This is How Hard that Puzzle Is Going to Have to Be

Two Actively Forming Stars from Webb

Only One King” by Tommee Profitt, Jung Youth 🎵

This was going to be a post about cell-based architectural release patterns and continuous deployment.

But I’ve written about severity for incidents caused by lack of continuous deployment and DORA in this blog (and before Sept ’22 on Medium after several months of research and talking to game developers) – it’s why I made SEV 1 Party. We can take a small pause and get back to that in a week. I have to…let the temperature cool.

And, even if I didn’t have to do that, it’s come to my attention I now have to solve a 12 month word puzzle hidden in Alan’s blog where he’s challenged his readers to a bet to guess a sentence over 12 months. The problem is… in Bartle’s Taxonomy I fall somewhere between Killer & Explorer. The moment, not the puzzle was created, but that there was a chance someone else could beat me first who wasn’t actually shit at it, I had to try (*lazy yawn*).

Also there’s money and supporting women’s rights involved now so I got sold in like 5 different ways. You should be too – I may (?) need your help?

I figured I’d write about just how hard this sentence-word-location puzzle needs to be for me to lose a 12 month bet to literally anyone else. Two people (err out of hundreds?) did guess the last two puzzles. But both times.

I was first.

Words & Cards

My 10th game released was Words & Cards in 2014 on iOS. It was a word game. I built word and puzzle games for a living. For Words & Cards, I had the opportunity to be the lead game designer end to end at Thrust Interactive. The mechanics were:

1. Get some letter tiles, submit a word, get points.
2. Each tile got you a card from a 52 card deck too.
3. When you had enough cards to build a Poker hand, you could submit your Poker hand for additional points.
4. Turn-based, bet against your friends.

It was center banner featured in the App Store at launch under Ayopa Games LLC prior to iOS 10. This game taught me the value of finding words in randomness and randomness in limits.

Call Me Phrasy!

In 2019 my former LLC, Ker-Chunk Games, released Call Me Phrasy! with the amazing Josh Chudnovsky (Chud) as co-game designer – we co invested. Hard. This entire game was word pun, culture puzzles like “The floor is ____” with the clue as “coffee” and the answer “Java.”

With the original concept coming from Chud who was a comedian. It had classics like “What would YouTube’s theme park have as a ride?” A Rick roller coaster. Name a presidential clown. Ronald McDonald Trump. Meme sport played by dogs. Dogeball and …cringey sign offs like “Yoda best pun maker and dim sum!”

It outranked Scrabble in the charts without any user acquisition at launch. We kept it up for a few years, but I never had any UA money to throw at it.

This game taught me that funny and recognizable is key to any great puzzle, but make it too hard and it’s fun for no one.

My Family Won’t Play Codenames with Me Anymore

Codenames taught me that knowing other people well makes us better in team competition. My family however made a mistake with this when we played Codenames by letting me ask Alex, my brother in law, to be on the same team.

I know he calls shit for shit when it comes to corporate greed and enjoys that – it’s his sense of humor. I know he is fascinated by documentaries. I immediately planned to use any other facts I knew about him to my advantage. I assumed they wouldn’t realize how big of a problem this would be for them. We went second and only needed 8 words to win.

It went something like this:

Me: “Monsanto: 4
Alex: 4 Words?…Hah. “Bees”, “Lawyer”, “Lab”, “Farm”
Jeff (opposing team): uhhhhWHAT?

I don’t remember the exact words (one of them may have been corn?) just that no one ever wants to play Codenames anymore and lose in 2 turns. It’s too much of a snowball effect.

I love connecting words, but I also love learning how to avoid words. I like to see other words in missing words as a mechanic in writing. I prepare for any game like that by getting to know people first. The more you know a person, the more you can invest in them at scale. And the more you can get things done by barely saying anything at all. Slowly, with championing what they do, what they like, what they know at the right time with small investments – you build allies. Many. Many. allies.

Codenames made me realize you could write about entire situations without ever saying much – that being concise but having context is a not a soft skill in life, but an actual hard skill earned through action.

You can tailor in anything you do – from your resume, to executive briefs, to this blog, to weekly write-ups, to LinkedIn posts, to gifts by measuring quantitatively – how much do the other people you are trying to win as an ally already know and have you invested in them?

Which means you get better at word games, always, and by extension how words are used in your daily life by knowing other people enough to influence their choices.

Codenames teaches its audience to be concise and do the lifting to build context because it has proportionately quantitative value. This means if you’re going to win a word puzzle – you have to read and click everything. That’s a pretty big investment. Speed reading helps over ctrl+F.

I Play the New York Times Wordle, The Crossword Mini, and Connections Nightly

Don’t lie. Some of ya’ll do too. Enough said.

I’ve Done Many Escape Rooms

My family likes to do escape rooms a lot.

One time, we had 30 seconds left on a code to escape. Anyone of us could have been the “murderer on the train.” My sister-in-law yelled “I DON’T KNOW WHY BUT IT’S ME. IT’S ALWAYS ME. YOU ALL KNOW THAT. JUST ENTER THE CODE” We didn’t know why it was her. But we all agreed. It’s always her.

We let her enter in the code and escaped the murder train with 12 seconds left laughing so hard we couldn’t breath. My sister-in-law, taught me, that even when you’re still unsure and doubt yourself, commit anyway.

Long Bets

I lovvveeeee long bets. But more importantly, I have a reputation to uphold.

Anyway, now I’m super jealous and also want to put a puzzle in this blog so I need to think of a good one. If I were to design a puzzle, the above are the principles I am thinking about: Incremental rewards that builds up to value, puzzles designed knowing collaborators’ context, process of elimination, pattern order, elements of agency for those guessing that gives them snowball power by investment. Finally, clues that connect to each other over time to tell a great story.

Which is why, I’d be SHOCKED if the puzzle that spawned this post was a simple as “Paragraph 11, Word 2.” to get a word that builds up to a sentence in 12 months – unless the goal was the investment of our time. The game designer already knows he has that investment.

But sure, I’ll bite.

PS. Sign up for the Zynga Engineering Substack where more intelligent words are posted by people smarter than I am.

Header Image Credit by NASA from the James Webb Space Telescope in July 2023. More images can be found on Flickr. This is an image of Two Actively Forming Stars. Specifically “Webb Snaps Highly Detailed Infrared Image of Actively Forming Stars: The two stars are buried deep in a disk of gas and dust that feeds their growth. Over thousands of years, the pair repeatedly gobbled up, then spat out the material around them — producing those fiery orange lobes.”