Brainstarters And Timewasters

I’d guess that most of us have at least one app on our phone that we tap when we want to get our brains working in the morning, or to give us something to do to fill those random ten-minute snippets of the day that happen while, for example, we are waiting for our spouses to get ready to go out.

230896There are some crucial requirements for these brainstarters and  timewasters.  First, they need to be sufficiently interesting to actually get your brain working and allow you to fill the time you’re looking to occupy.  If the app is so boring that you lose interest and would rather sit there drumming your finders on the arm of your chair, it has failed in its essential function.  Second, at the same time the app can’t be so riveting that you can’t promptly stop when your spouse comes downstairs and is ready to go and would be offended if you gave her the one-minute sign and kept tapping your phone.  It therefore needs to be a game, or puzzle, or challenge that you can readily put down and pick up again at your leisure,  And third, if the app is going to have staying power on your phone, it’s got to be set up so that you’re always facing a new challenge.

Me, I’m a Spider Solitaire guy.  I picked up the free version from the app store, because I just wasn’t willing to pay for a timewaster, so before I can play a game I have to sit through the snippet of an ad for a new game, a new car, or something else — but reacting to that helps to get the brain started, too.  I come from a card-playing family, so a card game appealed to me.  There are thousands of different variations of how the cards can be dealt, so there’s no real worry about repetition.  It’s easy to put down mid-game and pick up later, and trying to figure out different approaches to how to win a game when the cards are really working against you keeps my interest.  And some appropriately triumphal music plays when you win a game, so you feel a certain sense of accomplishment with each little victory.

Brainstarters and timewasters aren’t the most important things in the world, of course, but they serve a crucial role in deflecting utter boredom and minutes that seem to stretch on for hours.  We’ll appreciate them even more if we ever get to the point of waiting at the gate for an overdue plane flight again.

Customized Crescent City Cribbage

We were down in New Orleans this past weekend for a bachelor party.  To celebrate the occasion, Russell designed and hand made hardwood fleur de lis cribbage boards, suitably inscribed on the back, and we ordered some customized playing cards, using some photos I took of New Orleans on our trip a few years back.

We didn’t get to play as much cribbage as we would have liked — eating, drinking, and listening to fantastic live music every waking moment somehow got in the way — but the participants on our Big Easy Bachelor Party weekend will always remember their trip thanks to these beautiful cribbage boards.  Great job, Russell!

Cleveland And Cribbage

The Tribe won Game 1 of their five-game series with the Boston Red Sox tonight.  It was a fabulous, tight game, brilliantly managed by Indians skipper Terry Francona.

SONY DSCThe key point in the game was Francona’s decision to go to his bullpen in the fifth inning.  It was a ballsy move that could have blown up in Francona’s face — but it didn’t.  Yes, lefty Andrew Miller had to pitch more than normal, but the bullpen held the lead, Cody Allen closed the door for the save, and the Tribe has a leg up.

I had more even confidence about Francona’s managerial skills when I read this article about Francona’s relationship with his players.  Sure, he’s a deft manager — but it also turns out that he plays cribbage.

Cribbage?  Hell, no wonder he’s a good manager.  Anybody who plays the greatest card game of all, with its intricate strategies and maneuvering, is bound to have a good eye for figuring out how to win a ball game.

So the Tribe has a 1-0 lead in the series.  I’ll take it.  With the Cribbage King to set the strategy, I think more good things are to come.

Card Family

This weekend we had a blast up at Put-In-Bay, thanks to the generous hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Gleeful Retiree.  Saturday night eight of us sat down to play a little euchre tournament, with team pairings that changed every five hands.  It was a lot of fun.

luep0gEuchre is a great game for that setting, because each player is dealt only five cards.  As a result, every hand is over quickly, so if you get a crappy hand — which unfortunately happens from time to time — it’s only a matter of a few minutes before you get a new one that hopefully isn’t filled with nines and tens.  And there’s never a gap in table talk, either, because each hand offers opportunities to chat about the cards, the hand just played, the lay-down loner you didn’t get to call, and your run of ridiculous, inexplicable bad luck.

It’s the first time I’ve played euchre in a while, and it brought back a lot of memories.  I come from a card family, and both Mom and Dad’s families were card families, too.  For as long as I can remember, cards were a huge part of the Webner family dynamic.  Kids progressed through the card game difficulty spectrum — starting with war, moving on to hearts, spades, gin rummy, and euchre, and finally getting up to cribbage and bridge.  On  family vacations, there always was a nightly euchre tournament where different combinations of uncles, cousins, and grandparents paired off for some friendly competition and bragging rights, and taunting was the order of the day.  The bad jokes and gibes around the card tables at those euchre tournaments are some treasured memories and helped to make my childhood a little richer.

Some families are card families, some families aren’t.  I’m glad I was from a card family.  Richard and Russell are good card players, and we’ve had some good times playing cards together.  I’m happy they’re carrying on the family tradition.

UJ’s Hat

IMG_6287Last weekend, on the father-son fishing trip to Hen Island, there was one dominant topic around the card table:  UJ’s hat.  It is pictured above, in all its glory.

When you’re drinking beer, smoking cigars, and playing cards, sophomoric humor tends to dominate, and usually there is one theme or target for the weekend,  This year, something about this humble hat provoked the onslaught of insult humor.  Some of the best lines:

Did you steal that hat from a homeless person?

How far down into the dumpster did you need to go to find that thing?

That hat looks like it’s ready to spontaneously combust.

Any readers so inclined are invited to share their jibes.

UJ explained, somewhat sheepishly, that he rescued the hat from the dustbin of history, when one of his friends was getting ready to pitch it — but now he wears it with a curious pride, knowing that he will suffer the slings and arrows of rude family humor.  It keeps the sun off his head, and the brim can be tugged and maneuvered into all kinds of shapes — which was one of the things that made the hat an apt target for our jokes.

Let Slip The Inner Asshole

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In my family, cards were serious business. You played to win, and if you blundered you could expect to be called on it — in spades.

Taunting was not only accepted, but viewed as a crucial part of the play-to-win process. A well-played hand that produced an unexpected loss for your opponents had to be accompanied by a well-played barb, and if you were on the losing end you were expected to respond in kind. It was all part of the game, and if you didn’t like the insult process you just shouldn’t play.

This is all well and good when card playing is confined to the family unit. It’s a bit uncomfortable when you sit down to play an innocent game of euchre with friends and realize that your inner asshole sees the deck of cards and concludes that it’s time for him to make an appearance.

Big Board

IMG_2538Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go to Hen Island this year, for a number of reasons.  That’s sad, but it also means that I haven’t had a serious cribbage fix for a very long while.  It eased the pain to see that the former ship captain’s house where we stayed in Tamworth, New Hampshire featured a cribbage board — and not just any cribbage board.  This Brobdingnagian construct, with titanic pegs to match, was the biggest cribbage board I’ve ever seen.

Card Sharks

An Atlantic City casino, the Borgata Casino & Spa, has sued a big-time gambler, claiming that he cheated at cards and won $9.6 million playing baccarat in the process. (Those of you who are James Bond fans, like me, will recall that baccarat is 007’s game of choice.)

The casino alleges that the gambler used a method called “edge sorting” that took advantage of defective cards with patterns on the backs that were not uniform. The lawsuit claims that the gambler noticed the defect and got the dealer to arrange and shuffle the cards in a way that allowed him to use the non-uniform patterns to identify which cards were coming out of the dealer’s shoe.

$9.6 million is a lot of money — but it’s got to be embarrassing for a casino to admit that they didn’t detect that they were being provided with defective cards and were duped by this alleged scheme. Don’t casinos, as a matter of course, take steps to make sure that the cards they are using have uniform patterns on the backs?

It reminds me of my high school days, when boys would gather in the “student lounge” during free periods and play euchre. We didn’t gamble for money, but I remember one of my classmates bringing in a deck of “marked” cards and showing us how you could decipher the marks on the back. I never would have noticed the difference — but then I’m not a casino where gamblers have the opportunity to win millions of dollars.

The 28

IMG_2872I’ve been playing cribbage for more than 40 years, with my grandfather, my father, my uncles, my brother, my brothers-in-law, my sons, my college roommate, and my friends.  Tonight I had my biggest hand ever.

It was a 28.  It came when Richard and I were playing two-handed, smoking cigars and drinking beer.  Four fives in my hand and the king of diamonds cut.  Fifteen-two, -four, -six, -eight, -ten, -twelve, -fourteen, -sixteen, and 12 points in pairs for 28.  It was a thing of beauty, an historic achievement, and entirely fit to be memorialized for all time with a photo and a blog post.

In cribbage, there’s only one possible hand that is better than a 28 — a 29, which occurs when you’ve got three fives and a jack in your hand and the five of the same suit of your jack is cut.  I’ve never had a 29, and if I play cribbage for another 40-odd years I probably never will.  But, after tonight, now I can say that I have had a 28.

Cribbage Converts

When I went to Canada for a fishing trip recently, I took along a cribbage board.  As I’ve noted before, I think cribbage is the best card game ever invented, and I thought it would be a perfect way to spend some time with my friends.

I’m happy to report that the cribbage effort was a great success.  We played for hours, my friends learned the rules, and for the most part we joshed good-naturedly about the cards and the state of play.

Even better, I’m happy to report that one of my fellow fishermen, The Sage, became an enthusiastic convert to the world of cribbage.  Since his return from Canada he’s purchased a board, read up on the history of the game, and taught his wife and daughter how to play.  I’m pleased that he has acknowledged the obvious merit of cribbage and become a member of the ever-increasing Cribbage Kingdom.

Of course, for every convert to cribbage, there is a sore loser who cannot gracefully accept a serious thumping — as the unfortunate photo accompanying this posting confirms.

Nothing Like a Good Game of Euchre

Well Cathy and I are on a short vacation in Naples Florida visiting our cousin Beth, her husband Craig and mom’s brother Uncle Gilbert (fondly referred to as UG throughout the rest of this blog).

Beth’s brother our cousin Gib also decided to fly in to Naples from Chicago with his family, wife Mary Ann and their two children Haley and Macky.

Cathy was due for time away from her family and some well deserved r & r and since I am semi-retired I was more than happy to accompany her on the trip. So far our days have consisted of lounging around on the beach or by the pool, then dining out for lunch and/or dinner, however the most important part of the vacation is the evening festivities which consist of playing euchre with anyone who is in the mood to play.

As I recall last time we visited Naples I teamed up with UG and we blew through any and all of the competition with an undefeated record. This time UG and I teamed up again and things started out in the same fashion on Friday night as we beat up on Cathy, Beth, Mary Ann and Gibby going undefeated.

I consider UG to be one of the top euchre players in our family not only because he plays his cards well, but as an opponent you have to be prepared and have the mental wherewithal to fight off the constant onslaught of his verbal taunts. One of his favorite’s which is “you are one the best losers I have ever played with”.

Typically UG’s mental game throws my sister Cathy off of her game early and often, but last night she was determined to win and did. Gib and Cathy beat us three games to two, but I guess it’s like they say you can’t win all of the time !

Crazy for Cribbage

In a few weeks we’ll be having the Webner family retreat and, as always, we will be taking along the cribbage board and a deck of cards. Cribbage is, simply put, the best card game ever invented. On that point, I can brook no disagreement.

A cribbage board

A cribbage board

Cribbage is played with cards, a board, and pegs. Each player moves their pegs along their designated track, a hole at a time, as they accumulate points. The game features both a pegging phase and a counting phase, and the dealer also gets to count the stack of four discarded cards called the “crib.” You can play it mano a mano, or three-way, or in teams. The rules are both obscure and arcane, and players can get points through pairs, or runs, or flushes, or by combinations of cards that add up to 15 or, in the pegging phase, to 31. You can also get a point for “nobs,” which is when you hold that jack of the suit cut. (Hey, I said the rules were arcane.) The best possible hand is a 29, and consists of four 5s and nobs. The worst hand, of course, is zero points. In our family, in honor of my father, that lame hand is known as a “nyet.”

Cribbage is the best card game ever invented because, unlike euchre, it is fun to play even if you get dealt bad cards, because even then the savvy and skilled player, through a judicious discard, can position himself to get a point of two in the pegging phase. It is well suited to gambling, because you can assign a money value to each point — but watch out when the cards turn sour, you get skunked, and the points automatically double. Applying the arcane rules and counting conventions helps to keep your math skills sharp, and if you are feeling especially bold you can play the dangerous “crib for shots.” It is a fine, leisurely game, well suited to a long evening with friends and family, good conversation, and a few adult beverages, and is an important part of our family traditions.