Mind Games 2015 Recap

Background:  The Mind Games convention is where/how American Mensa awards games the Mensa Select seal.  The seal is awarded to 5-6 games each year. It’s an event with ~300 Mensans in attendance, specifically a self-selected subset of Mensans that are gamers. As a judge/attendee, you are assigned around ~30 games to play during the play period (Friday 11am until Sunday 9am). Between 50-60 are submitted in total each year by various manufacturers in lots of genres, though Euro games are sadly almost always under-represented and under-ranked. Each judge gets to vote on 7 (in a ranked order) from the list of ones they were assigned. To vote, judges must play the 25-30 they are assigned, but that is on the honor system. The remaining submissions are optional, but I try to get through all of them each year. Other people have different mandatory/optional lists versus yours, such that the number of people who judge each game are balanced. At the end of the judging/play period, the ballots are tallied and the winning games are announced on Sunday. A press release generally follows on Monday.  You can look up the winners for past years at http://mindgames.us.mensa.org/about/winning-games/.

Mensa Mind Games 2015 was held in San Diego, CA from April 30 through May 3. 60 total games were played over the weekend. Unlike prior Mind Games events, 2015 included an extra day (Thursday-Sunday instead of Friday-Sunday). The extra day allowed everyone to have a more relaxed pace and to check out San Diego’s terrific attractions. (Yes, I went to the zoo.) There truly was no excuse for not finishing your assigned games this year. I did all 60, per usual, and I didn’t even have to rush that much. I had time to swim and relax on Saturday evening.

Per Chief Judge Greg Webster, 210 ballots were cast, but 11 of those were deemed invalid due to mis-votes. (Yes, even among Mensans, some folks make voting mistakes.) The game submissions this year were remarkably good; all games except two got at least one vote. I have attended Mind Games where it was tough to come up with 7 games that I was willing to give a vote. That was not an issue this year at all. In fact, I have enough “honorable mentions” this year that I will cover them in a separate post and only talk about the winners in this post. I suspect that Kickstarter and other indie game publishing houses are the result of the shift.

Before I recap the winners, I wanted to note that Chicago Area Mensa will be hosting in 2016. It will be back to a 3-day format (which I actually prefer), and you can count on a gaming-centric group like CAM to put on an awesome event. You can already book hotel reservations, and there’s a Facebook event for those of you who use FB. Spreadsheet services for MG 2016 will be provided by yours truly. 🙂

Without further ado, the winners of Mensa Mind Games 2015 (in alphabetical order) along with my scoring and notes:

[table id=2 /]
Publisher: Bezier Games
Category: Euro/Economic/Tile

I had heard of this one and even nearly played it at AGOG before coming. However, my first play of it was at Mind Games. It, unfortunately, wasn’t on my ballot, but it was on DH’s. Folks who have played Suburbia (another game from the same publisher and designer) will immediately recognize some of the component design, but the game itself has little in common with Suburbia. Players construct their castles using rooms that are arranged on a market for purchase by the current round’s “master builder”. Thus, the cost of a building may change from one round to another based on whether the current “master” feels it is likely to be desired or not (or whether they want to try to reserve it for themselves). Also, unlike Suburbia, most building purchases are paid to other players rather than the bank. Like Suburbia, each building has qualities that score victory points for the building itself, potentially adjacent buildings, or all buildings on your board. There’s also a Vegas Showdown type element where the construction of your castle matters. An entrance from the outside is required, and the shapes of the buildings or the placement of doorways can end up constraining your construction. All in all, it has a lot of strategic elements, and while the gameplay is relatively straightforward, it at least feels like different skill sets could be used to win. Besides, even if you don’t win, you get to build a fun castle. Aesthetically, there are some very minor issues of clarity on pieces (it’s hard to remember the symbol for adjacent vs. all on board, for example, and the art can make the size symbol/number hard to read), but the instructions and player aids are very clear and make it easy to get going.

[table id=3 /]
Publisher: Gamewright
Category: Card/Set Collecting

Dragonwood is a card game with a quest/RPG type theme. Players draw and collect “hero” cards in sets, straights, flushes, and straight flushes to defeat “creature” cards that are drawn from a separate deck. Most enemies award victory points but some enemies award powers that help you with future defeats. The size of the collection of cards you play determines how many dice you get to roll, and the sum of the dice versus the corresponding strength vs. the type of cards played (set, straight, or flush) determines if you defeated the creature. The game ends either when you go through the hero deck twice or when you defeat both the red and yellow dragons, which are shuffled into the bottom third of the creature deck. At game end, the player with the most victory points wins.

I admit that seeing so many variants on the “collect gin-style sets of cards and play them to do X” card games at prior Mind Games has probably soured me on the genre. But, beyond that, the game frustrated us in that we easily got through the hero deck twice before being even close to seeing either dragon come up. We had four players. Also, collecting the sets took longer and felt more frustrating that it should have due to how slow drawing is. I think they had a good concept with the merge of fantasy quest theming with a basic card game, but the execution needed work to tune the decks correctly. Aesthetically, I was also disappointed by the artwork. It is cartoony and reminiscent of Dragon’s Lair (and parodies of that genre). I would have preferred more realistic or compelling art given how dull the gameplay is.

[table id=4 /]
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios and Foxtrot Games
Category: Euro/Tile

In past years, this one could have topped my list, but it had the unfortunate luck to be competing with so many other solid entrants. This is a tile laying game where each tile earns you and your opponent chips in various colors, and the orientation of the tile placement determines what your opponents get vs. what you get. Once you collect the chips, you can claim scrolls for endgame victory points by having sets of single colors or an assortment of colors. As each person claims a set scroll, the value of the subsequent scrolls goes down (i.e., first person gets a 7 point scroll, second person gets a 5 point scroll, and so on). So, it isn’t just what you collect but whether what you collect gets you the most points at any given moment. It’s very easy to play. DH has concerns that the strategy is minimal. When I was playing, I noticed that the chips are piece limited and so worked on denying my right hand opponents chips in colors that put them in competition with what I was planning to claim. However, your ability to do that is constrained by the tiles and the way your opponents play. I’d put it on a similar strategy level as Splendor (and similar complexity). Beyond that, though, the landscape you create with the tiles is very pretty, and the components are nice looking overall. Thus, even if you aren’t enjoying the strategy, you get to enjoy the aesthetic aspect.

[table id=5 /]
Publisher: Ad Magic/Breaking Games
Category: Word

There’s an inevitable spate of word games at Mind Games, but this one managed to add something unique. Like many other word games, you draw cards with letters on them and then use those cards to lay down words in order to score (money in this case). The unique aspect of this word game vs. others is that after playing a word (and earning cash accordingly), you can pay to patent one of the letters you used. Once you patent a letter, you get money from the bank any time another player uses the letter in one of their words. Different letters have different costs based on frequency, but you always get paid the same royalty for the patent. The goal is to collect the most money by the end of the game. The patent cards also incorporate interesting factory art. One quibble I had with the game is that the payoff of stock rather than money (which occurs only on big words) seemed to be a pointless complexity, given that stock and money are equivalent with the exception that you can’t use stock to buy anything. If anything, it seems like the stock makes the larger words less valuable. If stock had some dividend mechanism or if it was worth more in the end game, it’d make more sense. I also nitpick that players should have to pay royalties to each other rather than royalties coming from the bank. As is, there’s not enough pain to playing a word when other players hold the patents, but that is likely by design and probably helps keep the game balanced among players of differing skill levels.

[table id=6 /]
Publisher: Bink Ink, LLC
Category: Euro/Routes/Set Collection

Trekking is a TTR-like board game played on a map of the US with locations based on the National Park System. In addition to a rules booklet, the game includes a guidebook of the included parks (each of which features a photo of the Kickstarter backer that sponsored that park’s inclusion). There are multiple ways to win. One is to complete the public contracts (not the game’s lingo) for sets of cards that you play once at the noted park to get the contract. One is to gather colored stones by being the first visitor to each park, getting a majority of each to score points at the end of the game. One is to complete private contracts (called postcards). All of these things get you victory points, and most victory points at game end wins. Like TTR, there’s contract decks and then the main deck where you collect colored symbol cards to be able to claim contracts. Unlike TTR, you don’t buy legs of travel. Instead, you’re completing the park contract cards that are publicly available with the specific card types noted on the contract. The game designer/publisher has a terrific website that includes very well done “how to play” videos. If videos aren’t your thing, the rule book is extremely well done, too. It is also fun to travel the parks, and I have to love any game that highlights the awesomeness of the NPS, as it’s truly one of our national treasures. I placed my order for this one while at the airport to head home from Mind Games.


You can view the official Mind Games press release here: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/05/prweb12697995.htm. Also, if you want to see my massive spreadsheet of scores and notes, it’s posted here: https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=f9c94cb9f01a9ee9!2232&authkey=!AFauXyK6LerQMAE&ithint=file%2Cxlsx. Finally, you can view my photos from the event here: http://tsukata.org/photo-galleries/mind-games-2015-and-san-diego-zoo/.

American Mensa Elections – 2015

(Skip down to a summary of my intended votes and recommended ballot if you prefer a tl;dr approach.)

Today is tax day, but it’s also the day that members of American Mensa will receive their ballots. (If you haven’t already, set a filter in your inbox so that mail from “noreply@directvote.net” pops to the top and is not sent to spam. That is the address that your ballot will come from if sent via email.)

American Mensa has been a wild ride for me over the past 12 months or so. I’m pretty much at a point where I feel done with the organization as anything but a member getting the most she can out of her life membership so it’s not an entirely wasted investment. I’m at that point not because American Mensa contains a few assholes; I’m at that point because the current board majority prefers to encourage and support those assholes at the expense of members and volunteers that actually add (or added) value to the organization. I’ve met some wonderful people via the org, and I still believe strongly in the power and value of those wonderful people. They give me hope. Ultimately, it is because of that belief that I feel this election is important and worth discussing here; that’s why I’m bothering to take the time both to vote and to write about voting.

I want the organization of American Mensa to be worthy of its wonderful members and volunteers. I want it to be an organization I once again feel proud to support with my money, time, and energy. If you are a candidate who gets elected, whether I supported you or not, I ask that you consider how important it is that a social organization not feel hostile to its members, that it not be a place where people hesitate to lead or volunteer in any capacity because of the near-inevitable harassment they will suffer online and in person. I ask that you put measures in place to protect the privacy of leaders and volunteers as well as take action against those who misuse Mensa resources (including but not limited to mailing lists, directories, gatherings, and online forums and groups) to harass and bully members in ways both internal and external to the organization. I ask you to gather and review data about the membership, take ownership of it, and be transparent both internally and externally about what it indicates about the health and diversity of the organization both at a point in time and over time. Of course, there’s more than this, but this is my main/top voting issue for the election, because I think it’s the most important issue we’re facing.

In making out my ballot, I considered a lot of information. I considered candidate sites. In some cases, I asked candidates for their opinions directly, where their site or prior actions or posts didn’t make it clear. I considered the recommendations posted here; I trust Robin’s opinions strongly, and I think that post is worth a read. I considered recommendations posted by others on Facebook and elsewhere. And finally, I considered the statements posted by candidates and the content of the amendments under consideration.

How Mensa Elections Work

For offices where more than two candidates are running, you will rank the candidates. You are not obligated to vote for more than one candidate for each office. Your second (and third or fourth, if applicable) choice will be used in the case of a run-off. Robin explains this better than I can, so I’m quoting her post here (with permission):

There is a rule that you must vote in the first “conceptual” election of the preferential election. There is no rule that you must cast a vote in all three or four. Effectively, you’re opting not to vote in the second and third elections if it came down to a run-off.

So say I really want Alice to win, and Bob is a decent second choice. I’d shoot myself if Charlie wins, so I vote 1 for Alice, 2 for Bob, and not at all for Charlie. Turns out Alice came in third in the first round… now what?

If Alice came in third, then it’s between Bob and Charlie in a second round of counting, and Bob gets my second preference choice/vote in that round of counting, in that “run-off” election. ?In this instance, my lack of a preference for Charlie would not come into play until a third round of voting if they couldn’t achieve 50%+ in the second round.

If I only see value in Alice (and not the other two candidates) and Alice doesn’t make it to a second round of voting, then neither Bob nor Charlie gets my vote in that counting. Voting only for Alice might inadvertently help Charlie simply by not boosting Bob’s votes higher.

My votes, as you will see below, consider this voting schema. You will notice that I am intentionally only voting for a subset of candidates in some cases, and I’m providing my preferred ranking where applicable. Explanations of my votes follow. (You can skip down to a summary if you prefer a tl;dr approach.)

Chair – 1. Nick Sanford, 2. Deb Stone (No third selection.)

First, don’t vote for Dan Burg. Just don’t. Not even as a second or third choice. There are many, many reasons that I don’t support him, but at the very least, he’s the leader that has gotten us where we are now. There is no reason to keep him in office. Between Nick and Deb, I support Nick. I considered not even putting Deb as a second choice. Why? I’ve heard many great things about Deb, but she has stated clearly that she thinks bullying and harassment is the problem of the victim, not the perpetrator. She seems to be voicing the “have a thicker skin” approach, which is quite honestly both naive and reductive. It’s also basically the system we’ve had in place for years now, and it isn’t working. On data alone, it should be dismissed. The only reason she is getting my second rank vote is that I don’t want Dan back in office.

I’m not going to say or claim that Nick has a proven track record on this issue; he doesn’t. But, I don’t fault him for not acting on it as Treasurer. That’s not part of the Treasurer’s duties. What he did as treasurer was increase transparency and consider issues based on data, and if he does similar behavior regarding this issue, I’m convinced he’ll do well for the organization. When asked about plans, Nick said honestly that he didn’t know what the right approach might be but that he agreed it was a key problem and issue. He has a code of conduct and enforcement of such in his “unvetted ideas”, and I think that’s exactly the right place for it for an unelected chair.

Nick Sanford has my absolute and firm support. My vote for Deb in second place is a vote against Dan, should there be a run-off.

1VC – Mary Lee Kemper

One of the concerns about Nick as chair is financial; some members have concerns that he will be too spendy or too willing to spend on outside vendors vs. using Mensa volunteers. (I am actually in favor of using trained staff and vendors where they have more expertise or can be more efficient. I think Mensa financially undervalues the cost of volunteers.) If you have that concern about Nick but share my concerns about Deb, vote for Nick and vote for Mary Lee as 1VC to both keep finances in check and strongly represent the view of using volunteers.

Re: Heather, among hearing things from others, I also saw several cases where she supported AMC actions I disagree with and has written statements in support of amendments I oppose.

2VC – John Neemidge

Honestly, this is more of a vote against “status quo” than anything else, because both are good candidates. LaRae represents the status quo, but I do think under a different chair and with a supportive board, she’d make good decisions. I have met John briefly, and I’ve heard terrific things about him. I worry that he may rely too much on volunteers (see my notes under 1VC), but I think he comes in with the right experience set and a good outside perspective. He has held leadership in a strong and well-functioning local group. I think that’s the equivalent when it comes to pros and cons of a governor running for office vs. a senator. I will also say that, like Mary Lee for 1VC, if you have those financial concerns about Nick, John will balance those out.

Secretary – 1. Lori Norris, 2. Nancy Farrar (no third vote)

This is another toss-up, at least between the two I’m selecting. Both are excellent candidates. I’m leaning for Lori because of her firm reliance on data-based decision-making. Regarding Andrew, he has supported decisions within the board and signed his name to statements from the board that I disagree with, when others chose not to. It’s another case where, with a better chair, he might be great, but he also represents the status quo. Nothing I read from him made me suspect that he would do anything more than keep the same thing going.

Treasurer – 1. Rob Salkin, 2. Ken Silver (no third or fourth vote)

There are four candidates in this election. I’m voting for two. If neither of them win, I honestly don’t care between the other two. I support Rob as a candidate because I know him personally, and I know he’ll bring a desire for data-driven decisions, frugality, and membership focus to the job. I support Ken because his statement is spot-on; he’s a bean counter who will be good at diving into the details of the task. I support Rob over Ken because it’s a voting position, and I think Rob’s POV more closely aligns with my own.

As for the other two candidates, one has no experience (not even local group office) and the other is reportedly a bit too “shoot from the hip” for this particular role.

RVCs

I’m voting for SueAnn Gilmore in my region, because I think she’s best for the job. She has certainly taken a more active approach to the election than her opponent, and everything she has said convinces me that she will act in the best interests of the organization. She was also the target of online harassment as a result of her nomination and thus has first-hand experience with how prevalent and damaging it can be.

As for other regions, even though I have no vote, I do have opinions. I would vote Tasha “Taz” Criss for Region 6, as she and I agree on many issues. I would vote Thomas G. Thomas in Region 10, mostly as a vote against his opponent. His opponent tacitly, if not explicitly, supports and endorses harassment in the AMF/AMH groups and is firmly in the “suck it up and deal with it” mindset. Thomas’ opponent also advocates separating Mensa into subgroups (separate but equal?) as a strategy to deal with what he views as differing opinions but which most reasonable people view as harassment and bullying. I think that’s a band-aid that fractures the membership rather than bringing us together as a community.

Amendments
Holy crap, there’s a lot of this. 🙂 I did read through all of them, and it’s amusing to read through the statements for each if nothing else. I’m going to voice a few opinions here on what are the key issues for all of these amendments and check the summary for votes associated with these opinions.

  • Role of Ombudsman/Powers of Ombudsman – Wow, the board really screwed up with this. Again, Robin summed it up pretty well. All I really have to add is that if I were in any way inclined to disempower the Ombudsman, this would not be the year or time I’d do it. The board does not have my trust right now, and they need to earn it back before removing power from a role designated to be a balance on the system. Further, in a group where personal behavior causes issues, the role of the Ombudsman has never been more important. Ultimately, the membership is seeing a lot of dirty laundry in this election because of a personal spat between some members of the board and this one particular ombudsman. Reacting to that by making large changes to the role is the wrong reaction.
  • Trust in the board – Your vote on a lot of these amendments will come down to whether you trust the current board or not. I don’t. If you do, I suggest you do your own research here rather than relying on mine, because we may differ. But, nowhere is the shadiness of the current board more apparent than in the Amendment 1 “omnibus” where they try to bury substantive changes along with functional ones. I’m sure our by-laws need updating. I’m willing to wait for a different board to do it for the minor stuff. It is telling that breaking up the omnibus was requested, and Dan Burg shot it down. Dan Burg has relied for years on the apathy of the membership. He knows a lot of members will blindly accept something that seems clerical. Prove him wrong.
  • Whether appointed officers should vote – This is a tough one. I agree with points made on both sides. However, ultimately, I don’t agree with the chair’s nominations having voting power in this way. Imagine if the secretaries of state, defense, etc. voted in the Senate. Now, imagine that they carried 1/5 of the vote. On one hand, I completely agree that they’re experts on critical issues and should have a voice. I don’t think that voice should be a vote. I believe their role is to contribute their expertise vocally, and it’s the role of the board to listen to them and act on that considering multiple factors.
  • Past Chairs as AMC members – This practice of Mensa’s–the continued “office” of past chairs–is a terrible one. It stagnates the organization, and it’s not worth our money.
  • Election procedures – I think reform is needed here, but I think removing the NomComm entirely is an overstep. It has value for finding candidates, but I do agree that once a candidate is put up, the value is done. It should not be called out or matter further who came from NomComm vs. petition. I’m mixed on the change for number of signatures, but honestly, I think name recognition and statements will balance out “any old Joe Schmoe” running for office. As for reducing the time between NomComm and election time, heck no. There is absolutely no reason to do that except to cut off the time for petition candidates and to reduce the time for the membership to hear views and meet the candidates (virtually or in person). As for requiring 1VC and 2VC to have AMC experience, the point of the 1VC and 2VC positions largely is to let them get experience in preparation for being chair. Oh, and if this board has taught us anything, it’s that we need a recall procedure. As for increasing the petition signatures, I’m not sure it’s necessary, and even if it is, there’s too many other things that interweave with this for it to be something I vote in favor of right now.
  • AV Recording of Meetings – Knowing what is happening at an AMC meeting shouldn’t be a privilege left to the few who can afford the time and/or money to attend. It again speaks to the failings of past leadership that this isn’t already happening programmatically. The event should be streamed and available for review on YouTube or similar.
  • Notice of dues changes – to quote Rob Salkin’s Pro statement, “This is an amendment that shouldn’t be required, but it is.” Mainly, it’s required because the current board has abused the vague wording.

Ballot/Voting Summary

AMC Positions:
Where preferential voting is permitted and no rank is given, I am not voting for the person (even as last ranked choice).

  • Chair – 1. Nick Sanford, 2. Deb Stone
  • 1VC – Mary Lee Kemper
  • 2VC – John Neemidge
  • Secretary – 1. Lori Norris, 2. Nancy Farrar
  • Treasurer – 1. Rob Salkin, 2. Ken Silver
  • RVC6 – Tasha “Taz” Criss
  • RVC8 (MWW/Seattle, i.e., the one I vote in) – SueAnn Gilmore
  • RVC10 – Thomas G. Thomas
  • Other RVCs – No clear preference from me

Amendments:

  1. The “Omnibus” replacement of by-laws in entirety – NO (too broad, needs to be broken up)
  2. Non-Voting Membership of AMC (appointees can’t vote) – YES (but I’m torn on this)
  3. Voting Membership of AMC (removal of past chairs from AMC) – YES
  4. Recall elections – YES
  5. Eliminate NomComm – NO (good thought, too broad)
  6. Election Signatures (increase to 250) – NO (not the right time, insufficient support data)
  7. Candidate Selection Timing (reduction) – NO
  8. Nominees for 1VC, etc. (must have AMC experience) – NO (perpetuates old guard/stagnation)
  9. AMC meetings (communication of) – NO (good intention, not good practice
  10. AV Recordings (of AMC meetings) – YES
  11. Duties and Responsibilities of Ombudsman (AMC’s amendment) – NO
  12. Restore Powers of Ombudsman (increase ombudsman power) – YES (but I’m torn on this)
  13. Annual Dues (notice of changes) – YES

American Mensa Age Demographics: An Exercise in Data Analysis

Responsible reporting and use of data is one of my favorite topics (and the lack of it is one of my pet peeves). As I was writing about another topic and researching accordingly, I had reason to go look up the (externally available) demographics of American Mensa. The page is very interesting, and I wanted to share some of my observations about the age section, its data, and the implications of the way it is reported.

First, for the page overall, there’s no source or date for the data. At the bottom, a source of March 2011 data is cited for the list of the largest local groups, and the “American Mensan facts” section cites a survey of 53K members. I have no idea how recently any of this was updated, nor does anyone who looks at this page. That’s a problem, and I’ll explain why it’s a problem as we go on. For now, just consider that basic data reporting guidelines dictate that the date and source of the data should be provided.

Now, look at the section titled, “Mensa members by age” (quoted with line numbers added for easy reference later on):

Mensa members by age
(1) The youngest Mensan is 2 years old; the oldest is 102 years old.
(2) Approximately 38 percent are Baby Boomers between the ages of 51 and 68.
(3) Thirty-one percent are Gen-Xers between the ages of 27 and 48.
(4) More than 2,600 members are under the age of 18.

Line (1): While near meaningless in terms of data, this sort of trivia is what reporters like to have when writing interest pieces about Mensa, so I’m fine with it. I’ll also use it a bit later on, so just keep it in mind for now.

Lines (2)-(4): Most of the rest of this will talk about these lines. The membership is segmented by age, with percent make-up given for each segment. The first segment is “Baby Boomers” ages 51-68, spanning 17 years. The second mentioned is “Gen-Xers” 27-48, spanning 21 years. The third is “under the age of 18”, spanning 17 years if you use a strict reading where that is not inclusive of 18-year-olds. Let’s first try to use this data to figure out the freshness of the data they’re using.

Backing into data freshness using generations

Gen X is most often cited as being defined by a birthdate in the range 1961-1981. That’s the date range given by both Wikipedia and Mensa’s own Gen-X SIG. That’s a 20 year span, but the Mensa representation given is 21 years (ages 27-48). Let’s suppose, though, that in giving ages they fudged a year because birthdate could come into play based on the date the data was created. If a person was born in 1981, they’d be 33 or 34 now in 2015 depending on exact birthday. So, the data isn’t from now. Instead, let’s take the youngest age given and add it to the youngest birth year (27 + 1981), which yields 2008 as the likely date of the data. Wow. A bit out of date, don’t you think?

However, I ran the same comparison for Baby Boomers, who are defined by Wikipedia as being born between 1946 and 1964. (The Baby Boomer generation is defined much more strictly than Gen X or Gen Y, for what it’s worth.) Mensa is only showing 17 years, and the generation spans 18. (Note that here they’ve shaved off a year, whereas in the other data, they added a year. Tuck that away for later consideration.) If we use the same method here, let’s figure the data is from 2008 and subtract the youngest age in the segment (51): 1957. Well, that’s in the range, but it’s far from the youngest that should be included. In fact, if I had started with the Baby Boomer age ranges, the ages given would suggest that the data was from 2014-2015. So, either Mensa has used a very different date range to calculate or the data shown here is from two different data sets.

Or, more likely, the ascription to generational titles (GenX and Baby Boomer) is arbitrary and in no way aligns to the actual generations. For now, note the inconsistency we’re seeing, because it’s a piece to the puzzle I’ll be working through as we go.

Apples to oranges?

At this point in history, it’s reasonable to assume that if you’re reading this, you’ve probably taken a survey or two at some point in your life. That survey has probably requested demographic data like your age (or year of birth which they then used to calculate your age). Have you ever seen a survey ask for your data in the specific segments used on this page? Let’s imagine that for a moment:
Imaginary Survey Picture

Doesn’t that seem like a weirdly tiny gap? And don’t those ranges overall seem arbitrary? You’re probably far more used to seeing something that breaks the ages into around 9-10 year segments, or into more general segments that roughly correspond to “child”, “college or grad student or recent graduate”, “young adult”, “middle age”, “retired or close”, etc.

So, I think it’s reasonable to assume that they didn’t use these segments when gathering the data. (As a matter of fact, I know they didn’t, because I know, as a member, that they know the ages of every member, but I wanted to approach this as if I didn’t have that information, since it’s not presented as part of the page. In fact, let me just take this opportunity to note that I’m fully aware that the real data is available to membership officers and leaders in Mensa. It’s the decision of how to present it on this externally visible page that I’m discussing, not whether the data exists.) Thus, they chose these segments specifically.

Let’s consider some reasons they might have chosen these bands and why they may have excluded ages 49-50 from the group. As I already demonstrated when trying to figure out the age of the data based on the generational segments, it certainly wasn’t out of alignment to the generations as they’re commonly defined. Maybe these were the most prominent groups? Perhaps membership clusters in these regions? But, even if that were the case, it seems unlikely that you’d throw out age 49-50, especially since that’s not likely to be a zero (far from it).

Let’s also consider that they chose to line these up as if it’s a fair comparison of three groups, when, in fact, they’re not accurate to compare at all. For the “under 18” group, by providing a number rather than the percentile, it implies that the group is of a significant size. The total membership count is on a separate page, so you don’t have a ready way to see that the count given implies less than 5% of the membership total.

Apples to apples comparison
So…being an overachiever, I decided to infer out and add data to make this a more fair comparison of age segments in American Mensa.

[table id=1 /]

Before you leave this section, go back up and look at how the Mensa demographics page presented this data and compare against this table. Does it seem like they presented a fair accounting of the composition of American Mensa?

What does this tell us?

To paraphrase Joan Calamezzo, it’s time to speculate wildly!

What we can see here is that the “baby boomer” generation is over-represented in Mensa, both relative to the US population and relative to the average population you’d expect for a segment made of up that many years of age. However, Mensa went to a lot of trouble to hide that or make that harder to figure out. For example, they added a year to Gen-X and they took away a year from Baby Boomer (I told you to remember that for later). Consider that they skipped two years that, most likely, should have been included in Baby Boomers (ages 49-50). Were I a betting woman, I’d put my bet on that including ages 49-50 meant that the percentages would have gapped much farther, probably pushing the upper segment above 40% and thus making it stand out as being over-represented even in the minimal data presented, whereas the ages they used makes the original text look far more balanced. Even as is, once you normalize vs. the US population or average Mensa age deciles, the older “baby boomer” band is significantly more prominent than the “Gen X” band. But…they didn’t normalize it. They tried to cast this as parallel data, when in fact, it is not.

This is a sales pitch, so, of course they’re going to present the data in a way that sends a message. I’m not faulting them for that, per se. This is an exercise in examining data critically. This is also an exercise in reading between the lines when data is presented.

American Mensa, or, at least, the author(s) of this page, clearly wanted to give the message that the membership of Mensa was much more balanced in age than it actually is. That’s interesting, not because it’s necessarily unusual. A lot of commmunity/social organizations skew to older/retired folks, unless they’re explicitly defined by age or life stage (e.g., Girl Scouts). It’s just a matter of nature for people to be more likely to seek out that kind of organization as they are out of school, have moved to different regions or have reached a point where work-based socialization is less feasible…and all of those things become more common with age.

Consider who is likely to consult this page:

  • Press contacts writing a story about American Mensa
  • Prospective members wanting to understand the group before they test and/or join

In both these cases, why would American Mensa want to be deceptive about their composition? In the former (members of the press), perhaps it’s to seem more relevant or representational. American Mensa wants to be perceived as an organization where the only unifying factor is intelligence, when, in reality, it’s more likely to represent a specific subgroup of the population of intelligent Americans (specifically older, white males, but that’s really a digression…if people are interested, I’ll do a similar deep dive on the other data presented here to spell that point out, but if you’d rather not see how the sausagefest is made, just trust me that the data on the Demographics page backs it up). In the latter (and to some extent the former), it’s probably because they think people are more likely to join if the group seems younger or more balanced.

However, I’d argue that actually does American Mensa a disservice and probably increases member churn. If I’m considering membership and one of the things I care about is whether my generation (or any other demographic quality) is represented, it is not going to take me long to figure out that this page was deceptive. At best, maybe I come away with a perception that it’s just my local group that is out of whack vs. the whole org, but more likely, I come away disappointed and possibly upset that I wasted money on a group that wasn’t what I wanted.

In short, selling a product by lying about it is never a good idea.

What should be done?

It’s popular these days for companies and orgs to release their demographic data and own up to their disparities. American Mensa should follow that trend. American Mensa should use comparative data expressed in the same units of measurement and show more common segments or complete segments. If the concern about the org being “boomer-heavy” is real, it’d be reasonable to link to programs for younger members, to illustrate that the org offers value despite under-representation. It’d be even better to have a statement written by the current chair that is linked, iterating current actions and plans in place to address disparities. Consider how Google is presenting its workforce demographic data as a model to follow. Wouldn’t it be great to see that level of transparency and ownership coming from American Mensa?

Mind Games 2014 Recap (Austin, TX)

Background:  The Mind Games convention is where/how American Mensa awards games the Mensa Select seal.  The seal is awarded to 5-6 games each year. It’s an event with 200-300 Mensans in attendance, specifically a self-selecting subset of Mensa that are gamers. As a judge/attendee, you are assigned around 25-30 games to play during the play period (Friday 11am until Sunday 9am). Between 50-60 are submitted in total each year by various manufactures in lots of genres, though Euro games are sadly almost always under-represented and under-ranked. Each judge gets to vote on 7 (in a ranked order) from the list of ones they were assigned. To vote, judges must play the 25-30 they are assigned, but that is on the honor system. The remaining submissions are optional, but I try to get through all of them each year. Other people have different mandatory/optional lists versus yours, such that it is balanced with the number of people who judge each game. At the end of the judging/play period, the ballots are tallied and the winning games are announced on Sunday. A press release generally follows on Monday.  You can look up the winners for past years at http://mindgames.us.mensa.org/about/winning-games/.

This year’s winners for Mind Games were Gravwell, Qwixx, Pyramix, The Duke & Euphoria.  My votes to win were (in rank order) Euphoria, Compounded, Pyramix, Four in a Square, Freedom: The Underground Railroad, 20 Express, and Tapple.  If I could have voted based on all the selections, my votes to win would have been Euphoria, Compounded, Coup, Freedom: The Underground Railroad, Sushi Go, and Qwixx.  So, there’s decent overlap between what won and what I liked. 🙂

Of this year’s winners, the only one that really bums me out is Gravwell.  I just did not find it to be a very interesting game.  The concept is that you program moves to try to escape a gravity well with your spaceship, but in my play of it, it felt like the programming could only rarely be done strategically.  Talking to other attendees, their experiences differed.  Either way, I will say that it’s better than some past winners that made it into the mix.

Qwixx is a Gamewright republish of a game found at Essen, and they did a great job with the rules and components.  It’s a very quick and simple dice game with no downtime and light strategy.  Its only flaw is that you need the included pad of scoresheets (which will inevitably run out).  It’s also a great value for the price.

Pyramix uses cubes (d6’s) with symbols on them to build a pyramid and then has each player collect cubes.  There are multiple approaches that can win, and, like Qwixx, it’s aesthetically pleasing.  The strategy is a little limited, as final scoring depends heavily on things you can’t discover until the endgame, but it’s a unique concept and turned out to be a great little game.

The Duke is a chess-like abstract strategy game.  It’s a bit tough to summarize beyond that, but one unique mechanic it uses is having pieces where the moves change each time you use them, alternating between two types of moves.  This is made simple by them printing the move on the piece itself, so you never have to ask “what does the wizard do again?”.  As with any abstract strat game, it will suffer from Analysis Paralysis (AP) with the right player(s), but if you can avoid that, it’s pleasing and a good challenge. There are expansions in the box that add more complexity and variety to the gameplay, too, but I didn’t get to try those.

Euphoria…now, looking at the names of this year’s submissions alone, I would have bet good money that Euphoria would  be a dog, but it turned out to be my favorite of the weekend.  It is a worker placement and resource management game.  You’ll see people complain that the rules are long.  If you’re a frequent euro gamer, you’ll find them remarkably well-written and easy to grasp.  It *may* have a bit of an issue in that it doesn’t provide enough encouragement to perform a mechanic that seems like they wanted to happen (building markets), but that may also be a result of inefficient play or simply not knowing the game well enough.  The theming, building in a dystopian future, reminded me of several young adult dystopian future novels. (Is that a new genre yet?  Remember when we had “young adult paranormal romance”?  Do they now have “young adult dystopian sci-fi”?)

Compounded was a non-winner that I enjoyed.  You play the role of a chemist in what is clearly a severely underfunded lab (you have to build your own fire extinguisher), and you use elements drawn randomly to fill compounds from a set that is available to everyone.  Different compounds, once claimed/created, have different benefits that help you make the next compound faster, and the goal is to get the most points before game end.  There’s also randomized explosions that occur, scattering the elements around the lab.  Overall, it’s a medium strategy game with cute components and a nifty periodic table as a scoreboard.

Freedom is a co-op game where players work together as abolitionists trying to move slaves on the Underground Railroad.  This game is masterful with white guilt, but it’s also nicely historic, beautifully laid out, and it plays well.  You really do care about your slave cubes and feel bad about not rescuing them.  Plus, the theme forces you to make tough decisions in the vein of deciding whether it’s worthwhile to sacrifice one person to save many.  (People who have trouble not saving a person in Flash Point will not do well at this game. 😉 )

Another notable submission was Coup, which has an endorsement by Wil Wheaton on the back and comes from the makers of The Resistance.  Coup has similar elements to Resistance, but it is playable with fewer players (2-6).  It very much reminds me of the dynamic in Survivor around hidden immunity idols.

Overall, this year’s submissions were remarkably good.  The “dog” of the weekend was Po-rum-bo, and, in many past Mind Games, that would have been a middle of the pack game.  The head judge noted that every single game got at least one vote, and that, too, is unusual. I think it reflects that the submissions were overall of good quality.

Full spreadsheet o’ ratings and other such joy:

Mensa Mind Games 2013 Recap

The accoutrements of Mind Games 2013
The accoutrements of Mind Games 2013
For those who don’t know, Mensa Mind Games™ is how American Mensa judges games to receive the Mensa Select&#0153 seal, which is awarded to 5-6 games each year. It’s an event with around 300 Mensans in attendance, specifically a self-selecting subset of Mensa that are gamers. As a judge/attendee, you are assigned around 25-30 games to play during the play period (Friday 10am until Sunday around 2am). Between 50-60 are submitted in total each year by various manufactures in lots of genres, though Euro games are sadly almost always underrepresented and under-ranked. (There’s 54 this year.) You get to vote on 7 (in a ranked order) from the list of ones you’ve been assigned. To vote you must play the 25-30 you are assigned, though it’s only on your honor that you do so. The remaining submission group is optional for you to play, but I try to get through all of them each year. Other people have different mandatory/optional lists versus yours, such that it is balanced with the number of people who judge each game. At the end of the judging/play period, the ballots are tallied and the winning games are announced on Sunday. A press release generally follows on Monday.

At the end of the event, the judges/attendees divvy up the (very played and well used) copies of games such that each attendee usually gets to take home at least one and sometimes two games. That’s your reward for doing all the work. The divvying system is very efficient and highly fair, but it does mean that you may not get your first choice or even your second or third…hence the “take ranking” (which I use for taking games at the end) vs. the “score ranking” (which I use for judging) and what goes into each.

It is a highly intense event to attend, particularly until you get the hang of it or particularly if you aren’t a frequent gamer. While I can easily get through the entire list in a judging period, many attendees will have trouble just getting through their mandatory set. It is especially challenging if you don’t get started as soon as play opens or if you have limited gaming experience. (It helps to know common mechanics so that you can quickly understand rules.)

The format of the event, unfortunately, favors games which can be learned and played quickly. People tend to lose patience with games that are longer or that have more complex rulesets. Additionally, a fair number of the gamers that show up are not Euro gamers; they’re word game/puzzle fans or abstract strategy fans. Thus, the typical Euro boardgame is unlikely to win. Because of this, there have been fewer submitted each year. That sad fact bums me out. However I enjoy the event immensely because I get a varied exposure to games, many that I would never pick up or see otherwise, and I like critiquing things. I also particularly enjoy coming up with my own ranking system and evaluation methods for games and plugging it all into a massive spreadsheet. I like monitoring the data as I put it in (e.g., are my rankings averaging higher or lower as I go on?) and deciding how to adjust or tweak so my final rankings match my actual ranking of games.

Without further ado, here is my spreadsheet for 2013: Mind Games 2013 – My Ranked List. I’ll also go through some highlights below, and I’ll tweet (or RT) the winners tomorrow later today after they’re announced.

Suburbia is the clear winner to me from this year’s event. It’s a highly balanced euro game with dead simple rules and instructions. We played it with two players and three. In both cases, it played well. (It plays up to four.) Those on the geek may already know this one, too. I was thrilled that this was on my judging ballot; it’s my number one pick. Sadly, it probably won’t win, but it is definitely worth a try if you’re into that style of gaming.

Kulami (FoxMind) wasn’t on my ballot, but it was my second favorite game of the event. This one is an abstract strategy game for two players in which you claim territory on a varied boardscape. There are limitations on how you place your pieces that provide a very interesting push and pull of defense and offense. It has great components for the price; it could sit on a coffee table as a decoration. Because the board layout changes to your tastes each game, it has a fair amount of replay value as well. This one seems like it will have a fair shot at winning.

Komodo was another high ranking one, and this is certainly a prime example of a game that I was unlikely to encounter elsewhere. It had elements of Carcassonne, and it may even be rightfully called a more simple variant of that game. (A Kiwi on their site termed it a combination of Ticket To Ride and Carcassonne, and I think that description is quite adroit.) It also has a zoology theme. While the game themes as trying to save animals from an extinction event, I think of it more as building a zoo to house a collection of animals. (So, of course, the theme got it some points from me!) This was a euro-style game, and its only flaw was that the animals you draw and the action/event cards add a fair amount of randomness that can be frustrating. However, it will generally move quickly, I think, and not suffer from AP as much as Carc and other Carc variants.

There were a few variants of Anomia this year. Anomia won in 2010, and the manufacturer/designer submitted a new variant this year, called Duple. In addition to Duple, Buffalo (which doesn’t seem to be available anywhere yet as best as I can tell) and Speedy Recall both copied the Anomia mechanic while adding twists to fix Anomia’s main flaw (that the game has some repeat play issues in that the same matches come up each game). Anomia is a great Mensa Select success story in that it was from a relatively small and independent game house that got major popularity thanks to the award.

Variants of Set and Qwirkle also seem to be a theme this year, with many games playing on the idea of multiple qualities with a need to match some subset of those qualities to create sets or play chains. Pick A Pig is the most notable of these in that it introduces a simulplay mechanic that reduces downtime. It also has adorable graphics and comes in a dog-themed variant for those that want something more canine. 🙂

Edited to add relevant tweets:

Also, below is an Amazon widget of my favorites from this year (or, rather, a subset of my favorites that are available on Amazon, since Komodo and Forbidden Desert aren’t up there), for your purchasing pleasure. If you have an adblocker turned on, you may need to turn it off for the widget to be visible. 🙂

Going Away Festivities

We had a going away party yesterday. One group joined us at the casino for a buffet lunch:

We had to take the picture really fast because photos aren't allowed in the casino.
We had to take the picture really fast because photos aren’t allowed in the casino.

I also hopped into a picture and Moo went behind the camera. We wanted an employee to take the picture for us, but he let us know we weren’t allowed to take pictures but promised to walk away and pretend he had no idea what we were doing. 🙂

Going Away Group

Then, another group (with some overlap) came over to the house to play games and try to drink away our wine & liquor collection that can’t be moved. (The recycle bin had 20 empty bottles in it, so good job, y’all! But I still have about 30 more, so…again tonight? j/k)

We played 8-player RoboRally to start the evening. Telestrations, Age of Steam, and Cards Against Humanity also hit the table.

Photo taken by K*, who was sadly the first robot to die
Photo taken by K*, who was sadly the first robot to die
This shot was taken by Moo, who was too tipsy to play. :)
This shot was taken by Moo, who was too tipsy to play. 🙂

This morning, Moo and R* and I played Endeavor as the game to be the final game the three of us play in this house. :*( We hugged. Moo and I cried a bit. Then, they left with promises to stay in touch and meet up soon in Vegas. So, that’s that. I have no more excuses now and have begun prepping to do my “final move” on Thursday. DH will still effectively live in IL for the next month or so, but Pancake and I will officially be living in Seattle as of Thursday evening.

WDW Wine & Dine Group Trip Recap

DH and I rounded up a group of our friends to join us for a mega WDW Wine & Dine group trip. DH and T* ran the Wine & Dine half-marathon, while Moo, B*, BAD, and I enjoyed the Wine & Dine festival race party. We also toured WDW in general, including a stop by New Fantasyland before it opened to the public! I had lots of fun playing tour guide, despite having a nasty cold that I eventually passed to B*.

This was our first experience staying in an All Star Vacation Home. ASVH advertises on a few of our favorite Disney podcasts, so we were happy to give them some business. We were even able to book them using our MEI & Mouse Fan travel agent! As for the home and experience, in a nutshell, we loved it. You do, of course, have to have a rental car to make it work (we rented two cars), but it was great to have a full kitchen for cooking breakfasts and storing sodas as well as our own pool and hot tub in the back yard. We stayed in this house, which had a perfect amount of space for our group. It took us several hours on the first day (and a visit from one of the ASVH employees) to learn how everything worked and also get some burnt out light bulbs replaced, but after that, it was smooth sailing. The locks are PIN coded, so you don’t even have to worry about carrying keys. Everyone in the group loved the house and space, and I highly recommend it for anyone traveling with a large group. It would have been great for a family with kids, too, since everyone gets their own bedroom.

I have lots of trip photos posted in the photo gallery/album for this trip, but I wanted to highlight some of my favorites.

This was our whole group doing the one PhotoPass group shot we managed, at Animal Kingdom:
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

I got a really great castle shot on the morning we visited Magic Kingdom:
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

Moo and BAD show off their New Fantasyland Preview bracelets. (Because DH and I have annual passes, we were able to get our group in for a preview, including lunch at Be Our Guest!)
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

DH posed with a gargoyle outside the Be Our Guest restaurant:
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

Speaking of New Fantasyland, I do want to spend a few lines on the Be Our Guest restaurant. Lots of WDW reviewers echo the sentiment that this restaurant is the best lunch in the Magic Kingdom and possibly the best counter service lunch in all of WDW. The food was spectacular. Everyone in our party enjoyed the meal (though we did have some special order issues due to the computerized ordering system). Even the most basic entreés were more flavorful than you’d expect. The space is amazing. It’s just fabulous. If you’re going to WDW, it’s worth a visit, but expect it to be super-busy as the word of mouth is spreading fast about what a great dining experience it is!

Beyond that, New Fantasyland is pretty awesome, though generally aimed at (as one would expect) a younger set. We had fun with Belle’s Enchanted Storytime (and, without spoiling anything, the mirror is amazing), and the guy who is playing Gaston (outside the eponymous tavern) is perfectly cast. It also blends perfectly into “old” Fantasyland. You really can’t tell where the seam is in the concrete. Once the construction walls come down, it will seem like it’s always been there.

On to a new topic (and a different park), the baby rhino in the far right of this picture was born when I was doing the Expedition Everest 5K in Animal Kingdom, so he’s kind of special to me.
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

We had lots of fun sampling items during the Wine & Dine party before our racers finished. B* and BAD even had an impromptu dance party!

WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

DH had dressed up as Uncle Sam for this race. He got lots of compliments on his costume.
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

We visited the Osborne lights. WDW has done a great job improving the flow of that event. Oh, and the hot chocolate was delicious!
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

Duffy was even in the lights this year!
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

All in all, it was a very fun trip. The only bad part, aside from the roving illnesses in our group, was that we were all having so much fun hanging out together at the house that we had to really push ourselves to go to WDW. I guess that’s not so much of a bad thing. 🙂

Mindgames 2010 – Day 2 (#mg2010) – My Ballot

Well, I’ve played every game that I care to play. I mean, there are seven more games that I haven’t played out of the entire group, but I have no interest in playing those. A few are solitaire puzzle games, and the rest are either ones that I’ve been told are bad or are ones that just don’t interest me as a genre.

My ballot is:

  1. Pentago Multi-player – I really debated giving this one the slot, because it is basically just an add-on of something that has won a Mensa Select before…but it’s a really good game that embodies the Mensa brand.
  2. Fish Stix – It’s just fun. It was a strong contender for first. It’s got enough strategy to be fun to those that want to play it strategically without excluding or losing value to people who want to play for fun only. It’s got a nice Ingenious element, with a much prettier and more pleasing aesthetic.
  3. Q-bitz – Another one that embodies Mensa brand…and it’s accessible. Anyone could be good at it, I think.
  4. Anomia – A nice improvement on Snorta with a bit of pop culture/trivia thrown in for good measure.
  5. Tri-Cross – Abstract strategy that is eminently playable, accessible, and enjoyable. It’s not one I’d play every day, but I wouldn’t turn it down.
  6. Bisikle – RV is chiding me for including a dexterity game, but it’s just really fun with good components. Even if dex games aren’t exactly “mensa” esque, you’re telling me Apples to Apples is???
  7. Word on the Street – It’s a nifty party game with a tug of war where you try to use words with letters that you “pull” to your side, and the words have to fit a random theme. Worth playing.

Games that I would have nominated if they were on my list include: Cornucopia, Stix & Stones, and Arimaa.

So that’s it. I’m headed down now just to play games for fun and help other people finish their ballots. 🙂 As before, you can view my entire list with comments, ratings, etc. at Mindgames 2010 Ratings/Ballot.

PS – For those who don’t know how Mindgames works or what it is: Mindgames is the convention where Mensa selects games to receive the Mensa Select seal. Game designers and manufacturers can submit games that either haven’t been released yet or were released in the past year and have never been submitted before. In addition to being entered as possible seal contenders, they get back ratings cards that we fill out with feedback on the game, like where we see potential for improvement or notes on ideal marketing or play. Each Mensan Judge is required to play a random selection of 30 games (assigned when you register). The judge must complete the assigned 30 games to submit his/her ballot for the award. (Yes, you have to complete 30 games in less than 2 days. But, as you can tell from my posts…it’s not that hard to get through the list, especially if you’re a frequent gamer who can digest rules quickly.) The judge may play additional games not on their ballot list but may not vote for those additional games. At the end of the weekend, the votes are tallied, the winners are announced, and the 5 copies of each game that were submitted by the makers are distributed to the judges as a thank you for participating. You are only eligible for the free games if you submitted a valid ballot.

Time Travel

As many of you have noticed, the blog has gone back in time to catch up on posts from our (very awesome, wanna go back NOW) Disney trip. As such, I skipped over quite a few events that would normally warrant a blog post. I don’t want to spend another month re-capping, so below is a one paragraph, catch-all summary of the things that were, January 2009. As is fitting for anything dealing with time travel, I shall start with Lost

Lost is back on! Desmond’s baby named Charlie, the others speak Latin, woohoo! B* made me a cake with a Dharma logo. It was delicious…disappeared very quickly, did Ben turn the wheel, shift cake through time? Obama officially president, yay! Didn’t care about inauguration until the day it was on, then was sad I couldn’t watch live and had to work instead. Re-org’d at work into new group but otherwise similar. Got one estimate for the pipe burst repairs from the guy(s) who did our basement, liked their work, but the painting estimate alone was higher than was to paint whole basement. Something smells funny in Denmark, yo. Business name is of the form, [name] the [job]er…which led to Joe-the-plumber, bob-the-builder joking between DH and I. DH has been working odd hours at his second job. Very stressful. Ran Survivor at Mensa AGOG. Had to scramble to get to the minimum ten to play, but once we got there, it was AWESOME. Everyone had bonzer good time. Yay. Knee has been hurting alot lately. Also, period has been irregular. (Not related.) WTF is up with me? Wish knee would stop hurting. But yet, I will be going skiing on Saturday, yay! And knee can just suck on that, thank you very much. Pancake continues to be adorable kitteh. Races me up the stairs. I almost won last night, but only because he let me have a 5 step head start. Thought L4D was an evil time suck, but then Mr. Moo introduced me to Braid, which now is on my bedroom xbox (not mytsukata gamertag). Damn you, Mr. Moo! Got special L4D achievement last night for blowing the witch’s head off, Cr0wnd! Sweet. So cold outside. But weather Saturday promises to be ski-awesome. Found giant and strange fruit at the store, called Pomelo, is huge and we could kill a small child with it, but we won’t. Instead, will eat. Also got some honey tangerines. Enjoying finding and trying out new fruits. Finished second term of class, am 12.5% done with MBA. Group project ended much better than it started. Next term, taking two classes: Effective Leadership *coughbullshitcough* and Negotiations & Conflict Management (win win win). Hoping negotiations will make me awesome at negotiation such that I can help Mensa with hotel negotiation stuff. Will speak quietly so they have to lean in, then will change meeting location suddenly without notice…then will threaten to kill their daughter. 🙂 Oh and how did Frogurt’s shirt fit Sawyer? Nonsense.

First Lostie to catch the embedded (very subtle) clue in the style of Lost gets something nifty, though I’m not sure what. Adoration? That’s nifty, right?

WeeM Stuff

This year’s WeeM was pretty good. The addition of my parents was fun. I think they had a good time, especially being my TSA Agent assistants at the costume contest. I regained an appreciation for Agricola and renewed my hatred of Caylus. I did not get sloshed, for once. I did meet a few new people, so that was cool.

Oh, and there was this… 🙂

I [heart] The Daily Show!

I owe thanks to rmjwell for pointing me to last night’s ep. I’d gone to bed early and missed it. Also, my dear husband has me on political overload right now and probably will have me overloaded until the election. Thus, I’ve been minimizing my exposure to political stuff so as to not want to throw things at my dear husband when he does his nightly political braindump. 🙂

Fortunately, you can watch the entire episode for free at TheDailyShow.com. That’s exactly what I did while I ate my brunch of chicken noodle soup and Goldfish crackers. The best bits were the numerous instances of Republicans at the RNC completely reversing their positions on topics such as teen pregnancy, double standards for female candidates, and the validity of a small town governor’s experience. If there’s anything that The Daily Show does well, it’s that kind of bit. I know they must have a horde of interns reviewing footage to get those perfect contrasting clips, and I’m happy for it. I hope the mainstream* media picks up the banner.

* Or, is TDS considered mainstream now? Hmm.

Hangovers suck

I had my first ever honest-to-goodness hangover today. Generally, I can drink as much as I like, and at worst, I’ll have a mild headache in the morning. However, after last night’s Pretentious Drinking at WeeM, I woke up in the middle of the night wired and sick feeling. After I finally got back to sleep, I woke up this morning feeling nauseous. I ended up throwing up at a very inconvenient time…in that I was busy at another end, if you know what I mean. I cleaned up the hotel room, and I discovered how I’m not chewing my food very well. But, at any rate, having a hangover sucks. I have chills and achy joints. I managed to eat at last when I landed in NJ this evening, but otherwise, I hadn’t eaten at all…it just never felt like it’d stay.

Oh, and yes, you did read that right…I flew while sick. Totally not pleasant…but at least I got upgraded to first class (status rocks), so I had plenty of room and quick access to a bathroom. I ended up sleeping through most of the flight.

Even though I’m not feeling so hot today, I had a really good time at WeeM. It’s gotten to where Scott & I spend more time helping make things happen than we do just enjoying the con. You’d think that’d be a bad thing, but it isn’t. I played *lots* of werewolf, with a great guy running it. Scott also MC’d the costume contest, with me helping a bit, and people loved our patter onstage, so that was cool.

Want to sell stuff to smart people?

I’m the vendor coordinator for my local Mensa group’s annual convention. Our con (called an “RG” or “Regional Gathering”) draws 500+ Mensans to the Sheraton Chicago Northwest in Arlington Heights, IL. It is the largest regional convention in US Mensa.

You can get more information about the convention here. If you happen to have a craft, service, or product that you’d like to sell to the group (or know someone who does), please feel free to get in touch with me, and I can provide you with all the details.

Interview Meme

Gacked from Greg:

If you want to be interviewed:
1. Leave me a comment to that effect.
2. I respond by asking you five personal questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

And Greg’s questions to me:

1. Have you taken legal means to be just “JC,” or do you rely on people respecting your privacy about it?

This depends on your definition of legal means. I guess the answer is definitely yes at this point. I got married. 🙂 A name change comes free of charge with a marriage. 🙂 However, if you’d asked me a year ago, it’d have been more questionable. I never got a court order, and my birth certificate still shows (showed?) my birth name. A court order often also allows you to request a modified birth certificate, and that’s really what most people consider a legal name change. That’s not what I did. I did another process. I had originally investigated and planned for the court order method. I waited until 2000 (instead of late ’96 when I turned 18) because a court order requires a court visit, which is easiest when you aren’t out of state at college most of the year. Also, the court process in most states requires a significant amount of in-state paperwork first. For example, in Illinois, you have to run an ad in a local newspaper for six weeks that declares your intent to change your name. You also have to file some paperwork before and after the ad is run. I’ll also say that the process varies by state, and it’s incredibly difficult to do in South Carolina, medium difficulty in Illinois, and not at all difficult in California. Given this, I also wanted to hold off given that it was likely I’d be moving to an easier state than SC after college. However, once I did the research again in 2000, I found out that you can change your name to an initialization or an accepted shortened form (e.g., Billy instead of William) with the Social Security office without going through the typical court order process for a name change. All you have to do is offer up an identity document showing the old name (such as your birth certificate) and an identity document showing your new name. Normally, the latter is hard to get until you either get a court order or have already gotten the Social Security change, but in Illinois, the DMV will print just about any name you want on your driver’s license. 🙂 Yay for IL!

2. How was your adjustment moving from SC and New Orleans to Illinois?

It was actually pretty much fine. Thanks to the internet, I met people pretty easily. That’s how I found the Illinois Board Stiffs, aka the Thursday night gaming group at the Plus. I also joined Mensa not long after moving to IL, which helped me meet people…and got me started doing rallies, which helped me meet more people (including my husband eventually). Weather-wise, I was fortunate enough to end up in a job that allowed me to work from home as much as I needed to during that first year. The first few snowy days, I stayed home. I got forced to drive in the snow on a day that it snowed while I was at work; I hadn’t realized how stupid it was to stay at the office when many others were leaving at midday to avoid driving in the weather. My normal 15 minute commute took an hour, but it was also extremely fun and rewarding. After that, I didn’t fear the little snows, and I felt like a pro at predicting the right time to leave to avoid the major snows. I also gradually established a full winter wardrobe and subsequently discovered that I love coats and sweaters!

3. Because it applies so well, I’m going to steal wholesale Mark’s question to me: What are the most and least positive aspects of your current parental setup?

The most positive aspect is that I don’t have to worry about any of my parents living alone. Especially as I get older, I’m very very happy that they have each other still. The least positive aspect is that I worry about their individual and collective happiness. That may seem in contrast with the previous statement, but it’s not. It’s easy to sacrifice personal happiness for safety, security, or any one of a myriad of things, and it’s hard for me to tell from the outside (and also as The Kid) whether there’s true happiness on all fronts. I can’t imagine the situation would persist if there weren’t. Nonetheless, I’m not sure that I, for my own selfish reasons, would change things if I could (see first statement of this paragraph).

The medium positive aspect, and quite honestly the most frequently occurring aspect, is having to explain the situation to others and dealing with the subsequent reactions (which have been sometimes positive and sometimes negative). I don’t really care if people disapprove, but it’s just so damn hard to explain, and I also get really sick of people giving me incredulous looks and/or acting like I just said my parents live in a tree and speak the language of squirrels. It also sucks that it’s very hard to find people to talk to when I am having my own personal emotional troubles over it. It’s so unusual that there’s not a support group for it, and quite frankly, even people who are accepting don’t really understand, and I end up spending a fair amount of time just explaining…to the point that I just don’t bother.

4. What would you have done if engineering wasn’t your thing?

Easy…law school. I’ve been “almost there” so many times anyways, and believe me, if I was having trouble finding work or I was seeing myself have problems with my current job, I’d be in law school in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t mind making a career out of writing or editing either, but I like money, and writing/editing isn’t a solid moneymaker for most. I loved every single one of my English Dept. classes in college. I took so many elective English courses that I was almost a double major; I just refused to take the 100-level boring basic courses that would have finished me out. Instead, I took 400 and 600 level courses on fun topics like Women’s Literature through the 18th Century, a whole semester on Milton, 3 semesters of Shakespeare, Modern Irish Literature…it was awesome. Those classes were my refuge after a long day of programming and number crunching in my core curriculum, and I got straight A’s in them, too.

5. You and Scott seem to be very much into each others’ hobbies. What does he like that you have no interest in, and vice versa? (skip the vice-versa bit if you’d rather not draw him into it; i’m not interviewing him, after all…)

He likes politics. During the election, he wouldn’t let me change the TV off of CNN. During Katrina and the aftermath, it was CNN all the time. If there’s any major political event, the TV is on CNN. Drives me nuts. I have a much more peripheral interest in that sort of thing. I’m far more into blogging and writing than he is, as is made very obvious when you look at his LJ. 🙂 There’s also degrees of shared interest. For example, he’s into the advantage gambling to the point where I consider it his second job. I’m into it more for fun that happens to be profitable, or simply as a thing to do with him. I had a phase where I was equally into it, but that has dissipated. I do miss video poker though. It was something you could get lost in, like a meditation. I like going to see movies on opening weekend; he prefers renting DVDs. I read much more voraciously than he does. I love to shop, and he doesn’t…but that works out well for us because I shop for him, which relieves me from feeling shopping-guilt and relieves him from the burden of shopping.

There’s also things where we may share an interest for awhile and then one or both of us fade away from it. Rallying and Orienteering come to mind. It is true that if one of us stops doing something, the other generally follows or at least becomes far less active in whatever the thing is. Scott stopped doing orienteering after I lost interest in it, and I stopped doing rallying after Scott lost interest in it.

IQ Question

In my day to day websurfing, I often come across this ad masquerading as a puzzle:

IQ Question image

I can’t get to the source site from work, and I’m not interested enough to bother when I’m at home (nor do I read the news sites that have this ad when I’m at home). The question bothers me on a number of levels. Are they asking me to make the fish swim to the right? Which direction is right? My right or the fish’s right? Or, are they asking me to make the fish swim correctly? If so, I’m not sure I know what’s wrong with how the fish is swimming now. Maybe it’s because its fins are too big for its body? Or because its fins are inflexible wood instead of cartilage? I’m not sure I can fix that by moving three matchsticks, no matter how smart I am. Really, is the fish swimming if it has no effective motion? What about currents? Where’s this body of water in which the fish is swimming such that I can point it to the right side? Do I need to give the fish moral guidance to keep it from the wrong side?

You may think I’m being a smartass, but this is the fatal flaw of IQ tests: vague wording. I remember when I tested to get into Mensa, and I took the “fill in the blanks” test that was not multiple choice, I was frustrated as all get out because of questions like this. With multiple choice, the problem is slightly mitigated because you have a limited range of choices. So long as the question writer doesn’t allow two possibly correct answers into the pool, the question can be valid. If you open it up to any answer though, you need to be a heckuva lot more specific.

Let’s assume for the moment that the purpose of the question is to institute some change in the direction of the fish’s pointy part (or the “nose” of the fish…if I could edit the diagram easily, I’d mark it). By moving three matchsticks, I can make it point toward the top of this page, albeit in a squashed form. That would be a ninety degree rotation in the clockwise direction, and could be considered a right turn from the fish’s perspective. Likewise, by moving three matchsticks, I can make it point to the right side of the page (to “swim right” from my perspective). That’s two different answers that can be reached from this problem, and the wording is ambiguous such that either could be what the writer considers correct.

I hate that kind of thing. I used to write requirements for a living. Written requirements have the same fatal flaw as IQ tests. I was good at my job writing requirements because I tend to be able to see this kind of ambiguity inherently, and I correct it when I see it…as opposed to a fair amount of people who write it as they think it without thinking about how someone else might read it.

Nowadays, I read requirements written about as crappily as this problem for a living, and then I enforce those crappily written requirements on others with a wink and a nod at how crappy they are. If I try to fix them, I get criticized (on behalf of my company) for being the only vendor to not understand the requirements that are CLEARLY saying something that they’re not. Nevermind that every other vendor is non-English speaking and that they are very likely just guessing…or claiming English ignorance to ask the question instead of asking for a clarification of the requirement…or designing to the test plan instead of designing to the requirements (likely).

I get so bothered when I see this ad that I want to throw something at the screen.

Yes, I’m working on finding another job. I could have another job at any moment. My current one just won’t let me go. :: sigh ::