I am into air sports (5)

I like to think of myself as a realistic nostalgia-lover. When I think of the “good old days” of youth, I can do so thinking that, yeah, it was nice not having as many responsibilities and worries and physical shortcomings, but now I have internet and fancy video games and money and live in a city with a decent mall — all things I didn’t have when I was growing up in the ’80s.

I still have a lot of things from those days, including a good number of issues of old Games magazines, which always trigger that nostalgia wave when I look through my incomplete collection. (For a more complete collection, check out this link.) And let me tell you, when a new issue of Games arrived in the Winter household around, say, 1983, it was an event. Four to six (depending on how many people were living there) people competing over a bounty of word puzzles made for an feeding frenzy akin to jackals at a watering hole in the savannah. We had around 10 TV channels, so each magazine was a gold mine of entertainment that we wouldn’t see again for another two months (or one month — they frequently changed their frequency).

As the youngest of those six, I was often the last to get my hands on the magazine unless I begged and pleaded really hard, which might let me at least do some of the puzzles alongside older family members. I can actually remember one specific incident of doing a puzzle with my sister Stacy at the dinner table and one answer was COATRACK. We asked each other, “What’s a coa track? What’s a coa and why is it on a track?” It took us a while to grasp that it was a “coat rack.”

Our household subscription petered out sometime in the late ’80s, but my Mom bought me a subscription in the mid-’90s, which I kept up for a few more years. The same publisher also produced a magazine called Games World of Puzzles, which cut all the articles and color pages — which I never cared for as much as a kid — for just compilations of pencil-dulling world puzzles.

Last week, I was looking through one of my shelves of magazines and came across the January 2005 issue of World of Puzzles. I didn’t remember buying it, and as I leafed through it, I was amazed to see that it was completely pristine. I had apparently bought this magazine 16 years ago and never worked on a single puzzle within it. It was like finding a mint vintage baseball or Magic card except, well, it wasn’t worth thousands of dollars.

I grabbed that and two issues of Games — the Feb/Mar 1987 issue from my childhood and Feb 1999 issue from my later life — and took them downstairs to peer through when I was taking a break from whatever nonsense I was watching on my computer. As I flipped the pages of the 1987 issue, I came across an unbelievable artifact.

As I described on Twitter, this was a game I created that was loosely based on something that happened in an episode of Transformers (or maybe G.I. Joe?). It was some kind of vehicular combat game (I was a big Car Wars fan) with a few different types of vehicles with different stats that ran around an arena and I guess blew each other up. (The map is still MIA.) I had no idea this was hidden away between the pages of that magazine; it’s probably been lying there, undisturbed, for over 30 years, and I was gobsmacked to discover it again after all that time.

But the magazine held even more treasures. Page 33 contained that issue’s cryptic crosswords, which are devilishly hard concoctions whose clues require clever wordplay and an innate knowledge of the kinds of tricks they play on you. I never understood them as a kid, and even well into my teen and adult years, still struggled to grasp them. When I actually sat down to attempt, and eventually complete, my first one a few years ago, I announced it via Facebook and my family members congratulated me on my achievement.

Because they usually got to the magazines before I did, many of the completed, or partially completed, puzzles in the magazines are a kind of time capsule for my family. One puzzle is definitely in Stacy’s hand, and I’ve started on completing another that I think was begun by my mother. Most distinct is the handwriting of my brother Chris, who passed away in late 2019. I don’t think I’ve looked at a Games since then. And the first cryptic crossword on page 33 was partially completed by him.

One of the clues, at the bottom of the puzzle, is filled in by my hand, though I don’t know when that happened. The same was true for one clue in the otherwise empty second puzzle. I stared at that first puzzle for a minute or two, rolling back and forth in my head if I should try and complete it. A part of me wanted to, to finish what Chris had started, but another part said that if he couldn’t complete it any more, then I didn’t want to do it for him. It’s a little silly, perhaps, to get emotional like this over a crossword puzzle, but that was where I at.

Another thought entered my mind: When had Chris half-done this puzzle? In early 1987, he was living in Minneapolis, as he had been since 1981, and was only a few months away from getting married in July, so he likely didn’t come home for a significant amount of time that summer. Had it arrived in late December or early January and he’d gotten to it over Christmas break? Did we bring it down on a trip to Minneapolis (maybe even for the wedding) and he’d picked through it then? I’ll probably never know, and that’s going to bug me.

In any case, I elected to take a crack at the second puzzle, starting it up on Friday night. I was only a few clues into it when I read the warning at the top of the page, which I had seen countless times in copies of Games that featured two cryptic crosswords but had momentarily forgotten: “Puzzle 2 is harder than Puzzle 1.” That first puzzle I had done a few years ago was definitely a Puzzle 1, but I realized I was in too deep to back out now.

Things were definitely different than how they were in 1987, for both good and bad. The good was that I knew the tricks of cryptic crosswords now and could breeze through the easy clues with the brainpower of a man who had been doing puzzles like this for years. The downside of all those years, though, was that my eyes strained considerably to make out the tiny numbers in the grid — is that 16 Down or 18 Down? — while leaning in to peer at it for any length of time was a detriment to my back. 13-year-old Jason definitely didn’t have these kinds of issues.

Here are examples of some of the clues, and answers, from that puzzle. Keep in mind that you really need to know the ways these things are solved and the specific tricks they use, to have any chance of solving them. It also helps to have the puzzle partially sorted so you can fit letters into some of the blanks as you try to hash out individual clues.

13 Across: “Explain Erté print badly” (9). Anytime you see “badly” or “jumbled” or “wrecked” or some similar word that means disarray, it’s almost certainly an anagram. In this case, the letters of “Erté print” can be rearranged into INTERPRET, which means “Explain.”

3 Down: “Barks ‘OK!’ about record album” (5). “About” or “in” or “contains” often means that it’s one word contained inside another. In this case OK means YES, which is “about” — i.e., surrounding — “record album” or LP. YE-LP-S, or YELPS, which is “barks.”

22 Down: “Press for extract of raisins is taken” (6). With this clue, you have to “extract” the solution from “raisins is taken” — in other words, the solution is hidden within that. That solution is INSIST, which is “press for,” found within “raisINS IS Taken.”

14 Across: My favorite clue in the puzzle: “Encouraging corruption, Mrs. Péron broke a promise to the West” (12). Hoo boy! “Mrs. Péron” is obviously Eva or Evita. The rest, though? Think about going “to the West.” That means you’re going from right to left on a map. If you read something right to left, it would be reversed. Now, what’s another word for “broke a promise”? It’s “RENEGED.” So “Mrs. Péron broke a promise” is “EVITA RENEGED,” which when read from right to left is “DEGENERATIVE,” or “encouraging corruption.” Now you’ll never forget that fact, and maybe you’re also singing, “Don’t cry for me, cryptic crossword.”

(As you might have already guessed, the title of this post is also a cryptic crossword clue I made up, one that I hope shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out! I’ve included the explanation at the bottom. Sorry to those of you who thought I was earning a pilot’s license or something.)

I picked away at it some more on Saturday, getting about halfway done with it, and then on Sunday … well, I don’t want to get too deep into things, but I got a little depressed and angry and just wanted to get away. So I picked up my 34-year-old magazine, the relic of a simpler time when I was more easily entertained, left my computer behind, and set myself up on the deck of our house and finished the last half of the puzzle on about the only sub-90-degree-and-also-not-raining day we’ve had for a week. I had my phone to play some music, and occasionally look something up*, but that was the extent of my technology. I might as well have been back in International Falls, scribbling in the pages of the magazine while sitting at the picnic table we had in our backyard. And the extra light from the sun definitely helped my not-so-great eyes.

(* I used my computer and phone only lightly while doing the crossword, to maintain a more old-fashioned, 1987-style approach to puzzle-solving. I used it to look up the one clue that I had no idea about — a clue about “bandleader Brown,” who turned out to be “Les” — or to look up things that I already knew about but needed more information for, the equivalent, I felt, of looking at something in a proper dictionary, encyclopedia, or atlas that I might have had on hand back then.)

After maybe an hour and a half, it was done … almost. One clue still eluded me, though I had half its letters filled in. I thought I knew what it was, but I couldn’t work out how to get it. After about 10 minutes of just pondering over that one clue, I finally packed it in and went back inside. A few hours later, I opened it up again and it came to me. I filled in the final four squares and my second ever cryptic crossword was complete!

There are more puzzles in that Games magazine that I’ve started to work on, as well as in that World of Games, which I’ve finally befouled with pencil marks. As I do work on them, I’ll think of family and simpler — though admittedly not always better — times when just getting a magazine in the mail was cause for celebration for a whole family and part of a pastime we could all enjoy without the need for an internet connection.

“I am into air sports” (5). I = “ME,” air = “GAS.” “Into” means to insert one into the other: GA-ME-S, or GAMES, which is “sports.”

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December 15, 1990

30 years ago today, December 15, 1990, was a Saturday. I don’t need to look this up on a calendar to confirm it. It’s something I just know without even having to think about it. It was the middle day of what I long considered the worst weekend of my life.

I was a senior in high school in 1990-91, and I most definitely wasn’t one of the popular kids. I won’t say I was abused or didn’t have friends, or that my home situation was problematic in any way, but I rarely felt truly happy in those days either, due in large part to my social awkwardness. I was skinny, wore glasses, got great grades, played board and video games in my basement, didn’t have a girlfriend, so yeah: classic “nerd.”

Looking back on it 30 years later, I naturally realize that my problems weren’t so bad, but back then I felt like I’d be alone forever. I got depressed from time to time, as nearly all teenagers do, but it rarely got any farther than sad, self-pitying thoughts. But one weekend, they got very sad.

Me, senior year of high school

December 14, 1990 was a Friday, and, like most Fridays during the winter, there was a high school hockey game. Most of the time when I attended one, I sat with my small circle of friends, but none of them attended this one. I don’t know what it was that triggered me that night – I think I’d had some other issue bothering me from the school day – but seeing other people hanging out with friends and having a good time drove me over the edge. I felt utterly alone and forgotten and insignificant. Would anyone even care if I wasn’t at the game? If I wasn’t anywhere?

At some point I wound up in the restroom, crying. After I managed to clean myself up, I came out bumped into one of my cousins, who asked me if something was wrong. I’d never known him to be particularly empathetic, so the fact that he noticed that I wasn’t right must have been a testament to how messed up I was. I muttered “yeah” or something similarly non-committal and shuffled past him.

After the game, I took a long walk home, thinking about … well, whatever. The next day, Saturday the 15th, I went out for a walk three more times. On Sunday the 16th, I went out for two walks. Maybe those individual figures are off, but I can specifically remember going for six walks over that weekend, and that’s how it all best adds up. I was depressed and wanted time alone to myself to think about all my failures and shortcomings and it didn’t even bother me that, well, it was December in northern Minnesota. Looking back, I see that the daily highs for those three days were around the freezing mark, which is borderline tropical for that time of year in that part of the country. (Today’s high is 15, with a low of -1.) Like my cousin on Friday night, my parents noticed how much I was out and asked me if everything was fine, and I gave the same meaningless answer.

It was on one of those walks, on December 15, I made a pact with myself. I was sad and tired and didn’t want to go on any more, but I was almost done with high school and I’d been told that college was better, so maybe I would give that a shot? And if that didn’t work out, well …

The deal I made was that if I wasn’t feeling better exactly five years later, on December 15, 1995, I would kill myself.

I don’t know if I would have had the courage to go through with it. And I never got past the initial thought phase to figure out how I would carry it out. As it turned out, college life was better, and although I moved in pretty much the same geeky circles as before, something about getting a fresh start, away from high school, worked for me. I won’t say those five years were always great, but I never felt as low as I did that weekend in December of 1990.

When December 15, 1995 rolled around, I evaluated where I was and resolved not to go through with it. I had just graduated six months before and was working a temp job. More importantly, I was talking with people at a game company (Decipher) to potentially secure employment there. I interviewed in January, started in February, and on it went. On I went.

(As it turned out, one of my high school classmates – indisputably one of the “popular” kids, and one who grated on my nerves for the better part of my four years – did kill himself just before Thanksgiving 1991.)

I never forgot that date, though, and I acutely remember it on year multiples of five, like today. I was certain that I’d bought a newspaper from December 15, 1995 and kept it but I couldn’t find it among the handful of papers I’ve kept through the years. I do have one from December 15, 2000, that I kept to mark the 10-year anniversary of my bad weekend. (Another notable one is a paper from July 2001 that I bought on a trip home. I didn’t notice until about year later that it contained a report of an interview with Osama bin Laden where he threatened imminent attacks on the United States.)

I’ve never told anyone about all this, especially not this fully. Don’t worry, I’m not in any danger of relapsing, not today or any other. Life isn’t spectacular right now (2020’s understatement of the year…), but I’m not looking to end things either. Hell, I want to live another hundred years, if only so I can keep telling all you kids how tough we had it in my day, back when we had to memorize phone numbers and get up to change the channel. Maybe by then, the Vikings will have won a Super Bowl or the Twins will have won another playoff game.

And if you’re feeling like I did that cold weekend in 1990 and thinking about doing something about it … well, I’m not going to tell you that yes, I guarantee things will get better. But they might, as they did for me. I’d at least suggest not making any drastic decisions at your lowest point. Maybe making a “deal” like I did is for the better, giving you time to reflect and improve your life. And if you reach that deadline and you’re still thinking about taking that step, try talking to someone. Take them up on their offer if they ask you how you’re doing, like my cousin and parents tried to do.

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A Lifetime Of Sports (And Other) Games: Remembering Chris

I come from a family of gamers. Mom played board games with us kids all the time: Monopoly, Life, Scrabble, and several other lesser-known titles. My brother Dave was the first to get into Dungeons & Dragons, drawing in me and my sister Stacy. Dad didn’t play as much, but when he did he could beat us all at Trivial Pursuit and, even after suffering an electrical accident that let him with limited mobility in his dominant hand, he was still surprisingly good at Pictionary.

Those are all games you’ve heard of. My oldest brother, Chris, was also a gamer, but of a different breed. Arguably the biggest sports fan of our family and himself a three-sport athlete in high school, he had a passion for sports simulation games. As best as I can recall, the first one I played with him was Statis Pro Major League Baseball. It was the 1978 card set, and I was probably 6 or 7 when I first played it. I knew next to nothing about baseball but I guess I wanted to just do something with my older brother, who would graduate high school and go off to college while I was heading to the third grade. I was so young that a six-letter word with four vowels confounded me, and I mispronounced the game as “Major Legal Baseball,” which was what we called it even years later, after my reading skills had improved.

To this day, I’m still a little hazy on how we managed to not only play that game but the many others I remember fondly from my childhood. Like many college students, Chris was home for summers and holidays, and I guess we spent some of that time playing all manner of sport simulation games. It helped that many of them basically played themselves, helping to compensate for my utter lack of strategic thinking at that age. We did a “league” of sorts one year and kept standings, and I recall being 3-11 against him in an MLB one, probably making silly managerial decisions like bunting with my big hitters and making questionable bullpen moves. I do remember one big moment, though, when 1978 George Foster hit three home runs for me in a game, turning me into a low-key fan of the Big Red Machine and Foster in particular.

To facilitate things, Chris wrote lineups on sheets of pink note paper and attached them to all the teams in our edition of Statis Pro. Later, for Sports Illustrated Pro Football, he’d come up with a kind of AI for calling one of the game’s six defensive plays; you would look at the down and distance on a chart and roll the dice to figure out what play the defense would call, thus allowing you to play solo as the offense.

Those two games – 1978 Statis Pro Baseball and 1969 SI Pro Football – were probably what we played the most in our youth. We – and by that, I mean possibly I – lost the dice for Football early on, and so Chris got a set of six-sided dice – probably stolen from Dave’s D&D cache – wrapped them in masking tape, and wrote the numbers on them. In that game, there was a tens die, numbered 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, and two ones dice, which were, I think, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 0, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4. Put them together and you got a number between 10 and 39, with 19 being the rarest – and usually best – result.

I’ve probably got a memory or two of pretty much every game we played back in those days. Here’s what I think is a comprehensive list of the rest:

Statis-Pro Basketball (1979-80). Since I was “Jay” and also liked numbers, I gravitated toward the Philadelphia 76ers and their star, Julius “Dr. J” Erving. I also liked the name “Maurice Cheeks.” It didn’t hurt that the 76ers were really good, which meant I could actually win with them.

Strat-O-Matic Baseball (1980). I can only remember that he owned the 1980 set because I remember seeing Willie Wilson’s card saying he had 705 AB.

Strat-O-Matic Hockey (1981-82). This was Wayne Gretzky’s insane 212-point season, which meant that if you played as the Oilers, you usually won.

Title Bout (1981). The game’s copyright date was 1981 (or maybe 1980), but it featured not only boxers from the current day but throughout history in all weight classes, so you could match up Joe Louis vs. Muhammad Ali if you wanted. I actually set up my own “league” of sorts, focusing on, of all things, flyweights from throughout the 20th century, so I have an unusual amount of name recognition for guys like Pone Kingpetch, Chartchai Chionoi, and Pascual Perez. I think my plan was to start with the flyweights and work my way all the way up to heavyweights but, you know.

Edit: A few hours after posting, I was reminded of Thinking Man’s Golf, a game made by 3M, of all companies, in 1966. It came as a box wrapped in a two-sided course that you could use a dry-erase marker on. You chose your club and lined up a little grid full of holes for each shot, which — depending in dice rolls — would go a certain distance forward and to either side. You marked where it landed with your marker, lined up your next shot and did it again until you got to the green, whereupon another chart would tell you how many putts you needed to put it in the hole.

Chris left some of these games at home when he went off to college, so I spent a lot of time with them growing up. I didn’t start watching football until 1989 and baseball until 1991, and never really got into basketball, hockey, or boxing, so it’s somewhat amazing that I spent as much time with them as I did. I suppose my love of numbers overrode my disdain for sports. I also got two gifts – birthday or Christmas, I don’t recall – and I think they were both from Chris: the 1986 Strat-O-Matic Football set and Sports Illustrated Pro Golf. For the former, I set up a league with a high school friend, Ted, and for the latter I re-created the Masters time and again, playing out a full four rounds with the game’s 50 or so golfers.

(By the way, as I get to this point, I’m Googling images of all these games, and finding that many have multiple brands attached to them. “Sports Illustrated” games, in particular, seem to also be branded as “Statis Pro” or “Avalon Hill.” I’m sticking with just calling them what I best remember.)

As the ’80s wore on, and Chris stopped visiting home as often, we didn’t get as many chances to play. If we did, it was more often when the family visited him rather than the other way around. In the latter part of the decade, I can remember playing some more advanced games with him. He got the 1988 Pursue the Pennant set, and it was light-years beyond the earlier baseball games we’d played. Also, it had a cool box where you’d slide in a backdrop of whatever stadium you were playing in. He also got Statis Pro Football (I don’t remember the year), which was also considerably more detailed than the earlier games. I think we only played one game – maybe not even a whole game – and I’m still upset I didn’t get to play it more. I might have to eBay that one. I also think we might have played Strat-O-Matic Basketball; browsing images on Google, it looks vaguely familiar, but I can’t be sure.

When I went off to college in the ’90s, and then moved to Virginia in the latter part of the decade, we saw each other even less, but now that I had my own money to spend – and was actually into watching sports – I indulged in the hobby he had implanted in my mind. Mom got me the 1991 Pursue the Pennant set and I wrote a computer program to help me track the stats of the Twins as I went through a season. Pursue the Pennant was my favorite of all the baseball sims, and I was sad to see them go under in the early ’90s, but a similar game, Triple Play Baseball – made by one of the co-creators of PtP – came around shortly thereafter and I snagged the 1997 set.

I found a game called Pro Football Fantasm at a convention and bought the 1991 set, and while it had its good points, it might have been the only simulation game I played that was too complex. Still, I managed to get a few games in with my college friend Dan, re-using the excellent scoreboard from the old SI Football game. I bought my own Strat-O-Matic sets for baseball (1995) and hockey (1998-99?), using the latter to set up a league with friends in Virginia. Around 1996, I also bought an APBA sampler package that had one team each for its baseball and football games. I’d heard for years that APBA was inferior, even to the somewhat lacking Strat-O-Matic, but after playing it I found that … yeah, it was. That found the trash bin very quickly.

As computers and the internet became more ubiquitous, I found myself playing more in online leagues. I joined a Strat-O-Matic league with people I met on a bulletin board in 1992, and it was a 20-game season that the commissioner ran by hand. For the next year, he got the computer version of the game and we played a longer season – 81 games, I think. After that, we played full 162-game seasons, and I still have printouts of some of the league stats from those years in a folder somewhere. 20-some years later, I’m still not over one particular fringe player who had a great card that another manager drafted and who led him to the championship over my 114-win team.

When I moved to Wisconsin in 2002, I lived just an hour and a half south of Chris and his family, so I would often go up and visit for holidays. That was when I managed to get Chris (and, most of the time, his son Nick) into some of my genre of games, from Settlers of Catan and Memoir ’44 (which he bought from me when I was looking to divest myself of some games during my move in 2017) to CCGs like Lord of the Rings and a weird indie game we were fond of called Baseball 3010. And, before I had read any of the books or seen the movies, they provided my first exposure to the Harry Potter world by introducing me to the CCG. I remember Nick laughing at me when I pronounced Hermione as “Her-me-own.”

(One random board gaming note that I can’t figure a better place for … at some point when I was living at home, maybe in my early teen years, a few of us played the Game of Life. On one of the last spaces on the board, there’s a reference to becoming a “Millionaire Tycoon.” Just like with “Major Legal Baseball,” I mispronounced this as “Millionaire Typhoon,” which prompted Chris to leap out of his chair and blow everyone’s money around. I’m not prone to exaggeration, so believe me when I say that I literally can’t not smile every time I think of this.)

After I finally got a decent computer, I picked up the 2004 edition of Diamond Mind Baseball – made by the other co-creator of Pursue the Pennant – and ran a league of my own. Chris was in it, along with Nick (who came up with the best team name in the league: the Knoxville Knucklers). That came after I’d moved to Charlotte; while I was still in Wisconsin, Chris spent a night in my apartment. I remember it being violently cold and windy that morning, to the point that we practically froze to death just getting from a grocery store to my car. (He quipped that we needed a sherpa to find our way.) We ate a lasagna that I had bought from Schwann’s, which is one of about a million random memories that I’ve got rattling around in my head, and played an exhibition game in Diamond Mind. I think that was the last time we matched up, head-to-head, on the virtual field.

Now I’m obsessed with Out of the Park Baseball, which I stumbled across by winning a free copy in 2017. It not only lets you play as any team in history but also progresses players, teams, and leagues with the passage of time, as well as offering any number of different tools so you can customize a league in any way you want. I won’t get into too much of a sales pitch here, but as of right now, I’ve got nearly 1,400 hours played across two editions of the game, so suffice to say I highly recommend it.

It’s probably no exaggeration to say that if Chris hadn’t gotten into these kinds of games nearly 40 years ago, then I wouldn’t have, and I might not be the person I am today. Those early games at the dining room table, whether it was the Yankees versus the Mariners, the Cowboys versus the Jets, Liston versus Foreman, or any of the other games we played, are still among my fondest memories. Chris instilled in me a lifetime of love and passion for sports and sports statistics that I carry to this day. I’ve even recently started up a website to track statistics for a young e-sports league, which is what happens when you’ve been inundated with this kind of thing since you were barely old enough to know what earned run average was. And yes, I can actually remember Chris explaining to me how to compute that.

You know how, when you’re growing up, you feel like your parents know everything? That’s how it was with me and Chris with regards to sports. Despite all my education in analytics and all the years I’ve spent debating, researching, and blogging to become a smarter sports fan, I still deferred to him. When we were in International Falls for Mom’s funeral a few years ago, we watched a Twins game. Torii Hunter was playing, and I remember saying that he was pretty lousy. He wasn’t hitting for a high average, he was a poor fielder, and he was making too much money. I expressed to Chris that I hoped the Twins wouldn’t re-sign him.

He disagreed, pointing to Hunter’s home run totals and veteran leadership. I knew I was right and I wanted to debate him on that – for the season, Hunter had a negative WAR – but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to contradict him. This was Chris, and he knew sports better than I did, end of discussion. I wasn’t 41, I was 7 years old again and didn’t even know how to put together a lineup.

The Twins didn’t re-sign Torii Hunter. On that point, I guess you could say Chris struck out, but as an older brother, he hit a home run.

Christopher Winter passed away this week after a brief struggle with a rare neurological condition that appeared suddenly and progressed rapidly. He was 56 years old.

From left: Jason, David, Stacy, and Christopher Winter, 2015

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All The Sports I’ve Seen In Person, Part 2

Read the thrilling Part 1 here! Continuing on…

6. Detroit Red Wings at Ottawa Senators, November 1, 1996

Score: Detroit 2, Ottawa 2

The only NHL game I’ve been to, and the last time I’ve been to Canada. Which, actually, almost didn’t happen. Growing up in northern Minnesota, we often went across the border, which was literally about a mile from my house. It was no big deal; you just spoke to the nice Border Patrol person, told them if you had anything to declare, and went about your business.

In 1996, Decipher was running regional tournaments for the Star Wars CCG, and I offered to fly to Ottawa to run the one there. Imagine my surprise when I found that, no, you don’t just spend a minute telling BP that you’re a nice person but actually need a passport. Wait, why are you taking me into this little room and questioning me? Yes, I’m flying here to run a card game tournament. Do you think anyone would make up a story like that?

After what I’m guessing was only about 10 minutes, they let me go. This was five years before 9/11, so I can only imagine that if I tried this now, it wouldn’t pass. I still don’t have a passport and haven’t left the country since.

Anyway, in my talks with the distributor who was looking after me while I was up there, I mentioned that I’d never been to an NHL game and would love to go. He got us tickets and that was that. The hometown Senators, who were off to their least-disastrous start in their brief team history, fell behind 2-0 against the powerful Red Wings, who would go on to win the first of consecutive Stanley Cups that year. The Senators evened things up with two goals in the third, and after a scoreless overtime, sent the fans home … well, reasonably happy, considering the two teams’ fortunes, prior to that season.

Also, just like at that Twins game in 1986, I got a commemorative cup from the game. Unlike the Kirby Puckett cup, this one has proven to be far more durable, and I still use it today:

It’s got some scratches from the years of use, but that player has always been faceless. Which always struck me as a little weird and creepy.

7. New York Mets at Milwaukee Brewers, August 4, 1999

Score: New York 9, Milwaukee 5

I don’t remember if it was this Gen Con or the one in 1998, but for one of those Milwaukee was absolutely drenched with rain and it shut down the airport. I wasn’t with Decipher any more and was traveling on my own dime, but as it turned out, a lot of the Decipher people were on the same flights that I was, and we all got re-routed to Chicago, whereupon they rented a car and we all drove up to Milwaukee.

I could also swear we stopped at the Wendy’s over the freeway between Chicago and Milwaukee to grab something to eat. Like, it was literally on an overpass over I-94, but I can’t seem to find any photographic evidence on the internet. Did I imagine it?

As for the game itself, what I remember most was my former Decipher co-worker Tom, a Brewers fan, complaining about how the big-money Mets had just acquired Kenny Rogers, who was starting the game, while the small-market Brewers couldn’t afford that kind of help. I knew the Mets won the game, but looking at the box score, I see the Brewers’ starter, someone named Kyle Peterson, gave up 7 runs (6 earned) in three innings. Rogers wasn’t great, giving up 5 in 6 IP, but he had a much better career than Peterson.

8. Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings, December 21, 2002

Score: Minnesota 20, Miami 17

Tom figures into this story. I let him know that I wanted to see a Vikings game, and he arranged for his dad, a season ticket holder, to sell me a pair for this one. I went to Minneapolis, spent the weekend with my friend from college, Aaron, and we saw the game on Saturday. That night, we saw The Two Towers. The previous night, we watched the final-though-it-was-supposed-to-be-first episode of Firefly with Jeff, another college buddy. So yeah, pretty eventful weekend, pop-culture-wise.

As for the game itself, I remember two things. One, I saw Cris Carter play — for the Dolphins. He made the last catch of his career(!) that day … and fumbled it away. That drew a pretty loud cheer from the fans, and I will always say wasn’t just because the other team fumbled but because of who fumbled.

Anyway, in 2002, the Vikings employed still had Gary Anderson to handle short- to medium-length field goals, while punter Kyle Richardson handled kickoffs and well, we just didn’t attempt long field goals. Overall, the 2002 Vikings were 4-10 on kicks from 40-49 yards (3-8 by Anderson and 1-2 by Doug Brien, who I guess was with the team for a while) and just one attempt from 50+.

About that one attempt …

Naturally, Richardson got hurt during the game covering a kickoff. And, with just a few seconds left and the game tied, the Vikings trotted out Gary Anderson to attempt a 51-yard field goal that I don’t think anyone in the building thought he could make. My seats were lined up perfectly with the goal posts. When the kick sailed by, I could see that it had the distance, crossing the vertical yellow lines of the goal posts, but, for about half a second, I had no idea if it was good or wide.

After that half a second, the stadium erupted in cheers and I knew my answer.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres, July 16, 2006

Score: San Diego 4, Arizona 1

Another Comic-Con Padres game, this one taking place in the much more conveniently located downtown Petco Park. Well, the location was convenient, but getting on the train to go back to our hotel that weekend wasn’t. Seriously, 40k baseball fans plus a similar amount of convention-goers, blargh.

I was with Press Pass — or were we still JoyRide Entertainment at the time? — for this game, which we attended after a typically long day at the con. The game itself was unmemorable, though an interesting trivia bit is that Trevor Hoffman pitched in both this and my earlier Padres game, eight years prior. He blew the save in that one but converted successfully here.

What I recall the most was that we sat in the outfield bleachers. Bad seats for watching the game? Maybe. But what it did have was grass instead of cement flooring. After being on my feet for the better part of 12 hours, nothing felt better than taking off my shoes and socks and letting my tired toes enjoy the cool soil. (Unlike everything else in this post, this isn’t my pic)

Petco Bleachers

10. San Francisco Giants at Atlanta Braves, August 31, 2006

Score: San Francisco 8, Atlanta 6

Yet another “convention special,” this one coming on the eve of Dragon*Con in 2006. My Press Pass co-worker Trevor and I went to this one, and I remember trying to convince him that Jeff Francoeur might not be a bad player, despite his poor on-base skills. I wish I had that argument to take back.

Also at the game were a couple of overly beefed-up studs. One was Kevin Sorbo, likely in town for the convention, who was spotted in the crowd and got put up on the big screen. The other I got a pretty good view of from our seats down the left field line:

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds nonchalanted a fly ball in that game and dropped it for an error, prompting a razzing not dissimilar to that which Cris Carter received four years prior. I could swear I found a video of this exact play online a few years ago, but I can’t seem to find it now. Anyway, enjoy a few more pics (from my old digital camera) from that game, and the BP prior to it:

11. Minnesota Twins at Texas Rangers, August 26, 2010

Score: Minnesota 6, Texas 4

Since moving to Maryland two years ago, I still haven’t gotten to see a Nationals or Orioles game, despite living pretty close to both stadiums. I should get around to that someday. It’s also the only game on this list I’ve been to by myself, though I did attend a few minor-league baseball games and one college football game on my own.

Until I do get out to seeing one of the local teams, this is the last game I’ve seen in person, and the only one I went to while living in Texas. Really, that was because the summertime heat was just brutal down there — hell, who am I kidding, it’s too hot in mid-April — and I didn’t fancy sitting in it for three-plus hours watching a baseball game. It looks like it was only around the mid-80s during the game, so I suppose I toughed it out.

I drove to the game, which was a mistake for Dallas on a weeknight evening. I left my apartment at 5:00 and got to my seat just before the first pitch at 7:07. It was a 25-mile drive, most of it on freeways. I also remember that my ticket — a pretty nice seat in the lower deck, first-base side — was only $20 including fees, and I bought it via Yahoo, which I will totally use again the next time I visit a game.

In what was probably one of his last effective starts in a Twins uniform Francisco Liriano threw six shutout innings before giving up a two runs in the seventh. I also remember Jim Thome flailing away helplessly at the Rangers’ left-handed starter, Cliff Lee in his first two at-bats and left-handed reliever Michael Kirkman in his fourth. For his third at-bat, Thome faced righty Alexi Ogando. Thome’s line for the game: 1-4, 1 HR, 3 Ks. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how that went.

Also, this is the only time I saw Joe Mauer play, so there’s that. More pics:

One final stat before I hit “Publish”: The home team is 5-5-1 in the 11 games I’ve been to, and I’m almost afraid to go to another game and break up that perfect balance. At the very least, if you invite me to go see a game with you, at least you don’t have to worry about me being back luck.

 

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All The Sports I’ve Seen In Person, Part 1

It’s been nearly three years, so time for a new blog post, no? Earlier today, I read someone’s recollection of their favorite Major League Baseball games that they attended, so I decided I’d do the same — only I’d cover every regular season, major league (in any sport) game I’d attended.

Don’t worry, this won’t take forever. (Edit: I’ve broken this up into two pieces because yeah, it’s kinda long, but still not too bad in the grand scheme of things.) I’ve attended 11 such contests, a small enough number that I was able to remember details of all of them (even if I did mess one up, which you’ll see below) and found their box scores on the various Sports-reference sites a few years ago. Rather than trying to order them by favorites, I’ll just go in chronological order:

Box Scores
1. New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins, July 10, 1986

Score: New York 11, Minnesota 1

I was 12 years old and my family was down in the Twin Cities visiting my brother, Chris, in college. I don’t remember much about why we decided to go to see the Twins — maybe I wanted to, maybe it was Chris’s idea. In any case, I wasn’t into baseball and recall being rather bored by the whole affair.

This was especially the case in the 6th inning, when the Yankees drilled the Twins for 9 runs, turning a close game into a laugher. While that nearly put 12-year-old me to sleep, it’s good that it was such a distinctive event that I was able to find the box score nearly 30 years later.

My other memory from the game was that we got some drinks that came in commemorative Kirby Puckett plastic cups. I recall not knowing who he was at the time and having my brother chide me for that. I kept those cups for years afterwards, taking at least one of them off to college with me. It was pretty cheap material, though, and it fell apart sometime in the late ’90s. Kirby’s long-term reputation didn’t fare much better.

2. Utah Jazz at Minnesota Timberwolves, January 11, 1992

Score: Minnesota 101, Utah 96

The Timberwolves were terrible for their first several years — 15-67 this season — while the Jazz were very good over that same time — 55-27 this season — so I went into this game expecting the T’wolves to get smoked. Somehow, they won.

I attended this game in my freshman year of college, as part of a Twin Cities trip (I went to the U of MN-Duluth) with the Scholar’s Club, a group I was a part of throughout my time at UMD. You had to receive a particular type of scholarship (the Marshall and Nellie Alworth Fund) to be a member and while we were a generally high-GPA crowd, I like to think we weren’t total geeks. Some of us even drank alcohol!

Anyway, I didn’t (and still don’t) follow the NBA to any great degree, so I don’t recall anything in particular about the game. One sports-related thing I do remember from this trip was seeing a newspaper headline about how the Minnesota Vikings had hired their new head coach: Dennis Green. Wikipedia says that occurred on January 10, so the timing checks out. Also, remember when we used to get our breaking news from newspapers?

3. Boston Red Sox at Minnesota Twins, May 21, 1994

Score: Minnesota 1, Boston 0

The night before, the Twins had pummeled the Red Sox, 21-2, so naturally this was a 1-0 shutout. Even writing this up now, I thought that Chuck Knoblauch had doubled in the first and then been driven home by a single, but I see now that it was Dave McCarty who doubled and was driven in by Knoblauch in the fifth. And no, that’s now “old man losing his memory,” I’ve had that recollection of the game for years. I probably will again if I think of this game 10 years from now.

Unlike the 1986 game, by this point, I was actually interested in baseball and wanted to go to the game. My sister and I had driven down from Duluth and were hanging out with some of her friends. And that’s about all I can remember about the entire affair.

4. New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings, November 20, 1994

Score: New York 31, Minnesota 21

There’s a lot to unpack about this game. This was my second Vikings game, having previously seen a preseason game against the Browns in 1991. The only thing I really remember about that one was a rookie wide receiver named Jake Reed having a hell of a game.

Also, this was my second trip to the Metrodome in a year. I know, some people will say “That was two trips too many,” but listen. I’ve been to big-league stadiums 12 times (11 on this list plus that preseason game). They’re all amazing to me, yes, even the Metrodome. If I went to 50 games a year, sure, maybe I’d get tired of it, but this list gives me about a once-per-three-years average, so every such trip is a rapturously joyous occurrence. If someone wanted to take me to the Metrodome tomorrow to see a game, I’d say “yes” without hesitation — and not just because it would necessarily involve time travel.

Anyway … After I got into football in 1989, my mother, Chris, and I had a kind of “betting” we would do for games. No money was involved, but we just picked winners and scoring margins and kept track of how far we were off every season.

There was one game where the Jets were heavy underdogs to the Oilers but I — probably not knowing much at the time — boldly predicted “Jets by 5,” which was weird not only for picking the underdog (PFR lists Houston as 8.5-point favorites) but by picking such a weird margin of victory. Needless to say, I got some teasing about that pick before the game.

Here’s what happened.

Thanks to that, I became a Jets fan for several years thereafter, collecting various bits of Jets merchandise, such as glasses, hats, a bed rest pillow, and a sweatshirt — which I was wearing one Christmas morning at my parents’ house when my sister and her husband presented me with their gift: another Jets sweatshirt. The older one fell apart years ago, the glasses broke, the hats wore out, and I through out the pillow, but I still have the gift sweatshirt, which has held up surprisingly well after 20+ years:

20190612_160927

Shortly after that 1990 game, with my Jets fandom in full swing, my mother promised that if the Jets ever played in Minnesota, she’d take me to the game. I never let her forget that, and in 1994, the prophecy was fulfilled. Conveniently enough, my other brother, David, was also getting married that weekend, so the family did the wedding on Saturday and the game on Sunday. As a bit of a rebellious act, I even wore my Jets sweatshirt (the old one) and I think I had a drink cup thrown at me. Or it was just dropped and bumped me. It wasn’t full, so I think they were just tossing trash, but whatever.

The score might look relatively close, but it never felt that way. The Vikings started that season 7-2 and dropped the previous game to New England to go to 7-3. The Jets were only 5-5 and the Vikings were favored by 7, but they never seemed to put it all together. It’s only just now, as I write this, occurring to me that the quarterback for Houston in the game that started my Jets fandom was the same quarterback for the Vikings that day: Warren Moon. He was 2-3 in his career against the Jets, with two of those three losses being memorable for me.

Also, the Jets capped their scoring for the day with a touchdown pass to Art Monk. Later, I’d see another wide receiver best known for his time with one franchise playing for another.

5. San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres, July 5, 1996

Score: San Diego 7, San Francisco 6

During my first year with Decipher, our sales guy (Brian was his name, I think) and I took this trip up to Jack Murphy Stadium but we were still making our way to our seats during the offensive fireworks of the first inning, where the Padres scored four runs. They tacked on a couple more, but the Giants pecked away at the lead before tying it in the ninth. It had been a long day and Brian didn’t want to stay all night through extra innings, so we left before the Padres secured the win in the 11th.

When I was looking for these box scored a few years back, I remembered that this game was a 7-6 Padres win, so I bookmarked this game. It wasn’t for a while later that I realized two things were wrong. First, that game was in San Francisco. Second, I remembered talking with Brian before the game about what a shame it was that Tony Gwynn was out with an injury. Gwynn played in this game but not in the “right” one.

One other thing I remember from this game: I saw Rob Deer pinch hit and strike out. Nothing more to say about that except, well, that was the expected result.

The other story from this game, and from the convention in general, was how, in mid-1996, Decipher was practically printing money with its Star Wars CCG cards (and still had a lot of money from the Star Trek CCG). There were some limits, though, as to how much the company was willing to spend, and apparently Brian exceeded that. As the story goes, he overnighted a bunch of cases of product to the convention, anticipating huge sales because San Diego! We sold two cases and, as I heard it, our CEO had a rather animated discussion with him when we got back to Norfolk.

==========

Is that a long enough read for now? It probably is. It’s also pretty much the halfway point, with #4 being long enough for about two entries, so I’ll continue this tomorrow.

Update: Here’s Part 2!

 

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Digging Up My (Extensive) Family Tree — And How You Can, Too

About three years ago, I was browsing random things on the Internet — no, really! — when I came across an online copy of the Hansen Family Tree. My parents had owned a physical copy, and I always found it fascinating to see how it gave me a glimpse into my ancestors, going back six generations to Michael Hansen, who was born in 1784.

The Hansen Tree was compiled in 1954 by a priest who must have done months, if not years, of painstaking research through documents, personal interviews, and not one single Google search. If he could put that much together without the benefits of modern technology, I wondered, how much could I find out with the entire internet at my fingertips?

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How Many Presidents Are Alive?

This has nothing to do with video games. It’s just a little thing I started on late last year and thought today — President’s Day — would be a good day to finally finish it up. Feel free to move on if you don’t like some very trivial trivia.

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Why Joystiq/Massively Was Shut Down

Well, obviously because it didn’t make enough money.

So why didn’t it make enough money? Traffic was good, up 40% year-to-year, as Brianna Royce reported. But all the page views in the world don’t matter if you’re not making money off of them, and that was probably the issue – and it’s not one unique to the Joystiq network.

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DayZorgenblop

Reading a forum thread talking about DayZ hate — not a thread of DayZ hate but people talking about why people hate on DayZ. The OP admitted that the game had its issues, but he’s had a lot of fun in it, and people should know that it’s an alpha/early access game and that, to put it mildly, shit’s gonna be broken. But a lot has improved, and there’s a lot more to come, so what’s the big deal? Why all the hate?

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100 Levels Of Captain On The Wall…

When I got to the first level cap on my main in The Lord of the Rings Online, 50, I went back through my quest log and counted every quest I’d done, just to see what it added up to. I think the result was 620 — something in that vicinity, in any case.

I just hit the newest cap, 100, a few days ago, and decided to do it again. If the first 50 levels took 620 quests, how many do you think it took to get the next 50?

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