Any Masters of 'Go'?
January 28, 2014 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I read Rich Burlew's wonderfully geeky D&D pop-lit webcomic Order of the Stick (which is just wrapping up its best arc yet, so it's a good time to jump on). I have a question for any people who know their way around a Go board.

A character in OOTS, the Monster-in-the-Dark, or MITD, is of an as-yet unspecified species, and its identity is one of the bigger unsolved mysteries in the strip to date. In this strip it plays Go with a friend, and Burlew has said there are clues to its identity in the game state he shows.

I have the barest familiarity with the rules, but I'm guessing Metafilter has a few people who know it pretty well - what can you tell me about the players, or the nature of the game they've played, by looking at that board?
posted by Sebmojo to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That position wouldn't come up in a game between competent Go players. (The giant 3x5 block of Black stones, for example, would never happen.) Maybe it's a picture of someone/something? The two empty intersections in the big black blob are called "eyes", if that's a clue.
posted by dfan at 3:05 PM on January 28, 2014

The rule that the dialogue refers to ("Because I still have two empty spots left open...") is called "two eyes make life." Those empty spots in the black area are called "eyes" in Go terminology, and I think it's notable that the text in the comic avoids using that word.

It's probably also notable that the giant blob of black stones with the two eyes doesn't look like anything that would appear in a normal game - you would never see so many stones that close together. The rest of the board looks unremarkable.
posted by theodolite at 3:08 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to tease out a face from that image but I am failing. I think the fact that they're playing Go is only to allow for a relatively arbitrary pattern to be put on the board; the game itself is probably a red herring.

(I would, by the way, chortle with glee and sell Burlew one of my kidneys if the MITD does in fact turn out to be a large crimson fish.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:39 PM on January 28, 2014

I wonder if this has to do with the history of go. If I remember right Go has symbolism of the lunar calnder. I wonder if it is a solar eclipse and those are constellations.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:44 PM on January 28, 2014

Go is famously difficult to get a computer program to play well, compared to chess. There might be better software out there now, but years ago I tried playing a computer go game. The computer played sort of like that, although I didn't keep playing to see if it would go so far as to fill in everything except for two spots.

Not only would this not come up in a game with competent Go players, it would be pretty unlikely to come up in a game with human go players old enough/skilled enough to play any sort of strategy game.

I'm not familiar with the comic, but maybe the MITD has some sort of intellegence that was created by others, and it's debatable or not known if it is alive. There might be a reference here to "two eyes make life", maybe some sort of theme around what it takes to make something alive in what the characters are saying.
posted by yohko at 7:09 PM on January 28, 2014

There might be better software out there now
Actually, much better.

As for the game, I agree that this would (should) never happen in a real game, but IANAMOG. Is there anything to tell about players who might have played a game like this, I don't know. Maybe that black should put some effort into extending that shape on the bottom left?
posted by klausman at 10:20 PM on January 28, 2014

The MITD apparently has hidden depths, but is generally naive/childlike/not too swift.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:35 PM on January 28, 2014

OOTS has a forum page where each strip is discussed rather extensively. The one for that strip is:

In that thread, the strategy of the Go game is discussed rather a lot, as well as other theories as to what that panel might mean. Here's the one I consider the most likely, referring to the popular notion (which existed before this particular comic was drawn) that the "Monster in the Dark" is either a baby Tarrasque or half-Tarrasque:

"The GO board is a drawing of the MitD... (think 8bit theater) ... The two empty spots in the block of black stones are [eyes] ... the white semi-circle on the left side... the back-shell of the Tarrasque... long back legs, shorter front legs.... Rich has given us the final hint ... edit: Also the single horn at the top/front of the head".

Other theories broached in the thread, that I consider much less likely, are that the Monster in the Dark is "Minya (Minilla), son of Godzilla" (again based on an interpretation of the Go board as a picture) or a green dragon (based on the Monster in the Dark's description of where it lived as a child).
posted by kyrademon at 5:26 AM on January 29, 2014

(Here is another analysis from that thread based on the strategy of the Go game. However it doesn't say much about the Monster's identity):

"Actually, the game's really intricately designed and interesting. I mean ... there's this whole artful little sequence available after Black A18, just as a forinstance. And the five white stones at the top (E18-K18) are exactly the right number to make that group killable if the double-hane connecting them to the space at the right gets compromised. Personally, I think the artist either has some real Go chops, or consulted someone who does ... especially when I take a look up-right-diagonal at the prior panel with the whole game in miniature on the floor, and note that the lower-right corner belongs entirely to MitD. Score-wise, that makes the entire right side necessary for White to win the game. MitD has three corners and has ruined most of the center territory. To me, it looks like a teaching game with a very specific lesson (above and beyond the 'two eyes' discussion). That group that everyone is criticizing because it is all squeezed down and only has two eyes? The group that represents [Monster in the Dark]? That's a vitally important group in this game. It has multiple ways of breaking out of its confinement (the mentioned double-hane, but also potentially the black cut at M12) and is in a perfect position to destroy all of white's elegantly laid plans if it does. In other words, there's a metaphor already coded into the stones that O'Chul didn't even get around to talking about. This Go game says 'That ugly looking group that seems surrounded and irrelevant is actually the most important factor on the board.'"
posted by kyrademon at 5:30 AM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

or a green dragon (based on the Monster in the Dark's description of where it lived as a child).

Can't be, because Vaarsuvius.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:50 AM on January 29, 2014

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