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Something has happened

The mysterious YouTube channel Pronunciation Book has reached the end of its 77-day countdown, about which I wrote briefly. When I awoke on Tuesday morning, the final day, I didn't know what to expect; I was just trying to enjoy the ride. That wasn't the case for many people across the Internet, who seemed to spend much of their waking lives on forums dissecting every detail of the countdown videos, the picture encoded by the buzzing therein, Pronunciation Book's previous work, and a strange Tumblr that popped up with twenty days remaining. Excitement and speculation ran high.

The channel turned out to be merely a sort of art project, in conjunction with the spam Twitter account horse_ebooks, which was also unmasked on Tuesday. The responsible parties held a one-day exhibit in a New York City gallery in which a few people sat a table, answering phone calls with horse_ebooks tweets and immediately hanging up. (Gawker posted a look at the proceedings.) More enticingly for those who want the creativity to continue, a new alternate reality game called Bear Stearns Bravo was announced in the two accounts' final releases, though the material appears to be related to neither Pronunciation Book nor horse_ebooks.

Many followers were disappointed and upset. Was that all? No grand climax or big reveal? YouTube and the forum at were besieged with angry messages. (I suppose that's normal on YouTube, but still.) I can't help but find the backlash a bit silly. The analysis of Pronunciation Book was rife with all sorts of conspiracy theories and insane leaps of logic; there's not much that would have lived up to the creators of those fanciful ideas. Some railed against the ARG, saying it was lame and that there was no way they were going to pay to play it. I disagree; I think it could be a cool experience and I'm willing to pay a measly seven bucks to dive in. I heard about but did not participate in This Is My Milwaukee, another Synydyne project, so I'm eager to experience their work firsthand this time around. In short, I think a lot of people got really carried away and are now crashing back to Earth, and frankly I think these folks need to lighten up.

See you in the Cowboy Cafe!


Shining moment

Last weekend was a very successful puzzle-hunting one! The biggest thrill came on Saturday, when the League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen achieved an unlikely victory in the Berkeley Mystery Hunt! We were certain triumph would elude us when we took an unsettlingly long time on a meta, but we arrived at the final challenge with just one team leading us by mere minutes. Even then, it seemed to be a long shot. Fortunately, that puzzle was a meatball right down the heart of the plate. Yup, it was a crossword. There was a twist, of course, but with the whole team shouting out answers, it was quickly defeated; I barely ever stopped writing! We raced down to CAL 9000, a robot that wasn't willing to let Berkeley puzzler Ankur Mehta graduate and leave it behind. Using information our grid, we set up a series of mirrors, then aimed a laser through all of them to activate an interface, which accepted the puzzle's final answer. A very cool final puzzle, and a most exciting win for our team. My compatriots were kind enough to let me keep the big awesome coin and it's made a nice addition to the wall just outside my door.

The next day, I also enjoyed Lumber Party at the Octothorpean website. My teammates were unavailable, but I was able to take down the whole thing, including one backsolve, in about an hour on my own. Looking forward to more on this site!

Looking over to Kickstarter, Roger Wolff's cryptic crossword project is in its final days, and he's thrown in a hell of an enticement to help get it over the finish line. For just a $10 addition to your pledge, you can get a giant block cryptic for your wall! That's way better than some other giant crossword snoozefest. Do it!

In exciting, mysterious, creepy, possible-ARG news, something strange is going on at the Pronunciation Book channel on YouTube. After years of short, innocuous guides to American pronunciation of various words and names, the series has begun an unnerving 77-day countdown, giving us only opaque sentences and telling us that "something is going to happen." Theories abound as to what we're facing here; popular ideas involve promotions for Half-Life 3 and Halo 5 and a new Battlestar Galactica. I'll refrain from speculation, but I'll be watching with great interest, hoping for a cool ARG!


Cooling down

I'm back in the Bay Area, which you may know as the only part of the country that isn't blazing hot right now. Yes, I'm bragging.

I always suffer a bit of a hangover after the National Puzzlers' League convention; while I drank in moderation, I averaged only about five hours of sleep per night. Catch-up on life and sleep has kept me silent on the blog this week, but I hope to have a Con report soon. In the meantime, there's stuff happening this weekend!

As this post publishes, I'll be almost ready to wake up and head over to Berkeley for this year's Berkeley Mystery Hunt. The League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen are the defending champions, and we've beefed ourselves up even further this year. Bring it on!

Then, on Sunday morning, Larry Hosken is staging a short hunt on his new site as sort of a teaser for a larger hunt to come soon. I might shelve this one for later, since my team is unavailable. Whenever I get to it, I think it will be fun, so check it out.

For Sunday night relaxation, there's Whodunnit? Anybody else watching this? My friend Natalie has some good recaps going at her blog if that's your thing.


Missed opportunity

Good luck to everyone participating in the US Puzzle Championship on Saturday. I'm taking a weekend trip and will be unable to do it this year. That's extremely annoying, but it's not like I'd have a great shot to make the team anyway. I'll simulate test conditions at some later point and report my theoretical score and which impossibly stupid entry error I would've made.

In other news, Alex and I are mindful of the saying "Always leave them wanting more," so Crossword Race is drawing to at least a temporary close after six episodes. Here they are in one place for your repeated viewing pleasure.


Ha ha! Classic.



Some time ago, on Wired's Decode blog, I wrote about an immersive and, frankly, very weird alternate reality game in San Francisco called Games of Nonchalance. The game drew to a close more than two years ago, but remains etched on the memories of those who experienced it. Adding to the mystique of this unique creation is The Institute, a new film by Spencer McCall. I was lucky enough to take in this documentary recently at a small screening in the city.

The movie weaves interviews with player-shot footage to paint a picture of each phase of the Games of Nonchalance. The places and situations and characters, as depicted, largely retain the mystery that surrounded them when the game was active; thus, the film blurs the line between fact and fiction just as a good ARG does. Particularly intriguing are those interviews, which feature designers, devoted participants, and others. Certainly, we get insightful statements from game masters Jeff Hull, Sara Thacher, and Uriah Findley, as well as from several people who seem genuine in their immersion in the experience. However, reality isn't quite so clear in a few other cases. A man named Kelvin Williams talks about going so far down the rabbit hole that he broke into a house and became stuck in the labyrinthine basement, where he remained until he was found and rescued by other players. Some cursory research indicates that Williams is a character, but his story is presented as matter-of-factly as the others. Even weirder are the interviews with "Organeil," who took the experience extremely seriously, and, he claims, was so betrayed by it that he became a shut-in.

It's moments like that in the film that really poke at the viewer's mind. The Games of Nonchalance may have been rooted in fantasy, but the effects they could have, and did have, on many players are very real. For some it was a mere diversion, but for others it was much more. Knowing about the latter might make the former group wonder: Was it really just a game?

Ultimately, The Institute may be best appreciated by those who played and are looking to revisit that small, strange chapter in their lives. It is, though, a well-crafted and engaging movie, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in a good story that spills into the real world. Screenings are very limited right now, but wider distribution, including through Netflix, should be coming soon, so look out for it. If you pay attention, you might even catch a bread crumb hinting at the designers' next project...


We’re poets and we’re quite aware of it

Quick post today... first off, Crossword Race Episode 5 is posted. This time, I have to solve with lots of clue words replaced by rhymes. This one's a real nailbiter, folks, so dive in.

Also, the qualifying test for the US Sudoku Team is today, and it doubles as another event in the Sudoku Grand Prix. Those seeking a place on the American team will have to do the test at 1 PM Eastern today, while international solvers can get Grand Prix points by taking it any time this weekend. I, unfortunately, will have to go the latter route, as I have a conflict today. This comes on the heels of missing the UK test because it was scheduled late and I didn't get the email. Annoying, but them's the breaks. Good luck, everyone!



It's been a while; you'd be correct in thinking that I've been busy. Two quick things to share with you on this Friday.

Two more episodes of CROSSWORD RACE have gone online; here's the third and the fourth. Here, you'll see a preponderance of turtles as well as the much-clamored-for Translation Party episode. Will either gimmick allow Alex his first win? Find out, and tell your friends to watch too!

Also, I joined up with Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling from the awesome Lone Shark Games to make a puzzle hunt celebrating Wired's 20th anniversary. Search through the archives to find the answers to our clues and eventually reach the final answer! You can find the clues on Wired's Twitter feed, or catch up by looking at Mike's running list. If you like, use the #wired20 hashtag to collaborate with the hivemind; these clues are tough!

That's it for now, but look out for DASH 5 and the Shinteki Decathlon in the next few weeks!


Wide open spaces

The next episode of CROSSWORD RACE is out! In this thrilling installment, Alex withholds the grid pattern, so I have to figure it out myself. Will it put me in too big a hole? Watch and see! Also, subscribe, tell your friends, etc.

In other crossword news, consider this your final reminder for the Marbles crossword tournament! I'll be at the Stonestown Galleria on Saturday and I hope to see you there!


In which I become a viral video sensation

Here is a thing I did along with Alex Boisvert (of Crossword Nexus) using a puzzle from Brendan Emmett Quigley and the XWord software. I think it's cool and will get cooler as we do more episodes. You should watch it a bunch of times and share it just as often. Hooray.


To your brain through your ears

I put in a guest appearance on Good Job, Brain!, a new trivia podcast a few friends have started. Not surprisingly, the topic is words, and there's some good puzzle-related chatter in here. I had a lot of fun. Go have a listen!