Matthew Gatland

Three Words

Someone tweets: "You meet your 18 year old self- you can say 3 words- what are they?"

This tweet is meant to prompt you to reflect on your youth in a sentimental way, but I can’t resist seeing it as a time travel puzzle. Let’s nerd out about this!

Prevent a bad decision

The best answer I saw on twitter was “Don’t marry him.” This answer respects the intention of the tweet but is a good literal answer too. I would recommend putting someone’s name in there instead of “him” to prevent any misunderstandings!

Personally, I don’t think many of my bad choices could be prevented with just three words. Maybe we could prevent me from cycling at night in the city without lights on my bike. “Lights on bicycle” might be enough to get the message through. Or “Unlit bicycle accident!”

Prevent a random accident

It should be easy to prevent a random accident if you know when it will happen. If it was a car accident you could ask the driver stay home, or force them to, or even just delay them for a few minutes to change up the random events of the day.

The problem is that you only have three words. If a whole date was one word, I think “Sam crashes 2010-02-13” would be a very effective message! But that doesn’t look like three words to me. I think three words would only get you to “Sam crashes 2010”, which is enough information to make your 18-year-old self extremely stressed but probably not enough to save a life.

I’m having trouble with this one. Even if the accident was tied to a unique event - i.e. your friend Sam had a car crash while going to see the premier of Captain America: Civil War - this is still really hard. “Captain America accident?” I can’t see this working. Sorry.

Save a lot of people

At the risk of getting too serious for a silly post, it would be nice to prevent the 2019 Christchurch attack. This was a mass shooting done by one person. If we could somehow tip off the police, we could prevent the whole thing. But… how?

Just saying the shooter’s name uses up two words. There is no one word that would tell my younger self to wait a dozen years and then ask the police to investigate this guy.

I think the shooter posted about their plans on a public website before the attack. Maybe I could do “[name-of-website] [day] [month]” to get my younger self to check that website on that day every year. Then maybe young-me would see the post, recognise its importance, and contact the police. But there are so many posts, and so many years, and I wouldn’t have any clue about what I was looking for. I don’t think it’s going to work.

Get rich

Of course getting rich the easy one: “Netflix shares 2020”.

I think young-me would correctly understand that that date was the time to sell, and that I could buy at any point up until then and expect gains.

Being unable to send an exact date is annoying, as there are a few years where Netflix peaks in the middle of the year but comes down again at the end. I could try “Netflix June 2018” but young-me is more likely to look out for some TV to watch than assume I’m sending investment advice.

If the investment was more obviously an investment, I could leave out the second word and put a month in instead. For example: “Bitcoin December 2018”. Bitcoin didn’t exist when I was 18 but past-me would probably connect the dots when he heard about it a few years later.

It’s sad that we started out trying to save lives and make the world better, and now we’re planning to invest in a planet-destroying cryptocurrency. But… being a multi-millionaire wouldn’t be too bad.

Winter thoughts - 6 of 6

In the past, every player started every Fortnite match with nothing. It was a clean state, giving everyone an equal opportunity to win.

This season added a new currency called gold bars. Gold bars can be earned as you play, and can be spent to buy powerful weapons and other upgrades. Having gold bars gives you a strong advantage over other players. And: your gold bars carry over from one match to the next.

That means that in this season, some players still land with nothing. Others may land with thousands of gold bars, allowing them to instantly buy powerful weapons and gain an advantage.

This is really unfair! Why did Epic do this?


I played a few hours of Star Wars Battlefront II last week. (It was free in the Epic Games Store.) I’m not very good at the game but I think I understand the basic idea: it’s all about taking turns being powerful.

It’s fun to be a jedi, killing tonnes of stormtroopers and turning the tide of the battle. But that only works if other players are being useless stormtroopers. The fantasy would fall apart if everyone was as powerful as you are.

Battlefront solves this problem by having a currency, battle points, which you spend to become a hero character. You earn battle points by playing as a normal stormtrooper or rebel soldier. Once you’ve fought and died a few times in a basic role, you will have enough battle points to buy your turn as a hero character. You get your moment in the spotlight. When you die as a hero, you’ll have to go back to being a solider and earn more points again.


I suppose that Fortnite’s gold bars are meant to create the same kind of cycle. You might spend a few matches gathering currency, which takes up precious time and makes you less likely to win those matches. After a while, you’ll have a lot of bars and can spend them to get a powerful item that lets you perform better than you normally do. You get the fun of being a big hero, taking out other players who are still scrambling to get equipment.

A normal Fortnite match has 100 players and only 1 winner, which means winning can be very difficult. I think the Fortnite developers are always trying to find ways to let more players experience that moment, and the gold bar system is their latest attempt.

Winter thoughts - 5 of 6

Tonight I wanted to learn about creative collaboration and how to do it better. I thought about writers’ rooms - they do this all the time, right? Brainstorming, stitching ideas together, cutting the bad stuff. How does a writers room work? Let’s find out.

I watched a YouTube show called Reboot Rewind where four men come up with ideas to reboot famous movies. It’s not a real writers’ room but it must be similar: they have ideas and they disagree and fight and those fights usually lead to everyone saying what they really think and then making it work. I watched one actual episode and one ‘rewind’ episode where they reflected on their process.

One of the creators described the moment he realised he had to let go of the Star Wars story he wanted to tell in order to make the best possible story with this group of people. I like that. They also talked about how it takes more energy to “yes, and” than it takes to shoot down an idea. Interesting.

I saw a few minutes of a documentary about South Park that showed a writers’ room. It seems like their process has people rant about things that are bothering them, and then these rants are exaggerated and turned into storylines. This feels very specific to South Park’s style - I don’t think you can build game features around “Isn’t it weird that nobody reads the iTunes terms of service?”

There was a good line on editing and how it’s about replacing “this and this and this” with “this therefore this but this”, so you end up with a series of connected ideas.

From all the videos I watched, I haven’t made any huge revelations but I do feel like this is useful. I want to see more footage of people doing creative work together.

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