Friday, January 30, 2009

Location, location, location

A while ago, I bought a book that I really thought I would like. It's Harold McGee's 'On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen'. I enjoy watching shows like Good Eats and finding out interesting things about the science of cooking. This book sounded like it contained all kinds of great information, so I thought it would be perfect for me.
Well, I got it, and I flipped through it for a bit. And it did in fact contain some great information.

But it was boring.

It felt kind of like reading an encyclopedia. If I was just sitting on the couch and wanted to pick up a book to read, this would not be one of my top choices.

It sat on the bookshelf unread for a long time. Which made me a little sad. Here, I had a great resource that contained a lot of knowledge that I would like to have inside my brain. But I just never felt like picking it up and reading it.

But then, something happened that made this book a bazillion times more useful.

I moved it next to the potty.

This book is a great next-to-the-potty book! If I'm just hanging out around the house, I would never feel like picking up a reference text and looking for an interesting piece of information that I don't know. But if I'm hanging out on the potty for a while, it's a whole different story! I've got nothing else to do...might as well find out why fruit turns brown after you cut it...or how vegetables are pickled around the world...or what the Maillard reaction is all about.

It's perfect because the articles are concise and well written. You think of a subject you want to read about, flip to the page, go about your business...and BOOM! Now you know something new! 
It's a good, thick, comprehensive book, so there's no shortage of topics to look up. I'm guessing that several of the interesting food science facts on Good Eats probably come from this book.

Now, instead of searching (in vain) for something (anything) interesting in an old issue of 'Cottage Living', I can read about what happens when beer is made or recipes for baked goods written hundreds of years ago.

Makes me wonder if any other books that I own could benefit from a change of scenery...

Monday, January 26, 2009

The McDonald's Slide Lottery

Yesterday, I took the 3 kids over to McDonalds to play in the play structure. It's kind of amazing to see PrincessKat easily holding her own with her brothers on such a big playground. Just another reminder that my little ones are all quickly turning into big ones.

But at the same time, PrincessKat is still pretty little. It's kind of funny sitting at the base of the slide, knowing that your 3 kids are going to come down in a single tangly clump and just hoping that your baby doesn't get squished.

I made up a haiku to capture the moment...

Waiting by the slide
Hoping the small one's on top
Sometimes she is not

It's kind of like a kid-pile-lottery. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But either way, you send them up again and keep playing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A New Way to Waste Time on the Computer

I was looking around BoardGameGeek the other day and I found a cool new game. Actually, the game isn't THAT new, it's been out for a year, but for some reason, I hadn't really paid any attention to it. The game is called The Battle For Hill 218. It's a card game that uses a kind of a WWII setting (probably why I didn't look at the game. I didn't think Mrs. BigKat would be interested in playing). But it really is more of an abstract tile placement game. So much more like Hive (one of our favorites) or Blokus or even Dominoes than a military simulation-type game.

Each side gets their own deck of cards. There are 7 different types of cards (tanks, infantry, heavy weapons, paratroopers, artillery, special forces, and airstrike), each with their own powers (but again, these cards could've easily been re-themed to be dragons, knights, and wizards, or Ewoks, Stormtroopers, and Wookies. So if you don't like the WWII theme, just try and ignore it. There really is a clever little game here).

The game starts with one card in the middle, Hill 218. Each player has a starting spot on either side of the Hill card. You take turns placing your cards around the hill in kind of a grid form. The special abilities of the cards determine where you can place cards and how you can get rid of the other guy's cards. Some cards can be place next to other cards (like infantry), some cards can be placed diagonally from other cards (special forces), and some can be put anywhere (paratroopers). Some cards can get rid of other cards by themselves (tanks, artillery), some cards need the support of other cards to do this (paratroopers, heavy weapons). The object is to take control of the other player's starting spot. If you can manage to do that, you win the game.

It really is a fun, clever game that plays quickly, like 15 minutes or so. Perfect for when you have just a few minutes at lunch and you want to play something. It's also quite portable; you can fit it in your pocket.

Since the game is just a pack of cards, it's pretty cheap. If you found it in a hobby store, it would probably cost you about $10. Online, you can get it for around $7. But the best thing is that they've made a computer version that you can play by yourself or with a friend (LAN only though). You can go here to try it out yourself.

The AI is pretty good. The first few times I played it, it destroyed me. I'm pretty new to the game, but am starting to get a grasp of it. It took a few plays to begin to figure out the best way to use the different cards. At this point, I can hold my own. I even won once!

Anyhow, if you're ever wanting to waste some time on the computer and find yourself firing up a solitaire game of some kind, try out The Battle For Hill 218 instead. Even if you don't like war games. Just give it a try. Once you start to understand some of the tactics, I think you'll be hooked.

By the way, if you're interested in purchasing the actual card version of the game, this thread might be worth a quick read. It sounds like they're close to selling out their initial print run. But they're considering doing another printing with some extra features.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Clearance Day 2009

About this time last year, Target put a bunch of stuff on clearance and I was able to get a big pile of toys. They put their stuff on clearance yesterday, so Mrs. BigKat was able to go down and snag a few toys for not so much money.
There weren't as many interesting things as last year, but I did manage to get a remote control flying bug for only $10. 

I also got a boardgame to play with the boys: Spy Trackdown: Find-the-Enemy Strategy Game. From what I understand, it's kind of like that old game Stop Thief, which was one of my favorites as a boy. 
It's probably not a game that I would choose to play with Mrs. BigKat, but it looks like a fun activity to do with the boys. I think they'll like it. It was just over $6.

And from what I can hear down the hall, LilKat2 is very much enjoying his new Shake 'n Go Batwing Flyer. It was under $5.

Oh, PrincessKat just came and showed me a new dolly. Not sure what it is or how much it costed. But she's quite happy with it.

So nothing super-spectacular this year. But I did hear a rumor that they have Yahtzee Free for All for just over $2. Now that's a deal! If you happen to be at Target, take a look at the game aisle and pick one up.

Edit: Ok, apparently the dolly that PrincessKat got was a Little Einstein's June doll that she's been wanting for a VERY long time. The original price was over $20 and Mrs. BigKat was not willing to pay that much. But I guess she was ok with it for $5.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gotta Have God

I've been searching for a new Bible resource for LilKat1 for a LOOOOONG time.

Last year, we went through My First Message: A Bible Devotional for Kids and it was fantastic. The text that it used was from the Message. I thought this was great. It was more like reading from a regular Bible and less like a storybook. There were interesting questions and activities in each section, which LilKat1 absolutely loved. He could not get enough of this Bible. He looked forward to reading it every day.

The only downside was the limited number of sections. Since we were reading it each night, we blew right through it! And I've been on the search for something as good, or better, ever since.

Well, we've finally found another great resource. It's Gotta Have God: Ages 6-9 by Diane Cory. Here's what I like about this book:

1) A bunch of small sections: I think there are over 100. We're going to get over 3 months out of it!
2) A short Bible verse to look up at the beginning of each section: It's a great way to get LilKat1 used to looking up his own verses. He's still a beginning reader, so having to only read one verse is very comfortable for him.
3) Devotionals are about God: Imagine that! It takes a section from the Bible and uses it to teach about God! I really do not like books that focus on the Bible characters like Noah, Jonah, David, etc. The Bible is a book about God. That's who we should be learning about!
4) Nice pictures: The artwork is done well enough so that it makes the book attractive to my son.
5) Questions: There are a couple of questions for the child to answer at the end of each section. There's even a space to write down answers. This is great! LilKat1 loves writing down his own answers in his book. And, so far, the questions are actually good, relevant questions.
5) Activities: There's a worksheet-style activity at the end of each devotional. My son loves doing stuff like this. They have things like little crossword puzzles or secret decoder pages.
6) Nice short sections: Each section doesn't try to pack to much in. My son never gets to the point where he feels like it's taxing his attention span. 
7) Boy/Age specific: The lessons are appropriate for him. There are also similar books available for different ages (2-5 and 10-12). There is also a whole similar series for girls.

This book has been a great resource for helping LilKat1 to experience daily Bible study in a fun way. It makes me smile to see how excited he is to grab his book and do his Bible time with me.

And do you know what I found out today? There's a 2nd book in the series, Gotta Have God Vol 2 waiting for us when we finish this one. Woo hoo! 

Friday, January 9, 2009


I made a game order a little while ago and got this free gift attached to it. Here it is:

It's a gadget that you use to figure out who gets to go first in a game. Totally unnecessary, right? But for some reason, we use this each time we play a game now. Part of it is so that we don't have to try and remember who went first last time. But the other part is because the thing is just so darn cool! You give it a little, tiny flick and it just keeps on spinning and spinning and spinning.

Don't believe me? Watch, I'll prove it to you. I'm going to flick it right now and see how long it takes to stop...Ready...Here I go...

...still going...

...still going...

...still going...

...starting to slow down...

...almost there....

...ok, it stopped.

See? With just a little flick, it spun around for 59 seconds!

Ok, so maybe you're thinking, 'Hey! That's too long! I don't want to wait that long to find out who goes first!' But it's actually a good thing. It gives you time to go get your snacks, get a nice beverage (which does NOT go on the same table as the boardgame!), go get some napkins (because you are NOT touching my cards without wiping your hands Mister-Nacho-Cheese-Dorito-Fingers!).

If it looks like something you want to buy, buy it from Game Surplus. It's only 80 cents. You'll have to pay shipping so you might as well throw some fun boardgames in your cart while you're there. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Overtime Debate

I just read this article in which Don Banks and Peter King debate the NFL's overtime rules.  I've actually emailed in my comments to them a couple of times about this, but never heard anything about it. Here's what I think:

1) Peter King mentions several times that the current OT rules are unfair because, in roughly a third of all OT games, the team that wins the coin flip scores on the first possession. Therefore, winning the coin flip is too much of an advantage.
I think this is goofy! If you want to figure out if the coin flip is an advantage, you should be looking at the percentage of teams that win the coin flip that go on to win OT. If that number is much more than 50%, then you can say that there's a problem.

2) I believe that there's an easy solution to take away the advantage of the coin flip. It works under the same principle that you'd use when you have 2 kids that want to share a cookie. In the cookie scenario, you have one kid cut the cookie in half and let the other kid choose who gets which half. In OT, one team gets to choose the spot of the opening possession (yardline and direction). The other team then gets to choose whether they want to start on offense or defense. The winner of the coin flip chooses who gets to make which decision. Simple!
So if a team wins the coin toss and really wants the ball, they can get it...but they may end up starting at their own 5 yard line going into a headwind!

I really don't know why no one has ever brought this idea up, it just seems so obvious to me. I have to assume that there's at keast one sportswriter or coach out there who's had to make his kids share a cookie.

Monday, January 5, 2009

2 Good Games

Since Target stopped selling Heroscape, I haven't been too interested in the game aisle at Target. But on BoardGameGeek, I read about a couple of new Hasbro games that have been getting some pretty good reviews. This weekend, I decided to go ahead and give them a shot.

The first is Yahtzee Free for All. First of all, the box is very cool. The 6 sided box bottom expands into the game board, and the 6 sided box top is a felt lined box for rolling the dice in. 
Now, Yahtzee is not a game that I really enjoy very much. I can't ever think of a time where I'd challenge someone to a game of Yahtzee. There isn't any player interaction, the decisions are all kind of the same, and it seems to drag on. Yahtzee Free for All is a little bit different. It still uses the same familiar Yahtzee combinations (Long Straight, 4 of a Kind, Full House, etc.), but you can only use certain ones on any given turn. Three cards are placed in the middle of the board that show what combinations can be played. In addition, player have a chance to STEAL other players cards for combinations that they've already rolled. In other words, you may have just rolled a Yahtzee, but if I get a higher Yahtzee before your turn comes around again, I get your card, and you get nothing! How's that for player interaction!
Now this game is still a Yahtzee game, so there's a lot of luck and dice rolling, which some people just don't like in their games. But if I wanted to play a game with people who are not into boardgaming as much as I am, I think this would be a great game to pull out. It's Yahtzee, so it's familiar to everyone. But at the same time, it's got some improvments that make it a lot more fun. Definitely a good family game that parents and kids can play together.
By the way, this game was designed by Richard Borg, who has also designed a few of my other favorite games, including Memoir 44.

The other game I got was Sorry! Sliders. Again, I'm not a big fan of the original game. Even when I was a boy, I didn't like Sorry. But you know what? It doesn't really matter because this game has NOTHING to do with the original Sorry game at all.

Let me emphasize this important piece of information...this game has NOTHING to do with the original Sorry! game.

Well, ok, there are pieces that look like Sorry! pieces, and you have to move your little Sorry! pieces home. But that's it!

First of all, this game is a dexterity game. More along the lines of shuffleboard or carroms or paper football than a traditional boardgame like Sorry! You slide these oversized Sorry! pieces (each player has 4 of them) that have a ball bearing inside of them down a track towards a scoring area. You get points based on where your piece lands. Scoring doesn't occur until all of the pieces have been slid, so there are many opportunities to knock other players pieces off of their desired locations, knock one of your own pieces onto a better scoring spot, or carrom your piece off of pieces already in the scoring area to get to a good position on the board. 
I played this 4 player with Mrs. BigKat and the 2 LilKats. We had a great time! The boys absolutely loved it. I knew that LilKat2 would enjoy it, since he already loves Pitchcar (another great flicking game). But LilKat1 also had a fantastic time with it. At bedtime, he even asked if we could quickly play it again (sadly, it was a school night, so we couldn't extend his bedtime and play).
I like having nice components in games, but in dexterity games, this is crucial. Sorry! Sliders certainly delivers in this area. The sliding pieces actually slide quite nicely on the tracks. You really need to use some finesse to get your pieces to land where you want them to.

So there you go! Two fun family games that you can get right at your local Target/Walmart-type store. No having to go to specialty shops or searching online. Right now, Target it selling Sorry! Sliders for $15. And at my Target, Yahtzee Free for All was on clearance for just under $7 (bargain!).