February 21, 2005

Marginal Moulthrop and Cryptographic Coover

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 11:58 pm

Here are quick pointers to two literary pieces I’m currently playing. Stuart Moulthrop’s Marginal Effects: A Disorder of Attention is now online at Tekka (and available to non-subscribers). This was presented, in its first version, at DAC 2001′s A Night at the Cybertexts. Along with John Cayley’s Instrumental (also presented there) this was one of the first pieces that got me thinking about “instrumental texts” — texts which can be played, but aren’t quite games. Meanwhile, Robert Coover offers his Chicago Cryptogram — which can’t be manipulated, but can be played and won. It’s online at the site for the new “twice-yearly print journal of politics, literature, and culture” n+1.

16 Responses to “Marginal Moulthrop and Cryptographic Coover”


  1. nick Says:

    So, what’d you get for an answer to Coover’s cryptic copy, Noah? I guess we could use the abbr tag to discuss Harry and his line in a less spoilery way…

  2. noah Says:

    Yesterday and today are my teaching days, Nick, so I’ll have to talk cryptograms with you later in the week. In the meantime, have fun!

  3. noah Says:

    Nick, I certainly agree with you about Harry’s identity, but I’m having a tough time with the attempt to find his hidden saying. I don’t have much experience with cryptograms, so I’ve been looking for things that seem potentially out of place, to see if there might be a pattern in them. Not having much luck there, or with any other tack, I’ve been reduced to reading over some of Harry’s famous lines, hoping to be reminded of elements in Coover’s piece, but also without luck. I suspect part of the problem is that I don’t have much experience playing this type of game. Are you more cryptogram-savvy?

  4. nick Says:

    I’ll have to check over this document and get back to you – this isn’t a crossword, but the help on crypticness might be useful. Despite being an avid riddler, I’m not particularly savvy to these forms of mental exercise, no.

  5. noah Says:

    At a loss, I contacted the author for a clue. He writes, “Actually, you don’t need to know the Presocratics at all. It is a simple children’s code. Count the words.” So far I count 455, including the title. Nick, are you playing along with me?

  6. nick Says:

    I’m still here and with you but won’t have time for analysis (or even rereading) until tomorrow…

  7. nick Says:

    Actually, thanks to the fastidious Dan Shiovitz of ifMUD, we have the answer. The full scheme is here unfolded as well.

  8. noah Says:

    Has Nick truly proven that the problem-solving power of ifMUD exceeds that of the GTxA readership?

  9. Dan Shiovitz Says:

    Well, I am also part of the GTxA readership, so the sets are at least overlapping :)

  10. Nikkolai Says:

    Y’all shoud try to read it more carefully from the top and thing about ‘is the the person who posted the original message being true about the authorship’?

  11. Nikkolai Says:

    The authiorship I refer to is that of the quotation attributed to?

  12. Dustin Says:

    I’ve just come across this story. While I think I have a good idea who Harry is, I’m having trouble with the puzzle itself. Do any of you have useful hints regarding the method of solution?

  13. nick Says:

    Well, I can’t think of anything that would go between the hint that Coover provided (comment 5 by Noah) and the short but complete description of how to solve the piece (mouse over the words “full scheme” in my comment 7). If you’re using a browser that doesn’t support the <abbr> tag, which I’m abusing here, you can read the page source to see what the “full scheme” is.

  14. Dustin Says:

    Hmm, I’ll wait a little before checking out your answer. I’m assuming it’s every nth word forms a sentence, but I have no idea what the “n” is. I’ll see if I can get it tonight. Thanks, though.

  15. nick Says:

    That isn’t it! I can think of one hint that falls short of the full answer: It has to do with words per sentence.

  16. Dustin Says:

    Got it! Thanks for the help.

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