Indiana native. Purdue grad. Programmer / Dev Ops in trade. Dog owner. Husband and father. Have questions? Ask!
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A Puzzle Hunt at a Wedding Reception?

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We’ve seen our fair share of puzzly romance here on the blog over the years, particularly when it comes to proposals. There was the Rubik’s Cube proposal, the Monopoly proposal, and of course, the two proposals facilitated by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles.

Heck, just recently, YouTuber and author Hannah Witton proposed to her partner using some Fluxx cards she created especially for the occasion!


But in today’s blog, we’ve got a new twist on things. We’ve seen puzzly proposals… but how about a puzzle-fueled wedding reception?

When Laser Webber (half of the wonderful musical duo The Doubleclicks) and Richard Malena got married, they decided to celebrate the day with a puzzly reception, since they love puzzles and games, and they knew some of their guests were diehard puzzle/game fans as well.

So, what’s the perfect hook for a wedding reception puzzle?

Simple. Their rings had gone missing, and it was up to the puzzlers in attendance to find them!


Each table at the reception had a theme — Dungeons & Dragons, Oregon, Lord of the Rings, etc. — and on the back of each placemat was a letter. The letters spelled out a word related to another table’s theme, leading to certain tables teaming up. (There were also bonus letters on some of the placemats, which would be used in the next clue.)

So, say there were nine tables, and those nine tables boiled down to three teams (three tables per team), those teams could then combine the bonus letters from their tables to spell a bonus word.

The three bonus words, when combined, formed the phrase “ringing present interior.”

A-ha! A clue must be lurking on the present table!

The solvers made their way there, and shook the presents. Although several of them made interesting noises, only one contained a bell that rang out in suspicious fashion. The guests paused for a second, then tore into the paper and opened the box, revealing a Rubik’s Cube.


Naturally, this one had been personalized for the event, with letters or star stickers on it in addition to the usual colors. When solved, from left to right, the cube read:



“the secret code behind the constellations.”

The eyes of solvers immediately turned to the paintings of constellations that decorated the reception area. Or, more specifically, to what was behind the paintings. With a touch more destruction — paper backings to the paintings, rather than wrapping paper this time — a number of playing cards were revealed, each with bits of a message painted on.


When properly arranged, the message on the cards read, “What did that hobbits ask when he tricksed me?”

How clever is that? Not just a Lord of the Rings reference (one sure to delight LOTR fans in attendance), but a reminder of what they were looking for… the lost rings of the newly married couple.

The solvers then confronted the emcees and asked the crucial question, “What have I got in my pocket?” and the emcees revealed they had the rings all along.

The guests had triumphed and reunited the couple with their rings!


It was a really unique way of celebrating being together with friends and loved ones — and doing something you love in a big, fun, silly, personalized way as well — and we here at PuzzleNation Blog are forever impressed by the creativity and puzzly ingenuity of our fellow puzzlers.

[For the full story, including a hilarious mishap during the placemat portion of the puzzle hunt, check out Richard’s blog post about the reception here.]

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23 days ago
Central Indiana
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Interviewing Ira Glass

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One of the troubles with interviewing Ira Glass is that Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about interviews.

Claudia Dreifus: When we first discussed doing this, you asked if I had heard a recent Terry Gross interview with Howard Stern. Why was that?

Ira Glass: Because it was an interviewer interviewing an interviewer. It was interesting to hear him appreciate her moves. He also clearly had no idea who she is. He admitted, “I sort of looked you up last night.” Whereas I know Terry has been listening for years.

To be clear: he’s an excellent interviewer. Part of the pleasure was hearing these two iconic radio voices talking to each other. Stern clearly admired the interview she was doing. She did such a good job of pointing him to things, being appropriately critical of the way that he talks about women, but also being appropriately admiring.

If I were to interview him, I’d feel intimidated.


Yeah. He’s a bossy sort of presence. I don’t like interviewing famous people. They make me nervous. I’ve always tried to avoid interviewing famous people.

Is that because they are usually over-interviewed or because they arrive at an interview with impenetrable masks?

All of these things.

It’s just more difficult. To get them to say anything real, you have to find an angle on their experience that will open them up. And there are things famous people want to keep private, things they’re tired of talking about, things they’ve told so many times that they have no interest in telling them again—but will tell again in exactly the same words they’ve used in the past…

Can I go back to something? And feel free to edit this any way you like. I’m already editing this interview in my head because I’m a crazy person and can’t stop myself. This idea of not wanting to interview famous people, that’s one of the things that led to the work I’m doing today. I knew in my twenties, while at NPR, that the thing I wanted to do was document regular people’s lives. The question then was, “How do you do that?”

It is weird to me that Ira Glass in his sixties. (He just turned 60 in March.) All this time, Ira Glass was less than a year younger than Prince.

Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about podcasts that he doesn’t seem ready to share. You can see it, he kind of schtums up and falls back on generalities and a few broad compliments. I don’t know. Maybe that’s all he’s got, maybe that’s all we can have.

Ira Glass says he borrowed and borrows a lot from Roland Barthes’ S/Z when trying to get interviewees to structure a story, but I don’t really see it. This line made me laugh though.

At college, we were assigned Barthes’s S/Z , which made me understand what I could do in radio.

Really? How did the French semiotician help shape your journalism? Frankly, a lot of people find semiotics to be…

—this incredibly pretentious literary theory that takes as its thesis that narrative is part of the general conspiracy of language to imprison us in our place in society. I ignored that.

Ira Glass should find more ways to tell stories about what working in radio was like in the seventies. There’s something there. He doesn’t catch it all.

Tags: interviews   Ira Glass   radio
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36 days ago
Central Indiana
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Happy Father's Day

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Matt and Amanda both read this book and said it is great. Happy Father's Day.

Love, Pat

Found in "Truman" by David McCullough. Published by Simon and Schuster, 1992.
-Click to enlarge photos-
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51 days ago
There's something sad about finding this note in a book.
Central Indiana
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User Submitted Post


Client: Please edit the photo. The sky is too brightly dark.

Me: …what?

The post User Submitted Post appeared first on Clients From Hell.

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56 days ago
Central Indiana
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How to photograph a road

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In all of my years driving the old highways I’ve learned a thing or two about how to photograph a road. Here’s how not to do it: straight on, from eye level, like this.

Concrete road

I’ve made dozens, maybe hundreds of shots like this as I’ve documented old roads around the Midwest. As a piece of documentary work it’s fine, as this road is hereby documented. It’s good that I documented it, for three reasons. First, this is historic pavement that carried the old Dixie Highway. Second, it is from the early 1920s (I estimate) before they figured out you need to put expansion joints in or the concrete will crack as it will. Little of this continuous concrete remains anywhere. Third, you can no longer visit it as it was destroyed in about 2017 when an Interstate highway exit was built here. This image is very interesting to roadgeeks.

But as a photograph, it’s boring. When photographing roads, you have to find the interest, or add it. I aim to show you here what I’ve learned about how to do that.

Before I go on, let me say be careful photographing roads. The cars on them can maim or kill you. (Unless the road is abandoned!) Make sure the road is clear of traffic both ways before you step into it. Wait for a quiet moment an listen carefully for vehicles. Work quickly — do not lose yourself in the photographic process. Get in and get out.

Here’s what I’ve learned:


You don’t need special equipment. I made most of these images with point-and-shoot digital cameras and occasionally my iPhone.

I do some level of post-processing in Photoshop, most commonly to boost contrast and and adjust exposure as I like it. If Photoshop is too rich for your blood there are a few less-expensive alternatives. That’s more than I can tackle here; Google can help you with that.


I wish I could always make road trips on good-light days. I can’t. I get the light I get. You’ll see that in the examples that follow. But light matters a lot, for all the reasons light always matters in a photograph.

Sometimes I get lucky, though. I made this photo as late-afternoon sun cast long, soft shadows.

Brick Rd.

The gloomy sky and diffuse light heighten this road’s desolation.

Narrow road among the rocks


A road in a photograph naturally guides the eye. Eyes find curves more interesting than straights.

US 40 in Putnam County, Indiana

Does the road disappear around the bend? Use it; it adds mystery. Where is the road going?

Indiana State Road 45
On N59, County Galway
Gravel National Road segment


Something crossing the road, or appearing to cross the road, often adds interest. Here this abandoned road is juxtaposed with a bridge carrying this road’s current alignment.

Brick road leading to the Blaine S Bridge

Here, a rusty old railroad overpass gives you something to look at other than pavement.

Railroad overpass

This hairpin turn is interesting by itself, but because of challenging terrain it was difficult to find a great angle on it. So instead I brought in the rising hill behind it.

Glengesh Pass

The rising hill and the low placement of this long road create contrast. I made this photograph from the passenger seat of the car while my wife was driving, by the way. The windshield tint doesn’t do your colors any favors, but fortunately a quick hit of Auto Tone and/or Auto Color in Photoshop almost always clears it away.

Rural Irish road, Co. Galway

Look for interesting things by the roadside

Objects by the roadside let you photograph a straight road at an angle. I usually put the object on one of the rule-of-thirds lines.

Old US 36

How improbable to find a basketball goal on this abandoned highway!

Basketball on the road

Make the road the backdrop

Sometimes the roadside object can become the subject, with the road passing by in the background.

Sycamore Row
Jct 52

Making the most of straight-ahead shots

Sometimes none of the above tips work in your situation, and all you have to work with is a straight-ahead shot. Sometimes, if you crouch lower you can pick up interesting textures in the road to add interest.

Brick Route 66

Sometimes a rolling hill can add a little drama.

Oklahoma Concrete Route 66

Perhaps the surroundings can act as a frame, creating a tunnel effect.

PP-OO in Indiana

There you have it, everything I’ve learned about making interesting road photographs. Go forth and stand in some roads. Carefully!

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65 days ago
Central Indiana
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Why maps have north at the top

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One perennially popular question on ask-an-expert social media is: why do maps have north at the top? Is there a solid reason for it, or is it arbitrary?

The answer, just to give you a heads-up, lies in Greco-Roman antiquity.

Now, you will often see maps rotated to arrange a region or a building in a tidy rectangular space. A GPS service may turn a map continuously so that ‘up’ is always the direction you’re facing. Those things are fine. But if you open up a printed roadmap, or an atlas, you don’t want to hunt around to find out which direction is which. If you open up Google Earth, there’s a prominent button that will turn the map so that north is at the top.

We can grant that the four cardinal directions -- north, east, south, and west -- aren’t arbitrary. They’re determined by the geometry and rotation of the Earth. But you still need to choose which of those four to put at the top. The four cardinal directions aren’t arbitrary, but which of the four you choose -- that is arbitrary.
The central Mediterranean in four orientations. Each of these is a perfectly reasonable, non-arbitrary way of orienting a map. The arbitrariness comes in which of the four you choose.
(Actually there are eight possibilities, if we also admit the possibility of maps drawn from an underground perspective. We’ll assume we’re not doing that. We’re also ignoring maps with polar geometry, that is, with the south pole or north pole at the centre.)

Map-makers of various periods and places have certainly chosen directions other than north to put at the top. Prior to the 1400s there was no consistency. The Moroccan cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi drew up a map in 1154 of western Asia, northern Africa, and Europe, with south at the top. Mediaeval T-and-O maps, like the Hereford mappa mundi (ca. 1300), have east at the top. Albertinus de Virga’s world map (ca. 1415) has north at the top, Fra Mauro’s (ca. 1450) opts for south. None of these options is intrinsically better or worse than the others.

Top: Muhammad al-Idrisi’s map, with northern Africa at the top and Europe at the bottom. Bottom: the Hereford mappa mundi along with a stylised simplification.
Anyway, the obvious question is: why? Why did European mapmakers switch to having north at the top so consistently in the late 1400s?

If you do make the mistake of asking this on an ask-the-experts forum, you will get completely speculative answers:
  • ‘Europeans wanted to put Europe at the top ... [so] their maps would end up having the largest sway’. (That’s a good post hoc rationalisation for keeping maps pointing that way, but it isn’t the historical cause.)
  • Globes supposedly are naturally arranged with the axis of rotation pointing vertically (why?), and ‘globes have existed ... since the third century BC’. (They haven’t: this sub-myth comes from a mistranslation of Strabo.)
  • Compass needles supposedly point up. (Funny, I thought they’re horizontal.)
  • Alternatively, ‘you rotate [your map] until the needle is pointing away from you’. (Actually, 15th century European compasses pointed south.)
  • ‘[S]tars apparently rotate around the north pole’, and somehow that translates to having a map arranged with the ‘up’ side away from the reader.
  • There’s more land in the northern hemisphere, and somehow that makes north naturally ‘up’. (This answer comes closest to the reality, but still not close enough.)
Now, it’s imaginable that any of these speculations may hold true for some particular time, some particular place, some particular mapmaker. None of them comes close to the historical cause, though.

The short answer is that it was in the late 1400s that Ptolemy’s Geography became widely available in printed editions. Ptolemy, forgotten since antiquity, suddenly became insanely influential. And Ptolemy put north at the top.

(That wasn’t a universal thing in antiquity, either, by the way: Ptolemy makes a careful argument for his choice. We don’t know which way the maps of Eratosthenes or Marinus of Tyre were oriented.)

Ptolemy’s map, designed in the 2nd century, may look a bit shonky to modern eyes -- India and China are badly misshapen, most of Africa is missing, Scotland is completely misplotted. But for the Mediterranean world Ptolemy’s latitude and longitude data, based on Roman survey work, are pretty accurate, and very convenient. As a result, renaissance-era European mapmakers followed both his data -- until explorers improved on it -- and his design choice about which way north is.
Table 1 from the 1477 Bologna edition of Ptolemy’s Geography. The projection used to represent the curved surface of the earth isn’t rectilinear, unlike the maps of Marinus of Tyre and Mercator. This is the first projection Ptolemy outlines in his theoretical introduction (Geog. 1.24); many renditions of Ptolemy’s data use the second projection instead.
In 1406 Jacopo d’Angeli translated the Geography into Latin, from the Greek text assembled by Maximus Planudes. After the advent of the printing press, the translation appeared in several print editions -- four in a space of seven years: first the 1475 Vicenza edition, with just the raw data; then with the data plotted onto maps in accordance with Ptolemy’s directions, in the 1477 Bologna edition, the 1478 Rome edition, and the 1482 Ulm edition. Reprints followed quickly. Ptolemy was hot stuff.

One exception, by the way, is Fra Mauro’s map, made around 1450. Fra Mauro had access to data from further afield, about southern Africa and eastern Asia, but he still draws on Ptolemy for some things like the enormous island of Taprobana (far larger than Sumatra or Sri Lanka, the two islands that Ptolemy’s defenders try to identify it with). Fra Mauro doesn’t follow Ptolemy’s choice about orientation, though. Bear in mind that Fra Mauro lived before the spate of Ptolemy editions in the 1470s and 1480s.

You will occasionally find that an online ‘expert’ is aware of Ptolemy as the real reason. But even then, they’ll be blissfully unaware of why Ptolemy made that choice. Ptolemy explains, directly and explicitly, why he puts north at the top. And though his reasoning is arbitrary to an extent, it’s also data-driven.

It’s probably worth taking note, for a start, that Ptolemy was neither European nor a Roman citizen, and that because of axial precession, the North Star was several degrees away from the pole in the 2nd century when Ptolemy was alive. So a lot of the usual speculative reasons don’t apply (it’s all eurocentrism, or European colonialism, or the North Star is ‘up’). That said, here’s his explanation in his own words:
We have selected the arrangement for convenience of design, taking everything into consideration. It is based on the principle that we move to the right, with transitions from things that are already set down, to those that are not yet taken in hand. This will be the case if northern parts are drawn before southern parts, and western parts before eastern parts. So, to those designing or viewing the map, the north lies up, and the east of the world lies to the right, on both the globe and the map. Therefore we shall begin with Europe and divide it up; then we move to Africa via the Strait of Herakles; then to Asia, after covering the sea in between ...
-- Ptolemy, Geography book 2, prologue, §§4-6
In other words, maps have north at the top because ancient Greek was written left-to-right and top-to-bottom.

Ptolemy’s sudden popularity in the late 1400s has positive and negative sides to it. It certainly fed Columbus’ misapprehensions about the size of the earth. You might feel that the impact on map orientation is a good thing, because a universal standard is good, or a bad thing, because there’s no very good reason to have maps as standardised as all that.

There’s no doubt that map orientation has fed colonialist impressions about which bits of the world are important and which ones aren’t. That’s one thing that you will regularly see pointed out in response to this question -- thanks to a memorable episode of the TV series The West Wing.
Dr Fallow. When third-world countries are misrepresented, they’re likely to be valued less. When Mercator maps exaggerate the importance of western civilization, when the top of the map is given to the northern hemisphere, and the bottom is given to the southern, then people will tend to adopt ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ attitudes.
C.J. But ... wait, h- -- where else could you put the northern hemisphere but on the top?
Dr Sales. On the bottom.
C.J. How?
Dr Fallow. Like this.
C.J. Yeah, but you can’t do that.
Dr Fallow. Why not?
C.J. ’Cause it’s freakin’ me out.
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69 days ago
Central Indiana
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