Category Archives: Games

Mayhem at Chuck E. Cheese

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

Several years ago Dale Connelly rejected a story I offered him about a school outing to a Chuck E. Cheese mall store. Perhaps recent tweaks to that story will make it usable now.

When Molly’s fourth grade class asked me to volunteer as a chaperon for this field trip, I agreed. As a freelance journalist working from my home, I had extra time. And, heck, I enjoy ice cream as much as any kid. This outing could be interesting.

I didn’t expect to like the venue, and did not. Chuck E. Cheese is a chain of family event centers catering to kids. Loud, garish and built to be “fun,” these places are not subtle. The one my daughter’s class visited in Rosedale featured an animatronic band of figures that pretended to play instruments. Chuck E. Cheese was an oversized rat blowing a flute, backed by a gorilla on drums and a bear flailing at a banjo. The music, while dreadful, promoted a frenetic atmosphere where kids could be themselves with no limits. The business area itself was divided between a stage, some dining tables and a large room in which kids could play arcade games like the then-popular Ms. Pac-Man.

I began noticing one kid in particular, a red haired boy who dominated the room. He was over a head taller than the others and was easily the loudest and most aggressive kid in the room. Jealousy triggered him. He didn’t enjoy whatever game he dominated but was sparked by envy when he saw another kid having fun with a different machine. I tried to tune him out, and yet this kid was was getting on my nerves.

Then it was time to go back home. We queued up to get back on the bus that would return us to school. The red haired bully was pushing to be first on the bus, but then spotted a little girl doing a last bit of play with Ms. Pac-Man. That tripped his trigger. He screamed and rushed the machine. By coincidence, his path to that machine would take him right by me.

I am not decisive, athletic or aggressive, and yet in that split second I became all three. As the bully swept past me, I shot my left ankle out to hook his left ankle. With a full head of speed already in hand, the bully launched into the air with arms outstretched in the famous flying Superman pose. He flew and flew. Then, lacking a functional cape, he crashed on the waxy tile floor and slid on for some more distance, arms still outstretched.

His face contorted with rage, the kid pointed at me and roared, “He TRIPPED me!” Of course, I was by then bent at the waist, deep in fatherly conversation with my daughter. Only two people in the room knew what had just happened, and only one of them had credibility.

The return trip to school would have presented few problems for the bully. He lived in chaos and strife, so he probably smoldered with a sense of injustice that quickly burned out. That was his life.

Things were more complicated for the man who had just assaulted a kid he didn’t know. That man had never thrown a punch in anger and had, in fact, never raised his voice in a dispute. A sweet, people-pleasing man, he was suddenly haunted by visions of The Lord of the Flies. Who in hell was that man who suddenly tripped a kid he had just met? Would he ever suddenly come again?

Have you ever been shocked by the sudden appearance of emotions you didn’t know you held? Have you ever thought about what it would take to make you take a public stand? Have you ever suspected that the veneer of civilization that protects us most of the time is actually quite thin? How have you dealt with bullies?

Yawning Portal Biscuits

You all know that my choice of reading matter can sometimes be a little… eclectic.  But I bet most of you would still be surprised to see Heroes’ Feast Dungeon & Dragons Cookbook sitting my kitchen.  I know I am.  I don’t even remember when I first saw this title, but clearly on a whim I added it to my waitlist at the library.  It’s a new title, so it sat with “On Order” status for about five months and then suddenly with no warning last week, it was waiting for me!

It’s unbelievably well-done.  High quality construction, beautiful photos and very well written.  For those of us who know NOTHING about D&D, it has nice introductions to each section (Human Food, Elven Food, Halfling Food, etc.) that describe the different kinds of beings and their foodie bent. 

The food itself has fun D&D names; the fare itself is nothing extremely exotic, so the names are really key to making this cookbook a lot of fun. 

I was having a friend stop by on Saturday morning and had my regular biscuit cookbook sitting out.  The night before I was flipping through Heroes’ Feast and I came across the Yawning Portal Buttermilk Biscuit recipe.  If you are a D&D fan, then you know that The Yawning Portal is a very popular tavern located on Rainrun Street in Castle Ward, one of the wards in the city of Waterkeep.  If you aren’t a D&D fan, now you know.

I’m not going to put the recipe here – it’s a fairly straight forward biscuit recipe.  The one difference is that instead of cutting individual biscuits, you pat all the dough into a pan, score it and then bake it.  I also brushed melted butter on the top as it suggested.  If I do say so myself, when I pulled them from the oven, they looked just like the photo in the cookbook. And they were excellent with homemade jam.

If I were a D&D player, I would HAVE to have this cookbook.  As a non D&D’er, I’ll appreciate it for a couple more weeks and then back to the library it will go.  But I will copy out just a couple of recipes so that I have them on hand whenever I want to make something with a really fun name!

Do you have any “exotic”/theme cookbooks?  Or exotic recipes?

Scandal-No Place to Hide

We live in a predominantly Roman Catholic community. We are a town of only 23,000 people, yet we have four Catholic churches, two Catholic elementary schools, a Catholic Middle School, and a Catholic High School.

You can imagine the gasps when, last week, the Catholic School Board announced that Father H, the principal of the Middle School and High School had been permanently relieved of his duties, along with an unmarried, female Elementary Principal and athletic director. They had apparently been consuming alcohol in a school vehicle on their way to a basketball tournament in Minot in March, and then tried to hide what they had done. There is also much scuttlebutt about other misbehavior, but that didn’t make the newspaper. Oh, the scandal!

This is no place to misbehave, because everyone knows everybody else, people notice things, and there really is nowhere to hide. The two Principals should just have worn shirts that said “Shoot me now” instead of trying to be sneaky. Moreover, if you get drunk and disorderly in Minot, 230 miles away, even that news will make it back here. This is a small State despite the vast distances between towns.

What are some scandals you remember from your home town or where you live now? 

Pi Day – Not!

NO I DIDN’T HAVE A PARTY WITHOUT YOU GUYS!!  PHOTO IS FROM TWO YEARS AGO – SENT TO ME BY A FRIEND.

One year ago on the day before Pi Day, I read an online column in which I saw the “flatten the curve” phrase for the first time. Even though only one person had told me that they were going to skip the Pi Day party due to covid-19.  But after reading that column, I realized that I needed to get onboard immediately and I started calling and texting people, letting them know I was cancelling.

Like everyone else, I was thinking that we’d have a couple of bad months and then get back on track, so I kept all my Pi Day organizational materials: the list of ingredients that I had bought (and hopefully wlll need to buy again), my timing spreadsheet with what time various pies have to go in the oven and what temperature they need (sorted by temperature, of course) and the little placecards with all the pie names.  All these items are in the drawer in the living room and I see them occasionally and sigh.  And now it’s been a second Pi Day with no festivities in the house. 

Not entertaining has been a huge hit for me during pandemic.  I entertain a lot and I miss it a lot.  You all know that I try to keep my expectations low, so I’m hoping that I’ll eventually be able to have Pi Day fun at my place, but I’m not making plans.  And that’s made me think about other changes that I’ve made that may or may not be permanent. 

I am spending WAY more time texting and emailing than I used to.  I’m spending way too much time farting around on my phone.  I’m doing my Italian lesson (also on my phone) every day – I’m on a 310 day streak and I doubled my lesson time about 4 months back.  For the first time in decades I am hitting the gym more than 12 times a month (masked, sanitized and socially distant).  Pre-pandemic I used to follow several blogs, a couple of chefs, several science sites, husky dogs; I’ve quit following all of them and only occasionally check them out – usually if they pop up in my feed.  Last summer I sent thank you cards to people with great gardens that I encountered while walking the dog.  I’ve started sending birthday cards to people on a Facebook group of stampers – complete strangers and I increased the cards that I made for charity.  Way more gardening and more jigsaw puzzles.

I don’t which of these habits will continue if and when we get past pandemic.  I hope to keep all the good changes (reaching out)  and jettison the bad ones (phone games) and I hope like heck that I eventually get to celebrate Pi Day with my friends and loved ones.  Maybe Pi and a Half Day? 

How has pandemic changed you?  Do you think some of your changes will continue?

They’re Coming to Take Me Away

I’ve been aware for some time that nothing I do online is really private.  If I look at some clothing website on Tuesday, by Wednesday, I’m getting sidebar ads for that same clothing company.  If I watch a Paws for Hope video on YouTube, suddenly lots of their videos pop to the top of my feed.  Same with Facebook.  Not too irritating although it makes me wonder if cyberspace is smart enough to know what I’m looking at, why isn’t it smart enough to know when I’ve made a purchase so they can stop showing me the ads for what I’ve bought?

I have a “color-by-number” app on my phone – it’s a mindless game that I often play if I have the tv on or am listening to a book on tape.  It only takes up about ¼ of my brain (if that).  It has a function that offers me “hints” if I watch the occasional ad.  Most of the time I ignore that function, but occasionally the puzzles have little bits that are almost impossible to see, so I like to have a couple of hints available.  About a month ago I noticed that the ads on this game were aligning with stuff that I was searching for online using my phone.  Not 100% but close enough.  So now my game is paying attention to what I’m up to when I’m not playing.   I wasn’t sure if I should worry about this or not.

Then yesterday I had the tv on while I was working in my studio.  One of the interminably long Cindy Crawford ads came on – the ones in which they talk about the special melons in the south of France.  I flipped on mute and waited it out.  While I was watching out of the corner of my eye for the commercial to end, I thought to myself “Well, at least they don’t run those Crepe Erase ads anymore.”  I’m not sure why I don’t like these ads, but I don’t even like to say the words “crepe” and “erase” together.  I have nothing against Jane Seymour, their spokeswoman, but I just don’t like the ads.  So imagine my shock when about 20 minutes later, there was Jane Seymour hawking Crepe Erase!  Honestly, I haven’t seen one of these ads for a couple of years at least.  It’s clear they’re reading my mind – this crosses the line!

Do you have a favorite hat?

Bingo!

I will admit that while I was on furlough, I spent way too much time surfing on my phone (wow… talk about a phrase that would have made no sense 20 years ago!)   Lots of stamping sites, Vlogbrothers and Mark Rober YouTubes, too many dance compilations to the song Uptown Funk and of course The Trail.  This led to what I consider massive numbers of wasted hours as well as monies spent that could have gone to better purposes.

One of these purchases happened two weeks ago, after I knew I would be heading back into Corporate America part time.  It’s a Conference Call Bingo mousepad.  If you’ve spent any time on zoom or other online calls the past year, you’ll probably recognize some of the squares:  “Can everyone see my screen?”  “Can you repeat that?”  “I have to jump on another call.”  I laughed out loud when I saw it online.  It arrived over the weekend and I’ve had several chances to use it already.  I’ve been using paperclips as “the dauber”.   No bingo yet, but I’ve come pretty close a couple of times.

When was the last time you played Bingo?

Bad math

My math was wrong.  When I figured the daily average, I based it on only working on the puzzle every other day.  I completely neglected to take into account my personality.  I worked on the puzzle every day – usually for about an hour.  Then on Thursday, the tipping point arrived and the pieces started to find their way more easily.  Unfortunately, this means I spent about 6 hours sitting at the table and when I went to bed and closed my eyes, I saw puzzle pieces behind my eyelids. 

Took one last hour yesterday morning to finish up.  I was thinking right down to the end that we would be missing a couple of pieces (cat, dog, vacuum…) because there was one spot that I had been searching to fill for days.  But lo and behold, the last two pieces fit together to go right in that spot!

I’ve talked about this silly puzzle to so many folks that I texted the picture to a fair number of people and I am in no hurry whatsoever to take it apart and put it back in the box.  I thought briefly about using puzzle glue to cement it but I don’t have any wall space!  And I promise not to bring puzzles up any more on the trail.

What is something that you are particularly proud of?

Puzzle Math

YA and I decided in November that maybe we should take up jigsaw puzzles now that the weather had turned cold.  In the past, jigsaw puzzles have driven us both a little crazy; we have to worry about the kitty messing with the puzzles, neither of us had a lot of extra time and we both can get a little obsessive occasionally.  But thanks to sheltering-in-place and neither of us working, we don’t have the same objections that we used to (except the kitty).  We did a Ukrainian egg puzzle in November – took us about 5 hours, both of us working on it the whole time.

Right after Solstice, we pulled a puzzle down from the attic.  It’s a 1000 piecer and it’s a doozy – no straight edges and lots of little pictures within the main puzzle.  We’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks and we still haven’t been able to identify all of the outer edges.  YA is particularly good at seeing the design of a particular piece and figuring out where it goes.  I’m better at identifying pieces by shape.  But this puzzle is currently getting the better of both of us although we haven’t given up yet.

In our prior life, having a puzzle on the table in the living room this long would have made me crazy and I am having to fight this feeling.  So much so that I decided to try to figure out how long it will take us to finish this one.  We’ve done about 350 pieces so far.  I’m assuming the tipping point (the point at which you’ve done enough of the puzzle that the pieces start going together more easily) will be between 650 and 700 pieces.  Right now we are going pathetically slowly; we averaging about 10 pieces a day (if we both spend a bit of time on it – it’s really hard to keep at it at this point).  So, taking into account the eventual tipping point and days when we ignore it entirely, I figure it will take us another 45-50 days to finish.  It could be spring before we are done with this thing!

When was the last time you had to do math?  In your head, on paper or using a calculator (or Excel)?

Keeping Fit

My mom (Nonny) is a jock.  She was very active as a kid and played many sports when she was in school (basketball, field hockey, tennis).  She got my dad interested in tennis after they married and they played consistently until his death.  She even played tennis the night before my baby sister was born.  Doubles and she was happy to tell everyone that they won against the other team.

So imagine Nonny’s disappointment when all three of her daughters turned out to be complete non-jocks.  I cycled fairly seriously for a couple of years (way before YA was born) and my baby sister runs occasionally, but for the most part, we are couch potatoes.  Of all seven grandchildren, only one has any spark of jock-ness: YA.  Swimming, gymnastics, running and weight training have been part of her regime over the years. 

Santa brought YA a 10-pound weight, so now she has two.  I noticed a couple of days ago that she has set up a “gym” in Nonny’s room upstairs.  She has her yoga mat, her weights, a big yoga ball and some kind of exercise bands.  This morning she had music playing on her phone while she worked out.

I admire her get-up-and-go.  While I’m doing the stationary bike at the gym occasionally (translation: every 4 or 5 days) and walking the dog occasionally (translation: if the sun is shining), I wouldn’t say that exercising is my top priority these days.  If would be nice if YA’s commitment to working out would rub off on me, but I’m thinking if it hasn’t happened yet, it probably won’t.

Have you ever had a “favorite” exercise?  If you could have your own In-home gym, how would you like it set up?

The Chess Gambit

Several baboons responded on Tuesday to a comment about the 6-part Netflix mini-series called The Queen’s Gambit. It’s based on a book by Walter Tevis (who is also author of three other books which became movies: The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth).

Apparently chess sets have been flying off the shelves, both in-store and online. I have located our set here, a Christmas gift years ago from son Joel. I’ve never really taken to chess – though Husband has tried to teach me, I never thought I had enough…  desire, mental acuity, or stamina to be a competitive player.

Because of this movie, I’ve become aware that women have been serious chess players for centuries first documented during the Middle Ages – this from Wikipedia:    “Chess games between men and women were a common theme of European art[2][3] and literature in the fourteenth through 18th centuries.” By the 19th Century, the field was dominated by men, and “during the 20th century, female players made significant progress in breaking male dominance on the game.” The first female International Grandmaster was Nona Gaprindashvilli, who received the title in 1978.

Back on the home front:  It wasn’t that I thought women in general wouldn’t be good at chess, just me. I am willing to rethink that and, with a long and at-home winter facing me, I think I just might take another stab at chess. I will, however, need to do a quick room-arrange to accommodate a table where we can leave a chess board up. And wouldn’t it be fun to paint our own chess board right on some old table?   

Here’s a puzzle:  Imagine you’ve decided you need a chess set and there are none to be had in all the land. By what art or craft would you create the board?

What found objects around the house could stand in for the various pieces – pawns, rooks, bishops, knights, king, queen ?

OR:

Because you may be home-bound for several weeks (or months), what other sort of learning might you tackle, that you would otherwise not have attempted?