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An Open Letter to Hasbro Regarding Their Greatest Asset: Ye Olde D&D

Dear Hasbro,

Hey. Hi. You don’t know me at all, but me and you, we go way back. Or me and a part of you, anyway — a division known as Wizards of the Coast, which you bought in 1999, which, in turn, bought my old friend TSR in 1997. What we’re really talking about is a 30-year-old game you now own called Dungeons & Dragons.

Surely you know what I’m talking about, though I’d wager D&D is just a fraction of a fraction of a balance sheet entry to you. Wizards of the Coast is probably more well-known in your boardrooms for its lucrative “Magic: The Gathering” card game franchise. I doubt D&D comes up much in conversation around Hasbro HQ, especially when there are Play-Doh and NERF earnings to recount.

But to me, D&D has meant quite a bit more.

When I was 11 or 12, my parents took us to Pizza Hut (our typical Nice Dinner Out). After we ordered, and before the food came, I requested my usual leave to browse the next-door bookstore. And that’s when I feasted my peepers on this:

What was it? I had no idea. But I knew it would be mine. Those pages! Illustrated with swords and knights and mages and beasties, filled with intricate tables as mesmerizing as they were incomprehensible. I had recently finished “The Hobbit” and was currently halfling-deep in “Lord of the Rings,” so I knew this genre was a toy box full of epic stories to be plumbed. I wanted in.

It was 20 or 30 bucks, something big. I asked my parents immediately for a loan and got laughed out of our Pizza Hut booth. It was a lot of scratch for a middle school kid in 1981.

Somehow I saved enough to plunk down cash for it — this thing was still so mysterious I had no idea it was not the starting point for  a D&D newbie. (That would be the Player’s Handbook. Another classic cover to a classic book. And a second expensive purchase to pinch pennies for.)

It took some time to  really understand the concept of “role-playing game”: Roll dice to generate characters — heroes — who appear in stories of your own telling. Roll dice to generate bands of wandering monsters for these heroes to face. Roll dice to see if their longswords cut through the hides and shields of said monsters. Roll dice to dice to generate random piles of loot that litter the underground lairs of these freshly slain monsters.

Roll dice; tell a story. I don’t know what it is about this magic combination that transfixes us, we hordes of nerds and brainiacs. Like many fledgling geeks my age, I fell in with like-minded friends who debated rules, created more characters than could ever fit in a dungeon, theorized about which of the chromatic dragons would win in a cage match, and, occasionally, actually played the game.

But then high school rolled along. I dropped out of the D&D orbit — dropped the fantasy books, too — as I attempted to leave behind childish things.

Don’t take it personally, Hasbro. I may have broken things off, but D&D was never far from my heart. Despite my new pledge to be More Adult, I continued to sample genre fiction and action movies and increasingly elaborate board games, all kindred souls of our storytelling RPG.

Then something unexpected happened. When you released the third edition of the D&D rules about 10 years ago, a group of my friends caught wind, and they had an idea: What if we rekindled some of the mirth of middle school? What if we came back to D&D?

As pre-mid-life crises go, it was hardly a Ferrari. But it was a youthful hoot nonetheless. I also realized that I never really understood the rules to begin with. “D&D is hard,” I said at the time.

But when properly understood, it is fun, Hasbro. You guys should try it. It’s more than just a set of random rolls and tables, it’s a collaborative event where everybody contributes ideas and solutions and new wrinkles. Want to race across the rooftops to pursue the thief? Let’s do it. Want to convince the goblin chief you mean no harm so you can infiltrate his lair and steal his loot? Go get ‘em. Want to drink too much at the tavern and wager your weight in gold with a one-eyed dwarf over a game of darts? Bring it.

Our wives would tease us by asking things like, “Did you win tonight?” but we laughed back that they were utterly missing the point: everyone wins this game if everyone has a mind to.

Which brings us to the modern age. I don’t know if you knew this back in your Pawtucket campus, Hasbro, (after all, those WOTC offices are a continent away in Seattle), but the current keepers of the D&D brand recently launched the “fourth edition,” as an attempt to renew the brand for younger generations: the “red box” starter set, which looks so much like the boxed sets of yore, it really warms the cockles of an old gamer’s heart.

And here’s me with a 10-year-old son of my own with a penchant for goblins and orcs and other fantastical fictions. So I bought him a copy. At $14 on Amazon, it was impossible not to. When the box arrived, I set it out on the counter, and said, “Oh, hey, here’s this thing. Maybe you’d like it? I dunno.” Within hours, the result was this:

Drawing up his first character. Every scrap of paper from the box has been strewn strategically for easy cross-floor reference.

Hasbro, your designer guys had a kind of genius idea. They made the starter kit look deliciously intricate while reducing the proceedings to something simple. So simple, it reads like a choose-your-own-adventure story, and at the end, you’ve got a stat sheet full of numbers and attack powers and a hook to go on a little quest.

And my son took your bait.

He pored over the book and laid out the map, reading and referencing and asking curious questions. When he had his first character drawn up, an elven thief named Shuk-tai (where did he come up with that?) we sat down and followed the adventure that came with the kit. With me running the monsters and a few companions, an amazing transformation came over him on the first roll.

Do you know that scene in “Jack Jack Attack,” the DVD extra on “The Incredibles,” where young Jack Jack hears Mozart for the first time and his eyes refocus ever so slightly — a moment that awakens all his latent superpowers? That was my son with his first D&D encounter. Gone went his aimless observations and restlessness and lack of focus. In their place was a kid with a singular purpose: a pressing need to, as Samuel Jackson may have put it, get all these mutha%@$# goblins outta this mutha%@$# dungeon. He planned our attacks, dictated not just what his character would do but how (down to hand gestures and full body re-creations), and even offered helpful suggestions for how his opponents were going to act, react, speak and meet their untimely ends. He immediately created a new character for our ranks, a female slayer (a girl? really?) with anger management problems. It turned out that “Arien” likes to provoke her quarry with insults and taunts before pursuing them to their inevitable grisly ends, working out all manner of pent-up tween frustration in the process.

“I like playing Arien,” he told me. “She says all the stuff I’m never allowed to say.”

Here’s a small indication of how engaged my son is with your product, Hasbro. One monster in our inaugural encounters threw an ax at Arien and missed. My son immediately countered with, “Can I catch that and throw it back at him?”

I responded, dumbstruck: “Yes. Yes, you can. If this game is about anything, it is about catching handaxes and throwing them back upon your enemies.” We instantly instituted HOUSE RULE NO. 1: If an enemy attempts to attack with a thrown weapon and rolls a 1 , you are considered to have caught the weapon and can make an immediate thrown attack as a free action.

Later, I taught him the rules for flanking, which grant a bonus on attack rolls when two allies stand with an opponent in between them. (You’ve simplified the rules a lot, Hasbro, but there are still an ever-loving crapload of them.) He could have been bored by all this rule-mongering, but instead my boy had another brainwave: “Could I duck out of the way so the two flanking guys hit each other?” HOUSE RULE NO. 2: If a flanking enemy rolls a 1 on his attack roll, the attack is considered to have hit the guy on the other side.

Later still in our first adventure, we faced a wily dragon that clearly was meant by the writers to be a Thing That Cannot Be Killed — in other words, it was to teach the common D&D lesson that some problems should not be stabbed away, but reasoned with. After learning the hard way that we would not prevail in a fight, we walked (ran) away. He continued to mull over how he could get at that dragon’s fat lewt and soon his muse struck.  As we were beset by yet more foes, my son lowered his weapon and tried to convince them that it was in their best interest to help us defeat that dragon. He argued persuasively, and I granted him bonuses to a few skill rolls — and before long, we had not just a party of four but a party of  eight ganging up on a mighty white dragon that until so recently had been Unkillable and was now just more cuts of exotic meat. (My boy thought to collect the head and carry it with us as a trophy to strike fear in all who would defy us. So far it has worked wonders.)

This is beautiful.

You may not see it that way, Hasbro, except as the beauty of more sales, but to me it’s as pretty as a sunset. My son has discovered his inner storyteller, as well as an aptitude for thinking creatively on his feet. In the real world, he is presented with problems and all too often shuts down rather than solves them, or uses inelegant tools like whining and avoidance to deal with them. In D&D, he is learning the opposite: Problems are conquered, creativity is rewarded, and everything you get must be earned.

We’ve enjoyed our time so much, that he has roped in a few friends, and their dads have been joining us for some afternoons of laughing and slaying. A new generation has heard the call of Dungeons & Dragons and come a-running.

Recently I saw you had introduced another product for the beginner, a set of sturdy cardboard tiles for building a dungeon map on the fly. (At $14, it would be a crime not to invest…) I placed the box on the counter. “Oh, hey, here’s this thing. Maybe you’d like it? I dunno.”

You be the judge:

We have a gamer for life, Hasbro. I render him, and much of his disposable income, unto you now. Reward him well.

Thanks, Hasbro, for all the memories you’ve peddled at me over the years. And for all the ones yet to come.


Drew “Groggi Greatbeard, dwarven warpriest” Scott


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Dice are nice: The growth of gaming as revealed by Gen Con 2010

A few weeks ago I returned from an occasionally annual pilgrimage to the game convention Gen Con, the self-professed “Best Four Days in Gaming.”

I like this kind of hyperbole, and am not inclined to disagree.

Gen Con, held each year in Indianapolis, is a four-color wonderland of dice and decks and divertissements of every nerdi-cultural stripe. In 1968, it was little more than a wargamer’s coffee klatch, but was soon taken over by the 300-lb. gorilla of gaming: Dungeons and Dragons. D&D, the great grandaddy of role-playing games, is still around, still going strong, and while it is still a central pillar of the proceedings, the scope of the Gen Con each year is a far, far bigger thing than it has ever been before.

The convention floor, which is just a fraction of the total real estate devoted to tables and tables and tables of gaming. (Photo by Tim D.)

I love it, and I think I love it a little bit more each time I go. I’m on record as being a pretty big advocate for games, not only as a laugh-filled timekiller but as a way to reconnect with family and friends, and to teach fundamental mental skills to young ones (or buff them up for adults).

My affection for Gen Con itself has taken some time to blossom, though. Gaming used to have a not-entirely-undeserved reputation as the bastion of large, pasty basement-dwellers with bad B.O. That was certainly an impression I got when I visited my first Gen Con in Milwaukee circa 2001. More than once did my nose intake a human scent that can only be described as “ripe.” Odors are a pretty rotten way to make an impression, but a great way to shoot your hobby in the foot.

But look at that image above. The mind boggles. Gaming has gotten so much bigger and more diverse since the days of swine and odors. The crowds are as eclectic as the games and hobbies represented within. It’s a bazaar of nerd culture, a glorious melting pot of people who like using their brains to have fun. My friends are tired of me going on about it, but the hobby really is becoming like comics: a once-marginal pastime seen as mildly toxic to mainstream grown-up types, but which is now enjoyed openly and unironically by a host of humanity. And for good reason. Gaming, like comics, is a fun and rewarding way to spend time, if you take the time to pair yourself with a match that’s right for you.

Let’s be clear about what “gaming” means in the context of this swell of popularity — because no matter how huge this looks, it’s still just a subset of a subset of the global population. This demographic of “gamers” who “game” may suggest all pastimes involving tables, dice and friends, but it’s more specific than that. Like Gen Con, the hobby generally excludes Monopoly, the Game of Life, Jenga and most of the other famous family games of my youth. There are many reasons for this:

* Snobbery. Let’s call a spade a spade. Those big-name games have crossed over into the main mainstream and are no longer cool. Such snobbery is true for fans of indie bands and indie movies, why not for indie games, too? Excluding collectible hobbies like Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering, a game found at Wal-Mart is more than likely going to earn a turned-up nose from a gamer. (Not that gamers wouldn’t mind large retailers selling their favorite games at huge discounts. But those games only appeal to a subset of a subset, remember, and truthfully I think a lot of gamers enjoy the guilty pleasure of geek elitism.) Besides, some of those games already have an insular culture that is so devoted to itself, it doesn’t welcome the outside distraction of more gamers. Take Scrabble, for instance.

* Intellectual rigor. No matter how you slice it, Trouble truly lacks the same mental discipline as, say, a six-hour recreation of the Battle of Smolensk. Risk begins to straddle this gap: approachable enough for a mass audience, while being just on the outer edge of the number of rules and hours the masses are willing to face to play a game. As a result, Risk is sometimes represented on the show floor, if only for nostalgia’s sake; many a gamer would prefer Risk’s super-charged cousin, “Axis & Allies.”

* Tactics. Hard-core gamers favor tactics over luck. Sure, luck (i.e., dice and cards) plays a big part in many gamers’ games, but usually it is balanced in some measure by a player’s planning, turn by turn. (Whereas Monopoly, for example, is 90% about where you land.)

* Strategy. Some games reward forethought as far in advance as the hours and days before you even sit down at the table, from improvements to a D&D character’s power set, drafting the right commanders for your WWII panzer regiment, or making sure Pikachu has an ample supply of support cards to make his ginormous zap attack.

* Story. Not everything at a game convention  weaves a narrative into its gameplay. Often a game is just an abstract series of decisions and lucky breaks that results in a winner — but not always. And what truly great gamers’ games have is an ability to call upon the imagination, and to ask us to invest a little more of ourselves than just a roll of the bones.

I consider myself a gamer because I support all those tenets. (Even, yes, the snobbery one — though not because I want to exclude people. Quite the opposite, I would love it if the rest of the world joined me in my enthusiasm for brainy, time-consuming, chin-stroking games. I just don’t hold out hope for that. Nearly 20% of my fellow countrymen believe our leader is a secret Muslim, despite every verifiable fact to the contrary here in the “Information Age.” So yeah, I’m a little down on how willing we humans are to use the brains God gave us.)

I found a lot to satisfy my gamer requirements at this year’s Gen Con. Next post, I’ll walk through the things I saw and did and bought that make my inner gamer feel like a pair of boxcars.

(If you’re interested in learning more about what makes a gamer tick, visit a community of them at Board Game Geek — be careful, it’s almost impenetrable to a newbie — or sample one of the reviews of gaming guru Tom Vasel, who deconstructs games for a broader audience better than anyone I’ve read.)

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How to make a superhero movie (Hint: It ain’t just punching, but boy it helps.)

I could point out that it’s the Age of the Geek, and that the Nerds have at last achieved the everlasting Revenge that they’ve been lusting for since the mooks at Alpha Beta burned down their house, but I don’t have to.

You’re already a Nerd.

Statistically speaking you are, at least. And if you’re not, if you’re really a Jock, then you’re trying to lie low so you don’t draw attention from the Nerds, which could only get you fired from your job or or your favorite TV show canceled.

I mean, us Nerds, we’re everywhere, right? We’re the mainstream. We’re where culture is at right now. Hollywood goes to Comic Con to beg for our purchasing power. Advertisers and merchandisers know they need to appeal to our sensibilities to or risk their products being passed over by the Dorkish Tastemakers with discretionary income.

But I’m nervous. We could still blow it. And the superhero movie could be our undoing.

See, in 2012, Nerdom is set to explode, really explode all over itself, when two long-anticipated hero movies hit theaters: the third installment of Christopher “Dark Knight” Nolan’s Batman franchise, and “The Avengers,” the summa summarum of a series of Marvel hero flicks that begins with “Iron Man,” continues through Captain America and Thor installments, and ends with a chorus line team-up of costumed characters so epic it can only be entrusted to director Joss “Buffy” Whedon, the godfather of geekpower.

The cast of "The Avengers," assembled for the first time at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con. And the nerdosphere squealed.

Don’t forget a certain 2011 movie dedicated to the least understood Justice Leaguer, Green Lantern, who wears a magic ring that creates indestructible goodies like giant hands and baseball bats and (in one hilarious Silver Age comic moment) enormous radiators. (That last was for absorbing villainous heat rays. Naturally.) This one has Mr. Scarlett Johannson donning CGI spandex:

Ryan Reynolds, reporting for duty in Sector 2814. (That's Earth, duh!)

And I’m nervous about this not only because it could be superhero overkill (it could be) and not only because real-life humans wearing supersuits look silly (they do). I’m worried because pulling off a great hero movie is the exception, not the norm. The goofier these heroes are — namely any Man not named Super, Bat, or Spider — the less likely it is audience are willing to suspend their disbelief, or sustain their tolerance for this costumed tomfoolery.

I mean, moviegoers barely tolerate the ridiculousness of a strongman in blue, yellow and red who no one can recognize when he puts on glasses, but that’s purely because Superman has been anointed in the sacred waters of American legend. He’s an icon now; if he had debuted in the ’60s we’d have laughed him out of his little red boots by now.

So I’m really worried that during the ultimate hero scrum of “Avengers,” the Jocks will look at each other and go:

“You know what? These dudes look really stupid.”

“Yeah. A Norse god? Seriously?”

“Totally. If Captain Yankeedoodle went into a real Marine barracks wearing that outfit they’d beat the spit-and-polish out of him.”

“Oooh! A guy who can shoot arrows real good! I’m glad he’s on the team with the thunder god and the flying iron guy with the laser cannons in his palms.”

And then the spell would be broken. The Age of Nerds would end, and the Jocks would resume casting their Sauron-like aura over the Middle-earth of our souls.

But there’s hope. There’s a way this could all build to greater heights without tearing down our house of Magic: The Gathering cards. I have seen the salvation of superhero storytelling and it is this trailer for DC Universe Online.

DCUOnline is a massively multi-player online game, and whether it’s fun or not is almost irrelevant to me, based on how UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME I DON’T WANT TO OVERHYPE THIS BUT LOOK OUT HERE I GO the trailer looks. What’s important here is that the creators seized my attention with tight, tense superhero action. Not just one superhero, but the whole cast of the Justice League and its stable of archenemies.

There’s punching, swordplay, major ordnance discharging and all manner of magi-cosmic hooha thrown into this 5-minute sequence, and none of it feels out of place or, dare I type this with a straight face, implausible. This is exactly what a balls-out battle between superpowers would look like.

Joss Whedon, and all other big-budget, super-franchise moviemakers out there, please take note of this trailer. Right off the bat, it makes Wonder Woman seem like not the most silly concept for a hero ever. The mechanics of her punching, stabbing, throwing, ripping, and leaping — oh! that leap! — blow out the bulb of her hero thermometer, and then some. This is a Wonder Woman you could watch a whole movie about.

This trailer makes a cosmic-powered ring work on screen by not dwelling on daffy constructs or look-at-me graphics. Instead, Green Lantern uses his glowing green magics to bitchslap badguys — when not getting bitchslapped by them himself.

Then there’s a beautifully choreographed (and comically, deliciously brief) fight between Black Adam and a really, really, really pissed off Man of Steel.

One  reason why this all works is because these are cartoons; put live actors in those suits and you begin to lose an ineffable believability to it all. It’s ironic that cartoonish characters make the scene more plausible, but that’s the magic of comics, and of art in general: Images are abstractions, and abstractions are easier to graft our meanings and our stories onto.

So all I’m really asking is that if we insist on going through with it, that we’re collectively determined to put Ryan Reynolds and Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans in some of the dopiest four-color costumery that 25-cent funnybooks can muster, then please, please, please let the action live up to this trailer.

It’s not enough to build character: Take Brandon Routh of “Superman Returns,” who had gobs of pathos and regret and loneliness and other emotions that went deeper than Spandex … but who didn’t punch anything. Nothing, which is a big deal for a guy like Superman. As we learned from “Iron Man,” first you make us care about an intriguing character. Then you let him hit the hell out of something, and good.

Otherwise your franchise will wilt faster than Aquaman at an Arizona SB 1070 protest rally.

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What’s better than Scrabble? Here’s my two QINTARS worth

You know: a QINTAR, that Albanian unit of currency, 1/100th of a lek … and one of the few Scrabble words that uses Q without a U.

Anyway, I like Scrabble well enough. As word guy, I kind of have to. Haven’t played in forever, but I recently enjoyed a viewing of “Word Wars,” the 2004 documentary about competitive Scrabble. This is great way to spend 80 minutes.

Like “The King of Kong,” the 2007 movie about video game addicts striving for the world’s best Donkey Kong score, “Word Wars” follows four Scrabble masters on the tournament circuit, documenting all the egoists, nutjobs and neurotics who devote themselves wholly to the pursuit of something that doesn’t pay very well.

It’s both a little inspiring and a little depressing. Are these the luckiest guys in the world because they excel at a game they love to play? Or are they driven by demons to pursue unattainable perfection?

Is passion a blessing, or is it a curse?

Well, either way, I know that many people who might otherwise enjoy a word game think of Scrabble like this:

"Well, This Just Really Sucks," T-Shirt from Threadless.com

For those people, I have an amazing solution: Clockwords, the world’s most awesome online word game. It’s more fun to play than read about, so I’ll make this quick.

Clockwords is Scrabble plus Space Invaders. Like Scrabble, you’re given a few letters to work with, but you can type any word using any letters. Use the letters you’ve been given, and you get bonuses. In the game, the words you type empower a machine that runs on language. Once you give it words, that machine fires upon little clockwork spiders that are invading your lab and stealing your stuff. Simple, right?

OK, but there’s an extra element that appeals to the tinkerer, the futzer, the optimizer in all of us. Because as you play, you earn the individual letters that appear randomly in those chambers next to the gun. To optimize the variety of letters you can use — and to get letters with special damage powers — you have to switch over to “The Boiler,” a steampunk chemistry set for words.

Here’s where the magic is. The field on the left is like the bag of tiles from Scrabble — these are the only letters you’ll be given in the game, and you can mix and match this array any way you like. Like Scrabble, certain letters have more power because they are harder to use. If you want a super-damaging Q or Z, you have to “transmute” sets of lower-power letters (combine them). If I were to transmute that Q and Z up there? They would turn into a low-level letter made of “brass,” like that E and A at the bottom. Brass letters explode and spread the damage. Jade letters (the lime-green L) provide greater oomph per letter.

This bit of tinkering is what makes the game for me. What letters do I want to see in my rack? What can I work with? Am I not getting enough easy letters? Do I have too many Ls or Us? Do I need more power letters, or do I have too many?

You can judge my success for yourself. Note that while I failed level 34, I totally killed with QUANTIFY. Man, 423 points? That’s smokin’. (Can you do better?)


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Exploding marching band chic and the rise of the Capital-N Nerd

Also: This guy is the father of my daughter's friend. That makes her giggle.

I love that we live in an age where all things that used to be nerdy have been subverted and reprogrammed into something cool and hip — or at least ironic and hip, which is even better.

So it has been with comics. (Look at the size of the San Diego Comic Con; it’s where Hollywood goes with its hat in hand to find out what it should be doing next.) So it has been with sci-fi and fantasy. (Lord of the Rings brings home the Oscar! Harry Potter brings home everything else!) And now, so it has become with marching bands.

Yeah, marching bands. And I’m not just talking about stories of scrappy underdogs determined to make it all the way to the top of a college drumline. (I’m referring here, of course,  to the 2002 movie Drumline.) No, last night my kids and I took in a free concert of local “circus punk marching band” Mucca Pazza. Ironic and hip. Even better.

Mucca Pazza is the kind of mad experiment that, I imagine, begins with a couple of good friends on a fire escape deck, a cooler of Coors, a mild buzz, and someone saying, “What if…”

What if you made a jazz-funk-fusion band with marching band instrumentation?

What if you augmented that sound with violins and accordions and electric guitars and mandolins?

What if you grasped that marching band motif with both hands and milked it like an engorged Guernsey udder?

What if you channeled the spirit of a real marching band — High school! Athletic boosterism! Friendships bound through common hardship and esprit de corps! — and used it to fuel some cracked-out performance art of the highest exuberance?

After you asked enough of those questions you’d arrive at this answer:

Mucca Pazza at the Hideout Block Party, Chicago, Sept. 2008; photo by undergroundbee.com

Mucca Pazza certainly lives up to its billing as “circus punk,”  though I might quibble on emphasis, calling it instead a woozy fusion of Sousa, ska, klezmer, punk and funk, arranged by Danny Elfman in a Hungarian bordello and conducted by the ghost of Frank Zappa in a Marrakech bazaar. And as you can see, Mucca Pazza doesn’t so much play its music as sling it like hot hash. Their performance goes past high-octane all the way to pure diesel, from the mix-and-matched horn players prancing a deranged New Orleans funeral parade, to the crew of cheerleaders pumping their pompons, high-kicking their sneakers, and weaving high-energy mischief across the stage and through the crowd like a platoon of four-color Kokopellis. Seriously, Red Bull, consider this a prime sponsorship opportunity.

(Mucca Pazza pix by undergroundbee.com)

(Mucca Pazza pix by undergroundbee.com)

Mucca Pazza represents my favorite realm of expression, both love letter to and parody of something iconic and nostalgic. “We loved the old times,” Mucca Pazza seems to say, “but they were ridiculous too, eh? Well, what the hell. Watch what I can do!”

I consider this the logical conclusion to, the inevitable destination of, marching band music. All marching bands are comprised of a certain special kind of individual: lovers of music and mischief, oddballs, darkly comic, esoteric but earthy, fans of spectacle, traditionally untraditional, not suited for the football field (but game enough to play a key role on one every autumn Friday) — what the folk duo Small Potatoes calls “eclectomaniacs.” I can say this lovingly as a former band geek myself. (First trumpet, Greenhills High School, ’84-’87; Third trumpet, Northwestern University Marching Band, ’88-’91 and, yes, former NUMB Spirit Leader; Go Cats!) Nutjobs like us pour our hearts into our passions, and who cares what anyone thinks. For band geeks, one of those passions effectively disappears on the day we graduate from college, so it stands to reason that someone out there found a way to return to the joy of making rowdy, football-field-sized music on big, blatting horns. Marching bands as a music have been static for decades; marching bands as a movement just took a Great Leap Forward.

Good for you, band geeks. Blow, horns, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow! For the rest of you, catch a Mucca Pazza show sometime if you’d like something a little different in your musical diet.

It’s a good time to let your Nerd Flag fly. As Retort-regular Desert Son pointed out in the comments section recently, when John Hodgman can call the Leader of the Free World a geek, we are truly living the “Revenge of the Nerds.”

John Hodgman addressing President Obama in teh name of nerds everywhere. Hilarious, must-click viewing. Especially if you know hwt that hand gesture means.

John Hodgman addressing President Obama in the name of nerds everywhere. Hilarious, must-click viewing. Especially if you know what that hand gesture means.


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