April 2009 Archives

Free is the New $19.95

From now until Friday, Big FIsh Games is offering full PC and Mac versions of four of their games-- Azada, Hidden Expedition: Everest, Fairway Solitaire, and Spa Mania-- for the bargain price of zero.

I played through Azada a while back and was underwhelmed-- I kept waiting in vain for it to impress me. Fairway Solitaire, on the other hand, I've come close to purchasing on a number of occasions. Lots of people I respect have said great things about it, and I was sad when the clock on the demo version expired. So I urge you to grab the free download while it lasts.

Details here. Make sure to follow the instructions-- you have to apply the coupon code to have the price reduced to zero.

Comment (1) | last by Dug, Apr 30, 6:02 PM


It's not enough for Oprah Winfrey to earn more than the GDP of several African nations. Now she wants to own public domain phrases. Lawyers for Oprah have sent a cease and desist letter to Mutual of Omaha for using the phrase "aha moment" in their advertising. According to the lawyers, that phrase is synonymous in the public mind with Ms. Winfrey.


Those of us in the puzzle community have been using that phrase for years to describe the ideal result of a sublime puzzle. Allow me to direct both parties in this legal scuffle to Martin Gardner's aha! Insight, which used the phrase as early as 1978.

Perhaps Oprah could make that her next book club selection.

Comment (1) | last by Scott, Apr 28, 11:06 AM

I've been playing Fable II slowly, and a little late to the party. I've enjoyed the game's palette and lighting. Wandering the world at sunrise can reward you with some breathtaking vistas. The world has an almost campy, super-saturated, medieval-England-by-way-of-Maxfield-Parrish look that invites play. Even the W, who gets motion sick at the merest mention of 3D movement, watched for a while and commented on the pretty look.

Last night I accepted the Spire quest and went to the docks, where I promptly boarded the H.M.S. Ennui and disembarked into a completely different game. It was as if a bondage flick got spliced into my Care Bears cartoon. Suddenly I'm being yelled at to submit and obey, the game controller is throbbing to an everpresent foreboding heartbeat in a citadel of evil, I'm forced to choose between letting captives starve to death or losing experience points when my obedience collar shocks me. The game makes me run from point A to point B in a monotonous citadel for no apparent reason. The W pauses from her online sudoku puzzle long enough to give me a sidelong look and ask disgustedly, "What kind of game are you playing?" And when the sequence finally ends and I return to the game I wanted to play, ten years were stolen from my character's life (but I received no commensurate income boost from my various retail properties).


Aside from the heavyhandedness of the entire sequence, I think what I most object to is the notion that my character was in that hellhole for ten years. It took control away from me, when the whole essence of Fable is that you're in control-- your actions have consequences, you can be good or evil, who are you going to become? So it gave me two choices-- feed or starve the captives, kill or don't kill a friend (but when I spared him, an NPC killed him anyway)-- but otherwise, the arc of my character's story was removed from me. And in those ten years, the rest of the world hasn't really changed. The story jumped forward in time, but the world isn't selling that time shift to me.

And so our story continues.

Comments (2) | last by Dave Heberer, Apr 24, 10:51 AM

Foodier Than Thou

I've never understood Williams-Sonoma. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful place to browse. Walking into Williams-Sonoma, I feel like Dorothy as she opened the door of her tornado-tossed black-and-white house and stepped into the technicolor wonders of Munchkinland. Le Creuset cookware in every color of the rainbow. Glistening stainless steel pots. Artisanal sauces, jams, chutneys, and condiments in attractive, fabric-sealed jars. If Little Shop of Horrors moved from Skid Row to Park Avenue, Williams-Sonoma would feature prominently when Audrey belts out Somewhere That's Green.

Browsing there's one thing. Buying there's something else again. Williams-Sonoma is a full price shop. Everything is high end, and everything is full retail. In an age where Amazon will deliver the same stuff to your door for much, much less, who uncorks their credit card at Williams-Sonoma? It just never made any sense to me.

Apparently, it's making less sense to everyone else. The chain reported a 90% drop in revenue for the quarter, with profit falling from $1.15 a share a year ago to just 12 cents a share! And they don't expect to make a profit again until Christmas. Sales actually dipped more at Pottery Barn (29% vs 16.8% for W-S), which is owned by the same company.

Crazy! Sanity!

If you're watching Fringe (J.J. Abrams' winning answer to The X-Files), you know that each commercial break begins with a placard showing a dot and a glyph-- a seahorse, a frog, a butterfly, etc. The glyphs felt carefully selected and meaningful in some way, but exactly how was a mystery. No longer. The code has been cracked.

I already enjoy Fringe, but details like this make the puzzle geek in me squeal with delight. This isn't the only easter egg hidden in Fringe, and any show that is both entertaining to watch and goes the extra mile to build interactivity and meta-fun into the show itself gets my TV-watching vote. Fringe returned from a two-month hiatus last night. If you've missed the bandwagon so far, you can catch up for free at Hulu.

Comments (2) | last by Mark, Apr 11, 11:37 PM

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