Blathr Wayne Lorentz

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Showing blathrs with the tag “Games.”


Sunday, November 19th, 2023 Alive 19,199 days

The Sears Tele-Games Codebreaker cartridge

I got a new video game today. Itʼs the Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs Codebreaker. Like most Atari and Tele-Games cartridges, its box featured fantastically imaginative art that had virtually nothing to do with the game.

Released in 1978, this was one of the early Atari 2600 games. It was also very unpopular. Codebreaker can be hard. It is visually unappealing. And it requires a weird controller. Half a century later, these factors combine to make it one of the more difficult games to find for sale at a price under $10, my maximum budget for buying Atari games.

While video games today — and todayʼs entertainment in general — are all about thrills and special effects, games of the 1970ʼs were more about thinking. Dopamine release came from exercising oneʼs brain and figuring out a problem, rather than killing things.

Think about the sorts of things that people did for entertainment in the past: Solitaire, cribbage, crossword puzzles, home chemistry sets, playing music, even needlepoint were all mental stimulation involving math and science. You donʼt think playing music is mathematical? Think fractions, baby.

When computers started to be used for recreation, they were perfectly suited for adapting the entertainment of the day into an electronic form. Codebreaker even includes the game Nim, a traditional two-player mathematical game that has been around for over a century. With an Atari in front of the Magnavox you no longer needed the extra player, as you could pit your gray matter against a computer.

The first games for computers involved numeric deduction, and Atariʼs Codebreaker brought that from multi-ton mainframes right into peopleʼs family rooms. It felt like The Jetsons was ready to happen any minute now.

Today, I suspect the number of people in the world playing Codebreaker for entertainment is close to zero. But in spite of all the so-called advances in video games, which mostly seem to involve explosions and killing things, people still love thinking games.

There are still cities like Chicago and New Orleans where you can jump into a game of chess with a stranger on the sidewalk. Or Tampa and Seattle, where itʼs not unusual to see an energetic round of dominos in a coffee shop. Or even recently when I was at sea, I was pestered to be the fourth in a rubber of bridge.

Mental stimulation games donʼt get a lot of attention, but they are alive and well. If they werenʼt, the New York Times wouldnʼt have paid millions to buy Wordle. Itʼs not a very long trip from Codebreaker to Wordle.

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Sunday, September 4th, 2022 Alive 18,758 days

Picture of a PlayStation Portable booting up.

I was digging the Halloween decorations out of the basement today, when I came across my old PSP gear. Joy!

Sonyʼs PlayStation Portable wasn't the first portable video game system I ever owned. I had the original Atari Lynx back in the 80ʼs. But the PSP brings back warm memories of a time in my life when I was more full of hope, and the world seemed to be filled with endless possibilities

I was in Japan in February of 2005, a couple of months after the PSPʼs launch, but two months before it became available in the rest of the world. My wife and I were riding on a subway in Tokyo when an OL (“office lady” — the female version of “salaryman”) sat down next to where I was standing. She pulled out a PSP and started playing ルミネス (“Lumines” in English). I was absolutely enthralled. I immediately said to Darcie, “Thatʼs what I'm bringing home from Japan.”

A game of ルミネス starting.

We were staying at the Keio Plaza Hotel, so as soon as it opened the next morning, I ran down the street to Yodobashi Camera searching for a PSP.

Yodobashi Camera is like the old Crazy Eddie electronics department store, except taking up a dozen floors of a skyscraper. If it runs on electricity, it's probably at Yodobashi. Anything from a Hello Kitty waffle maker to a household earthquake detector. From a refrigerator to a radiation monitor that you hang around your neck. From a transistor radio to the latest computer gear. If there was a PSP in Tokyo, I was sure I'd find it here.

Except that I didnʼt. Yodobashi was too much for me. Too many levels. Too much stuff. Precisely zero signs printed in English. I was over my head. Finally, I had to ask for help. A young man in an ill-fitting suit and an eager grin decided to take a chance with me.

A picture I took of Yodobashi Camera in 2016.

My Japanese is bad. Real bad. When weʼre in Japan, my wife is in her element. She handles the shopgirls, and drags me around like a wide-eyed toddler. But I was on my own this time.

I tried to communicate very clearly and plainly, “Video games?” Blank stare. I broke out my best non-regional radio voice and enunciated as clearly as I could: “Play-stay-shun Port-a-bull.” Nervous smile.

Finally, I resorted to pantomime. I held my hands out in front of me in loose vertical fists, and pumped my thumbs up and down like I was pressing buttons.

“Aaaaah! Peesp-o!”

With an expression of exuberant relief and a flourish of forearms and pointing palms, he guided me to a half-height white cabinet, bent over, slid back the glass door and popped up with a glossy white box.


With a hasty bow, he took off like jackrabbit down the warren of Panasonic boom boxes, Sony Cliés, and Sanyo voice recorders. His job was done, and he was happy to be done with me, and out of there.

That's why to this day, my wife and I call our video game machines “Peesps.”

Part of the opening video from the video game 首都高バトル.
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You are about to be eaten by a grue

Sunday, July 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,695 days

Some people like to measure a computerʼs ability to asking if it can run Linux. Some ask if it can run Doom. I ask, ”Can it run Zork?” The answer for my TRS-80 Model 100 is “Yes, with a little help.”

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Knight takes pawn

Thursday, May 26th, 2022 Alive 18,657 days

A knot of tourists watches one of their group being rooked at chess

The sign reads:

U.S. chess master
Jude Acers
Play the living legend
Private lessons

Itʼs nice to see that sidewalk chess is still a thing. I havenʼt seen it since I lived in Chicago. It makes one feel better about the neighborhood and the city to know that things that are both smart and random can happen in public.

Perhaps not so random, as there was a chess bar across the street from this scene. But still — New Orleans has a chess bar. What is this, Tyrol?

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Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 Alive 17,332 days

A chess match in progress

Meanwhile, in the lobby of the La Posada Hotel…

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