Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Squid Games: First in Flight

via Amazon

In First in Flight, you take on the role of a famous early aviator - the Wright Brothers, for instance - competing with your rivals to construct the best flying machine.  It's part Magic the Gathering with the deck building and the tapping of cards to activate their powers.  It's part Tokaido with the turn-taking protocols.  It's part blackjack with each test flight as you seek to maximize your distance before landing - or crashing.

Full disclosure: I have significant rooting interest in the success of this particular board game.  It's a creation of my high school friend, previously referred to here as, you guessed it, Game Designer.  We were also investors in the Kickstarter funding campaign.

So far, I've played twice: once with the boys (Mock, Blue Liner and Young Buck) and once with my wife.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it.  The rules are a little more complicated than our usual games but once you get used to them, it's all fairly intuitive.  Lots of little wrinkles to remember.  

As far as determining the game winner, everything leads to a final flight.  Whoever gets the furthest wins.  All of the deck building and test flying up to that point is really just jockeying for position.  I like a game where everyone's in it to the end and with First in Flight, no one is far enough ahead or behind to make the final flight meaningless.  Our results: Blue Liner and Young Buck tied in the first game.  I eeked out the smallest of victories in the game with my wife, easing the pain of the thorough trouncing she had dealt out in Ticket to Ride.

The history is well-researched and the artwork is beautiful.  One can play solo.  I haven't tried that yet but I expect I will.  It was a much quicker game with only two players.  We skipped adding a third dummy player as the rules suggest - seemed too complicated for us beginners.

BoardGameGeek's rating is 7.8/10, not bad at all.  Complexity is 2.21/5.  The box recommends the game for 12 and up.  BGG says 10+.  1-4 players, the more the better.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Star Trek: Firstborn

Episode: "Firstborn"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 21
Original Air Date: April 25, 1994

Alexander shows no interest in becoming a warrior, causing his father great worry.  At Picard's urging, Worf takes his son to Maranga IV to join in the festival of Kot'baval, hoping to spark the boy's interest in Klingon culture.  During the visit, Worf is attacked, then rescued by a mysterious stranger who identifies himself as K'mtar, advisor to the House of Mogh.  

Not all is as it seems...

This is TNG's last Klingon story.  It involves both Alexander and time travel so I'm not exactly a fan.  It's a shame.  Worf's complicated relationship with his Klingon heritage is one of the series's richest narrative wells.  Three decades on, we know this is far from the end of the thread but as NextGen staggers to the end, a more satisfying send off would have been nice.  

As part of the festival, street performers reenact the fight between Kahless and the traitor Molor.  While I'm not fond of this episode overall - and the performance itself is ultra-hokey - I love this glimpse of the arts within Klingon culture.  I'll talk about this more when it's time to wrap up but even thirty years and hundreds of episodes and films later, Star Trek's greatest need is the deeper exploration of non-human cultures.  Largely thanks to Worf, Klingons get the most attention in NextGen and would seem the best candidates.  Even so, we are still provided only a severely monolithic perspective.  "The Klingons are a warrior race," we're told.  Really?  All of them?  A population of billions spread out over hundreds of planets with millennia of history and all any of them cares about is war?  I find that difficult to believe.  

Think of everything going on in the world right now in 2023.  The monolithic perception of the other is everywhere.  But not all Palestinians are terrorists.  Not all Israelis are soldiers.  Most people in the region - or anywhere else - are just trying to get on with the blessed day, hoping for a better life for themselves and their children, wanting to get along with the neighbors because the alternative is horrifying.  It's hardly surprising that when people kill each other, they see the worst in the people doing the killing.  

But if we're ever going to heal, we need to rise above.  Yes, I know that's easy for me to say from thousands of miles away but that doesn't make it less true.  It's a lot easier to kill people once you've dehumanized them.

The entire Star Trek concept is based on a premise: Earthlings will be ready to explore outer space once we've learned to get along better with each other.  Unfortunately, Trek stories themselves often reveal how much work is left to be done.  Not all Klingons are warriors or even wish to be.  As in any culture in world history, some are farmers, some are engineers, some are clergy, some are teachers, some are artists and musicians, some are busy trying to raise their kids.  They love their families.  They want to live a good life.  Some of them are street performers, not so different from the ones I see on Church Street in Burlington.  Every glimpse we are offered of a broader Klingon society makes their culture more real.  

Star Trek - and its legions of fans - need to get past seeing humanness as the ideal.  It's too close to the prevalent perspective of white culture in the United States and beyond.  Are we any better 29 years later?  Not better enough.  I believe Star Trek can and should be part of the solution.

Acting Notes

Gwynyth Walsh played the role of B'Etor, one of the notorious Duras sisters.  She was born November 7, 1956 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  She graduated with a BFA from the University of Alberta.  In fine Trek tradition, she's an accomplished Shakespearean, winning a Dramalogue for her portrayal of Beatrice in A Midsummer Night's Dream.  

Beyond her numerous Trek appearances, Walsh was a series regular on DaVinci's Inquest and had recurring roles on Black Summer and Virgin River.  Films include Blue Monkey, The Crush and Star Trek Generations (as B'Etor).

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Squid Mixes: Chocolate Manhattan

Lake Champlain Chocolate (LCC) offers a Manhattan chocolate truffle, a cross-brand promotion with Whistle Pig Whiskey.  We picked up a few to try over the weekend and figured they might make pair well with a chocolate-flavored Manhattan.  Not surprisingly, there are several variations available on the web.  I used Heather Wibbels's recipe at Cocktail Contessa as a template.  She combines bourbon, sweet vermouth, creme de cacao, chocolate bitters and spicy bitters (optional) in a chocolate shavings-rimmed glass.  I made a few substitutions: rye instead of bourbon and a cherry garnish instead of the chocolate rim, in both cases mimicking the LCC offering.  I skipped the spicy bitters.

I felt the drink turned out well - pleasantly chocolatey, including a satisfying tint.  My wife enjoyed it, asserting it's definitely better than a chocolate martini.  Interestingly, caramel is the predominant flavor in the truffle and as such, a splash of caramel liqueur could be a meaningful addition to the drink.  Though at what point would it become a Caramel Manhattan rather than a Chocolate one? 

Wibbels provides a drier variation with less cacao, more vermouth and less bitters.  Of course, one could go further and use Punt e Mes, dry vermouth or a combination.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Star Trek: The Maquis, Part I

Episode: "The Maquis, Part I"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 20
Original Air Date: April 24, 1994

via Memory Alpha

A Cardassian freighter explodes immediately after leaving space dock.  Our heroes deduce that it was the result of a deliberate attack and what's more, Federation technology was used to do the job.  We soon learn there's a new player in the neighborhood.  Federation colonists in the Demilitarized Zone are initiating terrorist attacks against Cardassian targets and Lieutenant Commander Calvin Hudson, an old friend of Commander Sisko's, is one of their leaders.

The story introduces the Maquis, a group with a notable future in the franchise.  A new series was set to launch in January 1995 and the Maquis would have a role to play, especially in the early stages.  Otherwise, I feel this first part suffers from slow pacing.  I like Hudson (Bernie Casey) just fine and the basic premise is alright.  But the narrative drags.  

On the other hand, Gul Dukat gets excellent character development.  First, he breaks into the Sisko quarters, scaring the bejesus out of Ben when he arrives home, but still convinces the commander to join him in a deeper investigation of the freighter explosion.  Later, Ben softens when he learns Dukat is, himself, a father of seven.  Finally, as part of the double-pronged cliffhanger, Dukat is kidnapped by the Maquis and will obviously need to be rescued by Starfleet.  That's quite a lot of range granted to a secondary character in a single episode.

Dukat also gets the best line, an homage to George Orwell's 1984:  "Education is power.  Joy is vulnerability."

In the B plot, Quark makes a friend, a beautiful Vulcan named Sakonna who we eventually learn is a member of the Maquis.  Quark tries to seduce Sakonna as both lover and business partner, ultimately more successful in the latter than the former.  Quark serves her Vulcan port, the first mention or appearance of such a beverage.  It's a darker blue than Romulan ale, edging towards indigo.  Surprisingly (and a little disappointingly), the internet offers no recipes.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Bernie Casey was born June 8, 1939 in Wyco, West Virginia.  He attended Bowling Green State University where he established himself as one of the premier college athletes in the country.  He was a small college All-American in football and a record-breaking high hurdler on the track, earning an invitation to the US Olympic Trials in 1960.  He played in the NFL for eight seasons - six years for the 49ers, two for the Rams - serving variously at flanker, halfback and tight end.  He made the Pro Bowl in 1967.

Casey made his acting debut in in Guns of the Magnificent Seven, a sequel to The Magnificent Seven.  Other films included Brian's Song, Never Say Never Again, Revenge of the Nerds and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.  He was a popular choice for mid-'90s sci-fi television.  In addition to Trek, he made guest appearances on both SeaQuest 2032 and Babylon 5.

 Casey passed away in 2017 after a stroke.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

On the Coffee Table: The Way of the House Husband

Title: The Way of the House Husband, Vol. 1
Writer and Artist: Kosuke Oono

via Amazon

Tatsu was a notorious Yakuza boss, nicknamed The Immortal Dragon.  But he fell in love a career woman, Miku, and got married.  He's left the gangster life behind in order to run the household while his wife pursues her graphic designer ambitions.  Tatsu still occasionally runs into the old thugs, leading to street fights and the like.  But the deep humor comes from his trying to make humdrum, everyday chores seem more badass.  One chapter about the cat and the Roomba had me laughing out loud.

The comic series began in 2018 and is ongoing.  Volume 1 is one of twelve collections so far, the first ten of which have been published in English.  As is so often the case with popular manga, there are multiple screen adaptations: both live-action and animated television series as well as one live-action film.  Volume 2 awaits me on my shelves.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Squid Mixes: Sloe Gin and Tonic

Sloe gin is a gin-based liqueur made with sloes, typically produced in England.  A sloe is a plum-like fruit from the blackthorn plant.  Vermont liquor stores don't generally carry sloe gin so I picked up a bottle on our most recent trip to Massachusetts.

I went simple on my maiden voyage: a sloe gin and tonic.  Not surprisingly, sloe gin is a bit on the sweeter side which pairs nicely with tonic water, taking the edge off of the quinine.  I expect we'll be trying sloe gin fizzes soon.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Star Trek: Journey's End

Episode: "Journey's End"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 20
Original Air Date: March 28, 1994

via Memory Alpha

The Enterprise is ordered to relocate the settlers of Dorvan V, now on the wrong side of the border according to a new treaty with the Cardassians.  The settlers are Native Americans who have been on the planet for twenty years after a 200-year-long search for a new home.  The parallels with earlier North American history are lost on no one, yet the order stands.  Meanwhile, Wesley is home from the Academy and he's being a royal jerk to everyone.

The series is limping to the finish line.  There are only five more episodes to go now.  "Journey's End" is pretty awful.  The well-intended attempt at Native American representation falls into all the usual white liberal pitfalls: noble savages, enlightenment attained through ceremonial hallucination, the need to assuage white guilt for the sins of the past, etc.  The Wesley story... they painted themselves into a corner with the character early on.  By setting him up as a chosen one/wunderkind, there was no way a simple Starfleet career was ever going to cut it as his ultimate destiny.  In this last TNG appearance, Wes runs off with the Time Lord... er... Traveler to join in trans-dimensional, universe-saving adventures, a story line without much payoff over the long term.  It mostly serves to get rid of Wesley, then allow him to weave in and out of future stories whenever the producers are in the mood for a cameo.

This re-watch of "Journey's End" comes to me at an interesting time.  I'm in the midst of a deep dive with North American Indigenous music at the moment, searching way beyond the Smithsonian Folkways-style recordings of traditional musicians.  There are, in fact, numerous Indigenous musicians in various genres trying to make it in the biz right now.  That's the part stories like "Journey's End" miss.  Indigenous cultures are neither dead nor lost.  Nor are they stuck in 19th-century period costume.  While certainly marginalized by the dominant white culture, Indigenous nations live and breathe right now.  An interesting discovery I've made in my exploration: most of the artists who've attained a certain level of success are Canadian, speaking to the greater visibility of such cultures north of the border.

I think Halluci Nation is my favorite find.  See their song "Electric Pow Wow Drum" here.

Acting Notes

via Memory Alpha

Tom Jackson played the role of Lakanta, a Dorvan colonist who turns out to be the Traveler in disguise.  Jackson was born October 27, 1948 in One Arrow Reserve, Saskatchewan, Canada.  He dropped out of high school at 15 and lived on the streets of Winnipeg for a few years.  Eventually, he found his way into acting.

Most of Jackson's work has been in Canada (like I was just saying...).  Television credits include Shining Time Station, North of 60 and Sullivan's Crossing.  Films include Grizzly Falls, Skinwalkers and Cold Pursuit.  In Canada, he's probably best-known as the creator and host of the long-running, touring charity holiday concert series, Huron Carole.  He holds numerous national honors, including the Order of Canada.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Squid Mixes: Cider Battle VII

Wit's Up (WU), a Citizen Cider offering, was the newcomer in this battle.  It's definitely drier than its opponent, Unified Press (UP), Citizen Cider's flagship product.  Here we go...

Citizen Cider Unified Press vs. Citizen Cider Wit's Up

First, the Swizzle comparison.  Here, the sweeter UP has a clear advantage.  The WU simply doesn't bring enough flavor to the party.

Winner, Swizzle Category: Citizen Cider Unified Press

Sipping is another matter, at least for me.  I appreciate the drier flavor.  The WU goes down easy (too easy?).  It advertises as more ale-like.  I'm not sure I agree with that but it might explain my preference as a beer drinker.  My wife, however, still prefers the UP.  She wants a more apple-y flavor from her cider, understandably, and in this, the UP is superior.

Winner and Still Champion, Sipping Category, Her Preference: Citizen Cider Unified Press

Winner, Sipping Category, His Preference: Citizen Cider Wit's Up

Monday, October 9, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Wine

Title: Wine: A Graphic History
Writer: Benoist Simmat
Artist: Daniel Casanave

via Amazon

As advertised, Wine presents a micro-history of one of the world's favorite beverages.  Simmat and Casanave take us from the early Neolithic era to 21st century visions for the future of the industry, covering all six inhabited continents.  Every technological advance along the way is thoughtfully explained.  The book is thorough, informative and highly readable.  I'm grateful for the glimpses of countries I wouldn't have thought of as having long wine histories: Uzbekistan, for instance.  

A thought about micro-histories in general and each makes a case for its subject "changing the world."  It occurred to me with Wine that it's not so much the product that has changed things.  The broader enterprise of trade is what drives change.  English merchants invented the sealed bottle, allowing the aging for which wine is now prized.  But they didn't do it to improve the product, rather to make it easier to ship.  Similarly, they added sugar syrup to the wines of the Champagne region as a preservative.  The resulting bubbles were a highly marketable side benefit.

I have gripes with the artwork.  While technically proficient, the images include both gratuitous female nudity and questionable depictions of non-white cultures, particularly the Japanese.  It's a shame, detracting from the sophisticated text.  I'd definitely be interested in similar books but let's work on being a little more respectful, gentlemen.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Star Trek: Blood Oath

Episode: "Blood Oath"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 19
Original Air Date: March 27, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Three Klingon warriors arrive at the station in search of their old friend, Curzon Dax.  Rather surprised to find Jadzia instead, they reluctantly include her in fulfilling a blood oath made by her predecessor.  Together, they seek revenge upon "The Albino," a criminal who had killed each of the warriors' firstborn sons.

At first glance, "Blood Oath" is a Dax story, raising interesting questions about a Trill host's obligations to previous hosts, not to mention the broader moral questions of vengeful murder.  But these aren't just any old Klingon warriors.  Each is a character from Star Trek's original series - indeed, each reprised by the original actor.  Kor (John Colicos) was the first-named Klingon of the franchise, introduced in "Errand of Mercy."  Koloth (William Campbell) first appeared in "The Trouble with Tribbles."  Kang (Michael Ansara) debuted in "Day of the Dove."  In hindsight, focusing on Jadzia development might have been the wiser move.  She works hard to prove herself worthy to each of the Klingons in turn (and ultimately, the audience?).  Her exchanges with Commander Sisko and Kira are also revealing, especially Kira's chilling confessions about the psychological impact of taking a life.  Actress Terry Farrell loves the episode and from the perspective of her character, that's understandable.

Unfortunately, the Klingon reunion narrative falls flat, though it's difficult to pinpoint why.  In the original series, each of the warriors was introduced as an adversary.  Perhaps we're not given enough time to be reacquainted with them as friends in order to feel sympathy in their quest for revenge.  Maybe we resent them for bringing out an ugly side of Jadzia.  Alternatively, the success of the story could be too dependent on the in-joke of bringing them all back.  To be honest, I didn't get the gimmick the first time we watched.  Or maybe the writing, beyond the Dax elements, simply isn't strong.  

It's a shame that two of the three warriors, Koloth and Kang, are killed off.  Star Trek had changed so much in 30 years - over 100 years in-universe - that it would have been fun to see more of them in an updated context.  Kor will be back and that's as it should be.  Of the three, he is the most intriguing character (and the strongest actor) in the episode.

Acting Notes

via Avatar Wiki

Bill Bolender (The Albino) was born November 14, 1940 in Chicago.  He had a recurring role on JAG as well as guest appearances on NYPD Blue, Alias and Deadwood.  Films include JFK, Reality Bites and Nixon.  Bolender's long-term legacy is secure thanks to his portrayal of the unforgettable Elmo Blatch in The Shawshank Redemption.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Squid Mixes: Gotham Cocktail

A Gotham Cocktail combines cognac, dry vermouth, creme de cassis and lemon juice with a lemon twist for garnish.  I got the recipe from Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology when my wife asked for something with lemon juice.  Regan got it from David Wondrich who invented it for the debut of Gotham magazine, thus the name.  Any Batman associations are coincidental.

The drink is definitely on the sweeter side.  I would describe the flavor as dark raisiny, probably thanks mostly to the cassis.  There's a slight smokiness, too, perhaps from the vermouth.  There actually isn't much of the lemon juice - only two dashes.  Not sure that's enough to supply much.  It might be interesting to try the same mixture without the lemon side by side with Wondrich's original.