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> I tried building/using "random" but there's a bug in the script. I
> don't know enough about Lua to know what it is:
> /var/tmp/lua-5.1.4/src/lua test.lua
> /var/tmp/lua-5.1.4/src/lua: 1: Syntax error: "(" unexpected

That's weird. Are you sure test.lua is ok? Here are its first few lines:
     1	-- test random library
     3	require"random"
     5	print(random.version)

> I wonder if the problem is not in the way I compile Lua, rather than
> modules.

Lua seems to be working fine. Try running test/hello.lua and test/bisect.lua,
from the original tarball.