You know those little grids filled with squiggly numbers and letters that you’re supposed to copy into a box at the bottom of commercial Web sites? They’re called captchas (an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart,” after mathematician Alan Turing, in case you’re interested), they’re designed to determine that you’re not a spambot, and they’re almost universally annoying. Almost.
In the interest of making Web security more fun, several clever programmers have recently built applications that turn captchas into games that let you pick out three things that will prove you’re a human. kittenauth.com offers a cutesy version that presents a grid of fluffy animals and asks you to pick out three of a kind.
Hate cats? Try hotcaptcha.com, a Hot-or-Not mashup developed by Web 2.0 group FrozenBear. This variation shows you a series of pics of real people and asks you to choose the three hot ones. There are male and female versions, and if you like what you see you can click “Meet Me” to access the person’s profile. Sounds funny, but—like Hot or Not—it's kind of mean-spirited and also highly subjective, which makes it useless, security-wise. Case in point: Apparently FrozenBear and I have very different tastes in men, because every time I submitted my picks the response was “Wrong! Die, bot, die.” —Carla Thomas