June 2006 Archives

Mucous Technology

Over the last several days, as allergies have once again driven me to view a shotgun to the head as a viable remedy, I have marvelled at the human nose's seemingly limitless capacity to produce mucous. You'd think that the human body, like the pool from which American Idol draws talent, would contain a finite supply of the stuff, and that eventually-- perhaps, say, after a few days of nonstop flow, it would run dry. My body's Wal-Mart is completely sold out of hair follicles on aisle one, but mucous is the blue light special. It's the freaking miracle of Hannukah.

But with the mapping of the human genome complete, the solution to all the world's fuel problems are within our grasp. The answer has been right under my nose. Nonstop. For the past three days. If scientists can learn to tap into mucous technology, the planet's oil wells will always flow freely.

Big Brother 7: All Stars

When it comes to trashy summer TV, nothing's trashier than Big Brother. If you watch Big Brother, you pretty much have to either pretend you've never heard of the show or stand loud and proud. I've watched every season. As a game guy, I'm always interested in the competitions the creators devise, and the backstabbing politics is an added bonus. I eagerly awaited Survivor's all-star season, but the same concept on Big Brother gets a muted yawn from me. Survivor seems more about having a strategy and playing the game, and as such it was interesting to fill an island with veterans and see how they fared the second time around. But not only is Big Brother's stage much smaller, but its contestants are less endearing. There's almost nobody on the nomination list that I'm interested in seeing again. I'd much rather meet a new batch of players.

But that's not an option. From the list of 20 nominees, there are only 8 I'd pick: Alison, Danielle, Howie, James, Janelle, Kaysar, Marcellas, Will. I'm betting that attention whore Mike will also make it on, although one season of his limelight-hogging was plenty. I have no idea what Cowboy and Nakomis are even doing on that list (the latter was a complete non-entity the first time, and the former makes my ears bleed), but I'll give a small prayer of thanks to whatever gods kept Holly off. I hope loud-mouth Monica doesn't make the cut-- anyone who still uses the phrase "keeping it real" is dead to me (ack! On browsing the Big Brother web site, I see that Danielle not only "kept it real" but intends to continue "keeping it real 24/7" this season. Et tu, Danielle?)-- and frankly, five years hasn't made me pine for Chicken George any. If I had to fill the 3 remaining slots, I'd go with Bunky, Dana, and Lisa.

My predictions on the 3 men and 3 women America will pick: Kaysar, Howie, Will, Alison, Janelle, Ivette. And if he doesn't get picked by America, the producers will absolutely put Marcellas in the house.

Voting closes June 28.

Comments (4) | last by AJ, Jul 7, 7:40 AM

This American Archive

Enjoy NPR's This American Life? Got an hour-long commute or workout, and an MP3 player? You may enjoy this archive of downloadable This American Life programs. I recommend episode 178, "Superpowers".

Comments (4) | last by Peter, Jun 21, 2:39 PM

Treasure Hunters

My most frequent complaint about The Amazing Race is the lost opportunity represented by the frequently lame challenges the teams are asked to perform. With just a little more effort, the inane needle-in-a-haystack searches or purely physical challenges could be transformed into simple but satisfying puzzles that with both physical and mental components. It's clearly not hurting the show's ratings, but I can't help feel that the game aspect of the show could be stronger. Enter Treasure Hunters, NBC's new reality show that is most easily described as "The Amazing Race with puzzles."

As a primetime network show, the puzzles are pretty simple-- Morse code, a substitution cipher (with provided code key), an electronic combination lock-- but so far nicely devised. The lock in particular-- positioned within view of Mount Rushmore and opened by entering the ordinal sequence of the four presidents carved thereon-- felt elegant in its simplicity and integration with the environment. I was a bit disappointed that none of the teams figured out the image on the map they received, since I recognized it as an anamorphic image immediately (there was an exhibit of such images when I visited the Salvador Dali museum in Figueras, Spain). The Geniuses and Young Professionals seemed particularly dense when, confronted with a cylinder that looked remarkably like the one already in their possession, they never connected the dots.

Production values are high, and I was particularly pleased that viewers are told how far behind the leader each team is, so we're not left to wonder if teams were very close to each other or just edited to look that way. The product placement is particularly egregious, however-- is there anything unique about Ask.com's search technology?-- and my attention span isn't so short that I need to see the cell phone videos more than once, thanks. But Treasure Hunters shows real promise, and I hope the ratings are strong enough to warrant a second season and an audition opportunity for the pirates of Briny Deep ("PIRATES: Seattle, WA").

Comments (3) | last by Tsanders, Jun 21, 8:54 PM

Hell's Kitchen

Somehow Hell's Kitchen flew completely under my radar last season. Now that Top Chef has drawn to a close, I need my weekly fix of "reality" cooking-- and Hell's Kitchen caught my Tivo's attention. The buzz on the show has always been that chef Gordon Ramsay is an abusive tyrant to the aspiring contestants, but when you consider what's at stake-- a position as executive chef (with a share of the the profits) at a mulitmillion dollar restaurant at Las Vegas' new Red Rocks resort-- the contestants have ample reason to grin and bear it. But after seeing the dozen hopefuls, you have to wonder if Red Rocks' human resources shouldn't stick to a more traditional interview process. Most of the candidates seem woefully underqualified for the job. Then again, I'm sure the legal eagles have made sure the "executive chef" title can be honorary at the restaurant's discretion if the winner proves not to be up to the task.

I've been told the set for the show is a television studio that was completely remodeled for the show, incorporating a fully-functioning restaurant with double kitchen (so two teams can compete) and a dormitory for the contestants to stay in for the duration. They did a terrific job-- the restaurant looks fabulous. I'm particularly fond of the colored tile work and may use something similar for my upcoming kitchen remodel.

The show almost lost me at the outset, however, when Ramsay began sampling the players' signature dishes (which he gave them 30 minutes to prepare). He was gratuitously cruel, eviscerating each dish before even tasting them and subjecting the chefs to pointless degradations. That kind of mean-spirited television may be Fox's bread and butter, but it's not my cup of tea. But I started to wonder if that group humiliation process was casting Ramsay as the drill sergeant and the players as the army recruits fresh off the bus-- a bonding experience to bring the chefs together against a common enemy and fire them up to prove their worth.

If insults was all the show had to offer, it wouldn't be worth my time. But when they moved on to actual kitchen work, the show became vastly more interesting. Unlike Top Chef, these people are working in a "real" restaurant environment, with "real" customers to satisfy. These aren't trumped-up challenges like making gourmet food from a Kwik-E-Mart, this is a real night's service on a real restaurant line. And for someone like me who's curious about the world of restaurant cooking, the show suddenly became compelling. Ramsay may be abusive with his tirades, but he's not wrong-- the player-chefs (many of whom had no restaurant experience, so the deck was stacked against them to begin wtih) were horrible. All Ramsay appeared to be doing was holding them to a high standard. Having never worked in a kitchen, I have no way to know how preposterous the whole situation is to begin with. It certainly seemed like they were given adequate time to prepare. But the show was undoubtedly cast with inexperienced chefs for precisely this reason, to give Ramsay plenty to shout about in the opening weeks as the clueless wannabes who are way out of their league get eliminated one by one.

As much as I enjoyed Top Chef, it was clearly a game. The challenges were fanciful and only tangentially related to the real world of cookery. Hell's Kitchen also has all the artifice we expect in the reality genre, but the skills it's asking for-- and showing us-- feel more real. Who's cut out to not just work in, but run, a high-pressure, high-quality commercial kitchen? And what does it take to be that person? I'm looking forward to finding out.

Oh, and for the record... my money's on Heather.

Comments (7) | last by Bob, Aug 7, 6:14 PM

Tie One On

Remember last August, when I said I had some great news but couldn't talk about it? Well, now I can talk about it.

SarrettAdams will have a game in Hasbro's 2006-2007 line.

We're super-excited, of course. The game is going to be exclusively available at Wal-Mart for the first year, and if successful it'll go into wide release after that. Hasbro tried this last year with a game called Boxers or Briefs. Their success with that title led them to change the name of our game from Train of Thought (complete with locomotive pieces, railroad scoring track, etc) to Tie One On, on the theory that a more risque title might sell better than a train theme. Ironically, when they originally bought the game one of the things we were told Hasbro really liked about it was the name and theming. Go figure!

If you like $20,000 Pyramid, you'll like Tie One On. It's a game with changing partnerships, meaning that each time it's your turn you're paired up with a different player, one to give clues and the other to guess. Partners have a limited amount of time to get up to 7 terms from a game card. All the terms on the card are related in one of four ways: sharing a word in common (BOX OFFICE, THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX), rhyming, linked phonemes (CENTER, TERMITE, MIGHTY MOUSE), and word association (SHEET, MUSIC, JAZZ). That's it. Simple, straighforward, and fun to play.

Hasbro changed the scoring rules in the published version, which is probably best for the mass market. Advanced players may find that they're getting perfect scores a lot and might prefer the original rules: if you get all seven items on the card, stop the timer immediately and score one bonus point for every 4 seconds remaining on the clock, rounding up (so 5 seconds = 2 points). This means you'll want to use an electronic timer instead of the included sand timer. You might also want to play through the entire turn tracker list instead of playing to a fixed score, to eliminate any kind of sabotage or kingmaking.

Tie One On just shipped, so I imagine it will be available sometime this month (but only at Wal-Mart). I don't know what it will be selling for, but I urge you to run out and buy five-- they'll make great gifts.

Comments (93) | last by Swamp attack Hack download, Feb 10, 10:48 AM

Paparazzi

Paparazzi was a strange game for me. Once my allergy kicked in, my focus shrank to encompass my nose and very little else. I'm not even sure I've remembered the clues in the proper order. My perceptions of the Game come through a mucus-tinged filter.

Aside from my discomfort, there were a few noteworthy things about this Game. My team, Briny Deep, finally scored a first-place finish (and what a boost for my ego that it happened in a Game where my level of contribution was lowest). Let me tell you, it is far more exciting to be in the lead than to be anywhere else in the pack. We're used to arriving at a clue site and finding the Scoobies, Burninators, Blood and Bones, or Advil already there or there-and-gone. Nothing gets the blood pumping as much as arriving first at a clue site, except perhaps leaving first. We were strong right out of the gate, and were nipping at Blood and Bones' heels for much of the pre-dinner Game. We didn't rush dinner, so we left after some other teams, but we caught up to and passed them at the late-night poker clue and stayed in first place from then on. It was a real thrill to arrive at a clue site, solve the clue, and leave before any other team arrived.

Most of the puzzles in this Game were simple. By that I don't mean that they were easy per se, but rather that they didn't require obtuse leaps of insight, masochistic levels of grunt work, or multiple stages to navigate. While some were a bit too basic or familiar, most felt elegant in their simplicity. Most importantly, they were fun to solve. Solving a puzzle quickly-- without being at a site for over an hour, say-- is both satisfying and energizing. You feel like you're moving forward, making progress, and not falling behind.

For the first time in our experience, a Game faced the problem of the top teams getting way, way ahead of GC's expected schedule. Games typically end around 4-6 PM on Sunday. We arrived at the finish around 10:40 AM. The Burninators were only ten minutes behind us, and by 12:30 six other teams had arrived. But I don't think the next wave of arrivals started until about 3. There was a very large and distinct gap between the front and the rest of the pack. There have always been teams who have outperformed, but when they stop becoming the anomaly and the field splits into two clearly separated groups, that's a huge problem for organizers to deal with. Teams start arriving at sites that aren't open yet, or a GC equipped to handle five sites simultaneously finds itself with teams at seven or eight. For most GCs, the big problem is what to do about teams that are falling too far behind the expected schedule. Now they'll also have to plan for teams who get too far ahead.

XX-Rated handled this as best they could. They skipped trailing teams over some sites, which is the standard way to close the gap. A couple of clues were designed to be adjustable to slow teams down or speed them up. GC took full advantage of this, holding teams at one location for over four hours with hyper-accelerated dance pad puzzles. In one case things just slipped through the cracks, and the top team idled for an hour (and another team-- us-- waited twenty minutes) until a site could be staffed. Everyone on XX-Rated felt terrible about the scheduling snafus, but as part of a team that was always on the front lines of the problem it never really bothered us. There was some waiting, but we understood why and we'd much rather be breaking things from the front of the pack than be skipped from the back.

I know what it's like to have things in your Game go differently from how you planned them. I beat myself up over things that didn't go quite right in The Mooncurser's Handbook, but the truth is that those things didn't matter to most players. The little bumps are forgotten amid the overwhelming number of other things that go right. XX-Rated did a terrific job. Did everything go perfectly? No. But players had fun, and that's what's important. This was a solid Game, and everyone on our team enjoyed themselves a lot (modulo allergy problems-- future GCs, please no more Napa!). We're grateful to XX-Rated for all their hard work.

Here's a rundown of the clues.

Comments (4) | last by irishdancecrystals.com, Dec 18, 12:14 PM

Some things to know about this past weekend.

1) I spent it in and around the San Francisco Bay area for the Paparazzi Game.

2) The trip brought us into wine country-- Sonoma and Napa Valley-- which was lovely.

3) Within the past five years I've developed hay fever, which is generally only triggered by doing my own yardwork. Since it incapacitates me for the rest of the day, regardless of how far from the yard I take myself, gardeners have moved from the "luxury" to the "necessity" column.

4) There's apparently a lot of yardwork going on in wine country.

Much of the Game for me transformed itself into a scavenger hunt with only one item on the list: tissues. My nose wouldn't stop running. If you've never had a runny nose, let me explain how, other than being an entirely opposite problem, it differs from congestion. When your nose is congested, you keep a box of tissues at hand and when you feel that it might be a good idea to keep an interrupted flow of oxygen to your brain, you grab one and blow to clear it. Over time and numerous repetitions of this process it might feel like your head is going to explode from the outward pressure and you need to clamp your hands against your skull to counteract the pain every time you blow your nose, you take solace in the knowledge that it's better than the alternative of asphyxiating in a pool of your own phlegm.

Where congestion is a direct frontal assault, a runny nose is a guerilla attack. Sometimes your nostrils fill with mucus and you sniffle to hold the flow in check. You may need to blow your nose for temporary relief. In this way it's similar to congestion, but that's only a ruse to disguise the true threat-- the sudden eruption of mucus from your nasal cavity. One moment you're feeling relatively fine, in a having-your-brain-replaced-by-cotton-is-better-than-hacking-up-a-lung kind of way, looking at a menu or, say, a puzzle. Then suddenly a rivulet cascades from your nostril. It happens without warning, and the world decelerates so you can appreciate every humiliating, disgusting moment in slow motion, powerless to stop it.

This was my weekend, oscillating between feeling passable and able to contribute, to measuring time in the interval required to extract a tissue from my pocket and clean up my face. I couldn't hold onto puzzles because I needed one hand free to react to the next sortie from the guerilla forces invading my nasal tract. I couldn't look down at a puzzle because that was just the lapse in security they needed to grab a foothold. My breathing was labored, my nostrils increasingly raw, my concentration shattered. It was miserable.

5) I am a superhuman god, genetically untouchable by chemical agents. This includes the active ingredients in Flonase, Allegra, and Claritin-- all of which I tried during the weekend to relieve the effects of my allergy, to no avail.

Comments (6) | last by Larry Hosken, Jun 9, 7:55 PM

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