Games

Werner Herzog Narrates Pokémon Go: Imagines It as a Murderous Metaphor for the Battle to Survive

in Animation, Comedy, Film, Games | August 5th, 2016

Like filmmaker Werner Herzog, I have existed in near total ignorance of Pokémon Go, a virtual reality game that purports to get players on their feet and out in the real world.

Without a smartphone—an item Werner refuses to own for “cultural reasons”—one cannot participate.

I have a smartphone, but my data plan is so small, I’m afraid I’d blow it all in hot pursuit of a Bulbasaur, whatever the hell that is. My kids never got into Pokémon and thus, neither did I. Reports that some cartoon was causing seizures in Japanese child viewers was my introduction to the world of Pokémon. Epilepsy runs in the family. It wasn’t hard for me to steer clear.

I have noticed a large number of Facebook friends praising the game’s non-virtual aspects. Their children are emerging into the light, gamboling through parks and public squares, finding common ground with neighbors and other players.

Does Werner have Facebook friends?

I think we all know the answer to that.

We both got an unexpected crash course in Pokémon Go, when Werner was interviewed by The Verge’s Emily Yoshida about his online MasterClass in filmmaking and Lo and Behold, his new documentary about the technological revolution.

Yoshida explained the Pokémon Go phenomenon to him thusly:

It’s basically the first mainstream augmented reality program. It’s a game where the entire world is mapped and you walk around with the GPS on your phone. You walk around in the real world and can catch these little monsters and collect them. And everybody is playing it.

Herzog was most interested in what happens when the Pokémon appear in the virtual crosshairs:

When two persons in search of a Pokémon clash at the corner of Sunset and San Vicente is there violence? Is there murder?… Do they bite each other’s hands? Do they punch each other?

He declined Yoshida’s offer to borrow her cell phone in order to try the game out, at which point Slate’s Daniel Hubbard and Forrest Wickman stepped in, cutting together footage of the game and the animated series with some of the most memorable narration from Herzog’s oevure.

Seen through the above lens, Pokémon Go becomes a reflection of our ongoing battle for survival, rife with fornication, asphyxiation, and rot. The trees and birds are in misery, and the penguins are insane.

It almost makes me want to play! Though in truth, I think another of Herzog’s activities —venturing into the countryside “to look a chicken in the eye with great intensity”—is more my speed.

Read the complete interview on The Verge.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her latest script, Fawnbook, is available in a digital edition from Indie Theater Now.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Can You Solve These Animated Brain Teasers from TED-Ed?

in Animation, Education, Games, K-12, Math | July 8th, 2016

Zombies, alien overlords, sharks, a mad dictator…math is a dangerous proposition in the hands of TED Ed script writer Alex Gendler.

The recreational mathematics puzzles he retrofits for TED’s educational initiative have been around for hundreds, even thousands of years. In the past, storylines tended to rely on biases 21st-century puzzle solvers would find objectionable. As mathematician David Singmaster told Science News:

One must be a little careful with some of these problems, as past cultures were often blatantly sexist or racist. But such problems also show what the culture was like. . . . The river crossing problem of the jealous husbands is quite sexist and transforms into masters and servants, which is classist, then into missionaries and cannibals, which is racist. With such problems, you can offend everybody!

Gendler’s updates, animated by Artrake studio, derive their narrative urgency from the sort of crowd pleasing sci fi predicaments that fuel summer blockbusters.




And fortunately for those of us whose brains are permanently stuck in beach mode, he never fails to explain how the characters prevail, outwitting or outrunning the aforementioned zombies, aliens, sharks, and mad dictator.

(No worries if you’re determined to find the solution on your own. Gendler gives plenty of fair warning before each reveal.)

Put your brain in gear, pull the skull-embossed lever, and remember, teamwork – and inductive logic – carry the day!

The prisoner hat riddle, above, hinges on a hierarchy of beliefs and the alien overlord’s willingness to give its nine captives a few minutes to come up with a game plan.

Go deeper into this age old puzzle by viewing the full lesson.

Gendler’s spin on the green-eyed logic puzzle, above, contains two brain teasers, one for the hive mind, and one for an individual acting alone, with a strategy culled from philosopher David Lewis’ Common Knowledge playbook. Here’s the full lesson.

Raring for more? You’ll find a playlist of TED-Ed puzzles by Gendler and others here. The full lesson for the bridge problem at the top of the post is here.

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Ayun Halliday, author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine, will be leading a free collaborative zine workshop  at the Gluestick Fest in Indianapolis Saturday, July 9. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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Californium: New Video Game Lets You Experience the Surreal World of Philip K. Dick

in Games, Literature | February 24th, 2016

Did Philip K. Dick foresee the future, or did he help invent it? While many of his visions belong more to the realm of the paranormal than the science-fictional, it’s certainly the case that the world we inhabit increasingly resembles a pastiche of Dick’s hyperreal, postmodern techno-dystopias.

Dick wrote about how the shiny, pop-art surfaces of modernity conceal worlds within worlds, none of them more—or less—real than any other, and it’s easy to imagine why his characters come unhinged when confronted with one virtual trapdoor after another, their sense of self and object permanence disintegrating. But for Dick, this experience was not simply a fictional device, but a part of his lived psychological reality: from his drug use, to his many failed marriages, to his paranoid anti-authoritarianism, to his life-altering mystical encounter….

And now, thanks to the very Dickian phenomenon of first-person computer games, you too can experience the hallucinatory life of a down-and-out sci-fi scribe in 1960s Berkeley whose mind gets invaded by an alien intelligence. The new game, Californium—developed by Darjeeling and Nova Productions—puts you inside the world of writer Elvin Green, whose life, writes Motherboard, “is an amalgam of real elements from Dick’s life… and numerous events and themes that run through his work.”

For legal reasons, the developers could not use Dick’s name nor the titles of his novels, but “nevertheless,” the game “is shaping up to be one of the most fitting tributes to the 20th century’s infamous techno-prophet.” At the top of the post, watch a trailer for the game, and just above, Youtuber Many a True Nerd walks through a comprehensive tour of the game’s architecture, with some lively commentary. If you’re convinced you’d like to spend some time in this colorfully addled alternate dimension, head on over to the game’s website to download it for yourself.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley Plays Unsuspecting Trash Talker in Washington Square Park

in Games | February 17th, 2016

Not more than two weeks ago, we took you inside the world of Maurice Ashley. As you might recall, he’s “the first African-American International Grandmaster in the annals of the game” and also a Fellow at the Media Lab at MIT. Today, Ashley released on his YouTube channel a video filmed in Washington Square Park, a place where, as New Yorkers know, you can watch some great chess players in action, schooling each other in how to play the game, and sometimes talking a little trash. In the clip above, Maurice sits down to play Wilson and gets jawboned for exactly four minutes, until (to mix metaphors) it’s game, set and match. Enjoy the action.

via Peter B. Kaufman

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Claymation Film Recreates Historic Chess Match Immortalized in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

in Film, Games | February 9th, 2016

Fans of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey will remember the scene: On a long journey through space, astronaut Frank Poole plays a casual game of chess with the HAL 9000 supercomputer … and loses decisively. No doubt about it. Watch it down below.




Passionate about chess and notoriously obsessed with detail, Kubrick based the scene on a chess match that took place in 1910, pitting the German chessmaster Willi Schlage against a fellow named A. Roesch. Whether Kubrick was personally familiar with the match, or simply found it by perusing Irving Chernev’s book The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (p. 148), it’s not entirely clear. But what we do know is that Kubrick’s scene immortalized the Schlage – Roesch match played all of those years ago. And it inspired animator Riccardo Crocetta to recreate that 1910 match in the fine claymation above. The notes accompanying Crocetta’s film on YouTube record all of the original moves. Apparently the ones featured in 2001 come after black’s 13th move.

Game: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. Qe2 b5 6. Bb3 Be7 7. c3 O-O 8. O-O d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nf4 11. Qe4 Nxe5 12. Qxa8 Qd3 13. Bd1 Bh3 14. Qxa6 Bxg2 15. Re1 Qf3 16. Bxf3 Nxf3#

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The Wisdom & Advice of Maurice Ashley, the First African-American Chess Grandmaster

in Games, TED Talks | February 4th, 2016

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve thought of chess grandmasters, I’ve often thought of Russians, northern Europeans, the occasional American, the guy on the Chessmaster box — purely by stereotype, in other words. I’ve never thought of anyone from, say, Jamaica, the country of birth of Maurice Ashley, not just a chess grandmaster but a chess commentator, writer, app and puzzle designer, speaker and Fellow at the Media Lab at MIT. Since we’ve only just entered February, known in the United States as Black History Month, why not highlight the Brooklyn-raised (and Brooklyn-park trained) Ashley’s status as, in the words of his official web site, “the first African-American International Grandmaster in the annals of the game”?

Given the impressiveness of his achievements, we might also ask what we can learn from him, whether or not we play chess ourselves. You can learn a bit more about Ashley, the work he does, and the work his students have gone on to do, in The World Is a Chess Board, the five-minute Mashable documentary at the top of the post. Even in that short runtime, he has much to say about how the game (which, he clarifies, “we consider an art form”) not only reflects life, and reflects the personalities of its players, but teaches those players — especially the young ones who may come from less-than-ideal beginnings — all about focus, determination, choice, and consequence. Perhaps the most important lesson? “You’ve got to be ready to lose.”

Ashley expounds upon the value of chess as a tool to hone the mind in “Working Backward to Solve Problems,” a clip from his TED Ed lesson just above. He begins by waving off the misperception, common among non-chess-players, that grandmasters “see ahead” ten, twenty, or thirty moves into the game, then goes on to explain that the sharpest players do it not by looking forward, but by looking backward. He provides a few examples of how using this sort of “retrograde analysis,” combined with pattern recognition, applies to problems in a range of situations from proofreading to biology to law enforcement to card tricks. If you ever have a chance to enter into a bet with this man, don’t.

That’s my advice, anyway. As far as Ashley’s advice goes, if we endorse any particular takeaway from what he says here, we endorse the first step of his chess-learning strategy for absolute beginners, which works equally well as the first step of a learning strategy for absolute beginners in anything: “The best advice I could give a young person today is, go online and watch some videos.” Stick with us, and we’ll keep you in all the videos you need.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Stephen Hawking & Actor Paul Rudd Play an Epic Game of Quantum Chess, Narrated by Keanu Reeves

in Games, Physics | January 28th, 2016

The Institute for Quantum Information and Matter (IQIM) at Caltech posted on its YouTube channel today a fun little video called “Anyone Can Quantum”–the “Anyone” probably referring to actor Paul Rudd, who takes on Stephen Hawking in a game of Quantum Chess, narrated by Keanu Reeves. Quantum Chess, a made-up thing, a gimmick, you say? Not so apparently. It’s a thing.




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Vladimir Nabokov’s Hand-Drawn Sketches of Mind-Bending Chess Problems

in Games, Literature | July 30th, 2015

20100602_nabokov_chess

Most of us strive to achieve some kind of distinction—or competence—in one, often quite narrow, field. And for some of us, the path to success involves leaving behind many a path not taken. Childhood pursuits like ballet, for example, the high jump, the trumpet, acting, etc. become hazy memories of former selves as we grow older and busier. But if you have the formidable will and intellect of émigré Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov, you see no need to abandon your beloved avocations simply because you are one of the 20th century’s most celebrated writers—in both Russian and English. No indeed. You also go on to become a celebrated amateur lepidopterist (see his butterfly drawings here), earning distinction as curator of lepidoptera at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology and originator of an evolutionary theory of butterfly migration. And as if that were not enough, you spend your spare time formulating complicated chess problems, earning such a reputation that you are invited in 1970 to join the American chess team to create problems for international competitions.

Nabokov Chess Problem

Nabokov was not easily impressed by other writers or scientists, but he held chess players in especially high regard. His “heroes include a chess grandmaster,” writes Nabokov scholar Janet Gezari, “and a chess problem composer…; chess games occur in several of the novels; and chess and chess problem language and imagery regularly put his readers’ chess knowledge to the test.” His third novel, 1930’s The Defense, centers on a chess master driven to despair by his genius, a character based on real grandmaster Curt von Bardeleben. For Nabokov, the skill and ingenuity required for composing chess problems paralleled that required for great writing: “The strain on the mind is formidable,” he wrote in his memoir Speak, Memory, “the element of time drops out of one’s consciousness.” Puzzling out chess problems and solutions, he wrote, “demand from the composer the same virtues that characterize all worthwhile art: originality, invention, conciseness, harmony, complexity and splendid insincerity”—all qualities, we’d have to agree, of Nabokov’s finely wrought fictions.

Nabokov Chess Game

In 1970, Nabokov published Poems and Problems, a collection of thirty-nine Russian poems, with English translations, fourteen English poems, and eighteen chess problems, with solutions. He had pursued this passion since his teens, and published nearly three dozen chess problems in his lifetime. At the top of the post, see one of them, “Mate in 2,” sketched out in Nabokov’s hand (try to solve it yourself here). Below it, see another of the author’s chess problem sketches, and in the photo above, see Nabokov absorbed in a chess game with his wife.

Though it may seem that Nabokov had limitless energy and time to devote to his extra-literary pursuits, he also wrote with regret about the price he paid for his obsession: “the possessive haunting of my mind,” as he called it, “with carved pieces or their intellectual counterparts swallowed up so much time during my most productive and fruitful years, time which I could have better spent on linguistic adventures.” Like the lepidopterists still marveling over Nabokov’s contributions to that field, the chess lovers who encounter his problems, and his ingenious use of the game in fiction, would hardly agree that his pursuit of chess was fruitless or unproductive.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Marcel Duchamp, Chess Enthusiast, Created an Art Deco Chess Set That’s Now Available via 3D Printer

in Art, Games | July 8th, 2014

What would Marcel Duchamp have thought of the age of 3D printing, had he foreseen it? I reckon that the inventor of the “readymade” work of art — i.e., a piece found in the real world and placed into an artistic context, as he famously/infamously did with a urinal for 1917’s Fountain — would endorse it as the logical extension of his own creative principles. But man, especially a man like Duchamp, does not live by recontextualized plumbing alone: he also painted, sculpted, and even carved. This last practice resulted, after some time in Buenos Aires the year after Fountain, in his very own one-of-a-kind Art Deco chess set. But now this unique item has turned readymade, so Boingboing reports via Kottke, as “freely downloadable 3D print-files on Thingiverse, where the community is actively remixing them” into versions “like this one, with self-supporting overhangs.”

duchamp_ba_chess_set_proa

Duchamp himself, who appears in the video at the top of the post describing his passion for chess, surely would have enjoyed all this. After his time in Buenos Aires, he moved to Paris, then to America, and, in 1923, back to Paris again, by which time he’d dedicated himself almost fully to the game. Chess has obsessed many of humanity’s finest minds over centuries and centuries, and Duchamp seems to have shown little resistance to its intellectual and aesthetic pull. Still, just as he crossed chess and art when he crafted his Art Deco set (pictured above), he did it again in 1925, when he not only competed in the Third French Chess Championship (earning the title of grand master as a result) but also designed its striking poster below. The New York Times‘ Holland Cotter, reviewing the Francis M. Naumann Fine Arts show “Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess,” writes that Duchamp ultimately found his two passions not just reconcilable but “complementary, an ideal intersection of brainpower and beauty. Chess was art; art was chess. Everything was about making the right moves.”

DuchampPoster

via Boingboing/Kottke

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Watch Bill Gates Lose a Chess Match in 79 Seconds to the New World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen

in Games, Sports | January 28th, 2014

Last November Magnus Carlsen, then only 22 years old, became the Chess World Champion when he soundly defeated Viswanathan Anand in a best-of-12 series match held in Chennai, India. Carlsen won three games, tied ten, and lost none. Only the second chess champion from the West since World War II (and the first since the “eccentric genius” Bobby Fischer), Carlsen suddenly found himself a celebrity of sorts, getting airtime on TV shows. Appearing on the Scandinavian talk show, Skavlan, a few days ago, Carlsen delighted viewers when he played a game of speed chess against Bill Gates, the wunderkind of a previous generation, who co-founded Microsoft when he was only 20 years old. So how did Gates hold up? Well, let’s just say that, true to its name, it was a game of speed chess. Gates lost speedily — in 79 seconds and just nine moves.

Not that he needs it, Bill got a little consolation yesterday when it was announced that he and Melinda will be the commencement speakers at Stanford’s graduation this coming June.

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