My inner geek is disinterested
July 17, 2011 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Despite having an engineering degree, a Master's degree in software development, a strong math background, and 20+ years of programming experience the "typical" logic games bore me. Why and how can I improve?

I realize that as the typical computer geek I'm supposed to love logic games and puzzles like chess and such, but I can feel my eyes glazing over as I start to play. Either I don't care about the outcome or it seems a waste of time to devote so much energy into thinking N steps ahead. Realize this doesn't mean all games. I do enjoy some, but even things like Soduko seem a huge WTF to me. This was recently brought to light in an interview question in which I was to play a glorified game of tic-tac-toe in which you had to get 5-in-a-row on a 20-by-20 grid. I found myself with the same feeling of 'eh' during the whole game. Of course I lost and I'm sure the interviewer enjoyed the win. I see all sorts of books about logic and strategy as relates to games but they typically are full of advanced math that, despite my math background, bores me. Am I a failed geek?
posted by mcarthey to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm kinda the same way. Math degree, comp sci background. I hate chess. Never got the hang of it, and don't like playing (not because I'm not good at it). Suduko holds my interest for a while, but I find it pretty algorithmic.

Maybe you think those games are wastes of time when larger, more world-changing things could be worked on - computational genetics, etc?

That, and be your own geek. Who says geeks must love chess, trains, D&D, and Monty Python skits?
posted by amoeba syndrome at 8:52 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Logic != math. It seems that your logical error, if you will, is that people who are good at math have to enjoy logic. But that's like saying that people who are good at basketball should like marathons because the latter involves running, and the former does too.
posted by dfriedman at 8:52 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's entirely possible that you find those things boring because they are boring.

This is not a problem with you.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:53 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I promise that not liking sudoku does not mean something is wrong with you. Go program a sudoku solver from scratch, run some puzzles through, time the execution. You will be cured of any lingering desire to solve sudoku by hand. Happened to me.
posted by silby at 8:55 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't stand to sit around in rooms where computer games are being played via TV. I don't like computer games, and I find that their "soundtracks," especially with one or two players engaged, are incredibly irritating. I do like chess, I will play poker, and Monopoly, and Risk, and a lot of other board games, if the people involved are interesting, or challenge me in ways that engage me, in at least superficially emotional ways.

Unless there is some link between a game situation, and your personality as a player, via emotions, intellectual challenge, prospect of reward, or some such, I doubt you can force yourself to be interested in the activity. Furthermore, if you believe the current research, there are some personality (and perhaps even genetic) markers for individuals that are easily trapped in gambling and other "side effects" of game play. Be grateful for your make up, if you are not among these unfortunates.
posted by paulsc at 9:03 PM on July 17, 2011

I have a similar background and completely agree with you, mcarthey.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:09 PM on July 17, 2011

How do you feel about video games? It occurs to me that both Angry Birds and Sokoban are puzzle games of sorts. People are not really as easy to classify as "geek" or "math nerd." It may just be that you're wired a little differently than your companions but still very much a mathematician.
posted by Gilbert at 9:30 PM on July 17, 2011

Don't stereotype yourself. You don't have to like anything that you are supposed to like. Go play poker, a game of baseball or go knit something. Go enjoy whatever it is that you enjoy and stop worrying about how people expect you to be.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:31 PM on July 17, 2011

I also find chess and soduko uninteresting, but there are a huge variety of games out there. I'd look into trying some abstract stragegy board games and see if any hit home.

Ingenious is about making rows of colors in 6 different colors, but the twist is that your score is the color that you are weakest in, so blocking your opponent becomes more important than scoring as the game progresses. It's best with 2 players, or 4 with partners. Ideally play this as a board game in real life, but you can also play it on iPhone/iPod, iPad or online at BSW, an online board game portal with an unfortunately terrible UI that is also in German when you first sign in. Ingenious is easy to learn, but there is a lot of depth to it, and it is a lot of fun. I'm good at this game, but my math teacher friend wins every game against me without fail.

I'd also recommend Blokus, which is also best with 2 or 4 players. This one is about playing as many of your tetris-esque shapes onto a grid as you can, but you can only touch the corner of your pieces, never the sides. This one is more spatial, and also involves blocking your opponent. It is also available for iOS.

If the abstract strategy from the above don't click you may like Mr Jack. This is a game with a theme of deducing who is Jack the Ripper. This one would be tough to describe succinctly, so here is a review that looks comprehensive. 2 players only.

Some others to look at are Hive, Qwirkle, Hey That's My Fish, and Through the Desert. All except Qwirkle are on iOS also, and all 4 are best with 2 players (or only support 2).
posted by ridogi at 9:40 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Are there some games or puzzles that you DO enjoy? If so, list some and we can try to see what the common thread is.

If not, well, maybe you just don't like games and puzzles. That's okay. Is there a reason why you feel like you need to improve in logic games?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:48 PM on July 17, 2011

Well, the logic game I'm currently playing is called 'learn Haskell'. I find it a very interesting challenge, and you can play it over many months.

By the way, I got into this game as a follow-up to a previous game I played, called 'what the hell is the lambda calculus?'.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:25 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hey, you are who you are. You like what you like. You are bored by what bores you. So do what you like, avoid what bores you.

I hate interviewers who spring puzzles on interviewees. How do they know that the puzzle is a good indicator of success or failure in the position they're interviewing for? They don't. They're idiots. A rational response to being presented a puzzle would be, "What does this have to do with the position? I have the background, I have the experience, I have success in the area. Your silly little puzzle is a ridiculous waste of time." (Unless, of course, they want a Team Player who will fit into their culture of People Who Like to Solve Puzzles, in which case you don't want to work there anyway.)
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:32 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I realize that as the typical computer geek I'm supposed to love logic games and puzzles like chess and such

I don't think there is any real connection between being "a computer geek" and "logic games and puzzles". I think it's a cultural creation from the days where computers were "a geek thing", meaning non-mainstream, so it was lumped in with all the other weird hobbies and interests, like chess, trains, weird foreign movies, etc. The majority of people liked sports or something - to them all these people with their weird computers and chess got lumped together into the "geek" category.

Think of the other engineering disciplines - is there any reason why a mechanical engineer would be predisposed to play chess? How about a rocket scientist? The only reason computer science is lumped into this category is because 30 years ago normal people didn't understand why computers were useful, or how it would translate into a real profession. That baggage is still with us today.
posted by meowzilla at 10:38 PM on July 17, 2011

Am I a failed geek?

Nah. I can't stand abstract logic puzzles like Sudoku either and I don't consider myself a failure. They're pointless, they don't engage any emotional faculty and they don't make anyone much smarter.

I find games like chess or go a lot more interesting because when played fairly quickly and at a casual level they're as much about psychology as about logic. Maybe you just have the wrong opponents?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:06 AM on July 18, 2011

I have a friend who refuses to do any logic puzzle that he could write a computer program to solve. And sometimes he will do just that--he ruined Boggle for me.
posted by chiefthe at 1:46 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe you don't like puzzle games because they're pointless, waste time, and don't help the world to improve.

I'd rather dig a well in a third-world country than play whatever latest version of CONNECT THREE or THINK ABOUT GEOMETRY or what it's all called these days.
posted by krilli at 3:56 AM on July 18, 2011

@Gilbert, while I do like video games I really don't see the appeal of Angry Birds. I played it for a while (and was more obsessed with having to get a perfect 3 stars on each level) but quickly lost interest and really don't see why people rave over it so much. It's very much like so many other games.
posted by mcarthey at 4:22 AM on July 18, 2011

Great answers thus far all, and I'm glad to see that I'm not alone. One thing that comes to mind, though, is that I feel I should be better if for no other reason than to address stupid situations like the interview. I'm sure it was expected that I would be some wiz at the game but it felt like it'd be a cop-out if I immediately announced that I don't care for these types of games. Maybe it's a different question but how would you have handled this?
posted by mcarthey at 4:26 AM on July 18, 2011

@silby, I had to laugh at your answer because I've always felt that if something was worth doing once, then it's worth writing a batch program. I suppose this may explain why I don't like repetitive "games".
posted by mcarthey at 4:34 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

@ridigi, Sorry but games like Blokus are not terribly interesting to me, either, but I will certainly check out your other recommendations. Thanks much!
posted by mcarthey at 4:46 AM on July 18, 2011

@meowzilla, great answer and, by the way, I do like "weird foreign movies". ;)
posted by mcarthey at 4:48 AM on July 18, 2011

I loved playing Sudoku until I discovered KenKen. The small ones are trivially easy, but the 8x8 and 9x9 can be a fun challenge.
posted by rocket88 at 9:04 AM on July 18, 2011

You should take up Brazilian JiuJitsu (BJJ). You engage in strategy against another human being, and each position within BJJ is a real life puzzle in itself, and can take years to master.

Here's an example:

You are trapped underneath another human being, they are sitting on top of you trying to choke you, or apply an arm lock (picture of situation). How do you escape? Your first reaction as an untrained person is to just push up at them, but this is where the game of strategy begins. By pushing up, you give your opponent your arms, which allows them to do two things: (1) control your arms for an armlock, or; (2) allows them to sit higher up on your chest by removing your elbows away from the space blocking their legs, which leaves you in a much worse off position (see this picture in an MMA context). So you are left with the two main escapes: the elbow escape, and the bridge & roll.

And this is where the game gets even more interesting, as there are counters to the escapes, and counters to the counters, and so on. For instance, the bridge & roll is predicated on there being no space between your opponent's lower body and yours (your bridging motion moves the opponent's lower body). Higher level opponents in the top mount position don't "sit" on people (they squeeze their knees together, leaving space inbetween themselves and the lower person's hips), thus they nullify the bridge & roll through something as simple as posture. In this manner, BJJ exhibits combinatorial explosion. Making it quite complex (and yet simple things -- as noted above -- can add to the complexity, much like a bifurcation), and a never-ending situation of new puzzles to solve. I think as an engineer you would really like it.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 5:59 AM on July 21, 2011

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