The Hare and The Tortoise: A Fast Family Favorite

Image: Courtesy of Dani Snell


Thank goodness for Wil Wheaton. Without Tabletop, I would still be in the barren wasteland that is life without Tokaido Season three of Tabletop continues to move along at a reliable clip. While I am mostly watching and realizing there are games I don’t want to play (I’m looking at you Forbidden Desert), I am pleased with the amount of new games we are experiencing. More than ever, this season has given us a chance to play more games with our family. The episode in which Wil played Catan Junior was interesting certainly, but it was the more recent episode featuring Tales and Games: The Hare and The Tortoise that we chose to share with the rest of our family and friends. So gathered around a table late one Friday night, four parents and four children played a team version of our new favorite game.

Image: Sarah Pinault.

The Hare and The Tortoise is a card-driven betting game for 2-5 players aged 8 and up. We played with four teams of two. Our youngest participant was three; he mostly just revealed my hand to everybody else. The five-year-olds present handled the game very well, and have played several times since then, without adults present. The company suggests that an average game takes 15 minutes. Ours took 45, but team play does make it a little more involved.

The point of the game is to bet on animals, loosely based on Aesop’s Fable of the same name, and race those animals down a track. The first three animals to cross the finishing line receive points, and the winner is the player with the highest number of points based on the animals they placed bets on.

At the beginning of the game, or race, each player receives an animal card chosen at random. There are five animals to pick from: turtle, hare, lamb, wolf, and fox. Each player then receives seven cards. From this seven, they choose another random animal. Both of these cards are placed face down and not revealed to the other players. These are the animals on which the player has bet. It is possible to bet on the same animal twice; you do not re-draw.

Image: Sarah Pinault.

Players will then take turns laying down between one and four cards of the same animal. You refill your hand to six cards before the next player lays down. The turn is over when four cards of any one animal have been played, or when there are eight cards played on the table at once. Yes this does have to be eight. If at seven cards down, someone decided to play two more and so nine cards are in play, you keep going until four are the same animal. Then, it is time for the animals to move or not.

The race track consists of 11 road cards, two of which contain water; configuration is at the player’s discretion upon setup. Each of the animals in play have distinct characteristics that determines how they move down the board. Kids and adults alike had fun getting into the mood of their characters. The animals always move in the same order.

  • The Turtle: Always moves one space, even if no turtle cards have been played. May move two spaces if four of its cards were played.
  • The Hare: Always moves two spaces, but only if a hare card is in play. If four hare cards are played and the hare is currently in the lead, then the hare takes a nap and does not move.
  • The Fox: Always moves as many spaces as the number of fox cards played.
  • The Lamb: Always moves one more space than the number of lamb cards played. If the lamb reaches water mid-move, it must stop and take a drink, regardless of how many moves are left. The lamb cannot move again until it’s next turn.
  • The Wolf: Moves one space if 1-2 cards are played, and moves one less space than the number of cards if three or more are played. The game also includes three howling wolf cards. If a howler is played, no one but the wolf moves. The wolf moves one space if one to two cards are played, and one less space than the number of cards if more are played. The wolf also has three cards with a howl; if one of these is played, no one but the wolf moves. (The track consists of 11 road cards, two covered with water.) If playing with kids, prepare for a lot of howling around the game table.
Image: Sarah Pinault.

Once all animals have moved, or not, a new round begins. The game ends when three of the five animals reach the finish line. Players receive points based on the ranking of the animals they bet on. The player with the most points wins.

The kids loved racing the animals down the track by choosing which cards to play, though it took a few turns for them to understand that we were betting on animals and weren’t actually the animals themselves. But this isn’t just a kids’ game. The dynamic and gameplay certainly lends itself to a family game, but it is thoroughly enjoyable without the kids around too.

The links in this post are to Amazon, but I would encourage you to seek out your local board game store. We purchased our copy from Weekend Anime. We love giving them our business and being part of a larger gaming community through the people we meet there.

The Tabletop episode shows the game off really well, but do not watch with the kids. The language isn’t as age-appropriate as the game.

Kicking off TableTop Season Three: Tokaido

All Images:

We have 40 minutes of every Thursday evening blocked out in our Google calendar for the foreseeable future. We have friends who own a board game store nearby and a semi-standing game-date for Friday night. We are the Pinaults, and this is our TableTop Season Three adventure.

TableTop Season Three kicked off this past Thursday night with some challenges to face. Not only is the season highly anticipated due to its record breaking, white-knuckle ride of a crowdfunding experience, but after two great seasons, viewers just expect a good time. The difference in production value between the first two seasons also placed higher expectations on Season Three. And, as the popularity grows, we are looking for bigger and badder gamers to play with. Episode one and Takaido saw that challenge and journeyed to the next location with it.



Playing with Wil this week were a virtual cornucopia of characters. Batting for the gamers was Chris Kluwe, known to the sports world as a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings and to the gaming world as a tournament Magic player and high level World of Warcraft player. For the celebrity team, we have J. August Richards from television’s Angel (be still my beating heart) and, more recently, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the discerning geek, we have Jason Wishnov, a voiceover actor who is also the lead designer at Iridium Studios. As Wil and Jason touted, they are currently working on pushing out There Came an Echo, a voice-controlled squad-based strategy game, which is scheduled for release on Steam before the end of the year.

TOKAIDOThe Episode

Wil is back on form straight away in Season Three. The eyebrows are at work, the sarcasm is flowing, and everyone is out to get him! One of the unexpected joys of TableTop has been watching Wil get harpooned from every side, and these first guests took to that task with aplomb. Wil’s opener for Tokaido was suitably predictive, “The most zen-like cutthroat game you’ll ever play.” His take-away from the game matching with the TableTop experience in general: “I didn’t know this was a collaborative game against me!” While it’s fun to watch the “team” work Wil from every angle, the interactions between these players also just worked. J. August, the self-professed amateur geek, was a good stand-in for the TableTop initiate, whilst Jason played his part of evil mastermind with great dexterity. As to Wil, I would not be surprised if there was some college drinking game out there, taking bets on when the puppy dog eyes come out in each episode.

Minute 1.47: Wil bangs his head on the table.

Minute 15.04: Wil gets puppy dog eyes.

Minute 24.36: Wil calls for alcohol.

It was easy to follow the game play and fun to watch as the players explained their strategy. There was a good degree of profanity beeped out and a good degree of profanity left in. I personally don’t think it adds anything to the humor, but if you were thinking of watching with your kids, be warned that Wil likes to drop the F-bomb and some other choice phrasing in this episode.

The basic format remains the same; why change a winning formula? The set is better, the graphics are amazing, and everybody gets a trophy this year. I am curious to see if they all get a replica of the same trophy or if it is a different kind of statuette each week.

TOKAIDO4The Game Itself

Having read up on Tokaido beforehand, I was not inspired at all. Travelers journey across Japan along the East sea road, and earn points based on how they participate in the journey. You can meet interesting people, try strange food, worship at the temple, or take in a hot spring. The episode of TableTop changed my perception of the game and got me interested. Ultimately, I found Tokaido to be much more interesting and playable than it first sounded.

The structure, a simple road, with off-shoots to visit, is extremely accessible to non-gaming types. We played with my dad, who raised me on Sorry, Monopoly, The Game of Life, and other such classics, but has only ever played beyond the basic roll-and-move game when staying with us. The actions are simple and the artwork is simple and beautiful, but therein lies your first challenge to learning the game. Nothing is labeled except by illustrations and at first, this can be confusing. You play the game by referring to pictures and symbols for your instructions. I found this irritating at first, but was surprised by how quickly we picked up on the game play. Not following word-by-word instructions enabled us to pick up the mechanics faster and once we were used to the illustrations, added to the zen-like experience of the game. Fewer words, less stress.

Playing with three people made for a more truncated version of the game than our TableTop training had shown us. For example, each landing point can only have one occupant when playing with three players, while more players left some spots with the option for multiple players. recommends five players for the optimal game, but there are also rules for a two-player version, which we will be trying out next. With the children in our house being kindergarten age and under, two-player versions are always welcome! As always, the episode of TableTop was a great way to introduce ourselves to the mechanics of the game, but Tokaido is easy to learn as you play should you not wish for the shenanigans of Wil and the gang. My dad, who did not especially enjoy Mr. Wheaton, did however seem to enjoy the game more for having first seen it on TableTop. He said of the episode that “even when you don’t completely follow it, you learn more by osmosis than you think you are.”

As to an age range, the game makers recommend eight and up, which is third grade. I think that might be pushing it, unless your child is already heavily invested in gaming. Certainly interested middle-schoolers could handle it, and it would hold their attention. My son at five is an avid fan of Robot Turtles and Castle Panic, but I do not think the assets of Tokaido would interest him as much—not even in three years. It is accessible enough that adults who don’t usually play games could be persuaded to join in also.

TOKAIDO3Now, a couple of tips and tricks to maximize game play from our first outing. Your choice of original character card really helps. I played as the street performer, which earned me an extra point and extra coin every time I met a new friend. My dad played as the artist, who was able to paint every time he ate a meal; this was the character played by Wil. My husband played as the sightseer and was given a coin every time he saw a landscape (the painting spots). Playing to these strengths in the game really helps. Wil and my dad weren’t to be beaten on painting, I was not to be beaten on friends. Earning an extra coin didn’t seem to help much, unless you are strategic and get the chance to employ it well. Getting to leave the hotel first, at the first two stops was crucial to my plan of action, and paid off with a final victory. Always block someone from getting to the bank if they need to, and if you can afford the expensive food, buy the expensive food.

If you want a more involved TableTop experience, Thursday also saw the launch of, where you can gather, host, and find local events all year long.

All in all, a great kick-off and I look forward to the next episode.

Thanks to Julie and Ryan York of Weekend Anime, for letting us test out their demo copy of the game.

Wil Wheaton Geeks Out in Front of Larry King

Screenshot of Wil Wheaton from Larry King Now on

Larry King is alive, well, and interviewing—a lot, actually. You won’t find him on TV, but his talk show, Larry King Now, is a pretty popular fixture on and Hulu. Even if you aren’t a regular viewer, you’ll want to catch his recent interview with Wil Wheaton.

“Being a geek is not about what you love, it’s about the way you love it.” — Wil Wheaton

Just in case you didn’t already love Wheaton, I’m thinking that quote above just sealed the deal. It should also convince you that this interview is well worth your 27 minutes. Wheaton talks up a few of his favorite geeky things, as well as other things like net neutrality, being a child actor, working with River Phoenix, being a villain, and his new show, The Wil Wheaton Project. Below is a teaser, with Wheaton discussing his role on The Big Bang Theory. It’s pretty awesome.



If you want to see what else Wheaton had to say to Larry King (and you’ll want to do that), check out the entire interview on

More Wil Wheaton in Your Life: The Wil Wheaton Project

PAX East 2010 GeekMom Nicole with Wil Wheaton, Image: Nicole Wakelin

If you’re looking for a little more Wil Wheaton in your life, and who isn’t after his legendary performances on Tabletop, and on The Big Bang Theory as “Wil Wheaton”? Then I suggest you head over to today as he finally announces that top secret project of his. Wheaton watchers have been feeding on the crumbs of a suggestion of something big coming for weeks, and now, finally, the project is freed from network secrecy.

I happened to be on Twitter, where he alerted fans to the upcoming news, moments before he posted the announcement, and so was one of the avid (crazy) fans, patiently waiting (clicking refresh) to see what the announcement was going to be. It didn’t disappoint. 12 episodes of The Wil Wheaton Project on SyFy this summer. What is described by Wil sounds remarkably like a geek version of The Daily Show, though not daily, and with Wil Wheaton instead of Jon Stewart, though that would be a fun pairing! The show premieres on Tuesday, May 27 at 10PM ET/PT on Syfy.

To quote the announcement: “A fun appreciation for all things science fiction.” Oh yeah, we’re there!

Wil Wheaton, Collaborators Geek About “Stone Farking Wheaton w00tStout”

Wil Wheaton, Greg Koch, and Drew Curtis discuss brewing and geekery © Stone Brewing Company

Wil Wheaton is known for his enthusiasms—for gaming, for science fiction and fantasy, for the community of enthusiasts known as nerds and geeks—but with the unveiling of Stone Brewing Company’s Stone Farking Wheaton w00tStout, we learn of his deep love for crafting beer.

This new bourbon-barrel aged (yum!) Imperial stout is a collaboration between homebrewer Wil Wheaton, internet news entrepreneur Drew Curtis of, and Stone Brewing Company’s CEO, Greg Koch. The video provides a window into their collaborative processes and the facilities afforded for a project like this at Stone Brewing, but the best part is hearing their thoughts on how to truly express passion and what makes a true geek.

Wil says about the spirit of geeks:

I love this thing so much that I want to make it myself, I want to share it with other people, I want to understand more about it, I want to experience it as much as I possibly can… The two fundamental things about being a geek are being passionate about it and being inclusive.

You can hear more from these three brewers about geeking out. Check out the video and let us know—do you agree about their definition of geek? And does that bourbon-barrel aged stout sound as irresistible to you (look at those tasting notes) as it does to me? I am going to give it a tasting today, but only a tasting, at 13% ABV.


Fund This: Video Games and Neil Gaiman Ought to Be in Pictures

Welcome to another edition of Fund This, GeekMom’s bi-weekly section that focuses on places to invest some of your hard-earned cash. We are looking to highlight some of the most interesting projects on crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and much more. Ready to make someone’s dream a reality?

This week, I had a really hard time choosing one project to feature. There are so many good ones out there. However, backing the movie business seems to be all the rage right now. After all, doesn’t even the tiniest part of you want to be in pictures? The cult hit Veronica Mars and actor/director Zach Braff both had killer Kickstarter campaigns, reaching their respective goals in a matter of hours. Some films need a little extra love — and cash!

Continue reading Fund This: Video Games and Neil Gaiman Ought to Be in Pictures

A Quick and Dirty Visit to the Phoenix Comicon

Steampunk dude. Photo: Jenny Williams
Steampunk dude. Photo: Jenny Williams

My family and I went to the Phoenix Comicon last Friday. It was an interesting visit because we went without a plan, and it was Rory‘s first time at this kind of con. The kids and I had been to this one twice before. But we purposely went for only a short visit this time, and didn’t even crack open the program.

Bad form, I know. But we only really had an afternoon, and I find I get my hopes up to see too many things if I over plan. So I let Rory run the show. Taking kids to panels is sometimes unpredictable, and usually boring for the kids, so our entire experience was the dealer room and people watching. Because it was Friday, the crowds were quite manageable, and we were able to get to all the tables we wanted to see.

Continue reading A Quick and Dirty Visit to the Phoenix Comicon

Weekly GeekMom Video Playlist


This week, the GeekMoms were watching record-breaking videos, gaming videos and more. To save you from losing time searching for the geeky videos from this week, these videos and several others (along with the playlist from last week) can be found on the GeekMom YouTube channel. Here are a couple of the featured videos from the playlist.

Kay pointed out this video which holds the Guinness World Records™ record for smallest movie. The pixels are individual atoms. The video annotation includes a link to an explanation of how it was made.

Continue reading Weekly GeekMom Video Playlist

Late to the Game: The Settlers of Catan

Image: Sarah Pinault
Image: Sarah Pinault

A  few weeks ago, friends of ours discovered The Settlers of Catan. It was decided very quickly that a parental date night was needed, and so we made plans for a slumber party with the intent of settling Catan after the kids were asleep.

I had only heard of the game in passing, so my husband, who was fully familiar with the game, suggested that I watch Tabletop with Wil Wheaton for a run down on the rules. This was appealing for many reasons.

  1. I heart Wil Wheaton
  2. My husband loves to explain rules, I love his passion but would rather learn by playing.
  3. I heart Wil Wheaton

It was my first episode of Tabletop and I was impressed. Continue reading Late to the Game: The Settlers of Catan

Was International TableTop Day Really Worthwhile?

International TableTop Day © Geek & Sundry
International TableTop Day © Geek & Sundry

A week ago today was the first International Tabletop Day (ITTD), organised by Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton and the lovely folks over at the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel. Over 2,000 events were held across 50 countries and six continents making the day an incredible success for all involved. But was it really?

The slogan for ITTD was “play more games” and the organisers asked fans of TableTop – Wil Wheaton’s super successful gaming show to “go to their friendly local game store, community center, or host an event at home” and do just that. The aim of the day was rather vague but according to the event’s press release it hoped to “encourage people from around the globe to participate in the joys of board gaming” and the team behind it hoped “that the day will grow the gaming community by encouraging fans to come together and play more games.” This is where I see problems.

Firstly, ITTD in its 2013 form was always going to struggle to introduce many new fans to Tabletop gaming. The day was promoted mostly through Geek & Sundry itself and via Twitter. Now whilst Twitter has clearly moved into the realm of popular media and is accessed by millions, the users who were tweeting about ITTD leading up to the event are the sort of users followed mostly by the “hardcore” geek crowd. The same exact people who might already watch Tabletop and, even if they don’t, are almost certainly aware of the kinds of games the event was promoting – Dungeons and Dragons, Munchkin and Ticket to Ride are touchstones of geek culture these days. The organisers seemed to be preaching to the converted, and the number of events that ran is testament to this, and also leads in to the second major issue with ITTD.

Some of the Games at My House © Sophie Brown
Some of the Games in My Collection © Sophie Brown

I looked through the events taking place close to me and the majority were located at gaming and comic book stores or were regularly scheduled gaming events re-branded for the day. The chances of non-gaming members of the public happening upon one of these events were very slim. I went along to Shire Games in Stoke-on-Trent at the end of the day and asked how their ITTD had gone. It turned out that plenty of people had come along and played games, but, as the owner pointed out, that’s just a normal Saturday for them. Perhaps a few more of the regulars than usual had dropped by to see what was going on, but it was just that, the usual group of social game players coming along for a day of gaming that they might have been going along to anyway without the added branding.

If we want to bring new people into the tabletop gaming culture don’t we need to be going to them rather than waiting in our shops for them to walk through the door? Comic book and gaming stores can appear as highly intimidating places for people who have never been inside one, filled with small cliques of regulars who already know one another, as ludicrous as that might sound to us who frequent them. For ITTD to reach out to new gamers we needed to see ITTD events happening in libraries, youth clubs and mainstream stores that sell these games such as Target and Waterstones. Although the original press release called for events to happen in these public areas that turned out not to be the reality as much as we could have hoped, perhaps that’s something that should be looked at if the event is repeated next year.

As well as introducing new players to tabletop games, ITTD also wanted to grow the existing community “by encouraging fans to come together and play more games”. Thing is, existing fans who want to play games together are probably doing so already, that’s why so many gaming nights exist and why pretty much every university campus in the western world has a gaming group, even the tiny and recently established university in my home city has one.

Of course, not everyone who wants to go along and play games with a group has done so, we geeks are notoriously shy creatures after all, but will branding an event as an “International TableTop Day” event instead of a regular gaming meetup really change that and encourage those people to finally walk through the door? Maybe it did, you tell me, but social anxiety doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that can be swept away simply by stating that this isn’t any normal games session, it’s International TableTop Day! My fellow GeekMom Sarah wrote about her three year old son’s wonderful experience on ITTD and I don’t want to take anything away from his experience, but growing up the son of two regular game players I’d place a hefty wager that he would still have been gaming soon even without ITTD.

The event seemed to simply serve as a catalyst for some people, a “let’s go to the games store today” excuse to stop them putting it off for another week. That in and of itself is a great thing but shouldn’t there be more to it?

Before I wrap this up, let’s get one thing absolutely straight, I love TableTop.

My husband and I watch the shows together and really enjoy them, and my Late to The Game series here on GeekMom is a direct response to the show as prior to its beginning the geekiest game I had ever played was my Haunted Mansion edition of the Game of Life. I’m now lucky enough to have a cupboard literally overflowing with brilliant games I might never have heard of otherwise; Catan, Small World, Ticket to Ride and Munchkin are all there, and we’ve had countless nights introducing friends and family to these new games as well.

In fact, my in-laws enjoyed Zombie Dice so much we bought my father-in-law his own copy for his birthday which they subsequently took on vacation, earning them many curious stares from other patrons in their Spanish hotel as they played by the pool. But all this happened organically over nights spent at each other’s homes, pulling out a game and saying “look what we’ve brought along!” We didn’t need a special event to make it happen and the countless stories I’ve read on the As Seen on TableTop Tumblr tell similar tales. It’s not TableTop itself I’m questioning, it’s whether we need an international event to tell us “today is the day to play games and bond”, shouldn’t we just be going out and doing that any day we choose?

International TableTop Day: Creating New Gamers

Image: Sarah Pinault
Image: Sarah Pinault

Today has been a momentous day. The first International TableTop day, and the day my son became a Gamer. He has been playing board games for a while now but this was his first event, and his first independent purchase.

Our local event was hosted by a co-worker who runs Weekend Anime in Westbrook, Maine, with her husband. We told her ahead of time the kind of games he likes, Monsters Menace America, Battleball, Jenga, and the types of games we like, Catan, Roll Through The Ages, Stratego. She had only one suggestion, and so when we walked through the door, she was there with Takenoko ready to roll, ahem. Her description of the game “Like Catan but simpler, and with Pandas.” We were sold.

DSCI0878I will never forget the wonder in my sons eyes when he stepped into the store and all around him were kids of all ages playing games. But that was unmatched by the pure joy he experienced when he realized he got to sit down and play a game, with other gamers, and only one parent involved.

In Takenoko, you are given the responsibility of providing a habitat for the Giant Panda, a gift from the Chinese Emperor to Japan. You must cultivate and irrigate the land to make sure the Panda is well fed. The first person to achieve seven objectives ends the game but might not win, the person with the highest number of points wins the game. It is rated for ages thirteen and over but with just a few simple tweaks to the rules, barely even tweaks, it was the perfect game for my three year old.

DSCI0882Up until this point we have played simple games with him, or taken games that we like and invented completely new rules for the pieces. With Monsters Menace America, we attempted to modify the actual rules for a younger audience and had some success. In Takenoko, Toby had his first full gaming experience where each person took a turn, rules were not bent for ease and avoidance of tantrums, and the game play was natural and progressive. We played up to seven objectives, Toby lost interest after about four, so that will be something we tinker with the next time we play. The beauty of this game is that there are options for making it longer and more complicated or short and simple.

When he was done playing, there was still so much to do. He helped his dad bring in old games to trade for new, he perused the other board games in the store, and then he became assimilated into the lifestyle. He walked over to a group playing a variation of Magic, he watched, he asked questions, he moved on. He thoroughly enjoyed every moment he was there and, despite having come directly from an Easter Egg hunt, he was engaged and well-behaved for a full two hours. When it was time to go, he was perfectly content, having used leftover Christmas money to purchase his own copy of Takenoko.

DSCI0881The great thing about Tabletop day is that it is an event for all ages. Hard core gamers were perfectly content to wait their turn while the kids took their time, were prepared to answer his bizarre questions about the game they were playing, were willing to set up a game and sit waiting for someone to play with. Babies were everywhere and everyone was having a thoroughly good time. It was an unusually wonderful experience to sit and talk about mastitis with a fellow GeekMom and not have a single person bat an eyelid. The rest of the day is being spent at home learning how to play Castle Panic with his dad. Thank you Wil Wheaton, you’ve made my three year old a very happy gamer.

Note – I link to Amazon in this post but I encourage you to find your local independent gaming store and purchase through them if at all possible.

Wondercon Highlights Part 1

With San Francisco’s Moscone Center under renovation, WonderCon moved to Anaheim this year—and seemed to bring a bit of the Bay Area’s rain and chill wind along with it. We shivered our way between hotel and convention center, dodging clusters of purple-eyeshadowed cheerleaders who were competing in a tournament in the next hall over.

Here are a few of the things that caught my attention this year:

Best panel I didn’t attend: Spotlight on Fiona Staples, moderated by the devastatingly handsome Scott Peterson. By all accounts, this was a fascinating discussion. Fiona (who recently granted an interview to GeekMom’s own Corrina Lawson) is one of the most talented artists working in comics today, and I’m bummed that I didn’t get to enjoy the peek at her process that I heard others raving about for the rest of the weekend. There was even a time-lapse video of the artist at work. If Fiona shares that on the web anywhere (hint, hint), I’ll let you know.

Best panel I did attend: The Geek & Sundry presentation with Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Veronica Belmont, Tom Merritt, and Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson. Funny story here. At least, it’s funny now. It was kind of mortifying at the time. There was a mix-up over reserved press seating—Felicia’s super-nice publicist thought there would be some, and sent out invitations accordingly, but the WonderCon folks seemed perplexed by the idea—and through a series of happenstances I found myself hanging out backstage with the Geek & Sundry panelists—an unintentional crasher of the entourage. I’d had the pleasure of meeting Felicia once before, at the GeekMom Google+ hangout, and she is absolutely one of the kindest people you will ever encounter. When an officious WonderCon staffer (eyeing me suspiciously, or that’s how it felt), asked Felicia if all the people in this backstage cluster definitely, actually belonged with her group, Felicia graciously said “Yes”—so suspicious WonderCon guy did not evict me. Whew.

If I were a real member of the press, as opposed to a novelist who gets press passes because she writes for a cool website on the side, I would have, I don’t know, asked questions or taken pictures or something. But I’m not, and I have a horror of appearing to be pushy, so I just stood quietly against a wall and enjoyed the banter of the ubersmart, creative Geek & Sundry crowd.

No, wait! I did take one picture. Also on the list of Things I’m Not: a photographer. With, like, focusing skills.

The Geek & Sundry panel was as entertaining and lively as the backstage repartee. (You can watch the whole thing yourself here and here.) The big news at this con was the announcement of the Geek and Sundry YouTube Channel, which promises to be tremendously fun. As Corrina mentioned the other day, the channel is launching a number of new shows in April:

The Flog, which highlights Felicia Day’s quirky real-life adventures;

Tabletop (this one makes my heart go pittypat), in which geek icons will join Wil Wheaton for boardgames like Settlers of Catan, Munchkin, and Dragon Age;

Sword & Laser, a new incarnation of the popular sci fi/fantasy book discussion podcast featuring Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt;

Written by a Kid (this one melted my heart), which features stories made up by kids and brought to life via digital storytelling;

• a Paul & Storm comedy musical show (coming this fall);

Dark Horse Motion Comics; and

The Guild, Season 5 (squee!)

The new shows will begin rolling out on April 2nd. Can’t wait. You can subscribe to the Geek and Sundry channel here, and here’s a trailer to whet your appetite:

In my next post, I’ll share my favorite finds from the exhibit hall. Sneak preview: I’m totally jealous of the shirt I bought for my 16-year-old daughter. Lucky for me we wear the same size…

Baby Week: Six Geeky Lullabies for Your Bundle of Joy (Now Go to Sleep!)

Is there a better sight to new parents' eyes? © Sophie Brown
Is there a better sight to new parents’ eyes? © Sophie Brown

One of the traditions that enter your home when you have a baby is that of lullabies. Whether you’re singing them yourself or you have some form of electronic gadget blaring out tinny, beepy versions of “Rock-a-Bye Baby”, chances are that by the time you’re hitting the 12 week mark, you’re getting a little sick of “Twinkle Twinkle…” and its ilk. Here then are some suggestions for geekier songs you could sing to get tired wee ones off to the land of nod.


Soft Kitty (from The Big Bang Theory)

Could I possibly have made this list without Soft Kitty? Well yes, possibly, but I’m sure I’d be lynched soon afterward. Soft Kitty has ingrained itself firmly in the geek psyche and I’m sure many of us have sung it to our kids, I know I have. So popular is the song that there is now an official range of products including t-shirts, a cushion and a singing plush kitty. And as if that isn’t enough, there’s now a video of Wil Wheaton singing it to his sick wife.
Tick, Tock, Goes the Clock (from Doctor Who)

This creepy little lullaby was heard constantly throughout Doctor Who’s sixth season with different verses appearing in different episodes. When the show was airing over summer I often found myself singing this one to my son as I dressed him and the abundance of verses means that you’ll generally be able to recall a few of them even at three in the morning.
Rue’s Lullaby (from The Hunger Games)

It’s difficult to discuss this beautiful lullaby without giving away spoilers for the upcoming Hunger Games film, needless to say that anyone who has read the books will understand its significance. At this point there is no official tune to sing the words to so you will have to make up your own, or you can have a listen to the beautiful version above being sung by Kimmy from to the tune of “Kiss the Rain” by Yiruma.
Joy to The World (from The X-Files)

This is the only lullaby on the list that actually existed as a real world lullaby before its inclusion in a geeky show. “Joy to The World” first appeared in The X-Files in season five where Scully sang it to an injured Mulder to prove she was awake when they were trapped overnight in a forest. It was brought back as an in-joke for fans when Scully sang it to her son in season nine and it was my go-to song when my son was a tiny baby.
The Greatest Adventure (from The Hobbit)

Remember that amazing geek film released in 1977? No, not that one, I meant the animated Hobbit. No? Well no, neither do I as it happens but some kind soul on YouTube has been uploading music from the soundtrack and this one makes a beautiful lullaby. The 2012 Hobbit film has also given us its first song in the trailer – “Misty Mountains (Cold)” which would also make an interesting (if slightly dirge-y) lullaby.
Tim Minchin – Lullaby

This one isn’t exactly safe for work (or safe for your little one’s ears for that matter) however it is in a word, accurate. I don’t think there is a parent out there who hasn’t felt exactly how this song describes when trying to sooth a screaming baby to sleep whilst simultaneously trying not to collapse from exhaustion themselves. Take it with a good pinch of salt and if your baby is still screaming, maybe give “Oh bla di, oh bla da” a try!

On Explaining Wheaton’s Law

PAX East 2010 with Wil Wheaton, Image: Nicole Wakelin

The day you have kids, you have to change your language. I don’t mean you have to learn a new one, but that you have to start eliminating all the words you don’t want them to use once they’re old enough to talk. This is not an easy task. Once you try to stop saying the words that got you in trouble back in grade school, you’ll suddenly become very aware of just how much they sneak into your vocabulary. It may be okay for adults, but not when it’s your toddler who has latched onto a word and is gleefully saying “Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t!” as you do your grocery shopping. It’s awful. Trust me.

Thankfully, my kids are now old enough to know better, and they know that if they say something they shouldn’t, then there are going to be consequences. This doesn’t mean I don’t slip up, particularly when I’m driving. It’s hard to spontaneously say “Oh, sugar!” when someone cuts you off because what comes to mind is considerably more colorful. Like most kids, mine surely know a few choice words but don’t dare use them, yet.

Of all the places not to swear, the worst one, the one where you have to be the most careful, is at a school. I accidentally said damn in my daughter’s first grade class and I felt lucky that I wasn’t reported and escorted from the building. They take this stuff seriously. The worst part is that you’re likely to get that look from the teacher, the one that made you want to hide under your desk when you were a kid. The only problem is that those desks are small and if you hide under one as an adult you risk flipping it over and that would probably be worse.

I am very, very careful to use only proper English anytime I’m at the school. I’m kinda proud, truthfully, and a little amazed that I haven’t slipped since that one time in first grade. You try to keep your cool when a kid accidentally squirts you with grape juice, or gets paint on your new shoes. I’m telling you, it is not easy.

One day last week I started chatting with a bunch of moms as we waited for our kids in the foyer at the end of the schoolday. The conversation turned to someone who was being a pain in the butt. (See, I said butt, not something more colorful. I can do this.) We were all in agreement that this person was being awful, and annoying and making things difficult for the rest of us. I shook my head and said the first thing that came to mind, Wheaton’s Law, and the minute that those two little words left my lips I knew I was in trouble.

These moms were not geeks. Not even close. They didn’t know Star Trek from Star Wars, Hobbits from Ewoks, or that Han shot at all, much less first. And they most definitely didn’t know Wheaton’s Law. It became one of those moments when the whole world slowed as they turned to look at me with that unmistakable expression of utter confusion and suspicion.

I tried to explain. Wil Wheaton? The guy who played Wesley on Star Trek? Sheldon’s nemesis on The Big Bang Theory? Nothing. They looked at me like I had a few screws loose. I tried to save myself by explaining that he’s this big-time geek and he has a blog and he has this idea that people should be nice to each other and not nasty and he summed it all up with Wheaton’s Law. I desperately tried to avoid saying the actual law.

So, of course, one mom asked what it actually was and I wanted to go hide under a desk again. Saying it meant saying a word that was clearly not acceptable in a grade school. The kind of word that will make kids giggle, and parents cast disapproving looks, but I was out of options. “Don’t be a dick.”, I said, and at that moment two girls exited the bathroom not three feet away, heard me, and giggled and whispered their way back to class. I am not even kidding.

What went through my head was a string of words that I didn’t say. I smiled and laughed it off as the other moms mostly smiled back. Although I did get a few shocked and disapproving looks. I couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t my fault this time. I tried not to say it, I really, really did, and it’s not my fault those little girls walked out of the bathroom at exactly that moment. I didn’t even know they were in there and, ugh. Darn you, Wil Wheaton, you’re gonna get me in trouble!

EDITOR’S NOTE: For geeky alternatives to bad words, see Brigid Ashwood’s post on “creative cursing!”

Google’s New Privacy Policy

Google sent out emails to users to let them know that they’re changing their privacy policy and Terms of Service, effective March 1. That’s usually enough to start a good panic, and I doubt it will be different this time.

Just how “evil” is Google?  Well, it probably depends on who you ask. There were plenty of people spreading the rumor that Google was stealing all your content, when really they were just doing normal Internet-y stuff, like allowing you to upload, store, and post it. You’ve always retained copyright. The good news is that Google’s new Terms of Service are a lot clearer about that. They’re also simpler and apply across all services, except when the service itself says otherwise (open source software allows you to modify it, for example.)

The privacy policy changes are a biggie, however.  Google is going to combine info across services. That means when you search, the search algorithms will consider your contacts, your email messages, your documents, and your recently read news articles when returning your search results. That sounds pretty Big Brotherish, but I suspect you’ll like the search results better, anyway. It’s also likely going to mean less logging in. I don’t know about you, but I’m annoyed when I have to log into YouTube separately, even though it’s tied to my Gmail address and uses the same password.

Google also assures us that they’re not going to tie DoubleClick advertising info with personally identifying information unless you opt in. Better hope that opt in option is obvious and clear. Google has my phone number, credit card information, and address. It’s bad enough that they’re taunting across websites. I don’t need my banner ads to call me by name.

The bad, the ugly. This means Wil Wheaton’s rule applies tenfold. If you get caught breaking the rules, you can be locked out of everything you use on most of the Internet. Google still needs to work on their tools to get people out of that situation if they break rules unknowingly, are hacked, or end up being falsely accused.

What do you say? Are you ditching the Google come March 1st, are you launching a protest, or are you just going to passively accept that they knew all your personal data anyway and enjoy the integrated services?

Juggling And Balancing On The Tightrope


We all know them. The moms who seem to be always doing. Whether they are balancing a chequebook in one hand whilst nursing a babe in the same arm, simultaneously talking on the telephone with the other hand to schedule a playdate for the other sibling, all the while going through the grocery list in their mind. Or the mom who is busy jumping from soccer practice to dance classes to Parent Advisory Committee meetings whilst preparing the agenda for tomorrow’s big meeting. We look at them and think, “Dear FSM, woman! How do you find the time for it all!?” I have a confession to make. I am one of those women. I’ll admit, I often find that I’m asking myself the exact same question.

I’m new here. I suppose that is pretty obvious. Let me give you a very brief snapshot into all that I do. First, I’m a mom of two wonderful boys. My oldest will be sixteen in September. My youngest will be twelve on April 16. I would describe my oldest as a nerd and I would describe my youngest as a geek/gamer. Our home consists of a 24 hour nerdfest.

My educational background is in Psychology. I had planned to eventually get my PhD, specializing in abnormal psychology of children and adolescence, but then life threw me a huge curve-ball which goes by the name of Lupus, causing me to have a hysterectomy at 29 and a full-blown left-sided stroke at 30. I had to build my career doing things that I could do from home.

Roughly three years ago, a job opportunity crossed my eyes. I saw an advert for internet radio personalities. The job was remote with no previous experience necessary. Having acted and danced on stage for many years and with a passion for entertaining, I knew I would be perfect for the job. Despite the fear that my application would never see another person’s eyes, I applied. Within five hours of sending my application, I received an interview request. The rest is, as they say, history. But what is this history?

Shortly after being hired as an on-air personality, I was promoted to programming director. Eventually, I would also hold the title of assistant general manager. Among my various radio shows, I began a radio show known as the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show. After she launched, I had the awesome opportunity to interview Wil Wheaton, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait PhD, Shane Nickerson (MTV executive producer), Jonathan Coulton, Runic Games and musician Mike Lombardo. I had a personal blog on Blogspot, however my radio show became so popular that I had to launch my Geeky Pleasures website and a separate personal blog. Eventually, I had to step away from my position at that radio station. However, my Geeky Pleasures website and personal blog continued on.

I had it in my mind that running a website that requires updating at least three times a day, Monday – Friday, plus a personal blog, plus raising two children on my own, was not enough to keep me busy. So I launched the Lupus Awareness Virtual Art Gallery. Because of my work to raise lupus awareness, I was asked to interview Patrizia Hernandez, the lead actress in Love Simple, and John Casey, producer of Love Simple. I was later asked if I would write for The Lupus Magazine and I accepted.

But still in my mind, I was not busy enough. I would later be asked to contribute to Star Wars vs Star Trek and NerdsInBabeland. Still not enough to do, I volunteered my time as the layout and design editor of The Vaccine Times. One would think that would be enough, right? Wrong. Late last year, I was asked to help build another internet radio station and I agreed. That radio station would become The Force 925, where all my old radio shows, including the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show and frequent co-host of a political talk-show, would find a new home.

Since launching at the beginning of his year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview: musician Jeff MacDougall; Paul and Storm; GeekDad and musician John Anealio; Len Peralta of GeekAWeek fame; Lauren Crace and Sylvester McCoy; and New York Times best selling author Steve Hockensmith. Scheduled to appear in the coming weeks are 101010 Productions and Richard Hatch of The Apollo Awards, plus Maurissa Tancharoen-Whedon. You’d think that would be enough, but here I am at GeekMom.

In my spare time, I do a lot of crafting and creating in more ways than I think I can currently list. I also found time to write two books whilst doing all of the above.

It is no wonder that many, including myself, ask me how do I manage it all, whilst raising two boys on my own and dealing with a disease that likes to attempt to royally kick my behind. I think the easy and lazy answer is to say: It is just like having children. The more that you have, they tend to keep each other busy and occupied. It is nothing for me to be updating one website while I have the dashboard of another open, editing and updating them simultaneously. Plus with Twitter, it is easy to find material as most of my content inspiration comes from there. However, a great deal of it comes down to planning, organizational skills and scheduling. The first four hours of my day are busy spent receiving press releases, deciding what I’ll post, making a list of updates which need to be made to other sites and taking a break whenever my body demands it. I also remember to take a lot of time to breathe. Many of us forget to do that.

If I did not have the luxury to work from home, none of this would be possible. Once my posts are scheduled on any given day, then I am free to fart around for the rest of it, surfing the internet for inspiration, chatting with my tweeps, interviewing new personalities for the station and training them, doing my radio shows, thinking about the articles I will write for projects that I am not personally responsible to maintain, nerding out with my children whilst they are busy playing WoW, watching Doctor Who, or asking me some question about astrophysics and what would happen if they jimmied open the microwave in such a fashion that it is fooled into thinking it is closed and turning it on. It also helps that the Geeky Pleasures website and the radio station are the only things that must be done daily. The Vaccine Times is a quarterly print publication, NiB and SWvsST is when I have time, The Lupus Magazine is once a month, health and life willing. Writing here is also casual for the time being.

In the end it is a careful juggling act whilst balancing and walking a tightrope. The smallest misstep and I drop my balls. Thankfully, they are picked up easily enough and the world will not end if I have to stop for a day or two or ten. However, being an extreme overachiever, it is difficult to stop.

If you think I’m busy, I know many other moms who do far more than I. Maybe we are all a wee bit insane in some way. Perhaps this comes with the territory when one is a geek, especially if one is creative.

So let me ask you, how do you mange to juggle family and career? What are some of your tips?

Storm And Paul Is Their Cover Band Name

Photo Cathe Post

They are the opening band. I have yet to throw my panties on the stage – but when I do, they will be unique and geeky. My husband introduced me to the The Captain’s Wife’s Lament and Nun Fight a couple of years ago. When I heard these songs, by two guys who have obvious musical talent, I was an instant minion.

I am of course talking about Paul and Storm. The comedy music duo has performed with Jonathan Coulton, and most recently, their own project with Wil Wheaton and Adam SavageW00tStock.

Recently, I had the opportunity to have an e-mail dialog with the musical duo. We discussed their musical roots and how they balance a hectic tour schedule with family life:

GeekMom: Were you band nerds and/or choir geeks before Da Vinci’s Notebook?

Storm: DEFINITELY. Throughout high school and college I was in show choirs, chorales, madrigal groups, plays and musicals, and above all else a cappella. I never seriously played an instrument, though, until we started up as Paul and Storm.

Paul:  Same here, though I was more a band geek than choir geek (but I did both). Always enjoyed singing harmony, and tried unsuccessfully to start a barbershop quartet in junior high school.

GM: Did you ever think you would become the geek icons you are now? Is this where you thought you would be? Do you even consider yourselves to be geeks?

S: Not even in my most spice-induced dreams did I imagine there’d ever be something called a “geek icon”, so I’d have to say “no”. But I always did have a vague sense that I’d be doing something fun and creative like we are right now, and since I’m most certainly a geek (60% geek, 30% nerd, 5% dork, 5% other), our current situation feels right.

GM: You are married? Are your spouses geeks as well?

S: Yep, happily married. My wife is a geek of the bookworm variety, but mostly she’s just really, really smart.

P: My wife, while very smart (way smarter than I, certainly), is no geek. My older daughter is, though, and proudly so. She’s plowing her way through all the seasons of Futurama as we speak.

GM: How do you balance home life with your touring and W00tstock schedules?

S: We try not to be on the road for long stretches, which helps, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Mostly we go out for extended weekends, and we also make sure to block out “sacred time” in the schedule for important family occasions.

P: It helps that, when we’re home, we’re home 24/7, especially in my case, what with two kids in school and such. It’s an odd schedule sometimes, but our families are quite used to it now.

GM: Would you ever consider writing a children’s album?

S: It would be a lot of fun, and I think about it a lot. Kids have always been attracted to our music–lots of harmony and melody, etc.–but it can put you in a tough spot when you’re an act that does a fair amount of “blue” material. Even as it is we have people bring their kids to our “adult” shows, which can be awkward. TMBG handles it really well. When they come to town they’ll often have both a kid’s show and an adult show, and they’re careful about making clear which is which.

GM: What would your Paul and Storm cover band name be?

S: Storm and Paul. Doy!

GM: You have become icons of the geek music scene. Who are your icons?

S: A lot of them are musical, like the Beatles, Weird Al Yankovic, and TMBG. But I also carry around in my head folks like Monty Python, the Muppets, Fonzie, and Douglas Adams.

P: Not to mention authors (Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, to name two); and not to get maudlin, but I count Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage as well: two guys who have been very successful being exactly who they are and doing exactly what they love.

I have high hopes of there someday being a children’s album. If there is, I will be the first to buy it for my kids. Until then, I will leave you with my most recent Paul and Storm favorite (in hopes that it will be on the Rock Band network soon): Frogger! The Frogger Musical…