August 2008 Archives

I usually resist internet memes, and this one's no better than most, but... food! So here we go.

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

So I clock in at under 50%. Most of the things I crossed out are things I already know I don't like-- coffee, cigars, beer. If push came to shove, though, I'd probably give head cheese a try. Roadkill, on the other hand, is right out. I just don't see the need.

On the "really want to try them" list are dulce de leche, venison, black truffle, Kobe beef, and poutine. And of course, the 3-Michelin-star tasting menu. Someday, French Laundry... someday.

Comments (5) | last by Jack, Sep 5, 9:51 AM

Once upon a time, the Sultan game table would have replaced the pupils in my saucer-wide cartoon eyes. But that time was long ago, when ironically I couldn't have afforded it. I wonder who their demographic is. Are there enough adults with polyhedral dice bags and $10,000 to spend on a game table? Seems to me that most role players are young and poor. Then again, this isn't a mass market item, so even a few sales would probably make these folks happy.

The Sultan looks lovely and impressive, and if my tastes overlapped more with the miniatures-and-character-stats set I might be tempted. But for board gaming, that table misses the mark. I love the drop-down food trays and under-the-table cup holders, but the desks really don't add any value. Storage drawers are a great idea. The whiteboard inner surface, however, seems fraught with problems. Whiteboards can get persnickety with age and refuse to erase cleanly. When they do erase, they leave market residue behind-- residue that will happily stain any cards or other game components that get placed there. Over time that market dust will accumulate on the periphery of that horizontal surface, so cleaning is a real issue.

My ideal table-- assuming it's not a Surface, would, I think, be circular and expandable. It would have under-the-table cupholders and storage for pads, pencils, etc. It would have a button/LED built into each seating position, flush with the table, that functions as both a lockout buzzer and a first-player randomizer.

And it would cost less than $10,000.

Comments (3) | last by Steve, Aug 29, 7:08 AM

Summer of Arcade

XBox Live Arcade has published a pair of truly excellent games in the past month. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is stellar. I enjoyed the original game, but it was just too hard for me. I think I only managed to unlock one or two achievements, and my games just never lasted all that long. The sequel keeps the same basic mechanics and look-- think Robotron meets Vectrex-- but offers six different modes of play which keep things fresh and exciting. Best of all, many of the games are designed not to last long. The Deadline mode even imposes a three minute time limit and gives you unlimited lives. Perfect! Now instead of feeling like a spaz because I can't stay alive, I can merely feel inadequate as I see friends achieving absurd scores on the leaderboards.

Speaking of which, the design of the leaderboards is genius. The game select screen shows you six leaderboards at once, displaying the top six scores for all of the game modes. But only from among your friends. This is how it should be-- just as with politics, all gaming rivalry is local. I don't care where I rank in the universe, but seeing friends overtake my scores motivates me to try harder. The game even goes a step further. During gameplay, the upper-right corner of the screen always shows the name and score of the person just above you on the leaderboard, essentially showing you the target you need to hit to go up a rank. Brilliant! "Curse you and your third thumb, Tabasq-- I'll catch you yet!" *

My favorite mode is called Pacifism. No guns, just you, a horde of blue diamonds that swarm towards you in mesmerizing schooling formations, and gates you can fly through to destroy the beasties that follow you. It's a Zen slalom as you become your ship, deftly riding the collapsing pipeline between two colliding waves of diamonds on the way to a gate that is slowly rotating away from you. The ends of the gates are deadly, so the game is all about precision and timing, and it's far more compelling than it has any right to be.

The other breakout release is Braid, a puzzle platform game with literary aspirations (some might say "pretentions"). The game sports a unique watercolor look and innovative mechanics. Each of the game's six worlds offers a different take on reversing the flow of time. In one world, doing so creates a shadow image of yourself that repeats all the actions you just rewound, while your "real" self is free to do other things. In another world moving to the right advances time, but moving to the left rewinds time-- which can be maddening when you need to go left and want time to advance normally! There's very little filler here-- all the levels display an economy of design wherein everything serves a purpose. If a potential solution seems complex, it's probably not the intended approach. Finding the simple, elegant solutions is marvelously rewarding.

After solving words 2, 3, and 5, I'm stuck in world 4 but refuse to search You Tube for the solution. Braid harkens back to the age of Infocom text adventures, when I'd spend all day in school working a puzzle over in my head and then anxiously watch the clock, eager to hurry home and try out the ideas I'd come up with. The internet has killed the joy of these kinds of games by putting all the answers at your fingertips. It's so very hard to resist the temptation for instant gratification, and most players can't. The days of being stuck in a game for days, possibly even weeks, are long gone-- and with them, the satisfaction and triumph of finally figuring out the solution for yourself. I'm determined to recapture that feeling with Braid which is exactly what the author intended, as illustrated by his official walkthrough.

The W and I have enjoyed playing the game together-- usually with me on the controller, and she making the brilliant insight needed to solve the level.

Both games are well worth your hard-earned Microsoft points.

* No, actually, I probably never will.

Comments (6) | last by dana, Aug 20, 6:22 PM

City Chase Seattle

Every muscle in my body aches.

Yesterday I participated in City Chase, an "urban adventure" competition running in multiple cities around the world this year. Teams of two have 6 hours to complete 10 challenges (from a menu of 14 choices) located all around the city.

When my teammate and I arrived and met up with a pair of friends-- with whom we traveled the entire day-- we quickly realized as we surveyed the crowd of young, athletic competitors that we had signed up for a very different event from the rest of them. Many of the other teams, with their camel packs and lycra, were clearly there for the "race" aspect of the event. When the perky hosts got on stage to lead the group in a series of warm-up exercises and received about a 95% participation rate, I had an acute feeling of culture shock. These people were serious. We were there to have fun. And to be fair, so were they. Our definitions were just a little different.

The event kicked off with a tiny scavenger hunt as a way to stagger teams out from the start-- answer some trivia, find a couple of goofy things (a stranger the same height as you, a live animal, etc), that kind of thing. Then you received your list of "ChasePoints" and could begin planning your own route for the day, restricted to travel by foot or public transportation. The winner of the event did the smart thing and immediately ran themselves in the opposite direction from the closest ChasePoints, thereby avoiding crowds and experiencing no wait times. The key word there was "ran". Our foursome was on a strict no-running plan, so we want with the path of least resistance and hit the closest sites first.

Here's the rundown of what we did:

  • A photo safari using the provided Palm Centro phone-- both teammates and 2 non-participants doing the can-can for 30 seconds; a teammate kissing a fish; etc.
  • Roll a die. On a 1, eat a Swedish fish and be done. We didn't roll a 1. Our teams rolled a 5 and 6. We had to eat two raw fish. Each. Not skinned, not filleted, not beheaded. Whole fish. 'Nuff said.
  • Kayak around a course on Portage Bay
  • Walk a certain distance on stilts, juggle five balls with your teammate, and either climb a 25-ft rope or successfully walk a tightrope (we did the rope climb, which I never thought I'd be able to do).
  • Take a 14-question SAT prep test at a Kaplan center and get 10 right.
  • Answer some Seattle-centric trivia
  • Draw a nude model at an art academy
  • Complete an exercise obstacle course including 25 push-ups, 25 burpees, 50 jumping jacks, and 50 jump ropes
  • With provided Palm Centros, text trivia questions to your partner who must run around REI and text back the answers

    The winner finished the course in 3.5 hours. We barely made it in 6. And even without any running, I ache in places I didn't even know I had. We had a lot of fun doing it together-- more fun with four of us than we would have had with just two. It was a great way to get some exercise on what turned out ot be a terrific day, with the forecast rain kind enough to wait until after we arrived at the finish. I'll admit, though, that I certainly prefer a Shinteki or SNAP, and after dabbling in this aberrant world of the physically fit, I appreciate our little Game community all the more.

  • Comment (1) | last by Jack, Aug 11, 10:01 AM

    Status Report

    About a month in, and the ring still feels strange.

    Comments (5) | last by antkam, Aug 8, 11:28 AM

    These Aren't the Hammer

    I have a lot of respect for Joss Whedon's work. I dug most of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, enjoyed his stint on Astonishing X-Men, and wish the people at Fox knew a good thing when they saw it and gave Firefly a better chance. So I'm somewhat predisposed to look upon the man's work with a favorable eye.

    I'm rather mystified, however, at the unbounded waves of enthusiasm being directed towards his latest effort, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Once More, With Feeling, the musical episode of Buffy, was successful not just because of the novelty and the surprisingly decent songs, but because Whedon leveraged the tropes of the musical form to explore his characters. I like Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion, both of whom feature prominently in Dr. Horrible. But Harris is miscast-- he's just too young-looking for the role and you never for a second believe any part of him is evil. The pacing and editing are off-- the blog sequences have too many beats and needed to be trimmed. The characters are too new to us to lend the musical numbers any real impact. And while I'm willing to believe that despite all the vampiric and demonic activity in Sunnydale the majority of the population lives in denial, I just can't buy that anyone-- much less seemingly everyone-- would worship such an obvious tool as Captain Hammer.

    There are some good moments in Dr. Horrible. I thought the cowboys singing the letters from Bad Horse worked well, and there was one joke in part two, alluded to by the title to this post, that was delivered with beautiful timing. But much of Dr. Horrible feels unpolished and predictable, and I kept waiting for it to kick into gear and start hitting all the right beats, which never happened.

    Perhaps my dismissiveness stems from having finished reading Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, which covers similar ground-- a superhero story from the evil mastermind's point of view-- in a more interesting way. Recommended.

    Comments (6) | last by Jake, Aug 5, 3:22 AM

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