It’s Clobberin’ Time!

marvelfunbookAs Dante gets older, his milestones start to overlap with my own childhood memories, sometimes so close that they nearly touch. So indulge me a story please — I’ll connect it soon. When I was six years old, I got a present. It was called The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Fun Book. It was your basic book of mazes, word games, puzzles, quizzes, etc., featuring Marvel superheroes. I knew nothing about these guys at the time, though I’d probably heard of Spider-Man and the Hulk. Trying to do the activities in the book showed me that there was a huge universe of Marvel characters, each one of which seemed to have its own compelling costume, superpower, personality, origin story, and so on.

I had to know more. I started pestering my mom and dad for Marvel stuff, and lucky for me, the company was in an expansive phase, publishing a variety of paperbacks (via Fireside Books) reprinting origin stories for various characters (most of whom emerged in the early 1960s) alongside more contemporary tales for some of those same characters. That was how I ended up with Origins of Marvel Comics, and its successors Son Of Origins, Bring On The Bad Guys, The Superhero Women, and so forth. There were character-centric collections too, and about 4 sequels to the original Fun Book.

These books became a cornerstone of my childhood. In fact, I was so fascinated with the Marvel universe that I methodically went through the Fun Book (my original talisman) page by page and devoted a week to every superhero it mentioned. I’d try to learn about the hero of the week, but it would also affect how I dressed, how I played, what decisions I’d make. (“What would Doctor Strange order from this restaurant menu?”) It went deep, and it went on for years. I still love Marvel today.

As I watched Dante approach that same age, I’d offer him the same kinds of things. But he seemed to have very little interest in activity books of any sort, and zero interest in comics and superheroes. In fact, even when I found a copy of Origins for a ridiculously low price at my local comic store and brought it home to him, he literally said, “No thank you,” and it was exiled to his bookshelf to collect dust. By the time he was seven, I’d pretty much concluded that I’d never share superhero stories with him.

Then, last summer, I happened across an online video game that had just launched, called Marvel Heroes. It’s a massively-multiplayer action role-playing game, where you get to choose somebody from a roster of superheroes, then romp through the Marvel universe gaining abilities, gear, levels, and so forth by beating up the bad guys. Oh man it is fun, and I’ve been addicted to it for the past 9 months or so, especially as its fantastic developer team continues to improve it on a weekly basis.

Dante likes to watch me play games sometimes, so he perched by my shoulder as The Thing ran around clobbering various evildoers. He was mesmerized, and started asking me all kinds of questions about the various heroes, as well as the plot points in the game’s story. That story is kind of a “Marvel’s greatest hits”, so I mentioned that the MacGuffin behind the first few chapters (called the Tablet of Life And Time) shows up in the comics, including a story that just happened to be on his bookshelf… in Origins Of Marvel Comics.


So he grabbed the book, and this time he devoured it, along with all my other Marvel Fireside books. He also asked if he could have his own account in the game, and I consented. He chose his account name (“Is ’3-month-old kitten’ a good account name?”), picked The Thing as his hero, and off he went. My sister bought him a Marvel Encyclopedia, and he dove in, similar to how he’d done with Pokemon in the past. He lost interest after a while, but that didn’t matter to me. He’d learned Marvel, and given us a common vocabulary to talk about this thing I follow.

It occurs to me that Marvel Heroes is the 21st-century equivalent of the Fun Book that so ensnared me. Where 1970s kids had mazes and word games, 2010s kids have incredibly interactive and immersive environments to play in, but they both have that dazzling panoply of characters, costumes, superpowers, and stories. Now that I write it all down, in fact, I’m reminded that almost the same exact pattern happened with Star Wars. So now we play both Star Wars and Marvel games together (including the fabulous Lego variants of each), and in fact he’s recently undergone a Marvel Heroes renaissance, diving back into the game to explore all the stuff that got added after he left.

All I know is that I never get tired of hearing him say, “It’s clobberin’ time!”

The Dante Show: Polyglot

Lately, Dante has added chickens to his interests, and frequently when we wake him up in the morning, the first thing we hear is, “Bok bok!” Either that or meowing.

In fact, he has informed us that he is fluent in five different languages: English, cat, chicken, Ewok, and Dante Language. Skeptical? Let’s go to the videotape:

(There’s an awful lot of rocking and rolling during this interview. Clearly we have to get this kid some media training. Or a very quiet electric guitar.)

Economics: Fair?

We’ve had a long, lovely winter break, and now Dante is back to school. The year’s half over, and I’m realizing I haven’t written much at all about how 3rd grade has been for him. However, last time I asked him what I should write about for this blog, he said, “You should write about the economics fair!” So that will require some school context.

The short answer is that school is going very well indeed this year. He’s got some good friends, one of whom is in his same homeroom class. He’s got a teacher that our family loves, who really gets him and who tailors curriculum to meet his needs. And he’s got a lot less homework than in previous years, thanks to this same teacher’s approach — one of the reasons why we love her. It goes beyond his teacher, of course. That school is full of people who care about Dante and do whatever they can to give him the best possible experience.

Leading up to winter break, the whole 3rd and 4th grade had a big, multifaceted joint project: an economics fair, in which every child started a (very) small business. Each kid brainstormed product ideas, then did market research, chose one idea, made a prototype, and then made 25-50 instances of the product. They “rented” storefront space from the teacher (all the money was Stargate currency, of course — not real cash), and did cost analysis on how much it cost to create each instance of their product. They made signage and advertising, created a slogan for their business, and so forth. Finally, when all the products were made and the stores prepared, they became each other’s customers, as well as selling to the 1st & 2nd graders, teachers, and parents. The main requirement for the products was that they must be handmade — no value-added reselling allowed. :)

Dante’s ideas were all for paper products: paper puzzles, paper airplanes, paper pockets, paper Christmas trees. In fact, they had him do the brainstorming first, and then he was quite crestfallen to discover that he wouldn’t get to make all his products, but rather had to choose one. So he chose the paper puzzles, but decided that the pictures on the puzzles would be of the other products he didn’t get to make. So he created puzzles with pictures of:

  • Christmas trees,
  • paper pockets (basically a triangle),
  • paper airplanes (a longish isosceles triangle with a line down the center),
  • and finally, the words “Paper Products”
A sample puzzle as sold

A sample puzzle as sold

There was one picture per puzzle, so buyers had their choice of images. In addition to the different pictures available, he also offered a variety of difficulty levels — puzzles in 4, 7, or 10 pieces. The special twist he put on things is that his puzzles lacked the typical knobs and sockets of familiar jigsaw puzzle pieces. Instead, he cut straight edges (with some surprise corners) on the pieces, requiring solvers to match the picture up carefully based on subtle clues. (Surely this was his aim, rather than just avoiding the work of cutting out knobs, right? :) ) In fact, his business slogan was, “Know no knobs.” Yes, the trademark Dante penchant for wordplay is alive and well.

He did his market research, and lo and behold, his potential customers were far more interested in Christmas tree puzzles than in pockets, airplanes, or “Paper Products.” Moreover, they heavily favored 10-piece puzzles over the easier ones. He made a prototype with tiny (Tic Tac sized) pieces, and then determined that the whole thing needed to be a lot bigger.

So he embarked on making his wares, with a considerable preponderance of 10-piece Christmas trees. The topper for our family Christmas tree is a dove (white-winged, naturally), so Dante drew a dove at the top of each of his Christmas trees as well. Except, he’s slightly obsessed with chickens right now, so each dove had a speech balloon containing some chicken vocalization. (Example: “bbok!”)

There were a lot of puzzles to make, and not enough class time to make them all, so he needed to branch into his home time to do it, much to his consternation. He’s drawn a bright line between home and school, and resents every intrusion of school into his home time. We talked about what he needed to do in order to have enough puzzles ready on the day of the fair, and settled on making 3 per night, including weekends. It was a big bummer to him to work on the weekends, but it was the option he selected rather than loading more puzzles onto weeknights.

Assembled version

Assembled version

Many times a day, he would remind us that he was feeling overwhelmed, and would seek validation with the formula, “Can you understand why I’d feel overwhelmed by this?” Laura was great at giving that to him. I had to remind myself not to immediately try to “fix” his feeling. Eventually, I settled on pointing out (over and over, as it came up constantly) that he’s got far less homework overall, that this is a big project, that he’s making the choices how to structure the work, etc. I also focused on making sure he understood the real-world value of doing a project like this.

Finally, the day of the fair arrived, and it didn’t go well at first. Not many people were interested in Dante’s puzzles, despite the bargain-basement prices he gave them. He got very frustrated based on how much work he’d put into making them, and the fact that he wouldn’t be able to lower the price any further without taking a loss. He compared his product to what other kids brought and said unhappily, “No one would take them even if they were free.”

Happily, the post-recess sales period went better. His teacher helped him with some ideas, such as having a demo puzzle out for people to try, and his mood picked up again. He was even more excited about the other students’ products than his own, and spent much of his time talking to potential customers about the cool items they could buy from other kids’ stores. :)

Then there was a second day of the fair, which parents and other teachers could attend. His teacher and others did a good job of sending business his way, and he did sell out by the end of that second day. I think he ended up proud of what he’d done, despite the somewhat unhappy experience of actually doing it.

I have some more thoughts about this fair, and about the state of his schooling in general today, but I think I’ll save those for a password-protected post in the near future…

Ebala oooooooooO

In case you’re wondering, “Ebala oooooooooO” is Ewok for “Happy Halloween,” at least according to Dante. He was quite specific that the final word has ten o’s, the last one of which is capitalized.

So, a very Ebala oooooooooO to all of YouuuuuuU, and here are some pics of our little Ewok.




This last is with a friend and a counselor at school whose Leia costume was partially inspired by the Star Wars games Dante plays at recess. Stargate is rocking it this year, but that’s a post for another time…

The Dante Show: This Is The Endor

Ewoks are the thing nowadays. Dante’s Star Wars fandom has zeroed in on those fierce and adorable alien teddy bears. I remember a certain amount of disdain and derision going around when the Ewoks appeared in Return Of The Jedi. Kids my age, who were 7 years old when Star Wars came out, had reached the far more sophisticated age of 13 when Jedi emerged. How dare these fuzzy cutie-pies sully our majestic space opera? Well, Lucas must have known what he was doing at the time, because the 8-year-old in my house can’t get enough Ewoky goodness.

In fact, he’s created his own version of Endor, the Ewoks’ home planet (okay nerds, I know it’s actually a moon.) In fact, he’s been good enough to give us a tour:

(The dancing letterbox is apparently YouTube’s way of compensating for my handheld shakycam. Thanks, YouTube!)

He’s also elected to dress up as an Ewok for Halloween this year. Pictures coming soon…

Summer Reruns 2013

It’s time once again to recap a year of Dante-oriented Facebook status updates!

September 8: Dante just asked me to put tracks from Steve Martin’s “Let’s Get Small” on a mix CD for him. PARENTING ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

October 19: Jedi knight costume from the store: $25. Not having to do anything crafty to make Dante a Halloween costume: PRICELESS.

November 5: Stargate held a raffle for a free couple registration to “Parents’ Day” at this conference, and Laura won! WOO! I’m so excited that we get to go — no way we could have spared the $175 ourselves. And many thanks to Mom and Dad for taking care of our little guy while we go learn about how to nurture him better.

January 14: Dante is looking over my shoulder as I play a movie trivia game. He sees the words “Forrest Gump” come up.
DANTE: [incredulously] What is “Forrest Gump”?
ME: It’s the name of a movie.
DANTE: Sounds like it’s not a very GOOD movie.
ME: Why do you say that?
DANTE: Because it sounds like “Forest Gunk.”
ME: Oh, so you think it’s not a good movie because of the phonic similarity between “gump” and “gunk”?
DANTE: Yeah, and forests are not supposed to be gunk, but they are gunk, because people keep cutting them down, and it’s REALLY ANNOYING.

April 28: Dante heard someone quoting the Mark Twain aphorism that if you eat a live frog every morning, nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day. “What I would do in that case”, he said (a formula he uses often), “is put a lot of salt and vinegar on the frog, and then it would be delicious, and the rest of the day would be REALLY great!”

May 6: Listening to Rod Stewart’s “I Was Only Joking.” Dante says, “This song sounds totally like a sequel to that Indigo Girls song!” (Meaning the song “Joking”, from Rites Of Passage.) That’s my boy.

May 8: Internet people, I seek your counsel on the topic of hair product dispensers. Dante is taking showers and washing his hair independently — hooray! However, it’s tough for him to manage a bottle of shampoo or conditioner in his small hands, so we’ve bought the kind with a pump on the top. Hooray again! However: the pump stops working when the bottle gets down to about 1/5 full. So now I’m stacking up 20% full shampoo/conditioner bottles. It feels wasteful to throw them away, so I’m using them, but I am really not a fan of obtaining hair product by unscrewing a cap and banging the bottle onto my hand. Surely there is a better way. Any ideas?

Selected comments:

[May Wescott] A funnel. Actually, they do sell this gizmo that allows you to connect two bottles by their spouts. You put the 20% one on top of the nearly full one and then the shampoo drains into the nearly full one. We used to do it with ketchup bottles.
[Don Guckenberger] I mounted a shampoo/liquid soap container in my shower that dispenses from the bottom. Has a similar problem, but only when it gets down to the last 2-3%
[George Doro] The Container Store (there’s one at Flatiron Crossing) sells these doodads that look like shampoo bottle caps, but with screw-ins at both ends and a hole in between. You screw in a less than half full bottle on one end, another on the other, then set it on a counter for a while, letting the fluid drain from one bottle to the other. Come back, toss the empty and use the refilled bottle.
[Paul O'Brian] Thanks everybody! I’m looking forward to trying some of these ideas.
[Trish Pottersmith] The things I learn from your Facebook questions!

May 14: For my money, it doesn’t get much cuter than the first and second grade general music concert. My face hurts from smiling so much.

May 22: Listening to “Keep the Customer Satisfied” by Simon & Garfunkel:
S&G: And I’m one step ahead of the shoeshine / Two steps away from the county line
DANTE: I don’t think the shoeshine would really be that close to the county line.

Selected comments:

[Jenny Nelson] Captain Literal, Jr.
[Paul Hammann] Why not? People who live near county lines sometimes have shoes in need of a shine. I know I lived near a shoeshine by the county line. Every time I passed it, I’d say “Jeepers, it’s great to be back home.”
[Adam Villani] I’ve noticed that a number of large American airports seem to be located close to county lines. Maybe it’s a shoeshine stand at an airport.
[Paul O'Brian] “Jeepers”? This isn’t a lifelong mondegreen, is it?
[Paul Hammann] I think it is. What should I be singing?
[Paul O'Brian] “Gee, but it’s great to be back home.”
[Paul Hammann] Same diff.
[Paul O'Brian] I dunno… “jeepers.”
[Trish Pottersmith] Oh man.

June 1: Going to Denver Comic-Con today! Pokemon-brained Dante asks, “Is Comic-Con the evolved form of Comic Book Store?”

June 28: Dante: “The symbol for Science is usually a bottle with blue or green liquid, and bubbles coming out of it.”

Selected comments:

[David Cornelson] I think I had a little science last night.
[Nate Cull] Well SOMEONE hasn’t been reading retro 1960s-70s science pulp! The universal symbol for science is CLEARLY an atom! Disclaimer: actual science nowadays may not involve atoms. Or if it does it is very apologetic.

July 9: Classic rock, as corrected by Dante: “Time slips into the past, not the future.”

Selected comments:

[Adam Cadre] I look forward to future installments in this series, such as “You need more than just love – oxygen, for one” and “Thunder sometimes happens when it is not yet raining in your area”
[Kent Cearley] there may be some conceptual prereqs, like procrastination, to get the full benefit of that lyric :)
[Nate Cull] Adam: that first one is already corrected. “All I need is the air that I breathe and to love you”. But still I wonder, still I wonder, when will the National Weather Control Administration be fully funded to stop the rain.

July 15: Saw Matilda with Dante this weekend, and was pleasantly surprised at how well it adapted the book. Then checked out Mara Wilson — turns out she grew up smart and funny. Yay!

August 3: Dante: “You memorize music like I memorize Pokemon.” It’s true. I guess we each have our own ways of catching ‘em all.

The Ball Of Genius Interview: Alchemy

So, as I said a while ago, Dante had his own idea about what he’d like to include on this blog. As usual, he’s been going through obsessive phases, and on the day I happened to ask, his focus was on a new game he’d downloaded for his hand-me-down iPhone, a game called Alchemy.

Since it’s Dante’s topic, I thought perhaps the best way to do so was to interview him about it. So I found my own nifty little app, this one to record conversations using my Android phone. Thus, herewith, the first Ball Of Genius interview. My parts are in bold text.

So Dante, tell me what is cool about Alchemy.
It’s… really this is kind of hard to describe. It’s like… you start with 4 things and you can make 231 things.


How do you make 231 things out of 4 things?
Well, it just makes more and more and more and more and more and you figure out more and more combinations…

So you just click the “go” button and 4 things turn into 231 things?

How does it work, then?
How does it work is you drag one thing out and then you drag another thing out and they mix. And you have to keep doing that with different ones and different ones and different ones, and eventually that’ll get the 231.

So what are the 4 things that you start out with?
Water, fire, air, and soil.

And then you would drag two of those things out, and mix them together. What’s an example of that?
Fire and soil make lava.

So then you have five things. What do you do with the five things? Like, does lava mix with something else to make something new?
Well… so then you mix soil and water to make swamp. Then you mix fire and air to make energy. Then you mix energy and swamp to make life. Then you mix life and lava to make lava golem.

To make what??
Lava golem.

Lava golem? Uh, okay. What’s a lava golem?
Let me show you.

Uh, well I’m going to be writing all this down, so you can’t really show me. Although maybe I could try to find a picture of it on the web that I could… capture and put on there. [I ended up taking screenshots on the iPhone and mailing them to myself.]
You can do that.

Does a lava golem mix with anything?
Um, yeah it does. Let me show you.

What does it mix with?
Let me kind of show you in the actual thing.

So for the blog what we’ll have to do is see if we can get some screen shots of this.

Water and air make steam.

Now let me do the thing I was talking about.
Soil… make lava.

And then lava…
Air… make energy.
Then: Soil…
And water…

make swamp.
And then energy and swamp make life. It just says that because life is… life. It’s like, alive.

What does it say?
It says, “a vital substance.”

And then life plus lava makes… lava golem!

And then does lava golem mix with anything?
Let me show you. Lava golem and water make a whole bunch of stuff:
09 lotsostuff

Oh HO! Wow. Okay, so it makes rocks and energy and a little bit of steam. So, what’s your favorite thing about alchemy?
What’s my favorite thing is there’s so many things to discover.

And then if there’s anything you could tell the people who read your blog about Alchemy, what would it be?
What would that be…? I think it’d be that: there’s so many things to discover.

Alright. Anything else that you would like to mention about Alchemy for your blog?

Alright, we’re done then. Thank you!
Okay, I wanna hear the recording.