Friday, December 16, 2022

Advent Fiction 2022

And just like that, the holiday season is upon us. As they tend to do when we get older, the years really do tend to fly by. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that we were in Florida for our cruise? Nope, that was last December. I've always loved Christmas, and in fact, it's my favorite holiday. Halloween is my second favorite but it still remains firmly in second place. Not only is the weather getting cooler, but the foodie in my loves all the different snacks, treats, munchies and goodies that appear in stores and from the kitchens of friends. Really, who doesn't enjoy some good holiday treats? I even shared my feelings about these wonderful morsels which you can find here. Go ahead and click that link. It'll open in a new window and you won't lose your place here. I'll wait. What did you think?

I'm glad Loren is hosting his annual Advent fiction event on his site. I missed doing it last year, as it's so much fun to do. It's a challenge, though, at least for me. For those who have stuck with me all these years, y'all know my blogs can be a times. 

image from Google search

For my new readers, Loren's Advent Fiction event invites us to write a 100-word story, no more, no less, pertaining to Advent and the Christmas season. It can be funny, spooky, funny-spooky, contemplative, or any mood we see fit. Just make it exactly 100 words (title excluded) to meet the challenge, and you'll be good to know. Most of my stories have had a supernatural flavor, mainly due to how much fun it is to write such fiction. What will this year bring? Well, I'm glad you asked! Below are my submissions to this year's event. I sincerely hope you get as much enjoyment in reading them as I did in writing them. 

Grandma's Recipe

“Are you sure it’s ok if I make your Christmas cookie recipe, Grandma?”

“Of course, I’m sure, silly! What an honor it’d be.”

“Thanks, Grandma; I really appreciate your trust in me to do this right.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Teddy; you’re a wonderful cook!”

“But I don’t bake that much.”

“You’ll do fine; just follow my recipe exactly.”

25 minutes and 350 degrees later

“Wow, it came out better than I thought!”

“I knew you could do it. I’m so proud of you, sweetie!”

Teddy glanced at his grandmother’s photo. “I wish you were here to share them with.”

Bring Me His Head!

“I demand a sacrifice! Bring me his head!”
“Yes, m’lord, but isn’t this a bit….extreme?”
“You dare question me? Get to it!”
“As you wish, your majesty.”

The servant made the necessary arrangements, much to his distaste.

An ornate hall filled with excited participants awaited.
"Caput apri defero, Reddens laudes Domino!” they shouted in unison.

Doors flung open and the victim’s head, borne on a large gilded tray, made its entrance. 

Cheers filled the hall.

“For you, my loyal subjects, a feast to be remembered!”

A boar’s head, bedecked with bays and rosemary, filled the hall with its savory aroma.

image from Google search

And here we are, my faithful readers. I hope you enjoyed this year's offerings. It's no coincidence that both of these stories are food-centric. That's one of the reasons I call myself a "finicky foodie," right? 

The first story, Grandma's Recipe, came to me after watching two different commercials this holiday season. The story pretty much wrote itself from there. I've long wanted to do something with the traditional Christmas song The Boar's Head Carol. I particularly love the mixture of English and Latin, and truly enjoy listening to it every Christmas season. My favorite version is by the Chieftains, and you can listen to it on this YouTube link by clicking here. Do yourself a favor and listen to it. I bet you'll like it. Probably much more than that poor vegetarian servant the King employed.

Growing up in South Texas, I enjoyed a different culinary use for a boar's head, especially around Christmas. A huge shoutout to the Hispanic culture for bringing such a culinary treasure into the world, and into my life. And yes, I'm totally going to enjoy this treasure on Christmas Eve....a dozen at a time.

So, from me to you, I wish every one of you the most joyous holiday, Merry Christmas, and the happiest of New Years. Thank you for spending some of your time with me. It means much more than you'll ever realize.

Until next time........

carpe cerevisi

Friday, November 19, 2021

From JSC to KSC: NASA Nerddom at its Best

All my life I've been an ardent fan of aviation and spaceflight. "Ardent fan?" Yeah, I know, "aviation nerd" or "space nerd" is definitely more appropriate. I give a pretty good background of my enthusiasm in a blog I wrote several years ago on this very subject that you can find by clicking here. Go ahead. The link will open in a new window, and you won't lose your place here. I'll wait. See what I mean? Lifelong.passion!

As a young lad, my father took me to the visitor's center at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) lonnnng before Space Center Houston (JSC's official visitors' center) was built. If I recall, it was just a room or two in one of the admin buildings. This would've been in the early to mid-70s, so I could be totally wrong here. If any of my readers have better information on this, I'd love to hear about it. Please leave me a comment in the comments section at the end of this blog. I've been to Space Center Houston several times, and it's one of the first places I think of when visitors come to town, looking for something unique.

Johnson Space Center controls space operations since Gemini IV. In fact, the first word from the moon was "Houston." Once a spacecraft clears the launching tower, control passes to JSC. Actually prepping and launching the vehicle, though, is done at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The KSC Visitor Complex is the Cape's version of Space Center Houston. We purchased our tickets online about a week before flying out to MCO.

Cindy and I woke up to our alarm set for 8:15 after a good night's sleep. The day, as predicted was cool and rainy, but that didn't dampen our enthusiasm for what was to come. We ran into two of our cruise group, Rob and Larry (yes, the same "Larry" of "Larry and Mary" from my previous blog) at breakfast and shared a table with them. Breakfast complete, I requested a ride from Uber and ten minutes later we were on our way to KSC. 

Welcome to KSC

Nerd Nirvana?

For my new readers, and as a reminder to my faithful readers, I include many links, which will appear blue. Clicking on any link will open a new window, so you won't lose your place here. Clicking on a photo will open a new window with a larger format version of the photo. 

Where to first?

Rocket Garden

Countdown clock

Nice to know...

Thanks to some very helpful people in a Facebook group I belong to, Space Hipsters, I knew to immediately obtain complimentary bus tickets for the Apollo/Saturn 5 complex actually on KSC property. There are only a limited amount of tickets available due to time constraints, so that's the first place Cindy and I went. Once again, timing was on our side and we were able to immediately board an awaiting bus. Cool! Thank you, Hipsters, y'all rock! 

Along the way, our driver pointed out various points of interest, including a large eagle's nest that apparently has been in the same tree for almost 50 years. As we passed close to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), she related some fascinating facts about the gargantuan scale of this building. My earliest memories of watching anything NASA-related on TV often featured this building and now I actually got to see it up close. Wow!

An interesting detail about the visitor complex here, compared to Space Center Houston, is the amount of what I'll refer to as "pre-show" videos. Each attraction we visited seemed to use this method to create drama and anticipation for what would come next. Once we made our way into the Apollo/Saturn V building, we entered a room with large video screens, showing images of popular culture during Apollo 8's time.

I loved Planet of the Apes!

HAL, open the pod bay doors.

I could've written a different quote for the above image, like "Scotty, two to beam up," but Star Trek has gotten wayyyy more time than 2001: A Space Odyssey, at least in my humble opinion. This pre-show lasted about 5 minutes and the doors opened to what I consider one of my favorite displays at KSC. Yes, pretty much everything we encountered at the visitor complex was interesting, but this one definitely made the top of the list. We walked into a replica of the Apollo 8 firing room, and I was, no pun intended, blown away by the whole experience.

Replica of Apollo 8 firing room

I mentioned earlier in this blog how KSC designed its attractions to build suspense and drama, and this display did all of that in a grand way. Upon entry into the room, the lights and consoles were dimmed as shown above. Having worked on the technical side of theater productions as a hobby, I know full well just how important lighting is in creating an effective atmosphere. The "show" started with certain lights coming up and consoles starting to illuminate. 

Whoa, this is gonna be cool!

About this time I figured I better start taking lots of photos before the next "event" happened so I wouldn't miss anything. While I didn't know exactly what was going to occur, I had a pretty good idea.....or so I thought. Notice in the photo above a yellow timer stopped at 00:00:03:00. That was a countdown timer stopped, or "holding," at T-3 minutes. Here are a few more photos I took, looking around the room.

Vehicle status board

TV camera platform

Data station status board

The next part of the "show" started when the countdown resumed. Video monitors started showing scenes taken from actual TV coverage of the launch, and speakers played audio tracks of the launch controllers. The vehicle status board illuminated the next set of changes as the countdown proceeded.

Launch sequence start

Tank pressurization in progress

As if there wasn't enough going on, things progressed quickly from there. At T-0, during "launch commit," a loud rumbling could be heard and felt in the room. It reminded me of watching movies like Earthquake and Midway in Sensurround. Low-frequency vibrations made me feel like I was actually there at the launch complex. A glow appeared in the windows above and behind us much like I guess the Apollo 8 made during its ascent from the tower. The launch sequence was over as quickly as it began, and was almost anti-climatic. Reflecting on this, KSC's part in the overall mission was essentially over, as "Houston" took over once the vehicle cleared the tower. Having just written what I did, I still want to revisit this and capture it all on video. 

Another set of doors opened on the opposite side of the room and led us into a large room containing an entire Saturn V vehicle. You read that correctly. An.etire.Saturn.V. Just like the VAB, trying to grasp the scale of such a behemoth is difficult at best until you've actually been close to these things. Watching footage of a launch from several miles away and being up close to the actual vehicle offer two very different perspectives. 

Saturn V

Apollo CSM

Cutaway model of Saturn V

Closeup of CM

Apollo 14 CM

Al Shepard's EVA suit

This is Al Shepard's EVA suit that he wore when exploring the lunar surface on Apollo 14. Note the red stripes on the arms and legs. These stripes designated him as the mission commander. Cindy and I spent a little more time looking at all the displays and decided to catch the next bus back to the visitor complex so we would have time to look at the other attractions. Thankfully another bus was pulling up as we exited so we were able to head back without a delay.

On the way back to the main complex, we discussed where to go next, and decided on the Atlantis space shuttle exhibit. Since this was the actual orbiter, we thought it would have some fascinating items to view. And we were right! Walking up to the building, we saw an SRB/ET stack, sans orbiter. 


Wait, whaaaat? Dude, speak English!

Sorry, between my medical and science background, I tend to revert to acronyms when I start talking about a subject I'm passionate about. The "SRB/ET stack" is the solid rocket booster and external tank assembly that the orbiter is attached, or "mated" to. NASA does a nice job describing this right here. Just wait a bit, and you're gonna see tons of acronyms flying at ya.

True to form, there was a pre-show video of the origins of the space shuttle, depicting NASA engineers brainstorming various designs and configurations of this new spacecraft. At the beginning of this video, an actor portraying Max Faget releases this glider from a balcony, which glides to a landing at the feet of the assembled engineers. The actual glider depicted in the video is on display here, as seen below.

Max Faget's glider

Video complete, the doors opened and we entered another large room with the Space Shuttle Atlantis posed in all of her glory. The very same Atlantis that I remember watching as she docked with Mir on the NASA channel years ago.I'm glad Cindy was having as much fun as I was. This is definitely more my interest than hers, but nevertheless, she was enthralled throughout our visit like I was.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Closeup of cockpit

Payload bay

Is this cool, or what?
photo by Cindy Newman

Similar to Space Center Houston, there were plenty of simulators to occupy your time and test your skill. Want to land a space shuttle? There's a sim for it. Operate the remote manipulator system? There's a sim for that, too. What about one of those huge cranes in the VAB? Yep, you guessed it. That has a simulator, too. 

Cindy in the VAB crane simulator

Both Cindy and I had a go at this sim (among others) but neither of us was successful in mating the orbiter to the SRB/ET stack in the time allotted. We had fun trying, though. We had to watch our time closely, as we had our pre-cruise meet and greet at 5, and about a 30-minute ride from the visitor complex back to the hotel. No worries yet, we still have some more playtime left. 

Earlier I mentioned that the Apollo 8 firing room replica ranked at the top of my time at KSC. A very close second, though, was the "Shuttle Launch Experience." When I saw this, I knew I wanted to do it, but figured the line for this would be too long. Based on the description, I knew it would be both fun and interesting. 


There was practically no line, so Cindy and I took advantage of this and got ready to experience a taste of a shuttle launch. Apparently, several shuttle astronauts collaborated on this project to make it as realistic as possible. Works for me! Granted, a small taste is kind of like sampling a bite of bourbon chicken at the food court. It's good, but leaves you wanting more. Given that there's no longer a shuttle program, this morsel would have to suffice. Let's do it!


That was really cool! I could even feel the "twang" at SSME start. Yeah, I know, there's a lot of technical stuff I'm throwing out. Just click here for a good explanation of the initial launch sequence. I don't know why I was surprised, but there was quite a jolt at "SRB SEP," when the solid rocket boosters separated from the vehicle. When watching launches on TV, SRB SEP looks smooth, but then again it would be hard to see any kind of jolt at that altitude. What a ride! I totally want to do this again the next time we happen to make it to KSC.

Most of us have seen at least one shuttle launch on TV or had the good fortune to attend one in person.  A search on YouTube will reveal many videos of a shuttle launch with both crew and controller communications. These are fascinating to hear while watching the launch sequence and make the video sooooo much more interesting. I took the liberty of doing just this and the results can be found by clicking

Time was starting to run a little short, so we picked the "Heroes and Legends" exhibit to finish up our day at the visitor complex. Another "pre-show" video and our tour of this exhibit began. Many interesting displays to see and the replica of John Glenn's Friendship 7 mission control room topped the list in this building. Compared to the Gemini and Apollo control rooms, this one looked primitive. Well, I guess it was primitive, given the early stages of our space program.

Friendship 7 mission control room

As we completed our tour of "Heroes and Legends," I reflected on the amount of history we just encountered. How many times have I seen these very images on TV, movies, history books and even models? As a young child, I never imagined I would be able to get so close to a spacecraft, much less actually set foot on such hallowed ground. on the way to the parking lot to meet our Uber back to the hotel. From an overcast, rainy morning, the clouds now parted and patches of blue sky could be seen. What a wonderful day, and it was only half-over. We still had our cruise group meet and greet to kick off our cruise tomorrow. 

Have you had a chance to tour either Space Center Houston or the KSC Visitor Complex? What about some of the other locations? I'd love to read about it in the comments section below. 

If you enjoyed this bit of "living history," I have a few other blogs like this that you might find interesting. All happen to be museum ships from the US Navy. Their links are below.

Coming up next, I'll resume my series on our recent Carnival Mardi Gras cruise as part of the Big Sexy Flashback Voyage IV, including our Friday night meet and greet.

Until next time...

carpe cerevisi

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

A Return to Cruising on the Carnival Mardi Gras (first in a series)

After almost two years, Cindy and I were finally able to set foot on a cruise ship and take some much-needed time off.  With COVID-19 running rampant since early 2020, cruising came to a screeching halt until just recently. Neither of us realized just how much we missed cruising until we boarded the ship and hung out with our friends. As I've done before, I will make this a day-to-day series of our time on the Carnival Mardi Gras, as part of the "Big Sexy Flashback Voyage" (BSFV) IV. Clicking that link above will give you a good background on the whole "Big Sexy" thing.

As a quick reminder to my faithful readers, and for those of you who are new to my world, I like to include many links, which will appear blue in the text. Clicking on these links will open a new window, so you won't lose your place here. Clicking on a photo will open a new window as well, and display a larger format version of it. Go ahead, and try it on the photo below.

Carnival Mardi Gras

photo from

We were originally booked on the transatlantic ("TA") voyage of the Mardi Gras from Southampton, UK to New York late last year but construction delays caused not only the TA but the first several revenue sailings to be canceled. In fact, the Mardi Gras didn't begin actual revenue sailings until the summer of 2021. With our TA canceled, the one silver lining was it allowed us to book the original BSFV IV on the Breeze in 2020.....which got canceled due to COVID-19. Gee, imagine that...

With two canceled cruises, Cindy and I wondered if this one would actually get to sail. Throughout all of the chaos that fleetwide cancellations caused, Carnival was very generous in granting future sail credits for canceled bookings. Combined with our deposits that kept getting rolled from one booking to another, we ended up with a minimal final balance to pay and a hefty amount of onboard credit (OBC). As I mentioned before, having a Carnival Personal Vacation Planner (PVP) made things immensely easy for us. One phone call to Josh and he fixed everything for us. For those that still book on their own, I urge you to consider using either a PVP or a travel agent. It costs ZERO to use a PVP, they do a lot of legwork for you and you don't have to wait on hold forever with customer service.

This cruise would be departing from Port Canaveral, near Orlando. We've cruised from Miami and Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), so this would be the third Florida port for us. We would also add a new destination that neither Cindy nor I have been to. Let's take a look at the itinerary, shall we?

Saturday, 11/6: Embarkation, Port Canaveral
Sunday, 11/7: Fun day at sea
Monday, 11/8: Fun day at sea
Tuesday, 11/9: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Wednesday, 11/10: Amber Cove, Dominican Republic
Thursday, 11/11: Fun day at sea
Friday, 11/12: Nassau, Bahamas
Saturday, 11/13: Debarkation, Port Canaveral

Amber Cove would be a new port for Cindy and me and both of us were curious what it would have to offer. We made the decision to wait to book any excursions until after we boarded the ship in order to use our OBC. This would save us paying out of pocket. Nassau replaced Grand Turk, which was originally scheduled, but COVID restrictions kept Grand Turk closed to cruise ships until just before we sailed. Up to this cruise, I've never experienced a port day as the last day in a cruise. We've always had at least one sea day, so this would be a different routine for us.

Josh set up a Friday night meet and greet like he did for BSFV III. We had so much fun with the last one that we wanted to make sure we arrived in time. We decided to fly in Thursday night, giving us all day Friday to explore the area and attend the meet and greet. We looked at day passes to Disney, Universal Studios, Everglades tours, and.....dare I hope.....Kennedy Space Center. Ultimately, and much to my pleasure, we decided to give Kennedy Space Center a try. Oh, yes yes yes!

If you've followed my ramblings at all, you'll know just how big an aviation and space nerd I in lifelong. I wrote about my love of manned spaceflight previously, which you can find here. Please feel free to take a look. We spent much of that Friday touring KSC, and I think it deserves its own post, which will be published right after this one, and then I'll go full throttle ahead with the actual cruise. Sound good?

Part of the protocols required by the CDC for Carnival to start cruising again included the vast majority of guests (and all staff) to be fully vaccinated. Another requirement was a negative COVID test within 48 hours of sailing. That meant we could get tested Thursday, Friday, or early Saturday, provided we had our test results prior to boarding. Yes, you read that correctly. No one would be allowed to board the ship unless they could provide proof of vaccination and proof of a negative COVID test. Cindy and I made an appointment at a local CVS for a rapid antigen test on Thursday morning a few hours before heading to the airport. Thankfully it was a quick procedure and we got our results about 90 minutes later.

We booked a mid-afternoon flight and opted to leave for the airport early enough to allow time for a leisurely late lunch or early dinner. Our arrival into Orlando would be way after normal dinner time so we just split the difference. As it worked out, the shuttle bus picked us up from our parking spot as soon as we parked and we were off to the terminal. A short line at security and our next decision was where to eat. 

Pappasitos didn't look too busy and we got seated promptly. We had a shuttle van booked to take us from Orlando to our hotel, about a 40-minute drive away, and another shuttle booked for our return to Orlando from the cruise terminal when we got back. Neither of us would be doing any driving for the next 8 days. Yes, you do know where this is going.

Let's start with a watermelon margarita...

followed by a big plate of nachos

Aaahhhhh......that hit the spot nicely. We made the short walk to our gate and after just a short wait boarding commenced. Even checking in exactly at the 24-hour mark, we were in the B boarding group but managed to find a good window seat. This is usually when we really start getting into "cruise mode." We are on the aircraft and our next stop will be in Florida. 

Mandatory seat-selfie!

Pushback accomplished, we taxied out to 31L and made a smooth departure from Hobby. Orlando, here we come!

Lovin' the scimitar winglets on the 737-800

Making good time

Almost all of the flight was bumpy, and the captain kept the fasten seat belts sign lit throughout the flight. In fact, the flight attendants apologized for not being able to serve soft drinks, but it didn't bother Cindy or me. We could go a couple of hours without a drink or a snack, especially after that big plate of nachos and that yummy margarita.

We got into MCO a few minutes early, arriving on 35R. Once at the gate, we made our way into baggage claim, grabbed our bags, and called for our shuttle van. Yes, we had to call for the van, as it was considered a "late-night pickup" after 9 pm. As the van pulled up, we noticed two familiar faces: "Larry and Mary," fellow BSFV cruisers. We'd be sharing the van ride with them to the hotel in Cape Canaveral. Yay!

Heading to the hotel

It was nice to catch up with our friends on the drive to the hotel. With such a large group, we qualified for a good group rate, and had a block of rooms reserved for us at the Radisson Resort at the Port. Several of the group had already arrived earlier in the evening and were hanging out at the pool. Wow, this is a nice place! We chatted briefly with Josh, then called it a day. Big day tomorrow, with lots to do. 

So, there you have it. The lead-up to our cruise. My next blog will cover our Friday before the cruise at Kennedy Space Center and our meet and greet.

Have you ever cruised with a large group? 

All feedback, positive or negative, is appreciated. I'd love to read your comments below.

Until next time.....

carpe cerevisi

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Advent Fiction 2020

 Wow, Christmas is right around the corner! Cooler weather, beautiful lights adorning houses throughout the neighborhood, and the variety of "holiday snacks" that appear from our neighbors and our own kitchen. It's definitely a wonderful time of year for me. Yeah, that's a link to another blog I wrote about Christmas time. Go ahead and click that link. It will open in a new window, so you won't lose your place here. The same holds true with any blue link you see.

Once again, my friend Loren is hosting his annual Advent fiction on his site. I love participating in this event and look forward to it each year as much as I look forward to participating in another friend of mine's Halloween event. You can find Eric's most current Halloween event here. I'll post the link to Loren's current event as soon as he makes it available.

image from Google search

For my newer readers, Loren's Advent Fiction event invites us to write a 100-word story, no more, no less pertaining to Advent and the Christmas season. It's definitely a challenge, but one I look forward to. 

This year's event can be found here:

I Saw Lightning Fall: Advent Ghosts 2020: The Stories

Without further ado, here is my contribution to Advent Fiction 2020. I decided to write two stories which I hope you'll enjoy. One is definitely more lighthearted than the other.

My digital assistant

“Alexa, please play Christmas music.”

“OK, here’s a station I think you’ll like.”

Jingle Bells sounds throughout the room. Nice! This is cool. Alexa always seems to know just what I want. 

I wonder…

“Alexa, I want to see my late father.”

“Hhhmmm, this will be difficult. Are you sure you want me to do it?”

“Yes, please.”

A flash of light

“Dad! It’s sooooo great to see you! How have you been?”

“Wonderful,” he replies with a smile, “Merry Christmas, son, I’ve missed you.”

A flash of light

A moment of lightheadedness

I awake to find an empty room.

Stumpy's Viewpoint

At least I’m not called something goofy like “Sparkles” or “Glitter Nuggins.” That would be unbearable. And they have the decency to let me travel with them, even though I have to do stupid poses for the camera. Many of my friends are kept locked up for most of the year. Seriously??

So what if I love treats? Who doesn’t, especially around the holidays? Why do they need to take photos of me enjoying myself? 

I’ve seen them eat cookies by the dozen or consume fudge by the pound. Who are they kidding? Hypocrites!

And people wonder why I drink.


So there you have it, my friends. I hope you enjoyed these two stories. Oh, a little background on Stumpy Curlyshoe, the disgruntled elf, can be found here. Go ahead, click that link and get to know Stumpy a little better.

If you enjoyed reading these stories, you can find my contributions from previous years below.




I hope everyone has a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Let's hope 2021 is much better than 2020. Even a little better would be a huge improvement.

Until next time........

carpe cerevisi

Friday, October 30, 2020

Halloween Fiction 2020

After a year's hiatus, my friend and author Eric Douglas is once again hosting his Halloween fiction event on his website. I look forward to this event every year and am glad to have the chance to participate. Sometimes he chooses a specific format, like flash fiction. This year he gave us our choice, so I'm going to try something completely different than what I normally do.

Please click here to go to Eric's page with this year's entries. Each entry will be a link to that author's own website/blog, etc. where their story is posted. To quote Eric, "Do yourself a favor and read some of the other things on their site." Well said, my friend, well said!

Happy Halloween!

image from Google search

You can find the 2018 stories by clicking here. Don't worry, all of the links I create will open in a new window. You won't lose your place on this page. Take a look and whet your appetite for this year's frightful feast. I'm sure this year's event will be every bit as tasty as previous years' events.

So, are you ready? Follow me into my literary house of horrors and have no fear. I'll make sure no harm comes to you. Hopefully.

Exclusive Interview

Hello, folks! Ed Pearson here with another "Special Ed-dition" exclusive interview. That's right, my faithful fans, I scored another exclusive that's so out of left field that even our national tabloids wouldn't touch it. It's all true, though, every word of it. My fact-checking crew has been hard at work and hasn't found even a shred of evidence to the contrary. Strap yourself in folks, it's gonna be a wild ride.

Grab your reading glasses and be prepared to go old school and read all about it. No fancy podcasts or videos this time. I couldn't even get my digital voice recorder to work, so I had to grab a pen and paper and actually write everything down. In this and age? Yes, in this day and age. And before any non-believers fire up your conspiracy blogs, forget about it! You'd just be wasting your time. I haven't steered you wrong yet, and I'm not going to now.

I'm just going to let the interview speak for itself, and let you decide. 

Ed: I have to say, this is my strangest interview yet. Can you spell your name for me? I can't even start to think how to spell it.

Valgathun: You can just call me 'Valgathun' to make it easier on you. It's impossible for a mere human to pronounce my name correctly.

Ed: Well, OK, Val, I can do that.

Valgathun: Valgathun! You may wish to refer to yourself as Ed, rather than Edward, but I will be referred to by what I told you.

Ed: Hey, no offense meant, Valgathun. My apologies. So, you sought me out for this interview, and I must say I'm impressed that you not only found me, but made it all the way inside my house without tripping a single alarm.

Valgathun: Mere child's play, as you'll soon find out.

Ed: If you aren't human, then what exactly are you? A ghost?

Valgathun: There is no proper label humans have for me, but my kind has been referred to as 'demons' before. Demons. Such a quaint and naive term for us. It will do for our purposes, though.

Ed: Wow, OK, you heard it here first, folks, the first interview ever with a real-life demon. Eat your heart out, Anne Rice! May I ask why you sought me out?

Valgathun: I have my reasons. Maybe you'll figure it out. 

Ed: Hey, I'm up for the challenge. Let's get started with the basics. You told me earlier that you've just arrived back. Does that mean you've been here before?

Valgathun: Many times, over many years. This is just the most recent.

Ed: When was the first time you were here?

Valgathun: My first appearance? In the merest blink of an eye for me. I watched as millions died from a simple bacteria in Europe. Quite amusing, actually, how these people died like they did. 

Ed: I wouldn't call that amusing. It's rather demented, actually. 

Valgathun: It's all about perspective. What you call 'demented' I call nourishing. You eat food and drink water to live. I consume pain and fear to sustain me.

Ed: Well, I really don't know how to respond to that. Is this why you come and go as you do?

Valgathun: Call it a 'vacation' if you will. It is my reward for service and fealty to the Great One.

Ed: And who is this Great One?

Valgathun: The Great One is none of your concern, and you would be well advised to never speak the name again. You humans are unworthy of even thinking the name.  Do I make myself clear?

Ed: Yes, absolutely. My apologies. Getting back to your most recent....vacation. You come here to eat our pain and fear? That sounds like some tired cliche, like a psychic vampire or something.

Valgathun: There you go again, human, with your simple labels. It's your nature to try to label and describe things so you can better understand them. So be it. It's my nature to sustain myself in my own manner.

Ed: So we humans are just basically livestock for your type?

Valgathun: Oh, more than just livestock. Entertainment, too.

Ed: How do you move from your world or dimension or whatever?

Valgathun: We find a convenient portal and just walk on through. Many times you humans will open a portal for us.

Ed: Let me guess: Ouija boards and seances top the list, right?

Valgathun: Sometimes. You forget about other ways, such as 'dark rituals' and such. This vacation started a couple of years ago when some simpleton played a game with several others. I saw the opening and took advantage of it.

Ed: A game? You're telling me a game opened a portal for you?

Valgathun: Yes. A game called Soul Survivor. Surely you've read about it in all those news reports. This time, your mass media actually got it right.

Ed: I think I'm beginning to understand. 

Valgathun: I doubt it. But you will soon. 

Ed: Are you saying....implying.....that what we've been going through this past year is your doing?

Valgathun: Maybe you've been listening after all. I think this is my best vacation so far. I wasn't expecting my little side trip to China to yield such a feast. And it's still feeding me quite nicely.

Ed: Oh, come on! Surely you didn't start this whole COVID mess....did you?

Valgathun: I didn't personally start it. I might've helped it along at the beginning. Even I didn't know my little snack would turn into such a banquet. 

Ed: And once you're satisfied, you'll make it stop, right?

Valgathun: Not my problem. It's up to you humans to fix. 

Ed: And we are working on it. Your feast will soon come to an end and you can go back to wherever you call home.

Valgathun: Watch your tone, human. I have little tolerance for impudence, especially from such a lower form of life as you.

Ed: Sorry. I guess we all just have to take it, then. I guess all of the fires in our country and the crazy weather are your doing as well? Is that your dessert, so to speak?

Valgathun: I had nothing to do with all of the storms your coastal areas have seen, although I've been enjoying the anguish from them. The fires? Well, maybe some of those who dropped a match here and there may have had a little push.

Ed: And these so-called "murder hornets?'

Valgathun: Ah, those. Nothing more than a tasty little treat from all the panic. Over nothing! You recent crop of humans are such a delightful treat!

Ed: I'm sorry. I just can't continue with this. My heart is pounding and my head feels like it will split open at any moment. Is there any way I can convince you to please end your vacation early and go home?

Valgathun: Oh, the best is yet to come. I'm just getting started.

Well there you have it, folks. As soon as Valgathun said his last line he just vanished. No theatrical puff of smoke or bang, just there on my couch one second and gone the next. Take this for what you will. I'm done.

The End

I hope you enjoyed my contribution to this year's Halloween festivities. Please be sure to read the other entries in this year's Halloween fiction event. 

Until next time......

carpe cerevisi

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Serving Up Some Tasty Humans

Wait, whaaat? Serving up some tasty humans?? 

Yes, Tasty Humans. As in the board game?

Dinner is served

Surely you didn't think I was writing about Dr. Lecter's unusual culinary preferences, did you? While that may make for a rather interesting topic, I'll save that for another time. If you read my last blog, and I really hope you did, you might see a pattern of food-related games that I've written about. And you'd be right. Besides Food Truck Champion, I wrote about Lord of the Fries a few years ago and plan on writing about a few other food-centric games we have. 

Tasty Humans was released in January of this year, and we've managed several plays so far. In fact, it's part of our 10 X 10 challenge. Given the craziness of 2020, with most people in some form of "lockdown," it should be relatively easy to complete a 10 X 10 challenge. We are only 16 plays short of finishing ours, and the year is barely half over. Designed by Ryan Langewisch, and published by Pangea Games, this was a Kickstarter project that I backed, and I'm glad I did. The fascinating part about backing a Kickstarter project is being able to get a behind the scenes look at how a game is developed. The Tasty Humans team was very active in social media, and with their backers. We got to vote on several monster designs that made it into the final product. You'll meet these creatures shortly. Another advantage of many Kickstarter projects is getting exclusive upgrades and components that generally aren't available in the retail version.

For my new readers, clicking on any photo will display a larger format version of it in a new window. Clicking on any blue link will also open in a new window, so you won't lose your place here. 

What is Tasty Humans all about? It's a 1 - 4 player game pitting legendary monsters against hapless villagers who seem to be quite tasty. It has card drafting, tile-laying, and pattern-building as its main mechanics. Players take the role of a legendary monster and select a yummy villager from an ever-changing tableau as its next meal. Each monster has a special hunger or "personal craving" that must be satisfied by selecting the right villager. Played over a series of rounds, each player will take two turns per round, selecting the most appealing villager to consume. The game ends when the first monster's belly gets full

I promise you the game isn't as gross as the way I described it. There's no visible blood or gore, although any sound effects or role-playing you may choose to do might add to the mental image (and fun) of it. It's entirely suitable for kids 10 years or older. Playing time is listed as 30 - 60 minutes, and our average has been on the upper end of that range. Most of our games tend to run on the longer side of the scale since "she who must not be named" has the dreaded analysis paralysis when playing. So, are you ready to meet the cast of monsters that will be munching on those poor villagers? Right this way.

Hannibal Lecter
image from Google search

Sorry, I couldn't resist. Dr. Lecter is not part of this game, even though I lobbied the designers to include him as one of the stretch goals in Kickstarter. I'm sure the licensing fees would've been prohibitive. I'll introduce the real monsters of Tasty Humans in the order they appear in the rule book. The first four were part of the original design, and the next four are all stretch goals that were unlocked during the Kickstarter campaign. Monsters are randomly selected, so in the words of Forrest Gump, you never know what you're gonna get. The game designers recommend playing one of the first four monsters if this is the first time (or two) playing the game. And I would agree with them.

By the way, in my personal opinion, the graphic design and artwork in this game are simply brilliant. I think it is one of the best aspects of Tasty Humans outside of the actual gameplay. I wish I had even a small fraction of the talent to produce something like this. Following are the actual monsters and a closeup of their "personal cravings." The grid on the right of each playmat represents the monster's stomach. Each square will need to be filled with a body part (or other types of tiles) to one of the top three rows, depending upon the number of players.

Legendary Dragon

"LD's" Personal craving

When I first saw this dragon, it immediately reminded me of the title character from Pete's Dragon. No small wonder, I guess, as I figure all dragons share an essential shape. That's what makes them a dragon, and not a manticore. Of the few times we've played, I like this one!

Twin-Headed Dragon

Twin-head's Personal Craving

What could be more fierce than a dragon? How about a twin-headed dragon. Double the heads, and double the appetite, I guess. This is my second favorite monster to play. These first two are the easiest to score the "personal craving" requirements as you'll see later.

The Troll

Troll's Personal Craving

Now this is just sad. I saw the troll's club and my first thought was "That looks like a large, brown Cheeto." Well, if we are talking about internet trolls (we're not), I guess Cheetos would be appropriate. But brown Cheetos? Maybe it's a limited release flavor, like swamp rat or marsh weasel?

The Griffin

Griffin's Personal Craving

My first reaction when I saw Griffin's face was he/she looked really ticked off. Kinda reminded me of the way Wile E. Coyote looked whenever one of his elaborately laid plans backfired. Where does Griffin live? Being a lion-eagle hybrid, does it live in a tree or in a ground-based shelter? At night, how would the Griffin secure its dwelling? With a......wait for it......griffin door!

image from Google search

Yeah, I know, go ahead and groan. I probably deserve it. Probably. While you are groaning, though, you might want to go ahead and groan over another door related pun that's a fave of mine:

image from Google search

Some of y'all won't get this (and the meme above), and that's OK. I laugh at this every time though. Every.time. 

The next four monsters have a little more complicated personal craving, so it's best to play Tasty Humans a few times and get a feel for the mechanics before attempting to play these critters. The object is, after all, to score the most points to secure the win. These four require a little more experience to fully maximize your scoring effort.


Werewolf's Personal Craving

I'd hate to encounter this fierce-looking creature in the woods, unless he went by Professor Lupin, or "Moony" as his friends would sometimes call him. Even then, I'd rather not take my chances. Is it just me, or do many who read this envision a scene from a certain movie when you see the word "werewolf?" Go ahead, click here and you'll be treated to one of the funniest scenes in a movie involving werewolves. I'll wait for you. 

What did you think? Pretty funny, huh? Abby would think so.

Giant Slime

Slime's Personal Craving

Let's all channel Peter Venkman and say it together: "He slimed me!" Bonus points if you are the first to tell me in the comments section below which character he said that to. I'll even give you a special shoutout in my next blog. 

The Snake

Snake's Personal Craving

Since Hannibal Lecter isn't part of Tasty Humans, I guess "The Snake" isn't referring to Kenny Stabler. I'll take "Obscure References" for 500, Alex. And no, he wasn't in Slytherin House. At least that I'm aware of. I'm not saying Kenny Stabler was a monster like Hannibal Lecter. After all, one is just a fictional character and the other was a real person. 

Massive Spider

Spidey's Personal Craving

My sister hates spiders......hates them! Kinda like with me and snakes. If she randomly drew this monster we'd have to invoke a house rule to let her draw again. Shelob or Aragog? Makes no difference. They are all creepy enough. 

Now that we've met the main cast, let's take a look at the villagers (the game designers call them "Adventurers.") that have appeared on today's menu. As we approach their village, they will form up and try to defend their homes. While there is some safety in numbers, individually they aren't that brave. As you select an adventurer to eat, he/she will realize that resistance is futile and give up. The adventurers around him/her, though, will continue to fight you, and will even cause you some damage.

Apparently, the adventurers have had a modicum of training, because they form into a 3 X 3 phalanx and advance towards you, the monster. This grid is formed from a shuffled deck of cards, and as adventurer gets eaten, others will replace them, brave souls that they are. Forwarrrrd......MARCH!

Here they come!

I created this initial tableau to introduce each type of adventurer and show any special powers they might have. Since these are drawn from a shuffled deck of cards, it is entirely possible to have something like this in a real game. The row at the bottom of the tableau represents the adventurers closest to you. This is important in how the adventurers are replaced when eaten. The empty spots are replaced by the adventurer immediately behind them, and as these shift downwards, the resulting empty spaces are then filled from the deck.

Other than the peasant, each of the other adventurers offers some sort of damage (swordsman and archer) or help (wizard or cleric). As I mentioned previously, the actual adventurer you eat won't cause you any harm, but the ones around him/her might. Selecting any adventurer immediately adjacent to a swordsman will cause you one damage. In the example below, selecting the wizard, top-right peasant or Captain (in the very center) will cause you one damage token from the swordsman. 

Slash and stab!

The archer will protect any adventurer exactly two spaces away. In the example below, the top-right peasant and bottom-left Captain are covered by the archer. Selecting either of these will result in one damage token added to your belly.

Long-range protection

Notice anything about the top-right peasant? There must be something special about this guy. Maybe he's a good cook, or just popular. Selecting this villager will result in two damage tiles being placed!

We have you covered, peasant.

Two damage tiles? Ouch! Why even bother munching this guy, then? Good question! It could be for the two crowns on the card or the specific body parts you need. Sometimes you have to make that trade-off to get what you need. 

Our adventurers take their inspiration from the captains and bravely follow them to battle the monsters. With banners held aloft, our captains will lead the charge with a hearty "Follow me!"

Oh, Captain, my Captain!

That's all good and well until the captain is the one who gets eaten. 

Uh ohhh....

Notice in the photo above the banners (circled in yellow) our two captains are carrying? You might want to click on the photo to see a larger format. Go ahead. I'll wait.

See how the bottom-left captain has a banner with a horizontal arrow? The captain in the very center of the tableau has a banner with vertical arrows. When a captain gets eaten, the adventurers they are leading panic and flee. The captain in the center, with the vertical banner, is leading the center column. The bottom-left captain, with the horizontal banner, is leading the bottom row. Let's suppose our monster decides to eat the bottom-left captain. 

Two things are going to happen. First off, our monster will take one damage from that archer in the bottom-right. Oh, yeah, that pesky archer! The second thing that will happen is the cleric and archer (after firing her arrow) will lose hope and run. Thus the entire bottom row is removed from the group. The adventurers still advance and a new row of three is drawn from the deck.

The new formation

The tableau now has a new swordsman, archer, and peasant joining the ranks. Here is where planning and strategy are important. Since the tableau changes with each adventurer that is eaten, the order in which you decide to eat is important. Maybe taking out that captain will allow more villagers with the body parts you want to appear. 

One key component I haven't touched on yet is the "leader tiles." These tiles are placed like body parts and damage tiles at certain points in the game. Different leader tiles offer different ways to score points. I wrote previously how some adventurers had crowns on their cards. Each time your monster selects an adventurer to eat, that card is placed next to his board. At the end of a round, every player counts how many total crowns their cards contain. The player with the most crowns is crowned as the "Draft Leader." See what I did there?

The draft leader has first choice of which leader tile he/she wants and the one with the second most crowns picks second, etc. Placement of these tiles is crucial, as where they go and what body parts surround them are what scores points. I'll show you how all of this is put together shortly.

Leader Tile Board

I've mentioned how the swordsman and archer will cause your monster to take damage. This damage takes up space in your monster's stomach, and depending on how much damage is present, it can even cost negative points at the end of the game.

Let's revisit our legendary dragon after eating several adventurers and taking some damage. Did you pay attention to his personal craving earlier? 

Scoring some points

With some astute planning and a good dose of lucky card draws, our dragon has already scored 10 points by filling his stomach with two different 2X2 blocks of similar parts. Doing this has caused some damage, though. 

A little indigestion?

The red arrows show the damage tiles that are giving our dragon a little difficulty. These tiles take up space that could be filled with useful body parts. Remember that two or more adjacent damage tiles start counting as negative points at the end of the game. The two rightmost damage tiles are adjacent, so that's two fewer points at the end of the game.


What if there was a way to remove these tiles? Thankfully, our village has a few clerics that will fit this requirement nicely. After eating a cleric (but adding a damage tile first, if applicable), the monster can remove a damage tile of his/her choice. Just think of it as "Magical Maalox."

Next on the menu...

We found this cleric amongst the adventurers that was, no pun intended, ripe for the picking. No swordsmen or archers were close, so he would do nicely. Reaching out with our talons, we snag our cleric and gobble him down. I decided to clear the second damage tile from the right.

Feels better already

If you'll scroll up a bit to the Cleric card, you can see that he'll supply an armor and boot tile, arranged horizontally. I placed these on the dragon's board and will now decide where to place them. Remember that I can rotate these tiles, but must keep them in their original order. 

Time for a little board game Tetris

Pretty cool, huh? The wizard card allows you to swap two adjacent tiles after eating him. This can help organize the tiles in your monster's stomach to score more points or separate two adjacent damage tokens. Don't count on finding too many wizards or clerics, though. There are only a few of each in the whole village. It's better to try placing the body parts to allow the best score as you go instead of relying on the possibility of finding a wizard or a cleric to help you out later.

Besides the personal cravings, the leader tiles also help score points. Take a look at our Twin-Headed Dragon from an actual game we played. I circled all the leader tiles currently in play. Oh, that yellow crown, by the way, is the current Village leader (first or active player in other games). Anyway, four leader tiles have already been placed, and there's another in the holding area (by the rightmost dragon head) ready to be placed at the end of the round.

Gettin' kind of full

Let's focus on just that bottom-most tile to see how it'll get scored at the end of the game. Again, you might want to click on the photo to see a larger version of it. I promise you won't lose your place here. This tile was placed early in the game, hence its place near the bottom of the stomach. While it looks complicated, it's really not. 

Good scoring potential

In our example, every helmet that matches the location from the leader tile will score two points each. See what I meant about strategic placement of all tiles? It matters. Sometimes a LOT. You remembered this monster's personal craving, right? Three points for each row that has a matching body part on both ends. So far, there are another 12 points earned. 

10 Points for this leader tile

Having fun? I hope so! The game is rapidly coming to a close, as our twin-headed dragon is almost full. And I'm pretty sure some of those adventurers weren't keto-friendly. With the last adventurer consumed, and our twin-headed dragon full, we need to determine our score. 

How many calories did I just eat?

We'll flip the Leader Tile Board over (No, not a "rage flip!") to reveal the scoring track on the other side. Each monster has its own score tile, and for those prodigious scorers, the reverse of the tile has a +50 on it to keep going. 

Add up those points

If my math is correct, and I haven't overlooked anything, my twin-headed dragon scored a total of 51 points in that game. Not too shabby for only a few plays in. Have you ever played Tasty Humans? What was your best score? Which monster is your favorite to play? Please leave a comment below and tell me all about it. 

I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on this fun game. If you enjoyed this one, I have several other board game blogs I've written. To make them more convenient to find, I made all of the game titles clickable links. 

With so much being on "lockdown," we haven't done a lot of traveling for me to write about. At least Cindy and I have been able to play many games, so for now I'll concentrate on writing my thoughts on what games we've especially enjoyed playing. 

My usual readers know how I love to throw in bad puns (sorry, Loren, I know some of these are really painful for you to read) and obscure movie references (John, would you believe how hard it is to pare down my references to just a few) and I'd love to see how many you caught. Let me know in the comments below what you found. 

Here are my thoughts on other games I particularly enjoy:

I post many game-related photos on Instagram, and you can find me on IG by clicking here.

Until next time....

carpe cerevisi