Ted Chiang interviewed by Ezra Klein

It’s rare that I’ll read a 7,500-word interview or essay. This is why I don’t subscribe to The New Yorker. But recently I read the transcript of this Ezra Klein interview of Ted Chiang from last year, and I was riveted. Chiang is a brilliant writer of short-form science fiction. The interview just touches on so many fascinating topics, each given a thoughtful and unique treatment by Chiang: science vs. religion, sci-fi vs. fantasy, artificial intelligence, and more. I highly recommend listening to it or reading the transcript.

Product review: Codenames: Duet

Carrie and I are always looking for fun two-player board games. Could we play games with other people? Yes, we could. Do we? No. I’d like to blame the pandemic, but honestly we were just as lame before COVID.

Anyway, I’d had Codenames: Duet on my wishlist for a while. When I saw it on sale for half off recently, I jumped on it. (Which is to say that, sometime after seeing it on sale and before the sale ended, I tapped the “Buy Now” button.)

Codenames: Duet is a word game that is best described as a combination of Password and Battleship. It’s a cooperative game, which is good for us, since Carrie doesn’t like to lose (despite doing it often when we play games together). You lay out some randomly selected word cards in a grid. Each player has a key card that identifies which words their partner has to guess, and which words are to be avoided. Gameplay is as simple as taking turns giving hints with one word and a number, like “fruit 3,” meaning you want your partner to find three words related to fruit. You get limited turns to clear the board (identify all the “secret agents”) without guessing wrong and ending the game with an “assassin.”

Example of Codenames: Duet game setup.

While the concept is simple, it takes some creativity to figure out a clue that connects words like “grass,” “dirt,” and “sidewalk” without also causing your partner to guess, say, “driveway.” It’s a fun challenge. At least, it is once you understand the rules. Not that we would have played several games thinking it was too easy because we didn’t limit the number of turns correctly. We’re educated people with strong reading comprehension skills… the kind of people who play word games for fun. You know, nerds.

Anyway, it is a fun game, and the randomness of the words and patterns in each game make it different each time. There’s even an advanced variation where you travel the world, with each destination providing a different “time limit” (number of turns) to vary the challenge level. In the end, I expect that Codenames: Duet is a game we’ll come back to with some frequency. After all, we’re nerds.

Rating: 4 out of 5 secret agents