A Head for Numbers

Over at Que Sera Sera, Sarah Brown has a post about the misconceptions that people (including myself) had as children. Be sure to read through the comments, which include such gems as, “My husband believed (still believes?) that limes are unripened lemons”.

Also in the comments are a few instances of readers coming to shocking realizations, such as the woman who discovers that her long-held belief that Alaska is an island (because of its placement on US maps) is erroneous.

That reminded me of an incident in my late 20s. I had lived in Washington State nearly all of my life, and driven its roads innumerable times. One afternoon I was driving home from the airport, having picked up a friend who was making her first visit to the state.

“I love your State Highway signs,” my friend remarked as we passed one. I thought this was an odd thing to find charming, and asked her to clarify. “I like how the number is printed on a silhouette of George Washington,” she replied.

I had no idea what she was talking about. It wasn’t until we approached another of the black and white signs that I could validate her observation.

“You never knew that?” she asked. “What did you think the white thing was?”

I shrugged. “It’s always been the State Highway Background Shape to me.”

Text Adventurer

Here’s a thing I did: textadventurer.org.

I created the @textadventurer twitterbot to help myself learn the Twitter API. Originally it did nothing but tweet Zork commands, taken from a walkthrough. I was its sole follower.

Oddly, I really enjoyed seeing the text adventurer wander through my twitter feed every hour or so. And when he would tweet, say,”go north”, I would find myself curious as to where he was headed. So I eventually created the companion account @zork_i, rebooted @textadventurer, and introduced them to one another. Now they are playing out Zork I in its entirety.

Follow @textadventurer if you just want him to stagger into your Twitter timeline on occasion; follow @zork_i if you’d like to see the game reply to his commands. You can see the history of their interactions here, and check the current state of the game by visiting textadventurer.org.

Some details:

  • @textadventurer sends moves at random intervals; you may see six on one day, zero on another. On average he will issue three or four commands every 24 hours.
  • The adventurer will not make mistakes. He will not do something fatal, put the game into an unwinnable state, attempt to pick up items while his inventory is full, get lost in the maze, etc. That is not to say that the adventurer will complete the game in the minimum number of moves, though. He will sometimes stop to smell the roses (and read the leaflets), even when such actions are not necessary for completion.
  • Even though the adventurer is semi-optimized, you will still, if you follow him on Twitter, sometimes receive a passel of movement commands in a row, as he works his way through the coal mines, navigates the maze, and travels from one end of the Great Underground Empire to the other. I though about packing these into a single command for brevity (“go north, east, southeast, up”, etc.), but decided to leave each command atomic for the sake of authenticity.
  • The replies are taken verbatim from Infocom’s Zork I. Because memory was at a premium at the time of the game’s release, most replies are short enough to fit into single tweet. Some take two or three, which @zork_i will send at 60 seconds intervals. There are (relatively) few longer replies, requiring three or more tweets, most of which are found early in the game as new rooms are explored; a couple require five or six tweets; and there are two which are seven tweets long.

Want to play Zork I yourself? You can do so online, or find downloadable versions of the game at the Interactive Fiction Database. Happy adventuring!

Suggestions for the Slacker’s Guide Sought

It’s that time of year again, people: time to send me links to the stupidest stuff available for purchase on Teh NetarWebs, for inclusion in my annual Holiday Survival Guide for Slackers. By way of example, here’s some entries from years past:

2010 Holiday Survival Guide for Slackers
He has a framed portrait of Gene Roddenberry. He has a Federation uniform in every primary color. He has a spindled and stained Uhura standee in his closet that you try not to think about. He dismissed J.J. Abrams’s film as “noncanonical.” This year, give him the gift of sputtering rage with the Star Wars toaster. “You know, because you love Space Trek so much,” you will say as his neckbeard quivers with apoplexy. Weighing only 2.4 pounds, the Star Wars Toaster can be hurled at a window by even the most atrophied of muscles, where it will bounce ineffectually off the pane and land on the faux tribbleskin rug. “Next time you should throw it with more force,” you will gleefully chuckle. Man, you are kind of a dick.

* * *

2009 Holiday Survival Guide for SlackersThere was a time when “Yankee ingenuity” meant inventing an airplane or splitting the atom, but that was before the eighth season of Laverne & Shirley reduced our national IQ to just a smidge over π. The best we can do these days is to foist the world’s stupidest product on our former BFFs. Thus: Snuggie for Dogs!!! Yes, following on the heels of Binder Clip: For Cats!! and The Wire Season 3 DVD Box Set: For Ferrets!!, the makers of the all-fleece SfD!! would have you believe that shaving the hair off one animal and putting it on another isn’t just a hobby for the criminally insane. Still, if you know someone who (1) was dumb enough to have bought a Snuggie for themselves; and (2) refers to their mutt by some ridiculous portmanteau like “labradoodle” or “bullshihtz,” you probably can’t go wrong with this swatch of fastenable idiocy.

* * *

2006 Holiday Survival Guide for SlackersWhen I was a wee lad, the toy I coveted above all others was the Star Wars X-Wing Fighter. Not only did the ship accommodate both the Luke Skywalker and the R2D2 action figures, but when you pressed a secret button on its aft, two bright-red, spring-propelled missiles would fire from its wingtips. This was truly the coolest item in the toy store—until some twerp induced a stroke in his great aunt by “accidentally” firing one of the missiles down her ear canal (“Great shot, kid. That was one in a million!”), thereby triggering a nationwide recall. WAY TO RUIN IT FOR EVERYONE, PETE BLAKESLEE OF AMIDON, NORTH DAKOTA!!! Of course, these were just tiny slivers of plastic; I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen when America’s youth get their filthy mitts on the The Rocket Fishingrod. “Blasts your lure over 30 feet,” boasts the website, leaving the subjunctive clause—“directly into the face of your sister”—unspoken. The first time an eight-year-old winds up with a hook ensnared in her uvula, they’ll probably revoke capitalism entirely. So buy now!

They just go on and on like that.

Send your suggestions to matthew@defectiveyeti.com, post them as comments to this post, or simply arrive at my household laden with the newest offerings from Chia Pet Incorporated.

PAX Primer

Last month I attended the 2011 Penny Arcade Expo. Last week I wrote a ridiculous amount of words about it. And today The Morning News published every single one of those words, in the form of PAX Primer.

I grateful to a lot of people for their help. First and foremost Anthony Yvarra, a.k.a. Nerdgasm, who gamely (ha) answered my questions about the fabulous life of an Omeganaut. Sarah Giffrow of SGC, who generously allowed use of her beautiful and evocative photographs. And Robert Khoo of Penny Arcade, who let me reprint some PA strips and then publicized the article by tweeting about it this morning.

And a thank you to novelist Nicholson Baker as well. I had intended to write my report in the week following PAX, but kept putting it off; I may never have done so had I not read Painkiller Deathstreak, in which Baker plays video games for the first time in his life, mostly the first-person shooters recommended by his teenage son, and then simply describes them. It’s an amazing piece, and inspired me to knuckle down on my own longform chronicle of gaming. Do not read Baker’s article just before reading my essay, or just after reading my essay, or within a year of reading my essay before or after, but please read it.

How Disease Works

I am an occasional storyteller at Seattle’s A Guide to Visitors and, late last year, participated in one of their “Best Of” shows. Shortly thereafter I was contacted by B. Frayn Masters, who asked if I would come to Portland and for a similar event that she hosts, a series I knew nothing about called Back Fence PDX. Because Frayn and I have been friends for twenty years, and because I am magnanimous to a fault, I agreed to lend my star-power to her adorable little show, with its audience of presumably no more than a dozen people, composed entirely of family members and devoted friends of the storytellers.

The theme of the evening was “Our Bodies, Ourselves”. Frayn and I spoke several times by phone regarding my story and, in perhaps our third conversation, she mentioned the venue, the Portland Center Stage. “We don’t usually have it there,” she told me, “but we had to get a larger theater for this audience, considering its size.”

“Oh really?” I said, mentally revising my attendance projections to a score or more. “How many people do you expect?”

“Well, the first 800 tickets were gone in a few hours,” she replied, “although we’ve got some more in reserve.”

Oh. Oh my. I have never done anything in front on a crowd even a quarter of that size, outside of anxiety dreams.

Fortunately I arrived onstage very well prepared. By which I mean that the storytellers received complementary beer, and I helped myself to several before it was my turn in front of the horde.

Another storyteller was a gentleman by the name of Arthur Bradford. Ten years ago Mr. Bradford made a small independent film called “How’s Your News”, which I loved and raved about on defective yeti. And Authur remembered this because, at the time, my review was one of the few accounts of his movie available on the web. It was a total moment, he and I realizing all this as we chatted before the show.

I had to go on stage immediately after that performance. Sucks to be me!

The last story of the evening was told by Lauren Weedman, who’s like a bigshot fancypants real life actress, with an IMDB page and eveything. If you watch only one of these videos it should be this one, unless you suffer from Sudden Onset Laughter Induced Death Syndrome, in which case avoid.