Melchior’s Mixup Madness 2007 — 15:12

In years past, I’ve been a part of a Secret Santa party with a bunch of Pasadena folk. To ennerdify the proceedings a bit, I volunteered to make a web site that would automate the task of drawing the Secret Santa names out of a hat. This, apparently, put me in charge of the whole party… in saecula saeculorum. This year, I decided to abuse that power and completely change the rules. Instead of Secret Santa, we’d be celebrating the holidays just like the magi did: showing up late with questionable presents. Melchior‘s Mixup Madness was born, and it was born in the holy form of a White Elephant party: everyone brings a gift and the presents are doled out over the course of a game involving lots of backstabbing and treachery. Here’s a basic flowchart showing two things: the traditional rules of a White Elephant party and that I am a giant nerd. White Elephant Party Flowchart The first person to go opens a gift, the second person can open a new gift or steal the first person’s gift, and so on until all the presents are opened. Note that I’m using := as the assignment operator, that M is an index ranging from one to total number of people playing the game, that M indexes both the people playing the game and what “round” of the game is currently being played, and that (though no start and end are explicitly shown) we start at M:=1 and end when all the presents under the tree are opened. Greg, Paul.za, Michelle and I identified a few problems with this setup, though, while we were planning the party.
  1. The person who goes first doesn’t get to play the game much unless he or she happens to open a popular present.
  2. The last person to go has the most information about the presents and so can make the best choices.
  3. Even with no stealbacks, there is the possibility of entering an infinite loop (for certain definitions of “stealbacks”). Artificial rules must be introduced to break that possibility (imposing finite limits on the number of times a particular present can be stolen, on the number of times a particular person can steal, or so forth).
Even by randomizing the play order, the first two points are still kind of lame, and the third point is tricky to solve in a “natural” feeling way. We brainstormed. Our goals were to increase participation, to make stealing risky, to make each person’s outcome and level of participation less dependent on the initial ordering of players, and to stop infinite loops in a “natural” way. Time limits, different rules (or randomly chosen ones) for each round, dynamic creation of rules, stealing limits, the ability to block steals, voting… we thought of a bunch of ideas. In the end, I decided to try the following. At the beginning of their turn, each player is presented with a choice: open a present from the tree, or roll a die. If you roll the die, there are three possible outcomes: open a present from under the tree, steal an already opened present from someone, or be forced to take the present from a randomly chosen “chump” (and to switch turns with that chump). Melchior’s Mixup Madness Flowchart The “tree” outcome of the die probabilistically (though not deterministically) breaks infinite loops, stealing is risky (you might end up with a random present instead of the one you want), the ordering of players is changed throughout the game, and there’s more yelling. I think all our goals were met. The party was last night, and it was totally fun. Dylan, Roger, Jeff and others had some really nice ideas for version 2.0. Next time we do this, I may eliminate the freedom of choice (you’ll just plain have to roll the die), and have the outcome probabilities change as the game progresses (lots of trees in the beginning, more stealing at the end, more randomization everywhere). And yes, I drew the flowchart for the party. Melchior’s Mixup Madness Flowchart (whiteboard) And no, I didn’t know how to spell the singular form of “dice” until today.

You don’t want your waitress to say

Filed under: shenaniganity,slice @ 13:52

This is my favorite beer; it tastes like Fruit Loops.


I should have put these up ages ago

Photos (on Flickr):

Feel free to comment here or there.


A birthday lesson

Filed under: a group of folks,neat!,shenaniganity @ 11:19

Here’s a tip for any future birthday boys/girls out there: don’t host your birthday gala on the actual date itself; put it off a few days. If you get lucky, a few people will still want to celebrate your birthday proper and do wonderful things for you.

Thanks to (in chronological order) Michelle, Ariele and Jeff, and Holly, Cheryl and Amy for a great 10.11.2005.

The ‘official festivities’ (complete with Chicken Dancer Elmo – Thanks Mom!) managed to keep pace as well but are better chronicled elsewhere. Thanks to all the wellwishers and also to Kristin who apparently thinks I aim too high :)


Caltech pub crawl take three

Filed under: a group of folks,shenaniganity @ 21:06

For the third year in a row now I hit up the Caltech pub crawl hosted annually by the GSC for new student orientation. This year, the event was organized by Will (and some girl I don’t know) who did an admirable job dealing with all the jackasses that come out of their respective holes whenever free beer is mentioned.

Highlights of the night included (but were not limited to) the aforementioned free beer, Amy riding a mechanical bull with the aforementioned unbeknownst to me girl, ditching the 35er upon its inundation by the pulsing throngs of the aforementioned jackasses, and hitting on Michelle.


Tatie and Ked!

Filed under: a group of folks,neat!,shenaniganity @ 10:54

Any weekend involving Bert driving the wrong way through a drive through (“hello…”) is a good one as far as I’m concerned, but this one had the added bonus of seeing Katie and Ted get hitched. Their wedding afforded me the opportunity to make an ass of myself at the reception, meet the fun group of people that are Ted and Katie’s friends, watch all the bridesmaids giggle and coo over Bert’s “Bye Bye Bye – ‘N Sync” dance routine, and see Jeff get rejected by an eight year old (let’s face it Jeff, she was a much better dancer than you are).

But enough interesting specifics. On to the clichés.

The wedding itself was lovely, and the aforementioned shenanigan inducing reception was a load of fun. And regardless of whether it sounds trite, the Bride looked beautiful, and the Groom… well… I guess he looked a little less bald. The only thing I would have changed about the whole proceedings would be to have ordered better weather (sorry Michelle). It was way too humid.

The event was also a nice venue for self reflection. While weddings have the potential of being depressing for all the single guests, Katie and Ted’s managed to instill in me a small bit of hope. Ted sure as sure married up; perhaps there’s a chance yet. I took notes, and he said he’d be willing to provide some tutelage. I’ll likely take him up on the offer: “Ted’s proven guide on how to trick women”.

Cheers to the happy couple. May your days be forever brightened by the companionship and love you share, but still filled with the sunglasses needed to block the harmful rays reflecting from Ted’s denudate scalp. Many blessings to you both.


Moonshine Party

Filed under: shenaniganity @ 17:32

So I guess there’s an undergrad party tonight: Moonshine. Anybody interested in going? And if people do go, does anybody know if we’ll be disappointed as we were at the last Dabney party?

Me: “Where’s the bar?”
Undergrad dude: “There is no bar.”
Me: “…”
Me: “Where’s the bar?”
Undergrad dude: “There is no bar.”
Me (in my head): “It is only your mind that drinks.”
Me (out loud): “Perhaps I’m not making myself clear, or perhaps, being under the age of twenty-one, you are unfamiliar with the ‘bar’ concept. I am interested in obtaining alcoholic potables in some quantity. Whence might such libations be procured?”
Undergrad dude (out loud): “?”
Undergrad dude (in his head): “Jackass grad students. I can’t believe we always have to ask for funding from the GSC.”
Me: “?”
Undergrad dude: “…”
Me: “Peace.”


Bert’s Candidacy Party

Bert passed his candidacy exams on the twenty-first, but we didn’t get around to celebrating until the twenty-fifth. Here’s some random pics from the event (which included a power hour) graciously shot by Michelle.

PS: If you can’t see the pictures, you’re probably using Internet Explorer. Don’t. Get Firefox.


She ain’t no April Fool

Heidi passed her candidacy exams yesterday, to the joy of all who joined her in celebration at Amigo’s. My claim to fame concerning the event is that I responded so quickly to her announcement email, that, due to some asynchronicities (don’t bother to look it up) in Caltech’s network, my reply is time-stamped before her original. Take that causality.

Michelle wondered to me whether these announcements and subsequent, or supersequent as the case may be (don’t bother to look that one up either), congratulatory notes will get boring by the time they would be applicable to either of us. I wonder whether there will be anyone around by the time such announcements concern me.

But Amigo’s was good at any rate. Katie (bless her) made a delicious chocolate cake (recall, now ISO standard) for the occassion which Heidi kindly offered to the always happy staff at Caltech’s favorite geek bar. I bailed on the party early, though, as it was also Quantum Margarita Night; at about 9:30 I moved to the table next door and talked shop for the next… many hours over margaritas. I hope QMN doesn’t get permanently moved to Thursdays, though. I TA lab this term on Fridays at 8:00am.


Playing catch-up.

I suppose I should write something about Thanksgiving, but I have a backlog of photos to put up regarding Ariele’s birthday party held at the SLR. So here they are. Michelle was using my camera, so laud her for anything remarkable.


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