Friday, July 31, 2009

Snoopy, Come Home

I had forgotten how good this is -- in large part due to the songs, which were created by the Sherman Brothers -- I guess it isn't surprising that the same guys who wrote "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" would write "Fundamental Friendapendability". Not to mention "No Dogs Allowed!" with the inimitable Thurl Ravenscroft. This also has some of the saddest scenes of any kids movie: Lila in tears at the start, and Charlie Brown's haunting song near the end, "It Changes". I had never noticed before that in the carnival scene, the carnival music is the melody from that same song. As a song, its very powerful, but with the visuals of Charlie Brown roaming his house and yard at 3 in he morning, it's overwhelming. And in the middle of the song, he has that angry spoken word part: "Why can't we get all the people together in the world that we really like, and just stay together forever? Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. And then we have to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes." Back when I was with imagineering, Peggy Van Pelt (I miss you so much, Peggy!) would set up these wonderful guest lecturers. One night it was Richard Sherman, who played the piano, and talked about this history of many of their songs. He sang the original version of "Let's Go Fly A Kite", which was not merry at all, but very much a wistful, sad song, which the brothers wrote as a tribute to their father. That haunted tone in Richard's voice as he sang it that night is very much the same tone as "It Changes," and I have to wonder if they were thinking about their Dad when they put this song together, as well.

I worry sometimes that kids don't get a chance to get exposed to entertainment that contains real emotions in it, anymore -- so many things are sarcastic and phony. I'm so glad that things like this are preserved, to pass down. We need you, Charlie Brown!

Monday, July 27, 2009


Somehow, I made it this far in life never having played Tri-Ominos until today. I saw it a lot when I was a kid, and I've had this set around for ages, but we never played. It's a really good game, too. I like that you can just play it simply, or you can make use of the fairly complex scoring system for more competitive play. It reminds me, I tried to make a card game with wedge shaped cards that you formed into circles of eight cards... but I could never come up with any kind of mechanic that was really any fun. Maybe I just need new perspective on it.

Anyway, Tri-Ominos rocks -- I'm surprised more hasn't been done with it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Who is Harry Kellerman and why is he saying those terrible things about me?

How is it that no one seems to know about this movie? I discovered it when I was exploring the discography of Shel Silverstein, because he and Dr. Hook did the songs for this, and it is featured prominently on this album. Getting it was not easy -- no Netflix, because there is no DVD version. I picked up a VHS from some murky Internet place. Anyway, the film was awesome. Dustin Hoffman was so good. The opening scene alone was worth it. Again and again, just when I thought I was looking at a predictable scene, it would take a turn, and become something surprising and novel. It is a haunting movie, lovingly filmed, with some wonderful performances. And, heck, I think it's the only movie that Shel Silverstein ever appeared in.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tenor Giant

More awesome Don Byas. I think this might be my favorite yet. Some really fun, interesting recordings on this one... yeah, Slamboree.

Midnight at Minton's

I can't explain my love for Don Byas's music. There is just something magic in it for me. Found this expensive CD at Dave's Music Mine, and picked it up. It's a collection of Don playing with Thelonious monk and others at a club in 1941. You can hear the conversations of patrons there, which really adds to the ambience of it. Maybe one day I'll find a vinyl copy... this stuff doesn't sound right on CD, somehow.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

A birthday present from the D. Roses, I finally was able to watch it. It is a tremendously fun and silly movie. It's not as funny as it would like to be, and runs kind of slow -- but it makes up for all that in charm, I think. I was really afraid they would put all kinds of adult humor in for shock value, but the whole thing was very tasteful and quaint. I really liked the way they didn't just rip off some old storyline (like Lobsterman from Mars did), but concocted a mix of several -- a magic skeleton, an escaped mutant, aliens in disguise, and animals transformed into people. And they all come together to culminate in my favorite line from the film: "Animala, prepare the alien woman to be the skeleton's bride!" Anyway, if you like bad fifties horror movies, this is a fine valentine to them.

What It Is

Oh, man. This book blew my mind. I saw it at Copperfield's in California, and couldn't put it out of my mind, so I ordered it. I've liked Lynda Barry's work before, but this is so different -- it is a masterpiece of art and psychology. "Toys are costumes for inner space creatures" is perhaps my favorite phrase in the book. There is so much good stuff in here about the psychology of creativity, about drawing, and especially about writing. This is totally how I wanted my book to feel. At times I accomplished it... but... not like this. I will be thinking about this book for a long time to come. This may become my favorite gift to give!

Little Wheel

A cute little game, in the genre of "click through adventures". Takes about ten minutes or so to play, and is very pretty. Basically, it is an advertisement for Fast Games. Cute, fun, and stylish. Someone really wanted to make this -- you can tell.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Phrase Party

This is an iPhone version of the popular Catchphrase game. Good simple fun, but unlike the original, the timer is fairly predictable, so there is less suspense, and less surprise. You know, someone who made a *great* version of Catchphrase could collect a lot of 99 centses.

Wits & Wagers

This was totally fun! We did teams of two, which I think is even more fun. A numerical question is asked, like "What year was the Boston Massacre?" and each team submits a guess. Then, all the guesses are arrayed on a betting board, and each team can place two bets about which is closest to the right answer. Game ends after seven questions. Great, simple fun -- wish I'd thought of it!

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe

Not quiiite as engaging as the others to me, this is clearly an "inbetween" story... But still awesome!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Celebrating Board Games

This simple book is full of wonderful pictures of classic board games -- some of them quite unusual, most of them from the collection of one man, who has over 6000 games! I think I might be turning into that guy... I was kind of creeped out by how many of the games in the book I own... I'm more of a board game nerd than I thought! But how could they miss Oh, What a Mountain!? :)

George Sprott

I loved It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, but this is Seth's best one yet. The book is huge -- not in thickness, but in height and width -- it's hard not to feel like a child when reading it. It takes such a slow, careful, thoughtful approach to the characters and story, in a way that only the medium of comics can achieve, telling so much without words or motion. And the large pages allow for an immersion that isn't possible any other way. I think what makes this book stand out is how the character of George Sprott is both unusual and accessible at the same time. This is a book about failure -- about living with ones own weaknesses and failings, about how we all do this, about how we have no other choice. My mind keeps returning to it -- there is something so poignant and important in George's dream of the arctic. This will stay with me for a long time.

Monopoly Junior: Disney Princess Edition

I am always so impressed by the design of Monopoly Junior. It could have been done so badly, but it is such an elegant streamlining of the original game, it so perfectly captures the essence of Monopoly, that in a sense it is more Monopoly than Monopoly -- like Monopoly consomme. It's a wonderful game to play with kids, because there are virtually no decisions to make, which means that when someone suffers in the game, no one has to feel guilty. The Disney Princess edition is silly, but that's part of the fun of these Monopoly editions -- they invite the imagining of silly scenarios... Jasmine saying, "Hey, Ariel! Get off my flying carpet!" Or the evil Ursula cackling, "Now your money will go under the sea, with me!"

Our edition is not as nice as the one in the picture -- everything in it is made of paper and cardboard -- it would not be possible to make it more cheaply! But somehow, that fragile quality makes it feel almost homemade, and more fun.

On Desire

I found this book online one night, and downloaded it to read on my iPod. I didn't expect much, really, but found it both provocative, and profound. I was surprised to realize how little I understood, or have even thought about desire. We talk about emotions being what make us human, but I kind of wonder if desire has much more to do with our humanity. Desire is at the root of everything we do -- without it, nothing makes any sense. But at the same time, it is insidious, and can easily destroy us. This book made me understand desire, and the wheel of Samsara, as they say, much better than I ever have before. Not to say that he book makes everything clear -- in fact, I was somewhat disappointed with how shallowly the author deals with some important subjects. For example, he boldly states that the goal of life is not really happiness (a fleeting emotion), but tranquility. And on some level, this feels true. But he spends precious little time talking about what tranquility really is... and this is terribly important. Thinking on it, I suspect that it is not simply a lack of desires, or "nothing", but rather something different for every person. We each seem to have a path, and a purpose -- tranquility, I think, is when you are flying along that path unencumbered, with no snags, no distractions -- living your life perfectly, as only your life was meant to be lived, fulfilling the purpose that only you know, deep in your heart.

Anyway, this book doesn't have all the answers, but it pointed me to important questions that make me feel like I've broken through to a new understanding of the human psyche.


I read this while hanging around at Copperfield's Books in Petaluma. It helped add fuel to the fire of my bizarre dream: to open a restaurant where everything on the menu is a palindrome! "Regal Lager", "Tuna roll or a nut", "Wet Stew" "Evil Olive", etc. I can't decide whether to call it "Sara's", "Top Spot", "Yreka Bakery", or maybe just "Palin's".

Turns out the author has several other fun palindrome books, too!

Dreams: Visions of the Night

An interesting multidimensional look at dreams. The first part of the book is a survey of perspectives in writing, and the second part is a survey through images and art. It did make me start thinking more about the nature and importance of dreams. William Blake's image of "the man who instructed Mr. Blake in Painting in his Dreams" is just plain eerie, and the final image that Grandville produced (how did I not hear of Grandville before?) has become an object of fascination for me.

Candy & Kites

They totally had both candy and kites. We bought ten pounds of salt water taffy, I think.

Shell Beach

Redwoods and the Pacific Ocean in the same day! A pleasant little beach, where we saw a seagull have a dramatic showdown with a crab. And some of the most beautiful sand I've ever seen... like rainbows of tiny, tiny polished rocks. That water was COLD!

Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve

While we were in Sonoma County, we thought we'd see some sights! I'd never been up close and personal with California redwoods before, and I can understand know why people talk with such awe about the experience. There is something enchanting about the trees being SO BIG. I had always imagined it being like seeing one big tree... but to be surrounded by trees so insanely wide and tall has a magic feeling that is hard to describe. Part of it is their width, big like elephants are big, but part is their height -- in some places, you can look up, and to see webs of branches so very far in the air is like a dream, almost disorienting. I'm so glad we went.

Charles M. Schulz: L'il Beginnings

This was a wonderful treasure I took back with me from the Schulz Museum: a complete collection of the "L'il Folks" cartoons that he drew prior to Peanuts. My whole life, I've heard them mentioned, and dismissed as trivial, and this seemed strange to me, because the few I had seen seemed so clever and witty! Apparently the reason for them staying hidden was because Schulz held a low opinion about them, though it isn't clear why. It could be because he reused a lot of the L'il Folks gags later in Peanuts? Hard to say. But it is absolutely wonderful to go through these cartoons, where you can see his style evolving significantly from what he learned in art school, to the style of the early peanuts comics, in only about two years. Quite clearly and distinctly, you can see Charlie Brown, Schroder, and Snoopy coming into being, out of the mist. And you can see how naturally his style flows into the early Peanuts comics, which then flows into the slightly "older looking" style of characters that he stuck with for the life of the strip. Thank goodness Jean agreed to let them be published! Reading this, I felt like I understood Schulz like never before, and I think I understand the creative process better, as well. Glad I found it there -- it's not available anywhere else!

Charles Schulz Museum

I was excited to go here, having been a Peanuts fan my whole life. I spent so much time when I was a kid, lying on my stomach on that itchy living room rug in front of the fireplace, reading my father's collections of Peanuts comics. I loved that they were kids who thought and felt like I did. I didn't always understand what they were talking about, but I sure wanted to! Anyway, the museum is absolutely gorgeous, full of interesting tributes and examinations of Schulz and his work. It's a little dry for kids, I think, but that's a hard thing to remedy. My daughter was most excited to see the "Snoopy's Home Ice" skating rink which is adjacent, and which was a wonderful rink, with a charming cafe. For me, the most powerful moment was to be in the room where they have recreated Schulz's office, and to see the desk that he worked at for all those years. To think how the thousands of images of those characters that I've seen in my life were all drawn by one man at that one desk with a nib pen was almost difficult to comprehend, and made me feel the power that one person can have, if they focus all their energy on creating something that expresses how they really feel.


An interesting block dropper. It has two modes: one is a lot like puzzle fighter, but the other, more single player, is something else again. In it, you hold the DS like a book, and play collapse on the left screen, and everytime you collapse a set of six or more blocks (I think it's six), a set of blocks falls down on the right screen. Blocks on the right screen disappear when you complete a line, a la Tetris, and you lose if either screen fills past the top. Having to pay attention to the two interconnected screens was definitely novel, and kind of interesting. I felt like it was a bridge too far that I also had to pay attention to the shape of the next set of blocks that were falling, but I can see why they made that choice. It's got a story and stuff, but I'm not sure why... I felt like all the evil, smack-talking stuffed animals it features probably serve to alienate most of the female audience, which seems like a risky move for a puzzle game. I would have liked this better as a $5 or $10 DSiware game, and I bet it would have sold more copies that way. But who can say?

Exit DS

I'm always interested in novel games, and this was one of those. Reminiscent of Lost Vikings, or even the Toytopia game that Schell Games did a few years back, you issue commands to autonomous characters to get them out of a burning building. The twist with Exit is that the characters all have different abilities (the kid is weak, but can crawl through tunnels, the fat guy is heavy, but good at pushing things). It's very puzzly, and can be frustrating when the pathfinding is bad, but if you like "pull the lever" kind of platformer puzzles, this is an interesting one.

No way did I finish all 100 levels.

The Haunted Mansion

Yow. This pretty much stunk. I'm not sure who it was for -- it was too boring and convoluted a story for kids, and too trivial and juvenile for adults. And there were a ton of people involved in it who should have known better. I mean, it was cool to see so much of it as a love note to the Disney ride, but still. Emma, age 8, put it best: about an hour into the movie, Eddie Murphy is attacked by a horde of rotting undead, and Emma says, "Okay, now this is what I was hoping to see! Not all that blah blah blah!" Doesn't tarnish the ride any though, since it will be forgotten so quickly.


My awesome birthday present from Jeff! He had it when we were kids, and I always was jealous of it -- and he found one somewhere, and sent it to me! See, it's like Battleship, plus chess, plus, uh, pistons that shoot your opponents pieces into the air! I don't think there is much strategy to it... but did you hear me say PISTONS THAT SHOOT YOUR OPPONENTS PIECES INTO THE AIR? You rock, Battleboard! Thanks, Jeff!

Cranium Hullaballoo

Oh, man. This thing is so well done. It's like an automated twister for kids, if it were designed by the people who made the iPhone. You put these colored rubber squares with images on them all over the floor of the living room, and an electronic device gives you silly commands to do (spin to a yellow... bounce to a food...). Kids will play it for, well, like an hour, which is a long time for kids to play a game like this. Adults can play too, and have no special advantage over the kids, mostly. It's fun, and cute, and very well designed, with surprises and fun music and sound effects. You go, cranium people!

Friday, July 17, 2009


Yeah, War. How is it that I didn't realize you could play this with more than two people when we were kids? This is such a fun game to play with little kids... so dramatic, so emotional! I can't decide -- does playing it with all-powerful jokers make it more or less fun? It feels like less... but why would it matter?

Next Stop, Greenwich Village

I can't believe I'd never seen or even heard of this charming movie before. A young actor from a traditional family tries to make it in bohemian New York. Made in the seventies, but set in the fifties, It was tremendous fun, and has both a young Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Walken in it, both cast into roles perfect for them. Oh! And Shelley Winters, too! The star was Lenny Baker, who was excellent, and I wondered why he didn't go on to do more things... sadly, he died of cancer not too long after the film, which makes the film's message all the more poignant, I guess. There's not even a photo of him on IMDb :(

Written and directed by Paul Mazursky, one of the hardest working people in show business.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux

I got to see this in the theater for free at some kind of kiddie matinee at the Southside Works. I was shocked at how beautiful it was! The whole thing was simply gorgeous, from beginning to end. The story didn't quite live up to that, unfortunately -- it started out novel in many ways, but as time went on, it got more and more formulaic -- it was weird, really, seeing these unusual beginnings turn into standard endings. But honestly, the thing was so beautiful, I didn't really care that much.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kim Possible: World Showcase Adventure

I had been looking forward to this for years! A wonderful scavenger hunt that takes place through out Epcot Center's World Showcase, the execution is near perfect! Everyone who was playing was having such fun! We played all seven adventures, and enjoyed each of them. This will clearly become a Disney World classic -- I hope it ages well!

Ka-Blam! 2009

This was a fundraiser for the Pittsburgh Toonseum, and it was tremendous fun! Ron Franz, the famous Spider Man artist, won this year's Nemo Award, and his speech was very touching. You can see some pictures here.

Cranium Conga

These Cranium guys sure have a racket going! Novel games under a well-known brand -- and most of the games are pretty good! This one is no exception -- yet another modified version of pictionary/charades, this works great for kids and families, because you are trying to guess something about one of the other players, like "How many hot dogs can I eat in one sitting?" Combine that with a novel mechanism -- a magna-doodle type thing where you write your answer, and a built in electronic musical timer, and you've got something kids really like. Oh! And a novel game mechanic, too! If someone guesses your answer, they get points, but if no one does everyone gets points but you! The incentives are very much designed to make you want to help people guess your answer. It's simple and silly, and focuses on fun over competition. Hard to play without laughing!

Princess Protection Program

I was completely dreading this, but it wasn't as corny as I expected, and I was very pleased at how clearly and genuinely it was able to communicate a virtuous message: "The job of a princess is to help others."

High School Musical 2

The original was a revelation, and its popularity gave me genuine hope for the future of humanity -- the fact that something so simple, sweet, and virtuous would be so well-loved was an unexpected surprise. The sequel doesn't live up to all that, but it's still pretty good, and has some good songs and numbers. "Fabulous" will probably be remembered a long time.

Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement

Julie Andrews can make anything classy, and John Rhys-Davies can make anything cheesy. The film is fundamentally defined by this tension. It has some warm, clever moments, but it also has some painfully cliche moments as well, creating a strange balance.

Herbie: Fully Loaded

Okay, ouch. I was a big fan of the original Herbie movies, but I mostly didn't care for where this one was going. Somehow, the magic just wasn't completely present. One thing that is a real departure -- the camera frequently cuts to Herbie's point of view, and also giving Herbie chances to express emotion. The original films left Herbie's mental life almost completely ambiguous, which I think I preferred -- it made him more magical, somehow.

Cool poster, though.

Tinker Bell

I've seen this several times now, of course -- before it came out, when it came out, and after it came out, as research for Pixie Hollow. And we saw it again, being down at Disney World. It's a decent movie, with some great comic moments, but I really wish it had been better ... Tink deserves more than what she gets here -- perhaps in the sequels she'll get her due.

Spy Kids 3D: Game Over

Uh... this movie was basically... weird. Sort of a version of Tron for kids? It was very much aimed at ten year olds. I could complain about problems of continuity, but the whole thing is clearly meant to feel like a dream, and so gaps in continuity actually enhance that feeling. It felt much more juvenile than the original Spy Kids. My daughter, who is eight, absolutely loved it. I wish I could have seen it in 3D, but it would have been anaglyph, so maybe not.

Ice Princess

Okay -- We took a trip to Disneyworld, and watched a ton of Disney movies while we were there -- so, lots of those will be coming up. This movie, which I assumed was going to be a saccharine nightmare, was full of deep surprises. The story and the characters were not what I expected at all -- it was a treatise on dealing with failure, and that pursuing what you love means making sacrifices and hurting people. Take that, kid. It was a pretty impressive film.

We Will Become Like Birds

This album is soft and beautiful. I have a particular fondness for "To the Stars" -- I hope to use it in a game one day. Erin's management company is called "Public Emily" -- how cool is that?

Monday, July 6, 2009

School Days in Disneyville

This was a book from my childhood that left strange marks. It creates a universe where Mickey and friends are attending a rural schoolhouse in say, 1920. One part that really stuck with me was Donald Duck's strange insistence that he didn't need to learn to spell, because when he was grown up, he'd have a typewriter, and it would spell things for him. I remember wondering what such a typewriter would be like.

Anyway, it's a strange book, but clever, and interesting, and well-written, and managing to cover an entire year in a nostalgic world that will always exist.


I'm so super proud of my students for getting this awesome game done! You can play it on the XBOX Live Community Games. It's clever, simple, and fun -- I really love the way it has evolved. I find it quite hypnotic to play -- stressful and relaxing at the same time. I haven't really finished it -- but the students have!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day & Age

I liked this a lot. It's fun that the music is so poppy, but the singing is so emo.