Inspired by Ricki Heicklen's house party inspired by Scott Alexander.

By the time you arrive in Berkeley, the party is already in full swing. You’ve come late because your reading of the polycule graph indicated that the first half would be inauspicious. But now you’ve finally made it to the social event of the season: the Every Bay Area House Party-themed house party.

The first order of the evening is to get a color-coded flirting wristband, so that you don’t incur any accidental micromarriages. You scan the menu of options near the door. There’s the wristband for people who aren’t interested in flirting; the wristband for those want to be flirted with, but will never flirt back; the wristband for those who only want to flirt with people who have different-colored wristbands; and of course the one for people who want to glomarize disclosure of their flirting preferences. Finally you reach down and grab the last one: the wristband for those who only flirt with those who don’t flirt with themselves. As you slip it over your wrist, you notice it’s fastened in a Mobius strip.

You scan around the living room, trying to figure out who to talk to first. The host is sitting on the sofa, with two boxes attached to the front of her shirt. One is filled with money, the other empty. A guy next to her is surreptitiously one-boxing, but she presciently slaps his hand away without even looking. You decide to leave them to it. On the other side of a room, there’s a lone postrationalist, surrounded by a flock of alignment researchers. You hear a snatch of their conversation: “–but what part of your model rules out FOOM? Surely–”. As they keep talking, the postrationalist looks increasingly uncomfortable, until eventually her interlocutor takes a breath and she seizes the opportunity to escape. You watch her flee down the street through the window labeled Outside View.

With the living room looking unpromising, you head into the kitchen to grab a drink. As you walk through the door, you hear a crunching sound from under your feet; glancing down, you see hundreds of paperclips scattered across the floor. On the table there are two big pitchers, carefully labeled. One says “For contextualizers”; the other says “For decouplers and homophobes”. You go straight for the former; it’s impossible to do any good countersignalling by decoupling these days.

Three guys next to you out themselves as decouplers and/or homophobes, though, which gives you a perfect opportunity. You scoop up a few paperclips off the floor. “Hey, anyone want to sell their soul for some paperclips?” The question makes them shuffle awkwardly—or maybe they were already doing that, you can’t tell. “Come on, last person to sell their soul is a self-confessed bigot!” One of them opens his mouth, but before he can speak you’re interrupted from the side.

“No no no, you don’t want to buy those. Here, look.” The newcomer, a guy with shaggy hair and a charizard t-shirt, brandishes a folder at you, opened up to a page full of graphs. “Buy my paperclip futures instead. As you can see, the expected number of paperclips in a few decades’ time is astronomical. Far better to invest in these and –”

“Great,” you interrupt. “Can’t argue with your logic. I’ll take three trillion.”

“Got payment for that?”

“Yeah, this guy’s soul,” you say, jerking your thumb at your original victim. “It’s also incredibly valuable in expectation, but he’s willing to hand it over to signal how much of a decoupler he is. Any objections?” There are none, so you’re suddenly three trillion paperclips richer (in expectation).

Quest complete; time to explore further. You wander back to the living room and cast your eye over the crowd. Someone is wearing a real FTX shirt. Someone is wearing a fake FTX shirt. Someone is wearing a shirt that says My Girlfriend Went To The Bahamas To Hang Out With Billionaires And All I Got Was Covid. You sit down next to a tall guy with messy hair and a friendly smile. He’s in the middle of explaining that his authentic relating meetup has been getting into a legal dispute. “Yeah, some asshole trademarked the concept of circling, so we had to rename it ‘relatefulness’. Well, first we got in a circle and bitched—sorry, I mean related about him for a few hours.”

You’re distracted by noticing his wristband, which indicates that he allows people to flirt with him, but won’t flirt back. That’s a temptation if ever you saw one. You slide towards him and lick your lips a little. “So, big guy…” He freezes. But then you remember your own wristband: you can only flirt with people who don’t flirt with themselves. “Do you like yourself?”

He’s a relatefulnesser, so of course he likes himself. Dammit. You try the girl next to him. She stares at you blankly. “No, I’m consumed with crushing feelings of inadequacy.”

“Oh, perfect. Love that for you, gorgeous.”

You try your best, but a few minutes later it’s become apparent that reminding girls of their overwhelming self-loathing isn’t the best way to charm them. You mosey your way over to a quiet corner to recover. Nearby, two guys are staring despondently at the little strips of paper they’re holding. “God, this is so embarrassing,” one of them says. You crane your neck to have a look. Turns out they’ve both come dressed as impact certifiers. “Want some impact certificates?” one says.

“Sure,” you say.

“How many?”

“Uh… 5 impacts?”

You hadn’t spotted the flogger he was holding in his other hand. He raises it, and says “Great. Hold out your palms.” As you earn your certificates, you sigh; you should have seen that one coming.

After collecting your certificates, you look over the room and realize with a shudder that it’s reached that stage of the night. Around you, the conversations have slowly been dying down. Statistically, of course, this is inevitable: assuming that at least one person brings a puzzle that takes a few hours to solve, and that the incubation period is less than half an hour, then after a few hours everyone will have been exposed to at least one puzzle they haven’t solved yet.

And so you watch the party expire around you. On one side a guy is trying to pack einsteins on a table; on another, a couple is bickering over a paper-folding puzzle. You’ve been safe so far, probably because of your protective amulet: it reads “Allergic to Talking About AI”, and has saved you from many a Pascal’s mugging mugging. But it won’t work forever. You take a wide berth around all the trapped attendees, and manage to make it to the door without getting nerdsniped once.

It’s been a good night. On your way home, you decide it’d be worth taking the time to write out the story of the party. After all, while Scott’s title was a bit of an exaggeration, your own account will be a description of every “Every Bay Area House Party” Bay Area house party. And who knows—if people like it enough, maybe it will even inspire a party of its own!

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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:12 AM

If the expected number of future paperclips is astronomical, shouldn't you be short paperclip futures, not long?

... I'll see myself out.

The thing I'm picturing here is a futures contract where charizard-shirt-guy is obligated to deliver 3 trillion paperclips in exchange for one soul. And, assuming a reasonable discount rate, this is a better deal than only receiving a handful of paperclips now in exchange for the same soul. (I agree that you wouldn't want to invest in a current-market-price paperclip futures contract.)

There should be a party inspired by this post

For context, this post was itself inspired by my party, and the events described are all only slightly embellished: https://partiful.com/e/yEpJqHYiOj1w0JHrNcFw

Funny! I shared screenshots with several people.

The LessWrong Review runs every year to select the posts that have most stood the test of time. This post is not yet eligible for review, but will be at the end of 2025. The top fifty or so posts are featured prominently on the site throughout the year. Will this post make the top fifty?