Accuracy Spades

March 31, 2007

[The first part of this post was based on a post I made on the Wesnoth forums]

My two favorite games of skill (other than Wesnoth) are chess, and a card game named Accuracy Spades which my brother made up.

Chess, as you all know, is entirely deterministic. In addition, a chess game, if played well, can take hours.

Accuracy Spades is luck, in that the cards you get are random. But it takes a lot of skill to manipulate them correctly. And – this is important – if your hand is completely horrible (which is rare, because what matters in this game isn’t so much what specific cards you have, but what combinations of cards you have), you can try to make that round worth less so your opponent extracts as few points as possible from your bad hand. And the individual rounds only take a few minutes (probably around two or three). The whole game will take maybe half an hour.

So – my basic opinion is, if you’re not going to have luck in a game, you have no choice but to make it a long, somewhat complex, very deep (=can always improve your skill) game. For example – tic-tac-toe sucks.

If you’re going to have luck, you have to do a few more things. You need the luck to balance out (which means a LOT of luck-based events – a game in which every ten minutes you flip a coin and whoever wins the toss gains 100 life would be, though balanced, idiotic), and a way for the player to win or at least minimize his loss even if he gets bad luck. Lucks needs to be able to be both anticipated and reacted to in a skill-based manner.

In light of this view of the role of luck in games, I’d like to explain the rules of Accuracy Spades, as an example of a card game that has luck, and uses it in a fair way that retains the factor of skill.

[ II ]
How to Play Accuracy Spades

Players: Two
Materials: One deck of cards, plus paper&pen if you want to keep score (which isn’t strictly necessary)

The game proceeds in a series of rounds, in each of which one of the players is the defender and the other the declarer. These alternate every round.

It is a trick-taking card game, which means the basic structure of each round is similar to that of the games Spades, Hearts, and Bridge, among others, though there are only two players, not four. In this game, spades is always trump.

The game begins with each player receiving thirteen cards. The defender makes a bid, a number between 0 and 13, indicating the number of tricks he believes he can take. The declarer then makes a similar bid. At this point:
If defender bid + declarer bid = 13, the round ends, with no players scoring, and the declarer and defender switch positions (this is called the declarer folding).
If defender + declarer , the objective of the game becomes to take as FEW tricks as possible.
If defender + declarer > 13, the objective of the game becomes to take as MANY tricks as possible.
(Clearly the declarer has complete control over which of these three occurs, unless the first player bids 13. This is why he is the declarer, and the other player the defender.)

The trick-playing then begins. For the first trick, each player plays their lowest club. The winner of that trick then leads any card (there is no “breaking trumps”), and gameplay continues until thirteen tricks have been played (each player should be out of cards at this point).

Only one player gets points each round. The amount of points is given for each player by

(opponent score – opponent bid)^2
– (player score – player bid)^2

There are two ways to score the game. Under the first variation, the player for whom the above formula yields a positive number gets that many points. For the second variation, this formula is calculated for the declarer, and he gets that many points, positive or negative.


Player Bid Tricks
Defender 7 9
Declarer 5 4

Declarer won the round. He gets (9-7)^2 – (4-5)^2 = 4 – 1 = 3 points.

Player Bid Tricks
Defender 6 6
Declarer 8 7

Defender won the round. Under variation one, he gets (7-8)^2 – (6-6)^2 = 1 – 0 = 1 point.
Under variation two, the declarer gets (6-6)^2 – (7-8)^2 = 0 – 1 = -1 point.

Gameplay continues until one of the players reaches a predetermined score, usually 21. This can take as many as 41 rounds (minus folds), since only one point is guaranteed per round, or as few as one, if one player makes a completely horrible bid and is off from it by over 5 tricks.

March 25th

March 25, 2007

Do you know what today is the anniversary of? Well? Do you?

OK, well, firstly, I suppose, it is the day celebrated in the Christian world as the Feast of the Annunciation. (You see, it’s exactly nine months before Christmas, and the normal gestation time for a human fetus is approximately that same length of time…)

But also, though perhaps not more importantly (the Annunciation is a pretty big deal), it is the day upon which, in the 3019th year of the Third Age of the Sun and Moon, the One Ring of Sauron the Black was thrown into Amon Amarth, into the very fires of Sammath Naur.

Yeah, I’m a Tolkien nerd.

[By the way, the Annunciation is apparently not celebrated on the 25th if that day is on a Sunday or during Holy Week. So it’s actually tomorrow, though normally it wouldn’t be.]


March 21, 2007

We started half-days at school this week. Essentially, the last quarter of senior year, we only have 4 classes, and we’re done at 12:15. (Though this week isn’t going to be particularly half-dayish for me – I was sick yesterday, I had to stay after school till 5 today for math club and quiz bowl, tomorrow I have more math club, and on friday I’m leaving for a QB tourney at 3.)

It’s kind of an interesting concept. It’s supposed to give us a break, I suppose, and help us get ready for college, when we’ll have fewer classes but more work per class. It is also an opportunity to have “senior projects”, which is technically what we’re supposed to be working on from 12:15-3:30 (as opposed to nothing, which is what most people work on).

I find it rather irritating, however. Well, not ‘irritating’… I’m not sure what the word is for it. I find it disconcerting to be out at noon every day; it feels like the school day is over before it begins. And it means there’s much less time for just “hanging out” at school (because people leave at 12:15 instead of staying at school for lunch and more classes and then study hall).

The solution, of course, is to hang out at places outside of school. But I never end up actually doing that. I might do stuff outside of school (i.e.,go to parties, football games, dances, etc) – but those aren’t really the same as hanging out. There’s something about just being in a classroom playing cards to pass the time that is really awesome. (I think it has something to do with the subject of the second half of my previous post.)

Anyway, back to the purpose of the half-days – to allow for Senior Projects. As a fellow Cistercian student has explained, these are basically self-assigned academic projects that are supposed to be the equivalent of a full class running for one quarter. As I’ve mentioned before, though I haven’t elaborated on it, what I’m doing is learning about set theory, a branch of mathematics. (Under the guidance, of course, with Dr. Newcomb, pronounced NUKE-‘EM, who is simply awesome.)

Set theory has few, if any, practical applications (at least that I know of). But it is basically the coolest branch of mathematics there is. It is a bit hard to explain; it deals with the theory of collections of “objects”. Like numbers, or points on a line (1D), or plane (2D), or space (3D). The basic introduction is – prove that there are the same number of natural numbers (1, 2, 3, …) as there are rational numbers (m/n, where m and n are natural numbers) – but that there are more real numbers (any number that can be expressed as a decimal – 1, 6, root 2, pi, e, are all reals) – there are uncountably many of those, while the number of natural numbers is countable.

The proof is pretty simple. But I think the very fact that you can prove something like that is amazing.

Stuff About Music

March 17, 2007

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent spring break in Mexico painting a church. It was more fun than I thought it would be.

Anyway, it was a fairly large group (18 people), and we were all in this one 15-seat van riding around Monterrey to various places, and we ended up listening to a bunch of music. Most of it was in Spanish, for some reason (we were in Mexico). And most of it wasn’t very good.

But spending a week listening to a bunch of music in a language I don’t know (very well) got me thinking about the nature of music in general. So here are some comments on music and music-related stuff.

As I’ve talked about before, I usually listen to metal of some variety (right now I’m listening to Iced Earth). I also usually look up (on or some other such site) the lyrics to the song I’m listening to. When they’re in a foreign tongue, I go to Google Translator and read them in English.

The thing is, if you pay too much attention to the words… badly written lyrics can really ruin a song. There are many, many songs I’ve heard that I didn’t mind the musical aspect of, but whose lyrics were just bad.

This is, I think, one of the reasons I so dislike rap. It isn’t so much that I dislike the style (though I don’t particularly like it)… it’s that it has pretty much the worst lyrics of any genre.

I think there’s a very strong argument for not having lyrics in many songs. But the human voice is a cool-sounding instrument… I wonder: what would it be like if you have vocals but no lyrics?

Actually, this is sort of like what listening to music in another language is like. You can here the cadences of the singer’s voice, but you don’t know what he’s saying.

And so here I come back to the music we listened to on the Mexico trip. Like I said, most of it was in Spanish. I can understand Spanish, but I have to make an effort to do so – if I don’t, it sounds like gibberish. So, anyway, while listening to this music, I often found myself saying – “this isn’t all that bad, though it isn’t my favorite genre in the world”. Then, when I starting paying more attention and translating the lyrics into English, I would say – “this song is so stupid!”.

Fabricated Emotion
I’m going to go off on a tangent a bit and then come back to music.

Cistercian “prom” is a month from now, and I still haven’t decided if I want to go. The argument for it – it’s the last big social event of high school, and I have some sort of duty to go. The argument against it – first of all, it costs money. But that isn’t a dealbreaker.

The real problem I have with going is that is strikes me as an attempt to fabricate emotion. You create an event for the sole purpose of having it be important.

All ceremonial events are like this, really. Everyone goes into them expecting them to be emotional, and then, surprise, they turn out to be so…

Really, though, a lot of music is like this. It depends on the style of music, obviously, but often music is intentionally emotionally loaded. (A good example of this, I think, is how we sang Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” at Braveart last month. It was “spontaneous”, sure, but the song itself is designed to elicit that reaction. That’s not to say it wasn’t a lot of fun.)

My point isn’t this is necessarily bad… it’s just that we have to realize that this is what we’re doing. And then decide whether that’s something we want to do.

I’m still undecided.

Music and Poetry
And now one short comment, then I’m finished.

Music and poetry are obviously linked. (And if people looked at writing song lyrics as writing poetry, I bet we’d see a lot fewer badly written songs.) What I often wonder is, should I write music, or poetry? Or both?

Often I’ll write a poem and then realize that it would go well with music… the problem is, I’m lazy and I don’t feel like writing a score for a song I’ll never be able to actually hear. And most of the songs would have to be metallish, which requires guitar playing, which I cannot accomplish.

But maybe I’ll eventually actually write down a score as well as lyrics to a song… maybe.

I Hate Stupid People (March)

March 9, 2007

Spring break starts… now. That should be a good thing, right?

Anyway, I’m actually doing something over spring break this year. I’m going to be out of town until next Friday – in Mexico on a service project.

I don’t particularly want to go, though. I know I should, and I wanted to go when I signed up, but now I don’t really want anything to do with it. It seems like a waste of time to me.

I’m also getting really frustrated with innumerable people in Real Life ™. This month is looking like it’s going to be the kind that makes my forum signature what it is – “I hate stupid people.” It’s not so much that I hate them, though, it’s that I hate the fact that they are stupid. And how their stupidity constantly irritates me.

So… what Wesnothian character is extremely bitter and arrogant? Either Mal-Ravanal or Vaniyera, I think.

Mal-Ravanal is the Lich-Lord who attacks Wesnoth and nearly destroys it in a quest to purify the world and gain control over it. He believes that matter is evil, and his plan is to destroy all life, starting with his arch-enemies in Wesnoth, then destroy himself.

Vaniyera is the most xenophobic of the Sidhe Elves. He advises against helping Caius Regilius, thinking he is a spy. After inheriting one of the Twelve Thunderblades from Leithan, he guards the western border for a hundred years, then, after killing Ranhilde, is slain by Alfhelm the Wise on the battlefield.

I’m going to go with Vaniyera this month, I think. I’m not feeling Gnostic right now, really, just anti-stupidity.

C is for Cookie

March 5, 2007

I was messing around with Iceweasel (i.e. Firefox but even more free), and I noticed that I had well… a lot of cookies. Most from sites I’d never even heard of.

So I decided to erase all of them. And change my preferences. Iceweasel now asks me before I accept any cookies. So now, I don’t have a million worthless and potentially malicious cookies hanging around.

And now, after a few days of browsing the web without automatic cookie exception, what I have come to realize is… almost every single advertisement you see on the web tries to give you a cookie. I’ve now rejected dozens of cookies these ads have tried to stick me with. My question is, what the hell are these ads doing, giving me cookies? The answer lies here:

from HTTP Cookie – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Advertising companies use third-party cookies to track a user across multiple sites. In particular, an advertising company can track a user across all pages where it has placed advertising images or web bugs. Knowledge of the pages visited by a user allows the advertisement company to target advertisement to the user’s presumed preferences.

The possibility of building a profile of users has been considered by some a potential privacy threat, even when the tracking is done on a single domain but especially when tracking is done across multiple domains using third-party cookies. For this reason, some countries have legislation about cookies.

I don’t particularly want to be tracked across the internet by giant advertising corporations. I have nothing to hide, but I also have nothing it is their business to see…

But wait, it gets better.

The United States government has set strict rules on setting cookies in 2000 after it was disclosed that the White House drug policy office used cookies to track computer users viewing its online anti-drug advertising to see if they then visited sites about drug making and drug use. In 2002, privacy activist Daniel Brandt found that the CIA had been leaving persistent cookies on computers for ten years. When notified it was violating policy, CIA stated that these cookies were not intentionally set and stopped setting them.[8] On December 25, 2005, Brandt discovered that the National Security Agency had been leaving two persistent cookies on visitors’ computers due to a software upgrade. After being informed, the National Security Agency immediately disabled the cookies.[9]

Great Success, U.S. government.

At least they claim to have stopped.

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