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Stories, Settings and Atmosphere

  • Going Down to Anytown U.S.A

    There is something about taking one of the largest nations in the world that is so vastly diverse in cultures and geography, taking all of that and condensing it into a one-size-fits-all setting showing none of that that’s just so American.

    Anytown U.S.A. is unique in its lack of uniqueness. Its a small town that to see and can be like, “Yeah that’s in America,” not really sure what state or even region for the most part but its definitely probably maybe in one of them. However, despite this general vagueness the rules behind creating “Anytown” is very specific and makes it so intriguing to me as a concept.

    First, the settings that I would refer to as “Anytown esque.” These most of the time are fictional towns that are of a similar mold, however you could put them somewhat on the map. These are your “Derry Maine” style, or “Gravity Falls Oregon.” One, they say the state they’re in so that helps narrow it down but more specifically they are designed with a more specific region in mind. Derry is very New England in building design and Gravity Falls includes lots of Pacific Northwest region in its design. Now this isn’t a bad thing, quite the contrary actually. This sort of regionalization (A word which here means designing your setting with a specific geographic or cultural region as a focal point) is honestly a bit better than the true Anytown as it can dive into those cultures and explore the area more than just, “we’re somewhere.” Despite this, I’m writing about true Anytown so I’m going to gloss over these.

    Now for true Anytowns, I’m looking for usually more Midwest style of town, for multiple reasons. One, the Midwest is incredibly vague as a region, its borders mainly being defined wherever the other main regions begin, but also these styles are dispersed around the country due to their bland uniformity. For example, you won’t tend to see New England style colonials or towers across the country, nor will you see Spanish style tile roofs or Mountain log cabins. However, a 7 Eleven will always tend to look like a 7 Eleven no matter where you are. The Midwest style is that of strip malls and convenience stores, and so when you need a partially forested, temperate zone Anytown U.S.A., it just fits. Its just fascinating how often it shows up as well. Like, take these questions: Where does the film Scream take place? How about Halloween? Or Nightmare on Elm Street? All three of these horror movies are in towns that feel like they could be by each other, however, from California in the West to Illinois and Ohio in the East, there’s a distance of around 3000 miles and 4 time zones between these fictional settings. The reason I mention horror is not by accident either, because the Anytown style is particularly effective for Horror as it makes the events feel closer to the viewer in their own town that they could see as similar.

    Overall, I find this specificity of vagueness very interesting, particularly when taken to comedic extreme (see post on The Simpsons’ Springfield) and honestly find it hilarious that the daily boring or ugly buildings many Americans see wherever they go are the same buildings many flock to theaters and streaming services to watch characters hang there too.


  • All The Wrong Questions: An Underrated Masterpiece in Children Literature

    I’m a little bit of a Lemony Snicket fan.

    One of my favorite shows on Netflix is The Series of Unfortunate Events with Neil Patrick Harris (he can play Olaf SO well), I picked up Poison for Breakfast almost immediately after it came out, and the Character of Lemony Snicket is probably my favorite in fiction. The idea of the narrator being a prominent character and the author works so well with the world he is creating through his books, especially The Series of Unfortunate Events and their prequel series, the title of this post.

    So with that context, of course my favorite series from him would be the one where Snicket is the main character. But this series is so much more than that. Without going into too much detail, a phrase which here means that I will not divulge into the main plot or easter eggs because these books are not long and I encourage you to read them yourself, I will go over what makes this series so much more than just a children’s book.

    First, we need to have a gauge of what level/age range this is intended for, and why its overlooked. By its denomination as “Children’s Novel,” I would define this as below YA in terms of age, so we’re talking probably 11-12 and under. However, these are novels so we’re going to eliminate 0-7 (I was reading small novels at this time but I was also moved up a grade for that. Plus, those were Magic Tree House and Hank the Cowdog which are a little shorter and a bit less intense than this set of books). So that still leaves us with a sizeable range of 7-12, which might be a bit big but seems somewhat reasonable. So if you’ve got this age range, you’re in good company. With generation defining books like the Harry Potter series or emerging classics like Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels Smile and Ghosts, there’s no shortage of great reads and because of this, All the Wrong Questions tends to get swept under the rug, especially as its only the second most popular series in this age range from Lemony Snicket behind Series of Unfortunate Events.

    For those who had the pleasure of picking these books up, however, they were in for a treat. The series follows Lemony Snicket (The Character) as a 13 year old, where he begins a V.F.D. apprenticeship with S. Theodora Markson (Out of 52 Chaperones to chose from, she was 52nd), to go to Stain’d By The Sea, a town that has few people and even less sea. While investigating incidents of robbery, kidnapping, arson and all sorts of other illegal activities, he meets many other young people he calls his associates, like Journalist Moxie Mallahan, Chef Jake Hix, Brilliant Chemist Cleo Knight, Taxi drivers Pip and Squeak Bellerophon, and finally the Elusive Ellington Feint. Together they have to stop the plans of the villainous Hangfire, though the adults seem to be almost antagonistic and everyone, including Lemony himself have their own secret agendas.

    It’s the perfect intro to mystery from a young age because unlike the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, All The Wrong Questions is able to hold an overarching story along with great creative writing techniques (I have used one or two in this post) that gives the reader a unique feeling no other book has given me. The characters are excellent and the ending doesn’t feel forced and this all fits the universe that its in (going into Series of Unfortunate Events). What makes it perfect is that it trusts that the reader is ready for this sort of story. In a world where so much of children’s entertainment plays down to its audience, a series that trusts its readers to be along for the more adult like story while writing it in a way that makes it possible for a 7-12 year old to somewhat understand is truly special. That is why I enjoyed it back then and adore it now.

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    Building Urban Hide and Seek

    So I’m a bit of a knee jerk reaction sort of person, I’ll admit. If I hear a bad idea, or maybe one that’s good but sounds bad, then I’ll tend to complain about it right away and figure out the details later. I’ve been trying to work on this but you know how it is, trying to better yourself takes a lot of time and you’re still going to slip up from time to time.

    Mirroring this to the positive side however, when I hear an interesting or intriguing idea I tend to jump into doing it, and that’s where this story begins.

    See my friends and I were going around downtown during that really nice day in winter break when it was sunny and like 65 degrees out (I think it may have been December 28th? Don’t quote me on that), and we were going around the Old Capital Mall along with multiple campus buildings, as you do. As we reached McBride Hall, (A.K.A. The Natural History Museum for all you who aren’t as familiar), Will was telling me how the Cross Country team had played Hide and Seek in this building in particular, and I jumped on that Idea like Rizzo the Rat after some Jellybeans.

    But here’s where I had to figure stuff out. See, there were a couple of things that I would have to change to the traditional Hide and Seek due to where we wanted to play it. Most importantly, we can’t be kicked out. Security is definitely present at most if not all these buildings, so some rules had to be put in place to avoid an escort. For that I decided on 3 rules: No Running, No Yelling, No Climbing on large furniture. I figured that those 3 things would be the things most likely to get us ejected so by eliminating them we should be pretty safe.

    However, by eliminating Yelling and Running, the main forms of catching a hider were sort of nonviable, that being the most common version where you have to tag the hider and the less physical one where you just say some variation of, “Ha, Found You” when you see someone. Having tag be the method would undoubtedly lead to people running, lets be honest, and the call out has multiple problems. Firstly, the yelling rule would be tested and probably broken, but also the places we would be doing this would be pretty open spaces and that could lead to a lot of people who get caught because someone across the building could make them out, and that’s no fun.

    So, faced with the problems in using either of those, I decided to create my own method that combines benefits of both the other ones, and that is that the seeker must snap a photo of the hiders to catch them. With the caveat that the photo must be taken on 1x zoom unless stated otherwise, this gives the seeker an effective range for catching people, similar to tag, while keeping it non physical and preventing knee jerk reactions of yelling/running.

    Now this new hide and snap is all well and good, especially after I was able to flesh out the rules with my friends over discord on New Years Eve (Rules can be seen here), but I wasn’t satisfied yet. The new problem was how do I make this more appealing to people to join and also limit the rounds from dragging out for hours? To kill two birds with one stone, I created a Power-Up table that the seeker would be randomly given every 15 minutes via RNG (Random Number Generator). By doing this I have 1: effectively given the rounds a soft limit as hiding gets progressively harder, given each round variability due to the random nature of the power up board, and added fun mini games for the hiders to complete instead of just being crunched in a corner for an hour.

    So hopefully my friends and I will soon get to play test this new game, which I’ve dubbed Hide and Snap, and possibly improve it further. I’ve gotten a lot of support, and I’m excited to see where I can take this game.

  • The Spirits of Christmas

    It’s the Holiday season once again, and carols are now inundated throughout the radio stations. Bells are one of the top heard instruments and even though there’s vast quantities of interesting modern Holiday music, the whole world chooses instead to be devout followers of Mariah Carey singing “All I Want For Christmas Is You” sixteen thousand times in the span of a month before getting mad at her for using a teleprompter at the Thanksgiving Day Parade when let’s be honest here, she’s probably more sick of the song than most of us.

    My family tends to have the radio on about 16 hours a day so I’ve heard quite a few of the classic songs this year. I’ve been harassed for figgy pudding, endured the Holiday version of 99 bottles of Beer on the Wall, listened to a man verbally berate the Grinch with increasingly cartoonish verses for 5 minutes straight, but when I was listening to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” there was a lyric in there that I found interesting. It starts innocently enough with, “There’ll be parties for hosting, Marshmallows for toasting and Carolling out in the snow.” But directly after it switches to a minor key for a bit when the lyrics continue, “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago.” 

    I bet that the vast majority of people listening to this song glossed over the ghosts, or if they did notice it, attributed it to the classic Dickens Novel A Christmas Carol. Well interestingly enough while A Christmas Carol did serve to more popularize the tradition of ghost stories around the holidays, this was actually a quite popular tradition around much of England. According to an article by the Smithsonian in 2017, up through the 19th century it was somewhat commonplace to have men sitting around a fire on Christmas Eve telling their friends of supernatural encounters, and they weren’t always meant to be just for enjoyment or a spook. Oftentimes these were experiences that the men claimed that they’d had. Unfortunately, as the public perception of ghosts and the supernatural began to be more negative and disbelieving, they fell out of favor when it came to Christmas Eve discussion, because apparently ghost stories are that much less entertaining when people don’t believe them. 

    Interestingly enough however, probably the biggest reason that us Americans aren’t really aware of this tradition is that some of our first settlers, the Puritans (Pilgrims, as they’re more commonly known), weren’t very keen on talking about magic and the supernatural the night before their lord’s birthday (I don’t know what you’d expect, this is the same group that murdered 19 women for suspicion of witchcraft). This large portion of the population not having that tradition meant that it never really latched on to American culture, especially after the Irish and Scottish immigrants brought over a whole new holiday around the end of October that Americans co-opted into our resident spooky holiday we know now as Halloween.

    Now I wrote this because, as someone who enjoys a good ghost story, it saddens me that this tradition has seemingly gone the way of the dodo. The lore behind it is very interesting and the fact that it’s been reduced in the public eye to a throwaway line in a single Christmas song is unfortunate. But, there’s no reason why we can’t bring it back. If people would start telling stories around the fire on Christmas Eve, about ghosts or honestly anything, then the tradition can begin anew. It seems fun to me, and I hope it seems just as fun to you.

  • The Colorado Forcast Part 2: The Seasons

    As I foreshadowed in my previous post, Colorado doesn’t have “Seasons” the same way that most other places do. In an astronomical sense we do of course, with Winter being the time with the shortest days and Summer having the longest. However in terms of weather Colorado doesn’t seem to follow national trends.

    The first thing to know is that in Colorado is that temperatures can vary wildly, due to the thinness of the air being more subject to temperature change by the sun. You’ll notice this especially in the summer, where temperatures in the sun will reach around 100 degrees, but if you step into the shade it will drop closer to 70. One day it was so extreme that you needed shorts in our backyard but pants and a sweatshirt in the front yard. Another day We went to go see a Cubs and Rockies game at Coors Field in Early August, the game went into extra innings and we got snowed on close to midnight.

    Speaking of snow, one of the biggest misconceptions about Colorado is that its covered in snow all the time. Sure, the mountains are, I found patches of snow up there in July. But in January for instance it’s balmy in Colorado compared to places like Iowa, Michigan or New York. The highs were often in the 50s and 60s and snow was nowhere to be found. The usual divide of snowy mountains and warm lowlands is loved by the residents, with my dad often saying “I love Colorado, its the only place where I can go Snowboarding on Saturday then Golf on Sunday.”

    If you wanted to find snow in Colorado though, look no further than October and April/May (Seriously, I have had more Snow Days in May than January. MAY). There is a snowstorm at both of these times almost every year and while the snow doesn’t take long to melt, it often can shut down cities for a day or two as the snow is often somewhat heavy and icy which often leads to accidents and local power outages.

    So that’s how the seasons tend to go in Colorado and their misconceptions, though if you have ever heard of the “300 days of sun per year” claim, that actually isn’t too far off. Its sunny the vast majority of the days and I would say that for at least 5 of the years I lived there it probably was sunny close to 300 days. Unfortunately it seems that the trade off is that those 65 days of cloudy skies seem to coincide with major meteor showers and lunar eclipses, but that might have just been my experience.

    What I’ve just described is the ordinary in Colorado, but of course when you live in Colorado you have to deal with the unexpected, so in the finale to this trilogy of posts on the weather of Colorado I’ll talk about some of the more one off events, like the time a gender reveal gone wrong turned the sun red.

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