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Happy Tabletop Day!

In honor of the first ever International Tabletop Day, please enjoy my all time favorite gaming session (that I wasn’t part of).  If you don’t have a gaming group today, watching this is nearly as much fun.  I guarantee at least one warm fuzzy from camaraderie and one belly laugh from general goofiness:


Book Recommendation: Suspect by Robert Crais

This book made me cry on an airplane.  And not like that time when they ran out of Ginger Ale one row before they got to me, either.  That was cruel and hurtful.  This was the kind of crying that every author strives to hit his readers with at the end of a story: cathartic and joyful.

On the surface, Suspect is a police procedural.  But underneath that chassis, the real engine driving the narrative is the interplay of two very different protagonists fighting against the same pain and reaching for the same sort of redemption.

The kicker?  One of them is a dog named Maggie.  She starts as a Marine and winds up one half of a police K-9 unit, and she’s no less compelling a character than the human protagonist.  She even gets her own chapters, told from her point of view.  It might sound a little gimmicky, but Crais pulls it off beautifully and believably.

While the parts of the book involving the police work are well done and interesting, the power comes from the thread of hope and tenacity that runs through the book like electricity.

I can’t really give it any higher praise that that.  This book is worth your time, go pick it up.


Behold – The Cupcakening!

The Cupcakening begins!  As we speak a gallon of frosting is being made in the kitchen in order to smother these lovelies in sugary glory.  The house is filled with the heady aroma of cooling cake and the sound of mixers and jangling oven racks. 

There’s a couple hundred tiny cakes here, but nobody is allowed to have any, apparently.  Which the dogs and I feel is extremely uncool.  Okay, that’s not completely true.  Susie informed me that I’m allowed to have ONE, but I’ll have to eat it on the way to the emergency room.  

I’m thinking about it.


The Coffee Siphon


Mad science isn’t just for breakfast anymore.

My pal Erik is a coffee snob aficionado, who is constantly laboring to educate me in the ways of the bean.  He’s thinking about stuff like roasting times and water temperature, while I’ve just recently stopped drinking coffee flavored sugar and cream.  I’m basically a coffee luddite.  It’s hot.  It has caffeine in it.  I’m happy.

Or so I thought.  Every once in a while, and almost always when hanging out with Erik, I’ll have a cup of something that surprises me.  Something more than just a cup of scalding bitterness. Something that makes me think that there might actually be something to this whole coffee thing.

The picture above is from today’s lesson in coffee: the siphon.  We stopped in at Ascension Coffee in Dallas and had the gurus there perform some coffee magic for us.  I have to admit, the whole thing was kind of surreal to me, but the coffee was excellent.  I’m all about experiencing new things, especially if it involves food of any kind, and this was without a doubt the most delightfully cool coffee thing I’ve ever tried.

Here’s what the whole operation looks like if you’re curious:


Dog Plus Hammock Equals Saturday



You know how sometimes your wife catches you doing stuff and then shows everyone proof of your weird “dogs and hammocks and god knows what” shenanigans?   

Yeah.  Me, too.  Hope your Saturday was equally delightful.



Candy Revival: The Turtle

Growing up, I was never much a fan of turtles.  They were okay, I mean I’m not exactly going to turn my nose up at a blob of chocolate, caramel, and nuts (duh), but they were nothing particularly special.  I saw them at the holidays, typically heaped in a bowl, fresh from being extracted from their crinkly plastic trays, but I usually passed them up in favor of better, more exciting delights sitting nearby.

Turns out, I had no idea what a turtle actually was.  First of all, take a good look at the picture up there.  Notice that those babies are not flattened disks of waxy chocolate with a few half-hearted bulges on offer.  There’s chocolate, but it’s the good stuff.  And the bulges?  They cannot be contained.  There’s literally too much good stuff bursting out of there to cover up.

Of course, that’s not the whole story.  The real reason that the nuts are exposed (ahem) is that it’s the only way to let them retain their toothsome crunch, not too crisp, not too soft.  A great pecan or almond or cashew is a complex mix of texture and sweet and salt, and should not be allowed to smother inside the candy.

The caramel that glues the insides together is critical as well.  It has to be soft and buttery, with just enough presence to add richness to a bite without overpowering it, silky and not stiff and gluey so that it provides a luscious lubrication to each turtle instead of presenting a defiant challenge to your teeth.

Creating real turtles, the kind that deserve the name, turns out to be an art.  And a difficult one.  Which is why we see them so rarely.

My guess is that you can get real turtles somewhere in your city.  There’s a chocolate shop out there with your name on it if you look.  But if you want to be sure, and I think you do, then I’m gonna recommend you give Turtle Alley a shot.

And if you really trust me, get the chipotle ones.  Really.


A Word About Daylight Savings Time

For the record, I’m not a fan.  I’m already deathly allergic to the cruel oppression of dawn (by which I mean anytime before noon), so when the powers that be deliberately inch morning closer to me like a cat shoving half a field mouse under my nose?  Not cool.  Notice that I’m posting this WAY after the event, which should tell you how lazy traumatized I am.

Anyway, here’s CGPGrey to explain things in an entertaining, logical manner, instead of comparing world events to half a rodent like I just did:


Game Review: Space Cadets

I think it’s obvious by now that I really want to fly a spaceship.  I mean, duh, I’m kind of a huge nerd.  And by fly a spaceship, I don’t just mean dogfighting and banking turns in a vacuum as if I were flying a P51 Mustang in space (although, god help me, I love that, too).  I mean being part of a bridge crew and working together to not die in an expanding ball of plasma and velour uniform scraps.

For video games, I love Artemis.  For my phone, it’s Spaceteam.  And for board games, it’s Space Cadets.  Here’s what it looks like:

All party, no labels.

All business, labels. Click to embiggen!

This is set up for four people, each running a couple of stations.  It plays 3-6 people, and for this game, the more the merrier.

In a nutshell, each player has a job to do in a 30 second window.  Before and after these timed windows you have plenty of time to discuss strategy, but when it comes down to getting your Spock on, you need to take care of business in short order.  Each of the stations is essentially a mini-game, which the player can become more skilled at over time.

This is the secret sauce of this game and the reason why I love it.  Unlike other games, *cough*Space Alert*cough*, your ship is actually not a piece of crap.  In fact, with a skilled bridge crew, you can be really friggin’ powerful.  The crew of the USS Hull Breach never managed any real level of badassery, but it was totally possible.  In this game, player skill trumps all, which makes it incredibly addicting.

If you’re interested in how the stations work, the game designers put up some fantastic short tutorial videos for each.  Here’s the one for operating the helm:

None of the stations are particularly complex, but each one presents just enough of a challenge that you’re going to see a wide range of success in your thirty second window.  Hats off to the Engelstein brothers who designed this game, it’s pure genius.  A novice weapons officer can get the basic job done, loading and firing a torpedo for a bit of damage, but a master can load a spread of three, maybe even four torpedoes and wipe out all the enemies in a sector.  The same holds true with pretty much all of the stations.  Moreover, since many of the stations have a direct impact on the others (sensor locks increase damage, helm and shields work together to present an effective defense, etc), a strong officer winds up helping the entire ship.

If you have any interest in this kind of thing, and you should, then I recommend you pick this one up.  Especially if you can put together a regular crew.  While fun at a party or occasional gaming session, this one strongly rewards continued play.

As usual, here’s the clever and handsome Tom Vasel with a video review where he totally agrees with me: