The Beauty of Monument Valley

When it comes to iPad games, I’ve found that there are two types I get the most play out of. First, adaptations of boardgames that allow asynchronous play, and second, casual puzzle games. I like playing on the iPad before I go to sleep, so I like games that are conducive to being horizontal and tired. Often they are dumb hidden object games or repetitious things like Pawn’d.

Monument Valley is a sort of exception to these two categories, though its puzzly nature and beautiful dreamlike graphics are perfect for my purposes.

Monument Valley is a maze game. The goal is to lead a girl, Ida, through each monument, to a door or platform. The monuments have an Escherian design, full of strange angles, impossible geometry, and tricks of the eye. In addition, elements of the monuments can be moved, turned, opened, or twisted. The monuments unfold and reveal themselves gradually, becoming more than they first appeared. While the construction of the monuments themselves are challenging, there are also sometimes adversaries to contend with: bird people who will block your way and worse, yell at you.

If it sounds confusing or complicated, it’s not. The levels are not particularly difficult, though they are often cleverly done. The real pleasure in the game is just how beautifully it all works, and how satisfyingly.

Monument Valley has ten levels to it. The expansion, Forgotten Shores, adds eight additional levels. The base game is $3.99 and the expansion is $1.99.

As a bonus, until December 8, if you buy Monument Valley it will come with a bonus level, Ida’s (RED) Dream, and the purchase price goes towards AIDS research. (People who already own the game can buy Ida’s (RED) Dream for $0.99, and again the purchase goes to (RED).)

Monument Valley is a fantastic game, and well worth the cost. I highly recommend it.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged

I Had That! #40: Golden Nature Guides

I didn’t read a lot of fiction as a kid. For someone who supposedly liked science fiction, I didn’t read any of the classics. I didn’t really go for comics too much. I did the Hardy Boys thing briefly, and I liked Encyclopedia Brown, but often more for the little factoids one got from them. Non-fiction, though, I read a lot of. My family had a book called Marvels and Mysteries of the World Around Us that I pored over. We also had one about animals that I don’t remember the title of. I had the Reader’s Digest Treasury for Young Readers that I also loved the non-fiction (and puzzle) parts of. I could write a complete entry on Our Universe.

The Golden Nature Guides were like crack for a non-fiction junkie. Each one was a concentrated hit of some particular topic, packed with excellent pictures. You could get lost in one for an afternoon, then put it down and start all over with a completely different one.

According to this list, I didn’t even have that many of them. I know I had Weather, Rocks and Minerals, Reptiles and Amphibians, Stars, and Insects. I also had Fossils, which I literally read to pieces. There are plenty on the list I’m amazed I didn’t have, but then again I’m not really certain where the ones I had even came from.

When did I get it? I don’t know. As I say, I don’t really know where they came from, they were just there throughout my childhood.

Do I still have it? The actual Golden Nature Guides, no. I still have Our Universe.

Posted in Books | Tagged

Not So Delicious

As the last person in the world who used Delicious, I wasn’t hopeful when a month ago it looked like something had gone wrong with the service. I don’t know much about XML or APIs, and asking for help with getting Delicious to work with my blog seemed like asking for help getting my Betamax to work with my Palm Pilot. I did some research to try and find the problem and, with pal Kurt’s help, verified that the problem was on their end. I sent a message to Delicious support documenting the problem:


I use a Perl script to grab all my delicious bookmarks for a week and post them to my blog. Here is an example:

That was the last time the script worked. Since then it’s been giving me XML errors. Today I played around and I think there’s a problem with the GET command under POSTS for the API.

If I do:

I get:

<update code="200" inboxnew="" message="success" time="2014-11-13T13:41:35Z"/>

which is promising, as 11/13/2014 was the last date I entered a link into delicious (using the bookmarklet).

Also, if I do:

I get:

<result code="something went wrong"/>

although once I got:

“This page contains the following errors:

error on line 1 at column 37: Extra content at the end of the document

Below is a rendering of the page up to the first error.”

with this as the source code:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

It’s not limited to a particular bookmark that’s wonky, either, no date produces a GET result, including 2014-10-09, which is a date that should work because the “Wal-Mart Cuts Benefits” link from the blog post I lined to above was entered on that date and GET found it just fine on 10-11-2014 when the perl script generated that post.

My account is “legomancer” and if you could help with this, that would be great.


Dave Lartigue

After a few days I got this response:

I don’t know why that would have changed, but our new app is what’s used by the rest avosapi, check out the js app. Use inspect element, it’s not really published but the signatures are stable.

That’s the full response, and I have no idea what this guy is saying. I know what he’s not saying, however, which is, “Yes, I’ve looked into it and found that GET isn’t working correctly” or “If you do this instead, it should work”.

So I think I’ve finally reached the end of the road on Delicious. At the moment I’m still saving links there, but I don’t know how I plan to get them on the blog. The weekly Delicious posts were a nice, automated, Saturday thing for the blog (especially nice back when I was determined to have something new on my blog every day; obviously that’s not a priority anymore.) Creating a link post by hand kind of defeats the purpose, but it wouldn’t be so bad every now and then. Folks have suggested some alternatives, but honestly I think having yet another password and account is also not something I want. I’ll figure out a solution and deploy it soon.

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The Evil of Paper Lawn Bags

Lawn bags in their native environment, Hell.

It’s leaf-raking time. It’s actually well past leaf-raking time, but that’s another story. It’s a time where I’ve been raking leaves. Forty-seven bags of them so far, and there are probably seven or eight more to go. No gimmicks or gadgets this time, just me and a rake and Satan’s cruelest device, a bunch of leaf bags.

Leaf bags may not be the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled, but they’re in the top five. Not many of us have to deal with Keyser Soze in our lives but year after year millions of homeowners have to struggle with these awful creations. If there were a soup spoon made out of nylon it would rival the lawn bag for the title of “most unsuited for its designed purpose”.

These things are created for one job and one job alone: folding up flat to make it easy to transport and sell millions of them. Any use you get out of them beyond that is lagniappe. It’s advertised that they stand up and hold leaves but that’s part of the sinister deception.

First there’s the standing up. Since they’re designed to fold flat that’s what lawn bags seek to do and what they’re best at. Standing them requires them to stay open and three-dimensional, and that’s not a job they can handle. Every instinct for a lawn bag is to collapse into itself, seeking the Divine Flat. Once you do manage to convince it to try staying open, the gentlest, most delicate breeze will KO the thing. If a butterfly flaps its wings in South America thousands of lawn bags across the US all tumble over, overcome by the violent buffeting.

Struggle for a while and the damned thing will eventually taunt you by staying upright and open. But this is just a game for it. Approach it with actual leaves and it’s no dice. Since the bags are only slightly thicker than the material they’re designed to hold, should a leaf — or, god forbid, a twig — brush up against it the bag will recoil in horror, folding up and twisting themselves into non-Euclidean geometries in order to avoid their alleged duty. And since the only surface on the bag that avoids Ideal Flatness is the very bottom, falling over is also a viable option, even when there’s enough material inside to resist the gale force winds of a young lover thirty miles away whispering tenderly into his beloved’s ear.

Small wonder there’s a cottage industry of prosthetics and exoskeletons which purport to help these wretched things do the one task their purchasers expect out of them.

Forty-seven bags I’ve done so far. Forty-seven battles I’ve fought with these things, each scoop of leaves a contest of wills. There’s a good reason for this legend:

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night
May just blow all his leaves into the street because he just gives the hell up

Posted in Argh! | Tagged

Nisha Triumphant

This weekend, Nisha the Lawbringer completed an epic quest on Elpis, the moon of Pandora. In other words, I finished Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. I’ll not spoil anything for those who haven’t done so yet.

I pretty much went straight down Nisha’s “The Riflewoman” skill tree, which was ironic because I tried to solely stick to pistols and SMGs. When I put the final bullet into the final boss, it was a plain old pistol that did it.

I was chugging along doing whatever quests came along (though I steadfastly ignore timed ones) until one point where I decided not to do side quests and save them for replays. That plan didn’t work, though, because I soon wasn’t high enough level to continue the main storyline, so I went and did some of them until I gained a couple levels.

The game is a lot of fun, and a nice bridge between the first and second games. It fills out Jack’s character a bit without giving him sad “thorn-in-his-paw” or “daddy-never-played-catch-with-me” nonsense to motivate him. Jack’s an asshole because that’s who he is, though it took something to really get him to lean into it. (Playing as Nisha is tough because she’s just as much of a psychopath as he is, so it’s weird for her to eventually see him differently.) Just about everything slots into place nicely.

As I mentioned before, it’s about 80% “more of the same” and, to be honest, I didn’t really take too much advantage of what was different. Instead of slag weapons you have cold weapon that can freeze their targets and you now have laser guns. I didn’t really use either of these weapon types too much, nor did I really take advantage of the Grinder, a machine that can turn junk weapons into potentially good ones. I did, however, enjoy jumping and boosting in low gravity, as well as butt-slamming: jumping and boosting and then rocketing down hard to send a shockwave around you. I like to leave some stuff to play with later.

I also said before that the landscape was very samey from area to area, which is certainly true when you’re on the moon. However, and this is not too much of a secret, you don’t stay on the moon the whole time and soon you are in different types of places, some of which are incredibly cool.

The combat is what you’d expect. There are three boss fights which are huge pains in the ass, not just because they’re hard but because the respawn place is hell and gone from the fight, so when you die you have to run back to where the action is. The main issue at the moment is that there’s some glitchiness to the game. A couple of quests behaved weirdly, the final battle did NOT like Nisha’s “Showdown” ability, which seemed to overload the Xbox 360 in a way I’ve never seen before, and worst of all, the Xbox periodically can’t read the disc, though that may only be my copy.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is pretty simple: if you liked the previous games, there’s no reason not to like this one. If you didn’t, there really isn’t much that will convince you otherwise. It’s not quite BL2 level, but it’s pretty damn good. And of course, we’re only starting to see the DLC with the release of the Handsome Jack Doppleganger Character which adds a fifth playable character. I went ahead and bought the season pass because I know I’ll be grabbing whatever other stuff they put out for it.

Up next on the Xbox? I’m not really sure, to be honest. Maybe more Borderlands TPS?

Posted in Videogames | Tagged ,

I Had That! #39: Dune Action Figures

Long-time readers will know how much I unflinchingly adore David Lynch’s Dune. A lot. Possibly too much. When it came out in 1984 I fell for the movie, even though I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I read the book, I convinced a teacher to let me do a book report on it, and I bought the toys.

Yes, toys.

In a moment of cinematic hubris companies such as LJN lined up to make toys based on an overlong, baffling, PG-13, kid-unfriendly movie with weird clunky technology. Fortunately, they did it in a way that was 100% on point with the movie itself: bizarrely.

The figures were 6″ tall, putting them out of scale with most other action figures at the time (and requiring that any accessories would have to be huge.) Although the initial (and only) lineup wasn’t too strange — Paul, Feyd, Baron Harkonnen, Stilgar, Beast Rabban (the most huh? entry of the bunch), and a Sardaukar Trooper — there were some odd details. Paul is in his Atreides dress uniform, an outfit he’s wearing when NOT interacting with any of the other included characters. It’s tempting to say that, well, they already had Stilgar and thus didn’t want two dudes in stillsuits, but Rabban and Feyd are practically the same character. Feyd comes with a knife, sure, but also the cat-thing that is given to Thufir late in the movie. Huh? There’s no Thufir figure, so this accessory is pointless and weird. Can you imagine a kid trying to puzzle this thing out?

I was getting a bit too old for action figures, and by this time I was into my Doctor Who knockoff world anyway, and these just didn’t fit in. I got Paul, Feyd, and Stilgar, but passed on the others. The rest of the world did too, and they vanished off shelves (but not discount bins) not long after they appeared.

I also didn’t grab any of the other toys, though I’d kill for one of these:

“Ages 5 and up” is what that box says and what five-year-old wouldn’t want a big ribbed worm to play with? No one who has this ever takes a photo of it with the action figures, so I’ve no idea just how out of scale this thing is.

I’m surprised that one of these nostalgic retro-toy companies hasn’t taken this license on, to be honest.

When did I get it? They came out in 1984 and that’s when I got them.

Do I still have it? I’m honestly surprised I don’t. I’ve no idea what I did with them.

Posted in Toys | Tagged ,

Why Can’t I Stop Buying Dice?

I played my last RPG years ago. All of the materials I had, all of the books, are long gone. Some great memories and fun times there, but I just didn’t see myself regularly playing RPGs ever again. So far, that’s held. Despite being tempted a few times, I’ve never really had the urge to play an RPG for a long time.

And yet, I still have this:

That’s a glass bowl nearly full of dice. Some are normal d6es. Some are weirdo d6es. Some are normal weirdo RPG dice and some are especially weirdo RPG dice. I amassed quite an assortment back in the day and can’t imagine getting rid of them, even though I no longer play games in which you supply your own dice. They don’t do anything for me these days except sit in that bowl and remind me of geeky times.

But it gets worse: I also continue to buy more! When we went to Paris earlier this year I stopped in a game store and sure enough, bought some dice as souvenirs.

They were colorful and I knew I’d remember that I got them in Paris.

Then, when I went to Gen Con I spent an inordinate amount of time pawing through dice to get new weird ones, like this set:

The number showing on each is the number of “sides” it has, so what you see there is a d22, d11, d18, d7 with days of the week on it, d9, regular d7, d5, and d14. I will never use these. But I made sure I had all the different ones this place was selling!

And most recently, I backed the Dice Empire Kickstarter by Tinderbox Entertainment, netting ten laser-printed custom d6s.

The designs you see there are Nuke Duke (I got 2 of those) showing 2 and 6, Dungeonesque showing 3, QR-azy Geek showing I don’t know what, Dragons showing 5, Modest Medusa showing 4, Gunslinger also showing 4, Crushing Depths showing 3 (this one didn’t come out as nice as the others), Mainframe showing 2, and Dice Nouveau showing 4 again. They are beautiful and cool looking and once again, I will never use these. They’ll either live in the glass bowl or near it and never get rolled. There’s no reason for me to have them. And yet, I already know they’re not the last dice I buy that don’t come with a game as well.

In fact, I’ve had this page bookmarked for some time.

Posted in Geek Stuff | Tagged

Trashfest Northeast 2014

Has it been a whole year since the inaugural Trashfest? It has, and I was there on Saturday to partake.

I headed down to Connecticut and met up with some folks I already knew, plus met some other folks.

I started out with what I consider to be a tradition: Ascending Empires on Jeff’s super de-luxe board. It’s a beautiful thing, this plexiglass wonder that his wife got made, and I have been tempted to just hand him a credit card and say, “I don’t want to know the details, just make this happen for me.” I tried a mining strategy that might have gotten me a win if I’d committed to it more.

Next I played Theseus: The Dark Orbit with Mike. I hadn’t played as the aliens in a while, and Mike throwing up a firewall and then enhancing it made my life a living hell. Towards the end of the game I finally started to get something going, but it was far too late and I got crushed. It was a nice reminder of how much I enjoy this game, though, and I need to get it played more.

Next I played one that was new to me, Moongha Invaders, a game about giant monsters and the mad scientists who love them. It was a lot of fun, though we only had three and it’s best with four, where the mayhem really ramps up. It’s unfortunately out of print and the subject of a long-delayed and lamentable Kickstarter, but I’d love to get my hands on this.

The next game I played was perfect for Trashfest. I met Mindy, who really likes Agricola, a game about farming. The thing about Agricola is, there are all these decks you can play it with that change the game some, one of which is The X-Deck, a deck full of aliens and goofiness. Mindy’s problem is that fans of Agricola don’t like the wacky shenanigans and fans of wacky shenanigans don’t like Agricola. I’m not a fan of Agricola, but I was definitely down for the aliens decks. During our game we found alien poop that helped grow crops, someone’s animals got shrunk, alien Tripods demanded tribute, Mindy’s farmer got drafted into the rebellion against the evil galactic empire, and I got Woozles, which were Tribbles, which I had to feed, or else they’d run off and lose me points. But I fed the damn Woozles and they got me beaucoup points at the end, tying me for first place! In addition to enjoying the extraterrestrial happenings, I also enjoyed this game of Agricola more, as I finally felt like I had a handle on building my farm, despite having to give tribute to the Tripods every turn.

Next came dinner, for which the wife of the event’s organizer had prepared a fantastic taco bar that was like heaven.

After stuffing my face, I taught Mike and Mindy Imperial Settlers. I had a good game as the Japanese, but they picked it up fast and the game was close. I think they both enjoyed it.

Mike finally extricated himself from me and for the last game I taught Paul(? I think?) and his son Ethan how to play The New Era. This is a tough game to both teach and learn, and I had all the expansions mixed in, so I imagined we’d play a few rounds and they’d get a feel for it. Instead they both picked it up FAST. Ethan especially had a sweet engine running in no time, totally twigging to how the cards worked together. We ended up finishing the whole game with a very tight score as a result. I think they dug the game.

After that I headed out, not having locked my keys in my car this time.

I only played one new-to-me game, but I had a great time with all the folks there. I saw a bunch of things that I’d like to try out, such as Run, Fight, or Die, The Great Heartland Hauling Company, and Warfighter. I was sorry I didn’t get to play games with all the folks I knew there, and I was really hoping to get in a game of Marrying Mr. Darcy with that crowd. There’s always Trashfest 2015, though!

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged