Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Games without Dice

There's another sort of game that I like to play, one that doesn't involve dice, but where objects are also rolled on a table often covered with green felt: pool, or billiards so as not to be confused with lounging in and around a concrete depression filled with chlorinated water. That can be fun, too, but I'm referring here, in the context of Chipsterzone Games, to parlor pastimes.

I've played a fair bit of 8-ball, and also of Cut-throat over the years. Much of my 8-ball was played a good while back, during college breaks at bars on coin-operated pool tables. I was never particularly good, but perhaps understandably I got a wee better after one drink, let me get out of my head so much, I suppose. My friend, let's call him Tim (since that is his name), got worse at pool with the first drink, but better at Space Invaders, the video game. I got only worse at video games with alcohol. Ah, comraderic competition!

But even at its best my 8-ball wasn't very good. When we moved to Raleigh, NC during high school however the house my parents bought came with a full-size, heavy slate pool table in the basement. My father soon introduced me to an entirely different sort of pool game that they played at the Marine Corps Reserve Center on their lunch breaks (and I'm guessing any other time that things got slow).

They called it simply "Pocket Billiards" and the main object, rather than to shoot balls into the pockets as in most games played on a pool table, was to make "billiards" to score points. That is, players try to make a stroke in which the cue ball strikes two other balls. This is wonderfully difficult, especially at first. It becomes somewhat less difficult as the player understands how, and when, to put various kinds of English, or spin, on the cue ball. Of course English is important in 8-ball or any other game on a pool table, but it's critical in shooting billiards to control where the cue ball goes after contact with another ball, or the rail, and to avoid letting the cue drop into a pocket and scratching a batch of points.

I played a bunch of this game on my dad's table through the rest of high school and college, both alone and with family and friends, but then played it very little for a couple of decades. I've recently resurrected it at my own place of work where we have a pool table in the parlor games area adjacent to our cafeteria. Other games there include table tennis and Foosball. As I introduced it to some of my colleagues there was some confusion over the name and to prevent it being known simply as "Chip's Game", a title I hadn't earned since it's not my invention in the least, I dubbed it Billiards 321 (for reasons that the rules, below, will make obvious).

I recommend it highly for anyone who enjoys playing on a billiards table, but not so much the standard sinking of balls. My chief rival at Billiards 321 here at work has begun this year by creating a spreadsheet to track our competition. He's broken it down into weekly and monthly increments, determined to best me at some interval. His specialty is making "pots" (sinking balls into the pockets), while mine is making the billiards, so we choose differing shots from similar positions and it keeps things lively.

Without further ado, the rules:

Billiards 321

Billiard: hitting two balls with the cue ball during one shot; English (spin) can make all the difference!

A) Set up the 3, 2 and 1 balls in their home positions as shown: 3 and 1 on the spots, 2 ball in center
B) Cue ball to one side or the other of the 1 ball, no more than a ball's width away.
C) Cue ball must hit 2 rails, including the far rail, before touching any balls, then must hit 2 balls (make a billiard) to be a good break.
D) Players take turns attempting to break until either someone makes a billiard or each player has made an attempt.
E) If the last player fails to make a good break then the first player begins regular play where the balls ended.

A) Must make a billiard to open a turn.
B) Subsequent shots can either sink a ball or make a billiard to continue a turn.
C) Sunk balls are returned to their home position for the next shot (or as close as possible without touching any other balls)
D) If a player scratches during a turn all points accumulated on that turn are lost (A scratch in this game is when the cue ball goes into a pocket, or off the table, or the shooter fouls by hitting other balls than the cue ball with stick, hand, etc.)
E) After a scratch the next player must start from within a ball's width away from the one ball's home position and must hit the far rail prior to touching any other ball.

A) A billiard is 2 points (hitting all 3 balls in one shot is 5 points)
B) Sinking a ball scores the number of points on the ball: 3 ball is 3 points, 2 ball is 2 points, 1 ball is 1 point
C) Both billiards and ball points can be scored in the same shot
     a. It is not required that the billiard completes before the ball falls in the pocket
     b. Example: a player hits both the 1 ball and 3 ball with the cue and pots both balls; that is  2 + 1 + 3 = 6 points for that shot.
D) Players accumulate their points verbally during a turn and then record them at the end of their turn, this way only unscratched points are retained.

E) A standard game is to 50 points, it is not required to hit 50 exactly


 Advanced: This is a billiards game, if some players tend to score too many points by shooting balls then the “billiards rule” can be added, either at the beginning of a game, or during a game if so agreed prior to start. From the point the rule is put in place no more than 2 ball shots in a row without billiards are allowed. If a player shoots 3 ball-only shots then they can keep all points but their turn ends. The sunk ball(s) are re-tabled and the next player shoots as after a miss. (The other players should verbally note when 2 ball shots have been completed without a billiard so everyone is aware that the next shot must include a billiard for the turn to continue.) 

Higher Scoring Variant: When a ball is sunk replace it with the next lowest ball that hasn’t been in play, always spot it on the farthest open home spot from the cue ball (if equidistant then farthest from the other balls). Balls continue to score their face value, wrap back to the lowest ball after the 15 has been used (e.g. back to the 1 ball). Billiards score 5, hitting all 3 balls scores 8. Play to a higher number, e.g. 200.

Have fun !!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Cooking for One, Part Three

I've become cavalier in my cooking. This is a disclaimer for the recipe below. I haven't actually measured any of this yet, but it was quite tasty. My only real training in food preparation comes from my mother and from watching Guy's Grocery Games. Oh, and from eating. I've been eating pretty much my whole life, at least three times a day. But I think it's watching Triple G (and Triple D: Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, though he doesn't seem to visit many real dives, or drive-ins, for that matter) that have set me free from a prior enslavement to measuring spoons.

I'll go by look, feel and taste these days. Especially for add-ins, like walnuts into brownies. Half a handful seems right. But the real secret that I want to share with you today is about dumplings, the pan-fried Asian kind. I don't make those. I buy them. Either from the little Chinese place at the strip mall a few blocks over in the bad part of town (that place is a bit of a dive), or in the frozen food aisle, ethnic section, at Publix. Both of those come with sub-par dumpling sauce, though, and my prior attempts to whip up my own were unsatisfactory. I knew it was a soy sauce base, but that's all I could ever taste when I made some. Neither ginger nor garlic cut the over-salty, over-soy-y taste. And water just, you know, watered it down.

The secret? Rice vinegar.

As warned above, don't trust my measurements, they may lead you astray, trust your instincts, Luke, but these are my guesses at what I put together. Worked wonderfully:

   3 tbsp Lite Soy Sauce (Kikkoman is the name brand, but I don't think it matters)
   2 tbsp rice vinegar (I got Nakano All Natural, again, probably doesn't matter)
 1/4 tsp sesame oil (go easy on this, it can overpower everything)
 1/4 tsp ground ginger (I would've preferred 1/2 tsp fresh grated, but I didn't have it)
 1/4 tsp garlic powder (again, fresh, like one clove, would've been better)
 1 tbsp diced green onions

Mix it up in your favorite small monkey dish.
Dip away.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cooking for One, Part Two

If you enjoy eating your meals or snacks, as I do, by dipping a variety of rigid finger foods into some type of sauce, then the idea below may be for you.

I've found that I really enjoy consuming potato chips and dip, tortilla chips and salsa (or cheese dip), vegetable sticks and dressing, and so forth. Even though I try to stick to reduced fat potato chips and low fat dip, I know that chips and dip are not my healthiest choices. So I'm trying to lean toward carrot and celery sticks and broccoli and cauliflower branches. They can be a bit dull, so: Amateur Tip (I know, the idiom is "Pro Tip", but I'm an amateur when it comes to cooking. I have worked at three restaurants in my life (bonus points to anyone who can name the establishments), but the closest I ever came to food prep was filling water glasses, foil wrapping potatoes for baking, and restocking a bottled beer cooler.): try Kraft Lite Thousand Island dressing. It's already tangy (says so right on the bottle in my fridge), and give it some extra zing by dicing up 3 or four pickled jalapeno slices.

Very tasty. Happy munching.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cooking for One, Part One

These days I mostly cook my own meals and am the only one eating what I cook. I eat a wide variety of foods, not all of them healthy, but some are. I don't eat nearly as much seafood as is on this scientific list of the most nutritious foods,  but I eat a lot of the fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs listed there.

Other times I'll order a large pizza (usually from Pizza Hut or Domino's rather than Earth and Stone or Sam and Greg's, but that's just because I'm cheap) and I'll eat about a third of it right away, then I'll have it for dinner 2 or 3 times over the next several days, augmenting with a salad or petite frozen peas from Publix. I can eat half a week that way for about 10 bucks. Did I mention that I can be cheap?

That leaves a few days to fill in with some other fare. Last night it was panko-breaded frozen fish (pollock,  Publix branded, too, as it turns out). It's a bit less bad for me than Gorton's or Mrs. Paul's Beer Battered. I do like that beer batter, though. I also prepped some sweet potato fries -- slice them up french style, a bit of spray-on cooking oil and salt onto an aluminum foil covered baking tray and roast them at 425 degrees with the fish, so not fried at all. Very tasty and pretty good for me.

Anyway, I managed to make some tarter sauce to go with it that I was quite content with:

   1 dill pickle spear, diced
   1/2 tsp prepared horseradish (I like Inglehoffer, mostly for the little jar)
   3 jalapeno rings, diced
   2 tbsp mayonaise (Hellmann's if you have it)

Put it all in a small monkey dish and stir. Enough for two chunks of fish, you don't want there to be leftovers of fish or tarter sauce, anyway.

Double it if you're cooking for two.
Happy Valentine's Day.