Nancy Drew: Code and Clues

tech-fair-ndccIn the new iOs game Nancy Drew: Codes and Clues, tween Nancy Drew, along with her usual pals Bess and George is about to enter their robotic puppy into the school tech fair. (Sound familiar? A robotic puppy was also Barbie’s project in thatdisappointing Barbie programming book. Previous Nancy Drew releases from Her Interactive have done a great job avoiding the pink and cute trap, so I really hope robo-puppy will be upgraded to a robotic T-Rex in future games. I mean, every time we see girls engaging with code and development, it does a little bit to dismantle programmer culture, but I still hope the next round of these products will move beyond packaging programming as a cute puppy.) When another girl’s project disappears, the three friends are on the case, collecting clues and questioning other students!


This follows the Nancy Drew game pattern of alternating hidden object scenes to collect clues with Nancy talking to witnesses and suspects.  The difficulty is scaled down perfectly for a younger crowd, with lots of repetition in the clues, and a suspect notebook to check later. I can definitely see this introducing younger players to the Nancy Drew case files series.

The coding section basically adds a minigame into the beloved Nancy Drew mix of hidden objects scenes and mystery clues. After each stage, Nancy, George and Bess send their robotic puppy to sneak around or get to the exit. Players need to use simple commands like forward, up, down, and crawl to get robopup to the goal. Later levels introduce loops and so forth. It’s hard to mess up these challenges — even trying to fail, I couldn’t. You could easily hand this to an elementary school student, without worrying about any programming frustration.

art-girls-ndccAs the detective trio search for clues at different locations, there are frequent dress-up opportunities so the girls can blend in, as good detectives do. This is just choosing from three new outfit options, it would have been great to have separate tops and bottoms, or accessories to really customize the characters.

Nancy Drew: Codes and Clues is a $3.99 purchase, which is quite reasonable considering the number of scenes and playtime. There are no in-app purchases to tempt young players, in keeping with the game’s target demographics.

Overall, this is a fun, age-appropriate iPad game. It’s a sweet little sister to the Nancy Drew case files games, and it was great to see young girls excited about participating in the tech fair and about programming. Bonus points for not condescending to the classmates they meet in the gym or art studio!

I was so happy to have the chance to partner with Her Interactive on this post. Longtime readers will know that I love the
Nancy Drew Dossier series, and I’m always excited by products aimed at introducing more girls to programming and development.

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Mid-Autumn Festival

moonviewing-dayOn my early-morning walk to Chinese school, I saw barriers closing off a Chinatown road, and wondered which Chinese holiday was  coming up. The lunar calendar means that even though Moon-Viewing Day snuck up on me last year in Shanghai, it snuck up on me again this mid-autumn in Boston. They should call it mid-autumn festival or something so I’d know when it is…

I really imagined that after living in China, I would understand and keep track of Chinese holidays better. But understanding Chinese life is one of those endless learning curves, so every time I understand something new, it just shows me how much I still don’t understand even a little. (See also: Writing) It’s taken me several attempts at dry, heavy cakes to admit that, no, I don’t want to eat a mooncake, and even so, if you tell me that your grandma makes the best filling or that this shop sells out of lotus-paste cakes every year, I will probably fall for it again. And again.

Last year, I enjoyed the full moon reading on my porch at Woman Tree Bookshop, in Shanghai. Marcus’ book had just come out, and I’d done all the jiggerypokery to get it to my Kindle, and found myself rereading it after a long, busy day exploring Shanghai.

This year, I taught my classes and then walked through the Chinatown street fair. At home, I sat in my tiny triangular garden, a little patch of green wedged in between my house and the Thai restaurant next door. It’s walled just like my Shanghai porch, and good for reading, and very brief moon-viewing, before I heard the siren song of my pillows.

So many changes between last Mid-Autumn Festival and this year’s.



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Jack Up Pharma Prices In New ‘Epipen Tycoon’

epipen tycoonIn Epipen Tycoon, you play as a pharma CEO who’s struggling to turn lifesaving medical technology into personal millions.

This game is basically a clicker, which makes it extra clear that you’re playing as the invisible hand of the free market, raises prices just as much as the market will bear. Click to raise or lower the price of epipens, but if you fall before what consumers are willing to pay to stay alive and keep their kids alive, you’re ousted from your CEO job, with a severance package of just a couple million dollars.

severanceSo, unless you want to be unemployed with just a couple million in the bank, you’ll click to increase the price of epipens, quickly enough that your salary keeps increasing but not so quickly that customer outrage rises to dangerous levels. If it gets too high, you can use one of the random items you receive, like a 2% discount, a chance to blame Obama, or a phonecall to senator dad to reduce patient outrage.

epipen tycoon screenshotObviously, the ideal strategy is to keep outrage at a gentle yellow level, so your salary is climbing, and people are just unhappy about the price of healthcare, but not actually protesting your company. Sometimes, sure, some people drop dead in front of your offices, but free market, baby!

Epipen Tycoon is about five minutes of generic clicker gameplay, but at the same time, it’s  incredibly creepy to play as the invisible hand of the free market affecting healthcare.

Epipen Tycoon is a new browser game from The GOP Arcade, the same people who made the Thoughts and Prayers game.


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The History Major

The History Major, a novella by Michael Phillip Cash, tells the story of a college freshman who wakes up in a dorm where everything’s just a little bit off. Her roommate, her classmates, even her class schedule are unfamiliar, and she seems to have lost a few months between lying down and waking up.

The story’s got a great premise, but it’s not exactly a page-turner. I wasn’t waiting to see how events would turn out, in fact, a lot of the time, I wasn’t even sure the scenes were going or which details were background. Instead, I continued reading because Cash conveys a dreamlike state, where things are just not quite right, and I was intrigued by this half-world, which began to seem like a possible afterlife.

While we’re having a wider conversation about content warnings and consideration in academics, it was interesting to read about a student being reminded, through course content, of dark secrets in her past. Aristotle (or a semi-Aristotle, like many times in this book I wasn’t entirely sure what was real and what was a spirit) teaches a strange history class, and he was kind of a pompous dick, which is pretty much how I imagine him.

Overall, this book went in many different directions, ending as more of an intriguing world and interesting thoughts about an afterlife, than a traditional plot.

the history major

I received a copy of this book to review, all opinion are my own, as always. This review is cross-posted to my new books blog, The Fiction Addiction as well.

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High-Fives All Around

I came across this on Beth Woolsey’s blog, and it’s perfect:

I am quite sure these days I am failing at All the Things, and even though I definitely, for sure, absolutely do NOT subscribe to the idea that we have to All the Things well All the Time, I do like to do Some of the Things well Some of the Time. Hell, I’ll even take doing One of the Things well On Occasion and high-five myself for it in the mirror because my standards are low…

If you also managed to complete A Thing today, let’s all high-five each other, and maybe give each other stickers. Doing things is hard, man.

Source: Five Kids Is A Lot Of Kids » This isn’t a real blog post, but it appears to be real life.

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That Pokeyman Thing Your Grandkids Are Into

pokeymanIn That Pokeyman Thing Your Grandkids Are Into, you play as Grandpa, who borrows grandson Billy’s phone and leaves the old folks’ home for a Pokeyman hunting adventure. This game uses all the tropes of old-school RPG games, with a Pokemon Go twist. Lost little girl in the forest? She doesn’t want a map, she was a Charizorb! Gatekeeper to the next area? Doesn’t want gold, just prove your Pokey-hunting prowess.

With a dual-screen UI, showing both a blocky overview of Grandpa and his surroundings, and a light-blue phone screen for catching Pokeymen, you’ll help Grandpa find and catch Pokeymans. Grandpa catches mostly Pidgeys Dumb Birds, although there’s a super cute rare Peekachorp, a Charizorb, Just Eggs, and some other funny bizarreo-world Pokemon. At the conclusion of the game, it turned out I had 17 of 18 possible Pokeymans, which kind of made me want to play again to find whichever superdeformed Pokeyman I haven’t seen. Gotta catch ‘em all, I guess.


Talking to other game characters gets Grandpa typical soundbites about Pokeman Go, from children, punk teens, and elders. All these kids using their phones in public! Haha! Trespassing to search of imaginary monsters! Haha! You’re in a graveyard looking for rares! (Note: When I die, it would be awesome if my grave was used as a node in whatever AR game the kids are playing in the future, so people will come visit me to play games! I wonder if I should put a Pokestop clause in my will.) These comments and observations are nothing that hasn’t been said before, but the combination of old-school RPG format and grandfather as the straightman who just wants to play some good old shuffleboard make it funnier than yet another navel-gazing thinkpiece on the Social Value of Pokemon Go.

Punch The Moon’s That Pokeyman Thing Your Grandkids Are Into is available to play now in in your browser. It’s a quick playthrough, and besides, you can’t catch any new Pokemon from your desk anyway.

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Groupon Goods

Groupon Goods sponsored post! All opinions are my own.

grouponBefore I was offered these posting assignments, I really thought of Groupon as group discounts on experiences. We all know the way that works: Usually Groupon offers discounted tickets for an event, a discounted certificate for a meal at a restaurant or discount entrance to a show. The discount goes up as more people take advantage of the deal.Now it seems like Groupon is branching out in other discounts. Groupon Coupons is a deals aggregator for well-known brands (I wrote about that here). Groupon Goods is closer to the classic Groupon system. Deep discounts are available for a limited time, so that’s a lot like the typical Groupon model, but the discounts for Groupon Goods are fixed, and not dependent on how many other shoppers are interested in buying the same thing.

color change nail polishGroupon Goods allows users to browse limited-time deals on everything. No, seriously, I found deals on everything from color-changing nail polish and collectibles, to candy and coffee. You can search by item name or by brand to find something in particular, or you can  choose a category and price range to browse.

Groupon is on Facebook and Twitter , sharing some of their top deals across regular Groupon, Groupon Goods and Groupon Coupon.

Groupon Goods sponsored post! All opinions are my own.

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Broccoli and Dinosaurs in “Office Girls”

I’ve started watching a Taiwanese drama called Office Girls, all about the drama behind the scenes at a fancy mall.


Here’s our male lead wearing a dinosaur suit and promising Sheng Xing Ren he’ll eat his vegetables. It’s a very serious show.

In order to take over Chairman Qin’s department store, lazy son Qin Zi Qi must give up his spoiled tuhao ways and make a success of an entry level position for one year, without touching his family’s money or revealing his identity. Young Qin walks into a very junior job in the Operations Department, without changing his name, his luxurious clothes or his little emperor complex. Qin must be one of laobaixing, the Old Hundred Names, so it’s not completely obvious that he’s the heir apparent (like it would be if I started working as a peon at Stivison Enterprises), and he starts pretending that his high-fashion clothes are street knockoffs. He reports to hardworking Sheng Xing Ren, an Operations employee who has never been late or absent in four years at the company, and who lives as frugally as she can while saving money to buy an apartment for her mother.

taiwan dd

Most of the drama takes place between coworkers and departments in the Chinese department store. There’s a credit-stealing boss, a lazy teammate, and a girl from Leasing who definitely has her own agenda. The mall, with product placement of luxury and international brands, makes a real contract to the scenes with Sheng Xing Ren’s old ma out in the countryside. Sheng Mama is the greatest character, her little happy dance when Zi Qi comes to visit the second time is so charming, and her decision that the two young people must be dating and living together regardless of their denials is hilarious.

The storylines are very Chinese. In one, Operations has to deal with a well-connected supplier selling sub-par mooncakes, and in another, a delivery girl convinces Zi Qi to sign for Xing Ren’s package, which turns out to be a box of  empty bottles and not the cosmetics she’s ordered. Both the delivery girl and the online seller have disappeared, of course.

emotionall munches broccoli

But my favorite arc is about Zi Qi eating broccoli. That guy does so much moody broccoli chewing, and emotional discussion of broccoli, and dramatic announcements about broccoli.


Anyway, I’m about ten episodes in, and I expect to become fluent any day now.

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Groupon Coupons

Groupon coupons sponsored post! All opinions are my own.


At first, I was a little bit confused by the pitch for this sponsored post. I mean, isn’t the Groupon discounted price already basically a coupon? Isn’t that kinda what Groupon already does?

But actually the new Groupon Coupons are online or in-store coupons for popular brands. Groupon Coupon helps users save money, just like the group discounts on the main Groupon site, but with the coupons, you don’t need a certain number of other signups to get the discounts. Instead, you just find the store’s name, and browse available coupons. I was happy to see well-known stores like Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, and Sephora in the coupon aggregator. I also found EA Origin’s coupon shop for discounted online games, including a free 48-hour demo of the Sims 4.

ea origins

You can sign up to get alerts for coupons for brands you like, too.  Starbucks and Sephora have great products, and when I’m rich, I will go there every day, but for now, I always like to find a discount so I don’t feel like I’m wasting money on lipgloss and lattes. (Now that the Starbucks gold card gives rewards drinks based on dollars spent, and not drinks ordered, it looks like using a Groupon coupon for discounted coffee or related projects, and paying with your Starbucks card would still be adding to the balance towards a free drink… maybe the switch from drinks to dollars isn’t all bad.) And you can follow Groupon on Facebook and Twitter to get new deals.

Groupon coupons sponsored post! All opinions are my own, if you’ve been reading for a while, you probably already know that I love Sims, Sephora and Starbucks. 

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A More Honest Introduction

I started taking my first courses for grad school, and although I was very, very excited to be in this program and to begin this stage of my life, the first assignment was a vague and dull self-introduction with mandatory comments on other student’s introductions. We were asked to share our favorite books, which is a pretty annoying prompt because I have about twenty favorite books for different reasons or to go with different moods. Maybe more than twenty.  I was really hoping that a literary crowd would know that asking for one favorite book is a silly question.

We were also supposed to share what we write personally, and even when specifically asked in a creative writing classroom, I felt awkward listing my publication credits. I felt pretentious saying I’ve been writing and publishing consistently for about 10 years now, and AT THE VERY SAME TIME I felt like a hack who’s never been published anywhere that’s a recognized name and doesn’t require an explanation of what kind of outlet it is.

My honest introduction would probably be:

I wrote some stuff for games, some of them shipped. I wrote some stuff for magazines, some are still in business. I swear a lot in Chinese, and sometimes I have simple Mandarin conversations, too. 


Probably shouldn’t write that, though.

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