December 20th, 2011

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Life Lessons Learned from Overthinking the Meta

I really overthought this week's Matt Gaffney metapuzzle. Collapse )

Interestingly, for the last few weeks my task at work has involved trouble-shooting various web problems. I've been staring at large volumes of logs, and writing scripts to summarize and graph the data, to correlate different types of logs from different systems, to look for anomalies and research what could be causing them. This has a lot in common with solving metas --- there's a lot of information, much of which looks promising but turns out to be irrelevant, and some of which can't be properly interpreted until I double-check my assumptions and do some web-based research. And in both cases, I'm certain that there IS an answer. In the case of the meta, it's because Matt put it there; in the case of the work stuff, it's because we didn't intend for the system to work this way so there must be a cause for the discrepency between theory and practice. Solving metas is really good practice for how to think about this kind of problem-solving, and has applicability to the real world and my paying job.

The lessons I took away from Matt's meta are not just lessons for solving meta's. Neither is the list of "Have You Tried..." which my Mystery Hunt team uses. OK, interpreting web server response times as Morse Code isn't likely to be useful, but filtering to focus only on the top decile of values may be (hey, look, they all have the same value for the referrer field; I didn't expect THAT!)