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Imaginary Machines: VerseFlipper (a card game)

September 20, 2011

This is another in the occasional series of projects I’d do if I had all the time in the world. I present VerseFlipper, a card game involving n-gram poetry generation!

So you have a deck of cards with bigrams on them, domino-style. Half the deck has a black margin (the “black deck”), half doesn’t (the “white deck”); each half has an identical set of bigrams.

You shuffle each deck separately, and each player gets 10 cards. Then two cards from the black deck and two from the white are put down to make the start of a line.

Players take turns putting cards down such that the first word on the card matches the last word on an already-placed card.

If they can’t (or don’t want to) place a card, they pass. At the end of their turn they draw a card. Some cards only have one word on them; when one of these cards are played, that line is finished, as in the second line below.

Each card has a greyed-out score. Once all the lines are terminated, the game is over, the poem is transcribed for posterity, and all the points are added up: the player with the white card deck gets all the points from the white cards that were played, and the player with the black card deck gets all the points from the black cards that were played.

If a player ever plays a card whose last word rhymes with the last word on a line that is 1 or 2 lines away, the player says “rhyme.” (Check a rhyming dictionary for disputes.) This line is now terminated; place 2 coins on the card that was just played, and one on the card it rhymes with. The player who made the rhyme (i.e. whose card has two coins on it) gets all the points of that line, and the other line’s points are distributed normally.

In the example above, the black player played the “not me” card. Because this made a rhyme, 2 coins are on it; line 3 has one coin on it. At the end of the game, the black player will get all the points for the first line (i.e. 70) but the third line will be scored normally (i.e. 50 for the white player, 20 for the black player.)

Variant 1 to test: each player gets to play 2 cards in their turn.

Variant 2 to test: each player gets to play as many cards as they like in their turn.

Variant 3 to test: cards have no scores on them, you just count the number of cards used.

Other variants: 8-line poems, additional players (with additional colored borders), no terminating cards and all lines must end in rhymes, character generation.

This could be a networked computer game, but I see it as a physical game, in which the computational angle involves a program that takes a corpus and creates a printable deck of cards. This isn’t really a competitive game; the scoring is mostly to encourage the use of uncommon words and the creation of rhymes. The main reason I came up with this game was to teach my kid about generation from n-gram language models. (There’s another game I’m thinking of where each player uses cards to build rule-based generators, and the one who makes the “best” generator wins.) I think this should be accessible even to a reasonably intelligent 2nd grader, though I’d use a corpus like Alice in Wonderland. Unlike other interfaces in the Imaginary Machines series, I might actually implement some prototype of this someday, maybe a 8 in 10 chance.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. nathanielksmith permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:14 pm

    I absolutely love this idea. I want it to exist both in card-form and as a web app. i would love to help.

  2. nathanielksmith permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:16 pm

    the web version could…let’s see…allow users to pick from pre-defined corpora (as many or few as they wanted to mix and match)…or point to sites to crawl…or search terms…

  3. September 20, 2011 8:57 pm

    Or it could be like war. A player places one card down, and the other player follows (with a word that would make grammatical sense after the other word) and so on… Whoever played the last card wins if the other player cannot produce a word which makes grammatical sense.

  4. September 20, 2011 8:58 pm

    I like the poem it made too.

  5. September 21, 2011 4:56 pm

    I’m thinking of working on the card game first. It’s easy to implement and test and adjust. Also, it makes the notion of bigram chaining intuitive in a non-computational context; with a web interface there may still be the sense that “something else is happening behind the scenes.”

    I’ve been thinking of an online wiki-like generator, though. Especially if it was asynchronous: i.e. one person could work on a poem for a while, then “save” what they have so far. Then if someone else wanted to edit it some more they could “fork” it and save their new version.

    The question is what kind of interface: gnoetry-like, template-like, computer-magnet-like (as Dave suggests, maybe with bigrams checking to see if it’s grammatical)… Do you guys have any thoughts on interface? If it’s web-only we don’t have to make it look like a card game.

  6. eRoGK7 permalink*
    September 22, 2011 11:20 am

    edde, I really love this series of imaginary machines. I was looking through some of my old notebooks where I jotted down various ideas for generative / collaborative / visual / video / musical poems, and it has been making me want to start a web journal for poets, poet programmers, graphic artists, etc. to post up their own ideas for projects that they don’t think they will ever start and complete. Maybe they can be offered up to readers who might be interested in completing them, and then they could submit their results to be posted at the journal.

    Not sure what I would want to call it. I have “A Poet Can Dream … ” in my head, but that seems kind of stupid. Imaginary Machines is pretty good, playing off of the Williams’ quote that a poem is a little machine made out of words. Maybe there’s something catchier though.

    I know we’ve talked about maybe starting a journal together before. Does this sound like something you’d like to help start? Any other Gnoetry Daily members are certainly welcome to help conceive of and found this thing too. And post there, obviously.

    It’s an idea. Maybe even a good one.

  7. eRoGK7 permalink*
    September 22, 2011 11:23 am

    Oh, here’s the Williams’ quote. I took it from Al Filreis’ website. Fantastic resource.
    =======================================
    “To make two bold statements: There’s nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words. When I say there’s nothing sentimental about a poem, I mean that there can be no part that is redundant.

    “Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matter like a ship. But poetry is a machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines, its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.”

    From: Williams’s introduction to The Wedge, in Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams (NY: New Directions, 1969), p. 256.

  8. Eric Elshtain permalink
    September 22, 2011 2:20 pm

    What about “These Poetry Machines Kill Fascists” ala Woody Guthrie’s guitar?

  9. Matthew permalink
    September 22, 2011 2:39 pm

    LOVE this idea. I think it’d be quite amusing either way, as a physical card game or as a web-based program. Both would be even better. My oldest is in kindergarten now, so that leaves a couple years or so to perfect it so I can use it to help teach her about this stuff.

    And eRoGK7, I like “Imaginary Machines”, for what it’s worth.

  10. September 22, 2011 3:16 pm

    Imaginary Machines is pretty good, playing off of the Williams’ quote that a poem is a little machine made out of words.

    The term is sometimes used informally in Automata Theory, which deals with mathematical abstractions of computation. You’re welcome to take it for your project.

    want to start a web journal for poets, poet programmers, graphic artists, etc. to post up their own ideas for projects that they don’t think they will ever start and complete

    I know we’ve talked about maybe starting a journal together before. Does this sound like something you’d like to help start?

    I don’t think I’d get into organizing it, but I’ll try to contribute once in a while!

  11. Eric Elshtain permalink
    September 22, 2011 11:39 pm

    One might consider replacing the word “machine” with “engines” (pace WCW): Imagined Engines has a nice ring to it, I think.

    As far as the card game goes, I’m going to drum up some Shakespeherian bigrams and make a deck. Awesome idea. I use a deck of one hundred random cards with children and young adults to help them conceive and write poetry at the hospital where I conduct poetry workshops. I am able to “trick” kids into writing poetry by telling them they’re playing a word game. This ups the ante and the awesomeness; and helps the Bard be a little more user friendly…

  12. September 23, 2011 3:49 am

    As far as the card game goes, I’m going to drum up some Shakespeherian bigrams and make a deck.

    Let me know how it goes.

    For kids and tweens I’m thinking that Alice in Wonderland would make a better corpus; teens and young adults might like Tha Bard more, make it seem a bit more serious. Just drop it into ePoGeeS to see its bigrams.

    The more I think about it, the idea of points on the cards seems distracting. Just score by how many you’re played (maybe keeping the rhyme scoring). And I think playing 2 cards per turn sounds right… But like all game ideas it needs testing & tweaking.

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