All posts by sleemanmunk

A review of my games

My father has reached the level of notoriety that he has become known as “The Game Man,” and his game collection now grows through no effort of his own. People give him old games, unplayed games, and some very strange games because they know he will play them. He fills the top level of his foyer closet with his games, and has an entire bookshelf in the garage for the rest of them.

Comparatively, I am still merely a game boy. I still must purchase most of my own games, and my collection does not even fill a miniature bookshelf. It is a very nice bookshelf, though, a gift from my Mother. Also, I know a bit about the best game for the best situation. Let me go through my games from left to right and top to bottom.

Telestrations

A cross between telephone and pictionary. Popular at parties. People will often complain that they can’t draw, but tell them the worse the drawings are, the more fun the game is.

Pit

A one hundred year old game (114 years old, to be more precise) that simulates the commodities market. Boiled down, this game is quick to learn and tends to involve a lot of shouting as players each clamor to get the attention of a trading partner.

Seven Wonders Duel

If you have one fellow strategically minded friend, this is a good game for the two of you. Advance through technological ages and build an empire better than your rival’s!

Red Flags

A game where you make imaginary people for your fellow players to date. It’s a fun, simple to play game where you make ridiculous suitors such as a man who “loves kittens, shares all your interests, and is incapable of feeling emotion.” Don’t expect much strategy or a lot of replayability.

Aye, Dark Overlord

One of my favorites, Aye Dark Overlord is a guided improv game where one player plays the overlord and the other players are all his or her minions. The twist? The minions have already failed at a task that the overlord player makes up to assign them. Each minion’s job is to avoid the blame for the mission’s failure. The penalty for being blamed is, of course, death.

The Battle for Vyk Tornaahl

This is more of a piece of art than a game. It’s beautiful, but when my friend, who illustrated one of the cards, showed it to me, and I insisted we play it at three or four events, eventually he said, “Could we play a fun game?”

Munchkin

The classic D&D parody where you kill monsters and take their stuff. This game is simpler to play than a serious strategy game, but more tactically rewarding than a pure party game. My copy is many years old, and has so many expansions and is so well-played I have to hold the box together with rubber bands.

Unstable Unicorns and Exploding Kittens

A small sample of the recent explosion in kickstarter party games. Still more sophisticated than Red Flags strategically, but simpler than Munchkin and much simpler than a real strategy game. Their amusing illustrations and writing make them fun to bring out once or twice at parties, and unicorns and kittens may be effective at drawing out certain reluctant players.

Aquarius

This is a variant of dominoes with simple rules and bright colors.

Yikerz

I often refer to this as “the magnet game.” The goal is to put magnets on a mat without them touching each other. The rest is physics. I find this game is particularly good for attracting the interest of non-gamers, and I often will claim that it has never failed to entertain.

If any of these sounds appealing to you, they’re all still available for sale, I’m sure. If you’re in the area and want to play one, just let me know!

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I’m not here to make friends

This is an old comedy sketch idea I found in my Evernote archive.

Sketch Title : “Upcoming Reality Shows”

A series of increasingly ridiculous reality show concepts presented as brief sections from each show.

Each section starts with a description of the show, a short clip of the activity, and an interview with someone asserting he’s not here to make friends. Maybe even funnier if it’s the same guy in every competition.

Competitive Origami: People at a table intensely and angrily folding paper cranes

Interview: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to fold paper!”

Competitive Livestock Abuse: Two men harassing a donkey

Interview: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to kick ass!”

Competitive Confessions: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make amends”

Competitive Carpentry: “I’m not here to make friends,” Holds up a pair of wooden bookends, “I’m here to make ends.”

Female-to-male drag competition: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make men.”

Writing contest for the next episode of “Friends”: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make Friends.”

Competitive Networking: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to … uhh …”

Write a story about the moment when everything changed

This is actually a small fragment of a novel I’d like to write. Fantasy novels are such undertakings, but maybe someday.

It was the sort of freak occurrence that would have reverberating effects throughout the realm for generations. Imagine a horse falling out of the sky over your head. Now imagine it has razor sharp talons and a beak designed to rend struggling flesh from the bone. Imagine your mother falling down to protect you.

Try to tell that woman’s husband, that child’s father, that this is one out of a whole forest. Try to tell them the role in the ecosystem, protecting us from those who would take these woods for themselves. Tell the frightened, shouting masses to be calm. Just try to tell them to think about what they are about to do.

In the year of the wise man, the dry season, to raucous applause, Alisair Greenwarden overturned millenia-old protections. Laws so old they may well have been written by a congress of demigods and forest spirits. The leaves fell around us, brown and brittle, descending from the swaying trees who may have been young when these laws were first drafted, whose judging whispers we would never understand.

How one tragedy leads to another. That child. That poor, helpless babe whose mother died to protect her. She will never know a time before taxidermied gryphons stood in the sacred hall. Before eager young men wore necklaces of gryphon claws and wove elaborate fables about their latest kill. Before our people turned against our own protectors.

 

Featured Art – http://www.sarina-brewer.com/gallery/taxidermy-art-fantasy.html

 

Prompt Writing – Pill to grant the powers of a god

Since I received such a positive response to my last prompt entry, I thought I would make a series of entries based on my old prompt responses. Enjoy!

Prompt

Give a story about a character who discovers that there is a pill to grant the powers of a god.

Response

“Hypothetically we therefore could postulate the existence of a pill that would grant such powers of said deity.” Professor Werner’s hair stood out from his forehead like a thin, grey halo. My eyelids were getting so heavy I had to hold my whole head up by propping it on my palm. Cryptopharmaceuticals was turning out to be even more dull and pointless than I had imagined, not that I had put much effort into imagining it when I had marked it as my second choice for freshman seminar. Chocolate factory studies had filled up, so I was here learning about hypothetical drugs.

Serene Peace’s hand shot up. She was one of those modern children whose parents had named her an adjective they hoped would describe her. It didn’t. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail so tight that I thought if someone bumped it the wrong way, it would all be torn out. She always looked like her mind was racing at roughly 100 meters per second, which in imperial units means she was crazy. Serene never waited to be called on before speaking. “Professor, do you mean that it already exists, or that it exists conceptually and could one day be manufactured?”

Professor Werner snorted at this. “Hphuf!” He then resumed his lecture. Serene’s eye twitched. Despite painstakingly cataloguing Professor Werner’s broad array of snorts, grunts, and huffs, she had only managed to conclude that not one of them was ever meant to answer her question. Serene shot her hand up again. Again she asked her question without being called on, although I don’t suspect she would be called if she did wait, so I couldn’t blame her. “Professor Werner, has anyone ever succeeded in making a deidryl tablet, or any of the medicines you’ve described in this course?”

“Fffuf!” Professor Werner admonished, “You, Miss Peace, might find you’re better suited to,” and he added an extra harrumph, “Hhhh-applied CccHemistry!”

I happened to know that chemistry was already Serene Peace’s planned major. That was twenty years ago. Now we all live under the benevolent hand of Serene Peace. It’s hard to say precisely what has changed about the world since she developed and consumed the first and only successful deidryl tablet, but its clear that it’s better. I wonder if she’s just changed all of us to have more positive perspectives. Sort of lame to have my free will so roundly and effortlessly disproven. I feel like I would have been grumpy about that once. Deidryl’s one heck of a drug.

 

Worst prompt night

Once upon a time I organized a writing night based around bad prompts. Each participant was expected to bring the worst prompt he or she could think of on an index card, then we would trade index cards and write to the prompts. Today I’ll share my prompt, the prompts I wrote to, and what I wrote.

My prompt

You are an accountant managing the finances of a small chain of delicatessens in the southeastern United States. A shipment of roast beef is on a southbound train starting at one hundred meters per second and accelerating fifteen meters per second squared. One hundred miles to the south is a northbound train accelerating from 50 meters per second at a rate of 10 meters per second squared. When the trains collide and 150,000 lbs of roast beef valued at $5 per pound before North Carolina’s 7.5% tax is lost. If your manager charges you 10% of the losses, how much money do you lose?

This prompt received some consternation, but I was fortunate in that no one actually tried to solve the problem, which I myself had not troubled to solve. Mostly, they just wrote stories about grumpy deli accountants.

Ethan’s prompt

Ethan offered three prompts and exhorted us to pick one. I wrote a prompt incorporating all three.

Pick a card

You’re wearing a great hat, but can’t describe it.

You’re having lunch with your favorite author – describe the bread

My response

I have the loveliest hat. I cannot describe it because I am under a non-disclosure agreement. I can tell you that I am wearing it because it is so gosh darn lovely. “Good morning, sir!” I say to a fellow hat-wearer. I can describe his hat, but I will not. It is less lovely by a substantial margin. Later in the day, I find a three of hearts stuck between the branches of a tree. It is a good sign. A sign that my meeting with George R. R. Martin will go well.

While meeting with George, a stellar fellow, I can’t help but notice the bread. It’s a thick, sour rye so flavorful it does not even need butter. I apply butter anyway, as does George, although I wish he would take better care of himself at least until he’s finished with his books. The bread is sweet ambrosia on my tongue. What majesty! What stellar, divine triumph! Luckier than the three of hearts, more lovely than my – well, let’s not get carried away.

In any case, when all the bread is gone, I open my mouth to tell George how much I appreciate his stark yet compelling portrayal of violent conflict, ha ha, no pun intended, when a waiter comes by with another dish of bread. What is this restaurant!? A spectacular complete loaf of LaFarm signature sourdough easily covers our entire small table. Out of concern for poor George’s health, I snatch it away and begin to, carefully, slowly, eat it all myself.

Lest my chance to speak to my hero be lost, I endeavor to speak between bites. “What is your inspiration?” I ask as I reach the one-quarter mark on my LaFarm loaf. George raises a finger to explain his secret to success when an olive-herb loaf, a pane caesarica, and a french loaf you could pole vault with are all wheeled out. Once again I strive to protect my mentor from early cardiac failure.

George R. R. Martin left that restaurant alive. For that, I am grateful. We shall see if some day I will get to leave, too. Just me, endless bread, and the most beautiful hat never described.

Ilya’s prompt

You discover that your identity was stolen by underpants gnomes

My response

I am underpants. I must be underpants, or else how could my identity have been stolen by underpants gnomes? Yet, how could I still know that I am underpants if my identity is lost to me? What is the nature of the undergarment persona? I call my bank to try and cancel my credit card. Our conversation is brief, exchanging tough security questions and responses like a pair of duelling boxers. Soon a new one is in the mail. I take one last look at my old card, the little picture of me, or is it me? Perhaps it is some person wearing white woolen long-johns who are me. I take it to the shredder.

It wreaks havoc on your life, to have your identity stolen and to be underpants. Those goddamn gnomes. I am locked out of my Amazon account. Even my laundry card is maxed out. Pairs upon pairs of me begin to pile up. With no way to clean them, they are dirty. I am dirty. I am underpants. I travel to the coin laundromat. People are staring at the walking underclothes. I feel exposed. Ashamed. What am I doing wandering the streets!? I should be covered!

I get a letter from the gnomes. They are not cruel. They will return my identity if I wire them twenty thousand dollars. Underpants cannot wire money. I drape myself carelessly over the couch. Maybe someone will find me, and with a curled lip of distaste, toss me into the hamper where I belong. Without my identity I am worthless. I have nothing. I am underpants.

 

#MAGA and Me

Yesterday I picked up my newly cruise control-enabled car at the car modification shop. I needed a way to get to my car, so naturally I ordered a Lyft. What did I see in the back of my Lyft, but a Make America Great Again hat? American flags were on full display throughout the vehicle. So I asked my driver, “I take it you’re pretty happy with the president?”

He was. John, as I will call him, said he was happy with the president’s actions cutting taxes to help the middle class. He said he was pleased with the efforts to secure our borders, and he even said the president was making great strides on environmental issues. I asked for more detail on that point, and he told me that his family in California were going to benefit from rules allowing them to use their water supplies how they saw fit. I hadn’t heard of any such decisions, so I didn’t press on that one.

Eventually, John asked me, “what do you think of our president?” I didn’t want to upset him and make him clam up, so I said there were certain things the president had done with which I disagreed. He asked like what, and I said that I don’t believe the tax cut is going to benefit the middle class as much as the very wealthy. This set him off. Not in an angry way, just an energetic one. He told me all about how he was going to benefit as the owner of a small business and how already several companies had given raises to their employees. It was about then that we missed a turn.

The next thirty minutes were spent John telling me all about how keeping out the illegal immigrants would reduce the unskilled labor pool and increase employment and wages for real Americans while he made apparently random turns and took me on a tour of the lesser known parts of Raleigh. Repeatedly he would stop and try to ask me where we should be going, but I would ask him something like “what if the people you’re calling junk are the same people the Statue of Liberty calls ‘poor, huddled masses?'” and he would start driving around randomly again while he explained how great strict merit-based refugee restrictions would be for the American economy. We had both become so involved in our surreal discussion that we just couldn’t seem to find the shop where my car was. We just kept taking U-turn after U-turn. I briefly toned the conversation down after I had to shout at John not to turn into oncoming traffic.

It was in the midst of trying to argue that cutting taxes on corporations forever so some of them would give their employees a one-time bonus wasn’t a good move when the shop appeared in my vision and I shouted “there it is!”  John swerved into the parking lot and started telling me about how he liked the tax cut because really what we should have is not a tax on income but a tax on wealth. I was floored – this guy wanted a wealth tax? When he said “yeah, just charge 30% tax when people make purchases.” I sat in the car another fifteen minutes trying to explain to him that what he was talking about was just a very high sales tax and it would discourage spending and disproportionately affect the poor. He kept saying “who knows what one guy with a billion dollars will do with it” as if there were a 50% chance that he would give it all to a private charity that would immediately put it to use solving the country’s problems better than government ever could.

John asked me “you’re telling me you wouldn’t be happy if I gave you $1,000 right now?” and I said I would be sad because it wouldn’t cover my $20,000 of medical debt when my medicaid gets cut. He asked if I really had $20,000 of medical debt. I asked if he really was going to give me $1,000. He told me I shouldn’t lie to him. When we got honked at for the third time by the line of cars forming behind us in the middle of the parking lot, I realized I had to leave. I don’t think I changed or even opened anyone’s minds that night, but um, changing the world one conversation at a time?

Yeah, let’s go with that. I’m changing the world one conversation at a time. Also I’m very happy with my new cruise control. I do a lot of highway driving.

Happiness is a skill

When people say they choose not to worry or they choose to be happy, I think it’s misleading. It trivializes the difficulties many people have with happiness. On the other hand, with some exceptions, I also have trouble believing that happiness is an innate talent inert to efforts to cultivate it.

I consider happiness like a skill. It’s very common for people to confuse skills with innate talents, just consider the last time someone told you they “can’t do art” or said how lucky you were that you could do math. It’s less common to hear people going the other way – telling each other to “be better” at something as if for some inscrutable reason they simply hadn’t considered the possibility of having skill, but I can admit that at times I have been tempted to say things like that.

There are a number of external factors that make happiness easier.

  • Low stress
  • Strong social support
  • Natural light

There are also actions we can take that tend to make us happier.

  • Regular sleep
  • Exercise
  • Diet

None of these are exactly building up happiness like a skill, though. They are indirect practices – like lifting weights to be better at wrestling. However, I have a personal approach to mindfulness that is, in my personal experience, the practice of happiness. To practice happiness, at any time of day, whatever you’re doing, take your attention and see if it’s on something making you happy. If there’s anything about what you’re doing that makes you happy, train your attention on that. Practice forgetting what upsets you and thinking instead about what makes you happy.

For instance, if your friends upset you, consider what has led them to make the upsetting decision and how good you will feel if you can rise above it. Think about how much you like your friends and how much better your relationship will be if you handle this situation well. If it’s hard in the moment, try to remember something in the past you liked about them. If your work is frustrating, think about the people you’re helping or think about the money you’re making, or even just focus on doing your job as well as you can. You’ll be surprised how hard all this can be, but if you keep at it, you may be surprised by how much it can help.

For more thoughts on depression and dealing with it, see the excellent blog by my friend Laura – http://www.lauravslaura.com/

Image Credit: http://thefairgo.com/road-to-happiness/