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Gaming History: Discovering Deep Ms. Pac-Man Secrets

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I played a fair amount of Ms. Pac-Man in my youth, sometimes plugging my entire $3 allowance into the machine at the movie theater, or the one at the pizza parlor near my grandmother's house. I was never any good at it -- never much good at any arcade games, really -- but my father and brother were skilled Ms. Pac-Man gamers. They preferred Ms. Pac-Man to the original Pac-Man, but I don't recall ever getting an answer about why. (I must have assumed that her little red bow was the killer feature.)

Now, the original Pac-Man was famous among game nerds for its nonrandom ghost behavior. There were stories of people playing the game for days at a time by using the "hold" position -- a specific location on each board where you could park Pac-Man and he'd never be hit by a ghost, since the ghosts moved in a repeating pattern. (You'd use the hold in order to go to the bathroom, get a bite to eat, and then continue playing -- assuming you had a compatriot who would make sure no one touched the machine.) I heard legends of Pac-Man players (think Billy from King of Kong) who had racked up unbelievably high scores by memorizing the ghosts' nonrandom movements and liberally using the hold positions over multi-day marathon sessions.

But the nonrandom ghost behavior is specific to the original Pac-Man. Ms. Pac-Man was supposed to be different. I just came across an article from 1984 revealing how a secret "hold" position was actually discovered (through extensive trial-and-error) in Ms. Pac-Man when it was thought impossible due to randomized ghost movement. Here's a tidbit:

Ms. Pac-Man ScreenshotPac-Man was a game you could beat. You could beat it by memorizing patterns. The ghosts, you see, weren't programmed for randomness. If you zigged and they zagged, they'd do the exact same thing in a similar situation. It wasn't long before everybody knew the patterns to beat Pac-Man.

Ms. Pac-Man is a different story. The ghosts are programmed for randomness, so there isn't a pattern that exists to beat it-the ghosts behave differently in each game. But there is one technique that will earn a player an incredible amount of points [called] "Grouping." If you can induce the ghosts to move close to one another, you can stay alive and get 1,600 points when you gobble them near a power pill. This is the story of three guys from Montana who got together and figured out how to give Ms. Pac-Man a beating she'll never forget.

Read the rest for a nice story of kids overcoming obstacles to achieve the "impossible." (Note: the original article is by Paul Stokstad from Computer Games magazine, June 1984. It's reprinted in the linked blog with a source credit at the bottom.)

(Via the most-excellent Anarchaia.)

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This Just In
Pablo Neruda's Death Wasn't Caused by Cancer, Experts Conclude
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MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images

Pablo Neruda—whose real name was Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto—died on September 23, 1973, less than two years after he was awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature. The official cause of death was recorded as cancer cachexia, or wasting syndrome, from prostate cancer. But while Neruda did have cancer, new tests on his remains indicate that the left-leaning Chilean politician and poet didn’t actually succumb to the disease, according to BBC News.

It’s still unclear what, exactly, caused Neruda’s demise. But in a recent press conference, a team of 16 international experts announced that they were "100 percent convinced" that the author's death certificate "does not reflect the reality of the death,” as quoted by the BBC.

Neruda died in 1973 at the age of 69, less than two weeks after a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted the Marxist government of President Salvador Allende. Neruda, a Communist, was a former diplomat and senator, and a friend of the deposed politician.

In 2011, Manuel Araya, Neruda’s chauffeur, claimed that the poet had told him that Pinochet’s men had injected poison into his stomach as he was hospitalized during his final days, Nature reports. The Communist Party of Chile filed a criminal lawsuit, and Neruda’s remains were exhumed in 2013 and later reburied in 2016, according to the BBC.

Many of Neruda’s relatives and friends were reportedly skeptical of Araya’s account, as was the Pablo Neruda Foundation, according to The New York Times. But after samples of Neruda’s remains were analyzed by forensic genetics laboratories in four nations, Chile’s government acknowledged that it was “highly probable” that his official cause of death was incorrect.

And now, the team of scientists has unanimously ruled out cachexia as having caused Neruda’s death. “There was no indication of cachexia,” said Dr. Niels Morling, a forensic medical expert from the University of Copenhagen, as quoted by The Guardian. Neruda “was an obese man at the time of death. All other circumstances in his last phase of life pointed to some kind of infection.”

The investigating team says that their analysis yielded what might be lab-cultivated bacteria, although it could have also originated from the burial site or been produced during the body's decomposition process. Test results will be available within a year, they say.

[h/t BBC News]

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Art
Winston Churchill’s Final Painting Is Going to Auction for the First Time
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Fox Photos, Stringer, Getty Images

While serving as an influential statesman and writing Nobel Prize-winning histories, Winston Churchill also found time to paint. Now, The Telegraph reports that the final painting the former British prime minister ever committed to canvas is heading to the auction block.

The piece, titled The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell, depicts the pond at Churchill’s home in Kent, England, which has been characterized as his “most special place in the world.” A few years after the painting was finished, he passed away in 1965 and it fell into the possession of his former bodyguard, Sergeant Edmund Murray. Murray worked for Churchill for the 15 years leading up to the prime minister's death and often assisted with his painting by setting up his easel and brushes. After decades in the Murray family, Churchill’s final painting will be offered to the public for the first time at Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art sale next month.

Winston Churchill's final painting.
Sotheby's

Churchill took up painting in the 1920s and produced an estimated 544 artworks in his lifetime. He never sold any of his art, but The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell shows that the hobby was an essential part of his life right up until his last years.

When the never-before-exhibited piece goes up for sale on November 21, it’s expected to attract bids up to $105,500. It won’t mark the first time an original Winston Churchill painting has made waves at auction: In a 2014, a 1932 depiction of his same beloved goldfish pond sold for over $2.3 million.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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