Ig Nobel Prizes, Serenity, & Zombies!!!

BY DAN ALBAN

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There’s no real unified theme this week, just a trio of eclectic items:

Ig Nobels Ignertaining

Last Thursday, I attended the 15th First Annual (yes, you read that right) Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Sanders Theater. A parody of the Nobel prize, Ig Nobels are awarded to bizarre research that “first makes you laugh, and then makes you think” or to achievements that “cannot, or should not, be reproduced.” The science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research awards the Igs.

The event itself is a zany/cheesy themed ceremony (this year’s theme was infinity) which includes a number of bizarre rituals, a mini-opera, the very brief 24/7 lectures by leaders in their field (a complete technical description of a field in twenty-four seconds, followed by a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words), and ten award presentations of the Ig Nobel to the winners (if they attend) by actual Nobel laureates. All the while, the audience delights in constantly throwing paper airplanes at the stage and occasionally chanting.

The best part about the Igs, however, is the winners. Winning the Ig Nobel for medicine this year was Gregg Miller of Missouri “for inventing Neuticles – artificial replacement testicles for dogs, which are available in three sizes, and three degrees of firmness.” A group of Australian researchers, including a fellow at the Australian Wine Research Institute, won the Ig in biology “for painstakingly smelling and cataloging the peculiar odors produced by 131 different species of frogs when the frogs were feeling stressed.” Several European researchers won an Ig in fluid dynamics for “for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as detailed in their report ‘Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh – Calculations on Avian Defaecation.'”

While most Igs are awarded because of the hilarious nature of the research, they are sometimes awarded to poke fun, as with this year’s Ig for literature, awarded to “the Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters.”

Serenity – Best SF Film in Years

Not only is Serenity the best science fiction film since The Matrix, it is also one of the best films of the year, in any genre. A low-tech space western with no aliens or laser guns, Serenity is a follow-up to the prematurely cancelled TV series Firefly, but remains easily accessible to the casual viewer. Created by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the world of Serenity is political realist’s version of Star Wars in which the rebels lost and the governing authority isn’t a cackling evil empire but an ostensibly benevolent democracy, the Alliance.

The film focuses on the adventures of the scofflaw crew of Serenity, a small smuggling ship owned by Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), an unreconstructed rebel veteran of the failed war of independence. Serenity has picked up a dangerous passenger – unstable pubescent psychic prodigy River Tam (Summer Glau), who’s on the run with her brother after he rescued her from a covert Alliance training facility. A ruthless Alliance agent, concerned that River may have learned about dark Alliance secrets with her psychic powers, is in hot pursuit. This doesn’t sit well with hardheaded Mal, who doesn’t cotton to Alliance authority one bit and eventually declares, “No more running. I aim to misbehave.” Pairing roller-coaster thrills with an intelligent political plot about abuse of power, Serenity offers hilarious quips, chases, romance, gunfights, fistfights, swordfights, space battles, run-ins with cannibalistic Reavers, and a sophisticated philosophical subtext.

Zombietacular!!!

This past week or two, I’ve had a helluva time playing Zombies!!! A tribute to the seemingly endless array of movies inspired by George Romero’s 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead, Zombies!!! is a cutthroat board game in which 2-6 players try to escape from a city overrun by zombies by either being the first to off twenty-five zombies or outracing everyone else to the helipad.

Players construct the “board” by laying down city tiles every turn, slowly building out the city with buildings such as a sporting goods store or gas station, each of which contain not only bonus life and bullet tokens, but also extra zombies. Players move around the ever-changing city fighting (or avoiding) the ever-growing horde of zombies, collecting bonus tokens, and drawing event cards such as “Chainsaw,” “Hey Look…A Shotgun!” or “The Keys Are Still In It!” that may be played to give the player combat/movement bonuses or even to briefly change the rules of the game. Players may be killed by zombies several times in the course of a game, but get to restart in the town square after suffering penalties.

When the helipad is placed as the final tile, everyone rushes toward it in a mad dash or desperately tries to get their twenty-fifth zombie kill before the others escape on the chopper. The cutthroat aspect of the game is that players can move zombies to obstruct or attack other players, and can play event cards, such as “I Don’t Think They’re Dead…” or “Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Worse…” that disrupt other players’ plans. Zombies!!! may seem moderately complex at first but it’s actually pretty easy to learn and play – you may even want to start developing your own house rules to improve on weaker facets of the game. Most games take well over an hour, but there are optional rules to create a shorter game.

The game comes with one hundred plastic zombie figures, sixty bullet tokens, thirty city map tiles, and assorted event cards and tokens, but is quite portable at roughly the size of The Godfather Trilogy DVD box set. Zombies!!! can be purchased online or at Pandemonium Books & Games in The Garage mini-mall in Harvard Square for $20-25. Several expansions and extra bags of one hundred glow-in-the-dark zombies are also available. For more info, visit http://www.twilightcreationsinc.com/zombies/.

Dan Alban is a 3L with a perfectly normal interest in bail bondsmen,cigarette smuggling, and Dachsund racing.

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