CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.
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Puzzles and Games

September 16, 2014 (permalink)

Gary Barwin reports:

Aaron Tucker has created this amazing site, Chessbard which translates chess games into poetry. You can play classic games, play a game against a chessbot, or modify games. The site then 'translates' the game into poems: both a White poem and a Black poem. Aaron has also written an essay about the project and its development.

I was delighted to be able to contribute to the site. I created some poems (by modifying a classic game) and wrote a discussion about what I did and about chess in general. Read it here.

Really fascinating.

And while you're thinking about chess, definitely check out the very lovely, Calvino-Chess Dictionary by Craig Conley. You can buy the book or read it online. I'd recommend the book!



August 1, 2014 (permalink)

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov calls chess "a human activity which brings together the human brain and the competitive spirit."  But we humbly beg to differ and cite The History of Egypt from the Earliest Times till the Conquest by the Arabs A.D. 640 by Samuel Sharpe, 1859.



July 12, 2014 (permalink)

David Levin has said that "The real contest is how we play against ourselves.  There's always that other side of each of us, pulling us down."

The caption of our illustration reads, "He was annihilated every game."  It's from A Ramble Round the Globe by Baron Dewar, 1894.



June 30, 2014 (permalink)

Here's a Bingo game for a visit to your local art museum, courtesy of our esteemed satellite. 



June 27, 2014 (permalink)

"Watching the skittle players," from In the Ardennes by Katharine Sarah Macquoid, 1881.

Interestingly, we sent this image to a games aficionado, but he wasn't convinced that the pig was truly spectating skittles players.  He felt that the pig's expression was inscrutable, and the so-called skittle players are out-of-frame.  Yet the caption tells us what we're seeing; "case closed" as far as we're concerned.  To paraphrase René Magritte, this is not a pig, anyway.  If we can't roll with it, we'll never knock down any pins.



May 5, 2014 (permalink)

"The Heart of the Mystery": an illustration from a 1902 issue of The Reader magazine.



March 15, 2014 (permalink)

The caption reads: "They ... were soon deep in the game."  (From The Quiver, 1883.)



October 14, 2013 (permalink)

The problem with this puzzle we encountered is that the blank dominoes aren't missing values at all.  Zero is a real number which quantifies a count or an amount of null size.



July 2, 2013 (permalink)

This curious set of cards appears in Puck magazine, 1878.  The symbols (left to right, top to bottom):
  1. Maiden (a love interest)
  2. Gaslight (burned until exceedingly late at night)
  3. Darkness (i.e. the gaslight after being put out) and dreaming
  4. Heart (naive love; woefulness)
  5. Hand sign (a "terrible oath," i.e. a reckless promise)
  6. Hand sign (a second "terrible oath")
  7. Dust (the foot of someone off to parts unknown)
  8. Blank (absence, emptiness)
  9. Clock ("the early and proper hour")
The deck also includes a Gentleman card, but it wasn't printed.  The explanation: "We don't give his portrait, 'cause he had red hair and it might hurt the paper."



June 26, 2013 (permalink)

"The key is to remember that there are really more people in the room than you can see."

Who is speaking: a psychic or a trial lawyer?

Answer: Daniel Small, Preparing Witnesses: A Practical Guide for Lawyers and their Clients (2004), p. 47 (The answer is in black text on the black background. Highlight it to view.)

January 23, 2013 (permalink)


Jollification expert Bernie DeKoven highlights our oddest work yet — a book that transforms other books in surprising ways.  As we confabulated with Bernie:

The Dictionary Game (see also Fictionary) turns a serious reference book into a gaming generator; the dictionary is playfully transformed from a tool for decoding puzzling words into a puzzle-making machine, where whimsically fake definitions take the stage.  But could any book, spontaneously pulled off the shelf, be transformed into a playfulness machine?  Could one’s entire home library be a gaming center?  That’s the lofty goal of a new publication that offers, among other oddities, cut-out paper spectacles for seeing more than is readily apparent in any book.

Please note that our Machinarium Verbosus is a book for the few—the very few.  If it’s important to one’s psychological well-being that the machinations of the Universe be neat and tidy and wholly comprehensible by the human mind, then absolutely do not proceed with this book’s experiments.  Let this constitute a very serious warning: do not take these experiments lightly, as any one of them may induce an existential crisis.

December 1, 2012 (permalink)

This puzzle encodes a familiar expression. Can you decode it?

Hint: The expression originated in the armed forces.

Answer: "All present and accounted for." The circle represents "all." The wrapped gift is a "present." And the fingers are "a-counting four." (The answer is in black text on the black background. Highlight it to view.)


From Prof. Oddfellow's sketchbook.

October 8, 2012 (permalink)

(The following is our Guest Blog post for DeepFun.com)

The classic hand game of Rock-Paper-Scissors has a shadow side — quite literally. It’s played partially in the dark. Each move casts shadows on the wall. And the rules are reversed to whimsical results.

Requirements:

  • a blank wall – a canvas for shadow-casting
  • a lamp easily turned off and on (the sole illumination in the room)
  • two handy players
  • one scorekeeper/storyteller (scorekeeping is optional, a player may act as scorekeeper, especially if the lamp has a foot-operated switch)
  • spectators (occupancy not to exceed fire marshall’s restrictions, of course) (also optional)

When the scorekeeper initiates darkness, each player opaquely forms one of three hand gestures in front of the lamp. At the count of three, the scorekeeper lets there be light, and the gesticulative shadows are writ large on the wall.

The so-called Rock is actually a Paperweight.

The so-called Paper is actually a Paper Doll (a butterfly, a bunny, a goat, or any other hand shadow figure the player desires)

The so-called Scissors are still cutting blades, but let’s call them Snippers just to be different.




Traditional Game
Shadow Game
Paper covers the Rock
Paperweight sensibly covers the Paper Doll and the Paperweight wins.
Scissors cut the Paper
Paper Doll is born of the Snippers and the Paper Doll wins.
Rock crushes the Scissors
Paperweight *sharpens* the Snippers and the Snippers win.

As a mnemonic, Snippers *need* to be sharp in order to fulfill their destiny, Paper Dolls *need* to be snipped in order to take shape and fulfill their destiny, and Paperweights *need* to rest upon Paper Dolls because everyone requires downtime to flatten out, relax, and recharge so as to fulfill their destinies.

There are three possible ties. In the traditional game, these are simply ignored. In the Shadow Game, these are celebrated as follows:


Both players throw
Both players act out
Paperweight
Shadow boxing
Snippers
Running with scissors
Paper Doll
The scorekeeper becomes a storyteller when two Paper Dolls grace the wall and interact as a shadow-puppetshow ensues



December 1, 2011 (permalink)

87 years before Where's Waldo: an illustration from a 1900 issue of Harper's magazine.  The caption reads: "I can't find the man."



July 3, 2011 (permalink)

"Everything in the world is like a game of chess ... everything."
—Gustav Meyrink, The Golem

Dedicated to Wilfred Hou Je Bek.

(See also If A Chessman Were A Word: A Chess-Calvino Dictionary.)



June 28, 2011 (permalink)

"A flourishing lushness of cryptograms."
Jean Ray, Malpertuis



March 8, 2011 (permalink)

The following passage from Robert Irwin's astonishingly brilliant The Arabian Nightmare, in which a character traverses a chessboard-like Cairo, recalls our own manual on using a game of chess to construct a story: If A Chessman Were A Word: A Chess-Calvino Dictionary.

Crossing the open spaces of the city was like moving across a chess board, chill and dark in the shadows, still brilliantly warm in the places the sun could reach.  He was crossing a dark square now near the Bab al-Luq, where the rich merchants' houses were, when he saw a face, high up in the dark shadows of an upper-storey casement, staring down at him.  It was a woman's face, round and plump and shining silver as if it was the moon.

Deliciously, the character in Irwin's novel is about to confront a knight!

February 15, 2011 (permalink)

Here's a game of "What am I?"

Your clues:
  • I am an arrogant slap in the face from across the room.
  • I am an ethereal corset trapping everyone in the same unnatural shape.
  • I am a lazy and inelegant concession to fashionable ego.
  • I am too often a substitute for true allure and style.
  • I am an opaque shell concealing everything—revealing nothing.
  • I am a childish masque hiding the timid and unimaginative.
What am I?

Answer: Perfume (The answer is in black text on the black background. Highlight it to view.)

These clues are courtesy of Christopher Brosius.

January 25, 2011 (permalink)

Here's one of Nabokov's methods for a secret code.  Note the charming detail that "one-letter words remain undisguised":

For their correspondence in the first period of separation, Van and Ada had invented a code ... One-letter words remained undisguised. In any longer word each letter was replaced by the one succeeding it in the alphabet at such an ordinal point–second, third, fourth, and so forth–which corresponded to the number of letters in that word. Thus "love", a four-letter word, became "pszi" ("p" being the fourth letter after "l" in the alphabetic series, "s" the fourth after "o" et cetera), whilst, say, "lovely" (in which the longer stretch made it necessary, in two instances, to resume the alphabet after exhausting it) became "ruBkrE", where the letters overflowing into the new alphabetic series were capitalized.

—V. Nabokov, Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle

Via Gretel und Hänsel

December 8, 2010 (permalink)

Going through some old files, we rediscovered our rough notes for a card game we devised several years ago.  Suggestions for improvements are welcome.

---

Elements is a card game for 2 players that involves sketching a map throughout.  The object of the game is to win all the cards.  At the end, both players will have created their own map of a new world they have created out of combined elements.

Required materials: deck of element cards, two pieces of blank paper, pencils (or crayons, markers, and so on).

The cards are divided into 7 suits (earth, air, space, fire, water, metal, wood), according to the sacred elements recognized in ancient belief systems from around the world.  Each element card is numbered from 1 to 10.  Higher numbers indicate stronger forces (i.e. influences, powers) associated with that element, and lower numbers indicate weaker forces. 

Shuffle the deck.  Deal out all the cards, so that each player has half of the deck.  Players do not look at their cards, but keep them in a stack face down. 

Players simultaneously turn their top cards face up and put them on the table.  Whoever turns the higher card takes both cards, determines the cards' outcome according to the key below, adds the cards to his own discard pile, and quickly sketches the outcome to his map.  Then both players turn up their next card and so on.

If the turned up cards are equal, there is a stalemate and each player adds his own card to his own stalemate pile.

The game continues until one player has the majority of cards in his discard pile and wins.  However, both players will end up with a map of a new world.

Regarding the map, it is recommended that each player begin by dividing the blank page into three equal sections with three horizontal lines.  The upper section will represent the Upper World or sky, the middle section will represent the Middle World or land, and the lower section will represent the Underworld or underground. 

Key:

earth / earth    (stalemate)
earth / air        mountaintop
earth / space    cavern
earth / fire        crystal formations
earth / water    mudslide
earth / metal    buried treasure
earth / wood     planted seed

air / earth        dust cloud
air / air            (stalemate)
air / space        gusting wind
air / fire           hot air balloon
air / water        cloud
air / metal        windmill
air / wood         fallen tree

space / earth    moon
space / air        tornado
space / space    (stalemate)
space / fire       shooting star
space / water    rainbow
space / metal    asteroid
space / wood    hollow tree

fire / earth     volcano
fire / air         fireball
fire / space    aurora
fire / fire       (stalemate)
fire / water     steam plume
fire / metal     forge
fire / wood     smoldering ashes

water / earth    ocean
water / air        rainstorm
water / space    underwater grotto
water / fire        geyser
water / water     (stalemate)
water / metal    wishing well
water / wood     shipwreck

metal / earth    bridge
metal / air        airplane
metal / space    meteor
metal / fire       torch
metal / water    chalice
metal / metal    (stalemate)
metal / wood    axe

wood / earth    forest
wood / air        tall tree
wood / space    crate
wood / fire        sacrificial pyre
wood / water    reeds
wood / metal    vine-covered statue
wood / wood     (stalemate)



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