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Susan recently installed Roadtrippers on her phone. You tell the app where you’re headed, it figures out where you are, and based on that it shows you points of interests along your route. On our test run of the app, Roadtrippers informed us that we were only 75 miles away from the world’s largest can of Coke. An hour later in Emporia, Kansas, we exited the turnpike, followed a big road that led to a smaller road that led to a dirt road, and found ourselves staring at an old silo painted to look like a can of Classic Coke.

Five minutes later, after shooting half a dozen pictures and taking a whiz out behind the world’s largest can of Coca-Cola, we were back on the road, sailing toward Truckhenge. Although we had no idea what Truckhenge really was, based on the name I had a pretty good idea.

I was wrong.

The sign on the fence outside Truckhenge told us to drive next door and knock on Ron Lessman’s front door, so we did. The vibe outside Ron Lessman’s “house” is one part Deliverance, one part Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Had I not seen other tourists emerging alive from the metal building in front of us, I’m not sure we would have went inside.

Meet Ron Lessman, every bureaucrat’s worst nightmare. Part artist, part free-thinker, and no doubt a full-time pain in the ass to everyone in Shawnee Country, Kansas who wears a tie, all Ron wanted to was be left alone on his farm, creating some art and collecting some old vehicles. In a lesson on “how not to deal with people like Ron Lessman,” the county took Ron to court “at least a dozen times” according to him, filing random charges and throwing tax codes at him. The last straw was when they attacked Ron’s vintage truck collection.

“They told me to pick up my trucks,” he says, “so I picked ’em up!” he says while making an obscene gesture. And literally, he picked up the trucks — but I’m getting ahead of myself. We wouldn’t see Truckhenge for at least another hour.

The tour of Truckhenge is really a tour of Ron’s home, and I want to reiterate that — we, random strangers on a road trip, had just knocked on a random guy’s door and five minutes later were standing inside his home.

“Actually, this is my shop,” he said. “The county says it’s part of my home because it’s connected and they want to tax me on the square footage, but really it’s my shop.”

The shop’s frame is made of the frames of eight mobile homes welded together that Ron got “somewhere” (Ron gets a lot of things “somewhere”). Within just a few minutes we’ve seen lots of Ron’s art. There are canvases with paintings, drop cloths with paintings, and pieces of wood with paintings. Even the floor — all 8,000 square foot of it — is painted.

“Here, put on these 3-D glasses,” Ron says while handing us a few pairs. With them on, he points to a painting he recently did using blue and red paint. I go to ask a question about the painting but he’s already on to the next one. Each painting comes with a point and a punch line before moving on to the next one. Ron is not only an artist but a comedian as well — a one man show.

“You wanna go upstairs?” he asks, and soon we’re climbing a set of sketchy stairs up towards a loft covered in old oak planks. The stairs’ handrail shifts when I grab onto it, and Ron assures Susan the floor is safe. As Ron shows the kids random rocks, stones, bones and fossils he pulled out of the ground while digging his 30 acre pond, I hear a noise behind him.

“Oh, that’s Charlie… I think,” says Ron. “Charlie, izzat you?” It is indeed Charlie, who is riding the elevator up. Technically it’s a modified forklift, but in Ron’s home, nothing is what it seems. Upon reaching the second story, Charlie waves “hi” and continues into the house to watch some television.

Before long we’re inside the home too. The inside is absolutely gorgeous. “There’s 8,000 feet of wiring and 75 breakers in here,” Ron points out. Over here’s some more artwork. Over there’s a stack of magazines and newspapers that Truckhenge has been mentioned in. The entire ceiling is covered with baskets filled with stuffed animals and other keepsakes. The tour gets awkward for a moment as the only place to stand is in the living room between Ron’s wife, Charlie and the television, but Ron Lessman doesn’t stand still for long.

“Hey, you guys wanna see my bridge to nowhere?”

Well c’mon, who doesn’t want to see a Bridge to Nowhere!

Hanging off the Bridge to Nowhere are painted drop cloths. I tell Ron that they remind me of sideshow advertisements and he says that’s the look he was going for. The farm just finished hosting its second annual “Tarot Time” event, sponsored by a local psychic and Ron’s wife who provided Tarot card, spirit, and aura readings. I begin to ask more about the event but we’re already climbing down off the Bridge to Nowhere and starting to look at Ron’s chainsaw carvings, of which there are many.

We are joined on the outside portion of the tour by a couple of Ron’s dogs and several peacocks. Occasionally the peacocks squawk at us and Ron takes a break from his performance to squawk back at them.

The tour of Ron’s chainsaw carvings takes you on a winding tour of the property. Most of the carvings took 15-20 minutes to complete, although some took “up to 45 minutes.” Ron told us he didn’t do any artwork for 40 years and then one day he picked up a chainsaw and starting sawing up logs. The carvings aren’t half bad, but the complete lack of caring about failing is inspiring.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Ron asks.

“I guess you just end up with a smaller log,” I say.

Ron stops for a moment and strokes his scraggly beard. “That’s a good point,” he says. And now we’re walking again.

The tour takes us down past an abandoned school bus covered in spray paint before coming to what I thought was Truckhenge. It wasn’t. It was Boathenge.

Shawnee County, Kansas has a fear of Ron’s “things” — trucks and boats and whatever else he collects — floating 25 miles away and causing damage should his farm flood. Ron solved this problem by anchoring each boat with roughly forty thousand pounds of concrete. Each. In front of Boathenge are a bunch of bricks that Ron has laid out to spell words so that you can read them from Google Earth.

And then there’s Beer Bottle City, located between Boathenge and Truckhenge, a bunch of small concrete bunkers and towers that have been filled in with beer bottles.

One question that comes up a lot is, “why?” Ron heads this one off at the pass every time. “We’re just trying to have fun out here,” he says repeatedly. Between the paintings and the carvings and the buildings and being hauled into court from time to time, I get the feeling Ron doesn’t sit still much.

A bit further down the path, past Beer Bottle City and a giant concrete tub full of murky water, frogs and occasionally snakes, is Truckhenge.

Like Boathenge, the trucks are covered with layers of spray paint (the kids are even encouraged to leave their mark on Boathenge, which they did). It was Truckhenge that started it all though, and it’s the culmination of the tour. Ron’s eyes sparkle as he counts the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has cost the county, money they wasted by trying to get a random guy out in the woods to not express himself.

They failed.

One of the trucks has its hood removed, and on the hood is painted a message: “A Memorial For Liberty. Rome Didn’t Kill Jesus, Bureaucrats Did.” I can’t think of anything I’ve seen so far on the tour that sums up Ron’s message better than that, so I ask him for a picture in front of it with him. He obliges.

On the way back to Ron’s car he asks us if we want to see his bone collection which is conveniently stored in another building.

“Only if you’re not about to add us to it,” I say. He laughs. As the kids pile into the building Susan takes a picture of me, hoping it won’t be my last.

For another five to ten minutes Ron digs through more of his treasure — more bones and stones, some of them millions of years old. This isn’t a museum where things are off limits. Ron hands each one to the kids. One’s holding a shark rib; the other, a lizard fossil.

The tour ends where it began, back in Ron’s shop. There wasn’t an obvious “tip jar” out anywhere but I offered him one anyway. Hopefully it’ll cover the cost of a few bags of concrete or gas for the chainsaw. As we walked toward our car we could see another car driving slowly down the road outside Ron’s fence. As we pulled out, the next group pulled in.

I highly recommend visiting Truckhenge if you get the chance — not for the paintings or the sculptures or the rocks or the bones or the boats or the carvings or even the trucks, but for Ron Lessman’s stories, and more importantly, his attitude. Meeting someone who not only thinks outside the box but quite literally lives there is a refreshing and invigorating experience.

Here’s to ya, Ron.

From Wikipedia:

“Stargardt disease, or fundus flavimaculatus, is an inherited form of juvenile macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss usually to the point of legal blindness. The onset of symptoms usually appears between the ages of six and thirty years old (average of about 16–18 years). Several genes are associated with the disorder. Symptoms typically develop by twenty years of age, and include wavy vision, blind spots, blurriness, impaired color vision, and difficulty adapting to dim lighting.

The long-term prognosis for patients with Stargardt disease is widely variable although the majority of people will progress to legal blindness. Stargardt disease has no impact on general health and life expectancy is normal. Some patients are able to drive.”

From my Retina Specialist:

“If you enjoy reading books or driving, you should probably do a lot of it before you turn 50.”

Random takeaways from yesterday’s appointment:

– Stargardt disease requires inheriting one specific gene from each parent. Because of this it often/usually skips generations.

– The Dean McGee Eye Institute sees approximately 4 cases of Stargardt’s disease each year.

– Typically, Stargardt disease affects both eyes at the same rate. In my case, it hasn’t. The doctor called my case unique and referred to it as a rare form of a rare disease.

– Dean McGee has asked me to come back for more research so they can gather more information about this rare form of Stargardt’s.

– Stargardt disease is unrelated to Horner’s Syndrome (the reason I have different colored eyes). The fact that I have both is a coincidence, although it may explain why the Stargardt has affected my eyes at different rates.

– Stargardt only affects your central/focused vision, not your peripheral vision. That’s why it affects your ability to read or recognize people’s faces, but not your ability to maneuver a room, for example.

– The previous diagnosis of macular degeneration/atrophy is really just a product of Stargardt disease. None of the treatments (vitamins, shots, etc) will have any affect on my vision.

– While some research with stem cells is being done, there is no current treatment, prevention, or slowing down the progression of the disease.

– Legal blindness is defined as 20/200. The vision in my left eye is 20/1500. My right eye is currently 20/25.

– The doctor expects me to be legally blind within the next 10 years, give or take.

My brain attaches keywords and tags to all the stories and anecdotes floating around in my brain. Some stories have multiple tags while others only have one and are pretty specific and only come up once in a great while.

I only have one story about the band No Doubt, and this is it.

In the late fall/early winter of 1995, I went on a work trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The hotel my co-workers and I stayed at was across the street from the Mall of America, the largest mall in the United States. Travelling for work was still a new experience for me, back when things like getting paid a daily per diem and being allowed to drive a rental car seemed very exciting.

The roads were already icy in Minnesota that time of year and one night while returning from the Mall I found myself doing donuts in the hotel parking lot (unintentionally, at first). Just as I was getting ready to park the car, a new song from a new band came on the radio. The band was No Doubt; the song, “Just a Girl.”

The minute I heard the song I knew it was going to be a hit. I wanted to record the song, but this was at least three years before I owned my first cell phone. I had, however, taken my camcorder to the mall to shoot some video (this was also before I owned a digital camera), so I quickly pulled my camcorder out of my backpack, pointed it at the speaker in the car’s front door, and recorded “Just a Girl” as it streamed across the radio waves.

When I got back to Oklahoma the following week I played the song for all my friends. For each one of them I had to hook my camcorder up to the television in our living room and play the video of me recording the speaker in my rental car as the song played. Within six months or so, No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” became a huge radio success. I had been right.

Nobody I know ever mentions No Doubt or the Mall of America in conversation any more, the only two possible keywords that would trigger that story and allow me to work it into a conversation.

Friday afternoon, 20 years after that story took place, I found myself once again rolling into Minneapolis — this time with my family. After stopping by our hotel and dropping off our bags, we piled back into the rental and set out for the Mall of America, four short stops away from the hotel.

Hey, the Mall of America… that reminds me of a story…

And just as I turned toward Susan to relay my one single No Doubt/Mall of America story, the twenty-year-old song “Just a Girl” started playing on the radio. Not on my phone or anything like that, but on the real honest-to-goodness radio. For the next five minutes all I could say was, “What are the odds of that? What are the odds of that?”

Seriously, what are the odds of that?

I guess now I have two No Doubt/Mall of America stories.

After almost 2,900 miles behind us over the past week, I was able to add Iowa, North Dakota, and Wisconsin to the states I’ve seen. For those keeping track, that makes 49 of the 50 states (we’re doing Hawaii later this year). I’ll be posting some pictures and stories of some of the more interesting things we saw over the next few days, but if you want a sneak peek at a few pictures check out my List of States I’ve visited. Along with the ones I already mentioned, I also added updates to Kansas and Minnesota.

Great to see new places, great to be home.

I am writing today’s blog post from inside a UFO (although technically the “U” in UFO stands for “unidentified” and this structure has most certainly been identified).

Our latest road trip began with one goal in mind: mark off the three remaining contiguous states I hadn’t previously visited (North Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin). I’ll get Hawaii (my 50th and last state) at the end of this year.

We had originally planned to visit Wisconsin last year. In this article I wrote for the Retroist about Futuro Homes I recalled that there was one, the PodUpNorth, that had been converted into a lake cabin in Wisconsin. Unfortunately there was a long wait to rent the cabin and we weren’t able to reserve it until this year, so that’s what we did and we planned the rest of the trip around our three day stay in a UFO-shaped house.

Day one of our trip ended in Sioux Falls, Iowa, and day two ended in Fargo, North Dakota — done and done. From there we headed almost seven hours east to Minocqua, Wisconsin, home of the Pod Up North.

A bit of background here: less than 130 of these Futuro Homes were made back in the late 60s/early 70s. Numbers vary slightly depending on the source, but approximately 50 of them made it to the United States and only approximately 25 of those remain. Other than this one I’ve only personally seen one other one (the one in Illinois), so getting to go inside one (much less stay inside it for three days) is a rare treat (at least for me).

Using this online calculator and making a best guess on the diameter of the floor, the pod has roughly 490 square foot of space. Approximately 5/8 of the pod is the main living space and kitchen; 1/8 is the bedroom and 1/4 is the bathroom. Actually the main living space is much more than 5/8 of the overall space as none of the spaces extend to the center of the pod. The center of the pod is occupied by a 3 1/2′ (and in the pod, non-functional) gas log fireplace.

For being such a small space there’s actually no shortage of seating. In the above photo you can see the curved table with four chairs around it. One fourth of the pod also has wooden bench seats with cushions on them. The benches have foot rests (also with cushions) that can be moved around to easily sleep three people. The bedroom has a full bed. All of the cushions and mattresses are similar to ones you would find in a pop-up camper.

As claustrophobic as the pod may appear from the outside, the ceiling in the middle is 10′ tall. Even standing as close to the windows as you can get, it’s still almost 8′ tall there. The only time I’ve come close to hitting on head on anything is while climbing the stairs that outside. That’s not to say the pod is bursting with spare room. The two closets (one in the living room, one in the bedroom) are each 1′ deep. The kitchen has enough room for one person to move around in, and the shower… let’s just say it either came from an RV or a horror movie.

About 50 feet from the backside of the pod is a lake. There’s a private dock back there along with three boats (a boat, a canoe, and a paddleboat). There was also a fishing pole here (we picked up a second one at a thrift store in town) and the kids have been outside all day trying to catch fish with the poles and fishing nets. We’ve gone in town a couple of times to eat but we’ve also cooked a few meals inside the pod. There’s a small 19″ TV with a DVD/VHS combo player and a stash of mostly sci-fi movies under the cabinet. So far we’ve watched E.T. and Spaceballs and Men in Black. Tonight is The Black Hole and Stargate.

Right now, the kids are ready to go cook hot dogs down by the lake. I think I’ll join them.

Back in 2007 I wrote a blog post about a VHS tape I made as a kid. The tape was labeled “MAKING OF MOVIES TAPE” and had five television specials on it: SPFX: The Empire Strikes Back, Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Monsters, The Making of Superman: The Movie, and (part of) Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi. Each of these specials originally aired on television, which is how I recorded them.

I’ve transferred most of the specials over to the computer, but for some reason that Raiders of the Lost Ark one is in terrible condition. More than any of the others, that particular special drives the tracking on my new VCR crazy.

Unlike some of those other specials, it turns out Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark was released on VHS as part of a double feature along with another special, The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was able to track down a brand new copy for $10 via Amazon.

The tape arrived in today’s mail, and I wasted no time in ripping off the original plastic and cramming it into my VCR faster than Indiana Jones could crack his whip!

Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first special on the tape and the reason I purchased it, was as wonderful as I remembered it to be. In this special, narrated by Harrison Ford, viewers get a behind the scenes look at some of the stunts that appeared in the first Indiana Jones film. There’s a lot of bonus footage from the “Well of Souls,” in which we get to see pretty much everybody on the set handling approximately 9,000 snakes. There’s also a lot of footage showing how they staged the fight in Marion’s pub, and more of the stunt where Indiana Jones is dragged behind the truck carrying the Ark. The hour-long film also contains some classic footage of stunts being performed along with interviews with some of the film’s stunt men.

I hadn’t seen The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark before, and it begins only a second or two after the first one ends. As a kid I probably would have loved this special. It’s only downfall, if it has one, is that it follows Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark and uses a lot of the exact same footage. There’s less talk about stunt men, but a lot of it just feels like a longer edit of the first special (or perhaps the first special was a tighter edit of this one?). Lots of the behind the scenes clips are the exact same ones that appear in the first special, so watching them back-to-back seems a bit redundant.

I spent a couple hours after work last night dumping these into to the computer, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the VHS tape — either take it to Goodwill or put it back on Amazon to share with somebody else.

Maybe I’ll hide it in a temple and surround it with poison darts and a giant boulder…

A friend of mine recently asked me to name five games I would recommend playing all the way through from beginning to end. There are tons of modern games (The Last of Us, Halo, Portal) that have great story lines, but I wanted to go somewhat old school with my list. I also couldn’t possibly limit myself to just five, so instead here are ten games I recommend modern gamers go back and play through from beginning to end. Note that this is different than my list of games that will always stick with me; the games on this post were picked for their memorable story lines and the rewards that come with completing them.

Presented roughly chronological, let’s start at the beginning.

01. Adventureland (Scott Adams, 1978)

It all begins with Adventureland. From Wikipedia:

Adventureland is an early, formative work of interactive fiction. It was written by Scott Adams, and was not only the first text adventure game to be commercially published and sold for the then-new home computers, but was the first commercially available adventure game of any kind for use on the systems.”

Why you should beat it: Quite simply, because this is where it all began. All roads to computer gaming eventually lead back to these original text adventures. There are many, many text adventures to choose from, including all the great ones released by Infocom, but to really understand where it all began, you should play Adventureland.

When you’re done reading the list, you can play Adventureland online right here.

Although the original was text only, later releases added static pictures for players to look at.

02. Adventure (Atari 2600, 1980)

The Atari 2600’s hardware was somewhat designed with Pong in mind. Pong contains two players (“paddles”), a ball, and a background (in Pong’s case, a simple vertical line dividing the screen). Most of the system’s early games like Combat and Outlaw were technical riffs on this design. Programmers weren’t trying to figure out how to create an adventure game for the Atari 2600 back then — they were all trying to figure out how to make working games using the console’s limited resources. Most of the system’s early games (including the ones I just mentioned) took up 2k of ROM each. That’s way less information than the words in this article.

Inspired by Colossal Cave (the original text adventure), Warren Robinett decided to create an an adventure — unoriginally titled Adventure — for the Atari 2600. He used the Atari’s backgrounds for the mazes, the two “player” sprites for monsters, the “ball” as the player’s avatar, and the “bullets” for additional maze features. He crammed all of this into 4k.

In retrospect Adventure looks incredibly simple and archaic; at the time of its release, it was heralded as imaginative and groundbreaking. According to Wikipedia:

Atari’s Adventure sold one million copies, making it the seventh best selling Atari 2600 game in history. As the first action-adventure video game and first console fantasy game, Adventure established its namesake genres on video game consoles. In addition to being the first graphical adventure game on the Atari 2600 console, it was the first video game to contain a widely known Easter egg, and the first to allow a player to use multiple, portable, on-screen items. The game was also the first to use a fog of war effect in its catacombs, which obscures most of the playing area except for the player’s immediate surroundings. The game has been voted the best Atari 2600 cartridge in numerous polls, and has been noted as a significant step in the advancement of home video games. GamePro ranked it as the 28th most important video game of all time in 2007. In 2010, listed it as one of the most important games ever made in its “The Essential 50″ feature.” (Link)

Why you should beat it: Because Adventure was first, and for so, so many game developers, this was the first adventure game they ever played. With 4,096 bytes of code, a few blocky blocks and a dragon that looked like a duck, Adventure showed gamers what video games could be — an adventure.

03. Karateka (Apple II, 1984)

Originally released for the Apple II but quickly ported to other home computer systems, in Karateka players must punch and kick their way through a long line of opponents in order to rescue Princess Mariko, who is being held prisoner by Akuma in his castle. At the time of its release, Karateka was championed for its fluid animation and cinematic experience.

Few martial arts games of the 1980s had plots. The plot of Karate Champ is “keep winning tournaments,” while the plot of Kung Fu Master is “keep punching people until you save Sylvia.” Karateka was different though, and was presented like a mini movie complete with cut scenes and jumps in location as parts of the plot were revealed. When I saw Princess Mariko slump down in her cell for the first time, man, I knew I had to save her.

Karateka also features multiple enemies that can kill you with a single blow, including deadly portcullis and, ultimately, Princess Mariko. There is no saving your game, no bonus lives, and no continuing. In Karateka dead means dead — no happy ending for you.

Why you should beat it: Because both in life and in Karateka, you only get one chance. This game taught me that video games could be tough, fair, and rewarding all at the same time. From finishing off a tough enemy with a triple kick-kick-kick combo to punching Akuma’s bird out of the air in mid-flight, the whole game just seems fun. And for most first time players, the game ends with you being insta-killed, causing them to slap their foreheads and play through the entire game again to rescue the princess. Just like real life, sometimes 99% isn’t enough for a woman.

04. Bard’s Tale III (Interplay/Electronic Arts, 1988)

Wizardry (released by Sir-Tech in 1981) is cited as one of the first D&D-style games to be released for home computers. According to Wikipedia it was the first true party-based role-playing video game, the first dungeon crawl, and the first to feature color graphics. I loved Wizardry, but it wasn’t perfect. Soon, other games inspired by Wizardry came along, improving some of the original’s shortcomings. One of those was Bard’s Tale, released by Interplay and Electronic Arts in 1985. This was followed by Bard’s Tale II in 1986 and what I consider to be the best game in the series, Bard’s Tale III in 1988.

While Wizardry mostly limited players to multiple levels of the same dungeon and Bard’s Tale introduced us to multiple dungeons in the land of Skara Brae, Bard’s Tale III had players travelling to multiple worlds, parallel dimensions, and ultimately through time. It combined the dungeon-crawl layout of the previous games with the ability to enter short parser-based commands in order to handle certain objects.

Why you should beat it: Not only does Bard’s Tale III have a great story that takes place in great locations, but to me it’s the epitome of first-person old-school dungeon crawlers (Ultima be damned). I love this game and has dreamed about wandering around Skara Brae at night, dealing with wandering Wights and Ice Giants. The pixel-drawn animations are charming, the music is creative, and the whole game is enormously rewarding. None of that stupid grinding levels for the sake of grinding levels here (unless you’re starting with a fresh party). Instead it’s all about quest after quest after quest.

05. King’s Quest (Sierra Online, 1984)

King’s Quest holds the title of “first 3D graphical adventure game,” although the definition of 3D as it applies to video games has changed throughout the years. King’s Quest was called 3D because Sir Graham, the protagonist, could move both up and down as well as left and right and could walk behind objects as well as in front of them. It’s a far cry from Oculus Rift, I’ll give you that, but at the time it was still pretty amazing.

King’s Quest was designed to show of the graphic and sound capabilities of IBM’s first foray into home computing, the PCjr. The PCjr launched for $1,269 ($3,000, adjusted for inflation); for that you got 128KB of RAM, a horrible chiclet keyboard, no mouse, and no monitor. (A complete system with a few sensible upgrades brought the price closer to $1,500.) Prior to its release it was predicted that the PCjr would put all other home computing companies out of business, but that didn’t happen. Instead the PCjr was discontinued after three years, after having sold only 500,000 units.

Despite the PCjr itself which is viewed as a flop, the greatest thing to come out of its release was a new line of games made specifically for it. Sierra On-Line was paid in advance to develop a launch title that would show off the PCjr’s capabilities (including its 16 color mode and three voice sound chip, provided by Texas Instruments). That game ended up being King’s Quest.

King’s Quest was the first point-and-click game, a genre that became very popular in the 80s and 90s and died off as other interfaces took favor. In these games you use your computer’s mouse to click on the screen, causing your character to walk to that spot. (Again, I realize that’s not particularly groundbreaking today.) For computer owners without a mouse, you could still control the game using the keyboard’s directional arrow keys. This control scheme was combined with a simple parser that allowed players to interact with this new graphical environment. To pick up a rock you can’t just type “GET ROCK” as you’ll be greeted with “You’re not standing close enough to the rock.” You have to actually stand near things to interact with them.

The plot of King’s Quest is simple and involves gathering three treasures hidden throughout the land. You’ll have to solve small puzzles to retrieve them. As a kid, I struggled with some of the puzzles; as an adult, you’ll struggle with the interface as you’ll constantly be trying to figure out what you can do and what you can’t do.

Why you should beat it: King’s Quest isn’t the best point-and-click adventure of all time, and if you like this style of game there are many better ones you should try including Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam and Max hit the Road, Full Cycle and The Dig. Sierra also released several other series of Quest games including Space Quest, Police Quest, and Hero’s Quest. That being said, it’s always fun to explore the roots of gaming. Better games came from companies like Sierra On-Line’s radical thinking and willingness to throw things to the proverbial castle wall to see what would stick. I found defeating King’s Quest a rewarding experience — and if you do too you’ll be excited to know that not only was the game later remade with better graphics, but there are also seven official sequels which will keep you busy for a long time to come.

06. Another World (Delphine Software, 1991)

In half an hour, Another World manages to tell a complete story. It does this without any spoken or written dialog and with no additional information other than the game presented on the screen. Of course it doesn’t need to show your health information because if anything touches you in this game, you instantly die.

Another World begins with a video showing Lester Knight Chaykin’s particle accelerator being struck by lightning. Even though as we watch the action unfold we know what’s about to happen before Lester does, the moment he is zapped away into the alternate universe the game takes place in is still jarring. The transition from introduction to gameplay is seamless; you will find yourself suddenly controlling the action you were just previously watching. (If you don’t, you will soon find Lester drowning…)

Why you should beat it: The polygon style of graphics used in Another World were very unique at the time, although I suspect many of the techniques invented for this game live on in modern gaming. Even if it didn’t have a groundbreaking art and storytelling style — which it does — it would still be a great game.

I’ll be honest with you: this game gets super hard toward the end and the odds of you beating it are pretty low. If you aren’t compelled to play this game, or don’t get very far after trying, you should at least watch the entire playthrough below on YouTube. It’s 23 minutes long and will spoil the ending for you, but it’s almost as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.

07. Maniac Mansion (Lucasfilm Games, 1987)

By the time Lucasfilm Games had entered the ring, point-and-click adventures had dropped manual parsers and were completely point-and-click games. While some gamers didn’t like losing the control the parser provided, being able to select verbs from a menu and objects from the screen took some of the guesswork out of “what am I supposed to do here” problems gamers previously experienced with these games.

Maniac Mansion introduced a few new ideas to the genre, including the ability to switch between multiple characters in multiple locations in order to solve puzzles, but more than that, it was funny. Really, really funny. I grew up with the Commodore 64 version, although the DOS version is also very good and playable. Some of the 16-bit version like the Amiga don’t look “right” to me. I suppose it comes down to what you’re used to.

Why you should beat it: Because you kind of need to play this one before playing the equally funny Day of the Tentacle. And because no other game on this list allows you to put a hamster in a microwave.

08. The Incredible Machine (Sierra On-Line, 1992)

While many games are about action and strategy, The Incredible Machine is all about puzzle-solving. On each of the game’s 84 levels, you’ll be presented with a puzzle and some tools, and it’s up to you to come up with some sort of Rube Goldberg device in order to complete the level’s goal. Some of the goals are simple (“Pop the balloons”) while others are more complex. On each level you’ll be given some combination of tools to deal with: pulleys, ropes, belts, gears, ramps, scissors, and so on. Many of these tools can be combined to make more complex machines. Guns can be made to fire by connecting their triggers to objects using ropes, for example. Little “motors” (hamster on treadmills) can be started by hitting their cage. All of the tools can be “flipped” left-to-right to modify their actions. For many levels there are often obvious and intended solutions, but you don’t have to solve them that way.

The first 20 levels are “tutorial levels” that pretty much tell you how to solve them. After that, the difficulty ramps up and you are on your own. You’ll spend half your time trying to come up with workable solutions using the few tools you’re given for each level, and the other half trying to make those things work. It’s a fun kind of problem-solving.

The game also comes with a free-form editor mode that allows you to create wacky machines with no restrictions. The Incredible Machine has two direct sequels as well as another similar line of games (The Incredible Toon Machine). Another line of Incredible Machine games (“Contraptions”) were released in the early 00s, and in 2011 the game was added to Apple’s App Store although it has since been retired.

Why you should beat it: Because it’s a game that can be both frustrating and fun at the same time, something that many modern games forget is possible. If you enjoy physics-style games like Crayon Physics, you should check this out. I don’t have to ask you to beat this one; once you get started, you’ll just want to.

09. Fallout (Interplay, 1997)

There were a lot of 8-bit games that tried to recreate post-apocalyptic worlds, but few did it better than Wasteland. Another Interplay/Electronic Arts teaming, Wasteland takes place generations after a nuclear holocaust. While the game is highly revered among classic gamers, for whatever reason the relationship between Interplay and Electronic Arts soured; the Wasteland connection was removed from EA’s planned sequel (Fountain of Dreams), and Interplay’s sequel (Meantime) was cancelled. Even through Interplay no longer retained the rights to Wasteland, ten years later in 1997 they released their own “spiritual” sequel: Fallout.

Although the setting is the same between the two games, Fallout is presented with a more modern interface. Although most of the game’s events play out in real time, combat remains turn based. The main plot of Fallout revolves around the search for water, although players will experience many side plots and tasks along the way. Despite the game’s gritty and bleak setting, Interplay injected the story with tons of humor.

Why you should beat it: Fallout was named “RPG of the Year” by GameSpot in 1997 and in 1988 by Computer Gaming World. PC Gamer once named it the fourth best PC game of all time. Artwork from the game is on display as part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “The Art of Video Games” exhibition.

Fallout is one of the best computer role playing games ever released, period. In 2014 a fan-made sequel to Wasteland was finally released. It’s really good, and in fact the games interface is better than Fallout’s, but Fallout is such a great game that I stuck with it. But if you like it then yeah, definitely check out Wasteland 2 too.

10. Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games, 2012)

Hotline Miami (the newest game on my list by 15 years) takes place in 1989 and is presented in a top-down retro style. After receiving a somewhat cryptic message on your answering machine, as the first chapter begins you will decide what kind of mask to don (rooster, owl, tiger, pig, or horse, each with its own advantages) before walking into an enemy’s building and single-handedly massacring dozens of enemies. Some of them you will knock to the ground and bash their brains in mercilessly with a crowbar or a baseball bat before obtaining an Uzi or a shotgun and really getting the party started.

Throughout the game you’ll discover things are not all as they seem. Your senses will be thrown off by minor changes in levels and items coming and going. You’ll also get killed. A lot. A lot lot lot. Fortunately each level restarts immediately after your demise. Going in with guns blazing didn’t work? Try hiding around a corner with a bat and see if that doesn’t do the trick. Line of sight is important in this game.

The story itself is unsettling. Just when things don’t make sense, they’ll begin to, only to get more confusing again. There’s no point in trying to explain Hotline Miami. I played this game for hours a night every night for a week or two before beating it. It wasn’t until the very end that I understood the entire plot. At least I think I did.

Why you should beat it: Hotline Miami moves fast, plays fast, and gets weird fast. Figuring out how to beat each level is so much fun that you’ll quickly lose track of how many hundreds of lives you’ve violently taken. Which is okay when you’re the good guy, right? At least I think you’re the good guy. The game’s story is good, but more than that it goes to show how effective old school graphics and gameplay can be when done right. Also, Hotline Miami 2 was released last month.


The following games came up while I was brainstorming but eventually fell off the list. They’re all great games and rewarding to play through in their own right: Prince of Persia, Oregon Trail, Ikaruga, Double Dragon, and countless others.

Now it’s your turn. What games do YOU think people need to play through? New or old, doesn’t matter — let’s hear your additions to the list!

“You are definitely the most interesting person I’ve seen all day.”

A fun phrase to hear in some situations, an eye exam at the Dean McGee Eye Institute not being one of them. After three hours of tests, scans, and evaluations, the optometrist weakly smiled at me and said, “I wish I had better news for you.”

I wish he did, too.

First, he told me I had Horner’s Syndrome. I already knew that, and it’s not a big deal. Horner’s Syndrome is caused by damage to a group of nerves and has a few major symptoms. The dead giveaway is two different colored eyes, followed by (and I’m quoting Wikipedia here) “miosis (a constricted pupil), ptosis (a weak, droopy eyelid), apparent enophthalmus (inset eyeball), plus/minus anhidrosis (decreased sweating).” I don’t think my eyeball is inset, but I do have all the other symptoms: in regards to my green eye, the pupil is constricted and slow reacting, the eyelid slightly droops, and I do not sweat on that side of my head. While some people develop Horner’s Syndrome over time, most people (like me) were simply born with it.

The bigger concern was the results of my eye exam.

Let’s start off with my vision test. In my green eye (the “bad” one), the results of my eye exam were 20/1500. That means that, at least in that eye, objects that are 20 feet away look like they are 1,500 feet away for me. This became pretty clear when, with my good eye covered, I could not read a single letter on an electronic eye chart 8′ away. The eye charts they use are presented on a 24″ monitor, and they will continue to enlarge the letters until one single letter fills the entire 24″ monitor. With my left eye, I can’t read a letter that fills a 24″ monitor from 8′ away.

I had heard of macular degeneration before. Just two weeks ago, Roseanne Barr announced she was going blind from macular degeneration. In my green eye — again, the bad one — I have what’s called macular atrophy.

Here’s a quick eyeball lesson. I didn’t know any of this before yesterday so my apologies if I get any terminology wrong. In the back of your eyeball there’s an area called the macula. Across the macula are tiny bands that allow your retina to focus on things. This is all about your “straight ahead” vision, not peripheral vision. The most common type of Macular Degeneration (dry) is the wearing down of those bands over time. Vision loss is gradual with dry macular degeneration. 90% of the people who have macular degeneration have this type.

Atrophy, unfortunately, is worse. If “degeneration” is the journey, “atrophy” is the final destination. My bands done degenerated. There is no fixing this eye. Even what we call an eye transplant (which is really just a cornea transplant) would not fix this. The good news is, it can’t get any worse in that eye — which is akin to saying, “at least that dog turd can’t get any stinkier.”

Now let’s talk about what I used to call “my good eye,” which I must now call “the better eye.”

In my better eye I am showing signs of Macular Degeneration, which apparently runs in my dad’s side of the family. The doctor said the macula bands in my good eye have already started to degenerate. Usually he only sees this amount of degeneration in his older patients, but… lucky me. There’s no way to repair those degenerated bands. The only “treatment” is to slow down the degeneration.

My doctor referred me to a list of things one can do to slow down macular degeneration. I have personally grouped them into three logical categories.

– Don’t smoke, lose weight, lower your blood pressure: eyeballs require large amounts of oxygen and blood to function. Anything that restricts the flow of oxygen or blood to the eye contributes to macular degeneration.

– Exercise regularly: Again, increasing the flow of oxygen in the bloodstream helps.

– Diet and supplements: Eat a nutritious diet that includes green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange fruit, fish, and whole grains. Take supplements. Wear sunglasses and hats outdoors.

Based on that:

– I don’t smoke, but I do need to lose weight and lower my blood pressure. That just turned into a priority. Exercising regularly is a part of that.

– I see diet changes in my future. And just in case you don’t think this is serious, Susan brought home my new breakfast regimen last night:

Short of stem cell therapy, exercise, vitamins, and wearing sunglasses are about all I can currently do. (Smoking pot with Roseanne Barr is not an option.) While vitamins and all those other things won’t restore any vision I’ve already lost, it will (can) help me retain what I currently have — which, again, has suddenly become a pretty big priority.

I am sharing all of this not because I am looking for sympathy or prayers or well wishes from anyone but because I am a journalist at heart and have a need to document things around me, good and bad. While my macular degeneration should hopefully be gradual enough that I’m not continually documenting any increases in vision loss, if there’s a major change I’ll definitely provide an update. Other than my own new personal health goals, it’s back to business as usual.

Last weekend, Morgan’s Girl Scout Troop received their Bronze Award. Their are eight girls in Morgan’s troop. At the end of the ceremony, Susan asked me to take a picture of the girls with their certificates.

Unfortunately, that is not the photo I took. After getting all of the girls together I snapped three pictures. This was the best of the three.

The girl on the bottom right is Neveah. She had a really rotten day. She arrived to the ceremony late, did not get to walk across the stage, and did not receive her certificate. That sucks. What sucks more is, Susan was hoping to have copies of this picture printed out and given to all the girls. This kid had a sad day and every time she sees this picture I’m sure she’ll be reminded of that.

So, I tried to fix it.

A few minutes after this picture was taken, I took a few pictures of Neveah and Morgan up on the stage together.

With Photoshop I was able to take Neveah’s head from that picture along with hands and an arm from other girls in the picture. I was also able to copy another one of the girl’s certificates, erased the name off of it, and (as best as I could) added Neveah’s name to it.

I had the roughest time with Neveah’s legs, as she was resting her hands in her lap and fixing that would have required cutting and pasting someone else’s legs into the picture or completely airbrushing over them. In the end I took the easy way out and simply cropped the photo.

I know these are just small digital changes that won’t make that day better for this little girl, but at least she won’t be reminded of it every time she sees this picture.

I’m proud of my daughter, Morgan.

This weekend, Morgan’s Girl Scout Troop received a Bronze Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior can achieve. To earn a Bronze Award, Girl Scouts must plan and perform a project that improves the community. Morgan’s Girl Scout Troop worked with a local pet shelter to create blankets for the animals and volunteered their time walking dogs at the shelter.

It makes me proud when my kids think about people other than themselves. I love that Morgan and her friends worked to make Yukon a little better place to live.

I’m also proud of my son, Mason.

Last week, on Monday, Mason learned that his school was having basketball tryouts beginning that afternoon. With only a few hours notice, Mason decided to try out anyway.

Mason tried out against forty or fifty other kids, many of whom currently play basketball for the school. After two days of tryouts he was informed he didn’t make the team. With zero time to prepare for the tryouts, Mason was hoping his YMCA basketball skills would get him chosen. It didn’t work out.

Some of Mason’s classmates made fun of him for even trying.

It makes me proud when my kids try to do things, even if those things are outside of their capabilities or comfort zone. It took a lot of guts for Mason to show up to basketball tryouts and perform in front of a bunch of kids and coaches he didn’t even know, especially with no time to prepare.

I am equally proud of both of my kids. They make it pretty easy to feel that way.