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Darth Paradox

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Books and Puzzle Hunt [Mar. 3rd, 2009|03:00 pm]
Darth Paradox
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#8: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

The setting for the Hungry City Chronicles, of which this is the first book, is a sort of post-apocalyptic future-steampunk setting in which most of the towns and cities of the world have made themselves mobile, and they run around eating each other for resources.

"But wait," you ask, "either they'd have to reproduce, which seems unlikely, or the supply of food is going to run out quickly!" And indeed, that's the problem that propels the plot of this book: the Traction City of London can't find enough prey in its usual hunting grounds, and has to seek out new resources. And of course there's the usual overlay of secret motives and corrupt officials and such.

The setting is interesting, but the writing is unsubtle and a bit dry. The book pairs a rather original conceit with a trope-heavy execution, and as a result it seemed at risk of boring me without ever actually doing so for pretty much the entire time I read it. In the end, I enjoyed it enough to not regret picking it up, but not enough to want to bother with the next book in the series.

#9: Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Classic Pratchett. Chuck Rincewind into an intrigue-laden knockoff of Imperial China, turn the barbarians at the wall into Cohen and his geriatric horde being educated in the ways of Civilization, and watch the fireworks. Literally.

The Rincewind books are probably my least favorite subseries of Discworld. Pratchett being the writer he is, this renders them merely very good. All the same, Interesting Times is my favorite of the Rincewind books (which I've now read all of through The Last Continent, I believe).

If you know and love Discworld, you'll get what you're looking for in this book. I can't really put it any more succinctly than that.

#10: Banquets of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov

Asimov is renowned as a science-fiction writer; most people aren't aware that he was a writer of mystery stories as well. This book is an anthology of twelve short stories, most of them published in Ellery Queen at some point. The stories are formulaic by definition and intent - the Black Widowers are a group of men meeting at their favorite restaurant for a banquet once a month, and each time the designated "host" brings a guest who invariably has some problem or puzzlement for the group to extract from him, ponder, and then have solved for them by Henry, the waiter for their banquet and de facto member of the group. (Henry is as to the rest of the group as Jeeves is to Wooster, except rather toned down in both cases.)

The mysteries are more Encyclopedia Brown than Sam Spade. Each story is based around a clever gimmick of confusion or ambiguity, which Henry unravels with a question or two and a bit of seemingly trivial knowledge. For example, one guest is having trouble settling the question of what date Pirates of Penzance is set; there are sufficient clues to either of two answers within the show and the surrounding facts, and to answer the question is to pick out the correct bit of data and apply it like a scalpel. Each story is fairly short - just long enough to set up the mystery, bandy it about a bit, then close it out - which seems fairly appropriate given the relatively shallow depth to which the mysteries generally end up running.

It was a fun read, but more than anything it whetted my appetite for my substantial mysteries. I'll probably be picking up some Doyle or Christie soon enough.

Puzzle Hunt

Puzzle Hunt 12 had been announced at PH11 as being Jeopardy-themed, and that turned out to be half-right. It seems that the two groups working on PH12 and PH13 had both hit something of a wall in the planning process, and decided to merge their efforts. So we ended up with the Jeopardy-themed Puzzlehunt 12 segueing into the sinister Puzzlehaunt 13 upon the completion of the first metapuzzle.

There were a lot of really fun puzzles in this one. That said, between some extremely unclear messaging on Puzzle Central's part, and an assumption that we made early on that got propagated into truth for a long time, we finished the first meta probably three to four hours after we should have, and we just didn't have time to finish from there. The problem was exacerbated by the unlocking structure; we literally could not get more puzzles until the first meta was done, and so most of the team spent a few hours doing the last five puzzles they really didn't want to have to do while we struggled with the meta.

[User Picture]From: petie_s
2009-03-04 01:17 am (UTC)
What is your favorite Discworld subseries? Mine's the Guards, or specifically Vimes.
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2009-03-04 01:53 am (UTC)
Hard to say. The Guards are definitely up there, although I really have to classify that under enjoying the setting of Ankh-Morpork in general. Death and the Witches round out my top three, though which of those is actually my favorite is difficult to decide.
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[User Picture]From: iris_of_ether
2009-03-04 03:24 am (UTC)
I hear you liked the Triple Sec puzzle. I was pretty fond of most of that, actually, including its elegance of design, though "Older Vassar College alumnae" pissed all 3 of us off pretty badly. (We even knew what word it would yield, too...)

I still have Chemistry in my bag and plan to finish the last step at some point.
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2009-03-04 06:50 am (UTC)
Triple Sec was a lot of fun, yes. I like that sort of deep recursion. Other puzzles I particularly liked were Mosaic (with the colored letter blocks), Ghost in the Machine (with the queue-based assembly language), Cannibal Housewives (periodic table Scrabble!), Tetris (AYB FTW), Red Herring (paint-by-number dropquote), Googolplex (parody movie titles), and of course all the trivia questions for unlocking things.
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[User Picture]From: iris_of_ether
2009-03-04 09:04 pm (UTC)
Nico & Chris did Mosaic, I'm not sure anyone got to Ghost in the Machine (though I saved a copy, I think), got to Housewives a bit too late (so I didn't look at it), same with Tetris. Someone else did Red Herring. Googolplex was amusing, and I particularly liked the reaction I got when I figured out the first person in Character Assassination. (The writeup for Miss Piggy was....special.)
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2009-03-04 09:10 pm (UTC)
...special's a word, I guess?

I think it was me recognizing one of the clues as the kid from the Wonder Years that made us realize it wasn't just horror characters. (Buffy might have been the only one before that we got.)
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[User Picture]From: iris_of_ether
2009-03-04 11:14 pm (UTC)
The 'knocking people down' and 'karate kicking' helped, but the realization came around the time I figured that the phrase 'man sticks his hand up her underside' could only be socially non-disturbing if it was talking about a puppet.

Edited at 2009-03-05 01:45 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: chanilye
2009-03-04 06:10 pm (UTC)
The Rincewind books are also my least favourite. I'm currently rereading Good Omens, which I do every year or two. Love that book.
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