rules, rituals…and another r-word? “rasputin”, maybe?

You know you’re a tabletop game nerd when you don’t understand why other people don’t find them as fascinating as you do. And you know you’re a rules geek when you reach for the instruction manual almost eagerly, with a glint in your eye.

I am both. You can probably understand without trouble the concept of a board-game obsessive, but a board-game obsessive that is also a rules geek is something rarer. Put it this way: I’ve happily spent an hour composing a forum post that makes a detailed, multi-paragraph argument about the interaction of the Moat and Noble Brigand cards in the game Dominion. (Dominion is much like a board game, but is played entirely with cards. You also know you’re a tabletop game nerd when you realize that calling yourself a “board-game nerd” will be clearer for most readers, but the inaccuracy makes you wince.) I’m the sort of guy who will joyfully perform a close reading of the card text and think about the significance of text placement (below or above the horizontal line?) and I’m willing to cite the game designer’s comments in a forum post as though they constituted case law.

photo by Sandy Redding via cc

photo by Sandy Redding via cc

So, yeah, that’s the kind of nerdery we’re talking about.
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windows without a house

In Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventure books, which I read in middle school, the boy wizard Skeeve lived in a magical tent that appears to be of humble size but actually contains an entire elaborate house inside. It managed this by having its inner halls and rooms sit in a separate dimension from the entrance, effectively annexing space in another world.

I thought of this when I moved into one of my first adult apartments, a carriage house in St. Paul, Minnesota that was something like an apartment posing as a standalone home. Squeezed into my bedroom, I felt as though I’d found a secret chamber, and it felt as though, looking from the outside, you would never guess there was even really a room there. The building was just 20 feet from a major four-lane artery, but my little room felt like it was parked just outside of our dimension.

photo by Ron Cogswell, via cc

photo by Ron Cogswell via cc

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dear popular entertainment franchises

Dear Entourage, the motion picture

To be fair, I saw you and I watched every episode of the show leading up to your worthless existence. But at least that means I know what I’m talking about.

You suck, Entourage, and not just for the terribly obvious reasons, like your gross objectification of women, your fatphobia, or your adolescent narcissism. These aren’t news to anyone.

Less obvious but still damning: You are an unimpressive and dull movie about how impressive and flashy your protagonist and his milieu are. Vincent Chase is put forward as a bad-boy paragon of virility and charisma. Unfortunately for you, Entourage, to convey this would require snappy dialogue and probably an actor more inherently magnetic than Adrien Grenier. When Vince strides the red carpet in slo mo with his crew, we ought to have already firmly established how irresistible and glamorous he and they are. As it is, the scene just trades on credibility you haven’t earned: You are asking us to believe that celebrities trotting around like show ponies are worthy of our attention just because you trotted them out like show ponies, whereas the reverse ought to be true, and they ought to have earned our fascination. With the red carpet, you are using shorthand to suggest that we’re seeing sexy Hollywood, while it actually feels as though we are merely in the presence of entertainment industry also-rans.
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the left hand of darkness: epistolocity unleashed

Last month, for book club, I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic sci-fier The Left Hand of Darkness. Set on the planet Gethen, the novel takes the form of several documents brought together as a kind of report, including the observations of an interplanetary envoy, the diary of a native, and bits of recorded Gethenian mythology.

This sort of novel is called “epistolary.” As a word, “epistolary” usually refers to snail-mail correspondence, but as far as I can tell, the category of epistolary novel is not so literally about letters: Included in this class is any novel that presents itself as a series of ordinary documents, like journal entries, e-mails, or even encyclopedia articles — not exclusively letters. So, for example, Bram Stoker’s Dracula “is told in epistolary format, as a series of letters, diary entries, and ships’ log entries, whose narrators are the novel’s protagonists, and occasionally supplemented with newspaper clippings relating events not directly witnessed” (per our friends at Wikipedia).

picture by via cc

photo from thomas munter via cc

What’s important, it would seem, is that the epistolary novel purports to be a literary fragment taken right from the imaginary world it depicts. It is not given to the reader as a normal narrative, but as though it were a bit closer to being documentary evidence.
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a long-winded reminiscence prompted by this recent u2 flap

My second-worst summer job in college was a waiting gig. It was at a chain restaurant that was a Denny’s in all but name and branded color scheme, an all-night diner that was only a step or two up from being fast food. I was 19 and more or less consistently miserable as a person, but especially as waiter.

This was also the first summer I had a car, a beat-up Nissan Sentra whose most important aspects from my perspective were a) it was a working automobile and b) it had a CD player. I was told that I would make wads of cash from people who were kicked out of the bars at 2 am, so I asked for overnights, and when I got off work at 5 in the morning, instead of going home to sleep, I’d take an hour to drive around the woody periphery of St. Paul following a few favorite routes, listening to the Best of U2 1980-1990 on repeat.
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superheroes only wish they could be us

Another summer done, another summer of good and bad and mostly forgettable popcorn flicks.

Though it seems like just another summer, our summers have changed over the last decade or so; on the occasion of this end-of-summer it occurs to me that movies featuring superheroes – though we now expect their regular release – were invented as we know them almost entirely in my lifetime. Put it this way: While you and I can still recall a time when superhero movies were produced only sporadically, the child born today will probably think of the genre as a given. At some point, it’s likely the elements of a superhero movie will be taken for granted, the way film noir, screwball comedies, and action films are now so fundamental to the culture it’s hard to imagine they were ever a new phenomenon.

Photo by Eneas de Troya via cc

Photo by Eneas de Troya via cc

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bob dylan’s ‘mr. tambourine man’ is not doing his job

You get glimpses of why art is magic once in a while. This week, I was lucky enough for it to happen twice for me. One of those times was for Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

Listening to the song, it’s easy to focus on what the singer wants from the titular Tambourine Man: “Take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind,” the singer asks. With a little imagination, it’s easy to read the song as a simple request for deliverance via the art of song.

By the way, when I talk about songs, I like to refer to the narrative voice of the song as “the singer,” because “narrator” sounds wrong for the medium, but let’s not confuse “singer” in this discussion with Bob Dylan himself. Anyway, the “singer” here makes it sound as the the Tambourine Man can transport him to a place of grace and joy, it’s fair to say, and I don’t know that there’s much to say about this aspect of the lyrics other than than there’s some beautiful phrasing.
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