My Microwave is Lame

My microwave is so lame that if you nuke a pint of room-temperature water in it for five minutes, the end result is an ice cube floating in a glass of otherwise boiling-hot water. Incredible but true.

Movie: The Endurance

You know that scene in Fellowship of the Rings where Gandalf ‘n’ Co. are traveling over the Misty Mountains while Saruman drops lightning bolts and avalanches upon their heads in an attempt to kill them? And even though you’ve just spent an hour watching hobbits converse with wizards and dead guys ride around on horses, you’re still sitting there in theater watching the gang trudge through the snow and thinking “Yeah right – no one could do that!” Well, The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition is a lot like that scene. Except it’s a documentary of an actual even, which means you don’t have the luxury of dismissing the whole thing with a “No way, dude!?

The story begins in 1914, back when a guy hankering for adventure would plan an expedition to Antarctica rather than just climb the rock wall at REI. The South Pole had already discovered, so Sir Ernest Shackleton assembled and crew of men and dogs and headed south, intending to traverse the … well, see, it really doesn.t matter what Shackleton had intended to do, since he never came anywhere close to achieving his goal. Instead, his ship became trapped in pack ice, thereby stranding he and his mates on the continent of Antarctica with no hope of rescue. He did, however, have a movie camera and a cameraman, which is what makes this film so fascinating: actual footage of the ordeal.

I won?t say more, because the litany of calamities that befalls the men as they attempt to get back to civilization is staggering and makes the film as exciting and tense as any artificial ‘thriller’. If it?s not still playing in a theater near you, at least make the effort to see this extraordinary tale on tape or DVD – it’s a fairly low-budget film, and will lose little in the transition to the tv screen. That said, I?m glad I saw it in a theater filled with other people, where, by the end, people were audibly groaning and gasping in disbelief each time the narrator (Liam Neeson, by the way) introduced a new obstacle to Shackleton’s survival.

Skating vs. Gluttony

I watched half of the Women’s Figure Skating Finals and half of The Glutton Bowl last night, and, I gotta tell ya, I found the Glutton Bowl to be a vastly more satisfactory viewing experience. No subjective judging or “style points” here, kids — you either eat nine sticks of butter in five minutes or you don’t. Oh, and the Russians think they should have won the third round? Well, how many hard boiled eggs did their contender get down? That’s right, only 23; so boo-hoo, here’s your silver.

If you somehow managed to miss The Glutton Bowl (and for some bizarre reason didn’t get it on Tivo) the astounding Takeru Kobayashi won. If that name rings a bell, it’s because he’s the same 131-pound Japanese guy who got worldwide headlines last year for eating 50 hot dogs (and the buns!) in just 12 minutes. Sarah Hughes, eat your heart ou … uhhhh, never mind.

Best Picture

Who will win this year’s coveted “Best Picture” Oscar? The critics weight in:

Moulin Rouge: “Ends up leaving you starved for a single moment of unhyped emotion. … This is the only time I’ve been to a movie where the ringing of someone’s cell phone wasn’t an intrusion. The sound of a human voice in conversation seemed a godsend.” — David Edelstein, SLATE

In The Bedroom: [A] turgid bout of navel gazing. [This has] been done so many times before in the world of independent cinema that it’s become a clich

Games: Adel Verpflichtet and Barbarossa

Klaus Teuber is an odd designer. Even before cooking up the stellar Settlers of Catan — a game that was to boardgaming what Mark Maguire was to baseball — Teuber already had two prestigious “Game of the Year” awards under his belt: one for Barbarossa and a second for Adel Verpflichtet. This is doubly surprising because these three games couldn’t be more dissimilar — you’d never guess the same guy invented all three.

Settlers of Catan I won’t go into — Lord knows you can find enough information about SoC elsewhere on the web. Barbarossa and Adel Verpflichtet, however, are relatively unknown, despite their award-winning status. I have recently purchased both, and I enjoy them quite a bit.

In Barbarossa, players first create riddles by making tiny sculptures out of clay. These are placed in the center of the board as the game begins. On a turn, a player will move around a circular track and carry out the instructions of the space he lands on. Two of the spaces on the board allow a player to point to any riddle in the center of the board and ask it’s creator for a letter — the first letters, say, or the third. Two other spaces are marked with a question mark, and allow players to ask others about their riddles. A player may ask any number of “yes or no” questions about the riddles — “Is this edible?”, “Do I have one of these in my house?”, “Does this have to do with horse?” — until they get a “no”. At that point the player gets a second round of questions, but this time he may try to guess someone’s riddle by writing down what he think it is and showing the creator. If the player is correct, a plastic arrow is stuck into the sculpture and points are awarded. If the guesser is the first to identify a riddle, he gets 5 points; if he is the second, he gets three points; once a riddle has two arrows in it, it is “dead” and can no longer be guessed.

What makes Barbarossa interesting is that the creator of a riddle also gets points when his riddle is unraveled. After the correct guess is made and an arrow is stuck into the sculpture, all the arrows in all the riddles on the board are counted. If the total number of arrows is less than five, the creator loses points; if the total number of arrows is 5-10 the creator gains points; and if the total arrows exceeds 10 then the creator, again, loses points. So the trick is to make moderately-difficult riddles — riddles that are neither to easy to guess nor too hard. In a sense the whole thing is decided before it even starts (while the players sculpt their riddles), but that doesn’t stop the game from being entertaining from start to finish. And it’s hilarious to see what the other players use as their riddles and what sculptures they make to represent them. (In my last game, my wife made the Kingdome, which drove me crazy because I was certain it was a hamburger …)

Then we have Adel Verpflichtet, which I played last night for the third time and am truly starting to enjoy. The admittedly paper-thin premise is this: players are rich and eccentric aristocrats, who have a standing bet about who can amass the best collection of antiques. Players all start with four Antique cards. On a turn a player can take one of five actions:

  • Go to the Auctionhouse and try to buy on of the two Antiques on sale there.
  • Send his Thief to the Auctionhouse to try and steal someone else’s money.
  • Go to the Castle to show off his collection of Antiques.
  • Send his Thief to the Castle to try and steal someone else’s Antiques.
  • Send his Detective to the Castle to try and capture another player’s Thief.

Ya get all that? Players first secretly choose where they will go: the Auctionhouse or the Castle. Once the destinations are revealed, first the Auctionhouse players and then the Castle players secretly choose what action they wish to take, and then the actions are reveled and carried out.

In the Auctionhouse, whomever bid the highest amount of money gets to take one of the Antiques, while those who played lesser amounts simply reclaim their bids. Then, if one (and only one) player played a Thief, he steals the winning bid.

In the Castle, all the players who opted to show off their collections do so, and whomever has the best (i.e. the collection with the most Antiques) receives points (as does the person with the second-best collection). Then, those players who played Thieves get to take an Antique from each of the collections on display. And, finally, players who played Detectives send the played Thieves to jail and get points for doing so.

All this makes for a tense game of bluff, think and double-think. The easiest way to earn points is to show off your collection, but every time you do so you risk being robbed. Meanwhile, those who play Thieves in the hopes of robbing you risk having their thugs thrown in the pokey, and so on. How well you fare is dependent not only on your choices, but also the choices of your opponents. If you’re skilled at predicting what your opponents will do you will fare well, but if you’re equally readable by others you may wind up in the poorhouse. Think “rock-paper-scissors,” but, y’know, fun.

I purchased both Barbarossa and Adel Verpflichtet from


Yeah yeah yeah … I know I swore that I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the Olympics, but that was before I saw televised curling. It’s fascinating! If you don’t have the slightest notion what those zany curlers are doing, you can bone up on the rules here.

Worst Lyrics

Hello, Quester! I see from my referrer logs that you have come from the URL

I don’t know how that search led you to my weblog, but I suspect you’ll find what you are looking for here.


Every high school math student has, and some point or another, asked “Why do I have to learn this?!” And every math teacher for the last 20 years has replied “Because you won’t always have a calculator handy.”

It’s true, you know. Yesterday, for example, I had to figure out a bear of a problem, and I didn’t have a calculator handy. Well, actually I did, but I was too lazy to use it. Instead, I just posted the conundrum to rec.puzzles and, zam howdie, I got my answer in no time. Take that, Mr. Talrico!