GeekDad Raising Geek Generation 2.0 Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:15:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Sneak Peek at UpWorks Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:00:25 +0000 Here's an early look at a cool upcoming project. Jeff Martin just launched a preview site for UpWorks, a three-dimensional terrain system for RPG players. I got to take an early look at it last night, and over the coming weeks it will have a lot more information added. Continue reading

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UpWorks logo

Here’s an early look at a cool upcoming project. Jeff Martin just launched a preview site for UpWorks, a three-dimensional terrain system for RPG players. I got to take an early look at it last night, and over the coming weeks it will have a lot more information added.

First, let me back up a bit. Jeff Martin is the creator of True Dungeon, the live-action role-playing adventure that’s one of the highlights of Gen Con for the GeekDads.

True Dungeon Tiles

GeekDads and Company after successfully solving a room in True Dungeon. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Martin also served as president of Dwarven Forge, which produced modular dungeon tiles through two highly successful Kickstarter campaigns. The Dwarven Forge tiles let you build out dungeon rooms and passages, and they look fantastic. It’s the sort of thing that RPG players have dreamed about, and now it’s available.

Dwarven Forge

Dwarven Forge tiles, as seen at Gen Con 2014. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

But Martin has another dream, one that has been percolating for nearly forty years. He remembers the ruined tower from his first experiences playing D&D, and over the years he’s come across other towers in his role-playing campaigns, too. Ever since then, he’s wished for a way to have an actual tower that he could use as a DM—one that the players would be able to see.

In a phone conversation, Martin described a scenario: the party comes across a ruined tower with crumbing walls and fights their way through the enemies in it. Then, they find a door to the dungeons beneath—and the DM is able to take apart the tower and build them into the dungeon passages. After successfully clearing the monsters out of the dungeons, the heroes return to the tower and establish their base there, repairing the walls and reinforcing the tower—all of which could be reproduced in miniature on a model.

Like Dwarven Forge, UpWorks is a three-dimensional modular terrain. However, there are some notable differences: first and foremost is that Dwarven Forge lets you build out; UpWorks will let you build up. They’re designed to construct castles, keeps, and towers, so it’s truly three-dimensional.

Another difference Martin described is that these are designed with digital sculpting tools. These allow sculptor Darryl Jones (who also designed some of Dwarven Forge’s sets) to work in fine detail, but also ensure that the pieces fit together with tight tolerances. Martin explained that Dwarven Forge tiles were hand-sculpted, so although they look great, they’re roughly square but not exact. UpWorks pieces will fit together exactly, allowing constructions of any size without things drifting out of alignment.

Because the sculptures are digital, you’ll also be able to interact virtually with the buildings online. There will be some sample builds on the website so that you can view them from any angle and see what they’ll look like down to the smallest detail.

Martin will be launching a Kickstarter campaign at the end of the month for UpWorks, but we thought it was worth an early preview. It was apparent just in the brief phone call with Martin (even setting aside True Dungeon and Dwarven Forge) that he is very passionate about RPGs and tabletop gaming, and his enthusiasm is contagious. If you love the idea of great-looking terrain for your campaigns, you’ll want to keep an eye on UpWorks.

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Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: Bomb Squad Wed, 17 Sep 2014 15:00:25 +0000 The clock is ticking—time is short, and lives are at stake. Your team must navigate the robot to defuse the bombs and free the hostages—but everyone is working with limited intel. Welcome to Bomb Squad, a new board game currently on Kickstarter. Continue reading

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Bomb Squad

The clock is ticking—time is short, and lives are at stake. Your team must navigate the robot to defuse the bombs and free the hostages—but everyone is working with limited intel. Welcome to Bomb Squad, a new board game currently on Kickstarter that mixes elements of Hanabi and RoboRally.

At a glance: Bomb Squad is a real-time cooperative game for 2 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, and takes 30 minutes to play. It was designed by Dan Keltner and David Short, and will be published by Tasty Minstrel Games. The Kickstarter pledge level for a copy of the game is $35 (more for shipping outside of the US).

New to Kickstarter? Read our crowdfunding primer.

Role cards

Sample role cards as seen on the Kickstarter page.


As listed on the Kickstarter page, the game comes with:

  • 1 Mission book
  • 1 Robot Control Frame
  • 2 Battery markers
  • 2 Robot tiles (Felix and Octotread)
  • 4 double-sided Floor tiles
  • 9 Role cards
  • 54 Instruction cards
  • Hostage, Door, and Bomb tiles

There is a stretch goal to add more role cards, and the team is also working on developing a timer app for the smartphone. I played with a hand-made prototype, so it’s missing the artwork and I just used an alarm on my phone for the timer.

The Robot Control Frame is a large border that snaps together to hold the square floor tiles in place. Each mission will tell you which floor tiles to use and where to lay out the various tokens.

One of the artists, George Patsouras, also did artwork for Flash Point: Fire Rescue, and you can see some similarities in the feel of the game, even though the mechanics are quite different. It’s a good style that helps set the tone of the game.

Playing Bomb Squad

Our first attempt at Bomb Squad, the training mission. (Note: prototype shown, not final artwork.) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to play

The latest rulebook is available as a PDF, or if you’re up for some printing and assembly, there is a Print and Play version also.

The game comes with a book of missions—each mission shows a different board layout and indicates which of the two robots you use, as well as the amount of time you have before the various bombs will go off. The goal of the game is to defuse the bombs before they go off, but you also get a higher score for rescuing hostages and having battery reserves left at the end of the game.

Bomb Squad board

Set up and ready to go! Felix the robot is at the door near the bottom left. (Prototype shown; art not final) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

You set up the board according to the mission rules: there are walls, doors, hostages, and bombs, in up to three colors. (Everything is labeled with both a number and a color, so 1-2-3 corresponds to red-yellow-blue.) You also get a robot, and the corresponding card tells you how much battery it starts with and whether it has any special abilities or rules.

Each player gets a role card, which gives you a particular ability, and a hand of cards (the hand size depends on the number of players). One key part of Bomb Squad is that you hold your cards facing away from you, so you can see everyone else’s cards but not your own. This is to represent the limited information you have about the situation.

It’s also important to note that you’re not allowed to talk about strategy except during specific times—the idea is that you can only pass limited types of intel to each other, and talking about where or how to move the robot can give information about who is holding what types of cards.

Bomb Squad cards

Examples of the instructions cards from Bomb Squad.

There are four types of cards: Move, Open, Disarm, Rescue. Each one can be a level 1, 2, or 3, and you must match types. So to open a Level 2 door, you must use a Level 2 Open card. Movement cards will move the robot 1, 2, or 3 spaces in a straight line—if it cannot move that many spaces in a single direction, the card is wasted and uses up extra batteries—but we’ll get to that.

Gameplay is in real-time. Once you start the countdown timer for the bombs, you do take turns but you’re encouraged to think and act quickly. On your turn, you do one of the following:

  • Give intel to another player
  • Discard a card
  • Play a card
  • Activate the robot

To give intel, you pick an attribute: either Level (the number/color) or Action type. Then you indicate all of the cards in a single player’s hand that have that attribute. So you might say “these three cards are Level 2″ or “these two cards are Move cards.”

Bomb Squad

What cards am I holding? Somebody give me some intel! (Prototype shown; art not final.)

When discarding a card, you can name one or two attributes and then place the card face-up in the discard pile. If you’re correct, you get to increase the Main Battery level one or two levels—but if you’re wrong about any of the attributes, you don’t get to charge it at all. Then you draw a card to refill your hand.

To play a card, you place it in the next available programming slot along the edge of the board face-down, and then draw a card to replace it. Your teammates see what you played, but you’re relying on intel and memory. If your card fills the last available programming slot, then the robot activates automatically; otherwise it just progresses to the next player’s turn.

You may also activate the robot on your turn: turn up all the face-down programmed cards. At this point, everyone is allowed to talk about strategy. You may rearrange the cards in any order; in addition, if there are five or fewer cards, you may also discard one of the programming cards at no cost. Once you’re done rearranging the cards, reduce the battery level of the robot by the appropriate amount. Then you use the cards in their new order to move the robot around.

You must be adjacent to doors, bombs, and hostages in order to interact with them. If you use an instruction that the robot cannot carry out, it’s an error, and you spend 2 extra battery levels. Finally, before you can open a door of a specific level, you must have saved at least one hostage of that level, otherwise the Open Door action is an error.

Once all the instructions have been performed, the cards are discarded and gameplay continues.

If you run out of Main Battery on the robot, you start using up Reserve Battery, which cannot be recharged. If all of your batteries run out, or if a bomb goes off, the mission ends and you lose. If you disarm all the bombs, the game ends.

If you succeeded in disarming all the bombs, your team can also get a rating (up to 5 stars) based on the number of hostages rescued and amount of Reserve Battery left.

The Verdict

Even without the polished artwork, Bomb Squad really shines. As you may already know, I’m a fan of cooperative games, and I love the pressure and tension that come with real-time games. Unlike some real-time games, Bomb Squad still uses a turn order rather than a free-for-all, and you’ll find yourself caught between trying to remember the intel your teammates gave you and what intel to give another player.

Because of the high-pressure circumstances, a lot of the time you’ll end up giving a teammate intel that they were just given by somebody else, especially if you’re spending a lot of brainpower just remembering what cards you’re holding. But if you pay more attention to your teammates’ cards, it’ll come to your turn and you won’t remember a thing about your own cards.

Programming the robot is also a tricky business, because you only know for certain the cards that everyone else has played. You might think you played a “Move 2″ card, but everyone else knows that it was actually a “Disarm 2″ and they’re trying to figure out how to ensure that the robot can actually get to a Level 2 bomb so it won’t be an error. The more commands you run at once, the more efficient the robot is; however, that ability to discard an erroneous instructions card is very useful, too.

The other thing that happens is that somebody will play cards to Rescue, Disarm, or Open, since they can see those things on the board—but then everyone has to work together to move the robot to those places within the limited number of cards available. Often, you’ll have too many of those interaction cards, and not enough slots left for Move cards, resulting in a pile of errors.

Keeping track of the battery level is also crucial. When you finally figure out a card in your hand, you have to decide whether it’s more needed as an instruction or to recharge two battery levels, particularly if the robot has just been activated recently and needs recharging. In my plays, most players just went for the single attribute to recharge one battery level, rather than risk getting it wrong—but it then takes that many more turns to get the battery level full.

Obviously, memory plays a huge role in this game. People try to rearrange their cards and hold them at different angles to help them remember what’s what—but as soon as you play or discard a card and draw a new one, all bets are off again. And then trying to keep track of which cards were already played to the programming track… if you don’t have good memories, you definitely won’t survive.

There are a whole bunch of missions included, with a little flavor text from Sarge, and they’re challenging enough that the game will have a lot of replay value. So far I’ve only played two of the training missions and we’ll definitely need some more practice before we’re ready to move on to the harder ones.

I also liked the different robots: one can move and interact diagonally, but has less battery to begin with. And there are training and expert versions of each robot—the expert side is very difficult, at least for this bomb squad novice. But I’m excited about the possibility of getting good enough at the game to use them.

The one thing that feels weird is mostly a thematic thing: I know that the blind card plays and intel are supposed to represent the fact that we all have limited knowledge of the situation and we’re working to piece together a whole picture. But practically, all of us can see the entire board and where bombs and hostages are, and we’re all programming a robot despite the fact that we’re not sure what we’re telling the robot to do. I’m not saying that it feels like a pasted-on theme, because it doesn’t; it’s just that the actions that players take don’t feel like they really correspond to actions that a real bomb squad would be taking. It’s not simply a level of abstraction like there always is with board games; it’s more that there are parallels that don’t quite match up. But in this case, I’d call it a minor intellectual quibble because the feel of the game is excellent.

Overall, Bomb Squad looks like a fantastic addition to your cooperative game shelf. It uses a mix of game mechanics that add up to a very satisfying whole, and everyone I’ve played with agrees that the gameplay is intense and exciting.

For more information, check out the Kickstarter page.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a demo prototype of this game for review.

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GeekDad Book Review: The Art of John Alvin Wed, 17 Sep 2014 14:00:47 +0000 You know John Alvin's work, even if you don't know his name. Starting in 1974, the Massachusetts-born artist created dozens of the movie industry's most memorable posters, from Blazing Saddles to The Lion King to E.T. and Blade Runner. He also designed a range of other movie-tie-in imagery, like the original Star Wars Concert poster and a popular fifteenth-anniversary Alien print. Continue reading

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You know John Alvin’s work, even if you don’t know his name. Starting in 1974, the Massachusetts-born artist created dozens of the movie industry’s most memorable posters, from Blazing Saddles to The Lion King to E.T. and Blade Runner. He also designed a range of other movie-tie-in imagery, like the original Star Wars Concert poster and a popular fifteenth-anniversary Alien print.

Titan Books’ The Art of John Alvin — written by John Alvin’s widow, graphic designer Andrea Alvin — collects 37 of these works and their stories. The 160-page full-color book includes a foreword by Jeffrey Katzenberg, and at just over 9-by-12 inches, really does justice to these posters and a good bit of the developmental and alternate artwork that was part of Alvin’s creative process. Here’s a concept sketch for the Spaceballs poster, for example:


Image: Titan Books

And I really like this concept art for the Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country teaser:


Image: Titan Books

Some of the projects get a little attention — The Lost Boys, The Goonies, and Short Circuit are among the one-page spotlights — and some get a bit more: the section on Jurassic Park occupies 10 full pages and reproduces more than 60 pieces of art, including logo concepts, trailer storyboard ideas, and 30 “grainy photocopies” which “are all that remain of the scores” of early poster possibilities.


Image: Titan Books

Of course, in the end, John’s art was used for various Jurassic Park theatre displays, but not on the final poster, which relied primarily on the familiar Jurassic Park logo derived from the book jacket. (Although they did keep the copy line that Andrea wrote: “An Adventure 65 Million Years in the Making.”)

While there’s a ton of familiarity and nostalgia to be found in the pages of The Art of John Alvin, the extra sketches and stories behind the images add a new level of interest and appreciation to the work, even though so much of it has been a part of our lives for a long, long time.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this book for review purposes.

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Moleskine myCloud Backpack: Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:00:14 +0000 I've been using the same messenger bag for years now, with a larger backpack for things like conventions. For my trip to Gen Con this year, I got to try a new bag: the Moleskine myCloud backpack. Continue reading

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Moleskine Bag

Front and back view of the Moleskine myCloud backpack. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

For many years now, I’ve been using a small-sized Timbuk2 messenger bag as my go-to if I just need to carry a few things when I’m headed out the door. I’ve also got a GreenSmart Mandrill backpack that has served me well for conventions when I know I’ll be out and about for a whole day—but it’s pretty big and soft, so things tend to get mushed down at the bottom. That, and my wife commandeered it for her regular work bag so I have to get special permission to use it now.

For my trip to Gen Con this year, though, I got to try out a new bag: the Moleskine myCloud backpack. (And now it’s become my wife’s regular work bag.)

The backpack retails for $220, and comes in green or dark gray. Moleskine also has several other bags of different sizes available, from a small shoulder bag to a messenger bag to large tote bags.

The backpack has some features that link it to the popular notebooks: there’s an elastic strap across the bottom that holds the flap in place, echoing the elastic ribbon of the notebook covers. And the green interior and accents hint at the classic notebook, too.

Moleskine Bag

Two views of the interior (from front and back) show a lot of pockets. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Inside the main compartment are two flat padded pouches (in green, above); one is large enough for laptops up to 15″, the other is narrower and can just fit my iPad 2 if I’m not using the bulkier case. An elastic strap with velcro keeps things in place. On the front side of the bag (in blue) there are several smaller compartments: two sleeves for pens, two wallet-sized pockets, one smaller zippered pocket, and one larger zippered pocket the width of the bag. There’s also a little strap near the top with a snap so you can hang your keyring, or the included collapsible bag.

Moleskine Bag

There’s an included collapsible bag. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The extra bag is like one of those compact shopping bags—it’s pretty thin, folds down to a small package, and has an elastic loop to hold it all together. While I was at Gen Con, it came in really handy because I could easily pop it out for all the extra stuff I was picking up, and then empty it out at the hotel and stuff it back into the backpack for the next day. The only problem with it was that, with some of the heavier things I was carrying, the straps did get a little pulled thin, which wasn’t as comfortable on my shoulder by the end of the day.

Moleskine Bag

Two side pockets can be accessed without lifting the flap. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are two side pockets, each going halfway across the bag, and these can be accessed without opening the flap. That was also really handy for the convention, because I could keep a few things like my camera, gum, and a package of cough drops ready for easy access without having to open up the whole bag.

The flap itself uses velcro to close, and then the elastic strap to hold it in place. The downside to the velcro is that it can be kind of loud, but it does the job. I didn’t always find the elastic strap necessary, but my wife has been using it for her bike commute and said that the strap is great when the bag is full. During the convention, I didn’t even always zip the main compartment shut since there was a flap over it, although once the bag gets full then the zipper helps hold it together.

You can also see the ring in the photo above: there’s one on each side, and the luggage tag (see photo below) came attached to one of them. For my trip, since there’s also a luggage tag sewn into the interior, I did away with the larger luggage tag. I got one of those travel Purell bottles with the strap on it, and attached it to the ring, so I had some hand sanitizer available throughout the convention. No con crud for me!

Moleskine Bag

There’s a built-in carabiner and a luggage tag that also has the iconic elastic strap. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There’s a large rectangular clip on the side where you can hang things—I used mine to hold my water bottle, which worked pretty well most of the time. (Sometimes I whacked things with the bottle, and I wouldn’t advise trying to run with a full bottle attached to your side.)

Moleskine Bag

My wife demonstrates the shoulder strap. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

You can use the bag either as a backpack or a shoulder bag. When not in use, the backpack straps are covered by a zippered flap which also functions as a luggage pass-through if you want to hang it on a roller suitcase handle. The shoulder strap is in two pieces with a buckle, and the strap tucks into pockets on either edge of the bag. I used it exclusively as a backpack for Gen Con, but my wife says she switches it back and forth frequently as needed.

Moleskine Bag

Easily convert from over-the-shoulder to backpack. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The backpack straps also have a chest strap, which is really nice when you’re carrying a lot of stuff. I hadn’t really used one before but I discovered it was really handy during the convention. The backpack straps also have a touch of reflective piping on the edges.

There’s also a handle on the top between the backpack straps if you just want to carry it that way, too.

Moleskine Bag

It fits easily under the seat on a plane. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Moleskine backpack is square-shaped, so despite its capacity it fits easily under the airplane seat. And it holds its shape well enough that I didn’t have things getting squashed and lost in the folds. The body of the bag is made of “water-repellent polyamide” with a “coupled polyester” base. I didn’t know what that meant without Google, but it’s basically like a nylon body with a tougher, stiff base. The base helps it keep its shape and gives it some extra protection.

Moleskine Bag

It’s like it was designed for gamers. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

As a bonus, the bag is just about the perfect size for your large square-box board game, as you can see from the photo above. I was able to pack a game box (with several more smaller games packed inside), to have a small portable game library wherever I went—and then the spare bag for anything I collected throughout the day.

One last note: the “myCloud” name is a play on cloud storage—the idea is that the bag is your analog cloud, where you keep your things. Kind of silly, but if you’re into that sort of thing, you can go to MyAnalogCloud and play the little personality game there, print it out, and stick it in your luggage tag, proclaiming that you’re an Analog Utopian or whatever you turn out to be.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with the Moleskine myCloud backpack, and I’ll definitely be using it for future trips. And so will my wife.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a sample of this bag for review.

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Munchkin Treasure Hunt Is Munchkin for Munchkins Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:00:59 +0000 Steve Jackson Games has unveiled its first product aimed to include players of single-digit age -- six and up: Munchkin Treasure Hunt. GeekDad received one of a very few advance review copies, and now that we've played a few games, we've got good news for Munchkin fans with young kids: it's really fun. Continue reading

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Steve Jackson Games has unveiled its first product aimed to include players of single-digit age — six and up: Munchkin Treasure Hunt. GeekDad received one of a very few advance review copies, and now that we’ve played a few games, we’ve got good news for Munchkin fans with young kids: it’s really fun.

What you get:

  • A 16-by-16-inch game board (folds into quarters)
  • 26 Monster cards (plus two blanks for customizing)
  • 70 Treasure cards (plus two blanks for customizing)
  • Six player Munchkin tokens made up of a plastic base and cardboard “standie”
  • Two six-sided dice

Game artwork is by John Kovalic, and the game design comes from Munchkin Czar Andrew Hackard.


How to play:

Everybody starts in the Entrance room in the center of the board and receives three Treasure cards, which they keep to themselves.

A player’s turn begins with rolling one die and moving in any direction. Land on a picture of a die? Roll again. Land on a treasure chest? Free Treasure card! Land on a picture of a Monster? Move to that Monster’s room for a fight. Land on a blank space? Enjoy the tranquility!

If your move takes you into a room, you stop there immediately and either fight the monster or, if it’s the Entrance, follow its instructions: take a Treasure, roll one die, and refer to the Entrance’s numbered illustrations to move to the room of the monster matching the number you rolled. (And then fight the monster when you get there.)

Fighting monsters:

Monster fights use a simplified, younger-kid-friendly version of the system at the heart of Munchkin: Each monster has a target Power number, and you’re trying to match or beat it. (Unlike Munchkin, ties in Munchkin Treasure Hunt go to the player.)

There are six Monsters in Munchkin Treasure Hunt: Ghost, Witch, Troll, Zombie, Goblin, and Dragon. Each has a base Power number ranging from 5 to 12. When you fight, you draw a Monster card, which will describe the specific sort of monster you’re fighting: Big-eared, for instance; or Violent; or Snotty. (Dragons are powerful — you have to draw two descriptive Monster cards when you’re in the dragon room.) And not all Monster cards actually add a bonus — there are several “+0 to Monster” cards, although there are no negative point cards.


You determine the monster’s power by adding its base power number to the number(s) on the monster card(s) you drew. The dragon has a Power of 12, so — check the cards in the photo for reference — a Big-Eared, Snotty Dragon would have a power of 15 (12+1+2). The Troll also has a special power-determining rule: Its base number is modified by one Monster card and a single die roll.

To defeat a monster, you start by rolling one die, which is your Munchkin’s Power. It’s possible to beat a monster on the strength of this die roll alone if you’re fighting a Witch or a Goblin. More often, though, you’ll need to use some of your Treasures to reach the Monster’s Power number.


Treasures come in two kinds: permanent and one-time. One-time Treasures are discarded after use, and most either add to your power or allow you to help out your die roll with another die, or a re-roll. Permanent treasures are played on the table in front of you, and their bonuses remain active until you lose them or swap them out. You can only have two permanent treasures at a time though, so if you’ve got two on the table and want to upgrade, you’ll have to discard one that you’re using. (Each Treasure has a Gold value printed in the lower right corner as well. Pay attention to these.)


If you can beat the monster by using your cards, you get to draw the number of Treasures shown in the room, which ranges from 2 to 5, and you get to keep them to yourself. The Monster card and all one-time Treasure cards you used in the fight go into their respective discard piles.

Can’t beat the monster with your cards? You have two options: run away or get help.

Running away means simply rolling one die and moving away from the room, but if you have any permanent treasures on the table, you have to discard one. No permanent treasures? Lose a card from your hand instead.

You can get help from one — and only one — other player by asking someone who is within six spaces of you for help. (No “hallway” is more than five spaces long, so basically this works out to an effective range of one room in any direction.) If that person agrees, they move to your room. Assistance begins with that person rolling a die and adding any permanent Treasure bonuses they have. If that number, combined with yours, still doesn’t beat the Monster, they can play one-time Treasures if they want.

If your team-up efforts are successful, you draw the number of Treasures in the room, but you reveal them face-up to everyone, and your helper gets to choose one. If you can’t beat the monster together, and must Run Away, your helper does not — so there’s no penalty for trying to assist someone if your effort fails.

Who wins?

The game ends when the last Treasure card is drawn. (If a player is due more cards than remain, the Treasure discard deck is shuffled so they can draw the rest of the cards they deserve.)

Everyone then adds up the Gold values of the Treasures in their hand — permanent Treasures on the table don’t count! — and the winner is the one with the most gold.

Play time is estimated at an hour, and our four- and five-player games clocked in right around that.

The verdict:

For every parent who’s ever asked “How long until I can teach my kid Munchkin?” Treasure Hunt is the perfect answer. It also stands just fine on its own, even if your kids never want to tackle the original card game.

It succeeds for a few reasons. First, it’s not just Munchkin on a game board. Treasure Hunt captures Munchkin‘s humor and game style — nothing like defeating a dark and stormy boring dragon using your homework binder and a full diaper — but plays differently, lacking the cutthroat aspects of leveling up at all costs and negatively interfering with another player’s combat. The worst you can do is decline to help someone fight a monster, which, at most, will cost that player a single Treasure card.

It’s also easy enough to learn and play that after one game, my seven- and nine-year-old nephews were easily prepared to play again with little or no help. (Also: Since introducing them to the game, they have replaced their traditional “Hi, Uncle John!” greeting with “Did you bring the Treasure Hunt game?” Which is fine, of course.)

That said, my brother and I did give his kids advice now and then, because while the math itself is basic, Munchkin Treasure Hunt allows for a good amount of strategy in determining which monsters you’d like pursue — Is it worth taking on a five-treasure fight if you need to play three treasures to win, for example? — which Treasures to play and which to keep for their gold, when to use dice re-rolls, and things like that.

My only issue with the game components is that one or two of the plastic bases for the player pieces didn’t grip the “standie” firmly enough, so if we picked up those pieces rather than scooting them along the board, the base dropped off. Since there’s no reason for these not to remain permanently assembled, I went ahead and put a tiny dab of school glue in each base. And as with all Munchkin games, you’ll probably want to throw a couple rubber bands in the box to keep the card decks separate.

Munchkin Treasure Hunt will retail for $29.99 and be on shelves soon exclusively at Toys ‘R’ Us stores and online at

GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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Simplicam Makes Home Monitoring Easy Wed, 17 Sep 2014 11:00:17 +0000 Take a look at this easy-to-setup home monitoring camera that delivers a great image and two-way communication. Continue reading

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One of the lovely benefits of living in a time of innovation and more accessible technology is that certain products, once available only to companies or individuals with big budgets, become available at price points that are affordable to nearly everyone. Such is the case with home monitoring cameras, one of which, ArcSoft’s Simplicam by Closeli, recently became available.

I borrowed one for a short test and was very impressed by many of the camera’s features. First, and foremost, it was incredibly easy to set up. All I had to do was download an app (available for both iOS and Android) and go through a simple three step process: press a “Set” button, enter my WiFi network’s login information, and show the camera a QR code that the app generates… and that’s it. I was up and running.


When I opened the app and logged in, I could watch from anywhere. And the 720p HD video is stunning — there’s so much detail in the 107º field of view (image is best when viewed on WiFi networks) and its 4X digital zoom beats anything else out there. On top of that, the 3.5 inch camera has a microphone and speaker so that I could communicate from my phone to the room where the camera is.

Settings allowed me to setup the camera so I was alerted whenever motion or sound is detected (it does a great job with both), and the camera has recording options where, for a fee, the video feed is continuously fed to the cloud, keeping a record of who visits a side door, comes in from the garage, or any other application I wanted to use the camera for. Facial detection, scheduled recordings, and video encryption are just some of the features that the Simplicam offers.

The HD image is amazing. But be careful of your foreground How the night vision should look.

The camera also has a night vision ability, which is pretty nice, as you can see from the images, just above. However, you will want to be careful what the foreground is for the camera because, if it’s too reflective, it will kill the picture for the rest of the frame, as seen by clicking the second image, above.

My only wish is that I could hardwire the camera to a network so, in case of a power outage, the camera could easily reconnect to the network. As it stands now, if the camera is powered down, you have to go through the same connection procedure to get the camera going again, which wouldn’t work if you were out of town.

The Simplicam retails for $149 without recording, and a year’s plan for recording and storage will set you back another $50. The Simplicam has the easiest setup and best picture of any home monitoring I’ve seen so far and at a price that’s pretty cost-effective.


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Every Magic Skylander for Trap Team Wed, 17 Sep 2014 10:00:43 +0000 With Disney Infinity 2.0 knocking on the door, Skylanders Trap Team has posted a bunch of information. In this video we look at each and every Magic element Skylander for the new game. Continue reading

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With Disney Infinity 2.0 knocking on the door, Skylanders Trap Team has posted a bunch of information. In this video we look at each and every Magic element Skylander for the new game:

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NASA Awards Contracts for Manned Flights Wed, 17 Sep 2014 09:00:07 +0000 NASA granted contracts to two companies for manned spaceflights to and from the International Space Station. Continue reading

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Dragon V2 Interior

The interior of Space X’s Dragon V2 Crew Capsule. (Photo Credit: Space X)

Yesterday, (September 16th, 2014) NASA announced that both SpaceX and Boeing got contracts to fly manned crews to the International Space Station. For those of us who believe that the future of humankind is in space, that’s a pretty great step forward. This will mark the first time in the history of humankind that a private company has carried people into orbit.

Private-public partnerships have been a significant factor in the exploration of our planet. Kings, queens, and emperors commissioned private sailors to explore much of the world’s oceans. Sailors like Magellan sailed for wealth, fame, and glory, but their adventures were funded by rulers. In a similar way, governments are still the main impetus for manned flights in space. They provide a reason to go, and now, for the first time, the United States is letting a private company develop and make profit from that decision to go.

While NASA is paying much of the bill for the development of both Boeing’s and SpaceX’s capacity, the partnership is somewhat different than those of old. Here the private companies are being hired to work in low Earth orbit, which has freed NASA to think about how to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit to the faraway destinations like asteroids and Mars.

But such partnerships do more than just free up NASA resources. They also allow private companies to develop the capacity to reach orbit and give them a financial incentive to bring the cost of space travel down. For instance, SpaceX is currently working on a reusable rocket technology that will allow its rockets to power up and land back on the Earth to be used again and again. Technologies like this have the potential to shave millions of dollars off the cost of getting to space, and that is good for us all.

My hope is that I will live to see the day in which I can afford to take my vacation in orbit or on the moon. Today my dream just took a huge leap toward reality.

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NASA: “Major Announcement” Regarding Manned Flight (Watch Live) Tue, 16 Sep 2014 18:39:18 +0000 Today NASA says it has "a major announcement" about the Commercial Crew Transportation program. Watch live at 4pm Eastern. Continue reading

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Launch America

Since the retirement of the Shuttle, NASA has been out of the manned flight business. Our astronauts ride Russian rockets to and from the International Space Station. Currently, there are three private companies—Sierra Nevada Corporation, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and Boeing—competing for a chance to carry crew back and forth to the space station.

Today NASA says it has “a major announcement” about the Commercial Crew Transportation program. Will it announce which company or companies will get the contract? Who knows. Whatever it is I hope they tell us when the United States is getting back into space on our own rockets.

You can watch live on NASA TV at 4PM Eastern.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

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Stack Overflow: #LOL Tue, 16 Sep 2014 12:00:47 +0000 Since Kickstarter launched a #LOL hashtag this week, I've got humor on my mind: in particular, funny books and books about humor. Here's a stack of books (some old, some new) that have made me (or my kids) laugh. Continue reading

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Since Kickstarter launched a #LOL hashtag last week, I’ve got humor on my mind: in particular, funny books and books about humor. Here’s a stack of books (some old, some new) that have made me (or my kids) laugh.

What If?

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe, in case you didn’t already know, creates the popular and extremely geeky webcomic xkcd. He also runs a column called What If? in which he delves into absurd hypothetical questions with scientific rigor (and, as you’d expect, a good dose of humor). Now, some of the best questions and answers have been updated and collected into a book, and it’s terrific. Find out answers to life’s pressing questions, like what if a glass of water were literally half-empty, or how long a nuclear submarine would last in space. Interspersed between the longer explanations are sections called “Weird (and Worrying) Questions From the What If? Inbox,” sometimes presented without comment, or else a very short cartoon answer.

Note to parents: I haven’t gotten through the entire book yet (it’s a fairly sizable book) but I’ve skimmed through it and it seems mostly kid-safe, aside from a swear word or two—definitely safer than the webcomic usually is.

I Work at a Public Library/Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores

I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell

This entry’s a two-fer, because they’re similar ideas. Here’s the gist: customers and patrons do funny things, and it’s amazing what people don’t know about books or how to behave around books. Gina Sheridan runs the website I Work at a Public Library, and Jen Campbell writes about working at a bookstore at her website. Both sites include serious bits, but the books are entirely about the funny things that happen. If you love bookstores and libraries (and especially if you’ve ever worked in one), you’ll enjoy these two books. They’re pretty slim so they won’t take very long to breeze through, but you’ll have some good laughs. Campbell also has a second book out, More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, but I haven’t read that one.

How About Never? by Bob Mankoff

How About Never—Is Never Good for You? by Bob Mankoff

Bob Mankoff sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1977, founded the Cartoon Bank in 1992, and became the cartoon editor of The New Yorker in 1997. So he knows funny—at least, the particular brand of funny seen in the cartoons, arguably the best part of the magazine. He’s also responsible for the titular comic (“How about never?”), which is the most widely reprinted cartoon in the magazine’s history. How About Never is Mankoff’s memoir, and if you love New Yorker cartoons, it’s well worth a read. Not only is it fascinating to read about the history of the magazine’s cartoons, but Mankoff is a really funny writer, so you won’t just want to flip through to the many, many cartoons included in the book. But if you’re just looking for a quick laugh, this large hardcover can also serve as a cartoon book.

i only read it for the cartoons

I Only Read It for the Cartoons by Richard Gehr

And speaking of New Yorker cartoons … I Only Read It for the Cartoons isn’t actually a funny book in itself, but is a deeper look at several of the magazine’s foremost cartoonists. Richard Gehr gets personal with the likes of Lee Lorenz, Roz Chast, Jack Ziegler, Gahan Wilson, and more. The irony, though, is that there are actually fairly few cartoons included in the book—so if you’re somebody for whom the title is true, you’ll probably skim past most of this book. (Available in October)

The Book With No Pictures

The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak

This one’s not out until the end of the month, but if you’ve got kids who like storytime, it’s fantastic. It’s a funny concept: it looks like a picture book, but there are no pictures. It plays off the idea that whoever’s reading a book out loud (usually the adult) has to say all the words in the book, no matter how ridiculous they are. Blaggity-Blaggity Glibbity-globbity globbity-Glibbity Beep. Boop. The hardest part is trying not to laugh as you read this to your kids, so you can act appropriately horrified by all the things coming out of your mouth.

Goodnight Darth Vader

Goodnight Darth Vader by Jeffrey Brown

Brown follows up Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess with this bedtime book for little Wookiees (and humans). In an attempt to get Luke and Leia to settle down and go to bed, Darth Vader reads them a bedtime story about various characters from the Star Wars universe going to sleep. Unlike the first two books, this isn’t a collection of single-panel cartoons. Instead, each two-page spread has somebody going to bed, with a rhyming couplet below. Maybe not quite as laugh-out-loud funny, but just the right speed for a somewhat humorous bedtime.

Crap Kingdom

Crap Kingdom by D. C. Pierson

Tom Parking is the chosen one from Earth who will bring down the wall and restore the kingdom to glory. Pretty exciting, right? Except that when Tom goes through the portal and steps into this new world, it turns out to be pretty crappy, and he bails. So then they pick Kyle, Tom’s best friend who happens to be cooler and more popular … and now Tom wants his Chosen One title back. Crap Kingdom is a young adult novel that’s a great twist on “chosen one” tales. It reminds me slightly of the graphic novel The Return of King Doug, but Pierson takes his tale in a different direction. A hilarious read for those readers who have always known they’re meant for something more.

Chronicles of Kazam

The Chronicles of Kazam series by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is well-known for his very funny literary novels for adults, and The Chronicles for Kazam is his first series written for younger readers. It starts with The Last Dragonslayer, about a young orphan (or foundling) named Jennifer Strange, interim head of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, in a world where magic exists but is heavily regulated (not to mention drying up). There’s an odd plot that starts with a prediction of the death of the last dragon. The story continues in The Song of the Quarkbeast, with King Snodd IV trying to gain control of all the magic for himself, and Jennifer once again at the center of the conflict. I’ve read both books aloud to my kids and they’re delightful, and we’re looking forward to starting the third book, The Eye of Zoltar, which comes out next month.

Fantastic Family Whipple

The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

Here’s another one I read out loud with my kids. The Whipple family is a record-breaking family: everyone in the family has set and broken world records: highest number of shared coincidental birth dates in a family, most poison darts dodged in a single game of extreme hopscotch, youngest individual to live a month with a wolf pack (voluntarily) … except for Arthur Whipple. Somehow, he just can’t manage to break any records. But then, something goes wrong, and the Whipples suffer a series of disasters—is it an age-old family curse? Or those clowns of unusual size? The book is filled with all sorts of delightfully ridiculous world records and the attempts to break them, and my kids and I had a great time reading it. The sequel, War of the World Records, is due out in December.

Disclosure: GeekDad received review copies of the books listed, except Weird Things.

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I Want to Go to Space: I’m Sending You Instead Tue, 16 Sep 2014 11:30:32 +0000 Today, Spaceship Earth Grants opens the door for anyone to apply to be an astronaut. Really. Continue reading

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Spaceship Earth Grants LogoEver since I was a child, I’ve wanted to go to space. The endless wonders of the universe were shown to me through encyclopedia pages and books filled with images from the Viking and Voyager programs. Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke novels filled my head with stories that used outer space as a setting for fantastic adventures. Transformers, Voltron, and ThunderCats gave way to Star Trek, Babylon 5, Farscape, and Firefly as reinforcement that humanity was meant to move off this planet and into the cosmos.

I believe that the act of thinking on a global scale–considering ourselves as part of a single planetary ecosystem–can have staggering repercussions for humanity. I’ve learned that this is often known as the ‘overview effect’ and that astronauts have reported the profound effect on their lives of seeing their home planet from so far away. I’d like to see that view myself and experience that transformative effect first-hand.

I’m proud to say I’ve moved ever closer to that dream through the years. I’ve worked at US Space Camp in Florida, helped get parabolic flight provider Zero Gravity Corp off the ground (literally!), been badged (as a subcontractor) at several NASA facilities, and championed our united celebration of human spaceflight through Yuri’s Night. What I’ve slowly realized is that my goal isn’t actually to get me to space. I want my kids to go. My parents. I want all of us to be able to go to space. I want humanity to experience the overview effect en masse. This next project is part of that goal.

Dream it. Do it.

Today marks the official launch of the Spaceship Earth Grants. These competitive merit-based awards will culminate in at least one grant for a spaceflight experience. If you’ve ever dreamed of being an astronaut, this is your time!! The applicant that is selected will be able to choose any commercially available provider that offers a substantial view of the Earth (suborbital, high-altitude balloon flight, etc). The goal is to produce a new cadre of astronauts with broad life experience that can share the message of working together on this giant spaceship called Earth.

This is not a lottery or random drawing contest. Like any other grant application, you will need to lay out a plan of action and explain why you are qualified to execute your plan. The field will be narrowed based on the applicants’ demonstration of a clear ability to communicate and a desire to convert their spaceflight experience into a planetary benefit upon their return. How would you use your spaceflight training and flight experience to inspire others to work together to make our world better? Tough questions to answer, sure. But the reward is worth the effort!

A panel made up of former NASA astronauts, industry experts, space enthusiasts, celebrity artists, musicians and others (including me!) will be reviewing the applications and selecting finalists. Part of the evaluation criteria will be the ability of applicants to connect with vast and varied audiences before their trip–as evidenced by comments, reposts, and votes on 90-second self-promotion videos. (If no one will interact with you now, how in the world will you leverage a whole space experience later?!?)

Bonus: Unlocked

Let’s be serious: not everyone that applies can be selected to have a spaceflight experience. There’s simply no funding for that (yet). All Spaceship Earth Grants (SEG) applicants will receive credit toward a spaceflight training experience and membership in The Planetary Society.

To sweeten the deal, the first 5,000 people to create a profile will be eligible for one of 50 Parabolic Flight Awards. That’s a REALLY great bonus with astounding odds. I’ve experienced almost 6,000 parabolas over the last decade and I guarantee it is an unforgettably amazing experience! This alone is reason enough to apply.

Paying it forward.

SEG has been organized as a Public Benefit Corporation. This is similar to a non-profit, though with fewer restrictions on how to make money and more freedom on how to give it away. A percentage of funds generated (from application fees, etc.) will be granted to outstanding organizations around the world that share our mission of creating a world that works for everyone. Initial grants will be made to partner organizations including: Fragile Oasis, The Overview Institute, The Planetary Society and Project Nominate. The goal is to have SEG be a supporting part of a network of amazing organizations doing the hard work of making everyone’s lives better.

I look forward to awarding someone out there a trip to space and, eventually, getting there myself.

Apply today at

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DREDDwatch #6 – Future Shock! Tue, 16 Sep 2014 11:00:15 +0000 In our latest round-up of all things Dredd and 2000AD, we have news of a documentary about the comic, a movie-sequel mix up, and comic-only threequel. Continue reading

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Futureshock - The Story of 2000AD, image courtesy Stanton Media/Rebillion

Futureshock – The Story of 2000AD, image courtesy Stanton Media/Rebillion

You may well have heard the phrase “Future Shock” before – there are no less than 19 entries for it on the wikipedia disambiguation page, starting with the bestselling book by futurist Alvin Toffler (and a documentary based on it), to music from Curtis Mayfield and Herbie Hancock, and episodes of Flash Forward and Mega Man. Fans of 2000AD will know it better as, “Tharg’s Future Shocks” – the name given to on ongoing series of self-contained short comic strips, that were often used as a testing ground for new writers and artists – Alan Moore and Grant Morrison among them.

Now, it is also the title of an upcoming documentary about the galaxy’s greatest comic, and in the words of the producers, Stanton Media, it’s:

…the comprehensive story of how the comic came to be, how it’s survived for 36 years, and how it continues to be an innovator and game-changer in both comics and the wider cultural world beyond. FUTURE SHOCK! will offer an illuminating overview of the magazine’s history: a warts and all look at the various highs and lows, a peek inside the creative process of some of its most legendary creators, and a funny, moving and passionate chronicle of how a disparate band of talented eccentrics came together to create something both visionary and extraordinary.

In the (very sweary, definitely NSFW or Cs) trailer below you can get a quick overview of the kind of talent that have contributed to both the comic over the years and the documentary itself. The man who started it all, Pat Mills, is there along with current 2000AD editor (and writer) Matt Smith (no, not that one!). Dredd creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra have their say along with writers Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Alan Grant and artists Brian Bolland, D’Israeli and Jock, as well as many, many more.

The documentary gets its world premiere this Saturday at Mondo-Con in Austin, Texas, followed by two more screenings at Fantastic Fest on the 21st and 25th and another at Beyond Fest on the 3rd October.
Annoyingly, there’s no word of the UK premiere yet.

The latest bit of Dredd sequel news got a lot of people confused last week. Some blogs and news outlets reported that star Karl Urban said at the Chicago Comic-Con that, “There is a definite possibility [of a sequel], but, it is more likely that we will do the origins story…”, but took the “origins” part literally, saying a new movie would be a prequel, a proper super hero style origin-story. What Urban actually meant was the 2006 “Origins” storyline by Dredd’s original creators which fills in the blanks about how Mega-City One came to be and where Dredd came from.

Dredd: Uprise #1 Cover

Dredd: Uprise #1 Cover

It’s a great story, set mostly in the Cursed Earth with a lot of flashbacks featuring Dredd as a young cadet, but I feel that making it the basis of the sequel would lose a lot of the elements that made the movie so good – the quick-fire, day-in-the-life storyline, the claustrophobic feel, less Urban due to the flashbacks, and most importantly, Olivia Thrilby’s superb portrayal of Judge Anderson. Of course, I’d still watch the hell out of it!

After the success of the recent comic only sequel, Underbelly, and its sold out one shot print runs, it makes sense that they’d do another one. This month’s Judge Dredd Megazine (number 352) sees the action hotting up with part three of “Uprise” by Arthur Wyatt and Paul Davidson. The story takes place in a neglected sector of Mega-City One known as The Spit where tensions are rising amongst the citizens as the shiny new mega-block Oemling Tower is being constructed for those that can afford to live in it. You can pick it up online or in the 2000AD iPad app, or if you wait a few weeks the two parts are also being released as standalone comics in October and November.

Mega-City Two cover art by Dumo (and me)

Mega-City Two cover art by Dumo (and me)

Swift Judgements:

  • Issue five of the fan-made Mega-City Two comic that I’ve become involved in has just been released, where Judges Kincade and Diaz continue their journey into the Undercity and we meet The Girl From Norma Jean. In addition to the lettering, I’ve got to colour two upcoming cover for the series, and here’s a sneak peak at one of them.
  • 2000AD Prog 1900 – out on 24th September – is another designated “Jump On Point” for new and lapsed readers with all new strips including Judge Dredd: Block Judge by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, Kingdom: Aux Drift by Dan Abnett and Richard Elson and Stickleback: The Thru’Penny Opera by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli.
  • Olivier Hollingdale has released a trailer for Prog 3 of his team’s “Cursed Edge” web series and his work has earned him a thumbs up from Karl Urban!
  • Awesome clothing company Last Exit To Nowhere have added another tee inspired by Dredd to their range in the form of this lovely little Inhabitant of Peach Trees number.
  • And finally, Bruce Yan has made this amazing watercolour silhouette of everybody’s favourite Lawman

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GeekDad Puzzle of the Week – Modulo Fibonacci Tue, 16 Sep 2014 10:45:03 +0000 Mow many Fibonacci numbers have their position identified by the sum of their last few digits? Continue reading

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The Fibonacci sequence of numbers is well documented and well-researched. Most straightforward puzzles such as “which Fibonacci numbers are perfect squares?” or “which Fibonacci numbers are prime?” have at one point or another been someone’s proof or project, and are easily found via your favorite search engine.

To make an interesting Fibonacci puzzle, I will have to combine the famous set of numbers and a fun math function: modulo. The modulo (or “mod”) function returns the remainder after a division operation takes place. In many language, it is the counterpart to DIV, which gets the quotient or standard division answer.
51 ÷ 8 = 6R3
51 DIV 8 = 6, 51 / 8 = 6
51 MOD 8 = 3, 51 % 8 = 3

This week’s GeekDad Puzzle of the Week deals with the ordinality of position of the Fibonacci number, and how it relates to the sum of the digits after a “mod” operation on a power of 10. How many Fibonacci numbers under f(1000) have the sum of their last few digits equal to their position within the sequence?

A simple example would be f(10) % 100 = 55. The sum of the digits of 55 = 5+5 = 10.

NOTE: For purposes of this puzzle, f(0) = 0, f(1) = 1, and f(n) = f(n-2) + f(n-1).

Additionally, consider that f(1000) has over 200 digits, so tools like your favorite spreadsheet may not have the desired precision.

As always, please send in your responses to GeekDad Central for your chance at this week’s fabulous prize: a $50 Gift Certificate from ThinkGeek.

Good luck, and happy puzzling!

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Powerful Yet Affordable Personal Scanner – Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100 Tue, 16 Sep 2014 10:30:17 +0000 I'm not a neat freak, but as a rule I just don't like clutter. Especially paper clutter. Whether you're a fan of cloud storage or you've taken advantage of one of the extremely low-priced hard drives offered these days (3TB for $100, for example), for example), it's just too easy to move anything and everything possible to a digital storage location. For a number of years now, I've had a serious fascination with personal scanners... and I've used a mix of brand and models to get where I am today -- a 99% paper-free home office. Continue reading

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I’m not a neat freak, but as a rule I just don’t like clutter. Especially paper clutter. Whether you’re a fan of cloud storage or you’ve taken advantage of one of the extremely low-priced hard drives offered these days (3TB for $100, for example), for example), it’s just too easy to move anything and everything possible to a digital storage location. For a number of years now, I’ve had a serious fascination with personal scanners… and I’ve used a mix of brand and models to get where I am today — a 99% paper-free home office.

Whenever possible, I try to find and download user guides, instruction manuals, and other multi-page documents as PDFs. The same goes for bills and other important paper — if it’s available as a digital document (such as a bank statement), I go that route. But not everything comes into my house or home office in digital form, and that’s when I turn on a scanner.

For a few years now, my Go-To scanners have been (and continue to be) the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 and the ScanSnap SV600. The SV600 sits on my desk and handles the books and magazines that I wish to digitize… and the iX500 works through WiFi and doesn’t require a direct connection to my PC so it sits on a nearby shelf waiting for my once or twice a month scanning hour. (I have a clear box labeled SCAN and when it gets about half filled I take an hour or so and clear it out.)

I’ve got the routine down pretty solid — 95% or more of my scans go directly from scanner to a Dropbox folder labeled Action. Once a month or so, I’ll clean out the Action folder by dragging and dropping the items into more specific folders — Bills, Legal, Kids Stuff, etc. Dropbox allows me to access every digital document from a phone, tablet, or computer/laptop… anywhere I can gain access to Dropbox. Having access to anything I need WHEN I need it… you just have to trust me that it has saved me countless times when I needed a phone number, an address, or another snippet of info.

Note: Storing everything in Dropbox isn’t the end of the process, however. Everything I store in Dropbox is also synched to an external hard drive (along with my music, videos, photos, etc that are NOT stored in Dropbox). I use Backblaze and its $5/month for unlimited backup for yet another layer of protection. Files are now stored in three places — hard drive, Dropbox (cloud), and Backblaze.

I’ve shown plenty of friends and family how to create a similar setup for themselves, and (shameless plug ahead) I even wrote a book on this process (and many more) and how to use an iPad to access everything, including Dropbox and the 3TB drive that sits on my desk. People are still surprised when I’m able to pull up just about anything on my iPad, and I tell them that it’s not that hard to do… it just requires some planning. But just about the time that I think I’ve got them convinced they can do it themselves… they ask about the price of a good personal scanner.

The iX500 is definitely not an entry-level scanner (but I’m also not your typical scanner user, either). So, what can you do if you wish to reduce the paper clutter but don’t need an advanced scanner (with a premium price)? That’s easy — grab a new ScanSnap iX100 that offers almost all of the same features as its big brother but comes with a low $229 price tag. For that price, you get a seriously feature-packed scanner that even does one thing the iX500 wasn’t designed to do — travel!


First, the iX100 is completely wire-free. No need to plug it in except to recharge the lithium-ion battery. It’s small, too — only 14 ounces! But the small footprint doesn’t limit its functionality. It can handle scanning any paper document up to legal sized, but it also offers up automatic stitching, so fold a larger document in half, feed it in, and the software can take two halves and put them back together as a single digital document.

I mentioned wireless communication — you can download a free app for your mobile phone (Android and iOS are supported) or tablet that will allow you to connect to the iX100 using an existing WiFi network — all that’s needed is to make sure your phone or tablet is connected to the same WiFi network as the scanner. You configure the scanner with a WiFi network by connecting the scanner to a computer and installing the software (Windows and Mac) and working through the wizard. It took less than two minutes for me to finish it up and it worked properly on the first try. Nice.

App Wizard

But this is a super-portable scanner, right? What if you’re out and about and don’t have access to a WiFi network? Well, the cool answer is that the iX100 has a special processor inside that will broadest the iX100 as its own WiFi network. You’ll find the password on a sticker on the bottom of the scanner, making it easy to quickly and easily use the scanner with your phone or tablet (as long as they have the special ScanSnap app installed). I configured my iPhone to “forget” my home WiFi SSID and instead joined the private network that the iX100 offers up — it found it on the first try and after providing the network password (found on the bottom sticker) along with a short code to pair with the phone app, I was in business. (The information is saved, so you don’t have to do this every time.)


If you’re at all familiar with any of the ScanSnap family of scanners, the software for your computer or laptop will be easily recognizable. The main application takes the scans from the scanner and then allows you to select the final destination for the scanned items. Choices vary slightly depending on whether you’re using a Mac or Windows machine, but the big ones are available for both operating systems — saving to a file (you pick the folder), saving as an email attachment, saving to Evernote or Dropbox or Google+, and sending directly to your printer. There are even more options if you choose to install the many included applications that come on the DVD such as CardMinder for business card scanning and organizing or a mix of ABBYY services.

Save Options

The scanning process is easy, too. When connected to a computer (USB cable is included), you just press the big blue button on the scanner. In goes your document… and you can choose where the document come out! Flip the rear lid open and the document will go in and up — useful if you’ve got a cramped desk. Otherwise, the scanned document comes straight out the back, parallel to the desktop.

Document Feed

Scanning for the iX100 is Simplex (one sided) and can handle a variety of resolutions from 150dpi to 600dpi. It can save scans as PDF or JPG, and when choosing PDF you can turn on the optional feature that scans the document and saves it as a searchable PDF (using OCR). I absolutely LOVE this feature — I always leave it on and every PDF I save to Dropbox can be searched using keywords. This makes finding that “needle in a haystack” document fast and accurate, and I can’t imagine not using it for any important scans.


Got a lot of smaller items to scan like business cards or receipts? No need to send them in one at a time. The iX100 can dual scan, and it’ll even fix skewed items should you send a card or page in at an angle. It also will auto-rotate documents that it detects are upside down!

App Options

My iX500 software came with a very useful Windows feature that I’m happy to report has been included with the iX100 software. It’s called the ScanSnap Folder, and here’s how it works. For any application that you use, if it has the ability to attach or open or import a PDF or JPEG, you’ll find a new folder called “ScanSnap Folder” listed along with Desktop, Downloads, Documents, and those other default folders that you see when you choose to attach or import or otherwise hunt down a file while inside an application. Scan an item and it automatically gets placed in this virtual folder temporarily so that it’s available to your third party applications. Just know it’s there… you won’t appreciate it until you need it… and then you’ll have it. That said, I still end up sending 90% of my scans directly to Dropbox or Evernote (or both) and this is seamless for both operating systems.

While the iX100 makes for a great little scanner while connected to your computer, it’s power lies in its portability. With the rechargeable battery (battery strength can be checked with the app) and the ability to scan directly to your phone or tablet, this thing is perfect for a briefcase or backpack. After scanning a document, I can open the scan to view it and then tap the Open In button to select its destination… because I have Evernote and Dropbox installed on my phone and tablet, those options appear as save locations (as shown below). Perfect.

Save To Locations


The iX100 is another home run for Fujitsu. They continue to increase the features in their scanners as they reduce them in size.  They haven’t dumbed down the software one bit, and by giving the scanner the ability to create its own network, users can scan anywhere at anytime with nothing more than a mobile phone or tablet. Place the iX500 in a drawer, out of sight, or right under your computer’s monitor… trust me, it will fit. Scan a full-sized single page in five seconds and save it in the app until you’re ready to send it off to a final destination.

If you’ve been looking for a personal scanner that’s affordable and powerful and can assist you with reducing your clutter, you’re going to find that the iX100 brings the same options (saving to PDF and JPEG, DPI resolutions, etc.) and destinations (Dropbox, Evernote, Word, and many more) as its larger cousins… but at a lower price and with the added benefit of going wherever you go without a fuss. Nicely done, Fujitsu.

Note: Fujitsu provided me with an iX100 review unit for testing purposes.

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GeekDad Puzzle of the Week Solution – Anagrammed Emmy Winners Tue, 16 Sep 2014 10:15:52 +0000 Were you able to unscramble these relatively recent Emmy winners? Continue reading

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This past week’s puzzzle:

Watching the Primetime Emmy Awards a few weeks back, I was surprised to hear that Morgan Freeman was nominated for an Emmy this year, for his role as a supporting actor in a mini-series. I mean, he was nominated for an Emmy back in 2012 for “Through the Wormhole,” but I didn’t think that he was even in the “Sherlock” mini-series at all.

MartinMorgan_teaserAfter realizing that I had confused Martin Freeman’s nomination with Morgan Freeman’s name, I thought “Mix ups at the Emmys? What a great idea for a GeekDad puzzle!”

Below, please find anagrammed versions of the names of 16 recent (2000 or later) Emmy Award winners. This week’s GeekDad Puzzle of the Week is to simply unscramble or decipher each of the names.

EXAMPLE: The letters in Morgan Freeman’s name can be rearranged to spell NEON GAME FARMER. Similarly, his counterpart Martin Freeman’s name can spell REARM FAINT MEN.

Here is the list of slightly scrambled thespians:


Here are the winning thespians with their jumbled monikers:

  • LICE TENT TOOL – Toni Collette
  • SPEARED JAMS – James Spader
  • A GREMLIN MATADOR – Margo Martindale
  • HAIL SLIME CHICK – Michael Chiklis
  • JOIN INFANT SNEER – Jennifer Aniston
  • SAINTED WINE – Dianne Wiest
  • HAMMIEST GIG – Maggie Smith
  • IMMENSE CHOLERA – Michael Emerson
  • LIMIEST NARWHAL – William Shatner
  • SEMIANNUAL JAIL RUG – Julianna Margulies
  • BAN CARNY SNORT – Bryan Cranston
  • DEPARTING LEEK – Peter Dinklage
  • MYTHICAL SCREAMS – Melissa McCarthy
  • SNUB HOLY OATH – Tony Shalhoub
  • I YEN FAT – Tina Fey

Congratulations to Steven Parks winner of this week’s fabulous prize! His entry was drawn at random from the set of all correct (or at least reasonably well-reasoned) entries received. A $50 Gift Certificate from our friends at ThinkGeek will be on it was to him shortly!

Thanks to ThinkGeek and to everyone that submitted a response.

Happy puzzling!

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Teacher Asks Rapper to Give Teenagers Advice, He Delivers Fastest Response … Ever Tue, 16 Sep 2014 10:00:48 +0000 When a teacher asked rapper Mac Lethal to write a song to inspire her students, she wasn't prepared for how quickly he would respond. Continue reading

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“Dear Mr. Mac Lethal,”

That’s how the letter began to the Kansas City rapper (and dad), Mac Lethal, he of the untwistable and talented tongue. “My name is Mrs. Francine, I’m a 53-year-old high-school music teacher and I love your YouTube videos.” Mac Lethal has been rhyming over beats for more than a decade now, but his notoriety has been rapidly increasing the last few years as he has began pushing his music out over YouTube.

He gained extra attention when his Alphabet Insanity song (some adult language, but it comes so quickly, you might not catch it) hit his channel, showcasing his almost unbelievable style of rapid-fire rapping. The Internet took notice and it wasn’t long before he was featured on the Ellen DeGeneres show.

Mrs. Francine’s letter continued: “The problem is, I can’t play them for my students because they contain too many bad words. Would you consider making a fast rap video for my students, to inspire them to be great? With no bad words? … P.S. Do you like Mozart?”

The rapper read the letter and decided to respond. His effort addressed all of Mrs. Francine’s requests and deals out mostly really decent advice, while spitting out syllables faster than John Moschitta. Too often, rap music is disagreeable or obscene; even though it’s an art form that kids can really identify with. It’s nice to have something for the Mrs. Francines of the world. Good job, Mr. Mac Lethal.


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