Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Fruit of our Discord

Here's one more puzzle our team went through during The Game. I'll try and get more up next week.

When we last left our adventurer, he and his team had just deciphered the next clue: “LIBRARYKARPELES”
It turns out that there is a library in Tacoma called the Karpeles Manuscript Library. It’s quite a walk from where we are right now, at the Seaform Pavilion, so we begin the walk in (hopefully) the right direction. Along the way we check Streets & Maps to make sure, and one of our own decides to run ahead once he knows the route. The rest of us meander our way to the library. Once we finally get there our brave runner points out the valet booth. This is where we pick up our van! However, there’s a catch; the valet claims he doesn’t understand our ticket.
Meanwhile, our runner tells us about the next puzzle. Inside the library is a “Song of Illumination.” When he challenged the librarian about the song, she told him a cryptic phrase. He managed to find the manuscript with the phrase, but hadn’t made any more progress. He had tried challenging the librarian on the name of the manuscript, with no luck. One of our team members tries saying the next sentence. Success! The librarian gives us a small pamphlet with quote/response pairs as well as word decryption.
First we think that these phrases may be on the manuscripts. However, the new phrases were odd and did not appear on anything. For example, one pair was something like “The hawk soars above” / “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.” One of our team members takes the word decryption to the original Song of Illumination. This does it! We get a long poem instructing us to go to the botanical garden across the street, and look for a lizard statue looking at a plant.

Our team spends a lot of time searching the garden, unsure of exactly what the cryptic poem wants. Eventually, we discover that the clue is the country of the plant the lizard is looking at. Calling the hotline, we find that this is correct, and we must go to the Western Inn in Lakewood.

One problem. We don't have our van, and the valet won't give it to us! Someone notices something on our claim ticket; each line is exactly as long as our answers. The clues above answer it:
"The key is where you have already been"
"One key per line"

The solutions from our three locations are the keys for decrypting the valet ticket. First we try adding letter values and modding 29. No luck. Subtracting.... no luck. We're getting frustrated, hungry. We try multiplying the ASCII values and then modding 29...

"TOGETVANTELLVALETT".... we know we're on the right track. When all is said and done, the ticket now says something along the lines of...
"To get van, tell valet the fruit of discord"

One of our fearless team members knows exactly what is going on, and tells the valet of the apple of discord, and we get our van back! To Lakeview!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Why I love Microsoft

Things like this picture are why I like the atmosphere at Microsoft.

Cup of T

I'll try to get another post on The Game up tomorrow. It looks like I may get to do half of another Game in another week or so!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Welcome, To Illumine

This is part one of what will likely be a loooong multi-post blog entry. This was one of the longest and best weekends of my life, and it deserves depth. However, in the hope of actually getting entries posted, I'm going to just post it as I add to the experience.

Over the weekend I took part in "Illumine", and has been one of the most enjoyable weekends of my life. Illumine is the name of this year's Microsoft Intern Game, and you can read more about The Game here. My only regret is that I probably won't be an intern at Microsoft and will have to find another way to take part in a game.

How did this all begin? How did I get myself into a 36-hour long event? Teams had to submit applications with photos all over Seattle and the surrounding area. Nothing challenging, but it gave us a chance to experience the beginning of what things would be like (i.e. long drives). It also gave our team a chance to meet and hang out with each other.

But it was only the beginning. There were some pre-game puzzles on the web that we were able to solve through e-mails with each other. Some were hard, some were less hard. We knew the day the Game would begin, but not where or when. Eventually, one that involved filling in the image with a dark color in Paint gave us the pass-code we needed. The game was to begin at 7:20am at the Federal Courthouse in Seattle. We were to leave our van with the valet.

7:00am Saturday. We arrive at the Federal Courthouse, and see valet parking nearby. When we leave our car and get to the courthouse, we stand around confused like the rest of the teams. Then a member of Game Control says that we will not get anything until we've left our car with valet parking. We look behind us; there's an Illumine-run booth doing valet parking. Drats! We dash back to the real valet, get our van back, and drop our car off with the Illumine Van service, receiving a blue ticket with three puzzles. We pick up our game items, including our 'brands' for the weekend; team-colored handkerchiefs (Team Ultraviolet's was white). We sat down and wait for the Game to begin, beginning to solve our claim ticket. The first part was a simple shift cipher, that read something like:


The second morse code resembling a bar code, that read:


We weren't sure if "lime" was a typo, so we decided to keep our eyes out for limes, or Key Lime pie. Needless to say, it was a typo. We were unable to solve the third puzzle, which looked like random strings with no noticeable pattern.

Eventually, Game Control staff come to use confused, asking where their leader was. Since it was after 7:45, we were able to open our sealed envelopes, that instructed us that we would be going to Tacoma. We got up, and ready to go!

On the other side of the courthouse was a woman preaching. We listened enough to gleen "594 Stuart", and went to the nearby Stuart street looking for that address. We were wrong, and could not find that address. When we found her again, the woman was repeating the same speech over and over. One of Ultraviolet noticed a pattern; the woman would always clap her hands on the same words. We were able to get a much more coherent message:

"Take bus 594 to 10th and Commerce"

We dashed to the bustop, and managed to be the second or third team waiting for the bus. When the bus eventually did arrive, we were unable to make it on, as the other teams managed to fill it. We had to wait another 15 minutes for the next bus, so we went back to trying to decipher the blue claim ticket.

Eventually we got on the bus and had an uneventful trip to 10th and Commerce. One team got off the bus early, and we wondered if they had made it only because they followed other teams, or misunderstood the woman. When we got to 10th and Commerce, we had an easy time following Illumine signs to a fountain with orange stones in it, and a large rock with an inscription.

We recognized the orange stones as braille, and soon our team deciphered the 6x6 block of numbers (though some squares on the grid were blank). After fruitless guessing for what must have been an hour or more, someone makes the suggestion "Maybe the first three numbers of each grid are an index into the message on the stone!" Sure enough, this was the case. Earlier we realized the paper that we were supposed to write the message on was supposed to be folded, so we easily deciphered it's message:

"Union City Starbucks"

We dash down the ramp, and nearly get on a bus to Seattle. Someone on our team knew where a Union City Starbucks there was. Thankfully, we asked locals first, and found out how to get to the Union City Starbucks in Tacoma. We walk there, since we still don't have our van, and get the next puzzle from the girl behind the counter.

We go to a nearby park and look at what we have. Several photoshopped works of art, a grid of vases, and a grid of letters, instructing us to go to Seaform Pavillion, across the street.

We go there, and notice the celing has the unaltered glass artwork we had photoshopped images of. Further down we see the vases, in an identical layout to the grid of letters. This will be easy, we cry.

We were wrong. Some of the photoshopped images were incredibly hard to decipher, and it took time to get the letters from the vases. When we finally did get letters out of the mess, we were unable to get any coherent anagrams. We were close, we could spell LIBRARY or BALLPARK, but couldn't make heads or tails of the rest.

Eventually we break down and call Game Control. We find out the order we received the images in matter. D'oh! They help us get the real order, and we decipher the message:


Friday, July 22, 2005

New look

It's not quite what I'd hoped, but I went ahead and put my own layout up. Hopefully I'll put up more of a site to use the layout, but I figured it was a start, and it was done enough for me to be satisfied posting it.

Woo. Some other side projects left to do, but it feels good to get something up.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Something about Tull

Jethro Tull's version of Bouree is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. I can't explain it.

Songs From the Wood is also a very nice ablum. I really don't listen to music enough. Or try to play... too bad I left my guitar in California. I wonder, if I moved up here after college if I'd practice more to try and play with some of the people I know in Tacoma...

Pre-Game Post

One thing I love about interning at Microsoft is their intern events. While their Tech Talks are always interesting (in part because there's free pizza, so even a boring talk is delicious), their Puzzle events are particularly interesting.

There have been two so far. One designed for larger teams where we were given 20-something puzzles to solve, that eventually helped us solve a main meta-puzzle. Our team didn't quite finish, but once we got past some initial speed bumps, we started tearing through puzzles. This was an all day event, so imagine being in a conference room trying to figure out what the heck some clue is referring to with 7 other people.

The other was also pretty fun, and involved smaller teams, but each puzzle was a location that we had to travel to. The day after this one I was pretty sore, but I also had a lot of fun.

Of note is the one coming up this weekend based off of the stuff at this site. It's a 30+ hour straight solve puzzles and drive around in a van fest. I don't know about you, but this sounds awesome, though intimidating to me.

Part of it is just how fun it is to solve some of the pregame puzzles (that I can't link to here, sorry :( ) with everyone else. On a super-huge meta-puzzle, I figured out the solution-question with a typo, and when someone on my team figured out where I was wrong, it was hilarious to see six almost simultaneous e-mails come with people shouting the answer.

I'll definitely report on the experience when I get back.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I finally broke down and got a real cell phone. Of course, I spent a bunch of money on a nice phone, only to see that Amazon is selling it more or less for free after a rebate.

D'oh. Oh well, I'm sticking to it. I already started giving people the number. Besides, it's just money.

Anyhow, the phone is a Motorola RAZR V3. I've got to figure out how to unlock the thing though, before my possible travel in September. Feh.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Culture clash

Much to my shock, slashdot had a very interesting and insightful. I know, something insightful on slashdot may be hard to believe, but it was there! Unfortunately the comments were less so.

My new layout is coming along slowly, after two days of really hard work on it. On the other hand, I very nearly binge read ALL of the new Harry Potter book after work today. Maybe I'll throw some Lovecraft into the mix. There's nothing like mixing the macabre with Harry Potter.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


So I finally got around to paying money for a legit host for this blog, and eventually a site, should I get around to populating it with content.

I've started my own blogger template, loosely based on a mix of what this looks like, other sites look like, and my old site looked like. Confused? Perfect.

Work is going pretty well, and may warrant its own post in the future. I'm getting pretty nervous about things after this internship though.... I think life may be a bit hectic for a while.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Developers Developers Developers!

I've been trying to set up a new layout for this and hopefully a more populated with content site lately. In doing so, I decided to try and further my understanding of the over-so popular CSS.

Needless to say, I've found a lot of the experience rather frustrating. I guess the biggest reason is that CSS isn't really designed to do what I want to do with it. Which has led me to some strange observations.

CSS is intended to allow web page designers to separate content from layout, or so I've been led to believe. Column formats are some of the most frequent on the web, and are a natural extension to what we see in newspapers. CSS is supposed to allow people to stop using tables to set up page layouts, and instead focus on content.

Why then, are column layouts so needlessly hard? I don't understand how a specification can be designed that makes the most common and natural layout difficult for beginners. In fact, it looks like it is difficult for experts, considering sheer number of hacks one has to go through to do something that tables accommodates easily (namely, two columns with equal heights, with the possibility of a footer)

How is it that anyone forms a standard that doesn't solve any of the problems it was designed to do? I do not want a hammer, and my problem is not a nail.

If anyone out there reads this thing and knows how to solve this problem, please send me an email.

Truth be told, I almost think I might be better off just scrapping doing my own layout and sticking with blogger templates. Which sucks royally. Hopefully I'll be able to find a full example of a layout though, instead of snippets of hacks that don't work well.