Category Archives: fun and games

What the Cool Kids Do

Playing Wordle is the newest obsession among the cool kids. And I have never been a cool kid.

Let me say first that I am not in. This screenshot is taken from a friend’s Facebook feed. He tried nobly to resist the lure of Wordle, but ultimately gave in and got in.

For those not in the know, Wordle is the newest internet craze, a word game (almost certainly a portmanteau of “word” and “puzzle”) that asks you to guess letters and determine what the target words actually are. To me, it’s sort of like Wheel of Fortune combined with Hangman. It’s supposed to improve your general brain health.

Every day there is a new puzzle, and people post their scores on the internet. (Not everyone is happy about this. I have heard complaints from friends about the number of Wordle scores clogging up their news feeds. It does seem an awful lot like bragging, at least when their scores are low. Another friend is hoping to see “floccinaucinihilipilification” show up as one of the daily words, which seems unlikely, as the words are only five letters long. Perhaps eventually they will have a 29-letter version. But I digress.)

It’s not like I haven’t had my clickie game addictions. I used to be a devotée of Candy Crush, Pet Rescue, and Bingo Blitz. I’d play several games of each nearly every day. My husband would ask me, “When are you going to be off the computer?” I would answer, “After I lose the next game.” I never bought any of the “power-ups” that cost actual money, though, which is probably why I kept losing.

I don’t know if Wordle sells hints or letters or power-ups or whatever. I didn’t know how the game designers made their money at all. I thought maybe they were selling users’ info to data mining sites or Russian trolls or something. Then I found out. The New York Times bought Wordle. I don’t need to ask how they’re going to monetize it. I used to solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle regularly, which did cost money to play. I had forgotten that I had a subscription to it, which you can get without subscribing to the actual New York Times. I only recently remembered that I had a subscription to it and started playing again, though it happens that I like the acrostics more than the actual crosswords.

(I once worked at a place where they came down on me pretty hard for solving crosswords during working hours. I justified it on the grounds that I don’t smoke and never took a cigarette break. I thought taking a puzzle break was therefore justified. The powers-that-were didn’t agree. But I digress. Again.)

In addition to the aforementioned clickie games, I have dabbled in other online games that I felt were a cut above the run-of-the-mill inane ones, ones that ask a player to build a hypothetical theme park or solve a not-so-hidden objects puzzle. Once I played a lot of Words With Friends, back when that was the thing the cool kids did. I’m a word nerd, so I did pretty well, but I learned that people who were skilled at hitting the double letter and triple word score squares could take me down.

Will I continue to be unattracted by the admittedly fascinating lure of Wordle? Or will I be like my friend and eventually say, “I’m in”?

I’ve generally reveled in my not-a-cool-kid status. Why should I give it up for Wordle? It’s not like I need another time-sink. Facebook already serves me too well at that. And I don’t need to get rid of all those game addictions only to succumb to yet another. If I want to improve my mind, I’ll just read a book.

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Adventures in Finding Stuff

Back in the day, I used satellites to find Tupperware in the woods. It was called geocaching.

Basically, you get a GPS unit and go to the Geocaching website. (No, you don’t need the GPS to get to the website. Just a browser. And a computer or mobile device.) Satellites in orbit around the Earth send signals that help you pinpoint a location and an approximate route to it. (They’re not dedicated geocaching satellites, of course. They perform some other function like mapping or spying.)

When you go to geocaching.com, you enter the zipcode of where you live or are traveling to, and it will tell you whether there are geocaches in that area and where they are. The trick is, you only get latitude and longitude coordinates.

You make your way to the site, which usually involves car travel and some walking, through city streets or neighborhoods or woods or swamps or off overpasses or in parking lots. When you reach the destination, you find…something.

And what is the cache? Well, it can be a Tupperware container or an ammo box or a film canister or a pickle jar or anything waterproof. Depending on the size of the container, there may be trinkets inside. The rule is take one, leave one. There is also a sheet of paper where you list your name and the date you found the cache. Then you return to the website and log that you found the cache – or how many times you tried and failed.

What makes any of this fun? You get to feel clever if you find the cache. You get out in the fresh air and walk around, while still avoiding other people. And you get to rack up points on the website boasting of the number of caches you’ve found. You can geocache alone, with a partner, or even a group.

What types of geocaches have I found?

First, there are the regular caches – the ones I mentioned that come in Tupperware and ammo boxes. These are usually relatively easy to find, located in hollow trees, dense brush, and once under an overpass. That one I missed at first, but a moment later realized where it had to be. I used the excuse of accidentally dropping my keys over the railing as an excuse to go back for it, so that no one would question why I was rooting around down there.

Another popular cache is the mini-cache. These are the ones that come in small containers. The smallest mini-cache I ever saw was a mouthwash-strips container that held only a log for leaving your name. That one was in a shrubbery in the median of a residential street.

Then there’s the micro-cache. These are so small that no trinkets can possibly fit within – just the log. I once found one of these logs wrapped around a 10-penny nail loosely stuck in a fence post.

Hide-in-plain-sight caches are often attached with magnets to some metal thing at the destination, such as an industrial station near a street or highway, or a lighting fixture in a parking lot. The back of the magnet or a strip of paper hidden behind it is where you leave your name.

Photo caches. For these caches, you take a picture of the location that corresponds to the coordinates – usually a scenic or historic building. You don’t post the picture on the GPS website, just the fact that you found it and the date.

Foreign caches. When my husband and I vacationed in Eastern Europe, we took along the coordinates of some caches there and we brought some trinkets to leave. One cache we absolutely knew the location of, but were unable to get to because a pile of snow intervened.

Puzzle caches. These may involve solving a code to get the coordinates or knowing (or looking up) the answer to a clue. Some are even more elaborate. One I remember was an acrostic made from the names of a series of books.

Wheelchair-accessible caches. There aren’t a lot of these, but they do remind us that the pastime isn’t just for the able-bodied.

Dan and I haven’t geocached lately, but our days of indulging may not be over. We intend to place a geocache in a nearby park. Will we use Tupperware? Maybe, but more likely a film canister with a scroll log and a pencil stub.

Too bad our GPS unit is as ancient as we are. We could also relive our glory days of hunting and finding.

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We Were Girl Scouts Once … and Young

Yes, I know. The main thing that most people associate with Girl Scouts is cookies. And those are certainly one important part of the Girl Scout experience. But they’re far from the only thing, or even the most important.

Officially, cookie sales promote goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. All the money raised stays with local councils and troops. Nowadays, Girl Scouts no longer sell door-to-door as we did back in the day. Instead, Scouts do phone and online selling, or set up tables in front of stores and in parking lots, often waving signs to attract buyers.

I was a Girl Scout from Brownies through Seniors. And yes, I sold cookies. (Many scouts had their fathers and mothers take the sign-up sheets into work, where coworkers often ordered their goodies. My father wouldn’t do it because, he said, he worked for a government institution and it wouldn’t be proper. But I digress.)

Although the activities that cookie sales funded were many and varied, my favorite – even more than earning merit badges – was camping. I wrote about camping a few years ago. As I described it:

There we were, bedding down on sleeping bags in our tents, the cold, hard ground only a layer of canvas or plastic away. When we sprang out the next morning, our lithe teen forms dressed in green shorts and Vibram-soled boots, we hoisted our backpacks and hiked over hill and dale and rocky trails, singing optimistic songs and breathing deep of the fresh air. We ate granola as we walked.

Later that day, we built a fire and sat upon logs, tree stumps, or little water repellent squares while our dinner cooked slowly, smoke curled around our heads, and mosquitos had their meal before we had ours. Then it was more songs, jokes, stories, and talk till it was time to pour water on the fire, make sure the ashes were cool, and return to our sleeping bags, where, after hours more chat (not the electronic kind, either) we dozed off.

That was, indeed, one style of camping we did. We also went to official Girl Scout camping facilities instead of state parks. I have vivid memories of those adventures, some terrific and others less so.

There was one decidedly memorable state park trip. We set up our tents, which we shared, four scouts per. After dark, we settled in our tents to tell stories and jokes. The girls in my tent read aloud from the book The Hobbit, to the glow of flashlights, lanterns, and the occasional candle (one thing we had learned was how not to set one’s tent on fire and what to do if we did).

A sudden storm came up and turned violent, with rivers of rainwater flowing through our camp, and indeed through our tents, our candle threatening to sail away. As we read the book, we were at a passage describing a storm rife with heavy wind and rain. Every time the storm in the book became more severe, so did the storm in our camp. It was eerie. Eventually, we decided we should stop reading before we were completely washed away. The next morning we had to cope with damp sleeping bags and muddy ground. But that’s what we did. We were scouts.

Other memories were less dramatic and less pleasurable. There was the time we ate “brontoburgers,” hamburger patties wrapped in bacon and then in foil and cooked in the embers of a dying campfire. The next morning we learned a valuable lesson about the inadvisability of eating meat that was less than thoroughly cooked.

Official Girl Scout camps had large tents on raised wooden bases, so we didn’t have to worry about rainwater. We had camping names like Rover and Binky and ones based on the Lord of the Rings (Strider) or MASH (Trapper, Hawkeye), which were popular at the time. We learned songs (some of them from Free to Be (does anyone else remember that?), as well as traditional songs that must have been around since the invention of scouting (“Make new friends, but keep the old./One is silver and the other’s gold.”) The best times were when we became camp counselors, in charge of younger scouts for a month at a time.

Those were the days, never to return. But now some of my sister scouts are grandmothers and I buy my cookies from their offspring.

To Do Or Not To Do

Most of you are likely familiar with the game “Never Have I Ever.” Versions of it have been floating around Facebook, with certain categories highlighted (Score 1 point for everything you haven’t eaten/farm activities you’ve never done/dodgy things you’ve never engaged in, et endless cetera.) Most of them only require that you report your number of points, but many people respond with which things they have/haven’t done, and often why.

I never play those games except mentally, but I am somehow intrigued by them. So, since no one asked, here are my answers to some of these categories and activities, plus a few things I’d like to do but just haven’t yet.

Food. I’ve eaten a lot of “gross” foods in my life, including sushi, snails, octopus, and curried goat, which tasted like curried pot roast. Other things I have eaten but regretted, including liver and onions, olives, and Pop-Tarts.

My mother tried to make me eat liver, but stopped when I literally gagged on it. I think it was a texture thing, not the flavor. Olives make my feet swell, probably because of the salt content. The very smell of Pop-Tarts make me wheeze. I have no idea why, but there you have it.

I have been expanding my dining repertoire. I still don’t really like onions, but I’ve found I can tolerate them if they’re almost invisible – finely diced and in something like spaghetti sauce, where they’re cooked through and not the main ingredient. And onion soup, for some reason (I think it’s the cheese). A slab of onion on a burger, though, makes me cry, even if I didn’t cut it myself.

Some seafoods I’ve been trying to acclimate myself to, through a process called fried, soup, sauce. That’s how I addressed clams, for instance – first fried clam strips, then clam chowder, then clams with bean sauce. I haven’t yet tried the theory out on oysters, but I intend to. I don’t know if I’ll make it all the way to raw oysters, but I’m betting I can make it from fried to oyster stew.

I’ve drunk any number of dubious beverages, the most dubious of which was called Swamp Water – one part green chartreuse and six parts pineapple juice. If you want to know why it’s called Swamp Water, mix yourself up a batch. It you want to know why it’s dubious, drink some green chartreuse straight.

There are also beverages I’ve never tried, but intend to. Not every new variety of candy-ass girlie drinks that bars and restaurants are always inventing. No I want to try a martini (with a twist – see olives and onions, above). And I want to try absinthe, but it’s way expensive, especially if you get the peculiar silver spoon that you’re supposed to use to melt a sugar cube into it. Maybe someone will give me some for my birthday or Christmas.

Activities. Dodgy or dangerous category: Yes, I have skipped school, whenever my father wanted to take a three-day weekend with his relatives in Kentucky. He’d write a note, but it was still counted as an unexcused absence. Yes, I’ve ridden a motorcycle, though only as a passenger. (I wanted a motorcycle of my own, but had a fear that as soon as I got one, I would get pregnant and be unable to ride. But I digress.)

Farm activities category: Yes, I’ve milked a cow and a goat. Surprisingly, the cow is easier. More to hold onto. I also rode a mule. I advise against this, at least bareback, because mules have the boniest spines this side of a stegosaurus. I’ve used an outhouse, despite the fact that I’m terrified of bees. I’ve also peed outdoors while camping or hiking. (I know, TMI.)

Amusement park category: I have a rule about amusement parks: I will not ride anything that turns you upside down or the floor drops out from under you. Yes, I know the physics of why it’s perfectly safe. I’m afraid I might throw up, likely on someone below me. (For years my mother wouldn’t let me ride Ferris Wheels on the theory that I’d get a nosebleed. This despite the fact that every nosebleed I ever had occurred when I was in my bed, at ground level. But I digress. Again.)

My friends got me to ride the Tower of Terror at DisneyWorld by A) telling me that the floor doesn’t actually drop; it’s pulled down by a cable, so no free fall, and B) they instilled in me the mantra “Disney isn’t going to kill me. They want me to spend more money.”

I’m sure that there are lots of other things that I haven’t tried, but should; things I haven’t tried, but won’t; things I’ve done once but will never do again; and, quite possibly, things I’ve never thought about that I will or won’t do. And I’m sure plenty of you have suggestions for those categories, or to do/not to do stories of your own. Feel free to share them here.

What Do You Do With Your Winnings?

You suddenly receive a chunk of money. What will you do with it? That’s a question that I have heard often. Not directed to me. I have no prospects of landing more than pocket change, unless my mystery gets published, hits the bestseller lists, and gets picked up for a television series.

But I watch a fair number of competition shows on TV, primarily on Food Network or The History Channel. I enter giveaways occasionally, when HGTV is offering a fabulous house in Rhode Island as a prize. But I never even buy lottery tickets, to which I have a philosophical objection. (I believe that they are a tool used by the upper classes to make money by fooling people into believing that they can magically join the upper classes. But I digress.)

The prizes offered in the shows I watch are seldom life-changing, usually starting at $10,000, which seems nice, but I have seen them go up to $100,000, which actually could be life-changing, if not a key into the leisure class.

What the contestant would spend the money on if he or she won is a question that invariably gets asked. I have noticed a pattern in the responses. There are a few major categories.

Travel. Contestants’ dreams of travel seem pretty realistic to me. It’s what I would spend my winnings on.

The usual fantasy trips are to take the family on a great vacation, to have a honeymoon that somehow never happened, or to visit a part of the world from which ancestors came. In the food competitions, there is also a tendency to wish for funds to travel the world (or at least part of it) sampling and learning how to cook different kinds of cuisine.

(Since we were on the subject of honeymoons (or at least I was), I also hear contestants who want to spend their prize on an engagement ring or a wedding. I know the price of diamonds and of weddings have not gone down in recent years, but $10,000 or $25,000 seems a bit high for regular folks, the ones who never appear on “Say Yes to the Dress.” An engagement ring for $25,000? I mean, come on!)

Home. I’ve heard a number of contestants say they would like to put a down payment on a new home. This time the figure seems a bit too low. But what do I know? Maybe the couple has already saved toward a house and this would put them over the roof, so to speak.

Other winners say they would renovate their kitchen (on the food shows) or their workshop (on craft- or building-type shows). This I can understand. Remodeling a kitchen or a workshop could easily eat up that kind of money, especially if new appliances or tools are required.

Business. Again, as with houses, the prizes offered don’t really seem magnanimous enough to start a business, but again, most of these lucky winners may have a fair amount put aside already. Or their dreams are more modest – to get a storefront instead of an internet bakery (a concept I’m not altogether clear on), or a food truck (I’m assuming this would also be a down payment, given that a food truck would have to cost more than a car, which you can hardly get for $10,000 anymore anyway) or the ability to turn a part-time hobby into a full-time business, which seems to me like a pipe dream, but I suppose there are people who could make it work.

Charity. Some of the potential winners have loftier goals. I’ve heard chefs say that they would start a variety of cooking programs for troubled youth. I’ve heard winners say that they would give part, or even all, their winnings, to a charity that provides funds for researching a disease or condition that a family member suffers from. Others want to donate to a church or other religious cause. Once I even saw a kid (on “Kids’ Baking Championship”) who wanted to help out a teacher who had fallen on hard times.

Me, I’d be off like a flash to Ireland with my husband. (I’ve been twice, but he’s never been). If there’s some left over, we’ll just have to arm wrestle for it. Maybe Benson, Arizona, where we once enjoyed one of our best vacations ever. Or, more likely, only as far as the IRS office.

 

 

The Tale of Trauma Bunny

I never much cared for dolls as a child. I never even had a Barbie. What I had were stuffed animals. That’s what we called them back then, before taxidermy became so trendy. Now, I understand, they’re called “plushies.” My favorite plushies were always rabbits – there was one in my Easter basket every year.

One of the most famous plushies in literature is the Velveteen Rabbit. Its story is the one about a beloved childhood toy that becomes worn and shabby, but wishes for someone to love him enough to make him real. There’s even a song about it by Kathy Mar, which is a real tearjerker. My story is about a stuffed rabbit too, that once was shabby.

My life has been full of beloved plushies. Before my house and most of my belongings were destroyed in a tornado, I had a pirate Winnie the Pooh. I had a Raggedy John Denver doll that a friend made for me (the heart on his chest says, “Far Out”). I had a cat that looks just like a cat I once had. I had an official Vorkosigan Butter Bug hand puppet. A couple of armadillos. Assorted teddy bears and Beanie Babies. And a plush Puss in Boots that makes a sound like a cat coughing up a hairball and says, “I thought we were done doing things the stupid way.” In the voice of Antonio Banderas, no less. Once my husband and I went to a thrift store and pawed through an absolute vat of stuffed toys and found such lesser-known varieties as a camel, a snake, and Thing One. (We never did find Thing Two.)

My husband often buys me plush toys to replenish my supply, so often that I now have quite a start on a new collection, including dogs, cats, a turtle, a walrus, bears, assorted armadillos, a sloth, and an ambiguous creature that I call a pandacoon. But Trauma Bunny is special. 

She was a rescue rabbit. Dan found her at the store where he works, but not in the toy aisle. Rather, the innocent creature was in the pet food aisle, crammed and crushed behind a giant bag of dog food. Naturally, Dan bought her and brought her home to me. After all she had been through, I named her Trauma Bunny and gave her useful work to do – sitting on my printer and guarding my cellphone and headphones. She likes being needed and having a responsible job, in addition to just being cute.

Trauma Bunny is a comfort object, the psychologists would say. Far from being prized possessions of children alone, comfort objects – plush toys, blankets, and other soft, soothing items – have their place among many a grown-up’s life. Wikipedia defines a comfort object as “an item used to provide psychological comfort, especially in unusual or unique situations.” It says nothing about them being for children only.

I also have friends that have collections, some of them quite extensive, of plushies and other comfort objects. One friend, a large, burly ex-cop had a plush bunny named “Sweetie Rabbit.” Another even has a “My First Bacon” plushie that talks, or at least says “I’m bacon” when you squeeze it. (Most of my comfort objects have genders as well as names, but, frankly, I don’t see how to assign gender to bacon.)

Trauma Bunny does give me comfort. I am comforted to know that, even though she had a difficult past and troubling experiences, she found someone who noticed her plight and brought her to me. In a way, we help heal each other.

I don’t know how much healing my friend gets from his plushie bacon, but everyone needs a little comfort object now and then, even if it’s only a breakfast food.

Halloween? Bah, Humbug!

I hate Halloween.

Mind you, I have no problem with the pagan event (Samhain) overtaking the religious one (the eve of All Saints Day).

I have no problem with skeleton cookies and other trappings of Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos).

I have no problem with children dressing up as witches, vampires, devils, or anything else they want to be, whether it smacks of evil or not. (I do hate the “sexy” trend in adult costumes. Sexy crayon. Sexy Mr. Rogers. (No, really.) Whoever thinks these up has too much time on their hands and too much weird on their brains.)

What I hate is the trick-or-treating. (It should really be called treat-or-vandalism.)

When I was doing the trick-or-treating, it was different, of course. There were still difficulties. I wear glasses, and back in the days of plastic dime-store masks, my choices were to wear the glasses but have the mask slip around and make me functionally blind or to wear the mask without glasses and be functionally blind.

Later on, I put together my own costumes out of old clothing and other things around the house. That was fun, though occasionally baffling. I think most people guessed “gypsy” from the bandana and necklace of gold coins, but what they made of the pink flowered dress and tan plush toy snake I just don’t know. Even I don’t remember what that was supposed to be. (The g*psy outfit came long before we all learned about cultural appropriation and ethnic slurs. But I digress.)

Around that time, the first round of tainted candy scares went through, when children took their goodie bags to the ER to be x-rayed for razor blades and had to throw out apples, Rice Krispie treats, and homemade fudge. That took a certain something out of the playfulness. Halloween parties became a trend, where treats could be supervised and stupid party games involving cold spaghetti and peeled grapes could be played. I think those parties have now taken over from door-to-door begging.

My mother loved the trick-or-treating. She would ooh and aah over the cute little kids and their costumes. What she didn’t like were the teenage boys who went around with pillowcases and didn’t even bother to dress as anything. They didn’t even smear on charcoal beards and pretend to be hobos. (Mom always kept a special bowl of last year’s left-over bubblegum just for them. It was unpleasant, but not actually poisonous.)

I think I started hating trick-or-treating when my Mom got older and couldn’t pop up and down to answer the door, so I had to do the popping and dispensing of candy and old bubblegum and describing of the costumes. But I did it for her.

Later, when I was on my own, I lived in upstairs apartments and other locales that didn’t see a lot of costumed traffic, so I had time to think it over and discover how much I disliked the custom.

Over the years, I’ve grown more and more antisocial, nearly to the point of waving my cane at youngsters and calling them “whippersnappers.” We live in a cul-de-sac at the very back of the neighborhood, so we don’t get many visitors anyway. My husband always buys too much candy and we eat our favorites both before and after the fact. (I have to remind him not to get Butterfingers. I hate Butterfingers.)

Actually, buying too much candy is a defense mechanism for him. One year we didn’t have enough, and he didn’t even have enough loose change for everyone. As the kids were departing in sorrow, he yelled out the door in desperation, “Does anyone want some Coke?” He meant the soft drink, but the shocked look on their faces was priceless.

Now I simply refuse to participate, curmudgeon that I am. I stay in the back of the house and turn off the porchlight, the universal signal for “Don’t stop here. Keep moving.” (Though I don’t know why we bother with porchlights, as trick-or-treating is now always done during daylight hours to cut down on car accidents and candy-muggings.)

These days I’m the one with knees that don’t like popping up and down or creaking up and down, really. I get depressed when I see how many little girls have bought into the pink princess-y thing. Opening the door makes me tense, as we have a cat who is a door-darter. Every other year my husband says, “I did it last year; now it’s your turn.” Sorry, not falling for that one. If you like it, fine. If you don’t do it, I’ll just read a nice zombie novel like Feed to mark the occasion.

This year there is a slightly encouraging lately – having a teal-colored pumpkin outside your door if you will be giving out non-food treats, such as small toys, colored pencils, glow sticks, and the like. It will cut down on food-allergy-related deaths, but it will also result in a lot of stomped-on teal pumpkins. The older kids already have made a sport of stomping pumpkins and running. Imagine their annoyance at receiving a pinwheel or a Koosh ball.

The start of the pumpkin-stomping craze was when I stopped decorating too. You can save Christmas ornaments from year to year, but last year’s pumpkins are just sad. I suppose I could find some nice cobwebs in the basement, but getting them intact to the windows upstairs would be difficult.

Honestly, I could just skip Halloween and be perfectly happy. In fact, I do and I am. Call me a spoil-sport or a party-pooper if you will, but spoiling sports and pooping parties are how I celebrate.

 

 

Fun With Dictionaries. No, Really.

When I was a kid, I had one of those small, plastic record players that came with small, plastic records of children’s songs. One yellow plastic disk had a song on it about dictionaries. I still remember it.

“Oh, the dic-dic-dictionary/is very necessary./Any word that you can cook up/you can look up./Pick the book up.” It also included a verse exhorting children to look up the words “dromedary” and “estuary.” Or maybe “actuary.” The sound reproduction was not that great. Neither word is one that I needed to know until much later in life, but I went through childhood with them stuck in my brain.  For that matter, they still are.

Also stuck in my brain is a dictionary adventure from slightly later in my childhood. Like many – perhaps most – of you, I ventured to the fount of all knowledge to look up “dirty” words. I didn’t find them all (I didn’t know them all at that point), but I found one that made a distinct impression on me. To this day, I can quote the definition of “fart” word for word: “an anal emission of intestinal gasses, especially when audible.” In other words, what was called a “poot” in our household, though that was not listed as a synonym.

There was one dictionary in history that caused quite an uproar, and it was largely (though not exclusively) caused by a different four-letter word: ain’t. Webster’s Third was not the first to include “ain’t” – even Webster’s Second did that. But Web3, notorious for downgrading (or I guess upgrading) usage labels, no longer listed the word as “illiterate” or “substandard,” but merely “colloquial,” or usable in regular conversation, though not in formal speech.

Headlines abounded: “Ain’t Ain’t Wrong, Says Webster’s.” Lexicographers were incensed and language mavens had the vapors. Not to mention the grammarians, who really got their undies in a bundle. The only people not freaking out were the linguists, who considered “ain’t” “nonstandard,” which was their nicer way of saying “substandard.”

(Lexicographers, linguists, and grammarians are different species, whose nether garments bunch at different sorts of things. Let me know if you want to know the difference. I’m lots of fun at parties. But I digress.)

Speaking of parties, there is a nifty party game that can be played with a dictionary, if you’re trapped at a party with no drinks, food, or music. It’s called Fictionary and bears no relation to Pictionary, which at least can get raucous.

For Fictionary, one person, acting as moderator, wields the Webster’s and selects a suitably obscure word. Each participant writes an imaginary definition on a slip of paper, while the moderator writes out the actual definition. The papers are then collected and read aloud. Participants vote on which is the correct definition. If a bogus definition wins out over the real one, that player gets a point. Hilarity ensues.

(The secret to winning a point is to start your fake definition with “of or pertaining to.”)

And speaking of word games, there’s Scrabble (aka Words with Friends if you’re among the techno-literate, which if you’re playing Fictionary you’re probably not).

A fascinating book (for those like me who are fascinated by such things) is Word Freak – not my autobiography, but instead a searing look into the dark underbelly of competitive Scrabble. For those who never thought competitive Scrabble was a thing or that it had a dark underbelly, it is and it does.

Now, of course, dictionaries have been replaced by the computer and particularly the internet. Among the most useful and colorful sites is the Urban Dictionary, where you can find the definition of words like “yeet,” though not its past tense “yote.” (I still don’t know what the past participle is. “Yoten” is what I recommend, though I’ve never written or spoken a sentence where it was needed.)

The Urban Dictionary proved useful to me once when a character on House, M.D. (okay, it was House) used the term “squish mitten.” I pretty much got the meaning from context but felt a need to verify it, just for accuracy’s sake.

Actually, the internet is a good place to get your lexicography. The language changes constantly and rapidly, so the only place you can really keep up with it is online. Although I think it’s fair to say that “fart” hasn’t changed much, is still spelled and pronounced the same way, and still has the definition that made such an impression on me as a kid.

Where the Weirdos Go

Where do the weirdos go to have fun? “Nowhere,” you may think. “They stay in their parents’ basements, turn pale from lack of sunlight, and debate the ending of the most recent Avengers movie.”

Well, you’re in for a surprise. There’s a place where geeks go to socialize, share, and occasionally even get laid. It’s the science fiction convention (aka “con”). Although there will be people dressed as Klingons and furries (look it up), many of the trappings of an SF con resemble those of any other kind of convention. Panel discussions, book signings, an art exhibit, a dealer’s room, a hospitality suite, parties, music, perhaps a dance. There also may be children’s programming, science guests, and, in the case of the con I plan to go to in May, animals from the Columbus Zoo.

Because I look to the outside observer like a fairly typical middle-aged lady, I get asked a lot by other hotel guests, “Who exactly are these people?”

“They’re mostly harmless,” I reply. (Thereby quoting from one of the classic SF novels, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) And that’s the truth. Even though they may wear authentic Scottish dirks, Viking swords, and lightsabers, they are indeed harmless. They are simply people who lead, as one song says, “Rich Fantasy Lives.” They are the geeks. Nerds. Outsiders. Every variety of misfit.

Including me and my husband. I’ve been going to cons ever since I was a stringer for Cincinnati magazine and was sent to cover one by my editor. There I wrote a 400-word piece and met people who would become my lifelong friends. (The editor had chosen me for the assignment because she remembered that I was a reader of science fiction when she knew me in high school. But I digress.)

The people who attend cons are not all Trekkies or get-a-lifes or people who think they’re from another planet. There are writers (like me) and scientists, but also musicians and career consultants and academics and lawyers and advertising people and zookeepers and all varieties of creative types from folklorists to woodworkers.

Why do they gather in these numbers (up to the thousands), in these hotels, in these tribes? Fellowship. Camaraderie. Stimulation. Understanding. Friendship. Shared interests. Fascinating discussions. Movies and novels and video games. Even love.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been to a con in years. I know that, unlike at a business convention, almost anything I do will be all right. I can hang with friends or sit in the lobby reading. I can join a large, raucous group for dinner or order a pizza in my room. I can attend parties where I know no one or concerts where I know everyone. I can be opinionated and argue or be quiet and learn. Generally, only overt violence and sexual harassment are disallowed.

And I can wear my NASA t-shirt, my Fahrenheit 451 t-shirt, or my Death Star/Ceci n’est pas une lune t-shirt (okay, I’m a language geek too). No biz casual for me. No booth duty while the salespeople power-lunch. The only booths will be in the art exhibit and the room selling shirts, books, CDs, and costuming supplies. (Cosplay is a big thing at this particular convention. Look it up.)

It’s true that after all the business conventions, I get a bit of anxiety around so many people. But the other attendees may too, and they will understand. After all, we are mostly misfits, from the over-intelligent to the socially awkward to the nearly completely unsocialized. But I’ll have a hotel room full of close friends (sharing rooms is a tradition) and a hotel full of potential friends.

So, as the song says, “Don’t be unkind to a wandering mind/Just say it again if we missed it./Some whispering poem/Was calling us home/To a place we know never existed.” Or exists for a weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, anyway.

 

The Ivy League Play Book

The Ivy League is a bastion of serious and stuffy academia. The ubiquitous ivy grows up the stately stone walls and into the students’ brains, curling around all the neurons crammed full of facts and statistics. The student body – and the faculty, for that matter – is so serious that no one cracks a smile. Those who receive a grade lower than an A frequently kill themselves. Everyone knows this.

Everyone is wrong.

My own Ivy League experience was with Cornell, which, if you read Quora, is just barely in the Ivy League. (Actually, we at Cornell used to make fun of Penn.) Cornell’s Hotel and Hospitality School program is one of the best in the world. The engineering school is no slouch either. But I digress. This is about how Cornell at times, like Camelot, is a silly place. It wasn’t a party school by any means, but far above Cayuga’s waters, we found ways to make our own fun back in the day.

Of course, there were the ordinary sorts of pranks. Punch at frat parties was doctored, not with roofies, but with something that made everyone’s pee turn interesting colors. Students swiped cafeteria trays to go sledding down the west campus hill. Occasionally, my friends and I dressed up in formal wear and would visit McDonalds, bringing with us our own tablecloth, glasses, and cutlery.

Then, naturally, there were hijinks in the dorms. We invented a few games to pass the time between study sessions or to take a well-needed break. One was Wall Gymnastics. You would leap in the air, spreading your arms and legs wide and brace yourself between the two walls. Points were given for the highest position and staying up the longest.

Another game was called Commando Putty. This was played with an empty pizza box and the kind of, well, putty-like substance that we all called plasty-tack and used to hang posters until 3M invented their stretchy hanger-dealies. It was like ping-pong, only without a net. Now that I think of it, kneaded erasers would have worked, too, but that was probably what the art and architecture students used. I don’t know if Cornell had a ping-pong team, but they did have an official Tiddly Winks Team, which I joined, though I never lettered in it.

The best diversion of all, though, came when my friends Roberta and Caren asked me to join them in playing a trick on our mutual friend Cyndi, who was – quite unfairly – going out of town for a couple of days. She unwisely left us a key to her room so we could water her plant.

We spent the two days she was gone turning her room sideways. We propped her bed and desk up against the wall. We placed her mirror on the floor and hung her posters sideways on the wall. We used the radiator as a shelf for her stack of books. Double-sided tape and plasty-tack took care of her throw rug and various desk accessories. Our attention to detail was obsessive. We even carefully taped the fringe on her rug to the wall so it would appear to be lying flat. We glued cigarette stubs into her ashtray.

The illusion was brilliant. When she returned from her trip, we all gathered at her door to see her stunned reaction, then gave jaunty waves and said goodbye. (We actually did return to help her restore the room to its rightful orientation.)

Even Cornell itself seemed to participate in the silliness. The university has a famous bell tower (which you can see above) and students were recruited to play the instrument. Usually, it was something inspiring and classical, but once as we trudged toward the dining halls, we heard the immortal strains of “If I Only Had a Brain.”

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the other Ivy League schools made fun of us. We were simply enjoying ourselves too much while they were steadfastly soaking up all that boring education.