Monday, January 30, 2012

My Game Show Idea

Actually, I have a couple of ideas for a game show. But my first idea, where contestants select from a variety of different briefcases that either contain large sums of money or angry marine lifeforms, was already stolen and used with some variations by NBC. Shame, really, because "Eel or No Eel" would have been a huge hit.

Seriously, though, I do have an idea for a game show, called "I'm Asking the Questions Here!" It would be a trivia show along the lines of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?", but in this version, the questioner is actually another contestant. Two contestants are chosen, one to be the Questioner and the other the Answerer, and the Questioner reads out ten questions to the Answerer. Each question is worth $10,000. But, and this is the tricky bit, the Questioner has to guess before they read the question whether or not the Answerer will get it right. Basically, they make a "side bet" on whether they think the Answerer is going to guess correctly...and they have to do it without seeing the correct answer themselves.

So if the question is, "Who won the 1968 Presidential election? A) Ronald Reagan, B) Hubert Humphrey, C) Richard Nixon, D) Lyndon Johnson?" The Questioner reads it to themselves. They decide this is an easy one. They bet on the Answerer getting it right. They then read the question...and while they can't change the wording at all, they can emphasize the reading however they want to...and the Answerer answers. If they get it right, they both bank $10,000 and move on to the next question. Wrong, and both get zero.

But here's where the strategy comes in: At the end, only the one who has the most right answers gets to keep the money. (Ties go into sudden death.) So it is to the benefit of the Questioner to try to deliberately mislead the Answerer into guessing wrong, either through stressing the wrong answer or bluffing with their body language. But the Questioner won't necessarily know the right answer any better than the Answerer. So the Answerer has to decide a) is the Questioner trying to lead me into answering wrong, and b) how likely is it that they're correct about which answer they're trying to lead me to?

(It would make sense for the Questioner to get more money if they bet on the Answerer getting it right, as that way they also have an incentive to help the Answerer and the Answerer wouldn't always be certain that the Questioner was trying to sucker them. It would also add strategy to the Questioner's game, because the more questions the Answerer got right, the higher the Questioner's pot. But they couldn't let them get too many right, or they'd lose it all.)

It'd be a little complex at first, but I think it would be much easier to follow in practice than it would to read about. And I think there'd be a lot of tension as the two contestants played bluff and counter-bluff. "I thought that you were going to guess wrong on that one, so I bet against you, but then I read the question and you guessed I was tricking you and picked another answer...but I had it wrong too, so the correct answer was the one I thought was wrong and was trying to trick you into guessing."

Tell me that wouldn't be a fun little headtrip of a show. Get someone kind of snarky to host and commentate on it, like Wil Wheaton or Seth Green, and it'd be huge.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Apollo 18

Despite my utter disdain for 'The Blair Witch Project', the film that kick-started the genre, I've actually found myself with a serious fondness for found-footage horror movies. I loved 'Cloverfield', I adored 'Quarantine', I...well, okay, I ignored 'Paranormal Activity', but I said I was fond of the genre. I never said I was indiscriminate about it.

Given that, when 'Apollo 18' popped up on my radar, I made a mental note to give it a watch as soon as I got the opportunity. That turned out to be a Redbox rental well after it made its short, ill-received trip through theaters, but the drubbing the critics gave the film didn't dissuade me. I figured I'd give it a watch, and worst-case scenario, I'd be out a buck and 90 minutes.

Honestly, I wound up being pleasantly surprised. The movie does a lot of things right; the footage genuinely does look like NASA film from the 1970s in ways both large and small. The astronauts look like actual astronauts, not movie stars pretending to be astronauts. The jargon sounds right and isn't over-explained in a Hollywood way. The equipment looks authentic. The banter sounds like the kind of warmed-over private jokes that test pilots come up with, not like the over-polished work of a screenwriter. Even the film stock has that grainy quality you associate with shots from other moon landings. You can genuinely believe the opening statement that there's 84 more hours of this stuff lying around somewhere.

(That said, this may be part of the reason the film didn't do well in theaters. It's not like people routinely sit down and thrill to NASA footage.)

The tension of the mission builds at a nice pace, and it seems like the screenwriter thought about the alien lifeforms even if what we see on screen doesn't necessarily explain it outright. (The aliens tend to congregate in the bottoms of craters, suggesting that they prefer cold areas--this may be why the one inside the mission commander's suit goes "dormant" and curls up into its shell. They communicate over radio frequencies, a sensible evolutionary development for a lifeform that lives on an airless moon. And their "infection", despite being called that both by the astronauts and the Department of Defense, appears to be more of a venom or toxin spread by bites. All pretty logical.)

My only real complaint about the movie is that the most interesting part occurs a little too near the end. With one astronaut "infected", the other one is told that he will not be allowed to return to Earth for fear of contamination, and the pilot of the lunar orbiter is informed that he will not be given re-entry vectors if he allows him on board. This feels like the perfect opportunity to contrast the Apollo 13 "failure is not an option" mentality that NASA is known for, the belief that even the loss of a single astronaut in the service of space exploration is too much, with the cold-hearted, ruthless mentality of the covert world, where every man knows they're expendable for the "greater good". It felt like they could have spun that tension out for much longer, but instead it occurs right before the end. (Which brings up another did NASA recover the footage?)

On the whole, I felt like it was a solid, respectable effort, and a worthwhile addition to the "found footage" genre. Not as good as, say, 'Cloverfield', but easily ahead of 'The Blair Witch Project'.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Strategies In America's Newest Covert War

Last night during the GOP debates, Newt Gingrich (now the presumptive front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination) suggested that it was time to declare a "covert war" on Fidel Castro. Some might say that this was blatant pandering to the heavily anti-Castro Cuban-American populace in Florida by attacking an 85-year old man who no longer holds any political office in his home country, but I take Newt at his word. He has the strategic vision to declare a covert war on live television after all; what more can you want from the next President? (Presumably, he took notes from John McCain's "secret plan" to take out bin Laden.) As I believe in Newt's goal of covert war on Fidel, let me suggest a few strategies.

1) We begin with a propaganda battle. Plant newspaper articles suggesting that young people wear their pants all baggy and listen to the rap music, and that women wear scandalously short skirts. These will angry up Castro's blood, causing him to have to avoid the news on his doctor's orders.

2) Cut vital lines of communication. If Castro's children and grandchildren are unable to contact him, he will grow despondent. This is especially devastating as a line of attack as they already don't visit enough, and goodness knows they never write him. They might insist that they email him, but Castro has already explained to them multiple times that he doesn't know how to work that new-fangled computer they gave him for Christmas. The resultant argument will drive a wedge between Castro and his closest supporters.

3) Hire neighborhood children to play on Castro's lawn at all hours of the day and night. The resultant stress, and the dangerous levels of physical exertion needed to repeatedly charge out of his house and yell at them, will keep him exhausted and further deteriorate his health.

4) Jumble up his pills. This will force him to spend valuable time and energy re-sorting them into the little boxes labeled M-T-W-T-F-S-S, assuming he can actually get the dosages right (his eyesight isn't what it was, you know.) This will only worsen his physical condition, softening him up for the final blow...

5) Hide his dentures. With this masterstroke completed, Castro will only be able to eat mushy foods. Not only will this further his loss of physical health, it will also keep him from being able to even smile at the people of Cuba. Surely this crushing blow will finish off the evil dictator!

...and if it doesn't, they'll at least put him in a home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Trouble With Romney that he's dead. No, wait. That was 'The Trouble With Harry', a classic black comedy directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Romney isn't dead; his trouble is that he just acts like it.

Seriously, how does a party as smart about winning elections as the Republicans have been over the last three decades wind up with this guy? The Republican party has been a classic case of picking style over substance, choosing likeable candidates that you'd "want to have a beer with" who easily beat smarter, better prepared wonks. George W. Bush was an absolutely terrible President, but he won against two people who were better on paper because he noticed that they were short on charisma, didn't have great social skills, and used attack ads to reduce them to caricatures of themselves (the self-aggrandizing stiff, the flip-flopper.)

And they now have Romney? For Pete's sake, Romney is what you'd get if the Republican caricatures of Gore and Kerry had a kid together! Not only does he have Gore's utter lack of personal magnetism, but he has Kerry's inability to stick to a position...all combined, of course, with an utter tone-deafness to the rising anger against America's wealthy Wall Street bankers, in a year where that's going to matter. (The article today, that he's only paying 15% in income taxes, isn't what's going to hurt him. The fact that he said he made "not much money" in speaking fees, when in fact he made more than my house is worth, is what's going to kill him.)

Of course, I know why the Republicans are going to get stuck with Romney. It's elementary game theory. Of the four candidates remaining who aren't Romney, all of them know that if the others drop out, they'll attract the support of the losers and beat Romney. (With the exception of Ron Paul, who is never going to attract much support but who isn't in it to win an election so much as for the soapbox.) But for that reason, none of them wants to drop out, because they all are hoping for someone else to drop out and give them the victory. And with four candidates splitting the non-Romney vote, Romney wins.

But do they really want Romney? It doesn't appear so, and you'll see that play out in the general election. It's hard to run when even your own party doesn't like you, and I suspect Romney's going to find out that they're not alone. It's pretty easy for your opponent to turn you into an unflattering caricature when you start out 99% of the way there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Strange Things I Find Myself Saying

I'm writing this blog on my lunch break at work, due to a catastrophic virus that has reduced my laptop to a paperweight until such time as I break down and reinstall the OS, and I find myself surprised at some of the conversations that go on. It's not a particularly exciting job, but somehow the discussions get actively strange. I'm not quite sure where it happens, either. One second I'm half-listening to a conversation on the merits of string cheese versus cottage cheese, the next I find myself speculating on whether or not cheese is actually a religion in Wisconsin, and if it is what the denominations might be.

I figure there's definitely Orthodox Cheddar, but is there a Reformed Mozarella? Perhaps a Seventh Day Gouda, established by a prophet who believed that the Armagorgonzolageddon was nigh at hand.

And what of the other faiths? Are yogurts considered to be pagan in the dairy world? Or do the nature-lovers worship milk, the original source of all other faiths?

And do these cheeses co-exist peacefully? Presumably they do, save for the Swiss. They're well-known for hole-y wars.

One thing I think everyone can agree on is that Velveeta considered to be the equivalent of Satanism. The antithesis of cheese, yet a cheese in and of itself, worshipped only by those who rebuke the whole concept of flavor itself. Hail Velveeta, the eternal and undying one!

Too many questions, not enough answers. Although it does answer why I get some strange looks at work...

Friday, January 06, 2012

Self-Taught Superheroes, Part Sixteen

It's weird, the way dreams shift. You don't really notice it until you're trying to explain the dream to someone; at the time, it all seems perfectly natural. But when you wake up and try to relate the dream to someone else, you suddenly hit a point where you have to say, "And then for some reason I was a female Buddhist warrior monk from a hidden monastery in Tibet that had existed outside of time for centuries, and I'd come to San Francisco to learn about the outside world after a dimensional convergence restored the monastery's connection with reality, and I got picked up with a bunch of other hostages in Chinatown but I knew that after my training with the monks, the manual labor the guards were making me do was easy and so I just bided my time with the infinite patience of someone who was totally connected to the universe and waited to find out what would happen, and I didn't actually dream all that, I just sort of knew it."

In case it's not clear, that's what happened. Suddenly, in the dream, I was Shining Dragon Fist, and I'd been down there in the cells for weeks, and I just knew that. And they were taking us all out of the cells and lining us up, and the guards had guns trained on us. And there were people crying, and pleading, and talking in a whole bunch of languages (yeah, big shock, Lord Raptor turned out to be the kind of guy who decided anyone who wasn't a white male was only suited for manual labor.) And I just stared at them, totally calm. Totally controlled. But underneath it all, I could feel my...well, she calls it her qi, but I always think of it as the soul. I could feel it surging, ready to flow out of me in a fury of action. And then...

And then this guy came charging in, wearing this suit of armor that looked like it had been welded together out of spare parts. His hair was standing completely on end like he was too close to a generator...mainly because he had this weird freaking generator on his back, like the backpacks the Ghostbusters wore. You could actually see places where harsh, actinic light was leaking out where there wasn't enough shielding. And these hoses came out from the backpack and ran down the arms to nozzles just over the wrists. (He's refined the armor a lot since then, but my dream actually had a really clear, solid memory of Neutrino Man's first suit. Have I mentioned how much he scares me?)

Then he started shooting. Superheated steam blasted out, sending guards staggering backwards. Even through their armor, something conducted into their bodies and left them wobbly and dazed. (Again, something that he insists leaves no permanent side effects, and you can trust him because he's a nuclear physicist. One Word: Chernobyl.) The remaining guards shouted, "Shoot to stun! He's one of Lord Raptor's VIP prisoners!" Others who didn't have as much discipline were shouting questions about how he'd managed to build something like that while under guard, and a few medics had already started tending to the downed soldiers.

That was when I moved. It felt different in the dream. In real life, when I fight, it's like suddenly everyone else is moving in slow motion and I'm at normal speed. When I was dreaming I was Shu, it was like I was swimming, moving slowly but with ineffable grace and striking out at statues. Qi flowed from my fists, turning each punch into a blow that could shatter stone and each kick into a thundering assault that practically ignored the guards' armor. They didn't even know what hit them at first.

But there were a lot of them, and they had human shields. It didn't take long for them to get past the surprise and start threatening the hostages. "Stand down!" the leader shouted. "Stand down or we shoot them all!" For Shu, it wasn't even a contest. I gently put my hands on my head and slowly sank to my knees, making it clear that I wasn't a threat anymore.

"What about you, hero?" the guard captain said to Neutrino Man. "What do you say?"

Neutrino Man smiled. "I say five, four, three, two, one..."

And then all the lights went out at once.


Monday, January 02, 2012

Best Comedy Series on TV

Is anyone else watching "Finding Bigfoot"? Because this thing is either an absolute masterpiece of deadpan comedy on the level of This is Spinal Tap, or else it is one of the most perfect pieces of unintentional hilarity ever to be accidentally allowed on the airwaves. Right now, I am watching four grown men (well, three grown men and one grown woman) standing in the woods in the dark with a caged baboon, making loud screaming noises in an attempt to attract a "squatch". (The frequent use of "squatch" as a noun, an adjective, a verb, and an occasional interjection makes me wonder if I'm not watching an extremely strange version of "The Smurfs".)

And one of the cast explained that he was, and I quote, "fulfilling a lifelong dream" by taking a baboon out into the middle of the Catskills for the evening. I don't even know where to start with that, although it would probably be by researching New York's state laws on bestiality. This show is absolutely insane, in all the right ways. Oh, yes, and next week they're apparently going to be wandering through a Rhode Island forest with lighted torches. It's like watching a Darwin Award in progress.

Seriously, is this thing on Netflix or something?