Saturday, 25 February 2017

A Traitor?

It shouldn't be fun to watch people playing board games on YouTube, but parts of the latest Dice Tower marathon have been pretty good. Right now, on the recording, eight people are in the middle of 'Shadows Over Camelot', while the surplus players are investigating the identities of the possible traitors in the game. It shouldn't be all that interesting to watch people chatting with each other at a table, but it is.

Oh no, the King has been allowed to die! Horror! Oh well. He was acting fishy anyway. The world of board games is a fascinating one, even for a crazy hermit who never gets to play. Is the traitor gone now, or are they being paranoid for a reason? Paranoid?

Paranoia... the belief that things are going wrong for a reason, even if nothing is going on at all! It's irrational, and normally the extension of bad things having happened in the past. It is really easy to begin believing in conspiracies, curses, and alien tentacles conspiracies across space and time! Oh... Oh! 'Day Of The Tentacle'! I have been reminded of something...

'Day Of The Tentacle' is one of the very best of the LucasArts graphic adventure games, a zany adventure over three time zones, where the actions done in the past impact on the future. It's fantastic. The end of LucasArts adventures was a terrible loss, as we ended up with an endless string of first person shooting games instead. That is, however, a topic for another day. For now, paranoia is ruling.

Paranoia! They still think there's a traitor... Is there? Is there?


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Television: 'Star Trek: Balance Of Terror' (Episode 1x14) (1966)

'Star Trek' broke many barriers for its day. It was a science-fiction series that wasn't soaked in horror, a show that was intelligently and dramatically written, a vehicle for allegory and social progressiveness, and a beautiful opportunity to reimplement, rewrite and generally rip off ('pay homage to') any good movie or story that could be shifted into the Trek universe. 'Balance of Terror' (BOT) is a brilliant example of that last principle, being a grand reworking of the 1957 film 'The Enemy Below', albeit one with a different ending.

BOT doesn't just reimplement that classic war movie, though, for it also introduces the first enemy empire that was the Romulans, Mark Lenard as the opposing commander, who would later return as Spock's dad Sark, and Kirk's vulnerability and doubts. James T Kirk becomes just that bit more nuanced in 'Balance Of Terror', and we see for one of the first times just how good a commander he is. (For an earlier example of Kirk's gutsiness, see the excellent 'The Corbomite Maneuver'!) Really, though, BOT is a classical example of a series repurposing a pre-existing story and making it its own. It was a fairly common practice of the time, but often not done well. For example, 'Maverick', despite it's many great episodes, had numerous examples of repurposed stories where Bart or Brett were shoehorned in the most ungainly and unsatisfying ways. 'Star Trek' never committed that error, although it did later feature some similar character humour to that classic Western.

What's good about BOT? Firstly, it realises that spaceships would function much more like submarines than battleships. Secondly, there is a large amount of character work on both sides of the starship/submarine duel. Thirdly, it does not demonise the Romulans , and presents a complex political situation in their political sphere. Fourthly, it produces some truly dramatic tension and a great speech from McCoy. Finally, it's technically brilliant, with some great practical effects and the introduction of a new starship. The McCoy speech is one of the great steps towards his becoming a regular in the second season.

The only disadvantage of BOT is that it was made before the introduction of Gene Coon as the second executive producer, so it lacks the humour that would really cause 'Star Trek' to pop out from the other shows in its genre, but which wouldn't fit for this kind of story anyway. Overall, it's one of the classic episodes, and one of the very best. Romulans, Mark Lenard, the only wedding in the original series, and a great McCoy speech. Go forth and watch.


Note: All references should be considered in terms of production order, not air order, except for the episode number '1x14'.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Time Off

It's extremely strange to have so much unstructured time, almost four whole days, but it's also very good. It's great to catch up on studies and have time to prepare lessons for a whole week in advance. After weeks of being slightly behind the eight ball, it's good to bounce around the cushions.

On the other hand, it's almost impossible to relax after so long on the horse. How does it work again? Is it something to do with not working and not having deadlines kicking about on a daily basis? Oh well, the skill will probably come back with due time. Is it related to waffles? Or giant wooden horses? Aha! Yes, relaxation is something that comes wrapped in a Trojan Horse of your own choosing. Maybe your equine wooden statue is a good book, getting ahead of business, working through your DVD collections (Yay, 'Mentalist' and 'Star Trek'!), or looking at dogs on the Internet. The form isn't important, be it knitting or origami, as long as it exists.

Dogs, dogs, dogs. We're looking at dogs here, and thinking of finding a successor to the dear departed Tess the Idiot Sheepdog, after this respectable period of respect. The search has been going on for a while, but has been impeded by dogs' home prices having gone up ridiculously in recent times, in excess of two hundred pounds in some places. It's really very bizarre, as if they don't actually want the dogs adopted at all. Also, vetting has increased exponentially, which is understandable, but still irksome. Have you ever been irked? Is 'irksome' a word that speaks to you on a fundamental level? I wonder where it comes from? Ah, it's from Old English, via Middle English.

We really need to find out more about Middle and Old English.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXIX

( Part XXVIII , XXX )

Was any of this true? The Two, ninjas of health both, gazed at the images presented on the sandy obscuring the crater on the clifftop, transfixed. Later, they would wonder if the experience was a real and physical thing or some imposition from the mental plane, but for now all they did was watch.

An unsettled humanoid man was hiding in a cave, with sunken eyes and a manic gleam in his eyes. On the wall were marked twenty short lines, seen in the light slanting in from outside. The cave shuddered, and the man giggled, making another mark with a burnt stick. His past could be seen in his eyes, small scenes playing out as clearly as snowflakes, images of his being shunned, of strange occurrences following him around, for all his days, of a mental chasm opening up and swallowing him whole.

Outside the cave, the world seemed to shake and he laughed loudly into the air, dashing outside to stare at the devastation as a massive quake rippled through the ground. The view changed as he emerged into the open air. Meteorites blazed across the sky, and blazed great gashes into the land. The madman stood in the middle of the chaos, completely untouched. Finally, the man tempted the forces that circulated around him in his life. He stood directly in the path of an incoming large meteorite and waited. Then he vanished, fading out of existence as if he had never been there, while the space rock bounced off the space where he had been standing as if it were a trampoline.

The images paused, and their audience held its breath, as will we.

Note: Yes, he's a nuttier and less controlled version of 'Major Disaster'. Giffen Connection!

Friday, 17 February 2017

A Long Ramble About Board Games

It's Friday, and the week is almost over. Hurrah! Hurrah! Only three more sessions tomorrow and then it will all be over until the end of next week! Between now and then, there will be study and a trip to a board game shop... Good grief, these weeks of endless game reviews will finally come to fruition as the wish list on Board Game Geek reduces to something almost manageable. It is very difficult to work out what to buy when the individual items are so expensive, potentially complex and you have practically no-one to play with. It's so tempting to buy the most tempting and intriguing games instead of ones you might actually get to play. As a result, such magnificent ideas as 'Vast: The Crystal Caverns', 'Castles Of Mad King Ludwig', 'Paradox' and 'Kingsburg' will sadly lose out in favour of things compatible with the parents, and the students who end up caught in the board game trap. What to look out for? It's difficult, and most interesting games are out of print including some of the following: 'Scotten Totten', 'Pueblo', 'Keythedral', 'Baseball Highlights: 2045', 'Medieval Academy', 'Of Mice And Mystics' and 'Kahuna'. It's a ridiculous world of board games out there, people, full of diverse themes and mechanics. It's almost impossible to know where to begin. Oh, it is impossible. Totally impossible!

What does it all mean? What does it mean that 'Math Fluxx' is coming out this year and could become instantly indispensable? What does it mean that most of the games listed above are utterly dissimilar to each other? Oh, the wonder of it all. Time travel, baseball, modern abstracts, deranged castle architecture, mice adventures and more are all to be found! There are also piles upon piles of dice combat if you're interested in that sort of thing. Fortunately, the Quirky Muffin is devoutly pacifist, although 'Ghost Stories' might eventually win its way into the mix thanks to colour matching. Colour matching? It's too much. How can all these things exist and where will it all end? Will we all vanish into a black hole of board games?

Perhaps it's not a good idea to go to the board game shop. Perhaps it would be better to hide in a misers' hole until the compulsion has gone away. Madness could set in, and a pile of utterly wonderful but futile games could end up here. Such wonders as 'Thunderbirds', 'Through The Ages', 'The World Of Smog', 'Watson and Holmes' and 'Dice City' are not safe.

Please, board game shop chaperones, where are you?


Note: Trip cancelled. Sigh.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXVIII

( Part XXVII , XXIX )

What is this going to be about now? Have our two brave protagonists vanished off the face of the planet or been shifted into an alternate state of consciousness, across which bourn people have yet to ever return? The second one sounds better, plus it fits in with our recurring astral themes...

*    *    *

"This is freaky."

"No freakier than the people I used to deal with back at the upholstery works."

The Man cocked an eyebrow. "The details of your life before you joined the Order never cease to confuse me." Gesturing around them, he continued, "Life in an upholstery works could be as freaky as this?"

The sands of varying hue hung as a grand circular curtain, surrounding the Two from the walls of the crater, if it were indeed still there. The Lady sat serenely, while her companion waffled on. She found that it sometimes helped to not pay too much attention as he often spoke to help himself think. At their feet, the angular caricature of their meditation Pattern had been filled in with coloured sands to become authentically smooth.

The Lady spoke succinctly. "Something is going to happen soon."

"I know. It's already beginning."

The sand curtains began to flicker, and the coloured grains to shift about haphazardly. It was like an old-style television tube's picture beginning to coalesce, as if someone were adjusting an old-fashioned tuning dial.

Back to back, the Two became ever more tranquil as the sand curtains that seemed to cut them off from the regular eddies and flows of time revealed the beginning of a story from a different world, a world so very distant that it hung there a few scant metres away.

In a reversal, the Lady began to talk, "Who would have thought it...?"

"Ssshh. We're getting to the good bit."

The good bit will come soon...

Monday, 13 February 2017

Don't You Dare Quisle

Ten digits? Check. A keyboard? Yes. Still there. Mental tranquility? Nope. Nowhere around here. There's just a little bit too much tiredness in the old head, and so this is going to be... strange. It's always strange when you don't have a theme or idea to jump upon. To one side, the Dice Tower's 'Top 10 Games With Exciting Endings' is running and adding multi-tasking to the procedure.

It has been two weeks of heavy board game research at this point, with more than a hundred reviews watched and read, and many decisions made. Why on Earth so much effort is being made, I have no idea, but that wish list on BoardGameGeek was really groaning under the weight of hundreds of items marked 'Thinking About It', and there is a trip to a board game shop coming up soon. Hurrah! (Is it still worth a hurrah if your budget is two paperclips and a giant picture of Captain Kirk?)

Have you ever quagswagged? Really? Are you bluffing? It's supposed to mean 'to shake to and fro', according to the Phrontistery, that repository of wonderful arcane words that are mostly disused. Does to quagswag mean to yourself shake or to shake someone of thing else? I have no idea. There is not that much information.

Here's a less obscure word, 'quisle', which adds much context to the word 'quisling'. Yes, 'to quisle' means to betray. Whenever you see the epithet 'quisling' you now have the meaning! Except... it doesn't have an origin. According to the dictionaries, the term 'quisling' doesn't come from 'quisle', but from a World War II collaborator actually named Quisling. How bizarre! Presumably the verb came after the noun, in a highly unusual turn...