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board games played in 2013 5+ times
January 7, 2014, 1:24 am

I posted this list to bgg: five and dime 2013

My games played 5+ more times in the year 2013.

I haven't been keeping exact records, so this is from memory. My plan for 2014 is to keep track of my plays.

2013 was a year heavy with cooperative games. But what's interesting is the wide variety of styles: Hanabi, Buffy, Pandemic, Sherlock... They're all quite different than each other.

  • Hanabi
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game
  • The Resistance: Avalon
  • Race for the Galaxy
  • San Juan
  • Lost Cities
  • Summoner Wars: Master Set
  • Pandemic
  • Alien Frontiers
  • Carcassonne
  • Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
  • For Sale
  • Roll Through the Ages: Bronze Age
  • Puerto Rico
tags: board game
History of Happy Holidays
January 2, 2014, 9:46 pm

Bing Crosby isn't a likely person to target as perpetrating a war on Christmas. In 1943, the film Holiday Inn won an Academy Award for best original song for "White Christmas." But that same movie opened with Bing singing Happy Holiday. There's a scene in which a small black child dressed up as Father Time joins in the song. If it had been made today, Fox News would certainly be taking the movie to task.

Wikipedia has several articles that speculate that the phrase "happy holidays" as a greeting was popularized by Holiday Inn. (here, and here). That would be ironic if true, that the same movie that gave us "White Christmas" also popularized a now polarizing phrase. I can't find any proof that the film is responsible for the popularity of the phrase. But, while I admit the written corpus that Google NGrams uses might be quite different than verbal usage, plotting "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas" should be revealing. It does show an increase in popularity of the term "happy holidays" after 1944. It also shows a corresponding drop in the use of "merry christmas" which continues on until the 1970s.

So the words "happy" and "holidays" start appearing in Google's corpus around 1806. From what I can tell from a cursory investigation, throughout most of the 1800's, the meaning is usually like having a pleasant vacation. But over time the term begins to evolve so that it's more directly associated with Christmas. A case sensitive search for "Happy Holidays" makes things a bit clearer - around the 1860s the phrase appears to be clearly about the Christmas and New Year season.

A blogger, Jeremy Aldrich, collected some early ads that use the phrase Happy Holidays. These date back to the 1860's. They aren't quite the same as modern usage - "happy holidays are coming" and "hail happy holidays!" aren't the same as the greeting "Happy Holidays", but are recognizable.

So "happy holidays" is rather old. From my memory, the offense at the phrase is quite new - less than a decade old in fact - and is a sign that Fox News is winning their manufactured war.

blokus links
December 24, 2013, 9:18 pm

Blokus is an abstract game with extremely simple rules that I suspect is rather deep that I recently played and enjoyed.

Blokus Links:

blokus strategy blog - blokus strategy and tactics articles.

duo to the death - blokus duo strategy

blokus discoveries - blokus puzzles, investigations...includes the blokus puzzler, a java applet with a solitaire mode for solving puzzles or planning strategies. Also allows for online play. www.gottfriedville.net seems to be interesting in general.

pentobi - open source Blokus clone for PCs (linux/mac/win). Has an AI at multiple levels of difficulty

pentolla - play a blokus-clone online. This seems to have replaced the official blokus online game.

Blokus on BGG

Blokus on Wikipedia

official blokus.com - decommissioned by Mattel. used to have online play. Forums are overrun by spam.

blockfuse - android blokus clone.

There used to be an iOS blokus game but I can no longer find one.

Other blokus clones: blokish, block'em, freebloks 3D

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
December 20, 2013, 1:39 am

"...it has been established that the ape mob is under the command of a super-normally intelligent chimpanzee who has acquired the power of speech. This would suggest that the ape leader may be the child (thought to have been destroyed) of the two talking Chimpanzees, Cornelius and Zira, who came to us from outer space twenty years ago. As such, he constitutes a threat to the future of the whole human race..."

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a mess of a movie, that is really too ridiculous for logical discussion. Each Planet of the Apes movie is worse than the one before it. The first, one of my favorite movies, is a long way from this, the fourth and second to last in the series. With a such a silly plot, and a lot of Ricardo Montalban, I had hoped that it would at least serve as campy fun, and it does to some extent, but it isn't as fun as I would have hoped.

The whole movie does lead up to a very violent ape riot that I did enjoy, and maybe that's worth it. There's also a speech by Caesar, leader of the apes, who incites his fellow apes to violence - in English, which the other apes couldn't possibly understand - and reveals his plan to wait for the day humans destroy each other, and make room for the apes who will rise from what's left of the world. It's the kind of thing I had been waiting for all movie.

If you're watching the theatrical release, the only version available prior to 2008, you'll also see a second speech in which Caesar, changing his mind, calls for a more peaceful resolution to the day's violence. The test audiences of 1973 reacted negatively to the original ending, so the movie cuts in the the new audio with what video footage was available, making an already cheap looking movie look worse.

So the premise is this: in 1983 or so, a virus, from outer space, was brought back to earth by astronauts. Humans were immune, but the virus killed the entire population of dogs and cats. Humans sought to replace their dead dogs and cats with apes. It turned out the apes were so good at learning how to do things, they later became servants, and by 1991 they are treated as slaves. (We learn of all this via exposition by Ricardo Montalban).

The events of the previous movie, Escape from Planet of the Apes, happened 20 years ago. Cornelius and Zira arrived on Earth, from the future, and had a baby chimp, originally named Milo but now called Caesar. Armando, an ape loving circus trainer, has kept Caesar, an intelligent ape capable of speech, a secret the entire time. Somehow, Armando has concealed the enslavement of the apes from Caesar, but apparently chose to reveal it to him as he and Caesar walk around the the city promoting Armando's upcoming circus show.

The time loop of Escape from Planet of the Apes means that the apes of the future are responsible for their own existence. That was an unfortunate direction to take the series, because one of the appeals of the first movie is that it suggests humanity's self destruction, opening an ecological niche that was filled by the apes. Conquest continues to develop the poor direction from Escape, while introducing a new even more ridiculous element: that the evolution of the apes was spurred by their enslavement by humans, humans who trained them to be more human. None of this was suggested by the first movie

So while walking around the city, Caesar sees a fellow ape being beaten, and he can't help yell out "Lousy, human bastards" (an allusion to the original movie). Armando takes the blame to try to cover up the secret of Caesar's existence, leading to his eventual death, and Caesar vows revenge upon humanity. It's interesting that Caesar's rebellion against humanity is actually caused by the death of a human.

This all leads to the long bloody climax, in which Caesar and the apes take over the city, an entertaining spectacle - especially in the unedited version. It's a small conquest, but in a well delivered speech, to apes that don't speak English, Caesar promises that there will be more to come.

Caesar predicts that the humans will destroy each other, and the apes will be waiting for that day. Couldn't Escape and Conquest just have been skipped over? Can Battle for Planet of the Apes be any worse than this?

Some points of note:

  • The apes of 1991 are supposed to be your standard variety orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. But they all look like anthropomorphic apes from the original Planet of the Apes.
  • America(?) of 1991 is an Orwellian state. At least for apes - it's difficult to tell exactly to what extent humans are being oppressed. By the looks of the Nazi-like uniforms the security forces wear in the movie, it doesn't look too hopeful.
  • 1991 is quite technologically advanced: force fields and the "authenticator," a menacing looking truth extracting machine.
  • Apes make lousy slaves. The opening is full of scenes in which apes do human tasks poorly. They're scared of open flames. They overfill glasses of water. They can't comb hair very well. It seems to take almost as many security people to keep the apes in check as there are apes doing the manual labor.
  • Training apes consists of almost no positive reinforcement. They're often beaten, but rarely rewarded for doing something right.
  • We never see Caesar inspiring the other apes into a rebellion until the end of the movie. The apes just listen to Caesar for unexplained reasons.
Star Trek 2009 - Spock the killer
December 13, 2013, 3:21 am

...but Kirk says that in order to stop Nero they must go after him first. This culminates in an argument which ends in Spock ordering Kirk's removal from the bridge. When Kirk physically protests, Spock incapacitates Kirk and places him in an escape pod and jettisons him off the ship. Kirk awakens to find himself on the snow-covered world of Delta Vega, another planet in Vulcan's system. Picking up his gear, Kirk heads for the Starfleet station fourteen kilometers away.

memory alpha Star Trek_(film)

Of all my problems with Star Trek 2009 this is the one that bothers me the most. In many ways the movie works as a servicable action movie with some clever fan service for trek fans. But this here might break it for me.

It all happens so fast, you might not have had time to think about it as it happened. Spock has an argument with Kirk and instead of doing something as drastic as throw him in the brig (jail), instead launches Kirk out of the Enterprise onto a Hoth-like icy barren hellscape - one where Kirk can only survive through, as far as I can tell, sheer luck. Before the audience even has a chance to process Spock's villainous deed, one in which he essentially condemned Kirk to hypothermia and eventual death, Kirk must escape from 2 gigantic monsters that want to eat him (I assume).

I think the movie wants to sell the relationship between Kirk and Spock as being akin to two boys fighting in a school yard who later make up with each other and end up being chums. A coming of age story. What happens instead is that a person who supposedly follows a philosophy of peace leaves another person to freeze to death over a disagreement about what to do next with the Enterprise. How...logical?

So, Kirk escapes the monsters to find Nimoy-Spock living in a cave on the Hoth planet. The stretch of believability asked of the audience here, that Nimoy-Spock was just waiting in this particular cave, is difficult to fathom (of all the caves, in all of the planet, in all the galaxy, in all the timelines, he walks into mine?). The movie's fast pacing is designed, I think, so that the members of audience don't have time to think about it much. But I ask you: if you wrote this stuff, would you be embarrassed?

But far more egregious to me is that this scene between Pine-Kirk and Nimoy-Spock is meant to establish Pine-Kirk's friendship with Quinto-Spock. Which is terrible for at least 2 reasons. The first, as I keep mentioning, is that Quinto-Spock just abandoned Pine-Kirk to die. It's a nearly unforgivable act. You could end the movie here and make a sequel. One in which Kirk, after escaping from the barren wasteland that is Delta Vega, is consumed by his thirst for revenge, and seeks to destroy Spock (he tasks me and I shall have him!) We could call it "The Wrath of Kirk".

The second reason this scene is terrible is that it epitomizes the laziness of the movie. See, the movie doesn't have to do any work to build the friendship between Kirk and Spock. Instead the Nimoy-Spock tells the Pine-Kirk about the friendship that grows between the characters Kirk and Spock in the 6 movies and 2 television series the characters have appeared in previously. That's hours of story and character building that Star Trek 2009 can now skip. Pine-Kirk, and the audience members, need all they need to know, apparently. Spock and Kirk are supposed to be friends. That's all the relationship building the movie really does. After the meeting with Nimoy-Spock, Kirk is determined to be friends with Quinto-Spock. The guy who just left him to die on an ice planet. I guess Pine-Kirk thinks it's okay, because in an alternate reality some old guy just told him about, they're bff.

By the way: it is possible that Spock knew about the Starfleet base on Delta Vega and left Kirk on the planet knowing that Kirk could find his way to the base. I suppose then that he chose not to transport Kirk directly to the base with transporters...as a joke? I have to suppose that the human devouring monsters completely eluded the Enterprise sensors because...it's really cold down there?

</RANT>