In search of searching...or something
November 12, 2019 8:18 AM   Subscribe

My wife is looking for a new hobby/activity which scratches a particular problem solving/puzzle-ish itch. We've tried looking but honestly aren't even entirely sure what we're looking for so I suggested we see what kind of ideas the hive mind might offer up. She's mostly looking for stuff that can be done indoors/at the computer but all suggestions welcome! Her thoughts inside.

I used to love, love, love doing genealogical research, but I got bored once I hit a wall that I could get over. I could get over said wall if I went to Italy to access the records I need, but that's not going to help me right now. What I loved about genealogical research (or any type of research, really), is the kind of detective work it entails. It's full of puzzles to solve, thread to follow, problems to solve, and links to create. It's pure fun for my brain, and entirely relaxing for me.

So, I guess I'm looking for something like that. I've tried looking up puzzles online, but they mostly seem to be math-based, and math has never been my forte. Is there some kind of online "treasure hunt/wild goose chase" type of thing out there on the interwebs? Something for me to get my nerd on?
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if she might be interested in online crime solving. I suspect it's kind of a weird group of people, but it seems like it might appeal to her interest in research and problem solving. I only know about it in the vaguest sort of way, though, so not recommending any particular forums or angles for getting into it.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:30 AM on November 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

What about doing genealogical research for someone else? Does she have any friends who would like to know more about their own genealogy but don't have time to get into it themselves?
posted by Redstart at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2019 [7 favorites]

Maybe participate in citizen science? Citizen Science

Or some Crowd Sourced Research? Zooniverse
posted by onebyone at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Would being a volunteer genealogist hold the same interest? I'm thinking particularly of Search Angels which works with adoptees to find their birth families, but google pulled up several other organizations.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:40 AM on November 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

One thing I do that scratches a similar itch to genealogy (I also would have to go to Italy to continue my quest) is researching the property in my neighborhood as well as the rest of the town. Go dig up old deeds, either on line or in your county records office, and find the old rights-of-way, who owned what when, what neighborhoods used to be farms that got sold off (but the neighborhood is still in the shape of the farm), where old roads were, etc.

Lots of old maps, old frayed documents. You can also combine the research with neighborhood walks to find old paths, property markers, etc.

It's basically genealogy for property.
posted by bondcliff at 8:41 AM on November 12, 2019 [9 favorites]

Maybe spring for a Geoguessr account? My brother and I use Geoguessr as a springboard to random internet rabbit holes based on things/locations we see in the game. I also started Russian Duolingo in an attempt to better read Cyrillic signs in the game to beat him in challenge mode.
posted by Maarika at 8:43 AM on November 12, 2019

Several suggestions:

1) I enjoy doing something kind of like bibliographic research, combining Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and Goodreads to yield things like a ranked list of 19th C. literature in French or a list of prose fiction from the 1600s. The hunt for relevant authors and available works is fun. I wind up combing through bibliographies, doing Google searches of, looking up names/topics on the Internet Archive itself, and so on to make connections and build a good base list. I think there is a ton of Internet Archive material with minimal bibliographic linkage, especially if your wife is interested in anything at all from the 19th C.

2) Social network diagrams of historical figures could be really fun to work out. I once started on something like this for the Spanish colonization of the Americas, and it was amazing how many actual family relationships there were among those involved. Friendships, enmities, and other connections were even denser.

3) Wikipedia has plenty of pages tractable to relatively mechanical / incremental research without needing to have much domain knowledge. Examples include all the timelines that can be extended mostly by cross-linking on Wikipedia itself. Finding sources to cite at Google Books / Google Scholar likewise involves a little research.
posted by cpound at 8:46 AM on November 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

I asked a question that might help awhile ago.

I do Fantasy Movie League which lets me combine stats and intuition to predict how well movies will do. I won a month ago and it was amazing! Very rewarding to do.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:53 AM on November 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you've gained experience in reading historical handwriting there are oodles and oodles of organisations that want you to transcribe documents for them. Have a look at the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers site for a nice overview. It depends what and why you are transcribing which determines how much of the puzzle-solving aspect there is to it - for example, the Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea seems to have a lot of making links in it, whereas Transcribe Bentham is much more just read the thing and transcribe it. Projects which are smaller and more local to you might give more scope for you to dig in and puzzle things out - it would be worth seeing what local institutions are doing.
posted by Vortisaur at 9:22 AM on November 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Some of the institutions on The Commons on Flickr encourage crowdsourcing for more information on their photos, etc. This can mean trying to figure out where the photo was taken, or a bit of genealogical research on the subjects. It involves a bit of detection, but also the nice feeling that the information may be useful to someone later.
posted by scorbet at 9:28 AM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

This sounds kind of like what I use Duolingo for.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:46 AM on November 12, 2019

I guess I should add the caveat that I find grammar and usage pretty fascinating, so understanding the grammar aspect is the "treasure" for me. YMMV shrug.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:47 AM on November 12, 2019

Is it possible she could get back into genealogy research now that more and more records are being posted online? There is the Italian site Antenati, where town/regional records get posted online as they digitize them -- so it is ever-expanding, and she may start to be able to find that missing link. I personally have also had fun just going through the records to see other ancestors with the same last name in the searchable records to see if there are any potential links to my recent ancestors. Also there are a lot of records that are searchable, but most of them you actually have to search page by page.

And if she isn't interested in that, I agree with helping others with their genealogy searches. There are a lot of people who could use the help for various purposes who just don't have the skills. PM me if you would like specific suggestions.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:49 AM on November 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

One thing that might sound totally different from genealogical research but could actually scratch that same itch to puzzle things out is programming and/or web page design. She could come up with a simple initial goal like creating a web page that lets you enter your age and then shows you one of three jokes depending on whether you're a kid, a young adult or an old adult, and gradually move on to creating things that have some real utility. There's a logic component - figuring out what your code has to look like to make X happen - and there's a research component - looking up how to use HTML or CSS, how other people have solved similar problems, etc. There are a lot of moments where something isn't working right and you have to puzzle out why and it can be fun, especially if you're doing it for yourself with no deadlines.
posted by Redstart at 9:58 AM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

First idea: pick an elected officeholder relevant to you, like your state representative (assuming you're in the US). Find out who their donors are. Then find out where the donors' money comes from. Keep going until you're bored. Then repeat the process with more elected officeholders.

Second idea: find a Wikipedia article about a controversial subject. Check that all of the factual claims are accompanied with a source, check that the source is legitimate, and check that the source actually backs up the accompanying claim. (Beware of "citogenesis", where the source itself cites Wikipedia for its claim.) Fix sources where possible, and otherwise mark the badly sourced claim with an appropriate tag like "citation needed", or else just delete it. For bonus points, track down the accounts adding badly sourced claims and see if you can spot any patterns.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:16 AM on November 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Ooh, I share her love of research puzzles! The closest thing that has scratched that itch for me is the computer game The Black Watchmen. It's basically a puzzle game, but the puzzles almost all involve internet research. There's also a wacky paranormal/Lovecraftian theme. It's pretty cheap ($10) so if it's not her sort of thing at least you didn't spend a fortune on it.
posted by zeusianfog at 11:18 AM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh also, learning to program Python has been really fun. There is a free udemy course by the best tutorial book (I have seldom seen anything but "this is the best" about it anyway) Automate the Boring Stuff.

The book is also free online. Anyway, here's the author dropping the free udemy code for November. I used it (I owned the book already) and it's great.

For games, The Return of the Obra Dinn was given outstanding reviews last year and is a simple (VERY retro) looking game where you piece together who 60 crew men were on a ship that went missing for 2 years in the 1800s. Name, cause of death, who did it, etc. you have to fill in from contextual clues... the only thing you have are pictures of their faces and you can replay the last few seconds of their death. Polygon made it their #2 game of the year.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:00 PM on November 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is a short term project rather than a whole new hobby, but I had a lot of fun with it:
It's a story, a series of puzzles, and a craft project all in one and the quality is really impressive. I still have the dollhouse displayed in my living room. :)
posted by tangosnail at 12:53 PM on November 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are online Facebook groups that connect adopted children with their birth parents. They use the same materials you use for genealogical research. It's pretty cool, your wife you should try it out.
posted by Toddles at 11:24 PM on November 12, 2019

What about computer programming? Start with an online course like Codecademy
posted by chr at 6:29 AM on November 13, 2019

How about puzzle geocaches? Start with basic geocaching and once she has the hang of that, see
posted by TheClonusHorror at 3:11 PM on November 17, 2019

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