At Home with the Quokkas

See the source image

G’day! Byron the Quokka here–just for a chat.

A lot of people think we quokkas live in burrows, but we don’t: grass and shrubbery, that’s what we like. We live in nice houses made of grass. We used to keep the King of the Quokkas’ furniture upstairs, but then the heaviest item fell through the ceiling and smashed our toaster oven. Quokkas who live in grass houses shouldn’t store thrones.

Some of you have wondered what we do at night. Well, we’re homebodies, we love our family time together… so we watch Machiste movies. They’re mostly in Italian, but it’s Italian with an Australian accent, so we can understand it. Happily, there are dozens of Machiste movies, even if a lot of them got remarketed as Hercules movies. My favorite is Machiste Meets the Vacuum Cleaner Man–very scary!

We’re also very fond of board games, like Clue, Stratego, Carcassone, Settlers of Catan, and Who Knoo the Kangaroo?, which I am told is very popular in New Jersey.

When we go to bed we like to read a bit before turning the light out. We all read the Bell Mountain books. They’re my favorites. My mum is a huge fan of those detective stories by Violet Crepuscular about this detective who always gives up before he comes anywhere near solving the crime. I don’t understand what she sees in them, myself.

It’s a quiet life, but we like it!

My Favorite Chess Openings

See the source image

The thing that bugs me about chess books is that they tell you how to play a certain kind of opening, but almost never tell you why. They don’t tell you what the opening is intended to do.

I don’t want to bore those of you who don’t play chess, so I’ll keep this brief. These are a couple of my favorite openings, and I’m going to tell you why I play them. You can go just about anywhere and find out how to play them.

The King’s Gambit is the chess equivalent of slamming open the swinging doors of the saloon and offering to shoot it out, here and now, with the toughest gunslinger there. It leads to a lively game.

The Polish Opening, aka ‘the Orang-utang,’ looks to most opponents like a very stupid first move that no one but a rank beginner would make. It’s much stronger than it looks, and much of its strength comes from convincing your opponent to think you’re a patsy. I beat a regional champion with it once.

(Uh, Lee, people in the audience are starting to check their wristwatches…)

Philidor’s Defense makes you, playing Black, look timorous; but if you know what you’re doing, this opening can help you to take the offensive much sooner than your opponent expected.

(I will be amazed if anybody reads this, likes it, or comments on it. Am I absolutely sure I want to do this?)

The Weeping Willow: Sigh deeply, dab your eyes with a handkerchief, blow your nose–and then break into sobs. When your opponent asks what’s wrong, make a show of holding it back, but then cut loose with a story that the doctor has just told you that you have only a few more weeks to live, and it would mean so much to you if you could just win a few chess games before the Grim Reaper shows up at your bedside… “And I guess I’ll never find out what happened when my house burned down with everybody in it, even my tropical fish, and then the insurance company wouldn’t pay–but never mind, I shouldn’t have burdened you with my troubles…” And so on.

Remember, chess is supposed to be fun.


The World’s Oldest Board Game?

See the source image

What is the world’s oldest board game? The photo shows a game board found in a Sumerian tomb at the ancient city of Ur. It’s thousands of years old; but scientists at Games Is Us say they’ve found a game that’s older than that. No pictures are available, but we are told the board is similar to the one in the photo, but instead of symbols, the squares on the board show really scary faces.

“We don’t know what the game was called,” says Project Director Burkan Hare, “because the people who played it in ancient Andorra had not yet learned how to write, there’s no rule book. So for the time being, we’re calling it ‘The Ancient Game That Nobody Knows the Name Of.'”

Relying on shrewd guesswork, the staff at Games Is Us have devised rules by which the game is played. “We found the board under a tomb with about a dozen human teeth scattered around the board, so we think it was basically a tooth-pulling game. You throw dice, and move, and every time your man lands on a scary face–all the squares have scary faces on them–the other player pulls one of your teeth and keeps it. The player who winds up with the biggest pile of teeth wins the game.”

The Ancient Game That Nobody Knows the Name Of will eventually be produced for today’s highly competitive board game market. Hare smiled, displaying a really nice set of dentures.

“We’ve already got a can’t-miss slogan for it!” he said. “‘Winning this game is like pulling teeth!'”

Memory Lane: Monopoly Plus

Image result for images of monopoly board

When I was 12 years old or so, a Monopoly craze swept my neighborhood, and us kids played it every chance we got.

We soon learned that, with four or five people playing, it wasn’t always possible to acquire a Monopoly. Then, unless a big trade came through, a game could take all day without anybody winning. So we devised ways to jazz up the game–but without breaking the written rules.

First we adopted the “Free Parking Bonanza,” a well-known folk rule. Fines and taxes levied by Chance or Community Chest (“Pay School Tax of $150”–aagh!) were paid to the middle of the board, where they piled up until some lucky player landed on “Free Parking” and won all the money in the pile. This could sometimes stave off bankruptcy, or even lead to a losing player’s comeback.

But we didn’t stop there. Our most radical innovation was the “Free Ride.” As in, “If you trade me or sell me New York Avenue, to complete my monopoly, I’ll throw in a free ride for you, the first two times you land on it.” Not strictly forbidden by the rules, this often blew a game wide open. On a rainy day in summer vacation, our innovations sometimes let us play two or three games instead of just one.

Don’t sell Monopoly short: it can help teach a child how to handle money and other resources, like time. You don’t always have much choice as to where to build, but you nearly always can choose when to build. Timing your investments just right is frequently the key to victory. Timing them unwisely leads to disaster. And then there’s the choice between slowly developing a monopoly that costs a lot, but will pay a big return if someone lands on it, or quickly developing a lot of cheap properties in hopes of building up an early lead. Hint: the purple and light blue properties at the bottom of the board, plus all four railroads–I’ll take it any time. And don’t be too quick to sell a Free Ride to a player who’s already in the lead!

There’s a lot of thinking involved in Monopoly. May its popularity never fade away.