Stumping People for 1000* Years

Stump 360 Episode 1000 logo

* Base 2

Last week at 360iDev I hosted the 8th edition of Stump 360. Stump is an evening event that, to my surprise as much as anyone else’s, has become a tradition at 360iDev.

What is Stump 360?

Stump started as an unofficial spin-off of “Stump the Experts” at Apple WWDC, which ran for many years. The two overlapped by a year or two, but WWDC Stump stopped several years ago. Originally Stump 360 was, aside from the name, more or less a direct rip-off of the original Stump. Over time it’s evolved its own games and traditions.

View from the stage

Stump 360 is approximately a quiz show for iOS developers. I’ve also described it as a panel discussion with two competing panels. One team is for 360iDev speakers, and one for attendees. It’s not a serious game. Having fun is more important than knowing stuff, and partial credit is easy to get. Each team poses questions for the other. There are also speed rounds with buzzers and questions open to each team.

Stump’s 1000th Year

Since this was the 8th Stump I went with an 8-bit theme and celebrated it as the 1000th (base 2) Stump. I used a chunky 8-bit video game font on slides and timers, 8-bit chiptune music, and a new round, the Byte Game.

The Byte Game was a series of 8 questions, each open to both teams with points for the first correct answer. The first was worth only 0b00000001 point. With each new question, the bit shifted one place to the left to a maximum of 0b10000000 (128) points. Questions were easy at first but got a lot harder as the point value went up. Scores for this round were displayed in hexadecimal, and the question timer used binary.

This year Stump was at the Mercury Cafe in Denver, which was a great venue. Pre-COVID-19 it had been at Jazz at Jack’s in Denver, but sadly they’re no longer around. Changing venues meant there were more unknown factors leading up to Stump, but Mercury was up to it and the staff, food, drinks, and sound were all excellent.

The House Band

A major highlight this year was that Stump had a house band for the first time. I say “band” but what I mean is the legendary James Dempsey and the Breakpoints, who performed during Stump. I’ve been a fan going back to James’ solo guitar performances at Apple’s WWDC, and this was the band’s first performance since 2019. I was incredibly excited to not only have the band at Stump but to join the band as a conditional breakpoint for the first time. I joined in on the Optional Song, which contains an optional solo. This time it was not nil, because I played didgeridoo.

James Dempsey and the Breakpoints

On stage from left to right, Joe Cieplinski, Jean MacDonald, me, James Dempsey, Rob Napier, and Ellen Shapiro. Foreground, Shane Cowherd, managing James’ slides.

May the Cube(s) Be With You

Keeping with the 8 year theme, Mike Lee donated two 8x8x8 cubes as challenges and prizes. “Cube” seems inadequate; they’re a much more complex version of a Rubik’s cube. The plan was that people could try to solve the cube during Stump. If they did, they’d earn 0x10000000 points for their team and could keep the cube. What followed was one of the best things that’s ever happened at Stump 360.

Nobody, it seemed, was going to solve a cube like this in the traditional manner. And Stump isn’t long enough for the time honored technique of removing the stickers and putting them back on solved. The speaker team responded with great creativity by:

Screen shot of showing 8x8x8 cube

  1. Taking photos of the cube as it was
  2. Creating a web page with these photos
  3. Labeling these photos as the “Proothi Technique” (after Ben Proothi, a member of the team)
  4. Most importantly, successfully convincing the host (me) that this was a valid alternate solution in the cube-solving world.

Step 4 relied on me having so much to think about as host that I didn’t connect “Proothi Technique” to Ben Proothi until afterward when I tried to find info on the technique.

Stump doesn’t have any rules against cheating, and I’ve specifically encouraged lying about answers when people aren’t sure, so this was all in keeping with the game.

But wait! There were two cubes, each eligible for the point bonus. The attendee team also hadn’t solved their cube. I recovered from step 4 well enough to point out that if I was allowing alternate techniques, I had to allow other alternates. After some friendly bickering with the speaker team, a member of the audience declared that their cube was also an alternate solution. In fairness I had to accept it, so both teams earned the points.

I should probably have planned on more points for the first solution than for the second, but I didn’t anticipate any solutions at all so it never occurred to me.

Stump Goes Worldwide

Also new this year, Stump was a hybrid event with most people present in Denver but also a large off-site contingent on both teams. There was a live video stream for remote particpants, with Slack channels for them to ask and answer questions.

John Wilker, video stream in one hand and a well earned beer in the other

John Wilker, video stream in one hand and a well earned beer in the other

Since I would be busy on stage, I asked for volunteers to help coordinate with the Slack channels. Heather Haindell agreed to help out with the attendee team. I thought this would be an easy-ish job but I vastly underestimated it. Heather did a great job with it though, and Stump was much better thanks to her efforts. The Slack channel ran to hundreds of messages. People sent in questions with photos, which Heather then AirDropped to me to show on the projector.

I had hoped to get remote participants on screen instead of only communicating by Slack, but due to some technical issues it didn’t work out. I suspect we’ll have remote attendees next year, so I’ll work on that.

The Team

I couldn’t do Stump without a lot of help. Most visible during Stump are Shane Cowherd as scorekeeper and Joe Pezzillo as my co-host / immoderator.

Shane, Joe, and me, just before kicking things off

Shane, Joe, and me, just before kicking things off

Less visible but not less important was Heather Haindel’s heroic work keeping remote attendees involved. And ultimately it’s all thanks to John Wilker for letting me do something like this at what’s otherwise a more or less serious conference, for arranging the venue, and for setting up a video stream for remote conference attendees.

Looking Ahead

Assuming the world lasts another year, I expect Stump 360 to return in 2022. Next year 360iDev is scheduled for August 28-31. I’ve made a bunch of notes for how to improve things, for the new venue, for (proably) having it be a hybrid event again, for delegating some more responsibility to share the load better, and for general better gameplay. Bug fixes and performance improvements, as they say in the app release notes. Hope to see you there.