The URL Game.. An Interview with Jonathan Whiting

Web games. There’s zillions of them. Find your way out of the room, play Zork,
all the fun in the world can be found on the web somewhere. Everything’s
been done to death.

Or has it?

I have to blame blk for pointing me
at a very simple webgame. I’d tell you the name of it, but… well, it doesn’t
have one.

The premise is simple. Go to n.nfshost.com.
You’ll see a nice big black page with the number one on it. This is the beginning of the
game. Your task, find the next page. This one is obviously ‘1.html’. Hmm, what could the
next page be… ahh, clicking on the ‘1’ gives you the page ‘2.html’. Okay, pretty
good Now, though, what could be the next page? Probably… 3.html. But there’s no
link to it, so maybe typing it into the web browser will work. Aha! It does.

Now find the next page.

And the next.

And the next.

Each page provides a hint as to what the next pages’ url will be.

Need a hint? DON’T GOOGLE IT! Some bright folks have put the entire URL list
on the net, and it really takes all the fun out of it. You will need to use
google for some of the hints, but just be careful about where you click.

As I am wont to do, I was curious about the motivation behind this nifty game.
It seems so simple, I wonder how it came about. After a big of digging, I managed
to get ahold of Jonathan Whiting, aka ‘Piglet‘, who agreed to a quicky interview on the game…

dbs : First of all, what’s the game called? I keep referring to it as
the ‘web 404 find the page quiz search thingie.’ – which doesn’t quite trip off
the tongue.

JW : Umm, good question.. I simply call it n.nfshost.com (literally ‘en
dot en ef es host dot com’), it’s working title was ‘num’, but really it’s
essentially nameless I’m afraid. I kind of hope that people end up
thinking of it as “That odd number puzzle thingumy” or something than
it to have some cheesy pseudo-cool name.

dbs : When were the pages initially written?

JW : I uploaded the first 20 a bit over 3 weeks ago (01/07/06
apparently),
the next and ‘final’ 10 followed a few days after that. The actual
writing didn’t actually take much time at all, although coming up with
ideas was progressively more difficult.

dbs : Did you have any particular inspiration or help with it, or was it
just your standard geeking “hm, lets do something neat.”

JW : It was a little bit of both really. It was trying to think of
something neat and geeky I could do (I was in that sort of mood) when
I had the idea of doing an online puzzle, and making it a really
minimal and hopefully easy to start. Somewhat later, and after a few
glasses of wine I suddenly got the inspiration for the ‘theme’ of the
set (which should be pretty evident whilst playing it). From there it
was a pretty easy thing to start.

dbs : The implication in the middle of the puzzle is that it’s generating
a heck of a lot of traffic for your provider. Any ideas how much?

JW : Yeah it is, more than I could have imagined it would. I set out
with the intention of making something that’d amuse my brother and some of
my friends.. but a week or so after showing it around a little (and
without any advertising effort on my part) it peaked at 600 megabytes
of traffic in one day. That doesn’t sound particularly huge, but it’s
worth noting that’s 600meg of page loads that are typically a few
hundred bytes each. It’s nearly hit 3 gigabytes of traffic total
traffic since its start, and had over a million page ‘views’ (counting
mis-guesses as well as genuine hits).

I’m truly stunned by the response it’s had.

dbs : Any plans to expand it or do another one?

JW : When it started to balloon I initially intended to add another ten
at
least as soon as possible, now I’m not so sure that I’m going to.
Beyond a certain point it becomes really difficult to come up with new
puzzles that’ll be interesting and challenging whilst keeping to the
fairly strict theme and trying to avoid just rehashing old puzzles.
Life gets in the way 😉

I’d love to write something else this popular, but I’m not convinced a
kind of sequel would work in anywhere near the same way. I’m
certinally going to be more motivated in trying to get any more silly
ideas I have out there, just maybe somebody will like them.

dbs : Tell a bit about yourself – as much or as little as you like, what
do you do, where do you live, etc.

JW : hmm.. I’m a recent Computer Science graduate from the University of
Kent at Canterbury. I live near Oxford and I’m really just starting
out in the big bad real world. I’m very keen on climbing and only
slightly interested in puzzles.

My ‘normal’ website is http://piglet.nfshost.com but it’s not nearly
as visited or interesting.

dbs : Geek question – your site may be in the top running for the most
404 errors ever, certainly when compared to actual content delivered. Ever
considered putting something on the 404 page itself? 🙂

JW : Hehe, yep, it was considered. In fact I did once contemplate
putting the one small piece of advertising there, but that sounded like a bit
of a cheap shot. Something really simple and unhelpful would perhaps
have been tempting too. I’m not convinced that nearlyfreespeech have
a feature to adjust the 404 pages however, so it may well be
ultimately irrelevant.


Thanks again to Piglet for taking the time to talk with us. Make sure you
check out the game at n.nfshost.com.

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A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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