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August 31, 2007

Games: Push-Your-Luck

Anyone who has ever played Blackjack knows the dilemma at the heart of every push-you-luck game. Do I stay with this crummy 15, or do I request another card and possibly bust? Every game has some element of risk-reward, but push-you-luck games are often nothing but, the agonizing do-I-or-don't-I decision distilled to its essence.

Because of their simplicity, push-you-luck games rarely afford opportunities for strategic play. But what they lack in depth, they make up for in accessibility (most can be taught in moments) and excitement. Where other games might be a 10k, push-your-luck games are more akin to a 100m dash--and are likely to give you the same cardiovascular workout.

Here are some of the best:

Can't Stop: The epitome of the push-your-luck genre, Can't Stop was unavailable for quite a while, but was reprinted by Face 2 Face Games earlier this year. Roll four dice and group them into scoring combinations. Every time you succeed, you advance your markers on the board--and are given the opportunity to roll again. You can call it quits at any time and "bank" your progress, but if a roll produces no combinations, everything you earned during the turn is lost. You can find a slick computer implementation of the game at rollordont.com, but goading on other players is half the fun, and it should really be played against real people. Can't Stop is one of those classics that I recommend unreservedly to anyone who enjoys games.

Incan Gold: The newest entry in the push-you-luck category is also one of the most popular. Players are Indiana Jones-eque explorers, infiltrating forgotten ruins in search of treasure. Everyone enters the temple as a group and, on each turn, the top card of the deck is turned over, revealing either treasure or a hazard (rock slide, poison gas, snakes, etc.) Afterwards, each player has the option to take the money and run, or venture yet deeper in search of greater riches. Those who flee get to keep all the treasure they collected; those who are still in the temple when the second of a particular hazard is revealed get nothing. The group dynamic of Incan Gold makes it even more fun than Can't Stop in my opinion, and it plays in half the time.

Exxtra: I like the stripped down, almost austere design of Can't Stop, but Exxtra is perfect for those looking for a little more meat. Here again you are rolling dice, hoping to improve your position and avoid busts. But in Exxtra, you must compare your rolls to those of the other players, and this added interaction makes the game feel a little deeper. One indisputable advantage of Exxtra over Can't Stop: it can accommodate up to six players, while the latter only works for 2-4.

Cloud 9: Very similar to Incan Gold, though Cloud 9 puts the players in a hot air balloon rather than in an Incan temple. On a turn, the current pilot of the balloon (it rotates every round) must play a specific combination of cards from his hand. If he succeeds, the balloon rises, and everyone aboard has the potential to score more points; if he fails, the balloon crashes to the ground, and those who hadn't yet bailed get nothing for the round. Simple and engaging, Cloud 9 has been a favorite of my game group for years.

Circus Flohcati: Take a card from those face up, or, if you don't like any of the ones available, turn over more cards. But if you ever turn over a card identical to one already face-up, you lose your turn and get no card at all. As just a deck of cards, Circus Flohcati is compact enough to fit in a pocket--perfect for bringing to your local tavern.

Viva Topo!: You know, for kids! This strays a bit from the cash-in-or-keep-rolling formula at the heart of the other games on this list, but the push-you-luck element is definitely in there. Send you mice to get cheese; the more mice you send, the greater the possibility of reward--but the harder it will be to get anything at all. This game has great bits, and is playable by kids as young as 4.

Lastly, the push-your-luck game I have probably played more than any other is simply called "10,000," and is playable with nothing more than five dice and a scorepad. We played this incessantly when I was in the Peace Corps. Full rules are here.

August 29, 2007

The Hoax

An earlier version of this article quoted from a blog entry purportedly by the Rev. Al Sharpton. MSNBC.com has determined that the blog is a hoax ...

No. No. No, no, stop it. I swear, "hoax" is rapidly becoming the most intentionally misused word in currency.

The above was taken from an MSNBC article about Michael Vick that included a lengthy quotation taken from Newsgroper.com. Newsgroper is devoted to "Fake Parody Blogs, Political Humor, [and] Celebrity Satire," a fact stated right in the titlebar. It makes no attempt to pawn its stories off as real.

Which is, of course, a key component of a hoax: intent. Merriam-Webster: "hoax, noun. 1: an act intended to trick or dupe; 2: something accepted or established by fraud or fabrication."

You could argue that the articles on Newsgroper are fabrications. But how do you justify "SUBSTANCE FOUND AT IKEA PROVES TO BE A HOAX," the headline on a New Haven city webpage, describing the incident in which a running club sprinkled flour in an IKEA parking lot to guide joggers, only to have local authorities react like it was the season finale of 24? The substance itself was a hoax? Someone somewhere had to fabricate the flour, I suppose--wheat doesn't grow on trees, you know--but where, exactly, is the trick, dupe, or fraud?

Hoax's reign as the scapegoat du jour dates back to the Boston "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" debacle in February of this year. "Two plead not guilty to Boston hoax charges" the CNN headline read, and the Boston authorities used the word "hoax" to describe the incident as often as they could. The advantages of labeling something like this a hoax are obvious: you didn't massively overreact to a situation that the average person recognized as harmless, you were tricked into doing so! You didn't just take a quotation from a clearly phony article on a random webpage and build a story around in, you were duped! You're not an idiot, you're just easily gulled! (This argument reminds me of the Democrats claiming that they voted in favor of the Iraq war because the White House tricked them into doing so ... not that getting outwitted by Bush is any less embarrassing than getting outwitted by flour.)

If you want some example of legitimate hoaxes, you need look no farther than those bandying around the term. These are the people who intend to trick or dupe, to hide their own culpability behind a malapropism. Whenever I hear the word "hoax" leave the mouth of someone in power, I like to imagine it wearing a little t-shirt reading "I'm With Stupid."

Update: The City of New Haven updated their page about an hour ago, changing the headline. The original is cached here.

August 27, 2007

Snopes Isn't Even Trying Anymore

Snopes Isn't Even Trying Anymore

[ link | Humor]

August 24, 2007

Movies: Rocky Balboa

When it was released to theaters last year, Rocky Balboa received generally favorable reviews, but even the kindest critic said it was pretty much a film for completists. If you've seen Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, and Rocky V (yes, there was a Rocky V), they said, you may as well go whole hog and see this one too.

Up until two years ago, I'd never seen any of the Rocky films. But I'd always been perplexed by the fact that the first had won the "Best Picture" academy award. Seriously? Rocky? It's just a dumb guy boxing, right? As far as I knew, it was the stereotypical (or perhaps prototypical) "sports film"--lovable underdog with a lot of heart works really hard, experiences setbacks, overcomes obstacles, and, against all odds, wins in the end. Plus, it was written by Sylvester Stallone--how good could it possibly be?

The answer, I discovered when my curiosity got the better of me and I finally rented the thing, was: pretty goddamned good! It was not the slick and generic sports films I'd expected, based on what little I'd seen of Rocky III and IV. Instead, it was melancholy, gritty, and authentic through and through, as much about the means streets of Philadelphia as about the titular character.

Enjoying Rocky did not increase my desire to see the sequels. If anything, it encouraged me to steer clear. I had no desire to see the Hollywood Blockbuster I'd expected the first to be.

Flash-forward to last week when, for some inexplicable reason, I added Rocky Balboa to my Netflix queue and sent it to position #1. Frankly, I was just interested to see what convoluted rationale they'd use to justify a 60-year-old Stallone re-entry to the ring.

Imagine my incredulity when, for the second time, the Rocky film I'd been prepared to mock turned out to be not bad.

Rocky Balboa is written like a direct sequel to the original film, not as the sixth in a series. The events of Rocky II-V happened, but are mentioned only in passing. All you know (or need to know) is that, at some point after the events of the first film, Rocky won the title of Heavyweight Champion, held it for some time, and has long since retired from the ring. Though Rocky's home is much larger than the amazingly tiny apartment he lived in for the first film, he is still a humble and modest guy, still resides in Philly, and still has Paulie as a best friend. Furthermore, the cinematography of the film is much closer to the rough-hewn Rocky than that of its polished predecessors.

Which isn't to say that Balboa clears the high bar set by Rocky. There's a lot of speechifying in this film, which mainly consists of characters shoring up one another's sagging morale with rousing motivational speeches. The film occasional wanders over the line separating "paying homage to" and "just remaking" scenes from the original film--and routinely barrels across the line between "sentimental" and "schmaltz". And Rocky's son simply doesn't work: the actor's not that great, the character is ill-defined, and he comes across as little more than a plot element Stallone felt obliged to include since he'd existed in some of the prior movies. (Perhaps in recognition of this fact, Rocky essentially adopts a new son a third of the way into the film. And a dog.)

Still, watching Rocky and Rocky Balboa as I did, with a few years separating the screenings, was very satisfying. I bet it would be even more so if you saw Rocky back in the 70's or 80's, and didn't bother with any of the sequels. It reminded me of the Before Sunrise / Before Sunset duology, with thirty years elapsing between the two films instead of 10, and the romance between a boxer and the Heavyweight championship title. (Cinephiles who bristle at the comparison are probably forgetting that the original Rocky had at least as much indie cred as Linklater's film--perhaps more, as at least Ethan Hawke was a bankable star at the time of Sunrise's release).

I wouldn't recommend Rocky Balboa to everyone. But if you enjoyed the first, and were always more interested in the Rocky the character than in Rocky the franchise, you'll probably be as pleasantly surprised by the final chapter as I was.

August 23, 2007


Just to clarify, that last post was wholly invented. I still do not have a cellphone.

I have, however, been thinking a about ringtones a lot in the last two days, trapped, as I am, in a jury holding area with 200-odd other Seattlites. When you take a random sampling of the population these days, you also get a random sampling of ringtones, and I've been treated to snippets from everything from rock to pop to classical to Star Trek sound effects.

I find it funny that people don't change their ringtones for certain occasions. The same guy who gets all dressed up in a suit and tie to jury duty thinks nothing of arriving with a cellphone set to "Quacking Duck."

So I Called Up The Captain

I just set my cellphone's ringtone to Hotel California. Man, I love that song. My favorite part is the fadeout at the very end. So awesome. I could listen to it a million times and not get tired of it.

Anyway, if you call and it takes me six minutes and eight seconds to pick up, that's what's going on.

[ link | Humor]

A Little R&R

Second day in the jury pool. So far I, and the some 200 other folks here, have done absolutely nothing. No juries have been empaneled, not a one. We've all just been sitting around, reading books, surfing the web, making small talk, drinking Cokes from the vending machines, dozing off.

A moment ago, the jury coordinator said we could take a 20 minute "break." The guy next to me, in all sincerity, pumped his fist in the air and said "YES!"

August 22, 2007

Shivic Duty

I am on jury duty today. Again. Third time in five years. Random selection my ass.

As I walked through the metal detectors at the King County Superior Courthouse this morning, a security guard beckoned me over.

Guard: Is that a keycard on your waist?

Me: Wha-? Oh, yeah. It's from my work. I just kind of habitually clipped it on this morning.

Guard: May I see it?

Me: Sure.

{I hand him the keycard. He examines it for a moment.}

Guard: Is there a knife in here?

Me: A what? A knife?

Guard: Yeah.

Me: No, it's just a keycard.

{He hands it back to me.}

Guard: You can buy these keycards now that have little concealed knives in them.

Me: Oh. Well, uh, thanks for the tip.

August 21, 2007

CRP Update

Oh jeeze, I totally forgot I initiated s new round of the Cliche Rotation Project a few weeks ago. I'll post entries next Monday. In the meantime, you can continue to send in your submissions here.

Nebraska Moves 2008 Presidental Primary to 1:30 This Afternoon

Nebraska became the latest in a series of states "frontloading" the 2008 campaign season, rescheduling their presidential primary from its previous date of Feb. 26, 2008 to 1:30 this afternoon.

"Nebraska has been all but ignored by the campaigns for too long," said Governor Dave Heineman, after making the announcement this morning. "Well, you can bet they're talking about us now."

Indeed, in the two hours since the announcement, candidates have been scrambling to find the midwestern state on the map, secure air passage to Omaha International Airport, and glad-hand local residents before the polls open this afternoon.

"This only underscores what my campaign has been saying all along," said a disheveled and unshaven Mitt Romney, the first to arrive, at a hastily assembled press conference given moments after he staggered from his plane. "That the Cornholer State ought to receive way more federal funds than whatever we give to you now."

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, aboard her jet and en route to Lincoln, announced that her campaign had just adopted "Beautiful Nebraska" as its new official song.

Chelsea Clinton did not accompany her mother, as she is currently campaigning in Utah in advance of their 2016 presidential primary, due to be held in April of next year.

[ link | News]

August 20, 2007


The Queen recently had a birthday. This is what I gave her.

As it seemed inconvenient to keep them in our bread drawer, I also built her a wormbin to keep them in.

I went with the OSCR Jr. model. The irritatingly cryptic plans are in this PDF, with useful supplemental information here.

Now, before I go on, let me assure you that this wasn't one of those situations where I gave someone a birthday gift that I secretly wanted for myself. My wife's hobby is gardening, mine is playing board games; thus, of the two of us, she is generally the one more enthusiastic about worm crap. My opinion of the whole enterprise was, essentially, "oh great--another 500 mouths to feed."

But I reckoned correctly that she'd appreciate he gift. And to get the ball rolling, I took the initiative in feeding them the few few days, gathering up our our banana peels and coffee grounds, taking them out to the bin that we had parked out in the garage, and burying the foodstuffs into the bedding.

Our book on vermiculture (Worms Eat My Garbage!) suggested we save scraps for a few days, and feed them only two or three times a week. Even so, I was out there giving them three squares a day, plus in-between-meal snacks. I don't know what got into me. My inner Jewish Grandmother rose to the occasion. I'd fix myself a huge bowl of fruit salad, take one bite, and say "Wow, I can't take another bite. But it would be such a waste to just throw this away ..." The Queen would be tossing eggshell into the garbage and I'd leap across the kitchen to intercept it. "No! No no no no, the worms!" I'd cry. "The worms can totally eat eggshells. It helps them multiple. Put it in the Tupperware container!" She'd sigh and oblige. And as soon as the Tupperware container was sealed, I'd seize it from her hands, rush to the garage, crack open the wormbin and holler "Soup's on, my lovelies!"

When there was no food I would just go out there, peel back the bedding, and gaze upon them in adoration. I can't say that the returned the affection. They were more, like, "Gah! Turn off that light, dumbass--we're photophobic!"

Anyway, long story short, after about a week the ratio of decomposing advocado rinds to Eisenia fotida was about 3:1. You'd think the wrigglers would be appreciative. But no--instead they stabbed me in the back. They started inviting undesirable types into the home I had lovely crafted for them, and these guests quickly turned the joint in a sex palace. The only thing my wormbin lacked was some red lights and a Barry White soundtrack.

I discovered when I went out to check on my worms one Friday morning. I opened the bin and a large, black, cloud of insects rose ponderously from it, like that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, except with less face-melting. As the wormbin was right outside the door to the garage, and I'd left that door open, they serenely drifted into our home like a raincloud over the savanna.

And so I spent the weekend conducting the following Google searches:


"fruit flies"

"fruit flies" kitchen eliminate

how "get rid of" "fruit flies"

(kill OR eradicate OR destroy) "fruit flies"

(massacre OR slaughter) "fruit flies"

"fruit flies" death "most painful" torture


"anger management"

And for their treachery, those ingrate Drosophilidae-loving worms got their house moved to the back yard. Little bastards.

Oh, who am I kidding? I can't hate my wormies. (I mean The Queen's worms! They totally belong to her ! I'm just, you know, helping out with them.) And the fruit fly debacle was ultimately of my own making, as I gave them way more food than they could consume in a timely fashion.

Fortunately, there is a simple remedy: build yet more wormbins, until I have enough to process all our kitchen waste. Given that I am already in the thrall of vermimania, that might not be the rational thing to do in my situation. But when is love ever rational?

August 15, 2007

Things Not To Say

I went over to a friend's house the other day, where we ate a bunch of pizza and then played 120 minutes of Power Grid. I knew most of the players, but two of them were a rather prim couple I had never met before.

After the game was over, I opened one of the pizza boxes and, discovering that there were still a few slices left, grabbed one.

"Hey, I'll throw that in the microwave for you," said my friend.

"No, thanks," I said, and then--because it's my standard line in situations like that--added, "I like my pizza the way I like my women."

I didn't have a punchline in mind when I said it. But, having set the joke up, I had no choice but to follow through. "Cold ... and a few hours old."

Update: Okay, so normally I wouldn't post something like this here, as necropedophilia jokes rarely go over well with my typically readership. (Hi Mom! It gets worse!) But I got such a torrent of amazing alternate punchlines when I posted this elsewhere, I had no choice but to share.

  • "Bought on a street corner" (Randombit)
  • "Patted down with a napkin and folded in half" (Umrain)
  • "Shared with 3 friends" (Newbornstranger)
  • "Available by telephone and delivered by a pimply stoner in an AMC Pacer" (Walter)
  • "So hot the top slides off." (Phil S)
  • "Hand tossed." (Flaunted)
  • "Liberally endowed with Italian Sausage." (Migelikor)
  • "Stacked in a corner of my fridge the following morning." (pyrimyd)
  • "Fawned over by nerds" (Gee)
  • "Free if they don't come within 30 minutes or less" (Melvin)
August 14, 2007

"It's Like 'AAAOOOooooooooooo.........' But Forever!"*

I was with a bar with a friend and, after a few beers, attempted to describe the Shepard Scale to her.

It was difficult. Eventually I pretty much gave up and resorted to Lovecraft-like allusions. "It's like a color that shouldn't exist," I said. "Or an angle that doesn't add up."

Here is is: The Shepard Scale. Note: ogg file; profoundly unsettling; may induce insanity.

* This was Alan Taylor's attempt at describing it.

August 13, 2007


My aunt was going through my late grandfather's effects, and found a carbon copy of a letter he sent to US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT a few months before he died.

Grandpa's letter

Perhaps it's best that he wasn't around to endure the iPhone hype.

More on Grandpa's epistles here.

August 10, 2007

The Bad Review Revue: Skanks A Million

Critics are raving over Bratz!

"Not that I was expecting much out of a movie based on a line of dolls, but ..." -- Richard Roeper, EBERT & ROEPER

"OMG! This movie is SO BAD! I can't believe I just spent an hour and a half of my life, like, watching it, when I could have been totally trying on hairbands!" -- Amy Biancolli, HOUSTON CHRONICLE

"As for Jon Voight's presence as the school's principal, one can only assume his Oscar statue is shedding actual tears." -- Elizabeth Weitzman, DAILY NEWS

"Offers supporting evidence that any film in which 'Awesome!' gets uttered more than three times should get a NC-17 rating, regardless of all the benefits such a move would deny the hair-extension industry." -- John Anderson, VARIETY

"I could actually feel my brain stem shrivel up as I watched it." -- Ty Burr, BOSTON GLOBE

"To the Bratz, individualism is only cool as long as it doesn't require unfashionable pants." -- Jeannette Catsoulis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

"On the wrong side side of the so-bad-it's-good line." -- John Anderson, LOS ANGELES TIMES

"Doesn't have an idea in its head but still screams at the top of its lungs." -- Jonathan Rosenbaum, CHICAGO READER

"Bratz celebrates something even more important than good grades or good friends: the vital acquisition of totally awesome shoes." -- Connie Ogle, MIAMI HERALD

"Will rot your child's mind, drain her soul and likely encourage early Botox dependency." -- Tom Long, DETROIT NEWS

Also: "Even Lindsay Lohan's mug shot was made with more skill than this bottom-of-the-barrel B-movie." Technically this is from a review of I Know Who Killed Me, but lumping Lohan in with the Bratz seems thematically appropriate. Thanks to Daniel for the tip.

August 09, 2007

Fifteen Of My Online Forum Comments, Taken Out Of Context
  • Supermarket sushi is just a scam to get you to buy supermarket Maalox.
  • The Wonderbra has brought more joy to my life than any other modern invention.
  • Interview tips: Make or three or four oblique references to your pathological enthusiasm for Cookie Crisp cereal. About six minutes into the interview cut the interviewer off mid-sentence with "look, if you're not going to hire me just say so now and stop wasting my time." Enclose every mention of your skills, experience, and education in airquotes.
  • Spousal apology: "I'm sorry you totally overreacted to that thing I did."
  • I just watched The Descent!

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    It's dumb.

  • Q: How many racists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: THATS RACIST!!!!
  • I have yet to hear an argument against public breastfeeding that can't be boiled down to "it simply isn't done!"
  • I'm sure If I Did It is just the first of a series of books, in which an assortment of c-level celebrities recount how they would have killed Nicole Simpson. The next one will be written by Al Molinaro.
  • To be fair, there was no way I could have known that charcoal briquettes were inedible.
  • If you receive all three of your Netflix movies on the same day, you win the company. Little known fact. It's already changed hands four times.
  • When I see an attractive woman, I will usually follow her for a while, hoping that she will almost get hit by a car so I can rush over, push her to safety, and be a hero. If that doesn't work I generally get in my own car and almost hit her myself, as a service to other potential suitors.
  • We tried attachment parenting for a while; now we're giving detachment a whirl.
  • I used to think that democracy was a pretty good idea, until the Washington State Voter's Initiative System taught me otherwise.
  • I've known a few people with bunnies. My general impression is that the "interesting companion to upkeep" ratio is skewed towards the latter--not that they require a lot of work, just that they aren't terribly engaging. That said, I like the idea of a pet you could conceivably eat if things turn sour.
  • You should start a blog so we can all not read it.
See also: Fifteen Of My Metafilter Comments, Taken Out Of Context


I like taco salad because you get to eat tacos and say you ate salad.

[ link | Misc]