Friday, June 21, 2013

A Blob of Horror - now on

I got picked up by THE Geek Blog for the Phili area -!

"Do you love sci-fi horror movies, want to pass your passion along to your children, but are worried that starting with “Alien” might scar them forever?

Fear not!
Start them off with the 1958 classic “The Blob” featuring Steve McQueen ... "

Read the rest at

Geek factor: 5 out of 5
Fun factor: 4 out of 5

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Darth Vader - the unappreciated Geek Dad

Darth Vader did not get a chance to spend much quality time with his children, but if he had, I have no doubt he would have been an awesome geek dad. Playing dress up with a cape and mask being second nature to him and all that.

Jeffrey Brown explored the idea of what kind of father Darth Vader could have been a bit further. The result are two books that mix Star Wars classics with the reality of fatherhood. What could possibly go wrong, right?

Good for a late Father's day present - or just because.

Geek factor: 5 out of 5

Fun factor: 5 out of 5

Got a geeky gift idea? Leave a comment!

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

She's got a Ticket to Ride

I love board games. I grew up with dozens of them stacked into my shelves, and every birthday party or gathering with friends ended up with a board game being played sooner or later. Being German, that did not even qualify me as a geek, because Germans take their board games really seriously. It is the unknown third national passion after soccer and beer. Germany hosts the world's largest international board game expo, a 4-day event where 149,000 visitors test and play new board games every year. That is almost more people than there are breweries in Germany. Did I mention Germans take gaming seriously?

Our newest addition at home tested by my Geeks 2.0 is called "Ticket to Ride". It is a great combination of strategy, geography and building trains. It won "Game of the Year" 2004 in Germany and the 2004 Japan "Best Advanced Board game" prize (the Japanese are another nation who don't fool around when it comes to games). "Ticket to Ride" is also highly popular with the board game playing community. Fewer than 300 of over 16-thousand raters on gave it less then 5 out of 10. I have decided these 300 people must simply hate both geography and board games and thus aren't worth listening to anyway.

The game is played on a large map with cities connected by colored train routes. Players have to collect a matching set of colored train cards to be able to claim a route for themselves. Building trains earns points, which are tracked by markers on the side of the board (built in math session on two digit addition). Players also get secret tickets. If they manage to claim the routes between the two cities on their ticket, they score extra points. If they fail to claim a ticket, these points get subtracted at the end of the game. The fun part is that the tickets are kept secret until the end of the game, when the first player runs out of trains to build. So you don't really know who is ahead or behind, or who will win or lose until the end of the game when the ticket points are added and subtracted. 

Officially the game is labeled for children 8 or older. But by simplifying the rules, like not keeping tickets secret, allowing trading, or waiving special rules around tunnels and ferries, it can easily be played by 6-year olds as well. 

There are stand-alone editions of the game and map extensions. The stand alone editions are "Ticket To Ride" (USA map), "Ticket To Ride: Europe", "Ticket To Ride: Maerklin" (map of Germany), "Ticket To Ride: Nordic Countries" and "Ticket To Ride: Switzerland". If you are like me and vowed that your kids will know where Luanda and Durban are, you can then extend the game with an add-on map. These map extensions are available for "Asia", "India" and "Heart of Africa". If you plan to give those as a gift, make sure to add one of the stand-alone editions as well, since the map extensions do not include train game pieces. 

Still not sold that this is a great game? Then play it with the matching "Ticket to Ride" sound track, courtesy of The Beatles ("Help!", from the same album, is another song that applies to a board game sooner or later), and give an extra point to the player with the best fake Liverpool accent. Two if they can find Liverpool on the map.

Geek factor: 4 out of 5

Fun factor: 5 out of 5

Price: approx. $38 for the stand-alone editions and $30 or less for the map extensions

What games with geek factor are your kids playing? Leave a comment!

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Col. Chris Hadfield - a name your kids should know

Do your kids know who was the first man on the moon? How about the second? Or the third member of the Apollo 11 mission, who stayed behind in the command spacecraft? I'd venture to bet that in our generation everybody knew who Neil Armstrong and his crew were. But over 40 years later, for a 6-year old he is a historic figure as ancient as Lincoln, Washington, or Genghis Khan.

I found it futile to create excitement with my kids for the Apollo missions, or even the Space Shuttle. The best they can offer is grainy old TV footage with mostly incomprehensible sound. So instead we made a fresh start and followed Col. Chris Hadfield into space.  

Col. Chris Hadfield had previously been part of several Space Shuttle missions, but he just completed a 5-month mission of being in command of the ISS. (Thanks to my Canadian friend who pointed me his way!) Col. Hadfield is going with the times and has a Facebook page with amazing pictures of Earth taken from the ISS. On the Canadian Space Agency's YouTube channel he covers topics kids are actually interested in. 

How do you command the ISS? Do astronauts have to eat their vegetables, and do they get dessert? Do the five senses Taste, Hearing, Smell, Sight and Touch work differently in Space? Can you cry in space? Where do astronauts sleep? And of course the most important question of all: how do you go to the bathroom in space, and what does that have to do with shooting stars?

He also posted (and keeps posting) many pictures and stories from his mission preparations and post-flight check ups, in case you or your kids are also interested in the 95% of being an astronaut that are not space-riding cowboy but literal blood, sweat and tears.

So, long story short, I think every little geek should grow up with a role model who has made the trek to space and back. Don't let the large number of pilots, scientists, mission specialists and commanders that have been and will be up in space be an excuse to not get to know one of them closer and make them the childhood hero of your kids. Or even rekindle your own interest in what they actually do up there on the ISS, other than creating shooting stars. (Answer: renditions of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" while hunting down dark matter)

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