A Game-ful Day at Cloud Cap

21 Feb

On Saturday I spent nearly a full day at Cloud Cap Games, one of my favorite Portland establishments. First, I taught a Rubik’s Cube class to seven enthusiastic students. It was awesome to see things clicking in people’s brains as we moved through the steps to solving the cube. I think I can use what I learned during this class to refine my teaching methods and materials and come back later with an even more successful lesson.

After the class, I had a three-hour break before returning to Cloud Cap for my friend Ken’s awesome birthday game night.

Chris has a go at Perfection.

First, I had my nerves rattled while playing a few rounds of Perfection, which is that game from the eighties where you fit a bunch of little plastic shapes into the appropriate spot on the board, and after a minute or so the whole board pops up and all the pieces go flying. Startled me every time!

Next up was a game called Timeline: Inventions, which is right up my alley because it’s about inventions! The object is to place a card with an invention on it (e.g. Sign Language, blue jeans, the compass) on a timeline, relative to the other cards that have already been played. The more items on the timeline, the harder it gets. How come I didn’t invent that game?

Then we split into two groups and I played a card-based game called Kittens in a Blender. The premise is pretty gruesome, but it has some mechanics I really liked. Each player has a bunch of kittens they’re trying to save by putting them in the Box, and everyone tries to get the other players’ kittens into the Blender before throwing down a Blend card. I was the first person to blend any kittens, and it was surprisingly traumatic. If it sounds weird, it’s because it is.

For the next round, the whole group came together to play The Resistance. Four players including me were secretly chosen to be spies and our task was to sabotage the missions. I liked this game a lot because it’s basically just trying to psych people out. I don’t have a great poker face, but we won anyway!

To close out the night, I played a lively game of Pick-up Sticks.

Thanks to James and Kirsten of Cloud Cap for hosting the Rubik’s class, and to Ken and Erin for hosting the game night. It was such a good day!


Puzzle Surprise

14 Feb

I got home about an hour ago, and checked my mail. I had a small package from my aunt and uncle. Fun!

The warning was useful, because it did sound like broken glass.

Inside I found a Clearly Puzzled 3D Green Apple Puzzle from the Great American Puzzle Factory.

The end result is supposed to look this delicious.

Of course I immediately got to work. The pieces are reminiscent of green apple Jolly Ranchers, don’t you think?

I spent the last hour working on it, but didn’t get too far. I’ll probably be working on it for the next few days. I hope no one was expecting me to go to work or anything.

Thanks, Hilary and Len! What a nice surprise.

New family theme party ideas

10 Feb

I see chocolate, butterscotch, and strawberry syrup.

Most of you know that my family has a 12-year long tradition of having two or three theme parties a year. At the end of each one, we draw the next theme out of a box. We usually have about 30 theme ideas in the box.

We recently added four new themes. We had trouble naming them (even though we’re usually so punny), so if you can think of better names, please let me know in a comment.

Here are our new theme ideas:

  • Chef Showcase: Each person bakes a dish from their favorite chef. Bonus points for costumes or impressions.
  • The Art of Food: Everyone brings food that looks like a famous piece of art. I wish I could do something awesome like reproduce Michelangelo’s David in cheese, but I’ll probably end up taking the easy way out and doing a Jackson Pollock piece with chocolate syrup.
  • Game On: Bring a board game and a dish that goes with it, like Apples to Apples and an apple pie. (Remember when my friend Maddie had some great ideas along those lines?)
  • Vaudeville: This was my mom’s suggestion and at first most of us were a little resistant, but now I think we’re all pretty psyched about learning to be ventriloquists. I might play the spoons!

You can tell we’re going for high-concept themes, rather than cultural or geography-based themes. This is because our favorite parties have been those that lent themselves to an interesting activity, like our Murder Mystery or our tableaux vivants from our Moulin Rouge party.

The possibilities are endless!

Good Advice

6 Feb

When I turned 24, I was going through a period of transition. I was graduating from college, moving from Boston to New York City, and entering the world of full-time work. I’ve always had a difficult time dealing with change, even when I’m excited about it, and that discomfort usually results in an awful lot of introspection. I’ve filled thousands of journal pages during those times of flux (I have big handwriting).

During this particular time, I had an idea that I believed would help me deal with the transition, without being quite so “in my head.” In fact, it would give me an excuse to connect with others. I decided to ask certain people in my life, mostly older family members and friends of family, to send me their best piece of advice. I asked them, “What is the most valuable piece of advice you ever received, or what do you wish you had known when you were 24?”

Soon after, I received an influx of good advice. Emails and letters, quotes and poems, anecdotes and jokes, I got it all! It’s amazing what wisdom you can find within the life experience of the people around you. I liked being in the position of collecting and curating this wisdom, deciding which pieces were going to be most relevant to me, which pieces resonated the most.

I’m not going to share the advice I received here (because it was meant specifically for me!), but I do want to recommend this as a useful practice if you’re feeling contemplative, indecisive, or overwhelmed. When you ask people a question like this, it affords them an opportunity to reflect on their own lives, so, in a way, you’re giving them a small gift as well.

As a wise friend reminded me recently, we are social beings, dependent on one another in so many ways. We might as well get out of our own heads every once in awhile, and take some good advice from others.

What do you think? Would you try something like this? Is there anything holding you back?

Me, the Computer, and the Cubes: A Conversation with Rubik’s Cube Artist Pete Fecteau

2 Feb

Last month several people sent me links to this amazing Martin Luther King mosaic made up Rubik’s Cubes. I knew I wanted to talk to the artist behind the Dream Big project, which placed in the top 50 out of more than 1700 entrants in the 2010 ArtPrize competition. Pete Fecteau is a graphic designer who literally dreamed up the idea of creating the 1000-pound tribute to the world’s most famous dreamer, and then fought hard to get it made. In the conversation below, he describes the process he went through and what he’s been doing since, along with offering up some advice for young artists (Rubik’s Cube or otherwise).

From PeteFecteau.com

Everybody’s Invited!: What’s the story behind the Dream Big project?

Pete Fecteau: I came up with the concept literally in a dream. I’d been taking some hits, trying really hard to find work, and wasn’t having a great time professionally. This dream came about, and I just felt like I needed to do it. So I fought for eight or nine months to try to get anyone to pay attention to it. And no one did. I had actually set a due date for myself. And a week after the due date passed, I got a call from Rubik’s asking me for details on the project.

EI!: That’s awesome. What were the biggest challenges in putting it together?

PF: Planning it out and convincing people was a huge process. I’m a graphic designer by day. I spent about two or three weeks designing the artwork in Photoshop and Illustrator. There weren’t really grant opportunities for it, but I applied for grants all over the place. I talked with a bunch of people, including manufacturers in China. I ended up renting the Rubik’s Cubes, though, because there’s a trademark and copyright issue with knock-off cubes. So I avoided jailtime.

EI!: Nice. How many did you rent?

PF: Just over 4300 Rubik’s Cubes.

EI!: So, how did you put it together?

PF: The venue that I used was the First Park Congregational church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The church wanted it on a stage. They gave me the entire room behind the stage, so I could work for three weeks at all hours. It was hot. It was a little smelly. I’d come in for 5, 6, 7, or 8 hours and just kind of zone out.

EI!: Did you need to actually solve the cubes yourself?

PF: I’m just solving one face. It takes about 20 seconds per cube. Someone could probably do it faster than me because I’m not a very fast cuber. I came up with a process where I could very quickly look at the cube that was on the screen, and remember the colors that I need to orient the cube. I was doing about 100 cubes every 45 minutes. Then I’d go take a break, and come back and do it again.

It was really quiet. I didn’t have a lot of distractions. It was just me, the computer, and the cubes.

EI!: Since then, you’ve been doing more Rubik’s Cube-based stuff?

PF: Yeah, we set up a partnership with You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube, which is an organization that puts kits in classrooms for kids ages 9 to 15. They learn how to solve the cube, and they apply math and life skills during the process. Part of the agreement that we had was that I would develop some educational material for them. So I developed a 12-page guidebook that teaches kids how to create a mosaic. I think it’s doubled their program. We’ve gotten a ton of requests from schools. We did one for Odyssey of the Mind.

EI!: I remember Odyssey of the Mind! So, is this taking up most of your time right now?

PF: This has always been a side project. I’m planning another very large mosaic in 2013. It will be twice the size of the MLK one. It’s got a math and science theme to it. And hopefully we’ll take it on tour.

EI!: Have you considered working with other games? Like Jenga.

PF: I would love to do that. Rubik’s is probably the most complex mosaic medium. I’m actually not a huge Rubik’s Cube nerd. I’ve met some speed cubers, and I’ve seen collections and all that stuff.

EI!: Yeah, some people are crazy.

PF: Yup, and that’s great. We need them, too.

EI!: So true. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a young, struggling artist?

PF: Don’t be afraid to explore. You might really like to do pencil drawings, but you might have a huge gift with water colors. For me, I was trying to do enamel work and graffiti-style stuff. And I just stumbled into doing Rubik’s Cube stuff.

EI!: Another lesson is to pay attention to your dreams.

PF: Yeah, and it goes beyond that. There were so many times with the Martin Luther King mosaic when I was ready to throw in the towel. I had fought so hard, and fell short so many times. But, in the end, it was like the mosaic itself just needed to be finished, and I was just a pair of hands. When you really apply yourself to a passion that you have, and if it’s genuine, I think that will always be the case. There will be times when you want to pull your hair out, but if you keep going, it will turn around.

Things a Five-Year-Old Says During Game Night

30 Jan

My niece and I had a game night this weekend, during which she said the following things:

After winning two rounds of Chinese Checkers: "I'm magical."

After winning four rounds of Uno: "I'm a professional."

After a failed attempt at the Rubik's Cube: "This game is great." (long pause) "I'm being facetious."

After losing at Battleship: "Let the trash-talking begin, stinker."

Theme Party Inspiration: Hawaiian Luau

25 Jan

The Hawaiian Luau theme party has a special place in my heart, because it is the party that started my family’s theme party tradition twelve years ago. I’m also a little bit obsessed with Hawaii, but who isn’t?

I started a Pinterest board for Hawaiian Luau inspiration. It includes ideas for drinks:


The setting:

And even how to do your nails:

Check out the rest of the images on Pinterest. I hope you get inspired.