Sid Sackson, 1920-2002

Remember when Dale Earnhardt was killed, and NASCAR fans were mopy for months thereafter? That’s what board game enthusiasts are like today.

In the world of ludology, Sid Sackson was a pioneer, with scores of card and board game to his credit. One of his first (and most highly regarded) games was Acquire, a stock market simulation that is to Monopoly what Citizen Kane is to an episode of Becker. I distinctly remember playing Acquire in my youth and realizing that this particular game was on a completely different level than the Paydays and Operations I had played in the past.

In the years to follow, Sackson would design a series of fantastic games, including many of my personal favorites: Can’t Stop, Kohle, Kies, & Knete, and Focus, one of the first games I ever owned. His book A Gamut of Games is a treasure trove of enjoyable pastimes and brilliant ideas. And by all accounts he was also a really nice guy.

Sid Sackson passed away yesterday at the age of 82. His collection of over 10,000 board games will be auctioned off next week.

Books: American Gods

Have you ever finished a book and immediately thought “Man, I want to read that again!” That’s not how I felt after reading American Gods, the Hugo award winning book from Neil Gaimen. Instead, I though “I should read that book again — because I wasn’t really paying that much attention the first time”.

Although this is the first Gaiman novel I’ve read, I owned and enjoyed the entire run of Sandman back in the day. Based on that, I kind of knew what I was getting into: something mystical, something humorous, something with great ideas to spare. And American Gods is all of these things, no doubt about it. But it still failed to really grip me like I wanted it to.

Our protagonist is Shadow, a man released from prison only to discover that he has nothing to return to. Now direction-less, he is immediately enlisted up by a couple of guys who may be grifters or ancient gods or both. One of them, Mr. Wednesday, claims a huge, metaphysical shitstorm is coming, and needs help with some logistical details; seeking funds and a purpose, Shadow swears allegiance to Wednesday and soon finds himself enmeshed in a theological scrimmage.

American Gods reads a lot like Stephen King’s early stuff, and I mean that as a compliment. (Snobs like to dismiss King’s work as pedestrian, but there’s no doubt that the guy is eminently readable). But like King (and Tolkien, for that matter), Gaimen tends to be a bit prolix — at 600 pages, this book should have been two-thirds as long, perhaps halved. It starts out slow, then picks up steam, then goes into a 150-page holding pattern about halfway through. Although intermittently riveting, it took me weeks to get from one end of the book to the other. Part of the problem was my schedule (my stint on jury duty was going on at the time, leaving me intellectually exhausted every evening), but some of the blame must be attributed to American Gods‘ sheer verbosity.

This would have been a perfect vacation book, something to devour over a few airplane rides when you have no alternative (except SkyMall) to soldiering on through the dry patches. And although I found myself vaguely disappointed at not being fully engaged, I could see myself reading it again at some future date when I have the mental resources to give it my full attention. As it stands, I recommend American Gods to those who have the time and wherewithal to read 600 pages of book to enjoy and darned good 400-page story.

The Democrats’ Fatal Flaw

In case you hadn’t gleaned it from this site, I’m a progressive Independent that almost always votes Democrat. So no one is unhappier than I to see the Republicans snag control of all three branches of government. But who can blame the voters, when the Democrats are so fractured that they can’t rally behind a single person to articulate what little message they have? The most recognizable and respected figures in the party were so busy competing against one another for the 2004 nomination that they couldn’t speak with one voice even long enough to stave of this major setback.

George Bush demonstrated in the 2002 election that you don’t need a cohesive plan (“If affirmative action means what … I’m for, then I’m for it.”) so long as you have a personality to present it. But who has really gotten the Democrats fired up in the last two years? A loser (Gore, on the rare occasions when he pokes his head out of hiding and says something worth hearing), a Republican (McCain, during the flurry of reports that he might run on their ticket in 2004), and a dead guy.

Many have pooh-poohed the negative ramifications of the Wellstone Memorial-turned-rally, but its implications were more profound than just ghoulish opportunism. It showed that, while they wouldn’t stand behind Wellstone and his progressive politics while he was alive, they would enthusiastically point to him and shout “that’s what we stand for!” when he inadvertently procured three hours of prime time television. This desperation for a spokesman spoke volumes about the Democrats’ paucity of vision.

Also, Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t very good last night, so it was kind of a double blow.

Update: Okay, I got kinda worked up about the elections there, but it’s all better now. I just went to the gym and watched CNN Headline News where they didn’t mention the election once. It was, like, wall-to-wall Winona Ryder verdict coverage for the entire hour I was on the treadmill. Oh wait, they did break away at one point to talk about — this is true — the sniper case.

Now I’m all distracted and apathetic again — thanks CNN! Estimated Date Of Giving a Rat’s Ass About Poilitics Again: April 28, 2004. See you then!

Pray For Matthew

I hate football, but tonight I am going to an “Official Packer Backers” sports bar to watch Green Bay play the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.

So if the year is 2007, and you are reading my site, and this is the last entry I ever made … well, that’s what happened to me.

My Kitty Is The Mother Of Invention

Remember how Larry would always burst into Jack’s apartment unannounced on “Three’s Company”? That’s what great, pet-related ideas have been doing to my head in the last week or so. Check out these two sure-fire winners:

Cat-A-Tonic 4000: My wife and I used to live in a noisy, urban apartment. We had so much trouble sleeping that we eventually bought one of those sound machines — not the Miami kind, with Gloria Estafan, but the type that have, you know, a bunch of “soothing tones” to help lull you into slumber: White Noise, Ocean Waves, Babbling Brook, Crickets, etc.

But we recently bought a house, thereby trading one insomnia-inducing problem for another. Now we no longer have the noise, but we have since acquired a handful of squirrelly, nocturnal cats. They like to show up at 2:00 the morning, leap onto the bed, and tromp around like a marching band, or give our faces unexpected groomings. So while we no longer require the white noise, we now need something to keep the kitties at bay.

That’s why I’m going to invent the Cat-A-Tonic 4000. It will work just like the traditional noise machine, except that, instead of quietly playing soothing noises, it will loudly play sounds designed to deter feline visitations. The five settings will be:

  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Garbage Truck
  • Coke Can Full of Pennies
  • Firecrackers
  • Water Spritzer
Also, every fifteen minutes it will bark. Land of Nod, here I come!

Heroin Chew toys: Some friends of mine recently got a puppy that immediately ran away. It’s kind of a long story, involving loose collars, thunder, and a Nick At Night “Joanni Loves Chachi” Marathon; suffice to say, the dog ran away and my friends were worried sick for days. They kept putting his food bowl out in the back yard but he didn’t return until, like, six days later, when he finally hungry enought to come home.

So in the interest of preventing this kind of tragedy from befalling others, I immediately applied by parsnip-like intellect to this vexing problem. What would prevent a dog from running away for a full week, asked I. And the answer was so obvious that I’m amazed that you, personally, hadn’t already thought of it: a heroin addiction. That’s where heroin chew toys come in. If your puppy runs away, he’s guaranteed to be back on your doorstep, strung-out and whining for a fix by the end of the day. And this works a lot better than food as a Canine Retention Tool, because while a hungry dog can scavenge or eat (o)possums or whatever, a heroin addicted dog has no choice but to go home, unless you live in downtown Seattle, in which case your dog can get hooked up pretty much anywhere.

Wow, these ideas are so great that I am already rich!!

Friday Afternoon Scratchpad

Do The Math

Estimated Number of Fun-Size Candybars My Wife And I Had In Our Trick-Or-Treat Bowl At 5:00 Yesterday Evening: 25

Number of Trick-or-Treat’er We Received all Night: 2

Average Number of Fun-Sized Candybars Given to Each Trick-or-Treat’er: 2

Estimated Number of Fun-Size Candybars My Wife And I Had In Our Trick-Or-Treat Bowl At 11:00 Yesterday Evening: 0

Estimated Time My Sugar High Wore Off: 7:25 this morning.

Links

“There is a hole out there, they believe, a hole that not only appears to be bottomless but has, on at least one occasion, brought an animal back to life. The hole, the story goes, exists outside of town on land once owned by a man who calls himself Mel Waters. For years, he said, it was used as the neighborhood dump for trash, old appliances, dead cattle. When the hole never filled up, Waters measured its depth by lowering weighted fishing line into it. After 80,000 feet, he gave up …” News story here, website there.

Promising new photo blog: Science Meets Art.

I HATE MAYONNAISE AND MUSTARD!!!!!. Yes. Yes you certainly do.

A Full House Beats a Your Fired

I was drinking hot chocolate out of one of those “Wildcard Poker” paper cups the other day, and I noticed it had a disclaimer on it reading “For Consumer Entertainment Only”. Maybe the Wildcard Poker Paper Cup Co. had to fire some employees who were entertaining themselves on the clock.

Speaking of unemployment, here’s a joke I just made up: Question: How do you fire a lingerie model? Answer: Give her a pink slip. Holy crap, that’s even worse in hypertext than it was in my head! Let us never speak of it again.

Nerd Scam

My wife is a professional Botanist. Yes, I know that’s awesome. She used to work for a University, and she occasionally still gets mail at that old address. Last week she received a forwarded missive from the International Biographical Centre. (Motto: So Prestigious We Misspell ‘Center’!) The envelope was covered in phony official stamps and seals; the letter within read “We are delighted to confirm your nomination as an International Scientist of the Year for 2002.”

It’s unclear what duties my wife will have to fulfill in her role of International Scientist of the Year — ribbon-cuttings at Science ‘N’ Stuff stores throughout the nation, presumably — but with such power comes great financial responsibility. If she wants THE OFFICIAL SASH OF OFFICE, for example, she has to cough up $300. It is described as a “silken sash, with golden tassels, woven in a luxurious scarlet red and has the Legend of the IBC along with the words INTERNATIONAL SCIENTISTS OF THE YEAR embroidered in a golden thread.” (Apparently they were gunning for the INTERNATIONAL RUN-ON SENTENCE OF THE YEAR award for that one.) The OFFICIAL GOLD GILT MEDAL OF EXCELLENCE also runs for three hundred smackers, as does the PICTORIAL TESTIMONIAL. I dunno, the PICTORIAL TESTIMONIAL sure looks like something I could whip up on my coffee break, but it must be for real because the letter clearly states that, if you buy the testimonial, it “will say something unique about the recipient.” On the other hand, how “unique” is it to have something that says you’re a dumbass? Look at SUVs.

I find it hard to believe that anyone in the “international scientific community” would be vain and stupid enough to to fall for this codswallop. Psyche, no I don’t!.

Three Things I Firmly Believe

  1. Chapstick is more detrimental than beneficial.

  2. People in America do not go to see enough magic shows.

  3. There exists no woman who isn’t more attractive in glasses.