Origin Stories: Logic #3 – Castaway, Part 1

This puzzle is based on the television show Survivor, in case you hadn’t already guessed. During the first season, I was completely hooked. There were many things about the show I found to be deeply intriguing: the simplicity and naiveté in the first iteration, the questions of how the editing of footage and the scripting of challenges affected the “reality” of the situation, and the basic morality play of the different characters and how they interacted. It was a completely contrived yet ultimately legitimate social experiment. Many of these issues have been thoroughly explored (and exploited) in the subsequent versions of the show and the many, many reality television shows that have followed.

The format of 16 people voted off one at a time seemed to be a perfect basis for a puzzle, but it wasn’t initially clear how to construct a puzzle around that idea. I didn’t set out to write another “truth tellers and liars” type puzzle, since those were thoroughly explored, and in my opinion perfected, by mathematician Raymond Smullyan in What Is the Name of This Book? and the follow-up The Lady or the Tiger? If you like these types of puzzles, you definitely need to get those books. Ultimately, I thought the large number of participants involved plus the mix of people who sometimes tell the truth and sometimes lie (which Smullyan refers to as normals) added something unique to the genre.

I wrote the puzzle during the summer of 2000, about four episodes into that first season of Survivor. Because of publishing deadlines, I had to write the puzzle before I knew the outcome of the show, even though it would be printed after the season had concluded. This turned into something of a moral dilemma. How should I characterize the winner? Should they be honest or deceitful? What will it take to win? This all pertained to how I balanced out the true and false statements. I finally decided that the puzzle would work on the assumption that the further a person got in the game, the more likely they would be to lie, not necessarily to the other contestants, but to the media or the viewer at home (to whom the clues have been given). In retrospect, my prediction seems pretty good.

I considered many ways in which to construct the clues, such as basing them on gender and the two competing tribes. The gender clues were in the puzzle until the final revision, at which point I found them to be unnecessary. I decided against using information about who belonged to which tribe, or mergers or immunity challenge results, because I wasn’t certain how the real game would work after the tribes merged. When I wrote the puzzle, I wasn’t sure when or even if a merger would occur.

Coming up with names for people in logic problems is always a challenge, and in this case I needed sixteen of them (that had to be different from those on the show). Since I run into this problem quite often, whenever I see an interesting name, I make a mental note of it for the future. After submitting the puzzle, Carol Blackburn (my editor at the time) zeroed in on the conspicuous “Eutaw” and correctly suspected that the names were all lifted from streets (or abbreviated versions thereof) in downtown Baltimore, the home office of Imagine magazine. I had been there the previous summer and saw the sign for Eutaw Street, which borders Camden Yards, while I was at a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. When it came time to turn the generic placeholder names used in creating the puzzle into actual names, I grabbed the map from my trip and started listing off street names. There were more male names than female names, thus Holliday, Chase, Madison, and Eutaw all became women. It also meant I had to keep checking that I was using the correct pronouns, because I often forgot which gender went with which name.

Writing the detailed solution was excruciating because I kept mixing up the tenses. You see, just like on the show, these people are saying these statements in the present, but are referring to things which happened in the past. So I have to refer to the people saying their statements in the present tense, but anything said in the statements about who’s kicking off whom has to be in the past tense. Things became even more tangled when I had to refer to previous steps in the solution method, which were before the present, but after the contest. Confused? I sure was.

In editing the solution for the latest revision of the website, I discovered a more efficient solution, which made some of the clues redundant. This new version is the one currently posted to the website. More details about the rationale for the change and the eliminated clues can be found here.

You’ll also note that this puzzle is titled “Castaway, Part 1”. Part 2 was written ten years later for the Philosophy issue (v17.n4, March/April 2010), when I again felt it would be appropriate to revisit the ethical and moral issues brought up on Survivor. That puzzle will be featured and discussed in the next set of updates for the Logic puzzles.

Origin Stories: Logic #2 – Two-Year Garden

While the two-year garden logic puzzle was written while I was teaching at the Bethlehem, PA (Moravian College) CAA site during the summer of 1999, the idea for the puzzle came on a bus ride.

There was a lot of time to look at the passing corn fields while on my frequent Van Galder bus trips between Madison, WI and O’Hare Airport in Chicago. It made me think of the huge vegetable garden I helped my dad with every year when I was growing up. I remembered the plans he’d draw up in the winter, with paper and pencil in one hand and the seed guide in the other. The time spent planting in the spring. Fighting the weeds. Too much rain, then not enough. And finally, the big fall harvest. Those backyard experiences were the inspiration for this puzzle, where the layout of the crops had to be reconstructed from scribblings on the backs of seed packets. I went through several lists of possible crops to use, trying to find common vegetables that could be found in someone’s little garden or a large farm.

You might have noticed that the title of the puzzle is the “two-year” garden puzzle. My first attempt was a three year version that occupied twelve plots in a four by three grid. After testing it out on some of my best students that summer, I realized that puzzle was really, really tough. So I created this two-year, nine-plot version. It works basically the same, but is quite a bit easier. I still have the three-year version. It’ll turn up eventually.

Finally, those students from the summer of ’99 read the instructions and immediately changed “a farmer” to “Farmer Tim”. I do have a bit of a green thumb from all those years of helping my dad, but I didn’t keep the change since I consider myself a farmer. I kept it because they insisted!

Fall ’15 updates just around the corner

While the site has been fairly dormant during the late Spring and Summer, don’t think for a moment that puzzle work has stopped at Knossos Games HQ. I’ve been hard at work planning and creating puzzles and updates for the magazine and website for the coming academic year. As I’ve commented before, several things are always going on at once,  and I’ve used the past few months to think through behind-the-scenes issues, tackle ongoing problems, and get better organized. I’m excited about what’s coming, and I hope you’ll enjoy it when it arrives!