Art by Giovanni Gentile

Side Projects: Nerd Context

Adri Allora


I work in a small ed-tech company I founded with two friends in 2011. At the moment we are the best in Italy, for income from digital e-products and for effectiveness of our softwares.

Life as a startupper (first) and as a manager (now) is quite full, but also stressful, so I often need side projects to work with (in addition to the book on video games, to the boardgames, to my narrative archeology research and two or three other things).

You know, it’s something like in the Henry Kissinger’s quote:

There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.

However, being passionate about fiction and fascinating ideas, I share and appreciate a lot about nerd culture (except the scourge of sexism, of course). So, I stole about 40 minutes of our developers and a few hours of the art director, and we started making a little software on the nerd culture.

Because of the developers are overloaded (it’s a small company) I had to, as we say in Italy, fare di necessità virtù (make a virtue out of necessity): my starting point was Alatin, an educational software for mastery learning: when you mistake Alatin shows you the correct answer and adds a question on the subject and, once you reach the goal of 12 correct answers given on the first attempt, it allows you to achieve the goal only by correcting all the wrong answers.

The goal is reach the end with a low error rate: not exactly a quiz-game, it’s more a journey through a territory of awesomeness.

Nerdcontext is therefore a sequence of questions that pick up from there: movies, series, cartoons, books, videogames, boardgames, comics that have ended up founding a variegated and imaginative fictional multiverse to which refer in various measures all those who recognize themselves in some nerd sub-category or in some specific fandom.

When I started thinking about what I wanted to put in I only had two ideas:

I didn’t want questions like, “how much hair does dr. Spock have on his feet?”

These are very easy questions to ask (if you know where to look for answers), but not funny because they run out in themselves and I enjoy myself only when I can create imaginative short circuits. For example the question:

What’s the name of the Lannister little guy?

  • Tasslehoff
  • Boggie
  • Tyrion
  • Bilbo

I like it because it suggests mash-ups between fictional worlds that solicit my imagination (what would Tass have done instead of Tyrion? Or Tyrion instead of Bilbo?) more than my knowledge base about nerd stuff.

Furthermore, too-sectorial questions end up excluding those who are not part of that sector, but I like it when you can reason and get the answer (or at least exclude some). For example in the question:

What Mad Max mostly drive in the original 1979 movie?

  • An orange Dodge Charger
  • A black Pursuit Special
  • A white Cadillac Miller-Meteor
  • A black Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

The real game is not understanding the right answer (the color helps), but identifying all the cinematic references. Can you do it?

I wanted groups of questions that avoided explicit membership of a fandom.

The questions are grouped in units, units in missions, missions in levels.

If I wasn’t a Star Wars fan, seeing a whole Star Wars unit would bore me. If instead I see a unit on “Small people” and I venture there not knowing that I will meet both Yoda and Bilbo, the followers of the goblin king Jared and the Goonies (and more, much more), then for me it would continue to be stimulating despite questions about Star Wars.

For this reason I decided that the units would have had the most transversal approach possible, the first six units are: Deserts, Small people, Big reptiles, Magic stuff, Tech stuff, Bosses (it’s the last unit of the level: I had to put bosses in it!)

And now?

For now I have written 70 questions for the first three units (first mission), I am writing the questions for the next three units, I wrote this post (this is where I will put the rankings of users who make fewer errors, at least until they do I get enough users to justify an investment in development), with the art director we did projects of changing graphics, I imagined some future developments (like the badges or the possibility of adding your own questions). In some weeks, the developers could find some minutes for deploying and publish NC, stay tuned!



Adri Allora

Linguist, entrepreneur (co-founder of Maieutical Labs), curious. I’m here on Medium mostly to learn, even when I write something.