Monday, 29 January 2007

Boo and Hiss - MindGames mag cancelled

Disappointment of the week is the hugely annoying news that the BBC's MindGames magazine has been cancelled after only 9 issues. The past 6 or 7 months have really got me back into puzzles (possibly to the not-so-beneficial impact on reading and working...), and this magazine had the largest, most diverse monthly set of puzzles I could have hoped for (rather than concentrating on Sudoku, or Japanese logic).

Still, it was admittedly a brave (but beautiful) move on behalf of the BBC. The sudden and surprise rise of Sudoku (and the emergence of other puzzles, such as Hutosiki in the Guardian and Brain Training games) was cause for some hope in the never-ending effort to get people thinking. While there any many magazines exploiting this fact, it was only the BBC that really took on the possibilities. The opportunity to introduce logic puzzlers not just to new variants, but also to cryptic crosswords, general knowledge rounds and all other codes and quests was adventurous and inspired.

But perhaps it was just before its time. The world likes little distractions, maybe, and MindGames was a fair undertaking within the limited time of a month. The true puzzlers are still relatively few and (importantly) far between, so its hard to tell how much of the inability to sell was merely a lack of advertising support.

Or maybe it simply tried to do too much. Cruciverbalists have their Times and Guardian daily dosage. Similarly with Sudoku fans. And pub quizzes provide a ncie social setting for those wishing to show their general knowledge prowess.

Still, I think there is a niche out there for a magazine like this. There seem to be plenty of people putting together puzzles, running blogs, and discussing the latest fashions. Perhaps a smaller magazine would be plausible. Perhaps even, in this day and age, some kind of community-run version would be a possibility. (Although, while the Net is great, I do like my puzzles printed - but I don't like printers... Paradox!)

Anyway, while we wait to see what the future brings for the puzzling world, raise a glass to toast the passing of another fine magazine.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

The Malice Box Quest has started

Meant to blog this the other day, but ended up going away instead. Oops. Ah well, I don't think it's too late to sign up for the Malice Box Quest yet.

The basic premise: The Malice Box is bad, but needs Red Gold to go off. By locating the 7 locations of Red Gold around the Earth, you can stop it going off. 7 rounds of 3 questions/puzzles each are released over a month. The more questions you get correct, the better your chance of getting the Red Gold's location correct. The 7 locations then give you a clue to where the Malice Box is, so the better your location guesses are, the more likely to find the final location (+ the more chances of guessing you get).

Nice idea, and nicely implemented - you browse around Google Maps to place your guesses. So far the puzzles (1 round) have been quite varied, plus even if you can just Google them, you still need to do some digging to work out how the answers fit together for a location. Plus it's only a month...

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Games/Puzzles vs the "Real World"?

So a post over on 'The Frontal Context' on Puzzles, Mysteries and the nature of Science explores the link between information, discovery and the unknown. But (for me) it also sparks another question: what links are there between puzzles/games, and the 'wider world'? How applicable are gaming aand puzzling skills to real, every day life?

There's a lot of discussion, for instance, over the effectiveness of 'Brain Training" style games, especially for the young, the old and, um, Carol Vorderman. But the more sceptical of us are wary of such a "straightforward" link between simple mental "exercises", and how quickly/deeply one's brain may be able to think. (I must admit here that while I'm sure there may be plenty of research into the area, I haven't had the time (or, indeed, inclination) to look any of it up.)

Experience suggests to me that puzzles offer a drastically diverse range of mental "exercise". Many Japanese logic puzzles, for example, are attractive because this logic offers us an extremely linear solution. "If A, then B. If B, then C." - There is little need to choose anything subjectively, or for guesswork. At any stage, you should know if you are right or wrong. This is one, very specific kind of exercise.

Other types of puzzle - random sums, and timed puzzles, for example - naturally lead to slightly different skills. But the issue of everyday applicability is still questionable.

By contrast, I offer an anecdote. Go is considered by many to be the greatest game around - greater than Chess, due to its simplicity, and the complexity that arises from this. Still, the same principle applies to Chess, nonetheless. After heading home from my 4th or 5th session of getting into Go, something clicked in my head and I realised that of the various traits needed to get off the ground, the ability to sacrifice was a hugely important one. The complexity of Go led to very important, but equally very basic strategy such as this, and the basicness of it, I find, makes it also very "transferable" into real life situations - sacrifice and compromise need to be considered at all times, whatever the aim.

This is, perhaps, an extreme, but it hopefully highlights the very real role that games and puzzles can have within a much wider existence. If life is one big puzzle/mystery, then what ideas and revelations can we take forth from "trivial" pursuits? What types of game and riddle do you find to have a much bigger impact on your train of thought than you ever expected? Do you notice the difference that games like Brain Training make in other activities at all? Do you even find that experience in life changes how you play games or solve puzzles?


Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Monitoring Progress

Just spent a fun few minutes going through Fields of logic, a game of, uh, logic - "work out what to do one each level" kind of thing. Took me less than a quarter of an hour, apparently, so nice little timewaster. On to its predecessor, next... Oh, and a big thoughtful post coming soon, I hope :)

(Via Jay is Games.)

Friday, 5 January 2007

MindGames podcast out

January's edition of the BBC MindGames podcast is out, with the usual mix of pub trivia questions and magazine plugs ;) This month, test your knowledge on children's TV, fat-fighting, pop music and celebrities. I admit to get a rather appaling 7 out of 20, and missing the "Weird News" round. Ah well :) You can find it/subscribe over at the MindGames Podcast page, or download it directly.