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November 28, 2007

Catch-22: Chapters 33-37

Chapters Read: 33. Nately's Whore, 34, Thanksgiving, 35. Milo the Militant, 36. The Cellar, 37. General Scheisskopf

Page reached:: 377 of 448 (84.15%).

Status Report: Holy smokes, the bodies are starting to pile up. In the last 50 pages this book his gone from Hogan's Heroes to Platoon.

Not that that's a bad thing. After a hundred pages of holding pattern, having main characters expire left and right strikes me as a pretty good indicator that we are approaching resolution. This is how Hamlet ended too, as I recall.

For those of you who have not yet started the book, it's probably too late to jump in now and still hope to finish by Friday. Thankfully, Heller summarizes the entire novel in the chapter Nately's Whore, with this passage:

The middle-aged big shots would not let Nately's whore leave until they made her say uncle.

"Say uncle," they said to her.

"Uncle," she said.

"No, no. Say uncle."

"Uncle," she said.

"She still doesn't understand."

"You still don't understand, do you? We can't really make you say uncle unless you don't want to say uncle. Don't you see? Don't say uncle when I tell you to say uncle. Okay? Say uncle."

"Uncle," she said.

"No, don't say uncle. Say uncle."

She didn't say uncle.

"That's good!"

"That's very good."

"It's a start. Now say uncle."

"Uncle," she said.

"It's no good."

"No, it's no good that way either. She just isn't impressed with us. There's just no fun making her say uncle when she doesn't care whether we make her say uncle or not."

"No, she really doesn't care, does she? Say foot."

"Foot."

"You see? She doesn't care about anything we do. She doesn't care about us. We don't mean a thing to you, do we?"

"Uncle," she said.

She didn't care about them a bit, and it upset them terribly. They shook her roughly each time she yawned . . . Each time she slumped over with her eyes closed they shook her awake and made her say 'uncle' again. Each time she said 'uncle,' they were disappointed.

You can only have it if you don't want it. Catch-22.


Good Gift Games Guide 2007

The 2007 Good Gift Games Guide appears in The Morning News today.

Previous G3 Guides:
And all my defective yeti game posts are available in the archives.


Runners-Up

It was, as always, tough narrowing the field of good G3s down to just 10. Here are a few more, that just missed the cut.

Take It To The Limit (Burley Games, 1-6 players, 30 minutes, $60, family puzzle): This one was actually on the main G3 list until the very last moment, when I decided it was just too similar to Quirkle to merit inclusion. Nearly 25 years ago, Peter Burley invented Take It Easy, a clever Bingo-Meets-Jigsaw-Puzzles game that would unfortunately jam an Eagles song into your brain for weeks on end. Though that title is now out of print, Burley just released Take It To The Limit, an expanded version of the game that promises to get an entirely different Eagles song stuck in your head. As in its predescecer, Take It To The Limit has player placing hexagonal tiles and trying to form high-scoring, unbroken lines from one side of their gameboard to the other. Success requires a lot of luck, to be sure, but a little foresight will go a long way. [No Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

If Wishes Were Fishes (Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, 45 minutes, $35, family strategy): Catch a fish and you can do one of two thing with it: throw it back and have a wish granted, or sell it at market. Selling earns money and money's the goal of the game, but the wishes confer a host of benefits to the recipients. What to do, what to do? The only board game I know of that comes complete with giant rubber worms. [Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Iliad (Asmodee Editions, 2-6 players, 45 minutes, $25, card): One of my favorite light strategy games is Condottiere, in which player struggle for control in Renaissance Italy. The same designer now brings us Iliad, which employs the same basic mechanisms but does away with the gameboard, tightens the playing time, and turns the who enterprise into something a bit more suitable for casual play. [Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

To Court The King (Rio Grande Games, 2-5, 30 minutes, $30, dice): Yahtzee's been done a million times over, but never quite like this. Roll dice, set aside the ones you want, key rerolling until you get (or failt to get) a specific combination. Nothing new so far. But To Court the King has a number of characters; roll the dice combination associatd with a particular charatcer, and you'll get to use his special ability for the remainder of the game. The Jester allows you reroll a die; the Magician lets you change the value of a die to anything you want; the Nobleman gives you two additional dice; and so on. Works best with only two players, though three and four work as well. [Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Taluva (Rio Grande Games, 2-4, 40 minutes, $30, famiy strategy): Like the lovechild of Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan, Taluva has players building a volcanic island, and expanding their settlements with huts, towers, and temples. The rulebook is only 4 pages long, and an entire session can be completed in half an hour, but it feels like there's a lot of game in there. [Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

I'd also like to point out that, while it comes nowhere close to being a Good Gift Game (too long, too complicated, and requiring a few plays to fully appreciate), Twilight Struggle was by far my favorite game of the year. Read my review here.


Second Opinions

Don't trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other "2007 best game of the year" lists.

German Game of the Year:

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

International Gamers Award:

GAMES Magazine Awards:


Canonical G3s

While we're on the subject, here are my all-time favorite G3s.

Ticket To Ride (Days of Wonder, 2-5 players, 45 minutes, $40, family strategy): Went directly to the top spot on my "Best G3s List" when it was released in 2004, and hasn't been dislodged yet. In fact Ticket to Ride: Märklin, a newer edition of the game, even manages to improve upon the formula. Why is TtR so great? It's familiar (much of the play is based on rummy), appealing (who doesn't love trains?), easy to learn (figure five minutes for explaining the rules, tops) and competitive without being confrontational. Read my full review here. [Official site | Boardgame Geek (original) | Boardgame Geek (Märklin) | Funagain (original) | Funagain (Märklin)]

Carcassonne (Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, 30 minutes, $25, family strategy): A serene game in which player collaborate and compete to build a pastoral landscape, full of roads, cities, farms, and monasteries. Since its release in 2002 a dizzying number of sequels and expansions for Carcassonne have been published, but the original is a fine introduction to the series. One of those rare games as accessible to kids as it is interesting to adults. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Settlers of Catan (Mayfair Games, 3-4 players, 90 minutes, $42, family strategy): The game that launched the "German board game" craze of the mid-90s. Each players owns a small settlement on a island, and strives to become the dominant civilization by building roads, erecting cities, amassing armies, and raising sheep (yes, sheep). Trade is the key to success, as players may freely swap the natural resources they harvest; because these transactions can happen at any point during the game, every player is engaged all the time, even when it's not their turn. A marvel of elegant game design. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Slide 5 (Endless Games, 3-10 players, 30 minutes, $7.50, card): Curiously, many of the most enjoyable games are those that provoke the most agony in the players. Slide 5 (previously called Category 5 and, before that, Take 6!) is a prefect example. The deck contains cards numbered from 1 to 104. Every round begins with each person playing a card from his hand face down. After all are revealed simultaneously, the cards are added to rows in the center of the table in ascending numerical order. But if your card winds up as the sixth in a row, you take the other five as points--and you don't want points. I've been playing this one for about a decade, and still enjoy every game. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Lost Cities (Rio Grande Games, 2 players, 30 minutes, $23, two-player card): My default recommendation for a two-player game, unless I know the person well enough to suggest something more specific--and even then it's often the one I advocate. Lost Cities is essentially rummy, but with a specialized deck and the tension-quotation set to overdrive. Despite its simplicity, I routinely cite it as one of my favorite games of all time. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Wits & Wagers (North Star Games, 4-7 players, 30 minutes, $30, party): Finally, a trivia game for people who don't like trivia games--like me. Every question has a numerical answer; players write their best guesses onto erasable cards, and then throw them into the center of the table. Now everyone has an opportunity to bet on which responses are correct, and they are not obligated to wager on their own. A game in which knowing who's likely to know something is as useful as knowning the thing yourself. Read my full review here. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Transamerica (Rio Grande Games, 2-6 players, 30 minutes, $28, family strategy): It's so simple it's just barely a game, but lots of fun nonetheless. Players are randomly assigned five cities on a stylized map of the United States. On every turn players build railroad track in an effort to connect all their burgs. But because no one "owns" any given stretch of track, you can link into your opponent's network and use it to further your own goals. A typical game takes half an hour and can be played by persons of all ages and game-aptitude. Read my full review here. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

San Juan (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, 45 minutes, $25, card): Your goal: construct the town of San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico. Every card in the deck is a building, each with it's own unique ability. To put a building into play, simply place it in front of you, and then discard additional cards from your hand equal to it's price. A light "civiliation" game (i.e., one where you start with little and slowly build up your infastructure), it is one of those rare multi-player games than actually works great with only two. Read my full review here. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Hoity Toity (Uberplay, 3-6 players, 60 minutes, $35, family strategy): In Hoity Toity, players purchase antiques and earn points by showing off their collections to others, while dispatching burglers to swipe the valuables of opponents and employing policemen to capture rival thieves. This game uses a game mechanism called "blind bidding" which is one of my least favorite, so it's a testament to Hoity Toity's quality that even I think it's terrific fun. Read my full review here (the game was previously called "Adel Verpflichtet") [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Apples to Apples (Out of the Box, 4-10 players, 30 minutes, $30, party): The Judge turns over an adjective card, like "Soft" or "Respectable;" everyone else slaps down Noun cards from their hands as quickly as possible. The Judge then decides which played card best matches his own--if the description is "Slimey," will he select "Frog," "Used Car Salesman," or "Bill Clinton"? Perhaps the most accessible and laughter-inducing party game I've ever played! [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

November 23, 2007

Catch-22: Chapters 24-32

Chapters Read: 24. Milo, 25. The Chaplain, 26. Aarfy, 27. Nurse Duckett, 28. Dobbs, 29. Peckem, 30. Dunbar, 31. Mrs. Daneeka, 32. Yo-Yo's Roomies

Page reached:: 335 of 448 (74.78%).

Status Report: Sorry about the hiatus in status reports, folks. I spent much of last weekend reading Michael E. McCullough's papers on gratitude in preparation for my Morning News essay on the subject. Then, the library informed me that my copy of Catch-22 was due, and I was unable to renew it because holds had been placed on all available copies. WTF LITERATI!!!!!¡!! When I initially checked the book out, there were no holds at all, so I can only assume that much of the Greater Seattle Area is frantically trying to jump into NaNoReMo 2007 at the last possible moment, a hypothesis corroborated by the fact that I had to visit five bookstores before I could rustle up a new copy. ("I know we had copy a few weeks ago," the staff at the first four bookstores told me, "but now it looks like we are out ...")

ANYway ...

The article about Catch-22 I linked to last week contained this passage:

The doubling of the digits [in the title of Catch-22 happens] to emphasize a major theme of the book: duplication and reduplication. When the book was first published, critics objected to its monotony and repetition. 'Heller's talent is impressive,' said Time magazine, 'but it is also undisciplined, sometimes luring him into bogs of boring repetition. Nearly every episode in Catch-22 is told and retold.'
Nice of Time to do my summary for me.

For this block of chapters the reader is like a paper boat caught in the eddies, looping around and around, hopefully gathering enough momentum to eventually escape and continue his journey. That's an observation, not a complaint--though it's probably best that I took a little break before tackling these hundred pages.

I do have a gripe, though. In my Layer Tennis commentary, I mentioned a concept called douche ecossaise. Literally the term means "alternating between very hot and very cold showers," but it was later adopted by Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol to describe their macabre performances, which would switch back and forth between humor and horor and, in doing so, enhance the effect of each. was the reigning venue for all things macabre. The sudden shift between horror and humor--two opposing emotional "temperatures"--each heightening the effect of the other. Heller does this to good effect throughout the novel.

But in a few places he takes the joke a bit too far. In chapter 24, he has Milo bombing the American camp and getting off scot free; in chapter 31., he has Daneeka mistakenly reported as dead, and all the folks in the camp refusing to recognize that the doctor walking around in their midst is, in fact, still alive. The first scenario you can attribute to satire (after all, Milo is essentially a metaphor for capitalism, and a business conspiring with America's enemies to make a buck isn't exactly far-fetched), but the Doc. Daneeka bolding strides into the realm of farce. In doing so, it lessens the horror of subsequent events, rather than heightens them. Turn your story into a cartoon and no one is going to recoil in shock when characters are killed by falling anvils.

Criticizing a subplot of Catch-22 for being absurd is like complaining that trash compactor on the Death Star is scientifically implausible, I know. But a book as labyrinthine as Catch-22 needs some internal logic to keep things cohesive, and I thought these two vignettes violated what little the novel contains.

Favorite Passage:"What about my wife?" Colonel Scheisskopf demanded with disgruntled suspicion. "I'll still be able to send for her, won't I?"

"Your wife? Why in the world should you want to?"

"A husband and wife should be together."

"That's out of the question also."

"But they said I could send for her!"

"They lied to you again."

"They had no right to lie to me!' Colonel Scheisskopf protested, his eyes wetting with indignation.

"Of course they had a right," General Peckem snapped with cold and calculated severity, resolving right then and there to test the mettle of his new colonel under fire. "Don't be such an ass, Scheisskopf. People have a right to do anything that's not forbidden by law, and there's no law against lying to you. Now, don't ever waste my time with such sentimental platitudes again."

November 22, 2007

Games: Coloretto & Zooloretto

Sometimes the simplest games are the most fun. And sometimes, not so much.

Take, for instance, the titles on my selection of Ten Great "Two-Minute" Card Games. Despite their simplicity, each has it's fans. No Thanks! has been my filler of choice for the last few years, and I've been playing Slide 5 for a decade or so.

But one game on that list that has always left me cold is Coloretto. The game is played with a deck containing cards of seven different colors (the cards have no value; only their color counts). On a turn, a player does one of two things:

  • Turns over the next card from the deck and adds it to one of the rows; or
  • Takes a row of cards and drops out for the remainder of the round.
There is one row for every player (e.g., four rows in a four-player-game), and each row may contain a maximum of three cards. Once every player has taken a row, a new round begins.

When taking a row, a player puts the claimed cards into his play area. His goal is to get as many cards as possible in three colors only, and to avoid taking cards in any additional colors. At the end of the game, cards in the three chosen colors count as points, while cards in other colors count as negative points.

The central dilemma in the game quickly becomes apparent: you may draw a card in a color you desire, but you can't keep it; instead you must add it to a row and hope that another player doesn't claim that row before your next turn. Even if the row does gets back around to you, it's unlikely that it won't have been "poisoned"; upon drawing a card they don't particularly want, players will often assess the available rows, identify one that is attractive to another player and add the junk card to it, thereby lessening its value considerably. This is what makes the game so tense--and occasionally maddening.

The "draw a card or take a row" element of Coloretto is the sort of twist that I typically love. But, for some reason, Coloretto just doesn't do it for me.

So why is it on my list of "great" two-minute card games, you may ask. Well, I appear to be in the minority regarding my opinion of the game. It has a composite rating of 7.2 on Boardgame Geek, which is fairly phenomenal for a game this light. And, truth be told, I recognize its brilliance--which is to say, I appreciate Coloretto without particularly enjoying it. There just doesn't seem to be enough game in there to hold my interest.

Enter Zooloretto. Designer Michael Schacht took the central mechanism of Coloretto and added sufficient bells and whistles to make the thing interesting, but not so many that the game leaves the realm of light, family fare.

Each player begins with a zoo, complete with three animal enclosures and a barn. Here again you can elect to draw on your turn, but now you draw tiles from a bag instead of cards from a deck. The tiles show either one of eight animals (kangaroos, flamingos, gorillas, etc.), market stalls, or coins. A draw tile must be added to one of the rows--or, in this incarnation, trucks--in the center of a table. A player may instead take a truck, distribute the animals and stalls in his zoo, and drop out for the remainder of the round. An enclosure can only hold one type of animals; animals that cannot be fit into the main zoo are relegated to the barn.

So far, pretty much the same as its predecessor. But this game introduces the concept of money, which can be spent to shuffle animals around, steal them from other players, or discard them entirely. ("Paulie Panda has been sent to live with Uncle Chester, who has a big farm he can roam in ...") Market stalls can also be used to eke out a few extra points here and there. As in the original, too much of a good thing is bad: at the end of the game you score points for animals in your enclosures, but lose them for the unloved critters in the barn.

Zooloretto is cute, easy to learn, short (figure 45 minutes a game), and not too confrontational (though there is an element of screw-your-buddy in the mix). My only gripe is that there are a couple of obscure rules regarding money that strike me as both overly finicky and largely unnecessary (yeah, I know I'm a hypocrite: lambaste Coloretto for having too few rules and Zooloretto for having too many). Minor grievances aside, though, Zooloretto is one of the best family light strategy games of 2007.


It Came From the Comments: Dissension! Dave writes: "I feel exactly the opposite. I find Coloretto to be a perfectly pleasant card game and Zooloretto to be unnecessary complication of the mechanics." I'm sure a lot of people feel that way, though I've heard plenty take my position as well. I suspect it comes down to this: do you prefer elegance (Coloretto), or the "board game experience" (Zooloretto). I'm squarely in the latter camp.

Also, here's Michael on Zooloretto's suitably as a "family game": "The first game ended in tears from my son, the second in tears from both of them ... I think you underestimate the meanness of this game." Actually, I don't--much of the game comes down to making life miserable for your opponents. My mistake, I think, is calling this a "family game." I was using "family game" as shorthand for "light strategy game for adults," not "great for the yungins." I will correct that now.

November 21, 2007

What's the Point of Giving Thanks?

With Thanksgiving approaching, I contacted a number of experts in the field of gratitude and asked them "What's the point of giving thanks?" Their answers appear in The Morning News today.

November 19, 2007

Odds and Ends

I'm busy working on a thing for a guy, so I'm going to fall behind the reading schedule for a few days. Will get caught up over the Thanksgiving break.

In the meantime, here's a fascinating article about why Heller's original title for the novel, Catch-18, was changed. A warning for those participating in NaNoReMo--it looks like there might be some spoilers in there. I don't know for certain, because, at the first hint of them, I skipped ahead to the origins of The Postman Always Rings Twice and My Man Jeeves. Thanks to Zan and David for passing the article along.

Also, you may recall that I recently urged Democrats to please oh please not vote for Clinton. Now Eric Berlin explains why Republicans should steer clear of Gulliani. Seriously, Dems and Repubs should just make an agreement in advance: we won't nominate our New Yorker if you won't nominate yours. I don't know how, in a time when the United States desperately needs unity, we wound up with the nation's two most polarizing figures as front runners in a Presidential election.

November 18, 2007

Catch-22: Chapters 22 & 23

Chapters Read:22. Milo the Mayor, 23. Nately's Old Man

Page reached:: 235 of 448 (52.46%).

Status Report: In the last thread, Greg remarked: "Is anyone else finding their humor being infected by the circular logic and non sequiturs used in the book? The witty remarks I make daily to friends and colleagues have started to sound like dialog from Catch-22."

I thought nothing of the comment at the time. But the following day, I posted this to an online forum I frequent:

When more of a company's stock is purchased, the price per share goes up, right? And when more of it is sold, the price per share goes down. So say I buy a huge amount of company X's stock--so much stock that it actually causes the price per share to go up. Then I immediately sell it for a profit, causing the price to go back to it's original valuation. Then I buy it again ... and so on, continually making a profit out of thin air. Someone explain to me why this doesn't work--or does it.
And the day after that, I read chapter 22, in which Milo Minderbinder pretty much does exactly this.

It's true! I'm infected with Heller-Ouroboros!

P.s. Halfway though, sucka.

Favorite Passage: "You put so much stock in winning wars," the grubby iniquitous old man scoffed. "The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how splendidly we've done nonetheless. France wins wars and is in a continual state of crisis. Germany loses and prospers. Look at our recent history. Italy won a war in Ethiopia and promptly stumbled into serious trouble. Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn't a chance of winning. But now that we are losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better and we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated."

Words Looked Up:

    Pomade: A perfumed ointment, especially one used to groom the hair.

    Panatella: American Spanish, meaning 'a long thin biscuit' and Italian, meaning 'small loaf'.

    Concupiscent: A strong desire, especially sexual desire; lust.

    Crump (as in "Tubas crumped"): 1. to crunch or make a crunching sound, as with the teeth; 2. (of an artillery shell) to land and explode with a heavy, muffled sound; 3. to make a crunching sound, as in walking over snow. (Hmm, I think Heller mighta just made that one up.)

November 15, 2007

Scholar Squiggle

So how is Squiggle?

Well, I'm glad you asked. Squiggle is terrific.

He started preschool a few months ago, a small class run by FEAT (Families for Early Autism Treatment). Ten students total, ranging from the middle to the high-end of the spectrum. One boy shares Squiggle's hyperlexia, and I understand they get along like constants and vowels. They spend their free time happily writing words and numbers--if not "together," exactly, then at least in close proximity to one another.

At the Easel

(An aside here, for the young men of Teh NetarWeb: don't make the same mistake I did and fail to become a special education teacher. It's a field populated exclusively by smart, beneficent, and heart-breakingly lovely lasses. I am so totally not kidding about this. Four years at a university and I did not spend as much time in the company of pretty college girls as Squiggle has in the two years since his diagnosis.)

The preschool occupies the upstairs floor of a house of worship, which means that I now got to church several times week. A very strange twist of events for a guy like me. It would be as if a religious person were to attend one of my Secret Atheist Meetings, where we plot our War On Christmas and write letters to the Supreme Court urging them to replace "In God We Trust" on coins with "Ask Us About Our Secular Humanism!" We are of course deathly afraid that Squiggle might catch The God while he's there, but we have a plan in place: if anyone speaks to him about how to live a meaningful life or help his fellow man, he knows to immediately pull his emergency copy of "The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell" from his backpack and hold it in front of himself while slowly backing away.

Slid

Squiggle is still not much of a communicator. He's great at labeling things and he vocabulary is pretty vast, but he rarely makes requests or tells us things unprompted. It's like the idea of doing so doesn't even occur to him. Still, there are great improvements. He's begun using complete sentences, which is a pretty big deal. He's gotten better at selecting from a verbal list of things to choose from (in the past he would just reflexively repeat whatever you said last). And he's become drunk on the intoxicating power of "no." In the space of a few months he went from a Know-It-All to a No-It-All, cavalierly nixing all of our proposals.

Me: It's pretty late. Do you want to go to bed?

Squiggle: No go to bed.

M: Do you want to read a book?

S: No read a book?

M: Do you want to do a puzzle?

S: No do a puzzle.

M: Do you want to sing a song?

S: No sing a song.

M: Do you want to play a game?

S: No play a game.

M: Well, then what do you want to do?

{Long pause while Squiggle considers.}

S: Go to bed.

He's gotten to be such a contrarian that he naysays all comers, even himself. One recent morning he was in the next room coloring, and I heard him sing: "Take me out to the balllllll game. Take me out to the--no song!" {Silence}.

Punk'in Patch

By the way, someone asked what Squiggle did for Halloween. The answer is: fell asleep in the car on the way over to our friend's house. We threw him on a spare bed and he snoozed through all the mayhem.

S'okay, he didn't have a costume anyhow, just a stylish shirt with pumpkins on it. And he got plenty o' Halloween at preschool that day. While he was there, I got an IM from The Queen:

The Queen: When I dropped him off, his teacher was wearing pumpkin glasses
Q: But she had to take them off
Q: Because they were terrifying the kids.

Me: hahaha
Me: That's the great thing about Halloween with autistic kids
Me: they're easy to scare.
Me: "Today we're going to drive to pre-school ...
Me: by a different route!!"


Anyway, long story short, Squiggle is healthy, happy, charming as all get-out, and just about the--no post!

November 14, 2007

Catch-22: Chapters 19-21

Chapters Read: 19. Colonel Cathcart, 20. Corporal Whitcomb, 21. General Dreedle

Page reached:: 209 of 448 (46.65%).

Status Report: In my recent review of Primer, I wrote: "I'm a total sucker for movies that break open your head and punch you in the brain, so Primer was right up my alley. ... It's one of those films, like Memento and Mulholland Dr., that pretty much necessitates repeated viewing." These movies have come to be known as "puzzle films," because rather than simply handing the audience a linear narrative, the director instead distributes clues throughout the picture like a farmer throwing seeds into a field. It's up to the viewer to find all the relevant information and piece it back together, to have any hope of understanding the plot.

Now, here's a passage from General Dreedle:

Major _____ de Coverley was an ominous, incomprehensible presence who kept him constantly on edge and of whom even Colonel Korn tended to be wary. Everyone was afraid of him, and no one knew why. No one even knew Major _____ de Coverley's first name, because no one had ever had the temerity to ask him.
At long last we know what the underscores are about. And the reader is learning additional details about other previously underexplained events as well ... so long as he's alert enough to spot 'em.

This aspect of Catch-22 really appeals to me. Though it's unlikely that I'm going to immediately read the book a second and third time after completion, to see what I missed the first time through.

November 13, 2007

Seven Of My Online Forum Images, Taken Out Of Context

I am terrible with Photoshop, but, alas, that doesn't stop me from wielding it on occasion. Here are some images that, at some point or another, I hastily whipped up and inserted into a forum conversation.

Portable Media Players = Thinly Disguised Plot For World Domination

* * *

I AR

* * *

Tell Me More

* * *

Cherish

* * *

I Support!

* * *

That's No Moon

* * *

Attn. All

See also: Fifteen Of My Metafilter Comments, Taken Out Of Context, Fifteen Of My Online Forum Comments, Taken Out Of Context.

November 12, 2007

Catch-22: Chapters 14-18

Chapters Read:14. Kid Sampson, 15. Piltchard and Wren, 16. Lucina, 17. The Soldier in White, 18. The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice

Page reached:: 171 of 448 (38.17%).

Status Report: A few welcome diversions in this block of chapters, fueling speculation that this thing might have a plot after all. Piltchard and Wren contains an actual action sequence. Lucina, meanwhile, is a break from the chapters devoted solely to the foibles of the military and the men therein.

Yossarian is shaping up to be a pretty great antihero. Craven, carnal, self-absorbed, and downright dangerous at times, he often reflects on and epitomizes the ridiculousness of the war. The central problem, of course, is that every character is looking out for himself alone, and therefore butting heads with all the other vain and self-serving characters strewn throughout the book. By getting us to sympathize with one, Heller demonstrates that, individually, everyone is acting sanely, insofar as their only aim to to advance their own interests. It's only when you look at the "Big Picture" that you see that the whole is much, much less than the sum of its parts--a bunch of rational actors to collectively make up the enormous clusterfuck of war..

Favorite Passage:"Don't tell me God works in mysterious ways," Yossarian continued, hurtling on over her objection. "There's nothing so mysterious about it. He's not working at all. He's playing. Or else He's forgotten all about us. That's the kind of God you people talk about - a country bumpkin, a clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain?"

"Pain?" Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife pounced upon the word victoriously. "Pain is a useful symptom. Pain is a warning to us of bodily dangers."

"And who created the dangers?" Yossarian demanded ... "Why couldn't He have used a doorbell instead to notify us?"

Words Looked Up:

  • Slattern: 1. a slovenly, untidy woman or girl; 2. a slut; harlot.
  • Fructified: to bear fruit; become fruitful.
  • Effulgent: shining forth brilliantly; radiant.
  • Somnolently: 1. sleepy; drowsy; 2. tending to cause sleep.
  • Lachrymose: suggestive of or tending to cause tears; mournful.
  • Sententiously: 1. abounding in pithy aphorisms or maxims; 2. given to excessive moralizing; self-righteous; 3. of the nature of a maxim; pithy.
  • Fillip: 1. to strike with the nail of a finger snapped from the end of the thumb; 2. to tap or strike smartly.

November 09, 2007

Catch-22: Chapters 11-13

Chapters Read: 11. Captain Black, 12. Bologna, 13. Major ______ De Coverely

Page reached:: 124 of 448 (27.68%).

Status Report: Folks are dropping out of NaNoReMo left and right. I guess since I, the founder of NaNoReMo, dropped out of it myself last year, everyone is allowed one bail. But next year when we read Ulysses: no quitters.

Well too bad for you guys, because things just got great. Captain Black was my favorite chapter so far. Its tale of "Loyalty Oaths Gone Wild" reads like "United States, 2002: A Year In Review." Actually who am I kidding, ascribing this to 2002? We're still a nation that freaks out if a presidential candidate opts not to wear a American flag lapel pin. What is such flair, if not a loyalty oath in pewter?

Plus, as John F. pointed out in in the comments of the last post, the chapter Bologna shows the first unmistakable signs of an emerging plot.

By the way, I honestly think it's not too late to join NaNoReMo 2007. If anything, I think Catch-22 is probably best read in two weeks or less. My greatest difficulty, this year, is pacing myself out, so I don't just dash the rest of the book off over a weekend. (Too keep myself on schedule, I've alternated my reading between this and latest issue of Murdaland.) The circular writing is a bit taxing, spread out over a full month. But I suspect, were you to just bolt the whole novel as quickly as possible, it would probably go down a lot smoother.

If you are still in, and have a blog, mention it in the comments: I'll migrate the links up to this post. Plus, I'd be curious to see a headcount.

Favorite Passage: I would reprint "Captain Black" here in full, were it not for copyright law.

Still in NaNoReMo:

November 08, 2007

Elmo Loves You!

Watching Sesame Street today with Squiggle, it suddenly occurred to me that every time Maria hugs Elmo, some lecherous muppeteer is copping a feel.

November 07, 2007

Catch-22: Chapters 9 & 10

Chapters Read: 9. Major Major Major Major, 10. Wintergreen

Page reached:: 105 of 448 (23.44%).

Status Report: So far I have compared Heller's writing style to Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll, A. A. Milne, and Abbot and Costello. And yet, the whole time, I have had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that there was some other author to whom he could be more justifiably compared. Someone who also wrote sentences that would gently lead you down an alley and then suddenly turn to hit you over the head with a sap.

I couldn't remember who the other writer was, though, until I read this passage, about Major Major's farming father:

He specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn't earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce ... He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county.
Ohhhh yeah. I know who this reminds me of. My Grandpa.

As you may recall, I recently posted a letter my Grandfather sent my mother in 1967. (See it here.) Here's an excerpt:

We are very busy farming. We have three cows, but we are going to sell one because we can't milk him. Eggs are a good price. That's the reason why they are so high. I sure hope we can get a lot of them. We just bought 2 roosters and one old hen. Some of the ground is so poor that you can't raise an umbrella on it, but we have a fine crop of corn. I think it will make about five gallons an ache. Some worms got into our corn last year but we just fished them out and drank it anyway. Our romance started with a gallon of corn and ended with a full crib ...

Every time John gets sick he gets to feeling bad. The doctor gave him some medicine and said if he gets better it might help him and if he didn't get any worse he would stay about the same.

Catch-22 was published in 1962. Is this how everyone talked back in the sixties? Because of all the drugs? Or did people take the drugs to cope with other people talking like this?

As for these chapters, "Major Major Major Major" is like an extended LOST flashback, and Wintergreen is only mentioned five times in his own chapter. Weird.


Favorite Passage:

[Yosarian says:] "I don't want to be in the war any more."

"Would you like to see our country lose?" Major Major asked.

"We won't lose. We've got more men, more money and more material. There are ten million men in uniform who could replace me. Some people are getting killed and a lot more are making money and having fun. Let somebody else get killed."

"But suppose everybody on our side felt that way."

"Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn't I?

Words Looked Up:

  • Moil ("Rain splashed from a moiling sky ..."): To churn about continuously.

Other Bloggers Commenting On These Chapters:


November 06, 2007

November 05, 2007

Catch-22: Chapters 5-8

Chapters Read: 5. Chief White Halfoat, 6. Hungry Joe, 7. McWatt, 8. Lieutenant Scheisskopf

Page reached:: 76 of 448 (16.96%).

Status Report: On the one hand, the "Who's On First" routine is getting wearisome; on the other, the book is a pretty easy read ("because of" or "despite of" the schtick, I haven't yet decided), so I'm not sure it matters. Still, I hope this doesn't become one of those novels I find myself devouring at every available opportunity not because it is compulsively readable but simply because I want it to be over.

Now my biggest concern is the sheer number of people to which we have been introduced. Heller uses more characters than most authors use verbs, and this may prove to be a problem. I have the mental wherewithal to hold about four characters in my head during any given story, and then only if they are all suitably distinct--preferably one man, one woman, one child, and a pet of some sort, all with wildly divergent names. I'm the kind of guy who can lose track of the characters in My Dinner With Andre.

Worse, it's never obvious, in Catch-22, which characters are "real" (i.e., essential to the alleged plot, which people swear is going to stroll onto the scene at some point) and which are just extended shaggy-dog jokes, never to be seen again. I'll tell you this much: any character that doesn't surface at least once every third chapter is going down my memory hole. Even as I typed the chapter titles above I was, like, "Chief White Who?"

Fun book, so far. That said, this dog-chasing-its-tail style of writing is certainly not for everyone. I'm at the point now where I can, with some confidence, make two predictions: after I finish reading Catch-22, I (1.) will have enjoyed it, and (2) will not begrudge anyone who hated it.

Favorite Passage:

Clevinger was one of those people with lots of intelligence and no brains, and everyone knew it except those who soon found it out. In short, he was a dope. He often looked to Yossarian like one of those people hanging around modern museums with both eyes together on one side of a face. It was an illusion, of course, generated by Clevinger's predilection for staring fixedly at one side of a question and never seeing the other side at all.

Words Looked Up:

  • Jocosely: Characterized by joking; humorous.
  • Avuncular: 1. Of or having to do with an uncle; regarded as characteristic of an uncle, especially in benevolence or tolerance.

November 02, 2007

Catch-22: Chapters 1-4

Chapters Read: 1. The Texan; 2. Clevinger; 3. Havermeyer; 4. Doc Daneeka

Page reached:: 33 of 448 (7.37%).

Status Report:

There was a urologist for his urine, a lymphologist for his lymph, an endocrinologist for his endocrines, a psychologist for his psyche, a dermatologist for his derma; there was a pathologist for his pathos, a cystologist for his cysts, and a bald and pedantic cetologist from the zoology department at Harvard who had been shanghaied ruthlessly into the Medical Corps by a faulty anode in an I.B.M machine and spent his sessions with the dying colonel trying to discuss Moby Dick with him.
Ha! Dude, I totally sympathize.

Before I got any further, I'd like to point out that I knew pretty much nothing about Catch-22 two days ago, aside from these three facts:

  • It's an "American Classic";
  • It's about War;
  • It's "funny".
"Funny" in scare quotes because, when it comes to classics, you can't really be sure what they mean by that. The aforementioned Moby Dick is also purported to be a laff riot, but you have to read 230 page doctoral dissertation entitled Cetologoical Jocularity: How Melville Brings On the Epic Lulz to get the alleged jokes. So I wasn't 100% confident on point three, really.

Now, four chapters in, I'm pleased as punch to announce that, yes, this book is funny in a not-strictly-hypothetical way. Funny in the sense that it actually produces guffaws. Chuckles, even.

Despite being billed as a great American novel, the humor strikes me as distinctly British, of the sort a Monty Python sketch would be built around.

In one of the Pre-NaNoReMo 2007 posts, in fact, someone in the comments likened the writing in Catch-22 to that of Douglas Adams. I see it! Take this passage, for instance:

"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him.

"No one is trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.

"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked ...

"Who's they?" [Clevinger] wanted to know. "Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?"

"Every one of them," Yossarian told him.

"Every one of whom?"

"Every one of whom do you think?"

"I haven't any idea."

"Then how do you know they aren't?"

Reminiscent of Douglas Adams, sure. But, to my mind, even more so of a slightly older English author:
"You should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.

"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know."

"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "You might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"

"You might just as well say," added the March Hare, 'that "I like what I get' is the same thing as 'I get what I like'!"

"You might just as well say," added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, "that 'I breathe when I sleep' is the same thing as 'I sleep when I breathe'!"

"It is the same thing with you," said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped.

And, more recently, this bloke:
"Hallo!" said Piglet, "what are you doing?"

"Hunting," said Pooh.

"Hunting what?"

"Tracking something," said Winnie-the-Pooh mysteriously.

"Tracking what?" said Piglet, coming closer.

"That's just what I ask myself. I ask myself, What?"

"What do you think you'll answer?"

"I shall have to wait until I catch up with it," said Winnie-the-Pooh.

Two of my all-time favorite authors, as luck would have it. The absurd and the surreal and the non-sequiturian are my preferred forms of humor.

That said, I hope this book has a plot. There's really no sign of it yet. And the fact that nearly every chapter title to follow is the name of a character doesn't bode well. If the whole novel is nothing but descriptions of wacky personalities and recollections of past events, the schtick may get tiresome. Quickly.

Still, a promising start.

Favorite Passage:The chaplain stirred again. He looked from side to side a few times, then gazed up at the ceiling, then down at the floor. He drew a deep breath.

"Lieutenant Nately sends his regards," he said.

Yossarian was sorry to hear they had a mutual friend. It seemed there was a basis to their conversation after all.

Words Looked Up:

  • Damask: A firm lustrous fabric (as of linen, cotton, silk, or rayon) made with flat patterns in a satin weave on a plain-woven ground on jacquard looms.
  • Musette Bag: A small canvas or leather bag with a shoulder strap, as one used by soldiers or travelers.
  • Saturnine: Melancholy or sullen. Having or marked by a tendency to be bitter or sardonic.
  • Gentian: The dried rhizome and roots of a yellow-flowered European gentian, G. lutea, sometimes used as a tonic.

Other blogs discussing these chapters:


The Bad Review Revue

The Comebacks: "Probably the worst movie that's sludged across my professional eyeballs." -- Gregory Kirschling , ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

Saw IV: "As edgy as a rubber knife." -- Scott Schueller, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The Ten Commandment: "Thou shalt not cast Christian Slater as Moses, no matter how much the Hollywood party boy wants to fulfill some form of karmic community service." -- John Monaghan, DETROIT FREE PRESS

Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour: "Beset by bad lighting, limited visual imagination and acting so wooden it might have termites." -- John Anderson, VARIETY

Rush Hour 3: "Rush Hour was acceptable. It was to Rush Hour 2 what McDonald's is to White Castle. Rush Hour 2 is to Rush Hour 3 what White Castle is to cat food." -- Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST

November 01, 2007

Halloween: Post Mortem

We get no trick-or-treaters at our house. Zero. So we went over to the home of some friends, who live on Capitol Hill.

When they invited us, they made it sound like it would be a delightful, relaxing evening. Some food. A little wine. The occasional interruption by visiting children. Little did we know that we were being conscripted to work in their candy-handing-out sweatshop.

The quantity of trick-or-treaters they expected to receive was described to us as "a lot." I took this to mean, like, 100. Instead, it was more like "a throng" or "a battalion" ... possibly even "a multitude." I don't know what time they opened their front door (the insanity was already well on its way by the time we arrived at 6:00), but it did not close again until well after 9:00. The stream of kidmanity was ceaseless.

Handing out candy was a three-person operation: two stood on either side of the door, frantically shoving Fun-Sized Snickers bars and Laffy Taffy into the gaping maws of waiting bags; the third served as a kind of bucket brigade, feverishly scooping tooth-rot from the supply barrel and feeding it to the hander-outers, to ensure that their ammunition never ran low. Any hesitation and we would get overwhelmed. At one point a surge of kids drove us back into the house; the doorframe filled with a mass of costume-clad bodies, threatening to explode into the foyer if the pressure behind them continued to swell. We began just hurling handfuls of candy at the crowd, the high-caloric equivalent of firing a shotgun indiscriminately into an approaching zombie horde.

Our friends had purchased 100 pounds of candy; by the end of the evening, every last Tootsie Roll had been distributed.

Some observations from the front lines:

  • The most common non-generic costume ("generic" being define as a mainstay: pirate, ninja, superhero, witch, sexy ______, etc.) was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. A surprising number Dorothys. But perhaps not as surprising as the four different kids dressed as bananas. Am I so out-of-touch that I've missed the resurgence of the banana as a pop culture icon?
  • Also in the "more popular than you'd expect" column: penguins, Boba Fett, Santa Claus.
  • Favorite costume (tie): the two teens dressed as Jemaine and Bret. Bret had disheveled hair and a guitar strapped to his back; Jemaine had muttonchops and was crooning about how he was going to buy us a kebab. When The Queen and I complemented them on their costumes, they looked astonished. "Do you know who we are?" one asked. Sure, the Flight of the Conchords guys, we replied. "You're the first people all night!" they cried. "We have a fan!"
  • Second favorite costume: kid dressed up like a box of Chinese take-out.
  • A homemade costume is, by default, 30 x more awesome than any store-bought costume. Fact! I would refer doubters to this photo.
  • On the porch, standing next to the door, was a plastic skeleton with a long, curly dark wig and gummy eyeballs in its sockets. Early in the night, one young boy looked at it and exclaimed, "It's Michael Jackson!" He wasn't joking; he honestly mistook it for Captain EO. We though that was pretty hilarious / odd. Then, an hour later, another kid had the exact same reaction. And 20 minutes later, another. All were totally sincere; we were completely baffled.

    At the end of the night a few of us stood around it, trying to figure out the resemblance. "Well, it doesn't have a nose," my friend observed. "And it's about the same shade of white."

  • The only thing more shameful than waking up after a night of heavy drinking to find a stranger in your bed is waking up the night after Halloween to find your jacket pocket literally bulging with empty candy wrappers.