Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Game Review: Sticky Chameleons by Iello

Sticky Chameleons designed by Theo Riviere and Cedric Barbe, art by Remy Tornior, and published by Iello

Sticky Chameleons is a two- to six-player game where players are chameleons trying to eat just the right bugs to win the game. Setting the game up is easy--the game comes with a bunch of sturdy cardboard insects who will be lunch for the players. Players have to watch out, though, so they don't grab the wasps by accident. The bugs are spread across a table randomly.

Setting out the insects (including the wasps)

Closer look at the insects

In turn, each player rolls two dice. One determines the color of insect, the other the type of insect.

Dice, which are normal sized, this is just a close up picture

Then players try to get the insects. This is where the "sticky" part of the game comes in. Players use their tongues! Not their actual human tongues--the game comes with eight elastic sticky tongues that players flick at the table to catch the right critter.

The sticky tongue (which is washable and reusable)

If a player's tongue grabs other colorful insects in addition to the right one, that's okay. They'll still score a yummy token. If a wasp is on their tongue, then they won't score. Also, the player has to remove the insect and put it back on the play area. While they are drawing their tongues back, other players could flick their tongues over and possibly snatch the bug off of the other tongue. So chaotic fun is had by all.

Since play only continues till one player has collected five yummy tokens, the game goes pretty quickly--assuming you have good players. Our youngest son is a bit of a challenge to play with since he hasn't figured out how to flick the tongues and he gets very upset if he doesn't win or if someone steals his insect. He's also slower than others at finding the right color and type of insect on the table. So the game might require patience with the under-five crowd.

Dipping is not flicking!

The game is fun and inexpensive and quick to play, as long as you have the right crowd to play along.

Recommended, if your players aren't too competitive.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Green Fest 2018

One of our local high school's hosted a "green fest" focused on recycling, conservation, and various critters who live locally.

Low key display at the entrance

The first activity that drew my children was a beanbag toss that simulated sorting waste items into trash, recycling, and compost. They were better at identifying what should go where than they were at throwing the items through the right hole.

Throwing stuff away

Tea bag and broken mug, do you know where they go?

The high school students made displays on going green, giving advice on how to shop locally and use resources wisely.

Scout display

Another fun activity was painting little pots. After the pots were dry, the kids picked out plants to take home and grow to full size.

A quick painter

The highlight of the morning was a presentation in the school's media center about rescue animals. A representative from the Maryland Park Service told us about three birds currently kept at a local sanctuary. The birds are unable to live in the wild for various reasons.

Three mystery guests!

The first bird was a red shouldered hawk. The hawk was hit by a car when it was eating on the side of the road. The hawk lost its right eye!

Red shouldered hawk

Next was a barn owl who is nearly blind due to cataracts. Normally, the rangers occasionally switch the birds' habitats at the sanctuary to give them some variety. This owl stays in the same habitat since it has memorized where everything is.

Barn owl

The third bird was a turkey vulture. This bird was discovered as an egg by a nun, who raised the bird until she died. The other nuns did not want to take care of the bird, so the vulture wound up in the habitat. Turkey vultures are social birds, scavenging together. They are migratory as well. This particular bird spent too much time with people to live the vulture life style. It's twenty-nine years old and in good health.

Turkey vulture

Mighty wing span!

Back in the main room, our youngest (who bailed out on the bird program when they got too noisy and flappy for him) worked on a sail boat donated by a local big box hardware store.

A happy worker!

I was amazed at the boat on the table which I assumed he had built and painted. Later, when we got home, I saw the right boat, which was more in line with his talents as a three-year old.

What I thought was his final result

Actual result

The local library had a display of nature books and a simple rock decorating craft. My daughter tried it out. We already have plenty of books from the library at home so we didn't pick up anything new.

Library craft!

Adding a finishing touch

A local beekeeper brought a small hive and had his bees on display. He showed us the queen bee, whom he marked in the display below. Can you find her?

Look carefully

He explained that he marks his queen bees with a white dot so they are easy to find and take care of if there are any emergencies. He doesn't sell honey or wax or anything, he just keeps them as a hobby.

Close up of the marked bee

The kids were hungry at this point, so we decided that rather than eat snacks from the snack counter, we'd head home for lunch. We had a fun and educational time at the green fest!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Laurel Main Street Festival 2018

We went to the Laurel Main Street Festival, held on May 12, 2018.

A view of Main Street, Laurel, with festival in progress 

We didn't make it to the 9 a.m. parade, which featured our pastor as the Grand Marshall (since the parish is celebrating its 175th anniversary). We did run into the parochial vicar on the street later and had a nice chat with him.

Taken from the church's Facebook album!

The street was lined with all sorts of vendors from food providers to clothing sellers to home repair and renovation companies to local businesses and on and on. One vendor interesting vendor was a local beekeeper who was selling honey and soap. He had some bees on display. Our kids were fascinated to see them. We parents were happy that the bees were safely stored behind glass.

Admiring the bees

The guy told us that the bees were gathering at the top to keep the about-to-be-born bees warm. We even saw the queen bee, which they had marked with a small spot of paint to help them find her.

Testing the temperature of the bees

The attractions weren't just on the sides of the street. My son saw a dinosaur walking down the center and was happy to greet her.

Run in with a dinosaur

In addition to the sales, a couple of bands were playing. We didn't stop to listen since the kids were drawn down the street by the smells of popping corn and frying foods.

One set of singers

We eventually gave in and bought a fresh-made funnel cake, which is the best way to have funnel cake. We split it among the five of us, making it a tasty treat without it being a diet-busting experience.

Powdering our cake

By the way, that box of Oreos isn't there by accident--the stand was also selling deep-fried Oreos! Such a treat is too decadent for us.

Our funnel cake

We walked down a bit farther and bought hot dogs at one of the church stands. The church offered shaded seating which we liked very much. Another church across the street was having a book sale, which we naturally could not resist. We picked up the Bartimeaus Trilogy and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among other fine acquisitions.

On the way back to the car, we bought some honey from the beekeepers. We enjoyed their presentation and we use honey quite a bit, so it just made sense.

We are looking forward to next year's festival!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Book Review: Avengers: Mighty Origins by P. David et al.

Avengers: Mighty Origins written by Peter David, art by Andrea DiVito, Jon Burran, Nigel Raynor, Mike Bowden, and Walden Wong

Picking up right after the classic Avengers origin story (Loki tricks Thor into fighting the Hulk, hoping Hulk will beat him; Iron Man, Wasp, and Ant-Man are drawn into the fray; after sorting out the deception, Loki is banished and the group discovers Captain America's frozen body), this book has Loki scheming to bring down the Avengers. He is mad that as the god of chaos he's united a bunch of heroes to prevent mischief and evil on Midgard. Loki hatches a new scheme to divide the Avengers against each other. They are just learning to trust each other; Loki will undermine that trust and have them fighting in no time.

The story is entertaining even in its predictability. The author has a good sense of the characters and has some natural humor with each of them. I was also happy to see it wasn't just a retread of the classic origin story but a sequel showing the bond of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America getting stronger.

The book also contains the first issue of The Avengers after Civil War II where they have to regroup and fight Kang the Conqueror, who travels through time and causes trouble. That story was less interesting, mostly because it's a teaser for another graphic novel.

Recommended for some classic Avenger action and storytelling.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Movie Review: Bedlam (1946)

Bedlam (1946) co-written and directed by Mark Robson

In 1761, the infamous mental hospital St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum is known as Bedlam. It's run by Sims (Boris Karloff), a toadying, frustrated man who sucks up to the nobility (his benefactors, including the easily manipulated Lord Mortimer (Billy House)). By contrast, he is harsh and cruel to the inmates. He faces a big challenge when Lord Mortimer's protege, Nell Bowman (Anna Lee), finds him a bit repulsive and decides to visit the asylum. Her sassy and mocking tone changes when she sees the conditions of the inmates. She is even more repulsed. Nell convinces Mortimer to provide funds for reforms, like decent food and actual beds for the inmates. She convinces Mortimer until Sims catches his ear and convinces Mortimer that the expense will cut into his cosy lifestyle. Sims's cruelty doesn't end there--he convinces Mortimer to strip her of his patronage and eventually commit her to Bedlam. Her haughtiness gives way to her better nature as she tries to help out the inmates even as she is one of them.

The movie is a fascinating study in contrasts. Both Sims and Nell are sharp-witted and given to disdain for others. But Sims is fully committed to securing his own position while Nell learns to help out others in any way she can. She's inspired by a Quaker stonemason who wants to do some work at the asylum. He too is horrified by the conditions but is true to his faith and refuses to disdain others or participate in the corruption of Bedlam. He pushes Nell in the right direction and provides minor support throughout the film (and eventually winds up as a sort of love interest for her, though that is very minimal and feels tagged on to meet Hollywood expectations). Nell's influence on the other inmates inspires them to stand up for themselves in a critical moment. She makes a great heroine against Karloff's evil scheming.

The acting is very good. Anna Lee holds her own in scenes with Karloff, which is no small accomplishment. The other actors give fine performances, not going too over-the-top as the "loonies" or too detached from reality as the aristocratic class.

The sets mimic the Hogarth paintings (a set known as "The Rake's Progress) from which the story is inspired. The DVD has an interesting commentary by a film historian, including details about Hogarth, Karloff, Lee, director Mark Robson, and producer Val Lewton.


The movie is available as a horror double-feature in the Val Lewton collection along with Isle of the Dead.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

TV Review: Doctor Who: Earthshock (1982)

Doctor Who: Earthshock (1982) written by Eric Saward and directed by Peter Grimwade

The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) lands the TARDIS on Earth in AD 2526. Actually, he lands inside the Earth, in some caves where, naturally, trouble is brewing. An expedition of geologists and paleontologists were wiped out by a mysterious force. One survived and she is leading a military group back into the caves to find out what happened. After a typical misunderstanding (surely the Doctor and his companions must be guilty since they are in the caves!), the Doctor unites with the 26th century earthlings to fight the menace--the Cybermen. The Cybermen want to destroy the Earth, and when their first plan is foiled, they have a more subtle plan that will cost the Doctor dearly.

The Cybermen are an interesting opponent in this story. They have a history of losing to the Doctor, so once they recognize him, they look for vengeance as well as for the destruction of the Earth. The hyper-logical Cybermen taunt the Doctor for being emotional and therefore weak. The Doctor gives as good as he gets. The Cyberman costume is a little weird because their face's chin plate is transparent. Viewers see a grey chin as the Cybermen talk. While it's a reminder that they aren't just robots, it doesn't help them to be scary. Also, the leader is a bit shouty and does say "excellent" several times as if he were Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

Peter Davison's Doctor has a fairly interesting relationship to his three companions in this episode. Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) provide some technical support and some humanizing moments for the Doctor. Young Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) is a mathematical prodigy from another planet who wants to go home. The Doctor at first refuses, though Adric plots a course anyway. Their interactions are interesting and come to a poignant ending.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Review: The Bradbury Chronicles ed. by W. F. Nolan

The Bradbury Chronicles: Stories in Honor of Ray Bradbury edited by William F. Nolan and Martin H. Greenberg

Twenty-two authors paid tribute to Ray Bradbury in 1991 by contributing stories to this collection. Most are inspired by or extensions of other Bradbury stories, like The Martian Chronicles or Fahrenheit 451. Some even try to ape his style, with mixed results. I enjoyed the volume, though there are only a few standouts: Bradbury's own contribution "The Troll," about a bridge warden who meets up with a skeptic; Gregory Benford's "Centigrade 233," about another dystopian reason to burn books; and Orson Scott Card's "Feed the Baby of Love," about someone coming to a little Illinois town for winsome self-discovery. One or two stories were too dark for my taste (and one had a surprising amount of R-rated language), but the good definitely outweighs the bad here.

Recommended for Bradbury fans.