A Game Based on Cheese Sandwiches

After being blown away by a Sandpit event in 2009, getting very competitive at Time*Trails at the 2010 Hide&Seek Weekender as team Fruitbat, and having all sorts of weird and wonderful experiences at other Hide&Seek events, it was time to give something back.

That something was Competitive Sandwich Making, at the Seaside-themed Sandpit on August 4th 2011:

With a table layout like that, it’s pretty clear what the game is about: tessellation. Before the games had officially started, a group of players liked what they saw, and we figured we might as well kick things off a little early (you can see the queue to register in the background):

The Rules in brief:
Every 15 seconds, all 4 players simultaneously choose a cheese piece, and add it to either of their bread slices. The winner is the player that manages to tessellate the most cheese on their slices, with no overlap or overhang. (For the purposes of scoring, the pieces have their area written on the reverse side, hence the calculators).

Over the previous couple of weeks we’d had some excellent feedback from play-testers, and had resisted the many temptations to make the game more complicated, so on the night it all ran very smoothly (although you apparently can’t emphasise enough that pieces can be turned over).

It became obvious very early on that people who liked the game, really liked it. We had learned from our earlier Time*Trails experience that people like ‘achievement’ stickers (us included), so we created two types:

The winner of any 4-player round got to be a Big Cheese, and we let them know that if they won a game against 3 other Big Cheeses, they would earn the title Earl of Sandwich.

We considered setting a time towards the end of the evening for the Big Cheeses to reconvene for such a match, but this didn’t seem in the spirit of a drop-in game, and would clash with the final scheduled games in any case, so instead we just hoped that it would happen organically. Brilliantly, it did: just before 10pm, four Big Cheeses came back to play, and we had our first Earl of Sandwich:

The 1st Earl of Sandwich (second from right), and other Big Cheeses

As the other games came to an end, and after the excitement of the Big Cheese face-off, we started to gather a crowd. We figured we could quickly run a couple more qualifiers…

… then have one final Cheese off, to crown the 2nd Earl of Sandwich (who also achieved the highest in-competition score of 95):

The 2nd Earl of Sandwich and current high score holder (second from left), and other Big Cheeses

In Conclusion
People that liked tessellating seemed to really enjoy the game, playing it repeatedly and coming back for more later. People that didn’t like tessellating could see what the game was about from afar, and avoided it accordingly (we saw them!).

There is an important caveat to this, however. The tessellation challenge was designed to be approximate: sharp-edged cheese on rounded bread slices, not to mention that half the pieces were based on squares and half on rectangles, leading to slightly incompatible angles. While this seemed to encourage an addictive attitude of “I could do better if I had one more try” at the Sandpit, when I later tried the game out with some post-grad mathematicians, there was noticeably less appetitie for imperfection.

So to extrapolate and exaggerate:

If you like tessellation, you’ll love this game. If you love tessellation, you won’t.

If We Did It Again, We Would…
1) Bring a better camera (these were taken with a mobile and had some Photoshop work to fix them up)
2) Take notes!
3) Improve the ratio of instruction time to playing time, which ended up being 50:50 as the game is quite short; perhaps by covering a few basics and then explaining the rest as the first game played out, as there’s quite a lot of quiet time during the first few rounds.

– Tim Mannveille & Clare Huxley

One of us (Tim) got to play Ordnungswissenschaft, compellingly categorised as involving:

Movement, strategy, timing, Brechtian despair

When I later tried to look up quite what ‘Brechtian despair’ might be, I found it in the same paragraph as a reference to cheese sandwiches. Clearly, this means something.