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AS WE SPEAK, there are two crews of gentlemen here at my human home completely gutting and replacing my entire air conditioning system, which was old enough to vote and required chemicals that no longer exist to function, and neither of those is a joke. I have corralled the cats into our room with a little portable coolerator, and reactions are mixed: Tiramisu is having the time of his tiny life with a room full of playmates who can’t run away from him, whereas Paisley would kill us all without a second thought if it meant getting out of there; the proximity to Misu may be a factor, but if Pais wants ‘privacy’ and ‘to choose what room he’s in’ and ‘protection from the Small Thing Of A Thousand Bites’, maybe he should start paying some fuckin’ bills around here.
IT IS STRESSFUL TO HAVE THESE PEOPLE HERE; they cannot wear masks, I cannot offer them proper hospitality, and I cannot relax because they might need something from me and also I’m not like, embarrassed that I love Star Trek but I just started the fourth season of Disco and I definitely don’t need them making me pause every few minutes so I can explain what happened with the Burn and how they got to the year 3000 and why Grudge isn’t the captain.
And so, in lieu of finding comfort in my own home and hunting down Koroks all day, I blog. I blog for all of you. This, I do in your name. Like, Iegally in your name. The defense rests.
The motto of 99% Invisible is ‘Always Read The Plaque‘; my motto is ‘Always Blame Roman Mars For What I’m Gonna Spend The Next Week Telling You About’, and that’s as true today as it’s ever been. 50TTMTME is a book by Tim Harford, who goes by the sobriquet ‘The Undercover Economist’, and which was then adapted into this delightful podcast series, every episode of which is informative, pretty cheeky, and most of all short; I literally listened to the entire first series of fifty episodes across a couple of days of yardwork, although my personal habit of listening at 1.5x speed is probably a factor. Regardlo, this means that you can learn a lot and chomp down many, many episodes in extremely short order.
Each entry focuses on one innovation or invention that had a hand in shaping our modern global economy in some way, including the diesel engine (and the tragic suicide/possible murder??? of its inventor), banking, oral contraceptives, air conditioning, infant formula, RFID tags (a particular favorite of mine), and more. If you’d just like a sample, have this episode of 99PI where Roman tells us about the show and glues three of its stories together for us, and while the whole premise of both of these shows is that everything is more interesting than you’d think it would be, I must admit that a death ray that was bad at its job but good at something else, the invention that allows us all to poop in comfort, and bricks are a pretty good starter set:
This is technically an economics podcast and does speak that language from that perspective, but much as 99PI shows us why civic design and genetically modified glowing radioactive cats go hand in hand, 50TTMTME shows us how “the economy” isn’t some abstract, ghostly thing that pulls the strings of our lives and isn’t for the likes of us to know about, but a living system in which we are inextricably connected with the people and the world around us.
Ben Folds, What Matters Most
What Matters Most begins with a simple question: do you still believe in the good of humankind?
I said a simple question; if I’d meant an easy one, I would’ve said so.
It doesn’t make things any easier that what follows is a pretty thorough cross-section of human behavior, from the lovely and good, to the awkward bummer, to the confusing and worrisome and the uhhhhh shall we say antisocial.
Like with most things, I’m nowhere near educated enough to say anything super meaningful about this musically, but much as The Beths’ Expert In A Dying Field was exactly what we needed when we needed it, Ben seems to have dipped his grippers into our collective unconscious and scooped up a pawful of what we’re all feeling and thinking: did we really think we’d go back to normal? What the hell happened to the people we thought we understood who are now screaming for violence? Can it all really be as simple as surrendering to your own happiness, ’cause that really sounds too easy but also how does one do that? And how, in the end, do we figure out what matters most?
More than my pseudophilosophical bullshit, this is a beautiful album by a man who has honed his songwriting ability to an edge that would cut God in half, if he wasn’t more interested in using it to peel apart the layers of life and also probably butter some toast. Most of the record is lyrics-and-piano-driven, contemplative, hopeful, and more than a little melancholy, but there are a couple of ore deposits of horndog weirdo-rock in there as a treat. That is not an exaggeration. A Hot Wheels track is involved.
I really think this is an album with almost universal appeal (he said whitely, dudely, and straightly, so y’know, grain of salt), but especially if you enjoy the work of Andrew Bird, Father John Misty, or similar artists, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
Yeah hi, this place is simply incredible. We went there for the birthday of two of our family’s wee goblins and were stunned by the variety, quality, and sheer scale of everything the joint does, starting with what is officially called the Climber, but which my heart will always know as the Aggro Crag:
This patently insane structure is actually a miracle of design: every inch of it is something to climb, crawl, squeeze, or drop through, with 45º tunnels studded with handholds, switchbacks and dead-ends, and a hundred cool places to suddenly find yourself perched on a precipice overlooking the entire three-story structure and the museum itself: a bathtub with swan’s wings, a boat with legs and shoes dangling from the bottom, a rocket ship, a slanty-floored doghouse room that makes it feel like you could fall, but you definitely can’t.
But the true genius of this structure lies in its secret safety feature: not internal safety, heavens no, this is a thing children are supposed to climb on, injuries are going to happen, but the larger safety against Stranger Danger. The Climber reaches through all three stories of the museum, but the thing’s only entrances and exits are in a very bounded, controlled space on the ground floor, meaning it would be incredibly difficult for a child to exit and become lost (or be lost by a parent), and almost impossible for an unscrupulous sort to abscond with a child without drawing attention.
The problem for the non-sinister grownup visitor is that this design feature is not evident from the outside–surely it makes all the sense in the world to climb up and exit at the other floors?–meaning it’s VERY easy to make a trek up through tiny tunnels using muscles you forgot you had and discover that you now have to take the same route back down, backward. This, you must agree, is fucking hilarious, and is definitely a prank intentionally played on the adults by the museum itself, and I respect the hell out of that. Also: I was briefly trapped in a five-level horizontal tunnel complex and had a small claustrophobic freakout when I realized that I was as far from the entrance as I was from the exit; fortunately I regathered my courage and crawled my way to freedom at the cost of my knees, but not my dignity. (I left that in one of the bins alongside my bag and sunglasses before climbing in.)
Other highlights include a forest of dangling pool noodles like they used to have at the Discovery Zone in my hometown:
Walls covered in whooshy-tubes you can put scarves and ping-pong balls into and turn junction-switches to change their course:
Walls covered in ancient, mysterious, beautiful artifacts known as “see these”:
Rick Moranis as Barney Rubble in The Flintstones (1994):
And a miniature grocery store, complete with kid-sized carts, shelves fulla play-food and boxes from real foods, checkout-stands, and a loading-dock area. Every child who went into this exhibit was like, confusingly serious about it, to the point where we grownups were almost entirely sure we didn’t understand what was happening. My Psych degree tells me there’s something ritualistic going on, the chance to finally be the one pushing the cart instead of in the cart with no control. Also look, they’ve got boba tea!
As is probably obvious by now, I’m bonkers about this place. We definitely didn’t see the whole thing in one trip, and everything we did see was self-guided wandering around; CMP offers a million programs and classes and daycamps and similar that rotate in and out through the year, so you can bet we’ll be back.
Children’s Museum of Phoenix: Not my sponsor, but if they’d like to be!
Shampoo And Conditioner Bars
Listen: I don’t want to mention 99PI twice in one post, but this is who I am; I’ve accepted it, I have the challenge coin, and I’d appreciate it if you’d make the effort. I listened to this episode about China’s Operation National Sword, which is actually just as badass and menacing as its name: a nationwide decree that China would accept no more foreign recycling and focus on its own, which is one of the reasons that America’s recycling game has gone straight to shit in the past decade, because we don’t have anything resembling the infrastructure to handle all of our own waste and never have. The long and short of it is that while we all remember Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, the United States has almost completely forgotten the first two in favor of focusing on (read: outsourcing) recycling, and what we really need is to just stop producing so much goddamn trash in the first place.
One of the easiest and most effective ways of doing this is to invest in reusables like metal water bottles and similar, but another is to spend your dollar in places that are working toward eliminating extraneous packaging that can’t be efficiently, easily recycled, like toothpaste tubes and shampoo bottles, and opting for versions of those that don’t require the packaging at all. To which point: we’ve been using puck shampoos lately that come in paper packaging and just need a little rack in your shower to hang out on; here’s the one I use (not an advertisement), and it’s dope, you just rub it on your noggin a few times, get some suds worked up, and proceed as usual. Just so I can maintain my impartiality, here’s a list of some of the best ones of this year. Similarly, here are some toothpaste tablets; in the National Sword episode, a gentleman they interviewed was a big fan of the shampoo-bar treatment applied to toothpaste: you just plop a cake of it in a jar, scoop as needed, repeat with almost zero packaging since the jar is reusable. For whatever reason that technology doesn’t seem readily available in the United States, and instead we have an abundance of toothpaste tablets that seem to reach similar ends through a more complicated process; when in doubt, make it look like candy, and Americans will buy it.
Star Wars: Jedi Survivor (PS5)
In the words of my pal William, this is how you do a sequel. The first game was fine! It was fine; it had BD-1, plenty of cool exploration, little outfits for BD-1, lightsaber combat that felt kinda mushy but was still better than anything we’d gotten since Jedi Outcast, BD-1’s little happy dance whenever you found a new stim canister. But Space God help you if you wanted customization options besides different colors of poncho, or RPG mechanics any deeper than “your laser sword somehow does more damage now”, or more than two non-player characters that get any development or personality.
Fortunately, Space God did help you, because you get all of those things and more now! You can trick BD-1 out with different chassis and headpieces and legs and colors like he’s on goddamn Pimp My Droid, you can buy and find outfits and hairstyles for Cal that actually have distinct aesthetics and let you develop a look for him, and the game is bursting with characters who all have unique narrative voices and ongoing stories rooted in their world that make it impossible not to care about them, and you actually get the time necessary to put in with them and make those connections meaningful. The RPG mechanics admittedly aren’t much deeper because it’s just not that type of game, but they’re way more thoughtful regarding how your choices influence your preferred style of gameplay, and include a swappable perk system not unlike Hollow Knight‘s charms to add specific traits and boosts. And I don’t know what they did to the lightsaber combat, but holy shit, carving your way through hordes of overconfident Storm Troopers has never felt so good; there are now six lightstaber styles (Single, Double/Polearm, Dual-Wield, Single-And-Blaster, Crossguard/Heavy, and Umami) of which you can have two equipped at a time to switch between, and they all feel different enough from one another that you can develop a setup that feels good to you, but can also build loadouts for various situations that call for different approaches.
Listen there’s a reason I’m not a game critic: I like everything too much and don’t like to find flaws because it feels mean, so I’m sure there are problems with it but I’m having a hell of a good time playing this game; if you enjoyed the first one, or played it and found it lacking, or didn’t even play it and just like action-RPGs, you’re gonna have a lot of fun in Jedi Survivor.
Ted Lasso (AppleTV+)
Thank you for everything.
Well, that’s all the Fraggle that’s fit to Rock. What have you folks been up to this month? Avoiding heatstroke? Courting heatstroke for mysterious reasons of your own? Not feeling the need to explain yourself or your relationship with heatstroke to me? All good options. Lemme know in the comments!