Word Play

photo 2

So here’s something that isn’t necessarily a favorite at game night. Bananagrams still one of my favorites. Does it sound lonely to admit that I enjoy playing by myself?

Bananagrams is a quick game. Speed games are not Cam’s forte. He’s methodical, calculating. I like to think quick on my feet. I feel more productive when I have a deadline and time is running out. I could probably say the same for my day job too.

I like word games. Words with Friends—or it’s original, Scrabble, Scattegories, Boggle, Bananagrams, and even cross word puzzles are all pleasures I usually consume alone. Bananagrams is an easy game to play alone. I just follow the rules for a 2-4 player game. To make it more challenging, I try not to “dump” a letter, or exchange it for three more tiles to work with.

For 2 years while in the Peace Corps, I had Bananagrams to entertain me in the evenings when I was out of books to read. Playing with the village children could be amusing, until they spell their own names ten times and don’t really know how to spell any other English words. It was a game that was easy to carry around with me. I could always pack it with me when I was on my way to visit other volunteers. We always managed to find creative new ways to play the game. Themed games were always the hardest. We would challenge each other to only use words to describe yourself, or the person across the table from you.

I was also an English teacher, so I was always trying to come up with new word games to integrate into the classroom. The school library had a Scrabble board. I occasionally played with my fellow teachers. Unfortunately, English was their second language, too. Or third or fourth.

These days, they aren’t favorites at game night. It’s hard to convince the group to embrace fast-paced games or word games. We do on the rare occasion play Unspeakable Words. Of course, we’ll play that one. It has cute little Cthulhus to track your insanity.

Today, Cam and I whipped out and dusted off Bananagrams for a quick game. I’m confident that if he practiced as much as I do when I’m at home alone, he might beat me someday.

The Best Cure for a Messy House

  1. Watch the new episodes of Hoarders on Netflix
  2. Wait for a good snow so you’re unwilling to leave the house
  3. Let Mom visit

I was aware I hadn’t done my share of the housework in a while.  Cam was doing his best.  I got a bit spoiled while I was working two jobs through Christmas.  The deal was he was to do all the housework while I was at my second job.  Now that job is over, and I knew I needed to pick up the slack.  It was just so much easier to spend that free time in front of Netflix.

Then, my parents dropped by.  The excuses began.  We have 3 cats.  We’re busy.  What’s the point?  We’re buying another house soon!  My favorite is the weather.  I’d rather hibernate under my blankets between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m. and only leave when the bill-paying job requires me to leave.

The second push was finding the new episodes of Hoarders on Netflix.  There is nothing that motivates me to clean more than watching that show.  It doesn’t take long to clean our little place.  We just needed the motivation.

The show also inspired me to purge.  There’s really nothing like purging yourself of the things you’ve needlessly accumulated.  (Well, to begin with, there’s nothing better than not accumulating the things you don’t need anyway, but that’s probably another topic for another day.)  It really is hard to get rid of the things I have kept from before Cam moved his whole life into my place.  I can still remember the conversation we had about my bed.  I was determined to keep it.  I was worried something would happen, or I thought it would be great if someone was going to be visiting.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  So, we have maybe too many mattresses here.

I didn’t want to let go of the home I created for myself.  I lived in a two-room hut in Africa, so I know I can live with less.  I felt I worked hard for this home.  I made it comfortable.  I made it mine.  Now it’s ours.  It’s time to let go of things to make room for each other.

With the snow coming down outside, Hoarders on the t.v., and my mother’s voice in my head, I decided last night was a good night to start my purge.  Spring cleaning started in January this year.

Game Night with the Guys… and the baby

The first game night in what seemed like months was organized and executed last night.  We tackled some new games, and I had to relearn some others.  I know Cam missed it.  Game night has been a staple in his life long before I came along.  I decided long ago I haven’t much to worry about when he stays out until 2 a.m.  I know he’s probably playing a game of Magic: the Gathering, Twilight Imperium 3, or some other game that went too long.

It was games as usual last night, except for one small difference.  About 12 pounds.  And crying.  And feeding.  And rocking.  One of our friends had a baby a couple of months ago, and his wife wasn’t able to come with him.  Lucky baby, he got to come to his first game night.

Kid doesn’t stand a chance.  He’s going to grow up to be a geek like the rest of us.  His grandfather was the game night host, fondly referred to as Grandalf.  Just to give an example of the geeky level of conversation: while none of us could remember when the Super Bowl was, there was far greater concern and curiosity given as to when exactly the Weird Al tour was coming to our town.

We kept it mostly light and simple last night.  Our first game was Love Letter, a simple and fun card game mainly focusing on deduction.  Our second was Coup — the bane of my existence.  It’s like Love Letter, but utilizes more deceit in being effective.  And I suck at lying.  On the flip side Cameron can win fairly consistently. Whether or not this should worry me, I haven’t yet decided.  After Coup increased my anxiety, we moved to Cosmic Encounter, which I had to relearn.  I have played it twice, and came in dead last both times. This game revolves more around alliances and playing the group to your benefit, with the caveat of special alien powers for each player.   We played Tsuro next. Well, I started to, but decided it was my turn to feed the baby and stepped away from the table.

After returning to the table we learned Sushi Go!  It’s a cute little game of cards in which you pass your hand around the table, trying to built the best plate of sushi for points, and at the end of 3 rounds, the player with the most points wins.  It reminded me of a slow-paced Spoons game.

The final game we played was Gloom.  It was my favorite of the night.  It’s a card game in which you each have a family in front of you that you are trying to kill. You draw modifying cards to place on each family member.  Some have negative points, while others have positive points.  The idea is to place the cards with the negative modifiers on your family, while putting positive modifiers on your opponents’ family members.  The cards represent events that happen to them.  You can really get into the storytelling aspect of the game if you wanted to.  The objective is to make your family as miserable as possible while making your opponents’ family happier before finally killing them off.  While this sounds depressing, the cards all feature an array of cutesy dark humor and alliteration — like playing a ‘Burdened by Boils’ card on my family or a ‘Delighted by Ducklings’ card on Cam’s. I managed to get the win.

Overall, the return to game night was a success.  I missed it over the holidays.  Hopefully we can get back on a regular schedule again. It’s getting harder, definitely.  Schedules get in the way.  Growing old gets in the way. Baby did not get in our way.  A pleasant but challenging addition.  A game in itself.

Now we get to train a whole new generation of geeky game-players.  Grandalf’s youngest usually joins us.  I sometimes forget to watch my foul language.  I really need to work on that, or Matt will never let me babysit.  I’m counting on baby returning next time.  It’s never too early to start learning about D&D or Cthulhu.

Black Mirror – A Review

Photo from BBC – Black Mirror: “The Waldo Moment”

The only word that comes to mind is disturbing.  If you haven’t finished all six episodes on Netflix, I suggest you get started.  Be prepared to feel uneasy about the modern technology-driven world we live in.  After your binge of the 2 short seasons, you’ll think, living off the grid doesn’t seem so hippy now, does it?

Each self-contained episode is a cautionary tale of increased human dependency on technology.  The dark side of human nature and technology is explored through the eyes of a main character who is unable to control their own circumstances.  The first episode, “National Anthem,” was shocking, to say the least.  It explores the power that people lose once they become desperate.  You’ll find yourself wondering, what would I do?

A few of the episodes take jabs at modern entertainment and 24-hour news access.  The second episode comes to mind, “Fifteen Million Merits.”  It’s one of my favorites.  The episode parodies the popular talent search shows like American Idol.

Be Right Back is downright creepy, showcasing a woman whose husband died.  Technology allows her to stay connected with her husband.  She doesn’t really mourn, doesn’t move on.

There is a similar theme in The Entire History of You.  While it isn’t my favorite episode, it does highlight how we can become obsessed with our past, forgetting about living now.  The main character obsessed over every detail of his memories, using an implant that allows him to watch scenes over and over again.  Another character in that episode revealed she didn’t have such an implant.  The entire dinner party was appalled.  Rumor has it that this episode is going to be used as the basis for a film by Robert Downey Jr.

I’m definitely ready for more episodes.  Season 3 began last December on BBC.  I’ll just have to be patient until it comes on Netflix.  At that rate, I might be living on my homestead, in the middle of nowhere, with my solar panels, no cell phone, and horse-drawn carriage in order to avoid the tech-dependent zombies of the future.

K2 – Climbing the Deadliest Cardboard Mountain

K2

It’s been a while, but Cam and I got this game out again the other day.  This is our go-to game when we want to play something fun, challenging yet simple, and not too terribly time-consuming.  This was the first board game we played together.  Cam says he’s pretty sure that first game we played together was the first time he ever lost.

K2 is easy to learn.  The game mechanics are fairly simple.  It can be played from 1-5 players.  The goal is to use your two little men to climb up the mountain.  Each little guy, fondly known by Cam and I as Round Man and Squiggly Man, move independently from each other.  A score is kept for each man and by the end of 18 turns, or days in the game, the player with the highest combined score wins.

Movements are determined by cards.  There are movement cards and acclimatization cards.  Each have a numerical value.  As you move up the mountain, movement becomes harder and requires more points from your playing cards.  The acclimatization cards are also needed.  Each climber’s health is monitored on a card and some spaces or bad weather days on the board take away acclimatization points.  You’ll use the cards to maintain health and not die from “exposure.”

Climbing the mountain is only half the fun.  The weather plays a major factor in how you are able to move up the board.  Each turn is one day.  The days are played out on shuffled cards with that day’s weather on it.  Some days the weather is clear.  Other days a blizzard moves in.  Usually the blizzards only affect certain altitudes on the board.  Each player must be careful to move out of that area before a blizzard hit and makes movement or oxygen more difficult.

I usually gun it straight for the peak, only to die at the top without being able to get back down to safer ground.  Cam is usually slower in his ascent, utilizing his little men as a team.  Each little man has a tent that you can drop if needed to help battle the weather.  Never let it go to waste though, you only have one tent per little guy and you can only use each one once.

This is a game we both highly recommend.  If you’re up for a challenge, the game board has two sides, and the weather can be summer or winter.  With so many variations, it’s very different each time.  All Cam and I need now is the expansion – K2: Broad Peak!

Life and Laziness

So, I’ll admit it.  It’s been a hot minute since my last post.  I’m sure all five of you reading this have been patiently waiting.  The wait is over.

The past week hasn’t exactly been busy.  It’s just been filled with the same mundane routines.  It was nothing anyone really would want to read about.  That is, unless you really want to read about how my nose is stuck in numbers all day at work or the glorious weekend I spent sleeping until noon for three days straight.  Perhaps you’d prefer the faster pace of Cam resetting passwords all day at work.  We do lead a thrilling life.

So, life and laziness got in the way of writing.  It got in the way of maintaining a lot of the goals we set for ourselves.  It was a small sidestep.  We are back on track now.  I know you were worried.

We have both been working really hard at our day jobs.  By the time we both get a moment to relax, we are drained.  Forty hours a week staring at numbers all day can exhaust a person.  It sometimes leaves me with the inability to even muster a creative thought at the end of the day.  Don’t worry.  It’s a good job.  I like it.  I like that it mostly pays all the bills when I need it to.  Cam has been clocking out at more than 40 hours weekly some weeks.  On top of that, with our alternating work schedules, it is hard to have time to ourselves.

On the other hand, we had an extra day off this past week, just to relax (read: sleep until noon).  It was a lazy, lethargic weekend.  Netflix, Redbox, and board games were our friends last weekend.  It was nice not to measure my activity at the gym, or worry how many words I could squeeze out of my brain.  The only problem was it took us the rest of the week just to get back to our old routine.

I felt guilty about it at first.  The house was a disaster.  We could have been so productive all weekend.  I kept thinking I was wasting time.  As the week wore on, I remembered that time spent being happy was not time wasted.  We actually got to do things we hadn’t in a while, like cook breakfast together Monday morning.  We probably hadn’t done that since we both started our jobs last year and ended up on wonky schedules.  Maybe you all have a thing.  Sleeping in and cooking breakfast together is our thing.  It happens so rarely now.

Good news is that we are back on track.  Cam joined me at the gym most evenings, and had quite a workout moving around computers and equipment one day at work, from what I understand.  As the week winds down, we both have the creative juices flowing again.  Cam is great to bounce ideas off of.  He likes fixing things.  That includes computers and my poorly defined story ideas.

We’ve never lost sight of the big goals for the year–the house, the vows, etc.  We just got bogged down in them.  As a result, we tweaked them a bit.  We’re still on course, and hopefully, won’t be deviating from our timeline.  We just realized that when we proposed these various goals, we were thinking about how great our future was going to be and forgot that our here and now is so much fun.

2001: A Space Odyssey Review

I finally tackled the first book on my list of 50 classics. For this, I chose 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. I had already seen the movie, and Cam owns it. When comparing the two, the book is far superior. While the film is visually beautiful, so much emotion is missing as compared to the novel. I can’t believe I hadn’t read it until now.
While I was reading, I learned a few things about the creation of the novel. I didn’t realize the novel and the movie were born in tandem from a short story of Clarke’s called The Sentinel. I had always presumed that the movie was based on the novel, but it was actually published after the film was released.
The themes of the novel are masterful and continue to be ubiquitous in science fiction even today. The novel begins with a group of ape-men struggling for food. While you cannot feel the hunger pangs from watching the scene in the film, you feel the desperation of the search for food while reading the novel. The ape-men are introduced to a bizarre extraterrestrial stone that alters them. I never thought a book predominantly about a mission into space would make me think so much about intelligent design or intervention. While I don’t support the theory, it is an interesting exercise to think about. What would the purpose be? If extraterrestrial life deliberately designed intelligent life on earth, as the book suggests, why have any clues of their existence been hidden away? The artifact that propels the mission is later found buried our own moon, and modern man desperately seek the answers. Clarke brilliantly offers no answers, only enough information for the reader to wonder about them.
The story of the book centralizes around a mission to one of Saturn’s moons. The mission is manned by Dave and Frank. This is where another brilliant theme that has become so common in modern sci-fi unfolds. HAL, probably one the most well-known artificial life-forms in fiction, becomes self-aware. He is designed by humans, and ultimately develops human behaviors. He is hiding that he knows the true mission—to fly to a moon of Saturn, where the a radio signal was sent after unearthing the extraterrestrials’ stone. It seems laughable that a machine could harbor guilt or have feelings at all. Since the publication of this book, there have been several other fiction stories written with this as the central theme.
The main reason I continued to read was Clarke’s beautiful and knowledgeable descriptions of space travel. This novel was published before we landed on the moon, but it still holds up well with continuing discoveries of our solar system. His descriptions of of even the most basic needs make the mission seem real. He may have left the big questions up in the air, but he left no detail unturned aboard the ship, right down to cooking without getting scalding hot coffee on you. I could even imagine the buoyancy of walking across our own moon.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were a few slower parts in it, but it was a short read, so it didn’t affect my pace much. I would highly recommend this to anyone curious about where humanity has been and where it is going. You won’t find answers or the destination, but you will enjoy the stunningly written journey.