Bathroom technology 3

I remembered this commercial for some odd features:

Here are the things I noticed:

  • The bears communicate through telepathy. Their mouths aren’t moving when they talk. That would appear to give bears an advantage over us non-psychic humans.
  • They have to decide how much bathroom tissue to use first. Under the bears’ system, they have to predict how much they’re going to need ahead of time, and then go off and do their thing. I would guess that very early on, humans saw the folly of such a system (if indeed any humans ever bothered to even try it). I for one have never been a guest at anyone’s house and seen the TP out in the hallway where you had to make a prediction and take some before entering the bathroom.

It’s really a happy ending. Any concerns one might have had about intelligent psychic bears gaining dominance over us humans are eventually quashed. Any species who would use such an obviously inefficient system is clearly no match for us.

Levels of rules in bridge

Bridge has been said to be the most difficult card game to master.

There used to be a regular bridge game at lunchtime where I worked. It takes four to make a bridge table (two “teams” of two people sitting across from each other) so the number of tables depended on who showed up that day. At the less advanced table, nobody kept score, and the strategy seemed strange to me until I went to a duplicate bridge club.

After playing duplicate bridge, the strategy made more sense to me. Duplicate bridge tilts the luck-skill balance almost all the way towards skill. The cards are shuffled and dealt at the start of the session. After each hand, the cards are put into a “board” where the four hands are kept separated as they were originally dealt. The boards and players move from table to table in a certain pattern. At the end, you’re scored against the other players who played exactly the same cards that you did. The luck of the cards is unimportant; to win, you have to beat the others who played the same hands.

I imagine the rules as a sort of hierarchy, for both the bidding and the play of the hand, with Level 1 being the most fundamental.

Level 1, bidding

The dealer bids first and bidding goes clockwise around the table. Each player can either “Pass” (which amounts to not bidding), make a higher bid than the last one (higher in number or in a higher-ranked suit, where “No Trump” counts as a “suit”), or “Double” or “Redouble.” The partnership who made the highest bid gets the contract for however many tricks they bid in whatever trump suit they bid (or “No Trump”).

Level 1, play of the hand

Whoever first bid the trump suit (or “No Trump”) is the declarer. The player on the declarer’s left makes the opening lead; then the declarer’s partner lays down his hand face-up on the table, he’s now the “dummy” and watches the declarer play the cards from both hands in the partnership. Each trick has four cards, one played by each player in turn going clockwise. Players have to follow suit if they can, otherwise they can play any card. The highest card of the suit led wins the trick unless somebody played a trump, in which case the highest trump played wins the trick. The winner leads to the next trick, and so forth.

Level 2, bidding

Each bid states a number of tricks and a trump suit, but it also gives information about the bidder’s hand. Someone in the history of the game evidently realized that an “unnatural” bid could have a special informational meaning. If the bidder’s partner knows the meaning, the partnership can benefit from this shared knowledge. The bidder’s partner knows that the special bid doesn’t suggest the bid suit as trumps, and knows not to leave the final contract in that trump suit.

But doesn’t it seem wrong for a partnership to have a secret bidding system? The rule-makers thought so, but rather than prohibit such unnatural bids, they decided that such bids are legitimate as long as the opponents are also informed about the bidding system being used.

Over time, a set of the most popular bidding conventions was grouped together and declared to be the “Standard American” bidding system. Decent players are supposed to know these conventions, which have increased in number over the years.

Level 2, play of the hand

There are also conventions in the play of the cards. Certain cards played have “meanings” that a partnership can agree on (and should tell their opponents about). Since the declarer is himself playing both partnership hands, one of which is face-up on the table, it’s only the other two players (the “defenders”) who would use these card-play “signals” to help each other. There are “standard” card-playing conventions that decent players are supposed to know.

Signaling by facial expressions, “casual” remarks, or other secret codes is strictly forbidden. Signals must only be given by the choice of a bid or by a card played!

Beyond level 2

From here on it gets crazier. If a player hesitated a long time before a bid, did that give his partner extra information? At a bridge club, the opponents would call the director, who would have to judge whether extra information was given, or whether an advantage was gained by this information. There are more rules to handle these cases, but this is as far as we’ll go in the hierarchy for now!

Constraints and creativity

It is said that constraints are good for creativity. As soon as you make a decision about what direction to go, you are ruling out other options and constraining yourself in some way. Or, to look at it the other way, as soon as you impose constraints, you are making a decision about what direction to go.

Sometimes this decision/constraint process is done without even thinking about it. For example, a blogger might decide that each blog post

  • should be understandable without any special technical knowledge
  • should be under 750 words (all except for one)
  • should have a single main point

and may not have consciously thought about these things until trying to make a list of constraints in a blog post.

But to get to the single main point of this blog post, it is surprising how severe the constraints can be and still produce creative results.

A commonly-used definition of a haiku (at least the one I remember) is that it must have seventeen syllables split as 5/7/5. This would seem to be a serious constraint, yet much has been done with this form. One could even attempt to write a sort of parody of a haiku. Apparently nowadays the English-language haiku rules have been changed, but the haiku form is still quite constrained.

Fonts are complicated things. In the olden days I used to hand-letter things following the proper typographical rules of proportion and such. But who would have thought that being limited to the lines in this grid:

Grid for gridfonts

The grid for gridfonts

that one could make such a wide variety of fonts with distinct styles such as these?

Once upon a time, people recorded songs on records. Somewhat before my time, 78 RPM records could only hold one song. Before the days of multitrack recording studios, the musicians had to record music all at once in one take, and sometimes they would run out of time and have to speed up near the end in order to fit the entire song on the record. But that’s not much of a constraint on length compared to this well-known highly-constrained example!