Welcome to our home page.

Below are the ten most recent postings from our blog. A link to older items is provided at the bottom of the page. You can also mine our archives, which are not extensive, in various other ways using the tools on the left.

The blog, officially named Half Notes, is mainly about our four other websites and their individual concerns: text services, music education, non-violent games and trivia quizzes. Follow the links at left under Our websites to visit the sites themselves.

December 10, 2017

The Elon Musk Trivia Quiz

Categories: Announcements, Fun — Tags: , , ,

Elon MuskTriviaPark.com has just released a brand-new quiz on the redoubtable Elon Musk, whose numerous enterprises mix high technology with a clear view of the long term consequences of technological trends, positive and otherwise. In ten questions our new quiz covers some of the best-known aspects of Musk’s life and work — the electric cars, the rockets, and a lot more. We hope you’ll give the Elon Musk quiz a try and let us know what you think!

November 23, 2017

Santa’s Secret Valley — now for mobile and the web

Age cannot wither it, nor custom stale its considerable variety. Santa’s Secret Valley is back from a sojourn of 22 years in the land of Microsoft Windows, and it’s ready at last for mobile (Android) and the web. You can play the demo version of Santa’s Secret Valley (about a quarter of the game) in any modern web browser, or buy the inexpensive paid Android app through Google Play.

SSV, as we call it when pressed for time, is a graphical adventure game in which the player takes on the role of Fizbin, a particularly sleepy North Pole elf. One day in December, Santa puts Fizbin in charge of guarding three precious magical items that Santa will need on Christmas Eve: his boots, his bell and his famous red sack. It’s an easy-sounding assignment, but when Fizbin wakes up from a perfectly understandable sleep in Santa’s living-room, the three treasures have vanished.

Santa’s well-laid plans have gone south, and now Fizbin — you, the player — must do the same. The road to adventure lies through that open window and across the snowy waste beyond.

Waking in the dark to find the magic items gone

In Santa’s Secret Valley, you interact with a scene by clicking or tapping areas within it. Mouse users will see the pointer assume different shapes in different parts of the scene. Mobile users can get this information by tapping the Reveal Hotspots tool, the question-mark button at the bottom right corner of the scene: the mouse pointers used in the scene are displayed for a few seconds, each centered over the area where it applies. In this scene, Reveal Hotspots will show two active areas: the window and the portrait.

What really defines an adventure game is not adventures so much as puzzles, and you’ll find plenty of those in SSV. A puzzle can take many forms: locks whose combination you have to work out, mazes you have to navigate, objects whose hidden purpose you must discover, and unexpected connections between things or places that you must unravel. As you journey through the game you need to be observant, for you never know when some innocent-seeming feature of a scene will turn out to be a critical clue. It is a good policy to be suspicious of all things in all scenes in case there is more to them than meets the eye.

A combination lock puzzle at the bottom of a crevasse

An early puzzle in SSV is the combination lock to the left of the door in this scene. The gold buttons provide a musical clue if you have enabled sound effects. If you are playing on a system without a mouse, as illustrated here, the scene includes a Magnify tool at the bottom left. When this button is present, activating it zooms in on some feature — in this case, the button panel — so that touch users can interact with it at a more convenient scale.

A problem with some puzzles, and some adventure games, is getting stuck: you may find yourself wandering about the game world in frustration, unable even to guess how and where progress can be made. A degree of frustration can be a good thing — it spurs creativity — but before it starts to threaten your health in SSV, you should turn to our comprehensive hint wizard. The wizard can give you tips about the scene you’re in or about something you’re carrying. It can guide you through a maze or give you advice on what to try next. It can even teach you how to use the hint wizard. The catch is that using most hints costs you “hint points”, which are tracked throughout play, and don’t go away even if you restart the game. How many hint points you are willing to run up in the course of completing the adventure is up to you. For the sake of honor, or bragging rights, you might wish to keep your hint point expenditures to a minimum. It is, of course, possible to solve the entire game without opening the hint wizard at all.

The front page of the Santa's Secret Valley hint wizard

The SSV hint wizard is activated by the life-ring button on the main display, and is operated by life-ring buttons on the hint pages. The three buttons on this opening page give access to the main parts of the hint system. To return to the game, activate the Resume button.

SSV lets you store the game at any point in play to one of 8 reusable slots. You can reload any of these simply by clicking its slot on the utility screen. In addition, the current game is automatically saved, and restored at your next session.

The Santa's Secret Valley utility screen

The SSV utility screen is activated by the diskette button on the main display. In addition to the two rows of slots for saved games, the screen provides a view of the current scene (bottom left), buttons to toggle music and sound, and a button to clear the current game and start over. To return to the game, activate the Resume button.

For more details on how to use Santa’s Secret Valley on both desktop and mobile devices, please see its Lore page on FamilyGames.com.

November 18, 2017

Valvo — now for Android devices and web browsers

One of the first releases from FamilyGames.com in the 1990s was a strategy game named Valvo. It’s a simple game that combines the barest essence of backgammon with a faint whiff of snakes and ladders. And it has valves. Now we’re releasing Valvo all over again in a free version for the web and an inexpensive paid Android app that you can get through Google Play.

A Valvo game on a 4x4 layout

Valvo is a game for two people playing at the same device, or for one person playing against the built-in AI. Play is divided into short rounds in which each player’s pawn travels from a home square towards a destination. At the end of the round, points are awarded to one side or the other based on which pawn has made the most progress. The scoreline shows the points for the current round (if one is in progress) and the cumulative score since the totals were last reset.

The starting position of a Valvo game round

Valvo at the start of a round, on a 4×4 layout with 4 valve colors. The opposing pawns are in position on their home squares, facing ahead. Left has first move this round (it alternates). The circular “carets” in the left column show where Left’s pawn can move. Left is behind in the overall match, with 1960 points to Right’s 4334.

An important feature of Valvo is that you select your move from a small number — at most two — of randomly-chosen possibilities. This is one of the ways in which it somewhat resembles backgammon. (Another is that each player is in a race to reach the other player’s home position.) On every turn you will be offered the option of moving two spaces, assuming your way is not blocked. Half of the time, you will also have the option of moving only one space. The other half of the time, if enough spaces ahead are clear, the second option will instead be to move three spaces.

Valvo’s most distinctive feature is its valves, which bear the same colors as the board squares. When a pawn’s turn is over, the valves that match the color of the square it landed on immediately slide open (while any currently open valves close). By cutting across the usual lanes of travel, an open valve offers a shortcut either forwards or backwards. If a pawn lands beside an open valve, it must use that valve, even if its position suffers thereby. If a pawn lands between two open valves, it must use the disadvantageous one. If multiple valves are open in a row, a pawn entering the first one must continue through the others as well until it can go no farther. A key element of Valvo strategy is to plan ahead so that the valves will be advantageous to your own pawn and deleterious to your opponent’s.

A Valvo move showing the action of valves

Right (with the green pawn) has just moved onto a yellow square, causing the yellow valves to open. Left, who is now to move, is given the choice of traversing two squares (light caret) or three (dark caret). In the first case, Left will advance through the open valve to the third column, blocking Right’s progress and ending the game with a win. In the second case, the open valve on the left will demote Left to the first column, giving Right the advantage for now.

The end of a round comes when either player reaches the destination, or when neither player can move (because the pawns have blocked each other). In either case, the points for the completed round are awarded based on the finishing positions of the pawns. The board then resets with a new randomized color distribution and the next round is ready to begin.

A match ends when the cumulative score reaches a winning total as agreed upon by the players beforehand. The size of the winning total is up to you. As a starting point, we suggest multiplying the number of squares in your Valvo board layout by a factor of 5 to 10. For instance, if you are playing with 6 columns and 5 rows, an objective of 150 to 300 would be reasonable. The advantage of this using this rule of thumb is that it keeps the number of rounds required to play a match approximately equal, regardless of the layout used. If you prefer shorter or longer matches, simply decrease or increase the factor.

Configuring the layout in Valvo

Configuring the layout in the demo version of Valvo (the app version provides additional options). The layout panel opens when you click or tap the configuration cog-wheel button below the game board. To dismiss the panel, click or tap in the darker upper bar. (N.B. Button locations are shown on the full board image above.)

Valvo’s board layout is configurable between rounds only — you can’t change the board size in mid-round except by first abandoning the round. (To do that, click or tap the thumbs-down button at the bottom right below the game board.) The app version of Valvo, which is available for Android devices on Google Play, gives you full control over details of the board layout. It also lets you vary the strength of the program AI across a wide range, even during the course of a round. The hemisemidemo version of Valvo, which you can play for free on FamilyGames.com, has similar but fewer layout and AI options.

Configuring the AI in Valvo

To configure either side to be played by the computer, click or tap the lightning-bolt button at left below the game board to open this panel. As with the board layout options described above, the app version of Valvo provides some options not shown here. To dismiss the AI panel, click or tap in the darker upper bar. (N.B. Button locations are shown on the full board image above.)

Valvo includes a help screen that compactly describes the details of play. Click or tap the question mark at the top left of the game screen to access it. Each help text is accompanied by an illustration, or a sequence of illustrations. The illustrations in a sequence advance automatically at intervals unless you take control manually with the accompanying navigation arrows.

The Valvo help screen

This screen provides help for Valvo in nine topics, each individually illustrated. When a topic has multiple illustrations (like the one shown here), navigation arrows are provided for manually stepping between them. If you don’t use the arrows, the sequence will advance automatically every few seconds.

Valvo also includes a settings screen, where you can switch on or off the built-in music soundtrack and the graphical backgrounds feature. Ten or so varying graphical backgrounds are included. Cycle through them until you find one you like. The images appear in the page background, behind the game proper. If you switch off the graphical backgrounds feature, a simple gradient fills the background area. On some devices, only a small amount of background area is visible regardless of which background style you choose.

December 13, 2016

NoteCard 3.4.5.1

Categories: Announcements — Tags: , ,

It’s been a little while since our last NoteCard release, if you were keeping track, but today marks the end of the NoteCard 3.3 era. Will any of us ever know again the heady excitement and limitless optimism of that special time?

NoteCard 3.4 brings a new “input instrument” (an on-screen control for entering notes as though on an actual musical instrument) to both the Free and the Paid modes of operation. The instrument we’ve added is a 19-fret variant on our Fretboard instrument, which until now came with either 7 frets, for novices, or 12 frets, which is appropriate for intermediate players, giving them a full octave range on each string. From a fingering point of view, venturing even further up the neck to the 13th fret and beyond simply repeats the pattern of notes from 12 frets lower. This fact makes it much easier to learn how to play high up the neck by ear or by a memorized finger pattern.

It does not help as much with reading, however, so some NoteCard users have requested a further-extended Fretboard. The new 19-fret version covers the entire effective range of an ordinary acoustic guitar (electrics typically go to 24 frets or so). With more notes, of course, comes a longer learning curve. NoteCard can teach you the narrow range of the 7-fret guitar in a mere 14 stages (or “quiz levels”), while the 12-fret guitar takes 23 stages to master. The new 19-fret guitar takes fully 35 stages, so we think it may be of interest mainly to advanced, ambitious, audacious or addle-pated musicians. Those who do take it on, however, will soon find that their ability to read music on all parts of the guitar is improving greatly.

N.B. If you already own NoteCard and have automatic updates turned on, you will receive this update whle using the program, and don’t need to download it here.

Download NoteCard

 

November 9, 2015

We’ve got a flood of questions

Categories: Announcements — Tags: ,

Maybe this will be the quiz that floats your boat. Setting aside whether Noah actually existed, he was without doubt a remarkable man. He was one of the first to recognize that it’s important to save all the animals, not just those that feed and clothe you. But his real contribution, scientifically speaking, was in the field of geology, of which he was a major instigator. Try the quiz, and learn all about it!

September 14, 2015

Our Money Quiz is inexpensive

Categories: Announcements — Tags: ,

In fact it would be cheap at a trillion times the price, which you can’t say of most things. The Money Quiz is also in its humble way heroic. It dares to dive deep beneath the surface — to ask the tough questions that are all too often undeservedly ignored. How would Bill Gates rank as a national economy? Who was the joker that invented income tax? We don’t claim the quiz will make you wealthy, but then in our experience not much does.

August 26, 2015

It’s time to face the Music Theory Quiz

Categories: Announcements — Tags: ,

Nick wrote this quiz a few years ago, releasing the questions in a series of blog posts, but it was always intended that it would eventually land at Trivia Park, and here it is at last.

For those whose musical nerdiness transcends conventional bounds, we trust that this quiz will prove a delightful playground of the mind. Other users are advised to sharpen their intuitions to a needle-point en route to the title page.

Try the Music Theory Quiz

August 22, 2015

Instant log-in using a Facebook account

Categories: Announcements — Tags:

A few weeks ago we introduced a site membership system, so that Trivia Park users can now do things like review their past quiz results and resume unfinished quizzes from earlier sessions.

For the convenience of Facebook users, we have now added one-step log-in combined with automatic account creation on Trivia Park. When you use this log-in link or the one at the top of the page on the site, you’ll now see a Log in with Facebook button above the other controls. If you’re currently logged in with Facebook, clicking the button logs you in to Trivia Park immediately, and sets up your permanent site membership automatically. If you have a Facebook membership but aren’t logged in, Facebook will log you into their system first, then your Trivia Park log-in will proceed without interruption.

Go ahead — give it a try!

August 15, 2015

Thanks for joining Trivia Park

Categories: Announcements — Tags: ,

For the first time in our history, Trivia Park is now offering park memberships. If you have already joined, thanks for being one of the first to sign up. We look forward to offering an increasing range of services to our members in the weeks and months ahead.

July 21, 2015

A new quiz about a beloved character…

Categories: Announcements — Tags: ,

Anne quiz frontispiece: Folio edition, cover by Anna C. LeparOur brand-new Anne Shirley, Part One quiz celebrates one of the most memorable literary characters ever created.

The quiz covers Anne’s first year at Green Gables, a year of dreadful scrapes, agonizing despairs, and glorious delights.

 

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