Monday, February 22, 2010

The Night I Saw Indigo

This is not the sort of blog post I would normally write. My goal is not to deliver any opinions on anything. I just want to try to share this scenario with you. Please bear with me.

I left the campus television station and started walking toward the dining hall. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to eat tonight, but as I crossed the road to the sidewalk that leads down the side of the hill, I noticed that something felt very odd. I started to look around me. It's been very mild in the area lately, and the temperature's been hovering around freezing for the last few days. As such, when I went into the studio, all of the snow had been gone for a few days, and it was still light out. When I came out of the studio, a barely noticeable layer of white had appeared on the green grass. The sky was still barely lit, like that shade of indigo that your elementary school art teacher tried to describe to you as the shade the sky is right before it gets dark, but you could never really get the full grasp of it because there was no representation of it on the six-pointed color wheel she used in class. Tonight, indigo finally made sense.

Along the path, I noticed that the lampposts from the sidewalk further up the hill were shining down on the snow on the hill next to me. The snow had an eerie glowing effect, not sure if it wanted to reflect the white lights above me, the yellow lights further down the path, or the green grass still trying to peek through. The sight of the grass in this state was suddenly accompanied by a scent. It smelled like the first day of spring, but not quite yet. Something was barely restraining that sensation from reaching my nose, but I couldn't identify what. I spotted the occasional snowflake falling around me, but I heard the sound of raindrops falling, yet neither fell on me, because the tree cover somehow only protected me and my path.

I reached the bottom of the hill and got on the brick road that leads to the dining hall. Here, tiny, waist-high lampposts shined bright white lights on their surroundings, including the snowy hill I had just descended. I was now surrounded by buildings, by life, but yet the feeling of unfamiliarity remained. As I approached my destination, all I could think about was "Taps".

I've always imagined this perfect arrangement of the song, which starts out with a male quartet singing the words (and yes, there are words to Taps). In this case, it would probably be just the second verse, Day is done, gone the sun / From the lakes, from the hills, from the run / All is well, safely rest; / God is nigh. The tenor sings the verse as a solo, with the bass, baritone, and lead singing a simple chord progression after each phrase. When the tenor finishes, the others hold out their final chord while the tenor and lead start humming "Amazing Grace" from the same spot. Normally, this arrangement continues to be a cappella, but tonight I heard a soprano saxophone sneaking into the background, improvising freely between lines. A light drum beat, maybe gentle bongos, joins in, and the symphony is complete.

Perhaps the song only makes sense in my own mind, but this arrangement establishes a sense of calm in me. "Taps" is generally a morbid song, played only at burials and military ceremonies, but here it's reassuring, comforting. It says, even though we may be going through miserable times, there's still hope. There's always tomorrow. Keep going. Suddenly, the uncomfortable luminescence of the snow is soothing, and the falling rain is warming. As "Amazing Grace" carries on, it picks up in speed, not to the point of cheeriness, but to enlightenment. Everything's going to work out.

Anecdote aside, these last couple of weeks have been very difficult for me, and I see things continuing to slide downhill for the next couple of weeks as well, but somehow I know that in the end, it'll be alright. I've got friends and family to encourage me, I've got a plan in mind for handling what's coming, I think I'm going to be alright. If you're the praying sort, please pray for me, and if you're not the praying sort, pray anyway, it's good for you. I'll be sure to keep you all in my prayers as well, and hopefully this story has helped to boost your day or someone's around you. We're all in this together. Everything's going to work out. Keep going.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bring Your Scarlet Lips To Me, Sit Closer To This Fine Lad

Thinking caps on, class, it's puzzle-solving time. And with prizes!

A while back, I had an idea for a gift for a friend. I bought a bunch of perler beads and made a series of video game characters (using actual sprites for reference, thank you very much). They were intended to be Christmas ornaments (just stick a little hook through the top of them), but when I found out that he usually doesn't get a tree for himself, I needed a backup plan. You know, something else a bit more utilizable. In the end, I thought of Fridge Tetris, a bunch of Tetris-shaped magnets.

I asked the recipient to make a YouTube video of their reaction when they opened the package, and he definitely seemed to enjoy his new toys. "This is quite possibly the coolest thing in the world, and I've been... Okay, I haven't traveled that much, but... This is still really, really cool!" Mission accomplished, I'd say.

Since then, I've been returning to the idea of Fridge Tetris as gifts for people. It only takes a couple hours to make (and that's while watching Schlag den Raab), and I already have a large supply of beads (maybe too large? I need to kill those off...), so I figure, why not? Other recipients have reacted with similar amounts of glee, so I know it's a fun idea worth repeating.

The problem, however, lies in the setup process. I always make sets of 28 blocks (four each of the seven shapes), and I try to knock them all off in one ironing session. I have these large square pegboards that I make all of the pieces on, but no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to squeeze them onto one board. I end up with about 25 pieces on one board, three on another, and my first time ironing them didn't end well, as the iron knocked some of the pieces out of place when sliding over to the second board. I've avoided this in the past by making multiple sets and spreading the pieces more evenly across three boards, but I'd rather find a way to make a single set on a single board.

Here's the puzzle.

I'm looking for a way to fit all 28 pieces (again, four each of seven shapes) onto one pegboard. The dimensions of the board are 29 pegs by 29 pegs. Each piece consists of four touching 2x2 squares, as shown in the picture. (Thus, the famous "LINE PIECE!" is a 2x8 rectangle, while the "SQUARE PIECE!" is a 4x4 square.)

Some other rules to keep in mind:
--The pieces may not touch. This includes all sides and corners. While I know that it's easily possible to snap apart things joined at the corners, I would prefer that the pieces keep their rounded edges, rather than a random flat edge where a border once occurred. There must be a one-peg border along all sides of the piece, with the exception of the outermost edge of the board.
--Pieces cannot be flipped. While you could argue that a S is the mirror image of a Z (sorry, "SQUIGGLY" and "REVERSE SQUIGGLY"), I also apply more pressure with the iron on the first fusing before flipping the pieces over to fuse the backs, and the more-fused sides usually become the side I put the magnets on. To prevent inconsistencies in appearance, I would prefer that the pieces are in their proper orientations on the board. (The same applies for the J and L pieces.)

Ultimately, what I am trying to find is whether or not it's possible to make the 28 pieces on one board given the above rules. If it's not possible, then it's not possible, and I guess there's nothing I can do about that, but if it is possible, the first person who presents a valid solution will receive a free set of Fridge Tetris magnets. Fine print: Colors may vary. Product will be made and shipped at my convenience, I'm on a schedule too, you know.

I know I've got to be forgetting some other rule or restriction, but I can't remember it for the life of me, so go nuts. If I remember it, I'll add it here. Submit your questions and solutions in the comments box. Thanks, and good luck!

Update: Congrats to Derek for coming up with this solution, tweeted to me in an amusingly small 29x29 picture. For some reason, it seemed natural to repost it as a snapshot of an Excel spreadsheet so you could see the gridlines. So, Derek gets some Fridge Tetris lovin', but it's not too late to get your own batch! See the comments for more details...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Introducing: The iCurve

An incredibly unfair exaggeration, but I just had to get this one out of my head. That said, I still wouldn't be surprised if twenty years from now, I see a man walking down the street with a white box over his head. As he passes by, you hear his muffled voice, "Yeah, I got the new iCube! Isn't it amazing how technology keeps improving?"

Now if you'll excuse me, Zach Morris is calling me on my cell phone.