Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Chronicles of Skip-Bo, Volume III

The final in a three-part series examining the mental fortitude required to survive a game of Skip-Bo. To get to Part I, go here. For part II, go here.

As the game muscles its way toward a conclusion, interest is waning across the board. You wonder if and when it ever really waxed, but we have entered a tangible decline stage. The piles sit a little messier and muddled together. Players other than me need pokes and reminders on their turn. Sixes start to look like nines. Every turn requires a full recap of which cards will play.

"You need a 2, 4, 6, or 11," my daughter informs me.

Immediately I go back one generation. Two, four, six, and 11 were the channels we got on TV growing up. "4" (ABC) came in clear pretty much all the time. "2" (CBS) was a little staticky but was clear enough. "11" (NBC) came in OK as long as it wasn't snowing, raining, sleeting, foggy, hazy, hot, humid, partly sunny, mostly sunny, partly cloudy, mostly cloudy, or some other "weather event" or weather non-event. "6" (also NBC but from a million miles away) required the rabbit ears to be set to a 34-degree "less than" angle (<) and one family member to dress in tin foil while standing on the roof holding an open umbrella. "13" (PBS) came in as clear as a lark and, if we're being honest, at times it scared the hell out of me, but nobody ever bragged to their friends about getting 13. Nobody under 30 years old understands anything I'm saying right now. But these days I get just enough channels to see Matthew McConaughey douching out in a Lincoln, "dint dewit tuhbee kewl..."

Too many cards
"What do I need again? Two, four..."

I hold a 3, 5, 7 and 9 with a dreary tableau of 12s in front of me. But I draw a card that leads to an avalanche of card-playing. I empty out my hand, my extra crapload of cards down in front of me, and a fair portion of the vital Skip-Bo pile. An epic run like this earlier in the game would have caused anxiety, dread, tears, and a dented mini-basketball hoop. Now my opponents are rooting me on like a marathon runner on Mile 25, go, go GO, you can do it daddy! But I can't close the deal. Alas.

It's anyone's game now but nobody really wants it. All those 1s and 2s that we couldn't find earlier are sprouting up when we need higher numbers. People are asking out loud, "Can we be done playing Skip-Boo?" No. Because if we're learning from this interminable ennui, it's to finish what we start and not quit because we're bored or losing. And we ARE bored. And losing. We press on.

Wait, is that how this game is pronounced? An ancestor of mine pronounced it "Skee-bo" (rhymes with Tebow) and my wife pronounces it "Skip-Boo," a curious pronunciation that actually involves an inside family joke. (When your jokes center on the game of Skip-Bo, it may be time to re-examine?) A cursory internet search reveals what we all thought..."Skip-Bow" is the proper pronunciation. Let's not complicate things.

With that out of the way, a last push brings finally the game home to my daughter, who led wire-to-wire and held off my furious, one-hand avalanche rally and a few advances by my son who remains the unluckiest Skip-Bo player ever. Agony of defeat gives way to sheer relief, and we can all get back to our lives and our laundry after that Easter Vigil game. Whew.

"Now we'll see who comes in second."

Are YOU kidding me. I came as close as ever to cheating but gritted my teeth, Only a few more turns and I finally got my cards out. The boy then, relegated to third place and not usually one for drama but a veteran Sesame Street watcher, does a full-on Bert Faint and cracks his head off a bookcase. Injury has sufficiently augmented insult. My lame attempts at comfort don't work..."if this were the Olympics you'd have taken home Bronze..."

Soon he's back up on his feet; otherwise I'd make him clean up the game. And that's the biggest contest of them all...get out of the room before Dad can get out of the criss-cross-applesauce position that reduces his joints to a fine powder. "Hey, can somebody help me put this away..."

And they're gone. Probably not to do laundry, but they're gone. They'll be back soon to take another crack at Dad and as I stare at the burgeoning laundry pile, I'll be willing to play a thousand more of these games with them. The laundry can wait.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Chronicles of Skip-Bo, Volume II

The second in a 3-part series examining the possibility of playing a game of Skip-Bo and still having an enjoyable weekend. Part One is right...about...here.
Once again the obligatory photograph per "blogging" "rules."

Earlier we examined the pain suffered in setting up a game of Skip-Bo and wondered aloud if the cards had been properly shuffled to ensure a fair game devoid of any unnatural runs.

It's apparent early in the game that those fears have been allayed. Like ship wreckage, all of the 1s, 2s, and wild cards that would have opened the game with a flourish have filtered to the bottom of the stack, leaving all three participants with an unplayable morass-- the Skip-Bo equivalent of a Scrabble rack full of vowels. Any hopes of a quick, clean game have thus also sunk to the bottom of the drain. Sigh.

Here we invoke the 33rd Law of Cards: In any non-poker card game, you will at some point hold what would constitute easily your all-time best poker hand. This hand, in tandem with inexorable patience, impeccable timing, steely nerves, sunglasses and the face of an asshat, would win you $800 kajillion dollars on ESPN's World Series of Poker. (You may even get to wear an asshat.)

Instead you're stuck with four 11s with a 12 kicker when only 1s and 2s will play in the middle, and a 9 on your Skip-Bo pile, left to continue wondering how college will get paid for, when ESPN will start televising Skip-Bo tournaments, and where your weekend is going. And if they had Skip-Bo tournaments, would you even play, just out of principle? Pretty sure they would be held in a smoky, dark, joyless room full of Skip-Bo nerd-snobs who look down their noses at you when you make a joke about a bad beat. As you convince yourself no, no you wouldn't play in their stupid tournaments, you feel the room grow quieter and quieter, the activity seemingly waning...

"Oh, my turn?"

"YES, Daddy!"

The next card you draw holds a ray of hope. It plays in the middle, and while it is only one card, maybe it will help break this game open. Then the competitive fire gets you. You see that if you play the card, you will open up your son to play off of his Skip-Bo pile. Conflicted between just moving the game along and not letting your kid win under any circumstances, you hold the card, prolonging the agony but remaining comfortable with the knowledge that you're playing the game as it was meant to be played. Plus if you opened up the game for only one child, the other one will get upset and accuse you of hating her, just like she did that time you accidentally bought the orange juice with the pulp...

"Daddy! Your turn!"

"Sorry, sorry..."

At some point after several turns, when you were wondering why only orange juice has pulp, your daughter has managed to reel off a big run that has sliced her Skip-Bo pile in half. It slipped your notice because your younger child no longer screams in protest at the slightest hint of a sibling's good fortune nor throws his shoes in the fireplace in protest. He just rolls his eyes like a teenager even though he's 5, already learning the art of smug.

Meanwhile, you haven't played a blessed thing off your pile, that 9 still staring you in the face, but now the middle piles accept only 11s, 12s, and 8s. You have a wheelbarrow full of 11s but no tantalizing 8 that will lead you to the Promised Pile. You re-arrange your discards like the deck chairs on the Titanic, not realizing that the 11 opens up your son's 12. You're thankful your daughter doesn't notice, doesn't care, or doesn't mind your letting someone back in the game. She's nice like that. Surely there are there other juices with pulp, no? Let's Google it...

"Daaaad. Quiiit playing on your phone..."

What happens next? Does Dad launch a big comeback and steal the game from his daughter? Does the son launch a medium-sized comeback and secure his first ever win at this wretched game? Does the 3-year-old fly off the coffee table like Superman into the middle of the cards and wreck the game completely? (Spoiler alert...) Stay tuned for the stunning conclusion when we wrap up this Iran-Contra-affair-length game of Skip-Bo.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself

Forget my pointless, meandering drivel...here's some stuff worth reading when the mood strikes:

Sarah Hartley starts it off with a few fine posts, including a post that my wife and I wholeheartedly agree with concerning the benefits of putting your child in Day Care:

and one with a little self-doubt (been there)

plus one about spit-up (a girl after my own heart)

Special for the folks in Michigan: 7 people this Michigander (David Stanley) can't stand in winter.

Lorne Jaffe has a daughter with a fear of owls Here's how he's dealing with that conundrum:

Plus, the difference between MILFs and DILFs from Dave Lesser...

And finally, shameless! One by me on Sarah's site on the inexplicable phenomenon called Preferred Parent Status:

Enjoy, there will be quiz at the end of the week.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Born At the Right Time

Did you know during this week in 1919 the city of Boston suffered a disastrous Molasses Flood? A Boston Molassacre, as some called it?

A molasses flood? Right, and I was mugged by a gang of snails.

Looks like my kids' bedrooms. Too soon?
I had never heard of this awful event until a few days ago. But it truly was awful. Twenty-one people and several horses died. Scores more people were injured. After the poorly constructed tank exploded in the unseasonable January Boston warmth, it sent molasses down the streets of Boston at 35 mph, tugging people down with it, complicating rescue attempts.

It's one more reason to be thankful I live in the era in which I do. I am totally ill-equipped to handle and protect my family from a molasses flood. Aren't we all, really? But I more than most. I'm thankful to live in a time when giant, out-of-code vats of molasses aren't just sitting around, given to spontaneous, rocket-propelled floods that will carry my loved ones to their death, or worse, Philadelphia.

But even if for some reason all that happened, I'm thankful for cars that can travel faster than 35 mph so we can beat the sloppy goop to safety--assuming we're not stuck in downtown Middletown, DE, where traffic flows slower than the traditional molasses, the kind that's not shot out of a drum and wrecking everything in its path.

I'm thankful for media that would alert me right away to this mess if my family were somehow near the affected area--though I'm not thankful for the fact that they'd call it "Molassapocalypse" or "Molassamageddon". "Molassacre" works just fine, thanks.

Mostly I'm thankful for the cars, though.  Any transportation is better than horses. To wit, I also learned through some amateur family genealogy that my great-great-grandfather William died when his horse and buggy got hit by a train. Typical. I can totally see this happening to me, provided I ever learned how to properly mount and direct a horse in the first place.

According to the story, in 1903 William and his friend tried to cross some railroad tracks and got stuck, but rather than bailing on the operation as his companion did, William stayed the course and got destroyed by the oncoming train, his left leg "being mashed into a jelly, apparently without a whole bone remaining." He lived for about 20 minutes after the crash.

I'd rather be washed away by molasses, given a choice.

Still, horses. I've ridden horses two times and both times ended poorly. The first, I was seven or eight years old, riding some old nag that could barely move, and I fell off. Just fell off. No reason to, no explanation, the horse was barely moving. Just fell off onto some gravel. The second time, about 10 years later, I rode another allegedly docile horse in a wooded area, only to have the horse spooked by a car and take off through the woods, dragging my face through some low-hanging branches while I suggested a leafy "whoa" (more like a "Whooooooooaaaa") in vain.

Ultimately I came away from both incidents unscathed, or at least much less scathed than poor William. But I did walk away from the second horse incident swearing off (and at) horses and haven't gotten back on since. However, last summer I took one of my sons to the racetrack and to a place on the grounds where you can pet the horses after they've raced. Like a noob I stood with my son in the worst possible spot, behind the horse...if something had scared the horse, his hind legs probably would have kicked my 5-year-old-son right in the face. Three old men nearly had heart attacks when they saw where I positioned my son, and I started swearing at horses again. Never again with these damned animals!!

So I'm very thankful for living in an era where horses are purely optional. And while I generally try to show my kids enough varied experiences so they have no fear later in life, if they see a horse and immediately run away crying, I won't blame them, they'll just be chasing me.

I've been blessed, I think, with some longevity genes. William was 83 at the time of his accident which translates to about 157 in current years. I've known several people on both sides of my family who lived well into their 90's, even without push notices and alerts about confectionery floods. I have a chance to live a long life and be there for my kids as much as possible. Just gotta steer clear of molasses and horses.

The Chronicles of Skip-Bo, Volume I

Standing in the kitchen drying sippy cups while we wait for a Biblical, rise-from-the dead revival miracle out of our busted dishwasher and I hear some of the best and worst words from a small voice from another room.

"Daddy, wanna play Skip-Bo with us?"

"Well, I have some things I need to do..."

"...I already have it set up."

From the makers of Waterboarding? Too much?
Skip-Bo is a tedious, torturous slogfest of a card game where you try to rid yourself of your pile of cards by playing them in sequential order in the middle along with your opponents. Games typically take 30-45 minutes unless you have my kids and a restless mind. Then they take 16 hours while your mind volleys back and forth between yardwork, paperwork, bills, broken down appliances, projects and other things you need to get done. When will that stuff get done? Who will


"I'm coming...just, give me..."

"Do you want to play with 30, 20, or..."

"FIFTEEN. Twelve if we can, or ten...I thought you had it set up already?"

Games are more palatable when the piles are 15 cards. More palatable like Kraft Mac & Cheese versus Velveeta. It's still better than folding kids' laundry.

"OK, let's go."

Anal retentive card players get tested when they play with kids. The game has already been set up, and while I totally believe my daughter has not "set the deck" in her favor, I wonder if her small hands and erratic shuffling were enough to sufficiently randomize the cards. In a game where sequences are made, an unshuffled deck could result in too many natural sequences which increases the luck factor and decreases the skill factor. However, if it will make the game go quicker, I'll let it go. But then I see three random cards lying off to the side.

"What are those three cards? No, don't LOOK at them! Just put them on the bottom of the big pile, or in the middle, or put them in different places in the middle..."

Kids take winning and losing seriously. and any kid will tell you that the key to winning is going first. As if the game is the 100-meter dash in the Olympics and someone gets an undeserved head start. Sometimes going first is actually more important than the final result. And yet these kids can't understand the concept of a good, thorough shuffle? Kids, I tells ya...

Luckily my daughter is a born rules follower. and it was written that the youngest player goes first. So every time we play this game our 5-year-old son goes first. We've erased at least 10-15 minutes of infighting, intense negotiations, deal-making, deal-breaking, bribery, and hurt feelings just by following the rules.

The problem though, is in who goes SECOND. If the youngest goes first, it stands to the reason that the second-youngest goes second, right? Unfortunately, we have sat our butts such that our oldest child is to the right of her younger brother.

"Stop. There is no game in civilization where play runs counter-clockwise."

"What's counter-clockwise mean?"

"Like this," (makes a swirling motion)


"Instead of like a clock, which goes this way." (swirls in the other direction)


"Like a clock. Except backwards..."

Of course every clock they've encountered has been digital. Microwaves, phones, iPads...

"Here. We'll switch places."

We aren't playing counter-clockwise. And in games of four or more, we are not playing in some ridiculous star pattern. Just gives the kids one more thing to fight about when we all lose track of whose turn it is.

All that said, I think we're ready to play. Stay tuned for Volume II...