Welcome to the New Website

If you are a Puzzled Pint regular, you may have noticed that the website has gotten a little facelift. The old website had been a thorn in our side for about a decade, with aborted rewrites in Node, Ruby on Rails, and again in TypeScript/Node. We had been stuck on an old version of a Content Management System (CMS) for much of that time, for various technical reasons that aren’t important to this blog post. It, and its dependencies, were getting more and more creaky, with more and more opportunity for hacks and exploits.

Each of the rewrites was kicked off by highly motivated people with a lot of energy at the start… which then petered out over time. I get it. Life comes up. We decided we needed to finally hire a professional, and thanks to your Patreon contributions, we can afford these kinds of things now. Paul from RPress answered our call and has been a delight to work with.

Based on some internal discussion and talk with professionals in the industry, we decided that creating a brand new website from scratch was a no-go and that we’d get more utility out of starting with a popular CMS such as WordPress and then extending that with custom plugins. WordPress takes care of all the heavy lifting: pages and posts, user accounts, theming, uploading and hosting our puzzle PDFs, and so on. Both the plugin and theming architecture are extensive and powerful. Paul was aligned with this train of thought and came through with what we now have.

You probably don’t care about all that, and in fact, our hope is that you don’t notice (much) difference between the old and the new site. Most of the changes are under-the-hood. They make things more secure and modern, sure. But more importantly to our volunteer-run organization, they ease the friction of running our monthly events. For us, the improvements are:

  • The event pages now have a standardized format. This not only makes them look consistent and nice, but makes the data-entry far easier for non-technical folks. It’s filling out form fields vs composing a fresh HTML document each month.
  • This falls into the above item, but is important enough to deserve its own callout. The location puzzle hints and the way the answer is entered/verified were extremely manual, a bit hacky, and very easy to make mistakes. All of this is automatically taken care of now.
  • Location puzzles auto-post on a schedule. Answers also auto-post on a schedule.
  • The list of cities on the front page is driven by data, not a hand-maintained document.
  • All of the account and permissions underpinnings are there for the “phase 2” website update.
  • We’re running a modern software stack, so can (finally) keep up with server updates.
  • Many more people know and work with the WordPress engine over the (old) Concrete5 engine, which helps with long-term maintenance.

For you, the improvements are a little more subtle:

  • Responsive design. The site looks great regardless of screen size. On your phone, you no longer have to zoom in and scroll left-to-right and back again to read lines of text.
  • Traditional dark mode as well as a light mode that’s easier on some eyes.
  • More consistency and better quality.
  • Better adherence to a posting schedule, for both the location puzzle and the answers.

There are also a couple of rough edges you might have run across. We’re aware of them and working to improve things.

  • There is a rift in our history between “Archives” and “Vaults.” The Archive puzzles follow the new templated system. The Vaults are a literal dump of the old website HTML pages into the new website. Paul did some manual work to put about a year’s worth of puzzles into the Archives, formatting the content to the new system. But it’s really not worth it to pay a developer do do extensive data entry. Expect to see more of the Vaults migrate to Archives over time. We have some volunteers lined up and are working out some documentation.
  • The “solve the puzzle to display locations” link only works on the current month, not previous ones in the archives.
  • Uncovering location puzzle hints only displays a single hint at a time. It doesn’t preserve the visibility of previous hints. This is a minor annoyance we didn’t spot until folks emailed us.

All of this work opens up the underpinnings for “Phase 2.” You don’t get to see the functional-but-janky system we have on the back end for city Game Control volunteers to enter their monthly event details. It’s a partial implementation of one of those previously aborted attempts at making a new site, and it’s been awkwardly grafted onto both the old site and this new one. There are separate user accounts and, quite literally, separate servers (one on Apache/PHP and one on Heroku/Rails). Computer people can now sit and ponder how well those two work together. The new site will allow us to migrate all of that duct-taped webapp stuff into the WordPress engine. That then simplifies managing cities and user accounts for the city GC. It’s also one less server to manage (as far as ops overhead and cost).

We hope the “Phase 2” work is invisible to you and that the site continues to look and feel the same, but know that it will simplify the monthly work for the volunteers at both headquarters and local cities. And we hope that leads to less fatigue and better events!

A Call for Puzzle Authors — Write for Puzzled Pint!

The puzzles you see every month at Puzzled Pint don’t just materialize out of the aether. They all start as rough prototypes, often just a simple draft thrown together in a Word document, with little flavor text and no graphic design. The puzzles take several trips through the feedback loop — as first Headquarters, and later playtesters, help polish the rough edges. At the end of this process, we have a month’s puzzles ready to print.

At the moment we have the rest of 2016’s puzzles scheduled. We currently have nothing on the books for 2017. There are a few folks with theme ideas, but we’re not able to put people on the calendar until the first draft of puzzles is ready. We roughly know how long it takes to go from draft puzzles to final puzzles, but “I think I maybe have this idea for a theme and this really cool coding mechanism” is a little too vague to reliably schedule.

So this is an official call! Have you thought about writing puzzles for Puzzled Pint? It’s easier than you expect and this is your chance! While we’re happy to get puzzles from anyone, we would particularly like to see more:

  • authors who are women
  • authors who are people of color
  • authors outside the United States

And although collaborations are fine, we prefer if a single author is responsible for the month’s puzzles. This helps align them editorially, balances difficulty across the whole set of puzzles, and helps ensure two puzzles don’t accidentally use similar mechanisms. (Plus, the folks at PP headquarters would rather manage a single cat than a herd of cats.) If you’re interested in writing only a single puzzle then scroll down to where we talk about bonus puzzles.

The puzzle-writing process is simple. If you have a specific theme in mind, you can (optionally) ping HQ and we’ll let you know if we’ve heard of anyone else also thinking about the same theme. Write some puzzles: a location puzzle, puzzles played at the event, and (optionally, but strongly encouraged) a meta puzzle. Send those our way (with solutions). The solution part is important, especially for new puzzle authors. Puzzles in their draft stage often have unpolished edges, like leaps of logic that are obvious to the author but may need a little flavor text or examples before being visible to others. Once we have puzzles and answers, we’ll put you on the calendar and work with you to help refine the flow of the puzzles, over the course of a couple rounds of playtesting. Find a out more here.

If you’d like to get your feet wet by writing a single puzzle, as opposed to a whole month of them, we’re also looking for bonus puzzle authors. Some authors like to write a whole set of puzzles, including location, meta, and bonus. Some want to focus on just the main set, without a bonus. We find that players enjoy having a bonus puzzle available, but we cannot always offer one every month. If you’d like to submit just a single puzzle, we’d be happy to work with you on getting it ready for a bonus. (Hey! Here’s a dirty little secret: one can make an arbitrary puzzle fit just about any month’s theme by simply changing flavor text and graphic design.)

This is your call to action! Write puzzles for Puzzled Pint!

The Puzzled Pint mailing list has closed but you can still hear from us

There are a lot of steps that go into producing Puzzled Pint across 25 locations every month. When it was just Portland, organizing the event could be somewhat ad hoc. Adding Seattle added more communication and process. Running Puzzled Pint in dozens of locations has helped refine and streamline that process. We’ve come a long way from those early days of posting the location puzzle on Tuesday at lunch.

That growth, streamlining, and refinement has forced us to re-evaluate certain parts of our process. Big-picture decisions and the first few rounds of playtesting continue to be the focus of HQ here in Portland — as well as running our monthly event — but there’s only so much worldwide managing we can do, as volunteers, and still maintain sanity. We’ve been slowly federating a lot of the day-to-day duties, activity, and communications to individual cities. One casualty of this is the global announce mailing list. It has been an afterthought for many months now, with most of HQ’s focus on the global Twitter and Facebook accounts. Between these, city-specific social media accounts, setting up a recurring calendar event (try importing Puzzled_Pint.ics into your calendar app), and planning with friends, the global mailing list felt like a little too much overhead for the number of subscribers.

Gone but not forgotten.

But what if you were a subscriber? There are options. One complaint about Facebook is that what it decides to show you or hide feels a little non-deterministic. Few people know that you have some level of control over what is hidden or shown as well as what appears in your notification inbox. You can edit a page’s notification settings:

Then you can decide what kind of posts you’d like to get notifications about:

You can do this for the main Puzzled Pint Facebook page, your individual city, or both:

You can find city links for both Twitter and Facebook on the Puzzled Pint About page, so check there for the latest information, and please excuse the construction and hiccups during our growth.

Welcome to the blog!

Welcome to the first post of the Puzzled Pint blog. The hope here is to have an informal place to talk about Puzzled Pint, share with you the Question of the Month responses (yes, we have all of them, we’ve just never really published the results), and have discussions — a place without the 140-character Twitter limit and a place that doesn’t require a Facebook login.

If you are a Twitter or Facebook person, keep an eye on the global Puzzled Pint accounts (Twitter / FaceBook). We hope to get cross-posting set up soon so you won’t miss out on the blog posts. If you’re the kind of geek that uses RSS, you may subscribe to our RSS feed.

Although we will start with the Portland Game Control staff writing blog posts [okay, probably just me ~Brian], we hope to pull in GC from other cities and possibly even other guest authors.

Stay tuned for the next post, where we look at our recent Portland survey results, including — most importantly — the kitten vs. puppy debate. And if you have questions or suggestions for future blog posts, please contact us, either as a comment here or to the game control email address.