omer bar-or · The Plan Askew · NaNo 2007: Nov. 17

NaNo 2007: Nov. 17

Written: November 27th, 2007, 9:14 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

News: earlier tonight, I reached the 50,000 word point and, though I think that many parts of the novel could use some fleshing out or completely rewriting (if I ever decide to do so), the first draft of the novel is officially complete! Also, I have decided on a tentative title: Life as a Puzzle.

The novel continues here.

Lacking any other solution, Orr nodded.

Toff continued to look up at him, and she smiled slightly. "Thanks." Then, she looked down again.

Orr considered saying something, though he wasn't sure what. He considered "umm," but considered it less than satisfactory. He sat down in Mike's chair.

The sound of the chair's legs nicking the floor brought Toff out of her reverie. She looked over at Orr, now on level with her, and smiled slightly at him.

She said, "It's about Tom."

Orr said, "Oh yeah?" He tried to sound curious.

Toff said, "Yeah. I..." she looked down. "I told him I like him."

Unlike Toff, Orr had spent the last few months closed from civilization, and semantically ambiguous words made him uneasy. He mulled the words over aloud, pondering, "Like him?"

Toff, luckily, took this as a sign of interest and continued, "Yeah... Well, you know... I've liked him for a while."

Orr nodded. Sure, he thought. I know.

Toff said, "I mean... you know... It was pretty obvious, following him around everywhere..." This thought made her chin quiver, and her eyes tear up, but she continued, "... following him here..." This thought was too much for her, and she started to cry.

Orr sat frozen, unsure how to properly respond to this new development. He considered moving toward her, patting her on the back, holding her shoulder, saying "It'll be okay." Maybe he should do all of them, at once, or in succession, in that order, or another.

Just as he was deciding to await more evidence before deciding how to respond, Toff, still shuddering and heaving, still staring at the floor, moaned softly, "Oh, Orr..."

His thoughts disappeared. He moved over to her and gave her a hug. She stopped shuddering. Her body flowed under him, like time, like a metronome. She rocked back and forth. She buried her head into his arm.

And, in that position, so that her mouth was still covered largely by his sweatshirt, she continued to speak, at first with a muffled squeak, but slowly morphing into a muffled version of her own voice.

She said, "I... So, I asked... So, I asked him out... through a riddle... you know me... a one trick pony... and, anyway, when he got it, he... he told me that he was in love with... with your sister, and he came here for her, and he was sorry, sorry, sorry for leading me on, and then he left."

This was a lot of news. But the soothing monotonousness of Toff's movement made Orr almost sleepy. His back ached, but without bothering him, and he realized, in the same almost-sleepy delirium, that he was concerned for his friend.

He said, "It'll be okay..."

Such a statement had never, in Orr's life, escaped his lips. And, it surprised both of them, and they stiffened for a second, but first Toff, and then Orr, relaxed. So, he said it again.

"It'll be okay..."

She said, "I just shouldn't have lived so much of my life for him. I mean, where does that leave me now?" Her voice was strained as she asked the last question.

Orr said, "You'll figure it out... It'll only get easier from here." It was the obvious answer, the feel-good stupid-comedy-with-a-moral-at-the-end answer. But, Toff nodded at Orr's shirt, so he continued. "I mean, you're still at Columbia, which is a great school... And, we're friends, right?"

Toff nodded again. She said, "Can I study with you?"

Orr said, "Of course!" But, then he remembered what studying with him meant. Even without distractions, he was not sleeping nearly enough, and studying with Toff would likely be distraction after distraction of puzzles and games, of a past life he had rejected. He added, "I mean, you probably wouldn't want to. All I do is study, and I do it a lot."

Toff said, "That's okay. I could use some no-distractions studying." She was silent for a moment. "But, if you want to study alone, that's fine... I just, maybe we could study together tonight. I'd just..." she trailed off.

Orr's head was angled directly at his desk clock. It was 9:05pm. He remembered high school, when even on weekdays he would never be studying at this point.

He said, "Yeah. Let's do it. For tonight, at least."

Toff said, "Thanks, Orr." She squeezed his arm, then moved her head slowly up. She said, "I'll be back soon with some textbooks."

Orr let her go, and she stood up, wobbling slightly, but smiling as she turned toward him. She started walking toward the door.

Orr smiled back at her. He wanted to ask to join her, but he had another two sample midterms to go through that night, one in logic, and one in linear algebra (which were both Monday classes).

So, instead, he said, "Err..."

Toff stopped. She said, "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. Get some work done!" But, her voice was quavering so, and her shoulders still looked so slumped.

Orr said, "Don't be silly. I'll walk you!" What an idiot!

Toff turned toward him and said, "You really don't have to. She was smiling, though.

"No, I insist."

And, with that insistence, the two headed out, Orr upset with himself, thinking, This is your problem. You never listen to common sense.


But, the walk proved surprisingly fruitful. Almost as soon as they had gotten outside, Toff said, "So, I've never had the guts to tell either you or Tom this, but I'm in you guys's logic class." The cold had taken the quavering out of her voice.

Orr said, "You are?"

Toff said, "Yeah. I'm in the back. I never talk. Obviously."

Orr said, "Obviously..."

Toff said, "Yeah."

Orr said, "It's a hard. I was just looking at midterms when you got in."

Toff said, "I saw. Yeah, that sample midterm was so hard!"

Orr said, "You did it, though?"

Toff said, "Yeah... I mean, not in two hours, obviously. But, I got ahead last weekend... Uhh... predicting that this weekend would be... busy..."

Orr said, "I see." He had never much thought of Toff as intelligent, or unintelligent for that matter, but this comment surprised him. He said, "Mind helping me with some of the problems?"

Toff jumped. "Yes! I'd love to!" She paused. "I've missed you, Orr."

Orr nodded as he walked. He had resolved upon first arriving that he did not miss anybody, and that he would never say he did, because it would be intellectually dishonest. Luckily, he didn't have the opportunity to go back on his word. The thought of tutoring had apparently excited Toff.

She said, "And, it's been frustrating not having a study partner for logic, it being the one class in which I have friends. It would be really nice to change that."

Orr nodded again, but this time he said, "Yeah, that would be nice." He was half-convinced that she was right, even though he had yet to hear an argument. He continued kicking himself mentally for such flagrant disregard of his opinions and habits, for such obvious stupidity. This is your problem. You never say what you believe! But, it was to no avail.

Toff looked over at Orr, and he looked at her. She was grinning in a way that reminded him of Tom.

She said, "You sound reluctant."

Orr said, "I... Well..."

She said, "It's okay."

They looked forward again, and kept walking, in silence for a while.

Finally, Toff said, "You look like hell, by the way."

Orr said, "Yeah. And, my room's a mess."

Toff said, "Yeah," and she looked at Orr, grinning again.


By the time they got back to Orr's room, Toff carrying a mass of books on her back, it was almost ten. They had agreed on the walk to start with a logic midterm that neither had looked at yet, so that they could help each other by seeing how the other person thought about the problems. Toff heaved her backpack into the corner, unzipped it, and extracted the twisted remnants of a spiral notebook. They drew the two chairs to Orr's desk, and Orr scrounged around his papers, until he found the midterm. Then, he placed it between them. He grabbed the clock and put it in front of them. It was 10:03pm.

He said, "There are four questions, and two hours, so each question should take at most half an hour. Ready?"

Toff said, "Let's do it!"

And, they started. The first question was this:

Jane can only be mad if she's not a joker. If Jane has an uncle, he must like hats. Liking hats is a sign of elderliness. A person whose niece is a joker and who is elderly is incapable of love. Jane doesn't have an uncle if and only if Origami is an art. Jane's uncle is definitely incapable of love, though. If you ask me, boys will be boys. And, if boys will be boys, or if Origami is an art, Yellow Submarine is amazing. If Jane is mad, it's gotta be true that you asked me and nobody understands her. Jane's uncle is definitely elderly if he likes hats. Oh, and, if Jane's uncle is incapable of love, then there is no way that Origami is an art.

Using only the propositional calculus, and translating "Yellow Submarine is amazing" as Y, "Jane has an Uncle" as "u," and "Jane is mad" as "m" derive YUM!

Orr stared at it bewildered. Toff's presence next to him was a distraction he had not experienced in months. And, thinking about what a distraction it was proved to be only a greater distraction. Ad infinitum. And, he had just finished understanding the prompt when Toff said, "Got it!" under her breath and started scribbling on her page. Orr looked at the clock. It was 10:08pm.

The first step to solving any logic problem written in English is, of course, to translate it into logic. And, by the time Toff had finished the problem completely, and it had been about twenty minutes, Orr had managed to do just that:











But, now that Toff was no longer scribbling, and was instead sitting quietly next to him, he found her even more distracting. And, after another minute, he said, "Okay, well I think I can do the rest from there."

Toff said, "Yeah. It's basically just modus ponens and modus tollens a bunch of times. The translating is the tough part."

Orr nodded. But, as he did so, he thought, This is your problem. You can't admit that you need help! and decided, for once, to listen to his internal nag.

He said, "But, how did you do it so quickly?"

Toff blushed. "Quickly...? I mean... I don't know... I just thought about it for a bit before writing. That always helps."

Orr said, "But, they taught us that the first step to solving any logic problem written in English is, of course, to translate it into logic."

Toff said, "Yeah, well, the first formal part. But, with a problem like this, I like to try to work backwards a bit, really informally, to see what I know about what I'm trying to derive."

Orr nodded.

Toff said, "Part of this one was easy. 'Incapable of love' is really our only atomic fact, and we're trying to derive three other atomic facts, so our derivation probably starts there, and there's only one new atomic fact that 'Incapable of love' can directly give us, which is that Origami is not an art, and so forth... It's like trying to solve a puzzle in your head."

This argument made some sense to Orr, but more than that, it appealed to his romantic intellectual, a being who had been lying dormant for quite some time. Orr had tried to solve these problems like an automaton, and when left alone, he was quite fast, but, if nothing else, Toff's method sounded like more fun. Unfortunately, the gluttonous automatonic part of him thought, we don't have time for games. Try it after the midterm. For now, stick with what you know.

He said, "That makes sense. I'll have to try it at some point. But, let's keep going."

And, so, they continued through the sample, and though Orr slowly learned how to concentrate despite Toff sitting next to him, Toff still managed to solve each problem well before Orr did. And, her explanation was always, "I thought about it for a while before I started."


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