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That’s A Puzzlin’: Part 2

Puzzlin_2

In my entry last week [That’s A Puzzlin’: Part I], I chronicled a little about the curious puzzle-box that Pete and I put together for a holiday I took with a two handfuls of friends at an impromptu board games retreat out in Devon last month.

In that post, I covered the first three of the five puzzles which made up the quest; so it seems only fair to document the final two, and apply some closure to what it all led to. Let’s find out:

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Puzzle #4: Rings

The purpose of Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was, in essence, to lead the player’s brains to think about using the Study as a hint mechanism for future clues involving books. Pete had always wanted to put in book cipher as one of the puzzles; so, having pre-prepped a candidate book with which to hide a cipher in the form of coordinates to specific page numbers, lines and words, we dropped the envelope containing Puzzle #4 on the hallway calendar on Friday evening.

I’d already hidden a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit on the bookshelf in the study when I placed the Lovecraft code within Puzzle #2, so all the players had to do for this one was to interpret the riddle and hunt for a copy of the book – which they dutifully did after a minor amount of head-scratching. Then, using the three-number combinations, they would then need to construct a sentence (to be even more accurate, a question) using the specified coordinates; likely using a bit of trial-and-error to work out what the number combinations meant before stumbling on the correct structure: [PAGE NUMBER] [LINE NUMBER] [WORD NUMBER].

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Doing so would, eventually, translate the following trivia question, giving the solution to Puzzle #4 (and on which we had banked on our player’s Lord of the Rings knowledge to come up with the correct answer; an assumption which stuck):

HOW
MANY
RINGS
OF
POWER
WERE
GIVEN
TO
MEN
?

The answer, of course, is nine; giving the directional combination (←↑) corresponding the runic ‘H’ symbol on the original “combination lock clue page”.

Now, I haven’t (yet) explained the importance of this so, before I introduce the fifth (and final) puzzle of the game, I’ll briefly go into the meaning of it all.

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Early on, Pete and I had identified that, if we dropped the various directional combinations in order across the weekend, it wouldn’t be impossible for a brute-force method (of trying all of the combinations for the last code) to bear fruit once four-fifths of the code had been ‘unlocked’. To counter this, we aimed to drip-feed the combination parts not in order, such that the risk of brute-force entry would be minimised. To add an extra layer of puzzling to the game, the players would be given clues which associated with five directional combinations (associated with five symbols) which then would then need to work out what was linked with what.

The symbols for each would be hinted at in the form of small markings on each of the initial clue envelopes containing each puzzle: Puzzle #1 (Jigsaw) had a rudimentary London Underground symbol; Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was a love-heart for obvious reasons; Puzzle #3 (Pigpen) had a ‘#X’ representing the two pigpen keys; Puzzle #5 (Limes) had a five-pointed star for reasons that will be revealed in the next section; but Puzzle #4 (Rings) had a runic ‘D’ because this is the symbol which is drawn on Tolkien’s map in The Hobbit marking the secret door on the Lonely Mountain. When placed all together, they would lead to a string of directions to be entered into the padlock, eventually releasing the goodies within.

Puzzle #5: Limes

The fifth, and final puzzle, drew experience from a meme that has been orbiting our circle of friends for many years: the meme of hiding limes in each other’s houses.

This tradition kind of started at the annual party at Dan’s house (“OckFest”) whereby limes would be hidden in bizarre places in Dan’s kitchen, intending them to be uncovered while performing unrelated tasks; for example: finding a lime in the box of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes when pouring out the morning cereal; discovering a lime hidden inside the tube of kitchen roll when reaching to mop up a spillage; hearing a lime fall out of a hollowed-out French baguette when beginning to make a sandwich.

Without wishing to blow one another’s trumpets too heavily, Pete and I are professionals when it comes to the international sport of Lime-Hiding. It was inevitable that we would initiate this tradition at The Winter Games 2017, but I forget which of us had the genius of incorporating it into the Puzzle Box game. Either way, the task for the players would be to figure out how many limes were hidden in a particular room, and then to use that number as the final directional combination.

The initial clue was provided in riddle form:

How many of I
Are plucked from the tree
And made into pie
You’ll find that’s the key

See? It’s a pun. KEY LIME PIE. Like, a key to a box that’s also a hint for the players to try and find some limes somewhere.

On each lime, we drew a five-pointed star and a number specified in Roman numerals: however, the trick was that the limes would not be numbered consecutively. Overall, four limes would be hidden, with numbers I, II, IV and VI; the twist being that, if the players simply entered ‘six limes’ as the solution, they would be incorrect. Y’see, we had circled the ‘I’ in “How many of I”, indicating that the players should not – in fact – be counting the number of limes, but instead the number of ‘i’s in the numerals written on the limes; equaling five, yielding the directional combination (↓↑).

Furthermore, the missing numerals (III and V) were simply a red herring designed to make the players hunt even harder. Yes; I know I’m a meanie.

Because our original plan to hide limes in the kitchen became untenable because of the sheer people traffic that would be present in the kitchen at any one time, we were forced to change tack to hide limes in the games room annex where it was much easier to steal away time to distribute some fruit about the place. Hence, to do this, and while deployed at #TheWinterGames, I hastily mocked up an additional sheet of paper giving a hint towards the players looking in the games room by scribbling “Want to play a game?” and including it in the envelope right before deployment.

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However, due to a simple lack of properly thinking through the implications of that phrase, we kind of didn’t realise that that’s also a quote from the movie Saw, spoken by the main antogonist, ‘Jigsaw’; causing everyone to suddenly barrel down the hallway into the Dining Room (where Puzzle #1 [Jigsaw]) was still set up, frantically searching for an answer. Secondly, everyone appeared to miss the “key lime pie” solution to the clue and instead immediately leapt to the solution of “four-and-twenty blackbirds”; since, like limes, these are also a Thing™ which can be found in a tree but also baked into a pie, according to the nursery rhyme. In retrospect, it was actually a little satisfying to have the players burrow down the wrong rabbit-hole in search of this unintentional red herring [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #2”] but, at the time, it was immensely stressful to have to watch them struggle down a futile path and yet not be able to interfere, lest I give the game away.

However, some gentle nudging highlighted that the solution was in fact ‘limes’; at which point, several reconnaissance groups were despatched to the various rooms of the house to hunt for round, green objects. After a short while, one of the search  parties returned with four limes, and fairly swiftly cottoned on the Roman Numerals code; arriving at the answer of ‘five’.

So, our players now had everything they needed to open the box; and open the box, they did. Also: I’d love to say that I’d planned to paint the box green to match the limes, but that was simply happy coincidence.

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Puzzle #Z: Endgame

So, with great expectation and encircled by a perimeter of excited (if still confused) faces, one plucky adventurer keyed in the winning combination (↓↑↓↓↑↓←↓→←↓←↑), undid the chains and, with mild trepidation, lifted the lid of the confusing green box.

Inside was a map.

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A map of the house, with an ‘X’ marked on in big, black pen. (Which Pete and I had to scribble in on location, after we’d figured out a good place to hide the prize).

The ‘X’ on the map led the participants out to the back garden where, under the cover of darkness in the late hours of the previous night, I had wrapped the final prize booty in an old carrier bag under stone lawn roller in the approximate location of the ‘X’ marking. Following a brief period of scurrying and scouting, the booty was located by a tall, loud Spaniard and brought inside to the metaphorical sound of bugle-horns heralding the arrival of a monarch returning from a crusade.

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And so, with the ‘pop-thmph’ of the cork ejaculating from the bottle and reverberating off the living room’s wall, the adventure was over; the puzzle was solved. I’ll be honest: it was a heck of a lot of fun putting it all together and I adored the act of thinking to think laterally to come up with mysteries and conundrums that would (hopefully) confuse, but enthuse, an odd assortment of my friends.

Undoubtedly, there will be another #TheWinterGames; where Pete and I join forces to do something like this again remains to be seen. Perhaps it’d be not quite as fun if the players knew who was doing it all, but perhaps that would give us even more scope to add complexity given that – in event of them getting “stuck” – they’d be able to ask for help. I don’t know, we’ll have to see what the future brings.

Either way, it’s been mighty enjoyable recapping and documenting what happened in a wonderful house a month or so ago; and I hope it has been for you, too. Godspeed, puzzlers.

[Zinar7]

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That’s a Puzzlin’: Part 1

Puzzlin_1

Almost a month ago now, myself and thirteen other board game fanatics whisked ourselves into the wilderness a house in rural Devon to spend five days (#TheWinterGames) playing board games, chilling out and having a good time.

With the above in mind, and knowing that our cohabitants were the type(s) of people to appreciate a good mystery, my friend Pete and I hatched a plan to make a series of puzzles; beginning with a simple box locked with a directional padlock and a series of cryptic clues, that would entertain throughout the weekend.

Our initial aims of this endeavour were as follows:

  1. Make an interesting puzzle-box, treasure-hunt thing to amuse people during #TheWinterGames
  2. Have a series of puzzles, each yielding a number with which to punch into a combination lock; roughly one per day
  3. Have something interesting/rewarding to find once all the puzzles have been solved and the box has been opened

To complete the above three objectives, we proceeded to put together a spiffy wooden box, some chain and a wonderful combination lock (that you unlock using a combination of directions and which looks enthusiastically like the D-pad from a video game controller) which would serve as the booty for a treasure hunt-slash-escape room-style puzzle that would blossom over the long weekend.

After sourcing a plain, pine wood box and decorating it colourfully using some bright green ink, we had a serviceable lockbox that would mysteriously appear after everyone had arrived for the weekend and, hopefully, prove sufficiently interesting to pique their curiosity. For all of the puzzle materials (letters, envelopes, etc.) I wanted to give it an ‘aged’ feel to it to sort-of imply that it was all spooky and mysterious and done by some sort of benevolent ghost, so went to great efforts to tea-stain and crinkle the paper to make them look like aged manuscripts, and used a fountain pen (and my best joined-up, slanty-posh handwriting) to make it look old and not easily identifiable as mine. It worked.

We came up with five puzzles in total, each one of which would yield a directional code which, when all put together, would each lead to a letter or number; equating to a two- or three-digit combination of UP-DOWN-LEFT-RIGHT directions when cross-referenced on a cheat sheet (see above). Discovering the complete code and entering it into the padlock would, eventually, unlock the box and reveal its clandestine contents; but not before the previous five puzzles had been solved.

Thus, at circa 1800 on Wednesday night, the lockbox (and first clue) was deposited in the study. Game on.

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Puzzle #1: Jigsaw

We’d always wanted to include a jigsaw puzzle in the remit, but had some initial difficulties in figuring out how to make it lead to a single number for input into a combination lock.

While visiting family over the Christmas holidays, I stumbled upon a jigsaw puzzle of the classic (modern) London Underground map in my parents’ games cabinet and hatched an idea to have the players identify a single station on it to find the solution. The plan was to leave out a piece showing Camden Road, and then for the players to look that up on a sheet to get the right code; see below. So far, so good.

 

Except: in my eagerness to make the puzzle not quite as time-consuming as it could be, I went through the jigsaw bag removing all the blank white pieces of the jigsaw, so that only the map itself was there, and two things happened:

  1. I accidentally took out some parts of the map itself, including the whole of Leicester Square station, and
  2. When writing the list of stations with associated letters/symbols, I kind of forgot to write Camden Road, because I’m an idiot.

However, because (1) and (2) happened at the same time [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #1”], we could change the first solution to be “Liverpool Street” (giving an ‘R’ and therefore ↓↑↓) and pretend that it was always supposed to be like that. So, taking great effort to be VERY QUIET INDEED, we snuck downstairs very early on Thursday morning while everyone was still sleeping and re-programmed the lock suck that the new code made sense. Thanks to good fortune that no-one walked in at the wrong time to find us fiddling around, I think we got away with it. Bingo.

Puzzle #2: Lovecraft

We’d kind of figured that it made sense to put the most time-intensive puzzle (the jigsaw) at the beginning, just in case it took longer than expected for the players to finish it; from which point we could drip-feed the following, smaller, puzzles which would be less mandraulic to solve. In reality, we needn’t have worried at all, because the keen-fingers badgers had smashed it out before the end of the first night.

So, with that in mind, the next puzzle was dropped mid-morning on Thursday, where an envelope bearing a love-heart was left on the mantelpiece of the sitting room. In contrast to the speed at which the jigsaw was complete, the envelope sat above a wooden love-heart dangling in the fireplace and which NO-ONE SPOTTED for TWO WHOLE HOURS, despite Pete even setting up a Nerf gun target range trying to pew-pew at the dangling heart immediately below it.

When it was finally discoverd, the players found a riddle, in French, thus:

P21

Dans le Salle de Dessin,
La clé que vous trouverez,
Ou l’Ombre Jette,
Dans le Métier d’Amour

Loosely translated (I used Google Translate, so don’t judge me), this says:

In the Drawing-Room,
The key you will find,
Where the Shadow is Cast
In the Craft of Love

Earlier that morning (whilst also re-programming the padlock code), I’d planted a copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories on the bookshelf in the Study, in amongst a bunch of other books belonging to the house. In essence, the clue aimed to lead the players to the drawing-room, and find where a shadow is cast in the Craft of Love – i.e., find a Lovecraft book on the shelf and turn to the chapter for The Shadow Over Innsmouth; one of the most famous Lovecraft stories and which we banked on at least some of the players knowing.

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After some brain-racking and some book-searching, the players eventually deciphered the clue and found the book; identifying a little ‘26’ mark at the bottom of the first page of The Shadow Over Innsmouth and giving them the direction key ↓←↓. With that, Puzzle #2 was complete.

Puzzle #3: Pigpen

I always wanted to weave in a traditional cipher into the puzzle series, and Pete liked the idea of having an “X Marks The Spot”-type puzzle with a treasure hunt inside the house, so we opted to combine the two:

Having found the blueprints for the house on the interwebs, we tried to figure out a clever place to hide something and lead to with a map. Realising that the Study and the Apple Store bedroom were identical and size and shape, this seemed a logical place to roughly sketch a room and get players to figure out a) which one it is, and b) to search inside it for the next clue.

The clue they had to find was a small, square envelope on which a “#X” was drawn on the front, matching one on the map sketch. Once found, they would open it to find a pigpen alphabet key, and a series of symbols which they must decode. The “clever” bit [note: author’s inverted commas] was making the code upside-down, meaning that the players would have to rotate the code by 180 degrees and then translate it, else it would not make sense if translated directly. To hint at this, I drew a little rotate-y arrow and a line, which had the added bonus of players thinking that they had to translate the code’s mirrored reflection instead of rotating it by π radians. I love red herrings.

Anyway; translate it correctly, and the players would reveal the solution:

X M A R K S T H E S P O T

giving ‘X’ (←↓) as the solution, and Puzzle #3 complete.

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Divider

And with that, and because I’m all out of words for one week, I will leave the second half of the story ’til Part 2, which I’ll post in a weeks’ time. All that’s left to say is: good puzzlin’, y’all.

[Zinar7]

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Boardcrafting +1

Boardcrafting

There’s going to be a bit of a change to the regular Friday Blog cycle, as I feel that I deserve a break from the routine; at least for a week. So, instead of a thousand or so words talking about something opinion-worthy, I’m going to catalogue one of my most recent creative endeavours – my homemade Munchkin Level Playing Field game board – and how one might make one, were one into creative print ‘n’ play board game projects or that sort of thing.

Munchkin has always sort of disturbed me because the essence of the game is to advance your procedurally-generated dungeon-raiding character from Level One to Level Ten (with the winner being the first player to reach Level 10 first), but no materials are supplied with the base game with which to count levels and players must instead use some random tokens, coins, or pen and paper to keep score. Steve Jackson Games does, however, manufacture playing boards and playing pieces that can be bought separately (or as a bundle in the ‘Munchkin Deluxe’ sets), but I thought that – instead of simply ordering them online – it’d be more fun to try and make my own. This post catalogues the process of trying to put them together.

So, what does this thing look like? Well, the finished article looks like this:

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To put it together, I started with a plain hardback (A5) notebook from PoundLand (The Theatre of Dreams™) , and removed the pages and the metal spine so that I had just the front and back covers; which I (temporarily) taped together with book-binding tape to hold it together. I then sketched out a series of boxes, one to ten, along which the playing pieces would move in order to track levels.

I took the idea of replicating the Munchkin Deluxe board because I liked the idea of the board representing the dungeon that the adventurers are questing through, observed as a top-down view of a winding castle, or something. This way, it’s easier to figure out who’s in the lead and hence whether you want to either hinder them or lend a hand in return for bonus loot.

The next process was to paint up the background areas (green for grass outside the keep), and grey for the castle’s rooms. I used acrylic paints and a regular brush, and I quite wanted it to look ‘rough’ and weathered somewhat so I used quite a lot of dry-brush techniques to “scrape” paint onto the board. When I was done, I outlined the walls with a black Sharpie and then a silver-finish Sharpie for the inner section of the walls.

Munchkin_8

I wanted to add some definition to the inner walls, so I added a stone brick pattern to the outside faces of the walls with a very fine marker, just for funsies. I painted up the starting box (1) and ending box (10) up in more bright colours to reflect “Victory”, and designated each room with the relevant level number.

Because I wanted the notebook to represent a fictional dungeon-quester’s notebook (perhaps akin to a character notebook from Dungeons and Dragons), I wanted to give it a fantasy/role-playing feel so I removed the book-binding tape and replaced it with old, worn yarn that I found in the shed. I cut lots of thin strips of it (about 10-15 cm in length) and then tied them in loops through the holes of the original notebook’s spine. As a final flourish, I decorated the front of the board with the words ‘Munchkin Adventurer’s Notebook’, comme ça:

 

Right, so that’s the board finished, but what do we use to count? Well, instead of buying a Bag O’ Munchkins, I turned instead to shrink plastic to make some ~7 cm pieces to insert into plastic stands to represent each player.

I scoured through a bunch of cards from the base Munchkin deck to find some interesting characters, scanned the cards in and blew them up before printing them to a scale that the character was around 12 cm in size. I used Shrinkies clear shrink plastic, traced the outline with a black Sharpie and then coloured in the relevant area with other Sharpie pens. I needed 6 (because Munchkin plays three to six players), so to be sure of not screwing up, I made nine pieces and cut them out; making sure not to leave too many ‘thin’ bits because I found that these tended to warp very badly when fired in the oven.

I set the oven to “grill” (PUNS.) and lined a baking tray with tin foil. Then, one by one, placed each sheet into the oven for a few minutes (until it goes all curly, shrinks down and flattens out again) before removing it and immediately pressing it under a heavy book in order to flatten out the piece. After touching them up a little bit with the markers where the ink slightly melted and smudged, they were placed in their plastic stands. Because one or two went badly wrong in the oven, and a couple ended up noticeably out of scale with the other playing pieces, I was left with six complete pieces: two male, two female and two monster-ish; which I put in stands, ready to play with 🙂

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I’m pretty pleased! I think they look rad, even if no-one else agrees with me. Plus, everything still fits in my base Munchkin box, et voila:

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So yeah, GO GO GADGET CREATIVITY.

[Zinar7]

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Overture

 

Overture

Wow, I guess it’s been a bit a while since my last (proper) post [my recent round-up of Sonisphere 2014 aside]. Well, there’s a multitude of reasons as to why that is, but they largely boil down to me being TOO DARNED BUSY with one thing and another (some of which I’ll shed light on in today’s entry) and not always having the energy to update the blog with all the goings-on and extra-happenings that have been abound since April or so. Anyway, I’m here now to make amends, so let’s make the most of things while it lasts, yeah?

So, what has been happening? Well, I guess the major thing is that I’m now a PROPER ACTUAL DOCTOR (of philosophy) and stuff, and ‘Silly Hat Mode’ got activated last Wednesday at my official graduation ceremony in spectacular fashion.

SillyHatMode

I submitted my corrected thesis back in May; got things verified and checked in June or so; and I handed the final, darned thing in around a month or so ago to get stored in the University library to gather dust, spider’s webs and the weight of no-one looking at it. I’m all done! Four-plus years of research have come to an end, and last Wednesday, I donned silly hat and silly cloak and picked up an official certificate saying that I’m now a { Ph.D survivor } and that I can officially leap into action when the cabin crew of a transatlantic flight announce “Is there a Doctor on board?” and totally be no help at all.

AAAaaaaanyway, since there aren’t enough pictures of me on the internet wearing silly hats, here are some pictures from my PhD graduation. Hooray!

The downside to finally crossing the finishing line in the PhD Quadruple-Marathon was the almost simultaneous (if entirely coincidental) culmination of my funding as a Senior Research Assistant doing research into space debris; meaning that my era at the University of Southampton has, now, properly come to a close, almost ten years since I first begun this crazy journey through academia. Naturally, this has meant that I’ve – yet again – been thrust into the heady world of scavenging for employment, yet so far have had only minimal success in landing some gainful employment. I’m still trudging onward with (at least most of) my marbles still intact, and I’ll no doubt get somewhere in the end, but just making sure that chin is kept well and truly up has been the main priority over the last couple of months. #KEEPPUSHING, don’t give up, #PARTYHARD etc. etc.

PeepShowHard

Despite the fact that I’ve not always been 100% successful at keeping on top of things whilst I’ve been out of either gainful education or gainful employment, I’ve broadly been managing to keep myself busy with job-search endeavours but also filling time by delving evermore into a few creative projects: one of these has been a strategy-board-game-thing that I’ve been desperately hammering into prototype form on-and-off for a couple of months, but the one I’m most proud of (so far) was something known as ‘Project: Elephabric’ ~

Through a whole bunch of stress and last-minute artistic wrangling, 3-metres of burnt-orange cotton fabric, black fabric paint and some potatoes were turned into a badass, home-made Arabian wall-hanging to help decorate a friend’s “Arabian Nights”-themed outdoor party gathering thing.

All in all, I think I’m pretty happy with the outcome; I’m hardly the world’s most proficient artist, but hopefully the hand-painted flaws and imperfections add to the charm rather than distract from it. It also was my first-ever foray into the world of fabric-painting (not to mention the first time I’ve made potato-stamps in about twenty years) so given my relative inexperience, I think I can be pretty pleased with my artistic endeavours.

If nothing else, I managed to get the paint mostly on the fabric and not on myself, so I guess that’s progress of sorts, right?

Anyway, anything that is unrelated to elephants is irrelephant, so I must wish you farewell; at least for now. Godspeed, comrades!

[Zinar7]

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Light Resolve

LightResolve

Okay, so I’ll come clean: I haven’t been loads brilliant at keeping up with my New Year’s resolutions nor my own, unwritten, plans for the beginning of 2014. Stuff has just kind of not happened the way I thought it would, and I’m a little bit behind with all of my goals.

After maybe a few weeks of feeling pretty darned rubbish and moping around like a sad panda, I’m determined not to let my stupid ambitions get in the way of feeling good with myself and resolve to use my hands to punch through the Wall of Awesomeness rather than to wipe the Tears of Inadequacy from my eyes. So, maybe it’s time to evaluate a little better what I want to get out of my (near-) future and where I want to be in life.

Perhaps I’m not so good at setting my own goals; and even less good at dealing with the disappointment when I inevitably don’t get along as far as I thought I would. Doing so usually leads to a whole bunch of internal disappointment, where I attempt to assess myself against some invisible barometer which marks my { contribution to society / likeability amongst my peers / perceived ‘success’ by people I don’t know } and inevitably come up short. A considerable problem I have is that I try to do too much – I try to live up to this unachievable role as someone who has a broad range of interests and talents, and who must maintain a grasp on all of these things at all time. I feel a compulsion to be ‘that guy’ who

[ plays all the video games ] / [ watches all the films ] / [ does all the music ] / [ makes video game costumes ] / [ does in-line skating ] / [ watches all the motorsport ] / [watches all the ice hockey ] / [ knows all the space stuff ] / [ does blogging and reviews and stuff ] / [ plays all the board games ] / [ does the whole ‘research’ thing ]

that I often appear to put a whole ton of unnecessary pressure on myself to keep active in all areas all  of the time; and if I’m not (or I just have a lazy day not moving forward or practicing any particular aspect) I tend to feel like I’ve wasted a day, a week, a year or however long. I feel an urge to see myself merely as a catalogue of statistics: someone who has +6 in Obscure Star Wars Facts and +4 in Playing Adventure Games – so much so, that if I feel like I’m doing something that I feel isn’t “improving” me in some way (or helping to benefit someone else), then I tend to get frustrated and anxious; as if the time could be better spent on something that is helping myself or others.

Now, this is pretty irrational, since Life inevitably must be filled with things that must be done irrespective of whether you want to or not (like, ‘doing the washing up’ or ‘burying the body of a deceased family pet that was accidentally put in the microwave by accident’). This can mean that I get frustrated quite quickly when I’m doing something that should be improving my Stats but – for whatever reason – isn’t delivering; maybe because I’m trying to overcome a particularly difficult task in my research or hitting a difficulty wall in a video game I want to complete/succeed at. In this respect, I don’t think I do so well with failure or rejection: I tend to reflect on the lost time more than on the lessons learned or the positive steps which were made along the way. For this reason, I’m quite sensitive to criticism or rejection, and I find it difficult to cope with situations that set me back in my goals; be it as cosmic-ly meaningless losing (unsaved) progress in a Word document or dying in a video game and having to go back to the beginning of the level. These clearly aren’t big things in the Grand Scheme, but they clearly trigger something in my brain that sparks anxiety and frustration beyond levels that are considered ‘normal’.

I also find myself worrying a lot that I’m not living up to the visions or expectations of the people I know (and the people I don’t): am I being everything I can be, that they want me to be, or that I deserve to be? What do I base this judgement upon?

I often tend to place unrealistic expectations on myself; usually based on some notion of what I expect people expect of me. Usually, these are far in excess of what people really expect; yet my brain thinks that, short of securing world peace or curing every disease know to man, everyone will have a persistent disappointment in me, everything I do an what I represent. I constantly find myself searching for what people want me to be rather than just being the best person that I can be (and not worrying if it’s not good enough for everyone else). In this respect, the Jimmy Eat World song ‘The Middle‘ (on their 2001 album Bleed American) is, perhaps, perfect for describing how I should approach the thoughts and opinions of the world around me:

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just try your best, try everything you can.
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.

Hey, you know they’re all the same.
You know you’re doing better on your own, so don’t buy in.
Live right now.
Yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else.

Just do your best, do everything you can.
And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say.

[Jim Adkins / Jimmy Eat World]

Much of the time, I tend to do the polar opposite of putting myself on a pedestal – I put everyone else on one, then feel them peering down at me like towering, relentless critics; even people I don’t know and who haven’t done anything spectacular to warrant an ivory tower. I feel like an underwhelming nobody; someone who tries hard and is always in the running, but who fails to deliver and achieve ultimate success when it really comes down to it. I need to know and respect the limits of my talents/skills; to be aware of where the extent of my skills is and not to punish myself for not being able to push beyond them or not being able to be as good as someone else at, say, Olympic sprinting or nuclear physics – some people are good at some things; others at other things. I can’t excel at literally everything I put my hand to, nor do I need to. If I did, I wouldn’t be imperfect and, more importantly, I wouldn’t be human. 

Light painting by Darren Pearson http://www.dariustwin.com/

Light painting by Darren Pearson
http://www.dariustwin.com/

Maybe I need to develop more of a thick skin to deflect perceptions that I’m a failure or a disappointment, or an anti-missile system that automatically takes down potential criticism (no matter how minor) before it begins to work its way under my skin to erode my self-confidence. Certainly for the sake of my health and sanity, I need to worry less. I need to live in the NOW and not concern whether it’s effective use of time in the grand scheme of things; just to do the things that make me happy, and to be comfortable with who I am and what I stand for. I need to take life more as it comes rather than trying to second-guess what it is I’m supposed to be.

To continue the proliferation of music lyrics in this post, there’s a fantastic quote from ‘The Hero Dies in this One‘ by The Ataris (on their 2003 album So Long, Astoria), which I reproduce here:

The hardest part isn’t finding who we need to be; it’s being content with who we are.

[Kris Roe, The Ataris]

And yes, I think that’s my greatest challenge for this year: to not race and rush to live up to some unattainable vision of myself, but to be happy with who I am and where I fit in with everything. I may not be perfect, but I’m more than just a jumbled collection of matter; with all the faults, feelings and faculties that that entails. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all that matters.

[Zinar7]

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Rhino-Hunting: Part 4

Rhino_4

Head over here to find Rhino-Hunting Part One // Rhino-Hunting Part Two // Rhino-Hunting Part Three // Rhino-Hunting Part Four

In the past three photo-blog posts (linked above), I’ve had a marvellously merry time tracking down the Go Rhinos! sculptures that make up the Southampton Rhino Trail. As part of the Rhinotastic! event at Marwell Wildlife, all 97 sculptures (36 full-sized sculptures and 51 school-sized) are re-united at the Secret Garden behind Marwell Hall between 10th and 14th of October. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to go visit Marwell and catch up with my most favourite rhino, along with the few that I hadn’t managed to meet quite yet.

Despite the rain showers later in the day, an awesome time was had and I managed to sneak in a few photographs in between the raindrops; representing the very final results of my summer-long rhino-snapping efforts. Enjoy!

[Zinar7]

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Rhino-Hunting: Part 3

Rhino_3

Head over here to find Rhino-Hunting Part One // Rhino-Hunting Part Two // Rhino-Hunting Part Three // Rhino-Hunting Part Four

Over various weekends throughout the Summer, I’ve taken immense joy in taking a closer look at my hometown and hunting down all of the Go Rhinos! sculptures that make up the Southampton Rhino Trail. After ten weeks of inhabiting the pavements and parks of Southampton, the rhino are biding their time before the ‘Rhinotastic!’ event at Marwell Wildlife between 10-14th October. I’ll certainly miss their friendly faces dotted around town, but aim to catch up with them all again at Marwell in a week or so’s time.

Anyway, in accordance with my previous couple of photo-blogs on the matter, a few weekends ago I once again trotted into Southampton city centre – camera in hand – to photograph the major sights and sounds of this vibrant city. Here are a few more of my snaps from my excursions:

[Zinar7]

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Rhino-Hunting: Part 2

Rhino_2

Head over here to find Rhino-Hunting Part One // Rhino-Hunting Part Two // Rhino-Hunting Part Three // Rhino-Hunting Part Four

Last weekend, I continued my exploration of Southampton – camera in hand – taking photographs of my humble little city and seeking out more of the Go Rhinos! sculptures that make up the Southampton Rhino Trail. On this week’s excursion, I wandered round the rest of town scooping up pictures of the remaining lurking rhino, before taking a trek around Ocean Village and the marina, and some of the back-streets of Southampton.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the results of my efforts. Enjoy!

[Zinar7]

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Rhino-Hunting: Part I

Rhino_1

Head over here to find Rhino-Hunting Part One // Rhino-Hunting Part Two // Rhino-Hunting Part Three // Rhino-Hunting Part Four

On Sunday I spent a merry afternoon troddling around downtown Southampton, taking photographs of my humble little city and following the Rhino Trail which marks the Go Rhinos! event which is organised by Marwell Wildlife to support conservation efforts & exhibit and bunch of local art and design. The result of the project is that, for a 10-week period over the Summer, there are 36 life-size (ish) Rhino sculptures dotted around Southampton that have been designed and decorated by local artists. It’s a super idea, and it certainly brightens up a dull trudge to the shops to see your trail populated by hordes of brightly-coloured and painted rhinoceroseseseses.

Because I have a massive ‘Collector’ gene in my body somewhere and I’m now armed with a fancy new camera, I thought I’d go trekking around my wonderful, vibrant city and take photographs of all the rhino, as well as some of the other sights of sunny (well, sometimes) Southampton. [I packed my in-line skates, but because of weather-based inclemency and a lack of nice surfaces down the lower end of town, I didn’t actually end up on them, harrumph.]

Sunday’s jaunt was my first proper hunting expedition on the Go Rhinos! trail, and I covered most of the rhino located near the docks and the centre of town; I endeavour to head out again in a couple of weeks to hit the streets (except on my skates next time) and snipe down the remaining beasts. It was certainly a pleasure to wander round my adopted hometown without a proper agenda, and it was nice to explore some of Southampton’s more nook-ish crannies and interesting areas, rather than merely visiting the usual haunts.

Anyway: without further ado, here’s a catalogue of my first rhino-hunting expedition. Enjoy!

Head over here to find Rhino-Hunting Part Two //

[Zinar7]

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