Month: March 2021

RPG-ology #40: Aptrusis

This is RPG-ology #40: Aptrusis, for March 2021.

Our thanks to Regis Pannier and the team at the Places to Go, People to Be French edition for locating copies of many lost Game Ideas Unlimited articles. This was not one of them, but the unearthing of about two thirds of the articles complete plus other partials has led to the decision to run as many of the series as we can in as close to the original sequence as possible.

We skipped the first, which is primarily an outdated introduction to the author; and already ran the second and third, so that last month featured the fourth in the series, linked below. This is number eleven, as we ran quite a few out of sequence already. For the sake of history, we ran number five Screen Wrap almost two years ago in June, six through eight, Pay Attention, Living in the Past, and Snow Day in sequence the summer before because they connected to each other, and number nine Invisible Coins last September. The tenth, originally entitled Empiricism, was rerun under the title Creatures two years ago.


I really don’t like certain kinds of puzzles. People think it’s strange. After all, aren’t I one of those super-intelligent people, and since I am, wouldn’t I enjoy games for the super-intelligent? Bah. I don’t like those mathematical magic squares. Finding the next one in the sequence doesn’t excite me.

And these: Mr. Carpenter, Mr. Cook and Mr. Baker met on the street. “It’s funny,” said Mr. Baker to the man who was the carpenter, “that each of us is named for a trade, and although between us we represent all three of the trades of our names, not one of us has the job that matches his name.” So which one is the carpenter, which is the cook, and which is the baker? The Law School Admission Test—L.S.A.T. for those of you more familiar with test abbreviations—has those, in varying levels of complexity, as about a quarter of the questions.

I hate those, too.

And I don’t unscramble words.

It isn’t that I don’t think I can do these. On the contrary, the problem is that as soon as I see the problem, I know that I can solve it, given enough time and effort. It generally becomes clear fairly quickly that if you shift the information around sufficiently, eventually the answer will appear. It is inevitable.

And that reduces the entire exercise to busy work.

I don’t like these puzzles because they are exactly like having to do homework. The answers are attainable, often without much that could be considered cleverness or even thought. You just have to plug away at it until you find it. I’ll show you what I mean.

My youngest was handed an assignment in which all the adverbs had been “scrambled” and he had to unscramble them to answer the questions. I’m supposed to help him with his work (this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me—I can do his work easily, and don’t see how that helps him learn, but I don’t have the patience to listen to him whine some days about how hard it is and how he can’t do it), and I’m supposed to check it when it’s done. So I read the paragraph, and all the words quickly revealed themselves, but for one.

  • aptrusis

So I have no idea what this is. I note that it contains the word “apt,” and that the “usis” ending is worth considering. But as yet I don’t see a whole word. So I change things around, at first keeping the two halves isolated.

  • partsuis

I like the way the first four letters work; they seem to have a lot of possibilities. The last four don’t, though, and I’m already thinking of pulling one of the “s”‘s to the front, as there are an awful lot of words that begin with “s,” and “sp,” “st,” “str,” and “spr” are very common starts. But before I do that, I try another twist.

  • tarpiuss

It’s not working. It’s time to shuffle things in a larger way, move letters between the front and the back.

  • utripass

Understand that in the back of my mind I’m already aware that I could systematically examine every combination—start by switching the last two, then shuffling the last three, the last four, as if testing permutations in a Mastermind game. I’m also quite aware that it can take a very long time to do that, even with the aid of a computer. I wonder if there’s a scrambled word cruncher on the net, like the “convert your phone number to words” site I once saw. But I’m working on the assumption that poking at this inductively will eventually give me a letter combination I recognize. In fact, I get such a letter combination when I bring the “s” up to the front.

  • straispu

However, it’s too much. I’ve got a five letter run that looks good, but the rest can’t be made into the end of any word I can see.

And this is supposed to be third grade work. Did I mention that I don’t like scrambled words?

  • spartius

A classic movie comes to mind; but this is supposed to be a time or place.

  • aspurtis

This actually sounds like a word; I pause to see if I can find the word—no, it would be a cute pun in a way, but probably very few would get it. Keep going.

  • spraitus

Well, I’d tried the “str” opening, I had to try the “spr.” This is so far from inspiring that I drop it.

  • parssuit

I’m beginning the think again about whether I can have the computer print them all to a text file. Then I could open it in Word, and the spellchecker would choke, but maybe find for me the one word that is not misspelled.

  • pastusir

Um… no.

  • upstasir

And suddenly I can see it; it’s right there. I have enough of it that the rest falls into place. I have unscrambled the word.

Did I mention that I really don’t like scrambled words?

I’m sure some of you knew what Aptrusis was almost as soon as you saw it in the title; your mind is geared to unscramble words more quickly than mine. Others have not yet made the final step to finish the process. Don’t worry about that—we all process information a bit differently. But more than a few of you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with game ideas.

Quite a bit, actually.

I just took you for a walk through a mental process. This, in a perhaps abbreviated form, is the way I thought about this problem. In some ways it should have seemed familiar to you, like I was doing something you might have done; in some ways it should have seemed surprising, like I turned left where you would have climbed the ladder. That means that there are similarities between the way you and I think, but we don’t think quite the same way. What looks easy to you, what is easy to you, might stump me, at least for a moment; and I might breeze through something that would confuse you.

Years ago, before people were talking about drama, karma, and fortune mechanics, or about narrativist, gamist, and simulationist goals, or about actor and author (and more recently director) stances in role playing games, someone tried to divide players up into categories of what they wanted to do. Some, it was said, were there for the action, fighting monsters and escaping with treasure. Others were there for the characters, the creation of story and the development of their world. But there was a third category about which I don’t hear much anymore: some play for the puzzles. They like solving them. Whether it’s a riddle, or a logic problem, or a scrambled word, the moment that the story stops and the players have to put their minds to cracking a problem is the moment this player shines. And in fact, I am that player. I like solving puzzles as the way to the solution of the mystery in the game. It’s just that there are some puzzles which don’t seem to me like puzzles at all. They seem like homework. I never liked homework (and left too substantial a share of it unfinished over the years). I want puzzles, but I don’t want homework.

And because we know that each of us thinks a little differently about everything, it follows that the puzzles that appeal to you might not appeal to me. So if you’re creating the situation, you need to think of puzzles that will appeal to the players, particularly to the players who are going to be the ones to tackle and enjoy them. If they like wordplay and don’t like numbers, they aren’t going to enjoy a numerical puzzle so much as a linguistic one. And probably they’re going to have trouble with some puzzles, to the point of frustration. The last thing you want to do is give them a puzzle that they aren’t going to like and will frustrate them. After all, they’re here to have fun. The puzzle should be challenging and fun.

This was a lot of words to say that, if that was all I was going to say. Why did we bother to go through that look at how I solve scrambled words? It was supposed to bring into focus the fact that everyone approaches puzzles a bit differently (at least, of those that bother to approach them at all). Everyone likes different types of puzzles, and everyone has different strengths and weaknesses in puzzle solving. So you can’t assume that because a puzzle looks too easy to you that they’re going to get it right away. You need to have a grasp of what puzzles entertain your players, what kinds of puzzles they enjoy and which ones provide the right level of challenge, if you’re going to use them, and gear things for that. The puzzles that appear in your adventures must entertain and challenge without frustrating.

Did I mention I hate scrambled words?

The word was “upstairs.” I have since been given the URL for AnagramFun.com, which would indeed unscramble any collection of letters you insert into whatever word or words can be derived from them.

Mr. Baker says that he is not the baker, and that the carpenter is not Mr. Carpenter; but since Mr. Baker is talking to the carpenter, he is not the carpenter either. (I don’t know—they don’t allow that Mr. Baker might be mistaken; and they don’t allow that he might talk to himself. But I suppose in logic puzzles things have to be logical, even if they aren’t realistic.) He must therefore be the cook. Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Cook are therefore the baker and the carpenter, but since Mr. Carpenter is not the carpenter he must be the baker, and thus the carpenter is Mr. Cook. But perhaps the answer is as confusing as the question.

Previous article: My North Wall.
Next article: Over My Shoulder.

Faith in Play #40: Harry Potter Series Follow-up

This is Faith in Play #40:  Harry Potter Series Follow-up, for March 2021.

This was originally published as an entry in the Blogless Lepolt web log at Gaming Outpost under the title Opinion Vindicated, and recently recovered thanks to Regis Pannier of the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be.


Many of you will by now have seen the news that J. K. Rowling has stated her heroic and much-revered character Dumbledore is “gay.”  Already I have been asked about this, and I will be giving my answer here in a moment.  What interests me more is her revelation, more quietly reported, that the entire Harry Potter series is, and has always been, a Christian story.  Rowling kept this “secret” close to her breast while dealing each book, as she feared giving it away too soon would lead readers to guess the end before they reached it.  This pleases me.  I’m not the only person to have noticed the Christian influences in the Harry Potter series, and I’m certainly not the most vocal of those defending it, but I have taken a stand in defense of the stories as part of my unofficial position as defender of Christian fantasy in the modern world.  Having her say what I have been saying is rewarding.

On the other report, over on MySpace, a mysterious friend through a friend who often asks me odd questions, Dr. Jack Centipede, asked me my opinion of the report.  My comment there was truncated—apparently I failed to keep to some unstated word limit imposed by MySpace—so I am going to copy what was saved and attempt to complete it here.

I don’t want to say that an author is wrong about her own character, so what I’ll say instead is, I don’t see it.

There is something of a pernicious error which grew in the twentieth century, which holds that two men who care about each other and who bond with each other are therefore homosexuals.  C. S. Lewis complained about this, saying (I think in The Four Loves) that when you have these close friendships, that “philos” “brotherly love,” someone will say that of course they are “really” homosexual—and that what you feel is pity for the one who says this, because it suggests that he has never known real friendship.  It is quite possible for men to care about each other without being homosexual, but in our age every effort is made to characterize such relationships as homosexual, because those in homosexual relationships want to be able to claim that their relationships are “normal.”

I see nothing in Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald that indicates it to be more than a very close friendship, the kind of friendship I have had rarely in my life.  Dumbledore is not gay, but caring and sensitive and eager to know people and to forge relationships with them.  It is not the same thing.

Let me make two more points on this, briefly.

First, if Dumbledore is gay, then any man who has ever felt a close connection, a bond of sincere friendship and mutual interest, with any other man, is also gay.  I think—indeed, I would hope—that that would be all men everywhere.  By this definition, then, every man is gay; and if that is so, then the category is meaningless, and no man is.

Second, it is significant in my mind that the same is not said about women.  We assume that women forge these dear and close friendships with other women, and that this says nothing about their sexuality.  It is only when men forge such relationships that this becomes “homosexual” or “gay.”

This puts men in a lose-lose situation.  On the one hand, we are accused of being cold, uncaring, unemotional, self-centered and self-interested, failing to bond with others, failing to share our true feelings.  On the other hand, should we venture to warm, care, emote, reach out to and bond with others, and share our true feelings, we are suddenly branded as “gay.”  You can’t have it both ways.  Either it is quite normal for people—men and women—to have caring relationships with each other, or it is always abnormal for anyone—man or woman—to care about a member of the same sex.

Thus I think Rowling has fallen into the trap of assuming that her character Dumbledore must have been gay because he cared deeply for and about another man.  I care deeply for and about my father, my uncles, my cousins, my brothers, and my sons; that does not make me gay—nor does it make me gay if I also care deeply about friends who happen to be guys.  What’s a guy to do, anyway? After all, if I, as a married man, care deeply about other men, I am labeled “gay;” but if I care deeply about other women, I am labeled “lecherous.”  The only kind of man we will accept as manly is the one who doesn’t care for anyone but himself, and that’s not the kind of man we need in this life.

From there I commented on the Christian connections of the book, including the above news link, but since I’ve already done that here I won’t repeat it.

There are a dozen things I am supposed to be doing right now, I suppose, but rather than attempt to list them here, I’m going to attempt to do them, and maybe tell you about them tomorrow.  The gout persists, flaring up overnight, but calming a bit as I work; I wonder to what degree the constriction of my feet within my shoes is reducing the pain.


Previous article:  Of Aliens and Elves.
Next article:  Faith.