[Question] Final Babble Challenge (for now): 100 ways to light a candle

It is time. The final challenge in the 7-week babble challenge series.

Let’s become stronger. Let’s go out with a bang.

On the table in front of you is a candle.

This candle will burn as a metaphor for the light of Science, a little beacon of rationality. It will represent the will to keep practicing and honing our Art.

Your task is simple.

Light it.

You have 1 hour to come up with 100 ways.

Looking back

Here are the rankings before the final round. (You gain a star for completing a challenge, and lose one for missing a week. I’m not including myself since I’m the gamemaster.)

Fantastic work, everyone.

★★★★★★ gjm

★★★★★ Yonge

★★★★ Slider

★★★ Bucky

★★ Tetraspace Grouping, supposedlyfun

★ NunoSempere, Elizabeth, Mark Xu

Overall, since starting on September 30th, there’s now been more than 100 completed babble challenges.

As a result, we have babbled over 5000 ideas.

I haven’t counted how many unique users joined, but plausibly more than 70. For many of them, the babble challenge was one of their first comments ever on LessWrong. Welcome to you all.

I want to thank everyone who joined this quest, it’s been an honor practicing creativity with you.

There were really too many good submissions over the weeks to list them all. What’s more, much of the value comes in just being able to think of many different ones, rather than a single idea being excellent. Nonetheless, to celebrate and inspire you for the final challenge, I gathered some great ones from previous weeks:

Ways of going to the moon

I leave it on Earth ; eventually, in 4 billion years, the sun will have absorbed both the thing and the Moon and hopefully some parts of both will mix. (Vanilla_cabs)

Break out of the simulation, then reprogram myself to be on the moon. (mr-hire)

Use CRISPR to make myself smarter. Do whatever plan smarter Neel comes up with (Neel Nanda)

Send spaceships out to the asteroid belt to collect asteroids and bring them to earth. Not to extract valuable minerals, just to make the earth bigger and heavier. Both the increased radius and the increased gravity will bring the moon closer. Eventually it will be close enough that I can just reach out and put my object on the moon. (gjm)

…and more than 1000 more ideas!

Ways of escaping a locked room

Metal bars on the windows? Pee on them, take apart the phone, then connect one terminal of the phone battery to the bar and the other to the urine, and wait for the bar to be eaten away. (johnswentworth)

If I find myself in this situation I hereby pre-commit myself to using all of my available resources not to escape but to reign down hellfire remotely on whoever put me in there (avoid getting put in this situation in the first place) (Bucky)

Or, the solution that probably at least 5 people arrived at...

Write a LessWrong question post about being trapped in a locked room, pretending it’s a challenge to practice rationality.

...and, again, more than 1000 more ideas!

Ways of hiding Einstein’s pen from evil forces for 50 years

Create a duplicate, hide it badly, and let it be stolen. Just keep the real one in a safe at your house. (Ericf)

Disguise it as, or hide it inside, something else, and then give that to someone else to hide, giving them an entirely false story about what it is and why it needs to be hidden. (gjm)

Sell the evil forces the pen for a high price. Invest the money. 50 years later, you will be rich and easily able to buy the pen back. (Mark Xu)

Memorize a binary sequence using a memory palace, which I use as an XOR cipher on a series of coin flips which indicate: “heads: go north 100 feet; tails: go east 100 feet”. Flip 100 coins and write down the result, and then bury the coin in the place indicated by the flips XOR the sequence. (This is basically a one-time pad for north-eastern lattice paths) (TurnTrout)

Consequences on the world of the discovery of intelligent ant colonies

Small robots could be used to invade hive-minds and either spy on them or implant and manipulate thoughts (Slider)

Ants get good at hiding their colonies, but you can hire ants to find other ant colonies. (Elizabeth)

A lot of people think ‘Oh that’s interesting’ - and then continue doing exactly what they would have done anyway. (Yonge)

Moving Forwards

This is it. Week 7 out of 7.

Following the excursions into different forms of babble, I’m returning to where we started. A simple, constrained task. I thought that was most fun, and also most useful in feeling like it actually pushed the limits of my creativity.

This will be the final babble challenge I host for now. But it won’t be the end of my attempts to build a culture of practice on LessWrong. I’m working on other plans, and hope to announce them soon.

Next week I might write a longer Babble post-mortem. But one of the core things I take away is what I wrote already in the 3rd week, after noting how many people had participated:

[The turnout] fills me with excitement and ambition.

We’ve made a discovery.

Who knew that there was all this latent excitement for doing weekly rationality challenges? That so many people were willing to actually roll their sleeves up, and show up every week to test the limits of our art?

There’s a spark here waiting to be fanned into a flame. Imagine where we could go if we keep this up.

If you feel the same, I invite you to join me. Find ways of practicing in your own life. Stay connected to that deliberateness and the relentless will to self-improve with your scientist hat on.

Run your own challenges on LessWrong.

In fact, there has recently been several things happening on LessWrong that move in this direction:

I’m excited to see where this will go.


  • 100 answers or nothing. Shoot for 1 hour.

Any answer must contain 100 ideas to count. That’s the final babble challenge. We’re raising the bar. Let’s do this!

However, the 1 hour limit is a stretch goal. It’s fine if it takes longer to get to 100.

  • Post your answers inside of spoiler tags. (How do I do that?)

  • Celebrate other’s answers.

This is really important. Sharing babble in public is a scary experience. I don’t want people to leave this having back-chained the experience “If I am creative, people will look down on me”. So be generous with those upvotes.

If you comment on someone else’s post, focus on making exciting, novel ideas work — instead of tearing apart worse ideas.

  • Not all your ideas have to work.

I’ve often found that 1 great idea can hide among 10 bad ones. You just need to push through the worse ones. Keep talking. To adapt Wayne Gretzky’s great quote: “You miss 100% of the ideas you never generate.”

It’s fine to say “build a volcano in my backyard and use it to light the candle”, “bribe a dragon to help me” or “rub my hands together real fast until they create fire”.

  • My main tip: when you’re stuck, say something stupid.

If you spend 5 min agonising over not having anything to say, you’re doing it wrong. You’re being too critical. Just lower your standards and say something, anything. Soon enough you’ll be back on track.

This is really, really important. I wrote this the first week. I still think it’s true, having now done 6 weeks of babble challenges. The freedom and lightness that comes with just babbling something, even if stupid, proves really helpful for also generating great ideas.


Now, go forth and babble! 100 ways to light a candle!