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June 27, 2007
Squiggle's daycare was creating emergency kits for each child. One of the things they asked the parents to supply was pictures of themselves. That way, if there was a natural disaster, and the child was separated from his caregivers, he could at least find comfort in seeing them in a photograph.
It's embarrassing how long we agonized over this. We were all, like, "Oh god, not that one--I don't even think I brushed my hair that morning. Maybe one of these two? Tell me: if Mount St. Helens just erupted, and you were cowering in a log cabin at the base of the volcano hoping that not to be consumed by molten lava, which would you find more soothing: this picture where I kind of got a goatee thing going, or me in the leather jacket and the sunglasses. I mean, you can't really see my eyes in the sunglasses one, but I look pretty awesome."
But, then, you never know. Maybe in the post nuclear-holocaust wasteland, your standing in society will be judged entirely by the genetic stock you hail from. And Squiggle will assume his rightful place as superior to those kids whose misguided parents bequeathed photos where they are squinting into the sun or wearing unfashionable jeans.
June 22, 2007
Bradys, Half Off
Sony has launched the Minisode Network, a new service airing abridged versions of classic 70's an 80's TV shows.
Here is a selection of the programs, which have been given new titles that better reflect the scaled-back subject matter.
Update: It Came From the Comments!
Today on the radio I heard an advertisement for "The 32nd Annual America's Cup." I misunderstood what they meant, though, and was, like, "Shit, man: I don't give a rat's ass about sailing, but I'll watch it if they've really figured out a way to condense the thing into 30 seconds."
Sorry for the lack of posts, but I've been sick as a dog.
If you scour my previous entries, you may craftily deduce the identity of the infecter.
June 17, 2007
Father's Day fell on Friday in the Baldwin household this year. Squiggle was sitting in my lap as I read stories, kind of leaning against me listlessly, as he had been feeling under the weather all day and had eaten very little. Then, without preamble, he leaned over and gave me my gift early: BLAAARGH!
Awww. He made it himself--how sweet. And it's always nice to get a present that came from the heart. Or thereabouts.
June 14, 2007
Games: Power Grid
A few years ago I stopped buying new games, and decided instead to concentrate on picking up those classics that, for one reason or another, I'd neglected to pick up when they were new. Through the Desert, Ra, Mu & More, and the like.
And yet, despite its reputation as the third most highly rated modern game, I held off on purchasing Power Grid. I'd heard that it was long and complicated, and my shelves are already well stocked with such games, that rarely or never hit the table.
Plus, the theme of the game sounded unthinkably dull: power plant construction and management. The reviews of Power Grid seemed to confirm this impression, as they made the game sound like a protracted story problem, one in which you own plants X, Y, and Z, are trying to supply energy to N cities, and need to determine how much of four different types of fuel to buy. Bore-ing.
Still, for the sake of completeness, I eventually bought a copy, and even went to the trouble of playing it. To my surprise, I found the game was not as lengthy, complicated, or as bland as I'd feared. In fact, it rapidly became obvious that its reputation as one of the greatest games ever designed was well deserved.
Each player heads up a fledging power company, seeking to supply the nation with electricity. To that end they need to do three things: purchase power plans, acquire fuel, and hook cities into their power grid. Obtaining power plants is simple: every player has the opportunity to buy one at the start of each round. Purchasing fuel, however, is a bit trickier. First of all, Power Grid has a clever mechanism that approximates supply and demand: the more units of fuel that are purchased during a round, the higher the price goes. So which the first player to buy, say, coal, might get it for $2 a lot, the final player might be forking out $5 per coal or more. Secondly, the first person to buy fuel is the player in last place, followed by the penultimate player, and so on. In other words, if you are trailing, you get your fuel on the cheap; if you are "winning," you'll pay extra. This evens the playing field, and makes "hanging back" a viable strategy in the game.
Player then hook cities into their power grids. This is done by placing markers onto the board, which shows a country and a number of the cities therein. Only one player can own a city (at least at the start of the game), so players jockey to snap up the available towns, and maneuver to not get hemmed in. City acquisition is, again, done in reverse-place order, with the last player going first and the first last.
Finally, players fire up their power plants, supply cities with energy, and reap the rewards in cash. This cash will be used in future rounds to buy more plants, fuel, and cities.
From the description above, you can see why I might have written Power Grid off as an exercise in tedium, a game with all the excitement of filling out reimbursement forms. Instead, the game is remarkably taut and exciting. In fact, I tend not to like economic games at all, since they often strike me as overly bureaucratic, so it's something of a wonder that Power Grid, which falls squarely in that category, is currently my favorite game in my whole collection.
For one thing, money in the game is often very tight. In early rounds you may make no more that $20 or $30 dollars for selling electricity; and yet late in the game, when you are routinely pulling in $90 or $100 dollars a round, you may still find yourself a single dollar short of the funds you need to accomplish your Master Plan. The game isn't just about who makes the most money, but who can manage it the best.
Another great feature of the game is that the opponents you are primarily competing against changes throughout the game. Early in the game, for instance, I and player W may be the only two that own oil burning plants, and we are in pitched battle for the oil resources; meanwhile, on the board, the cities in my power grid might abut those of Player X, and we might constantly joust for position on the board. By midgame, though, I may have transitions over to nuclear power plants, skirmishing with player Y for uranium and fighting for territory with player Z on the board. In short, the game demands both strategic (i.e., long-term) planning, as well as tactical (i.e., current turn) savvy--a near perfect mix.
Power Grid is both longer (a typical game takes 90-120 minutes) and more complex than most of the games I recommend on this site. But the time flies by, and is easy enough to grok once you have a few rounds under your belt. It is also unusual amongst "money games" in that it is great fun even when you get clobbered; I have thoroughly enjoyed my dozen plays, despite the fact that I have never won once. Indeed, every loss just whets my appetite for more, as I desperately want to figure out how to refine my strategy. That's the hallmark of a great game: fun to play at the time, keeps you coming back for more. And though I bought Power Grid to "fill in the cracks" in my library, it rapidly became one of the cornerstones of my collection. A true classic.
From The Comments: Jason asks: "The purchase link you listed says 2-6 players, but how many players (at a minimum) do you think you need to make it really enjoyable?" I have not, and probably never will, play PG with two. But it's great with three to five, and the only downside to six-player games is length (i.e., typically two hours or more).
The rules for PG vary slightly according to the number of people playing, to ensure that every game is tight. For instance, the board is divided into six regions, and you always play in a number of regions equal to the number of players, making each game equally claustrophobic. Also, less fuel is available in games with fewer players.
Which is to say: they didn't just slap "2-6" on a game that was ideally suited for exactly four; they actually tailored the game for any number of participants.
June 13, 2007
Mad Tausig Vs the Interplanetary Puzzling Peace Patrol
Hey, great news! My pal Goopymart--the guy with whom I collaborated on Files Are Not For Sharing--just illustrated a new book: Mad Tausig Vs the Interplanetary Puzzling Peace Patrol.
Actually, two (count 'em: two) of my friends were involved in the creation of this book, as another buddy of mine, Darkpony is a co-author. Sweet.
The book is full of puzzles for kids: crosswords, anagrams, cryptograms...even some newer kinds like Sudoku, and a bunch of original kinds too. A little advanced for Squiggle, but the sort of book I would have loved when I was nine or ten (as a devotee of both GAMES magazine and science-fiction). Readers work to unravel riddles and stop the Mad Tausig (holder of the world record for "Most Evil Inventor") from hatching his master plot. And, of course, Goopy's drawing are hilariously absurd, as always.
Fun stuff. Check it out.
June 12, 2007
Father's Day Gift
Another in the series should be action figures of Oedipus and a dead guy.
What Did the Bolt of Fabric Tell His Daughter When She Threatened to Run Away to India?
"Go ahead ... you'll be sari."
June 11, 2007
Hey Science, thanks for the hypoallergenic cats. That's terrific, really. High fives all around.
But hey, small request? While you're in there messing around with meow-meow genes, could you also program them NOT TO INCESSANTLY MEW AT 6:17 IN THE MORNING???! Because that would be great. Thirty bonus points if you can apply the process to existing cats, so we retrofit this knucklehead:
A.k.a. "The Klaxon"
(Yes, okay, we accidentally fed you at 6:17 AM one time. Like, three years ago. But we are never never never never going to do it again, do you understand? Never. Your official feeding time is seven o'clock ... plus the four minutes per "meow" that pierces our bedroom door prior to seven o'clock that I add out of sheer spite.)
In fact, Science? Why don't you just go whole hog and program cats with some basic groundrules. You know, like Asmov's Three Laws of Robotics. Something along the lines of:
June 08, 2007
I was watching CNN this afternoon, and someone was talking about Paris Hilton's hearing. Because cameras weren't allowed in the courtroom, the "reporter" held up artist sketches of the heiress as she spoke, having apparently forgotten that we Americans now have a portion of our brains devoted to Paris Hilton imagery. So all she really need to do was just say some keywords--"Paris sad," "Paris indignant," "Paris naughty bits"--and the corresponding visual would involuntarily flash before our mind's eye.
Scientists believe that the "Frontal Hobe" is an evolutionary adaptation, similar to the camel's hump, allowing us to weather those stretches of 30 to 40 seconds when CNN accidentally covers actual news.
* Thanks, Daily Show!
The Bad Review Revue
Mr. Brooks: "Has more tonal shifts than a Philip Glass concert." -- Michael Booth, DENVER POST
Ocean's Thirteen: "Why put so much sheen on a movie that warrants and provokes nothing more than mild diversion? It's like serving sloppy joes on fine china." -- Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News
Firehouse Dog: "The lesson to be learned is that just because we can use computer technology to give dogs goofy faces, that doesn't mean we should." --Marrit Ingman, AUSTIN CHRONICLE
Delta Face: "If you're hungry for comical interpretations of an errant war, may I suggest any episode of M*A*S*H--or, indeed, any episode of Fox News." -- Michael Harris, GLOBE AND MAIL
I'm Reed Fish: "Like being forced to read the diary of a dull-witted teen who is breathlessly beginning a lifelong fascination with himself." --Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST
Miriam: "So bad it doesn't ever approach being good, doesn't even go from bad to good and back to bad again--just bad bad bad, all the way through." -- Charles Petersen , VILLAGE VOICE
June 06, 2007
I was in the grocery store check out line last night, trying to buy a six-pack of beer, and wound up stuck behind That Lady. You know, the one who, forty seconds after the total of her items is announced, fishes a crumpled up coupon out of her pocket, laboriously smooths it out on the check-writing stand, and presents it to the skeptical cashier, only to be told that it expired during Clinton's first term. My lady launched then into an extended defense of why she should be allowed to us the coupon nonetheless, despite the fact that it was essentially just a scrap of paper.
Out of sheer irritation I listened for a while, but then I got bored and kind of zoned out. The next thing I knew, the cashier, with an exasperated sigh, left her post and wandered off toward the back of the store, apparently in search of something, and That Lady shouted after her "It's not that I don't trust you, it's that I don't trust Safeway. As if she and the grocery store chain had been BFFs in middle-school, until the July when she totally caught Safeway making out with her boyfriend at Garrulous Pines Summer Camp.
And this was in the express lane, too. You know, the lane would be more "express" if they changed the sign to read "12 Eccentricities Or Less."
June 05, 2007
Forthcoming Sylvester Stallone Films, Following the Success of Rocky Balboa
John Rambo (2008)
June 04, 2007
Movies: Hot Fuzz
Hot Fuzz was not the movie I'd hoped it would be.
And then, suddenly, it was.
The premise sounded great: Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), a gritty supercop from the mean streets of London, is reassigned to a quaint countryside village. Based on this, I expected something along the lines of Shaun of the Dead. In that, writer / director Edgar Wright pulled off the neat trick of both faithfully recreating and parodying the typical American zombie movie simultaneously. I figured Hot Fuzz would be similarly over-the-top.
Instead, the film quickly settles into a city-mouse-country-mouse comedy of manners, more Fawlty Towers than Dirty Harry. Angel wiles away his days collaring underage drinkers, eating ice cream cones with his big-boned partner (Nick Frost), and cursing the local paper for repeatedly misspelling his name as "Angle." When someone actually dies in the idyllic burg, Angel leaps into action, seeking clues and questioning suspects. But the townsfolk pooh-pooh his efforts, and insist that the death was nothing more than an accident. And although Angel is committed to solving the crime, he seems determined, alas, to do so via detective work and deductive reasoning, rather than to let his guns do the talking. One of Angel's colleagues even dismisses him as "Miss Marple." At this point, the comparison seemed apt: the film felt like a satire of PBS's Mystery.
Which was okay, I guess. But I knew going in that Hot Fuzz was 120 minutes long. At about the 75 minute mark, I could feel my enthusiasm waning. In fact, I was a little mystified about all the good reviews the film had received.
And then, hoo-boy. Things changed gears, and how.
In some ways, Hot Fuzz reminds me of the Half His Heads Was an Orange joke, or any shaggydog story where much of the humor is derived from the overly-long punchline. And, in this case, the setup is pretty funny too--so long as you know it's not going to occupy the full two hour running time. It doesn't quite reach the heights of inspired insanity on display in Shaun, but it demonstrated that Wright's first film was no fluke--and has me looking forward to whatever he and Frost pair up in next.