Darmok (the game)

Out of boredom and also a lot of holiday free time, I came up with a little game that might appeal to bibliophiles. First, ask your friends to state a subject that they care about. Then search your book collection for an appropriate quote that captures how you think or feel about that subject. I’ll call the game ‘Darmok’, after that Star Trek episode. The rules of the game are that I can only use my own “lore” (i.e., collection of physical books), and that I had to actively search for a quote that is optimally relevant and informative in some allegorical sense (though I occasionally used Google Books for help). Score is determined by three criteria: (1) Explicitness, (2) Value as allegory or implicature, (3) Relevance.

Here are the results when I played with my friends.

Some attempts are quite successful at (2) implicature and (3) relevance, but did not (1) make explicit reference to the subject:

  • Kyla: “Poutine.”
    • “”I usually come here with a book, even though it’s against doctor’s orders: one eats too quickly and doesn’t chew. But I have a stomach like an ostrich, I can swallow anything. During the winter of 1917, when I was a prisoner, the food was so bad that everyone got ill. Naturally, I went on the sick list like everybody else: but nothing was the matter.” (p.105) Jean-Paul Sartre, “Nausea”
  • Stephanie: “Puns.”
    • “Bybee argues that a solely phonological connection between words — in other words, homophony — is the weakest connection of all… Homophony does give rise to a minor yet robust priming effect. In lexical decision and target naming tasks using homonyms, there is a priming effect of both the contextually appropriate meaning and the homonymous meaning within 0-220 msec of presentation of the stimulus; after 200 msec, only the contextually appropriate meaning is primed… This priming effect indicates that there is a lexical connection based on mere phonological similar, but not a strong one.” (p.303)
      “(8) John and his driving license expired last Thursday.” (p. 113) William Croft & D. Alan Cruse, “Cognitive Linguistics”
  • Steve: “Any string of characters formed from your n books by looking at the n-th character of each book and choosing some other character.
    • “In the preceding example, I have introduced some basic terminology of recursion… The terms are push, pop, and stack… To push means to suspend operations on the task you’re currently working on, without forgetting where you are– and to take up a new task. The new task is usually said to be “on a lower level” than the earlier task. To pop is the reverse — it means to close operations on one level, and to resume operations exactly where you left off, one level higher.“But how do you remember exactly where you were on each different level? The answer is, you store the relevant information in a stack. So a stack is just a table telling you such things as (1) where you were in each unfinished task… (2) what the relevant facts to know were at the points of interruption… When you pop back up to resume some task, it is the stack which restores your context, so you don’t feel lost.” (p.128) Douglas Hofstadter, “Godel, Escher, Bach”

In other cases, I was successful at (1), but not (2) or (3):

  • Lucie: “Bamboo”.
    • “Students of the Vietnamese meditation tradition rely on Flowers in the Garden of Meditation, a book compiled in the fourteenth century. The “flowers” of the title refer to the outstanding meditation masters of Vietnam… According to this book, Tang Hôi established a meditation school in Vietnam, which continued until the Tran era (fourteenth century). After that the meditation school of Tang Hôi, along with other meditation schools, was gradually folded into the Bamboo Forest school which became the predominant school of the meditation tradition in Vietnam.” (p.19) Thich Nhat Hanh, “Master Tang Hôi”

And in others, I was successful at relevance (3), but not (1) or (2):

  • Ashley: “Donuts”
    • “Moreover, a finite universe with the topology of a torus is equivalent to a periodic universe with infinite volume, both mathematically and from the perspective of an observer within it.” (p.122) Max Tegmark, “The multiverse hierarchy”, in “Universe or Multiverse?”, ed. Bernard Carr
  • Robin: “Lidars”
    • “”What’s up, boss?”
      “The comm laser,” Bull said. “Say I wanted to make it into a weapon. What’s the most power we could put through it?”
      Sam’s frown was more than an engineer making mental calculations. The spin gravity made her seem older. Or maybe bathing in death and fear just did that to people.
      “I can make it about as hot as the middle of a star for a fraction of a second,” Sam said. “It’d burn that side of the ship down to a bad smell, though.””
      James SA Corey, “Abaddon’s Gate”

On one occasion I scored zero points, because the value of the quote did not pertain closely enough with the subject:

  • Colin: “Cults”
    • “My publisher asked whether we actually referred to ourselves as economic hit men. I assured him we did, although usually only by the initials. In fact, on the day in 1971 when I began working with my teacher Claudine, she informed me, “My assignment is to mold you into an economic hit man. No one can know about your involvement — not even your wife.” Then she turned serious. “Once you’re in, you’re in for life.” After that she seldom used the full name; we were simply EHMs.” (p.xi) John Perkins, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”

And on other occasions I hit the high mark on all three:

  • Phil: “Pro wrestling”
    • “The first boy to reach for Calo got a knee in the groin and went down moaning; right behind him came Tesso, with a hard right that sent Calo backwards. Galdo tackled Tesso around the waist, howling, and they hit the ground scrabbling for leverage. ‘Soft talk’ meant no weapons, and no blows that could kill or cripple; just about anything else was on the table. The Sanzas were capable brawlers, but even if Locke had been able to hold up his end of the fight the numbers would have told against them. In the end, after a few minutes of wrestling and swearing and kicking, the three Gentlemen Bastards were dumped in the middle of the alley, dusty and battered.
      ‘Right, lads. Preferences, is it? Let’s hear ’em.’
      ‘Go fold yourself in half,’ said Locke, ‘and lick your arse.'”
      Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora
  • Sarah: “climate change”
    • “A giant meteorite, after burning through the atmosphere, crashed into the planet’s surface… It rang Earth’s crust like a bell, triggering volcanic eruptions around the world. The ejecta darkened the sky, altering the global climate… [The event] was the fifth disturbance of this great magnitude in Earth’s history during the 400 million years previous to that time… Now a sixth spasm has begun, this one a result of human activity.” (p. 73-4)“[Diversity of] species do not occur evenly over the land and sea, but in concentrations called hot spots.” (p.94)

      “In 2000 Conservation International sponsored a conference of biologists and economists, entitled ‘Defying Nature’s End’, to address this matter… They concluded that in order to put a protective umbrella over the twenty-five hottest spots on the land then recognized… plus core areas within the remaining tropical forest wildernesses… would require one payment of about $30 billion. The benefit… would be substantial protection for 70 percent of Earth’s land-dwelling fauna and flora.” (p.98) E.O. Wilson, “The Creation”

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