Support charity, get puzzles!
Patron Puzzles for Philanthropy

Grant's Review Corner: Volume 5

I would like to open this review by confessing a horrible secret. This secret is so horrible that I suspect most of my readers, and an even greater percentage of my real-life friends, will desert me upon learning it. Nonetheless, at the risk of alienation, I believe it is necessary to get this out of the way.

I genuinely like Justin Bieber's song "Baby".

I dislike it when people solicit me to review their things, particularly things which I believe to be crap. Who am I to judge what is crap, after all, when I enjoy listening to the song that, prior to the release of "Friday" by Rebecca Black, had the highest number of "thumbs down" votes of any YouTube video? If there's anything to be gathered from the prevalence of computer-generated Sudoku puzzles, which I believe to be artless crap, in the highest-selling publications, it's that my opinion even on those things which I am most passionate about don't always align with the vox populi. Don't get me wrong; I believe that computer-generated logic puzzles are capable of being legitimately entertaining, which is why I have been on occasion obsessed with getting high scores in Everett Kaser's Sherlock, and why I am a fan of Link-a-Pix by Conceptis, the company with perhaps the most consistently high-quality pictures in their picture-forming logic puzzles. I do, however, find that handmade puzzles are generally more capable of being masterpieces as opposed to entertainment. Additionally, there are times when I think that something is crap (or occasionally the opposite), but am unable to articulate why in any way that resembles a proper critical review.

Thus, I wasn't eager to get e-mail last month:

Grant,

I came across your site a long time ago, but have only recently gotten around to really exploring the world of puzzle websites.

I have invented and patented a new kind of math and logic puzzle called the OCTO.  I have attached some sample puzzles and a detailed set of instructions (not necessary to get started, but they may be helpful if you get stumped).  More OCTO puzzles and an interactive version are available at www.octo-puzzle.com.

I am interested in your opinion of the OCTO puzzle.  Any feedback is welcome...

Thanks.


Sheesh. Ever since Sudoku became the rage, everyone's been trying to create the next puzzle to dethrone Sudoku. In fact, I had first encountered OCTO well over a year ago, and unfortunately, I found it just as bland then as I do now. To the creator's credit, though, the puzzles seem uniquely solvable, which is more than I can say about [name redacted]. As such, I have decided to give the name and URL of the puzzle in case a reader who disagrees with these opinions decides to pay for OCTO puzzles.

I don't feel up for writing a detailed solving analysis for an OCTO puzzle, so I'll cut to the opinions:

1) I feel that OCTO is lacking in elegance. Sudoku was similarly lacking in elegance until Nikoli discovered that you could arrange the givens symmetrically, use fewer of them, and make puzzles of a wider range of difficulties than Dell was offering. This is also, I believe, true of Calcudoku (also known by the trademarked name KEN-KEN); the puzzles generated by computers often lack a certain je ne sais quoi, and I didn't care at all for Calcudoku until I saw that Thomas Snyder was making Calcudoku puzzles with visual themes and solving themes. When I see an OCTO with symmetrical givens in an extremely pleasing pattern, I might take it more seriously as an art form and not just a diversion.

2) One thing about OCTO is that the left number and right number of an octagon cannot be distinguished from each other unless one of them is a given, nor can the top and bottom number of an octagon, the top-left and bottom-right of the top-right or bottom-left octagon, or the top-right and bottom-left of the top-left or bottom-right octagon. This results in 36 pairs of cells in which at least one of them must be a given. I fear that this might restrict the ability to construct elegant puzzles where the givens can be arranged in a wide variety of fashions.

3) The demo at http://hosting.octo-puzzle.com/ could use some serious work. While the solving interface is mostly everything I could ask for in such a puzzle (you can type in candidates), why do no scroll bars appear on the right-hand side, forcing me to view the page in full-screen on a higher resolution to see everything, such as the timer and the "new game" button? Furthermore, why does it take a few seconds to load each puzzle when it's not generating puzzles on the fly? On that note, if the puzzles aren't generated on the fly, why not just let me pick whatever puzzle I want from the certain number of puzzles available? Why not have a "Select puzzle" button instead of a misleading "New Game" button that suggests the puzzles might be made on the fly? Also, even when the option to highlight wrong numbers in red is off, an octagon will only get a green check mark if the numbers are all correct, and not merely a permutation of the correct numbers. I'd prefer the option of a system that highlights conflicts (matching numbers where they shouldn't be, diagonals or diamonds with the wrong sums) rather than correctness.

4) What's up with the intellectual property? Why is there a patent? Perhaps there are valid reasons to have one, but I am a huge proponent of seeing the collective creativity of the puzzle community, not stifling it. Trademarks like OCTO do not stifle creativity; the patent, however, does, because if someone actually manages to do something elegant with the rules that the original creator hadn't thought of, then the patent could lead to lawsuits and stuff. Plus, for some reason, it reminds me of patents on things like the "tap" mechanic in Magic: the Gathering or double-clicking, or the time the Grabarchuks got in a fight with Conceptis over Chain Sudoku / Strimko (which I believe is more visually appealing than OCTO, because it doesn't have so much going on, although as a puzzle it is, as painful as it is to say, less innovative than OCTO). I've seen more patent-worthy innovation in a device that lets you hang bacon on it when microwaving so the fat drains away than in OCTO. The only legitimate reason I see for a patent is to prevent a program that generates millions of these puzzles on the fly from threatening his business. The logo looks bland and generic; I would change the logo to something that uses an OCTO-style octagon as a letter O, because that would make the brand more distinct. Since the author deems it fit to patent OCTO, I deem it fit to demand US$1,000.00 if he incorporates my idea into the logo.

5) Man, I wish I could sell my puzzles in local bookstores.

While I like to believe that my logic puzzle solving and constructing abilities are closer to those of the world champions than the average three-year-old's chess playing abilities are to Kasparov's, I nonetheless feel that no critical review of OCTO (be it positive or negative) would be complete without opinions from said world champions.

Thomas Snyder, a multiple-time World Puzzle Championship champion, apparently got solicited to review OCTO, too, and stated, "I simply ignored the email.  It is a bland and uninteresting puzzle, with inelegantly large summation clues and much less of the feel of rushing to a solution as a sudoku.  And 100% computer generated.  The only thing I can say is this guy went the expensive route to actually patent his idea (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/The-OCTOR-a-New-Math-and-prnews-2757929161.html?x=0&.v=1).  Not sure how I feel about that." As stated above, I'm not sure how I feel about it, either. He went on, "I used to try to respond to these sorts of emails, but then after winning more championships and such I get too many (maybe one every week or two) to bother to respond to.  Most people just getting into puzzles don't recognize the number of types that are already out there, the depth of construction needed to make a puzzle elegant, etc.  They instead think their idea is a beautiful unique thing.  Which it never is.  So I stopped trying to crap on their parade.  I'll let them waste time in an unfriendly marketplace without my advice." As a constructor who has earned Thomas Snyder's respect, I know all too well how unfriendly the marketplace is, and am only motivated to write this Grant's Review Corner by one recent development which I will reveal at the end of the article; aside from that, I plan on following Snyder's lead regarding advice to aspiring authors.

Palmer Mebane, a man who has left a deep impression on me with his seemingly overnight transformation from amateur constructor to holy-crap-this-is-incredible constructor and World Puzzle Championship winner, responded to my thoughts, "Sounds pretty accurate to me. There's basically not much fun to it, for the same reasons that inelegantly made puzzles get boring fast and Sudoku larger than 9 by 9 are a chore. In this case I think even a good human constructor would have trouble packing elegance into this. Your point 2 is a glaring idiocy, and shows the guy behind this type is not a very big puzzle enthusiast." He then suggested potential improvements to OCTO; I refrain from mentioning these ideas here, lest, in his words, I "get a patent claim shoved up [my] ass". (Seeing that Palmer Mebane is more reserved with invective than the Angry Video Game Nerd or The Nostalgia Critic, I think he means business.)

Finally, Thomas Collyer, a Sudoku champion from the UK, wrote, "I’d not come across octocube [sic] before.  The first couple of solves seemed nice enough, I liked how there were different elements of the puzzle to consider.  And then I started noticing that some of the interactions felt more contrived rather than natural.  Perhaps this is a reflection of the guy writing the puzzles rather than octocube itself.  Although I’d agree the whole left/right and top/bottom given thing needs fixing.  Preferably in a way that also didn’t feel contrived. . . . I could see this in current form being published in a newspaper puzzle page a la kenken, but I’m not sure if you could make any more of it.  I think you probably could actually, but I can’t put my finger on what would give it a bit of sparkle." Huh. Apparently people from the United Kingdom are pretty forgiving. (They've certainly forgiven the United States for having declared independence from England, which is now one of our allies in the international community!)

My verdict is that OCTO is a solvable diversion, yet a bland one, in much the same way that computer-generated Calcudoku puzzles are mostly solvable and bland. It tries to bill itself as the next best thing to Sudoku, but fails. Sadly, with any art form where one stands to make lots of money, there will be legitimate artisans, and there will be hacks. For every Hitchcock creating innovative movies, there's a Seltzer and Friedberg appealing to the lowest common denominator, yet earning the ridicule of many others. For every Will Shortz, whose keen eye for what makes a crossword challenging and delightful brings joy to millions of New York Times readers, there is, quite frankly, a Will Shortz, who attaches his name to Sudoku puzzles without symmetry or elegance and, from what I've read (as a snide Nikoli snob, I refuse to try the puzzles on principle), occasional multiple solutions(!).

If OCTO is so bland, though, why have I bothered to "review" it here? Three words: Logic Masters India. LMI is responsible for selecting the people who will represent India in the World Puzzle Championship, and frequently hosts puzzle tests whose main dissimilarity to the ones used to determine the outcome of the WPC is that they don't determine the outcome of the WPC, and you can start the test whenever it is convenient (but after you're given the password to unlock the PDF file, the time limit starts). If you click the link, you will see that LMI is slated to have an OCTO test later this month. In Palmer Mebane's words, "Oh geez." Palmer and I are actually hard at work on creating our own test for LMI; I was already planning to make a kick-ass test, but seeing OCTO on LMI only motivates me further to prove that we two humans are just as capable of our craft as computers are, if not more.

I would also like to issue a challenge to Thomas Snyder: if he enters the OCTO contest and gets one of the three highest scores, I will pay him $18, the retail value of the two OCTO books being offered as a prize for the top three finishers. He can keep the books, or give them to me, or do whatever he wants with them for all I care, but he will get money regardless. Thomas Snyder might easily choose principle over money; I can't say I'd blame him, as I've had to do the same thing when people offer to pay me to sully my pleasantly ad-free blog. However, I would pay money for the privilege of seeing Thomas Snyder kick this test's ass after his comment that OCTO has "much less of the feel of rushing to a solution as a sudoku." (Edit: Thomas Snyder has declined the challenge. Good for him!)

19 comments

ksun48 said...

I'm looking forward to this "kick-ass" test you are writing. But hasn't MellowMelon already done a test this year? At least that means more MellowMelon stuff right?

mellowmelon said...

Yep, this will be my second test, although I'm letting mathgrant have the final say on most things.

Tyler said...

Welp, now I feel stupid and unsophisticated for pointing people to the puzzle on my site. Didn't know it would be so reviled among you all.

I thought it was kind of a neat little puzzle; I found the interaction between sudoku and kakuro techniques interesting and distinct from killer sudoku. However, I only solved two puzzles, I didn't explore the online version or the IP issues, and, most importantly, I don't have nearly the same eye for logic puzzle construction that you, Palmer, and the Thomases do. I hadn't noticed point #2 at all.

Perhaps I'd be more inclined to agree with you if I'd gone through a bunch of puzzles and analyzed them in more depth, but his target audience isn't going to do this either. As it stands, while I don't see myself consuming Octo voraciously, I can't help but find this review unduly harsh.

Grant Fikes said...

ksun48: I feel somewhat hypocritical for tooting my own horn after taking a sledge hammer to OCTO's creator's horn (which I believe to be a vuvuzela), but you can bet your bottom dollar that much ass will be kicked, not just in the puzzles themselves, but in their presentation as well; the illustrator behind one of the webcomics on my list of links has kindly supplied artwork for the test. Also, see Palmer's response. :)

Tyler: To be fair, you are easily one of the best cruciverbalists of our time. You don't get to that point by sacrificing time that could be spent on crosswords, and spending it on logic puzzles instead. :) Also, while this review was indeed mostly harsh, I did call OCTO a "solvable diversion", because I can see this puzzle's audience enjoying it, and they are perfectly entitled to. I tried my best to classify computer-generated puzzles as entertainment while also calling them crap.

While I won't condemn you for having posted a link to OCTO on your own blog (I have far better things to do, like condemn you for liking hockey), the fact that you did so and "feel stupid and unsophisticated" in hindsight about it kind of proves my point about how the things which true artisans deem unfit for consumption will not always be seen in this way in the public eye, allowing oveerrated hacks to make money while artists starve. Judging by the Yahoo Finance article Thomas Snyder mentioned, OCTO has received lots of positive feedback, regardless of the feedback of two members of the most recent US team in the World Puzzle Championship.

Thomas Snyder said...

I wrote a long comment but it seems to keep bouncing. I'll just say what I wanted to clarify for Tyler what I don't like about OCTO:

Having played sudoku and kakuro, I'd rather do either individually than play OCTO. In a world of infinite puzzles, I have to make such choices. Relating to the Kakuro comparison, I dislike that all summation clues are 4's and 6's which gives it less of the intersection thinking possible with variable clue lengths in a kakuro (17 in 4 cells also means very little to me naturally). Relating to sudoku, there are several cells that are underconstrained as belonging to multiple sets. Thinking "toroid" helps some if it was actually in play, but it's just not as compelling a number placement geometry as several of the others I've worked with in my time, and is less fun than classic sudoku on this point certainly. So, less than the sum of its parts.

Thomas Snyder said...

And to be very clear, I don't consider OCTO to be a proper Sudoku variant, since Sudoku puzzles need three overlapping "no repeat" constraint spaces. At best, each individual number in these puzzles belongs to just two. This is a real limitation for the "rushing to a solution" comment I made.

Grant Fikes said...

Here is Thomas Snyder's comment that got eaten up:

I always have a number in mind, N, which is some combination of any financial reward I'd earn for an hour of my time plus any potential enjoyment (E) I might get from that hour which defines if I take on a task or not. Unfortunately, I'm quite sure $18 + E << N. I should note that while my first reaction was similar to Melon's, my second was "oh, its in the 'Other Contests' classifier" which means it doesn't have to compare and shouldn't be compared to the standard monthly contest path.

I wasn't expecting my personal correspondence on OCTO to become public. If so, I would have stated things a bit more professionally for the future, but I do get a lot of these requests all the time and rarely does my advice amount to anything. Just yesterday I got a request to advertise a new update for a jigsaw puzzle website on my blog that (1) I've never heard of and where (2) if you say "I've read your blog and enjoy your content" and this is a truthful and not spammy/form letter statement, you'd have to have seen it is not a collection of puzzle links, I've never written about jigsaw puzzles, and you have a snowball's chance in hell of getting a mention.

I think my patience was pushed to the no response limit by the author of Pyruko who is sometimes seen in a pyramid hat and spells his puzzle's name in a way to take maximum advantage of the soduko [sic] craze. There too the puzzle has some problems with the web interface, the fundamental puzzle has highly variable constraints on different cells (and is so under-constrained in a large number of cells so that, of 12 1-way constrained cells, at least 8 must contain givens to avoid multiple solutions), and so on. Of course, having a publisher that pushes product is a different story than having good product. My disgust at having Pyruko given out to all the competitors at WSC5 can not be put to words, and it is now a running razz to send me photos from bookstores with Pyruko books (and mine nowhere in sight). At least the competitors also got the under-publicized Mutant Sudoku to see both ends of the puzzle publishing spectrum.

Giovanni P. said...

And what's wrong with vuvuzelas if you don't mind me asking Grant? I've heard much worse horns in my time (little toy trumpets come to mind)

Haven't had a chance to fully explore the Octo puzzles, but I see the parallels between this and Haijo that you find in Sudoku Xtra. It's not something that's original or at least clever enough to be a "sudoku killer". That, and if its as restricted in its design as you suggest Grant, it might not have many legs to stand on.

I wonder how a puzzle like this tends to not be as exciting, whereas a puzzle like Tapa (admittedly a Nurikabe/Minesweeper combo of sorts) can inspire so many variations and authors. I would assume it has to do with the simple rules that can be applied to a variety of difficulties as Nikoli did with sudoku. That, and Serkan Yurekli has a boatload of puzzle construction experience, and knows how to construct an entertaining puzzle.

Also, glad to hear you have a contest coming soon Grant. I hope to see some interesting puzzles.

Grant Fikes said...

Giovanni P.: I have actually never been around a vuvuzela, but from what I've read about how they can cause permanent hearing loss, and what I heard when YouTube had a vuvuzela button, I think I'm glad not to have been exposed to that.

You are very observant in making the comparison to Haijo; 52 asymmetrical givens in an 81-cell grid doesn't seem terribly elegant in a puzzle that aims to replace Sudoku. Instead of not being allowed to repeat digits in columns or boxes, you now have the much looser restriction that matching numbers cannot share a corner or an edge, removing much of the puzzle's resemblance to Sudoku. The diagonal sums also seem a bit forced, like in OCTO. I haven't seen much evidence for Haijo's potential yet. . . although I could just be a snob.

Regarding your third paragraph: Tapa has definitely grown on me, especially as I have seen so much creativity in the variants people have crafted. Serkan Yurekli's construction experience is probably the biggest factor; even if I haven't heard of him, I know from my own history that experience can teach you how to pursue ideas that have potential, and abandon ones that don't.

I really hate to blow my own horn again, but I feel like my Cross the Streams (a Hanjie/Nurikabe hybrid of sorts) is comparable to Tapa; I've really enjoyed seeing what new things I can do with the basic rules, and what other rules I can mix in for variety. I think both Tapa and Cross the Streams have unique interactions between the rulesets they fuse together that make them greater than the sum of their parts. I'm tempted to make a book of Cross the Streams puzzles to try and sell it; it probably won't sell unless I rename it Sedaki or something equally Japanese-sounding, though. :)

I promise that our LMI test will not disappoint anyone who is a fan of even one of our blogs!

Grant Fikes said...

It seems that people's long comments are getting bounced instead of getting posted; if I didn't get e-mail notifications, these comments would be lost. This comment was submitted by "term", the resident Greek.

A mathgrant & mellowmelon contest! I’m salivating already :). Let me guess: with yellow obviously taken, our host is drawn as the carcinogenic candy.

It is quite clear that Mr. Gardner’s publicist believes in succès de scandale. Why else would one disregard both the fixed, bold admonition and the withering tone of the Review Corner? Alas, it works on me, as I visited the provided URL, and I’ll score a further own goal by commenting.

First of all, Grant is charitable wrt to web presentation. Much as I like Silverlight, it is unavailable for a lot of platforms. Next comes the timer: if you have to have a timer in your applet, and you are not using said applet for competitions, your user should not have to fiddle with the timer. It should start itself after instructions are read, and pause itself when the applet is obscured, as is the SOP for browser games. Design considerations follow: if you feel the need to remind people your puzzle’s name is a registered trademark (USPTO SN 77652017, in case you were wondering), shouldn’t you also feel the need to settle on its typography (preferably, as Grant suggests, to none of the forms used in the applet)? More usefully, there are unobtrusive palette choices which do not suggest a private contemplating suicide, though it is good you (half-) avoided black on grey text. The lack of linking to Amazon is perplexing, and there are lots of other small presentation issues, but I’ve said too much of the applet already.

However, there are presentation issues which I expect transcend the applet form and left me just short of abandoning the puzzle before even trying it, and can be summed in one word: this grid is UGLY. Ugly in this case means a lot of things: First of all, almost all of the grid space goes unused by the solver. This means that you need to print them large for those of us with less than perfect eyesight, and the small cells and busy grid makes note-taking troublesome. Then there’s the way the centre clues obscure the diagonals, leading me to rule re-examination. Then there’s just the pure aesthetic ugly, from the various font sizes to the relative dimensions of things to the distraction of umpteen corners to the avoidable use of colour. While Grant considers the implications of mechanics on aesthetics, I’ll just point out that any imagery or symmetry of givens will be overwhelmed by the scaffolding.

Now, pretty much everything so far would be forgiven if l enjoyed solving the puzzle. I solved a couple of puzzles, mostly to prove to myself I’m not the shallow kind that judges a puzzle by its looks. I found it utterly workmanlike; busy enough to fill, say, dead time between customers, but without pace or the joy of discovering new lemmas that tends to accompany new puzzle types. Dr Snyder expertly described why the ruleset doesn’t amount to much, and I believe this explains the lack of pace. Ultimately, Octo uses parts of the same old logic, wrapped in a geometry which limits its application.

After the Str8ts thing and the Strimko thing, I was left with the impression that U.S. law does not consider puzzle concepts patentable. Am I mistaken, or is Mr. D. Gardner in for a surprise? In my jurisdiction, only copyright of individual puzzles applies, so I’m tempted to whip up some just to rile him; then I think of the children, um, solvers.

Grant Fikes said...

Re term's comment: As far as I know, neither Palmer Mebane nor I can be described as a "candy". However, I am a cancer on humankind. Avoid me at all costs!

Also, I must say that I really enjoyed reading all of your detailed feedback on the presentation of the puzzle. I really, really, really want for my readers and me to be proven wrong about OCTO. In Volume 2, you posted a comment in defense of computer-generated puzzles and puzzles with multiple solutions, so if anyone would be capable of having an open mind if I have poisoned the well, it'd be you. However, your comments were just as negative towards OCTO as mine, lending me further credibility. I should feel happy to have affirmation, but I am actually deeply saddened to be right.

Having read it, I must agree that I was overly generous regarding the presentation, particularly the wasted space on the grid.

Holy effing ess, you mentioned Str8ts. I just saw this video. "It might look like Suduko [sic], but Jeff says Str8ts is easier and more addictive, because there's no adding or subtracting involved." Really? What, is Killer Sudoku the only Sudoku he's ever encountered, ever? The sad part is that I think Str8ts has more elegance and potential than OCTO, but watching this video makes me root against its success for some reason because of the vanity. Then again, I may have to learn to accept the fact that salesmen sell more puzzles than artisan. If you excuse me, I'm going to have to shut this blog down while I shift my focus to making daily Cross the Streams puzzles and mastering the art of charisma to sell them to newspapers (as Sedaki, of course) for $5 a day.

ksun48 said...

Do you like the song Friday?
Also, what kind of test will it be? A specific puzzle type? or a potpourri like the Zoo.

Grant Fikes said...

ksun48: I tried my best to form my own opinion on the song without being unduly influenced by the crowd, but honestly, I think "Friday" is so bad that it's good. After hearing the song, I was surprised to hear Rebecca Black's singing voice in a "Good Morning, America" interview, and it actually sounded good. It's like the autotune killed it or something.

More information on the test will be formally announced in due time.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say I was being "forgiving" as I didn't find it particularly offensive. Just a little bit boring. Thing is, with the last few years being nothing short of a renaissance in puzzling, boring almost seems like a crime.

If I wasn't busy with a ton of other things - including my own LMI test - there's half a chance I would seriously think about this some more. Some of these puzzles claiming to be the best thing since sliced bread are rotten to the core, but I do think there is something worth pursuing in a sudoku/kakuro crossover here.

Tom.C

(P.S. I'm generally a Tom rather than a Thomas. It comes up as Thomas on the blog because the whole Warwick system is linked to my formal registration there blahblahblah...)

term said...

Just to avoid any confusion, I am not painting Octo, Strimko and Str8ts with the same brush. Octo is OK except for the (fixable) grid, just not as good as the stalwarts it was inspired from. Strimko is a beautiful presentation with great artistic potential, whose patent leaves a sour taste, as it masquerades trade dress as novel product. Str8ts on the other hand is, to the best of my knowledge, pretty novel. It’s not particularly deep, but I have great fun trying to speed my way through them.

I can’t share Grant’s disdain for the way Syndicated Puzzles markets itself. Their websites are rather wonderful, with nice tools and reference materials, daily updates, multilingual support, and I can’t help but admire their persistence in writing their solving environments in Javascript, when an applet would have been so much easier (and less accessible). Yes, the video was excretory. I was shocked when I heard Widderich say this was a one man operation, because that was exactly what I thought up to this point (specifically, Andrew Stuart’s one man operation). Wozniaking Stuart must make for more compelling drama or something. And there was a lot of misinformation: about their company, their puzzle, Sudoku and its pronunciation. But ultimately, if that’s what it takes to make their product better known, then so be it. Sudoku helped disassociate “doing the puzzle” from “dull thing for old people.” If we can use that bridge to familiarise the general public with more things that delight our community, everybody wins. That way, I may eventually be able to buy logic puzzle magazines that contain grid puzzles other than Sudoku and Paint by Numbers without paying for shipping. Maybe even mathgrant’s Sedaki® Masterpieces.

Grant Fikes said...

Tom.C: You were less negative, then, if not more forgiving. Something like that. Also, I look forward to seeing what puzzles you manage to craft for LMI. :)

term: I had never heard of the term "trade dress" before. I love it when my readers educate me! :) I agree that the creator of the Str8ts website has done impressive work regarding making the site accessible, what with the Javascript and multiple languages and all. However, I really disliked the misinformation in that video, especially the claim that Str8ts has less computation than Sudoku, and have come to view claims of "this will be the next Sudoku!" with cynical skepticism. Maybe I'm just bitter because I haven't had the same financial success that the purveyors of computer-generated Sudoku do. . . .

In any event, I am all for the puzzle community growing and the puzzle marketplace becoming a better place for constructors like me and solvers like you, and if the popularity of something crappy were to help lead to that, it would be at the very least a mixed blessing. :)

DDG29 said...

Wow!! I'm Doug Gardner, inventor of the OCTO puzzle. Sorry to come to the party so late, but I didn't actually get an invitation--I think I my publicist must have been playing his vuvuzela all week... :)

As I said in my intro e-mail, "all feedback welcome". I meant it then and I mean it now. Thanks to all of you taking the time to give the OCTO a try and comment.

Grant, let me address your comments in order:

1) I share your enthusiasm for crafted puzzles. I'm looking forward to having some time to explore the possibilities of symmetry and number distribution for the OCTO but frankly, I just haven't had time. I also cannot take myself seriously enough to picture an OCTO puzzle as an art form (sorry)--I'll be quite happy if it serves as an occasional diversion.

2) Your observations on the structural limitations of the OCTO are very astute. The algorithm I use to create this batch of puzzles actually requires a minimum of 40 numbers to solve uniquely, although most of those numbers have two possible positions. I believe you could craft a puzzle by hand-selecting the position and distribution of the numbers to require less, but again I haven’t really focused on it. Even requiring the 40 numbers, about 3-5% of the puzzles I generate still don’t solve uniquely (some really wicked combinations in the diagonals that aren’t consistent enough for me be able to program out of my puzzle generator). That means I test each puzzle—it’s a really good thing that I enjoy them so much!

3) I think both you and “term” were being somewhat kind in your review of my attempt to build a Silverlight OCTO application. I basically had Thanksgiving break last year to learn the development environment, remember how to program an interactive app, and put something together. I was also not particularly thrilled with the output. I haven’t been getting any negative feedback through my website and Facebook , so I figured it was “good enough” and moved on to other priorities. You guys were (brutally!) specific—I’ll move “rework the interactive app” back up the list of things to get to. I haven’t stopped laughing since I read term’s quote about palette choices suggesting a private contemplating suicide—that was priceless!

4) It’s an invention. It’s unique, it’s novel, and there is a potential to make some money from it. I watched the Strimko/Chain Sudoku debates on the Conceptis blog awhile back—in puzzles, there’s nothing keeping someone from copying an idea and reselling it. It turns out the structure of the OCTO is unique enough that I got a patent—I expect you would do the same for an idea of your own. More importantly, I have no intention of being an asshole about the patent. I just want to have some level of protection if the idea turns out to be popula. Let’s face it, reverse engineering and manufacturing a puzzle like the OCTO is hardly a significant hurdle for a potential competitor.

5) Did you ask your local bookstore to carry your puzzle books? It turned out my neighborhood store had a policy of trying to help promote “local authors”…

Certainly some of the collective criticisms fall into the category of the “the puzzle is what it is”. I’m not sure I can alter the structure substantially (although clearly I could use a better color designer!), but I do appreciate the input. I believe the OCTO is a perfectly valid alternative “diversion” to Sudoku—I’m enough of a puzzle fan that I could see that the first time I worked through one. It is clearly not going to appeal to everyone (as your blog shows!), but I’m happy to put it out there and see who likes it.

I’d like to stay engaged in this dialogue. I sincerely appreciate the feedback…

Grant Fikes said...

Dance Dance Gevolution 29th Mix: I appreciate your good sportsmanship about this whole thing.

In response to point 4, issues of whether the rules of OCTO can be patented or not aside, I personally have no intent on pursuing patents on the rules of creations such as Cross the Streams, in part because I have no fear that my ability to profit from the puzzles I make will be threatened by someone figuring out how to mass-produce them by computer, and in part because certain people (not accusing you) have been assholes regarding intellectual property. My Creative Commons license is on this blog for a reason: to assure my audience that I'm not one of the aforementioned assholes, while retaining certain rights for myself. I dunno, perhaps we just have differing philosophies; I certainly see where you're coming from.

Point 5: I need to actually write a book before I can sell it. ^_^; I'll consider that tip, perhaps.

DDG29 said...

Fair enough on point 4--I think the approach you're taking makes sense for your situation.

5) If you haven't considered putting some puzzles together and self-publishing a book, I can attest that it is amazingly easy and cheap (under $50 to get the best royalty deal through CreateSpace). That gets you on Amazon.com and other on-line retailers--the rest is up to you...

I was fascinated by the Dragon's Den video from this thread. That show was over six months ago and this was the first I had heard of Str8ts. Is it well known from your perspective?

Best of luck on your upcoming LMI test.

Blog Archive