GeekDad http://geekdad.com Raising Geek Generation 2.0 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 19:16:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Comic Book Corner — The X-Files, Harley Quinn, and Batgirl http://geekdad.com/2014/12/comic-book-corner-3/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/comic-book-corner-3/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:27:20 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69344 This week, we have The X-Files, Harley Quinn, and Batgirl. Continue reading

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STK6585271

Image: Copyright DC Comics.

Happy comic release day! Welcome to another installment of GeekMom Comic Book Corner, where we recap our adventures in comics for the week. This week, Lisa and Corrina check out how Harley Quinn spends her holidays, while Sophie picks back up with The X-Files #19, and Corrina also walks us through Batgirl #37.

But first, a panel so egregious, only the image can do it justice. WARNING: SPOILER for Wonder Woman #37.

A favorite Teen Titan returns in Wonder Woman #37. You won’t be glad to see her, especially given this panel. When Corrina posted the image on Tumblr, she was sent a message calling her narcissistic, prudish, and a cheesecake hater. Insults, no worries, but she’s tired of women calling out objectified poses being classified as “prudish,” so she responded on that matter. (Warning: NSFW for foul language.)

Onto the reviews!

Lisa Tate — Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1  by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner

This three-story collection of holiday mayhem and madness by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner is a crazy Christmas package only Harley can deliver. Part of the New 52 series, the issue’s two Christmas tales and one New Year’s story aren’t the most thoughtful and well-crafted yarns in this month’s DC offerings. However, they really aren’t meant to be. The first story is my favorite, as it lets Harley’s well-hidden humanity show just a little bit, as she attempts to find homes for amassed pets and ends up as a “toy” for a spoiled kid.

The most impressive art is from the third story, “Killin’ Time,” in which Harley seeks out Father Time to confront him about a new-found grey hair. It features beautiful illustrations by Darwyn Cooke. Mauricet and Brandt Peters contribute art to the first and second story, respectively.

It’s a fun one-shot, for anyone who wants a sampling of Harley’s endearingly psycho ilk without committing to the entire series, and it’s a great way to blow off some holiday season stress without actually going crazy.

Conner offers two cover choices: the main Christmas-themed and a variant with a New Year’s. I prefer the main cover and feel that  is missing out on a big money-making opportunity, if they don’t release these as Christmas cards next year. I’ll take four boxes, please!

Age Recommendation: Rated T.

Sophie Brown — The X-Files Season 10 #19 by Joe Harris with art by Tom Mandrake

The X-Files Season 10 Issue 19 \ Image: IDW Publishing

The X-Files Season 10 Issue 19. Image: IDW Publishing.

With #19, The X-Files returns to doing what it does best—cooking up nefarious government schemes being tested on an unsuspecting public. This time, we’re talking drugs and a conspiracy that dates back to the 1960s. The issue opens with a flashback to 1966, starring the Cigarette Smoking Man and Mulder’s father, who are dealing with the aftermath of a breach at a government facility. It’s an interesting start that introduces the key weapon in all of this: A government named G-23 that can “bring out the worst in people.” Whether or not Joe Harris is a fan of Firefly/Serenity I can’t say, but that’s quite a coincidence if he’s not. Could we be looking at a shared fictional universe? There’s nothing I’ve seen to say no!

Jumping forward to the present, and Mulder receives a tip off about this drug from the Smoking Man himself whilst waiting for a dinner date with Scully. I like that they have a dinner date. It reinforces that they’re an actual established couple now, without letting the mushy stuff overtake the plot. What I actually like more though is that the date doesn’t happen. It allows Scully to be upset at Mulder and for him to make amends, but in a way that keeps the plot moving forward. It also gives us some great banter, a piece of the X-Files puzzle that had been somewhat lacking in S10.

There are only three people you might turn to when investigating “government weed,” so it’s not long before The Lone Gunmen are on-board. It’s great to see them again, even if they are being used for some classic exposition scenes, and they naturally give Mulder all he needs to continue the investigation out in Nevada. It’s interesting that Scully doesn’t appear to follow him on this trip, although no explanation is given as to why not. Mulder isn’t alone, however, and we soon discover that Langly has decided to follow him. I have to admit that decision bugged me. For a man so paranoid about the government and who in the eyes of many is supposed to be dead, suddenly deciding to go flying halfway across the country just on the promise of “government ganja” seems way out of character. The final panel is… interesting. Even though it’s more than strongly insinuated that this is a hallucination, it’s inclusion feels weird and unnecessarily pervy.

This is a really strong issue with a solid plot and good character interactions. Tom Mandrake’s artwork is not at all to my taste, but I have to give it to the man; he can draw trippy well. I’m looking forward to see how this one concludes!

Age Recommendation: Age: 15+

Disclaimer: GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Corrina— Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1 by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Conner and a host of guest artists

We liked this so much, we reviewed it twice.

Reading a Harley Quinn comic by Conner and Palmiotti never fails to make me smile. I know that’s odd for a comic starring one of Batman’s more insane villains, but while Harley lacks inhibition, she can sometimes have a warm heart. She just kinda expresses it all wrong, like in the opening story, where she gives away her excess kittens and puppies by choosing among people out Christmas shopping. Or when she can’t quite say goodbye to the last puppy, so she terrorizes an entire police precinct to track the license plate number of the car where she left the puppy. This leads to her breaking and entering the home where the puppy is, just to make sure he’s okay. (Which he is.)

And then the bratty daughter of the family decides Harley is her Christmas present and… it becomes surprisingly touching. I forget sometimes that Harley is a psychiatrist. There’s also a number of fabulous pin-ups and two more stories—with one featuring Harley trying to stop the New Year from coming. All of it is sheer (though twisted) fun. This issue would make a great stocking stuff for any geek.

Age Recommendation: 13 + for adult situations

Batgirl-37 cover

Image: DC Comics.

Batgirl #37 by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, art by Babs Tarr

As it’s clear from my previous reviews, I’ve enjoyed this creative team change for Batgirl. I still do, but I’m starting to have some serious niggles that are interfering with my enjoyment of the fabulous art by Babs Tarr.

One is, as I said last time, Black Canary being such a jerk. That continues this issue, where she leaves Batgirl in the lurch. I hope this is a plot point that’s wrapped up very soon. The second is that this Babs is a little more carefree than I’m used to seeing her behave. Of course, the creative team wanted to add more fun into this, and they have, but still, Babs is a disciplined and careful person by nature, and I don’t think the writers have yet grasped that fully.

The third (MINOR SPOILER WARNING) is that at one point, the villain is mocked for cross-dressing. I believe the creators meant to mock the character himself for being over-the-top, but it comes across as slamming transgender people. The creative team has already issued an apology for this, so I won’t belabor the point. What I will say is that for the last three issues, Babs has taken down three minor and semi-forgettable villains sent against her by a mastermind. I’d like to have more story progression. Three times the same plot is at least one time too many.

Still, it’s great to see Babs in action against a doppleganger, well able to take care of herself, and seizing her own destiny. I like the new cast that’s been introduced and there’s one chilling panel, a callback to Babs in the wheelchair, that shows Tarr can do scary as well as fun. Also, there’s a great panel of the cast in civilian formal wear, which is fantastic. But I’m ready for this story of someone behind the scenes sending enemies at Batgirl to be done. My guess is Jim Gordon Jr., Babs’ brother, who has never quite been able to let his story succeed at anything.

Age Recommendation: 10 +

Looking for something else, readers? Check out this week’s listed books:

DC-Comics-Old.jpg marvel-logo1.jpg

Arrow Season 2.5 #3
Authority Vol. 2 TP
Batgirl Vol. 4 Wanted TP
Batgirl Vol. 5 Deadline HC
Batman #37
Batman And Robin #37
Batman And Robin Vol. 5 The Big Burn HC
Batman Eternal #37
Batman Kelley Jones Gallery Edition HC
Batman Superman #17
Batwoman #37
Catwoman #37
DMZ Deluxe Edition Vol. 3 HC
Earth 2 World’s End #11
Fables #147
Futures End Five Years Later Omnibus HC
Green Lantern New Guardians #37
Identity Crisis Tenth Anniversary Edition HC
Infinite Crisis The Fight For The Multiverse #6
Justice League #37
Kitchen #2 (Of 8)
MAD Magazine #531
Multiversity Thunderworld #1
New 52 Futures End #33
Red Hood And The Outlaws #37
Sandman Overture #4 (Of 6)
Smallville Season 11 Continuity #1 (Of 4)
Spectre Vol. 2 The Wrath Of God TP
Supergirl #37
Superman Batman Vol. 2 TP
Swamp Thing Vol. 5 The Killing Field TP
Teen Titans #5
Teen Titans Go #7
Trinity Of Sin #3
Wonder Woman #37
All-New Captain America #2
All-New X-Men #34
All-New X-Men Vol. 4 All-Different TP
Avengers And X-Men Axis #8 (Of 9)
Axis Hobgoblin #3 (Of 3)
Axis Revolutions #4 (Of 4)
Black Widow #13
Captain Marvel #10
Cyclops Vol. 1 Starstruck TP
Daredevil By Mark Waid Vol. 7 TP
Deadpool Vs X-Force #1-4 Master Set
Death Of Wolverine The Weapon X Program #4 (Of 5)
Deathlok #3
Elektra #9
Fantastic Four #14
Guardians Of The Galaxy #22
Inhuman #10
Marvel Firsts The 1980s Vol. 3 TP
Marvel Masterworks Famous Firsts 75th Anniversary Slipcase Set (2nd Edition)
Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble Season Two #2
Miles Morales Ultimate Spider-Man #8
Moon Knight #10
Ms. Marvel #10
Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe Avengers NOW
Powers Bureau Vol. 2 Icons TP
Scarlet Spiders #2 (Of 3)
Spider-Woman #2
Storm #6
Thunderbolts Vol. 5 Punisher Vs The Thunderbolts TP
Uncanny X-Force By Rick Remender The Complete Collection Vol. 2 TP
idw-logo.jpg Dark-Horse-Logo-2.jpg

Bigger Bang #2 (Of 4)
Borderlands #5
Complete Junior And Sunny By Al Feldstein HC
G.I. JOE #4
G.I. JOE A Real American Hero #209
Ghostbusters Vol. 9 Mass Hysteria Part 2 TP
Ghoul Treasury Edition
Godzilla Cataclysm #5 (Of 5)
Godzilla Rulers Of Earth #19
Godzilla Rulers Of Earth Vol. 4 TP
IDW Winter 2014 Archival And Art Books Sampler
Killogy Halloween Special #1 (One Shot)
My Little Pony Equestria Girls Holiday Special
Ragnarok #3
Rot And Ruin #4
Shadow Show #2 (Of 5)
Star Trek #39
Star Trek New Adventures Vol. 1 TP
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ghostbusters #2 (Of 4)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles New Animated Adventures #18
Transformers Drift Empire Of Stone #2 (Of 4)
Transformers More Than Meets The Eye #36
True Blood Omnibus Vol. 1 TP
Winterworld Vol. 1 La Nina TP
Angel And Faith Season 10 Vol. 1 Where The River Meets The Sea TP
Athena Voltaire Compendium HC
B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth #126
Brain Boy #1 (#1 For $1 Edition)
Brain Boy Vol. 2 The Men From G.E.S.T.A.L.T. TP
Criminal Macabre The Third Child #4 (Of 4)
Dark Horse Presents #5
Dream Logic HC
Eerie Comics #6
Lobster Johnson Vol. 4 Get The Lobster TP
Predator Fire And Stone #3 (Of 4)
Trilogy USA HC

Acronym Key: VC = Variant Cover / HC = Hard Cover / TP = Trade Paperback / GM = GeekMom Recommended Reading

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Ring in the Holidays With JamBells http://geekdad.com/2014/12/jambells/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/jambells/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 14:00:17 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69332 Here's a fun little web app you can try out next time you've got a bunch of friends with smartphones in one place: JamBells. Continue reading

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Jambells

Here’s a fun little web app you can try out next time you’ve got a bunch of friends with smartphones in one place: JamBells.

Developed by Pointless Corp. during a 48-hour hackathon, JamBells turns your phone into a handbell. Start a choir with your friends and play one of the songs in the database like “Jingle Bells” or “Deck the Halls,” or use Freestyle mode to set each phone to a particular note and jam away. (Or if you sadly don’t have any friends to play with, you can use Freestyle mode to change the notes as you play—but it’s really not quite as much fun.)

Just visit JamBells on your mobile phone or tablet, and start ringing!

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Hands-On With the $200 OneUp 3D Printer http://geekdad.com/2014/12/hands-on-with-the-200-oneup-3d-printer/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/hands-on-with-the-200-oneup-3d-printer/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:00:55 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69279 I first spotted the OneUp 3D Printer at the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire (San Mateo, CA) this last May. What caught my eye was not just the simplicity of the printer but also the colors... a variety of colors of laser-cut acrylic made the little 3DP really stand out. Both kids and adults were gawking and squeezing in for a closer look. I made a note to myself to keep an eye on this company... Continue reading

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OneUp

I first spotted the OneUp 3D Printer at the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire (San Mateo, CA) this last May. What caught my eye was not just the simplicity of the printer but also the colors… a variety of colors of laser-cut acrylic made the little 3DP really stand out. Both kids and adults were gawking and squeezing in for a closer look. I made a note to myself to keep an eye on this company…

Turns out, the OneUp had its start with a very successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2013 that raised $413,530. Part of that success could have been that the company had decided to make the little printer Open Source, but I think the real reason was the price… $199.00 for any backer that chose the single Extruder option. (The TwoUp almost doubles the print area for $279.00.)

Since that time, the company (QU-BD – short for Quintessential Universal Building Device) has continued to make improvements on the OneUp as well as add additional 3D printer models. 

I reached out to the team at QU-BD and requested a OneUp for testing, and not only did they deliver a working OneUp to my doorstep, but they responded quickly to phone calls and emails when I had some questions. It turns out that many of my questions could have been answered if I’d checked out their well-done forums, but I still appreciate the fast responses — I can place a check in the “Good Customer Service” check box!

Part of keeping the price low on the OneUp is that the kit ships unassembled. Yes, this is a DIY kit… you will need to put it together yourself. I’ve looked at the assembly instructions and they are amazingly detailed and in full-color. I say I looked at them because the box that arrived (along with some test filament) on my door contained a fully-assembled OneUp. The team had put it together for me. For this reason, I cannot verify the actual time needed to assemble but the estimate is between two and eight hours depending on your comfort level and who you ask. Still, the first 3DP I put together took me dozens of hours due to trial-and-error and just not having actual instructions — I was actually WRITING the instructions for assembling the thing with its creator.)

After unboxing and plugging everything in, I was ready to start testing. With the OneUp, the motor controller board and power supply are mounted on an external board — all the wires from the Extruder, the fan, the motors, and the HotEnd terminate on the board, and the board communicates with your computer via an included USB cable. I was already quite familiar with the recommended Repetier Host software — I run it on my Mac, but it also works on Windows. (It’s also free for hobbyist users, although if you’re like me and find it very useful, you might want to consider making a donation to keep the updates and development going.)

Controller Power Supply

Set up for the OneUp is pretty straight forward, involving a few setting tweaks in Repetier. You can find a detailed set of instructions here that include screenshots. The only real trial-and-error I had to perform with the OneUp was dialing in the proper temperature for the PLA filament I was feeding it. My other 3DP also uses PLA, and I have the temperature set to 203 degrees F for just the right melting point and solidification upon exiting the HotEnd. With the OneUp, I found that a setting of 193 degrees F worked the best. This took me about 5-10 minutes of tinkering, and once I had it dialed in I began tweaking a few other items such as movement speeds and Fill settings.

Hot End

One of the first things I noticed with the OneUp is that it runs a little bit slower than the other 3D printers I’ve tested and used in the past. Not a LOT slower, but slower. Maybe 60% of the standard speed I’m used to seeing. This is fine… I’ve long accepted the fact that printing ANYTHING with a 3D printer that you wish to actually use will take some time. If you’re looking for a speed-demon 3DP, this is not going to be the machine you want. But I’m going to add this in there (and quite often) — at $200, you’re going to be quite satisfied with the quality of print you can obtain if your patient.

The specs on the OneUp are quite good — the motors are NEMA 17 and are quite typical. The filament used is 1.75mm and the 0.4mm nozzle on the Extruder began to give me pretty much identical results with some additional tweaking and testing. Print area is going to be on the smaller size — 4″ x 4″ x 5″ (inches) but again… you’re dealing with a $200.00 3D printer versus a $500+ printer for a slightly larger print area.

Print Table

During printing, the OneUp is surprisingly quiet. It’s not noise-free by any means, but I’ve seen more expensive 3DPs produce much louder movements. The OneUP uses notched belts for movement for X and Y axis moves and a lead screw for the Z axis — movement in all directions was smooth and not jerky. I’ve seen some 3DPs that shake quite a bit with all the motor movement, so I was quite surprised and happy to see that the OneUp wasn’t going to walk itself off my desk. (I still set it on a small grippy pad, but it was probably not necessary.)

It took me about five or six prints to get my standard Maker token to come out at the print quality level I expect. This is not typical — you will likely spend MORE test prints dialing in your own 3D printer and getting it just the way you like. I have prior experience on my side which allowed me to reduce the time spent on tweaks and such… that said, I have no doubt there are still some tweaks I could make for even further improvements in the quality of my prints. (If you’ve never owned a 3DP, you should know that the tweaking of settings is a never ending thing, and users are ALWAYS looking for a small value change here or a decimal tweak there to eek out a subtle improvement.)

Notch Assembly

I said earlier that I didn’t build this machine, but I did examine its assembly to see what’s involved. The laser cut parts are going to fit together nicely… and tight! I tried to pull one side of the base off (because it’s designed to come off) and I was glad to see that while it didn’t come off easily, it also didn’t require ultra-strength to pull it off and a risk to damaging or breaking a part. I’m including a photo closeup below so you can see the notched assembly method that many of the melamine body parts use to “snap” together.

So, the first question is this — is this a good 3DP for the price? Absolutely. Just examining the hardware by itself, it’s a great deal — the NEMA motors are reliable, the Anubis hot-end (with user-replaceable nozzle) is reliable and produces quality layers and final results. The belt-driven movement of the print bed is smooth due to high quality bearings and chrome-plated steel rods.

Board

Another question — is it suitable for beginners? This one’s a little trickier to answer. First, it’s a DIY kit, so the print results you get are going to be partially based on how well you put the thing together. My test machine was assembled by the QU-BD crew, so you could argue they’ve probably built enough in their day to know every little in-and-out of assembly and provided me with the most accurately built machine possible. This is where I would point a novice to the company’s forums and tell them to use it whenever in doubt about a step. The assembly instructions are good, but nothing beats reaching out to experts when you have a question. (The other half of the question relates to configuring the Repetier software — and again, there’s PLENTY of advice and instruction on the forums to help a novice figure out what all the settings mean and how best to test for the right values and settings for an individual’s OneUp.)

And another question — is it suitable for kids? At the $200 price point, I can certainly understand why parents would be interested in this printer. But you can’t just drop this kit on a younger user and expect perfect results. This is a great kit for a parent-child project — your patience will probably be tested on more than one occasion (and this happens with ANY DIY 3DP kit), and you want to make certain that your expectations are reasonable. You’re not going to be printing out glass smooth prints 30 minutes after assembling this printer. The assembly process is a learning experience and so is the software configuration. If you’ve got a child who wants to be up and printing as fast as possible… this may not be the path you want to take. I’m a big proponent of DIY — when you build something, you will typically also know how to fix it. If your child has a certain comfort level with tinkering, they may very well love this kit. At age 10 or 11, I would have gone ga-ga over this thing.

1st and 8thFinal thoughts? I mean, it’s a $200 3D printer (and for only $80 more, you can have a printer that prints in two colors)! Five years ago, something that couldn’t even provide this quality of final print would have cost about $1000 or more. If you’re expecting to match the speed and quality of a (current) $3000 3DP, you’re going to be disappointed. This is an entry-level 3DP, but it’s certainly capable of producing some outstanding results. But those results will come from time spent with your machine. The melamine pieces are certainly sturdy enough, but you can’t go dropping this thing on the floor from any height. And the electronics are exposed — if this bothers you, you’ll need to create your own enclosure. But again… $200.00 for an honest-to-goodness PLA-printing machine that uses the standard 1.75mm filament with a 0.4mm nozzle. Not. Too. Shabby.

I’d like to thank Nathan and Adam with QU-BD for all their help in arranging for a test machine and for answering my technical questions. I think they must have some really happy customers because they continue to sell out of the kit — I had to wait a bit to get mine, and it was worth the wait to see just how compact and quiet and light this little machine really is… such a great little deal for a very reasonable price.

 

 

 

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New Book on Super Mario Bros. 2, the “Black Sheep” of the Mario Bros. Franchise http://geekdad.com/2014/12/super-mario-bros-2-book/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/super-mario-bros-2-book/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:00:29 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69297 If you've read the 33 1/3 book series about record albums, but you love video games, then Boss Fight Books just might be for you. The sixth title in their series is about the "black sheep" of the Mario Bros. franchise, ntitled Super Mario Bros. 2. An excerpt from the book follows this Q&A. Continue reading

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BoxArtIf you’ve read the 33 1/3 book series about record albums, but you love video games, then Boss Fight Books just might be for you.

The publisher has released several brief “critical, creative, historical, and personal books about classic video games.” Thus far in the series they’ve covered EarthBound, Chrono Trigger, ZZT, Galaga, and Jagged Alliance 2. Boss Fight just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for six new books, Boss Fight Books Season 2, raising $53,186 — more than 10 times their goal of $5,000. (Writers: See below about pitching a book in this series.)

The sixth title in “Season 1″ is about the “black sheep” of the Mario Bros. franchise, Super Mario Bros. 2. I had a chance to ask the book’s author, Jon Irwin, more about his project. Irwin has published essays and criticism in Alimentum, Billboard Magazine, Down East, GamePro, Lumina, and Kill Screen, where he is a contributing writer. In 2009 he received the PEN New England Discovery Award in Nonfiction. He lives near Atlanta but roots for Detroit.

An excerpt from the book follows our Q&A.

Gilsdorf: You consider Super Mario Bros. 2 the “black sheep” of the Mario Bros franchise. Why?

Irwin: In a way, Mario 2 (aka, SMB2) has been retconned out of its black sheep status. By including some of its characters and abilities in future games, Nintendo has gone back and bleached the wool, so to speak. But at the time, SMB2 was a wholly different experience than the ground-breaking original. You plucked turnips from the ground instead of pounding question blocks. You fought off strange plodding enemies with masks on their faces, called Shy Guys, instead of the Koopas and Goombas that would go on to be a series staple. You flew on magic carpets and dug into sandpits. Nothing carried over from the past game, and many of its features were never seen again in a Mario game. The biggest oddity, which is its greatest strength, was the ability to choose one of four characters — Mario, Luigi, the Princess, or Toad — to play through each level. (It took 25 years for Nintendo to give players that same level of choice in a Mario game when they brought back the same four characters in Super Mario 3D World on Wii U.) The game always felt different, odd. And as many came to realize, there was a very good reason for this.

SMB2-cover-nospine-shadow-wide_1024x1024

Gilsdorf: You say that SMB2 has a strange history that remains a mystery to most who played it 25 years ago. What’s so odd about the story of the game?

Irwin: Among those who read video game websites and follow the industry, most probably know at least part of SMB2’s history. But to the many people I spoke with who played their NES as a kid and never went back to video games, they had no idea there even was a history. The reason why SMB2 felt so different was because, originally, it was an entirely different game, released only in Japan, called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic. Nintendo did make a straight sequel to Super Mario Bros., but game evaluators in America found it extremely unfair and not very fun. So the head of Nintendo’s American division asked if they could tweak a separate game and release it in the West under the title Super Mario Bros. 2. Doki Doki Panic was originally created as a promotional tie-in to a summer festival being held by Fuji TV; the game’s four characters, members of an Arabian family, were the festival’s mascots. Nintendo replaced them with the familiar Mario characters and voila, a “new” Mario game.

Ethan Gilsdorf: What was the genesis for writing Super Mario Bros. 2 as part of this series?

Jon Irwin: Gabe Durham, editor and co-founder of Boss Fight Books, contacted me last summer about the possibility of writing for his new venture. He already had most of his line-up of authors and books, and there seemed to be a gap: There was no book slated that dealt with a really mainstream franchise, one that almost everyone, game-player or not, would recognize. So he came to me with a list of potential subjects. The Super Mario Bros. games are certainly “classics,” revered for good reason, but most of the love goes to either the original or SMB3. I loved the idea of taking on a giant franchise, arguably the biggest in gaming culture, but looking at one that often gets skipped over. I have little personal connection to the game itself. The choice was more from a storyteller’s perspective. I thought Mario 2 would make for the more interesting material.

bookcoversymbols

Gilsdorf: What’s the most surprising aspect or anecdote about SMB2 you unearthed?

Irwin: I spoke with Gail Tilden, who worked for Nintendo of America in the ’80s and stayed with the company all the way through 2007. She was the first Editor-in-Chief of Nintendo Power, one of the early specialty magazines for games. As such, they could set their own course. And the very first copy of the magazine had SMB2 on the cover. It was fascinating to hear how all these small decisions along the way converged at this one point–with millions of kids being introduced to the next big game, which began its life as another thing entirely. If one step along the way changes, who knows what would have happened?

But what I didn’t know is that, at one point, Tilden pushed for giving away to Nintendo Power subscribers a free NES cartridge of the original SMB2, the Japanese game that never released in the West. She wanted to call the promotion, “The Lost Levels.” But management never greenlit the idea. Years later, the Japanese SMB2 would finally come out in America as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, as part of Super Mario All-Stars, a collection of the NES Mario titles remade for the Super Nintendo. In a pre-Internet age, this was the first time many realized our Mario 2 was not the first attempt. Had Tilden’s promotion gone through, we would have known a whole lot sooner.

Gilsdorf: Can you talk a little about the power of nostalgia in the surging interest in classic video games? This seems related to the series of 33 1/3 books that are essays/tributes/odes to classic record albums.

Irwin: Video games are still such a young medium. To those in their thirties or forties, they were kids when the very first commercial games were being made. And now that we are older, many with families of our own, I think it’s natural to want to shine a light on something from our youth, either to share an early passion with others or, in a way, to make sure that older thing we loved doesn’t get lost or forgotten in our modern world filled with newer, shinier things.

Boss Fight Books was directly inspired by the 33 1/3 series. But a big difference is, music has been around a long time. Like, maybe the longest time? Cave Person #1 was likely humming a tune while slaughtering their lamb dinner. Other media has matured, too, over a longer period of time. Film is over a century old. But it took forty years to make “The Jazz Singer.” Getting from PONG to Super Mario Bros. took a little over ten. In the span of a single generation, video games went from not existing to becoming a cultural force.

People who grew up through that transition have this charged relationship with games. One’s personal nostalgia can also be seen, when viewed as a whole, as a kind of collective memory from the birth of a medium. That’s powerful stuff. No wonder so many people are still thinking about those games they played as a kid, or still playing them today.

"Mug shot" of author Jon Irwin.

“Mug shot” of author Jon Irwin.

Gilsdorf: Anything else you’d like to add?

Irwin: I’m thrilled that Howard Phillips wrote an original foreword for the book. He was one of Nintendo of America’s first employees and the inspiration behind those Howard & Nestor comics from Nintendo Power. To a certain child of the ’80s, he’s a legend. Twelve-year-old me would have exploded if he’d known, two decades later, Phillips would read and praise my (his? old-me’s?) book.

And if any of you out there read it, let me know what you think! My intent was to write a book anyone could enjoy. Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t just for fans of the game. I try to tell a compelling story that might start with a video game, but really is about people, and culture, and memory. And puppets. And maybe erectile dysfunction (not mine). I’ve said too much.

Lastly! If Mario’s not your jam, there are five other Boss Fight Books so far and another six coming in 2015. And if you aim to write the next great book about a classic game, they’d love to hear your pitch.

For more information, visit Boss Fight Books.

Super Mario Bros. 2: An Excerpt
(From Part I, Chapter 1)

He is immortal. A shape-shifter, a workaholic. Possible misanthrope. His interests are many: virology, golfing, the Olympiad. He exists on shirts, wall decals, baseball caps, backpacks, notepad doodles. Millions of strangers can hum the melody to the soundtrack of his life. Millions more control his chubby body in one of hundreds of video games bearing his likeness and name: Mario.

To Nintendo, Japanese maker of games and toys for more than one hundred years, Mario is their philosophy made whole. It doesn’t matter what you look like, or how powerful or fast or sexy you are. The packaging is an afterthought. All that counts is your smiling face, and your fingers, bent and aching, trying to perfect that cavern-crossing jump.

That Mario is the protagonist of anything is, frankly, bizarre—the kind of happy accident resulting from a mistakenly checked box or an outbreak in the Game Character wing. Our hero is a fat plumber with a limited wardrobe of overalls and an initialed cap, like a baby wearing a nametag. He speaks in high-pitched bursts of nonsense. His most violent acts expose a not-undue detestation of mushrooms and lizards. Motor skills advanced at a rapid pace, while language has remained somewhat under-developed. But his worth goes far beyond pronouncement of a Wa-hoo! or two.

Born into a medium so often depicting the gratuitous sniping of heads, this guileless, lumpy, somewhat pathetic caricature of a caricature has somehow remained not only relevant but the de facto mascot of an entire industry. When we see his face, we think of video games. (To those born after 2000, perhaps that mantle will belong to an Angry avian, or the reflective shield of Halo’s Master Chief; I shall weep for you privately.)

And yet in the history of his dominance there remains a strange blip. A game where, instead of kicking turtles and jumping at question blocks, he dug up turnips and raced floating masks. A game where Mario let others steal his limelight. A game allowing seven-year-olds their first pull of a slot machine. And whose magazine cover clay image launched millions into literate pubescence.

A game called Super Mario Bros. 2.

 

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Gadget Review: MobileLite Wireless G2 Media Reader http://geekdad.com/2014/12/mobilelite-wireless-g2/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/mobilelite-wireless-g2/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:00:58 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69323 On our most recent family vacation, we ran into an offline storage dilemma. My son wanted some movies on his mobile device and my daughter wanted a few on hers - all while not deleting any of the apps or photos that they had stored... Continue reading

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ML1

On our most recent family vacation, we ran into an offline storage dilemma. My son wanted some movies on his mobile device and my daughter wanted a few on hers – all while not deleting any of the apps or photos that they had stored. Needless to say, this is difficult to do with only 16 gigs of storage per device. I know this is definitely a first-world problem, but road trips without entertainment can sometimes wear down the fun factor.

I decided to take a look at wireless mobile storage drives and I was very impressed with the options out there. I first looked at the WiFi-enabled portable drives that are available through Seagate, Toshiba or Western Digital. They have tons of storage, some in terabytes, and stream data via WiFi signal to linked mobile devices. I found a new entry to the market offered by Kingston, however, that really caught my eye.

The MobileLite Wireless G2 is labeled as a media reader but it does so much more. First of all, it works just like the portable drives that I previously mentioned. It connects to mobile devices via a WiFi signal and allows streaming of media to the those devices. The major difference is that it does not have on-board storage built-in. It allows the user to insert SD, MicroSD and even USB drives to stream media from. This proved to be a boon with the low price of USB thumbdrives in the market. We stored ten movies on one drive that provided hours of entertainment! We also could take the SD card from our camera and plug it directly in the MobileLite and stream new photos immediately to all our connected devices – very cool at Disney World.

ML3

The MobileLite also includes an ethernet port to allow it to function as a portable router. This was great when hooked into our hotel room’s wired internet connection. Sure the room had wireless access, but everyone knows that when you are sharing wireless with a bunch of people, it gets really slow. Problem is solved with your own router! Finally, the MobileLite can act as a backup battery for any mobile device. It has its own battery to run on as a wireless storage already, and can share that battery to charge up to 2 drained batteries. Talk about a mobile device’s best friend! I can’t say enough great things about how neat this little device is. If you have any traveling to do or have any travelers in the family, you cannot go wrong with picking one up.

The Kingston MobileLite Wireless G2 Media Reader is available at most electronic stores and of course, Amazon.

Full disclosure: I was provided a Wireless G2 to review after reaching out to Kingston.

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Winter Break Activity Alert: Learn Javascript http://geekdad.com/2014/12/javascript-for-kids/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/javascript-for-kids/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:00:41 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69319 I've fallen in love with a book. Like fallen head-over-heels, carry-it-all-around-town, sneak-in-pages-whenever-I-can in love. The real deal.

The book that is the object of my affection?

Uh... it's Nick Morgan's Javascript for Kids. Continue reading

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Javascript for Kids by Nick Morgan

Javascript for Kids by Nick Morgan

I’ve fallen in love with a book. Like fallen head-over-heels, carry-it-all-around-town, sneak-in-pages-whenever-I-can in love. The real deal.

The book that is the object of my affection?

Uh… it’s Nick Morgan’s Javascript for Kids.

I know you were probably expecting something in the realm of fiction, something with characters a person could fall in love with. But let me explain.

A few months ago, I needed to learn some simple Javascript to add something to my blog. Within a few seconds, I was completely lost in the tutorial; the author shooting ahead of my skill range. I tried a few other sites before I caved and asked a friend to do the coding for me. And then I went and smushed my face into my blanket and told my husband that I felt like an idiot.

Okay, I’m not an idiot, but it’s difficult to informally pick up programming, especially when your background is in the fine arts. All programming books begin with the assumption that you have a basic concept of how coding works. No one starts at the very beginning, explaining things in a manner that even a child can understand.

That is, until Nick Morgan’s Javascript for Kids.

Suddenly I felt very very smart because I got it. No more pushing my face into my blanket and moaning about how I’ll never learn Javascript. He backed up the topic right to the very beginning. Instead of assuming that I knew all about strings and booleans, he began by explaining strings and booleans. He explained variables and how to assign a value. By the time he got to arrays in the third chapter, I was right there with them, able to understand arrays because he leads the reader slowly and surely through the subject matter.

But the real test was when I turned the lessons over to my 10-year-old twins. Both understood his instructions immediately and were able to replicate the exercises. And now all three of us were running around the living room shrieking, “I get it! I get it! I get it!”

It’s empowering to be able to write a program; to make a computer do what you want it to do. And it can be very frustrating trying to find books that take non-computer savvy people into consideration, or that start at point zero for kids. Thankfully, Morgan’s book does just that: it creates a door that all people can walk through — kids and adults, knowledgeable and unknowledgeable.

If you’re looking for a great winter break activity, hand your child Javascript for Kids. It covers a fairly wide age range. I probably wouldn’t give it to a child under the age of 10, but middle schoolers and high school students who want to learn Javascript will find this helpful. Or for younger children, consider making it a parent-child activity for the break.

Thank you, Nick Morgan, for writing a great (and empowering! And easy-to-understand!) book.

I was given a review copy from No Starch Press

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DC Comics Doesn’t Want a Feminist Wonder Woman http://geekdad.com/2014/12/feminist-wonder-woman/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/feminist-wonder-woman/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:44:36 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69276 While Marvel is positioning Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers and the new Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan to be 21st century female icons, DC Comics is pushing Wonder Woman back to the 19th. Continue reading

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The resurrection of Donna Troy due to blood sacrifice in today's Wonder Woman #37. Art by David Finch.

The resurrection of Donna Troy due to blood sacrifice in today’s Wonder Woman #37. Art by David Finch. Copyright DC Comics

There’s a terrific new book by Jill LePore, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which draws a direct line from the suffragettes who fought for the rights of women in the early 20th century to the creation of Wonder Woman as “the the four-color embodiment of the women’s rights movement” to quote Art Spiegelman in his review.

Yet DC Comics cannot run far enough away from Wonder Woman as a feminist.

While Marvel is positioning Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers and the new Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan to be 21st century female icons, DC Comics is pushing Wonder Woman back to the 19th.

And this week’s issue of Wonder Woman #37, featuring the panel above, is the final proof of it.

LeporeJ-SecretHistoryOfWonderWoman_thumb[1]When DC Comics rebooted several years ago, Wonder Woman, the most recognizable female superhero in the world, lost her origin as a being sculpted out of magical clay and imbued by the goddess with the love and longing of the Amazons for a child.

Instead, she became just another demi-god, the product of a liaison between Zeus and Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons. At the time, interviews with the creators said this opened up new plots for Wonder Woman because she now would have daddy issues and be more “relatable,” according to DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee. Oh, and she became Superman’s girlfriend to pump up his studly cred.

Now, there are many positive things that can be said about the stories written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Cliff Chiang for the first 35 issues of the rebooted Wonder Woman, starting with Chiang’s amazing art and Azzarello’s re-imagining of the pantheon of the gods.

But one element stains the entire body of work, one that was introduced early in the run. That was turning the Amazons of Paradise Island, once the paragons of peace and knowledge, into rapists and baby-slavers.

So not only did Wonder Woman lose her unique origin raised by a society of women dedicated to peace but those self-same Amazons were tarnished and trashed as well, as it was revealed that in order to procreate, the Amazons would attack random ships that passed by Paradise Island, seduce the men, kill them, and wait nine months to see if the product of the murderous liaisons were boys or girls. If girls, all good. if boys, they were sold into slavery to another god and it’s said if this option wasn’t available, the boys would’ve been murdered for the crime of being male.

Nice to have the Amazons turned into evil feminist castration-happy male haters. And by “nice,” I mean freakin’ awful.

All this was done, I suspect, to make Wonder Woman sell better in the direct market because, traditionally, female-led titles don’t sell well in the male-dominated direct market.  Whether this was a choice of the creative team or editorial edict, I don’t know, but I have been told that DC’s original plans for Wonder Woman’s reboot were even more egregious.

Which leads us back to Wonder Woman #37.

The new creative team is a husband and wife, Meredith and David Finch, with Meredith scripting and David on art. Finch is well-known for his cheesecake and his brokeback poses and tends to draw Diana as a 16-year-old teen. That should have disqualified him from Wonder Woman. Meredith Finch is an unknown with few comic credits. Originally, I thought that perhaps she might have talent and hidden potential. An interview she did with GeekMom before her first issue dropped seemed to indicate she had some inkling of the character. But the Finches also gave troubling interviews in which they ran away from Wonder Woman as a feminist.

And then Wonder Woman #36 came out. Not only did it feature wince-inducing art from David Finch, and not only did it start with a gratuitous shower scene, and not only did it have Wonder Womam whining about how hard it was to multi-task, and not only did it feature two women arguing in what seemed a parody of feminist viewpoints, but it featured the death of Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, Diana’s mother.

Wonder Woman #37 cover

Wonder Woman #37 cover

Does Wonder Woman #37 follow up on Diana’s grief for her mother? It doesn’t. It features her sword-fighting with her boyfriend Superman, fighting off some evil birds attracted to Paradise Island, and generally whining again about how hard her life is. And the Amazons aren’t sympathetic or helpful, they’re angry.

So angry that one of them, a female witch with a cauldron of evil, sacrifices a young mother to raise Wonder Woman’s sister, Donna Troy, as detailed above. Donna is apparently a mind-controlled zombie now, raised for the purpose of fighting her sister and defending the Amazon way of life against that multi-tasking and seemingly neglectful Wonder Woman. Donna Troy, once one of the happiest of the Teen Titans, Diana’s beloved sister, is there as an instrument of evil representing man-hating Amazons

As I said on Twitter, the good news is Donna Troy is back. That’s also the bad news.

This is where the hashtag #icanteven would come in handy. Not only is Wonder Woman the product of a murderous, male-hating society now, her mother’s been killed off, and an evil female witch from that society commit human sacrifice to drive Diana away for daring to care about men.

It’s as if Rush Limbaugh came up with a Wonder Woman storyline.

So why does this matter, beyond a horrible story in a comic book? Go back to LePore’s book and note how Wonder Woman was specifically created to inspire women and was herself inspired by women who fought for their rights.

Art by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson © Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Art by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson © Marvel Comics

And for those who say, well, hey, that’s the market, DC needs to make money and this is the way, go look at Marvel’s Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel. Kelly Sue DeConnick, aided by a costume redesign for Carol Danvers by Jamie McKelvie, made Carol relevant by embracing her feminism and her strength. DeConnick created a female squadron of pilots who inspired Carol to fly, literally and figuratively.

That series inspired a swath of women who spontaneously became the Carol Corps. You can’t buy that kind of fanbase.

If you’ve wondering why Marvel announced that Captain Marvel will be their first female-led movie, Kelly Sue DeConnick and her embrace of Carol’s feminism, her strength, and her friendship with other female characters is why. Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers is set to be a female icon far into the 21st Century and make Marvel truckloads of money. (And you should all be reading the fabulous current series while waiting for that movie.)

Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, created by Sara Amanat, G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona, is a book that everyone agreed would die in the direct market. It starred a female, minority character, was written by a woman, and the character was taking on a female superhero legacy. Doomed.

Except the first collected edition of this wonderful series hit the New York Times graphic novel bestselling list this year. DC Comics is running away from Wonder Woman and her appeal to this ever-growing market.

Will the announced Wonder Woman movie for 2017 be any better? Hard to tell this far out, thought it’s a hopeful sign that Warner Brothers has hired an incredibly talented female director in Michelle MacLaren of Breaking Bad. But if they’re of the mindset that the way to make her movie successful is to appeal to men and break Wonder Woman away from her feminist roots, it’s going to be an utter failure.

But a Wonder Woman movie that appeals to women, who’s someone they can aspire to be, one that shows them how to embrace their best selves?

That Wonder Woman movie could be a cultural phenomenon.

It better be, because there’s no hope left for the comic to lead the way.

Wonder Woman #37 cover

Wonder Woman #37 cover

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Is Stephen Hawking a “Bad-Ass” of Science? NDGT Thinks so. http://geekdad.com/2014/12/stephen-hawking-bad-ass/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/stephen-hawking-bad-ass/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:03:36 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69264 Professor Tyson weighs in with his opnion on the esteemed theorist and subject of the movie The Theory of Everything. Continue reading

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With the Oscar™ buzz around The Theory of Everything growing, Neil deGrassse Tyson chimes in on the importance of the movie’s central character—Stephen Hawking—and how only a “bad-ass of science” would have an entire kind of radiation named after him.

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Retro Gift Ideas for Anyone on Your List http://geekdad.com/2014/12/retro-gift-ideas-anyone-list/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/retro-gift-ideas-anyone-list/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 14:00:12 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69231 If you are looking for a gift that reminds you of simpler times, then here are a few suggestions... Continue reading

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If you are looking for a gift that reminds you of simpler times, then here are a few suggestions:

liteThe new Lite-Brite from Bridge Direct is a classic that is tough to beat. I had one of the original ones from Hasbro back in the day myself and my parents hated it. First of all, it had a normal size light bulb inside that generated so much heat, it was hard to play with for a long time. Then there were the pegs…

The new Lite-Brite has moved up in the world. Of course now, it is lit up with LED lights and is battery powered. This makes it great for kids to play with anywhere. It also has a storage box for the pegs, which is really nice for cleaning up. Pick one up for the holidays at Amazon.

SimonRemember the first handheld computer game, Simon? Now it is back with a sleeker, more modern look. It features all the original game play and sounds you remember along with some fun additions. It now has a digital screen with a counter to keep track of how many levels you can make it.

There is also a Simon that has a smaller size and a convenient carabiner clip which makes it perfect take along anywhere. Grab one at Amazon also!

Finally, what retro toy list would be complete without a View-Master? Sure kids today can look at anything they can imagine on a mobile device, but View-Master is the original 3D handheld viewer!

New View-Masters are produced and work just as the have since the 1960s. Except now, there are customer gift sets that feature some of kids’ favorite characters like Spider-Man and Doc McStuffins. I picked up a classic one in blue for my kids this year with the marine life pack. These make a great stocking stuffer, and you can get them at most retailers and of course, at Amazon.

View

 

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Case Logic Ibira Is a Great Budget Backpack http://geekdad.com/2014/12/case-logic-ibira/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/case-logic-ibira/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 13:00:06 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=68713 The Case Logic Ibira isn't a fancy backpack, but it's a great day bag that covers all the bases. It looks good, it's lightweight, and it holds all the stuff you'll need for a day out on the town. Continue reading

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Front view of the Case Logic Ibira backpack. Photo: Michael Harrison

Front view of the Case Logic Ibira backpack. Photo: Michael Harrison

I’m pretty haphazard when it comes to getting my stuff together in the morning. Between carting the big kid off to school, and the little one to playdates and daycare, I usually plop down at my local coffee shop to get some words in and realize that I’ve left something vital at home. I’ve tried a number of different backpacks and messenger bags, and realized that what I value the most is a knapsack that’s lightweight, clean, and maybe even a little stylish.

The Case Logic Ibira is made of polyester, which doesn’t immediately scream high fashion, but it’s spacious and sleek and unassuming. The model that I was provided had an orange back and zipper ties. It looks pretty sharp, considering the price, and has a good feature set for a budget bag.

It fits a lot more than I was expecting when I took it out of the packaging. The main pocket fits a 15.6″ laptop (the actual dimensions of the laptop sleeve: 15.2″ x 10.5″ x 1.2″ and fit my MacBook Pro like a glove). On the other side of the main pocket is a sleeve for a 10.1″ tablet. Unless you have a super big computer and a chunky tablet, you can also fit some other stuff between the two pockets. My diaper stash—four diapers and a travel bag of wipes—fit perfectly.

ibira-backpack-01

The main pocket of the Case Logic Ibira, with tablet, laptop, and diaper stash. Photo: Michael Harrison

The middle pocket is good for storing headphones, books, and larger items. It has two slots for phones—or, in my case, small board games. Two elastic hooks can hold pens, USB drives, or charging cables.

The middle part, with two small board games and some reading material. Photo: Michael Harrison

The middle part, with two small board games and some reading material. Photo: Michael Harrison

I really dig the very front pouch, which has a long vertical zipper that opens up entirely and can store writing pads, books, chargers, and other small stuff. The other two pouches don’t open all the way down to the bottom of the bag, which means stuff might get lost down in the recesses if you’re not careful. With the way that the front pouch unzips down the front, you won’t miss anything inside.

Next are two mesh pockets on either side of the bag for water bottles, and a “cash-stash” pocket on the back panel for hiding money, identification, or valuable Magic: The Gathering cards.

Weighing in at a little over 1 lb., the Ibira is a good daypack and could store a change of clothes if you wanted to travel light. If your everyday carry isn’t too hefty, it should house it all. The straps could use a bit more padding, especially if you weigh it down with D&D books like I do, and the zippers aren’t the easiest to pull, but since it retails at around $30 with a 25 year warranty, it’s a bargain compared to more expensive options.

Buy it direct from Case Logic or from Amazon

Disclosure: I received a free Ibira from Case Logic for this review.

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Toy Review: MiP, the Mobile Inverted Pendulum Robot http://geekdad.com/2014/12/mobile-inverted-pendulum-robot/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/mobile-inverted-pendulum-robot/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:00:43 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69194 One of the hot new toys of 2014 has been MiP, a small consumer robot released by WoWee. But is this the droid you’ve been looking for? Continue reading

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Mip

Product Image: WoWee

One of the hot new toys of 2014 has been MiP, a small consumer robot released by WoWee. With its promise of gesture-controlled movements and Bluetooth-linked capabilities, I decided to put MiP to the test to see how it delivers and whether or not it’s compliant with Asimov’s three laws. So, is MiP the droid you’re looking for?

Unlike some of my fellow GeekDads, I’m no engineer. My fascination with robots stems from the fictional more than the practical. I’ve longed for that day when I can finally own a protocol droid of my own. That fascination has followed me throughout my life, so, of course, when I saw MiP I had to test this little bot out. I wondered how my girls, ages 6 and 4, would react to MiP and whether or not it would challenge them or simply be another plaything.

Out of the Box Functionality
MiP is short for Mobile Inverted Pendulum. The name comes from MiP’s ability to balance objects on a tray accessory he holds out at his front. Sounds simple, but the wonder of MiP’s design is that it stands atop dual wheels, keeping itself in balance at all times (while turned on). Unfortunately, this also means a low battery life, and MiP does not come with rechargeable batteries.

Out of the box MiP is limited to only reading the hand gestures of its user. These gesture functions, trademarked as gesturesense, work by motioning the hand forward or back, left or right. At least that’s what the box says. In actuality, the gestures really don’t work very well, and the user needs to be very close to MiP for it to even read them. Standing just over 10 inches high, even my girls had trouble getting low enough to get MiP to respond. Not the best first impression.

App Functionality
Only after MiP is activated through a downloadable app does the robot start showing potential. The app, downloadable on both Apple and Android devices, allows users to control MiP from their tablet or phone. Initially, I downloaded the app on my iPhone. My girls, both unimpressed by the gesture mode, really took to the app. There are seven modes by which to control MiP on the app; dance, battle, boxing, path, stack, cans and drive.

Of all MiP’s modes, drive and path are the most entertaining. The drive feature simply allows you to steer MiP from controls on your screen. MiP moves pretty quick and because of its two-wheeled design can make some sharp turns. Path mode allows users to draw a path on their screen that MiP will then follow on the ground. While both modes are fun, MiP’s movements are strictly limited to flat surfaces. Any groove or imbalance and the robot topples over, causing the user to have to stand it back up and hold the robot until it catches balance. This can be a perpetual annoyance, and led my girls to lose interest.

Another issue is MiP’s inability to use its arms. Neither arm has any functionality, so when using the boxing or battle mode, MiP is resigned to simply make punching sounds while moving around. Cans mode has the user pour digital liquids into MiP, each one triggering a unique emotional response. All of the responses are great, with MiP’s eyes effectively reflecting sadness, anger, etc. while his robotic voice vocalizes those emotions. Dance mode triggers MiP to move along to preprogrammed songs as well as songs played from your device. It’s fun to watch, and paired with can mode, really injects some personality into the little bot.

When it comes to stacking and carrying items, MiP is pretty efficient, though very limited to what size and weight he can handle.

Final Thoughts
I distinctly remember a robot toy I had growing up in the ’80s: Tomy’s Armstrong. Armstrong was a ride-on robot with flashing headlights, a microphone, swivel joystick, rechargeable battery and arms that moved up and down, open and closed to actually pick things up and carry them. Not bad for a toy in the ’80s. Judging MiP in contrast to this 30 year old toy, I can’t help but feel disappointed.

MiP is limited by its size and reliance on an app. My kids don’t have their own tablet or phone, so they had to rely on using my device to play with it. Ultimately, MiP’s limits far outweigh its strengths, and this nearly $100 toy is severely lacking the depth of play and exploration I’d expect from a robotic toy in 2014.

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Explore the ‘Verse in Firefly: The Game http://geekdad.com/2014/12/firefly-the-game/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/firefly-the-game/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 11:30:03 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69184 I was late to the party with Firefly—by the time I watched the TV show, it had already been canceled, fans had rallied, and the followup movie Serenity had already been released. But, eventually I caught up with the rest of the world and discovered why everyone loves Mal and his crew so much. It's kind of like that with Firefly: The Game, too. Continue reading

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Firefly: The Game

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game. Making purchases through our affiliate links supports us so we can write more stuff. Thanks!

I was late to the party with Firefly—by the time I watched the TV show, it had already been canceled, fans had rallied, and the followup movie Serenity had already been released. But, eventually I caught up with the rest of the world and discovered why everyone loves Mal and his crew so much. It’s kind of like that with Firefly: The Game, too. It was released back in 2013 and already has four expansions out, but I didn’t manage to play it until just recently. But just in case you’re like me and still wondering whether you’d enjoy it, here’s a review to help you decide.

At a glance: Firefly is for 1 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, and takes about 2 hours to play. (At least, that’s what the box says. Actual playing time depends on how much time players take deciding what to do on their turns, and also the specific scenario you choose to play, so I’ve heard of games taking much longer.) The game isn’t terribly complex, but because of its length and the content, which is based on the TV show, I think the age rating is about right—if you let your kids watch the show, then the game’s content is equally appropriate for them. Firefly retails for $49.99.

Firefly Alliance Cruiser

The Alliance Cruiser caught up to the orange Firefly—bad news. (Plastic stegosaurus borrowed from Triassic Terror and isn’t included in the game.) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Interlude

Okay, normally I tell you about the components, how to play, and then give you my verdict on a game, but I think it’s worth making an additional comment here. If you’re a fan of Firefly (or are at least familiar with it), then the game will make sense to you. If not, then there are a lot of things that will simply seem odd, and the game doesn’t really explain things.

For instance, the reason there’s a cardboard stegosaurus to mark the active player is because Wash (the pilot in the show) has some plastic dinosaurs that he plays with. The reason the “disgruntled” tokens are a weird blue sad face, seemingly out of place compared to the rest of the artwork, is because they’re from the Fruity Oaty Bars, also from the show.

If you’ve watched the show, then you’ll already have a visceral fear of the Reavers. You don’t even need to know what that red ship does in the game; you just know it’s bad and you should avoid it. Haven’t seen the show? The rules tell you what happens when you encounter the red ship—but doesn’t actually explain what Reavers are or why you should fear them.

Before I played Firefly, I’d heard from a lot of people that fans of the show tend to enjoy the game, and for people who don’t know the show it’s just a pick-up-and-deliver game. I think the reason that’s true is because the game rules don’t explain the show—they assume you already know it. This isn’t a game that will make anyone into a fan of the series; it’s a game made for existing fans.

Firefly Components

A big board, some ships, and lots and lots of cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Components

  • 1 game board
  • 4 Ship cards
  • 6 plastic ship pawns (4 Firefly pawns, 1 Alliance Cruiser, 1 Reaver Cutter)
  • 6 Story cards
  • 125 Supply cards (25 each in 5 decks)
  • 125 Contact cards (25 each in 5 decks)
  • 80 Nav cards (40 each in 2 decks)
  • 40 Misbehave Cards
  • 11 Set Up Cards
  • 150 paper bills
  • 167 Tokens (cargo, passengers, fuel, parts, disgruntled markers, goal tokens, 1 stegosaurus)
  • 2 custom six-sided dice

The components are pretty nice—you’ll spend a lot of time punching out all those 167 cardboard tokens—some of them are pretty tiny, and they didn’t always separate very easily. It is nice, sturdy cardboard, though.

Firefly ship

Four player ships, plus the Reaver Cutter and Alliance Cruiser. (You’ll want to avoid those two.) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The dice are standard-sized six-sided dice, with a firefly icon in place of the 6; they’re engraved and painted so the faces won’t wear off. The ships are made of a soft plastic (or maybe it’s a hard rubber?) with hard plastic stands—there’s a post on the stand that fits into a hole in the bottom of the ship. It looks fine, but sometimes when you pick up the ship the base doesn’t come with it.

Firefly money

Paper money! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Paper money. What can I say? When I opened up the game and discovered it had paper money, I felt like I had stepped back in time. Don’t get me wrong—the money is actually gorgeous. The bills, in $100, $500, $1000, and $2000 denominations, are double-sided with the same full-color artwork on both sides, and have that Chinese-sci-fi mash-up you’d expect from the show. But it’s paper money, and you’ll be handling it a lot.

The board is enormous, and almost everything except the Nav decks and discard piles are stored off the board, so you’ll need a big table for this game. I think the board could have been smaller without affecting gameplay (the spaces are plenty big enough for lots of ships each) but I guess in a game about traveling through space you want the physical board to reflect that. So I can’t fault the big board, and I know plenty of people will love it, but I had trouble making room for the four players to have their ship boards and cards on the same table.

Firefly Setup

Tokens, Supply decks (and discards) on one end of the board; Story card, money, Misbehave deck, and Contact decks (and discards) at the other end. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

The cards use a lot of photographs from the show, so you’ll see a lot of familiar faces and names. The illustrations (for the card backs, for instance) are excellent, looking like travel posters for the various systems where you can stop to buy goods or do business. The artwork on the tokens is pretty minimal.

The rulebook isn’t great—there are some misspellings and grammar errors, and it doesn’t always feel really well-organized—but it gets the job done. I did find it helpful to print out a copy of the FAQ from Gale Force Nine’s website as a supplement.

How to Play

The rulebook is available as a PDF here.

The goal of the game depends on which “story” you play—each story card explains if there are any differences in setup and also tells you the various goals you’ll need to fulfill in order to win the game.

The general setup can be modified by the story cards. You shuffle each of the Nav decks (Alliance Space and Border Space) separately, placing the Alliance Cruiser card and the Reaver Cutter card in their respective discard piles. The Alliance Cruiser token starts in Londinium, and the Reaver Cutter token starts up in the top right corner of the board.

Firefly leaders

Players will choose from these seven leaders, with a mix of skills and special abilities. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The players get to pick ships and leaders. Everyone gets a Firefly-class ship, but only one of them is named Serenity, and only one player is going to be Mal. Work it out. Everyone puts their ship on the board. Each player also gets a standard drive core card, $3,000, 6 Fuel, and 2 Parts. Also, everyone gets some starting Jobs from the Contacts decks—usually one from each contact. You can discard any or all of these jobs, but may only keep up to three of them in your hand. The top three cards of each Supply deck are revealed.

Firefly 4-player game

A 4-player game in progress. As you can see, there’s not a lot of extra table space anywhere. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

On your turn, you get two different actions, choosing from the following: Fly, Buy, Deal, and Work. Basically you’ll fly around the board, picking up and delivering things to fulfill various contracts—but the ultimate goal of the game depends on the story card you’re using. For instance, in the “First Time in the Captain’s Chair,” recommended as the starting story, you need to be “Solid” with two contacts (by fulfilling contracts for them), have $6,000 on hand, and then get to Niska to pay off your debt.

Firefly Nav cards

Whether you’re flying through Alliance space or Border space, there’s a chance you’ll encounter something. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Fly: You can Mosey by moving your ship one space, which doesn’t use fuel or risk any events. Or you can use a Full Burn—spend a fuel, and then move as far as your ship’s drive core will allow, but as you move you’ll have to draw a Nav card for each space you enter (Alliance Space cards for the blue spaces, Border Space cards for the red spaces.) Some cards let you keep flying and some have events that you’ll need to resolve—sometimes interrupting your flight.

Firefly supply decks

Each of the Supply locations has its own deck of cards made to look like travel posters. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Buy: If you’re at a supply planet, you may stop to hire crew or buy equipment, or give your crew shore leave. You get to “Consider” 3 cards and buy up to 2 of them. The decks are a mix of crew, equipment, and ship upgrades. First take up to 3 cards from the discard pile you want to consider, and then draw from the deck until you have a total of three cards. You may buy up to two of those three cards by paying the cost to the bank. Anything you don’t purchase goes back into the discard pile. For shore leave, instead of buying cards, you spend $100 per crew on your ship, and then you can remove any disgruntled tokens from your crew.

Firefly board

My ship board shows some active jobs, ship upgrades, crew and equipment, and the things I’ve got in my cargo hold. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Deal: If you’re in a sector with a contact, you may try to do business with that contact. Again, you consider 3 contracts, and may accept up to 2, but note that you may only have 3 active jobs and 3 inactive jobs (in your hand) at a time. There are various types of jobs, and each one shows how much money it’s worth, whether there are any particular requirements for taking on the job, and what’s involved. Some jobs are legal, some are illegal—and some are immoral. If you complete an immoral job, then any of your crew marked “Moral” become disgruntled—which means other players can hire them away from you. Two disgruntled tokens, and the crew jumps ship.

Firefly jobs

Jobs can be legal or illegal, with immoral versions of each. Illegal jobs pay better, but are riskier. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Work: Use the Work action to start a job, making it active, or to finish off a job. To start a job, you decide what equipment you’ve got for the job—each crew member may only carry one gear, and anything that isn’t equipped doesn’t provide any bonuses while you’re on the job. You also have to confirm that you have the requirements necessary—for instance, enough skill points as indicated on the job card. Then you do what the card says—for instance, load cargo or passengers from a particular location. (Of course, you’ll need to be in the appropriate location to do this!)

Firefly Misbehave

Misbehaving may require deciding on a strategy and making a skill roll—or you can proceed if you have the right equipment or crew with you. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

For illegal jobs, you may need to misbehave: the job card shows a number of Misbehave cards, and you’ll have to resolve that many in a single turn in order to fulfill that part of the job. Misbehave cards sometimes require a skill roll, and some may be skipped if you have the right crew or equipment.

If your Work action completes a job, then you get paid for it from the bank. Completing a job makes you “Solid” with that contact—you tuck the job card face-down at the top of your ship board. Now it will show a bonus you get with that contact, plus you may be able to sell them goods or contraband when you’re in their neck of the woods. However, if you get a warrant while working a job, you’re no longer solid with that contact and you’ll have to fulfill another contract to get back in their good graces.

Firefly

The stegosaurus means it’s my turn. The Amnon Duul card tucked at the top right means I fulfilled a contract and I’m “solid” with Amnon. We’re like besties now. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Skill rolls come up both in the Nav decks and in some Misbehave cards. Generally, you’ll roll a single die, and then add any of the skill icon needed that you have on your crew and equipment cards. There are three skills: Fight, Tech, and Negotiate. The card will tell you the results of your roll, but generally higher is better. If you roll the Firefly icon (the “6”), you count it as a six and roll again, adding the second result to the total.

That covers most of the gameplay. There are a lot of specifics in the cards that come up and the various story cards, but you take turns flying, buying, dealing, and working until somebody wins the game.

The Verdict

I’d been hearing about the Firefly game for some time and have been eager to try it, but I’d been worried that it was just another so-so game dressed up with a licensed theme. I’m happy to report that the theme meshes well with the gameplay, and even though only one of you gets to be Mal (and it’s unlikely you’ll assemble the original Firefly crew on your ship), you do get a little taste of what it’s like being in the ‘verse that Joss Whedon created.

The people who will enjoy the game the most are the die-hard fans of the show, because they’re the ones who will get all the various references and recognize the characters. But even if you don’t remember everything, you get a lot of hints—from the titles of cards to quotes used as flavor text. Sticking to the theme does mean that it doesn’t always feel completely balanced. For instance, River Tam is a crew card that has a chance of giving you two or even three skill icons based on the roll of the die—and she’s free. Why? Because in the show, she’s smuggled aboard, she is incredibly powerful, but also unpredictable. But purely as a game mechanic, the card seems overpowered.

I’ve only played Firefly with people who already like the show, so it’s hard for me to know how much a non-fan would enjoy it. I do think it’s a solid game that would stand up well to other similar games even if it weren’t Firefly-themed, but I’m doubtful that people who don’t know anything about the show would dive into a long game about a show they know nothing about. If you’d never seen Star Trek, you probably wouldn’t pick up Star Trek Catan.

The game has a nice mix of luck, choices, and “take that,” though in the base game the ability to interfere with your opponents isn’t huge. You can hire away disgruntled crew—but only if you’re in the same space and you have the money and the desire to do so. Chances are, you can hire crew just as easily somewhere else nearby rather than chasing down the disgruntling leader. The biggest thing you can do to other players is send the Reaver and Alliance ships after them, and even then there’s a lot of luck involved in making that happen. There is, however, a Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion if you want to add in more player interaction, but I haven’t played that one yet.

Because of the game length, I think of Firefly as more of an event game—I’ll invite a couple people over specifically to play it, rather than trying to get it to the table spontaneously on a regular game night. I do wish it were something that could be shortened a little, but that’s really my only significant gripe about it. And if you’ve got the time for it, it is fun to hang out in the world of Firefly for a couple of hours at a time.

So, bottom line: If you don’t have patience for long games or you’ve never seen the show, you might want to keep flyin’ on past this one. But if you’re a gamer and you like the TV show, Firefly is definitely worth a try. You can pick up a copy at your local game store, from Amazon, or directly from Gale Force Nine.

Thanks to Gale Force Nine for providing a review copy of the game!

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Get Your Phorce Freedom Bag by Christmas http://geekdad.com/2014/12/phorce-freedom-bag-christmas/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/phorce-freedom-bag-christmas/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 11:00:08 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69246 This little bag promises to be lightweight and transformable (from backpack to messenger bag to briefcase), and it sports a hidden 15,000 mAh power bank that claims to keep two smart devices going for one week on a single charge. Continue reading

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phorce

Next month I’ll be joining GeekDad’s own big cheese, Ken Denmead, in Las Vegas for CES 2015. And I’m already kind of freaking out about what to pack. Specifically, in addition to finding space for all my clothes and toiletries, I also need to safely transport my essential tech — iPhone, MacBook Air, Nintendo 3DS XL and Kindle — while simultaneously keeping it all charged.

In the past I’ve simply tossed a travel charger into my carry-own and hoped for the best, but this is a full week on the go, complete with tons of walking, talking, interviews and (hopefully) a few relaxing moments to catch up on my comics.

That’s why the Phorce Freedom caught my eye. This little bag promises to be lightweight and transformable (from backpack to messenger bag to briefcase), and it sports a hidden 15,000 mAh power bank that claims to keep two smart devices going for one week on a single charge.

While I haven’t yet got to put it to the test, a review unit is headed my way. Still, as Phorce promises that anyone ordering the Freedom on or before December 19th gets free shipping and guaranteed delivery by December 25th, it seemed like the kind of thing worth pointing out.

Promotional materials provided by: Phorce

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Watch This: Best Yule Log Video Ever http://geekdad.com/2014/12/best-yule-log-video-ever/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/best-yule-log-video-ever/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 19:05:18 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69187 Two dogs curled up in front of a cracking fireplace in an 18th-century Scottish manor house. Pure holiday bliss. Continue reading

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From Starz.com

From Starz.com


Many of us geekier sort love to have some kind of fireplace yule log video running on the TV during the holidays. Yeah, it’s silly, but it adds a bit of comfort and doesn’t increase carbon emissions (not directly). Well, this year the Starz network, and specifically their hit show Outlander (all about a 20th-century nurse sucked back in time to 18th-century Scotland), has created their own wonderful version of a yule log video. This has the roaring fireplace of the Scottish manor that plays a big part in the show, with two wonderful dogs snuggled up on a run in front. All I want is to be sitting on a big wing-backed chair off to the side, with a mug of mulled wine.

You can check out the 90-minute video online, and you can even catch a bit of it on television on Christmas Day, in advance of their Outlander Marathon.

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Glowing DinoPet Will Fill You With Awe http://geekdad.com/2014/12/glowing-dinopet/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/glowing-dinopet/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 12:30:34 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69149 Ever wanted a magical dinosaur filled with luminescent creatures to keep you company at night? Now's your chance. Continue reading

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Image: BioPop

Image: BioPop

Ever wanted a magical dinosaur filled with luminescent creatures to keep you company at night? Now’s your chance.

Filled with the eukaryotic domain’s version of Sea Monkeys, DinoPet, a living bioluminescent pet, is filled with dinoflagellates. They are tiny creatures that, once settled and happy, will glow in the dark when slightly jostled.

Image: BioPop

Image: BioPop

When your DinoPet arrives, simply pour the dinoflagellates in the bottom along with some of the included food. Then put in a room temperature location that gets dark at night and stays light during the day, so they can photosynthesize. (But don’t put it in direct sunlight.) If you don’t have a window with natural light, the light from regular house lamps will do. Just be careful that the DinoPet doesn’t get too warm or too cold. After a couple of nights, the creatures will glow when jostled. It is best seen at night, of course. They’ll glow brightly with the jostle, and then their brightness fades a bit but lingers for a while. The more they multiply and eat, the more of them will fill your dinosaur, and the longer the glow lasts, from my experience. You then feed them again every four to six weeks. Enough food comes with the kit for several feedings, and you can then buy more as needed.

How well does it work? We found that the creatures liked to congregate in the dino’s head, but as they multiplied, they branched out to other parts of their new home. We left them alone the first night, but even the second night we saw plenty of glowing. They multiplied each night after that, growing in number and glowing longer each day.

The kit comes with plenty of information on the science of what you’re looking at, including a complete taxonomy, and detailed directions on the care and feeding of your DinoPet. Some sets also include a DinoPet sticker, a T-shirt, and/or a picture book telling a story about the DinoPet. In all, a delightful gift for a science-curious kid or family.

A DinoPet starts at $59.95 and is perfect for anyone who likes to ooo and ahh over their science toys (and who doesn’t?). If you order it in the winter months, be sure to retrieve it from the outside in a timely manner, or the dinoflagellates might perish. If you purchase it from a store, it will likely come with a redeemable card to send away for your creatures.

Note: I received a DinoPet for review purposes.

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GeekDad Puzzle of the Week – Friend Diagrams http://geekdad.com/2014/12/geekdad-puzzle-week-friend-diagrams/ http://geekdad.com/2014/12/geekdad-puzzle-week-friend-diagrams/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 12:15:58 +0000 http://geekdad.com/?p=69072 Given four 50/50 criteria, which of the sixteen pockets created includes just two of my friends? Continue reading

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Looking through my list of friends recently on my favorite social media platform, I noticed that people tended to fall into a small number of “sets.” That is, if you I knew you through work, I probably did not grow up with you, and if you fell into one of these two groups, I probably didn’t go to college with you.

However, looking at the characteristics of people’s first names, it was easy to construct multiple criteria that multiple had in common. For example, both “David” and “Penny” have not only 5 letters in their names, but also have a repeated letter, where “Debra” and “Adam” meet one or the other criteria, but not both, and “Mike” meets neither.

friendDiagramEach given criteria can split your list of friends into two groups: those that meet the criteria, and those that don’t. Given four criteria, you can split a list of people into some 16 groups.

Below is a list of 4 criteria, and 47 different names. The four criteria individually each split the group exactly in half, and, when applied together, split the list into equal groups — almost.

This week’s Geekdad Puzzle of the Week: Which of the 16 groups defined by these 4 criteria only has two members (and not three like the rest)?

Criteria #1: An odd number of letters in their name.
Criteria #2: Their name sums to a prime (A=1, B=2,.. Z=26, so ADAM=19, etc.)
Criteria #3: Duplicates a letter (like DAVID or SCOTT.)
Criteria #4: Has an even number of vowels (A,E,I,O, and U only.)

List of names:

ADAM
ALLISON
AMBER
ANGELA
ASTRID
BETSY
BRITTANY
CANDACE
CARMELO
CATHERINE
CHIQUITA
CHRISTIAN
CLAUDIA
DAMON
DAVID
DWIGHT
ELEANOR
HENRY
HUNTER
JACKSON
JACQUELINE
JULIET
KATE
LAUREN
LILY
LOUISA
MANDI
MATT
MAX
MICHELLE
MILLICENT
NORA
OCTAVIA
PENNY
PORTIA
RILEY
ROBERT
SABINE
SCARLETT
SCOTT
SHAWN
TOBIAS
TODD
VICTORIA
WANDA
WENDY
WILFRED

Given the list above, ADAM is one of the three names that fails Criteria #1, but meets #2, #3, and #4.

As always, please send your response into GeekDad Central. The winner of this week’s fabulous prize, a $50 Gift Certificate from our friends at ThinkGeek, will be determined by a random drawing from among the correct (or at least reasonably well-reasoned) entries.

Good luck, and happy puzzling!

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