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…
Looking for a way to feel old? With a few exceptions, the only people who vividly remember the events of 9/11 first-hand are now legally eligible to vote. Those of us who can recall it are easily able to summon that cool twitch of nerves below the surface of our skin, and the shadowy ash of paranoia that all but blocked out the sun in the days that followed.
When President George W. Bush took action in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, he was hailed a hero and basked in the fleeting warmth of a 90% approval rating. Partisan lines that had been carved in the sand by jagged, blood-flecked sticks were swept clean and presidentially raked like a long-jump pit. Everyone wanted to get the bad guys, and we didn’t care if it took John McClane, John Rambo or every US Marine and his/her pet gerbil to get it done.
But as 2001 faded into the dim indigo glow of 2002 and then 2003, enthusiasm began to wane. The bad guys clearly couldn’t be taken down within the confines of a two-hour blockbuster storyline. It wasn’t a matter of claiming their base with a steel-toed thud, or chasing bin Laden to the edge of a volcano for a Hans Zimmer-scored climactic duel with battle axes. Instead we had the Patriot Act, the TSA, and home-spun atrocities that scantly trickled through our newsfeed.
Like the story of Khalid El-Masri.
Khalid was born and raised in Lebanon, but when the local political climate blew in a nor’easter of a civil war during the 1980’s, he booked a one-way trip to Germany and applied for political asylum. Since then, Khalid got married twice, and had settled into a comfortable lifestyle. In late 2003, he decided to take a short vacation from his home in Ulm to the city of Skopje, Macedonia, home of over 600 newspapers (seriously). At the Macedonian border, things began to go wrong. Read more…
Back in the 1980’s, we learned that the game of Tic-Tac-Toe has the ability to disable the United States government’s most powerful military computer system. Matthew Broderick taught us this, years before he educated us all about the benefits of truancy, auto theft, dishonesty, and impersonating a sausage king.
We also learned that Dabney Coleman knows how to grow a fantastic mustache.
In case the reference to 1982’s Wargames is a little too antiquated for your tastes, here’s what happened. A proto-geek-chic kid (Broderick) hacks into this military computer and accidentally sets it to launch the American stash of thermonuclear weapons. The only way to disarm the thing is to set it on a Tic-Tac-Toe loop, playing against itself only to discover that with two perfect players, there will be a draw every time.
So why play the game at all? Is there no way for two intelligent, focused people to enjoy some cerebral competition amid the enlarged intersecting grid of a phone’s pound key? Actually, no. If you lose at tic-tac-toe, that means you probably stopped paying attention. That said, there are strategies you could employ to trip up your opponent. But the real question is, why bother?
Tic-tac-toe is a pastime, a game whose only purpose is to teach kids the art of sportsmanship and to see whose head is higher up in the clouds, disconnected from reality. Perhaps it has always been this way. Read more…
After yesterday’s tragic tale of lotto-mania gone bad, I needed to cleanse my perceptual palette. Is there good news to be found among the scant few lottery winners with the infamy required to earn a Wikipedia page? Are the only stories worth reading about filled with tragedy, back-stabbery and lawsuits? What I found was a mix of the disheartening and the uplifting, a stew of consequence defined by circumstance and character.
Despite my wallet’s commitment to porousness, I still believe I’d be able to successfully navigate the minefield of sudden wealth. My family (apart from a few wayward flakes – you know who you are) is strong and secure. I’ve made enough atrocious financial decisions to know one when I see one. I recycle. Not sure if that last one will help me, but I’m plugging for karma to give me a shot at proving my ability to handle a big lottery win.
I’d have to do better than Abraham Shakespeare. This guy’s story makes the Lavigueur family in yesterday’s article look like a happy ending. Abe was something of an underachiever, having done time for a few burglaries and hopping from labor job to labor job in Florida. When he struck the winning numbers in a $30 million Florida lottery in 2006, everything began to fall apart. Read more…
Most lottery winners disappear with their winnings into obscurity, savoring fortune whilst evading fame, happy to have their spotlight moment in the evening news, then disappearing into the night with their oversize novelty check tucked beneath their arm. Whether the money changes their lives, whether it changes who they are, remains invisible to all who don’t know them. That’s a stroke of victory. Big bucks with no ensuing Whammy.
But our culture, which seems morbidly mired in its own sense of perpetual denigration, yearns to see the failure of others. Whether it’s from Schadenfreude or simple jealousy, our purveyors of tabloid trash instinctively know how desperately we want to see the mighty fall, even if they are only mighty because a half-dozen ping pong balls got spit out of a machine. It’s a “human interest” story. They bought a ticket just like we did, but they won.
This story starts out so cinematically it almost seems made-up. The year is 1986. Jean-Guy Lavigueur of Ville-Marie (a poor section of Montreal) has been out of work for a year and a half, a single father of four since the kids’ mother passed away. They had lost two children due to heart issues, and Jean-Guy just wants to keep his family together. He buys a lottery ticket. Then he loses his wallet. Read more…