Could Pigs Be Puzzle Solvers?

As a puzzler, I am on a quest to highlight and recognize the skills and accomplishments of fellow puzzlers. All too often, other outlets restrict this activity to humans and humans alone.

But PuzzleNation Blog has a fine long-standing tradition of celebrating the puzzly accomplishments of non-human puzzlers. In the past, we’ve discussed the puzzle skills evidenced by catsdogscrowscockatoos, octopuses, and bees.

And it’s possible that, soon, we might be adding another species to that marvelous list of puzzle-cracking creatures.

Pigs.

According to a paper published on February 11th in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, pigs can learn to be gamers.

No, we haven’t seen them follow multiple steps like octopuses or cockatoos, but there is puzzly potential here, because they’ve proven they can accomplish abstract tasks and deal with unenviable circumstances.

The initial task was for the four pigs — Omelet and Hamlet (Yorkshire pigs) and Ebony and Ivory (Panepinto micro pigs) — to manipulate a joystick so that they would move the cursor on the screen into a particular area.

Sure, it sounds simple, but if you’re an animal that doesn’t look at screens at all or is unfamiliar with the concept that one action here can cause one effect there, this is monumental.

According to The Guardian, the Purdue study focused on “the last 50 rounds of the video game played by each pig on each of the three levels, with one, two and three walls. The round was successful if the pig moved the cursor to the bright blue target with the first cursor movement.”

Their difficulties were described in detail:

It was an uphill battle for the swine. The joysticks were outfitted for trials with primates, so the hoofed pigs had to use their snouts and mouths to get the job done. All four pigs were found to be farsighted, so the screens had to be placed at an optimal distance for the pigs to see the targets. There were additional limitations on the Yorkshire pigs. Bred to grow fast, the heavier pigs couldn’t stay on their feet for too long.

Still, the pigs showed what is known as “self-agency,” the realization that one’s actions make a difference. The pigs recognized that by manipulating the joystick, they moved the cursor. That connection — similar to a cockatoo pulling a lever and opening a door — is the sort of step-by-step cognition that leads to puzzle solving.

The pigs were able to adapt to the joysticks and complete their simple, yet abstract goal.

“What they were able to do is perform well above chance at hitting these targets,” said Candace Croney, director of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science and lead author of the paper. “And well enough above chance that it’s very clear they had some conceptual understanding of what they were being asked to do.”

I think the next step should be designing an Angry Birds analog for them where they throw something at the birds and their structures, and see how they do.

We’ll be keeping our eyes open for any other pig-related puzzling. It’s entirely possible we’ll be adding them to the puzzle-solving menagerie sooner rather than later.

And now, despite the cliche, there is truly only one way I can end this post. Say it with me now…

That’ll do, pigs. That’ll do.


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An Act of Unintentional Puzzling?

Hey there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers. I’ve got a question for you today:

Have you ever accidentally created a puzzle for yourself?

It could take any number of forms.

A vase you accidentally knocked over and the pieces simply won’t fit back together (until you realize one of the pieces slipped under the table).

An item left in a prominent place, meant to remind you to do something, fix something, move something, accomplish something, complete something.

A Post-it note with a quickly scratched phrase that made total sense when you scribbled it down, but now proves to be nigh-incomprehensible gibberish. (Everyone at one point or another has jotted down a phone number and later struggled to decode it. At least, everyone before the advent of smartphones.)

Gizmodo writer Brian Menegus was presented with a scenario similar to our last example when his modem stopped working. After it didn’t respond to reboots, being unplugged, or “strong language,” he ended up with a new modem after a service call.

All he needed to complete the process and rejoin the greater Internet community was to enter his log-in and password.

And therein lies the puzzle.

wifi password

The password didn’t work as written. The problem was… some of those characters are a little ambiguous.

The first character could be a lowercase G or a 9. The third-to-last could be an 8, an ampersand, or a capital B. Chestnut could be one word or two. There were a litany of different possible interpretations of what was written here.

Multiple interpretations are at the heart of some visual puzzles. Long-time readers may remember the parking lot puzzle, where the solver must unravel how the numbering of spaces in this parking lot works:

The trick is simple: the numbers are upside-down.

Similarly, the wifi password employs a similar level of misdirection, although in this case, it’s quite unintentional.

As you can see from the scribblings at the bottom of the image, Menegus made a list of the possible permutations and tried them all one-by-one, a classic brute force form of puzzle-solving.

So, which version was it?

Well, after trying every combination and getting nowhere — and then resetting the modem to its factory settings — it turned out to be the most obvious one: 95-chestnut-2805.

Sadly, many of these self-made puzzles end up having frustratingly simple solutions.

Still, they do keep life interesting.


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A Password Brain Teaser With an Unexpected Snag

 

[Image courtesy of The Next Web.]

One of the curious aspects of being a modern Internet user is figuring out how to manage your passwords. Most sites, whether commercial or recreational, have log-in screens or other account info, and it’s up to you to remember passwords for these numerous accounts.

You could use the same password over and over for everything, but that’s not a terribly safe choice. You could keep a list where you write down your different passwords to each site in order to keep them all straight, which is also not safe. You could opt to use a password-management service to handle them for you, which is a bit unwieldy for most users.

And if you need to come up with a new password for each account, you might find yourself employing a puzzly technique like Mira Modi’s in order to conjure up a password.

[Image courtesy of In the Black.]

Recently, Gizmodo writer Rhett Jones posed a password-centric brain teaser to his readers, asking why the seemingly safe-looking string “ji32k7au4a83” might not be a good choice for a password.

Can you puzzle out why?

I’ll give you a few moments to ponder it.

All set? Okay, here we go.

As it turns out, “ji32k7au4a83” is the Chinese equivalent of one of the worst choices for a password. Using the Zhuyin Fuhao system for transliterating Mandarin to English, “ji32k7au4a83” becomes “my password,” a top contender for terrible password ideas like those compiled below:

[Image courtesy of Ars Technica.]

Yup, as it turns out, that random string of letters and numbers isn’t particularly random after all.

You’d be better off using a technique suggested by one of my fellow puzzlers. To generate her random passwords, she composes a sentence related to the website, then uses only the first letter of each word in that sentence as the base for the password.

Toss in a number or two, and voila, you’ve got something that appears to be gibberish, but is easily recalled and reassembled for your own use.

Pretty diabolical! Give it a shot and let us know how it works for you!


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Give This Rubik-Solving Robot a Hand (Or at Least a Few Fingers)!

Wait a minute, didn’t you write about robots and Rubik’s Cubes just last week?

Yes, gentle reader, I certainly did.

But, as it turns out, that iconic little puzzly cube and all its twisty brethren are incredibly useful to AI and robot designers.

Not only do the acts of pattern recognition, visual assessment, and solving provide ample challenges to programmers — both in terms of speed and efficiency — but the physical manipulation of the cube itself is a frequent subject of testing.

In this particular case, a robot has been developed which can solve the cube one-handed. And, as eloquently stated in this Gizmodo article, that’s a feat in itself:

At one point in time, it was considered an accomplishment when a robot arm could pick up something as delicate as an egg without crushing it between a pair of pincers. But as researchers from the University of Tokyo’s Ishikawa Senoo Lab demonstrate — with the assistance of a high-speed camera monitoring the subtle movements — this agile three-fingered hand can manipulate and reposition Rubik’s fiendish puzzle cube with impressive dexterity.

Check it out:

This is a very different mechanical rig when compared to some of the other speed-solving rigs we’ve seen before. Instead of an elaborate array of motors and manipulators, it’s simply a few limber fingers.

This level of dexterity could prove to have all sorts of applications, from robotic surgery and meal preparation to improving bomb-defusing equipment and hazardous material disposal.

And all thanks to this twisty little puzzle. That’s pretty cool.


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Game Boy: A Puzzly Step Forward for Mobile Gaming

It’s no secret that we’ve got skin in the puzzle app game. The Penny Dell Crosswords App is our flagship project, and it’s part of a thriving puzzle app market.

But if you think back, mobile puzzle gaming really started decades ago with Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld video game console. It was a precursor to the smartphone app system we have today, even if the Game Boy didn’t exactly fit in your pocket.

And at a time when classic video game systems are being revived and re-released — the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo, and the Sega Genesis have all seen repackagings in the last year — could a Game Boy revival be far behind?

The crew at Gizmodo think so, and they made a list of 25 Game Boy games that belong on a revived system.

And as you might expect, there are several puzzle games suggested.

It makes sense, because many industry experts attribute some of the Game Boy’s success to the fact that every machine was packaged with a copy of Tetris, the addictive piece-moving game.

But that wasn’t the only puzzle game to make an impression on young gamers. Dr. Mario was all about pattern-matching in order to eradicate different colored viruses with stacks of similarly colored pills.

Either as a one-player challenge or in competition with another player, Dr. Mario taxed your ability to strategically use each pill provided, trying to eliminate as many viruses as possible.

And for a pure puzzle solving experience, there was Mario’s Picross.

This was a logic art puzzle where you had to use the lists of numbers along the top and side of the grid to deduce where to place black squares in order to reveal an image.

Although there was a timer attached to each puzzle, it wasn’t nearly as stressful a solving experience as Dr. Mario or Tetris, and it introduced an entirely new form of puzzle-solving to many young gamers.

Without the Game Boy and these puzzle games, it’s hard to imagine the success and growth of puzzle apps like the Penny Dell Crosswords App.


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Birds have a monopoly on Monopoly!

monopoly

The folks at Monopoly are constantly trying new things in order to stay relevant in today’s ever-evolving game market.

When they celebrated Monopoly’s 80th anniversary in 2015, some of the games were sent out with real money instead of Monopoly money, which is a fantastic idea to promote the game.

In 2013, though, they tried something different, offering a more permanent change. They replaced the token of the iron with a token of a cat. Hazel the Cat. I was less enthused with this change.

But, hey, it’s just one token. No big loss. You’ve still got Scottie the dog, the thimble, the race car, the boot, the battleship, the wheelbarrow, and the top hat.

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[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

Well, that’s no longer the case.

Back in January, Hasbro launched an Internet poll to determine a new lineup of tokens for editions of the game going forward. You could vote to keep the current lineup, or you could select nominees from a list of dozens of possible replacements.

Those potential replacements included a goldfish, a trumpet, a telephone, a monster truck, a life preserver, a beach ball, a set of cufflinks, a bulky old cellphone, a bunny slipper, and several emoji faces.

Hasbro announced the results of their poll, and several of the original tokens didn’t make the cut.

bn-sn614_0317th_j_20170317191408

[Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.]

That’s right. Not only did Hazel the Cat stick around — ugh! — but the boot, the wheelbarrow, and the thimble are gone.

They’ve been replaced with a rubber duck, a penguin, and a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Now, let’s be fair. A T-rex token is awesome. I can get behind that. But a rubber duck and a penguin? Were all the voters really really into Batman Returns or something? (As they pointed out on Gizmodo, all of the winners are weird birds.)

Granted, I for one am grateful that none of the stupid emoji characters — like the crying-laughing face or the smooch face — made it into the game.

But to see the thimble go hurts. I conducted an informal poll among my fellow game fans and puzzlers, and the thimble and Scottie the dog were far and away the most popular.

Oh well. At least now there’s the option for a rule about a T-rex stomping someone’s house and causing property damage. That would be one heck of a Chance card.


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