July 2007 Archives

Microcelebrity

Every now and then I get recognized by people whom I've never met. This usually happens within the context of the Microsoft puzzle community, sometimes within the context of board gaming, and it's even happened because of this blog.

It's weird.

Celebrities-- real celebrities, who make a living from being in the public eye-- come to expect this and learn how to respond to it. Fans don't expect celebrities to know who they are, and so the celeb can just smile graciously and thank the fan for his support. But when someone recognizes me and I have no idea who they are, I feel like a jerk.

It happened twice today at the company picnic while roaming through the annual puzzle event held there. At two different locations, staffers I'd never met (as far as I can recall) made comments implying a familiarity with who I am. Always in a complimentary way, but it was rather disorienting. I don't see myself as a celebrity, not even a minor one. But within a very small, niche community, I have a certain degree of visibility that apparently makes me a kind of microcelebrity. When I was publishing The Game Report I went through a period where people at gaming events recognized my name, and I understood that. But this recognition by sight is just... weird.

So to put my world back into balance, if you're reading this and we know each other, and we cross paths in the next day or so, I'd appreciate it if you'd feign unfamiliarity.

Comments (6) | last by Jesse McGatha, Jul 25, 2:21 PM

You now have an iron-clad excuse to get out of playing checkers with your little brother. The game has been solved after 20 years of non-stop computing by University of Alberta games expert Jonathan Schaeffer. Gluttons for punishment can bash their heads against Chinook and try for the best possible outcome: a draw.

Checkers joins Connect Four, Tic-Tac-Toe, and Quarto in the pantheon of solved games. The mathematical solution for Candy Land, meanwhile, remains elusive. "Most importantly," said Schaeffer, "and I cannot stress this enough-- I am not a werewolf."

Comments (2) | last by Barbara Sarrett, Jul 23, 8:26 AM

SarrettAdams is proud to announce the release of our newest game, If Wishes Were Fishes, a family game for 2-5 players (best with 3-4).

The central idea of this game-- a card drafting game in which cards provided resources of some kind if you kept them, but did something else if you discarded them-- percolated in my head for months, refusing to gel into a game. Then one morning I woke up and thought of the Grimm fairy tale about the fisherman who catches an enchanted fish who grants him wishes in exchange for setting him free, and it seemed like the perfect theme for that card mechanism. From there the game unfolded almost on its own. Earlier versions of the marketplace worked differently: instead of buyers that moved around, the values of fish exchanged places on a fixed scale. This wasn't as fluid as we wanted, so we scrapped it and devised the roving buyer system which works much better.

In If Wishes Were Fishes, players take turns fishing from an ocean of four fish, either keeping the fish in one of his fishing boats for sale later at market, or throwing it back into the ocean and using the wish granted by that fish. The deeper in the ocean the player goes, the more worms he must use to catch a fish. Wishes allow players to get extra boats, move buyers to different market stalls to change fish values, sell fish in various ways, turn worms into money, and so forth. When markets reach a certain number of fish they close and award a bonus to the fisherman who sold the most fish there. Fish can also spoil, and if the garbage heap overflows the game ends and a penalty is assessed. The player with the most money after four markets close (or the garbage overflows) is the winner.

We sold the game to the publisher in April of 2005, so we've been looking forward to seeing it in print for quite some time. The box art may make it look like a kid's game, but it's actually a fairly light and mostly tactical game aimed at the family market rather than either children or hard-core gamers. Kids will love the awesome purple squidgy worms Rio Grande chose instead of the dull plastic chips we used in the prototype, though! Games should clock in at 30-45 minutes once players know the rules. Most exciting for us, this is the first SarrettAdams game that is being sold at game stores nationwide. We hope you buy and enjoy it!

Comments (4) | last by Peter, Jul 25, 12:00 PM

Natural Selection

A class action suit has been filed in New Jersey against Snapple, charging that the use of high-fructose corn syrup makes their claim of "all natural" false advertising. Deceptive advetising claims are everywhere these days-- perhaps the only thing more ubiquitous is high fructose corn syrup-- and I'm all for cracking the whip on corporations who engage in such practices. But only if the advertising in question is, um, false.

I wouldn't bat an eyelash at the appointment of a High-Fructose Corn Syrup Czar to head the War on Sugar. Grab a package of something from your fridge and check the label-- it's probably there. And we wonder why obesity is rampant in America. But as evil as high-fructose corn syrup is, to call it unnatural seems absurd. According to the article:

High-fructose corn syrup is made from corn starch that is processed with enzymes to create glucose and fructose. Critics of the sweetener charge it is far from natural because of the multi-step process required to create it.

Corn starch and enzymes. No chemicals, nothing unnatural. Critics are trying to attach guilt by association. The process used to create the syrup requires multiple steps, therefore the result is unnatural. And there is certainly a definition of "unnatural" that would support this. Could the syrup be created spontaneously in nature? If not, by one definition, it's unnatural. But I don't think that's the definition consumers would find most useful in this context. What we really want to know is whether or not there are chemical additives in our food. I don't care if bananas and kiwis grow in entirely different climates, such that they could never be in the same place "naturally". If you puree them with some ice, the resulting smoothie is still all-natural. Hell, if you liquified them and then whipped them into a stable foam (assuming such a thing were possible)-- a configuration nature probably never intended-- there's nothing culinarily "unnatural" about it. If you made a popsicle out of it by freezing it to absolute zero-- a condition impossible in nature and enabled only by modern technology-- is there anything in the final product that my body would find unnatural? If not, what's the hubbub?

The FDA has no official definition of "natural", so the use of the term remains unregulated. High fructose corn syrup is evil, sure. But it isn't unnatural.

If lawyers are really looking for someone to go after for false advertising, I have just five words for them. Fox News: Fair and Balanced.

Comments (8) | last by Stephen M., Jul 14, 1:11 PM

It is with great pleasure that I remind you that the best game show to appear in a very, very long time, The World Series of Pop Culture, is back for a second season on VH1. The ineffably droll and peculiarly charming Pat Kiernan returns to preside over the single-elimination knock-down drag out trivia fest, with inaugural champions El Chupacabra defending their title.

The budget seems a little bigger, but the format is unchanged. Perhaps the most winsome aspect of the show is that everyone really seems to be having a great time. Nothing is blown out of perspective-- they're all keenly aware that they're showing off knowledge that they really shouldn't be proud of having, and the fact that they're being allowed to do so is prize enough.

Whether you're a pop culture vulture like me or a mere dilettante, do tune in for a reminder of what game shows are supposed to be. And for a really fun trivia game, check out the World Series of Pop Culture web site and play Too Many Questions.

Comments (2) | last by Jan, Jul 12, 11:19 PM

Dear fellow Seattlites,

I'm as proud to be an American as the next guy. Perhaps less proud if the next guy has a "Born in the USA" tattoo and voted for George W. Bush the second time, but the point remains-- July 4th is a time for celebration. We live in a country with more freedoms than most, even after sacrificing some on the altars of Security and paranoia. The worst dilemma for many Americans is choosing whether to get 4GB or 8GB in their iPhone. And we may be screwing up the planet, but thanks to modern health care more of us will stay alive long enough to see Armageddon first-hand. There are plenty of reasons to shoot off fireworks, down 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, and wave the American flag.

But not at 2 in the morning.

For that matter, not even at 11 at night. Look, I know that when the fireworks end the streets between Gasworks Park and the highway are more clogged than Joey Chestnut's arteries. It's a nightmare. But you know all those houses you pass (slowly, so painfully slowly) by? People live in them. And though we're all flush with patriotism and fellowship, that really doesn't explain why you feel it's necessary to blast hip-hop from all seventeen of your car speakers at decibel levels exceeding a few dozen M-80's. Growing up in a barn may give you a white bread, all-American pedigree, but it's no excuse for grossly inconsiderate behavior.

And if you decided it'd be smarter to wait out the traffic at a local bar and walk to your car later-- say, after last call-- there was really no need to celebrate your right to free speech by bellowing back and forth on a quiet residential street. You also have the right to remain silent. Exercise it.

Thank you for your attention.

Comments (3) | last by Rahim Mikhchi, Oct 17, 2:57 PM

Yesterday was one of those days.

First, I put a down payment on some home improvements-- new siding and windows for the whole house. I'm gearing up to sell the house next year (downturn? What downturn?), and the house needs some attention. It would cost about $10,000 to paint, plus another few thousand to repair some cracked boards and rotting facia. Instead, I'm going with pre-painted fiber-cement siding that lasts a good 25 years without needing a touch-up. We went to a few houses done by the contractor and talked to the owners, and everything looks good. We're having the same guy replace all of the windows in the house, which are currently butt-ugly, thin, energy-inefficient metal casement windows. These two things together will make a world of difference in the home's appearance and resale value, and I should be able to recoup the cost. I'll post before and after photos when the job's done.

Writing checks with multiple zeroes is always a little painful. Getting into a car accident? More so. After handing over the down payment check, I was rear-ended on the highway en route to work. I was slowing down with traffic and an SUV rammed into me from behind. I never saw it coming-- but I was able to brake in time to avoid carroming into the car in front of me.

The sound of being hit by another car is terrifying. It's very loud and sharp. It's the sound of the world ending. There's no coddling or cushioning in that sound-- it's one enormous metal object ramming into another. It's visceral, the start of a complete loss of control. You have no idea what hit you or with what force. You don't know how badly the car has been damaged. The car lurches unexpectedly and everything loose inside goes higgledy-piggledy. You're violently thrown back against the seat and then forward against the seat belt. Your mind tumbles into chaos, with coherent thought barely rising to the level of "Holy crap!"

And all of that happens in a split second. Time elongates in the moment, but it's over almost before it begins. And it profoundly ruins your day.

The 50-year-old woman behind the wheel told me she "only closed her eyes for a minute." She was apologetic about falling asleep at the wheel-- utterly aghast, really. Fortunately nobody was injured (although my neck hurts today and I had a headache last night). My rear bumper is dented and torn. The force of the impact threw my seatback down a few notches and it won't un-recline into a normal driving position. Her front bumper is partially detached. And you can read her license plate in my rear bumper.

So the car's going into the shop, a rental is being arranged, and that makes two times I've been hit by another vehicle and walked away (the first time, my car wasn't so lucky). I'd prefer not to test my luck a third time.

Comments (3) | last by Chris Lemon, Jul 5, 2:24 PM