Saturday, November 22, 2008

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

I must apologize in advance for this post. I'm not sure how widespread this inside joke is, although other people might find their own inside references from this. Regardless, this was one of those moments I couldn't pass up.

In my dorm room, I keep an old gallon Hawaiian Punch container for making drinks in. It usually alternates between strawberry lemonade and cherry Kool-Aid. I usually take a funnel, measure out the powder in the cap of the liquid, and mix a gallon's worth in the sink.

One of the problems I always have when mixing powdered drinks like this is trying to eyeball the little plastic "fill to here" line on the inside of those lids. If I make a batch that goes a little strong, I'll let it slide. If it's weak, I'll try adding more powder and stirring it up again. This sometimes works, sometimes not.

Apparently, my last batch of cherry Kool-Aid was a "sometimes not" instance. I had noticed that it tasted a bit weak, so I tried adding more powder. This had no effect, so I tried it a few more times. Still no dice. I basically called this batch a dud, and tried to avoid drinking it. I don't know why I didn't just throw it away... Maybe I thought there was a chance of redeeming it once the container was more empty.

On a random whim, I felt like drinking some of it today. What makes this weird is that I actually desired the taste of watery Kool-Aid (I had a dinner with a good amount of garlic and cheese, maybe the "slightly fruity" taste would have complimented it well). I picked up the jug, and noticed some white stuff that had settled to the bottom. I shook up the bottle, thinking that would dissolve the extra sugar, and took off the cap to take a sip... to realize that the white stuff didn't actually dissolve. It was mold.

My exact reaction to this, as I removed the bottle away from my lips: "Whoa... Don't drink the Kool-Aid."

Upon further inspection, I noticed that there were also black spots on the inside of the bottle, which meant that this batch definitely had to go. For that matter, the whole bottle had to go. (I'm not a fan of cleaning mold out of containers with narrow openings.) However, it was nice to see, despite a rather disappointing circumstance, a nice little flashback of an old high school inside joke. I don't know how many other people will remember it the same way I did (I know there's more than one interpretation of it out there), but it made me smile for a moment.

Friday, November 14, 2008

November is the New August

After Instrumental Methods Lab (lovingly referred to as "Meth Lab") today, I went to The Main Twist for some ice cream. Why? I just felt like eating some ice cream.

After the first Tuesday of November, there's really no point in even acknowledging that it's still November for another three or four weeks. It's already Christmastime, and there's not a thing we can do about it. Have you decorated your tree yet? Is all your shopping done? Get plans to visit the relatives? Dig up the old wassail and eggnog recipes?

Christmas, or rather, The Christmas Season(tm) seems to have grown in length as I have gotten older. When I was a kid, say, in elementary school, Christmas wasn't huge on anybody's mind until probably the week before, when classes were about to get out. It was in that week that you probably started thinking about buying gifts for your family, or the obligatory classroom Secret Santa/White Elephant/Buy For The Same Gender gift exchange. The last day or two of classes was devoted to making Christmas ornaments and walking through the halls singing carols.

When I hit a good middle-school-ish age, I first became aware of "The 24/25 Days of Christmas," which was rather shocking, since I had always sung about 12 days of Christmas before. I blame the media for this one, or rather, media producers. All of a sudden, someone realized that we had made a ton of new Christmas movies and TV episodes, while still needing to cycle through a whole 'nother onslaught of Christmas programs from past years. Since 12 days was no longer enough time to air all of this tinseled footage, they decided to double the length of The Christmas Season(tm) to accomodate.

In high school, I became aware of the phenomenon known as "Black Friday," which sounds like a day of economic crisis, but is actually an economic boost (usually). My awareness was probably brought about during my days as a paperboy, when for whatever mysterious reason, the newspapers became three times as thick as normal for a short Wednesday-Saturday period in late November. I never really found Black Friday sales all that fantastic, especially when you can get even better sales on December 26. Nonetheless, Black Friday effectively lengthened The Christmas Season(tm) by approximately one more week. We're now up to the About 30 Days of Christmas.

Then came college. As a college student, you're forced to manage your income and make important financial decision. This includes buying Halloween candy on November 1, when it's half-priced. I've gotten into the habit of going to the local WallyWorld and checking out what's on stock, not on the 1st, but on the 2nd (I never know why I make it there the day before). I found two things shocking. One, all of the Halloween inventory was gone. All the costumes, all the candy, all the decorations, poof. Gone. (This baffles me, since Christmas and Easter items usually stay on the shelves for a month after the holiday is over, with ever-increasing "Would You Please Get These Off Our Hands" discounts.) Two, Christmas music.

I walked down an aisle where two women with children were having a conversation about this. One woman: "I mean, it's only the second day of November, and they're already playing Christmas music?"

Said the other, "I guess they really want you to start your Christmas shopping now."

I felt the need to jump into the conversation, despite the fact that I knew neither lady. "It almost kinda makes you wonder, does anyone even celebrate Thanksgiving anymore?"

"Well, there's no Thanksgiving music to play," one woman joked.

In the aisle where the candy wrapped in orange once roamed, red and green were the new dominant colors. A giant tree was at the front of the store. Hideous seasonal dining room accessories (such as the obligatory snowman cookie jars and Santa Claus mugs) graced almost every aisle of kitchen essentials. It'll only be a matter of time before the employees are required to wear red and white hats. Christmastime is here, happiness and cheer, or else.

Christmas was, and still is, a good holiday. Almost everyone's in that "giving spirit," just as God was a while back when He gave us His Gift (granted, His Gift was a bit more significant than what we do, despite God's lack of foil wrapping paper). Christmas is one of the rare chances I get to see most of my family. Playing carols with my father on random brass instruments in the local grocery store next to the Salvation Army donation bucket is still a highlight of my Christmas break. As a college student, Christmas is the first chance one gets to genuinely relax since the summer (if summer even is a time of relaxation, but that's another rant for another day).

The thing that bothers me the most about Christmas is what the media and commmercial services have turned Christmas into. Christmas is all about money flowing out of our pockets and into pretty much no one else's. We're inundated with the call to "buy, buy, buy!" long before December 25th even rolls around. The Christmas Season(tm) has expanded its empire from one day up to fifty-five. Quite frankly, there's only so many days' worth of good cheer in me.

I suppose I could agree that Thanksgiving is a generally underrated holiday. There are a few (historically inaccurate, as Sarah Vowell points out) TV specials, but almost no movies or music. It's more than possible to celebrate Thanksgiving in a less-than-traditional way if need be. One year when my mother and sister went to visit my older brother for Thanksgiving dinner, I (tied to home by work obligations) celebrated Thanksgiving with my dad with a ham, rather than turkey. (It's actually a much better alternative for a few reasons. One, you're not obligated to make stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc. to go along with it. Two, you can do so many more things with leftover ham than you can with turkey. Namely, omelets.) But regardless, this doesn't mean Thanksgiving should completely disappear off the map, overshadowed by The Christmas Season(tm). Thanksgiving is important in American history in the same way that Christmas is in religious history (okay, it's a stretch). I refuse to believe that the sole purpose of the entire month of November is getting a jump start on December.

Remind me sometime, I'll have to work on digging up the extra lyrics to make "The 12 Days of Christmas" into "The 55 Days of The Christmas Season(tm)"(c).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

QI in America

I swear, I will eventually get around to a post that isn't about game shows. However, this crossed my path today, and I felt that I must share it. One of my favorite British game shows is QI (Quite Interesting), which has been increasingly popular across the pond. The show plays out as a semi-topical quiz, with the exception that the questions are very near impossible. This is where the hilarity comes in. Points are awarded for correct responses, as well as those that are wrong, but still quite interesting. Points are taken away for obvious incorrect answers (accompanied by a few flashing lights and klaxons). At the end of each show, you walk away having laughed a few pounds off, and gained a few interesting tidbits of information.

While stumbling around the QI website, I noticed a sidebar mentioning a petition to bring British QI to American airwaves. Naturally, I jumped at the chance, and signed the petition. The mere thought of QI here excites me, since now after years of spouting off random bits of information to friends, they can now see that I'm not that looney.

One thing that's really appealed to me about this show is that it makes learning fun. Teachers stuggle to make this connection with their students everyday, when all they've really needed to do is get Stephen Fry and Alan Davies to come in and banter around a bit. Granted, the show does make gratuitous use of sexual humor (Brits can get more things past censors), but the joking around makes the venue much more fun than if we were to just have everything read to us by our humanities professor. I would love to have the opportunity to sit in with the chaps and banter around with them a bit, although the closest I could (reasonably) do is go to see a taping (which is a possibility, considering the tapings mostly occur May-Juneish).

Anyway, to try to sway some others to joining me in the petition, here's a video from the fourth season of the show, which ironically, has a line or two of America-bashing. Worth the price, I'd say.

Click here to read and sign the petition.

Monday, November 3, 2008

1000 Words on Game Shows

Because I'm having a bit of insomnia right now, here are my opinions on 100 game shows, in no particular order, ten words each. Particulars on versions (country, approximate year, etc.) appear in parentheses. If I'm off by a word on one, I don't want to hear it.

1. Deal or No Deal (US primetime): A game of luck with 26 models, briefcases, and commercials.
2. Deal or No Deal (US daytime): How they should have done it from the onset, thanks.
3. Deal or No Deal (UK): The ideal, with that amazing balance of drama and comedy.
4. Wheel of Fortune (US, current): The ultimate light entertainment game, but now a bit gimmicky.
5. Jeopardy! (US, current): Still brilliant, even with minimal format changes. But hard.
6. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (Regis era): Fifteen questions lead to a dramatic change in the genre.
7. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (Vieira era... heh): Lost some of its mystique, but still a good show.
8. Greed: I hated it then, but now I wish I didn't.
9. Winning Lines: The most amazing end-game ever, with some shoddy leading events.
10. Twenty-One (Povich revival): I'd rather trust Van Doren with a shotgun than this.
11. Amne$ia: Good game, but Dwyer tried to make too many jokes.
12. Identity: I'm not a fan of drama by elongating answer reveals.
13. 1 vs. 100: They screwed up the last season, but otherwise, quite brilliant.
14. The Mole: The only reality show I will clear my schedule for.
15. QI (UK): British comics make obscure trivia cool once again... nerds rejoice!
16. Hole in the Wall (US): It looks like fun, but it's flooded with fat jokes.
17. Hole in the Wall (UK, Australia, most anywhere else): Thank you for recognizing that this is a light show.
18. Power of 10 (US): Brilliant game, but the final gamble will likely stay untouched.
19. Set for Life: I'd rather eat a mousetrap. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
20. National Bingo Night: I'd rather watch Set for Life. Not really. Both suck.
21. Press Your Luck: Giddy contestants and flashing lights... held my attention well, apparently.
22. Scrabble: I was too young to understand how amazing this was.
23. Don't Forget the Lyrics! (US): Wayne Brady shines in an overly dramatic arena... Typical Fox.
24. Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?: I question this show's validity in multiple ways... Typical Fox.
25. The Singing Bee: Hokeyness led to charm, and the prize was just right.
26. Talk About: Fairly cheap, but a great premise. Probably worth reviving sometime.
27. Every Second Counts (US): Funny show with a great host and excellent theme music.
28. Blockbusters (US Cullen, UK): A great game, but I never thought it was fair...
29. Blockbusters (US Rafferty): One on one, fairness fixed. Bring back old theme music!
30. Tic Tac Dough (Wayne): Despite the apparently terrible host, I didn't like it anyway.
31. Supermarket Sweep: Definitely needs a revival. I do it on weekends anyway.
32. Debt: A brilliant parody, removed because too many men watched it.
33. Shop 'Til You Drop (Lifetime and Family Channel): Silly, but I was young then, so it was acceptable.
34. Shop 'Til You Drop (PAX): They killed it... and added lyrics to the theme music.
35. Born Lucky: I barely remember this show, and maybe that's not bad.
36. Pictionary (adult version): I liked to play along. Apparently, so did Alan Thicke.
37. Double Dare (Nickelodeon, all versions): Always mentioned in Nickelodeon nostalgia conversations, so it definitely stuck.
38. Double Dare (CBS): Humor in ambiguous clues makes this fun to play with.
39. Card Sharks (All but the 2001 version): Games about numbers and statistics tend to make me smile.
40. Card Sharks (2001): Throw in a hidden camera, and it goes to pot.
41. Now You See It: Word searches are fun, but it did the format mambo.
42. Go: It's better as a party game, hosted by my weatherman.
43. American Gladiators (old-school): Athleticism was fun. Skytrack was my favorite, with Atlasphere second.
44. American Gladiators (new-fangled): It felt like a pro wrestling match before Hogan arrived.
45. Countdown (UK): Too highbrow for America, but still one of my favorites.
46. The Waiting Game (UK): Slow gameplay, but still very intriguing. Bring it to America!
47. Match Game (all variants): Innuendo is good, but wrong answers are funny as blank.
48. Bruce Forsyth's Hot Streak: I can't tell which is more fun, watching or playing...
49. The Weakest Link (US NBC): I really hated Anne Robinson, but now I wonder why.
50. The Weakest Link (US syndie): I really hated George Gray, and now I know why.
51. Think Fast! (Nick): There's something flawed about the gameplay here, like... what gameplay?
52. Nick Arcade: Overly enthusiastic host might be cause of future obesity issues.
53. Make the Grade: If one contestant clearly triumphed, the rest of it stunk.
54. What Would You Do?: Was this technically a gameshow? In any case, good variety.
55. Wild and Crazy Kids: Again, was this a gameshow? I definitely liked it anyway.
56. You're On!: More hidden cameras, but the slight unfairness did it in.
57. Whose Line is it Anyway?: Maybe not strictly a gameshow, but it definitely had winners.
58. Lingo: Loved the word game, hated the heavy reliance on luck.
59. Friend or Foe: It's The Prisoner's Dilemma, but in triplicate! Triple my angst!
60. Whammy!: Well... it tried. It just didn't quite do it right.
61. Wheel of Fortune 2000: Too many gimmicks to be related to its mother show.
62. Jep!: Too stop-and-go to be Jeopardy!'s child, even cousin.
63. Russian Roulette: It's fun because you know they're not really getting hurt.
64. Distraction: It's not fun because they are. And there's Jimmy Carr.
65. The Price is Right: Still fun to play along with, regardless of who's hosting.
66. Pyramid (and its many incarnations): A fun game, but ambiguous rules sometimes made it difficult.
67. Dirty Rotten Cheater: One of the better bluffing games, though the reveal lacked.
68. To Tell the Truth: Amazingly fun to play along with... and never be right.
69. Let's Make a Deal: Costumes aside, everything seemed to be too based on luck.
70. Family Feud (Combs, Dawson, O'Hurley): The better hosts of a classic game made it enjoyable.
71. Family Feud (Anderson, Karn): One was fat, the other in flannel, neither one tolerable.
72. Trivial Pursuit (early 90's): A good game brought to television by a capable host.
73. Shuffle: Slow gameplay, but same host brings color to interesting concept.
74. Boggle: Slow gameplay, starts to get redundant, even Wink becomes robotic.
75. Jumble: Does every game have to be played on a keypad?
76. Family Challenge (Combs): Silly and messy, but not really going anywhere with it.
77. Small Talk: Proves that our youth can be shamelessly exploited for humor.
78. Child's Play: Does the same, but with a much more solid game.
79. Shopping Spree: Too much gab, not enough game. That much aside, decent.
80. The Joker's Wild (90's): Liked the theme music, can't say much about the game.
81. Click: This one looked like fun, despite the sketchy end game.
82. Peer Pressure ("Pressure I"): Might as well be watching someone playing Truth or Dare.
83. Peer Pressure ("Pressure II"): On-the-buzzer trivia for teens. That's it. Nothing else.
84. Get the Picture: Too easy for one team to dominate. Otherwise, looked fun.
85. GUTS (and Global GUTS): Bungee cords make everything more fun and apparently, more athletic.
86. Random Acts of Comedy: Or not, as David Alan Grier gleefully demonstrates to us.
87. Hollywood Squares (all versions): A very delicate balance between comedy and trivia finally realized.
88. Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman: Finally, kids' reality television that's educational and fun... Cheers, PBS!
89. Pick Your Brain: Good game, probably would have worked better without the robot.
90. Maximum Drive: Motorcycles and ATV's in a gameshow? Eh... sure, why not.
91. Powerball Instant Millionaire: A game that feels like the lottery itself: sheer luck.
92. Quicksilver: Interesting game, but made so cheaply it loses all credibility.
93. All 4 One: See above. So cheap it's painful. Are we done yet?
94. Junkyard Wars: Good fun for the mechanical engineer in all of us.
95. Interceptor (UK): I still think this would be a hit in America.
96. Remote Control: The charm is in the cheesiness, and the Eubanks Pez.
97. Trivia Trap: Seemed like a roundabout way to do the same thing.
98. Golden Balls (UK): A brilliant bluffing game, but... why The Prisoner's Dilemma again?
99. Show Me the Money: I'm terribly alone in believing this show had definite potential.
100. The Moment of Truth: Springer as a gameshow: Sex, lies, and still no winners.