in MH2K3) into which you can put in guesses or partial answers, and from which you can buy hints (that deduct from your point total). To start a puzzle you have to enter its start code. Partial solutions will open up hints, and after a certain amount of time on a puzzle hints will become free. Each puzzle also has a bonus answer, which can usually be solved by going down the wrong path while finding the solution. The whole thing is timed so that teams will get skipped over a puzzle if they are running too late.

The Decathlon started out with a group event about “string theory” — each team was given a scrabble tile. On the baseball field were several tangled stars of rope, each of which had a letter marked on the end. Each team’s letter was mixed up with two other’s (I believe) in a single star, and you had to run over there and tie the four ends to the belt loops of the four people on your team. Then the teams in each star had to do-si-do and try to untangle the ropes. Once you were done, you had to bunch up the two ropes and run over and toss them from a distance into a basket (if you missed your ropes would be flung as far away as possible and you had to start over). If you did all that you got the solution word to open up the next location…

… which was the amazing Garden of Eden in the Excelsior neighborhood near the Balboa Park BART station. By searching you find an envelope with a bunch of Trivial Pursuit-style clues. Each card had one answer that was the name of a Decathlon puzzle type, and the other answers were synonyms or antonyms. The reverse of each card features the Shinteki 3-circle Venn diagram logo with one segment shaded in corresponding to the color of the clue whose answer is the puzzle type. If you shade in all of the synonyms, you can get each card to yield up a letter (if you squint right). In card order, those give the answer words. The bonus is an acrostic of the puzzle types in order, which spells “WACKO MEETS,” an apt description for this event. The puzzle was very elegant, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the “are these really letters?” step.

The third event was in Golden Gate Park, near Stow Lake, where we had 4 minipuzzles. One was a digital clock-face LED puzzle where you had to take the complement of the lit segments, one was an art installation where you looked at objects which were sort of 3-D representations of letters (a cup for U, a weird bundt-cake pan shaped thing for W, etc.), one was a spiral word chain with trigram overlaps where you read the upcrossing diagonal for the solution word, and one was a stereogram thing that I didn’t understand. Solving these 4 tells you to take two pictures in the park using the camera in the Palm, and then take them to a location in the Botanical Gardens. This gets you the final puzzle, which is a series of two-word crosses with clues whose answers each contain “point”, “line”, “plane”, “space”, or “time,” which are entered into a single letter in the grid. The crossing letters give a cluephrase (FIFTH BASE). Mapping the 5 special words into 0-4 and reading off the numbers for each cross in base 5 gives the answer. The bonus was a message in 0’s, 1’s, and 3’s, which can be interpreted as “dot,” “dash,” and “space” to get a message in Morse. All in all, a pretty fun running-around break from sitting pondering Trivial Pursuit.

Puzzle 4 was near Lake Merced, and was a 3-D PVC tube construction of two “window panes” attached via their 4 corners. Each segment had a hole cut into it, and inside the structure were 8 colored marbles. You had to figure out in which segments each colored marble could go — these paths were disjoint and looked like letters (although lower case r and capital L were similar). In rainbow order these spelled the answer word. This puzzle was a great idea, but it was obvious to us what we had to do and just gathering enough data was mind-bogglingly tedious.

We had to hike out to Mori Point (in Pacifica?) to get the next clue, which was again 5 minipuzzles — a minesweeper, a paint-by-numbers, a diagramless crossword, and a 3-D maze, all of which were in a 4x4x4 cube. For each puzzle you took the “black” squares, which formed a 3-d contiguous piece, and constructed it out of the toy cubes they gave you. These could be put together to form a 4x4x4 cube with a missing piece, which was the missing “5th” minipuzzle. Looking at that shape from three directions gave the letters “HOT,” which was the answer. The puzzle was awesome in its construction but I was incompetent at assembling the cube.

Next was a jaunt over to at a park near the Bay in San Mateo. There were 7 circles made out of sidewalk cement, with two-grooves each way to make 9 sections (a grid on a circle, if you will). In each circle were a set of numbers written in different colors in different orientations. If you stood facing each of the 4 directions, treated the 9 segments as a keypad, and typed into your phone the corresponding keys in the order of the digits, you got a 4 word phrase to clue a word for that pad. The 7 words each had a run of one “key” (so CRABCAKES has ABCA, which all correspond to 2). Taking these gives the 7-letter answer. We rocked this one out, and I liked the concept quite a bit.

We then went to a park somewhere (San Bruno?) and did the easiest event, which made us masters of space and time. Two team members, blindfolded, had to walk 100 feet and plant a flag within a small circle. The other two had to count 100 seconds exactly. You got partial points for however well you did.

We were too late by the time we got to 7, so were skipped over 8 and went straight to 9, which involved going to a video store and requesting some B-movie. Inside the case were 6 squares and 8 triangles with dots and numbers on them, and slits on the edges so you could slide them together. Using some given rules you could construct a cube-octahedron and then trace out a path of dots which were “raised” if you looked at the thing through 3d glasses. Along each edge in the shape were 3 dots from the two faces incident on that edge, which gave a letter in Braille if you thought of the dots as raised. In path order you got a cluephrase for a the answer word. That was nice and thematic, with “raised dots” being Braille, unlike some puzzles where you say “oh I’ll just try every encoding on this.”

We had very little time to finish the 10th puzzle, which was a long clue list with all 9-letter answers, two grids, and a set of trigrams. Solving the clues and eliminating the trigrams from the list gives 3 remaining trigrams, which spell a clue phrase. The rules for entering words into the grid were a bit complicated, but do-able if we only had 20-30 more minutes, which we didn’t. Then again, no other team made it through this puzzle either, since the event had to end at 10 sharp. It looked like a really fun puzzle, though.

All in all, this was a nice set of puzzles which were elegant in mechanism and construction. I particularly appreciated the working in of thematic material, such as the dot-line-plane-space-time thing and the Braille. The downside of course is the driving around — a lot of time is killed just getting from point-A to point-B. But that is the way with all of these runaround games.

The Phrontistery

Via the NPL mailing list, I learned of The Phrontistery, a collection of “lost words” which are non-spelling-variant, non-regional Modern English words with entries in the OED that do not (obviously) appear elsewhere on the web. There are some great words in there — I highly recommend them the next time you need to fulfill your hemerine serving of traboccant verbiage.

(I hope blogging with these words doesn’t remove them from the list!)

Update: Missing E (for Erin) added in title.