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Treasure Island Music Festival haiku contest finalists!

The winner of our annual Treasure Island Music Festival haiku ticket contest will see The National, Deadmau5, FKA Twigs, The War On Drugs, Chvrches, Father John Misty, Lower Dens, Jose Gonzalez, and many more artists at our favorite musical extravaganza taking place October 17 and 18 on the San Francisco Bay. As you'll recall, our friends at Noise Pop, co-promoters of the event with Another Planet Entertainment, gifted us a pair of VIP 2-Day Tickets (a $630 value) to share with a lucky Boing Boing reader! Last week, we launched our annual Treasure Island Music Festival Haiku contest, and now we reveal the finalists! The three happy mutants below all win Boing Boing t-shirts. We'll announce the winner of the VIP passes on Monday, October 5. Congratulations to these Haiku masters!

And if you'd like to purchase tickets to Treasure Island Music Festival, click right about here.

Now then, here are our finalists:


Flying in from SEA
3 year anniversary
2 tix 4 us, plz


Chrvches vs. The
War on Drugs: who has the least
San Franciscan name?


Aargh, Matey. Avast!
Treasure Island steer me mast
Music be me wench

DARE: feel-good bullshit that made it more likely kids would take drugs

Priceonomics reports that the DARE anti-drug program has never worked.

Students who went through DARE weren’t any less likely to do drugs than the students who didn’t. In fact, there’s some well-regarded research that some groups of students were actually more likely to do drugs if they went through DARE. …

This deep-seated, folksy belief in DARE’s ability to combat a publicly reviled problem gave it a decades-long stranglehold on the American education system. ''We suspect that there are gaping holes in the program and that it may not be cost-effective, but legislators are politicians,'' a legislator told the New York Times in 2004, on the condition that his name not be used. ''No one's going to risk their political future by doing anything other than standing up with the parents. Parents vote.''

When I lived in smalltown Hobbs, N.M., I wrote an op-ed for the local paper saying plainly that DARE was bunk. I expected a lot of complaints! Though not the book-burning hole that, say, Alamogordo, N.M. is, Hobbs is still the sort of place that breaks 70% for Romney and has funeral homes in old banks.

Not a peep! Not even from the DARE officers. Even there, in New Methsico at the turn of the century, DARE was just a bored sigh, something everyone knew was nonsense even as they went through the motions. They just went through the motions, putting on DARE the way a minimum-wager puts on a Lady Liberty costume to hawk payday loans at the roadside.

I don't buy that DARE persisted because the public demanded it. It simply became immortal in the political margins, a zombie made of pork and graft and perverse incentives. DARE prevented drug abuse in exactly the way private prisons prevent crime and the way those shitty new fighter jets prevent war.

S.S. Adams invented over 700 practical jokes. Here's a great book about them

For over 100 years, the S.S. Adams Company of Neptune, New Jersey has been selling joy buzzers, sneezing powder, exploding cigars, fake vomit, extra salty salt water taffy, toy smoking monkeys, magic tricks, and hundreds of other inexpensive novelties loved by children and adults who act like children.

The S.S. Adams company gave Life of the Party author Kirk Demarais unprecedented access to its archives of tricks, gags, and ephemera dating back to the company’s humble beginnings as a manufacturer of Cachoo sneezing powder. Samuel Sorenson Adams sold 150,000 bottles of the stuff at ten cents each. The FDA eventually banned the powder, which contained a toxic ingredient called dianisidine. Undaunted, Adams went on to invent over 700 other practical jokes (many of which were awarded patents).

The photos of the many different magic tricks in Demarais’s book are the most appealing to me. Many of them are made from metal or wood and are beautiful and mysterious. I’m not a collector of anything, but I could become a collector of old magic tricks like this if I didn’t check myself. For now, I will content myself with this lavishly illustrated homage to a company that could only have thrived in an earlier century, when pleasures were simpler, and humor was broader.

The foreword is written by Acme Novelty Library cartoonist Chris Ware.

Life of the Party: A Visual History of the S.S. Adams Company, Makers of Pranks and Magic for 100 Years

By Kirk Demarais
S.S. Adams
2006, 200 pages, 12.4 x 9.7 x 0.9 inches
$30 Buy one on Amazon

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Why is it harder to maintain weight level now than in the 80s?

A paper in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice claims that it is now harder to keep the pounds off than it was 30 years ago, even given the same amount of exercise and food consumption.

Olga Khazan reports:

The authors examined the dietary data of 36,400 Americans between 1971 and 2008 and the physical activity data of 14,419 people between 1988 and 2006. They grouped the data sets together by the amount of food and activity, age, and BMI. …

They found a very surprising correlation: A given person, in 2006, eating the same amount of calories, taking in the same quantities of macronutrients like protein and fat, and exercising the same amount as a person of the same age did in 1988 would have a BMI that was about 2.3 points higher. In other words, people today are about 10 percent heavier than people were in the 1980s, even if they follow the exact same diet and exercise plans.

The suggestion is plainly that "there may be other specific changes contributing to the rise in obesity beyond just diet and exercise," but it's not clear what.

The three main suspects: exposure to chemicals that alter hormonal processes (think pesticides and food packaging), the dramatic increase in prescription drugs linked to weight gain (such as SSRIs), and changes in gut bacteria.

Arbitration: how America's corporations got their own private legal system

In 1925, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations of similar size and bargaining power could use arbitration, rather than courts, to settle their differences; today, corporations demand that customers and employees agree to use the arbitration system for redress of any grievances, while reserving the right to use the courts to attack humans who offend them. (more…)

Leopard's head freed from cooking pot

A leopard lurched around blindly for five hours in a village in Rajasthan, North India, before wildlife experts tranquilized it and removed a cooking pot from its head.

The 150lb animal got stuck after drinking water from the vessel. Locals took photos and videos as it tried to remove the pot, to no avail.

It was reportedly "none the worse for wear" after being tranquilized and freed, however, according to the BBC—the only loser being the owner of the now-sawn-off pot.

More seriously (and frequently), critters often die after getting their heads stuck in Yoplait snack pots, leading to recurring calls for the company to change the design.

Why an obscure left-wing MP won the UK Labour leadership by the biggest margin in history

In September, the British Labour Party elected a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a died-in-the-wool left-wing veteran MP who had been marginalised for decades by the increasingly right-wing Labour party -- how did an unassuming long-shot without much in the way of animal magnetism or rhetorical fire win the party leadership election by the most decisive landslide in British history? (more…)

The Beginner's Guide is a game that doesn't want to be written about

The first time I finished The Beginner's Guide, the newest game by The Stanley Parable creator Davey Wreden, I felt furious and sick and sad. I shut my laptop and walked around the block at three in the morning, half in tears, trying to figure out what I could possibly say about this game. When I came home, I wrote over 2000 words about why the game never should have been made, and went to bed.

When I woke up, I threw the whole thing out and wrote a totally new review, one that said the game was brilliant, that I loved it, that everyone should play it. That's the review you're reading now. It feels fitting. The Beginner's Guide is a game likes to make you question not just what it means, but whether you've been looking for meaning in games in the wrong way altogether.

On its face, this is an autobiographical story about Wreden's relationship with a game developer identified only as "Coda," and the events that unfolded in their lives between 2008 and 2011. If you've never heard of Coda, don't feel bad: no one has. Wreden describes him as a very private, even reclusive developer he met at a game jam in Sacramento, a prolific creator who never posted his games online and shared them only cautiously—perhaps even exclusively—with Wreden.

Although The Beginner's Guide revolves centrally around their friendship, you'll never see either of the men on screen. Instead, you learn about Coda the same way Wreden did: by playing his games. Each time you're dropped into one of Coda's small, strange world, Wreden takes you on a guided tour, narrating his interpretations of what the games mean and what they can tell us about the inner struggles of this enigmatic figure.

Wreden is openly obsessed with Coda's work, which he explains by saying that they were a huge influence on his games, though that doesn't feel like the whole story. He suggests that there is a grand, unified theory behind all of them, and that only by looking at them as a whole can we really understand this vision—or the man behind it.

This is a story about a game developer told by a game developer through games, so the mechanics of Coda's works matter a great deal. Indeed, at least some of what Wreden does is straight up game criticism, deconstructing the puzzles and labyrinths and long, lonely hallways—why they're designed the way they are, why they feel the way they do. In one game, you ascend a long, white staircase towards a door, but the nearer you get, the more you slow down until you're practically standing still. In another, you find yourself suddenly trapped in a prison cell, and have to wait an entire hour for it to open again. Wreden mercifully intercedes in these moments to modify the game in real-time and make it easier to navigate, observing this is "something we used to argue about a lot: whether a game ought to actually be playable."

There's an unpleasant sense of emotional colonialism that sometimes permeates Wreden's analysis, a sense that Coda's games are neither as accessible or transparent as he would prefer—as though something owed has not quite been delivered. Yes, Coda made these games for himself, and if they seem unwelcoming or unplayable, it's probably because they weren't meant to be played—that they aren't for us. But we're playing them anyway, and when you're contemplating the idea of sitting in a digital cell for an actual hour, it's hard not to feel a little grateful that Wreden is willing to compromise Coda's artistic vision.

It's your choice, of course: if you want to honor the intentions of Coda's games, you can always refuse Wreden's help and attempt things the hard way. Do the games mean more if you do? Does it mean anything at all if you do?

One of the games in Wreden's tour of Coda's oeuvre, titled "This game is connected to the internet," supposedly allows online players to leave tiny messages scattered across the level in little bubbles for other people to find read. But—surprise!—the game isn't connected to the internet at all, and all the messages supposedly left by dozens of people were actually only written by one person: Coda.

To Wreden, these messages represent a false or imagined community, and one that surely conveys a profound sense of loneliness: he sees them as a personal invitation of sorts from Coda, a way to know him better, and maybe a way for both of them to connect and feel less lonely.

His narration cuts back and forth through each game like a knife through a layer cake, revealing what's happening mechanically, what he thinks Coda's trying to express, and what he believes this means about Coda as a person (and of course, about their friendship). While many of his analyses are very incisive, others arc towards the personal in ways that sometimes feel awfully presumptive.

Wreden says several times that he got to know Coda better through his games than he did by actually talking to him, and indeed, that he might even prefer it that way. "This idea is really seductive to me," he says, "that I could just play someone's game and see the voices in their head and get to know them better, and have to do less of the messy in-person socializing."

But exactly how much can you really tell about a person exclusively from the games or art they make? When is a puzzle a window into someone's soul, and when is just a puzzle—or at least a means of expressing something besides personal pathos?

I've met a lot of creators over the years, and sometimes it's true: there are moments when their fears and anxieties and desires end up mapped pretty closely to their fictional characters and fantastical worlds. Sometimes, if you know them well enough, you can see the shapes of their intimate agonies moving beneath the sheets of their creations, the less-than-subtle reasons why that love interest suddenly betrayed the hero, or why this particular city melted down in a fictional nuclear holocaust.

But it rarely works well in reverse. If you don't truly actually know someone, trying to reverse engineer a deep inner knowledge of their psyche simply by consuming their art is more akin to reading tea leaves than reading their diary. But we love to do it anyway, because it's a profoundly seductive idea: that every creative work could be a secret map into the heart and mind of someone you admire, if only you know how to read it right.

Wreden describes growing frustrated, sometimes, when Coda won't tell him exactly what the games "mean." Over and over, he inserts himself into the space between Coda and his games as an interpretive conduit, believing that if only he can discern the hidden meaning behind these abstruse worlds, then perhaps he will finally understand his friend. As though a person were a puzzle; as though a person could be solved.

It's difficult to tell at first exactly what The Beginner's Guide is supposed to be: a tribute, a eulogy, a motivational speech. Wreden says several times that Coda stopped making games in 2011 and that he hopes one day his old friend will create again. It's an impulse we see a lot on the internet these days, particularly in fan culture: the desire to write a paean so beautiful that it can bring the things we've lost back from the dead. And make no mistake, Wreden is Coda's number one fan. There are parts of this game that feel uncomfortably grasping, that want very badly to be a resurrection spell of sorts, though it takes a while to figure out exactly what has died—or why.

There's more to say about the game, but I can't say it without venturing into major spoilers, so if you haven't played it yet, stop now.

About halfway into our journey through Coda's games, they start to take a darker and more disturbing turn. Wreden decides that his friend is "in trouble," and that he needs to step in and "fix" the problem, but ends up committing a breach of trust so profound that Coda ends the friendship and cuts all ties. And thus we learn the "real" reason Wreden is making this game at all: He wants to reach out to Coda and ask him for forgiveness, even though he knows he's betraying Coda's wishes even more deeply by doing so.

The first time I played the game, I felt ill, even angry after this revelation. It seemed like the game had made me unknowingly complicit in a huge violation of someone's privacy, one that I had no way of undoing. At the time, I was assuming—wrongly, I think—that the game told a true story, rather than a "true" one, that it depicted people and events in the real world rather than inventing characters plausible enough to make us suspend our disbelief.

The second time through, however, it felt a little different. Rather than a story about the relationship between two game developers, The Beginner's Guide started to read more plausibly as a relationship between a game developer and their audience, and the dangers of projecting too much onto art and the people that create it.

Rather than an estranged friend of Wreden, Coda serves as an elaborate metaphor for every game developer who has to contend with overinvested fans, while "Wreden" represents the players and critics who insist that games conform to their ideas about accessibility, endlessly demand answers about a "deeper meaning" that may not exist, or worse, insist that they and they alone can peer through the window a game supposedly offers into the developer's soul and discover the truth.

It's hard to look too deeply at The Beginner's Guide for too long without feeling a little self-conscious, because it is built on the sand of semiotic contradictions, and designed to shift beneath your feet. It insists upon being read as a personal story but resists that conclusion; it is intended to provoke analysis and emotional responses, while simultaneously rebuking players for analyzing games too intensely or too personally.

Maybe we're supposed to conclude that it doesn't matter, that by digging for the "truth" about Wreden and Coda as either players or critics, we transform ourselves into the same sort of point-missing voyeur "Wreden" reveals himself to be by the end. Or maybe we're supposed to conclude that saying too much about a game is a way of pinning down the butterfly of art with the needle of analysis, and that something is inevitably violated, or diminished, or lost when we do it.

I'm still haunted by that initial feeling of complicity the game made me feel when I learned what was "really" going on, the sickening sense that I had violated someone very deeply by participating in someone else's misinterpretation of a game. Projecting your own ideas onto an artist and a creative work—or seeking answers from them—is depicted as a selfish act, a stifling act, even a destructive one.

But as wrongheaded as it might be to assume that every story an artist tells is secretly the story of themselves, it's equally wrongheaded to assume that the best or only way for art to be understood is inside an echo chamber of its own voice. While it may or may not be interested in my analysis, The Beginner's Guide is a beautiful, thought-provoking and sometimes elusive piece of work, and one that I'm happy to recommend that people play—even though I'm well aware that it's more than capable of speaking for itself.

Rock tour photography show opens in Seattle tonight!

My friend Rachel Demy has spent a decade managing tours and doing production for bands like The National, St. Vincent, Death Cab for Cutie, and many others. For all those years, she's always had a camera around her neck, seizing rare opportunities to capture fleeting moments of art, joy, sadness, and friendship on and off the stage. Tonight at 7pm, Seattle's The Piranha Shop opens a beautiful show of Rachel's photography and that of Tyler Kalberg who has documented musicians like The Head & The Heart, Damien Jurado, and Modern Kin. The exhibition, titled "Green Room," will be on display until October 4. Catch a glimpse.

GREEN ROOM exposes life on tour through the small, secret moments not seen under the house lights. Using the dichotomy between Rachel Demy’s color photography and Tyler Kalberg’s black-and-white, you see the highs and the lows, the camaraderie and the solitude, the exhilaration and the exhaustion that compose a story much deeper than the performer on stage. It’s a story of the people who make the music, and why it’s important that the long road leads home.

Above, Rachel's "Laura Marling. Pittsburgh, PA. 2010." Below, Tyler's "Jesse Hurlbut, Damien Jurado. Stuttgart, DE. 2012."

Exclusive clip from new Russell Brand documentary

In this clip from the new documentary, Brand: A Second Coming, Russell Brand recounts the time he was at a protest in the streets of London. He climbed on top of a police van and took off his clothes. He was so alarmed by his "shrinkage," that he tried to "wank it to normal size."

Brand: A Second Coming chronicles actor / comedian / activist Russell Brand on his journey from addict, self-proclaimed narcissist and Hollywood star living in the fast-lane to his current, and unexpected, role as political disruptor & newfound hero to the underserved. Criticized for egomaniacal self-interest, Brand injects his madness in to the world and calls for revolution. He stays the course with an irreverent courage that inspires a new generation of activists to rise up against the ever-increasing world engorged in Consumerism.

Can Brand rise against the roar of criticism from the very system that built him? Does he have the fortitude, resilience and commitment to keep up the fight? Will he find true happiness which has eluded him since childhood? BRAND: A Second Coming takes audiences behind the scenes of this wildly complex man for an intimate look at what drives Russell Brand as he continues to be the consummate disruptor.

Brand: A Second Coming is a feature documentary produced, written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Ondi Timoner (Dig!, We Live in Public).

Fun Palaces: locally made art, science and play, for participants, not audiences

The idea of Fun Palaces has been incubating among radical librarians for more than half a century, and now it's bursting open as a full-fledged movement. Every library in the Lambeth Borough of London will be a Fun Palace this Saturday, with a wide range of participatory activities ranging from zine and science workshops to participatory theater to kids' games from the amazing Code Club. (more…)