Monday, March 28, 2011

Spookymilk Survivor VIII:

I don't really have any preface this week. We lost a team member last week, and another nonsub bit the dust.

The challenge this week was to write a short story about a person in a comic book universe who has a truly useless superpower. The person could use that superpower to their advantage, or be messily destroyed when the superpower proves just as useless as it seems.

Here's what I came up with:

…Meanwhile, on the other side of town….

With Ironfist and The Human Torpedo chasing wild geese in the warehouse district, their arch-nemesis Riboflavin has broken into the vault of the Central Trust. Having incapacitated the guards and deactivated the security system, it seems nothing can stop the madman. The villain’s victory assured, he doesn’t even notice the man in tan spandex approaching the vault.


“Ah! Holy cow, you scared me. What are you doing here? And what on earth are you wearing?”

“I’m here to stop you, evildoer, and the particulars of my super suit are none of your business!”

“Charming. Before I brutally murder you, what’s your name?”

“I am Tapioca!”

“Come again?”

“I am…”

“I heard you the first time. What would motivate you to come down here and get slaughtered? Do you even have a super power?”

“I can conjure pudding from thin air!”

“Did you hear what I said?”

“How much pudding?”

“About 4 or 5 servings”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all I’ll need”

“Enough of this, I’ve got to get moving so….glurk…gak”

“I didn’t say where I’d be conjuring the pudding, did I?”

Riboflavin’s response is drowned out as his lungs begin to fill with precisely 5 servings of chocolate pudding. His horrified expression is etched permanently onto his face, with a small brown river dribbling out of his nose. The grateful (if slightly disturbed) security guards ask Tapioca how they will contact him if they need him in the future.

“Wherever there is crime that can be stopped with 4 or 5 servings of pudding, that’s where I’ll be.”

K: This had me at “Riboflavin” and I giggled throughout. Another useless superpower comes through (sure, it was more of a “kryptonite” thing than a clever use of something stupid, but it’s all good). Just about every line of spoken dialogue was chuckle-worthy, but I have to single out the specificity of “4 or 5 servings” as my favorite. This gets four or five points. You know what? 5.

B: Is it supposed to be “man in tan spandex?” Either way, this made me laugh out loud. This entry is made by “4 or 5 servings.” If it’s just “4 servings” this is half as funny. 5


I really liked the idea of this challenge, but it stumped me like none other (except for maybe the Battle of the Mimes last year). I came up with dozens of awful ideas, one semi-great idea (that I came up with while slightly drunk that I couldn't remember the particulars of the next morning), and absolutely nothing that stuck. With one hour left til deadline, I had written absolutely nothing. At that point, I did the sensible thing. I panicked.

One constant I'd had all week (other than an idea of the "British League of IndePendent Supers" which I thankfully discarded) was the idea that the less than useful ability was going to be making some seemingly benign substance appear out of thin air. It was all I had to go on, and I was eating a pudding cup at the time, so I went with it. The dialog came pretty naturally, though I was worried that basing the entire gag around the dialog might be a little risky (an unfounded fear, apparently). The much heralded "4 or 5 servings" line just seemed to flow with the rest of the dialog and seemed funny, so in it went.

The hardest part was naming everyone. I liked Riboflavin as a villain name (what kind of power, if any, does that guy have? It certainly isn't the ability to breathe pudding.) The A-list heroes were the hardest to name, as most of the good, or even cliché ones are already taken in some form or other. By the time I got to naming the hero, I only had about 30 minutes left, and I hadn't even proofread anything yet - hence the unimaginative, but oddly fitting "Tapioca". In all, from concept to finished product, it came off in about 30 minutes. After a quick proofread to make sure I hadn't made any glaring grammar errors, I sent it off. Sometimes I'll agonize over certain sections and re-think things for way too long; I didn't have that luxury here, and I think that actually worked for the best in this case.

Again, a nonsub on our team means we'll be sending someone careening out of the game, but after that, it looks like we might actually have ourselves a game. The game really starts on Tuesday.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spookymilk Survivor VIII: Letter of Resignation

In each of the first eight weeks of Spookymilk Survivor Eight (the ocho) there have been two constants: non-submitters and the removal from the game of someone who did not fly under the DARK STOMRY KNIGHTS flag*. This week, one of those safe comfortable certainties was put asunder. Which one? Read on.

*it might just be me, but I think the DSK flag would probably just be this picture that I just now found randomly on Google images.


Over the top and brilliant – JUST LIKE DSK

This week, the challenge was to take a public figure, either real or fictional (no politics, and I can’t put into words how grateful I was that this clause was added), and write a resignation letter for that person. A straight to-the-point example might be Derek Jeter retiring from the Yankees to go play rugby with his college friends. A less to-the-point example might be Beethoven’s eardrums retiring from their duties as purveyors of sound. Either would work, both have potential in the constraints of the challenge.

Here’s what I came up with:

My Esteemed Colleauges,

I regret to inform you that at the conclusion of the “Blood, Death, Mayhem, and Blood” tour, I will be terminating my duties as the rhythm guitarist of the band Bludgeoned By Lobsters. I feel that starting with our last album, “Fecal Death Squirrel”, our music has become too pandering and watered down, and I wish to take my talents in a new artistic direction. I will always treasure the time I shared with Bludgeoned By Lobsters, and hope that no hard feelings arise from this decision.

With all regards,

Ronald Floyd Jenkins IV

You may notice something pretty early (something other than the fact that I misspelled “colleagues”, which I somehow missed upon proofread – embarrassing). We’ll get to that shortly. Here’s the judges’ critiques:

K: Did this exist before, or is this fictional on the part of our contestant? That wasn’t the intention, and I therefore never even considered the possibility. That one makes this stand out, but so do the solid gags. I love the name of the tour and the idea that this is “pandering.” 4

B: This is great. Using “blood” twice in the title of the tour is perfect. Also, I love that “Fecal Death Squirrel” is their watered down album. 4

Ah, there we have it. I kind of cheated. There were a couple reasons for that, but primary among them was the fact that the first words I had in my head when I read this challenge (which I sucked at last year… I mean, GAWD) were “Blugeoned By Lobsters”. After I laughed to myself for five minutes, I decided that BBL was an idea that I was simply not going to give up on.

The problematic thing about “Bludgeoned By Lobsters” is that there are limited ways in which such a phrase can be used. I decided that BBL was a Grindcore band (because really, how could they not be?) and that they were “selling out” by toning it back. Fecal Death Squirrel is the start of their watering down, and from the only thing left to do was name the tour (the second “Blood” was a last-second addition that I added before sending). I was worried that the entry was a little out of bounds (sad as it makes me, there is no band called Bludgeoned By Lobsters), and I wasn’t sure if the judges would have been okay with that. It looks like they were. I suppose I could have written a short story about BBL and uploaded it to a random fanfic site, at which point the band would have gone from being fictional to being… well… still fictional. Luckily, that turned out to be unnecessary.

Sadly, there were still nonsubs. Even more sadly, both nonsubs came from DSK, so we have to evict one. Assuming my team doesn’t come after me for unforeseeable reasons, I’m excited to see next week’s challenge.

Farewell, Neshek

Yesterday, the the Twins announced that Pat Neshek had been claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres. I was sort of shocked by the news, but I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising.

After coming back from Tommy John surgery last year his fastball was barely touching 85, and he was giving up home runs this year at a pace that would make Jose Lima cringe.

I prefer to remember mid-2006, when he first debuted in the big leagues. My dad, brother, and I went to a game in July (I’m all but certain it was this one). The Elmer’s glue and Scotch tape holding Brad Radke’s arm together must have been a little loose, because he was about as hitable as he could have been. We thought about leaving midway through the fourth, but then the Twins got a couple in the bottom of that inning. In the top of the 7th, Neshek came out. I knew what to expect from the couple of times I’d seen him (I believe the game in question was his 7th major league game), but it was all-new territory for my brother and dad. We marveled at the motion, how the ball seemed like it was coming from no place in particular. Pretty soon, we were marveling at how lethal he was – he struck out three in just under two innings, with none of those three batters looking like they had the slightest clue what they were up against. I had a new favorite Twin.

I soon found his blog, and have been a loyal follower in the years that followed. I’ve been out of the baseball card scene for a little over 15 years now (I never really came back to it after the strike), but the one card from the last decade that I do own is one of Neshek’s minor league cards (autographed, of course) that I just had to have off eBay. It’ll probably be the last one I’ll ever need.

This move makes me a little sad. I’d really hoped Neshek could come back to his former glory. He still could – fingers crossed. Here’s hoping Petco does him right.

In honor of one of the more unique pitching motions in recent memory (and one of my favorite Twins ever), here’s some bullpen footage some random dude took three years ago.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Baseball Predicitons 2011 - AL Edition

So, I promised Jester that this post was going to be up a while ago. The slipshod analysis will prove that this post would be better never than late, but whatever. It's always nice to have completely wrong predictions chisled in stone so that everyone can laugh at them later.

I've flip-flopped over whether I want to go division by division, or just give a basic overview with a couple of thoughts. The latter certainly has the benefit of being less work, while also providing me with fewer ways to look dumb. I think we'll go with one comprehensive post, rather than 6 in-depth ones.

Here goes...



Rangers - 90
Angels - 80
A's - 79
Mariners - 5

No, that's not a typo. The Mariners are only going to win five games. Felix Hernandez is going to have a 1.89 ERA, strike out seven hundred guys, and have a 4-27 record. All four wins will be extra inning shutouts. He will win the Cy Young award, prompting Murray Chass to lead the great "Old School Uprising", they will demand the head of Billy Beane on a platter, because they still can't remember who actually wrote "Moneyball".

The Rangers seem to be the only team in this division that's even passable. I don't see any scenario where they don't walk away from this division.

The A's will be about 5 games back at the trade deadline, prompting their management to go into "rebuild" mode for the 50th straight season.

The Angels will lead the league in spending money on outfielders who will not play in the outfield for an impressive 17th year in a row. That's certainly something.


Twins - 88
White Sox - 86
Tigers - 86
Royals - 72
Indians - 70

A lot of people seem to peg the Royals as a 95+ loss team. I don't have any particular reason to feel optimistic about them, I just want to believe.

This division will be a three team dogfight. I think that the return of Morneau (which, as a massive plus means that my wife will be much more interested in watching baseball with me) helps a lot. I think Liriano's stats should look even better this year than they did last year (he had a .335 babip last year, 20 points above his career average, and 35 above the major league average, that's not sustainable). Getting Nathan back doesn't mean as much to the closer position as one might think (the Twins ramshackle mesh of Rausch and Capps converted saves almost as often as Nathan did in years previous), but it does mean that the bullpen gets another good late-inning arm. The White Sox and Tigers look good, the Twins just look a little better.


Red Sox - 95
Yankees - 94
Rays - 88
Blue Jays - 75
Orioles - 70

How much does it suck to be the Rays?

Red Sox had seven million injuries last year, with the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, they ought to pull out (but only just) a division title against the Yankees. Somehow the Twins will end up playing the Yankees, and will sweep them in the postseason. Pavano will be the MVP of that series.

MVP - Evan Longoria
Cy Young - Francisco Liriano (I know I picked King Felix earlier, but 4-27 might be a tough pill for some to swallow. He finishes second. Bloggers everywhere riot in the streets, only to be struck down within hours by severe sun stroke and exposure.)
Rookie of the Year - Jeremy Hellickson

Hopnog Bottling Day

...was yesterday. The Hopnog is now residing in our guest bath, where it will stay undisturbed, dark, and at a consistantly warmish temperature. The alcohol content is a little on the lowish side (I think I measured it at 4.3%), and it got a little bit of sediment in a couple of the bottles when my father-in-law insisted on getting "just a little more" out of the bottling bucket, but I'm excited. The beer should be ready to drink in time for the Twins home opener, so I've got multiple reasons to be pumped for that.

I wasn't a big fan of the "just drop the pellets in a be careful later" method. My FiL mentioned that he generally steeped the hops in a mesh bag instead of of just dropping them in. In any home-brewers happen by this blog, by all means let me know what some good ways of accomplishing this are.

Still, even with a little extra sediment and a lowish ABV number, I made 46 bottles of beer, now I just have to wait.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spookymilk Survivor VIII: Punch To a Quick End

Last week went pretty well. This week, the challenge was to write as short a complete story (or at least something that told a complete part of a complete story) as possible. To complicate matters, the story had to fit within two bookending sentences (helpfully provided by the judges).

Better get used to these bars, kid.
Your stunned silence is very reassuring.

It didn't matter which one started the story, and which finished so long as the story was bookended by those two sentences. In addition to the standard "x points out of 5" scale, additional points would be added or taken away based on the length of the piece in comparison to the other entrants. The shortest three (again, assuming the entrant told a self-contained story) would be given extra points. The longest three would lose points.

Was I able to top last week's top notch score and grab an almost impossible '7'? Read on...

My entry:

“Better get used to these bars, kid.”

The words snapped me back to reality as I stood in front of the dessert table at my wedding reception. The man’s voice went on, “after all, you did marry into a Lutheran family. Goes with the territory”. I faked a chuckle.

My new wife approached. “What a whirlwind of a day. Is there anything I can get for you? Have you met my family?”

I wanted to say something but nothing was coming. I couldn’t do anything but stare dumbly at those damned brownies. I guess I had a lifetime of those to look forward to, at least. Lisa gave me a quizzical look before playfully jabbing me with her finger, “Your stunned silence is very reassuring.”

Kelly and Beau's Critiques

K: I do like the sad internal monologues of people in regret. Always interesting stuff. I assume this one will be on the long side, but it’s good. 4

B: Cute. I’m not much into denomination jokes. I am very into brownies. 3

For fun, here's the breakdown of what everyone's "bars" were:

Dessert: 4
Prison or Other Cage: 3
Musical Notation: 2
Drinking Establishment: 2
Handlebars: 1
Generic Metal Bars: 1

So first things first, I guess I completely failed in my intention to pick something others might not. I figured more people would go for either the prison or drinking establishment routes. My first thought was to go a more comedic route, with the bars tasting terrible or something of the like. I'm glad I didn't do that, as a couple of the other entrants went in that direction, and were more successful than I probably would have been.

I'm not entirely certain where I got the idea of a semi-regretful groom staring at a dessert table. I've never actually seen one of the stereotypical Lutheran "Potlucks" at a wedding reception - certainly not mine, though I did marry into a Lutheran family (more on that in a moment). The "Lutheran family" joke was actually meant to lampoon those who DO subscribe to denominational humor (I really dislike humor of that ilk), so I had the speaker of that joke be a nameless, faceless annoyance. It looks like that didn't come across quite the way I wanted for it to.

The "stunned silence" line simply would not fit into the story, no matter what I tried. I still don't like the look of it. It's not a phrase that is very easy to shoehorn into "normal" dialogue. It sounds sarcastic, but stiltedly so. The bride is playfully ribbing the protagonist, and it doesn't quite look right, but I don't it's so bad that it throws everything off.

I didn't even bother with length. I know that length was precisely half the challenge, but I couldn't find a way to tell the story I wanted to tell without having three characters, and it's quite difficult to have three characters and describe them in only a couple throwaway sentences. As it turns out, I think I made the right call on disregarding the length (but only barely so, a couple more sentences and I would've lost points). I think the idea of "short as possible" stories is a good one, and the challenge on whole is solid, but most of the shortest ones read as jumbled and somewhat static (and received low "story" scores as a result), and most of the longest ones ended up being the best. In the end everyone who submitted was within a point and a half of each other. That probably says something about the level playing field almost as much as it does about the challenge, but I digress.

More nonsubs this week, so of course, it only mattered insomuch as it's always fun to read the submissions. Maybe next week we'll get a full quorum and things will get interesting.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spookymilk Survivor VIII: Create-a-Challenge Grab Bag

I didn't update this last week because it was the create-a-challenge, and I never have anything very interesting for those. In fact, the one I made this time around is one I would explicitly not want to actually do - it scored appropriately poorly.

This week, though, I was a little more excited. Spooky and Beau chose seven challenges out of those submitted last week (including mine, for reasons that likely involve brevity), and instructed us to pick whichever one struck our fancy.

This was actually the first time during this Survivor that I felt solid inspiration. I ended up choosing Drew's challenge, involving these three seemingly unrelated pictures.

Here's what I came up with:

I suppose I am asleep right now. After all, that is how the Lotus Eater works. The machine keeps you in a kind of lucid sleep limbo as the technicians view static images from your memory on the screen. I am not in control of anything; I am simply a passive observer. I don’t even know what they’re looking for.

They didn’t seem to be interested in the first few images, and passed them by pretty quickly. Soon, they found one that must have at least piqued their curiosity. I’m not sure why. It was a memory from my college days. My brother, his girlfriend, and I were drinking on the roof of my parents’ farmhouse. The image is wrong, though… the ground is covering everything up to the top window. It’s almost as if they zoomed in on what they were interested in, ignoring everything else, or maybe the technology isn’t as perfect as they’d like – it’s hard to say. Either way, they saw what they wanted to see and moved on without much delay.

The second image they stopped on seemed to have caught a bit more of their attention. The company I work for had me take a look at some geological anomalies out by the old fairgrounds. The project seemed routine, so I brought my fiancée and her friend along (I will note that geological phenomena do not capture the interest of the average American woman). I didn’t expect to find anything particularly damning, and I didn’t. I gave my superiors my findings, and they placed a research team on the project. That’s not strange, it happens all the time. What is strange is that this image is wrong, too. The bulge in the ground was nowhere near as pronounced as this one is. Something like this would’ve garnered a lot more attention.

While they might not have had much interest in any of the other images, they’re clearly keen on this last one. They’ve had it up for what feels like hours. I don’t even remember being in a room that looks like this. Knowing how images in this mindspace get altered, I’m trying my best to think of how this one could have been changed. I think I vaguely recognize my fiancée in the middle, and the person on the right could be my brother’s ex-girlfriend, but they never knew each other, and I’ve seen then together. The person on the left is obscured, and doesn’t look familiar, anyway. In fact, the whole memory is so unclear that it doesn’t seem like any information could be gleaned from it at all. I’ve been trying to piece together how these last three images could be connected, and I’ve gotten nothing. Unless…..

Oh, God…

I don’t think that they’re going to be waking me up anytime soon….

And here's what the judges said:

K: What an awesome idea this is. So unexpected, and so clever. It rambles a bit, but that fits the character. 5

B: All right, this is just great storytelling. I so want to know what happens next…no, scratch that. I want to know what happened before. 5
Obviously, I'm pretty pleased with the results this time around. I knew right when I saw the challenge that I wanted to go with the pictures (I'm kind of surprised no one else did, instead opting to go in the rather tired "advice column" direction). The idea of an unnamed narrator being stuck in a sort of limbo of lucid dreaming came right away. The idea of people using a machine to try to extract information from damaged memories came very shortly after. Now the only problem was to write it in a concise manner.

I didn't actually succeed in writing what I had in mind, the middle picture provided me with a problem* - how could I move the story forward without getting overly wordy or even worse, give too much away? This story relied on a vague sense of dread in order to function properly. Revealing too much about the protagonist or what the mysterious people were after - especially before the third act - would undermine everything.

* The second act has always been the hardest to write in any fiction I've ever written. In fact, I'm not actually sure I've ever completed one to my liking.

The third picture was suppose to be the easiest. The picture itself is good, but given the right framing device, could feel ominous. The problem was, how was I going to tie everything together when I didn't even know myself how everything tied together? The answer - don't tell anyone how it ties together - could be viewed as kind of a cop-out. You really don't learn anything about the main character other than the fact that he's just realized something awful and is in very deep trouble by the end of the story. I actually like it better that way. Over analyzing dread removes a lot of the bite to the feeling. A monster in dim light is more frightening than both a monster in full light and a monster in no light.

I actually had a full paragraph opening this as a sort of explanation of what was happening to the narrator, and how the world operated. I excised this and went for the more slimlined version seen in the final version. I like that decision. I've actually thought about writing a full length short story about this scenario, but I'm unsure of whether or not it the feeling that this short piece evoked could possibly be drawn out to that extent. I guess we'll see.

Bottom line, there were nonsubs again this week, so it didn't matter. DARK STORMY KNIGHTS remains triumphant, and Nick Punto is sitting somewhere in St. Louis, eating a plate full of bacon and laughing maniacally.