Posts Tagged ‘strange’

Instrument reads tattoos as sheet music

Dmitry Morozov)

Musical instruments, by design, usually require a human agent to work (player pianos and robotic bands notwithstanding). Usually, though, this involves some kind of active intervention, such as pressing keys, plucking strings, or blowing.

“Reading my body” by Moscow-based artist, musician, and engineer Dmitry Morozov is a little different: The human becomes partially passive, the instrument active, in a strange personal symbiosis. The instrument can only play when it reads and plays a tattoo on Morozov’s arm, much as a human would read and play a score.

“This is a special instrument that combines human body and robotic system into a single entity that is designed to automate creative process in an attempt to represent the artist and his instrument as a creative hybrid,” Morozov wrote of his project. “The device consists of a railing with comfortable hand holders and two parallel, but offset from each other black lines’ sensors that move along the arm using a stepper motor. It is equipped with a 3-dimensional
Wii remote controller that uses the OSC protocol in order to give a possibility of additional expression achieved by moving hand in space.”

Morozov designed the tattoo to contain the maximum number of variable time slots between triggers. By moving his arm, Morozov can control the speed and step length of the sensors, resulting in an infinite number of patterns — and, therefore, compositions that can be produced. However, the instrument can also be programmed to operate autonomously.

The result is a soundscape that sounds alien, like a cross between the theremin sounds so popular in sci-fi films of the ’60s with the voice of a computer.

This is not the first time Morozov has played around with translating unusual signals into sounds. His work “post code” was an installation that converted bar codes into glitchy music.

We really hope someone figures out a way to combine Morozov’s instrument with Hieronymus Bosch’s Buttmusik…

(Source: Crave Australia via Prosthetic Knowledge)

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Kaffe qif qiya! Finally, a course to help kids learn Dothraki

Completely appropriate for children, the Muzzy Dothraki language program will have your kids running their own khalasar in no time!

Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET)

Hey kids! Have you ever wanted to learn how to say “I will dance in your blood?” in the Dothraki language made popular on “Game of Thrones”? Parents, do you want to arm your kids with vital language skills in a world that’s increasingly being taken over by strange terms like “Valyrian steel,” and “mother of dragons?” If so, video-spoof-making team Nacho Punch has got just the thing for you.

Their latest YouTube parody takes a 1990s commercial for a video set that teaches kids to learn a foreign language by following along with the slightly creepy character “Muzzy,” and melds it with the fantasy world of “Game of Thrones.”

“With this unique language course,” the video says, “humans, giants and even bastards can learn a second language with incredible ease.” The course isn’t just for wannabe Dothraki speakers either. It also offers lessons in Valyrian, Hodor and White Walker.

The cost for the set of “four delightful videos” is a deal too: just three petrified dragon eggs, or 20 gold pieces a month for six months.

Even though the video is a spoof, such a language-learning set for Dothraki isn’t really that crazy. The language actually exists. It was created by David Peterson, who won a contest sponsored by the Language Creation Society to invent the vocabulary and grammar for the HBO show. It has more than 3,000 words and a Web site that tells you all you’d ever really want to know about speaking the language.

The Muzzy/Dothraki mashup is just one of the latest in a long line of Nacho Punch short animations like “Star Wars: The Lost 1980s Anime,” humorous series like “Robin Banks and the Bank Roberts,” and spoof videos like “Hipsters Love Beer,” which went viral after it was released in January, according to the Nacho Punch peeps.

So act soon to reserve a Dothraki Muzzy language course for your kids, because you never know when they’ll need to talk their way out a tricky situation with a nomadic horde at school. And Qafak qov kaffe qif qiya fini kaf faqqies fakaya! (That means, “The trembling questioner crushed the bleeding boar that squished a kicking corn bunting,” but I’m still learning, so give me a break.)

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Prepare Barbie for battle with 3D-printed armor

Designer Jim Rodda wants to make sure Barbie is ready for battle in this 3D printed medieval armor.

Designer Jim Rodda wants to make sure Barbie is ready for battle in this 3D-printed medieval armor.

Jim Rodda)

Barbie can be anything — an astronaut, doctor, Air Force pilot, rock star, police officer, computer engineer — so why not a warrior? That’s exactly what 3D designer Jim Rodda, known as Zheng3 in the hobbyist 3D-printing community, envisioned when he started a Kickstarter campaign to create Barbie-compatible 3D-printed medieval armor.

It started because Rodda’s 4-year-old niece has a birthday coming up and he wanted to design and print a unique gift for her.

“The original plan was to make My Little Pony-compatible glitter cannons, but the engineering turned out to be beyond what I could handle in a reasonable amount of time,” Rodda told Crave. “So I back-burnered that idea, but was still interested in making accessories for toys she already had. I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since forever, so my design thinking often goes towards fantasy medieval themes. From there it’s a short mental hop to armor for Barbie dolls.”

According to the Kickstarter page, the funding covers the biodegradable plastic to print the armor and replacement printer parts, as well as “the time needed to design a highly detailed suit of armor, with all the engraving, ensorcelling, and enameling Barbie’s parade panoply deserves.”
While Rodda isn’t selling the actual Barbie dolls, his armor designs will fit the standard Barbie Fashionistas Barbie Doll.

“The design is a hodgepodge of German and French armor styles from the 13th through 16th centuries, with artistic compromises made for Barbie’s unusual body shape and strange joints,” Rodda said. The armor consists of 30 pieces, including the sword and shield. Many of the pieces articulate with 3D-printed chain links, so in total, about 40 pieces of plastic make up an entire suit.

“This armor’s plain-Jane in design,” Rodda added. “After the Kickstarter is funded I’ll be doing a revision that keeps the same basic form but with lots of engraving and enameling. It’s got to look lovely, or Barbie wouldn’t wear it.”

In addition to the Barbie armor, theres also the Athena Makeover Kit which comes with a spear, shield and winged boots.

In addition to the Barbie armor, there’s also the Athena Makeover Kit which comes with a spear, shield and winged boots.

Jim Rodda)

For those excited about the prospect of Barbie fitted with armor, Rodda also suggests that anyone who already has access to a 3D printer download a copy of his Athena Makeover Kit.

With more and more animated female characters bypassing ballgowns for battle gear, the idea of a armor-clad Barbie doll isn’t so far fetched.

“Kids should play with Barbie in the way that best helps them explore their imaginations,” Rodda said. “For some, that’s going to be putting Barbie in a dress, and for others that means dressing her in plate mail.”

The Kickstarter project, if fully funded, will be distributing the armor under a Creative Commons License, which was important to Rodda.

“Once the Kickstarter is funded I’ll be shipping digital blueprints to all of my backers so that they can print copies at home,” Rodda explained. “There’s little I can do to prevent the files from being shared once I give them to backers, so I feel it’s better to embrace the distribution rather than fight it. As long as people credit me as the original designer, I’m happy. CC licensing is also an implicit stamp of approval telling people, ‘Go ahead, change this. Remix it. Explore your creativity. Share it with the world.’”

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Smells like terrier spirit: ‘First Sniff’ spoofs ‘First Kiss’ video

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET)

First there were strangers kissing each other on video, then were there strangers of the canine variety sniffing each other.

And while the former, “First Kiss,” quickly went viral before viewers enchanted with its supposed raw emotion discovered it was an ad promoting a new fashion line, the parody “First Sniff” may actually give us all a moment to paws and appreciate something truly charming — pups that just want to say hello.

In “First Sniff,” created by ad agency Mother London, the highly attractive models, musicians, and actors from filmmaker Tatiana Pilieva’s arty “First Kiss” video are replaced with adorable dogs wagging their tails and greeting each other in the traditional way.

“We tried to get some dogs to kiss for the first time…” Mother London says in its video. And canines of all kinds obliged with delightful reactions that it almost puts the human video to shame.

There’s even a sleek and slender dog wearing his cone of shame who still manages to captivate a petite pooch and give a sniff. Greyhounds, cocker spaniels, terriers, and mutts of many breeds sit, lick faces, sniff furry butts, and give more longing looks than a Jane Austen film.

Of course, “First Sniff” is only one of the parodies that sprung up after the Internet got infatuated with the kiss video and then found out it might not have been as innocent of a human experiment as it first seemed. One spoof features interactions between cats, and another between frisky humans. Still another shows Brits “who definitely aren’t super confident, hot American models,” kissing for the first time.

But we can’t help but adore the puppy-love one most. Love at first sight isn’t so far-fetched after all.

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Man unknowingly becomes ‘More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock’ (in part)

Sexier than this?

Guttural Truth/YouTube; screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

Being drunk can carry with it difficult consequences.

These might be summarized by the phrase “doing something incredibly stupid.”

It’s easy to forget in the morning, you might imagine. But some consequences only hit you years later. When you apply for a passport, for example.

A man in Dunedin, New Zealand, has just discovered that losing a bet four years ago has become more real than he thought.

As the New Zealand Herald reports, the 22-year-old man is now Full Metal Havok More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes Combined With Frostnova.

It doesn’t fit easily on a dating profile, does it?

However, the story goes that after he lost at poker he was forced to change his name to something just one character under the legal limit in New Zealand.

How these particular 99 characters came to pass is a mystery. One can only assume that he is himself something of a Trekkie or at least a technophile. Or that the name was forced upon him by technophiles who won the bet.

What’s quite startling is that this name was accepted at all.

Names that have recently been rejected by New Zealand authorities include Majesty, King, Knight, Princess, Justice, Anal, V8, 89, Mafia No Fear, Lucifer, full stop and *.

Honestly, who would want to call themselves Anal? Someone proud of their OCD aspects?

It’s not clear whether the man will change his name back to something more edible.

I wonder, though, how he currently introduces himself. “Hi, I’m Full,” might incite strange reactions.

On the other hand, “Hi, I’m More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes” would surely go down well on a first date.

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Craig Ferguson ‘f-ing’ loves science with new TV show

CBS Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson to executive produce new TV show all about the lighter side of science. No word on robot sidekick, Geoff Peterson, cameos.

CBS “Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson will produce a new TV show all about the lighter side of science. No word on a robot sidekick, Geoff Peterson, or cameos.


Science shows don’t have to be all academics and no fun. This past weekend at
South by Southwest, comedian and late-night TV host Craig Ferguson announced plans to produce a new show based on the popular blog I F-ing Love Science.

According to the “I F-ing Love Science” Facebook page, “We’re here for the science — the funny side of science. Quotes, jokes, memes, and anything your admin finds awesome and strange. If you take yourself seriously, you’re on the wrong page. We’re dedicated to bringing the amazing world of science straight to your newsfeed in an amusing and accessible way. Tell us what makes you say ‘wow!’”

Elise Andrew, the blog founder and Facebook moderator, is also employed by LabX Media Group, which also owns LabWrench, as well as publishes Lab Manager Magazine and The Scientist.

“If you know anything about me, you know I love science,” Ferguson said in his announcement via their blog. “Science has a naughty secret — it’s that all things are connected. And this show is going to explore the randomness of science. Think of it as a late night Google search that goes a hundred pages deep until things get weird — and then you just keep going. And there is no better partner for this kind of smart entertainment like Science Channel and Elise.”

The show will debut this summer and will run an hour long. Andrew will guide the show with Ferguson as a consulting producer and will contribute to the editorial voice of the show.

“In just two short years, we’ve amassed a following of ten million people,” Andrew posted on her science blog. “Via social media alone, we reach fifty million people a week. With this new venture, we’ll be able to reach million of new people and show them exactly why science is so damn exciting.”

I F-ing Love Science isnt the first blog to get its own TV show, but it could be the most informative.

“I F-ing Love Science” isn’t the first blog to get its own TV show, but it could be the most informative.

Elise Andrew)

(Via Huffington Post)

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Kissing YouTube video goes viral (oh, no, it’s an ad)

Nice clothes.

Tatiana Pilieva/YouTube; screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

Here is the lesson from the Web this week: it takes just a couple of days to get 25 million people to pay attention.

All you have to do is show them other people enjoying their first kiss. And, preferably, being slightly embarrassed about it because they’re total strangers.

This fine artistic ruse emerged on Monday, courtesy of filmmaker Tatiana Pilieva.

Here were 10 pairs of people meeting for the very first time, locking eyes, and, shortly thereafter, lips.

We sighed in wonderment. Well, not all of us. Some of us were suspicious about the fact that these people were, on the whole, remarkably pretty.

Of course they’d want to kiss each other. Pretty people generally do. In fact, there is evidence that all pretty people ever do is kiss other pretty people.

Moreover, these people seemed to have the casual, well-dressed air of models — the sort of models you’re supposed to believe are real people, but who actually aren’t.

And so, once millions and millions stared at this video and marveled at the pairs that had been brought together, some news seeped onto Twitter.

A fashion house called Wren Studio offered a tweet that read, in part, “To celebrate the debut of our Fall 14 collection, we asked 20 strangers to kiss for the first time.”

As Wren Studio’s founder and creative director, Melissa Coker, told Fashionista: “I emailed a bunch of people I know, through my personal life, through Wren. I tried to be diverse. Some of them are musicians. But the guy with the tattoos, he actually works at Wren.”

Business Insider offers that the majority of the featured strangers were “models, actors, and musicians with plenty of experience acting in front of a camera.”

Well, indeed. Snogging a stranger on camera is not a simple task. Indeed, snogging a stranger in front of other people without a camera isn’t always easy.

Still, I am most impressed by the fact that this is an ad for the fall collection. There is symbolism here.

You see how ahead of their (your) time these fashion people are? They know what you’ll be thinking and feeling in six months’ time.

What you’ll be thinking and feeling right now is whether any of the couples in the video are still together. And why some fashion studio had to spoil your fantasies.

The Web giveth, the Web taketh away.

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The Web at 25: Out of the ashes and onto the Friendster

Resting on the Yukon River in 2003. I went a little further than most when I fled the fallout of the dot-com bust.

Johanna DeBiase)

In part 1 of “The Web at 25,” I recalled the early days of the Web and how it exposed young, emerging nerds like myself to whole new worlds online. In part 2, the story continued as I came of age alongside the Web during the era of the dot-com boom and bust. Today, on the actual 25th birthday of Tim Berners-Lee submitting the concept that became the World Wide Web, I’ll revisit the long, painful hangover (it was a literal hangover, in my case) that followed until the eventual emergence of Web 2.0 that laid the foundation for today’s social and mobile Renaissance.

In 2002 in San Francisco, the South of Market district that once bustled with startups paying high rents had become a wasteland of empty offices. There was a mass exodus of tens of thousands from the Bay Area, including me. After years of being a teenage Web monkey and writer in high demand for just my most basic skills, I took the only job offered me, sight unseen, in Galena, Alaska, at an AM radio station where I was one of two full-time employees.

After a decade of living the digital revolution, I had gone all analog. And unlike in Silicon Valley, where loyalty was only as strong as the next best offer and hopping from startup to startup was common, I had signed a two-year contract. The penalty for breaking that contract was to pay back the thousands of dollars in moving expenses it took to relocate someone from the lower 48 to a tiny fly-in village that’s closer to Siberia than to the state capitol in Juneau. I was already in plenty of debt thanks to some paychecks that never arrived from now-bankrupt startups, so I wasn’t about to leave. I was locked in until at least 2004.

My Web design skills were still sub-par in 2002. (Click to enlarge.)

Eric Mack/CNET)

For a while, I tried to juggle the responsibilities of running the only radio station within 250 miles in all directions — news, weather, and country music in the morning, more news and classic rock in the afternoons — with trying not to freeze to death and still keeping a toe in the digital waters from a distance.

I gathered up other dot-com refugees from my Ironminds days and edited an online concern called Nine Planets that probably looked way too much like McSweeney’s in retrospect. That only lasted for a few months, before eventually being demoted to dwell in the forgotten spaces, much like the no-longer ninth planet the name references. In mid 2002, I posted this excuse for the demise of the site, which would also come to serve as my final goodbye to the Web 1.0 world:

The straight and strange truth is that Nine Planets currently lives in a remote rural village on the Yukon River in Western Alaska to which no roads lead. This makes it particularly difficult for Nine Planets to get a decent computer system and/or Internet connection. 24 hours of sunlight during the summer made it particularly difficult to continue spending extra hours at work where the only digital devices reside. When Nine Planets did find a decent computer on eBay, it took a month to be shipped from Maine and appears to have gotten royally f****d up in the process. But more darkness and equipment are on their way, and hence more depression and content will surely follow.

More content did not follow. At least not from me.

A cyborg no more
After that, I spent the next few years living life as a “normal” person. I was no longer an early adopter; I did not own a cell phone or have access to broadband; I did not use the word “content” in an online context. After spending most of my life plugged in, I was now less wired than my mother, who was just beginning to use email at the time.

Strangely, I didn’t miss it much. Perhaps because there was plenty to distract me. Besides the fascinating landscape, people, culture, weather, and Northern Lights, the local bar charged just three bucks for any drink you wanted. ANY drink. During evenings and weekends, I was generally a bit tipsy. But during working hours I was getting more intimate with tech that I used to take for granted. I could service and maintain a 12,000-watt AM transmitter on my own, and helped the village set up an ad hoc cell phone network run off of our station’s tower. It was more empowering than being able to design Web sites poorly, and by the time my two years was up, I was also starting to sober up (thanks in no small part to my future wife). More on what all that was like here.

Even largely removed from the Web, I watched Web 2.0 slowly emerge. If something caught on in my tiny village so far removed from civilization, it was going to take off. Strangely, I found that this made Galena a better barometer for the direction the Web would take than the words of supposed gurus in the Silicon Valley hype zone.

Village teenagers and other young adults went absolutely nuts for Friendster early on in the life of the pioneering social network, and of course MySpace followed, and even Facebook was talked about in 2004, before it was available to those beyond Ivy League schools. This kind of chatter was rarely heard at my own high school just seven years prior. The Web had completed the transition from the fringes of youth culture to becoming the bedrock of its mainstream foundation.

Slightly older transplants like myself were also hip to nascent social networks, and started to flock to early blogging platforms like Blogger and LiveJournal to chronicle our great Alaskan adventures. The emergence of Google as a superpower and its many successes in organizing the Web were also evident and undeniable as far away as the Yukon as it filed for its IPO in 2004.

Out of the wild
When I finally left Alaska in 2005, having successfully survived the ordeal and scored a brilliant wife in the process, there were more than 8 billion Web pages online, more than one for each person on the planet. Broadband had become much more commonplace, opening the door for the success of YouTube, Skype,
iTunes, and even wackier digital environments like Second Life.

This period may be the second dot-com boom that nobody noticed. Or they did, but didn’t want to say anything and jinx it all, given what happened last time. By 2006, Google had indexed more than 25 billion Web pages, or almost four for every person on Earth, along with 1.3 billion images, and the search engine was processing 400 million queries per day.

During the Web’s years in the virtual wilderness of sorts, and while I was living in the literal wild, the next-generation www was quietly being built and seemed to emerge all at once around that time. Digg and others helped introduce us to the power of sharing and viral content; Flickr and YouTube enabled a more visual Web worth sharing; and a crowdsourced free encyclopedia popularized the term “wiki” as it became the biggest reference source online, with more than 750,000 articles by 2005.

With this arrival of Web 2.0 came the maturing of Web culture, and the creation of a new generation of celebrities created, nurtured, and exploded by social media. (Where have you gone, Amanda Congdon?)

Before returning to the lower 48 to reconnect with the digital world and sun in the winter, I spent half a year in Asia and witnessed the other dimension of the reinvigorated Web that was soon to crash on these shores. In China, due to the high cost of cellular voice calls, everyone was texting, all the time. Like, even more than we do now. It was already all mobile, all the time over there, and it was easy to see why. Young middle-class Chinese breezed through their days, dashing off brief communiques 10 at a time to lay out and adjust the day’s agenda on the go.

Seeing this helped me to understand the success of Twitter that would soon follow in the United States, even as microblogging bewildered many people who simply could not understand the point of communicating in short bursts. Even then, before Facebook finally overtook MySpace, before the iPhone, it was clear that the world was becoming more social and more mobile.

Texting has been big in China for some time. Like, really big.


By 2006 I was married with a child and a mortgage on the way and settled back in the lower 48, although still far from the once-again-bustling San Francisco Bay Area. New Mexico still seems like a happy compromise between the total isolation of the Alaskan bush and the more crowded coastal tech hubs. Also, remember that pitch we heard back at the beginning of the Web about a future filled with telecommuting masses? Well, it turns out to be kind of awesome, especially for a new dad.

The Web and I came of age at the same time and had to be separated for a bit to get through our growing pains independently, but by 2007 we were both fully embracing our adulthood. The cool thing about coming into your own is that it allows you to focus on just creating and building amazing things. In the next and final installment of this series I’ll wrap it up with a look at today’s golden age of the fully grown Web.

CNET comments are currently down for maintenance, and should be back soon. In the meantime, please share your memories, and parts of early Web history I’ve missed, on Twitter at @crave and @ericcmack.

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Twitch Plays Pokemon: In conversation with the phenomenon’s creator (Q&A)

Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET)

Thirty-six million views. 1.16 million unique players, with 121,000 connected simultaneously at one point. For a major videogame publisher, those numbers would be nothing to scoff at. (Indeed, that’s more people than are playing Battlefield 4 online currently, across all five platforms.) For an independent port of an 18-year-old game originally intended to be played on the humble Nintendo Game Boy, that’s nothing short of a marvel.

Built on top of the Twitch game streaming platform, Twitch Plays Pokemon (or TPP) was an attempt to play through Pokemon Red, where everyone in the chat room had a chance to control the game. It was all handled through the attached chat room, where viewers would enter commands. A straightforward IRC bot monitored the whims and fancies of the crowd, aggregating the results passing that on to the emulator running the game.

Its success was certainly a surprise to most, even to its creator, an Australian programmer who prefers to remain anonymous but who kindly agreed to give us an audience — virtually, at least — to look back at the project one month after it first went online on February 12, and to look forward toward what comes next.

Q: It’s been just about a month since the initial Twitch Plays Pokemon began, where over a million people chipped in to play through Pokemon
Red. Did you have any idea it would see this kind of success?

I had no idea it was going to be this successful, I was expecting ~300 concurrent viewers at peak as a best-case scenario.

I find the success of Twitch Plays Pokemon to be a little annoying. It’s extremely unlikely anything else I would make would be this successful.

Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET)

Q: How long did it take you to implement the code necessary to make this work? About how much time would you estimate you’ve spent making updates to the system since then?

I wrote the code and put it up on a server all within a few days, I didn’t put much effort into it because I didn’t expect it to be successful; I just wanted to test to see if interacting with a game in this manner would have any interest at all. I was expecting to let it run for a short while (until interest died) and then take what I learnt and applied it to something more complex.

Since the explosion in popularity I’ve made extensive modifications to the software. It has a lot more functionality now, and it is also more reliable. I’ve also made many improvements to the overlay — it’s strange to go back and see the old one now.

I’ve lost track of how many hours I’ve spent working on TPP, and I expect there to be many more.

Q: Was it ever difficult to keep the system operational, given the volume of players?

No, not really — my server just listens to a chat channel and sends a video stream to Twitch. It doesn’t make much difference if there’s one viewer or 100,000 viewers.

Twitch, on the other hand, has seen a a big strain on their servers due to the popularity of Twitch Plays Pokemon and its heavy usage of Twitch’s chat functionality.

Q: After about a week, a change was made, adding a “democracy” mode in the hopes of giving more power to the majority to keep the game moving. This though, created a huge debate about the intrinsic nature of the project, with some saying that it compromised the core experience. Did you expect this sort of negative reaction?

Yes, I expected a negative reaction; people don’t like change. Early on in TPP’s life, I realized that the movement was too imprecise for parts of the game to be possible — something needed to be changed.

The intrinsic nature of the project was to exist for a week before being shut down due to disinterest.

Q: Most people rate Pokemon Red as taking between 40 to 50 hours to complete when playing solo. It took the players on Twitch just over two weeks. Did you have an idea of how long it would take the group to complete the game? Did you think they could complete it at all?

I didn’t think it was possible. I thought the number of viewers would be too low allowing for trolls to easily release every Pokemon, delaying the game’s progression indefinitely.

Q: Now that the project has moved on to other Pokemon games, do you think the group will get faster at completing them, or even slower?

I think that now that many people in the group are experienced, it will be easier for them to communicate and perform (relatively) complex tasks.

Q: What are your thoughts on the other Twitch Plays games that this effort has spawned?

Seeing how other games worked with the same format made me feel right in saying that Pokemon is by far the most ideal game for such a simple method of input.

I was a little disappointed in seeing how many of the streams had the same functionality as TPP. I was hoping to see much more variation and experimentation.

Q: In your estimation, how long will gamers remain interested in this sort of social experiment? Will Twitch gamers still be collaborating to get through Pokemon and other games a year from now? Five years?

I was expecting to shut the stream down within a week or two due to disinterest; inputting button presses into a chat window and waiting to see the effect didn’t sound like it would be all that appealing.

I’m not sure how much longer this sort of thing will be relevant, but I’m planning on running my stream for as long as there’s still interest.

Watch live video from TwitchPlaysPokemon on

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Trapped in the Time Travel Lab: My puzzling Sunday

If this doesn’t make you feel competitive, it’s like I don’t even know you anymore.

Real Escape Game in the U.S/SCRAP Entertainment)

“You are trapped in the mysterious laboratory, where it has been said, they study time travel. The door is closed. A lot of hidden clues await you. You wonder if they were able to make time travelling true…” These words on a poster beckon you in to a frantic puzzle-solving team experience that can lead, as it did in my case, to your untimely demise.

Or you might…Escape from the Time Travel Lab.

SCRAP Entertainment’s first Real Escape Game was held in Japan, and nowadays the company is putting on events in San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles. In addition to the basic Mysterious Room, people have escaped from the Magic Show, the Werewolf Village, and other sticky scenarios. There are also Real Escape Game branches in Singapore, Taiwan, and China, plus there seem to be at least four live-escape game companies operating in the UK, so I’m going to call this a worldwide phenomenon. If the rest of this sounds fun to you, you may be able to find something similar nearby.

On the particular Sunday on which I fell into a rift in time and space, never to be seen again, my team of six assembled in a cute tea shop below the venue, a nice, clean spot in San Francisco’s Japantown that’s probably normally used for art installations or something.

The signs warn you to use the restroom before the game starts, since you will literally be locked in the Lab for the next hour. (As it turns out, there’s a “lab technician” in the room with you the whole time, so it’s not as dramatic as the waiver makes it sound, but the game timer’s not going to pause while you take a bathroom break, so it is something to think about!)

“Detective-style clothes might help to sharpen your mind,” the Web site said, but also, “refrain from wearing heels,” so I squashed my first impulse of Victoriana. Clearly we’d need to be physically active to some degree. In Web-based room escape games, you need to examine everything, from the undersides of furniture to the tops of light fixtures. I settled for a Nancy Drew T-shirt, sneakers, and my lucky magnifying glass.

As I’d suspected, I didn’t actually get to use the lens: you’re not allowed to use any items you bring in. Including multitools, the cheerful young MC told us firmly. (“Pens and paper?!” “They’ll be provided in the room.”) We hung our jackets on a rack outside, but there was a clear, closed bin inside the room where we could store our purses and bags, thus removing most worries about credit cards going missing.

my lucky magnifying glass

It’s my lucky magnifying glass because it’s pretty, all right? Not because it saved us from wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey destruction, because it didn’t.

Toni Thompson)

The game is played in groups of 11, so we were thrown in with 5 very nice strangers. Going around the room, we introduced ourselves and described our experience with these types of games, and time travel in general. My aunt (she of the Thor socks) claimed to be from the year 2038. Her friend obligingly said he had come to our time in pursuit of her. Another friend revealed that he’d been time traveling at a rate of roughly 1 minute per minute for…quite some time now. The MC’s face: “So this should go well.”

The opening briefing laid out some parameters of the game, though it didn’t ultimately keep us from being lost in an eternal temporospatial limbo. The directions were clear as to, for example, what objects in the room we could and couldn’t disassemble. (Did reading those words make you want to click over to buy tickets? Then we’re on the same page.)

When we finally walked into the room, it was a bit like living out my favorite scene in “Apollo 13,” when they put the engineers in a conference room and tell them they have to save the day by making THIS fit into THIS using only THESE PIECES. Except with more of a festive air, though we certainly all got pretty excited as our time ran out and our impending doom, um, impended. I wasn’t the only one with shaking hands.

What’s funny is, I’d assumed that with the set of experienced puzzle-solving brains I’d brought with me on my team, we’d definitely win unless the puzzles were badly designed. I’d also suspected I’d be dead weight in the group, based on past games parties with most of these people. Neither of these turned out to be correct. I personally solved and helped solve several puzzles (to be honest, they weren’t hard). And my group — you may have picked up on this from foreshadowing — DID NOT escape from the Time Travel Lab! We definitely could have…maybe in about another 10 minutes…but we did not.

As the game’s materials point out, there’s no shame in that. Still, it’s not WINNING, is it?

We failed to escape from the Time Travel Lab!

This pic does not contain my aunt, who was voluntarily erased from this corner of history. Probably afraid they’ll track her from 2038.

Real Escape Game in the U.S/SCRAP Entertainment)

Overall it wasn’t quite what I was expecting — I’d thought there’d at least be some in-story justification for all the puzzles, and instead they appeared mostly arbitrary. But even though the puzzles weren’t hard and yet we didn’t come that close to winning, my team still walked out (insofar as you can walk out after having fallen into a spacetime anomaly never to return) feeling like the challenge was fair. That seems like good game design. Here’s a little advice, none of which I think counts as spoilers:

1. The comfortable-shoe requirement was a good one. Most of the puzzles are mental, but in addition to the restrictions listed on the site, at least one person in your group should be able and willing to get down on the floor.

2. Unless you bring enough people to fill all the game slots (the number varies by scenario), you’ll be thrown in with strangers, but that’s OK. Anyone who thought this sounded fun and showed up to try it is probably pretty rad, so the group meshes a lot faster than you’d think.

3. Organization is key. Every minute counts, the setting can be a bit overwhelming, and it helps to have someone keeping track of the overall effort. (Corollary: Communication is also key, so if your friends hate being hurried or get snappish in a crisis, it may be best to leave them at home with your high heels and multitool.)

Escape from the Time Travel Lab poster
Real Escape Game in the U.S/SCRAP Entertainment)

I guess that’s all I can say without ruining it. It was definitely worth the ticket price; I live in San Francisco so I don’t have to judge whether it was worth the drive as well. Still, we immediately started looking into getting tickets for Escape from the Haunted Ship. It takes place aboard the Queen Mary! The actual Queen Mary, down in Long Beach.

Unfortunately, the dates for Haunted Ship didn’t work out for us. And my team vetoed the upcoming Escape from the Space Station (before your air runs out) as “too scary.” My aunt’s hoping for other local venues, such as…Alcatraz.

Alcatraz! Think it over, Real Escape Game people! Minus the swimming!

In the meanwhile, if you know of any other interesting types of puzzle-based events, please tell me about them in the comments below at @pages_and_pages. (Shout-out: I found out about Real Escape Game via @sosh, the not-personalized Twitter feed of a personalized event-recommendation service based in some major US cities.) I’ll leave my future self some notes on the calendar!

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