Remake history at home! (With puzzles!)

Crowdsourcing has become an increasingly popular method for scientists and deep thinkers to solve problems that would otherwise be far too staggering a challenge to tackle on their own.

I’ve written in the past about crowdfunding efforts, but this is something different: actually handing over the problem to the public. It’s citizen science!

The National Museums Scotland are trying to reassemble the shattered design on a Scottish relic dated back to the year 800 or so, hoping that reaching out to nonprofessionals will help them to restore the intricate designs that once adorned a sandstone slab centuries past.

Every fragment has been scanned into a 3-D model and catalogued, making each a small piece of a truly monumental puzzle to be solved. (And without the picture on the box to guide you!)

From an NBC News article:

The pieces will be grouped into categories — for example, corner pieces, or parts of the design’s knotwork. That will help users organize the work into manageable subtasks, as if they were working collectively on a huge jigsaw puzzle. Suggested solutions to parts of the puzzle would be judged by fellow users, and then passed on to the professionals.

This mix of science and puzzle-gaming has engendered marvelous successes before. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (or SETI) utilizes dozens of citizen computers for processing power in order to more efficiently scan the skies for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. The FoldIt program led to the crowdsourced discovery of the structure of a monkey HIV virus in ten days, after a decade of attempts by scientists.

(There are similar puzzle-game attempts being made to map the human brain, explore the potential of DNA, and catalogue animal species. Check out this IO9 link for further details.)

This is yet another amazing example of puzzle solving making a true contribution to our understanding of the world. And it’s always nice to remind ourselves that puzzles can be all fun and games, but they can also be something much much more.

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Links aplenty today!

Today’s a day for sharing the puzzly wealth, so I’ve got a few links for your perusal.

First up is this terrific article from IO9, recommending a number of science-themed apps and games with some seriously crafty puzzle elements to them.

From RNA molecules and gene structures to brainmapping and animal classification, these will fascinate AND inform you all at once. Marvelous stuff.

Next up is a great post by Dan Markowitz on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, exploring what Rube Goldberg could have created if he was a little more petty and meanspirited. It’s Rude Goldberg Contraptions!

A series of dominoes fall, knocking over a marble that rolls off a ledge, landing on a seesaw that tips downwards, dangling a piece of cheese in front of a gerbil that runs on a hamster wheel, unfurling a roll of toilet paper into a trash can, leaving an empty cardboard tube in the bathroom that you’ll have to replace even though you weren’t the person who used it up.

And finally, a little something for the puzzlers in the audience who like some magic and swashbuckling in their solving. The creative titans behind Dungeons & Dragons are filling the gap between now and the launch of their newest system (D&D Next) by releasing dozens and dozens of out-of-print and retired modules, sourcebooks, and adventures from earlier editions of the game.

You can relive some of your all-time favorite dungeon romps, riddles, and puzzle traps at D&D Classics — they’ve already posted the first edition classic The Temple of Elemental Evil — and any you can’t find there, you can probably track down in downloadable form at DriveThruRPG.