Tuesday 31 March 2020

Games Night in the age of Coronavirus

My Monday night table tennis club has been cancelled the last few weeks (since if you can't shake hands after a good match there's really not a lot of point to the thing), but thankfully our old college's weekly board games night has gone online via Discord and as old stalwarts they invited us along. I've missed the games and the people a lot since we moved, and reconnecting with them has been one of the much-needed highlights of the couple of weeks.

Discord is an excellent platform for this kind of group (5-10 people) to get together in a voice or text chat and play some games. We've been doing thrice-weekly catch-ups over tea and coffee and daily meetups to do the crossword together using the handy screen-sharing feature, and while it's not quite like seeing each other in person, it does a good job of simulating the collegial atmosphere of the common room.

Monday nights have proved a bit of challenge in terms of finding things that will suit everyone, but below are a few things that we've tried the last few weeks and how they've been received, presented both in the hope of sparking some ideas among things you could do remotely to stay in touch with your friends and family, and also to fish for any good ideas from among the refreshing mountain lake that is the Leaflocker readership's collective brains.

Jackbox and Drawful

Week one featured the old games night classics of Jackbox and Drawful, which aren't exactly boardgames but are the kind of interactive party games that are close enough if you squint. They take a decent player count with the added advantage of only the host having the own the game, and allow people to exercise their creativity, but they do require everyone to be both watching a stream and their own devices and are always plagued with network dropouts at inopportune moments. Drawful 2 is currently free on steam and I'd say it's definitely worth grabbing, even if personally these games aren't really my cup of tea, since they inevitably descend into either dick-jokes or in-jokes and once they do there's nothing that can be done but hope no-one asks to play again.


We're big fans of the co-operative 2-5 player solitaire-like card game Hanabi, so finding a good implementation of it online was a definite bonus. hanabi.live seems to tick all the boxes pretty well, letting everyone see everything that they need to one screen and allowing for all sorts of weird and wacky variant rules once you get the basics down. Personally I like it a little bit better than the implementation that's available on Board Game Arena, as like many of the games on that otherwise excellent site it struggles for screen real-estate, but either way you can't go too wrong. BGA can be a little tricky to get rolling with, but it has a bunch of good implemetations of good games available for free, and even more for those willing to shell out £2 a month for a premium account. It does seem like their servers are getting hammered pretty hard at the moment, so I'm not sure that they're all that reliable just now.


Codenames is always the goto for the start of a night, when you've got no idea how many folks to expect and might have people come in and out quickly. I don't really remember what board games nights were like before it. but couldn't imagine a meet without it now. While we couldn't get the discord bot that said it could play the game on our server to work properly, we were able to use Kodenames and were pretty pleased with the results, though there are a lot of  other options out there too. The words in this one seem a lot trickier than the ones in the official game, but not completely unmanageable.


Since we've been trying to keep costs down for people rather than require everyone to invest in standalone apps, we went looking for some slightly meatier options that could be streamed from one "games master" computer and didn't rely on hidden information, which led us naturally to another old favourite, Carcassonne. BGA has a version of this in their premium offering, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a well-programmed version available via Tabletop Simulator, which I've owned for ages and is a platform that I have generally found to be too much effort to bother with. Having everyone give me directions while I placed pieces for them worked pretty well, even if we had to manually score the inns and cathedrals expansion where it wasn't implemented. Today the Carcassonne app, as well as a buch of other Asmodee titles, was on a really good special on Steam, so I picked that up so that we can do the same thing on the legit version next time we try to play.


We played Istanbul the same way using the finely-crafted app they've got available on Steam for that one, too, and it worked very well. The only difficulty was the slight lack of surprise given by being able to see each others' cards, but since if we were sitting around the table I would have had to explain them all and give them away anyway, nothing was really lost. The worst thing that I have to say about this app is that it's a bit sad that they're not planning on adding the mocha expansion, because personally I think that adds a lot to the game.

We've had a good time replicating our little games group online, and it's definitely been something to look forward to in a period where the different days have tended to blur into each other a bit.

I have a few other tricks up my sleeve for future weeks, including this somewhat precarious double-webcam arrangement, but I guess I'll have to wait and see how those ones go. Let me know if you can think of any good ones that I've missed, or if you've secretly programmed the internet's first actually good 500 server and have been holding out on me, as it seems like we'll be meeting remotely for a while and I'm going to need all the board-gaming ammunition I can get.

Monday 30 March 2020

Leaflocker Origins

What's this? Two posts in one day? What's going on?

Two of my not-yet-clearly-ennumerated aims for this Blapril are to interact a little more with the other Blaugustines and to try to have a little more variety in my posts, without abandoning too many of the 'regular' features. Thus I hope to add the occasional short discussion posts in response to other folks' blogs here and there where the mood takes me. This has the additional benefit of covering me in terms of numbers if I miss a day here and there, just in case I decide that I want to shoot for the shiny rainbow badge.

Today, Belghast talked a little about naming his blog, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to share the origin story of the blog here.

The name Leaflocker dates the origin of the blog to the height of my crossword puzzling days around 2009/2010. It's traditional in cryptic crossword circles, at least in the UK, to pick a nickname for yourself as a crossword creator, presumably so people are unsure where to send the hate mail. The name that I picked was Linnaea Leaflock. The name is made up of two plants, since I, like every crossword puzzle fanboy, was a bit of a fan of the grandaddy of the cryptic puzzle, Araucaria, who took his name from the monkey puzzle tree.

Linnaea is the scientific name of the Twinflower, being vaguely reminiscent of the Terry Pratchett character Twoflower and also reflecting the fact that my first name is Thomas. Also, it sounds like a girl's name, and keeping with my general theme of playing female characters when I can that seemed appropriate.

Leaflock is the name of the Ent also known as Finglas, who along with Fangorn and Fladrif are the oldest of the Ents living in Tolkien's middle Earth. Finglas is described as being so sleepy as to be nearly tree-ish, and is thus is a bit of a slow and 'dim ent'.

When the time came to make a blog, Leaflocker seemed like a natural fit, as the blog was meant to be a place to put my pages of nonsense, a locker for the leaves, as it were, and here we are. Since then a company has started to use the name to sell mesh designed to keep leaves out of gutters, but I maintain that I had the name first and refuse to change it. I've never really been one to try and keep a consistent brand anyway, as evidenced by the range of different names that I go by, online as in real life, so I don't mind too much.

GC XXVI: The proof will carry conviction

The whole 'weekly blog post with homework' format of our ongoing Great Conversation project is a strange beast. Usually I end up delaying the blog post because I need more time to read the books, but this time around I had the opposite problem; despite finishing the 'weekly' readings in mid-November, I've found the actual writing of the post itself to be the bit that's slowing down the process, and now here we are at the end of March, with the readings in the distant past, and if I was grasping for something interesting to say about them back then I have Buckley's Chance now. So, apologies for the limited review section, but it's time to get this show back on the road. It's almost Blapril, after all.

Unfortunately, the Adelaide eBooks site that I've been using as the main source for most of the links throughout the series has now disappeared from the internet, so all of the past links are now irretrievably lost. I guess that's what happens when your seven-year project starts hanging around past its used-by date. This also means that we have to revert to the project Gutenberg translations, which in many cases are inferior, but in the absence of learning ancient Greek and Latin I suppose that they'll have to do. More importantly, though, it means that I can't easily link directly to chapter headings any more unless Gutenberg have included direct links, which is about 50/50 so far. To get around this I'd hope to be using the Text Fragment Anchor flag available in the current version of Chrome. If you use Chrome you would can go here to turn that feature on for now to allow you to scroll straight to nominated places in the document, which wouldn't help readers on other browsers, but would have been a start. Unfortunately, my experiments with getting it to actually work have hit a dead end, and so I've abandoned it for now in the interests of actually getting this post up, so for now we're flying blind and if you want to read the chapters I'm reading I'm afraid you're going to have to do your own scrolling.

The Week That Was:

The History of Herodotus


As Herodotus winds down somewhat anticlimactically after the highs of book seven, I'm mostly just left with the general impression that it's really a wonder that the Greeks ever listen to oracles about anything at all, given how many examples we've been given lately of them being just straight up paid to lie about things. You'd have thought they'd learn something at some point.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Chapters XVIII-XX

If the reader was looking for some kind of conclusion out of the last few chapters of Crusoe, they're in for a rude shock. Once the mutineers have been dealt with, Crusoe returns home having learnt more or less nothing. Of course this is all just set up for the next book, and this being pretty much the first English-language novel the rules of how to write them aren't exactly codified yet, but I want closure, dammit!

All in all, I enjoyed reading Robinson Crusoe. I feel like it's aged pretty well when you consider just how old this novel is, but I think it falls just a little bit short of inclusion in my own personal canon. And I have absolutely no interest on reading anything at all about Crusoe's further adventures.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo 

Volume III - Book IV

The various characters of the ABC all seem like a lot of fun, but as usual when it comes to French names I have absolutely no hope of keeping them all straight when it comes to the action. Hopefully Hugo will hold my hand a little when we eventually come to that stuff, or I am going to be so lost.

Republic of Plato

Book I

It's a whole new book, but Socrates continues to do Socrates things. As usual we're supposed to think he's so clever, but like Thrasymachus I find myself wanting to bop him on the nose. Rather smartly. If the rest of the Republic goes on like this it's going to be a long book.

The Sand Reckoner by Archimedes

Perfectly transparent

I found this one surprisingly easy to grasp and Archimedes chain of logic relatively easy to follow in comparison to Euler's, and was pleased to find that I could more or less able to nod along with all of his steps, so I was perplexed to find out that Archimedes model of the solar system was way, way off. Despite having a pretty good guess at the size of the Earth, it comes down one of his base assumptions being an order of magnitude off causing the measurement of the distance to the sun to be comically, tragically underestimated, but there's nothing wrong with the logic. Give me Archimedes over Socrates any day, is basically what I'm saying.

Some Numbers: 

This week we passed 3000 pages read during the project, which feels like a pretty significant milestone for someone who really hasn't read an awful lot in the last few years. It doesn't count all the Harry Potter fanfiction, either.

Pages last week: 106
Pages so far: 3021

Readings for Week XXVII

The only new book on the list this week is a return to Shakespeare with the Tempest, otherwise we're jsut continuing to power on through with bite-sized chunks of Hugo, Plato, Dicken, Bacon and our last dose of Herodotus. There's a few mid-sized readings and a couple of teeny-tiny ones, hopefully there's a little bit of something for everyone, so do join me by picking up a book or two ready for this time next week. Unless you only like things written since 1900, I guess, if so, you're bang out of luck.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo 

Volume III - Book V (12 pages)
#non_gbww #imlit #novel #french

Republic of Plato

Book II (17 pages)
#gbww #pandt #philosophy #greek

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

(25 pages)
#gbww #imlit #play #english #oneshot

The History of Herodotus

Book IX (32 pages)
#gbww #mands #history #greek

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Chapters XIV & XV (18 pages)
#non_gbww #imlit #novel #english

Sphinx by Francis Bacon

(2 pages)
#ggb #pandt #essay #english #oneshot #short

Sunday 29 March 2020

What a difference a month can make

For my day job, I work as the building and bookings administrator for my local church.

Four Sundays ago, about 160 members of our church met together as usual in our building on the main road of our town for worship and kids groups followed by a chat over a cup of tea. I visited the church every day, both to give access to the various community groups that use the building and to work in the office.

Three Sundays ago, we had a big squirty box of hand-sanitiser on the door, a couple of members who'd just come back from trips to Asia stayed at home, but it was more or less business as usual. A couple of my co-workers attended our weekly staff meeting by Skype, but I was still around and letting people in and out of the building. Most of the people I talked too couldn't find toilet paper anywhere, but were just trying to get on with life as usual.

Two Sundays ago, we asked people who had someone unwell in their house, who were in a vulnerable group or who didn't feel comfortable coming to church to stay at home. We had about 70 people there and struggled to get enough adults to care for the various kids groups during the service, shared communion handed out by tongs, and tea and coffee after the service was carefully doled out by someone in kitchen gloves. We cancelled all large gatherings in the building, but some community services judged essential continued, perhaps not as usual, but at least they happened.

Last Sunday, the church building was closed on a Sunday morning, and people gathered around laptop screens around the city at 10:30am to watch a service that had been prerecorded by the musicians and speakers in the church building over the course of the week. At tea and coffee time we met together in small groups via Zoom or by phone from our respective lounge rooms. The building closed entirely, and I set up the table downstairs as my office desk, even though it's not exactly clear what my job is these days when we the building doesn't really need a lot of administering.

This Sunday, the YouTube service was spliced together out of bits and pieces recorded in different members homes. Some members contributed songs, others prayers, others preached or led communion made of whatever bread and liquids members had in their houses (our consisted of pepper crackers and apple cider). It has been a rollercoaster of change, but I've been greatly encouraged by how well people have been adapting to some significant changes, especially by how well some of the elderly and more technologically challenged have leapt right in. It might no look that much like church looked just a month ago, but it still looks a lot like church, and in a time of upheaval and uncertainty, that's a pretty big deal.

Let's wait and see what the next month throws at us.

Saturday 28 March 2020

In Blapant Disregard of Tradition...

Yes, the people that brought you Blaugust have done it again and renamed a month with wanton abandon, to their own doubtless nefarious ends.

In this time of mass cancellations and a sudden emptiness in all of our social calendars, the good folks that bring us the annual blogging festival hitherto known as Blaugust have chosen to bring forward this year's event to fill the gap caused by all this social distancing and mandatory quarantining that's going on. Thus I'll be planning to get back to something approaching a regular posting schedule for the month of April, which is something I was planning to do anyways (to be fair, I'm always planning on getting the Leaflocker rolling again, just with differing degrees of urgency;but at least this time I'll have some friends to bounce ideas off of and to be inspired by).

It's looking to be a quieter affair so far, with just over 20 participants signed up so far rather than the 70-odd that we had last year, but given the enormous wodge of time that attempting to keep up with reading all those blogs took out of my schedule (time that I was supposed to be packing to move house) maybe that's a good thing after all. If you're looking to fill your dates a little in this current climate let me encourage you to join us, as writing a regular blog is a rewarding activity and the Blaugustines (Blaprilites?) are a friendly and enthusiastic bunch.

I'm not quite sure what sort of things I'm likely to come out with during the month, but it's probably not going to be the MMO focused material of most of my comrades-in-blarms. Since this leopard doesn't change his spots except under duress, though, the chances are high that it will be the same old Leaflocker miscellany of rambling about books and board games. Personally, I'm hoping for some good crossword content too.

I hope you'll join me during the month, either by joining the blogfest or just by stopping by and leaving a comment or two as I go along, as a little bit of encouragement goes a long way. If you'd like to join the festival proper, do check out Belghast's post on the topic for more details and info about the discord channel and other ways that you can make the month a little more interactive.

Until next time, keep on Blarching on.

Friday 27 March 2020

Clue Review: LC2 (Down)

"In the next couple of days months"

This post is part two of the clue review for my most recent crossword. You can read part one here.


1 Male with vocal following gives the lesson (5) 
lesson = MORAL ~ M (for male) + ORAL (vocal)
I'm not really a big fan of the way that many crosswords tend to rely very heavily on the one-letter shortenings of seemingly any word, but I feel like male and female are shortened to M and F on forms or toilet doors and the like that they're probably fine. They're so common that they make for very easy to solve clues. I liked the 'following' here, which doesn't strictly do anything in the clue since oral was naturally going to follow the M anyway, but it just makes the surface reading of the clue so must nicer.

2 Digital scanner hitch (5) 
THUMB ~ Double definition (Digital scanner / hitch)
Ha! Digital. I crack myself up.

3 British PM to shout out loud (5)
 British PM = BLAIR ~ blare (shout) homophone (out loud)
I toyed with a bunch of options to avoid using yet another homophone for this one, but in the end none of the things that I could come up with worked as well. With the combination of a very obvious straight clue and a simple homophone like this, I'd be surprised if this wasn't the very first entry in most solver's grids.

4 Degenerates fire ultimate projectiles (4)
Degenerates = EBBS ~ last letter (ultimate) of fir(E) + BBS (projectiles)
I feel like ebbs is one of those answers that you just see in crosswords a lot, but that could just be my overexposure to American-style crosswords, where that sweet E _ _ S shape is so very useful. I really enjoy when a definition has an utterly different alternative that you can meld with the wordplay so nicely to so effectively misdirect the solver. I wasn't completely confident that one spells the projectiles from a BB gun like this, half expecting beebees, which wouldn't have worked, but apparently this is fine.

5 Capital built out of parts of its predecessor (5)
TOKYO ~ Anagram of KYOTO.
Another not very cryptic clue, in that you have to effectively know the answer in order to reverse engineer it. It's a nice little piece of trivia, I suppose, but I'm not very happy with it in my crossword.

6 Cabin with energy load (5) 
load = CARGO ~ charade of CAR (cabin #for a ferris wheel, maybe?) + GO (energy)
Frankly a little disappointed that I couldn't come up with a classical reference to Jason and the Argonaut's here, but there'll be another opportunity some time. I also would have liked to have the surface hint towards load as a verb rather than the noun definition for an extra little bit of misdirection.

7 Abuse slandering take-out diner (5) 
abuse = SLANG ~ subtraction (take-out) of DINER from SLA(-nderi)NG
So you take out the letters of diner from slandering to get slang. Simple enough, but since there's not an indicator to say that you take out the constituent parts and not just some synonym for diner it just feels a little sloppy.

12 No news about known town brownnose (6) 
brownnose = KOWTOW ~ subtraction of Ns (abbr. of news) from K(-n)OW(-n) TOW(-n)
As soon as I'd written the words 'known town brown' on my page I knew that I had to make them work together somehow, and the joy of doing so was enough for me to get over my dislike of using words to clue single letters like I've used 'news' here.

14 Bar from exploring otherwise (5) 
Bar = INGOT ~ hidden in (from) explorING OTherwise
Gotta have a hidden clue or two in there, if only for how frustrating it is to stare at a clue for ages only to realise the answer has literally been staring you in the face the whole time. Never gets old.

15 Boredom regarding Nintendo console announcement (5) 
Boredom = ENNUI ~ homophone (announcement) of 'on' (regarding) and 'wii' (Nintendo console)
I will never get sick of using 'wii' in crossword clues. I think this is the third time that I've done it, but it's the first time that I've used it as a homephone and I'm really pleased at how this one turned out.

16 Orange, bumbling ass... (6) 
ass = ONAGER ~ ORANGE anagram (bumbling)
I was going to use the siege engine rather than the equine for this one, but when I realised the orange connection there was only ever one way this one was going to go.

18 ...moons First Lady unrepentantly, necessarily arousing ridicule (5) 
moons = LUNAR ~ Heads (first) of (L)ady (U)nrepentantly (N)ecessarily (A)rousing and (R)idicule
Another example of  a case where the surface reading of the clue drew an interesting enough picture that I was okay with the definition being a little unorthodox, especially given that it's an easy clue. One can't really have 'moons' for 'lunar', or 'first' instead of 'firsts', but I'm happy to give myself a pass here.

19 Now following up a German relative (5) 
relative = NIECE ~ EIN ('a' in German) vertically (up) + CE (now #abb. common era)
Always a bit wary of using things like ein/eine and le/de given that there's multiple options for them, but finding new ways to clue the exceeding common crossword clue of 'niece' is never easy. I wouldn't be surprised to find that multiple constructors have already used this exact clue.

24 Paperback skirting father's paroxysm (5) 
paroxym = SPASM ~ reversal of MS ('paper' back) containing (skirting) PA'S (father's)
Does anyone actually call their dad 'pa'? It's one of those crosswords things that we all pretty much accept, but it feels like a usage that you just don't hear these days. Papa, sure. Pa? Anyways, I liked using 'paperback' like this, even if it's yet another thing that makes the Ximineans frown at me. People who like cryptics like wordplay, what could be wrong about adding MORE wordplay?

25 Steal more work for automaton (5) 
automaton = ROBOT ~ Rob (steal) + OT (more work #OverTime)
I had some objections to using OT for overtime, and I have to admit it's a less common than I thought. Annoying, because I clue construction like this works a lot better than trying to shoehorn the old testament in there.

26 Endemic blatant insiders rise up (5) 
Endemic = NATAL ~ middle (insiders) of b(LATAN)t reversed (rise up)
Natal is a great word that I have always enjoyed wrapping my mouth around since I first met it in a Christmas carol. I generally have a bit of a weak spot for good reversals, so I was glad when I notied this one.

28 Font is in a cave to the north (5) 
font = ARIAL ~ A + LAIR (cave) reversed (to the North)
I know, I know, it's a typeface. You knew what I meant though, right?

29 Tool practice (5) 
DRILL ~ Double definition (Tool / practice)
I was a bit dubious about finishing the crossword with three double-definitions in a row, but hopefully most people don't solve puzzles by running through all the acrosses and then all the downs, so maybe it wasn't so obvious to people actually solving the puzzles. There were probably too many double definitions in this one, but when they work, they work.

30 A fraction of the last Tim Tam (5) 
NINTH ~ Double definition (A fraction / the last Tim Tam)
I was right chastised for this one, given that I'd forgotten that not ALL packets of Tim Tams have nine biscuits, as the plainer flavours still have eleven. I could have gotten away with it too, if I'd only added a 'fancy' into the clue. Gotta have some specific Aussie knowledge in their somewhere but in this case I was hoist on my own petard.

32 Get on the table and blend (4) 
MELD ~ Double definition (Get on the table / blend)
A reference to the game of canasta and similar games here that would have been tricky if you don't speak the specific language of those games. We could all do with a friendly game of cards at the moment, I think. I wonder if there's a decent online canasta server...

Thanks for dropping by. I'm hoping to spend a little more time here in the next few weeks instead of spending it all mindlessly scrolling social media, so hopefully the next post isn't months away again.