What got played – November edition

Wow! I can’t believe we’re already at November 23rd. What a busy month it’s been!  I just wanted to take a couple minutes today to fill you in on what I’ve been playing since the last post (on Oct 28th).

What I Played

It seems to be harvest season for Kickstarter projects — Loop, Inc. , Best Treehouse Ever, and Epic PVP are all Kickstarter projects that I backed last year and just showed up.  We also had some fun games of Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Between Two Cities.

I’ve been working on a system to pick which games to play when the kids and I have some time to game. The problem is that often, for whatever reason, the kids will get at loggerheads about what game they want to play.  One will pick one game, and the other will absolutely refuse to play that game, and set their sights on another. You can see where this is going.  So we’ve gone to a classic system that’s worked like gangbusters — papers in a jar.

I’ve now got two jars, though, because sometimes we have two hours and can play something long like Agricola or Galaxy Trucker, and other times we have an hour or less, and we have to play something like Machi Koro or Between Two Cities.  So now there are two jars.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The two kids and I each secretly write a game fitting the category on a slip of paper. Into the jar it goes.
  2. We draw one of the games out and play it.
  3.  The next time we have that particular block of time, we draw another slip of paper from the jar, until all slips of paper are gone.

Why this works better than other systems: I don’t know! What I do know is that when we tried putting someone’s name on the paper, there would be wheedling and suggestions such that the person making the choice didn’t get to make a choice outside of the strange dynamics of sibling rivalry. But when we write games on the paper slip, we avoid that.  So far, so good!  We may need to make a third jar for filler games, but otherwise, we’re golden.

Feedback: How do you pick which games to play with your family?


It’s weird being a parent as your child grows and begins exploring the world without you.  More and more, my children watch shows and read books I haven’t read.  Our worlds are diverging.  So one does what one can — we watch cheesy television with them, and we read what they’re reading.

In the case of the latter, I guess I’m raising a kid with good taste…

Sidekicks by Dan SantatSidekicks by Dan Santat

Sidekicks is a graphic novel about an aging superhero, Captain Amazing, who’s feeling the endless creep of years sneaking up on him.  He decides it’s time to get a sidekick, and that’s when we learn that his pets, the real protagonists of the story, have been yearning to team up with him forever.  There’s an indestructible dog, a static-energy cat, and a hamster with no appreciable superpowers.  And an iguana. A few thoughts:

  • This comic has a really positive message — it encourages us to think about all our gifts, and the way that understanding them as part of our whole selves gives us an advantage far exceeding that of the person who excels at one thing alone.
  • The hamster/iguana team-up is fantastic. They’re both brave and eminently vulnerable, fighting in a world fraught with danger.
  • Captain Amazing’s tale of aging and teamwork cuts strikingly close to the bone for me, a father watching his children grow up and acquire their own interests that diverge from mine, and at the same time, want to do all the things I do.

It’s a cute and fulfilling comic.  Well worth the twenty five minutes it will take you to read.  According to the school librarian’s notes in the inside cover, you will also earn “4 points” for reading it.  So there’s that.

Are you SHERLOCK worthy? An update from the board gaming hobby

Sherlock Holmes Consulting DetectiveAfter watching Shut up and Sit Down’s amazing review of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, I decided to pick up a copy to use in my detective class.  I’ve got it in my hot little hands now, and I face a conundrum.  It only comes with 10 mystery booklets.  Each one represents a single possible play of the game.  Since it’s about solving a mystery, you can’t re-play it (though I will be able to adjudicate my classes playing it).  Thus, each play becomes more valuable.

I can’t help but think about this episode of Seinfeld:


I worry that playing the game will involve a judicious application of game mechanics to my friendships and gaming groups so that I can enjoy it liberally and not hurt anyone’s feelings.  Of course, once I’ve played through a particular mystery, I can always loan out the game to people who haven’t.  I guess.

Other games in play around the Riley manse:

Pandemic and Castle Panic, two that Finn enjoys playing with me, have both seen some action recently.  We failed to save the world, but we did defend the castle.

– I’ve introduced Finn to Castle Dice as well, so I play that with both kids.  It’s fun, but he’s still trying to get the hang of how to score points.  Avery and I are duking it out every game for the win.

– Avery and I continue to play Netrunner frequently.  I think we’ll buy one of the small expansions this month to add to the cards available.  She has become enamored of the Corp faction, so I’ve been playing a lot of runner, concentrating on figuring out how to do viruses correctly.

– Last night brought a round of Dead of Winter with family friends Paul and Kate.  Good times were had defending our compound from zombies.

On the horizon:

– Several kickstarters are ripening in the next three months, so the mail should yield copies of Epic Resort, [redacted], The Agents Return, Miskatonic School For Girls: Holiday Break, Castle Dice: More Castles, Escape: Big Box, Alahambra: Big Box, and Cthulhu’s Vault.  I reassure Jenny I helped kickstart these games over the course of, well, 18 months, so it’s not like I’m buying a shitload of games all at once.  But I imagine it will take the family months or the better part of next year to digest and get used to this bounty.

Still further off, we have Stuff and Nonsense, Strife: Legacy of the Eternals, and I Hate Zombies (that one is still open).

Jolly Hallowe’en

Jolly Hallowe'en post card  (from the New York Public Library Collection)
Jolly Hallowe’en (from the New York Public Library Collection)

I love the note at the bottom: May Fortune Smile On You.  Hear! Hear!

Lots of games this summer

Dead of Winter game session
Dead of Winter game session (Photo by Rocky Kolecke)

It’s been a fun summer for board games.  I got a few new games, played a bunch, and am looking forward to continuing this fall.  Some highlights:

  • Mice and Mystics – We’ve enjoyed this collaborative adventure game in the vein of Redwall, playing approximately once every six weeks or so.   We have another round scheduled for this evening.  We’ve got a system in which the children play or don’t play as they see fit, drifting in and out of the action.
  • Dead of Winter – Another one from Plaid Hat Games, this one is a fun collaborative tale with a strong betrayer element.  I’ve played two games so far and can’t wait to play more.  The premise is that the group are survivors in a compound trying to fend off zombies.  Each player controls a group of survivors, thus making it possible to have one die without killing all of them.
  • Heroes Wanted – This kickstarter jem has been lots of fun around the Riley manse.  The mix-n-match heroes make for funny situations, and the kids like the easy gameplay mechanics.  Finn (6) is still having a bit of trouble managing his goals so as to maximize points, but otherwise, way fun.  I can’t wait to play this with a group of all adults so we can really try out the quirks.
  • The Game of Thrones Living Card Game – I only played one round of this, but holy cow was it fun.  I can’t wait to play again.
  • Love Letter – this simple game has been a big hit at our house, though Avery likes it more than Finn (because of the theme, I think).
  • We played lots of Loot and Munchkin and Treasures and Traps on our trip in the early part of July.  Loot is a light pirate-themed game that’s good for all, while Treasures and Traps is a lightweight Munchkin that exceeds its original in some ways (mostly in that it takes about 20 minutes to play instead of an hour).

The old favorites like Forbidden Island and Smallworld continue to make appearances, and the kids are getting better (and more cutthroat) at Settlers of Catan.

Happy Birthday, Avery

Eight years ago today, Avery was born and our lives were never the same.  Happy birthday, sweetheart.

eight years
eight years

This is a good chance to thank all the people who have helped Jenny and I with the wonderful but tiring task of raising little ones.  To our family and friends, thank you so much for all you do for Avery, and for us.  We love you.

Stuff I’m thinking about – Beastie Boys, cooking, swimming, zombies, grading, snow globes

Sometimes you just need a picture of a duck
Sometimes you just need a picture of a duck.
The Bird Market, Part 4 of 8” cc-licensed Desmond Kavanagh

It’s two days until Thanksgiving and we have family coming to visit, so things are a bit crazy around here.  A quick couple things I’m thinking about:

  • I don’t particularly like (or dislike) The Beastie Boys, but I’ve usually thought of them as pretty honorable.  That said, they’ve come down on the wrong side of the Goldie Blox parody question. Popehat has a better summary than I can offer, if you have no idea what I’m talking about.
  • We took a great class at Fla’vour cooking school last night, all about pork (ribs, greens with pancetta, apple/cranberry compote, three-cheese macaroni bake, and bacon/maple cookies).  Those cookies were amazing.
  • I worked two sessions at the swim meet last weekend, and it was great fun, but alas I was only able to train for one of them.  This throws off the schedule I’d set for myself.  Now I need to find another meet I can go to. MINUTIAE ALERT: (I’m working on two certifications — USA swimming and YMCA.  I’ve finished the YMCA Level 1, so I can work as a stroke and turn judge at those meets.  For USA swimming, I have two more on-deck training sessions to do before I will be certified.  At the meet this weekend, there were enough officials there on Saturday that I was able to pair with someone and train. On Sunday, however, there weren’t enough USA-certified trainers, so I worked instead.)
  • I just finished Donald Westlake’s The Axe yesterday, so beginning today I’ll be reading an early copy of Scott Kenemore’s forthcoming novel, Zombie, Indiana.  I can’t wait.
  • I have a lot of grading to do in the coming week to set the stage for the final project push.  My detective class turned in their creative projects over the last week, so I’ve got a lot of sweet stuff to review.  This should be fun!
  • It snowed yesterday.  As I walked the kids home from school, Finn leaps and turns in front of me, trying to catch snowflakes on his tongue.  Avery walks next to me as she usually does, her hand warm in mine through two gloves.  Avery says, “It looks like the inside of one of those things you shake up.” “A snow globe?” I ask. “Yeah,” she says, “a snow globe.”  The crossing guard agrees.

Enjoy your week, people.

Hey Judge! He did two dolphin kicks! Are you blind!?

Swimming Finals - 9th March 2012
Swimming Finals – 9th March 2012 – photo cc-licensed by Andy Wilkes

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on getting certified as a swim official.  It’s been an interesting process, full of new knowledge and a new set of skills, with lots of little nuances that were a bit unexpected.  Here are a few of them:

  • A primary goal is to give swimmers equal scrutiny, meaning that when you swim shouldn’t affect how much you’re watched by a judge.  Thus, if I have multiple lanes in my jurisdiction (the area of the pool I’m responsible for watching), I’m supposed to spend some of my time watching each lane, even if they’re empty on a given heat.
  • The biggest rule in swimming officiating is BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT GOES TO THE SWIMMER, meaning that if you aren’t sure something was a violation, you ought not call it.  Also, if you can see one lane better than another, you need to use the level of scrutiny that applies to the far lane for the close one.  See guideline above.
  • The BENEFIT rule also means you develop habits of watching that insure if you see an infraction, you really see it.  For example, when judging take-offs for relays, you should watch the toes of the swimmer on the block.  When you see them clear the block, then you look down to see if the previous swimmer is touching the side. If you watch for the touch and then look up, you can’t be sure that the swimmer hadn’t left the block yet.
  • The hardest part of judging thus far is the backstroke turn.  Here’s the summary of the rule: “During turn swimmer may go past vertical to the breast and may utilize a continuous single or continuous simultaneous double arm pull to initiate the turn. Some part of swimmer must touch wall at completion of each length. Shoulders at or past vertical toward back when feet leave wall.”  The nuance for the rule comes in learning to judge that “arm pull” and the “initiate the turn” business, which each swimmer does differently.  There are also stalling techniques swimmers can use if they’ve turned over too early, such as a VERY SLOW arm pull, or bobbing their head before they “initiate the turn.”
  • The hardest stroke for swimmers to master is the breaststroke, as the kick is pretty complicated and easy to do wrong.  From a judging perspective, this is an easier piece of the puzzle to call, since a swimmer doing a bad kick on the breast stroke probably often does it with each kick.

The certification process is relatively slow, so I’m still working on becoming the workhorse of judges, the Stroke and Turn judge.  Once I have this certification, I will be doing that for a year or so before I could move up the ladder.

Last, in the US, swim judges wear blue pants and white shirts.  This is partly, I’m told, because while men’s white pants are usually a durable fabric, white womens’ pants are often thin and thus don’t make an ideal outfit for someone standing in a splash zone.

A nice way to start the morning

When Finn came into my office this morning, he presented me with a picture he told me I could “keep forever.”

“It’s you and me,” he said.  Then, a bit sheepishly, he added “If we had pink hair.”

Finn and me, if we had pink hair

Travel Interregnum

In case you haven’t been keeping up with my occasional tweets and have visited this blog, daily, gasping at its unprofessional lack of new content, I’ll spell it out for you — we’ve got a lot of travel going on this month.  We took a long road trip in the first half of the month, are home for four days, and then are traveling again for the second half of the month.  So not much time for blogging.

And all you Wet Bandits out there using Facebook and Twitter to scope my house out — we have a vicious house sitter so the place isn’t empty.  HA.

Statistical summary from the great 2013 Riley Road Trip we just finished:

  • 15 days
  • 4657 miles
  • 10 states driven through (Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, … North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin)
  • 3 provinces driven through (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan)
  • 6 sights seen (Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore, Little Big Horn, Priest Lake – ID, Banff National Park – Canada, Lake Wissota State Park – WI)
  • 310 meters-thick of glacial ice walked upon
  • 2.5 audio books read

Pictures and narratives to follow later.

I’ll try to get a couple posts queued up before our next trip so you get more than the occasional weird old photo here.

What would you put on a Road Trip playlist?

Family Truckster
The Family Truckster

We’re taking the Great Family Road Trip this summer for two and a half weeks in July, so we can expect to spend plenty of time in the car with the kids.  Consequently, I’m putting together a few playlists — one for us when the kids are watching movies, one for the whole family, etc.

As an artificial barrier, I’m making these playlists no more than 60 minutes.  Just cuz.

What would you put on your Road Trip playlists?

Overt symbolism and doppelganger daddies

Jason Isaacs as Darling and Hook
Jason Isaacs as Darling and Hook

In watching Jumanji with my kids last week, I realized (belatedly) that Jonathan Hyde plays both Sam Parrish and the creepy man hunter Van Pelt.  This got me thinking about a similar move made by the creators of the recent live-action Peter Pan film, to have Jason Isaacs play both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook.

In speaking to my students and colleagues about this phenomenon, I was reminded of several things:

  • The monstrously bad Disney film Return to Oz uses the trope of having “good” actors from one sequence play “bad” actors in a fantastic world in another sequence. (I would suggest that the 1943 Wizard of Oz does NOT fit this trope, because everyone from Dorothy’s daily life plays roles in the fantasy world, suggesting a different effect than using one or just a few of them.)
  • Evil doubles are a common trope of television soap operas, which can essentially double their cast by having actors play two roles.  I believe The Vampire Diaries does this a bit right now.
  • The original play, Peter and Wendy, suggests the casting choice I mentioned above.

What I find interesting and peculiar about this specific casting choice is its hermeneutic effect.  Unlike most popular culture, the choice to cast the same actor in two roles so symbolically connected represents an intentional move by the filmmakers to impose secondary meaning on the film.  When you watch Jumanji, they really want you to recognize the parallels between the remote masculinity at work in the modern Parrishes and its viciousness as replicated in Van Pelt’s brutal chase.

Hyde as Sam Parrish in Jumanji
Hyde as Sam Parrish in Jumanji

Hyde as Van Pelt in Jumanji
Hyde as Van Pelt in Jumanji

Similarly, the most recent Peter Pan presents the most sympathetic Hook I’ve seen, a man who recognizes his role as villain but also resents what time and maturity have done to him.

Afterthought – In looking for photos for this piece, I discovered that Jonathan Hyde did a run as Captain Hook/ Darling on the British stage (outdoors, apparently) in 2009.  Here’s a bit from an interview by Matt Wolf:

Capt. Hook has always been on my wish list, to say nothing of Mr. Darling since both are really as neurotic as the other. They’re both children. Hook is completely a psychopath, certainly: a mixture of cruelty and sentimentality, which of course marks out most dictators from Mugabe onwards. And there’s a bit of Hook in Darling: the way he boots the dog down the stairs, which he treats as matter-of-fact. It’s the parent as tyrant, of course, particularly the father—the father as tyrant figure. (broadway.com)

I can’t help but wonder if he saw the Parrish/Van Pelt construct as a chance to play Hook and Darling…

Now that I think about it, Robin Williams’ role in Jumanji plays on a lot of similar themes as his Hook.

Afterthought 2Just as I was wrapping up this writing, I remembered another doubled-fantasy-father from one of my favorite films as a kid: Cloak and Dagger.  The Dabney Coleman/ Henry Thomas vehicle features Jack Flack, a magical helper who’s a spy and is played by Coleman, who also plays the dad in the film.  It’s the opposite of the Oedipal Captain Hook–Davey’s father is distant and detached, with Jack Flack providing the mentorship and love that Hal is unable to provide.  Looking back on it now, though, I mostly remember the bearded video game shop guy (William Forsythe rocking a beard, if I remember correctly) getting shot in the head and the fact that Davey had a pass that let him run all over San Antonio unsupervised.

On being a f’rigner

While I do (or did) have a reasonable facility reading French, I was never very good at speaking it.  I never took the leap to spend much time speaking it nor did I travel to any French-speaking countries where I had to make do and learn to do it well.  Truth be told, I’m a bit terrified of the experience of not being able to speak the language.

Which makes this summer a bit daunting.  Jenny and I are planning a brief tour of Poland and the Czech Republic to follow my trip to the International PCA conference in Warsaw in July.  Neither of us has any Polish or Czech, so I expect the trip will be disconcerting, in a good, growing kind of way.

I had a brief glimpse of that this morning as I called the hotel to make reservations.  The desk clerk answered in Polish and I replied in English — “Hello.  Is there anyone there who speaks English?”

“I hope so.” She replied, and I was very relieved.  The next few minutes, despite her fluency, were tense for me.  I suspect I will spend the whole trip abroad with a similar confusion.  I’ll have to get hold of polish and czech phrase books, and practice up my slow shouting.  You know, from the Amazing Race:

“Where is the bathroom?”

“i nie mówią po angielsku”

“Where … is … the … bathroom?”

“i nie mówią po angielsku”


It’s gonna be a fun trip.

Miscellany for the coming weekend

A few thoughts as we enter the weekend:

  • Two more weeks of Spring semester, which means I’m entering three weeks of grading hell.  Already did a bunch this morning and am almost done for the day, but it won’t let up for a while.
  • Nearly finished some financial reporting I had to get done for the PCA/ACA, so I can take a breather on that end a bit.  After a false start two weeks ago, Monday will begin the death march toward finishing my book.  Goal: end of June, end of manuscript.
  • I don’t have a screen in my office window, and I’m now constantly paranoid that the cat will jump out.  All I need is a cat on the roof.
  • One more week until the OPRF synchronized swimming show.  Anyone in town should absolutely go to that.  That means this week is a blur of busy busy busy time, as Jenny has practices and stuff every evening.
  • Oh, and I have a forty hour trip to DC for a seminar on Friday.  It should be really interesting, but also in the midst of a very busy time.
  • Our bike pump went missing, so I bought a new one the other day.  I’ll be working with the kids to get their bikes ready to ride today.

I hope your weekend goes well.  Mine looks like it will be hectic, but fun.

Quick bullets about the weekend

  • John was right when he said the PCA/ACA business doesn’t slow down after the conference.  So much for my plan to clean my office last week.
  • Monday begins the death march to finish my book.  Expect to see Twitter posts of word counts again.  Bug me if you don’t.
  • Non-work things I need to finish this weekend: Taxes, Formatting pictures from the Belize trip, start cleaning my office, clean my aquarium
  • Work things I need to finish this weekend: Some PCA money stuff, textbook selection for Fall
  • Work things to work on but will never finish: email, grading
  • Next week I want to see Evil Dead.  I may sneak away during the day on a weekday, perhaps Thursday.
  • Spending the day with the kids — maybe we will clean the basement
  • One of my students pointed out an amazing zombie game during our meeting yesterday.  Enjoy this link to Segway of the Dead