Movies seen over Christmas Vacation

Saw lots of movies over the Christmas vacation. The best of them was Looper which Susie and I ended up talking about off and on for several days. Very nice writeup of the Time Travel rules it follows here. Basically, the Rainmaker revenge/creation aspect doesn't work but otherwise it is very good. Pretty sure it is the best Time Travel movie I have ever seen ****1/2

Also enjoyed The Hobbit ***1/2 but not sure others will, as the length will definitely bother some. I thought some of the excess action scenes, the mine chase with the goblins under the Misty Mountains in particular, went on way too long but otherwise really enjoyed it, particularly the incredible visuals of Rivendell and Bag End and to a lesser degree Erebor. As expected, with the much lighter and Hobbit-based story of The Hobbit, I did not have the HUGE problems I have with Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies.

The Bourne Legacy *** was fair but very confusing to follow all of the outside political stuff; I thought the worst of the series so far.

I really did not like or get The Life of PI *1/2 and it felt incredibly slow to boot.

Bark before Zog!!! - BGG.Con 2011

Got back from BGG.Con yesterday where Susie sweetly picked me up. Had a really nice time although didn't play very many Essen games. On Friday played Poseidon's Kingdom, Hawaii and Dungeon Petz and did enjoy all of them - probably all about 7s.

I am posting though mostly about Hanabi and the Puzzle Hunt. Finally got to play my copy of Hanabi and ended up playing 7 or 8 times and really enjoying, even more than I expected - rating for now is a 9. Many of the games were a bit frustrating as a person didn't do what one thought they should (me included) and then often discussion ensued sometimes interfering with the play - this was fine with me as I was more interested in why things went wrong than in what our final score would be but bothered others. Anyway, I'd definitely like to play this more with a strong consistent group using conventions. This isn't available online is it?

For the puzzle hunt, Peter and I again teamed up and Sean joined us again and then we added Jason and David to round out the team. The hunt this year was run by Ken, rather than the usual team of Dave & Aaron. Puzzles this year were probably not quite as interesting and lacking in the wonderful whimsy factor I think many of Aaron's puzzles have, but were still for the most part very enjoyable and I certainly had a great time. Part of that was definitely due to the format, which I thought worked just GREAT so am going to detail it as I think elements of it could very smartly be reused by others.

Hunt Format:

1) Teams assigned to one of seven starting locations and once you left a location you would not return. Answers checked at your current location. Teams rotate through the locations so from location N you go to (N + 1 mod 7). This avoided the clog of teams all turning in answers at one spot and just generally greatly reduced crowding issues. Did of course require more staffing.

2) Hunt final score was determined as the time you turn in the final answers minus one minute for every bonus point you have. Thus if you took 120 minutes but had 30 bonus minutes, you would be treated as taking 90 minutes.

3) At each location, 5 puzzles of value 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (15 total). To leave a location you must score at least 10 points but can solve more and extras (points at location minus 10) are treated as bonus points. This was the best thing to me. No single puzzle can be a roadblock - can only get stuck if there are two puzzles you can't solve at a single location. Also allows for variety of puzzle difficulty with total sense - if you have a fun but super-easy puzzle you can use it fine. And finally there is an interesting choice to be made once you get to 10 points. Lets say we have 11 and the 4 point puzzle not yet solved - do we think we can solve it in 3 minutes or so? If so, we should stay; if not move on now. Interesting decision every time we came to it and we went both ways at various stations.

4) Expensive but available and unlimited hints. Hints for any puzzle cost 5 points but you started with 10 points (-10 minutes from final time if didn't use) and could actually go negative. They were thus a horrible idea for competitive teams to use but made it so that weaker teams could use what they needed to get past the 10 point barrier in each room and move on to see the other puzzles when they got frustrated at a given station.

There was also a minor bonus puzzle at each location and a meta-bonus. We ended up being the second team to turn in our final answers by 9 minutes but had 12 more bonus points than the first team so won by 3 minutes.

Oh, the title of this post! Jason was generally acting as our team runner and doing most of the turn-ins (and you could also check answers). We were working on a puzzle called "You can count on it" where the answer was three letters long and we had the right idea with it but hadn't quite gotten the answer and weren't sure anyway of some things. Jason had checked one answer (Bit) for it and Peter was on the phone with him and telling him that he should try Dog and they obviously had a bad connection so Peter was saying "Dog as in Woof Woof, Fido" and I think even another example. I was even joking with Peter that he should start barking as I thought (very wrongly as it turned out) the triple indicating of Dog was over the top. Well, Jason tried an answer and reported it was wrong so we said just turn it in anyway (we had 10 points without this) so we could move on and he did. Well, we had to wait for him to bring the new puzzles and Dog really seemed like it should be right, both based on the title and an actual possible solution, so we asked him when he got back if he had submitted it and he said "Oh no, I thought you said 'Zog'" which we all laughed about (and joked about after), at the same time telling him it was fine. Cost us three points/minutes and Jason felt bad (and went back to try to get the points but they refused, quite reasonably) but it was very amusing. Very glad didn't cost us winning. Would not have bothered me but Jason would have felt awful about it.

Also played three friends' separate but thematically very similar prototypes and liked all three. Congratulations also to Sean and Alex for winning the Tichu tournament. They were my pick to win both last year and this (I played both years but with two different partners who aren't nearly as experienced as I am) and this year they met my expectations ;) .

Had a really good time with friends, old and new, both playing and eating (including two excellent outings to Hard Eight). Particular thanks to Stephanie for grabbing me for a couple of meals and for Deduce or Die and sorry we didn't get in a Hanabi game. Again, is it playable online anywhere?

And the Sky Full of Stars IV

With finally having a rack for my car to take my kayak, decided a while back that I must get out on the Charles again for the Fourth fireworks. Susie was up for it too and we were initially going to rent a boat for her from Charles River Canoe & Kayak but then thought to ask Bill and Catherine to borrow one of theirs (and paddle and vest) which they were very kind to let us do. This made the logistics a bit more complex as my rack will only hold one boat but I have a foam rack set I bought years ago and never used so we decided to take both cars and use that for the second boat on her car. We decided to put in at Allston/Brighton on Soldier's Field Road for easier parking and live with the longer 3-4 mile paddle down to the barge. I knew I could handle this length but Susie hadn't been in a kayak for a long while but was game for trying it. We picked up the boat at Bill's at around 7:45, took a while to load it on Susie's car and headed to the put in where there was ample parking luckily. Probably got on the water around 8:30.

Paddle down was long but very nice and Susie wisely brought her portable radio to listen to the Pops concert during the paddle. Got nervous when the barge launched a few things at 9:50 and we were between the BU and Harvard bridges but this was just a special thing for one song I guess. Got in place in front of the MIT sailing pavilion around 10:10 where we had a snack of chocolate chip cookies. Had to paddle a bit to keep reasonably in place which was tricky with two boats together and got us both a bit wet but managed it reasonably well. Fireworks started just after 10:30 as scheduled and were just amazing. The 360 degree view from out on the water is just incredible and there were no boats, small or large, at all near us. During the fireworks we drifted close enough to the barge that I am pretty sure we were the two closest non-official boats on the river to the barge and got lightly warned to move back just as the finale started but we just back paddled a bit and didn't miss anything. Just a wonderful show and time for both of us!!! A few photos and a two minute video are on Facebook but wasn't worrying too much about those - just wanted to enjoy the moment.

Paddle back was long but very safe and uneventful (and Susie was a great sport about the long paddle) and great weather for it so even though tiring I found it really fun. We got back, loaded up the kayaks again, dropped Susie's off at Bill's on the way back, and got to bed just before 2.

The Resistance

Not my favorite game but others including David, our host, really like it so have played a reasonable amount of The Resistance lately, which is a new Werewolf style game but much shorter, with some real information to go on, and where I feel I can play fairly effectively on either side without lying. Last night we played two 7 player games, the first time playing with this many, and not using the special cards as we had two new players. David warned us and it seems absolutely correct that the bad guys have a huge advantage with 7. There are 4 good guys and 3 bad guys and 3 failed mission wins for the bad guys. Thus even if every time a mission fails you can perfectly figure out who failed it, which is by no means always possible, you can still lose as each bad guy can fail one mission. Well, I was a bad guy in our first mission and really it went horribly for the good guys. They didn't realize who any of the 3 of us bad guys were and the special fourth mission which with 7 players needs 2 people to fail it caused the end. Thus would have been super-easy for us to fail the 5th mission as it has 4 people and only takes one failure.

Anyway, the reason I am posting was our second game. I was on the good side. The first mission sent Melissa and I out and Melissa killed it. I normally think this is bad strategy for the bad guys but with 7 it may be fine. Even if people figure her out, there are still two more bad guys and two failures needed. I do think most people pretty quickly realized I was on the good side. I didn't say this, as I have a policy of not, but did later end up doing a bunch of thinking out loud that I would not have done as the bad guys - would have felt too close to lying to me. Anyway, I now knew one bad guy but still two more. In mission two David, Karl, and Dave were sent - I voted for this happening after some thought because it didn't include Melissa. Not surprisingly though, with 3 new people of the 5 I didn't know the loyalty of, the mission failed. This is where the game got interesting for me and why I am posting this. I was the next leader and basically felt the situation was nearly impossible. I knew Melissa was bad. I figured ONE of David, Karl, and Dave were bad - could be two with one sandbagging but probably unlikely. And then has to be one of Bill and Matt who haven't gone on a mission. I need to RIGHT NOW figure out two people other than me who are good or basically we are screwed. We'll need to figure out the last good person too by the last mission but can wait on that. Well, I decided that I didn't trust Matt and chose Bill; often have a pretty good read on Matt and decided I had to just go with it. Also decided that I trusted my read that Dave was good too. I thought David was the bad guy but was less sure of that. Anyway, these were all guesses/intuition based on very limited information but I had no choice but to go with them unless someone I thought was good convinced me they had a better read - couple of weeks ago I went with Karl's read in a situation where I had no idea and Karl seemed confident - turned out I was right that Karl was good but Karl was wrong but still felt better than random which would have been my choice. Now became interesting though as the vote went 4-3 against the mission with only the 3 of us on the mission supporting it. This actually really strengthened my belief that I had picked right however, with Karl just for some reason voting against it. I brought up the vote against and Karl mentioned, quite accurately, that he almost always votes no, regardless of side he is on. I had the impression he would reverse that vote if we did the same group again though so with Dave being the next leader, I pointedly reminded him he could send the same group and he did and both Karl and Matt (to sandbag but too late) changed their votes and the mission succeeded. We also then won the last two missions, adding Karl in, but this third mission really decided everything. The combination of me making good reads and then Dave trusting me and my read enough to go for the same mission when the vote failed the first time were both huge and fun; who knows, though - maybe I was just lucky.

Trying to Lose Weight

On the night I decided to quit WoW, I decided that I would also start exercising more regularly on my exercise bike (which I bought along with my house in a happy sort of accident - not sure I would have bought it myself separately) and outside on weekends and when I could. I figured the regular thing to do would be good if I had any sort of WoW addict cravings and I simply had a bunch of extra time in my days to use - fortunately I didn't have any sort of cravings but I have found I actually am enjoying the bike, whereas I hate gyms. Gives me a nice chance to listen to music which I otherwise rarely do and the combined rhythm of the music and biking is often quite enjoyable and almost never a slog. Bought some small weights too recently but have found those completely mess up the biking as the lifting rhythm is different than the biking rhythm and so I have to really concentrate to do both and that is annoying so only using the weights separately. Started out at first at just 18 minutes per session at level 4 1-2 times a day but am now up to usually 30 minutes at lvl 9, still around 1-2 times a day. Miles have gone from like 25 a week to probably 50 or 60.

Along with this, I decided to try to eat less but hopefully in a completely simple and thus sustainable way. I am not on a 'diet' but my goal is to lose at least 20 lbs and a bunch more would be better. Up to around 13.5 last I checked and it has not been difficult. I basically just try to eat somewhat less (like 2 hot dogs instead of 3 for a simple meal at home and such) and only have desserts and snacks if I really want them. Haven't banned eating anything and am not on any kind of a time line about how long things take. The one most direct change I made to eating (and I don't know if this really has made any difference one way or the other to things) is that I am now eating breakfast most days of one slice (two on weekends as I usually don't eat lunch then) of my Honey Whole Wheat Bread. Used to do this when I made it but am now doing much more regularly. Before I only ate breakfast (but a worse one) on weekends as a regular thing. Am even in the middle of baking more bread right now (writing as it rises).

Coincidentally, a few weeks after I started this I read this post by Neil Gaiman about a sort of similar plan although he is way ahead of me.

My Swiss Army Knife

Well, this always had to be the first post in this series and is in many ways what inspires it. Will also probably be the longest post. I have had the same Swiss Army Knife since I was a child and it has over time become the thing I own which would hurt me the most to lose. I am not sure exactly when I got it but the most likely time was just before going to Timberlake Camp (part of Farm & Wilderness) in Vermont for the first time in 1979, when I was 9. Ever since I got it, I have carried it in my pocket almost every waking hour of every day of my life. I think the particular knife I have is the Huntsman although mine doesn't have the Hook on the back. I have used my knife for all sorts of things, from whittling & carving to sawing to opening tons of wine bottles, beer bottles, cans, and for so many other things on a nearly daily basis - today I used it to peel an orange for example. I am sure every single tool I have used on at least twenty occasions, even the awl. Just an unbelievably practical and useful item to carry. The only tool mine lacks which I really wish it had is a phillips screwdriver but the tip of the can-opener can often serve as a limited substitute.

By the time I was in college, my knife had started to get beat up and a mess, eventually losing the toothpick and tweezers, having the scissors somewhat messed up and finally having the plastic sides come off it which was the last straw as it made it really difficult to hold and would catch on things in my pocket. Painful as it was, I finally knew I had to do something about it. Victorinox has a lifetime guarantee so I finally sent it back to them in Switzerland, including a note on what it meant to me. Unfortunately, though, I knew it had to be so much cheaper and easier for them to just replace it which is why I had delayed sending it back so long. Amazingly, though, they did repair it and I was thrilled!!! This was the closest I ever came to losing it although on two other occasions I lost it for a week or two. The first time was after staying at a friend's parent's cottage when I was around 16 - came back without it but they found it later and brought it back to me.

The other time that had me nervous was a year or so ago. Following 9/11 and the annoying changes to not allow pocket knives on planes, I bought a modern copy of my knife so that when going somewhere with checked luggage I would bring that instead and so not have to risk checking my real knife. I also made a promise to myself that if I ever had to make a choice between missing a flight and losing my knife, I would miss the flight. This plan has worked well for me but I finally forgot, last year on a trip, to leave my knife at home. Had no checked luggage and noticed my knife in my pocket as I got to the security line so turned back to try to figure something out. Fortunately, they now have a box where you can put an item in a plastic bag and fill out a form to have it sent back to yourself. I was very nervous about this but decided to trust it and I did eventually get it back although it took like 3 weeks during which I had largely given up - I even tried calling the TSA despite the needle in a haystack issue of finding it if they had lost it but with no luck.

These are a Few of my Favorite Things - Introduction

I had planned to do this series from the moment I started this blog but never got around to it. With resuming posting here now recently, seems a good time to actually do it. Not really sure the purpose of this other than for me which is probably why I never did it before but I guess that is reason enough.

I am going to write a series of posts on my favorite things, almost entirely things I own but there may be some exceptions. These will range from the quite small to the very large, with the first two posts I plan being at the extremes, and then after that probably most of the posts will be on artistic pieces.

Movies - The King's Speech

Just watched this on DVD and really an excellent movie. Performances by Firth, Rush, Carter, Jacobi, and the child who played Elizabeth all just wonderful. Quite powerful. For me definitely better than The Social Network or anything else I saw last year. ****

Stich-Meister

Played this new Friedemann Friese card game on Saturday and I think it is the best new Card Game (as distinct from "Game Played with Cards" like RftG or Dominion or many others) I have played since Tichu. Only played twice but I am pretty sure it will hold up. Initial rating probably an 8.5.