My superfan mix, set to Talking Heads. Watch it now before it gets pulled! Final episodes start tomorrow!
Archive for the ‘1960s’ Tag
Tabletop Game #15: Twixt (1962)
For board games, the 1960s were a golden age — literally. While commercial games had been popular since the late 19th century, and Monopoly a runaway best seller since the Depression, America’s burgeoning middle-class had card tables and suburban rec rooms to fill coming out of the ’50s. Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers and Ideal all saw explosive growth thanks to TV show tie-ins and national ad campaigns. Less than a decade old, Avalon Hill found nothing but success with its line of complex, elaborate wargames. Everybody was making money publishing games — or so it seemed — so it made sort of sense when 3M decided to get into the game.
Yes, that 3M: the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company, home to, among other things, sandpaper, Scotch tape and Post-it Notes. In 1962, 3M released the first of what would become three dozen titles in its Bookshelf Games series. Aimed at adults, they had an air of sophistication about them: each came in a faux-leather slip case (with gold lettering!), the better to sit next to all those leather bound classics on the bookshelves of one’s den, and bold illustrated covers that wouldn’t have been out of place in the pages of Playboy or Esquire. The result, says blogger Codex99, “was a rather elegant and sophisticated house style that has really not been seen since.”
M took advantage of its expertise in manufacturing and design, delivering products with plastic boards and metal playing pieces. They put out financial sims (Stocks & Bonds, Acquire), party and trivia games, and a slew of sports titles, but 3M is best remembered for their efforts to try and create “the new chess” and invent an original abstract strategy game for modern times. They came closest with Twixt, a connect the dots title that still has a following today. Twixt is a deceptively simple game, with two players taking turns placing pegs on a grid. If the pegs are close enough, they can be connected with links; the first player to build a bridge across the board wins. As with chess, patterns quickly emerge. Specific tactics have been developed for every situation, but simply reacting to your opponent will get you crushed; this is a game that rewards thinking ahead.
I watched too much television growing up. My dad always warned us that if we didn’t stop, we’d turn into one giant eye — like the CBS logo. And he was right. TV is a drug, a powerful narcotic, and I was an addict. I wasted many many hours on really stupid shows, hours that I wish I had back now to waste on something important.
That said, there was one thing I loved about television, and that was the strange modern custom American networks developed around the launch of the fall season. The TV Guide preview, the annual handicapping of new shows, the ritual sacrifice of the first cancellation. Even if I didn’t watch all the shows (and you couldn’t back then), I loved looking at the programming grid.
Head over to wikipedia and check out the grids for every TV season back to 1946: it is a fascinating time capsule, especially when it comes to shows, concepts and entire networks you’ve probably never heard of (Rhumba dancing in prime time! Something called the DuMont Network!)
It wasn’t just me — there were actually several different board games in the ’60s and early ’70s where players would compete against each other in creating successful programming lineups for fictional networks.
While I generally agree with Marshall McLuhan’s famous assessment of TV, there are a few shows I could watch again (and again in summer repeats) that I have fond memories of, or are just truly great on a literary, cultural or entertaining level. So with that in mind, I give you the perfect Fall Schedule for JPTV.
[click on grid to enbiggen]
Short Story #2: “Ripples in the Dirac Sea” — Geoffrey Landis (1988)
A scientist invents a time machine and discovers — too late — that he cannot change the past. Nor can he prevent his impending death, after he finds himself trapped in a burning highrise. Unable to stop the fire, he uses the moments he has left to repeatedly jump back in time and live in the past, finding solace with a pair of doomed hippies in Haight-Ashbury at the height of the ’60s.
As much an exploration of dealing with grief and learning to let go as a thoughtful theory of how time travel might work, “Ripples” won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story. You can dive in and read it here: http://diracsea.net/ripples-in-the-dirac-sea/
If I had done this list when I was 10, every movie on it would have been from Disney. And in the No. 1 slot would have been #53 — Herbie, The Love Bug.
While no other Disney flick made the 50/50 list, I’m pleased to see that “The Love Bug” is still here. We watched it a few years back, and it turned out to still be a sweet, goofy ride. Even the broad mugging of Buddy Hackett and its awkward counter-culture references are kinda cute. And for a kid’s movie, it sure has some dark undertones — I mean, when was the last time the main character in a Disney movie tries to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge?
Herbie’s become such a pop culture artifact, the plot of the movie is almost irrelevant. Car with real personality and a will of its own helps washed-up loser find love and success. Wackiness ensues. “The Love Bug” still works — long after its many sequels and reboots have been forgotten — because it has a real charm, helped along by a ear-worm of a calypso theme, and some great racing scenes. (It was also the very last film Walt Disney himself worked on directly before his death in 1966.)
At its heart, though, is the genius of making the VW Bug, one of the cutest and most iconic cars ever built, a character with a wider range of emotions* than most of the humans in the movie. Contrived as hell, but it works. Even now, 45 years later, I still want to own a bug with blue & white racing stripes.**
Here’s a montage of Herbie racing, set to Blur’s “Song Two” … just because.
*It’s curious, too, that this came out the same year as that other movie about a sentient machine with a strong personality — HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
**Actually, in a way, I finally do. When I was designing Speed Rally a few years back, my brother tracked down the official Herbie toy car from Johnny Lightning to use in my boardgame. Needless to say, it is the single most popular car in the box, and almost always the first to be picked.
Short Story #18: “The Property of a Lady” — Ian Fleming (1963)
What, you thought it was all going to be sci-fi?
“The Property of a Lady” was one of Ian Fleming’s last short stories to be published, and has James Bond … going to an auction. That’s it. No shootouts, no seductions, no supervillains — just secret agent 007 as part of a counter-espionage team quietly and carefully taking down a spy network by … paying attention to details.
There was a time when I was obsessed with the James Bond movies — partially because of their pop culture cache, but mostly (I deduced later) because my parents wouldn’t let us go seem them when we were growing up. They were forbidden, taboo — and therefore of course irresistibly alluring. Eventually I saw all the Bond movies, some multiple times, and finally came to realize they were all pretty much ridiculous.*
The books on the other hand … the books are a fascinating time capsule of the Cold War, and for all the over-the-top plotting of the various megalomaniacs intent on world domination, Ian Fleming’s spy novels are constructed on a substrate of actual spy craft, meticulous detail and procedure. Fleming’s greatest creation isn’t even supposed to be an interesting person. The author once described James Bond as “an extremely dull man to whom things happened.”
Among all the martini-shaking, product placement, explosions and Bond girls, this got lost along the way (although the one film that holds up great as a movie, and a Bond film — 2006’s “Casino Royale” — is the one that also adheres the closest to Ian Fleming’s original novel.)
*Except for the music composed by John Barry. That’s still fucking awesome.
Comedy #20: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1966)
On the day after our biggest New Year’s Eve party ever, my wife and I awoke to a thoroughly trashed apartment, several unconscious friends, and a well-earned hangover. Not wanting to move further than the remote, I turned on the TV to discover that “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” had just begun. It was the perfect movie to watch as we lay about in the ruins of the night before.
Seriously, how can anyone hate a movie that rhymes “pantaloons & tunics” with “courtesans & eunuchs,” and has one character order a “sit-down orgy for 12”? For the next several years, we started every New Year’s Day with this film.
Stephen Sondeheim’s very first musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was directed by Richard Lester (who will appear on this list more than once) coming off of back-to-back Beatles movies — so you know there will be lots of chase scenes, cross-dressing and broad jokes. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is a parody of the sex farce, as much anti-musical as it is true to the form. Songs are poorly sung — deliberately — dances are awkward, and whole thing is incredibly silly. (Ironically enough, until HBO’s Rome came along, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” also happened to be one of the most accurate visual depictions of what life looked like in a Roman city in a Hollywood production. Well, except for the mare sweat.)