“For a given value of ‘fine’.”

Today my friend Bryan Gale made a couple of amusing tongue-in-cheek tweets about indie game development:

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My first thought on seeing these was “…for a given value of ‘fine’.”.

I didn’t know why that popped into my head, but I was sure it was a reference to something and thought it was an OK comment so I tweeted it as a reply.

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Now, actually this is a pretty lame reply because “fine” meaning “not fine at all” is already the joke Bryan made. It kinda looks like I didn’t get the joke and have now just made the exact same one. But worse.

Oh well. There’s something more important than that.

It’s that I’d used this as though it was well-known, but my immediate next thought was “Wait, where does that phrase come from? Why do I think it’s famous, and why on earth do I think people will ‘get’ the reference if I can’t even remember it myself?”.

It took a moment of unpacking but I realised I knew the line from a 2011 documentary featuring Terry Pratchett, called “Choosing To Die”. It is a pretty disturbing programme in many ways but also full of humour and quite educational on the issues and options surrounding euthanasia. I recommend giving it a watch, if you haven’t seen it already. The full documentary is currently on Daily Motion:

The line is said around the 54:35 mark. It is right near the end and in a particularly intense scene, so I advise against jumping to that point before having seen the rest of the programme.

Anyway… What I learned today is that this remark by Terry Pratchett used the same format as in his book Making Money, where it is applied in the thoughts of the character “Moist von Lipwig”.

There were about a dozen people working there, if you included the golem, whom Moist had learned to think of as part of a species to be treated as ‘human for a given value of human’.

“For a given value of” is a common phrase in Maths and Science and, as Pratchett shows, useful in other contexts, humorously/ironically. I think it would be a stretch to call its use a Pratchettism but I certainly think of him when I hear or say it, which is a fair bit.

Linus and the Tree

I loved staying with my grandparents in Gloucestershire. They had a massive place filled with fun things for children, a huge garden, and even a treehouse.

One of the “fun things for children” was Screwball Scramble, a dexterity maze game that I always got good fun out of.

Another was the immortal and endless dancing penguins.

One – less toyish thing – that I always looked forward to, was the vast collection of Peanuts books stacked neatly on a chest of drawers in the smaller of the rooms my brother and I alternated between when we stayed.

The house was sold a few years ago, and most of the contents passed down to family members. I ended up receiving a whole lot of these Peanuts books that I had so enjoyed.

At the time I found it incredible I was the one who got them, when there was an entire backstory about these books having been sent monthly to my aunt from her aunt (my great aunt) while she (the great aunt) had been living and working in America.

I suppose I always felt that the intense value I placed on them would have been shared by the true owner, and that she would have wanted to have the collection.

Then again, perhaps my fondness for the books was less of a secret than I thought, and contributed to where they ended up.

Last week I found myself reading Good Ol’ Charlie Brown from the collection.


Having read David Michaelisbiography of Schulz when it came out 7ish years ago, I haven’t been able to read Peanuts the same since. Every minor detail of a strip becomes entwined with knowledge about Schulz’s life and interactions (especially with women), and his difficult relationships with “success”, existentialism, anxiety, and paranoia.

But we can talk about that another day. Or you can read the biography.

Let’s instead talk about another aspect of the Peanuts books from this era. A way that they are subtly deceptive.

These unassuming paperbacks don’t seem any more substantial than a similarly-sized collection of comic strips like Garfield. Yet they fit four 4-cell strips on a double spread, compared to just two 3 or 4-cell strips in the same space.

From the get go they’re already more than twice as dense as your average modern comic strip book.

And this is noticeable, when you sit down with one thinking you’ll get through it over one cup of tea.

For this reason I didn’t attempt the book from start to finish, page by page. I just kind of darted around, for fun.

And, doing so, I found it pretty weak.

Many of the jokes seemed obvious, lazy, pandering, …, all the things comic strips produced by solo authors under deadline pressure often simply are. It’s not really the author’s fault; that’s just the nature of having to churn out regular content. It is the life of a syndicated comic strip artist.


…as I increasingly leapt about inside the book, I found my early sample had been misrepresentative.

Not only were most of the strips actually pretty entertaining, but many of them were profound.

The three Linus episodes are all saying something completely different, but from the same place. They could almost be one strip with different text overlaid. None of them are going for “haha funny” per se, but there is something going on there. That first one, in particular, caught me completely off guard.

When I came across the triplet I recalled a strip from later in the book that I had already read in my jumping about the pages. It was another with Linus and a tree. I wondered why Schulz (or whoever compiled the book) had chosen not to include them all on the same pages.

When I found that strip again, I realised it was a different tree, and Linus was wearing dungarees.

There’s something going on here. It’s not just some cartoonist churning out a strip a day.

A subtle echo, not quite a callback…


…and it’s the kind of thing that makes Peanuts special to me, for more than just pleasant associations of weeks spent in treehouses at my grandparents’.

즐거운 게임하세요

Playing Hearthstone on the Asia server yesterday, I got the “Watch and Learn” quest.

I have a few random friends on that server so spectated a game one of them was playing.

They won!

On autopilot I opened my chat window and messaged “Thank you very much”, to indicate I had a Watch and Learn quest they had just helped me complete.

But, because I have my Hearthstone set to Japanese language, and possibly because I was playing on Asia, I instinctively wrote ありがとうございます instead.

The person I had just spectated wasn’t English or Japanese. They were in fact Korean! They replied, in Korean, but I couldn’t understand it.

Today I used the Hangul consonant and vowel tables on Wikipedia to write out their message and put it into google translate.

It comes out as “Enjoy your game”. This makes sense, but maybe a more accurate translation for the situation would be “Enjoy your pack”. I don’t know enough about the specifics of the Korean language to know if that translation would be valid but I do know the context, and I do know that google translate can often give a literal, not-quite-correct translation.

2015 Quiz

I used to set a pub quiz, and I have a bit of a reputation for making one around Christmas and New Year for family get-togethers. They always seem to go down well.

Today my parents are hosting a dinner party and I’m bringing a quiz that we can enjoy between the main course and dessert.

I’ve come up with 12 questions related to 2015. I was going to make them two parters – a question and then “what month did it happen?” – but I decided in the end to include the month in the question to keep it nice and simple.

However, I did introduce a neat idea where everyone was given some of the pics (I printed two copies of each) and then when I read out a question people would look at the pics they had and see if one of them matched the question. Kind of like a picture round in parallel with the trivia round.

Anyway, here’s the quiz.

1. This photo was taken in January. Whose eyes are they?


2. In February this image took the internet by storm with people arguing about exactly what colours the dress is. Which two sets of colours do people perceive?


3. This man’s name is Willie Mullins. In March he set a record at a sporting event in the Cotswolds. What was the sport?


4. In April Prince George got a sister! What is her name?

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5. In May a popular comedian ran against Nigel Farage in the South Thanet election promising, among other things, to revalue the pound at 10p, put Boris Johnson on an island, and brick up the Channel Tunnel. Who was the comedian?


6. This photo was taken in June at the G-7 summit. Who are these people?


7. This man’s name is Harry Shearer. He has voiced over 200 characters on a popular TV show. In May decided to leave the show but then changed his mind and decided in July to stay. What is the TV show?


8. After recording their fifth studio album “Made in the AM” which popular boy band announced in August they were going to take a year off to pursue personal projects?


9. In September NASA found evidence of something particularly special on Mars. What?


10. In October the national lottery made an important change to their rules. What was it?


11. What girl’s name was the first to be given to a storm by the MET Office in November?


12. In December the host Steve Harvey misread the winner of Miss Universe 2015. Name either the actual winning country, or the one he misread!


Vintage Cube Stats Puzzle

Supposing that Power 9 cards are always picked over non-Power 9 cards, what is the chance you never see a piece of power in the drafting phase of a Vintage Cube event?

This puzzle probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to people who don’t play Magic, and even then it requires a bit of knowledge about the Vintage Cube draft format.

That’s why I rewrote it in a different context and posted it here to the Math Riddles subreddit.

It’s more of problem than a riddle (and at the time of writing this entry the post is sitting on 3 upvotes, 2 downvotes, ouch) but I know that subreddit has a great community of problem-solvers so figured I’d post it there.

I have tried to solve this “by hand” but it seems to run into a bit of complexity, which I’ll briefly explain:

First of all, we know that if you have at least one piece of Power in any of your starting boosters then you’ll see one. That probability is easy enough to calculate. But we can’t just do 1 minus this probability to get the answer to the puzzle, because even if we don’t start with a piece of Power in our boosters, the person on our left or right might have two or more pieces in the starting booster they pass to us and so we would see one of those. We therefore need to also include the probability that one of those three boosters contains two or more pieces given that none of ours contained any pieces. That’s not too tricky…

…but then we need to think about the three starting boosters that are two passes away from us. If any of those have three or more pieces of Power in them then we’ll see one of those pieces. So we include the probability that one of those three boosters contains three or more pieces given that none of ours contained any pieces, and none of our neighbours’-starting-boosters-passed-directly-to-us had two or more pieces. That conditional should be just a case of (1 minus the two probabilities we already calculated) * (probability there are three or more in one of those packs). However, that “three or more” probability changes depending on whether our neighbours packs had one or zero pieces of power. We have multiple cases to consider.

Then when you think about three passes away from us and four or more pieces you run into even more cases to consider, and so on.

I think I could do a good job of this with dynamic programming, or perhaps an alternative inclusion/exclusion approach, but it’s actually where I decided to write a simulation instead to get an idea of the answer more quickly!

Here you can look at and execute the code I wrote. The output gives an estimate for the probability that you see at least one piece of power. So to answer to the original question subtract that from 1!

(Psst! It’s ≈0.24)