This week’s theme is made things and the delight that people take in making them. First up, a game that requires you to use forced perceptive to resize the objects around you to solve spatial puzzles. I’ll take a crack at explaining, but, believe me, it’s faster to just check the video below:
Forced perspective is the name of the illusion that lets you look like you’re holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa or trapping your friend in a bucket. The game lets you reposition objects or yourself and then treats the forced perspective view as though it were true and adjusts the environment accordingly. Totally, totally awesome.
That game is a very hard act to follow. Luckily, math exists.
Even more luckily, Math with Bad Drawings exists, and, in a recent post, the author tells the story of the first time he discovered a property of numbers all by himself.
I carried that formula with me for the next three years. I wore it like a locket and recited itlike an oath. It was pure and crystalline and true. Never mind that I hadn’t proved it. It was right, and it was mine.
When I hit Algebra 1, and learned not merely to write algebraic symbols but to manipulate them, I found that my formula wasn’t just known. It was a trivial consequence of the distributive property.
I suffered ten seconds of stunned disappointment that my treasured conjecture was nothing but old hat. Then I smiled. When you’re standing on a mountain, you don’t care that others have stood on that same spot before. You’re just enjoying the view.
There are many theories of ownership and making, of course. Some people (like John Locke) believe that you come to own things by mixing your labor with them. Some people (like Paul Muad’Dib Atreides) think that objects belong to the person who has the power to destroy them.
After reading this article in the NYT, I think the women of the City Ballet company believe some combination of the two.
“I just hate, more than anything, to hear ballerinas’ shoes,” the soft-spoken Ms. Peck explained. “I think it takes away a little bit of the magic.”
Then she began a nightly ritual of mercilessly whacking each of her pink satin shoes against a cinder-block wall at the David H. Koch Theater. “So I try my best to be as quiet as possible,” she continued, slightly out of breath from the incessant shoe battery, as its ringing BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! echoed throughout the backstage area. “This really does help.”
…[E]ven handmade shoes are further customized by each dancer. Some, like Ms. Peck, whack them against walls; others bend them back and forth;, still others crush them in doors. The dancers sew on their own ribbons and elastics.
That was the funniest part, but I loved reading all the intricate details of how the shoes are prepared. The Times follows them all the from the manufacturers to the ballerinas engaged in battery.
Um, to carry on the theme of beautiful things that involve violence? Vulture has been doing a series of oral histories of great TV shows, and they got around to interviewing people involved with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Specifically, about the nerdy Trio that develop into villains in season six:
Busch: The very first scene that we shot together as the Trio, we were all sitting around a Dungeons & Dragons board.
Petrie: This was the first episode that I directed, “Flooded,” and that was straight from Joss Whedon, the pitch of their origin, [where Warren goes,] “So, you guys want to team up and take over Sunnydale?” And the other two guys go, “Okay.”Busch: Right after they yelled, “Action!” we realized that none of us knew how to play D&D.
Petrie: Is that true? They did say, “What do we do?” We said, “Just do nothing! Be bored!” And that worked great.
Lenk: I still don’t understand how to play Dungeons & Dragons! [Laughs]
Busch: One of the writers, Drew Greenberg, said, “Let me show you!” They were very embarrassed for us.
Espenson: Doug Petrie’s writing of the Trio and Drew Z. Greenberg’s writing of the Trio were very much informed by their own set of interests. If you’re going to write about an action figure, you’re not going to research one — you’re going to write about the one you have on your desk.
Greenberg: I had written the Boba Fett action figure in the script, and I talked about it being a 1979 mint condition Boba Fett. One of the producers called me and said, “I think we found a problem. Boba Fett wasn’t introduced until The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, so your script is wrong.” And I got to say, “Actually, no, the action figure for Boba Fett was introduced before the movie came out, you guys are wrong!” And that was when everyone knew I was a really big nerd. I was really proud of it.
As you might expect, there are spoilers at the link.
Meanwhile, on the big screen, io9 gets the hat tip for this lovely explanation of the effects in Gravity. (Spoilers again).
I so love anything in the The Way Things Work genre.
The next link is also The Way Things Work-y, but may have a little more practical use for you than Mr. Cuarón’s. The very nerdy bakers at King Arthur Flour have finally explained what all the myriad different kinds of cocoa powder do. With pictures! And test baking!
They work through six different kinds of cocoa powder, and use them to make brownies, cake, fudge. The contrasts in color and rise for the desserts turned out to be striking. And, thankfully, they kept explaining the why as they illustrated the what.
I imaging the King Arthur Flour team had fun finding volunteers to dispose-of-by-consuming their test batches, but enthusiasm for making and experimenting can sometimes go too far, so the final link is a cautionary tale.
Back in 2008, the NYT canvassed bakers and mixed up test batches to develop their recipe for the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. (Enthusiastically endorsed by my family, btw). But J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats may have taken their project a little past its logical conclusion.
To be honest, although his story of fine-tuning cookie recipes is informative and enthusiastic (egg whites, yolks, or both? Butter beaten in, melted first, or browned?), it begins to feel like reading through sheets of just-legible notes torn off of a Wall of Crazy.
“This is the last batch, I promise,” is what I told my wife about a week ago. Since then I’ve gone through another 10 pounds of flour. Heck, if you want to know the truth, I’ve baked four batches of cookies while I was writing this article, which means that even as I hit that “publish” button, this recipe is already obsolete, a work in progress. My wife went to bed over 5 hours ago and left by giving me a gentle hug from behind and a soft whisper in my ear: “Please stop making cookies.”
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