Amulet Hunting

My experimental jaunt into the wild world of NFT

The art world recently started experimenting with blockchain and something called an NFT. A lot can be said about it, but instead I want to instead direct your attention to a whimsical and fun sideshow to the whole craze. It’s all about hunting amulets, it’s free, it’s super fun. First, some terminology.

Hashes can turn text into a random list of numbers and letters. For example, the hash for the word Medium is 8E588CD187741F1CD76F5FAB77B72087
82A8C21D764CE7D7A4CF3AC4E0968873. (I added a space to make it fit nicer on the screen.) The power of this is that any person in the world can put the same input and get the same output, every single time. And it works on anything digital. Not just words, but a whole book, or a picture, or a song.

Robin Sloan likes to do playful experiments on the internet. His latest idea was to look for the number 8 in hashes of poems. The more 8s, the rarer the find. He decided to call anything with four 8s or more an “amulet” and he made a website where you can look for them. Here’s an example:

This is how amulet rarity works, according to his page:

  • 8888: common
  • 88888: uncommon
  • 888888: rare
  • 8888888: epic
  • 88888888: legendary
  • 888888888: mythic
  • 8888888888+: ???

My first attempt was simple. I checked the hash of every word in the dictionary. Eureka! After about thirty minutes, these uncommon amulets showed up:

Davids, NNW, Saundra’s, aurora’s, commissionership, cooperator, freakily, inductive, softener, sultanas, ukases, and volition’s.

But those aren’t really poems, they’re just single words. And besides, taking a half hour just to return a few uncommon amulets wasn’t going to work. I needed to up my game by making things faster and more poem-like. So I tried some improvements and was able to get it shooting through the dictionary in about one second. Onward!

Random words weren’t going to cut it. I needed a way to make actual poetry. Lots and lots of it. So this seemed like a job for Mad Libs! I could write something like this:

This is a poem and
my favourite word is <random word from the dictionary>.

So if the dictionary has 10,000 words, this would give me 10,000 poems, then I’d just see which hashes had an amulet. Great! So I asked my son for a poem, and after some back and forth and trimming to get under Robin’s character limit, we fired off this poem attempt:

A man walked down <random word> street
Looking for something to eat
But everything was on fire
Because it was the ApOcAlYpSE

And we got two amulets out of it, including this rare eyebrow-raising one:

A man walked down antifeminism street
Looking for something to eat
But everything was on fire
Because it was the ApOcAlYpSE

We tried the same technique on another poem, and he died laughing when this popped up:

A man went to dulled street but died because
he was a boomer

But these nonsensical and limited amulets weren’t particularly satisfying. We wanted a way to get an infinite number of amulets. Which was going to require a different technique. Instead of running through each line of the dictionary, we’d need to pull an infinite number of random words.

What poetry works even when you throw two random words at it? Well, street names, perhaps. So I came up with two lines that I liked, set the code to run all night, and when I woke up in the morning I practically ran to go check what amulets I had found in the night. And I found a mythic one!

The bar at Degas & Shoal burned down.
But you knew that.

I was really proud of this one. It makes sense, and it’s got a foreboding vibe to it. And I did it while smuggling two random words into the poem without them feeling completely out of place. Victory! I excitedly shared it with Robin.

It was fun watching my mindset evolve so quickly over the last few days. First it was a fun game. Then it was a race to get something uncommon. Then it was a race to get something uncommon that’s longer than a word. Then I wanted to find a poem that actually packed a punch and made sense. Next I wanted to find the rarest thing I could. Every step was fun.

So the next step is making a Twitter account that can share out my latest discoveries: https://twitter.com/amuletcollector/status/1364854238707208193

Did I mint any of these into NFTs, or put a price tag on anything? No and no. There’s a lot of fun things in the world that just require a little bit of curiosity and sense of play, and they don’t require money. In fact, I’ve never been able to have much fun when money’s involved. So let’s go exploring!

I love building things.

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