Saturday, February 13, 2016

Secrets Can Kill Problems

I'm going to do an "Everything Wrong With" video for Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill. Any suggestions? Here are some problems, off the top of my head. I'll come up with more, when I play the game.
  • Title screen says this is a role-playing mystery game, but it's not even CLOSE to being an RPG.
  • Nancy goes on vacation and accidentally uncovers a mystery cliche.
  • Police photographer starts by taking a picture, while facing the wrong direction.
  • Nancy's high school gives her a whole semester off, to visit her relatives. Seems excessive.
  • Nancy names the case before starting her investigation.
  • Pointless compass in the lower/left corner of the screen.
  • There are three difficulty settings in this game, but they only affect an optional puzzle.
  • Aunt Eloise deliberately hides things from Nancy. She must not like her very much.
  • "I need something to make this work." Nancy has apparently never used a TV before.
  • Scenery seems to indicate Aunt Eloise is married, but we never hear anything about the mystery uncle.
  • Morse code puzzle is tedious.
  • Aunt Eloise hides the key to her trunk, two feet from the trunk.
  • Did you know you can move up and down in every scene? Cool feature which does nothing.. According to the background art (connie's poster, students of the month, bulletin board with the hidden message "search below danger sign in kitchen"), this game takes place in May or July. Nobody finds it weird that Nancy is starting as a transfer student at the end of the year.
  • There are three separate menus at Maxine's Diner, and none of them match.
  • Cheeseburgers range from $14 to $24. Fourteen bucks for a cheeseburger? No wonder this place never has any customers!
  • The bolt cutters puzzle.
  • The police did not take anything out of Jake's locker, including the potentially dangerous knife.
  • Nancy spends most of the game solving random brainteasers written by psychic students who somehow knew the future.
  • None of the students of the month are young enough to be in high school.
  • Nancy cuts a hole through the window to break into the teacher's lounge. That's vandalism.
  • The school has a security team, which was on high alert during the night of the murder. Yet they didn't stop the murder.
  • Where was the security team, when Nancy broke the window to the teacher's lounge?
  • At 8:30 PM, Jake and the murderer leave the school. But Jake's body was found IN the school, which means they snuck back in, after being chased out by security. WHY?
  • Why does the murderer try to kill Nancy, with the boiler room puzzle? How does the murderer even know who she is? She's an undercover agent, and furthermore, she's never seen or talked to the murderer.
  • If you fail the puzzle, the entire school explodes. The murderer was willing to go very far, in order to kill Nancy.
  • Jake's VCR tape is in the school's vent system for no apparent reason.
  • In the book, Nancy makes out with Daryl Gray while watching this tape. They kept the tape, but not the makeout scene.
  • Maxine's Diner has Ned Mustard. 32 games later, this bottle is still the closest we've come to seeing Nancy's boyfriend onscreen.
  • Phone calls are pointless
  • Nancy is unable to speak in complete sentences.
  • There is a ladder, leading to an area below the boiler room. What is this ladder, and where does it go?
  • Jake's video shows Connie getting into her car. You'll notice that the front part of the room is there, but the back part isn't.
  • The culprit doesn't appear or get mentioned, until five minutes before the game ends. It is literally impossible for you to put together the clues and solve the mystery yourself, because the culprit is a complete outsider that you've never heard of. 
  • Daryl Gray is Nancy's police contact, but neither Daryl nor Nancy contact the police at any point in the game.
  • Nancy and Daryl think they can single-handedly defeat a drug-dealing murderer who already tried to blow up the school. Isn't she supposed to be smart?
  • In the ending scene, Daryl talks with Nancy's voice.
  • The final puzzle of the game is using the gun on the culprit. If you're too slow, the culprit knocks Connie out from behind, then kills Nancy. When you solve the puzzle successfully, Connie is still lying on the ground unconscious, as if she's been knocked out.
  • Nancy should not be able to steal the gun from the culprit, seeing as she is many feet away and standing in the wrong location.
  • None of the teenagers are punished for breaking the law.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Tax Certification

Here's a followup to the life plans I posted last week. I got certified by the IRS as an advanced tax preparer. Specifically, I got certified through their VITA/TCE program. It took me about a month to read/absorb their huge tax law book, and a few days to finish the open book test.

As it turns out, my certification is not so useful! I'm certified to handle US tax law, but not state tax law. And the tax law certification course in my state is closed for the year, too bad, so sad. So...all that work might have been for nothing! Unless there's someone out there who only is filing with the federal government, and not their state?

Right now, it looks like the best I can do is volunteer for the tax site, as the front desk person, but not as a tax preparer. Darn. So much for using this as a springboard into a tax preparation job. If I still want to work at H&R Block, I'll have to try another route, like taking a ton of summer classes.

I'm going to keep my options open, if I can. I hear the IRS call center hires seasonal workers in spring, and I'm qualified for that! And the local Catholic church is hiring for a media coordinator, which also seems like a job I might be qualified for. In the meantime...I guess I'll keep delivering pizzas to help keep food on the table.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

2016 Election - Three Things Thursday

1. I'm trying to keep our daughter informed about the 2016 election. She doesn't care about the Republicans, but she cares about the Democrats. She wants Bernie Sanders to win, because Sanders has promised to work on making college free. If this happens, Mary is hoping to use her college savings to buy a house. Good to see she's planning ahead!

2. The election has hit two states so far: Iowa and New Hampshire. In Iowa, Sanders and Clinton tied at 50% each. In New Hampshire, Sanders won with 60% of the vote, while Clinton got 38%.

3. Seems like Sanders should be in the lead, right? Ha ha, no. As a result of those two states, Clinton has 39 delegates, while Sanders has 34.

See, 80% of the delegate count is proportional. That is, Sanders and Clinton both get half of Iowa's delegates, while in New Hampshire, Sanders gets 60% of the delegates. But 20% of the delegates are "superdelegates". Superdelegates get to vote for whoever they want, no matter what the polls say. Both states have 8 superdelegates, and thanks to their support, Clinton is in the lead.

I wonder what percent of the vote you would have to win in order to secure victory, even if every superdelegate voted against you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Our Father

My Latin project, since June, has been Expositio in Orationem Dominicam by Saint Thomas Aquinas. This is more or less an extended lecture on the "Our Father" prayer. This is what the first section looks like.

Our Father

So it says "Father". Note two things: how God is our father, and what we owe to him, because he is Father. So "father" is said, by reason of our special creation, because he created us in his image and likeness, which he did not bestow upon other, lesser creatures. Deuteronomy 32:2 "The one who made and created you is your father". Next, "father" is said by reason of governance. For although God governs all, nevertheless, he rules us like lords and other creatures like servants. Wisdom 14:3, "your providence, Father, governs the whole world" and again, 12:18, "and you arrange us with great reverence." Next, "father" is said by reason of adoption, because he gave other creatures something like a small present, but to us, he gave an inheritance, because we are his children. "But if we are his children, we are also his heirs" (Romans 7:17). The Apostle, Romans 8:15, "We have not accepted a spirit of slavery in fear, but a spirit of adoption of children, by which we cry, 'Abba, father'."

Therefore, we owe God four things. First, honor. Malachi 1, 6: "If I am father, where is my honor?". Honor consists of three things. In giving praise with respect to God. Psalm 49:23 "A sacrifice of praise will honor me." The honor should not be only in the mouth, but also in the heart. Isaiah 29:13, "this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Honor consists of the purity of body in respect to itself. 1 Corinthians 6:20, "Glorify and carry God in your body." Honor also consists of the fair judgment of your neighbors. Psalm 98:4, "the king's honor loves judgment".

Second, we owe God imitation, because he is father. Jeremiah 3:19: "You will call me father, and you will not stop following after me". The imitation of God is carried out in three ways. In love; Ephesians 5:1 "You will be imitators of God, like most dear children, and walk in love", and it is proper for this to be in the heart. In compassion; for love should be with compassion. Luke 6:36, "Therefore, you will be merciful", and it is proper for this to be in works. In perfection; because love and compassion should be perfect. Matthew 5:48, "Be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect."

Third, we owe God obedience. Hebrews 12:9, "How much more should we obey the spirit of the father?". And this is done through three things. First, through the Lord; for he is Lord. Exodus 24:7, "We will do all that the Lord has spoken, and we will be obedient". Second, through example; because "the true son is made obedient to the father, even unto death", as is said in Philippians 2. Third, because it is proper; 2 Kings 6:21, "I will play before the Lord who chose me".

Fourth, we owe God patience in punishment. Proverbs 3:11-12: "My child, do not cast aside the discipline of the Lord, nor revolt when you are seized be him. For the Lord seizes whoever he loves, and like a father with a son, he chastises them."

Our. [In Latin, the word "our" comes after "father" in "Our Father", so St. Thomas Aquinas talks about "our" second.] From this, it is shown that we owe our neighbors two things. First, we owe them love, because they are our brothers, for all are children of God. 1 John 4:20, "Whoever does not love his brother, who he sees, how can he love God, who he does not see?". Then, we owe them reverence, because they are children of God. Malachi 2:10, "Is there not one father of all of us? Did not one God create us?". Therefore, why does every one of you hate your brother?". Romans 12:10, "Mutually excelling in honor". And this is because of our fruit, because "he was made the source of eternal health, for all those who are obedient", Hebrews 5:9.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Star Wars

Is it okay for me to talk about the new Star Wars movie, without fear of spoiling it for everyone?

As I left the theater, the part of the movie that I was most interested in was the new Death Star. They explained that it was a planet/machine which more or less sucked in a nearby star, and converted it's energy into a large destructive beam capable of destroying multiple planets at once. The star is destroyed in the process.

Our heroes stop the machine, towards the end of the "sucking up the star" process. Instead of going back to its original spot, the star reforms right there, in the planet. The planet is destroyed as it gets replaced by a star. My reaction was, "Wow, that's so cool! They found a safe way to move a star by several million miles!".

What effect would that have on the solar system? It'd totally change things up, because the center of gravity moved. Imagine if our sun suddenly switched places with Jupiter. It'd be like that! And what if they interrupted the process, when it was halfway through? The system would have TWO suns, of equal size!

I dunno. I thought it was cool that the machine of destruction double as a star mover. I'm not sure why you would want to move a star, but it's a cool trick. That would have resulted in the destruction of planets, just as easily as the giant death ray. In fact, if destroying planets was the end goal, it might have been easier for them to build a simple sun mover.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Superbowl - Three Things

1. I forgot how many of my friends watch the Superbowl, just so they can gush over the commercials and the halftime show. I'm going to institute a new rule: if you post more than six times in a row about Beyoncé, your posting privileges are revoked.

I don't quite understand the mindset, behind getting excited for Superbowl commercials. Like, you're excited to have people advertise to you? Do you also show up an hour early to the movies, so you can watch commercials for sixty minutes straight? Do you skip over TV shows, just to see the commercial breaks? Granted, these are higher-quality commercials than normal, but still. I prefer my sports without commercial breaks.

My wife feels the same way. She says we might be overly sensitive to the matter, because a lot of kids' TV shows we have to watch are little more than 30-minute commercials for toys and merchandise. We're a bit commercial-ed out, going into the Superbowl.

2. I only got to watch the Superbowl for a little bit. I watched one play, where the quarterback fell down, got back and started running again. I complained, "Hey, why didn't they stop the play?!". Because aren't they supposed to stop the play when that happens? It's called the "taking a knee" rule or something.

There was a challenge on the play, and the referees agreed with me. That made me feel smart and knowledgeable about football.

Challenges in football seem kind of weird to me. The idea is that, if you think the referees have made a mistake, you can only call them out on it twice. Because referees can only make two mistakes per game? In hockey, there are unlimited challenges, but they really don't apply unless someone has (potentially) scored a point. In football, challenges can apply at any time whatsoever. So that's a difference.

3. The Superbowl was a busy day for deliveries yesterday. I worked from 5 to 8, and there were 20 deliveries! The game started at 3:30, so I'm guessing there were some deliveries before I showed up.

How many drivers were there? Just me. The manager doubled as Driver #2, and we took quadruple orders for the halftime rush. I ended up getting $400 in that shift, through all types of payment: scrip, cash, check, paid online, and the major credit cards. I've never gotten all five types in one shift before!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Miss Clue: Peril in Pemberley

I'm doing a video walkthrough for Miss Clue: Peril in Pemberley!



I want to write a review of the game for GameCola, but their website isn't working at the moment. So here are just some random thoughts.

1. The game is full and complete, right from the start! Yes! No waiting for new episodes, before you can finish the game! That said, you can tell this was originally supposed to be an episodic release. The game takes place over the course of 7 or 8 days, and each day has 2-3 major things to do. Presumably, each episode would have covered a full day, like in the second game.

2. The astrolabe puzzle is ridiculous and impossible to solve, unless there's a clue somewhere that I missed. The weights puzzle is almost impossible to solve. The good news is that there's a clue to help you solve the puzzle; the bad news is that the clue appeared two to three hours ago, and you can't go back to look at it again. You just have to memorize it. Ugh!

3. I didn't like the voice acting in the game. They reused some of the bad voices from previous games, including "girl who talks with a lisp" and "man who talks in deadpan". I'm starting to think that they must be the developers or something, because that would explain why the dashing teenage hero sounds like a bored middle-aged man.

The main character did a better acting job, mostly. She did a fake British accent the whole time, and it was somewhat inconsistent. I would probably do an equally awful job, though.

4. I'm glad that this game takes place in the era of Pride and Prejudice, unlike the other games. Seriously, when the premise of the series is "Lizzy Bennet's daughter is a detective", the games should NOT take place in modern day!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Education Credits

One WEIRD part of tax law is the educational credit! The idea is that, if you go to school, you should pay less money in taxes. School is important, no matter how old you are.

The problem is that there are TWO educational credits. These were made by two different groups of people, who didn't talk to each other*. They had completely different ideas about education and payments. For example, one group thinks that textbooks count as educational expenses, while the other group doesn't. It's totally inconsistent!

Of course, there are lots of exceptions and counter-rules, like "what if textbooks are part of tuition?" and "what if you have a scholarship"? Some scholarships count towards the amount of tax money you save, while others don't. And it makes a difference if you pay all of your tuition in the first year, or if you pay it in installments.

Until I get these things sorted out in my head, I'll probably have to do both. That is, if I get a person who paid tuition, I'll calculate how much they save on the first tax credit, then how much they save on the second tax credit, and give them the credit which saves them more money. I should eventually reach the point where I can get a person's tuition information, and automatically know which educational credit is better for them.


*Okay, not really. Congress makes the tax rules. And since we have lifetime politicians in Congress, some people probably were around for the creation of both credits. Still, if I were in Congress, I wouldn't have approved such a weird, inconsistent system.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Spanish

In my previous post, I said I speak fluent Spanish. Kind of.

See, I know Church Spanish. I learned how to say things like "We give you thanks for all your benefits, O almighty and ever-living God, forever and ever. Amen." I'm not so good with everyday Spanish, which is what usually gets taught in most Spanish classes.

Tax law also has a specialized vocabulary that isn't part of everyday language. Are any of you readers multilingual? Try saying and understanding this sentence in a non-English language: "The DOW went down 500 points last week, so my mutual fund gave out cash benefits instead of dividends, which messed up my estimated tax payments." Not the sort of thing you learn in Spanish 101, is it? But definitely something you could learn in Tax Preparation 101.

In fact, this problem comes up so often with the IRS that they give out free Spanish/English translation guides, which defines all terms in both languages. I'll definitely be looking that up.

I'm hoping that since I know one type of specialized Spanish vocabulary (Church Spanish), it will super-easy for me to learn another type of specialized Spanish vocabulary (finance Spanish). Maybe? Let's hope!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Life Plans

Part of the reason I got a job as a pizza delivery boy is because my YouTube job isn't doing so well. I only made $13,314.93 last year, and that's before taxes. I was hoping for something closer to 20K! Pizza delivery should give me more of a financial cushion.

Delivering pizza isn't glorious, so I'm hoping to move on to a better job. Here's the current plan: I'm getting accredited as a tax preparer. The idea is that I'll finish this month, then work as a volunteer with my wife this year. That way, I'll have actual experience with tax preparation, not just a head full of tax rules. I'll use that as a springboard to get a job with a local tax firm, most likely the H&R Block that's a few miles away.

I don't know how many people apply for tax firm jobs, but I'm hoping that I can get a leg up on the competition, because I know Spanish. That has never gotten me a leg up in any job application, ever, but first time's the charm!

Of course, it'd be super-awesome if I got a viral video or something, which resulted in a huge increase in my YouTube finances, so much so that I wouldn't need another job to supplement my income. Or, at least, I'd like my YouTube finances to increase, so I make more than full-time minimum wage.

My YouTube money gets double-taxed, kind of. To put it simply, Arglefumph Industries counts as self-employed contractor work, meaning "Michael who gets paid" pays wage taxes, while "Michael who pays himself" pays employer taxes. I need to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 through YouTube, before it'd be worthwhile to make Arglefumph Industries an official corporation. Corporate tax rates are different than individual tax rates, obviously.

See, I'm totally able to handle this tax stuff! Kind of.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Boxcar Children 6: Blue Bay Mystery

In Blue Bay Mystery, the Swiss Family Robinson--the Boxcar Children live on an abandoned island in Tahiti. The entire thing is Grandfather's idea, of course. He thought of it, after talking to his sailor friend, Lars Larson. I think the conversation went like this:

Grandfather: Lars! I haven't seen you in a while!
Lars: That's because I got marooned on a deserted island for six months. My therapist says--
Grandfather: Wow, an island? That sounds like the best vacation ever!
Lars: What? No! It was awful! I thought I'd die without seeing another human being!
Grandfather: We should go there right away! You can be our tour guide.

*theme*

For the first time ever, Grandfather is going to join the kids on their vacation adventure. Mike is coming along too, although he's not important enough to be on the cover. No one else is coming along, because obviously, the other Boxcar Children don't have friends, and nobody remembers Cousin Joe from the earlier books.

On the trip, the Boxcar Children have lots of fun, doing their homework. They have even more fun, when they pack food supplies. These kids are easily entertained. Lars built two huts, the last time he was on the island. Not sure why, since he was marooned by himself, but whatever. They set up camp in the huts, and...MYSTERY!

Someone steals their crackers! Someone made a picture with rocks, and there's a button on the ground. No doubt about it: there is someone else on the island. Dun dun dun.

The next few chapters are about making fish stew, and swimming around and having fun, and why isn't anyone looking for the other person on the island?! Seriously! You're okay with having a stranger watch you from the trees, all the time?!

After a few weeks, the Boxcar Children finally decide to visit the other side of the island. They climb a mountain, where they discover a cave which looks just like their boxcar. Every detail is exact, down to the placement of Benny's cup. Freaky...

Benny sees the stranger in the trees. He chases after the stranger, and the stranger leads him directly into a pit. Now that Benny is helpless, the stranger reveals himself. He's Peter Horn, a ten-year-old boy! Peter was shipwrecked on the island seven months ago, and has been living here ever since.

Benny and Peter become best friends forever, and Benny instantly forgives all of Peter's weird behavior, like the weeks of spying and leading Benny into a trap. Totally normal behavior! Peter explains that he stayed away, in order to create a mystery--I mean, because he wasn't sure if it was safe to talk to the others.

As for the shrine to the boxcar, Peter built that! He read about the Boxcar Children, so he modeled his island home after their book. That's...um...wow. Unbelievable coincidence, there. Henry wisely orders Benny not to tell him who they really are.

Peter makes friends with the others, and on the way back home, Grandfather uses the ship's radio to locate Peter's parents. The family is reunited, and it's a happy ending.

The End

Post-Book Followup

Here's a question. There are two huts on the island. Why didn't Peter decide to live there? That would have been a lot easier than making a shrine to the Boxcar Children. I'm surprised the children weren't creeped out by the weird shrine to them, built halfway around the world.

The premise of the series is that the Boxcar Children are curious, inquisitive and self-reliant, which is how they discover and solve mysteries. That's not the case in this book. They always do whatever Grandfather tells them to do, without questioning. They don't bother to explore the island until the end of the book. Lars and Grandpa make all the decisions about where they go, when they eat, and the kids just go along with it.

I've made this complaint before. In Book 1, it was interesting to see the kids take care of themselves. In Book 3, it wasn't as interesting, because there was an adult who took care of all those things for them. In this book, we've got two adults who serve as the Boxcar Children's tour guides. It totally ruins the survival genre, when you've got Robinson Crusoe giving you pointers on what to do, every four paragraphs.

This book feels like a throwback to the earlier books, because it's about the kids living on their own, as opposed to the kids solving mysteries. The mystery wasn't very good, but at least they tried to mention the mysterious stranger in every chapter. That's loads better than other books which introduce the mystery, then completely ignore it in favor of cooking or other stuff.

I give Boxcar Children #6, Blue Bay Mystery, a 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Boxcar Children 5

Starting with Surprise Island, every Boxcar Children book takes place in a different summer vacation. Yet somehow, these kids haven't gotten any older. That's the REAL mystery here...

*theme*

The Boxcar Children are visiting Aunt Jane again. Thanks to the uranium mine, life in the local town has boomed. Why, they even have their own town newspaper!

Today's headline? URANIUM FOUND IN URANIUM MINE.

That's the headline most days. It's not a very GOOD newspaper...

As you would expect, the town needs some cheap labor for the mine, so they've shipped in a lot of poor people, including Mike Wood! He appeared in Surprise Island for about two pages. He's basically the same as Benny, except he has bad grammar and fights more often.

Sometimes he's entertaining, and sometimes, he's so annoying, it makes you want to stop reading. In other words, just like Benny.

Mike's family is so poor, that his mother is forced to do laundry for money. She has no free time, ever. Oh, and she just baked four pies for everyone. Sounds like someone with a lot of free time to me...

Mike shows off an old newspaper. He tried get on the front page, by photobombing a story about the mine. But what's this? Mike was cropped out of the photograph! Instead, some other guy is in the picture. Mike gets super angry about a STRANGER stealing his spotlight. Unsurprisingly, the stranger will be the book's culprit, because NO ONE gets away with upsetting Mike.

In Chapter Four, Mike's house burns down. The Boxcar Children love being homeless, so they're happy about this new adventure! They make plans for where Mike is going to live, and they search town. There's an empty building that no one is using, and since the Boxcar Children technically own the entire town, they decide the building will become Mike's new home.

They get a better idea! Mike's mother can install a stove in her new home, and that way, she can live out her dream of making pies all day long! They name the new restaurant "Mike's Mother's Place". We have to name it after Mike, because obviously Mrs. Wood does not have a name of her own. Mike's Mother's Place is instantly successful. She sells about 50 pies per day, for the rest of her life.

Most of the book focuses on the pie restaurant and buying things for the new house. But there's also a MYSTERY. A man in a blue hat starts spreading rumors that Mike burned down his house for fun. Blue Hat Man also...oh, is that the only evidence we have? Okay. Blue Hat Man thought Mike was playing with matches, so HE must be the culprit! And clearly, he's the STRANGER that stole Mike's spot in the newpaper, too, as part of a plot to ruin Mike's life.

Because it's clearly impossible that two different people would mildly inconvenience our hero.

It turns out that entire situation is Mike's fault. One day, he was bragging about how he's a great guy, and how he could have stopped the culprits in the last book. Well, a culprit from that book just happened to be standing around, and he heard this. So he got revenge by burning Mike's house down.

A six-year-old trash-talks you, and you burn their house down? Harsh.

The fire was intended to be a distraction, so the culprit could blow up the uranium mine. We know this, because there are wires behind the mine. Obviously, wires are proof that someone has bombs. Right?

The kids throw a pie party, complete with a documentary about monkeys. While everyone is distracted, the culprit tries to blow up the mine a second time, but he is caught by Mike's dog.

Yeah, Mike's dog is a better detective than Mike. Go figure.

The End

Post-Book Followup

The cover is Mike's dog, digging in the sand. He digs up a blue hat and a can of gasoline, which PROVES that the Blue Hat Man is the culprit! I find it odd that the culprit tried to get rid of all the evidence, besides for the bomb wires. Why would you bury your HAT instead of bomb wires? What makes you think the hat is more suspicious evidence?

This book rewrites the previous book, by saying the culprits discovered the uranium mine by accident. They were living on Aunt Jane's ranch for a long time. I don't think that was an accident. But hey, unlike last book, we actually SEE the culprit this time! At the very end, when he's arrested. He doesn't say anything, but that's better than having an unseen culprit.

I didn't like this book very much, since most of it was about making Mike a new home, and selling pies. The mystery parts were better, but it's still not a good mystery. The solution pretty much boils down to "that one guy was kinda mean once, so he's the culprit". But this book does a way better job of balancing the mystery with the other storyline than the last two books do, and it's mostly entertaining, so I'm gonna be generous with the score.

I give Boxcar Children #5, Mike's Mystery, a 7 out of 10.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Boxcar Children 4

Boxcar Children #4 is called "Mystery Ranch". The book begins with an angry Grandfather storming into the house. He has bad news about his sister, Jane.

Yeah, the Boxcar Children have another relative that Grandfather hasn't told them about, in the past two years.

Yeah, he's got a sister who he hasn't mentioned at all in the past two years. She probably should have come up during the orphan custody dispute in the first book.

Aunt Jane is sickly and bedridden. She's very grumpy, and she refuses to let the maid eat any food. Now the maid is slowly starving to death. No, I'm not joking. The maid would rather DIE than break the "no eating food" rule. How is Aunt Jane enforcing this rule, anyway? She literally cannot get out of bed. What stops the maid from having a snack in the kitchen and not telling anyone?

Violet and Jessie go to Aunt Jane's ranch, in order to resolve this ridiculous situation. They're very excited to help take care of their aunt. When they arrive at Aunt Jane's town, a man helps them take their bags off the train, then he leaves. That seems normal to me, but Violet and Jessie insist that he is a MYSTERY MAN! Who is he? What is he doing here? Why should we care about the guy who only said four sentences?

The girls meet Aunt Jane, and things play out just like the Mrs. Snow storyline from Pollyanna, in that the nice young girls cheer up the crabby old lady, and she transforms into a kind, wonderful woman.

How long does it take to reform the murderous Aunt Jane? Two sentences. That's all. The girls talk to her, and she instantly falls in love with them. For a mean old lady, Aunt Jane sure is nice!

Oh, and also the girls make food for the maid, so she doesn't starve.

This is the point in the book where the culprits appear. They are three rough men, and they try to bully Aunt Jane into selling the ranch to them. Sadly, the book completely skips over the part with the culprits, in favor of a chapter about Jessie sending a telegram. Because who cares about mysteries in a mystery book? Telegrams are so much more interesting!

In fact, the Boxcar Children never see the culprits at any point, ever. Whenever the culprits do something, we hear about it second-hand. It's like the entire mystery takes place when nobody's looking.

The boys come to the ranch, and Aunt Jane instantly falls in love with their pet dog. She soon decides to give the ranch to the Boxcar Children. Yes. She hasn't known them for more than two weeks, but she decides to give them a 1,280 acre ranch for free. They're just such nice kids!

Now that the kids own the ranch, they decide to explore it. They find the culprit's hideout, which is a hut and a firepit near some weird rocks. The rocks look just like the rocks in Aunt Jane's chimney!

Offscreen, Henry talks with the neighbors about the hut and the culprits. They decide to take the matter to the local sheriff. By the time the kids arrive, the mystery is over! Offscreen, the sheriff arrested the culprits.

Mystery man is revealed to be Mr. Carter. Grandfather hired him to search this part of the country for uranium. Um...is Grandfather trying to build an atomic bomb? Normally, mill owners don't hire people to search for uranium. Anyway, that explains all the weird rocks on the property! They're uranium!

Hey, maybe that's why Aunt Jane is bedridden. She got uranium poisoning from her chimney.

Grandfather steps in and starts a huge mining operation on the ranch. Grandfather is reunited with his sister, and the kids buy Aunt Jane a puppy.

The End

Post-Book Followup

When I read this series as a kid, I stopped at this book and gave up on the Boxcar Children. It's a bad book in general, and it's an even worse mystery. We never get to meet the culprits! The mystery is solved by the random guy who was nice to the girls on the train! By huge coincidence, Grandfather just HAPPENS to be one of the two people searching the area for uranium!

It would have been so much better if Mystery Man had been the culprit. Sure, he only shows up for half a page before the end, but at least he's a character with a name, unlike the culprits.

I did like seeing the kids make friends with Aunt Jane, but I think it could have been done better, if we ever got to see the mean version of Aunt Jane. The Aunt Jane we get isn't all that mean. At worst, she's kind of picky and impatient, which is understandable, 'cause she's a sick old lady who hasn't left her bed in who knows how long.

Or IS she sick? At one point, Aunt Jane shuts the door to her room by herself, and the girls figure that Aunt Jane is faking her illness for attention. That was surprisingly mean-spirited of them.

Overall, this is a bad book, with no mystery. It's just the kids visiting a relative and being nice to her, while all the interesting things happen offscreen. It's bland and forgetable, and I'd recommend skipping it. I give Boxcar Children 4, Mystery Ranch, a 1 out of 10.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Miss Clue Peril in Pemberly

People have been bugging me to play the third Miss Clue game, which is Peril in Pemberley. It's available for purchase now.

Why haven't I played it? "Available for purchase" means "available for pre-order", in this case. They have not sent out any physical copies of the game, nor have they sent out any digital copies. Like, I would play the game, if I could. But it's not out yet. So I'm playing Bridge to Another World: Burnt Dreams instead.

This game has had a lot of problems with its release date. This past Friday was actually their third release date. Or was it the fourth? Either way, I'm sure it'll come out eventually. The game apparently has been finished for a while now; Amazon just isn't cooperating with releasing the game. Perhaps they should have tried Steam?

[Edit: Download keys are now live! The game is out now!]