Tuesdays with Dr. Stabby

May 24 2012

Viva La Stumpy

WORLD HIST - A national commission formed by a South American government estimates that, during a period from 1976 to 1983 in what has come to be known as the Dirty War (Guerra Sucia), 13,000 individuals in the country were killed or disappeared. Name the country.


The Dirty War doesn’t have its own musical, but covers a tumultuous and tragic period of Argentina’s history. Isabel Peron was ousted by a military coup that instated the National Reorganization Process. It was Argentina’s defeat in the Falkland War that lead to the junta’s eventual downfall. The first democratically elected president to follow the junta, Raul Alfonsin, investigated the Dirty War. This investigation lead to the Nunca Mas (Never Again) report, a perennial best-seller in Argentina. Alfonsin attempted to straddle a line of prosecution against the military and appeasement to prevent further coups, but was eventually ousted from office in 1989, ceding his office 6 months in advance of the presidential elections.



LITERATURE - The Red Room and The People of Hemsö are novels from what playwright and novelist, considered the father of modern Swedish literature?


August Strindberg influenced numerous other playwrights throughout the western world. Eugene O’Neill, upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, dedicated much of his acceptance speech to Strindberg. Although Strindberg was best known for his literary work, he also dabbled in painting, alchemy, the occult, photography, and strangely enough, telegraphy.


May 21 2012

Here Comes The Stump Again

POP MUSIC - What is the stage name of this pop music superstar? Click here.

Rain is a South Korean singer and actor perhaps best known to US audiences from his R&B music and the movies Speed Racer and Ninja Assassin. But fans of Stephen Colbert may remember him from 2007. Rain topped Stephen by 100,000 in an on-line Time poll for the 100 most influential people (Rain was #1, Stephen #2). Stephen challenged Rain to a dance-off, which Rain responded to on May 5, 2008. (In classic Colbert style, the dance-off was done using a Dance, Dance Revolution machine.)


May 18 2012

Completely Stumped

SCIENCE - At a fixed temperature, the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to the pressure exerted by the gas. This is, simply stated, a law in the field of chemistry first published (and subsequently named after) what 17th c. scientist?


Robert Boyle is considered one of the founders of modern chemistry, and his work, Sceptical Chemistry is a cornerstone of the science. However, Robert Boyle was also a director for the East India Trading Company, and contributed heavily to missionary groups attempting to convert natives. In his will, Boyle funded a series of talks aimed at defending Christianity, and these talks, known as the Boyle Lecturs, were revived in 2004.


May 17 2012

Where Everybody Doesn’t Get Stumped

Among the main characters on the television series Cheers when its run concluded in May 1993, the only one never to appear subsequently on the series Frasier was the character played by whom?


Spin-offs are a weird duck. While commonly perceived as short-lived inferiors to the original series, a spin-off can occasionally do as well as or surpass its source. For every Joey, there’s a Frasier and for every AfterM*A*S*H there’s a Simpsons.

Some of the more successful spin-offs in US television history:

  • Frasier: Both Cheers and Frasier lasted eleven seasons, and both received numerous Emmy nominations and wins (Cheers' 111 Emmy noms is a record, but Frasier took home more trophies than Cheers, 37-28). Cheers went out on a high note as a top 10 show during it’s final season, while Frasier had slunk to the middle of the ratings pack. Most of the Cheers gang appeared in a single Frasier episode, season 9’s “Cheerful Goodbye”, in case anyone was wondering what the hell Carla Tortelli was doing in Seattle.
  • NCIS: NCIS will go into its 10th season next year, rising from a show out of the top #20 to a show in the top #5 the last few years. The show spun off from JAG, which also lasted 10 seasons, but never broke the top #10. NCIS has now spawned its own spin-off, NCIS: LA.
  • The Simpsons: The longest-running spin-off in history, its 23 seasons dwarfs its source The Tracy Ullman Show by a good two decades. During the show’s run, there have been four different presidents, the Dow Jones has risen over 10,000 points, and the world’s populaton has added 2 billion people.

Finally, some spin-off weirdness: In 2001, Lipton aired two commercials for its Sizzle & Stir product that featured several D-list celebrities living together. These two commercials inspired a VH1 reality show called The Surreal Life, which in turn spawned Surreal Life: Fame Games (which spawned two series with Pepa), My Fair Brady and Strange Love with Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen. Strange Love spun off Flavor Of Love, which spun off I Love New York, which spun off New York Goes to Hollywood and New York Goes to Work as well as Real Chance of Love, which spawned Real and Chance: Legend Hunters. The less said about an additional spin-off, Frank the Entertainer: A Basement Affair, the better. In addition, Flavor of Love inspired Rock of Love, which spun off Daisy of Love. Rock of Love Bus, and Brett Michaels: Life as I Know It. Several of these shows spun off together into Charm School and I Love Money. Megan Wants a Millionaire is at the bottom of this web of spinoffs. One of the contestants on Megan and I Love Money 3, Ryan Jenkins, murdered Playboy model Jasmine Fiore and killed himself a week later. Because of this, the remaining episodes of Megan were pulled, and entire season of I Love Money scrapped. (I Love Money 4 was produced and aired, with the understanding that this would be the last series in this web produced.) All this from a Lipton product.



I Won’t Get Stumped Again

A groundbreaking 1963 book describing a widespread phenomenon introduced by the author as the problem that has no name was given a name, in her book’s title. What was it?


Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique stemmed from conversations she had with fellow Smith graduates about dissatisfaction and unhappiness stemming from lives as housewives and mothers. The book is widely credited with beginning the second-wave of feminism in the United States, and Friedan herself went on to help found the National Organization of Women as well as serve as its first president.


May 16 2012

What I Don’t Know Won’t Stump Me Again…I Hope

Learned League 53 has begun, and I wanted to start a blog similar to ericberlin.com, yet have it be a more in-depth discussion on one of the questions I missed.

From the Greek for black and islands, this is a term commonly used for a region of Oceania directly northeast of Australia, including the islands of New Guinea, Fiji, and Vanuatu.


Oceania’s a weird duck of a geographical entity…fuzzily defined, encompassing numerous islands, and not well understood. Technically it’s a ecozone, or a broad geographical division that corresponds roughly with floristic kingdoms in botany and zoogeographic regions in zoology. Oceania is the second smallest of the eight, the smallest being Antarctica, and includes three or four regions, depending on who you ask.

Melanesia is easily the least known of the four. Polynesia (“Many islands”), Micronesia (“Small islands”), and Malaysia are the other three. The term was originally used in 1832 to differentiate these islands from the other regions. The person who coined the term, Jules Dumont D’Urville, was also one of the earliest explorers of Antarctica, although quite accidentally when his ships became trapped in the ice floes off the coast.

Melanesia also boasts the most dense rate of languages in relation to land mass in the world, with over 1300 in just 700 square miles. Rosetta Stone, you have your work cut out for you.


Mar 06 2012


When it comes to Mystery Hunt style puzzles, metas are the centerpiece, and usually garner the most attention and criticism. Metapuzzles often fall into one of two big categories:

  • Pure Meta. This is a meta where the answers by themselves yields an answer. Pure metas can be really difficult to write, but a pleasure to solve, as they have to encode both an extraction technique and ordering technique.
  • Shell Meta. This is a meta that relies on some additional puzzle or piece of information to translate. This may be as simple as a chart in which the answers are entered, or combining the results of some other puzzle. Shells are often easier to write, as the answers do much less work.

A big divide exists in the puzzle community between people who like shell metas and people who despise shell metas. A shell meta when done right can be a beautiful work of art, and a shell meta done wrong can be a trainwreck.

Pointing to the Puzzle Boat for example, most of the metas in this are shell metas. Each puzzle answer becomes an input for a given metapuzzle that ties into the theme of the round. In the Dilbert round, for example, solvers must take the answers that correlate with specific Dilbert characters and enter them into a grid, following the characters line of sight, while Dilbert then denotes a path through that grid. Of the metas I wrote for the Puzzle Boat, it was the one I was proudest of. In the 2011 MIT Mystery Hunt, even the most die-hard shell meta detractor had to appreciate the beauty of the Mega Man and Civilization meta structures.

One of the reasons solvers may be disappointed in a shell meta is the lack of cohesion among the answers. Part of the joy in solving these types of hunts is getting that a-ha when you look at a group of words or phrases and suddenly realize “Hey, these are words from Sherlock Holmes stories” or “Hey, these are all phrases that combine a color from Guitar Hero and a five-letter word!” When I write shell metas for P&A, I try to:

  • If possible, still have some sort of connection between the answers themselves (and tie it into the shell meta)
  • Have puzzle titles be thematically related and have puzzle answers that relate to the titles (albeit worked backwards)

As an example, the first Vampire Puzzle issue involved a shell meta, but solvers still had to recognize each answer had a pair of fangs: two Vs, which were then used to help place the answers in a larger grid. Solvers still at least get some sense of connection between the answers.

By way of contrast, the Irate Avians had a group of unrelated answers (albeit they were all eight-letters long), but I really focused on making sure that each answer tied into a type of bird. Thus, even though the solver doesn’t get the satisfaction of seeing a connection between the answers, they at least get repeated satisfaction in seeing the connection between puzzle answers and puzzle titles, which already have a tight connection.

To keep things positive, what has been your favorite shell meta (MIT Mystery Hunt, P&A, or other source) and why?


Feb 28 2012

Extraction Distractions

It’s 2AM, and you’ve just spent the last 3 hours trying to solve a diagramless crossword or identify TV shows by their credit sequences as interpreted using Legos, and now you ask yourself, “How do I get answer out of this?”

Extraction is the last step before finishing a hunt-style puzzle. It involves figuring out how to get something meaningful out of the words, phrases, and images that you’ve unravelled. There are two rules for extraction:

  1. It should be really clever, and thematically apt OR
  2. It should be really simple.

Anything else is a waste. As an example: The puzzle Picture an Acorn has a really clever way to extract the answer. Given a series of 20 circular images broken into 20 segments and a blank circle with 20 segments, the idea of somehow taking one segment from each image to create a final image seems pretty clear. Now take the puzzle Yo Dawg, I Herd You Like Puzzle Hunts. A great puzzle, but the extraction process is pretty simple and straightforward.

Now consider the puzzle How Hard Can It Be? The puzzle type is pretty common (I’ve referred to it as ISIS, identify, sort, index, solve). In this case, the puzzle resolves to a series of descriptions of Stig, the anonymous driver on Top Gear. The problem is the extraction process is unbelievably onerous. One has to enter into a separate grid vehicles Stig drove, using the way the car was referred to in the episode (which itself is difficult to ascertain). Finally, one has to read a series of circles from the grid in order to get the answer.

In the first example, the puzzle was “Identify the misspelled phrase from the image” and the author sticks with that throughout. In the second puzzle, the puzzle was “Solve these puzzles within puzzles that give things within things” and let’s the extraction not get in the way. This last example however creates an entirely separate puzzle, and that’s where the problem lies. When you write a puzzle, you want your solve to enjoy what the puzzle was about, not get caught up in how to organize or process the information.

What can trip puzzle authors up is feeling as if they need to present some new form of extraction for the puzzle to work. Certainly in big hunts, like the MIT Mystery Hunt, one has to worry about solvers getting bored with plain old indexing or reading diagonals. But it’s better to go with this than have solvers get stuck feeling like the puzzle should be finished, and instead are spending an hour trying different techniques.

Final thoughts: Really simple is a matter of perspective. For solving novices, even an acrostic (first letters) is a stretch. The easiest method is highlighted letters in blanks, then acrostic, then diagonal. Other tried and true methods involve leftover letters and trace-the-paths. Also, this is not an admonition to never use a clever extraction technique, but as noted, make the technique clear by emphasizing whatever you think will lead the solver to the right technique, as Greg Clark and Skuld did with Revisiting History.

What are your thoughts?

EDITED: Fixed my explanation of ISIS. Thanks Trip.


Jan 18 2012

This Week’s Tuesday with Dr. Stabby Delayed…

…until tomorrow. In part because of sick kittens yesterday, in part because of SOPA/PIPA today.

1 note  /  

Page 1 of 2