Posted January 19, 2000 at 5:26 pm | No Comments

Is it a laser light show or the Sheraton of tomorrow?

Last August our research group set up a booth for the “Emerging Technologies” section of the Siggraph 99 conference in Los Angeles.  Our booth was housed in a presentation venue called the “Millennium Motel”.  I suppose that the concept was to present a flashy image of what motels (or really hotels, if you don’t mind losing the alliteration) would look like in the millennium to come.The “motel” had a foyer decorated with an array of shining colored lights and flashing lasers that cut sharply though the dense fog churned out by a nearby machine.  The ceiling was covered with dangling ropes; pull a rope and you would hear a booming bell-like tone.  The whole effect was both futuristic and surreal.
The motel’s central “lounge” was designed with an underwater motif.  The floor was blue shag carpet, strewn with aquamarine beanbag chairs and clear plastic inflatable beach mattresses.  The ceiling was bedecked with gigantic white balloons that gave the appearance of massive bubbles.  Every day of the conference, one or two of the giant balloons would explode, causing hundreds of people to jolt in surprise as an earsplitting pop echoed through the exhibit hall.

Mandy takes a break in the faux swimming pool.

Head-mounted displays have to be wrapped in
enough bubble wrap to suffocate a horse.

Unpacking our booth’s equipment upon our arrival was fun, especially when I wrapped myself from head to toe in the 5-foot wide roll of Saran Wrap the shippers had used to bind our packages together.  Packing up the booth when it was time to leave wasn’t nearly as fun.  We had to disconnect the incredibly powerful audio system we had rented and could no longer listen to the Rockefeller Skank in repeat mode.
One thing did make unpacking fun, however: the conventioneers had detached the giant balloons from the central lounge ceiling.  We grabbed one of the balloons as it bounced around the exhibit floor and decided to break it with body slams.  Unfortunately, this proved more difficult than we had anticipated, as you can see in this video clip.  It’s worth the download.

Albert Lamorisse, eat your heart out.

My tailbone was sore for days after
this balloon-crushing mishap.
I still grimace in pain every time I watch it.

I’d like to thank my friend Steve at MAG Productions for capturing and digitizing this video, as well as for being the only person besides me who’s stupid enough to wrestle balloons on film.

Taboo Database

Posted January 16, 2000 at 5:25 pm | 37 Comments

Taboo, the Game of Unspeakable Fun.

One of our favorite pastimes over winter break is to play Taboo, a popular board game from Milton Bradley.  Billed as “The Game of Unspeakable Fun”, Taboo is a spoken word game that involves trying to get your team to guess a secret word without using any of five clue words specified as “taboo”.  How, for example, would you describe the word kitten without using the words meow, cat, purr, furry, or animal?  As a player gives clues, he is constantly monitored by a member of the opposing team; if he makes any mistakes, he is unceremoniously “buzzed” and a point is deducted from his team’s score.
There are many ways to succeed in Taboo.  Hand gestures, sound effects, and “sounds like” clues are prohibited, but  legal clues can consist of suggestive sentences, song lyrics, fill-in-the-blanks phrases, or even one-word hints.  Here’s an example: How would you suggest the word diamond to your team if you couldn’t say baseball, carats, ring, jewel, or engagement?  Here are some possibilities:

  • “They’re forever…”

  • “Hope is a huge one…”

  • “The World Series is played here…”

  • “Some are found in the rough…”

Rolex makes gold ones…”

Sara’s clue for “Paul Revere”:
“It’s the GUY!  The GUY!”

My friends and I play Taboo a lot.  Our games extend late into the night and often consume the entire deck of 504 cards.  You might say that we have evolved Taboo playing to an art form.  If I say aquatic animal, my teammates won’t say fish, they’ll say barracuda.  Why?  Because they know that there is no fish card, but there is a card with the word barracuda.

Most people accuse us of memorizing the cards, which isn’t really fair.  We don’t try to memorize the cards; we’ve just played so frequently that we start to remember them.  The effective result is that we’ve established clues for nearly every card.  If there were a professional Taboo tournament, I think that my friends and I would be serious contenders for the world championship title.  If I say film, my teammates will immediately name Citizen Kane, Alien, and Blade in rapid succession, since those are the only three film titles contained in the Taboo deck.  Mention anything to do with Russia, and they’ll spout off Sputnik, Red Square, and Glasnost — the only three Taboo cards  related to this subject.  Playing Taboo at this level of expertise makes for some interesting games; the problem is that nobody wants to play with us anymore.  One night we gave our opponents a 100-point handicap — and then lost by only one point.

“Gay people come …
of the closet”

Blackjack dealers derive almost no thrill from a game of blackjack.  They’ve memorized the best course of action for every possible hand, so what is a game of skill for many has become for them a game of chance.  The same could be said of us and Taboo.  Once you’re familiar with all of the cards, the game play becomes somewhat mechanical.

That’s why we need your help.  I’ve created a system that allows you to easily create new Taboo cards for us to use.  Click here to give it a try.

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