29 May 2013

So Fast, So Furious

Ack consumerism! Buying stuff, is that all I talk about nowadays? Maybe. I've been using Amazon Prime for most of this calendar year so that means anything I wish for can arrive in two days flat. That is very dangerous. Very dangerous.

I've got a semi-camping trip in a few weeks, so of course I need to get a new compass, a powerful flashlight, and a paracord bracelet. What's a paracord bracelet you ask? Well, it's like a hardcore friendship bracelet that you can use for saving lives. Or stringing up laundry, whatever your needs. I'm using it to feel manly.

One of the best parts of shopping, aside from the packages arriving to your door, is doing all the research. I mean, how else would you learn about the difference between zinc-carbon and alkaline batteries? Well, a new site, The Sweethome, focuses on household items and gives you their best recommendation. (The parent site, The Wirecutter is a fine resource as well.) Learning about the best nail clippers, the best laundy detergent, the best lightbulb, this is the kind of stuff I live for. I mean, even if I'll never own a home to put a Nest in, I still really want one.
Also, since I just signed up for New York's much anticipated/maligned bike share program, I needed to go online shopping for some safety gear. Two little lights to alert drivers so they can slow down before inevitably running me over, possibly a bike helmet so my skull remains intact post-impact, and who knows what else. Health insurance? Who needs that in America today! The only thing I need are these Swrve knickers I had the foresight to buy last year. Every young man needs something between pants and shorts so manpris is the way to go, even if they cost a pretty penny. Who cares if I won't actually own a bicycle, or how poseur-y I'll look with my reflective stripe? With all my bike gear ready, I'll be set to ride in safety and style.

In addition, I am still field testing the so-called "greatest hoodie ever made." American Giant fucked up our order six ways to Sunday but my black hoodie is finally here after many months. So far I can report that the heavy cotton makes me very...warm. The quality is undeniably legit but I'm not entirely sure if I don't prefer my twenty dollar Target hoodies instead. We'll see.

Oh, and I finally got it together and signed up for Moviepass. I think I've talked about the movie subscription service before, but had hesitated on committing to it. Three months is so long right? This despite the fact that I'd long wished for exactly such a thing. With Moviepass, you can watch all the movies you want, in virtually any theater. The last few years running, I've spent like $500 annually on going to the movies. I did some sensible math and Moviepass will be a tremendous savings. Now if that damn card would arrive in the mail already, I'd be all set.

The summer of 2013 is lining up to be subscription service galore. I'll be riding around the city and then ducking into a nearby theater for an air conditioned break. And definitely a Slurpee. So get your knickers and over-qualified hoodies ready, who's with me? I'm gonna live my summer a city block at a time, stopping at every intersection to look both ways. Because that's how adults do it.
Last thing: I saw Before Midnight. Prior to watching it, I made a list of qualifications for the people and space I would see it in. See, during Before Sunset, I made the mistake of dragging a friend along who hadn't seen Before Sunrise. Throughout the film she continually made fun of Ethan Hawke's jacked up teeth and that totally took me out of the moment.

For this third film, I demanded that anybody I watched the film with remained silent. In fact, I wanted the entire theater to be silent. That meant either an early morning or late night viewing, preferably with nobody in my line of sight. I also needed any potential movie buddies to be pre-screened for absolute love of the first two films. No middle ground, it had to be L-O-V-E.

I was expecting a religious experience and I didn't want to mess up my emotional attachment to the series in any way. After satisfying all these requirements -- save for a person off to my side who actually answered their phone during the movie, like really -- I saw Before Midnight before the spoilers could get to me. Needless to say, I won't give a review here, as even a thumbs up or thumbs down would be incriminating. If you've seen Before Midnight already, we should have a discussion. I have a lot to say about it. So much.

23 May 2013

Swinging in the Backyard

I've spent a lot of time recently downloading a raft of iPhone games. With Hay Day done and over with, I've been looking for the next fun thing. Basically I need three games in rotation at all times: an one-on-one game, a farming game, and something multiplayer strategy. Oh and sometimes a building game like We Rule or Clash of Clans.

For one-on-one games, Letterpress has fallen by the wayside, and I can't get into Candy Crush or Dots. Anything but Candy Crush! My next best bet is the OK Go supported Say the Same Thing, but if that doesn't work out, it's back to Chess with Friends. (Lately I've been using the Caro-Kann Defence and suffocating the hell out of white. Caro-Kaaaan!)

The farming hole is huge right now, as Hay Day has lost all its charm for me. The problem is, nothing is better than it right now. Supercell is just too damn good at making their farming games. For a second I thought Mouse Town would be awesome, but it's got no multiplayer element. The novelty of defending your cheese wears off pretty fast. And Megapolis certainly didn't fill a void either, as much as I wanted a city simulation. If you got something better than Hay Day or Clash of Clans to farm, recommend away. As mayor and Magellan of our games group, my constituents demand cute graphics and high social interactivity. And of course it has to be free.

The real stuff I'm having difficulty finding is replacement for Uniwar. Most of the problem is that Uniwar is just too good. We've been playing this thing for four years and it still stands the test of time. However, we need a change and since there's a boom in iOS strategy games currently underway, I dug in for some heavy research. The dream, of course, is to play Magic 2013. But nobody plays Magic except me, plus I don't have an iPad. (More on that later.) Before searching, I broke down what qualities I was looking for in a battle game.
Asynchronous multiplayer. That erases most of the RPGs and first person shooting games. Staying connected for a twenty minute game session is not happening. Neither is pass-and-play. I can't get anyone to come hang out with me, much less sit around passing an iPad back and forth. Potential single player gems like Hunters 2 get eliminated from contention too. We need at least four players.

Strategy based. Ideally hex based, since we are now familiar with these type of games. I personally want as much complexity as possible, but I know that's not for everyone. But the main reason Uniwar has worn out is that new units aren't being introduced and the tactics are getting stale. I want massive replay value.

Nice graphics and clean UI. They don't need to be incredible, but something more than serviceable. More important is how annoying the user interface is. Small text is the worst. Empire Four Kingdoms kind of lost me there. On the other end of the spectrum, I almost went with Autumn Dynasty just because the watercolor art style looked so beautiful. Air Tycoon Online seems quite interesting, but the graphics are nowhere near as appealing as Pocket Planes, so that's out.

Cheap. This is a tough one, as most of the good games now require money upfront. Many of my friends still refuse to drop a penny on iOS games, but I think that will have to change. Uniwar cost $2.99 when we got it, and there are often sales. Anything worth playing now costs at least three bucks. While I used to hate paying for apps, a few dollars is less than what I lose at the laundromat in faulty machines.
With those factors in mind, I think I found the game of me/us. Neuroshima Hex! It's got a lite version I tried out, and I just ponied up for the full version. You can read the reviews to get a sense of the game, but already I can tell it's got a great mix of strategy, depth, and replayability.

The only downside is that while the full app is a mere $4.99, getting all additional expansion armies costs $7.99. That could price it right out of my friends' willing-to-pay range. Still, I'm gonna do all I can to push them to play Neuroshima Hex, because it seems like it's absolutely fantastic. Now I just have to figure out which factions I like...

While researching and testing all these games, I found the perfect blog to follow to stay up on the games I liked: Pocket Tactics. It's a "journal for core gamers" and I blitzed through a ton of their reviews. Check out their Best of 2012 and Most Anticipated iOS Games of 2013. Also, I want to recommend Shut Up & Sit Down and Polyhedron Collider as interesting traditional board game blogs. SU&SD have a podcast too.

Games that seriously pique my interest are the soon to be here Warhammer Quest, Frozen Synapse ("a smaller scale and more action oriented take on Diplomacy"), and Settlers of Cataan finally having online multiplayer. Also, I took a look at Stone Age and Caylus but will wait for Agricola. A lot of these are board game ports, and I'm excited for the idea of not having to find friends to play games with. Because, you know, finding serious board game friends is harder than finding the perfect iOS game. At least for me. Someone come play with me! Wah wah.

The downside of all this awesome stuff coming out is that I don't own an iPad. Some of these games require the bigger screen, and since I have no intention of buying an iPad, I'll just have to borrow my sister's mini to play this stuff. I hope she doesn't mind. Oh and I downloaded Street Fighter IV because it was on sale and I mean, it's Street Fighter for your iPhone. The port is pretty great, and I'm happily throwing fireballs and hadoukens sporadically and with little to no precision.

Last thing. Who would I be if I didn't immediately tell you to download Robot Unicorn Attack 2? Your worst friend, that's who. RUA2 is just as lovely as the first one, and now available with a black stallion too. If only they would let you insert your own soundtrack. I would queue up Nina Simone's "Sinner Man." Heyo Rainbow Dash, away!

21 May 2013

Bennett Madison

Years ago, before I had ever read any young adult books, my agent told me to pick up Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls. It captured me right from the start. A girl detective with killer fashion sense and Mean Girl-esque snark to match? I was hooked. After I read the first Lulu Dark, I Googled the heck out of everything and was delighted to discover that there was a sequel. And of course I started following author Bennett Madison's, well, everything. His blog, his Twitter, whatever the heck was out there in the technology wasteland of the late 2000s.

Basically I unabashedly, and stalkerishly, became a fan.

A few years later, I went to an author thing in New York and saw Bennett there and maybe said out loud, "Wow, Bennett Madison." I met him and we talked the shared language of X-Men and Wizard of Oz obsession. If you know anything about me, that's pretty much two of my favorite things ever. (I dunno where it went, but Bennett had a short story on Figment that included extensive X-Men references, which I probably should have saved somewhere just to re-read over and over, it was so good.)

I could go on and on about Bennett's lyrical writing voice, his expansive smarts, his winning humor (Q: What's your favorite blonde joke? A: Courtney Love), his iconic hair, but that would just be gushing. Plus embarrassing. Anyway, ever since 2009's Blonde of the Joke -- featuring malls and shoplifting, a rite of passage for every proper young person -- I've been waiting for Bennett to release another book. And now it's here: September Girls.
"When 17-year-old Sam accompanies his older brother and increasingly distracted father to a washed-out beach town for the summer, after his mother inexplicably bails on the family, he expects to spend long hours watching The Price Is Right. What he doesn't expect are legions of gorgeous, though somehow strange blonde 'Girls' (as Sam thinks of them) all eyeing him like he's, well, special. After Sam meets and feels an instant connection with one of the Girls, DeeDee, the summer takes a crazy turn."
September Girls is some next level YA, if I may say so. I've read a lot of young adult since those first Lulu books, and while many of them have captured my heart, I've been waiting for YA to move past certain viewpoints and constraints, especially contemporary YA. I think September Girls does that, all the way. I can't even think of a comparison novel.

I went to see Junot Diaz speak a few weeks ago and something he told the audience was (in reference to a dumb question about Oscar Wao and literary symbolism): "Moby Dick was not about a whale." September Girls is not about mermaids. Or maybe it is. You figure it out. #dracarys

Below are a wealth of Bennett related links. Because the Internet was made for sharing. Take special note of What Cassie Wore, Bennett's short-lived gem of a Tumblr dedicated the timeless character on Skins. You know, before she changed her name to "Gilly" and moved to Westeros to schelp around incest babies. Life beyond The Wall is tougher than it was in Bristol I guess.

Go grab a copy of September Girls. I promise you'll have a time. It'll be an extravaganza.

09 May 2013

Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go

What to do when your basketball season is over, and there's a long gap between Game of Thrones and Mad Men episodes? You simmer and wait for Sunday, that's what. I guess when there's no worthwhile television to suck up your time, the best thing to do is turn to consumerism. Below are ssome items I highly recommend.

As warm weather approaches, it's time to throw on some shorts and expose those pasty winter legs. An enduring problem I've had over the years is how to wear your low cut sneakers while at the same time preserving the look of no socks? (People who don't wear socks in their sneakers are disgusting. Dis-gus-ting!)

I've tried to buy the lowest profile socks I could, but they were never good enough. My socks still showed, especially when wearing Chucks. My friend Brian used to roll his socks over -- heel to toe -- to create cushion on the front while maintaining the no profile look, but that wasn't an elegant solution. Enter Ninja Sox.

"Ninja Sox are the true no show sock! They are crafted to wear with low top shoes and are designed to give you the look of going sockless and provides the feel and comfort of wearing socks." When my friend @ykoad tweeted about his recent purchase of Ninja Sox, I took one look and knew I had to buy some also. Six pairs and a few test sessions later, I'm sold. My entire summer sock collection will soon be ninjaed out.

After some more research, a lot of companies sell no show socks -- or "footies" -- but I don't care. I'm going Ninja Sox forever, mainly because of the name, but also because Ninja Sox come with a special "no slip silicone patch" that ensures the sock stays on your heel. This is high technology my friends.

And here we go, the great gummy penguin faceoff. For more than a decade, I have been touting the deliciousness of gummy penguins. "Gummy what?" you say. Let me tell you about them. These black and white beauties are denser than normal gummies, provide a wonderful chew, and feel like Shamu skin to the touch. They are also peach flavored. I love them so much I even sang their praises in my book. Multiple times.

For a few dark years, there was a gummy penguin drought as Sweet Factory stopped carrying them. I was in a panic. At every candy vendor, I would desperately ask the same thing, "Do you have any gummy penguins?" Nobody had any idea what I was talking about.

For awhile, I tried out these gummy tummies penguins from Trader Joe's -- introduced to me by my friend Anna -- but while they were delicious, they were not true peachy gummy penguins. These Trader Joe's versions were more like traditional gummies, albeit with a delicous burst of juice built into the tummy.

Eventually I found the answer to my gummy dilemma: the Internet. There are online sites that sell gummy penguins in bulk, and even in a twenty pound bag. Yes, twenty pounds of gummy penguins for $80. A steal if you ask me. And they come straight from Antarctica to your door, it's amazing. Unfortunately, after ordering a couple of pounds for taste testing, I figured out that penguin gummies are best ingested fresh. If they sit around for too long, they tend to not be as chewy. The solution is to order two pounds from Amazon, and if you have Prime like I do, shipping is absolutely free.

Recently, Sweet Factory has returned to the penguin gummy game by not only re-carrying the penguin gummies, but also stepping it up a notch by giving their new penguins colored tummies also. Mainly it's a fake out, as the coloring has no effect on the peachy taste. Still, a nice combo job of both the traditional and Trader Joe's versions. I dare say we are in the golden age of penguin gummies. Get on board.
If my predilection for sugary things wasn't obvious enough, let me share with you my new find: Good & Delish 4 Star Maple Leaf Creme Cookies. First of all, these things are made with real maple syrup. And have no preservatives, artificial flavors, or hydrogenated oils. I know, who cares about that marketing mumbo jumbo! How do they taste?!

I'm here to report that these cookies have a wonderfully thick outer layer along with a melty center. Someone really took the time to balance crunch with creme. Did I mention these things look like maple leaves? So brilliant right? As anybody knows, all the best cookies come in animal or plant shape. Or are made by elves. Or Girl Scouts. Or Diddy Riese. Plus the box art features a crane, as a maple piece is lowered to create a cookie tower. You may not be able to see it, but in the background of the image are New York skyscrapers. The connection between precise engineering and delicious cookie could not be more clear.

I bought my first box of Maple Leaf Creme Cookies at Duane Reade, but they are available at Walgreen's too, since Good & Delish is Walgreen's private brand. The cookies come in normal and organic variations. I prefer the organic ones because they are a bit softer to the bite, but to be honest, I have a box of each within easy reach. These addictive cookies have now slotted into number two on my all time cookie list, right after Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Stars Cookies. Those beauties were seasonal and now discontinued, so I guess I have only the maple leaf cookies to live for now.

Snack snack snack crunch, snack snack snack munch.