Friday, February 04, 2005

Drinking can kill you

Okay, so we know that drinking too much alcohol can kill you. But too much water? Just goes to show that just about anything can be dangerous in excess.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Game Review: Take Away

Players: 2-4 Ages: 7-Adult

So I picked up a few more games for the family at Christmas time, including Take Away, by Jax Games. The basic idea of the game is to find matches or runs (up or down in the same suit), which you can take from other players’ slots and add to your own, trying to collect the most cards.

My two oldest sons (ages 8 and 7) and I pulled it out and played it. It is one of the most boring games any of us have ever played. First, just trying to figure out the instructions was awful. They were written extremely poorly, so it took a long time just to figure out how to play. Once we managed that, we found that there was almost no strategy or thought involved, and very little opportunity to make plays. Most of our time was spent drawing cards from the draw pile and laying them in a slot, then passing the turn to the next person.

Now, it may be that, due to the poorly written instructions, we got it all wrong. Whether that’s the case or not, I can't recommend this game. We are getting rid of ours (thankfully, it wasn’t expensive) and I suggest you avoid it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Still kicking

No, I haven't died. Life has just been too busy for blogging, what with work, side projects, church assignments, library books piled up way too high, a teething baby, and home improvement projects with winter coming on in Minnesota.

And so I'm going to get away from it all. We'll be taking a vacation to Disneyworld and will be back at the end of the month. (No, not all the time will be spent at Disneyworld; we'll also camp on the Gulf of Mexico and spend Thanksgiving weekend with family, plus the driving time (yup, we're crazy enough to drive from Minnesota to Florida with five boys!).

So, have a great Thanksgiving. Maybe I'll pop in and say something while I'm on vacation. But I kind of doubt it.

Friday, October 29, 2004


Last week, PBS had a special on the history of Broadway musicals. I caught a few minutes of it as my wife was watching. They were discussing a relatively new musical (one year old), Wicked. It looked fairly interesting, so when I saw it on the Showtunes section of MusicMatch, I thought I'd take a listen.

Wow! This musical has completely blown me away. The music is original and evokes emotions greatly. Various musical styles are blended together without seeming incongruous. But more importantly, the music really helps to tell the story, which is a great one.

The musical is set in the Land of Oz and gives the “backstory” of the familiar movie. It tells of the friendship of Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West from their school days, and how the Wicked Witch became ... well, Wicked. It is an engaging adaptation of Gregory Maguire's book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

And all of that without having seen the musical yet! Apparently there are some plot twists not revealed on the official or unofficial sites I've seen. See the unofficial site for more info on the musical and the composer, Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote the music and lyrics for The Prince of Egypt.

There's a tour planned for Spring 2005, and if I have the chance, I'm definitely going to go see this one.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Game review: Coda

Players: 2-4 Ages: 6-Adult

I was browsing at the game store at the mall recently and noticed Coda. It looked intriguing, and was relatively inexpensive, so I picked it up. I played it yesterday for the first time with my 8 1/2-year-old (Dallin) and 7-year-old (Sammy).

Coda is a fairly simple “code-breaking” game, using numerical codes only. There are two sets of tiles, white and black, each numbered 0-11. For “advanced” game play, there is also a dash (-) tile in each color. The players draw tiles and arrange them in ascending numerical order, with black tiles preceding white tiles if they have the same number on them. The players then take turns “attacking” various point of their opponents' “codes”. If they make a successful attack by guessing a tile correctly, the opponent must reveal that tile, and the guesser has the option of continuing to attack or adding a newly-drawn tile to his or her code. If unsuccessful, the newly-drawn tile is added to his or her code in the proper position, but revealed to the other players. The object is to be the last one with tiles concealed.

We played only the simple version, without the dash tiles, which act as “wild” tiles in the more advanced version. Dallin caught on right away, while Sammy needed a little more coaching. They both really enjoyed the challenge of the game and seeing their opponents' codes revealed. I found it to be very easy. It seems to me the game has the potential for real challenge if there were good variant rules developed, or if letter tiles were included, or some such enhancement.

Game play was pretty short for us; I'd say not more than five or six minutes per round. It's like an easier version of Mastermind, which my kids are about to be introduced to. :-)

Restaurant review: Big Bowl

Last Friday, my family came to pick me up from work so we could go to lunch together. We decided to go to Big Bowl, on the recommendation of some friends. We had to wait about half an hour to get in, so we decided to walk around the mall a bit (boy, do kids find escalators fascinating!).

It was well worth the wait. They were great with the kids: each received chopsticks that had the top ends rubber-banded together, with a folded-up paper wedged in to make the chopsticks easy to use. They also got an activity book, and, in a take-home container, some crayons and “Wikki Stix,” sticky and bendable sticks with instructions on making various figures. The server was also really great with the kids, chatting with them on their level and very helpful.

And then the food was excellent. I had the Asian chicken salad, which, while a little heavy on the dressing, had a nice mix of greens and sprouts, including Asian cilantro. The peanutty chicken satays were just the right touch. My wife had the chicken pad thai. The flat noodles were very good, and the spices just right. For the kids, we got a couple of crispy chicken “nuggets” and a couple of stir-fried noodle dishes -- they got to choose their meat and veggies. The kids didn't particularly care for the unusual sauces, but really enjoyed the chicken and noodles. Their meals came with lemonades that were not only adult-sized (which my kids loved), but came with free refills. We had a fair bit of food left over at the end of the meal, and their take-home containers were really sturdy, unlike at so many other places.

All in all, it was a really good experience, and we will definitely be back.

Prices for lunch are about $9-12 for regular dishes; $4-5 for kids' meals.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Game review: Quiddler

Players: 2-10 Ages: 10-Adult

Last year, my brother introduced me to Quiddler, by Set Enterprises. This is a word-building card game with elegantly designed cards, inspired by Celtic manuscripts. The object of the game is to make words out of the cards in your hand and score the most points (different letters have different point values). There are a few two-letter combinations, such as QU, IN, and TH, and bonuses for forming the most words and the longest word, for an additional element of strategy.

The game is played in phases, with the number of cards in your hand increasing in each phase, starting with three and ending with ten. This game has quickly become a family favorite, and is a great way to teach kids spelling, as well as to learn lots of unusual short words that may come in handy in lots of other word games you play.

If you're in a silly mood, you can have a lot of fun by playing with misspelled words. In this “variant”, you are not allowed to use correctly spelled words, but the letters must sound out a real word (or at least come close). Note: this tends to work best when people are tired. ;-) Enjoy!

Friday, October 01, 2004

Biggest debate mistakes

Bush and Kerry each missed an excellent opportunity last night to clarify important distinctions in their positions. I can't say I was terribly impressed by either of them, though the debates were somewhat useful in helping me develop my opinions of them and this race.

Bush's big missed opportunity was this: He said, in answer to a question about Iraq, “the enemy attacked us,” and Kerry jumped all over it, saying that Saddam Hussein didn't attack us, Osama bin Laden did. Bush, in his response, simply stated (paraphrasing), “I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. You think I don't know that?” He then proceeded to address a different part of Kerry's statement. This was the perfect opportunity for Bush to not only show that he didn't slip up in his statement, but to illustrate an important difference between him and Kerry. He should have said, “Of course I know bin Laden attacked us. And that event changed the way we respond to threats. We didn't attack Iraq because they attacked us on September 11, we attacked because we wanted to prevent another September 11, and you agreed with me that Saddam was a threat, and authorized me to use force to prevent Saddam from carrying out the kind of attack we suffered on September 11. That is why the September 11 attack is relevant to the war in Iraq.”

Kerry's big missed opportunity was this: Bush's campaign has been portraying Kerry as a flip-flopper. So he was posed the question (paraphrasing), “When you returned from Vietnam, you asked, ‘How can you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?’ Are the soldiers in Iraq dying for a mistake?” Kerry answered (paraphrasing), “No; they don't have to be, if we implement the right policies there.” Wrong answer for him, I think. This answer made him look to me like he either didn't have a clear position on Iraq (was it a mistake or not?) or he was answering only for political expediency (yes, Iraq was a mistake, but if I say that, I'll lose votes). What he should have said was, “Yes, it was a mistake to go into Iraq the way we did. But it is not a mistake for us to stay and finish the job, now that we're there. We have a moral obligation to the people of Iraq, the Middle East, and the entire world to bring nations together to stabilize Iraq, to rebuild its infrastructure, to train its security forces, and to help make Iraq a safe and democratic nation. Our president made a mistake in going into Iraq when and how he did, but I will succeed in Iraq where he is failing, so that our soldiers don't die for a mistake.”

Maybe that's too much to hope for from these candidates.