Here’s a food thing: Great Value drink enhancers, considered opinion edition

After spending several weeks using them heavily, I think it’s time that I write up my final thoughts on the Great Value drink enhancers previously discussed here.  Some moved up, some moved down, and I figured out a neat trick.

Neat trick first: for pretty much any of the “fruity” flavors, you can add a bit of the Black Cherry to it.  It acts as an en-tartening agent (that’s not a word, but whatever) without messing with the flavor profile too much.  It works particularly well with several of the flavors, which I’ll mention below.

Also, a note: the bottles say “24 servings”, but I get a whopping 10 out of them, so apparently my potency is 2.4x what Walmart suggests.  Given that I use the enhancers as a replacement for both soft drinks and candy, that’s not too surprising, but your personal tastes may vary based on just how much you squeeze into the glass.

D Tier

Lemonade: This ended up being the only flavor I actually dumped (well, squeezed) out into the sink after three or four glasses.  Country Time lemonade powder just isn’t my thing, and it’s no better in liquid form.  It didn’t even last long enough to make it to the Black Cherry mix-in, but I can’t imagine that would have improved it much.

C Tier

Cherry Limeade (has caffeine): How the mighty hath fallen.  This was the flavor that encouraged me to try this whole thing, and to be honest I was surprised by how good it was with my very first glass.  The problem: it’s not as good as the rest.  Perfectly drinkable, sure, but also noticeably artificial, too strong on the cherry and not strong enough on the lime.  I found myself very weak on it by the end.  Disappointing, but other surprise flavors have picked up the slack, so it all works out in the end.

Black Cherry (has caffeine): This is a flavor they didn’t have the first time I picked up the drink enhancers.  I bought it hoping for something better than Cherry Limeade.  It is, but Black Cherry is still not amazing.  That is, it’s not amazing by itself.  Added to several of the other flavors, it significantly enhances them, at least for a tartness junkie like me.

Orange Blast: New as well.  I avoided this one the first time because I’m generally not a fan of artificial orange, but it turns out that this is essentially liquid Tang, and I actually kinda like the flavor of Tang for some reason.  I don’t love it, but it’s perfectly fine.  It’s not special, though, hence the lowish ranking.  A pleasant surprise nevertheless.

B Tier

Pineapple Mango: Another new flavor.  I wavered on where to put this, either C Tier or here, because I have a problem with it: it tastes very mango-y, and I’m not a huge fan of mangoes.  I love pineapples, though, and I can’t deny that this particular flavor tastes exactly like fresh pineapple and mango juice.  It’s a bit freakish, to be honest.  Despite my lack of love of mango, though, I enjoyed every glass of this that I had, which bumped it up to B Tier.

Blue Raspberry: The third and final new flavor.  I actually bought this one last; I kept ignoring it, because I consider “blue raspberry” a stupid stunt flavor.  That turned out to be silly, because it’s actually quite good.  Not mind-blowing, but a perfectly pleasant raspberry flavor.  It’s definitely a bit better with Black Cherry added… and also turns a particular shade of purplish blue that I’ve been obsessed with since I was a kid.  I freely admit that might bias me.

Strawberry Watermelon: This one moved up the ranks.  It still tastes like a Jolly Rancher, but the flavor’s better than I realized that first glass.  Don’t bother putting the Black Cherry into it, though; that just makes it taste exactly like Fruit Punch.  I mean, I guess you could, rather than buying Fruit Punch separately, but… why?

A Tier

Strawberry Kiwi: Nothing changed about this flavor, really; it’s still exactly like Crystal Light’s version (or Jell-O, if you have fonder memories of wiggly food than ’90s diet beverages).  I just realized I actually really like the taste of strawberry kiwi.  A hit of Black Cherry in it improves it even further.

Berry Blast (has caffeine): Still a tasty blueberry/strawberry mix, still very good, still an unfortunate color.  (I love purple!  I just don’t like drinking it.)  Black Cherry boosts this as well, and I’m honestly not sure I’d drink it without a squeeze of Black Cherry now because of how much the tartness enhances it.

Fruit Punch: I realize it might be weird to give Lemonade such a low ranking and this flavor such a high one when they’re both replicating specific, very artificial flavors.  Whatever: I loved Fruit Punch Kool-Aid, and I love this.  Its only flaw is that it isn’t tart, but hey!  That’s what Black Cherry is for.  With a bit of that, I’d put Fruit Punch at low S Tier.  As is, it’s still delicious.

S Tier

Raspberry Lemonade: Still the (utterly shocking, to someone who’s not crazy about raspberry) champion.  It’s not just me, by the way; everyone I’ve had try it loves it.  I dunno what it is about this flavor, but it’s got all the magic necessary to go the distance: tart and fruity in a perfect balance.  It’s possibly the only one that is actually made worse with Black Cherry, as that increases its tartness to an almost unpleasant level.  No, Raspberry Lemonade is perfect where it is.

So, there you have it: an extensive review nobody wanted.  I’ll note that I’m still not brave enough to try the Grape, and I don’t like tea, so the various sweet tea variations are very much Not My Thing.  If you’ve tried any of those flavors, feel free to leave a comment as to what you thought.  I’d be curious to know!

You might ask: which ones do you plan on keeping around?  Well, I bought three more bottles of Raspberry Lemonade today, and I have an unopened Fruit Punch.  I think I’ll pick up a Berry Blast, Strawberry Kiwi, and maybe even Pineapple Mango the next time at Walmart… plus more Black Cherry for mixing.  In the end, I’ll probably cycle through all the lower-tier flavors that I enjoy… with a whole lot of Raspberry Lemonade betwixt it all.  So good.  So, so good.

Weekly status update [0015/????]

Sorry for the late update; last night was a bit rough and I had a friend over today.

  • Keto is going well.  I fit into a couple of pairs of shorts I haven’t been able to wear in a while, just in time for the hot summer months.
  • I finished up The Punisher, which was Just Fine.  Time to start Jessica Jones season 2.
  • I actually watched a couple of movies recently; specifically, I caught up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, watching both Black Panther and Spiderman: Homecoming.  Both of them were great in different ways.
  • Still slowly reading Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, which hasn’t grabbed me the way most of his books do.  After that I’ll go back to the Wheel of Time series, at least for one more book.
  • Did a bunch of puzzles, including the single largest Kakuro I’ve completed.  It took me about six hours (!), although at least two of that was because I screwed up and had to erase over half the puzzle.  Ugh.  I persevered, though, which made me happy; a younger Phil would have scratched through the puzzle and moved on.
  • Speaking of puzzles, my latest order of Japanese magazines came in.  I also ordered a pair of books for the daughter of one of my friends, who has done a bunch of Sudoku but not much else.  It was fun walking her through some of the different puzzle types.  I gifted her one of my precious Zebra M-402s.  She’s aware that’s the only one she gets.
  • My wrists are behaving way better than they had been, which is good, because my old braces finally gave up the ghost.  I ordered some new ones just a few minutes ago, actually.

A pleasant, quiet week overall.  I’m almost done with all of the first round of the Great Value flavor enhancers; expect to see an up-to-date review/ranking sometime this coming week.

Principles of most surprise

My recent blog post about my day-to-day routine prompted a question from a few of my tech-aligned friends: why don’t I use an RSS reader, or some other form of syndication/collection service, to manage my daily reading?

First, let me say that I have no problem with RSS feeds and the like; there’s one for my blog over there to the left.  That said, I don’t use them and have no plans to do so in the future.  I’m glad they exist, because I think for a lot of people they provide a lot of value, but they’re not for me.  I think there are two fundamental reasons why I don’t use them.

The first is that I really enjoy routine and ritual.  Presumably said blog post made it clear, but I find life most comfortable when it follows a consistent trajectory.  Small day-to-day changes are fine; I’ll read a book now, play a video game tomorrow.  But no change and all the same makes Phil a happy boy.  And morning reading is a well-worn routine; think of the classic cliché of reading a newspaper at the breakfast table.  It’s a thing I’ve been doing every morning since I was a student worker at LSU almost twenty years ago.  Something about the act of making it A Thing puts me into the proper mindset for the day ahead.

The second reason is a little loosey-goosier, but I think it might actually be more important for me.  We live in an age where surprise is uncommon.  Movies used to have trailers and maybe an article in a magazine; nowadays every summer blockbuster is completely analyzed by the entertainment media from before casting even begins.  Current political climate aside, there just really isn’t that much disruption in the world any more, and most of it (current political climate not aside) is negative, not positive.  As we’ve grown older we’ve become harder to buy gifts for and find it harder to do the same, often leading us to simply asking the giftee what they want… or forgoing the process all-together.  And if you find something confusing or mysterious, a couple of well-worded Google searches are all that stand between you and understanding that St. Elmo’s fire is actually pretty much completely understood nowadays.  (Well, maybe not the movie; it was always my least favorite Brat Pack film.)

And so.  Pulling up a bunch of bookmarks each morning, particularly when several of them have very sporadic update frequencies, is a way to bring a little surprise back into one’s life.  I could be notified every time that Jimmy Maher makes a new post… but I don’t want to be.  I like that momentary flush of excitement when I pull up The Digital Antiquarian in the morning and see he’s written another 5000-word treatise.  What a treat! I think.  Time to dig in.

Perhaps these two views make me come off as something of a stodgy old man; anyone who knows me knows that isn’t the case.  And in some ways the two reasons contradict each other: I like routine, but I also like surprise?  What sort of mealy-mouthed wishy-washy mumbo-jumbo is that?  To which I can only say, hey, welcome to humanity.

 

Waking up, falling out of bed

Over the past weeks and months, various people have asked me with curiosity, incredulity, even suspicion: what do you do all day?

First, it’s important to know that I’m a creature of habit.  I enjoy it when things are much the same today as they were yesterday, and am looking forward to a tomorrow that looks a lot like now.  For many people that would be simply the worst, and I respect that even as I respectfully disagree.

Second, I don’t blame you if you fall asleep halfway through this post.  My life is simple, rote, Spartan in habit if not in clutter.  Expect no big revelations.

Times are approximations, standard rules and regulations apply, no purchase necessary.

0745-0900ish: Wake up.  Sometimes it’s as early as 0600, sometimes it’s as late as 1000, but 0800-0815 is by far the most common window for me awakening.  It doesn’t seem to correlate terribly well with when I go to bed, either; a lack of sleep here usually (but not always) portends a nap later in the day.

I break my fast with a pair of Atkins shakes and a multivitamin.

0830ish: Morning dailies.  Two of the free-to-play games I engaged with, Gems of War and Let It Die, have their 24-hour cycles pop while I’m generally asleep, so I spend time in the morning logging into them and doing the minimum daily requirements.  Occasionally I’ll actually play one for a while in the morning, particularly Let It Die, for an hour or so, but that’s actually relatively uncommon.

0900ish: Morning bookmarks.  I have a set of websites I check religiously every morning.

  • The CRPG Addict (new content several times a week): Chester Bolingbroke (likely not his real name) is playing through a bunch of old computer RPGs and writing them up.  The writing is engaging and he’s willing to put up with even more willfully (unintentionally?) terrible design than I am, so it’s enjoyable to read and has regular doses of schadenfreude.
  • The Digital Antiquarian (new content a couple of times a week): Jimmy Maher (actually his real name) is an excellent writer, and he’s been covering early computer and gaming history for a long time.  I actually came across one of his books, The Future Was Here–part of my long-time favorite Platform Studies series–well before I found his blog.  Articles tend to be long and meticulously researched; my archive binge nine months or so ago took weeks, and I’m a fast reader.  Right now he’s writing about Sid Meier’s Civilization, which also means he’s been diving into the details of Communism and the role religion has played in the development of society and other such topics that obviously come from analyzing an old computer game.  Always a fascinating read.
  • Dinosaur Comics (new content several times a week): My favorite comic for a decade plus.  Don’t let its use of the exact same panels for every single strip fool you; it’s regularly smart, clever, and funny as hell.  My avatar just about everywhere is a very light edit of T-Rex’s head from this strip.
  • Dumbing of Age (new content every day, weekends included): I never read the previous “Walkyverse” comics, and it turns out that there’s no need to; Dumbing of Age stands alone as a paean to college, adolescent naïvete, and deep questions about identity.  It’s funny and really serious, oftentimes both in the same strip.  (It’s also extremely continuity-heavy; prepare for some binge reading of the archives if you pick it up.)
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (new content several times a week): It started out as a darker, edgier The Far Side, and while those strips still happen regularly, it’s more often a nerdy  look at questions of identity, sexuality, and the future.  But, you know, funny.
  • Electoral Vote (new content daily): Run by Andrew Tenenbaum of MINIX fame, this site used to only update in the run-up to presidential elections.  In the utterly insane world we live in today, Tenenbaum decided to stick to a daily update schedule “until things calm down”.  (Spoiler alert: they haven’t.)  It provides precisely the right amount of political news and analysis I can generally handle on a daily basis, presented in a trenchant tone that makes it way more readable than most news sites.  It also provides links to all of its sources, which is way more than most political sites do.
  • A couple of Tumblrs and Twitter feeds for fannish crap that aren’t worth sharing.

1000ish: Time to head to Walmart and pick up a rotisserie chicken.  They’re $4.98 plus tax, which is way, way cheaper than I could do on my own.  Plus I’m lazy.

1030ish: Time to eat said rotisserie chicken.  This is earlier than I like eating, but they start putting the chickens out right after 0900, so they start to get a bit soggy if you don’t get there early, and they definitely don’t improve by sitting on the countertop.

1100ish: Comedy TV time.  I allow myself to watch only one episode each of the various shows I’m consuming, and noontime is when I watch the funny stuff.  Right now that’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth.

1200-1900ish: The first big open window of the day.  I’ve been reading a lot lately, so that happens here; this is also when I usually loop back around to Let It Die and actually put some time into it.  If I’m in the middle of a normal, non-free-to-play game (right now it’s the original Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System), progress happens here.

I also do puzzles.  I keep a pair of stacks of puzzle books next to my recliner; I tend to only do one of a type (a Sudoku, a Slitherlink, whatever) before switching off to another puzzle type, or grabbing a book, or snagging the controller.  I don’t remember being this unfocused in my solving before retirement; not sure what that’s about.

If I’m tired due to staying up too late, not getting enough sleep, or just, y’know, feeling like it, I’ll take a short nap somewhere in here too.  It’s not usually for more than an hour or so, but sometimes it’s 2-3 hours.  That’s fine too.

Usually dinner’s just another pair of Atkins shakes somewhere in here.

1900ish: Drama TV time.  Anything serious I’m watching happens here.  Right now that’s just The Punisher, but it’s been up to three different shows at the same time.  If it’s a bit creepy, like Stranger Things, I’ll push it later to make sure it’s dark outside when I watch it.  Ambiance is important, y’ken?

2000ish: Evening dailies.  Warframe and Spelunker World have daily events that pop at night, so I do those.  I always do Spelunker World first, because Warframe often has some missions to do as well, and I like to finish off with them.

2100ish until: Evening variety time.  I watch Twitch, read, solve more puzzles, play more videogames, until I get tired and hit the bed.  Sometimes that’s as early as 2200, sometimes it’s as late as 0400.  I don’t really worry about the timing.  After all, I can always nap the next day.

As you can see, it’s super action-packed exciting times!  But I like the slow rhythm of my days quite a bit.

Now, it’s 1120, which means it’s time for some Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  If you’ll excuse me…

Weekly status update [0014/????]

A mostly quiet week.  That’s not a bad thing.

  • Keto’s going well.  I’ve been eating a lot of Walmart’s rotisserie chickens, as they’re low-carb and cheap besides.  And drinking tons of Atkins shakes, something I’ve been doing off and on for… a long time now, sadly.  I’m not weighing myself, because hard numbers tend to be a demotivating factor for me, but I can already see that my face has slimmed down a bit.  Just another 24 months or so to go…
  • I’m most of the way through reading Eye of the World.  It’s actually been quite a bit better than I feared, but the remaining three trillion words are still a daunting task I see ahead of me.
  • I started watching Last Man on Earth just in time for the announcement that Fox is cancelling it… along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, where I’m most of the way through the second season.  Why, Fox?  Why?  Anyhow, Last Man is actually quite good; it’s got an interesting concept, the cast is great, and it’s shot beautifully for what amounts to a weird-as-hell sitcom.
  • Landail finished up Wild Arms, one of my old favorites and started playing Shining the Holy Ark, a dungeon crawler for the Sega Saturn.  After watching for an hour or so I realized that I really want to play the game without having it all spoiled.  But there’s a problem: I have to play games in order, which means going all the way back to the original Shining in the Darkness for the Genesis.  And… I didn’t have graph paper for mapping, so I ordered some off of Amazon and started to play the original Phantasy Star in the interim.  I had clearly forgotten that it, too, has first-person dungeon crawling segments.  Sigh.  Anyhow, the graph paper came in this morning, and I’ve already mapped several dungeons in Phantasy Star.  I’m going to finish it up before shifting back to Shining in the Darkness.  Maybe I’ll actually get to Shining the Holy Ark sometime before 2052.
  • I have a very, very extensive music collection, carefully curated and organized in digital form on my computer and an external drive.  For the first time in literally years, I spent at least a little bit each day for the last several days adding more stuff to it.  It’s all things I’ve already downloaded–from Bandcamp, mostly–but it’s got to be renamed, re-encoded, and all that jazz.  I hadn’t felt motivated to touch my music collection in a really long time, so this has been a pleasant resurgence.  We’ll see if it lasts.
  • I continue to love (most of) the Great Value drink enhancers.  Expect a followup post once I finish off the original bottles I bought, probably this coming week.  (I’ve already bought more raspberry lemonade, because, well, S-tier.)  Quite a few flavors have shifted their rankings, and I have a Certified PhilHack(tm) to “kick it up a skooch” that I want to share.

Huh.  Apparently I had a lot to say despite the quiet.  Shocking, I know, particularly if you’ve ever met me.

Here’s a food thing: Great Value drink enhancers, hot take edition

[Welcome to Here’s a thing, my take on reviews.  Yes, the Solving post from last week should have been one of these.  Anyhow, inspired by Movies with Mikey, I’m not going to bother with negative reviews.  Instead, these posts will showcase things I like.  No promises as to frequency, mind you; I don’t want this to become a review blog.  But I do plan on reviewing things on the semi-regular.

Also, you should watch Movies with Mikey.  It’s one of my top five channels on YouTube.

Monday update: These rankings will have to be updated once I finish off the bottles; several have shifted after a day’s tasting.  The title of this post has been updated accordingly.]

I’m back on a ketogenic diet, and in fact currently fasting.  Part of the problem with keto, particularly for someone like me who lives alone and doesn’t get a ton of pleasure out of cooking for one, is maintaining variety in what I consume.  I’ve been drinking a lot of diet soda recently–way, way too much diet soda, to be honest–and last night I remembered Mio.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Mio is a “water enhancer.”  It’s a little squeeze bottle filled with a sugar-free hyper-concentrated liquid that you squirt into a glass of water or water bottle.  It’s Crystal Light in a much more convenient form, really, and its only real downside is that at the flavor concentration I prefer it ends up being almost exactly as expensive as actual 12-packs of Coke Zero Sugar.

But it’s better for you, for sure, and way better for your teeth, so I was all prepared to place an order for a ton of different flavors on Amazon this morning when a pair of lines in one of the reviews stopped me: “Get walmart brand for about 30% less. Tastes the same.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my general experience with Walmart’s Great Value brand is that it’s hot garbage.  Their sodas are terrible, their knockoff of La Croix is even more undrinkable than the original (an impressive feat), their cookies taste like cardboard, and so on.  I’d say that my success rate with the brand is in the low single digits.

On the other hand, it’s cheap, and I wanted to get out of the house today anyway.  So I cruised on over to the Super Walmart in Lenoir and picked up seven different flavors for a whopping total of $14.14 and brought them home.  Imagine my surprise when, pouring myself an ice-cold glass of water from my Brita pitcher in the fridge and squeezing the first flavor in–Cherry Limeade, the best-reviewed of the bunch–I discovered that, huh, this is actually really good!

I’ve actually made myself a glass of all seven flavors I bought today already.  What can I say?  I’m a thirsty boy, and an inquisitive one.  Below are my hot-take rankings of the seven flavors, from best to worst, broken up into tiers a la characters in fighting games… because why not.

C Tier

Lemonade: It tastes exactly like Country Time lemonade powder, which doesn’t taste anything like real lemonade.  I imagine if you have fond memories of said beverage this would end up higher on your list; I don’t, really.  It’s not disgusting, it’s just not what I want lemonade to taste like.

Strawberry Watermelon: This flavor is completely inoffensive, but it tastes like a watered-down watermelon Jolly Rancher, which is already one of the least strongly-flavored sugar delivery systems I know.  Wherever the strawberry tones were hiding, I couldn’t find them.  I still like it more than actual watermelon, though, so there’s that.

B Tier

Strawberry Kiwi (has caffeine): Tastes identical to Crystal Light’s flavor of the same name.  I used to love the crud out of said drink, so that speaks highly of the other flavors we’re about to discuss.  You definitely get both the strawberry and the kiwi.  Had this been the best flavor that Walmart brought to the table, I would have been mildly disappointed but also a bit surprised, given my general opinion of their house brand.  But it doesn’t even make the top half.

A Tier

Berry Blast (has caffeine): I took a sip of this and went, hmm, blueberries and strawberries.  Then I looked at the picture on the label: blueberries and strawberries.  Nailed it, me!  The only real problem with this one is that it’s purple; I can’t stand artificial grape flavor thanks to taking Dimetapp when I was a kid, a cold medicine that transcends grapeness to taste purple.  So I have an uncomfortable mental association with any beverage that looks like it might be even slightly Dimetapp-adjacent.  Fortunately Berry Blast transcends its color.  Totally yum.

Cherry Limeade (has caffeine): Turns out people were both right and wrong.  This flavor is quite delicious!  But it’s not the best.  The cherry overwhelms the lime a bit, and as a major lime partisan I really wish the citrus tones were stronger.  It also has a bit of a weird smell, although it tastes just fine.  A slight tweak to the formula and I think it’d be at the top of the list, but even so I’m more than happy to drink it.

Fruit Punch: I may not have fond memories of Country Time lemonade powder, but I do have fond memories of fruit punch Kool-Aid.  This tastes exactly like that; maybe a little weaker unless you really squeeze the bottle, but that’s actually a good thing.  Of course, if this particular totally artificial flavor isn’t your thing, this one’s going to drop down to C Tier.  I love it, though.

S Tier

Raspberry Lemonade: Here’s the thing.  I don’t even really like raspberries.  I almost didn’t buy this flavor because of how “meh” I am on them.  That would have been a damn travesty, though, because holy moly this is delicious.  Unlike the Cherry Limeade, the lemon and raspberry components are perfectly balanced, and every sip is crisp and refreshing.  I would have never ever guessed before all of my tasting that this flavor was going to be the winner… but it was so good that I had to tell my mother that she needed to go pick up some from her local Walmart pronto, since she loves raspberry.

Overall, I was really impressed.  Even my least-favorite flavor, Lemonade, is totally drinkable, and the top three or four are worth keeping on hand at all times.  I suspect I’ll be going through the Raspberry Lemonade like it’s going out of style.

For those of you who don’t drink a lot of water, or just want to try something a little different, hopefully this review will give you something out to try.  (They’re in the “drink mixes” section, along with Kool-Aid, Crystal Light, and friends.)  I’m curious as to your thoughts, in particular if you try these out yourself.  Which flavors do you love?  Hate?  There were others at the store, but most were flavors that didn’t interest me at all; I’m not a sweet tea drinker, for example, and I find artificial orange to often be very cloying.  Let me know if you give them a whirl!

Weekly status update [0013/????]

Getting back into the groove of being home.  I honestly miss being around other people… but I also really like being by myself.  The eternal conflict.

  • After months of very laissez-faire eating habits, I’m back on keto.  I’m actually in the middle of a mini-fast; I had been eating many thousands of kilocalories more than I should have per day, and fasting is the… er… fastest way I know to get my body back to a more regular level of craving.  It’s miserable, of course, but it’s also almost over.  I plan on shifting to a regular ketogenic diet come Monday.
  • Did quite a few puzzles, mostly Sudoku; I’m at that point in one of my puzzle books where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, which means I tend to focus on it rather than the fifteen others sitting next to my chair.  I think I’m going to intentionally not replace that particular book for a bit, so as to give some of the other puzzle types a bigger part of the rotation.
  • Still watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine (hilarious) and The Punisher (tolerable).
  • I actually wrote some small patches for Giles this week.  For a brief, shining moment I thought I might be diving back into coding.  Then I remembered that no one cares about Giles other than me and I have nothing to prove in re: my coding ability, so… not so much.
  • Still grinding out dailies in the same four games, although I actually put some real time into Let It Die.  I think I’m actually going to try and make some real forward progress this weekend or, at the latest, next week.
  • We had an “extended game night” this Tuesday; it was supposed to be at Fercott Fermentables, but they were closed.  One of the players stepped in at the last minute to host.  Thanks, Derrick!  It was an excellent game of Antike II, and one I’m still thinking about now.
  • I ordered board games for the first time this year while still riding high on the high from that game night.  As always, I bought way more than I should have.  Sigh.
  • Not a lot of reading, alas.  The Eye of the World is fine, but it’s not exciting me… and I feel obligated to finish at least that first book in the Wheel of Time series before moving onto something else.

All in all, pretty much the same stuff that I was doing before the trip, plus the whole diet thing.  If you find any of this surprising… you haven’t been paying attention.

Solving, portably and electronically

I love puzzles.  Specifically, I love paper logic puzzles; even more specifically, I love the sort of paper logic puzzles that are commonly referred to as “Japanese,” which is pretty much exactly as dumb as the whole “Eurogame” nomenclature for board games.  As the most obvious example: sudoku, the ur-Japanese logic puzzle, the one basically everyone who’s been near a newspaper or computer in the last ten years knows about… was invented by an American and appeared in Dell Magazines‘ publications for years before it became a Thing.

Anyhow, I digress.  I love puzzles so much that I regularly place orders for books and magazines with amazon.co.jp, because the market for the genre is so much more robust there.  It’s not that the American Amazon site doesn’t have tons of puzzle books; on the contrary, it actually probably has more.  But most of them are computer generated, dumped out from open source programs with a cruddy cover slapped on and sold via CreateSpace.  Ugh.

So: let’s talk about computer generated puzzles.  As much as I love my Japanese magazines, it’s kind of a pain to bring them, along with the requisite pencil/eraser/clipboard combo, everywhere I go.  It turns out that, yes, computers don’t make puzzles quite as good as people–at least not yet–but given that we live in a future where everyone reading this blog likely has a supercomputer slowly overheating in their pocket, using those supercomputers to solve puzzles is a nice solution to the… ah, I can’t do it… problem.  Here are two apps worth installing on your phone or tablet; I also link to the original desktop versions of both, which are honestly superior but also, definitionally, less portable.

The first application, Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection (Google Play Store | Apple App Store | Desktop), is actually the source of a whole bunch of those toss-off puzzle books on Amazon.  It’s because the desktop version has a mode where it’ll spit out Postscript versions of the puzzles and their solutions, from which it’s a ten-minute process to make an eBook and throw it online.  Don’t hold that against STPPC, though.  The actual application is a wealth of different puzzle types, almost all of which are highly configurable.  You can do sudoku, sure (it’s called Solo here), or my personal favorite Slitherlink (Loopy), but a whole bunch of other puzzle types sit alongside those.  It’s also totally free and open source… which means there are a lot of cruddy plus-ads versions on the various app stores.  Use the links above for the real deal version.

The second application potentially costs real money (gasp!) but I want to plug it anyway: Everett Kaser’s Sherlock. (Google Play Store |Apple App Store | Desktop) The first two links take you to the free version for handhelds, which only have a few puzzles; depending on how much you spend, you can get the game with many tens of thousands of additional puzzles.  Sherlock is an implementation of the sort of classic logic puzzles you may have seen in old Dell puzzle magazines, of the “Judy won’t sit next to the girl in the red dress, who isn’t drinking Rivella” sort; more specifically, it’s an implementation of a particular type sometimes referred to as Einstein’s Puzzle or the Zebra Puzzle.  The desktop version of Sherlock has many more puzzle sizes and, in its earliest incarnation, dates back to the DOS days; I have friends who remember playing it back in the Stone Ages of shareware.  But having it on a phone is nice, and depending on the size of puzzle you choose it can be a five-minute affair or quite the involved experience.  Everett’s done a bunch of iterations on the concept over the years, some of which I prefer over Sherlock, but there’s something appealing about the classic minimalism of the first game in the series, and it’s where I’d start anyone who is interested in checking out his oeuvre.

At some point I think I’m going to do reviews of all of Everett’s games; they’re some of the only Windows applications I still keep WINE around for despite my Linux Master Race tendencies, and I’ve been helping to beta-test them for over fifteen years now.  But if you’re looking for ways to occupy yourself on your phone that are healthier than the latest free-to-play gacha game, STPPC and Sherlock are excellent places to start.

(Added bonus content: The moment I started thinking about the old DOS version of Sherlock, I thought: I bet the Internet Archive has it available.  And, sure enough, here you go.  It’s perfectly playable on the Web, if nowhere near as nice or full-featured as the modern versions.  I am totes in love with the rainbow “generating puzzle” animations, though.)

The little dead

My post late last week on all the lengthy writing I’ve done made me want to look back at the so-called “4K corpses,” the novels I stopped writing at some point during NaNoWriMo, switching gears to something generally trashy but easy to write.  I thought I’d break down those stories and what I remember aboud them, including why I tossed them aside to write something else.

Lion Rampant, High Above (NaNoWriMo 2010; 4,315 words; fantasy): This was the first 4K corpse.  To be honest, I had expected at least one in the 2005-2009 timeframe, but apparently I was a stronger-willed person back then… or I had better ideas.  (Sinner Soldier Seeker Saint definitely implies the former, though, because it’s definitely not the latter.)  It was to be a fantasy novel where nations were on floating islands in an endless sky, and as they moved around they waged war on each other.  As an idea it was all right, but it wanted more plotting than I was willing to give it, particularly given that it was during 1M10 and I was already way, way, way behind on word count.  Enthusiasm–or, at least, the ability to vomit words on the page at high velocity–mattered way more to me than high concept at that point, so Lion Rampant went away and I wrote The Golden Band instead.

Apparently I jumped straight to the trash in 2013, but not before procrastinating at the beginning of the month by making a bunch of typo fixes across six or seven short stories from 1M10.  (Thanks, revision control, for making these investigations easy!)  Was I looking for inspiration or just procrastinating?  Sadly, I can’t remember.

Inclusion (NaNoWriMo 2014; 9,860 words; science fiction): This was the Iain Banks pastiche novel I alluded to in the earlier post.  I reread what there is of it a couple of months ago, and it’s honestly not bad; the real problem is that I didn’t start it until the 17th of November, and it turned out that being even a quarter as witty and clever as Banks on a two-week deadline is rather too much to ask.  It was also even more aggressively a copy of Banks than Second Law is of Egan, but at least in this case that was intentional.

Looking this up led me to realize that I wrote Ridden in less than 72 hours, from late on the 27th until a bit after noon on the 30th.  Unlike The Escapist, though, Ridden just drops dead at 50K rather than having a real conclusion, so I don’t consider it in the same category.  (Also, it’s much worse.)

The Innocent (NaNoWriMo 2017; 1,725 words; science fiction?): This was my attempt to write the “other side” of The Leftovers, a frankly amazing show in HBO, parts of which I’m potentially spoiling by even writing this sentence, so I’ll stop now.  As you can see, I barely got anywhere in it.  Something about the subject matter was just too dark for me last year, so I set it aside after a few days.  I’m unlikely to continue it, either, given the complicated nature its IP would have; although it would be easy to file the serial numbers off, that seems like cheating, and I don’t really have a passion for the story anyway.

Honorable mention goes to One Less Traveled (1M10; 11,511 words; alternate-history road trip/literary fiction), which while not done during NaNo was definitely in the mold of the other corpses.  It had an all right premise, I suppose, but it turns out that this particular picaresque in an alternate history just didn’t do anything for me.  And of course there’s Runaway, which I wrote about at greater length in the previous post.

The first surprise to me is that there were actually less of these corpses than I remember.  What that probably means is that I had other story ideas on some of those years–2013 is a likely one–but didn’t even write a single word of them down before tossing the idea in the trash.  Love in the Time of Data absolutely should have been a 4K corpse, but I toughed it out, and other than the usual “getting all the bad words out” motivation for writing a bunch of words I think I would have been much better off putting that particular novel out of its misery early on.

The second surprise is that while 4K kinda-sorta happens to be close to the actual average length, it’s actually really variable… although with only three real data points I’m not even comfortable making an engineer’s proof about it.  I stuck with Inclusion probably longer than I should have, at least partly due to the impending end of NaNo that year, and I tossed The Innocent out the back of the truck before the month even really started rolling.  I’m not sure there’s anything to learn from that, but it’s interesting to me nonetheless.

And, of course, my hard drive is littered with many other failed attempts at writing, from a couple of chapters long to just the first ten sentences or so.  Such is the life of a writer.  Will any of these aforementioned stories get picked back up and turned into something real?  I doubt it.  But anything’s possible.