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December 22, 2006

The 2006 Holiday Survival Guide For Slackers

My 2006 Holiday Survival Guide For Slackers appears in The Morning News today. A big thanks to everyone who sent in suggestions, especially:

  • umrain zero for the Rocket Fishingrod
  • Andre Torrez for The Beer Belly
  • Debra Duncan for Mullet Shampoo
  • knutmo for Polonium 210
  • My sister for Barbie With Pooping Dog
  • Robert for Giant Novelty Checks
  • Alan Taylor and Jon D. for the USB Humping Dog
  • Matt Waters for both Season Shot & Breath Capture
  • waterloo.bob for Neuticles
Zero thanks go to my "friend" Mark, who inflicted that godawful The "O Holy Night" mp3 upon me. A few days after I received it I stumbled across the same song on The Sneeze and, although I didn't steal it from there, I would have, if it wasn't already burned onto my PC's hard drive and my psyche. So a hearty "zero thanks" to you too, Steve.

Update: Yes, I know the X-Wing Fighter never shot missiles. I originally wrote it as the Battlestar Galactica ship, but then changed it to X-Wing so I could make the "Great shot!" joke, figuring that no one would actually be nerdy enough to notice. THANKS FOR PROVING ME WRONG, ENTIRE INTERNET.

December 20, 2006

WTFFFF?

I've noticed that people have started writing "actual LOL" in emails and on message boards, to signify that they are not just using the term figuratively, but that something really caused them to laugh. Of course, it's only a matter of time before this phrase is also acronyminized and becomes ubiquitous, forcing people to take their calcifications to the whole next level.

Man, I feel sorry for the IM'ers of the future, who will have no choice but to type "Actual AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALOL!" and "O RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY RLY??!" They will look back on the era of three-letter acronyms with the kind of heartwarming nostalgia we feel when we reminisce about the Atari 2600 and polio.


Movies: Stranger Than Fiction

A friend of mine was fond of calling Coldplay "Radiohead for stupid people."

I wouldn't go so far as to call Stranger Than Fiction "Charlie Kaufman for stupid people," but it would be fair to label the film "Adaptation for the strip-mall cineplex."

(And like all Kaufman and Kaufman-esque movies, the film is best if you go in knowing nothing about it. So stop reading now if you have any intention of seeing it.)

Kaufman, you'll recall, is the screenwriter of such brilliantly recursive films as Being John Malcovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Adaptation was his 2002 picture, which jumped back and forth between a struggling author and the characters he was writing. So similar is the premise of Stranger Than Fiction that comparisons to Adaptation are inevitable, though the two films tackle the subject matter from opposite angles: the focus in Adaptation is on the screenwriter, while Stranger Than Fiction adopts the protagonist of the in-movie story as its own.

Harold Crick is a thoroughly uninteresting man, one who brushes his teeth a set number of seconds every morning, and squanders his days as an auditor for the IRS. He is also, as he soon realizes, the main character of a work-in-progress being written by Kay Eiffel, a novelist with a penchants for snuffing her protagonists in the end. When Crick discovers that he (somehow) occupies the same world as his creator, he sets off to confront Eiffel, hoping to procure a "happy ending" for himself.

If Stranger Than Fiction were a Kaufman film, all of this would be explained: why Crick suddenly starts hearing Eiffel's "narration" in his head, how the two can inhabit the same universe, the extent of Crick's free-will, and so forth. Kaufman's great strength is his ability to create complex, meticulous, and extraordinarily well thought-out worlds; unfortunately, this can also be his weakness, and his films sometimes sag under the tonnage of clever.

Fiction, meanwhile, uses its high-concept conceit as little more than a framing device for a straight-forward romantic comedy. To that end, it wastes little time justifying the more bizarre aspects of its premise. On the one hand, that's a good thing, as torturous explanation as to how things "work" would certainly bog the film down; on the other, Fiction's failure to establish any ground rules for what is and isn't possible puts the movie in the realm of the Bugs Bunny cartoon, where anvils fall from the sky and characters routinely bounce back from death.

Will Ferrel is a good fit for Crick. As with Steve Martin before him, Ferrel has mastered the role of hilarious straightman, who elicits laughter via deadpan delivery and blinking befuddlement. Maggie Gyllenhaal is cute as a button as Ana Pascal, Crick's eventual lover, but their romance is the most unbelievable aspect of a film packed full of plot-twists that strain credibility. He works for the government, she's an anarchist, and they get together ... why? Crick doesn't even woo Pascal -- he just pines for her until she obligingly signs up as his girlfriend.

(Actually, I take that back. The most unbelievable aspect of the movie is the idea that Kay Eiffel, Harold Crick's author, is one of the finest writers alive. Throughout the film we hear prose from Eiffel's novel as voiceover, and, man, it sounds like nothing so much as a Hollywood screenwriter trying to impersonate "the finest writer alive." Seriously, couldn't they have cut a check to Marilynne Robinson and asked her to anonymously rewrite those passages?)

I like Coldplay, though I prefer Radiohead. And I enjoyed Stranger Than Fiction, even while recognizing it as, essentially, one broken story (the romance) packed inside another (the protagonist - author relationship). There's no real need to see this one in the theater, but it would be a worthy DVD rental on an evening when you want something that manages to be both slightly unusual and thoroughly conventional.

December 19, 2006

It Never Rains ...

Good news: five days after a devastating Seattle windstorm, the lights are back on at my house, the kitties are warm, and all is again good in the world. Best of all, I can resume posting to defective yeti.

And not a moment too soon, as I have some hilarious observations about parking meters to share with you. Hah hah -- oh man, you're going to love these.

You see, the other day I was driving around in my H3, and I happened to notice--

Oops, Mount St. Helens is erupting. Gotta go.

[ link | dy]


December 18, 2006

Slacker Suggestions Sought

Yes, it's that most magical time of the year: time to send me links to the stupidest crap available for purchase on the Internet, for inclusion in my annual "Holiday Survival Guide for Slackers." Please post in the comments of this thread, or send to matthew@defectiveyeti.

Previous Slacker's Guides: 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002.

December 17, 2006

Benighted

Aerial shot of my neighborhood:

Hey! I think I can not see my house from here!

defective yeti will resume when I again have electricity, phone service, Internet connectivity, and my cats are no longer trying to burrow into my torso for warmth.

[ link | dy]


December 14, 2006

The Gift of the Magi, By O. Reilly

I didn't so much "write" this story for The Morning News as amalgamate it.

December 13, 2006

Intestinal Fortitude

Bush has moved his decision on the Iraq war to January, saying that he needs to digest all the information he has received on the subject.

Yes, this is the typical Bush M.O.: Ingest a bunch of reasonable suggestions from thoughtful and knowledgeable advisers, hunker down with Cheney and the rest of the inner circle for a week or two, and return with the end product of the digestion process.

December 12, 2006

Insufficiently Shy

The Queen, after reading yesterday's post:

Q: You're playing raquetball? What is this, the eighties?

M: Lots of people still play racquetball. It's one of the most popular activities at my gym. It's a great cardiovascular workout, exercises all major muscle, and is a lot of fun.

Q: Sorry, wasn't listening. I had a Kajagoogoo song stuck in my head.

December 11, 2006

Richochet

I was listening to the Adam Corolla show on my way to the gym this morning, and they were listing off the "Top Fantasies of Men" according to some meticulously unscientific poll or another. Number four, it turns out, is "to be totally dominated by a woman."

And, half an hour later, some 87 pound young lady handed me my ass in racquetball, 15-1. It's rare that the elapsed time between learning that I have a particular fantasy, and the fulfillment of said fantasy, is so brief.

I recently joined the racquetball ladder, and am currently dwelling on a rung about a third of the way up. Down here, you encounter three types of players: (a) people who have never played racquetball before and joined the ladder on a lark, (b) people who have been on the ladder for a while but aren't good enough to progress, and (c) people who are accomplished players but, like everyone else, had to start at the bottom and work their way to the top. On my initial serve this morning my opponent bungled her return, leaving me to instantly classify her as either (a) or (b). Swaggering with my near insurmountable 1-0 lead, I followed-up with a easy serve -- you know, the kind that even a girl could hit. And that was pretty much the end of that.

Here's how she scored one of her many points. She positioned herself in the center of the court and prepared to return the ball I had just hit off the front wall; I, meanwhile, stood about five feet directly behind her. She drew back her racquet to strike the approaching ball. Then, at the last moment, she apparently decided that she would rather field the ball off the back wall instead, and abruptly withdrew her racquet.

Fun fact: #9 on the list of Top Male fantasies was "To be hit in the groin by a high-velocity projectile in the presence of an attractive woman." YES! TODAY WAS A TWO-FER!!

December 08, 2006

Elsewhere Me

I am omnipresent.

  • I will be on KUOW's The Beat this afternoon at 2:00, speaking to Megan Sukys about holiday board gaming.
  • I was also interviewed as a board game expert for an article soon to appear in the Lancaster, PA "Sunday News." I don't know when it will run, but the title of the publication, along with my Jessica Fletcher-caliber deductive abilities, lead me to believe that it may be sometime over the weekend.
  • A joke I made over four years ago was mentioned yesterday in The New York Times. "The Evite brand is so well recognized now that there are spoofs on the Internet, including an Evite invitation to war on Iraq in which the only confirmed attendees are the United States and Britain."
  • My buddy John Moe will be speaking about / reading from his book Conservatize Me, and he asked me be his opener. I don't know what he was thinking when he made this offer (it's probably safe to assume that peach Schnapps were involved), but I accepted all the same. So come join us at 7:30, Tuesday December 12, at the Elliot Bay Bookstore for an event Seattlest predicted would be "a vortex of funny." High praise! I think! Unless they are alluding to the fact that vortexes are renowned for sucking.

December 06, 2006

2006 Good Gift Game Guide

The 2006 Good Gift Games Guide appears today in The Morning News. If you'd like to take a gander at pasts G3 Guides, you can find them archived here.

Runners-Up

A phenomenal number of games hit the G3 sweet spot this year -- so many that I not only had a hard time limiting the main G3 Guide to just ten, but picking only five runner-ups will be difficult as well. That said, here are some other games worthy of your consideration.

  • Aquadukt (Uberplay Entertainment, 2-4 players, 30 minutes, $22): This only reason this one was omitted from the main G3 Guide was because the list was already packed with simple, short, well-designed, semi-abstract family games, and I needed to make room for a few games of other genres. In Aquadukt, players first build houses, and then construct canals from the local spring to your humble abode. But as players take turns adding to the aqueduct, you never know when the flow of the water might zig when you desperately want it to zag. [More info]
  • Cleopatra and the Society of Architects (Days of Wonder, 3-5 players, 60 minutes, 45$): As with Aquadukt, I could have easily swapped this one into of the main list in place of, say, Masons or Blue Moon City. Players work together to construct a palace for the Queen of the Nile, but some may be tempted to cut corners and engage in shady deals. In the end, the richest player wins ... and the most corrupt player is sacrificed to the gods. Days of Wonder has a well-earned reputation for producing beautiful games, but they've outdone themselves with Cleopatra -- take a look at these components. [More info]
  • Voltage (Mattel, 2 players, 15 minutes, $16): Mattel is one of those enormous game companies not known for producing well-designed, elegant, "German-esque" games. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find Voltage under their banner, a simple but engaging card game for two players. Players place numeric cards to four terminals, striving to have the highest total if the polarity of the terminal is positive, and lowest total if its negative. Simple enough -- except, in a Machiavellian twist, the rules allow players to play cards on their opponent's side of the board, foiling their best laid plans. [More info]
  • Pickomino (Rio Grande Games, 2-6 players, 20 minutes, $20): The genre colloquially known as "push your luck games" (epitomized by the TV show Deal or No Deal) contains titles, that are simple, fun, and often nerve-wracking. Pickomino, for instance, has players as chickens, rolling dice Yahtzee-style and trying to acquire the tastiest worms off the barbecue. But if your total isn't high enough, don't despair: just steal another player's hard-won snack. Suitable for kids as young as eight, playable by up to seven people, and taking only 20 minutes to complete, this is a game suitable for just about any occasion. [More info]
  • Tempus (Rio Grande Games, 3-5 players, 90 minutes, $50): This one's a smidge heavier than some of the other games I'm recommending (which is the only reason it didn't quite make it to the G3 Guide proper), but it was one of my favorite of the year. The buzz of Tempus, before it was released, was that it was going to be "Civilization in two hours" -- that is, the wildly popular computer game distilled to its essence and shorted by about 99.7%. When the board game finally hit the market, though, people began carping that this wasn't exactly the case. Yes, you start at the dawn of time and shepherd your society up through the age of flight, occasionally expanding your territory and sparring with your neighbors. But to get the whole thing down to a reasonable time scale, designer Martin Wallace (one of my favorites) hand to simplify things -- oversimplify things, if you believe the critics. What they seem to have missed is that Tempus, stripped of the unrealistic expectations, is a great little game, even if it's a bit more abstract than folks had anticipated. Judged on its own merits, this is one of the better "city-building" games to come out in years. [More info]
And while I usually only include new games on these G3 lists, there were three reprints this year that I'd be remiss not to mention. Winner's Circle is a renamed version of one of my longtime gamenight staples, Royal Turf (full review here). Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation Deluxe Edition is an expanded version of one of my all-time favorite two-player games (full review of the original LotR:C here). And Simply Catan is a beginner's version of what I have often called the best Good Gift Game of all time, The Settlers of Catan. If you'd prefer to pick up a game that has already stood the test of time, check out one of these.

Second Opinions

Don't trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other "2006 best game of the year" lists.

German Game of the Year:

  • Winner: Thurn & Taxis
  • Special Prize for Complex Play: Caylus (my favorite new game of 2006, but too long and complicated to qualify for the G3 Guide)
  • Special Prize for Fantastic Play (I have no idea what that's supposed to mean): Shadows Over Camelot (one of my G3 picks from 2005, and fully reviewed here).

Deutscher Spiele Preis (A.K.A., "The Other German Game of the Year Award"):

International Gamers Award:

  • Best Multiplayer Game: Caylus
  • Best Two-Player Game & Best Historical Simulation: Twilight Struggle (Man, I gotta get that ...)

GAMES Magazine Awards:

Where To Find

If you live in Seattle, check out the stores page of SeattleSpiel, which lists all the outlets for these games in Puget Sound. Online stores are listed there as well, for those readers who live elsewhere.

December 01, 2006

The Bad Review Revue

Sunkissed: "When a movie aspires to be gay pornography but can't even manage that, well, you know you've got a bad movie." -- Neil Genzlinger, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Return: "Although it's being advertised as a horror movie, The Return actually invents a new genre: the bore-or movie." -- Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pioneer Press

The Santa Clause 3: "It boggles the mind that Saddam Hussein and assorted cohorts have finally won their rightful place in the global noose while various and sundry villains associated with this third entry in the Santa Claus franchise of flaccidly feel-good, winter nostrums will no doubt be allowed to walk the Earth with nary a qualm nor backward glance." -- Marc Savlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

A Good Year: "A leaden attempt at an upbeat romp from the downcast, feel-bad tag team of actor Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott, the movie is like hearing a knock-knock joke told by a mortician." -- Sean Burns, PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY

Deck the Halls: "Can be described as whatever is the opposite of a Christmas classic." -- David Hiltbrand, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER