Solving Puzzles is like Testing

I have always loved a good puzzle. You know there’s a problem, and a solution, and you just have to figure out how to get from one to the other. Lately I’ve been especially enjoying puzzle games where the problem itself is part of the mystery — you’re given some information and have to figure out where to start.

My brother is especially good at finding these kinds of puzzle games. For Christmas, he gave me a subscription to Hunt a Killer. It’s a detective game in a box, but no one tells you what you’re trying to solve. You just get puzzles and clues to put together, and each month (for 6 months) a new box arrives with more details. There are “aha!” moments when you solve an individual puzzle, and the slow burn of fitting together clues and piecing together theories about the underlying story.

Another game that came from my brother is Gorogoa, a computer puzzle game with beautiful illustrations and simple yet incredibly clever gameplay. Once again, you enter the game with no idea of what’s happening, but as it continues you get a sense of the logic and storyline. This one is relatively short but full of enjoyable moments.

In many ways, this is similar to how I approach testing. I want to know just enough about what I’m testing to have a purpose, but not so much that I am just blindly following someone’s directions. I try things out, see where my intuition leads me, and watch for the places where I get stuck. I look for the story, the journey taking me from one screen to another. My challenges turn into opportunities to improve the product, and my “aha!” moments are the places where I see why I’m having trouble. In my testing I may not always arrive at a solution (although I enjoy being part of those discussions, as well!) but the satisfaction is in the hunt, in putting myself in the right frame of mind to uncover what I’m looking for.

Do you enjoy puzzles? Any good ones you’d recommend?

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SPENT: Can you make it through the month?

Over 14 million Americans are unemployed. Now imagine you’re one of them. Your savings are gone. You’ve lost your house. You’re a single parent. And you’re down to your last $1,000. Can you make it through the month?

That’s the challenge made by SPENT, a game launched in February 2011 by McKinney and Urban Ministries of Durham.

You’re given a budget of $1,000 and 30 days of life events and decisions to navigate. Where do you want to look for work? Where should you rent a home? Can you afford insurance? Food? Emergencies? Each decision comes at a cost, financial or otherwise.

If you haven’t tried to live on a tiny budget, this is a great wake-up call for the random things that can throw your life off track. While in graduate school, I lived on about $12,000/year. That’s $1,000 a month. But I didn’t have children; I lived in low-rent university housing; I had health insurance, a car, savings … I was lucky compared to a lot of people living in poverty who face difficult, life-changing decisions on a regular basis.

Give the game a try. I’d love to hear how it goes!

Programming an Economy

Today I started working on the code for the first major project I’m doing just for myself in Python. Well, not just for myself. This is a program I promised to write for my brother, as a birthday present.

See, he likes to play this amazingly complex game, Crusoe’s Planet. The economy in this game is very sophisticated, and the game has a market stage that takes a lot of time. Everything stops as you sit down and do a bunch of calculations for buying, selling, and trading commodities in the market. So I offered to write him a program to take care of those calculations. Continue reading “Programming an Economy”