Going Juvenile

The Washington Post reports that the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is trying to get people to stop playing Pokemon Go in the museum itself.  Apparently the museum has three “PokeStops” in the game, so there are people walking around the museum with their eyes glued to their smartphones, playing the game rather than actually looking at the exhibits and thinking about the monstrosity that was the Holocaust.  The Holocaust Museum is now trying to see if it can be removed from the game.

maxresdefaultIf, like me, you don’t know what the hell Pokemon Go is — even though the Post article describes it as a “cultural phenomenon” — some background is in order.  Pokemon Go is a game you play on your smartphone in which you walk around the real world and find and collect digital creatures.  It came out recently and quickly became ridiculously popular and downloaded by huge numbers of people.  The game encourages players to “catch ’em all.” PokeStops, of which the Holocaust Museum unfortunately is one, are places where you can win free items that evidently help you do better in the game.

The game is supposed to encourage people to get out and explore the real world — really, are we at the point where we need a phone app to do that? — but of course there’s something kind of bizarre, sad, and dangerous about people walking around outside focused on their phones rather than their surroundings.  Just what we need, more hopelessly distracted smartphone watchers to join the constantly texting crew out here in the real world!  Predictably, some Pokemon Go users are reporting suffering injuries because they’ve tripped, fallen into holes, crashed their skateboards, or — get this! — learned that you shouldn’t try to play the game while riding a bicycle.

I’m not a gamer, so I’m not going to get the allure of playing a game in the real world when you could just be interacting with the real world as it is.  I’m not going to understand why people playing a smartphone game would risk life and limb trying to catch digital objects rather than, say, making sure they aren’t walking into traffic or stumbling into holes in a sidewalk.  But you’d think that people would at least understand that it’s inappropriate and disrespectful to be playing a silly game in a place like the Holocaust Museum.  And apparently the problem isn’t just with kids — the Post article linked above quotes thirty-somethings at the museum who were playing the game.  It’s just another sign that, in some ways, the world is becoming a more juvenile, less serious place.

What’s next?  People stumbling over cemetery headstones and interrupting burial services while trying to catch “Squirtle”?  Players wandering around hospitals or nursing homes or churches hunting for “Doduo”?  It’s embarrassing.

The Joys Of Recess


On lunch break in Brooklyn, I walked past a park and saw a bunch of schoolkids playing during recess. They had no equipment other than a ball and no teacher or monitor telling them what to do, but they obviously were having fun playing a game of their own creation where one kid stretched out on the ground and the others had to bounce the ball over her prone figure.

Who doesn’t remember recess fondly — and these kinds of unsupervised moments are the most memorable.


Last weekend Kish and I saw some of the kids in the neighborhood running around on a warm spring day.  I listened carefully, but didn’t hear the dreaded cry of “Tag!  You’re it!”

Every kid loves summer, and games like kickball and red rover were were as much a part of summer as hot dogs and riding bikes and roasting marshmallows.  But I hated tag.  The reason?  I was a tubby youth who was by far the slowest kid in the neighborhood.

Every game of tag that I was involved in followed the same humiliating pattern.  Someone else would be chosen to be “it.”  That kid would then immediately scan the kids in the neighborhood.  His eyes would find me and light up with a feverish gleam.  As I tried to run away — in reality moving at a stately pace that could be timed with an hourglass — he  would zip up, easily tag me, and dart away.  Then I would spend seeming hours trudging unsuccessfully after other lightning-quick kids.  After a while the speediest kids would come closer and closer, taunting me with their proximity and daring me to tag them — but I couldn’t.

Hide and seek wasn’t much better, but at least there I could hope to find a good hiding place, then trot to the base while the seeker went far away after somebody else.  But with tag, there was no hiding option or strategy that could compensate for the lack of quickness and speed.  After I was reduced to a hot, sweaty, red-faced mess and the game got boring, another kid would inevitably allow me to make a “pity tag” so the game could go on.  I didn’t care.  I was just happy to not be “it” for a while — or at least until the second-slowest kid decided he needed an easy target.

Soliciting Game App Recommendations

I’ve been doing some business travel recently, and more is on the horizon. Typically I prefer to read, but it’s hard to enjoy a book when you are reading it in the ten-minute increments that exist between, say, getting to the gate and having to board your flight. Those little snippets of time seem much more suited to game playing on an iPhone or tablet.

IMG_5914I’ve got only a few games on my iPhone and tablet: solitaire, spider solitaire, Sudoku, and Tetris. As those choices reflect, I’m not much for games where I have to rescue adorable animals or fight barbarians or outwit wizards. I’m more of a puzzle person. I feel they help to keep me mentally sharp, and they also appeal to my stubborn vanity. Give me a spider solitaire deal that seems impossible, and I’ll try again and again until I figure it out.

I feel overwhelmed and hopeless when I go to the app store and try to sift through the thousands of game app options that are there, which is why I’ve stuck with old, tried-and-true selections. Hence, my question — are there good apps out there that I should add to my phone and tablet? Any good crossword or Scrabble apps, or other puzzle options that I haven’t found? So far, I’ve stuck to free games and endured the ads, but I’d be willing to pay for a few good games that would help pass the time while I’m cooling my heels at Gate B 31. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

Mindless Pleasures From A Ring, A Line, And A Tree

On Hen Island there is a huge tree near the bunkhouse.  On one of its outstretched limbs a line has been hung.  At the end of the line is an iron ring, hanging from a hook on the trunk of the tree.

The concept is simplicity itself.  You remove the ring from the hook and pitch it out into the open space, trying to get the ring to swing out on the line, return toward the trunk, and land securely in the hook.  Of course, it looks easier than it actually is, and trying to make the right throw, in the right direction, with the right velocity and speed, becomes an exercise in patience and frustration.  But when the key lands on the hook with a satisfying thunk, the feelings of pleasure and achievement are as real as any.

It’s addictive, of course.  And try to walk past it — just try! — when other folks are playing.  You can’t resist the opportunity to take a turn and make your toss, and while you’re waiting kibbutz with your fellow players about the proper direction (should it be toward the laundry line, or the little tree?), the vigor of the toss (you don’t want to be short, you know), whether the ring should be thrown steady or slowly spinning (you can argue for hours about which approach increases your likelihood of success), and countless other fine points, like the coefficient of friction and wind gradients.

You take your turn, endure the close calls, lament the near misses, hoot at the successes, and enjoy yourself immensely as the hours slowly pass.