Stray Thoughts That Stuck in Andy's Brain in 2009

I always enjoy sampling the different types of candy you find in faraway lands, and I really enjoyed the new treat I discovered on this trip: Mars Planets. This mixture of multi-sized milk chocolate spheres features 3 types of inner cores: Soft, Crispy, and Chewy. I'm really hoping Mars decides to bring their Planets to America, but unfortunately, all the reviews I'm reading online are from candy snobs who didn't relish them as much as I did, so who knows.

One change I noticed since my last visit to Amsterdam is that a lot of new "wok-style" take-out restaurants have opened around the city. I can see why these wok places have become so popular: you choose your basis (noodles or rice), your favorite mix-ins (meats and veggies), and your choice of sauce, and they cook it up before your eyes. Yum! Just another thing about Amsterdam I'd like to see take root back here...

"Here is the sort of thing that a portion of my brain ponders, as I work - Is a reanimated corpse of a man that had Alzheimer's less intelligent than a regular zombie? Is Reagan really the dead ex-POTUS that we would want in charge? Does it matter which conceptual framework of zombies we use as a benchmark? Would Gerald Ford be more clumsy than other zombies? Would FDR be able to walk again?" -- Amy Lindsey, on her Facebook page, responding to the Onion's story, "Zombie Reagan Raised From Grave To Lead GOP"

Chrononauts fans: Check out these two very enjoyable webpages I read this week, with fascinating titles that deliver on the promise of their premise: "Scenes From An Alternate Universe Where The Beatles Accepted Lorne Michaels' Generous Offer" and "Alternate-Universe Sci-Fi Channel Show Asks What Would Happen If Germany Lost War". Great stuff! I had a great time giving out treats on Halloween this year. Great turnout -- over 50 kids came knocking. I ran out of our usual handout (the standard full-size Hershey bar) and had to give the last few kids some random other candies from the regular candy bowl. My Trick or Treaters even included a cat! A neighbor's outdoor cat came boldly up onto our porch in between clusters of strangely-dressed children, and meowed at me. He hung around out there while I went inside to get a bowl with some dry cat food in it, and since he was still there when I went back out, I let him snack awhile. He ate a few bites of Halloween "candy" and then went on his way. People asked later what his costume was, and since his fur was white with black splotches, like a Holstein, I guess he was dressed as a cow.

I feel the design of the hot water heater leaves much to be desired. Ours suffered a catastrophic failure last week -- the kind of breakdown that leaves your basement flooded. Long story short -- I've been very busy lately with Operation Move Absolutely Everything Out Of The Basement. (Fortunately, nothing much was ruined except for carpets.) My point is, it seems like we ought to be able to count on our appliances to never spew hot water all over the floor without warning at 4 o'clock in the morning. Now that this has happened to me, I hear people saying "Oh sure, you gotta replace those every 7-10 years, or that will happen to you," but if they were saying that before, I never heeded their advice. Now I realize that hot water heaters are blowing up and flooding people's basements every day, and that no one is doing anything about the problem! Grumble grumble grumble. And the whole idea of a hot water heater is pretty wasteful isn't it? "Here, I'll just constantly use energy keeping this giant thing of water piping hot, 24-7, just in case you want to get some hot water out of the tap." But hey, it's not like I have any better solutions to offer, so I shouldn't really complain. (I hear there are these things called Tankless Water Heaters, but I also hear they don't really work very well...)

Our printer had a major snafu on the production of the new edition of Chrononauts, and we had to recall the whole print run just as we were starting to ship it to our distributors. (It's a severe error; 5 cards on the TimeLine have the wrong years on the backs.) Anyway, as a result we've had to push the release date back from October 23rd to December 4th. But the good news is we'll still have them out in time for holiday sales, and it's a reminder of how nice it is to be working with a printer here in the states, rather than China. Our friend Josh Drobina has moved to the neighborhood! He experimented with living here a few years ago but after moving back to Ohio for awhile, he decided to make our town his home. He's currently living in Luisa's spare room, and is suddenly a regular again at all the local gaming events. Welcome back Josh!

What's going to happen to the Space Shuttles when NASA decides to stop using them? I say one of them should just be left in space, attached to the ISS. Wouldn't that then give the ISS the engines it needs to move into higher orbits, or even out into space, as was proposed by Michael Benson in that brilliant editorial he wrote in July '08? Even if it's not viable to fly the ISS to the moon with the shuttle's engines, it still seems like it'd be more useful to have an old shuttle attached to the ISS than sitting around in a museum...

I'm a non-drinker -- I've only gotten drunk on a handful of occasions. I'm a super-taster, so I find the flavor of alcohol bitterly nasty, even in drinks people tell me "you can't taste the alcohol" in. But lately I've been playtesting a drinking game, so I decided to try it again, and to find out what "my" drink should be. After conducting some taste-tests, I've settled on something of my own invention, designed to appeal to my fussy taste buds as much as possible. It's chocolate milk (the rich-and-creamiest you can get please) spiked with Bailey's Irish Creme. I've been calling it a Count Chocula. Hey bartenders -- is there a real name for my drink?

Check it out! Some dude got the artwork from of the Toaster card in Fluxx TATTOOED on his leg! (This photo was taken at Gen-Con, which I missed again this year... :-( Here's a big thanks to Shane and the other rabbits who ran Looney Labs gaming without us!) I'm so glad we didn't totally change the art for that card when we published version 4.0! We did colorize it, but it's still the same old toaster. I would have felt so bad if we'd made his leg obsolete!

We've been playtesting a Zark City rules revision: adding an automatic card draw to each turn. There's already a strong need to cycle through cards, and I hate having to stop myself from grabbing at the draw pile at the start of my turn. That's like a signature Andy Looney game design element now, so I think this game should have it. Yes, you can still choose to Draw 3 more as a turn option. This makes it more Fluxx-like: Draw 1, Take 1 Action, comply with Hand Limit 6.

I learned a great road-trip game while driving back from Origins with Alison (who'd just learned about it from my Arch-Colleague, James Ernest). It's called French Toast. It's best described as a cross between Zendo and 20 Questions. I really enjoyed it, much more so than either Zendo or 20 Questions, because it also has an Apples-to-Apples element of strange comparisons. ("Is it more like Clowns, or more like the Idea of Clowns?")

I recently learned that my Kolbe Index number is 7-4-6-4. The Kolbe Assessment "measures a person's instinctive method of operation (MO), and identifies the ways he or she will be most productive." While that may sound like a lot of psycho-babble, I've actually found the test results extremely revelatory and eye-opening, even life-changing. We all took the test together, so now everyone at Looney Labs has this new perspective on each other's work styles. It's very cool to have gained this better understanding of the different ways in which different people do things.
I'm digging the Secret Data I learned from Wired Magazine (page 20 of the May 2009 issue): How to enable the 30-second skip forward button on your Tivo remote control! You just enter this sequence, like a videogame cheat code, and suddenly your remote will have the function we've always wanted -- and which the advertisers don't want us to have. It's great! (Here's the trick: press Select, Play, Select, 3, 0, Select.)

Congrats to Erik Dresner, designer of Apophis, winner of the Spring IceGameDesignContest! I was pleased to see this one win, since it was my standout favorite of the entries. I love the theme and the way it does so much with just a single Treehouse set. Most of all, we had a lot of fun playing it, even when we ended up losing, it was always thrilling. My only suggestion for the rules would be to add a dice roll for the fuel test phase as well as the other 3 phases. Seems to me that even if we have enough fuel, there should be a chance of the rocket exploding on the pad. But otherwise, great game! Well done Erik!

"The most successful interrogation of an Al-Qaeda operative by U.S. officials required no sleep deprivation, no slapping or 'walling' and no waterboarding. All it took to soften up Abu Jandal, who had been closer to Osama bin Laden than any other terrorist ever captured, was a handful of sugar-free cookies." -- Bobby Ghosh, After Waterboarding: How to Make Terrorists Talk?     These are exciting days for long-time anti-prohibitionists like myself. After decades of being ignored, dismissed, and told to shut up, our arguments are finally being listened to. "It's an idea that's taking hold across the nation," reports the Christian Science Monitor (seen quoted in The Week). In California, where pot has become "semi-legal," the Republican Governor has called for an open debate on taxing marijuana sales. The new drug czar wants to abandon the phrase "war on drugs," and in national surveys, support for legalization has tipped over the 50% point. It's just like 1933 -- violence by gangsters is out of control and the public coffers are too empty for us to continue this nonsense. Drug prohibition is crumbling before our eyes.

"Science fiction writers build castles in the air; the fans move into them; and the publishers collect the rent." -- Sharyn McCrumb, from the intro to her novel about sci-fi conventions called Bimbos of the Death Sun

In the film Fanboys, the characters call out "Chewie!" instead of "Shotgun!" as a way of saying they want to sit in the front passenger seat. But we don't need a different word for that, we already have a perfectly good term. What's actually needed is a way of calling the driver seat, so in our household we've started calling "Han Solo!" while heading out to the vehicle.

I was pleased to hear that Monty Python Fluxx was nominated for an Origins Award this year, but I think it unlikely we'll win this time. It's up against Dominion, a powerhouse of a new game, and judging by how much my friends have gotten into this game, I expect it to win our category. But of course, it's an honor and a joy just to be nominated!

Our friends at Bucephalus Games made my day at GTS by presenting me with a packet of special cards they made for their new game Bill of Rights. In the game, various political factions are represented with generic stereotypical viewpoints, but as promo items they made a set of add-on cards featuring six noted game industry personalities: James Ernest (Totalitarian), Mike Selinker (War Monger), Matt Forbeck (Peacenik), John Zinser (Economic Liberal), Mike Stackpole (Revolutionary), and me -- the Social Liberal!

Jonah Ostroff pointed out to us that if you lose your Treehouse die but you have a Boggle set, you can use one of those dice as a replacement. The cube with the letters W-T-H-E-R-V works great! Those letters stand for, of course, Wild, Tip, Hop, Exchange, Reorient, and Down-arrow (i.e. Dig). Wow, that's cool! It's almost like I planned it that way!

"America imprisons 756 inmates per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the world's average. About one in every 31 adults in this country is in jail or on supervised release. Either we are the most evil people on earth or we are doing something very wrong." -- Parade magazine, March 29, 2009, teaser text for the article by Senator Jim Webb called "What's Wrong with our Prisons?"

My favorite feature in Wired magazine is always the thing on the last page: Found -- Artifacts from the Future. The current issue features signs from a Truck Stop of 2021, where regular unleaded gas costs 29.99 a gallon, and where, among the many products being advertised, there's something called "Uncle Willie's Kind Green" being offered. Gosh, I wonder what that is? :-) I also loved the Happy Meal of 2013, when McDonald's has apparently adopted a new catchphrase, "Robble, Robble, Yo!"

"The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws." -- White House spokesman Nick Schapiro, on the president's decision to end DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in states which have legalized such use

I had a fun Small-World moment last week with Susannah -- turns out we went to the same Elementary school, 25 years apart, and both had the same memorable and influential music teacher, Mrs. Scott! I was one of her earliest students, and she was one of her last but we were both in her famous spring musicals! We were even both in the same play, Oliver! (And speaking of coincidences, we just saw my nephew Eric portray the Artful Dodger this weekend!)

Being a super-taster is like being able to hear those high-pitched noises only dogs (and small children) can hear. It seems like it should be cool, even "super," to have the ability to detect things others in your group cannot, but in reality it's annoying, because the added elements we are notice are never pleasant. Like an irritating high-pitched squeal, the extra flavors we super-tasters detect are bitter and nasty.

"Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done. Once you're done you can throw it away. Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done." -- Bre Pettis and Kio Stark, "The Cult of Done Manifesto"

I didn't find much to get excited about in other companies' booths at Toy Fair this year, but Robin did. For years she's been on the lookout for these tiny frog aquariums, like the one her Godmother used to have, and so she was thrilled to discover the booth of the company that created them, called Wild Creations. These cool little aquariums require very little maintenance and the miniature ecosystem inside includes a pair of tiny African dwarf frogs that are ever so cute! Robin immediately worked a deal for one, and they're so cool that Alison brought home a tiny frog Aquarium as well!

My buddy Keith Baker is planning a big trip around the world this summer, running D&D games in exchange for crash space and hospitality. Given his reputation as a world-famous game designer, he's gotten an impressive list of offers; he's going to have quite an adventure! What a great way to see the world! (I'll be watching his story unfold with particular interest; if it goes well for him, I might try stealing his idea someday!)

Recently my brother Rash and I were discussing The Twilight Zone and debating the question, "What was the very best episode?" We each came up with our own list of greatest shows, and when we compared notes later, exactly one episode appeared on both our lists. Clearly, we'd found the winner: A World of Difference (which we usually refer to by quoting its most memorable line: "CUT!")

"Games should have their rough spots, their peaks and valleys in the mathematical sheet of balance. They should be crunchy, not smooth, filled with secret caves of hidden knowledge for players to discover, ponder, and exploit." -- Matt Forbeck, "Game Balance Is Overrated"

I have a new trick for collecting egg whites for use in making meringues and angel food cakes. You can buy 100% liquid egg whites now (causing me to wonder, what do the folks who make that product do with the egg yolks?) but while the carton may indeed contain nothing but real egg whites, they don't whip up like fresh ones. So here's the trick: substitute pasteurized egg whites with the whites from fresh eggs when making cookies, brownies, and popovers, and save the fresh whites for whipping! It works great!

Here's a random thing about myself that almost made it onto my list of 25 Things -- It's my favorite joke, which is this riddle:

Q: How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Two -- one to paint the giraffe orange, and the other to fill the bathtub with brightly colored machine tools!

"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." -- President Obama's Inauguration Speech, 1/20/9

I'm very pleased with my poker statistics for 2008: I played 72 games (either open-ended penny ante sessions or $5 buy-in tourneys) and I had an overall profit of $41.30. And I'm off to a great start this year, too -- on Monday night I won $15 in our regular weekly tournament!

I was excited to see that Ending Marijuana Prohibition was the #1 idea on the list of suggestions for the new president generated and voted on by internet users through With this being the most popular suggestion in the forthcoming Citizen's Briefing Book, how can it continue to be ignored? Is this issue finally about to break open? Could Obama bring about real change? Could he get America to "unclench the fist" that is drug prohibition? He's got the power, he's got the mandate, he's got the perfect economic & political conditions, and he's on record as having the wisdom... but does he have the guts?

"Lots of people love this movie of course. But I'm convinced it's for the wrong reasons. Because to me 'It's a Wonderful Life' is anything but a cheery holiday tale... it's a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation." -- Wendell Jamieson, "Wonderful? Sorry, George, It's a Pitiful, Dreadful Life"

"I like that I append pants to the end of people's names sometimes. It's like wa, only pantsier." -- Twitter by Sorcyress, aka Kat Dutton

"I'm feeling really out of it because I'm wearing so many hats right now." -- a sentence featuring two confusing expressions which a Japanese student needed to have explained by Rash

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