If you like Uno and Dutch Blitz, you’ll love Blink.

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I tried a new game with my family this Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law brought over a card game called Blink.

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The game seemed an easy one to pick up, without a lot of complicated rules. It has some characteristics of Dutch Blitz and some of Uno, both games familiar to me. It worked really well with just three players, me and two of my sisters-in-law.

It is similar to Dutch Blitz in that it’s a fast-paced game where all players play at once. It’s a little like Uno in that you can match color or number (actually count rather than a numeral) or shape.

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Source: Amazon

Cards are first dealt evenly to all players until the deck is all distributed. For three players, the players form a triangle with their draw piles, laying one card out from each, face down. Players put three cards into their hand to start and can replenish them as they play.

Once the round starts, the three face-down cards are flipped over. Players can then match cards and discard them on any of the three now face-up cards.

There are three ways to match, so it seems simple. You can put gray on gray or triangles on triangles or five lightning bolts on five tear drops. Even Kindergarteners know how to match colors, shapes and a count of objects. (This is a game for all ages.)

It’s a bit trickier than it seems. Your brain has to keep track of all three ways to match at a fast pace, constantly switching gears. You may forget that you can put a single green teardrop on five green thunder bolts, because they only match in color and no other way, or you can forget that you can play two yellow triangles on two red stars, because they only match in count.

Like with Dutch Blitz, your opponent can outdo you in speed and slap down a card where you wanted to discard yours. Your four green triangle card may have matched the four yellow star card in a discard pile, but the three gray stars your opponent puts down before you is no longer a card you can match with the one you had in mind.

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Three ways to match

I found my mind was constantly switching gears but that I got better and faster with each round that I played.

I’d recommend it for a fast and fun game with simple rules that is still challenging. You can play with friends, members of the family and others of all ages.

 

Three Song Performances Themed Around “Alice in Wonderland”

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Illustration by John Tenniel via Wikimedia Commons

Close friends and family know I am a fan of Alice in Wonderland. It all started as a child when one of my older brothers gave me a picture book based on the original Disney animation. I had it read to me so many times that I memorized the book. As a teenager, I read the original Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass that inspired that movie and picture book and, more recently, read the novel in French.

In my YouTube explorations, I discovered three songs themed around Alice.

The first is just a fantastic cover of a fairly well-known Alice song,  Danny Elfman’s Alice in Wonderland theme from Disney’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland live action film. The performer is Angela July, an Indonesian harpist and singer who competed in Asia’s Got Talent in 2017. The song is ethereal with a hint of mystery.  Ms. July does a multi-track performance where she harmonizes with herself, singing in three parts, and accompanies her voice with harp. Of course, her ingenue pink dress and floral hair wreath does seem to put her into character.

The second is based on one of my favorite poems, which happens to be a poem from Alice Through the Looking Glass … “Jabberwocky.” “Jabberwocky” may seem to be a strange choice for a favorite poem, because it’s seemingly nonsense, but it’s clever nonsense. It tells the story of a slaying of a creature invented by Carroll but has the feel of a knightly dragon-slaying. It’s more difficult to understand when you read it out of context, but in the context of Alice Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains the poem, the first four lines that is, (which are also the last four lines.) Humpty Dumpty is an egghead, so he ought to understand things, right?

Many of the nonsense words are explained as portmanteaus, two words combined in one. “Mimsy” is explained as flimsy and miserable. “Slithy” is a combination of lithe and slimy. Other explanations are a little more fanciful, things that would not be picked up by the reader just by the sound of the word. “Well, ‘toves‘ are something like badgers … they’re something like lizards … and they’re something like corkscrews,” says Humpty Dumpty. For most of the silly words, you get a feeling of the meaning from its context. It has been suggested that “chortled” is a combination of chuckled and snorted.

This song is an original by Erutan, a classically trained singer-songwriter who specializes in a Celtic/medieval sound. She has three albums: Raindancer (2010,) A Bard’s Side Quest (2013,) and The Court of Leaves (2014.)

The third song makes no references to Alice in the actual lyrics, but the visual references in the video should be obvious. It’s “Pocketful of Poetry” by indie singer-songwriter Mindy Gledhill. The song is about being a creative soul, and the video tells the story of her imagination going wild while trapped in a mundane office job. I think any creative type, whether a writer, visual artist or musician, can find it very relatable. Look for the slightly disguised characters — the caterpillar, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and the pack of cards.

Nutcracker and the Four Realms: A Colorful, Eye-Catching Fantasy with Adventure and an Unexpected Twist

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Disney’s Nutcracker and the Four Realms is packed full of a lot of things I really love.

Sometimes, I see a trailer for a movie and am excited by it, mostly from the aesthetics. I’m a fan of period movies sometimes called “costume dramas.” Nutcracker and the Four Realms has some elements of a costume drama to it and is just a colorful, visually-stimulating fantasy.

I love stories from the Victorian period as well as the Victorian aesthetic and am a fan of the Nutcracker story, ballet and music. I read the original Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann a few Christmases ago. Sometimes, I think I’m a bit of a Russophile, and there are some Russian style influences in the movie as well. Nutcracker and the Four Realms also features a lot of Victorian-period mechanical inventions and clockwork, another fascination of mine. For this reason, the movie had a bit of a steampunk feel which might appeal to fans of that genre.

I guess my oldest brother recognized it as a “Susan movie,” and he suggested we see it together. I was surprised as it does not seem like a movie with stereotypical macho appeal. After all, it has a young female lead and is partly inspired by a ballet. The new Disney movie might have more appeal to a male audience than the ballet would. It has a bit more adventure and more intense scenes than the ballet and can even be mildly creepy in places. There are some scenes that might disturb someone with a fear of mice … or a fear of clowns. I don’t consider myself a musophobe — the main Mouse Prince has a cute little face — but there was one scene where I did pinch my brother’s sleeve … and he laughed.

The story of Nutcracker and the Four Realms is related to but quite different from the book and ballet, which may disturb some purists. I enjoyed it. I’d compare it to Oz fans being able to enjoy Wicked based on the book by Gregory Maguire. The Disney movie is not a ballet, but there are some ballet scenes in it as well as some Tchaikovsky music from the ballet in the soundtrack.

In this version, Clara Stahlbaum, played by Mackenzie Foy, is a bit of a science whiz and inventor. The movie opens with an owl swooping down over snowy London and a bird’s eye view of these scenes as you touch on some ice among ice skaters and hover over London streets. I saw this in 3D and really felt like I was in motion as my stomach lurched a few times. The significance of the owl relates to the ballet where the opening scene describes a grandmother clock topped with an owl. The owl is next seen with Clara’s toymaker godfather, played by Morgan Freeman.

Clara is first shown in the attic of her home with her brother Fritz where she has set up an elaborate Victorian version of a Rube Goldberg mouse trap, using various toys. This introduces you to her interest in invention and is also a foreshadowing of her encounter with the Mouse Prince.

Her Christmas gift is not a nutcracker. It is an elaborate gold egg reminiscent of Faberge eggs from that period. The gift is from her recently departed mother. It comes with a note from her mother, “Everything you need is inside,” but no key to open the egg. Clara shows her cleverness in that she knows what sort of lock the egg has although she is unable to pick it open. Later, at the Drosseldorfs’ party, Clara helps her godfather by reversing the rotation on his mechanical toy of spinning swans. Godfather Drosseldorf also gives her the key to her egg.

She and all the guests at the party receive Christmas gifts in a unique way. She finds her name tag on a string strung through the house and follows it through mysterious hallways all the way to the wintry outside where she discovers she’s in the magical place of the Four Realms.

The four realms are the Land of Sweets, Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Amusements. The Land of Sweets is from the ballet. It is ruled by Sugar Plum, played by Keira Knightley. The other lands are not mentioned in the ballet, although the ballet has a Waltz of the Flowers and a Waltz of the Snowflakes. The movie’s story also has a Christmas Tree Forest.

Shortly after her arrival in the Realms, Clara loses her precious key to the Mouse Prince who snatches it and runs away. She meets the nutcracker, Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight soon afterwards and is astonished when he calls her Princess Clara and refers to her late mother as Queen Marie.

In the YouTube comments for the trailer, I noticed quite a discussion about how some people are disappointed that the godfather and the nutcracker were both played by black actors. Some were calling it “cultural appropriation” since the story is a European one. I can see finding it strange if a black actor was in the role of Andrew Jackson in a historical movie. That would seem historically inaccurate. This is a fantasy, and the nutcracker is a toy come to life. I don’t have a problem with it, and both actors were excellent in their roles.

The Land of Amusements is the home of the Mouse Prince, Mouse King and other mice. It is also the home of Mother Ginger played by Helen Mirren. The Land of Amusements has the feel of an abandoned, creepy carnival and is at war with the other three realms. The Nutcracker ballet features a Mother Ginger with a tent-like hoop skirt out of which climb little Pulcinellas, European style clowns. The movie’s Mother Ginger and her clowns are housed inside a huge mechanical Mother Ginger with a circus tent skirt. The clowns, with their strange, distorted faces, seem a little bit menacing.

I won’t give too many more spoilers, but there is battle and a very interesting plot twist that those previously familiar with the Nutcracker story would not anticipate.

 

3 Sets of Identical Twin Musicians on YouTube

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Photo from https://harptwins.com

Double your pleasure and double your fun with these sets of identical twin musicians.

Derek & Brandon Fiechter

Derek and Brandon Fiechter may not be as visible on their YouTube channel as the other two pairs named later in this article, only because they do not film themselves. Their videos feature instrumentals of their own composition and still artwork … often fantasy artwork.

The brothers describe themselves as fantasy and world composers. The twins both started composing around the age of fifteen.

They are very prolific and have many instrumental pieces on fantasy themes such as elves, fairies, mermaids, pirates, space, steampunk or on world music themes like Arabian, Caribbean, Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian and more. The music takes you away to a different world.

Their music would be great as soundtrack music for videos and movies, video games, podcasts or to be used in live dramas. Under their “About” section, they say that their music can be used in non-commercial videos (whether monetized or not) as long as they are credited.

Many of their fans comment that they enjoy listening to their videos while studying or writing. Their pieces are often relaxing and help to create a soothing atmosphere.

Here is some beautiful Celtic mermaid music from Derek Fiechter.

Some of their pieces have dark and spooky themes, such as this Creepy Doll music. Personally, I find it more relaxing than creepy.

You can find their music at BandcampGoogle Play , iTunes and Spotify.

The Harp Twins (Camille and Kennerly Kitt)

The Harp Twins have a lot of fun as identical twins. Like the Fiechter brothers, some of their music also has fantasy themes. They often play popular movie and game theme music and dress in identical appropriate costumes in their videos. Their music covers many genres such as rock and pop, even heavy metal music, arranged by themselves for harp. These talented girls create all of their own harp arrangements and produce and create the concepts for their outstanding videos.

In case musical and video production talent was not quite enough, the girls are both third degree Black Belts in tae kwon do, are “distinguished experts” in rifle marksmanship and have had training in horseback riding. They are also members of the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA, dabbling in theater and film acting. This ability comes across in their video performances.

Their golden dresses and armbands look appropriate for ancient Rome as they play “Now We Are Free,” a theme from the Gladiators movie.

I love the beauty and color in this ’80s meets Victorian period video, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” The video features the 1890 Eden Palais Salon Carousel at the Sanfilippo Estate.

The girls have several albums including Harp Attack, Harp Attack 2, Harp Fantasy and Harp Fantasy 2. You can buy their music here.

The Mona Lisa Twins (Mona and Lisa Wagner)

These 24-year-old twins play and sing many tributes to artists of the ’60s such as the Beatles, Everly Brothers, Mamas and Papas, Peter and Gordon and other harmonic groups of that decade. They are also creating and recording original songs that are reminiscent of the styles from this period.

The girls are from Austria where the music tradition is classical and folk, but the twins themselves were highly influenced by British and American music of the 60s. Their father is a songwriter and musician with experience running a recording studio. He and their stepmother helped build up their music business.

My first video discovery was this version of “Bus Stop” by the Hollies. It’s a sweet and innocent love song about romance that develops at a shared umbrella at a bus stop. I enjoy their voices and harmonies, and I also just love their humorous and literal enactment of some of the lyrics.

Here is one of their original songs, “I Don’t Know Birds That Well.” This repeated line is followed by, “But they always seem to sing about love.”

On their album Orange, they collaborate with John Sebastian from The Lovin’ Spoonful. You can now pre-order Volumes 2 & 3 of Mona Lisa Twins Sing Beatles & More. You can find their music here. 

Enjoy these musical discoveries from creative partnerships of identical twins.