I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.
As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.
The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.
Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…
As some of you may have heard (I have griped about this rather frequently lately), the cold, icy grip of 40 is looming around my next corner, poised to wrestle my youth to the ground before September’s end, pummeling it with its grey-haired, middle-aged fists.
But I’m okay with that.
Not only because I will finally experience my first day off from writing since December 30, 2011, and not because I believe some faucet of inherent wisdom will squeak open and gush the solved riddles of the universe upon my anxious brain, but because I simply refuse to stack my plate full of anxiety and dread over a number. 40 can be the new 30 – except my kids are mostly grown-up, my time is more my own, and my taste in beer has matured to a delicious and luminous plateau.
Besides, I’m not the only one packing air into his lungs for a big 40-candle blow-out. Skittles turn forty this year, so does the Volkswagen Golf. The Intel 8080 chip was released four decades ago, as was the San Diego Chicken (from whatever oversized, freakish coop in which he was reared). Let’s see what else will be launching its fifth decade on earth in 2014.
The toy whose very visage defines the 1980’s was born in Budapest on January 16, 1974. The Rubik’s Cube is, quite literally, Rubik’s cube. Ernö Rubik worked at the Academy of Applied Arts and Crafts (where I suppose you can begin working on your major in kindergarten), and he designed the toy as a way to solve the design problem of having the parts move independently without the entire thing falling apart. After playing around with it for a while, Rubik discovered that putting it back to its alpha state, with all six sides sporting a uniform color, was a nifty little puzzle. Read more…
What is your favorite number?
It’s an odd question, if you really stop to think about it. Why have a favorite number? Okay, maybe it’s the number that was splashed across your jersey when you played high school basketball. Perhaps you hit it big with a fortuitous spin of the roulette wheel once. Maybe you met the love of your life on a bus with that number, on the street with that number, at precisely that number o’clock, on that number’s day of the month. If so, please tell me about it; that’s a great story.
Mathematician Alex Bellos is conducting a survey to figure out what’s the most common favorite (or, I suppose, lucky) number. I entered my pick, but found myself torn. While I am a firm believer in the notion of luck, inasmuch as the universe seems to unfold in a fortuitous manner some days, I don’t cling to a specific digit. What would I pick? My daughter was born on the 26th, I met my wife in ’95, my favorite childhood football player wore 33… it all seems so arbitrary and unnecessary.
The current front-runner in Bellos’s survey is seven. This comes as no surprise; with its omnipresent visage in all forms of gambling, from seven-digit lotto games to the most dreaded and praised roll in a game of craps, seven is the smoke-choked caterpillar on life’s giant toadstool. Seven sees all, man.
Any integer housed in that exclusive neighborhood of Single-Digitsville is going to find itself wrought with significance throughout religious and secular history. But there’s a special pedestal reserved for seven. Not only has this digit turned more fortunes than any other in the hallowed halls of Vegas casinos, but it has found itself firmly entrenched within the spirit of humanity. Why do we love seven so? Maybe because it’s a prime number, mighty and indivisible. Yet seven fits into logic’s keyhole with a crooked and devilish squeak. Read more…
Another day, another thousand words. But what to write about? I’ve got a few ideas lurking in my patented idea slop-bucket, but how do I know which is the right one to scoop into today’s word-trough? I could flip a coin, roll some dice, maybe pin the ideas to a dartboard, fire back some tequila and see which concept bubble the dart of my focus should puncture today. I could assign each idea to a marble then dump a laundry bag of marbles down a hill and write about the one that rolls the furthest.
No, too much work. I can respect a good game of chance, but there’s a limit on how much cleanup I’m willing to undergo just to get a random result. There is a simple elegance to the coin toss, despite its potential complications: What if it hits the ceiling? What if it bounces off a table?
A game of chance should be simple. These are games we play in order to facilitate a balanced decision, or to figure out who has to go downstairs and deal with the pizza guy. They are games designed to speed up life, to allow us to scuttle past the weighing of pros and cons so that we can sink our teeth into the meat of the rest of our day. So why write about them? Well, it came up tails this morning, so here we go. As long as we’ve had coins, we’ve flipped them so we could avoid making decisions. But is this really the best method for turning our responsibility over to fate? Not according to researchers at the University of British Columbia. Learning how to manipulate a toss to land a certain way is not that hard, provided you’re using the standard flip ‘n catch method. They taught a group of people the technique, then watched them compete to see who could land the most heads in 300 flips. Everyone scored over 50%, and the winner pulled off a 68% success rate. Read more…
At this stage in my adult life, when heading out to the bar requires a much higher douche-bag resistance quotient than I personally possess, not to mention an unfathomable tolerance for mediocre music and overpriced beer, I tend to pursue more sedentary party options. My wife and I occasionally indulge our socialization appetite through board games nights: friends, snacks, booze and a lot more Dr. John and Tower of Power than one would expect to hear at almost any happening night spot, in this decade anyway.
But beneath the scads of Scattergories pads and beneath the cache of Cards Against Humanity combos, one sad box that never gets cracked on games night is Monopoly. We have our reasons. A single game of Monopoly would dominate the entire evening. The game itself is 90% waiting for your turn, with no real options for creativity, which means that alcohol does not make the game more fun. And unless you happen to be the one with all the colorful paper cash at the end, then you probably stopped having fun a while ago.
But Monopoly was never meant to be a 3-4 hour romp of unrestrained mirth. It was meant to be a lesson.
That fun-looking lady with the fun-looking eyebrows is Lizzie Magie, who patented a game called The Landlord Game back in 1903. She wanted to espouse her confidence in Georgist economics – the belief that people should own what they create, but things like land should belong equally to everyone. She wanted the world to see that the concept of ‘rent’ enriched land owners and drained tenants to the poor house. Read more…
At my high school, the kids who played Dungeons & Dragons were looked upon as outcasts, rejects from popular society, miscreants who couldn’t or wouldn’t adjust their hobbies to fit in with the mainstream. Of course, back then the mainstream looked like this:
This leads me to believe that the D&D-ers may have been on to something. I tried playing once or twice, but I didn’t have the patience to keep up with it. Also, I think the guys I played with got a little irritated when I kept asking if every creature we encountered had boobies. They didn’t ask me back.
But I remember flipping through the Monster Manual and the Fiend Folio, hard-cover books that were biblically prized by my gaming brethren. Some of the creatures looked menacing. Some looked positively goofy.
Ms. Wiki’s gazillion-sided die landed on a list of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’ first-edition monsters from its initial Monster Manual. These creatures, released unto the world of geekery in 1977, the same year that Lucas filled our imaginations with the likes of Walrus Man and Hammerhead, include a hodge-podge of Gygaxian weirdness.
For the most part, I have no problem with these creatures. Some of them seem to fit the fantasy genre perfectly, a lot of them are lifted from standard fantasy archetypes, but some of them are completely bizarre, no matter where they originated. I know the D&D founders wanted a huge variety of beasties to pepper their landscapes, but did they really need to use these?
Let’s start with the Nixie. He (it?) is described as resembling somewhat attractive humanoids with green skin and hair and… wait a second. Somewhat attractive humanoids? That guy’s face would look ugly on a troll doll. It’s like someone made a ventriloquist dummy’s head have sex with a Gremlin, then stuck the ensuing abomination atop a decapitated Aquaman action figure. Read more…