Christmas Carol Errata

Little Drummer Boy
As infants rarely exhibit social response behavior until the sixth week of life, it is unlikely that Jesus was truly smiling at the little drummer boy. We now believe that the son of man was experiencing gas.

Frosty the Snowman
Due to trends in global climate change, Frosty’s vow to “be back again some day” can no longer be guaranteed.

Angels We Have Heard on High
Note that this song only provides a partial list of things heard on high. Others include the Phish “Junta” album and the incessant crinkle of a Funyuns bag.

What Child Is This?
The child has been determined to be Jake Keenan of Great Falls, Montana. If someone could let his folks know that he’s here, that would be great.

Christmas is Coming
Since 1997 the donation amount suggested by this song has been adjusted annually for inflation. Given the recent economic meltdown however, this year the old man will again be accepting pennies and ha’pennies.

Silent Night
Just to clarify, the directive to “sleep in heavenly peace” was intended for the holy infant only. It is well-known that the parents of a newborn can expect no sleep whatsoever for a minimum of seven months, especially when people keep showing up at all hours of the night bearing myrrh.

Feliz Navidad
Please disregard all previous errata for this song. Apparently it is in Spanish.

Let It Snow
This song may erroneously lead the listener to believe that snow is a enjoyable and desired meteorological phenomenon. In fact, it is a huge fucking pain in the ass. We regret the error.

Fed Cuts Rates on Money, Chicks

The Federal Reserve today cut a key interest rate to zero, allowing borrowers to get money for nothing. In a related move, the Fed also set the short-term lending rate of chicks to free.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the adjustments were necessary to avoid a deflationary spiral and to prevent the acquisitions of blisters on little fingers and thumbs. "We're confident that yo-yos, millionaires, and little faggots alike will respond favorably to this unprecedented action," said the visibly stressed and unhappy Bernanke, who in recent weeks has complained of "Hawaiian noises" and privately lamented that he did not learn to play the guitar or drums rather than study economics.

Retailers in dire straits welcomed the news, having felt the sting of low consumer confidence. "Hopefully this will allow us to sell our backlog," said Mark Knopfler of Brothers in Arms Appliance. "We gotta move these refrigerators. We gotta move these color TVs."

Friday Afternoon Scratchpad

Annual Call of Slacker Guide Items

I’m working on my annual Holiday Survival Guide For Slackers for The Morning News, and I’m looking for suggestions. So if you know of some stupid crap available for purchase on the intarweb, please mention it in the comments of this post or drop me an email. Thanks!

Previous Slacker’s Guides

2007 2004
2006 2003
2005 2002

LtROI is my Anti-Twilight!

My review of Twilight has been getting a lot of link-love since the corresponding movie was released. If my assessment of the novel deterred you from seeing the film, (a) you owe me a doughnut of gratitude, and (b) may I recommend Let the Right One In, now playing at your local art-house theater. (You know, the one with all the cats? Where they put nutritional yeast on your popcorn?) It’s definitely one of those the-less-you-know-about-it-the-more-you’ll-like-it kind of deals, so just close your browser now and go see it. But I will tell you this: it is so great that it actually made me glad to have read Twilight, because now I can say that I have experienced both the nadir and apogee of vampiric fiction.

TMN Annual

Speaking of The Morning News and my less-you-know-the-better-it-is philosophy regarding entertainment, the TMN Annual is now available. In it you will find a long essay, written by me, regarding my loathing of spoilers and the white-hot rage they kindle within in. WHY YES, “ITS A SLED” WOULD BE A HILARIOUS COMMENT TO THIS POST, THANKS!!!

Great Shakes

So a few weeks ago I’m at the counter of a local diner, eating a breakfast of french toast and trying to read a novel, when an elderly man sits on the stool two down from me. He came armed with a copy of The Seattle Times and, after averring to the server that he’ll have “the usual”, began summarizing the articles aloud in an attempt to draw me into conversation. “Yeah, I don’t know about this big bank bailout deal,” he would declare in my general direction, while I did my best to ignore him. “No one is offering me a bailout,” he’d add.

Eventually his food arrived, which meant (I thought) that he’d clam up a bit. But just as I let my guard down, he abruptly turned to me and said, “I guess they were talking to Joey Cora about maybe managing the Mariners next year.” Caught by surprise, I accidentally said “oh, really?” and, having breached my defenses, the man launched into a long and convoluted tirade about our local and abysmal baseball team.

For the first 15 seconds I politely nodded and uh-huhed in response, frantically trying to concoct an exit strategy. But then I noticed something fascinating: as the man spoke to me, half turned in his seat and facing my direction, he was also shaking pepper onto his breakfast. And I don’t mean he was giving the shaker a few desultory jiggles now and again, I mean the entire time he spoke he had the mill in an elliptical orbit over his food and was moving it up and down as rhythmically as a piston. This went on for so long that I could only assume that he was doing so absent-mindedly, unaware of the huge volume of seasoning that was raining down on his eggs and hash browns.

So then I tried to keep him engaged as long as possible. “I was always a fan of Joey Cora,” I said truthfully. “How likely is he to take the position?” And that got the guy going for another 20 or 30 seconds, shake shake shaking all the while.

Then, having reached a stopping point in his analysis, he abruptly set down the shaker and grabbed his fork. And I was all, like, “oh man, this is gonna be GREAT!” But then he began wolfing down eggs without any apparent discomfort. Not even a Scooby-Doo style sneeze. Rats.

Anyway, I thought of this guy the other day when I first tried Nabisco brand Cracked Pepper & Olive Oil Triscuit. Maybe Old Man Rambler works at the factory that makes these or something, or maybe someone dozed off and slumped on the “Pepper Dispenser Lever” when this particular box was trundling down the assembly line, but this is like a joke snack, something you’d order out of the back of a comic book, surreptitious swap with a real box of crackers when an unsuspecting victim wasn’t looking, and then guffaw loudly when they are rushed off to the ICU with acute peppercorn toxicity syndrome.

All told I think I ate four of them. After the first I swore I’d never touch them again, but I kept drifting back to the box. It was like one of those arcade machines where you see how long you can hold on to an increasingly-electrified handle before your instinct for self-preservation kicks in. I imagine there are tribes in indigenous people in Brazil where, when a boy reaches puberty, he must eat a 20 of these in a row before they will consider him a man.

Ow! My mouth!

And I love how the “serving suggestion” has you topping the cracker with a tiny piece of cheese, a little tomato, a sprig of green, and more pepper! That’s like ordering a pizza and having, as your three toppings, pineapple, Canadian bacon, and another pizza. My serving suggestion is that you just keep a few in your pockets at all times, in case you are ever on the lam and need to throw some tracking dogs off your scent.

Games: Pandemic

You know what’s an appealing theme for a family game? Pirates. Or trains. Maybe exploring ancient pyramids or traveling through space. Maybe making a ton of money via real estate or stocks.

You know what’s not an appealing theme? Epidemiologists conducting research to curb the spread of infectious diseases.

And yet that is precisely the premise of Pandemic, a new title from Z-Man Games and my #1 pick on the 2008 Good Gift Games Guide.

Pandemic is a cooperative game, which means that the players (2-4) work as a team to “beat the system”. The board shows a map of the world, with 48 cities (twelve in each of four colors) connected by a web of roads. Two decks of cards drive the action: the Infection deck and the Player deck. The Infection deck contains 48 cards: one for each city of the board; the Player deck also contains one card per city, plus a number of “Epidemics”. In all cases, a card is of the same color as the city to which it corresponds. The game also comes with a number of wooden cubes in these same four colors, representing the four contagions that the players will be struggling to contain.

Nine cities start the game infected, with 1-3 cubes placed in each; the more cubes a city has, the worse the virulence. No city can ever have more than three cubes of a single color; if, during the game, you are directed to add a cube to a city that already has three, you instead add one cube to every city adjacent to the target. This is called an “outbreak” and is very, very bad; eight outbreaks over the course of the game and you lose.

On a player’s turn, he first takes four actions. Possible actions include moving around the board, treating and curing the diseases, building research stations, and passing cards to (or receiving cards from) his fellow players. A disease is cured when someone plays five cards of the same color (discard five blue cards, for instance, and the blue disease now has a vaccine). Curing a disease doesn’t remove cubes from the board, but makes it easier to do so: when someone chooses the “Treat Disease” action for a cured disease, they remove all the cubes from the city they occupy (instead of just a single cube, as is the case for uncured diseases).

After completing his four actions, a player then draws new cards from the Player deck. Lastly, he flips over a number of cards from the Infection deck, and adds a new cube to each city revealed.

Beating Pandemic would be a cinch were it not for the Epidemic cards. When one is drawn from the Player deck, a new city is instantly given three cubes. Furthermore, Infection cards which have already been revealed are shuffled and placed on top of the Infection deck. Consequentially, the same cities which have recently been hit by the diseases are certain to be drawn again soon.

It’s this final rule that gives Epidemic its flavor. Like a bad cold that just won’t go away, the contagions in Pandemic just keep turning up, even in cities you thought you had thoroughly disinfected. On the up side, though, you also have a pretty good idea about where the diseases are going to strike next. If Chicago got hit before the last Epidemic and you haven’t seen it since, you know that it’s somewhere at the top of the Infection deck, lying in wait; if Chicago has three cubes, you also know you need to get over there, and fast. This is what makes the game more of a coordinated battle rather than just a series of frantic fire drills.

And coordination really is the key to winning. Players must constantly discuss their options and synchronize their actions, to best address the whims of fate. While strategic play is possible (and necessary), much of Pandemic is tactical in nature: you look at the state of the game, you study your hand of cards, you evaluate your position on the board, and you try to optimize your four actions. In this way the game is much like a puzzle, one that multiple people can work on simultaneously.

Adding to the excitement is the geometric rate at which things go pear-shaped as play progresses. At the start of the game, with only nine cities infected, beating the game looks like a cakewalk. And you’ll remain nonplussed even after an outbreak or two. But around the time the third Epidemic card appears, everything goes to hell in a hurry. If a city with three cubes is adjacent to a city that outbreaks, it too will outbreak; if there is a third fully infected city nearby, the chain of outbreaks continue. When three, four, five outbreaks can all come from the turn of a single card, the tension around the table becomes palpable.

What I like best about Pandemic is the narrative that evolves as you play; after the game is over, you can’t help but recount the “storyline”, revealing in the small victories and cursing your ill-fortune. It’s also hard–very hard. That’s a great thing, because one common pitfall of cooperative games is that the replay value tends to evaporate once players have “figured it out”; the difficulty level of Pandemic, combined with the random setup and progression of play, largely obviates this problem. And it’s fairly quick, requiring only half an hour or so (though you’ll be hard pressed not to play two or three bouts in a row).

It’s always fun to watch the faces of new players blanch when you introduce them to Pandemic, so certain are they that no disease could be as deadly as the boredom this game will sure induce. It’s even more fun to watch those same people when they discover that this game rocks, not despite it’s unusual theme but because of it.

Bonus: Here ‘s Matt Leacock, creator of Pandemic, speaking about its design. The video is 50 minutes long but he spends the first ten providing an in-depth introduction to the game mechanics, in case you are intrigued but not yet sold. And the whole speech is pretty fascinating if you are a game geek like myself.

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NaNoReMo 2008: Part II, Chapters 6-19

Page reached: 229 of 298 (76.85%).

Status Report: Hi! What happened to me! You’re probably bitterly disappointed in me because you think that I fell way behind on this whole NaNoReMo deal, given that’s it’s “ReMo” and not “ReYe” or “ReDe” or “ReCe”. But you’re wrong to think that, because I actually did Re Lolita in a Mo, I just fell behind on providing my reports. So FuYo.

Part of the reason the reports ending is because I just don’t have much to say about this portion of the novel. Frankly, I found it to be a little dull after the pedorollercoaster of Part I. These chapters felt like the middle episodes of a TV show’s first season, where they are just trying to fill time between their Awesome Setup and the Big Finale.

So, instead, let’s talk about how obnoxious this Annotated Lolita is. Oh, man. It’s physically obnoxious, in that you constantly have to flip from your current place in the book to the back, where all the annotations are stored. But it’s also intellectually obnoxious, in that many of these “annotations” are remarkably pedestrian. The fact that Dolores and Charlie canoodled next to a body of water called “Climax Lake” is an innuendo of some sort? Really? Wow, I’m so glad I flipped back here to learn that.

I mean, it’s nice that he provides translations of all the French phrases, and defines many of the 13¢ words, but some of his analysis–I dunno. In fact, in the introduction the annotator even states that Nabokov openly disagreed with some of the his interpretations. Basically (as I imagine it) the annotator was, like, “so in this chapter where Humbert Humbert gets his hand stuck in a pickle jar, is that symbolic of how women use their metaphorical ‘pickle jars’ to trap men into confining relationships?” And Vladie’s all, like, “uhh no, I just though it would be funny if he got his hand stuck in a pickle jar” and the annotator is all, “welllllllllll I promised the publisher 25,000 words of annotations so yes it is.”

Anyway, long story short, I gave up on the annotations except for ces expressions françaises damnées par dieu. It was too much like having a blabbermouth behind me at the movie theater, summarizing every major plot point to his girlfriend in a stage whisper.