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March 31, 2005

Games: Doom The Board Game

I'm a board gamer, not a computer gamer. And when I do play video games, they are almost never "First-Person Shooters." I have nothing against the genre and enjoy playing them from time to time, but I seem largely immune to their more addictive qualities.

So I didn't buy Doom: The Board Game because I'm a Doom fan; I picked it up because, rather unexpectedly, I'd been hearing good things about it from fellow board game fans. Those in a position to know said it was remarkably faithful to the computer game in atmosphere, but the raves focused more on the fact that it encourages strategic play, provides plenty of opportunities for meaningful decisions, and rewards clever tactical maneuvering. It was this assessment that convinced me to pick up.

But I try to pick it up as rarely as possible, for fear of throwing out my back. The first thing you notice about Doom is the weight of the game, and a peek inside the box reveals the reason: it is packed with components, including scores of small (and some not-so-small) plastic miniatures, dozens of rooms and hallways, and hundreds of counters, as well as dice, cards, reference sheets, and rulebooks. Yes, I said "rulebooks, plural -- the game comes with both an instruction booklet (describing how the game is played) and a scenario guide (outlining the five "levels" that players can attempt). But don't assume that the quantity of rules automatically makes Doom a hideously complicated enterprise. While it's true that the game features lots of minutia -- different stats for different weapons, different ablities for different monsters, etc. -- the core system is simple, elegant, and teachable in a matter of minutes.

For those unfamiliar with the video game, here's the premise. The Marines are conducting Interdimensional Studies in a Martian base, and when something goes kaflooey a portal is opened into the depths of Hell. (I'm not clear if it's literally Hell or just another plane of existence, but, suffice to say, you wouldn't want to spend spring break there.) All manner of monstrosities rush through the doorway and overrun the base, killing everyone in their path. As one of the remaining survivors, the goal of the player is to equip himself with the weapons laying around and sprint through the base, shooting (or punching, or chainsawing) everything that crosses his path and striving to find an exit.

In the board game, 1-3 players play as the Marines, and the remaining person serves as the Invader player (thereby controling the monsters). At the start of the game the only "board" on the table is a single room, with the Marines inside and a few doorways on the perimeter. Doom comes with modular rooms and corridors that connect to each other jigsaw-style, allowing the Invader to build the base as the Marines go. In other words, the Marines don't know what lies behind a door until they open it, at which point the Invader adds the newly revealed area to the existing board and populates it with all sorts of baddies. There is also equipment hidden throughout the levels, allowing Marines to acquire new weapons, ammo, armor, health potions, and more.

Combat in Doom is quite simple. The game comes with a four different types of Combat dice, each with its own characteristics. The blue and the red dice, for instance, do a lot of damage, while the yellow and green dice allow for longer-ranged shots. Each weapon in the game uses a unique subset of the dice: when firing the shotgun the player rolls a blue and a red die, making it a short-range but lethal armament; the pistol, meanwhile, uses a yellow and green die, allowing a Marine to inflict minor wounds on distant enemies. Players possess a number of ammo chips, and must discard one whenever a bullet icon appears during a dice roll. Ammo is therefore a limited and extremely valuable commodity

When a Marine dies -- and he will -- he is not eliminated. On his next turn he reappears on the board and continues to battle. The Invader player receives a "Frag Point" for each Marine death, however, and wins when he's accumulated a preset number. The Marines win upon finding the exit and escaping.

Let's start with the good news: Doom: The Board game is a fun, exciting, and very tense affair. The Invader player is allowed to place one or more monsters onto the board at the start of his turn, so the Marines are never given the opportunity to rest and regroup. They must constantly push forward toward the exit (or toward where they think the exit lies -- remember, they don't know the layout of the level until they've opened doors and explored), and must keep a close eye on their remaining ammo lest they run out at a critical moment. The Marines all have distinct special abilities and are able to exchange equipment amongst themselves, and players who make thoughtful, team-oriented decisions will greatly increase their chances of survival.

But those chances of survival for the Marines -- even when experienced, even when they work as a team -- are bleak. This is the bad news. When played by the full compliment of four players, Doom overwhelmingly favors the Invader player. (When played with three players -- two Marines v. the Invader player -- the game seems balanced, and when played one-on-one the game apparently favors the sole Marine.) There has been much debate about this issue, and while some dispute that the imbalance exists* and others insist that the imbalance doesn't matter (because the game is a blast even if the Marines consistently go down in flames), the majority opinion is that the game is virtual unplayable without the adoption of some variants or house rules. One of the more common suggestions is that the Invader play the game not to win, but to ensure that the Marines have a tense, closely-fought match. That works (it's how I play, in fact), but it means that the Invader has to pull his punches and assume the role of "dungeonmaster" instead of playing to the best of his ability, and that might not be to everyone's liking.

It's also worth noting that the game takes 150-180 minutes to play and requires a huge amount of table space. Whether those are pros or cons, I'll leave to the reader to decide.

I like Doom: The Board Game -- so much so that I don't mind the three hour playing time, and that's saying something. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that the balance issues weren't ironed out before its release. The designer has since released two "fixes" for the game: a "difficulty mod" that increases the amount of health and ammo the Marines start with, and an easier (and shorter) "Introductory scenario" (both of which you can find on the Doom support page). I appreciate these "patches," but it seems like after-the-horse-has-left barn-door-closing to me. It's too bad, because the core system is well designed. If I had to guess, I'd say that Fantasy Flight Games put a lot of time, effort, and playtesting into getting the game itself right, but then skimped when refining the scenarios.

Even so, I'd certainly recommend Doom to anyone who enjoys the video game, and to those board gamers who don't mind a lopsided contest or have the patience to seek out and adopt enough house rules to get the game to shine.

* Kevin Wilson, designer of Doom: The Board Game, says the game must be balanced because he can win any scenario playing as the Invader player or on the side of the Marines. That may be true, but he's the designer, fer crissakes. That's like saying Bobby Fischer vs. me in chess is an even matchup because the Fischer could win regardless of whether he plays black or white.
March 30, 2005

What The Doctor Ordered

defective yeti has long been on the forefront of linguistic innovation, bringing you such indispensable neologisms as stuplimity, petable, and misfortunation. And whenever there is a void in the public vernacular, this website shall boldly stride forth to ... okay, blah blah blah, you get the picture.

Anyway, you know what I'm sick of saying? "Dr-Pepper-or-Mr-Pibb."

That's my drink of choice, but I'm not particular enough to distinguish between the two. So when ordering one, in a restaurant or at the drive-thru, I have to tack the two already overly-long names together with a conjunction and cough them both up at once.

Of course I could just order one or the other. But since I invariably choose the one the eatery doesn't carry (I just can't seem to remember which multi-national soft drink corporation owns which multi-national fast food chain) the cashier then has to ask "Is [the other one] okay?" and I have no choice but to give a long, exasperated sigh and say "Yes, [the other one] is okay -- duh! Jesus. And you'd better not put any pickles on my Barbarque California Falafel because I said NO pickles and that shit is nasty."

You don't have this problem with other drinks, because they all have generic names. Coke and Pepsi are "cola"; Cherry Coke and Wild Cherry Pepsi are "cherry cola"; Barq's and Hires and A&W and Mug are all "root beer." Orange drinks are "orange drinks" and iced tea is "iced tea." I could even get a 7-Up or Sprite by saying "lemon-lime drink," though I'd sooner drink ink right from the squid than order either one. But at least they have a generic.

I guess it's up to me to come up with a word that encompasses this distinct subgenre of soft drink. So I asked myself, what characteristic do all these drinks have in common? A vaguely prune / bubble-gumish flavor, sure -- but what really sets them apart? Answer: they all have titles. Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb, Dr. Becker, Mr. Ahhh, and all the rest -- they have all earned a doctorate, or at least the right to be called by an honorific. They are all, in fact, "titled colas" -- or, as we shall be calling them henceforth -- "tytolas."

But this paradigm shift in soft drink nomenclature will only occur if everyone participates. So the next time you're shouting at a speaker at the Taco Barn's drive-thru, ask for a tytola. They may not understand what you want right away, but just keep repeating it -- they'll catch on after you've said it a dozen or two times. The tytola revolution will take time, yes. But if we all work together, we can build a better place, a world where, god willing, my son will never have to utter the phrase "Dr-Pepper-or-Mr-Pibb." And isn't that the most any parent could hope for?

March 29, 2005

RIP
[ link | Humor]



Me And The Queen, At The Movies

Capsule reviews for the last three films we've seen on DVD:

Sky Captain And the World Of Tomorrow:

M: As a long-time fan of "1950's science-fiction," I was prepared to love this Sky Captain despite its lukewarm critical reception. And the first hour of exposition lived up to my expectations. But as it became increasingly clear that exposition was all the film had to offer -- plot clearly having come as an afterthought -- my interest waned considerably. Like Chicago, Sky Captain is an interesting attempt at reviving a cinematic style of yesteryear. But unlike Chicago, this one doesn't succeed.

Q: Pretty boring.

I ♥ Huckabees
M: Though isolated scenes in Huckabees made me laugh out loud, it seemed to lack a consistent narrative to string them together into a cohesive whole. With a shorter run time and a bit more focus (though the former would probably beget the latter) this could have been a favorite of mine; in its current state it was simply too scattershot for my tastes.

Q: Really boring.

Mr. 3000:
M: A very conventional Sports Movie, but with enough tweaks to set it apart from most. Despite starring Bernie Mac and incorporating plenty of humor, Mr. 3000 is not an out-and-out comedy, and instead walks a tightrope between The Natural and Major League with no small amount of skill. And it even manages to integrates its product placements well. Recommended to aficionados of the "Sports Movie" genre, or anyone in the mood for a guaranteed-good-but-by-no-means-great rental.

Q: It wasn't completely terrible. But it was pretty boring.

March 28, 2005

The yeti Lives

Well, you can't keep a good blog down -- or defective yeti either, apparently. Despite my attempts to put the site out to pasture for a week and save on bandwidth costs, the homepage kept lurching from the grave like a villain from an 80's era slasher film and reinstalling itself at /index.html, repeatedly clobbering the "Gone Fishing" message I had put there.

It took me the weekend to figure out how it was pulling off this Lazarus routine, but now I think it can be attributed to the same force that is responsible for, like, 94% of everything that happens on the Internet: spammers. Comment spammers, specifically.

Comment spammers don't visit blogs, click on the "comment" link, and then carefully type in their pitch for "Viagra, Cialis, Zyban, Prozac, Xenical, and many many more!" Instead, they have scripts that cycle through a database full of mt-comment.cgi URLs and pass the text of their spam directly to the script as the "text" parameter, thereby bypassing the webpage entirely*. So while I had dy shut down to real users, the comment spammers were still merrily pinging the mt-comment.cgi script on a regular basis -- and incidentally rebuilding index.html every time they did. Several times over the weekend I drifted over to defectiveyeti.com and saw that the homepage had once again broken out of the back yard and was running loose in the neighborhood.

Well, hell. I guess I could just disable the mt-comment.cgi script, but, seriously, at this point it's becoming more work to abandon the site than to maintain it. So I guess I'll just keep posting for the rest of the month, bandwidth bill be damned.

A big thanks to everyone who offered to chip in funds to cover costs. I really appreciate the offers, although I'm not prepared to go the PayPal route just yet. Taking people's money means that this blog becomes a job (at least in my mind), and I think we'll all be happier if I continue to approach it as a hobby. I like knowing that I can take a week off or blather on about my my personal obsessions without feeling like I'm letting down my stockholders. Besides, what if you kicked in $10 to keep dy up for the rest of March and then the next seven days worth of entries were lame? (Which, judging from my "yeti to-do" list, is going to be the case. Just you watch.)

Some good things came out of the shutdown, by the way. I found a slew of bandwidth thieves who had been hotlinking to jpgs in my images directory and shut them all down, so that should cut by throughput by a quarter right there. And I've arranged to have the site hosted elsewhere starting in April, so we shouldn't see this again.

For the remainder of this week I plan to keep my bandwidth overrun costs to a minimum by keeping the images shut off, limiting the homepage posts to five, and only writing dull and uninspired entires to ensure that no one links to them.

* It occurs to me that there may be an easy way to foil automated comment spammers, based on the fact that they don't actually go through an individual page to post. You could put a hidden field in you Movable Type template -- <input type="hidden" name="commentspammerssuck" value="1" />, say -- and then put a line in mt-comments.cgi that tells it to exit immediately if that parameter isn't present. Shit, that might actually work. I'll try it and report my findings.
March 23, 2005

Sticks And Stones

I held up two wooden animals. "Which one is the cow?" I asked The Squirrelly. "Point to the cow."

The Squirrelly pointed to the cow.

"Good job!" I said. I took all the animals, shuffled them, and held out two more. "Point to the pig. Point to the pig, baby."

The Squirrelly pointed to the pig.

"Very good! Let's do one more." I put all the animals behind my back and withdrew two. "Ready? Point to the chicken."

The Squirrelly pointed to me.

okay ... feelings ... kind of hurt ...


It's Just Arsenic, Walk It Off

When you call my doctor's office, you are greeted by a recorded message that begins:

Thank you for calling. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, or if you have splashed poison in your eye, please press 9 to speak with a nurse.
Note to self: splashing poison in your eye and having a medical emergency are distinct events. Good to know.

March 22, 2005

Of Recent Note

The other Morning News writers and I tell you what we're currently grooving on in a piece called Of Recent Note. Wow, was that ever an awkwardly worded sentence!


Full RSS Feed

Okay, I received two requests in 24 hours to provide full RSS feed, so I finally set up the site to do so. I just cut 'n' pasted the template from here, so if anyone has any problems with it, lemmie know.

Update: I've also linked to the xml feed in the source header.

March 21, 2005

Too Ill To Drink Coffee: A Drama In Real Life

The Squirrelly got a bunch of cool toys for his birthday, but his favorite is the Busy Ball Popper. It's this long, snaking tube, and when you put something into one end an invisible force accelerates it until it is ejected from the other end with explosive velocity.

Speaking of which: I have the flu.

It all started innocently enough on Friday evening, when The Squirrelly refused his dinner. Unfortunately, this refusal came 30 minutes after he had injected it. While sitting in my lap. Right at the best part of The Very Busy Spider, where I get to make the goat noises. He had been making this funny little coughing sound for about 10 minutes, and I interrupted my reading to say "Oh, stop: you're not fooling me with your fakey-cough sympathy ploy." And then, hoo boy, he showed me.

So I panicked and insisted we drive him directly directly to the emergency room because, my god, when has a baby ever thrown up before? The Queen pretended to play along, but basically stalled and waited for me to come to my senses. "I'll get ready to go," she said, and then went into the bathroom and slowly bushed her teeth. Meanwhile, I did a Google search for "baby +vomiting" and got around 40 quintillion hits, and every site said things like "You should take your child to the urgent care unit if (a) he is throwing up every five minutes (b) for 350 hours continuously. Otherwise: welcome to parenthood! Hope you enjoy doing laundry, chump!" That calmed me down (or maybe I had just become apathetic and uncaring about everything, as I always do after surfing the web) and I went into the bedroom, where The Queen was still clad and her pajamas, and announced that I didn't think a trip to the emergency room was required after all.

We put The Squirrelly to bed and the next morning he ate a modest breakfast. His appetite was diminished for the remainder of the day, but we cycled so much electrolyte solution through his system that he was as hydrated as a sea sponge. Also, he took a two-hour nap in the morning and another in the afternoon -- vomit more often, kiddo! By the time he ate a smallish dinner and went to sleep Saturday evening, we thought the worst was behind us.

And then came Sunday -- Palm Sunday, according to the calendar, but that we in the Baldwin household shall forever remember as "That One Day When We Were Totally Sick, Holy Shit Were We Ever Sick That Day."

I kicked of the festivities around 5:00 in the morning. "Wow, I feel totally nauseated*," I announced, and then went into the bathroom and proved it. "Are you pregnant?" The Queen asked when I returned. "Oh just you wait, wife o' mine," I retorted. "You'll get yours."

Well, I didn't really retort that. But I would have had the world's best "I told you so!" about five hours later if I had.

Since our bodies were hosting clearance sales ("Everything must go!!") from 10 o'clock onwards, The Queen and I had about one joule of energy between the two of us, while The Squirrelly, full of vim after recovering from his bout, was a lil' dynamo, and the whole day played out like a children's book about cheetah kitten adopted my a family of sloths. Basically, we did the entire day in two hour shifts: one of us would lay in bed and moan, and the other would "take care of the baby," which consisted of watching him play while they lay on the couch and moaned.

Which brings me back to the Busy Ball Popper. When The Squirrelly first received it, I was skeptical -- it's hyperkenetic and too colorful and not interactive, a TV without a volume control knob, essentially. But that was before it parented our child for an entire day. Between it and the Laugh and Learn Learning Home he was pretty much occupied for the entire day, and all we had to do was occasionally carry him to his high chair and hurl handfuls of Cheerios in his general direction. And he even had Baby Tad to give him appropriate, confidence-building affirmations ("I love you!!"), whereas the best I could muster was to crawl up to him at one point and croak "Despite the fact that you picked up this hideous disease at daycare and brought it home to your loving parents, we don't want you to consider our suffering 'your fault,' although we certainly do."

(Oh, I never mentioned that The Squirrelly began daycare? He started last Wednesday. And he got sick on Friday. And the incubation period for this illness is two days. You do the math. The only other child at the daycare Wednesday was an adorable little girl named Avery, so we have of course fingered her as the culprit, and have even been jokingly referring to the bug as the "Avery Influenza" or, when we don't have the strength to articulate that many syllables, the "bird flu." That's right: we have named the disease that has made us want to die after another disease that actually kills people. This is what has passed for jocularity around here recently.)

Anyway, today we woke up feeling well enough to drink coffee, which, around here, is pretty much the continental divide between life-threatening and benign illnesses. I even ate a bowl of corn flakes, an act that was unthinkable 24 hours ago. (The only thing I ate yesterday was a single rice cake, and that took two hours of dedicated effort.) And judging from The Squirrelly, who today seems fit as fiddle, I should be tip-top again by Wednesday.

Although I'm not sure the trajectory of my recovery will mirror that of the kid's, since the disease has affected us in profoundly different ways. We had the same symptoms, sure. But The Squirrelly took the illness in stride, weathering it like a man; whereas I weathered it like a helpless, mewling baby.

* Yeah, so I actually said "nauseous." Sue me.
March 17, 2005

You Got To Cool It Down

The 30 least hot follow-ups to the 30 hottest things you can say to a naked woman

  1. "Good morning Cheryl. I mean, um, Sharon."
  2. "Is it okay with you if I take this slow? I haven't done this in, like, fifteen years."
  3. "I can't stop touching you. Stupid OCD."
  4. "Want to join me in the shower? Grouting's more fun with two!"
  5. "I want to kiss/lick/touch every inch of you. Uh, I mean centimeter of you. I keep forgetting you are Canadian -- thank god."
  6. "I love how you taste your soup before adding salt to it. You know, that's the way Thomas Edison used to interview candidates. True fact. He'd take them out for lunch and if they seasoned their soup before trying it he wouldn't hire them, because that showed that they were impulsive and didn't -- holy shit, are you okay?! Jesus, you spilled it all over yourself! That's gotta hurt. What the fuck were you doing eating soup while naked in the first place?"
  7. "Do you feel this, too?" ("This" being an incredible emotional euphoria -- but, seriously dude: if you gotta explain it, the answer is "no.")
  8. "Hungry? Stay right here. I'll go make you a burrito." (Note: This statement cannot be made any less hot.)
  9. Her name -- her full name -- followed by a "Wow"? Followed by "Well? Are you listening? Do you want to play World of Warcraft or not?"
  10. "I'll get the light sabers, you get the tickets to Revenge Of The Sith."
  11. "I'll cancel my plans if you'll stay here with me for the rest of the weekend. Yes, right here in the strip club."
  12. "No one's ever done that before and lived."
  13. "Can we do that again? I forgot to hit record on my camera."
  14. "I love your [fill in body part here]." No, not the bile duct, you idiot -- an external body part.
  15. Nothing. Total, deliberate silence. You can stare at her, grab her, touch her, but don't make a sound. If she tries to talk, place a finger on her lips. Then continue shutting down all effective means of communication between the two of you for the next thirty years of your marriage.
  16. While looking out the window at people not currently in bed with her: "Suckers." While looking at the people currently in bed with her: "lucky bastards."
  17. While looking at moonlight reflecting on the ceiling: "What do you see? I see Gene Hackman."
  18. I'll go make coffee. How much low-fat Irish Cream flavored sweetener do you like in your Sanka?"
  19. "Waking up with you is even better than sleeping with you, because you steal all the covers while sleeping."
  20. "Let's play hooky today. You won't get in trouble -- I am your principal, after all"
  21. Any use of the word "hot." Especially: "You're so hot" or "Ever since we ate that dim sum I haven't felt so hot."
  22. "Squeeze my hand when it feels really amazing. Seriously, just give it squeeze. Just gooooo ahead and squeeze it, any time now. As soon as it feels amazing. Or, you know, feels adequate -- whatever."
  23. Words that end in "uck." Yes, even "duck," when appropriate. Or "Schmuck."
  24. "There's nothing else I'd rather be doing right now than getting dressed and hitting the road, but I guess I'm obligated to lie here next to you for another 20 minutes."
  25. "I'm ready to go again. Too much fiber, I guess."
  26. "Damn, I've missed you. Hang on while I reload."
  27. "How about a massage? Let's start with my feet."
  28. Playful laughter that escalates into maniacal laughter that transitions into coughing that degenerates into sobbing.
  29. "Don't ever leave me the check."
  30. "You sleep; I'll go check on the baby." A moment later: "Yep, we still have a baby. Goddamnit!"


Pledge of Allegiance

My new piece, Pledge of Allegiance, is up at The Morning News.

March 15, 2005

Kevin Guilfoile At The Elliot Bay Bookstore

Sorry to make my entire readership juggle their schedules, and hope those of you outside the greater Seattle areas will be able to change the dates on your plane tickets and hotel reservations without too much difficulty. But I screwed up the date of my reading with the estimable Kevin Guilfoile. Let's try this again.

Wednesday (Tomorrow! Not Thursday! Tomorrow!), 7:30 at the Elliot Bay Bookstore, I will be the opening act for Kevin Guilfoile. Kevin will be reading from his new book Cast of Shadows, a deadly-serious and critically acclaimed crime novel that examines the ethical and philosophical quandaries that lie at the intersection of cutting-edge technology and the human heart's dark desire for vengeance. I, meanwhile, will be telling a story that involves the word "boner." Please join us.

March 14, 2005

Monday Morning Odds & Ends

Why no entry for Friday? Well, I wrote a nice, long post, but then The Morning News swooped in and nicked it. So it will be appearing over there sometime this week.

Speaking of The Morning News, I'll be working on a sequel to my "Tricks of the Trade" article and the TotT book proposal this next week, so if you have any submissions, now's the time to get them to me. For examples of good tricks, see the original essay at The Morning News.

Moved the announcement of my reading with Kevin Guilfoile up a post because I am dumb and got the date wrong ...

Also! It appears that, for the second time after having been nominated for a Bloggie in the "Most Humorous Website" category, defective yeti again wound up as a bridesmaid and not a bride. Obviously I am crushed, but I shall keep my chin up. My motto, after all, is: There are no "losers," only "winners" that consistently fail.

And furthermore! I am currently involved in a grudge match with Mark Bottrell and he threated to unlink my blog from his blog and I was unable to retaliate because I have not linked to his blog from my blog so I have added his blog Ufcker to my sidebar so I can unlink it if things get any worse between us.

[ link | dy]


March 10, 2005

Ah, The Ravages Of Time

Speaking of birthdays, today is mine. But I've been feeling old for a week.

Last Tuesday I travelled to the KUOW office to record my bit for The Works. The studio is located in the University District, and I have always enjoyed going up there because The Ave is invariably teeming with pretty college girls, always a delight to behold. Especially on a warm and sunny false Spring day.

Alas, something appears to have changed over the last year. Maybe it's becoming a parent, or maybe it because most co-eds now fall outside the half-your-age-plus-seven formula for me. But for whatever reason, they all looked too young for me to appreciate. Kids, really.

They are still pretty, to be sure. But it's similar to when I go to an art museum and look at the Van Goghs: I can recognize that I'm looking at a fine piece of work, but it doesn't really do anything for me.

Stupid aging. I feel like a gourmand who has been striken with ageusia.


paaaaaaaarTAY!

The Squirrelly just turned one (as I mentioned), so we had a birthday party for him last weekend. In anticipation, The Queen went to the store to buy decorations. I didn't think we really needed them since only a few family members would be attending, but she somehow got it in her head that they were mandatory.

She returned with a bag full of construction paper, markers, glue sticks, glitter and the like. Apparently the only decorations the store sold featured proprietary characters -- Thomas The Tank Engine, Spongebob Squarepants, etc. -- and The Queen, determined not to give any money to The Man, resolved to make her own. This came as a surprise to me since my wife is probably the least crafty person I know, but she was adamant that there would be decorations and they would be handmade.

Of course the day of the party arrives and of course we've made pretty much no effort to clean our house or do anything else to prepare. So we spend all morning running around, throwing baby toys into the closet and scrubbing squash off the walls. Fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time The Queen suddenly realizes that she's forgotten to decorate. At that same moment my cousin arrives a bit early, is handed a bag of art supplies, and told whip up something to make the place more festive.

She made this and stuck it on the wall moments before the rest of the family arrived. It was our only decoration.

March 09, 2005

Games: Cluzzle

One of the first games I reviewed on defective yeti was a party game called Barbarossa, a guessing and deduction game in which players first make tiny sculptures out of clay and then attempt to identify their opponent's creations. It's a fun game, and one that invariably generates a lot of laughter. But I've been playing it less and less over the years as a number of cracks in the game design have made themselves apparent. The largest flaw, in my mind, is that the game game requires 45 - 90 minutes to play, which is simply too long for what it is. The final third of the game often finds the players becoming increasingly uninterested, and you can usually sense the mood of the group slowing turning from "this is blast!" to "okay, this needs to end." I've often wished that someone would come up with a set of rules that plugged some of Barbarossa's design holes and allowed you to play it in half the time. So when Dominic Crapuchettes sent me an email saying he had done just that with is new game Cluzzle and offering to send me a copy of for review, I gladly accepted.

Cluzzle incorporates the good elements of Barbarossa, omits the bad, and streamlines everything in between. Each player starts the game with a small lump of colored clay and a card with nine subjects on it; a typical card might have "baseball bat," "shoelaces," "pineapple," "Easter," and five more random words or phrases. Before play starts, each person chooses one of the items on his card and sculpts a clue for the subject with his clay. The key word here is "clue." Players need not create literal representation of their subject (and, in cases like "Easter," couldn't in any case), but may sculpt anything that they think will aid the other players in guessing their subject.

When everyone has completed their clues and they have been placed in the center of the table, the first of three rounds begins. Each round lasts two minutes (the game comes with a sand timer), and during it players may ask their opponent's yes-or-no questions about their subjects. "Is it alive?" might be a typical question, or "is your subject two words?" The owner of a clue must answer truthfully and completely. There is no order during a Guessing Rounds: any player may jump in with a question as soon as the previous question has been answered. Also during a round, players will be jotting down their guesses as to the other player's subjects on a pad of paper. When the sand-timer runs out no more questions may be asked or guesses made.

A round concludes with scoring. For each clue, all players read their guesses off their sheets, and the owner announces if anyone has guessed correctly. When a clue is identified, the correct guessers and the owner of the clue score points, and the clue is retired; if no one gets a clue it is carried on to the next round. After three rounds, the session ends; after three sessions the game is over.

The conceit at the heart of Cluzzle is lifted directly from Barbarossa: players gain the greatest rewards for making "Goldilocks clues," those that are neither to easy nor too hard. The number of points a player gains when his clue is correctly guessed equals the round it was guessed in -- one in the first round, two in the second, three in the third -- but clues that remain unsolved at the end of the third round score nothing. This clever twist means that players need not worry if they are not good at sculpting, because creating instantly recognizable clues is not the goal. Instead, the game rewards creativity, both in the clue-smithing, and in question asking.

Overall, Cluzzle is both considerably less than and a vast improvement on Barbrossa. By stripping the system down to its core, players are able to focus on the fun rather than the rules -- and essential feature of any party game. It does share one fault with its progenitor -- that people can sometimes and unintentionally give ambiguous answers to question, throwing some players off track and irritating them when the solution is revealed -- but played amongst friends, serious disagreements are unlikely to break out.

Some people have expressed misgivings about Cluzzle genesis, saying that it's nothing more than a rip-off of Barbarossa. On the one hand I can understand their grievance, but it doesn't appear that the much needed Barbarossa: Second Edition is on the horizon, so I can't bring myself to begrudge Crapuchettes for undertaking the task, even if he is making a few bucks on the side. Besides, the reason game mechanics aren't copyrightable is so that they can be freely reused, and designers have the liberty to take a older game and refine it into an better product. In my opinion, that's exactly what Crapuchettes has done.

Thanks to the Rozmiarek Family Home Page for use of the photo.
March 08, 2005

The Works: Parenting Blogs

I'll be on The Works this evening, talking about the rising prominence of parenting blogs. The show airs tonight 8:00 on 94.9, KUOW, or soon you will be able to listen to the audio online here.

Here are the people, sites, and articles we discuss:

And I'm sure dy readers will be happy to mention their favorite parenting blogs in the comments.

March 07, 2005

Fap

If you know what "fap" means in Internet parlance, you may find this amusing. You'll be even more amused to know that I stumbled upon this site while doing a Google Image Search for "Jennifer Connelly".

[ link | Links]



Indistinguishable From Magic

I bought one of those tiny USB flash drives to shuttle files between by laptop and desktop PCs. It's incredibly handy, but have to make sure I don't leave it laying around the house so The Squirrelly can't get ahold of it.

I honestly never thought I'd see the day when a hard drive could constitute a choking hazard.

March 04, 2005

The Bad Review Revue

The Pacifier: "Should have been strangled in its crib. " -- Jami Bernard, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Be Cool: "Manages the dubious trick of being both execrable and boring. " -- Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOUNRAL

Are We There Yet: "All too effectively conveys the claustrophobic horror of being shackled in a small space with two whiny, hateful children. " -- Nathan Rabin, THE ONION (A.V. CLUB)

Elektra: "Devotees of awful filmmaking can't go wrong with this one. " -- Michael Wilmington, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Boogeyman: "If you can't spell 'bogeyman,' you shouldn't make movies about him." -- Maitland McDonagh, TV GUIDE

Diary of a Mad Black Woman: "I laughed. I cried. Mostly I just wanted to throw up. " -- Michael O'Sullivan, WASHINGTON POST

March 02, 2005

Coffeclature

I dunno about your town, but here in Seattle people have pretty much invented their own language in regards to their espresso selections. It's like one of those native Indian languages where, instead of constructing sentences, they instead express complex thoughts by taking a base sound and then modifying it with a series of prefixes and suffixes, so the net result is a single, gargantuan word, spoken in single breath. Seattlites take a root like "mocha" and tack on a bunch of qualifiers to the point where, when asked for their order, they spit out some monstrosity like "triplesoyextrahotmochawithwhip."

My word is "singletalllatte." That's relatively new. Until a few weeks ago my word was "singletalldecaflatte." But I've fallen off the non-caffinated wagon, so the "decaf" prefixed has been dropped.

Well, it's supposed to be dropped. But that's the catch: now that I'm readdicted to caffeine, anything I do before my singletalllatte is done in a fog. And very once in a while I'll accidentally get my old word and my new word mixed up and unknowingly blurt out the wrong one.

It's basically a crapshoot which of the two words I mutter on any given morning. It's the worst of both worlds: since I'm again dependant on caffeine, accidentally ordering a decaf leaves me lethargic for the remainder of the morning; since I'm drinking decaf every third day, my caffeine tolerance isn't rising, and a singletalllatte therefore hits me like a jolt of electricity. And since the two drinks taste the same, I don't even know what I'm drinking as I stumble back to the office, nursing on my coffee lid teat.

In fact, on a typical day I pretty much have no clue as to what I've ingested until 40 minutes later, when, during a meeting with management, I either nod off or leap to my feet and cry "BRING ON THE ACTION ITEMS, BABY! BRING ... THEM ... ON!"

March 01, 2005

Books: Cloud Atlas

Note: This review is part of the Booklist 2005 Project.

In case you missed it, Cloud Atlas won the The Morning News' First Annual Tournament Of Books. As a contributing writer for TMN, I was asked to participate in the tournament, but I declined because I had an upcoming trip to D.C. on my calendar, and assumed I'd be too busy to read. As it turned out, I spent pretty much the entire trip devouring the very book I would have been reading otherwise. I started Cloud Atlas on my flight East, read it during every available moment while there, and finished it on the plane home. Something of a page-turner, that book.

Cloud Atlas a book of short stories, or a novel, or maybe both at once -- it's hard to tell. It has a very peculiar narrative structure, that much is certain. The separate stories (or are they separate stories, hmm?) take place in different time periods, and each is told in the tone and vernacular endemic to the era: the first story, set in the 19th century, has an ornate, Heart of Darkness feel to it; a later story takes place in the 1970's, and bears a striking similarity to the pulp thrillers of the era; and so on.

What's amazing about Cloud Atlas is that each story seems completely authentic for its time period, and (with the exception of one misfire) each is enthralling. The voices of the stories are so distinctive that, were the names of six authors listed on the cover instead of just David Mitchell's, the reader would never suspect that they had all come from the same pen. It seems more like an anthology than the work of a single, amazing writing.

Unfortunately, the sum is somewhat less than the parts. I don't want to go into too much detail about the "peculiar narrative structure" I alluded to above (although I will in the comments), but it hints at a much bigger payoff than the book ever delivers. My assumption was that all of the stories were in the service of the structure, and that the connect between them would ultimately be revealed; alas, in the end the mystery is not only unsolved, the reader is left wondering if there ever was any mystery at all, whether the structure was a means to a deeper novel or simply an if end in itself. Or as one character puts it, "Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan't know until it's finished." I'll confess that I did not know when I finished, but the more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to believe it's the latter.

Even so, it's one of the better books I've read in a while, despite the disquieting feeling of disappointment I felt as I neared the end and realized that the questions it raised were not going to be answered, or even addressed. But make up your own mind. Revolutionary or gimmicky? You won't know until you're read it yourself.