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David McCune "self-deprecating and proud of it" RSS Feed (Tacoma, WA)
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Cranium Bumparena
Cranium Bumparena
Offered by SAMITOYS
Price: $36.99
46 used & new from $4.99

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bumparena reviewed with other Cranium games, November 26, 2006
This review is from: Cranium Bumparena (Toy)
We have several Cranium games at our house, and have played various ones at various times, depending on the age and interest of our kids (currently ages 12, 9, and 6). This is a review of the ones we have used.

So, in no particular order:

Bumparena - In this game, players take turns adding bumpers and rubber balls to a sloped game board, base on easy-to-understand game cards (all pictures, no reading). When the balls are released, the bumpers divert the balls to one of three player goals. Collect 6 balls and win. This game sets up and moves quickly, you could probably complete one game within 15 minutes of opening the game box. It is simple to learn, and it probably could be played by most 6 year olds with minimal adult help. While the concept is easy to grasp, there is some strategy involved, as well as some appreciation of physics (angles, rebound, gravity, chance). This is another good game for getting young and old siblings to the same
table.

Zooreeka - This is the newest addition to our house and the current favorite with our youngest and middle child. In Zooreka, players roll a movement die to move around a game board in typical fashion. Spaces can bestow extra turns, allow players to draw cards, or allow trading of tokens. The tokens are the key. A second die allows players to collect "food", "animal", and "shelter" cards, ultimately turning a correct mix of them in for a "habitat". Four habitats make a "zoo". The first to make a zoo wins. It sounds pretty typical. The twists are that players essentially bet on the outcome of a die roll. Food is the most common outcome, followed by "animal" and "shelter". The odds are better for the food, but the other two are increasingly valuable. This is a great way to teach kids about probability. It also keeps players involved on every die roll, since a player can collect a card on any die roll. This focuses wandering attention spans. The cards are like the "chance" space in Monopoly; they can give or take away accumulated tokens. Finally, tokens can only be "redeemed" at a trading post space. This allows a trailing player a chance to catch up and tends to limit insurmountable leads. Games are of medium length (30 minutes or so).

Ziggity - Ziggity is a card game - think Uno with the added twist that, like other Cranium games, different parts of the brain are used. The cards have a number, a puzzle piece, a letter, and a shape, one in each corner. On each turn, the player is required to match shapes, add numbers, complete a puzzle or spell words in order to play the cards. There are also draw cards, skip cards, and wild cards. This is a fun game for kids old enough to spell and add, as well as for the rest of the family. The games are very quick, unlike the cranium board games. We will sometimes get in a quick few hands before bedtime when we want o play a family game but don't have much time. Finally, the plastic cards are very colorful and durable, a big plus when you have young `uns wanting to learn to shuffle.

Hullabloo - great, silly fun and very kinetic. It works best when a parent is willing to get down on the floor and be silly with their kids. It holds their interest for a relatively short time (10-20 minutes), but it does burn up the energy and generate the laughs.

Cadoo - a fun, quick board game that taps into different part of you brain - memory, analytical, creative, expressive, etc. - but keeps things fun and fast-paced. We found it more approachable for our younger kids than Cranium

Cranium - like Cadoo, it mixes in many different ways to use your brain, this time in a longer board game format. This one is a bit tougher on younger players. Also, both games do a fair job of letting younger players be competitive, but they are still games that can be a challenge to keep fair and interesting to all players if the age range between them is too great.

Cranium Family Fun Game - Teamwork is probably the best aspect of the Family Fun Game, and it's seems like such a novel idea that you are left wondering why more board games don't use this approach. Unless you have twins, then having multiple kids in your family means wide variations in ability. That is okay for games of chance, but for games that require dexterity or creativity, it's very hard to find a game that kids who are 13, 10, and 7 can enjoy together. This game solves the problem by dividing into two teams. Teams then alternate between completing certain tasks. Examples include "find three items that start the letter S", answer a true/false question, or "build a tower with blocks and then knock it over using the frogs" (they hop like tidily winks). Like other Cranium games, the tasks use your whole brain. Also, the team concept lets at least half of the players come away winners and teaches cooperation, both rare in board games. Another winner from Cranium.

Overall - great family games that stimulate parts of the brain often neglected by board games, yet keep it so fun that kids won't even realize that they are educational.


Cranium Zigity Tin
Cranium Zigity Tin
Offered by FranklinSeller
Price: $16.91
59 used & new from $4.99

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Multiple Cranium Game Reviews:, November 25, 2006
This review is from: Cranium Zigity Tin (Toy)
We have several Cranium games at our house, and have played various
ones at various times, depending on the age and interest of our kids
(currently ages 12, 9, and 6). This is a review of the ones we have used.

So, in no particular order:

Ziggity - Ziggity is a card game - think Uno with the added twist that, like other games, different parts of the brain are used. The cards have a number, a puzzle piece, a letter, and a shape, one in each corner. On each turn, the player is required to match shapes, add numbers, complete a puzzle or spell words in order to play the cards. There are also draw cards, skip cards, and wild cards. This is a fun game for kids old enough to spell and add, as well as for the rest of the family. The games are very quick, unlike the cranium board games. We will sometimes get in a quick few hands before bedtime when we want o play a family game but don't have much time. Finally, the plastic cards are very colorful and durable, a big plus when you have young `uns wanting to learn to shuffle.

Hullabloo - great, silly fun and very kinetic. It works best when a parent is willing to get down on the floor and be silly with their kids. It holds their interest for a relatively short time (10-20 minutes), but it does burn up the energy and generate the laughs.

Cadoo - a fun, quick board game that taps into different part of you brain - memory, analytical, creative, expressive, etc. - but keeps things fun and fast-paced. We found it more approachable for our younger kids than Cranium

Cranium - like Cadoo, it mixes in many different ways to use your brain, this time in a longer board game format. This one is a bit tougher on younger players. Also, both games do a fair job of letting younger players be competitive, but they are still games that can be a challenge to keep fair and interesting to all players if the age range between them is too great.

Bumparena - In this one, players take turns adding bumpers and rubber balls to a sloped game board, base on easy-to-understand game cards (all pictures, no reading). When the balls are released, the bumpers divert the balls to one of three player goals. Collect 6 balls and win. This game sets up and moves quickly, you could probably complete one game within 15 minutes of opening the game box. It is simple to learn, and it probably could be played by most 6 year olds with minimal adult help. While the concept is easy to grasp, there is some strategy involved, as well as some appreciation of physics (angles, rebound, gravity, chance). This is another good game for getting young and old siblings to the same
table.

Cranium Family Fun Game - Teamwork is probably the best aspect of the Family Fun Game, and it's seems like such a novel idea that you are left wondering why more board games don't use this approach. Unless you have twins, then having multiple kids in your family means wide variations in ability. That is okay for games of chance, but for games that require dexterity or creativity, it's very hard to find a game that kids who are 13, 10, and 7 can enjoy together. This game solves the problem by dividing into two teams. Teams then alternate between completing certain tasks. Examples include "find three items that start the letter S", answer a true/false question, or "build a tower with blocks and then knock it over using the frogs" (they hop like tidily winks). Like other Cranium games, the tasks use your whole brain. Also, the team concept lets at least half of the players come away winners and teaches cooperation, both rare in board games. Another winner from Cranium.

Overall - great family games that stimulate parts of the brain often
neglected by board games, yet keep it so fun that kids won't even
realize that they are educational.


Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Steven D. Levitt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.62
640 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating String of Vignettes, October 25, 2006
Steven Levitt's Freakonomics is the most readable economics book you will ever find. That's probably because it is not economics as most of us understand it, not dry numbers and graphs. Rather, it is an application of the principles of economics to aspects of life that might otherwise have been considered un-measurable. Whether it is the study of the hierarchy of a drug gang, predictors of intelligence of children, or the relationship between abortion and crime, Levitt's analysis is by turns riveting, surprising, and entertaining. You will make short work of the book.

As with most of economics, there are alternative interpretations of most of what he has written. I don't think the book taken as Gospel on the topics it explores. Where it breaks ground is in it humanizing of the "dismal science" of economics. The stories are not just informative, they are fun.

The book has been criticized for lacking a theme. I'd dispute that. It is true that there is no direct connection between the topics Levitt and his collaborators examine. However, taken as a whole, certain themes do emerge:

1) Examine preconceptions

2) Use data to test you theories

3) Be prepared to accept the surprises that you might find

I think these lessons could be applied by any scientist, really any intelligent observer of the human condition.

Five stars for making economics cool.


Candy Land - The Kingdom of Sweets Board Game
Candy Land - The Kingdom of Sweets Board Game
Price: $12.99
185 used & new from $5.48

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best. First. Game... Ever., October 24, 2006
We have enthusiastically played Candy Land with each of our three kids. It is easily the best starting point for introducing a child to board games. Players take turns drawing from a deck and moving their pieces around the board. The cards have one or two squares of a particular color (such as red, green, yellow, etc.) and players move pieces ahead on the path to the next matching spot of the same color. No counting or reading is required. There are also special cards that can move a player ahead or behind, and they are indicated by picture of the spot on the board to which the player should move their piece. Play continues until one player reaches the end.

Some of my observations:

1) Most kids can probably start playing and enjoying this game before the recommended 36 months of age. If you have a child with the attention span and the desire to sit down for a 10-15 minute game, I'm pretty confident they could enjoy it.

2) Among the lessons our kids learned from CandyLand: taking turns, recognizing colors, and dealing with disappointment. Luckily, the games are quick enough that it is usually possible to play multiple games in one seting. This makes it possible to keep playing until each child has had at least one win. (Very helpful for managing little egos)

3) For such a simple game, it manages to perfectly balance the possibility of changes in fortune without seeming arbitrary. The game is literally in doubt until the last card is played (one of the "special" cards might send a player back to near the start). This is great for teaching that most valuable of lessons: "NEVER give up".

4) With most simple games, it is almost impossible to get older kids to play after they reach a certin age. We have not found that to be as true with Candy Land. We've had games with an adult and kids ages 3, 6, and 9 playing together and having fun. If you have more than one kid, you know how hard this can be.

As a parent of three, I give this game my highest recommendation.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 9, 2006 2:30 PM PST


The Cure for All Cancers
The Cure for All Cancers
by Hulda Regehr Clark
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.87
247 used & new from $0.01

184 of 259 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The View of a Medical Oncologist, October 20, 2006
In my oncology practice, patients will often bring me articles or books on "alternative" medical therapies. I try to approach all of them with an open mind. One of the best chemotherapy agents ever developed is derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree. You never know where the next advance in medicine will come from. I tell my patients that I divide alternative medicines into three categories: known to help, known to harm, and not enough evidence to say one way or the other.

When I was handed this book by a patient, I was immediately worried by the grandiose title. Really, ALL cancer? From melanoma of the skin to metastatic breast cancer? As I read the book, I was initially shocked and eventually appalled by the recommendations. The advice that was given would, if followed, clearly result in harm and potentially death to cancer patients. Not only does Hulda Clark tout her own ridiculous theories on the origins of the disease, she encourages patients to follow her advice and to avoid therapies of proven benefit. I could not believe my eyes.

Curious (and not a little angry), I checked on Quackwatch, a website dedicated to debunking medical frauds. Sure enough, Hulda Clark has an entire section devoted to her. Before you buy one of her books, at least read what others have had to say. Understand that, for her to be correct, literally every physician and nurse you have every met would have to be part of a conspiracy to hide this truth. If a few zaps of electricity could cure cancer, then literally every drug company, every family doctor, every Nobel prize winner for the past half-century would need to be in on the lie. Or, if that seems a bit much, it could be the Hulda Clark is a quack. Ask yourself which seems more likely.

Now, I have no doubt that this review will be unpopular. When a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, there is a tendency to latch on to and believe anyone who offers hope. Emotions like "what have I got to lose" are common. Here I am destroying that hope. I'm sure that some people who read this will be angry and look to dismiss what I write. All I can say is that I (unlike Hulda Clark) have nothing to gain from giving this advice (well, other than the satisfaction of calling out Hulda Clark). Before you cry "medical industrial complex" or something like that, my practice is in a military clinic. I make the same salary whether my patients follow my advice or hers. Sometimes, the simplest explanations are correct. I'm just a doctor who saw one of his patients being taken advantage of during a vulnerable time in her life. I hope this modest contribution can keep this from happening to others.
Comment Comments (77) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2015 11:09 PM PDT


The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.92
500 used & new from $0.01

230 of 238 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was literally sent downstairs for laughing too loud., October 19, 2006
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Seriously. I was up past bedtime, and I was reading Bryson's description of lame 1950's toys. I won't give it away, but imagine what he can do with the topic of "electric football". After a particularly vigorous episode of chortling, my wife trudged out of bed to decree that, if I insisted on continuing to read, I'd have to take it downstairs.

And that's what this book is, a laugh-out-loud remembrance of a simpler, sillier time. Bryson's travelogues are what made him famous, and he never would have made it without a fantastic memory for detail and an ability to convey a vivid mental picture of the topics he chooses. His descriptions of 1950's Des Moines are consistently evocative. It's like a travelogue unearthed from a 50 year old time capsule. I feel like I have visited there.

Still, readers of Bryson known that what truly sets him apart is his uncanny ability to attract and describe morons, as well as all manner of idiotic situations (generally self-inflicted). For a man who can do this on, say, a simple trip to Australia, imagine how much comedy gold can be mined from a childhood in the Midwest of the 50's. It is, as they say, a target-rich environment. His remembrances include family, friends, school, Des Moines, lame childhood toys, nuclear bombs, and more. Even things like TV dinners, which we have all heard mocked before, are skewered in new and amusing ways.

For all of that, though, the memoir is not mean spirited. I think that the ridicule works so well because it is easy to sense Bryson's real affection for his subjects (well, at least the ones who aren't carbonized by the x-ray vision of the Thunderbolt Kid). He's poking fun, but in a way that family and friends might poke fun at each other over old childhood foibles at a Thanksgiving dinner. It's the humor that you get when your wife knows that you're ridiculous, but loves you just the same. This book belongs with such classic tributes to youth as The Wonder Years, Stand By Me, and A Christmas Story. Buy it, and enjoy it. Just try not to read it next to someone's bedroom.
Comment Comments (14) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2014 6:35 AM PDT


Hasbro Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie
Hasbro Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie
39 used & new from $94.95

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If 10-year olds had invented chess..., October 18, 2006
...this is what they would have made.

Heroscape took about one game for my son (age 7) to understand the rules enough to enjoy it greatly. It is fast paced, with combat occurring from the first turn on. The game board comes in the form of "terrain" pieces of various sizes, which players use to construct a 3-dimensional playing surface. The playing pieces represent heroes and monsters from all different times and regions (Vikings, WWII soldiers, secret agent, samurai, and dragons, to name a few). Each piece or team of pieces (like the secret agents) has some basic skills (movement, attack, defense, range, and "lives" (the number of hits it can take). Each also has a special ability, like fire breathing, double attacks, or flying. Players take turns moving and attacking until one player wins.

That covers the basics, and that alone makes for a very enjoyable game. Now, a few other points:

1) While there are some pre-set scenarios, it is not in the least required that you follow them to have a fun game. My son usually likes to set up a game board in a pattern that he makes up on the spot. This is actually more fun and quicker. I recommend that you use the scenarios once or twice to get an idea of a balanced game, but feel free to branch out after that.

2) There are numerous game expansions. These usually consist of a few new characters and terrain pieces. The ones we have picked so far have been well done and added nicely to game play. I recommend adding an occasional new set of characters to keep things fresh.

3) While the game will TECHNICALLY go back in the original box (I put it back once just to prove that it could be done), this is such a pain that I recommend just accepting that you will need a different container for it after the first use.

4) BE CREATIVE. This is probably my favorite thing about the game. My son had some action figures that were the approximate size of some of the pieces on the board. He wanted to add them. I was a bit skeptical, but I helped him construct cards and powers for several characters. We added Robin (since he's a sidekick, his special power is that he makes those around him better), the Riddler (his special attack is a "riddle" that can confuse and immobilize an opponent), Two-Face (flip a coin - if it comes up heads, he gets extra powers) and some others. We played with the new characters added, and they fit in perfectly! I have never played a board game that allowed so much creativity on the part of players.

So, if you have a kid who likes stories about heroes and likes to play board games, this is the best game of its type I have ever seen. Highest recommendation.


Accelerando (Singularity)
Accelerando (Singularity)
by Charles Stross
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
133 used & new from $0.01

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 5-star ideas, 3-star character development, October 17, 2006
I think I would have been better prepared to enjoy this book if I had known that it was originally published in serial form. In retrospect, it makes sense. Each section stands alone fairly well, but the sections only partially mesh as a whole. My favorite fiction has strong characters. In this format in particular, character development suffers.

In Accelerando, humanity speeds to and through the Singularity (the post-human era often called "the rapture for nerds"). The story follows three different generations of the Manx family through the centuries as serial protagonists. As a result, I had difficulty forming real attachment to any single character. Despite it's depiction of the vast sweep of human future, this book is not likely to move you emotionally. It's telling that the most memorable character in the book is the family's AI cat.

Really, though, the characters are secondary to the ideas. The ideas are so fantastic, and they come so frequently (about 1 new concept per paragraph through stretches of the book), that the end result, while not compelling, is still plenty dazzling. So, if you read your SF for the ideas, I think you'll enjoy this. If you prefer your SF as a vehicle to drive human character development, you should probably keep looking.


Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
by Jared Diamond
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.96
1287 used & new from $0.01

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Let's see, guns, germs, steel..left anything out?...Oh, how about culture?, October 6, 2006
First I will agree with many reviewers that Diamond makes a compelling argument for the relative starting points of different human societies. It was fascinating to read about the availability of potential food crops and domesticated animals and to see how this had repercussions in a society's development. I was a bit put off by the straw man Diamond continually was knocking down: the argument that some societies succeeded due to inherent genetic advantages (is anyone actually making that argument these days?), but I figured surely he was going to get around to addressing the role of culture. I was mistaken.

The two big blind spots in his argument are:
1) Why do so many of the great men of history arise from the Judeo-Christian cultural tradition?
2) Why China, with its relative advantages on the "starting line" of history has not been more influential in the past two centuries?

I was disappointed to find that Diamond ascribed no role whatsoever to the different cultures, their tolerance for risk, their governmental choices, in the ultimate success of those societies. Apparently the great men of history just happened to get born disproportionately in Europe and the U.S. Luck of the draw and all that. His answer for China was almost as unsatisfying. Apparently the homogeneity of China, its coastline, and its lack of war (relative to Europe) were the reasons for its initially surging ahead, then eventually lagging behind. Very little evidence was marshaled (unlike the earlier better-documented chapters). It was like Diamond realized China was going to require explanation and simply picked the ways it was most different from Europe. Now, the explanations he chose may be the actual reasons for the differences, but I think one could equally argue that cultural and religious differences played a critical role.

Anyway, a very interesting read, especially the first half. And that's about right. I think Diamond has laid out a convincing case for the role of "nature" in societal development. Unfortunately, he seems to have decided that the other half, "nurture", is so trivial as to require no discussion.


Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (American Empire Project)
Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (American Empire Project)
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Hardcover
158 used & new from $0.01

40 of 100 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nonsense On Stilts, October 6, 2006
As the saying goes, you're entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.

Reading Chomsky's book is like reading the box score of football game with only one of the teams described.

"In Super Bowl XL, the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense was torched by Matt Hasselbach and the Seahawks for 396 yards and a 20 to 14 first down advantage, while Steelers' signal caller Ben Rothlisberger managed to throw just 9 of 21 for a meager 123 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions"

True, but it misses the big picture. The Steelers won. Like an adolescent in front of a mirror, no error by the United States is to small to ignore, and no error by its enemies so great that it can't be mitigated or elided. Likewise Chomsky's recitation of US failures and mistakes is never contextualized against greater goods. So while Saddam may have been a U.S. "favorite", the goal of opposing Iranian expansion is not mentioned. Even if (it is disputed hotly) FDR was "delighted" that Japan attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor, the greater good of engaging the US in the second World War is left out.

Even better (or worse, I suppose), are the excuses offered for anti-American tyrants. Apparently, in Kosovo "the killings and atrocities did not precede but followed the bombing" (p 96). I'm sure the relatives of those killed in Racak (error - I originally wrote Srebrenica) will be relieved to hear that. I think the following is my favorite. It was written in a passage denigrating the execution of the US-Iraq war, which apparently should have been "one of the easiest military conquests in history" - at least according to General Ulysses S. Chomsky:

"It is a remarkable fact that Washington planners have had more trouble controlling Iraq than Russia had with its satellites or Germany in occupied Europe."

This is a fantastic rhetorical hat trick. We get to excuse the Soviet Gulags and the Nazi extermination of Jews, Gypsies, and other undesirables (hint - that might have had just a leeettle bit to do with the remarkable pacification powers of those dictatorships). We get to disparage the members of the Bush administration, and we get to compare them, not just to Nazis, but incompetent Nazis at that. I think you need to be a MIT linguistics professor to pull this off.

To close, I'll just quote Mark Steyn: "I can see why an ambitious college kid might want to be Noam Chomsky, but I can't see why he would want to read Noam Chomsky"
Comment Comments (27) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 8, 2013 11:08 PM PST


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