This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 9 January 2008.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #16 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Pete Woods, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Salvation Run #3 of 7, by Matthew Sturges, Sean Chen & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #5 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Hulk #1, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • Nova #10, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves, Wellington Diaz & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #1 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • MythAdventures! HC, by Robert Asprin, Phil Foglio & Tim Sale (Airship)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1946, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Paul Azaceta (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #14, by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson & Peter Snejbjerg (Dynamite)
Hulk #1 In the wake of World War Hulk, Marvel launched the fourth Hulk series with a new #1 issue. This time the series’ hook is that there’s a red Hulk, and the mystery is: Who is it? I thumbed through the book and liked Ed McGuinness’s artwork, and also the kicker that this Hulk apparently is using firearms, which is a little unusual for him. So I decided to pick it up.

But closer reading makes it a lot less impressive. First of all, Jeph Loeb’s characterization of Doc Samson and the She-Hulk feels fundamentally off, with both of them seeming to possess hair-trigger personalities and a general air of grumpiness, which doesn’t track with their earlier behavior. Second, it looks like the new Hulk is probably going to be the usual suspect (Rick Jones), which would not only be lame, but would be essentially a rehash of Peter David’s earliest Hulk stories, 20 years ago (!). Lastly, the heroes go to consult with someone who knows something about the Hulk – Bruce Banner, currently under tight lockup. This seems directly at odds with the end of World War Hulk when Banner seemed to be presumed dead or at least in a coma. Not that I expected him to be dead, but how did he get from there to here?

Overall the writing seems extremely sloppy, and the set-up doesn’t seem promising. The art is still nice – McGuinness has developed pretty nicely since his days on Superman/Batman – but this book will have to shape up in a hurry or I’ll likely be done with it by issue #4.

The Twelve #1 I’ve written before about my frustrations with J. Michael Straczynski’s comic books, but I keep buying them anyway, since they always sound interesting. It’s the execution where they fall flat.

The Twelve features 12 obscure heroes from the 1940s who were published by Timely Comics (which later evolved into modern-day Marvel Comics) but who have basically been forgotten (I’d never heard of any of them before now). The premise is that at the end of World War II, superheroes descended on Berlin to help finish off the Nazis, but a random group of 12 heroes were tricked and captured by the Nazis and put into suspended animation so they could be studied. However, the Nazis in question were themselves captured by the Russians and the heroes were forgotten – until a construction project in 2008 unearths them. Shipped back to the US, the government decides to reawaken them, and enlist them as government heroes, a proposal the heroes all accept at the end of the first issue (with the exception of Elektro, who was a nonsentient robot controlled remotely by his now-deceased creator and who therefore couldn’t vote). The first issue ends with a glimpse of the future in which it appears that one of the Twelve will kill another of the Twelve.

The premise is promising, and hopefully having a 12-issue limited series will help Straczynski avoid his achilles heel as a comics writer: He writes long, drawn-out story arcs in which nothing happens for a lengthy period of time (his current work on Thor has this problem in spades, as I’ve said in previous entries). Of course, having a 24-issue limited series didn’t stop his Rising Stars series from being terrible and mostly boring. And the end of this first issue is reminiscent of the first issue of that series, so that’s not very encouraging. But I have hope that this will be a solid and entertaining series, so unless it really goes into the tank early, I’m basically signing up for the whole thing, good or bad.

The series takes place in the Marvel universe, so the heroes have woken up in the wake of the Civil War, which may put an unfortunate spin on the story (since I hate almost everything associated with the Civil War). Few of the heroes have any substantial powers, either, and reportedly the point-of-view character will be the Phantom Detective, who is one of those unpowered heroes (he seems to be in the mold of DC’s Crimson Avenger or Sandman characters from the 40s). So I wonder how this series will tie into the rest of the Marvel universe. Captain America is currently dead, so he can’t come meet the heroes to give them the benefit of his experience, and Bucky (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) has an unusual position among Marvel heroes and I would guess is also not likely to show up. So the heroes apparently will mainly be dealing with the government and the military, groups which Straczynski tends to view with deep cynicism (and a lot less subtlety than, for instance, Robert Kirkman does in Invincible. If Straczynski really wants to make this a good comic, he’ll portray the government less cynically than he usually does.

The story does have one apparent hole in it: The controller of Elektro lost contact with his robot just as the Nazis trapped the heroes, yet he should have known almost exactly where they were, and have been able to have told someone at the time. Did he? If he did, why weren’t they rescued? Did he not? If not, then why not? Explaining this will have to be one of the steps of the series or the whole thing will have a big hole in it.

Anyway, the story shows promise, but it’s the art by Chris Weston and Garry Leach (man, how long as it been since I first saw Leach’s art on Miracleman?) that really makes it worthwhile. I’ve been impressed with Weston’s art the few times I’ve seen it before (for example, in Ministry of Space), and it’s just as good here: Detailed, stylistic, and he has a real facility for drawing faces with distinctive appearances and diverse expressions, as well as making great use of blacks and of whitespace. His weakness is that his poses tend to be a bit stiff (one page of Captain Wonder in action late in this issue unfortunately really exposes this), but superhero comics have a lengthy history of stiff poses (not everyone can be John Buscema, after all), so I think the series can overcome this. (And heck, for all I know that’s the one page that Weston had to pencil under deadline pressure, so maybe it’s an anomaly.)

Despite my reservations, obviously I find The Twelve to have enough depth to be worthy of a lengthy review, so I’m actually looking forward to the rest of the series. If I carp a lot about Straczynski’s comics, it really is because I feel like he ought to be able to do so much better, and that his ideas are too good to be shortchanged by the plodding pace he often employs. So here’s hoping The Twelve is a big exception to the pattern.

MythAdventures HC It’s no secret that Phil Foglio is one of my favoritest comics artists, and his studio just reprinted one of his earliest works in a slick, high-quality hardcover edition. MythAdventures! adapts the first volume of Robert Asprin’s series of humorous novels of the same name. Skeeve is an apprentice to the wizard Garkin, but he’s not very good: He can levitate things and almost light a candle. But when Garkin tries to show Skeeve what wizardry is all about by summoning a demon, an assassin shows up and offs the wizard. The ‘demon’ turns out to be a dimensional traveller named Aahz, who apprentices Skeeve as they set out to avenge Garkin’s death.

That synopsis doesn’t come anywhere close to doing the book justice: This is Foglio at his riotous best, with slapstick humor, rampant wordplay, off-the-wall drawings, and action and adventure. When I read the first series in the 1980s, I don’t think I’d ever read a comic book that made me laugh so hard, and I still giggle when I read it today. That the book has so many silly, off-the-wall elements and yet still tells a coherent story is just amazing.

(The story in the comic book deviates significantly from the original novel, Another Fine Myth. I enjoyed Asprin’s original series quite a bit, but it took a few books for it to really hit its stride; I think the best volume is the fifth, Little Myth Marker. Foglio’s adaptation works within the original book’s basic framework, but he makes it more fully his own work with a very loose adaptation. Overall I think it’s a win, but don’t read one and expect the other to be much like it. They’re quite different.)

The hardcover book is a little pricy (retails for $54.95), but it’s worth it (though you could instead opt for the paperback edition). Either way, I think you’ll find this book to just be a bushel of fun.

(Oh, this collection also features some of Tim Sale’s earliest work, as an inker, long before he made his name drawing Batman stories written by Jeph Loeb, or even Grendel stories written by Matt Wagner. I mostly like him better as an inker than a penciller, but that’s just my personal taste.)

Pokers, We Hosts It

Last night’s poker session at my house went really well! Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun, and things went really smoothly! Well, a couple of people were a little late in arriving, but we still got in over 6 hours of poker – which means I was up until after 2:30!

Our roster consisted of me, Andrew, Adam, James, Daniel, Lynne, Subrata, and Bex, who are mostly people from work. Subrata’s wife Susan and Andrew’s girlfriend Lindsay both showed up, Susan to play games (mainly dominoes) with Debbi, and Lindsay to say hi on her way home after her day.

Needless to say, the kitties were very put out, but all of them eventually got used to things as people stopped arriving and settled down, so they could keep an eye on us. By the end of the night all of the cats were settling down and falling asleep despite the people and the noise. Andrew was a little disappointed that the cats didn’t really want to be held by him, but maybe we’ll see if he wants to sit for them on one of our vacation – that will probably help them warm up a lot.

As usual we played no limit hold ’em, nickel-dime blinds, with $20 or $10 buy-ins. The story for most of the evening was Adam’s impressive run, as he was sitting on about $80 after the first hour or two, mainly at the expense of Daniel and James. He was hitting his hands a lot of the time, and bluffing people off the rest of the time (and then showing his hand to drive people nuts).

I mostly managed to avoid the carnage, because I kept folding hands and then hitting improbable flops or rivers long after I’d folded. For instance, folding 9-To preflop in the face of two raises, and seeing that I’d have flopped the nut straight. Or folding a pair on the flop when overcards came and someone bet, then watching everyone check the hand down when I would have rivered my set. Sheesh. Frustrating, but I think I’m getting better perspective about folding weak hands in bad situations even if it ends up that I should have stayed in – usually, it’s better than I fold. It’s taken a long time for me to get to this point, and overall it saves me money.

Subrata’s heart didn’t seem to be in poker; as he put it, he didn’t get many good hands, and he felt he didn’t play well when he did. That’s the way it goes, and obviously if you’re not into the game, poker is a game to not play. I actually busted him on his second buy-in when he called my preflop raise with my pocket Queens, and pushed all-in on a King-high flop. I thought for a moment, called, and he showed pocket 7s, and I took the pot. (James was extremely surprised that neither of us had a King.)

Subrata, Daniel and Lynne all left the game around 10:30 (Subrata went to join the dominoes game, Daniel and Lynne called it a night), and Bex showed up a little before they left, leaving us with a 5-person game. 5 people is about the smallest game I really enjoy playing; below that the game borders on the random, with lots of autofolded hands preflop or on the flop. (James and Andrew both have said they enjoy fewer people, since everyone can play more hands. I guess I see their point, but I guess I prefer the more standard sort of game.)

Sometime after 11 I went on a run of very good luck. The most memorable hand in this run went like this:

  1. Under the gun I look at pocket 9s, and raise to 40 cents. James folds, and Bex calls.
  2. Adam raises to $1.50. Andrew folds.
  3. I call. Bex gives me a mock-grumpy look – I think she wanted to play Adam heads-up – but calls. The pot is $4.60.
  4. The flop is 7-8-9 of clubs, giving me top set. Adam checks.
  5. I think: Someone could have a flush or a straight, but I think that’s unlikely. More likely is that someone has an overpair, two overcards, and/or a flush or straight draw. For instance, I could easily see one of them holding A-T, A-J, J-J, or two high cards with a club. I think I have the best hand, I want to push out any draws, and I would be happy to win the pot right now, so I bet $5.00.
  6. Bex makes another mock-grumpy sound, and folds.
  7. Adam thinks for a little while, then goes all-in. He has me covered, so he’s effectively betting about $12.00 into a $9.60 pot.
  8. I think again. I doubt Adam has J-T, T-6 or 6-5 (made straights) since he wouldn’t reraise preflopwith most of those hands (he might reraise with 6-5 just to be perverse, but probably not with a middling hand like J-T). He might have a flopped flush, but that seems improbable. I just envision many more ways that I can be ahead than behind, and I still have 7 outs to a full house or better, so I call.
  9. Adam shows pocket Queens – with no clubs – and doesn’t hit his 2-outer and I take the pot.

I soon won another large pot from Andrew, where I had top pair with K-Q in the hole. I’m not quite sure what he was betting at me with, but since he mucked at the showdown I didn’t find out. I infer he was bluffing, and I’d suspected he was either bluffing or had a set. That was kind of weird.

After my run was over (I also won some other decent pots in that span), Andrew went on an amazing run, managing to bust Adam by the end of the evening – quite a feat given his huge stack earlier in the night. Andrew and I were the big winners for the evening, which made me feel good since I think this was my first winning night with this group.

The night was additionally fun because Subrata and Lynne haven’t been regular members of our poker crowd, which meant they added some styles of play which we weren’t used to. Lynne is a relative novice to poker (or so she said), but she ended up winning a few dollars, so it worked out for her.

Vast quantities of beer and candy and potato chips were consumed by the group (mostly beer), and we had a bit of confusion when we lost a $20 bill from the kitty, until we found it having fallen under the table. But mostly the night was all about the poker, and everyone had a lot of fun. So I hope I can host poker sessions a little more often in the future. It’s nice to have people over to my house once in a while.

Getting Some Perspective

So on the one hand, I’ve been astoundingly busy as usual. I came back to work on Monday from my two weeks of vacation and have been hip-deep in everything, so much so that I spent the morning thinking, “Wow, it’s Friday already? How’d that happen?” It hasn’t been a bad busy, just a “no time to concentrate on other stuff while at work” busy. Which some people might argue is how work is supposed to be anyway. 🙂

There was no frisbee on Monday due to the rain drenching the fields. But I did go to gaming on Wednesday, and tonight I’m hosting a poker game, which looks like it’s going to be a full house. So that should be fun. Hopefully I won’t come home and developing a splitting headache like I did last night, which Debbi thinks was because I didn’t have any caffeine (at all) until dinnertime yesterday.

So I’ve been running around and getting frazzled with all of that. Meanwhile I learned that a good friend of mine was diagnosed with leukemia (specifically chronic lymphocytic leukemia).

And boy does that put things in perspective.

Jim and I have been friends for about 15 years now (we met through an APA when I was in grad school, and he was instrumental in my attending science fiction conventions), though I think we’ve only seen each other once since I moved to California, at Worldcon Boston. Which is, you know, not often enough. So now I’m thinking I should make time this year to go visit him and his family (especially since his daughter apparently doubts my existence), or at least, y’know, call more often.

It’s thinks like that which make you put the other things in your life into perspective. Not in the “at least I don’t have that problem” way, but in the “some things are more important than figuring out which bugs I need to fix today, like my friend, he’s more important” way.

Charles Stross: Halting State

Review of the novel Halting State by Charles Stross.

Charles Stross’ novels have wandered all over the speculative fiction map, from fantasy/adventure to space opera to really-high-tech space opera, and now to the near future in Halting State. The book takes place in 2018, mostly in Scotland which has seceded from the United Kingdom but is still part of the European Union. The book opens with a theft at a Hayek Associates, but it’s not an ordinary theft: Hayek runs central banks for several MMORPGs, storing virtual equipment and loot securely for their virtual owners who are off adventuring elsewhere. Someone has managed to attack the company through the game and make off with a large volume of virtual assets, essentially corrupting the live database Hayek keeps in trust for its clients, and thus putting its reputation and market value at risk. The marketing director at Hayek panics and calls the local constabulary, which is how Sue, one of the three protagonists in Halting State, gets involved, as the officer who takes the call.

Hayek’s insurance company learns of the crime, and worries not only about its liability, but about its own reputation. It sends a cadre of officers to Hayek to find out what happened (and cover their asses), including the second protagonist, Elaine, who fears that she’s being positioned to provide cover for her bosses. As part of the outing, her company hires an outside programmer to help them get oriented to Hayek’s business from a technical side, and they end up with Jack, who’s recently unemployed and had a run-in with the law while on vacation in Holland, but who really knows networked computer games.

The catch is that the theft at Hayek is actually a blind for several other things going on, one of them much larger and indicative of how espionage games might be played between the major powers ten or thirty years from now, and our heroes get caught in the middle of it – along with a whole bunch of other people.

Halting State starts slow and takes a while to get moving, although once it does there are lots of little clever bits: Ways gamers put their skills to use in a world where the virtual and the actual can be blurred, as well as the disconnect between people who only deal with the “real world” and the stakes in a virtual game where virtual assets and reputations have real value. Stross has clearly thought about these issues pretty carefully, and is familiar with both the techies and the non-techies so he can portray both types of people believably.

The book’s biggest flaw is that a lot of it feels superfluous. Sue’s presence seems like a side-issue, as she rarely interacts with Elaine or Jack, and she only seems to be there to witness a couple of key scenes in the book. She doesn’t really add much value, herself. Mostly the book is Elaine’s and Jack’s, and it seems like Stross is maneuvering them to be a “team” in the same way that Rachel and Martin are a team in Stross’ earlier novels Singularity Sky and its sequel, which makes me wonder if he has sequels to Halting State in mind. (Honestly, I’d rather read more novels in the higher-tech and more interesting Singularity Sky universe.) There’s also a lot of running around, especially the big event that Sue witnesses when the EU equivalent of the Men in Black show up to try to solve the case, which effort ends in chaos but to little effect on the story. Basically, the story feels padded.

It’s also told in the second person, which at first seems like a silly little conceit, but eventually I realized that it’s evoking the feel of the text adventure games of my own youth, which are often told in this voice (“You’re standing on a road. It’s a sunny day.” “Go north”, types the player. “You’re standing at the entrance to a castle.”). The voice wears thin after a while in any event, so I still found it to be a silly little conceit. Stross likes to play with style and structure, which I usually appreciate, but he casts his net so wide that I often find his experiments to be very hit-or-miss.

I’m not generally a big fan of near-future SF, usually because I don’t find the tech level to be fantastic enough to really thrill me. Stross does his level best in Halting State to wow the reader with network security concerns, cutting-edge computer hardware, shifting geopolitical strategies, and novel ways to use resources on the network (such as the humans who are logged into it), but the story ends up being merely okay, and the climax felt like a letdown. I think too much finesse left the story feeling a little ethereal, especially since a few of the scenes of maximum excitement seemed like they didn’t move the story forward (although it’s entirely possible that I’m just not seeing a piece of the big picture).

It’s a nice try, though.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 4 January 2008.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #17 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen & Ron Lim (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #4 of 8, by Matthew Sturges & Stephen Jorge Segovia, and Steve Gerber, Justiniano & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Metal Men #5 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest #3 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Powers: Secret Identity TPB vol 11, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • The End League #1, by Rick Remender, Mat Broome & Sean Parsons (Dark Horse)
  • Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)
The End League #1 The premise of The End League is that in 1962 a catastrophe devastated the Earth, but also bestowed super-powers upon 1 in 1000 people. But unlike in ordinary comic books, very few people felt driven to use their abilities altruistically, rather they used them for personal wealth and power, effectively becoming super-villains. 45 years later, the wars among these villains have turned the world into armed camps where shelter and food are the most prized possessions. The miraculous Astonishman was the superhero who was tricked into causing the catastrophe, and he’s devoted his life since then to assembling heroes to restore order and justice to the world. And the heroes are losing, badly. This series may well be the final story of these heroes, The End League.

Writer Rick Remender – whose name I’ve heard, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything he’s written – masterminds this series, which I guess is an ongoing one, although how long such a grim premise can be milked I don’t know. His script is appropriately downbeat, narrated by Astonishman, who is depressed and fatalistic, and who blames himself for everything that’s happened. I’m a little less impressed with the cast of heroes, who are archetypes based on heroes from various eras of superhero comics history, and honestly I get a little tired of the same old archetypes being used for these independent stories. Still, other than Astonishman there’s not enough characterization here to draw any conclusions, so there’s plenty of space for it to end up with fleshed-out characters rather than archetypes. (Ultimately this was a big part of what made Alan Moore’s Watchmen successful: Although loosely based on the Charlton Comics heroes, the characters were all individual and not archetypal.)

The art by Mat Broome and Sean Parsons is similarly dark, evocative of Jae Lee’s art on the Sentry series of a decade or so ago at Marvel, with intricate colors by Wendy Broome adding to the gloomy atmosphere, It’s perfectly appropriate for the story at hand, and in particular Broome seems to have the artistic fundamentals to make the book look right – he’s not some warmed-over Image Comics artist, the likes of which would make this book look really silly.

The 90s and 2000s have seen a few different books trying to tell “the last superhero story”. Remender says The End League is inspired by The Lord of the Rings and The Dark Knight Returns. The exact flip side of The End League is Bill Willingham’s Pantheon, about what happens after the good guys win. It was pretty good, and also supported by fine artwork (and can now be downloaded for free). I don’t think anyone’s yet told the definitive story of this sort, probably because once the superhero cat is out of the bag it’s pretty hard to put it back in. As Dr. Manhattan said in Watchmen, “Nothing ever ends.”

By that light, The End League might be a story with only one possible conclusion. Remender’s task is to either make the conclusion satisfying, or to find some other way to thread this particular needle. It’s a daunting challenge, to be sure. This first issue is all set-up, with a single mission which goes (of course) horribly wrong, ending on a cliffhanger. To really work, I think the book’s going to have the break out of the routine of a group of heroes underground against overwhelming oppressive forces (since we’ve all read that story many times before) and do something unexpected.

I’ll be back next month to see what direction the book’s headed in.

Stormy Weather

Northern California is being hit by a serious of major storms, the first of which rolled in on Thursday night. Tens of thousands of people are without power – especially along the coast – and freeways and bridges have been shut down at times, in part thanks to fierce winds blowing over some semi trucks.

And us here in the south bay? It’s not been so bad, actually. Debbi went to work on Friday (I took the week off) and seemed to avoid the worst of the traffic snarls (which all seemed to be in the north bay), except for hitting one backup at the very end of her drive home. I was worried that our back yard might flood at times, but it turned out that the rain was just coming down slightly faster than it could be absorbed into the ground, but it never got any higher than when I first got concerned. It helps that we haven’t had much rain recently, so the ground is able to suck up a lot of water. Palo Alto’s Creek Monitor shows that the creeks are far from full, too.

It got windy enough to blow down some small branches (or large branches, in bbum’s case) and a sales sign at a nearby condo complex, but that’s about it. We had a couple of power outages Friday morning, the first before I got up, and the second while I was out and about, both of which I noticed only because clocks were flashing when I got back.

Really, the worst we’ve suffered is that our cable TV is out today. I called Comcast, got put on hold for 25 minutes, and gave up. If it persists, I’ll try again tomorrow. It’s a bit of a bummer to be missing the football playoffs, but you can’t have everything in a rainstorm.

And the rain didn’t stop me from being productive the last two days: I sold a whole bunch of CDs to Rasputin Music, and a box of books to BookBuyers. We took down and put away our Christmas lights from outside today, too. And of course I made my weekly comic book run. Tomorrow we might drop some stuff off in our storage unit.

It sounds like it’s going to keep raining through Wednesday or later, which probably means no frisbee on Monday. But if yesterday was the worst of it, then it should be okay.

Especially if our TV comes back on.

Dens of Probability

“Subrata’s Den of Probability” was what my friend Lee once called Subrata‘s Wednesday gaming night. I still chuckle about that.

As if New Year’s Eve wasn’t enough gaming, yesterday was another day full of games. I took the rest of this week off to finish resting up from my busy fall, and I’ve been glad that I did. It’s hard to believe my vacation is almost over, though!

After having lunch with Debbi yesterday I went over to Lucky Chances and played in a 3/6 Hold ‘Em game. The first hour I was getting slowly bleeded off with mostly-crappy cards. Other than QJo, most of my best hands were things like K4 and A3 (and more of the former than the latter). I won one small pot in my big blind, but that was about it. Having whittled my $100 buy-in down to about $30 I bought another rack of chips, since I didn’t want to leave after only an hour.

My day turned around, though. I drew pocket Queens and raised to see a T-9-3 flop. I kept betting as the turn and river were both 3s and I won the pot against a guy with a 9. Later on I played QT and hit top pair and got called down to the river – by two people both playing Q9, so my kicker won it for me. I had a repeat of this pot later on when I flopped 2 pair with JT, and beat a player who had 2 pair with J9. I also managed to river my flush with AKs (in a pot that was big enough for me to keep chasing). Overall I won back my buy-in and won a last pot before I left to finish up $65.

Overall I’m slowly crawling back to even for my poker-playing “career”. But since my total losses at my lowest point were less than the cost of a Playstation 3, it’s not like I’m betting the farm here. Mostly it feels good to think that I’m at least figuring out low-limit Hold ‘Em. (I could still stand to be more aggressive, though.)

I also spent some time watching a 7-Card Stud table while waiting for a seat, and I’m curious about learning how to play that variety of poker. But maybe I should stay away. 🙂

In the evening it was off to the Den of Probability where I played a game of Russian Rails against Subrata and Susan. My game stalled out mid-way through thanks to a horrifying run of being hit by disasters, and Subrata ended up crushing the both of us. But that’s the way it goes. I suspect RR is better with 4 or more people – not uncommon for the Empire Builder series of games.

We had a large number of people there last night, and the rest of the folks played Munchkin and then a logic game called Zendo. Zendo seemed pretty neat at first glance, but as it went on it seemed that it was too easy to come up with puzzles which were very difficult to solve. Arguably some of us perhaps outsmarted ourselves by trying to come up with solutions that were more clever than what the puzzlemaster intended. So the jury’s still out on that one. It is a pretty simple and clever game, though.

I’m feeling a little gamed out now, though, and will probably skip a friendly poker game being suggested for tonight. Plus, I feel like I’m coming down with a cold. So taking it a little easy is probably for the best.

Ringing In

As we usually do, we spent last night at Mark and Yvette’s for their annual New Year’s Eve Drunken Scrabble Party. They’ve recently moved, so this was also a housewarming party for them, which meant house tours for the rest of us. They’re renting an interesting house whose first floor was built in the 1930s (or so), and a second floor was added in the 1980s. Since they’re on a hill, this means the house has a large number of staircases, including a staircase down from the second floor to the guest bedroom/office. It reminds me of some of the interesting organic architecture you sometimes find in New England homes. Anyway, they seem pretty happy with it, and they’re still trying to figure out where everything will go in any event.

Gaming was pretty successful for me (and fun too). We played two games of Apples to Apples and I won one. Then we played two games of Blokus and I won one (and came in second in the other; Debbi ended up using all of her tiles – a good feat – and won that one), and then I played a game of Scrabble with Mark, Subrata and Susan and won that one by 2 points over Susan. Debbi helped a little when I got stuck with all vowels and a blank since I’m not very familiar with the esoteric “Q” words, but I also managed to play “blitz” for the first word of the game, which was 52 points, so I was happy about that. I’m not a very good Scrabble player, compared to Mark and Subrata, at least.

Susan got in one of the best lines of the night, playing “queer” for a big score just after midnight, and observing “2008 has been a much better Scrabble year than 2007 so far!”

We drank plenty of champagne, but were pretty well dried out by the time we left (after 1 am) and made our way home through the relatively busy streets.

This morning we slept in, finally getting up after 10 am. I’ve become hooked on scone mixes from Iveta, so Debbi had some scones in the oven while I was brewing coffee and she was in the shower – when the power went out. It flickered briefly and then went out again, so I knew it wasn’t because of a circuit breaker tripping, and a call to a neighbor confirmed that. Happy New Year – now sit in the dark and cold! I have no idea what happened (I couldn’t find any info about outages on PG&E‘s web site, and their phone number just told me that they were aware of the outage, but not the cause), but the power came on a little under an hour later, which to be fair is a pretty good response time for a utility failure. So at least things are back to normal.

Now to figure out what we’ll be up to for the rest of the day. Plenty of time – it’s only 1 pm, right?