May 2003 Archives

I'm an unabashed fan of non-dating reality TV-- Survivor, Big Brother (returning later this summer), Fear Factor-- and the least mean-spirited of the bunch is The Amazing Race. One of the reasons Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was successful was that everyone watching it played the meta-game of "Who would I pick as my lifeline?" The Amazing Race has a similar element, with viewers imagining who they'd team up with for this competition. For me that'd be college friend Dave, with whom I once spent six weeks galavanting around Europe (years before the now-infamous Word Freak incident). By the end of the show, Dave would probably owe me the GNP of Luxembourg in Cribbage debt.

The casting team typically does a great job picking diverse pairs to compete. I've already picked the team I most want to win (how can you not root for a pair of circus clowns?). But the team I most sympathize with is Millie and Chuck, a southern couple who've been dating for 12 years. And they're virgins. How do I know? The Amazing Race apparently feels it's important enough, that it defines who they are so dramatically, that they flash it on-screen every time they cut to that couple. For other teams, it's "Jon and Al: Circus clowns" or "Steve and Dave: Air traffic controllers". But for this couple it's "Millie and Chuck: Dating 12 years: Virgins".

I don't care what they're doing, or not doing, in the bedroom. They don't say "Tian and Jaree: Latex fetishists" or "Kelly and Jon: Doggie style". Hell, they don't even say "Reichen and Chip: Gay gay gay". So why is it so vital to remind us that Millie and Chuck are virgins? It's nobody's business but their own, regardless of what they, CBS, or anyone else thinks.

Oh, and as for Monica and Sheree, using the Fast Forward when they knew four teams were on a bus two hours behind them... it's a good thing they're married to (presumably well-off) professional atheletes, because there's no way these dingalings are winning the race.

Comments (2) | last by Laura, Jun 11, 8:55 PM

Culinary tip o' the week:

If you see "Singapore Barbeque Pork Chops" on a Malaysian menu, and you think to yourself, "I wonder if they're like Chinese spare ribs?" the answer is no. And if you think, "Gee, that looks like an awful lot of pork, with no rice or veggies to go with it. I wonder if I should get something a little better balanced," the answer is yes. And if you order them anyway, and are trying to decide if you should eat them all in one sitting, the answer is no.

Comments (4) | last by dana, Jun 1, 12:18 PM

It's funny how we never see ourselves the way others do. We don't notice our own stooped posture, or the unseemly shuffle of our gait. We only see ourselves in the mirror a couple times a day (or, if you're a narcissist or teenager, a couple dozen). And even then, it's a frontal view. Sure, when I do my morning toilette I can see my receding hairline. I know it's getting awfully thin up there. But I never think of myself as-- you know-- balding. Then I'll see myself facing the other way in a photo, and the glare off my bald spot brings me a crushing glimpse of reality.

Or take, for instance, this morning's shower. I spent part of yesterday on the grass at Seattle Center enjoying the annual Folklife Festival. Listened to musicians with more enthusiasm than talent, indulged in overpriced festival food, solved a few crosswords. In all, I was out for less than three hours-- apparently enough time for some ne'er do well to connect the pipes in my shower to a tank of sulfuric acid, because when I stepped beneath the spray this morning you could have heard my howl in Kalamazoo.

Scalps, like Rhode Island clubs, burn easily. I am now one of those men who needs to wear a hat in the summer. This displeases me. A have a large head, so few hats fit well. I don't like wearing them. And it seems the height of injustice that the very hair that got me into this mess in the first place has the temerity to leave me with hat head regardless of how short I cut it.

Comments (11) | last by BeenThere, Jun 4, 9:47 AM

PH6: Time Corps

Needed some time to decompress after the MS Puzzle Hunt before I could go over it all again. For the curious, here's the set-up.

The hunt was announced via a letter to players, congratulating them on being accepted to the Time Corps-- a government research think tank established to exploit new Chronoscope technology that can peer backward through time. Time Corps is gathering the brightest historians, sociologists, and researchers to help analyze the mysteries of the past and create a better future.

Upon arrival the hunt, players are greeted by Chronoscope inventor and Time Corps founder Dr. Jacob Goode and given an orientation spiel about the Time Corps' history and mission, including a goofy call-and-response pledge (which, gratifyingly, the entire room of ~400 people played right along with). During that orientation, dissheveled and disgruntled researcher Dr. Richard Naste burst into the room demanding to know why he'd been locked out of his lab. The ensuing argument between Goode and Naste revealed that the Time Corps advisory board felt that Naste's research was dangerous and unethical, and that he'd been shut down and his credentials revoked. Naste, angry and egotistical, stormed out with a promise that this wasn't over. Teams were given their first set of puzzles-- "extracts" from the Chronoscope, each representing a particular period of time and named after historic events-- and dispersed to their separate conference rooms to begin working on them.

Five hours later, players were interrupted when their computers were taken over by a video message from Dr. Goode, informing them that Time Corps was in a state of security alert. Dangerous levels of chronoton emissions had been detected within the facility. All researchers were advised to don time-protective gear and proceed to the orientation area immediately for a security update. Players were warned this was not a drill and urged not to panic. (We later heard from a number of teams who were just stunned at how their machines had been taken over by our video, and who just sat there when it finished asking each other "How did they DO that?")

When teams arrived at the orientation area, they were met by Dr. Naste-- now immaculately attired in a fine suit, and attended by a number of other men in suits. The Time Corps logo behind him was subtly changed-- the S was missing. Naste proceeded to give a status report on TimeCorp's progress in various outrageous schemes to get wealthy-- extracting all diamonds from South African diamond mines centuries before they'd be discovered; inventing the lightbulb and phonograph, selling the patents to Edison, inventing improved versions, driving Edison out of business, and reacquiring the patents for a song; and so forth. Naste lead the group in a chant of the corporate motto, "Time is Money," before giving them their next set of puzzles, another set of historic events. (The script for this was very funny, and the audience obligingly shouted out two questions we wanted asked without our having to resort to the shills we'd planted: Where's Dr. Goode? and What happened to Time Corps?)

When players returned to their conference rooms, they discovered that the Puzzle Hunt web site, which had previously been the Time Corps home page (with info about the campus, advisory board, and so on) had changed. It was now the TimeCorp home page, with completely different personnel and history described therein. This included a password-protected "supply center" link which players couldn't access.

A few hours later another video interrupted players. Dr. Goode, apparently on the run and hiding somewhere in the TimeCorp facility, explains what happened. He didn't really invent the Chronoscope-- he found it frozen in ice in Siberia. In the process of analyzing it and learning how to use it, they theorized that it was part of a time machine that had exploded and become fragmented throughout time. Dr. Naste became obsessed with reconstucting the whole device. That's what the argument at the orientation was about. Naste had no concern about safety or ethics, and the board shut him down. But too late-- he'd obviously succeeded, activated his device, traveled through time and changed history so that Time Corps never existed. But his changes had more far-reaching consequences, and altered many events throughout history. Worse, these ripples in the timestream were becoming waves, which were becoming tsunamis, which would eventually shread the fabric of space-time with devastating results. Goode was sending this message to the new Time Corps employees because their labs, like his own, had the heaviest temporal shielding and he hoped they'd remember the old time stream as he did. Goode needed the players to figure out a way to reverse what Naste had done.

Goode also gave players a new set of puzzles. There were a total of 17 puzzles in the first two groups. This final group also had 17 puzzles-- one for each event in the first 17. But although their titles were the same, and in many cases they even looked the same as the previous puzzles, they were in fact completely different. As Goode said, history had changed-- all of these historical events had been altered.

Later, the players were emailed a status report which had been filled out for them by Dr. Goode. This was the meta puzzle. Solving it using answers from the other puzzles guided players to an Xbox kiosk on the MS campus, which we'd modified. To access the kiosk, players had to enter a series of 10 codes on the Xbox (which the meta puzzle revealed to them). Once they did, the Xbox gave them a game of Tetris to play. After clearing 10 lines, the right side of the screen became another video of Dr. Goode (if the players stopped playing at this or any point, or lost the game, they got kicked back out and had to reenter to code). Goode told players that Naste had managed to track down all the pieces of the time machine that had been scattered through time, and players had to do the same-- assemble their own machine with spares from the TimeCorp supply lab, go back in time to yesterday, and stop Naste from ever activating his own time machine. To find out what parts they needed, they'd have to do what Naste did and find them scattered through time. One time machine part was visible somewhere in each time period they'd studied, either in the original or alternate timeline. Goode gave them a password to the TimeCorp supply center web page which had, until now, been unavailable to them. There, players found an inventory list of 40 parts (only 17 of which were "real"), and a "Time Machine Schematic" puzzle. Once players searched through the puzzles and found the 17 time machine parts and entered them into the schematic, they got a 17-digit number which broke down into a building, room number, door lock combination, and chamber number. Dr. Goode from the original timeline met players at that location, having been sent a message from his future self. In that chamber was the time machine, and behind a glass wall was Dr. Naste frantically preparing to activate it. Players removed a key part from the machine, causing the machine to explode (sending the pieces scattering throughout time, thus closing the temporal causality loop at the heart of the hunt) and winning the game.

Phew.

Comments (5) | last by dana, May 24, 12:33 AM

Saffron Truffles?

My parents are coming into town in July, for the first time in about eight years. And while my annual trips home for Thanksgiving sometimes verge on painful, I usually enjoy having the folks out on my turf. Maybe it's because the home they now live in isn't the same one in which I grew up, so going "home" isn't really going home for me, while having them in Seattle lets me play host and be all grown up (which, at 34, you'd think would be a non-issue, but I guess it's hard to shake the memories of being at the kids' table).

They did a lot of the usual Seattle stuff the last time they came-- Pike Place Market, Woodland Park Zoo, Capitol Hill and the Ave., Wild Ginger, the Spirit of Washington dinner train. The Experience Music Project is new, but even less appealing to them than Swan Lake to an eighth grade boy. I'd like to treat them to something nice, and different.

And so I find myself thinking about The Herbfarm. I'm a foodie, and other foodies rave about the place. I've never been-- it's a special occasion kind of place, and I don't have many special occasions. But for the money, I could fly all three of us to Vegas and see Cirque du Soleil's O at Bellagio with money left over for cab fare. At the end of the day-- and at 5 hours for dinner, that's a long day-- it's just food. You'd almost have to have nine courses of that chocolate cake from The Matrix Reloaded, hand-fed by Famke Janssen to feel justified in signing the check. At what point is food no longer food, but an experience? And is such a thing even possible in Woodinville?

Comments (3) | last by Dave Arnott, May 23, 4:06 AM

Finalerama

Buffy: I'll say one thing for that Whedon chap, he knows how to go out with a bang. Angel's appearance amounted to nothing but a deus ex, delivering a powerful amulet out of nowhere and then vanishing again. Would have preferred to see him fight alongside Buffy. Willow had a nice moment. Anya met her foreshadowed death. Liked the interplay between Wood and Faith. Spike disappeared, so he can be brought back next season on Angel. And Buffy solved her loneliness issues by empowering an unknown number of slayers and creating infinite spinoff potential. The plot made little sense. We're never told, for example, how the collapse of the hellmouth in any way stops The First. After all, as Giles pointed out, there's another hellmouth in Cleveland. As Apocali go, this one was pretty much a bust. It proves that intimate stories are more affecting than grandiose ones. Remember the end of season 2, where Buffy had to send Angel back to Hell to save the world, just as he regained his soul? There's a finale. This one left me kinda cold.

Smallville: Not sure I like how they've changed the mythology to make Jor-El kinda evil, with Machiavellian plans for ol' Clark. Definitely didn't like the complete mishandling of Jonathan Kent tonight. I just didn't buy his cold shoulder. We know Clark will come back to Smallville at the start of next season, so his pained exodus isn't much of a cliffhanger. But I'm quite curious to see what happens with ol' Lex. Seemingly drugged by his new wife and left for dead on a crashing plane, things don't look good. As for Lionel Luther, he's become tiresome and I find myself wishing they'd just kill the bastard and let Lex embrace the dark side already. Since Smallville's the WB's biggest hit, I doubt they'll muck with the formula overly much.

24: Not nearly as good a finale as last season's. In fact, the last few weeks were more fizzle than sizzle. It looks like they're setting up next season to chronicle the very next day, which is something of a surprise. Seems like they'd be telling much the same story. Curious to see where they'll go.

Comments (5) | last by David Waldman, Jun 5, 9:05 AM

Puzzle Hunt

I've been quiet for the past few days because I've been busy running a puzzle hunt at Microsoft for about 400 people. The event began Saturday morning at 10AM and concluded at 5PM on Sunday, for a total of 31 straight hours of puzzling (yes, most teams stayed through the night). There were 34 puzzles and 2 meta-puzzles, 3 filmed video segments, 3 live performances, nine organizers and 43 teams of up to 12 people each. Four teams "solved" the hunt, with about 5 more teams getting very, very close as time expired. The hunt was planned over a period of about eight months, although as usual with group activities much of the work actually got done near the end of that time period. I wrote six of the puzzles and both metas, and overall I'm pleased with the way things turned out. Players seemed to have a great time. I crashed at about 8PM last night and woke up at noon-- there's nothing quite so blissful as the long recuperative slumber after an all-nighter. Now I need to feed my body and catch up on various things that I've let slide while focusing on hunt prep.

Comments (3) | last by Mark Lambert, May 20, 10:40 AM

John Don't

In other news, John Doe won't be back next season so we may never learn if the series' creators had a plan or were just slinging back Icees and winging it.

Angel will return, however, and I've got mixed feelings on that one. The gang's living in a giant deus ex machina now, and the writers might start getting lazy. Cordelia's out-- Charisma Carpenter won't be coming back-- but James Marsters is bringing Spike to the party. We've seen some major prophecies about "the vampire with a soul", and now there are two of them. And they're both hot on Buffy. Bringing them together should create some nice tension.

Oh, and in the Heavy-Handed Foreshadowing Dept: Smallville. "The day is coming when the last son will begin his quest to rule the Earth." Yeah, yeah, we get it. "The last son" isn't the last son of Krypton, as Clark thinks, it's the last son of Lionel Luthor. Who wants to bet that Lex's fiancee-- and his recently-rediscovered brother, I'd imagine-- doesn't have long to live? I like that Smallville has finally advanced some plot lately. Clark and Lana are finally getting together (though in his shoes, I'd pick Chloe), "meteor rocks" are finally Kryptonite, and Clark's learning about where he came from. All to the good, but I expected Dr. Walden to become Braniac instead of a charcoal briquette. I'm not sure how they can pull the trigger on Lex turning evil without pushing Clark into tights, but they've managed to be pretty smart so far and I'm willing to stick around to find out.

Comment (1) | last by christopher hearns, Esq., May 16, 9:51 PM

I know Hollywood films often come in pairs-- two volcano movies, two asteroid-hits-the-Earth movies, two Mars movies-- but that kind of parallel development is rare on television, which tends to copycat success after the fact instead. But this season not only did we have two hour-long dramas featuring the President of the United States as a main character (The West Wing, 24), but both of them utilized the 25th amendment in their storylines.

I couldn't even have told you what the 25th amendment was a few weeks ago. If you're likewise Constitutionally challenged, it says that the President can step down if he feels he can't discharge his duties, or the VP and a majority of the Cabinet can declare the President to be unfit and force him to step down.

I find it hard to believe that writers on two top, creative shows would crib ideas off each other-- surely pride would get in the way-- and yet the coincidence of parallel development seems so unlikely. With all the stories to tell, these two series converge on the same one mere weeks apart? Right. And it was just a weather balloon in Roswell.

Meanwhile, series creator and writer Aaron Sorkin won't be back on The West Wing next season. Sorkin's dialogue crackles. It has a unique tempo and rhythm. Watch any episode of Sports Night and The West Wing, and you can immediately tell the same hand was responsible. The show will not be the same without him, and I fear next season might be the last for President Bartlet and crew.

Thou Shalt Not Pop

The world's first inflatable church opened this week at an exhibition in London. The church can be inflated in 3 hours and houses sixty people-- 12 on the plastic pews, the rest on the floor. There has been no word on whether the church will be deployed in the Boston area, and if so, if it will be equipped with inflatable altar boys.

Comment (1) | last by DugSteen, May 14, 1:00 PM

Life Isn't Fair

Just what the world needed-- reinforcement that pretty people always win. In this case, a pretty, bratty, lazy person. Props to Jenna for winning the last two immunity challenges, both of which were essential to her survival. Nobody can accuse her of coasting through the last few days.

All the days leading up to that are a completely different story.

Not that Matt's much better, really-- he would have been toast without Rob-- but at least he was working his tail off from the get-go. He never whined about wanting to quit. He never got cocky enough to sunbathe while other tribe members worked.

And at the end, he only got one vote. I'm still baffled.

Jenna's win isn't as disappointing as Vesepia's from the Marquesas, but it's a close second.

Comments (3) | last by Nate Beeler, May 12, 12:34 PM

Stacked Against Me

If you watched Millionaire today, you saw Armand win $500,000 on a stack of questions that had me completely demoralized in the green room. Sure, I picked the right answer to the $500,000 question, but I never would have gotten there (and I didn't know it for certain). The $64,000 question would have stopped me dead-- despite it seeming too obvious for that dollar level, I still would have gone for Mercury instead of Venus and I'd have gone home. If I'd even gotten THAT far. I didn't know the $8K, $16K, or $32K questions either! Actually, I might have known the $16K answer from my cramming the night before, but sitting at home today I didn't remember it. So with the possible exception of that question, I didn't know the answer to ANY of the questions Armand was asked from $8K on. So now imagine me sitting in the green room, trying to psych myself up for my eventual shot (which, incidentally, could be at any time-- they don't tell you it's your turn until the person before you gets into the hotseat), having just been unable to answer a SINGLE question correctly.

The efficacy of my anti-perspirant was thoroughly tested.

We were all thrilled for Armand. In fact, rooting for him was one of the best parts of the whole Millionaire experience. The whole room erupted in cheers and applause. When he won, we won. Only, without the money. The crappy thing about Millionaire is that when you leave the green room to go on set, you don't come back. Ever. I never saw Armand again to congratulate him, and I'd have liked to. And I think he'd have loved to receive the room's affection. But I'm sure the money was comfort enough. =)

Oh-- remember the end of the show, when Meredith introduces the clip of Nancy Christy's win "for the benefit of the audience" and anyone else who missed it? They didn't show the clip on set. Apparently the tape was already in post-production and no longer in the building. Meredith almost had a riot on her hands. I suspect the crew gave away a lot of extra T-shirts right about then.

Anyway, here are Armand's questions-- how would you have done?

Comments (7) | last by Chris M. Dickson, May 11, 1:44 PM

Millionaire #2

Tonight Nancy Christy became the first woman to go all the way to the top on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Her appearance was taped the day before my trip to the show. When we went onto the set for our dry run, a single piece of confetti fluttered down from the rigging. Friday's show is the first actually taped while I was there-- more on that tomorrow. Meanwhile, could you have been a millionaire? Here are the questions.

Comments (3) | last by Mark Lambert, May 10, 11:19 PM

Since the demise of Calvin and Hobbes, my favorite comic strip has been FoxTrot. It's hard not to love a strip that keeps up with current events-- at least, as far as geek pop culture is concerned. It's pretty safe to expect a week's worth of Matrix-themed strips this month, for example, and some Hulk strips later this summer. Cartoonist Bill Amend's obviously got geek cred.

Yesterday's strip (below) carried a special frisson for me, since its punchline was one of the theme entries in my second New York Times crossword (published Feb. 20). I hoped my crossword had inspired the strip, but sadly, no such luck-- I emailed Amend and found out he never saw my puzzle. What's the matter, Amend-- a newspaper not worth your time if it doesn't carry your strip? Too busy drawing iguanas to stretch the mind a little? Too high and mighty to steal a joke from a lowly crossword constructor? I see how it is. No, no-- don't try to apologize now. I'm insulted that you think I'd be mollified by an autographed original strip (sent to Peter Sarrett, 1920 N. 49th St., Seattle WA, 98103). Positively indignant, I am. I'd scold you further, but I must go wait by my mailbox.

foxtrot.gif

Comments (4) | last by Peter Sarrett, May 12, 3:14 PM

Fast Forward

Wow. That must take the cake for being one of the most unexpected cliffhanger season finales in history. I'm talking, of course, about Alias-- the smart and sexy spy series that you really should be watching. So let's recap. We don't know what Sloane saw in the document given to him by David Carradine. We don't know what the Rimbaldi device did. We don't know what Irina's real agenda is-- her "explanation" really wasn't one. And most of all, we don't know what the heck happened to Sydney after her showdown with Francie and what's happened to everyone else in the meantime. Will the series pick up where it left off, or will it rewind? And more importantly, do the show's creators have a road map or are they making this up as they go along? Because this whole Rimbaldi thing has been playing out for two years now, and we're no closer to a revelation now than we were when the show began. I like unexpected turns as much as the next guy, but I want assurances that there's a firm hand on the tiller. And tonight's cliffhanger is either sheer brilliance or a desperation hail Mary pass.

Toast For Your Waffle

Christy, Christy, Christy. I knew you were doomed, but to go out like this? Drunk with power for the first time in the game, you forgot the cardinal rule: never, ever waffle. You KNEW you were never going to side with Jenna and Heidi, so why be coy with Rob? After all the maneuvering he's done, did you really think he'd just sit on his hands and hope you decided to vote with him? If you'd just told him you were on his side, Jenna would be snuggling with Alex right now, plotting their revenge against Rob. But you had to milk the moment, and now you're gone.

Comments (2) | last by Jeremy, May 4, 8:24 AM

Faster Than Ipecac

Cedar Point, the amusement park which is to rollercoaster enthusiasts what Michael Jackson is to tabloid reporters, today unveiled their newest "stratacoaster". Top Thrill Dragster is the world's tallest (420 feet) and fastest (120 mph) coaster. A hydraulic system launches cars from 0 to 120 in 4 seconds, sending them straight up 420 feet, over a hill, and then straight down.

Let me repeat that. STRAIGHT down. As in a 90 degree angle.

The whole digestive purge takes just seventeen seconds.

Meanwhile, Six Flags Enchanted Village later this month will unveil the Timberhawk, the biggest coaster in Washington State which moves at the reed-bending speed of 50 mph-- more proof that Ohio has the Pacific Northwest way outclassed when it comes to disgorging stomach contents in public.

Comments (2) | last by dana, May 3, 9:35 AM

X2

X2: X-Men United didn't need to work very hard to make me happy. I wanted lots of Nightcrawler, my favorite X-Man. I wanted cool uses of mutant powers. I wanted references to the comics that the casual movie-goer might not get but which I, as a reformed comic book geek who used to read all the X titles religiously but hasn't seen one in about a decade, would understand.

The film did not disappoint.

Nightcrawler rocked. The opening scene of the film is a brilliant showcase of what Nightcrawler can do, with great acrobatics and dozens of bamfs. The film glosses over his origins and persecution in the German countryside and fails to establish any hint that Mystique is his mother despite giving them some face time together, it nevertheless gets the essence of his character correct. A friend didn't like the devout Christian underpinnings and strong German accent-- elements easily overlooked in the comics-- but they're dead-on. The body markings deviate from the comics, and I admit I'd have preferred a bit more fuzzy elf-ness, but this is a Nightcrawler I hope to see more of in X3.

Not surprisingly, Wolverine got many of the best scenes and even managed to get a "bub" in (still no "I'm the best there is at what I do," though). He kicked some serious butt and was very faithful to his comic roots. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see a Wolverine solo film, and I think Jackman could carry it.

We also got some nice character development for Iceman, who was barely a cameo the first time around. Iceman is another favorite of mine, and though his powers were barely used this time out, they've certainly opened the door for more of him as the series progresses.

Character development was pretty sparse elsewhere. Storm is still a cipher-- I'm amazed that Halle Berry thinks the role is worth her while. Cyclops was a complete non-entity here. I love Famke Janssen, and though Jean got some decent screen time we didn't really learn more about her. Not that it matters-- she either wants out of the franchise, or they're preparing to launch the Phoenix saga in the next film.

Nice cameos by Colossus, Siryn, Kitty Pryde, and Hank McCoy. USA Today claims Leech and Gambit also popped up, but if so they were neither named nor shown using their abilities (although I did see Gambit's name on a computer screen). I also loved how Mystique busted Magneto out of prison, and the way they showed how just a tiny bit of metal can be a Very Bad Thing in Magneto's hands.

Though the cast of characters is expanding too rapidly to do it justice, X2 was pretty much what I want in a comic book movie. Cool superpowers, good-looking characters, exciting action scenes, and enough plot to hold it together. Now bring on Phoenix and the Sentinels.

Comments (2) | last by Damon, May 5, 10:43 PM