A Critical Mishap

It’s possible that one of the contributing factors to my current paucity of critical writing is an incident that happened years ago (ain’t that always the Freudian way?). Lazy afternoon, the wife and I were watching something on Netflix that was a compilation of 50s-60s horror movie trailers with snarky commentary. The snark frequently bordered on the mean and hateful, and I said so. “They sound like your reviews,” she said. I answered that my reviews started from a basis of affection, but she was having none of it. “Nope. They sound just like you.”

That’s bothered me off and on in the intervening years. The instances of bother seem to coincide with periods of scarcity, like now. Am I contributing anything to the discussion? Or am I simply a low-rent MST3K substitute, available without subscription? And really, isn’t this kind of a pathetic existential crisis?

I suspect this will soon be rendered rear-view mirror material; I have a Crapfest coming up in a couple weeks, and such pearl-clutching will go out the window, where it belongs. I’ve been feeling a slight yearning to return to movie-watching, to that pledge to watch all of Tarkovsky’s movies this year. Some of this may be fueled by a bit of brightness, that the current efforts to take away my health insurance have failed; however, there is also the awareness that when the Death Star explodes, the Empire just builds another one.

So it goes.

So once more it is asked, what exactly are you doing with your evenings?


Yes, I wrote about some a few weeks back. I’m still exploring the form. Greg Wilcox told me my price quote of $15.99 was due to a poor sampling (though some of the prices I’ve seen on YouTube have been that bad if not worse. I suspect those were from the heyday of the fad, and the market is cooling); I’ve since seen spinners in the wild recently for $5.99. I continue to get them on a slow boat from China for two to three bucks. The truly dangerous ones I ordered still haven’t arrived, but there is enough to confound and bore you with.

There are a number of Batman forms available, but I went for the more retro curved version, as opposed to the modern, angular and sharp versions. The design’s asymmetry works against it; I like to spin and move the device, enjoying the gyroscopic feel pushing against me. It reminds of that cool-ass toy gyroscope I had when I was a kid. This design, though, doesn’t engender the same smooth force – it creates a clunky, bumpy spin. If you’re poetically-minded, it does sort of recall the flapping of a bat’s wings.

(guitar solo)

I did have to also get in this combined copyright nightmare. This is essentially the former spinner with a rubber Captain America shield plopped in the center disc, no other changes. It did however allow me to post on Instagram:


With Marvel movies making serious coin in China, you can be sure that there are also spinners of his shield, and here I finally hit a cropper: I knew it would be a disc spinner, which I don’t really care for. It is pretty large and colorful, but, in a departure from most of these spinners (except my beloved Behemoth steampunk spinner), it is entirely plastic. Most spinners also have a version of a skateboard bearing at its center, and this one does not, so it has no spin stamina. Being a cheap bastard, I go for the “Free, Just Pay Shipping” versions where possible – it’s possible if I spent a few more bucks I could get a metal version, but again: I’m not going to use a disc spinner, so why bother?

Putting the lie to that almost immediately is this beast. I love dragons, especially the classical Asian type, so this baby was calling my name. A disc type, but the spines and horns give my middle finger enough purchase to spin it in my preferred style. Heavy and metal, it spins a looooong time, though. If it were a little larger, it would be ideal. Though even at its size, it feels inordinately heavy, so wishing it larger might be some monkey’s paw foolishness.

Also in our last installment, I introduced you to the fidget spinner full of ancient evil, and the spinner filled with ancient pseudoscience. In my increasingly deranged head canon, the ancient evil and astrology spinners teamed up, so I had to get a spinner filled with the power of SCIENCE. Besides the fact that it looks pretty cool (and reminds me of my favorite Silver Age Metamorpho villain, back in the Ramona Fradon days), that design is perfectly balanced (SCIENCE!) and its spin stamina is off the charts. Go, Science!

Now wait, you may say, you keep going on about dangerous spinners, but none of these has seemed particularly damaging, although we are worrying about your mental health in general. I KNOW. All my really lethal spinners have yet to arrive, and I am beginning to suspect customs may be confiscating them against the coming civil war. But I do have one that is proven dangerous:

Hahaaaaa, yes! Come here, you lovely little monster! If you read the article, it’s exactly two of these gizmos that have done the Johnny Storm bit, and it’s because of the same problem that gave us exploding Galaxy Notes: too much battery in too small a space. Well, we are very safety conscious here at Freex Labs, so while charging we placed the spinner in a metal container and did not leave it unattended. There were disappointingly few sparks, flames or explosions. The damn thing didn’t even get hot. It paired to my phone easily and produced quite the light show while streaming music from Pandora – my wife is extremely jealous and I have to lock it up at night.

What caused most of the adverse reactions to this was not so much the exploding part as “a bluetooth spinner?” I grant you, it is puzzling. The music sounds alright, but it would sound so much better from a bluetooth headset or dedicated speaker. Those damned kids! They’re just doing it to be annoying!

So, that’s it until Customs decides I’m not a terrorist looking to cause mass destruction with my questionable spinner purchases. But wait… what’s this?


I, um…. I’ll see you later.


Solitaire’s a Game for One

“So, if you’re not currently watching movies almost nightly, what are you doing with your evenings?”

I’m glad you asked, mysterious sock puppet. I’m reading, of course – Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and being driven mad by the faux photocopied documents, almost impossible to read on my Kindle. But by and large, I am indulging that infrequently employed category on this blog, Old Men Playing Videogames.

“DANG you, PwnzNoobz666!”

This is where the “Old Man” part becomes a bit more than ironic posturing. I haven’t owned a gaming console in more than a decade, maybe two – that is now the province of my son. You get right down to it, I was never very good at most of them, anyway. My methodology in fighting games was “Flail away in all directions”. The other gaming trend that took over the market for a couple of years was side-scrolling shooters, and I did alright at those, but I found them more frustrating than entertaining. Don’t even talk to me about platformers. My interests were more with the Role Playing Games; the first videogame I ever finished was Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. I remain one of the only people I know who finished Final Fantasy VII.

So most of my experience with the newer, shinier videogames has been watching my son play or when I visit Dave and he forces me to play whatever Mario is current so he can laugh at my clumsiness. No, I still play what are known as JRPGs, still finding them entertaining until almost inevitably I hit the ridiculously overpowered End Boss and I walk away. Past that, I have largely aged into what is sneeringly referred to as a Casual Gamer.

My game is Solitaire.

“Memmmmmories… light the corners of my miiiiiind…”

It was almost impossible to escape the classic game of Klondike in the early days of home computing – it, like Minesweeper, was there to get people accustomed to using the mouse. There were many games marketed over the years with fancier, even customizable cards, more variations on the game. One of the first shareware games I actually bought – outside DOOM – was Solsuite, which has resided on every hard drive I ever owned. It includes what seems to be every variation of the game ever, and beating German Patience was my quest for several months.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m an RPG fan, so I wanted something a little deeper. And game designers stepped up. We’ll take these in (sort of) order played. I’m not going to mention the ones I hated – and there are several. All of these are available on Steam, if you are so interested. All of them employ the basics rules of the Solitaire variation known as Golf, where cards are played one rank higher or lower than than the base card, with no regards to suit. The order loops, so Kings may be played on Aces, and vice versa.

I suppose my modern era of solitaire obsession began with Rainbow Games’ Chronicles of Emerland, which I originally played on an iPad, and was delighted to find on Steam.

Emerland eases the RPG fanatic into it’s world via a tutorial administered by an ancient wizard. In a format with which we will become very familiar, each level consists of ten hands, with an option to immediately replay any hand with less than a happy outcome, and you are going to want to get as much gold as possible from each hand to buy power-ups in the game store – more undo’s per hand, more cards to your deck. Wild cards occasionally show up, and you can hold up to five for when they are needed. Longer strings of cards removed from the board give you bigger bonuses. Between each level is a brief hidden object game to break things up.

When you finish your tutorial level, the Wizard’s old disciple, Seth, shows up and announces he’s going to take over the world, as one does. His plan is to waltz though the four kingdoms, destroy the Amulet each uses for magic protection, and then raise a Lava Golem to dominate them. You – and your cards – have to get through all the obstacles Seth throws in your way, repair the broken Amulets, and defeat the Golem. Along the way you pick up a companion from each of the Kingdoms – a Knight, Elf, Dwarf and Merman. Each has special attacks that prove very helpful in cleaning up the hands where you have an annoying card or two left over.

The artwork is very pretty in Emerland; the characters have some limited animation, and are fully (and pretty well) voiced. I enjoy that the card layouts actually change in form through the various kingdoms. I literally have no idea how many times I’ve played this through.

That obsession was kicked into high gear by Grey Alien Games’ Regency Solitaire, which I had read about on Boing Boing. It’s basically the Masterpiece Theater of solitaire games, as we meet young Bella, whose family fortunes have been squandered away by her foolish brother Edward. He’s been snookered by that awful Mr. Bleakley, the scheming neighbor who hopes, now that her family is practically penniless, that Bella will be forced to marry him. The game will take you though a pretty entertaining story, as Edward gets in deeper and Bella meets Lord Henry Worthington, who is as handsome and decent as Bleakley is odious and treacherous.

No hidden object games here, though each level has three increasingly difficult objectives that must be met or you have to play the level over again. Between each level you can purchase power-ups in the form of decor for Bella’s initially barren ballroom, two of which do stray card cleanup. Regency also allows you to hold up to ten wildcards, and those will be essential for some of the tougher objectives. I haven’t played it as many times as Emerland, but it’s close.

Subsoap’s Faerie Solitaire is the one I’ve currently played the least, but that’s not a comment on its quality – for some reason, on my desktop, the game refuses to be centered in fullscreen mode. It plays just fine on my laptop though. You’re a young man who seems to have a talent for freeing captured faeries (through playing solitaire, of course). Exactly why these poor creatures are being captured has not yet been revealed. The main character has voiceover narration, and my producer’s heart mutters “Couldn’t this just as easily been a girl? Save the cost of the voice work and make it gender neutral?”

The design seems geared toward younger players, with whimsical, simple card designs. The default sounds seem rather loud, clangs and crashes calculated to create youthful laughter (or maybe I’m just old). Though the game claims its version of wildcards are “Rare” I’m finding them pretty frequently. There is no option for immediately replaying less-than-perfect hands, that is apparently in another game mode that has to be (pretty easily) unlocked. Perfect hands allow you to gather eggs for fantasy animals that evolve through other magic items gathered and experience as you play. And who can resist hatching dragons? It’s been fun, though not terribly challenging.

Anawiki Games’ Avalon Legends Solitaire 2 was my sole reason for existing for several days. It begins with a war between King Arthur and an army of goblins, which I guess was the plot for the first game (spoiler: it was not). While Arthur and his knights are off to Goblinland, it’s up to you, a druid with a deck of magic cards, to rebuild war-ravaged Camelot. Clearing cards uncovers gold, food and material, all things you need to create buildings, and depending on which you build, they will create more.

Avalon places each hand as a separate location of a pretty large map. It had been a while since I’d played a game with a manufacturing chain, and I soon realized I was cheating myself by wailing on the replay button immediately after a bad hand. By returning to the main map each time, I collected more material for rebuilding. Playing the hand again doesn’t replace the food or materials, but it allows you to score more gold, and as we all know, gold can solve a lot of problems.

I took the responsibility of rebuilding Camelot very seriously. and spent most every waking hour doing so – it was that much fun. I seem to have completed that about three-quarters of the way through the map, which means now I can afford some of the pricier power-ups in Merlin’s Tower. Wild cards really are rare in this game – you generally have to buy them – but it seems you can replay ANY hand whenever you want.

Let’s wrap up with something completely different, Raging Hammer Games’ Solitairica. Once more you’re up against some megalomaniacal villain – this time it’s Emperor Stuck – using only the power of Golf. Well, not only, as there are some intriguing overlays. You’re still clearing cards largely with no consideration of suits, but this time the suits do matter, because they charge up one of four attributes – Attack, Defense, Agility and Willpower. These power spells that allow you to clear cards faster, make better decisions or, as it says, defend.

This is what I was playing when Avalon Legends 2 sucked me in. The hands each represent a different enemy, and they are not defeated until you clear all the cards from the field. Each enemy is different in both attacks and defense, requiring you to constantly reassess your play style. The first field is eighteen enemies deep, and I don’t know how the game is arranged after that, because I haven’t gotten any farther than that. Challenging game, but highly entertaining. When a defeated enemy calls me a “Hornswoggler!” I know I’m in for a good time.

There’s more I haven’t even started to play yet – including a Day of the Dead-themed one – buuuuuut I’m also pretty sure you stopped reading a couple of games ago. Fine. I’m going to see if I can finally defeat the Sturdy Coin Swarm Expanding Bureaucrat.

Also Available on Amazon:

Chronicles of Emerland

Regency Solitaire

Faerie Solitaire

Avalon Legends 2