Links and Cheating

One of the most common requests for fastr has been to link the photos to their flickr pages. At first I thought this wouldn't work because then you could click on the link and see the tags, and you wouldn't have much reason to guess the tag. And it's already too easy to cheat. But several people pointed out that it could just add the links after the answer is shown, so this is what the game does now, satisfying both players' desire to have links and my desire to discourage cheating.

Speaking of cheating, there is now — I believe — only one way to cheat. I've fixed every other method known to me. (If you know of another, I'd like to hear it.) I'll go ahead and explain the one remaining in hopes that doing so will make it a less interesting challenge. Basically, the answer is always available in the source of page; it's just hidden until you guess it or the time runs out — then it's shown. It's pretty trivial to add JavaScript to the page, either through a bookmarklet or a greasemonkey script, which makes the answer visible at all times.

What you get out of this is a perfect score. The other methods of cheating, which I fixed today, would allow more than a perfect score. Because it's trivial and you don't get much for it, it's not interesting, and no one is impressed by those who do it, as they might have been when someone had a million points by another cheat.

But even that was pretty boring, and I never saw anyone cheat for more than one round. Basically someone would spend five minutes figuring out how to cheat, and then get bored and go back to playing the game. Luckily the game is more fun than the cheating, or I would have had more trouble with cheating before fixing it today.

So why am I not fixing the last cheat? Because doing so would slow down the game, and I don't think it's a worthwhile sacrifice. To make it impossible to cheat, I'd have to remove the answer from the source of the page. Then when you typed in a guess, it would send the guess back to the server, which would respond saying it was correct or not correct. It's that constant querying of the server that would slow everything down, probably enough to cause the server to die (again). So I have no intent to do that.

Now, back to links. There are also links allowed in player names now. This wasn't formally requested, but I saw people setting their player names to things like, so I figured I'd make their lives easier. This also gave me a new way to do tech support, by putting a link to my AIM address around "Questions?" as my player name. I answered three or four questions today, all of which were basically "how do I play this game?"

I'm somewhat afraid this will just devolve into a link farm. There is currently someone named "cheap domains" playing fastr. (The domains aren't actually cheap — I checked.) For now, though, low scoring players scroll off the page, so someone has to keep playing to keep their sales link visible. And hopefully while they're doing that, they aren't sending us all emails advertising their "cheap" domains.

If I decide the player names are becoming too full of advertising, I'll just remove the links. But I've seen a few people linking to their flickr pages or personal websites, and it's nice to get a better idea of who exactly I am defeating with my superior tag-guessing skills. (Not to mention my knowledge of all the tags I chose.) For now anyway, fastr is full of links.

Am I correct in assuming that the maximum score is 80? (Based on the assumption that every sub-round takes 10x3 seconds plus a transition period of approx. 10 seconds.)
Each set should be 35 seconds. 3 seconds for each photo, and a five second delay at the end to see the answer. Each round is 5 mintes, so 5*60=300 and 300/35 = 8.57. I believe it's possible to get up to 90 points, but that may require reloading in the middle of a round. I'm not sure. I havne't seen anyone get a score higher than 70 since I made the most recent round of fixes.
Some of the pictures I cannot tell what the heck it is, so it would be helpful to be able to click it and see a bigger image. Also, it seems like the game gets stuck on the same set of images over and over, whether I guessed it correctly or not. Is that a bug, or is it supposed to do that?
Mary, I'll work on bigger images for those who want them. The game shouldn't show the same set of images twice in a row ever. If you can tell me what browser and operating system you're using, I'll try to track down that problem. Meanwhile, I suggest reloading the page when that happens.
Aww, thanks for the link in your entry! This game is addictive. It's a wonderful de-stressor at the end of the day
would it be possible to encrypt the answer in the source? Then just use the same alg. and salt on the typed response? That way even if you could view the source you would have to decrypt it first and the burden of encrypting the response vs. the answer would still be a client burden.
oluckboy, I can encrypt it to test guesses, but then I can't show the answer at the end of a photo set without decrypting it.

My choices are 1) make the answer available to both cheaters and anyone who can't guess the answer, or 2) make it available to neither. For now, I choose #1. When I play, I find I can still win without cheating (other than knowing all the tags), so I'm not sure there even are any cheaters to deal with.
I just discovered another cheat - two machines side-by-side (one a Mac running Camino, the other XP+Firefox), the Windows machine was consistently ahead of the Mac so it was easy to 'cheat' on the Mac...
Not sure what caused this - faster CPU on the Windows box? They're both hanging off the same wireless link so it shouldn't be network latency...
I have both seen scored of 100+ (after you posted this entry) and twice the same puzzle in a row. The latter seemed to coincide with other problems, such as the timer not counting down correctly.
Matt, each photo set starts for you when you load it, so you could just as easily do the same thing on one computer by opening two windows several seconds apart from one another. But again, doing so doesn't give you a significant advantage, and it's less fun than actually playing, so I'm not too concerned.
Thanks for the note, Branko. I'll look into those problems.
If you use a name that is already in use strange things start to happen. Maybe you could make it so if someone uses a name that is already in use, a few random numbers are added.
Here are two (more?) ways to cheat:

1) Open two game windows, with two different players. Once you've guessed the tag, fill it in in window one, then switch to window two and reload. Window 2 will get the next picture, which you now have plenty of time to guess. Switch back to window one and wait till you can fill out the new tag.

2) Guess right, wait till the fifth photo has loaded, then reload. This one will get you a higher than maximum score. It helps to have a short username for this one, because you need to type it again for every guess.

Both tested using Firefox 1.5 on Mac OS X.
Branko, your #2 doesn't work. The game will ignore all but the first score for each photo set, so it is impossible to get more than 10 points per photo set.

I keep watching games, but I still don't see anyone getting more than 80 points per round. I'm going to start recording the final scores to make sure I'm not missing something.
Scott, it doesn't work because you just fixed it. :-)

(Perhaps I explained it incorrectly, but it is the same idea you discussed in "Better Timing". By reloading you could get a new set of images. That did not always work, but it worked often enough so that you could score higher than 90.)
Branko, yeah, I thought you meant the same photo set, but you meant a new photo set, which is what I just fixed. Thanks for letting me know.
Actually, it seems you did not fix it; I just scored 100 points using this method. Back to the drawing board. :-)
Oh, and somebody called testr is continously scoring two to three hundred points.
Branko, see. I think it's fixed now (until someone figures out a new way to cheat).
I'm seeing some repeat tags, like bowl, twin, spoon, and bread. Other than that ... wow, this is pretty darn cool.

If you have a moment, come check out Flickrball, which is another game based on looking at pictures and guessing tags.
Thanks Kent, I've increased the minimum span between repeats. I played Flickrball before, and it's fun, but I'd rather the start and end tags were random.
some code like this, placed in url bar will give auto guessing :)
javascript:document.getElementById('guess').value = answer;guess();

you need to think about some encoding.
Sebastian, that's what I meant when I wrote "It's pretty trivial to add JavaScript to the page." I also wrote "Luckily the game is more fun than the cheating," and I haven't seen any reason to doubt this since writing that. I still don't think preventing a few random cheaters is worth making the game less fun for everyone.

Encoding wouldn't help at all. The only way to completely prevent cheating is to never send the answer to the browser at all, and that would make the game incredibly slow.
Scott, you're right of course.
But some discovering cheats could be more fun over all.
Good code/job anyway.

Be number 25:

knows half of 8 is