September 8th, 2008

1939 World's Fair

It's Spore time

It's 2 in the morning here and I should've been in bed hours ago, but I'm not because I got Spore.

Now here's the thing about Spore.

The game is buggy. It randomly crashes. It doesn't have an autosave feature (which, combined with the random crashing thing, causes you to get Very Upset if you forgot to save after doing something Really Cool.) Certain stages of the game of the game are too short, too simple, and you feel as if they were intentionally dumbed down so as to push you as quickly as possible to the Space stage, which itself is a 3D version of Star Control 2. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...)

Did I mention the randomly crashing combined with no autosave? Okay.

And yet this is totally one of those Daylight Games. Completely on par with, say, Civilization or Roller Coaster Tycoon or one of the Elder Scrolls series, where you sit down to begin playing and the next thing you know, there's daylight when there wasn't before (or it's now late at night when you began in the afternoon.)

In short, it's just too compelling to put down. And that's the dangerous part.

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Still, Spore is fun enough. Not only can you create and edit creatures, but you can also make buildings and vehicles as well. This is another point where the fun factor overwhelms the bustificated factor, however temporarily, so you don't feel completely crummy when rotten stuff happens because you're having too much fun doing goofy stuff.

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The verdict, then? Buggy as all heck, but fun as all heck. Just like real life! And that's how Will Wright nailed it on the head. Ka-POW.

Astroland 1962 - 2008

Yesterday was the last day of operations at Coney Island's Astroland. Carol Albert, the owner of the park, made a sudden announcement on Friday that the park would close at the end of Sunday, September 7. I only heard about the announcement today and am shattered, because I would have dropped everything yesterday, taken the cheap bus down to NYC, and visited Astroland for one last time regardless of the cost. I had meant to get to Coney several times this summer but my finances just hadn't been up to it. Now I am in a severe state of self-kicking.

(It is not all totally lost, as the Cyclone and Deno's Wonder Wheel Park are still around, though, for now. But for how long?)

The Albert family owned the park but the land was purchased in 2006 by Thor Equities, the latest Corporate Goon who has come down the line in the grand tradition of Robert Moses and Fred Trump. Moses and Trump had their own ideas what Coney Island should be (Trump hated the parachute jump tower as it interfered with his plans for condominium towers, Moses just hated the common folk having fun) and so it is with Thor. This Corporate Goon wants to turn Coney Island into a Times Square By The Sea, claiming that "retail entertainment" along the lines of giant Best Buys or Gap stores, at the bottom of high-rise condo units, is what passes for amusement these days. Their land acquisitions around the amusement zone so far have not been put to amusement. They got a lot of vacant lots surrounded by plywood walls boldly claiming that this is the "Future of Coney Island." One of the vacant lots is being used as summertime parking for school buses. Some portable carny rides and a large inflatable waterslide were prefunctorily put in, but only operated during "block parties" (the waterslide has been open to the public for an insane upcharge, from what I've heard.)

Astroland's lease went up at the end of last year, but the Albert family got a lease extension for 2008. According to Carol Albert, she closed the park after she couldn't secure negotiations with Thor to obtain a two-year lease to give her employees some measure of job security. According to Thor, Albert just "gave up" on "the future of Coney Island", a brazen charge considering that Thor keeps around empty lots claiming it's the future. According to Albert, her requests to negotiate with Thor weren't even met; they had no meetings at all. There's a lot of accordings-to here and none of it is very pretty.

In the end it doesn't really matter who or what was accorded-to or not, because the end result came a little after 11:00 pm last night. In a ceremony reminiscent of Steeplechase's closing in the 1960s, Carol Albert rounded up the last park patrons and went down the midway, systematically closing each ride down and adding the operators to the procession. The last ride to close was the Astrotower. Norman Blake was there and took pictures. The Astrotower cabin made one final descent... and, "after a dramatic pause", the lights all went out for good.

Good night, Astroland.
Tom Lehrer is Smug

A couple of notes about the Statue of Liberty's NYC guru has this to say about the Statue of Liberty and why access to the crown has been closed since September 11...
On that fateful day in 2001, she held her head high as she witnessed with her own eyes the horrors that took place just across from her watery home. Symbolism and sentimentality can be infinitely applied to her place in it all, and the National Park Service (the statue's operator) is taking it very seriously. Due to security reasons, the top of the Statue of Liberty will continue to be closed to the public.
The only thing is that Lady Liberty (who's been known to shed a tear for one cause or another from time to time) didn't witness any of that. The statue faces the harbor with its back to the skyline, more or less. Back when the crown was open to the public, you didn't climb up to the top for the view of New York. Nah, you climbed up for the HOLY CRAP I'M IN A GIANT STATUE'S HEAD factor (and when you're eleven years old, my god is that factor incredibly compelling.)

My favorite Statue of Liberty story involves Bill Gaines from MAD Magazine. Bill was a huge Statue of Liberty nut, and probably held the record for most collectible items featuring the statue. One of his lifelong dreams was to climb up into the torch, which has been closed to the public since 1916 (and not due to any terrorist attacks. I don't think.) Well, his wife Annie once pulled a few strings with the Parks Department back when this kinda thing wasn't viewed as a terrorist attack, and Bill got to stay in the statue after closing time (just like in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!) and, once everybody had left, the string-pulled Parks Dept employee unlocked the gate to the arm and let Bill, Annie and Dick DeBartolo climb up the arm to get to the torch.

Problem was, Bill wasn't a very small man (in his memoirs Good Days and MAD, Dick describes Bill as "being a dessert fan") and the passageway in the statue's arm actually narrowed when it got to the wrist, I believe. In climbing up to the torch, Bill found himself actually wedged inside the statue's arm with nowhere to go. Being stuck in the statue's arm was bad enough, but Annie and Dick had gone before Bill and were already out on the torch's little balcony. Being stranded out on the torch was probably worse than being stuck in the arm.

Fortunately, with a bit of moving around, Bill was able to unstick himself and back down the ladder, letting a very relieved Annie and Dick escape as well. They got to enjoy (for varying definitions of the word "enjoy") the torch but unfortunately, like Moses, Bill was never able to visit the Promised Land. (Though for Moses, at least he never got himself wedged in a giant copper arm.)

And that's just a few random things about the Statue of Liberty for you today. You're welcome.