Monthly Archives: Nov 2014

What’s the deal with Pumpkin Spice Lattes?

Tonight I am enjoying this:

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I’m sure you’re curious, so here’s what it looks like:

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There’s just something about seasonal drinks, isn’t there? Hazelnut lattes, gingerbread lattes, praline hot chocolates, mint hot chocolates… and of course, the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte.

It’s something of a cultural artifact. And since that’s becoming pretty much the theme of my blog at this point, I might as well take a moment to reflect on it. I mean, what’s it all about?

I don’t remember it being a thing more than a few years ago, though that might just be because I haven’t really been drinking coffee all that long.  But the longshot of it is this: it’s a drinkable version of that humble american classic: the pumpkin pie.

Yes, pumpkin pie. Something we don’t really have here in the UK. Because pumpkins are weird. Nobody knows what they are really, or what they’re for other than carving jack o’ lanterns with. The idea of making them into pies is pretty weird, and making them into LATTES even weirder.

And since when is ‘pumpkin’ a spice anyway? Where’s the spice coming from? The seeds or something? Remember, a pumpkin is a squash, like a marrow or zucchini. How come we’re not eating butternut pies or gourd lattes?

Because it would be super weird, that’s why. Now think how weird your pumpkin spice latte is.

But of course that doesn’t change the fact that it’s strangely delicious. It’s much the same as its estranged cousin, the gingerbread latte, but it’s got something of an edge about it that you can’t quite place your finger on. The fact it’s a Starbucks exclusive also gives it an air of mystery, as if it’s a special recipe that only they’ve been able to crack.

Not that it’s some kind of high cuisine though. From what I can tell, it’s just a usual mix of ‘christmas time’ spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc. – with some random pumpkin flavouring thrown into the mix.

It should go without saying too that it’s pretty terrible for you. Here’s an infographic that sums it up nicely:

Yup, all predictably evil. But we all already know Starbucks is evil. Blah blah blah.

What I’m more interested in is the cultural reception of this drink. It’s gone from being a curious yuletide offering to a fullblown institution. The reason for the season in fact for some people, if social media is to be believed.

Just search Twitter for pumpkin spice latte. People go absolutely nuts over it.  Yes, it even has its own page:

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How terribly grim. But there are worse things I suppose.

What is pretty fascinating though is the “pumpkin spice latte white girl” meme though. That being the online mockery of young women in society who wear yoga pants, take selfies, and drink pumpkin spice lattes.

It’s a weirdly specific stereotype, but one that seems unusually rooted in reality. I literally know people who fit the profile down to a T. And that’s weird, because it’s such a known stereotype at this point.

Which brings us to an interesting Euthyphro’s Dilemma for the 21st century. We have two possibilities for explaining the pumpkin spice phenomenon:

1) It’s a wholly accurate stereotype, perfectly describing an entire subset of the population who are in turn absolutely oblivious to the fact we’re all laughing at them.

2) The pumpkin spice generation are absolutely aware of their reputation but live up to it regardless. Or perhaps, they live up to it BECAUSE of the reputation.

I compare it to Euthyphro’s Dilemma then because the question is around the causation thus: is PSL a thing we mock because of its ubiquity, or is it ubiquitous because it’s a thing we all mock?

If the latter, we’re assuming a certain level of sophistication and self-awareness among this demographic. And I’m just not….sure… that’s….all….there… I just don’t think they’re doing the whole hipster ironic thing (though obviously that’s what I’m doing every time I order a PSL, giggling to myself with the naughtiness of it all).

The explanation I’d favour instead would be simply that it’s something said generation are aware of. They know we’re all talking about it, and rather than risk missing out on ANYTHING trendy, they leap in head first, hashtagging all the way.

Overall then, is it a good or bad thing for society? I suppose it doesn’t matter. It’s not inherently beneficial or harmful (I mean to any greater extent than our general latte-obsession lately). It’s obviously disappointing that it’s something so many people engage in without demonstrating an appreciable level of self-awareness, but maybe I’m just underestimating these folk.

Either way, it’s pretty damn tasty.

An Open Letter to British Retailers

Dear British retailers,

What the hell, guys?

It should be obvious what I’m talking about. But in case you’re not aware, I’m super annoyed about this Black Friday thing you’re suddenly doing.

“Black Friday” is a retail ‘holiday’ of dubious legitimacy, wherein on the Friday following Thanksgiving shops will do big sales. In other words, it’s an American thing.

So why on earth are we suddenly doing it over here? I don’t remember it being around last year, apart from a few places online.

We’ve had Boxing Day sales since forever and ever, and they’re unbearable enough. Do we really need another horrific commercial rampage?

And “horrific” is the only word for it. The Black Friday Death Count website puts the number of fatalities at a tragic 7. That’s seven more than there ever should be for a bloody SALE.

Just look at these scenes from the store opening of an ASDA in Wembley:

Things that are wrong in this video:

  1. People queueing up to get into a ASDA
  2. Said queue being more of a “mob” than an orderly file.
  3. People being excited to get into ASDA.
  4. People literally being PUSHED TO THE GROUND
  5. Said people on the ground DRAGGING THEMSELVES ON THE FLOOR into ASDA.
  6. The mob CLIMBING OVER each other (literally!) to get into ASDA.
  7. Nobody stopping to pick anyone up.
  8. People screaming with excitement about ASDA.

The “ow my legs! oww!” bit is especially horrifying.

Is there anything less British than this? Not in the Britain First sense, but I mean is this really who we are? Us Brits aren’t supposed to get excited about anything really and such animalistic frenzying should be anathema to us. Or am I just really that out of touch?

I say to you, the great retailers of British, please send this American tradition back where it belongs. The US market may be able to stomach this kind of display, but it puts me right off me dinner, it does.

No TV could ever be discounted to an extent that it justified punching someone else over.

Yes I know the high street is struggling. And yes I know you’ve got to make a profit. But not like this, please. Not like this.

Yours sincerely,

Richard.

Marathon Fascism

Unpopular opinion time: I don’t like giving money to people doing marathons for charity.

Oof. I know, right?

I don’t know when exactly this started becoming a thing, but it’s a thing. Way back when you had the marathon and that was about it. You’d sponsor your teacher or something and the whole affair would only set you back about £10 or so.

But now it seems everyone is at it. It’s probably just that most of the people I know are twenty-somethings in the peak of their physical fitness, but there’s loads of them. And they all want my money.

It’s not financially feasible to sponsor every request, especially when you work in a large office full of fit, active people. You just can’t do it.

This puts you in an awkward position too. I can only give so much to charity and I inevitably have to pick and choose who I’ll sponsor (and I do sponsor them, I’d hasten to add). This means I’m literally putting a financial stake on how much I value someone’s friendship, breaking the unspoken kayfabe that we all selflessly adore each other. And I hate awkward.

“Richard, it’s all for a good cause! Why do you hate charity?”

I don’t hate charity. I just prefer to give sensibly.

That’s why I always donate via GiveWell. With some charities being many many times more effective than others, it only makes sense to allocate resources to the most efficient. I’d be a lot happier sponsoring your Race for Life run if Race for Life didn’t spend so much on advertising, for instance.

Compare the Against Malaria Foundation for example, which has a pretty basic website, demonstrating all the donations they receive go towards life-saving mosquito net. Or how GiveDirectly are completely transparent with where your money goes. More of that, please!

Why “marathon fascism” though? Well, it sounded like a catchy title and googling it didn’t return any results. It’s probably a bit strong, but I kind of needed to rant.

I was also going to say something about my misgivings about Race for Life being a female-only event. But I checked my ciswhiteheteromale privilege and decided it wouldn’t be good.

In summary: I’m running the marathon this year and please give generously.

Get the cookywook look!

Hello everyone!

Welcome to a very special blog post, where today I’ll be talking all about….

FASHION !!!!!!!!!!

Yes, that’s right. Fashion with ten exclamation marks!

You know, clothes and hair and accessories and stuff :p

So, the big question that I’m sure you’re PONDERING right now is

Richard, what are you wearing today?

Thanks for asking! You’re such a great person.

Well, here’s something from my standard “weekend wardrobe”:

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It’s a classic t-shirt + cardigan combo. A sophisticated, yet casual, combo that just SCREAMS “I’m an intellectual, but I’m a cool guy to hang around with too.”

And what am I wearing on the bottoms to match the top? Here’s your answer!

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Yes, jeans! So comfy!!! I <3 my jeans 🙂

And a close-up on those socks:

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Teehee! They’re BREAKFAST SOCKS! Omg, right? (I know, so totally random but I just love them). Everyone should have a pair of fun socks, especially ones with pictures of food on them.

Like I said above, I just feel really relaxed when I’m wearing this outfit. I can just focus on unwinding after a hard week of work, and recharge my batteries so I’m ready for the days ahead.

Here’s a pro fashion tip: If you’re ever feeling stressed, wear some comfy clothes. It always helps!

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That’s just a picture of me thinking. Life can be hard sometimes, right?

But let’s not forget the most important thing, eh lads? That’s right…

mY haIR!!!!!

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Styled into casual perfection for that I’ve-just-got-out-of-bed look, without having to actually have just got out of bed! When I’m rockin’ this bonnet everyone knows I’m just the most chill guy around 🙂

How to get the cookywook look:

T-SHIRT: Primark (£8)
CARDIGAN: Topman (£45)
JEANS: Topman (£30)
SOCKS: Topman (£3)

HAIR: Boots – Black and White Pluko Hair Dressing Pomade (£4.65)
MAKEUP: None!

Thanks for reading! Let’s do this again soon 🙂

I’ll hopefully put a video blog up shortly where I’ll talk about everything I just wrote above.

LOVE YA

X O X O

Nativity Sequels

So this happened:

After the unnecessariness that was Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger they went ahead anyway and made a Nativity 3. And they called it “Dude, where’s my donkey?!” Because of course they did.

And this got me thinking: where does it all end?

So without further ado, here are my proposed titles for continued entries in this family-favourite series:

Nativity 4: Back Inn Time

Nativity 5: Bethlehem Drift

Nativity 6: Gold, Frankincense, and Mayhem!

Nativity 7: Return of the King

Nativity 8: Three Wise Men and a Baby

Nativity 9: Baby’s Day Out

Nativity 10: Dude, where IS my donkey?!

Nativity 11: While Shepherds Washed Their Socks

Nativity 12: Lemme See Dat Ass

Nativity 13: No Way! In A Manger

Nativity 14: Holy Moly!

Nativity 15: Gabriel’s Angels

Nativity 16: Heavens Above!

Nativity 17: Electric Jesus Boogaloo

Nativity 18: Wise Men Can’t Jump

Nativity 19: Nativity Forever

Forever and ever. Amen.

Answers.com is the worst website in the universe

Bad web design is always fascinating. Just head over to /r/crappydesign and take some examples in. I mean, look at this. Horrible frames and things all over the places. I mean, sites like that are just embarrassing.

But there’s a difference between badly designed stuff like that, and a deliberately toxic user experience. The former is at least excusable on the grounds of insufficient technical proficiency, but the latter is altogether very different. These websites are made by people who know exactly what they are doing, and the end result is still horrible.

And by far the worst culprit for this, at least in my experience, is Answers.com.

What is Answers.com? Well, imagine Wikipedia…

And that’s about it. Except it’s worse. Like if Wikipedia somehow merged with Buzzfeed & Upworthy, and everything terrible on the internet. It’s distilled clickbait and pretty much fundamentally unnecessary in every way.

So before you’ve even got there, it’s bad design. A site called ANSWERS.COM should be something simple. A portal for getting information you need quickly and easily, without any frills. But… nope!

On the odd chance you get to Answers.com by going direct to the home page (rather than via Google or a social media reference), you are greeted with this:

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Yup, a welcome screen taking up the entire page and blocking all of the site’s content. Nice!

And what’s in this welcome pop-up? A sign-up/login screen! You can even sign in with your social network profile! But why? Why would I want to do that? I want Answers, not friends. Ironically, this is perhaps the least welcoming thing they could have used to greet you when you come to the site.

Thankfully though, you can just close it via the minuscule ‘x’ in the top right corner. So yeah, thanks for the completely unnecessary obstructions there guys. Surely it can only get better after this?

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So the biggest thing on the front page right now is a featured article about budget hotels on Grand Bahama Island. There’s always the chance that this was the exact thing I was looking for an answer on, but that’s gotta be the longest shot of all time. For most people coming for information, that’s going to just be irrelevant.

Down the left there’s some topics to pick from, but they’re pretty vague. And over on the right are useless lists of “experts you should follow” and “categories you should follow.” I have no intention of doing that. I just want ANSWERS.

Let’s just use the search then.

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Searching for Shrek brings up some interesting stuff. There’s a little synopsis there, although it was unhelpfully “Last updated: June 21, 2004.” Maybe there’s some more up-to-date info elsewhere on here…

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Ah, this is why I came to Answers.com. So I could read the ENTIRE WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE, just hosted on another site. Seriously, it’s just the whole thing – just in a slightly harder to read form. Why?!

There’s also a whole Questions section which, like the infamous Yahoo Answers, fosters a thriving community of people asking and answering questions. Questions like…

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Nice cropped photo of Donkey there! And a misspelling of “Shrek” as “Sherek” that apparently 11 people found useful. There’s clearly no kind of quality control going on whatsoever. And all the time this is placed right next to questions like “Does Acts of the Apostles Make Paul a Lesser Character In The Early Church?” The juxtaposition is entirely baffling.

And of course, the rest of the content that fills up the site is just terrible.

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“Things aren’t everything” is a paradoxical mind-bender that my degree in philosophy is failing to help me even begin to understand.

To conclude then, here are the Top 5 Ways To Avoid Designing A Terrible Website

And there you go. Actual answers to an actual topic. Actually rather easy.

Funny Games

There was some great news this week. GoG.com released the first batch of LucasArts games they’d managed to secure the rights to.

What’s that mean in English? Well, GoG.com is a website that specialises in “good old games.” They get the rights to games that you can’t buy anywhere any more, make them work on modern machines, and sell them for a bargain.

If you’ve heard of things like Dungeon Keeper 2, Planescape: Torment, or Baldur’s Gate – those are the kind of things GoG specialise in. Basically, they’re just great.

But I’m particularly excited about the LucasArts games that are coming onto GoG. Yes, LucasArts as in Star Wars George Lucas. Actually a subgroup of LucasFilm, LucasArts are/were a video games development studio famous for their adventure games in the 1990s, as well as endless Star Wars games since.

The adventure games were things like Monkey Island and the Indiana Jones series. And they’re pretty much all amazing. It’s a great scoop for GoG, and something a lot of people have been waiting on for ages. And mostly I’m excited because LucasArts made games that were funny.

Video games today have a tendency towards gritty realism. Everything is a grimdark shooter supposed to make you think about depressing stuff. Things like Spec Ops: The Line are great for making you think about the horrors of war and so on (it’s a third-person shooter adaptation of Heart of Darkness, by the way), but it’s pretty light on laughs. Games take themselves far too seriously now, so thank god the LucasArts back catalogue is arriving to remind us all what fun they can be.

So without further ado, I’d like to talk about some of my favourite “funny games.”
Games that just want to have fun.

Sam and Max Hit the Road [wiki]

I start with Sam and Max because it’s the one of the first that GoG have uploaded. And it’s a great example of the LucasArts style.

Recently, remade/rebooted/recarried-on by Telltale Games, Sam & Max is about a dog and a “rabbity thing” who solve crimes. Wow. What a concept. The dog, Max, is a hard-boiled detective with a dry wit, and Sam is just an outright insane psychopath. So lots of the humour comes from the interplay between these two characters.

The story itself is a bonkers tale about a missing bigfoot, with misadventures aplenty along the way. It’s basically just an excuse to visit lots of zany locations (“hit the road”) and comedic set-pieces. But it’s entirely fantastic and the writing is consistently hilarious.

Honourable mentionsI’d like to include pretty much every LucasArts game, for similar reasons to Sam&Max, but most particularly: the Monkey Island series, Day of the Tentacle, Time Gentlemen, Please! and Grim Fandango.

Borderlands 2 [wiki]

Yes, it’s a modern shooter, but the Borderlands series sets itself apart from the crowd with its humour. In a sea of Call of Duty clones, Borderlands games are a breath of fresh air – bringing colour, excitement and humour.

I’ve picked Borderlands 2 especially because the original Borderlands didn’t quite meet the same levels as 2, and was still finding its feet in terms of voice. I also haven’t actually finished the latest game Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (so-called because it is set between 1 and 2). But even that title is great, an admission of the awkward spot the game holds in the series.

Borderland’s humour is based around excess. The gameplay revolves around a random generator of weapons – there are literally millions of possible combinations. So it’s all explosions everywhere, and this carries through into the dialogue. There’s one character (“Mr Torque”) who shouts in all caps all the time, and it’s all amazing. And there’s Claptrap too, the yellow robotic fan-favourite character who sees the world with unbridled optimism and is prone to random outbursts of dubstep. Funtabulous.

Honourable mentionsBulletstorm, Jazzpunk

Team Fortress 2 [wiki]

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TF2 is a game I’ve somehow ploughed 476 hours into. Yes, almost 20 straight days of my life have been spent playing this game. To sum it up, it’s a team-based shooter with a cartoon aesthetic. Oh, and hundreds and hundreds of hats (in the above screenshot, my Heavy is rocking the ‘Hound Dog’ head cosmetic item).

The reason I’ve ploughed so much of my precious lifetime into the game is partly that it’s really fun and addictive, but also because it’s just damn funny. Just the way it looks is great – a timeless wackiness that just screams FUN. And all the playable characters are perfectly designed as full rounded characters; the Heavy is a hard Russian gun-nut, the Engineer a mad texan tinkerer, the Scout an arrogant Boston teen, and so on.

There’s also a whole surrounding universe to the game – most famously, the ‘Meet the..’ shorts that helped promote the game in the old days. Check out Meet the Scout for a great example. They’ve even made a 15 minute short film just about these characters, with almost nothing to do with the game itself.

They even have a comic which is absolutely hilarious. All in all, it’s great.

Honourable mention: Portal 2

Grand Theft Auto V

Everyone’s heard of GTA. It’s famously controversial for being that game where you steals cars and run over old women. But it’s easy to forget that it’s a keen vehicle for social commentary too (some people don’t even know that it even has any humour in it at all, I’ve found).

I’ve picked GTA V as my entry for this list, though the same can be said of any of the games from GTA Vice City onwards (the very originals were most cheeky/irreverent than outright humorous, and GTA 3 was just kind of bleak and depressing. Even the little touches like the in-game radio stations are great, with adverts satirising things going on in popular culture.

Of course, GTA can be a little heavy handed in its approach. Literally EVERY shop is some kind of pun or double entendre. And a lot of it is extremely crass, but it’s the sheer weight of comedy is great. Ricky Gervais even does a standup routine in GTA IV.

Honourable mentionSaints Row

And that’s just the ones I can think of. I’m told that The Stanley Parable is also fantastically hilarious, but I’ve yet to play it.

Humour is an important part of any medium. And it just makes video games so much more memorable as experiences.

So let’s have more of this:

And less of this:

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For the lols.

Did I miss a game? Let me know in the comments or maybe even in real life!

Cluedo: The Big Bang Theory

So I was in Bruges recently. It’s a lovely place, and I saw lots of beautiful things.

The best thing I saw, though, was this:

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Yes, in a Bruges toy shop window was this… thing. It’s a version of the board game Cluedo, but based entirely around my least favourite TV show: The Big Bang Theory.

Now, I’m not going to go into why I don’t like The Big Bang Theory (saving that for another day), but I’d like to take a moment to consider the oddity of this as a cultural artifact. A murder mystery board game themed around a nerd-centric sitcom. What a time to be alive!

But how exactly do you merge TBBT with Cluedo? It’s not a natural transition.

For comparison, let’s look at how Simpsons Cluedo, which I actually own, did it.

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It all works very well. The premise is that Mr Burns has been killed (again!) and the game plays out in the standard Cluedo fashion. The characters neatly pair up with characters from the show, the weapons are things like Bart’s slingshot and Lisa’s saxophone, and the places become the Nuclear Power Plant, Kwik-E-Mart, etc. So it’s all pretty elegant.

Cluedo: The Big Bang Theory doesn’t bother with any of that though. The death of Dr Black (ie. the whole reason there’s an investigation at all) is reduced to Who betrayed Sheldon? Yup, Sheldon’s not even dead or anything – just a bit annoyed at his friends.

What are the possible betrayals? Well, I couldn’t see on the front of the box, but some online digging turned up these “misdeeds”:

  • Erased Equation Board
  • Dog-eared Comic
  • Wiped Hard Drive
  • Stained Cushion
  • Defiled Toothbrush
  • Dismantled Shelbot

Yeah… I can’t say I’d feel as excited about investigating a stained cushion as a murder. The  box reverse asks “Did Penny dog-ear the comic in the laundry room?” and I don’t feel that’s a question anyone in the world would care about the answer to. But whatever hey. At least they’ve tried.

The characters are all the major ones from the show (excluding Sheldon, of course) and the places are all the main “places” of the show. Maybe you’ll get a kick out of that if you’re a fan, I dunno. It’s cool they’ve stuck to these elements at least, seeing as they began by undermining the fundamental point of the whole thing.

I’d also like to point out how weird it is that they used a weird cartoon version of The Big Bang Theory characters on the box. Could they not get the actors to pose for just one photo? TBBT isn’t a cartoon and it’s confusing that they’d use one on the official box art.

I mean, they did it for the Monopoly cash-in…

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So how does Cluedo:TBBT actually play? Is it any good? To find out the answers to these questions, I headed to the game’s Amazon page. There, you can buy it new for £24 or used for a couple of quid less. It’s currently ranked #65 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games between “Waddingtons Santa’s Workshop Limited Edition Christmas Jigsaw Puzzle (1000 Pieces)” and “Monopoly Adventure Time.”  So it’s pretty popular, I’m guessing.

It has an average Amazon review score of 3.0 out of 5 stars, from 26 reviews. Let’s take a look shall we?

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Oh, this poor chap got a copy of the game that was misprinted. None of the room names were printed, and there are some missing special squares on the board. Oops! Let’s try another.

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Christmas ruined for paulmc there. Another misprinted board. Surely they can’t all be like this?

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Ok then. It looks like the game board is just broken. Seeing as the game’s printers had one job (print all the information that’s meant to be on the board onto the board) that’s pretty shocking. Just for balance though, I’ll include one that doesn’t mention the printing issue.

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Here me 🙂 (not me) writes that cluedo arabs live big band theory. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but he’s given it 5 stars anyway. So there’s definitely people out there this game will appeal to.

But I’m not going to be one of them. Frankly, I still can’t believe the thing even exists.

I’ll stick to my original Cluedo, thanks.