Saturday, April 4, 2009

This line is thinner than a hair, and has some knots in it here and there

Recently I've got back into playing Planarity, a game where you "untie knots" in a graph to make it planar (that is, you rearrange vertices so that none of the graph's edges cross). I've never heard of anyone beating my high score (The letters M.P.D. still stand on the machine. I remember that night. The perfect combination of Mountain Dew and mozzarella... just the right amount of grease on the joy stick). So here are some pics of the action...

Planarity Level 40 StartLevel 40. The start...

You can't even see the dots cuz they're all overlapping.

Part way there...

My body tends to tense up over time while I play this game. I sat back and took a deep breath, and surveyed the mess I was in.

Why do I play this game?

Planarity Level 40 Done?Possibly finished?

I can't be sure, because the program hung while trying to check.

This epic battle was done on a decently fast machine at work, over a few hours one afternoon in 2007.

The strategy I used was to move all of the dots out of one corner of the board, then build in that corner. I'd find a dot with only two edges, and assume that that dot lies on the outside edge of the graph, and put it right in the corner. Then I'd just build a wall, a moving front of dots, going up and down the incomplete side of the graph, keeping it free from tangles and packing and repacking the dots as tight as possible.

Nowadays I have neither the patience nor CPU power to try anything harder, so I usually play random smaller levels, like 12 or 24. Now I prefer a strategy involving finding an outer edge to the graph, building it all around the screen, and then working inwards. I do this without moving all the dots out of the way, so it can be a struggle to pick out the edges and dots I want from the mess of overlapping shit. This is very repetitive and very specific problem solving work. It probably overuses some small part of the brain, and can actually make it hurt. I think that to attempt much higher levels with the same fixed, small screen space, one would simply need to let the dots overlap. This might be a simple mental leap, perhaps in a "compression" phase on a part of the graph you know is complete. Or perhaps it would tax the brain enough to commit craniacide via spontaneous combustion.

So why would anyone play the higher levels when it's a frustrating, repetitive mental tax? I probably do it just to keep my brain busy. It seems to like that. I'd recommend spending some time practicing this game while you're at work, so that you don't have to learn it from scratch when you get fired.

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