February 2006 Archives

Pocket Immunity

I don't think the players on Survivor realize yet how profoundly the existence of the personal immunity idol changes the game. By finding the idol-- and kudos for digging deeper instead of giving up after removing the stones and finding nothing obvious-- Terry now has a huge advantage. HUGE, I say. Not only can he save himself from elimination, but if he's savvy and manages to conceal his possession of the idol from everyone else he can use it to assassinate a key opponent who might otherwise be untouchable.

His teammates don't want to get rid of him, and his four-man alliance seems strong. But once the tribes merge, if I were in the game I'd be quietly lobbying to vote out EVERYONE who's ever been to Exile Island, one by one, until that immunity idol appears. It's a land mine waiting to explode in someone's face, and if I didn't know where it was, I'd be trying to flush it out. But quietly. Because it would do you no good to swing a unanimous vote against an exile with the idol if that exile cast his potentially lethal magic bullet vote against you.

Maybe the players have thought this all through already and it's just been edited out so far because it hasn't come into play. Or maybe they haven't adjusted their strategy to this twist yet. But it's going to be very interesting to hear their reactions once the full implications manifest.

Comment (1) | last by michael, Feb 25, 8:50 PM

Cooking++

We eat three meals a day (or we would, if we woke up early enough for breakfast...). Unless you're Calista Flockhart, you've just gotta eat. You can look at it as a chore, like shaving or teaching the dog that humping visitors' legs is not acceptable behavior unless the visitor is your mother-in-law, but I see it as something to relish. I don't understand why more people don't like to cook. Unlike many other creative passions like gardening, carpentry, and child-rearing, the gratification is almost immediate. Few things are as satisfying as producing a delicious meal.

True chefs don't follow recipes. They coax flavors out of their ingredients through Vulcan mind meld, intuitively knowing that a chilled apple coulis will create a perfect counterpoint to that rutebega. They throw ingredients into the pan by sight-- a dash of this, a handful of that. Measuring spoons are beneath them. Seasoning is an art; the pan, their canvas.

Then there's the rest of us. We need recipes-- codified series of instructions that take us step by step through the creation of a dish. And this morning, in the wake of a couple of fabulously successful new recipes for chicken tikka masala and butter chicken, it hit me that recipes are really just computer programs, with the cook as the central processor.

Just as we declare variables at the top of each program, every recipe begins by declaring its ingredients. Instead of allocating storage in memory, the cook sets aside storage on his countertop or in his mis en place and measures out the appropriate amount of the ingredient. Many recipes present themselves as a series of numbered steps, or subroutines, in the cooking process. The cook proceeds from the top to the bottom, executing each step in turn until he reaches the end. Before running a program/recipe, you have to make sure you meet the hardware requirements. Instead of a blue screen of death when a program crashes, you might get black smoke. You have to clean up what you use, lest the computer/kitchen run out of resources and grind to a halt. And when everything works as intended, the satisfaction is unparalleled. No wonder I love cooking!

Since cooking is just another programming language, recipes can be ported from one system to another. Here's a port of my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe...

Comments (5) | last by antkam, Feb 25, 3:50 AM

Money Machine

Why won't this work?

Acquire two credit cards, A and B (preferably cards that earn reward points or frequent flyer miles). Charge stuff to card A for one month. Pay the bill with card B, and charge stuff on card B for one month. Now pay that bill with card A and switch back to card A for a month. Lather, rinse, repeat until one of the cards maxes out, at which point you pay off the bill with a check and start the cycle over.

Since each card is paid in full by the other each month, there are no fees or finance charges, and the amount keeps snowballing to earn more and more reward points.

I'm sure there's a flaw here. What is it? Is it even possible to pay one credit card with another?

Comments (7) | last by super bowl jerseys, May 11, 5:32 PM

Strip Food

We hit what are widely considered to be the top three buffets on the strip, and I'd rank them in this order: Paris, Aladdin, Bellagio. None of the others are in the same league as the Paris when it comes to decor. The Paris buffet looks like a little French village and is really quite lovely, in a Disney kind of way. What I particularly liked about their cuisine was that it stayed remarkably on-theme. The other buffets offer stations providing food segregated by nationality-- Mexican, Chinese, Sushi, American, Italian, etc. At Paris, the stations are grouped by region of France. I have no idea if the cuisine was authentic to those regions, but I can tell you there were no tacos or stir-fries to be found. Some things they couldn't get away from-- a carving station, crab legs, Caesar salad-- but the majority of their offerings felt at home in a French restaurant. Fondue, crepes, quiche, brochettes, gratins, exceptional mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, and of course divine desserts (although, oddly, no creme brulee). The quality of the food at the Aladdin buffet was also top-notch, and the desserts seemed the highest quality and most varied of the three places we visited. The Bellagio suffered only in comparison to the other two, and I'm sure other people with different tastes might rank it higher-- I do give it extra points for offering a poke (pronounced PO-kay) at its sushi station, a dish that's become my favorite form of raw fish.

We also dined at Mesa Grill at Caesar's. On the whole I was disappointed here-- the hollandaise on the chicken and sweet potato hash overpowered its other flavors, and the nine-spice chicken salad was nothing special. But if nothing else, I'd go back for the goat cheese fundido-- a small cast iron pan of cheesy heaven. Go for lunch or a snack, order this, and you'll be happy happy happy.

Vegas has become a foodie's dream but a casual diner's nightmare. Top chefs from around the world have outposts here, and getting from one to the other is easier than anywhere else in the world. Reservations are virtually required at any of the better restaurants, and prices are a far cry from the days when $2.99 steak and eggs ruled the roost. There are less expensive options-- most casinos have a food court with Nathan's and the like-- but restaurants are now as much a destination as the casinos and are priced accordingly.

At the other end of the scale, we also took a trip to In-N-Out Burger just off the strip. While I applaud their fresh-cut fries, Nathan's is still the champ in that category. I've said this before, and it still holds-- I don't understand the fanatic loyalty this place inspires. It has to be for reasons other than the food itself, because the burgers are absolutely nothing special-- even a Whopper is better.

If you and your friends are thirsty, I recommend a visit to the Coca-Cola store near the MGM. The soda fountain upstairs offers a $7 "Tastes of the World" sampler: 16 glasses of various soda flavors from around the globe, most of which are completely unavailable in the United States. Some, like the green apple, were just delish (think liquid Jolly Rancher) while others-- one in particular-- were flat-out repulsive. There was too much for just the two of us to finish in one sitting. A group of four that doesn't mind sharing the same cups would be just right.

Comments (6) | last by SeanT, Mar 7, 11:38 AM

Its...

The gf recently related to me an observation that she heard a comedian make some time ago, that goes something like this: if something's not funny to a woman, it will never be funny to her. If something's not funny to a man, if you repeat it a few times it becomes funny.

This, she said, explains why only men like Monty Python.

The gf likes The Princess Bride, so I'm inclined to cut her a little slack when she calls Monty Python and the Holy Grail stupid and unfunny. But the broad assertion that appreciation of Python splits down gender lines requires some further investigation. She allows that there are some women who like Python and some men who don't, but that statistically speaking it's the men who laugh and the women who just put up with it.

So. Conduct your own little survey among friends and family and report back. Monty Python: funny, or not funny?

Comments (12) | last by Danielle, Feb 28, 4:22 PM

Spent the past 4 days with the gf in Vegas, which is going condo happy. Everywhere you look, old buildings are being razed and new foundations poured for towering residential complexes. With all this construction comes a new breed of marketers sharing sidewalk space with the brochure-snapping touts hawking the virtues of Brandi, Cindi, and Velvet. Not content to merely shove a pamphlet into your path, these upscale shills accost you verbally as you pass them on the sidewalk or enter the grounds of the Venetian or Aladdin retail complexes. "How long are you folks in town?" "Would you like free tickets to Elton John, Avenue Q, or Cirque du Soleil tonight?" "Free $100 dinner vouchers for any restaurant on the Strip!" They hound you with the relentless determination of time-traveling cyborgs in pursuit of future resistance leaders, chipping away at your defenses and curiosity until, exhausted, you succumb to the embrace of their sales pitch.

For us it was a particularly low-key woman in front of the Excalibur who dangled tickets to Hairspray in front of us, luring us within range before closing the jaws of the trap tight. Fifteen minutes later, after paging through her binder of promotional materials to decide which show we'd see and what time the next day we'd show up for the tour of the new residential property they were hawking ("If you come in the morning, we'll feed you breakfast and get you out before noon!"), she finally got around to asking something she should have asked long before.

"Are you married?" No. "Living together?" No. "Oh." The binder slammed shut. "I'm sorry, we have no more available showings tomorrow for singles."

And just like that, we were through-- but armed with a new mantra, which we used as a defensive ward for the rest of our trip. "Are you going to be in town tomor--" "Notmarried,notlivingtogether,leavingtomorrow." It was better than a silver cross at getting the bloodsuckers to back off in search of other, easier prey.

Next time we go, however, we intend to set aside the first full day for nothing but viewing residential properties. By the time we're through, we'll have dining and entertainment taken care of for the remainder of our stay.

Comments (2) | last by Nathan Beeler, Feb 17, 12:47 PM

Caramel Cone for Everyone!

You only live once, and the "Rolls Royce" of studies has now determined that we might as well do so with a pint of Haagen Dazs strapped to our chins.

Speaking of puzzles, here's one of the sort I love to create. Only someone else did. Can you identify all the bands?

Comments (4) | last by dewa poker asia, Jan 21, 12:09 AM

Seattle Puzzling Alert

If you live in the Seattle area, have been intrigued by the accounts of my exploits at local and Bay area puzzle events, but have been put off by the travel costs or the time committments, I've got some great news for you. A new event format is being introduced this April 1 that's tailored just for you. Teams of four, walking only, five hours long in an area under five miles wide, and $25 per team. It's being run by some swell folks and should be a great time. Only 25 teams will be accepted, however, and those slots will probably fill very quickly-- so if you're interested, you should jump on it as soon as registration opens on February 15. Visit the SNAP site for more details.

Comment (1) | last by Ann, Apr 12, 11:26 AM

Like a Virgin

There are a lot of rituals in high school. The prom. Homecoming. SATs. Thin and fat envelopes from colleges. Squeezing zits in the mirror. Getting a driver's license. Explaining the dent in the car to your parents.

Besides getting drunk or stoned under the bleachers, there was one particular high school ritual in which I never participated. It just never seemed all that interesting to me. Last night, almost twenty years after graduating, I rectified that situation-- and discovered that even in high school, I knew myself pretty well.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show must rank among the worst films of all time. It's bad. Egregiously bad. The script borders on incoherent-- and I'm told if I'd been able to hear more than 50% of the actual dialogue it wouldn't have improved. Even its signature Time Warp segment, a staple of bar mitzvahs and high school dances for decades, just serves to confuse the viewer with incongruous, surreal shenanigans for no apparent purpose.

But of course, the film itself isn't why Rocky Horror has become a cultural phenomenon. People go for the audience participation-- the rice, the toast, the cards, the toilet paper, the newspaper, the way-too-into-it costumed folk acting along with the movie on stage and in the aisles. And shouting at the screen. It's amazing how the Rocky Horror experience spread around the country in the pre-Internet era. The thing is, it didn't spread in exactly the same way. Different people learn different things, and then they show up at the same theater and contribute them to the group experience. That might sound fine in theory, but in practice it works rather less well. With no synchonicity, part of the theater lags behind another. Different jokes are shouted out on top of each other. One is left with the sense that each individual is merely indulging themselves with no regard for creating a common shared experience, and the theater becomes a cacaphony of competing sound. I found it deeply unsatisfying.

The particular show we attended was apparently full of virgins like myself, there for the first time. More experienced members of my party informed me that the crowd was unusually quiet, since most people didn't know the routine. Perhaps it would feel different with a crowd full of experts. The multimedia aspects-- all the stuff that gets thrown, the live reenactment, etc-- did nothing for me. Many of the comments hurled at the screen weren't funny at all, and just seemed crammed in there because they could be. The group-mind needs an editor.

Most of the patter was sexual in nature, which is probably much funnier at 18 than at 37. When the crowd goes wild at "elbow sex", I know I'm in the wrong room. I vastly prefer Mystery Science Theater 3000, which does the same kind of thing but in a more consistently funny, clever way, leaving the comedy to the professionals. I understand why Rocky Horror, which must seem rebellious and exciting to teens, is so popular at that age. But damn it, Janet, I don't need a time warp to know it would have fallen just as flat to me then as now.

Comments (5) | last by Craig Macbride, Feb 7, 4:54 AM

Throw Me the Idol!

The older women get a partial pass on voting their most capable teammate out last night on Survivor. As a group, it was a stupid choice to make. For each of them as individuals, I can't blame them. With only 4 players in the tribe to choose from, if you can put yourself in the survival troika it really doesn't matter who the odd woman out is-- the important thing is that it's not you.

I suspect we may not have seen the last of Tina, though. In an interview, Probst said that her tragic background comes into play. We certainly didn't see that last night, which makes me think we might see another ghost tribe of outcasts and Tina might get back into the game. I'm OK with that-- getting booted out of an initial 4-person tribe is a raw deal.

Meanwhile, where's that pesky immunity idol hidden? Lacking any sense of the island's geography we have no way to know. My take on Jeff's cryptic clue is that he emphasized Misty would have time to think about WHY fate chose her to stay behind and WHY [something else I forgot]-- a departure from the norm in such a situation. I'm thinking the use of "WHY" twice to emphasize it suggests the idol is hidden in a natural feature that resembles the letter Y-- a forked tree, perhaps. You heard it here first.

Comments (9) | last by Georg, Feb 9, 8:53 PM

First 15 of 24

I like to stockpile episodes of 24 so I can watch them at my leisure and not be held hostage to the weekly cliffhanger. So I only last night got around to watching the first 2 hours of the season, and WOW, what an opener! Great stuff. As a solution to the problem of how to bring Jack back to Los Angeles, it was genius. I'm hoping all the effort on the part of the bad guys turns out to make sense. At the moment, it just looks like a plot device. But I have faith that the writers will bring the pieces together in due course.

Meanwhile... Survivor: Exile Island premieres tonight.

Comments (2) | last by Nathan Beeler, Feb 3, 11:03 AM

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