Talking About Beer!

Let’s have a hipster-y post about beer, shall we? I saw a list today on the Concourse of the 18 most overrated beers. Here’s the list, devoid of the original author’s comments. If you want to know why the author chose these beers, you’ll have to follow the link:

  1. Miller High Life
  2. Blue Moon
  3. Killian’s Red
  4. Heineken
  5. Yuengling
  6. Corona
  7. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
  8. Heady Topper
  9. Stella Artois
  10. Bass Ale
  11. Magic Hat 9
  12. Your local brewery’s flagship
  13. North Coast Old Rasputin
  14. Anchor Steam
  15. Rolling Rock
  16. Red Stripe
  17. Moosehead
  18. Shiner Bock

My thoughts? Who the hell is out there drinking Miller High Life and declaring that it’s a “good beer?” Are there people that do that? Seriously? I’ve never once heard someone declare their sophistication for Miller High Life; at best, I’ve heard its praises as “it’s cold” and “I don’t know, I just like it.”

Blue Moon is trading on the craft beer thing even though it’s really not a craft beer. Of all the beers on this list, this is the only one that I’ll drink, always because I’m at the kind of place where my choice is Blue Moon or Bud Light.

I hate Killian’s Red, perhaps moreso than any other beer on this list. Most of that hatred comes from the fact that red ale is my favorite style to drink, so my standards are correspondingly higher. If the choice is between Killian’s Red and warm tap water, I’ll take the tap water.

My experiences with Heinekein tend to be limited to smiling smugly to myself when I see people who like them.

My father likes Yuengling. I have no opinion on it either way.

Corona isn’t very good, but since I live in the Southwest, there’s something that’s cultural about drinking it around here.

I have no opinions on 7 through 15. I either haven’t tried or haven’t heard of these beers. I have no idea about my local brewery’s flagship beer; maybe the one I order is their flagship? I’ve never asked.

I drank Red Stripe once and hated it.

No opinion on Moosehead. I tried Shiner Bock once; didn’t really care for it, but also didn’t hate it. So, meh.

What are my favorite beers (none of which made it to this list?) I’m happy to tell you!

Matt’s Favorite Beers

  1. Full Sail Amber Ale
  2. Jeremiah Red Ale
  3. Kiltlifter Scottish Ale
  4. Grand Canyon Amber Ale
  5. Bud Light Lime

Number five on my list is a troll pick, just to see if you’re paying attention. My actual number five would be Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Worst Ways To Die?

Thanatology is the scientific study of death. It’s also an excellent name for a metal band and it makes me wish I’d studied it in college so I could have a business card that proclaimed “Matthew Ciarvella, Thanatologist.

A rousing discussion that started about the horrors of flogging, whipping and scourging morphed into one of those “worst ways to die” discussions. It’s always fascinating to me to see how people react to such discussions, even though it generally confirms that my attitudes towards death are outside the general norm, to say the very least. It probably has something to do with the fact that I’m always wearing a black shirt.

HowStuffWorks has a list of 10 worst ways to die. Here are my own thoughts on these various untimely ends:

  • Starving: Starving seems pretty bad, especially because of how slow it is. You’re certainly going to have plenty of time to think about how miserable you are right up until the end. On the other hand, you’re not quite experiencing the sort of soul shattering agony that comes along with some of these other deaths. I also remember reading somewhere that victims sometimes experience a sense of euphoria in the final stages of starvation as the brain dies, which isn’t too bad, all things considering.
  • Adrift at Sea: Another slow death and one that’s made worse by the crushing despair of the immensity of the ocean and the cruel indifference of the natural word to your plight. You have several ways to die here although the most likely ones to me are drowning due to exhaustion, dehydration (ironically), or hypothermia. You could also be eaten by a shark, I suppose.
  • Fall into a Volcano: It certainly has more style points than more mundane kinds of burning, which is the typical answer most people give for this question. I have to imagine that this particular death would at least be quick, even if it’s very, very painful.
  • Human Sacrifice: The exact specifics of death vary on this one; you might be left to die of exposure on a mountain or have your heart cut out of your chest. This one seems much more tame to me than most of the others, if only because it’s the only death on the list that has something approaching a sense of purpose for the victim. If you were Aztec, sure, you were dying, but you were dying to keep the sun from abandoning your people. That’s something, at least.
  • Plane Crash: The horror here comes from how long you have to think about the fact that you’re going to die; usually several minutes or so. I think this one also trades more on the fear aspect most people have for flying than anything else.
  • Eaten by Animals: There are so many different ways to be eaten by animals, many of them before your dead. There are many, many horrific variations, too many to list . . . although there’s one I’ll mention later, because it combines this with another entry further down the list.
  • Crushed to Death: Sounds pretty bad, but at least it’s quick. I still wouldn’t want an elephant stepping on my head to be the last thing I ever saw or felt, though.
  • Freezing to Death: I’m surprised that this is considered worse than burning to death. I remember reading somewhere that, during the final stages of hypothermia, the brain experiences euphoria like it does during starvation. You also tend to feel very warm, even hot, again due to the oncoming brain death.
  • Torture: Such a simple word and yet it carries with it the very worst legacy humanity will leave on the world. There are so many ways to torture someone to death, and while the article mentions a really, really bad one involving a tub of shit and maggots, there are also the tortures that involve the “getting eaten by animals” part. A popular medieval technique: take a basket, sew it onto a victim’s neck, and then drop a few starving rats in the top of the basket. Leave them alone for a few days. Yeah.
  • Embarrassment: Certainly, dying from embarrassment (or fright or whatever) would certainly be, well, embarrassing, but is it really worse than having your head gnawed on by starving rats? I’m not certain.

There are a few things I’m surprised didn’t make the list: getting buried alive certainly deserves a place on here. But for my money, the very worst-sounding death I’ve ever had the misfortune to read comes from another article on the same subject:

A physician we interviewed recounts the story of a laborer in Africa who worked around vats of sulfuric acid — one of the most caustic forms of acid. The man fell in one day. He quickly leapt out, but was covered in sulfuric acid, which immediately began to burn him chemically. In a panic and excruciating pain, the man ran outside. By the time his coworkers caught up to him, the man had essentially dissolved.

The acid burned the man to death, searing through skin, cauterizing blood vessels, and eating through organs until he died. The pain would be unbearable, and the circumstances irreversible. This is unquestionably a really bad way to die.

Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and call that one “the absolute worst way to die.” It takes all the worst aspects of burning to death and then cranks that shit up to 11.

Your State Is The Worst (At Something)

According to the Cartographic Research Lab at the University of Alabama, Arizona is officially the state with the worst alcoholism problem in the Union. Judging by the contents of my desk, that sounds fairly accurate.

Interestingly, even though Arizona has the worst alcoholism, we don’t have the worst rates of drunk driving (Montana), fatal car crashes (Wyoming), binge drinking (Minnesota), or poorest health (Kansas). So, there’s that. Although how we can be the most alcoholic state but lose out in binge drinking is beyond me. Maybe Minnesotans are better at holding their liquor.

If this study is accurate, I’ll definitely be avoiding Virginia (most motorcycle deaths), South Dakota (most rape), and Louisiana (most gonorrhea). Washington must be an uncomfortable place to be for dogs, sheep, and goats (most bestiality) and Mormon capital of the world Utah has the most porn usage, which actually explains a lot.

The odd part is some of the things some states are the worst at are much, much, much worse than others. Ohio, for example, is “the nerdiest state,” which is “based on highest number of library visits per capita (6.9).” Um, wow, way to be a bunch nerds, Ohio. Yeah, I bet you feel bad, don’t you, Ohio? Bunch of library-using eggheads, bookworms, and nerds, the whole lot of you!

(Editor’s note: apparently, I can’t pass a fifth grade geography class, since I wrongly accused Nebraska of having the poorest health, when actually it was Kansas. It’s possible that I’m actually a resident of Maine (the dumbest state). Nebraska still sucks, though, having the most violence on females, so it’s basically a wash.)

Why Spiders Are Scarier Than Zombies

I’ve been called out on Facebook. I believe that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I would do pretty well. I’m in pretty good physical condition, I know quite a bit about the undead, and I have access to both weaponry and survival equipment like a portable water filter. This claim, however, has been challenged and as part of that challenge, my friend posted this image in response:

Okay. Look. Let’s clear up a few things. First, yes, I’m afraid of spiders. Despite this fear, I still believe I could face down the undead in combat. There are many reasons why it’s both reasonable to be afraid of spiders while believing one is capable of facing a zombie. Here is my rebuttal, in a convenient list form:

  1. Spiders have eight legs. Zombies have two (or fewer). This is basic math.
  2. Zombies are slow (we’re talking Romero zombies here, 28 Days Later-style infected don’t count). Have you ever seen a pissed off tarantula move? Try blowing on one and see how long it takes for it to attach itself to your face. The answer is: 0.2 seconds before you run away screaming “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, IT’S ON MY FACE!”
  3. Zombies are much larger targets and thus easier to shoot. Only a few species of spider, like the terrifying goliath bird-eater, are large enough to be vulnerable to handgun fire.
  4. Zombies are stupid and just wander towards you when they see you. Spiders . . . spiders wait. They watch. They plan. And they strike when you least expect it . . . and get inside your shirt.
  5. Zombies don’t spin webs that you can walk into so that you are distracted by trying to pull the web strands off your skin while they go right for your ear holes.
  6. Zombies can’t drop down into your hair when you walk under a tree nor descend onto your face while dangling on a strand of webbing. Spiders are silent and stealthy killers, like ninja.
  7. If there’s a zombie in your sleeping bag, you’ll know about it long before you get into that sleeping bag. If there is a spider in your sleeping bag, you will not know until it’s too late.
  8. Both zombies and spiders can bite you, but a zombie bite ends stops being scary after you become a zombie yourself. A victim of a spider bite gets to watch in perpetual horror as your fucking skin rots away.
  9. Zombies don’t carry millions of baby zombies on their backs, nor do they explode in a carpet of tiny baby zombies when inadvertently stepped on.
  10. We always have a chance of stopping the zombie apocalypse and ending the zombie threat. In terms of sheer numbers, we have already ceded our planet to our arachnid overlords.

There you have it. Ten reasons why spiders are a greater, more terrifying threat than even the worst zombie apocalypse.

Of course, if the zombies manage to cross the species barrier and start turning things other than humans into zombies, we’re totally screwed. Because there is absolutely nothing more vile, horrific, and ball-shrinkingly terrifying than . . .



My Take On The 10 Most Memorable D&D Monsters

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons around 1998 or so, which means I came in during the end of Second Edition. Due to the myriad ways Second Edition defied logical (THACO, I’m looking at you), it never really became more than a passing thing for me until several years later when I joined a group of players that I met through one of my college roommates. The rest, of course, is history; I started running my own games after that and continue to do so to this very day.

IO9 recently put out a list of the 10 most memorable monsters in Dungeons & Dragons. Since, at this point in my gaming career, I’ve DMed for twice as many campaigns as I’ve actually played in, I thought I’d take a look and give my opinion on these monsters.

One thing I learned early in my DMing career was that monsters are, in some ways, the DM’s version of the new spells and powers that the player characters acquire. I found myself buying books with new dragons or whatever so I could see what shiny new things I could throw at my players. I would look forward to unleashing a cool monster the way a player looked forward to unleashing a big spell. The fact that my cool monsters almost always died wasn’t the point; as a writer, I know the villain’s place and role in the story. Survival wasn’t the point. The goal of a good monster was to get the emotional reaction from the players: at first, fear and “oh god, we’re going to die” and then excitement as they manage to overcome the threat.

Anyway, let’s look at the list:

  1. The Beholder: I’m not sure I would have put the Beholder in the top slot, but there’s no denying that these guys are both iconic and effective. There’s just something about the Eye Tyrant that inspires fear among players; maybe it has something to do with their ability to fire disintegration beams from their eyes. I’ve never really used a beholder in a main villain capacity, but the few times I have unleashed one, the party was certainly considered. Come to think of it, I have that set of Beholder figurines I’ve never really used in a game before. Hmm…
  2. The Displacer Beast: Here’s my first disagreement. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually used a displacer beast in a game before. If I have, it certainly wasn’t iconic enough to mention. They’re annoying to fight with their ability to shift around, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a big cat with tentacles. Not quite as impressive as some of the other beasties on this list, in my opinion. Admittedly, they are probably the most iconic opponent a low-level party will face which might be one reason to include them. Still, in my opinion, these guys aren’t worth the number two slot.
  3. The Mimic: It’s a monster that pretends to be a piece of furniture, usually a treasure chest, because every DM knows that players are greedy and there’s nothing better than punishing greed with getting devoured. Mimics are amusing, but like the the displacer beast above, I’m not sure they deserve to be this high on the list. Even at low levels, I think there’s another “screw you” monster out there that makes even savvy players shiver, and it’s next on the list.
  4. The Rust Monster: Now we’re talking. Basically, it’s a big bug that rusts metal. It’s probably the least dangerous monster on this list, except for one thing: it rusts and eats metal. Any metal. Yes, including the ancient coldforged sword of your ancestors and your masterwork plate armor. I had a player who was playing a fearless crusader run away from a battle against one of these guys. Those are some of the moments that make DMing worth it. I love these guys, because they create a threat that the players take seriously but aren’t incredibly lethal and potentially disruptive to the story itself.
  5. The Gelatinous Cube: Sure, it’s basically a living cube of acidic gelatin, but there’s one thing the IO9 list doesn’t mention: the gelatinous cube is transparent and nearly invisible in dark places. They’re the perfect monster for ratcheting up the paranoia factor, especially if the unlucky player discovers the cube’s presence by walking facefirst into it and getting engulfed. Good times.
  6. The Owlbear: Yes, it might be iconic, yes, even this list notes that they’re hilarious . . . but I really hate owlbears, for all the reasons listed in this comic. Owlbears remind me of the time earlier in D&D’s life cycle when you had really freaking strange monsters, like a carnivorous tree stump with a rabbit attached to its head to lure prey. I wish I was making that up, but I’m really not. No owlbear has ever appeared in one of my games and no player has ever asked, “hey, why aren’t there any owlbears in this game?”
  7. The Lich: Now we’re talking. Liches are awesome. They’re perfect for playing the arch-villain, but they’re just as useful as information brokers or other roles. As soon as one shows up, you know you’re dealing with the big leagues. In my opinion, these undead spellcasters deserve to be way higher than number 7. I might be a little biased since the final villain of my last campaign was a powerful lich, but regardless, these guys are intelligent, powerful, and dangerous. Best of all, they haven’t had their mystery and villainy peeled away, unlike what happened to vampires.
  8. The Drow: Here’s my number one pick. Easily. Drow are the ultimate bad guys. They manage to be murderously chaotic and yet maintain a rigid social structure and noble House system. They are stylish. They’re dangerous. I recall reading somewhere that game books and magazines that featured a drow on the cover would often sell better than other issues and I believe it. While they have suffered the same villain-decay as vampires due to so many players wanting to play Chaotic Good rebels, for me, there’s nothing better than the drow in their true, evil form. For those who are expecting the Drizzt clone character, unleashing a no-holds-barred evil drow is a satisfying experience. I’ve run one entire campaign focused on the drow . . . and don’t tell my players this, but I’ve got another one slowly growing in the back of my mind. The drow are my number one pick, hands-down.
  9. The Mind Flayer: I like these guys, but I think they’re a little too far on the fringe for most players. Sure, the idea of an alien squid monster that eats brains is scary, but I’ve also had the experience of telling the party “you see a mind flayer” and been given blank looks. I don’t think enough attention has been given to mind flayers to really elevate them in the ranks of liches, drow, and beholders . . . which is a shame, because these guys deserve to be in those ranks. In this case, I think number 9 is a good place for them on the list.
  10. The Tarrasque: The Tarrasque is the urban legend monster for a game that is focused on playing make-believe with your friends. Despite how often I’ve heard about the Tarrasque, I’ve never actually unleashed one, nor do I know any DMs that have done so. Regardless, the fact that they so tough and powerful means their presence can be felt just by mentioning their name, even by players that haven’t fought one; the Tarrasque might well be the inverse of the mind flayer in this regard. I think number 10 is a good place for the Tarrasque . . . and I’d like to note that I plan to use one at least once in my DMing career.

And that brings us to the end of the list. Overall, I think it’s a good one, aside from reshuffling some of the rankings and dropping owlbears entirely. I went back and forth in my mind on whether or not dragons deserved to be on the list. It’s tough to say, because on the one hand, dragons are always attention-grabbers when they show up in my campaigns. On the other hand, they’re all over the fantasy genre, so it might be tough to say how memorable they are. At the very least, I think the Red Dragon is scary enough to earn a spot on the list.

Oh, and the Pit Fiend. You can’t have a list of awesome monsters without mentioning the Pit Fiend. He definitely deserves to be on here.

So, let’s look at my revised list for the Top 10 most memorable monsters:

  1. The Drow
  2. The Lich
  3. The Beholder
  4. The Rust Monster
  5. The Red Dragon
  6. The Gelatinous Cube
  7. The Pit Fiend
  8. The Mimic
  9. The Mind Flayer
  10. The Tarrasque

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Entirely confused about what I’m talking about? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Travelogue: Toronto Recap

I am writing another post in offline mode while I wait for my connecting flight in the Chicago-O’hare airport. I’m not sure what’s so flawed about my little laptop that it can’t connect to either of the two open networks here in the terminal. It has to be my laptop, right? It’s not like one of the largest airports in the world would have substandard WiFi. I hope.

Let’s see, what can I talk about while I pass the time?

  • Toronto is a great city. A few observations, though: even after three days, the Toronto accent with all of its “oots” was endearingly charming. I can only imagine what American accents must sound like to other English speakers. I know that we all sound neutral to ourselves, but surely, that doesn’t change the sound of the cadence and tone of someone’s accent, does it? American accents seem harsh in comparison. I’ve never heard or read anybody who said they really liked the way Americans speak English, even though listening to one of the more prim British accents is, for me, a reason to fall in love and marry a person. I might have shared too much here.
  • Another observation from Toronto: it’s probably the largest city I’ve been in if we exclude all the airports I’ve been hanging out in recently. It’s sleek and modern, and its skyline reminds me of the movie Inception. Seriously, they have this thing going on where every high-rise condo is built in a pair, so you have sets of twins popping up all over the horizon. It’s kind of cool, but it looks like somebody was playing SimCity and hit Ctrl + V a whole bunch. It really looks like the skyline from Inception. I kept expecting the horizon to fold up like a giant taco, which would have been exciting.
  • I was thinking about writing a blog post about tourists behaving badly, but after I watched a guy try to break off a piece of crystal from a display in the Royal Ontario Museum, I was just too bummed out. On a more egalitarian note, all the dickish tourists I observed were from different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. No one people on this earth seem to have a monopoly on being a jerk. Equality abounds! Consequently, I feel bad for the locals in every tourist spot on the planet. Including myself (hey, people come from all over to check out our Desert Museum).
  • Speaking of the Royal Ontario Museum, that place is kickass. I saw a lot of amazing dinosaur bones, including a tyrannosaurus rex. It was the first time I’d ever seen a tyrannosaurus rex in person! It was very exciting. They had a lot of other great exhibits there, including an Egyptian mummy, but I’m going to be honest: I was there for the dinosaur bones and I was not disappointed.
  • Standing on the glass floor on the CN tower and looking down reminded me that I’m not actually cured of my fear of heights; I’m just really good at dealing with it. The 58 second elevator ride reminded me that the same is true for my claustrophobia. Despite these personal revelations, it was still a great experience, because I felt like a total boss sliding past all the scared people at the edge of the glass floor to go tromp around and stamp my feet to show my complete faith in Canadian engineering and my complete disdain for gravity.
  • I’m kvetching a lot here, but that’s only because I think it’s the cynical stuff that makes for good reading. I’m sure a blog post about all the amazing beers I drank and the amazing architecture I saw and the cool video game exhibit I got to play in, etc. etc. would just make everybody dislike me. So I won’t talk about that, at least not anymore than I already have.
  • In conclusion, Toronto was an amazing city. It was incredibly multicultural, filled with interesting history, great beer, and friendly people. I think it’s something we in the States take for granted, but the relationship between our countries is pretty special. For instance, we share the longest undefended border in the entire world. I don’t think we could ask for better neighbors. Consequently, we should be really grateful that they’re too polite to ask us to move, so that they can have better neighbors. I kid, I kid. . . well, mostly.

That’s about it for now. I’ll post this when I can, which probably won’t be until I get back to Tucson. I still have another hour before my flight boards, but after that it’s going to be four hours of sitting in the same chair, so I think I’m going to get up and move around in an open space while I still have the chance. See you in Tucson!