Thursday 31 August 2023

Summer's End 2022

 It's the 9th annual "Year End" recap post. (Started in 2013, did not run in 2016 as that's the year I wasn't teaching.) As I've said before, the end of August is the true end of the year, no matter what the Gregorian Calendar claims. That's teaching life.

Of course, in 2021, I didn't post until MARCH 2022. This time, it's A YEAR LATE, as we're talking about the year Sep 2021-Aug 2022, to be clear. And unlike in 2021, I didn't even start this until the actual new year, Jan 3rd.

The years are getting harder, despite the teaching being part time, and I don't know if it's the parenting, the teaching under a pandemic with a conservative government, or some mix. ANYway. Let's just get this out there so I have a reference.

WORK RELATED

In September 2021, we were back to semesters (not quadmesters), but we ran alternating weeks. Meaning two weeks worth of math was done in a single week, then students went off and did another subject for a week, and then came back to math. So much like with quadmesters, the courses had to be completely revamped to run sensibly, as it doesn't work to test the first day back after not having done any of the course material for a week.

Generally speaking, since a period was double the time, two lessons happened in a single day. Ideally with some time in between to process the new work.

Fortunately for me, as I mentioned in last year's update, a request to shift to part-time was belatedly granted to me in August 2021. Because I was also having to teach a new course (MHF 4U), largely because the teachers who would normally have done it were either now at the virtual school, or were handling the new Grade 9 Destreamed Math Curriculum brought in without resources by the Ford government. (Destreaming, good. No actual provincial funds to handle it, bad.)

This reduced schedule meant I could concentrate on getting MDM 4U (stats) to run in the new alternating system, while generating a bunch of new lessons for MHF 4U that could potentially run in either system (always looking ahead). The 3C course went to someone else, giving me more prep time. I only taught in the afternoons, 12-2:30pm.

The use of a portfolio as a culminating work for MHF (since there were still no exams), based on a posting I saw in Sept 2021, proved particularly useful. The data culminating works (split into spreadsheet stats and probability project) remained from the prior year.

As a final sidebar, not all school boards in the province (or even in our city) went with this alternating system. The provincial government was randomly approving different things, pretty sure they're trying to break us.

September saw my ceiling projector FINALLY replaced, about one year after it blew out (they had to replace the mount first), so we were off the cart sitting in the middle of the room. I had to upload my vaccine status, and lunch duty was back, but the grades were separated around the school (so in the caf, I only had to watch the Grade 12s). I also did an Australian PD. 

The only school-related Covid Scare happened in December, with an explosion of cases shortly before the winter break. I was lucky not to be tagged for having to isolate over the holiday.

We then pivoted to remote teaching at the start of January, which of course we only found out via the media (conservatives don't talk to unions). I was still dealing with 4U course prep, and now had to check ClassFlow still worked from last year. A week after that, we ended up in HYBRID MODE.

Basically, I was mandated to be in school, and some students were there too, but others elected to stay online, so I was running things with a laptop on the desk. Attendance was fun to take, not. We eventually made it back in, and then there was a huge set of 4U cheating cases in January 2022; I needed sick leave to handle the end of the semester (in part with preschool shutting down, see below).

By semester two in February 2022, things were on a rocky path back to "normal" (narrator: things were not normal), as I was again full time, and dealing with three 3U courses. I implemented the portfolio there too (again, no exams), with a better cap on the number of entries.

The February long weekend (PD and Family Day) was supplemented by two days of no busses for ice (that came in Tues afternoon and lasted through to Wed morning), meaning I saw some students on Thursday and then not until the next Thursday. I was out sick a bunch in March after the break (pretty much right after mask mandates were provincially lifted, coincidence, probably not).

In April we locally reinstated mask mandates here, which lasted until late May. Around when daily screenings ceased too. A derecho (sudden dumping of water) in May also closed schools on the Tuesday (after a holiday Monday); I was then sick the following two days. Aside, I ate all my lunches in the car, the only time I actually took off my N95 mask within the school building was late June one day, when there were some staff sandwiches.

Staff meetings were virtual. We learned start time will be shifting to 8:20 (from 8:30), because busses. Math contests ran, but with very low numbers (and with one parent asking about their child who was at a different school participating, though they ended up not needing us). I'm somehow still the COMA secretary, except we're known as O34ME.

PARENTING RELATED

This needs its own category. In September, I finished a Summer 2021 video for my daughter, four looping iterations of music (which was one more than previously anticipated). I managed a little video of her running her preschool in October 2021. She still doesn't sleep regularly, sometimes wanting chair when she wakes up in her crib.

The Paw Movie promotional material went away on the tablet, so I bought her a PawPatrol book. We bought her a new clock showing colours when she could wake up. Her giraffe soother broke (bit through) within 24 hours of the clock showing up; she had to go cold turkey without (we had warned her). She handled it, in part with the giraffe stuffy itself.

The lamp in her room fell and died as she was getting over being sick in mid-September. We also had our first gymnastics class (Wednesdays, 5:30pm), and bought her a unicorn outfit for Halloween. And she had her first birthday party invitation (via preschool); we chose to attend (Mom not feeling well) which is good because not many did.

Thanksgiving was in Carp; parents came in, we went to Cora's (1st time in 18 months, show vaccine certification). October also had a preschool pickup (then me driving back to teach the afternoon) and Covid PCR tests with negative results. Later in October was CHEO for her ear, in 6:30pm, out after 1am, which felt long at the time but is laughably short these days. (Antibiotics until last week of Oct.)

November had an actual preschool Covid scare, everyone was sent home the day I was finishing handling morning math contests (turned out to not be Covid-19), followed by a power failure next morning. December was the scare in our building (see above), then in January, a change to provincial regulations.

We had a positive case in her preschool in January, but they were NOT shut down (this was as I was learning our school was going remote). They didn't even have to tell us, but they did because they're awesome. We kept Alexandra home the next day (Friday), doing a round of RATs and we were all negative (her throat did end up hurting).

Another preschool case in later January prompted an early Friday pickup. And then at the end of the month, the preschool was totally shut down, resuming in February. I was already taking sick leave (for both physical and mental reasons) so we got it to work out.

I believe January is the month she was showing more interest in the Frozen princesses, and by February she was sucking her thumb a LOT more. From every couple days to being multiple times in a day (something she learned from Haley?). A home, we did Preschool Cubbie play, with the Cubbies being below the island in our kitchen.

In February, she wore a mask to preschool sometimes (again to be like Haley?), and got scared the day we forgot to buckle her carseat. Right after March Break she was out for 4 days with a throat thing, had to give her a RAT to even see a doctor (then she did toothpick RATs with stuffies). I was out 3 of those days, not feeling great myself. (See above, mask mandates had gone, though I still wore one.)

At the time, we thought she'd avoided a preschool Gastro outbreak, but about a week later she got it anyway, 2 more days out. In April, another change, where we can return to dropping them inside at cubbies. I gave her an Everest for Easter (to go with her Rocky). We attended virtual school sessions and enrolled her in Trille des Bois for September.

My notes for May say she is able to explain and self-play much more. Bonne Mama visited, and had to buy sleep pull-ups when we forgot for her sleepover. They both attended the Mother's Day event there, and I went to the Father's Day one in June. Her aunt came by for her fourth birthday, and she got her unicorn luggage for the summer. She also decorated her own cake.

Summer started with seeing the RCMP horses, getting a school bus from going to Group, an outdoor swim class, and a trip to Georgetown. Her preschool ended in mid-July, shortly before we headed out to France for three weeks. Summer ended with getting her started on a Covid vaccine, and building a cardboard house with me, that's now in the basement.

Quick aside, Fertility restarted in February and June, but it's looking like she'll be an only child.

HOBBY RELATED

I'm still so behind in webcomics, serials and everything else I used to read. I don't know when, if ever, I'll catch up from before the pandemic. It's all I can do to find time to write my own stuff.

I did keep up with videos and Lotus LPs that I like. My serial site shifted to recap posts that I could queue up months in advance, namely mathNEWS serials. Quantum Loop, General l'Hopital and Sinefield. I haven't run an "Epsilon" since the last one ended in April 2021.

I did write/finish a Log Parody song (technically most in Aug 2021) which I used in 4U. Then the annual Christmath parody in December (Walkin' Around Unit Circles). And I made a "Marmalade Mercury" video in July 2022 in preparation for the serial blog.

"Time Untied" continues to be a behemoth, the yuri triangle (Carrie-Chartreuse-Peaches) kind of taking over into "Time Denied"; I wrote another 25,000+ words in November during NaNo, taking me from 2L into File 2M. Then July 2022 got us another 14,000+ words into 2N. (From "A", every file has about 20,000 words.) I got the Feedback from I&I about the "Denied" restart in early 2022 as well. (A to J being the full "Untied" book.)

I did online Roleplay, continuing TORG RP with Ben (from the Eiffel Tower escapade in Sept 2021 to a virtual battle in Aug 2022). Having Avril now fully kitted out for September's new session. Unrelated, me and AL watched the new Bond Movie in Dec 2021 (while little one was with Tatie) and I saw some movies on the plane while flying Internationally in the summer.

Yuri, I finished Villainness Book 3, still reading a bunch more. Anime, I made time for "Birdie Wing: Golf Girls Story" season one, upon hearing it had yuri subtext (and that's all). Created a Scan File as I did, may or may not ever clean it up. Drawing, I got a math banner done in Jan 2022... for 2021.

In May I blogged about Ford being a terrible leader, then blogged again about him being terrible for Education. He still won the June election, because 57% of the province didn't vote. I started putting together a post trilogy about word puzzles in August 2022 but didn't get back to it at all.

I joined Mastodon at the end of April 2022, when Musk talked about buying Twitter (I could see writing on the wall). But I didn't seriously post, in part because I wasn't sure about the different fediverse channels. I also found the #TimeTravelAuthors hashtag in August while on vacation, and joined a community of fellow authors there.

That's about it. What even is spare time any more.

UPKEEP ET CETERA

Miscellaneous stuff! We bought new BBQ and had it delivered. It's still in the garage over a year later, because moving it out back requires a new BBQ cover.

The power off button on my phone broke at the end of March 2022. I didn't deal with it until the summer. In April 2022, I bought a home Hepa Filter and new Thermometer after all our illnesses in March. Also later that month, discovered our Fridge had an overheating issue (the strip between fridge/freezer was burning hot), so installed my personal fan in behind to cool until, you guessed it, summer. Ordered a new fridge, hadn't arrived by end of August, we bought a small bar fridge.

The AC broke in June. That needed a more immediate fix. We also got Alexandra a new bed that month (and new dining room chairs at the same time, as one broke when she leaned in it). Plus a yuri bookshelf for me then too. I could mention the provincial election that happened then, after we'd had a federal election in the fall.

I found I needed to buy a new hose when the broken attachment wouldn't come off from the end of the previous summer. I made it up to four Covid vaccine shots. There's always something.

WHERE TO NEXT

Yeah, no. I'm kind of THERE now, and there's no way I could have really predicted a huge chunk of it, so maybe I'll just finish this post here.

Did you get this far? Amazing. As I've said before, if you have any particular questions about teaching or parenting, I'll see what I can do? Thanks for reading my mental rambling.

Saturday 22 July 2023

Time Travel Troubles: Meet Cute

I'm debating a new column about time travel stories that have trouble with the time travel. This is prompted by a #TimeTravelAuthors question the other day about time travel that happens by magic versus science.

I feel like there are less troubles with stories using the latter, but that could be my bias. If you have any such stories you can think of, supporting magic being better or worse, feel free to drop me a comment.

The main problem I have (which applies to the movie I'll speak of today) is the "Fridge Logic" trope. Whereby something doesn't hold up as soon as you start to think about it. Which as far as time travel itself goes, tends to happen when I'm still watching the movie rather than an hour after the fact. Because I'm usually thinking about the topic.

One prior example of this is the anime Erased which I discussed six years ago. The protagonist mind leaps back into their younger self for short periods of time. Elegantly crafted, interesting symbolism, but I shake my head about the temporal aspect.

But we're not here today for that, but rather to discuss the 2022 movie "Meet Cute". Spoilers ahead, in case you haven't seen the movie and plan to do so in the future. (Or in the past, I don't judge.)

Related, at times I'll simply reference something that makes sense if you've seen the movie, but may seem a bit weird for me to say otherwise. I simply don't want to go into extended explanation for this post; if it's too confusing, drop me a comment and I'll fix it in edits.

NOTE: There is talk of suicide here too, because the movie itself brings that up. In case that's a trigger for you. With that out of the way...

THE MOVIE

It's an American romantic comedy film starring Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson, directed by Alex Lahmann. A cursory search shows around 2/5 stars on some professional review sites.

It is, as it's title suggests, cute. It's also rather dark (particularly for being a comedy). And it definitely leans into the romance more than the time travel. In that the time travel is incredibly logically inconsistent.

As such, I've decided the best way to address the problems (and demonstrate my hesitation for magical time travel) is to consider the TOP THREE MAJOR TEMPORAL ISSUES in the movie Meet Cute. They will get progressively more difficult to rationalize.

1) DOES THE PAST CHANGE OR NOT?

The automatic first reaction here is yes, of course it can change, because partway through the movie, Sheila creates a timeline where Gary has a different personality. Owing to altering events in his past. It's a key plot point about personal trauma, and whether/how we allow someone else to address it.

There's also the fact that their date plays out somewhat differently as the movie unfolds, each time based on Sheila's new actions. So of course the past changes.

Except the movie isn't consistent about that.

The glaring issue is, near the start, Sheila talks about the TV repairman in her past. And we later learn that event HADN'T happened yet, it's due to later time travel that we see on screen. So how can she possibly know about it already?

I suppose one could argue it did always happen, and then after the time travel it happened differently. Or that she's tied into the time machine somehow, seeing future events. But the movie didn't set us up for that.

Add to that question the one about the time machine itself.

June says was bought by their manager, and then they tried to return it (ie- never buy it) when they discovered it was only good for 24 hour travel. Except they were somehow unable to change that, hence the time machine is still there... and the matter is dropped.

So, was the time machine being there unchangeable?

Granted, we have a rather unreliable narrator here in Sheila, but which is it? Are events destined to happen, or can they be changed, the way she claims she dealt with someone worse than Hitler. The movie leans one way but tries to have both.

2) KILLING HERSELF DOESN'T WORK

Interestingly, this isn't even the suicide part. This is where we see Sheila hit herself with the car so that she can take her past self's place.

It doesn't work AT ALL for the simple reason that Sheila makes multiple trips. Over 300, in fact, to that same day. This would be fine if she only mentally jumps into herself, or if going to the past wipes out her prior trip into that day, but both those possibilities are refuted.

For one, we definitely see two of her. They even show the hit-and-run three different ways.

For the other, if going to the past were to replace/wipe out her earlier trip actions, she would simply have to sit and do nothing to restore Gary's own timeline after she messes with it. Not literally have to knock out her "neighbour" persona from the prior trip.

Seriously, how are there not ultimately 300+ versions of Sheila who need to fight it out for this one date?

I know what you're thinking.

It's not due to a time loop either, don't even try with that. Sheila is literally making the decision herself to go back and revisit the day every time, as opposed to quantum forces resetting things back. She could stop, she doesn't want to (again that whole personal trauma angle).

I've give the move this, it IS an interesting mental locked-in-the-head version of the time loop genre. But we know she's physically jumping. Not jumping back into her mind. And doing it 300+ times.

And yet now it gets worse. Because her past self dying even ONE time presents an even greater issue.

First, what does Sheila even remember, both being hit AND continuing on and living out the date as her future self? From the point above, if she remembers the TV Repairman in her past which hadn't yet happened yet, surely she remembers getting hit by a car in her past which also hasn't yet happened. (Or has it?)

Worse, if she returns to the present after 24 hours is up, as seems to be the case (again, see her messing in Gary's past), how is she not dead upon her arrival?

You go into the past, then return to your present-day self.

But her present-day body was killed in the past by her time shifting self. There is no Sheila to return to. Sheila is in a trunk somewhere.

So what we have here is the movie claiming she kills herself, and replaces herself, but somehow it only happens the one time (the first time) and then there's no repercussions or trauma for literally two of her body now existing (one coming out of the time machine and one in a trunk).

This doesn't hold up in any respect.

3) THE ENDING IS PROBLEMATIC

Now we get to the suicide part.

What if Sheila had died at the end? When her 24 hours are up, would not her dead body return to the present, and be dead in the machine in the salon?! That kind of negates her whole "clean death" thing.

And if it HADN'T happened that way, if instead her drowned self was indeed never found, we're STILL left with her OTHER dead body in the trunk of her car. Presumably murdered. Again, definitely not a "clean death".

Alternatively, maybe her drowned self AND her dead past self turn up? Two dead bodies is definitely its own issue.

Seriously, who thought of literally killing her past self? It's a massive problem.

And was this also somehow the fate of the salon owner who bought the machine in the first place, one of them died in the past and so they never returned? (That's a loose end.)

Of course, Sheila didn't kill herself. So, happy end, right? Hold on.

First (SPOILER!), shortly after Gary saves Sheila's life, she should still wink out of existence later, after the sun rises. Returning to present day in the salon, her 24 hour trip complete. Assuming her body exists (see above) they now need to find each other again.

That itself is not terrible (and perhaps it happens after the credits roll) but trying to explain that away raises an additional problem.

First, what does June experience in the salon, assuming she even cares?

Let's say the date of Sheila and Gary's date is June 1st. Thus the morning of June 2nd, Sheila travels back to the prior morning. She returns to June 2nd when the 24 hours are up, and then immediately loops herself back because she doesn't want to live forwards. She does this for... well 300 times at 300 seconds is still 5 minutes, and we know it's more times than that.

Yet then how does she turn up at the end, outside the salon, and say she's not taking the trip?

If she's not still ON the trip, which see above for disappearing with the sun, she should come out of the back of the salon here. Right?

Maybe we explain this away as her body doesn't return to the salon. She returns somewhere else. Or maybe she was always looping back a short while before she ever took the trip in the first place (as that would also fix the 300 Sheilas issue from the prior temporal issue, yay).

That doesn't work either, because of Gary.

Gary goes into the salon after midnight, it's June 2nd, and it's deserted. He travels back, and he returns to the salon. In fact... the salon is now busy with customers? How much time DOES pass while a person is in the past? (Better question, what are the business hours of this salon? It's almost morning when Gary catches up to Sheila, and he wasn't chasing her all night.)

The time machine seems to have different rules for Sheila and Gary.

And connected to ALL of this, here's the kicker. If Sheila dies, could Gary not simply travel back to try again? Presumably he'd have the sense to negotiate with his prior self as opposed to resorting to murder, making this possible.

This means the ending has NO dramatic tension. I suppose you could say that Gary was going to let Sheila kill herself if she was really serious, but I was half expecting him to legit be crossing the bridge so that he would have a more convincing story to tell next loop.

CONCLUSION

In brief, Meet Cute as a movie is very confusing from a temporal AND spatial perspective, only making sense on the relationship, and possibly psychological side. (And even that requires Gary to know her suicide place in the last loop. Did she talk about it that particular date? Granted, kudos for establishing that some facts bleed through, like him knowing her story before she told it.)

To be clear, much like the anime Erased, the problems don't make the movie unwatchable. There's even some cute Easter Eggs, such as the book Young Gary holds, called "The Right Hand of Lightness". This is a spoof on Ursula K Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness", and sneaking in a Le Guin reference is (almost) always appreciated.

But for me, someone well versed in temporal mechanics, it really doesn't hold up. What do you think?

As always, thanks for reading, and consider dropping me a comment if you agree, disagree, or have other thoughts.

Thursday 27 April 2023

My Top Yuri SciFi Manga

Yesterday was Lesbian Visibility Day (not to be confused with International Lesbian Day on October 8th). Then today (coincidentally, I assume) is my birthday. Combine them, and you're getting a gift of a new post here.

Because I read a lot of yuri. Meaning girls' love, or sapphic stories. I also like to read manga for visuals, as it gives me a sense of what the authors had originally envisioned for their characters.

But while I read yuri of all genres, when I get a chance to read books in general, I trend towards science fiction and fantasy stories. So when the two combine, that's a bonus.

I figure, if your tastes are similar, you might like some of these recommendations. If you're not similar, FYI, when I refer to "hard sci-fi" below, I mean the book itself refers to some of the science of what's going on (and that it's plausible), not that the sci-fi is hard to read.

Caveat: These are the opinions of a cis guy, who admittedly has some personality traits that trend towards female and includes lesbians in his own writing. (Which you can find here, fwiw.) So I may not be picking up on certain nuances, feel free to educate me. I also like puns, as far as humour is concerned.

An image of Yuri and Monika from DokiDoki Literature Club. It's a pun.
You either recognize this is a clever pun, or you do not.

Usual other caveats also apply, in that your mileage may vary in terms of the ranking of my choices, plus I'm only listing ones I've actually read. I also tend to focus more on story than art, unless something really stands out for me. (Again, I like manga for the artist's take, I am pretty flexible on their individual style choices.) I've included some scans to give you a sense of the styles if that's a deal breaker for you.

With that out of the way, here's MY TOP 5 SCIENCE-FICTION THEMED YURI MANGA for you to look into.

Have you heard of some others that I don't know about? Then maybe we can swap titles!

5) FRAGTIME

Story and Art by Sato.
Originally published in Japan 2014 by Akita Publishing Co Ltd.
English Translation: Seven Seas Entertainment, 2020.
Format: Volumes 1 & 2 published as a single book.
My Rating: 4/10

Cover Summary:
Moritani Misuzu is a quiet high school girl with a very unusual power: for three minutes a day she can freeze time. When Moritani uses her ability to peek up a classmate's skirt, she gets the shock of her life when she's caught in the act! It turns out her classmate - the beautiful Murakami Haruka - is the only person immune to Moritani's power! Bound together by this strange fact, the two girls grow closer. Can they make the most of their stolen moments together?

The Good:

The time stopping is a clever notion, it's what drew me to initially check the story out. Moritani's ability to stop time then happens for shorter periods as the story goes on, generating tension. The personality conflicts are largely believable. It is hard to predict what they're going to do next.

The Less Good:

Part of the predicting difficulty comes from Murakami's exhibitionist issues. Actually, she has a lot of issues, but that one in particular gets rather "male-gazy" - and I don't tend to consciously notice that kind of thing. So it's pretty obvious here.

There's also no real attempt to explain the time stopping ability, aside from childhood issues and personality quirks. So if you were hoping for hard sci-fi, you're out of luck. Very little of the story is memorable for me months later.

Conclusion:

Pretty fluff reading with a sci-fi angle. Below "average", but there isn't a lot of yuri sci-fi out there that I can tell, so this is nice if you enjoy that sort of thing and/or want to fill time. It also got the anime OVA treatment in 2019, if you prefer watching an anime.


4) THE WHOLE OF HUMANITY HAS GONE YURI EXCEPT FOR ME

Story and Art by Hiromi Haruse.
Originally published in Japan 2019 by Kadokawa Corporation.
English Translation: 2021 by Yen Press LLC
Format: Volumes 1 & 2 published as a single book.
My Rating: 7/10

Cover Summary:
Marika Uruuno is just a normal girl in a normal world. She'll fall in love normally, get married normally, and have a normal family - or that was the plan anyway. But when she suddenly wakes up in a version of reality filled only with women, she finds herself questioning what exactly "normal" means and why it's so important to her. And as Marika discovers something even more precious, she's faced with a choice - will she find a way back to her previous life... or will she stay in this strange new world?

The Good:

We are thrown right into the all-female world at the outset, and Lily Kazami becomes our/Marika's guide. Lily has an interest in Quantum Physics and Parallel Universes, while Marika is in this reality along with her backpack that contains a World History textbook... which has no mention of the virus that caused males to become extinct around the 1920s.

As implied by the Quantum Physics, this is a story that has some backstory and harder sci-fi to it, with fun wrinkles like Marika's little brother now being (always having been) a nosy little sister. And Marika's own diary soon offers clues as to how this was more a reality swap than a rewritten history. There's even an antagonist keeping watch on Marika, and some suspenseful scenes.

Meanwhile, there is some delightful yuri. For instance, at one point Marika and Lily get in trouble, and Marika needs to get them to safety. They end up taking shelter at a love hotel. Where they separately shower, then stare at each other awkwardly before suggesting discussing the clues to date. D'aw. 

The Less Good:

There is some nudity, which to me feels awkward with the two still in high school (and, again in my opinion, they're drawn to seem younger than that). Don't get me wrong, no sex and it's tied to the plot, but to me it was edging close to a line.

Also, while the conclusion is heartfelt and satisfying, to me it felt like it wrapped things up rather quick. And there's a few things left up to interpretation. But maybe you like drawing your own conclusions? Eye of the beholder and all that.

Conclusion:

Mixed bag, overall above average. Leans heavily on "cute" romance for yuri, and succeeds, though the plot has elements of danger to it too. Definitely worth a look, particularly if you're fond of the concept of parallel universes.


3) STRAWBERRY FIELDS ONCE AGAIN

Story and Art by Kazura Kinosaki.
Originally published in Japan 2017 by Kadokawa Corporation.
English Translation: 2020 by Yen Press LLC
Format: 3 Volumes, published separately.
My Rating: 9/10

Cover Summary:
"I am your future amore - your lover!" With these words, Pure Sakurasaka crashes into Akira Kouno's life. As if it wasn't wild enough that she says she's come from six years in the future, Pure insists that in her time, she and Akira are engaged to be married! It's an impossible claim, especially since Akira has sworn off 3D romance, content to immerse herself in 2D dating games. Besides which, why would someone as cute as Pure be interested in a loner like her...?

The Good:

The summary is a massive red herring. We have Pure, a twenty-four year old who has mind-leapt back into her seventeen-year old younger self. And she's popular and strong and (despite her mental age) naive, while Akira resists the idea that they could be dating in the future. And Pure tries to get Akira the strawberries she likes (title drop), and screws up, but in an adorable way, and they start to grow closer... so this is a standard high school romance?

Actually, no. Subtly, we get the clues.

Pure is changing history. ("My high school last time around was an all-girls school.") Akira's got relationship issues. ("When my Mom was in the hospital, she told me my father had another family.") Akira also has a brother, Ruri Kouno, who is a shut-in. ("Don't you sometimes think we should have never been born? ...Kidding.")

And then the question, is Pure's memory even reliable? CAN it be reliable, if this past is being "repainted"? (Remember, in the original history, they never MET in high school.) And perhaps, is Pure is not ALONE in making changes to the past/present??

The story takes a SERIOUS left turn at the halfway mark (partway into Volume 2). There is DRAMA here. Plus the author said they'd read some books on quantum mechanics, and it's evident they did their research.

The yuri itself also morphs, from largely one-sided adoration by Pure (with grudging acceptance by Akira), to Akira trying to separate romantic love from dependence. Even as Pure begins to fear that their love was one-sided from the start (ie- in her future). And yes, I see all this as a plus.

The final Volume lets us see into Pure's future/past. Oh boy. Um, spoilers, but trigger warning for physical handicaps, as well as a scene where a jerk tries to roofie a lady. Again, I see such realism as a plus, but a casual reader may get so focussed on the lovey-dovey female romance that they're not ready for the dramatic shift. Which brings me to...

The Less Good:

The summary is a massive red herring. Those who are into the girls' love angle may be put off by the temporal plot stampeding in at the halfway point, while those who are into science fiction elements may have tossed this story aside after Volume 1 as a fluff piece, without going further. (Fortunately, I enjoy both things!)

There's also the fact that this story is presented chronologically from Pure's initial arrival in the past. Meaning if someone jumps back in time to make changes, we don't know exactly what they did, we only see the results of those changes playing out from the present going forwards. To borrow the story's own "repainting" metaphor, the fact that the fence paint is now red when you can see it was green in the previous panel might bother some readers. (To be clear, the manga isn't in colour.)

Me, I love this sort of thing. But I can easily see how for others, it might be less good, hence placing it here. Also, Volume 3 has less yuri overall, though there's a nice payoff for the patient reader.

At the end of the whole story, the author does present the Timeline of Time-Reversal-Related Events, and I was mostly nodding my head. And staring at it in awe. But again, if that's not something you're interested in, this is probably more of a negative.

Conclusion:

A must read for anyone who loves yuri and time travel. The only reason this doesn't rank at a 10 (aside from the red herring/balance issue) is because I was kind of disappointed it only lasted three volumes. There was a lot of potential... though at the same time, it couldn't really have continued in the same way. It ended at the right time. But I wanted more.

Speaking of, there is a spin-off by the author that features in the first two volumes, "Yurimi-san ga Miteru" (Yurimi-san is watching). It's from the perspective of a classmate who enjoys watching yuri couples, and has no sci-fi elements that I can see. Enjoyable enough, if you like that sort of thing. I don't think it had its own separate release.


And yet that was only at #3, so the remaining two are a force of nature that somehow reaches even beyond 9/10, hm? What could these possibly be?

2) SUPERWOMEN IN LOVE! HONEY TRAP & RAPID RABBIT

Story and Art by sometime.
Originally published in Japan 2019 by Ichijinsha Inc.
English Translation: Seven Seas Entertainment, 2021
Format: ONGOING, currently 4 separate Volumes.
My Rating: 9.5/10

Cover Summary:
When the villainess Honey Trap defeats the superheroine Rapid Rabbit, she sees her nemesis' face for the first time... and falls head over heels in love! Refusing to kill Rapid Rabbit, Honey Trap is cast out of Antinoid, an evil organization with plans for world domination. Luckily, a kind soul takes her in: Rapid Rabbit herself! Now Honey Trap and Rapid Rabbit have teamed up to take on Antinoid. Can Honey Trap defeat her old colleagues and seduce the heroine at the same time?

The Good:

Right off the bat, Honjo Hayate (aka Rapid Rabbit) is NOT a high school girl, she works Emcee gigs at Superhero shows. She's also the innocent in the romance department, while comparatively, Honey tries not to be lecherous. (She says Hayate is "too pure for this world".) So that's already a nice duo, and it's a (somewhat) older couple.

But along WITH that, there's the evil Mad Scientist Melt Out, who has a thing for evil Captain Suigetsu Kyoka (revealed as an otaku). And evil Executive Officer Cool Down is a yuri fan, who lets some things slide in battle because of that, and... basically the whole evil organization has massive lesbian vibes. So this is yuri squared or cubed.

The writing (when it's not romance) also manages to dance wonderfully along this line between humour and terror, without becoming a farce or a tragedy. (Though, uh, a child does die at one point. If that's over the line for you.) Meaning it's a roller coaster of emotions with a little something for everyone.

But there's more. Two things really elevate it to being a massive powerhouse, at least for me.

Firstly, the dimension tools and transformations.

The sci-fi element, basically, and I'm a sucker for this kind of tech stuff. (It's why I enjoy the entire Nanoha anime series.) And somehow, they pull it off in manga form. "Transform Up" & "Transform On" depending on bracelet or Antinoid power gun, and then they're in their powered suits. Though some panels with minimal shading can still show facial expressions beneath.

There's even little explanation comics at the end of the volumes for how the devices work.

And as you continue, there's power-ups to "Cross Connection" and "Hyper Transform Up" and "Final Step", and there's another hero transformation device that gets found, expanding the cast... and soon even the Ultimate Evil, Antinoid Leader "X" gets in on the action.

Oh yes, another plus, the Biggest Bad comes out herself around the HALFWAY point (in Volume 3) to battle the heroines, basically sick of the interference to the point of taking things on herself. Realism! And (mild spoiler) X is a formidable foe, despite appearances to the contrary early on. Which brings me to my other powerhouse point.

The clever misdirection and foreshadowing.

Honey Trap tries to clue Hayate in early on about the evil organization, and despite that, what we eventually see of them is not what one might expect. Leader X is also seen as a bit silly, though it becomes clear later on that she's like this because she can afford to be. Misdirection. Make fun of her at your peril.

I won't go in depth so you can experience it yourself, but as a specific example, early in Volume One we're told how Hayate became a super heroine: She found her bracelet "at the shopping mall in the next town over by complete coincidence". And that's played for laughs. But much later we learn why and how the bracelet was there, and it's DARK.

Honey also complains early on about the terrible Antinoid working conditions. Which we find out are PLOT RELEVANT.

There is absolute method to what seems like madness on the part of Antinoid. Plus everything is obviously building, as yet another "monster of the week" is found to be a carefully crafted data gathering mission by X.

And YET, through ALL of this, there are still those quiet times when Honey and Rabbit have heart-to-hearts as they try to figure out their feelings. Because Hayate isn't accustomed to dating, let alone another woman, and Honey isn't sure how to confess. So there you go, it's this a lovely sci-fi/yuri fusion.

Oh, wait, one final point, I can't stop myself, the love child of the mad scientist and evil captain, who is named Re:boot Rabbit (in Volume 4) has twintails and her transformation involves a microphone. I'm a fan there too.

The Less Good:

While I enjoyed the mix of comedy and serious, I imagine it's not for everyone. There's talk of panties. There's psychological trauma. There's buffers between those things, fortunately, but is that enough? It usually works for me, is all I can offer.

I also found some of the battle sequences hard to follow. Like who is where now, who just got hit? That could definitely be on me, but occasionally I have to re-read a couple pages to be sure I know what happened during an action sequence. That's something that probably works better in animation, or maybe in colour?

Finally, guys don't seem to exist in this universe. I mean, they must, because otherwise "yuri" would simply be "love" (much like in Whole of Humanity above). But I don't think we even see men as background characters. That pulls me a bit out of the story, albeit after the fact.

Conclusion:

About the only reason THIS doesn't rank higher (aside from my quibble with the battle sequences) is because Volume 5 (which I believe is the ending) hasn't been translated to English yet, and there's always the chance they don't stick the landing. It's due out later this year. Meaning you have time to catch up!


And with that, we get to the top of the chart, with the only thing that could ever really be here...

1) I'M IN LOVE WITH THE VILLAINESS

Story by Inori.
Character design by Hanagata, Art by Aonoshimo
Originally published in Japan 2021 by Ichijinsha Inc.
English Translation: Seven Seas Entertainment 2021
Format: ONGOING. Based on a Light Novel Series.
My Rating: 10/10

Yes, this manga is based on a Light Novel from 2019. I'm cheating. Hear me out, thank me later.

Cover Summary:
When corporate worker Rei Ohashi finds herself reborn as the protagonist of her favourite dating sim, it's the perfect opportunity to do what she's always wanted - seduce the villainess! In her previous life, Rei had no interest in the princes the game had to offer. She only had eyes for Claire Francois, her nemesis. Now, armed with her extensive knowledge of the game, and her undying love for Claire, will Rei finally be able to win over the woman of her dreams?

The Good:

You're going to have to trust me on this one where the sci-fi is concerned, because I've read the five Volume light novel series. Yes, it looks like an isekai ("other world"), and plots like an isekai, and sounds like an isekai, and all of this is happening in a completely different magical world based on an Otome Game... right up until (INCOMING SPOILER!) the point when an Artificial Intelligence unit turns up.

So, it's also science fiction. But the tipping point from the light novels may not occur until Volume 20+ of the manga, so you really are going to have to take this one on faith for now.

Don't get me wrong, there IS some foreshadowing, much like in Strawberry Fields above. But it's not obvious, and if you don't like magic users, you won't enjoy this selection the way I did. (Fortunately, I like fantasy as much as I like science fiction.)

With the delayed gratification issue out there (where I see subverting expectations as good), trust me also when I say that this story has everything.

The protagonist (Rae Taylor) has her seemingly one sided romance with the Villainess, who has a tragic backstory. The three princes, supposedly the love interests of the game, then have their own plots that run independent... and one of THOSE involves a yuri, for absolutely not the reason you might expect. More expectations subverted.

In fact this story twists around on it's axis so much that you'll want to re-read earlier passages, that you'll see in an entirely new light later on. It's partly why for me the manga is so fun, I'm like OH RIGHT that was a thing back then, so clever.

And before you say "oh, another villainess story"? Yes, I know, the manga market is becoming saturated with those to the point of being its own genre. But this one is a cut above. Seriously, had this story come out just a couple years prior, it probably would have been able to stand alone. Only bad timing is burying it among the others.

Regarding the title, there is an actual villain of the piece, and Claire isn't it. And while we build to that revelation, the characters also use down time to reflect on things like gender roles, and what it means to be LGBTQ+. Including Rae recalling what things were like in her "past life". (And it wasn't all good for her friends, so trigger warning there too.)

Once the story fully hits its stride, we see the plot of this whole *civilization* is tied up in Rae's yuri romance, with a kingdom rising up against an unjust aristocracy (of which Claire is a part) and a neighbouring kingdom having issues too. And there are repercussions, and there are elements Rae does NOT recognize from her dating sim, and that's the first hint that there's more going on than this being a simple isekai.

Yet another nice point is that the Rae-Claire romance angle doesn't get dragged out forever... INCOMING SPOILER, but Rae and Claire DO end up together by the end of Book 2 (in the Light Novels). So it's not a forever will they/won't they thing. I know I can get tired of those after a while; not so in this case. Another plus.

Instead, Book 3 throws some new characters and new situations in the way of Rae and Claire. And the NEW situations are EQUALLY as interesting. There's parenting issues, and even a transgender thread with a minor character later on, albeit it's handled in a magical manner.

And through it all, the story doesn't lose its humour. For instance, Volume Four of the Light Novel, has an entire section devoted to a parody of Iron Chef with incredibly high stakes. I cannot wait to see what the manga does with that.

As I said, this story has everything.

The Less Good:

As I said above, if magic isekai stories are not your thing, you won't like this. Because that's what the story IS, up until it's not.

Likewise, if you're some kinda billionaire who is not keen on peasants rising up against aristocrats, or you're not keen on princes who actually care about their subjects rather than squeezing them for every last dime, you won't like this. (Though, if that's you, how are you even on my blog?)

There's also the fact that the manga adaptation cannot possibly go beat-for-beat with what the light novel did (even with the light novel occasionally shifting its first person perspective). The original novel DID need to take its time to build with introspection, using spacing and pacing. And that can become an issue as the manga unfolds, because a couple pages of Rae simply thinking to herself about the situation probably won't fly.

Honestly, given the choice, I *would* go with the light novel first, if you can. And then, the manga has side-stories written by the original author, Inori, that expand on the universe! Which is really another point for the Good section above. (I've even heard that we might get an anime? Be still my heart!)

The only other possible issues are these trigger warnings: for suicide, mild incest, and parental death. Which for me was added realism, but could be a hard line for someone else.

Conclusion:

Read it if at all possible. Assuming you're down with fantasy sci-fi, and yuri not only as the main thread, but also popping up away from the protagonist, where you may least expect it. (Seriously, those princes! And Manaria! And...)

*****

So there's my recommendations. As I said off the top, have you heard of some others that I don't know about? Then maybe we can swap titles! Or have you already read some of the above, and have a different take, or an objection? Let me know!

To be clear, there's lots of OTHER great yuri out there, which doesn't have any science fiction or fantasy elements. (Quick shout-out to the mangas Kase-san, which got an OVA in 2018, and Yuri Is My Job, which just got the anime treatment this month.) So feel free to let me know if you've read anything else good in the genre.

For now, I've gone on long enough. Thanks for reading this post, happy lesbian visibility, and take care out there.

Sunday 19 March 2023

TORG Eulogy: Avril Carroll

It is with a heavy heart that Ben Asim gets up to the microphone at the podium. He shuffles his notes and glances momentarily off to the side at the photographs on the nearby table.

There is no casket here. Because there is no body.

There are only the photographs of her, the other items of memorabilia, and the tributes left by her friends, family and colleagues.

Ben then looks out at those who have gathered in the small room. Only her relatives and the close friends with the proper clearance are present. Given the former, Ben knows he won't be able to discuss exact details, but he wanted them to know how it happened. Because without a body, you're always wondering, unless you hear it right from the source.

He looks back at his notes. They were approved reading.

After a moment, he sets them aside.

He knows he has some latitude, and besides, he isn't liable to go into detail on key aspects of her missions. Better to focus on the positives in her life, rather than how the cosms are continuing to alter reality, despite Avril's astounding selfless action.

Ben finally clears his throat. "Avril Carroll," he begins. "We all know her. In as much as any one person can. Could. Can." Damn it. He plunges onward. "She was a lot of things to different people. And so, I want to take my few moments here to pull those threads together. Forgive me if, at some point, you feel I'm stating the obvious as I review her life."

He briefly scanned over those gathered once again, then stepped out from behind the podium, completely away from his notes.

"Avril was a native resident of Earth. Fascinated by magic at an early age, and captivated by the animation style that made girls magical, she gravitated towards studies in the performing arts. Wanting to learn sleight of hand and methods of entertainment. Her ability to Detect Magic meant that she could even tell the charlatans from the real deal, though this was an unconscious ability at first. Much like her telepathy."

Ben was pretty sure that everyone in the room was someone that Avril had previously communicated with mentally, and even if that wasn't the case, they deserved to know. Indeed, no one was looking surprised, though her mother looked a bit confused.

"By that, I meant she wasn't always aware she could use telepathy on her own," Ben clarified. "Because of course, magic was her passion, with perhaps a side interest in hypnosis. Psionics was secondary. Though as I found out, there was at least one person in her circle of friends as she was growing up who had a similar ability. Meaning that this power was always a part of her life. Possibly even a source of silent mischief making in her teens."

Mrs. Carroll's face cleared as she nodded. Ben's eyes went over towards Elspeth Fletcher, one of the people he'd spoken with while compiling Avril's biography.

The dark haired woman hinted at a smile back at him, and he felt her mind brush against his own with a hint of laughter. She was what people called a canny lass, that one. Ben coughed and quickly looked away, beginning to pace across the front of the room as he continued.

"Avril's moment of crisis, when she was first recruited to the cause, came when her magic mentor, Lewis, was attacked during what became his final show. It was a gospog attack, designed to be a distraction from events happening nearby. As such, there was one Storm Knight dispatched to help clear out civilians, but Lewis was knocked unconscious on the stage."

Ben's eyes went towards his teammates. At this point, he was pretty sure everyone who had been close to Avril back then had known about this incident, but he wasn't sure if she had spoken about it to anyone more recently. Perhaps, but Hotspur, Gaja, Murmur, Sam, Symon, Zephyr, Edmund... they all were listening attentively.

"Standing backstage, Avril acted to save Lewis. After calling out to bring the creature into range, she dropped a fly bar onto it. Some lights exploded, starting a small fire. The gospog was defeated, and she got Lewis to safety."

Ben realized he was still pacing back and forth, and made himself stop.

"Lewis retired from showmanship after that, while Avril became aware of her full potential. And perhaps more importantly, she became aware of ways that actual magic existed out in the various cosms. Perhaps that, more than anything, is what led her to become a Storm Knight."

Ben found his gaze drawn back to the large picture of Avril by the table.

"She loved magic. She loved learning that some of what she'd once performed had been actual magic. In a way, she was magic incarnate..."

Swallowing the lump forming in his throat, Ben pulled his attention back to everyone in the room.

"Ahem. Her magic sensor scrambler ability was helpful in an early mission when visiting Pan Pacifica. That may have been when her psionics were fully awoken as well, for after that, she began to develop them in tandem with her spells. It was shortly after that when I had occasion to meet her, in the Living Lands."

Ben belatedly wondered whether he'd mentioned specific cosms in his approved speech. Maybe? If not, surely it wasn't a problem to mention them. And if it was, screw it.

"We were on a mission together. Despite her telepathy being of use, I wondered about her assignment to this cosm, which had low social ability and an even lower magic rating. As I recall, her response was something to the effect of 'That's why they won't see me coming'."

Someone in the audience chuckled.

"And though she was still perfecting it back then, this was when I learned about Avril's signature move," Ben added. "And it wasn't one that required her wand."

He reached into his pocket, pulling out the loonie he had brought. A one dollar coin. He held it between his thumb and index finger as he extended his arm out in front of him, and sighted down it, as if lining up a shot.

It was a pale imitation of the original, but it would serve to spark everyone's imagination. Because they knew what he was doing. If you knew Avril, you knew.

Of course, Ben couldn't fire off a magic bullet here, even if he had the capability. The hall was rented.

With his thumb, he instead flicked the coin into the air, caught it, and put it back into his pocket. Mrs. Carroll blew her nose. Ben wondered if she'd visualized her daughter in that moment.

"I never thought much about Avril after that mission," Ben admitted. "Until she took my place."

The Nile Empire mission. The beginning of her end.

"She had levelled up by then, of course," Ben continued. "Having become a spell slinger, capable of dodging through her apportation ability. And she could broadcast confusion and fear in equal measures, depending on the situation, while refining her clarity of mind, to dispel any mental affects."

He had, of course, also gained new skills in that time, of the Weird Science variety. Life was weird.

"Part of her reassignment to the team was my concern that I'd become a liability visiting my home cosm. I also wanted to pursue a certain scientific investigation. So Avril went with Mayhem Unlimited --" At the moniker, Ben gave a brief sidelong glance to Hotspur. "-- while I remained in the labs."

Ben hesitated then, and found his gaze being drawn down to the floor. "That mission was, fortunately, a rousing success. Though I was told that, when faced with a nine headed demonic being, Avril's first instinct was to attempt a form of telepathic reassurance. Which went about as well as you might expect."

"The luck on that battle was much better than anyone had expected," someone murmured.

Ben looked up, but instead of seeking out the voice, his gaze went right to the ceiling. "It had been my intention to return to the field after those events. But it was thought that telepathy would be handy for the mission to Akasha. So... Avril volunteered again."

Oops. He probably shouldn't have said Akasha. But whatever. He could pretend it had been a sneeze.

"I didn't insist on going myself," Ben admitted. "I didn't speak up in her place."

When he should have. It should have been him.

"I merely scienced up an unbreakable shield for her to use. And possibly leaned a bit on the supply chain to get her a Rainbow Moonstone Crystal. She hadn't been granted one on the prior mission."

He stared again at the floor. Of course, if it had been him on the mission, it might have failed. As he wouldn't have been able to act as she had, since he didn't have telepathy. But he should have done more for her. Somehow. Why hadn't he?

"And from what I've read in the reports," Ben continued, his voice starting to shake, "and heard in discussions after the fact, she handled herself admirably. Right up until the end. And even then, her sacrifice was... was admirable..."

Ben's palms curled into fists. No. He couldn't do this. Why had he insisted on doing this? He hadn't even had the foresight to take her DNA to create a clone of her or anything. No, Avril was simply GONE, and HE had been the one to send her to her death, and she was NEVER coming back, EVER...

'HEY.'

Ben jerked his gaze back up and over to Elspeth.

'Look at us,' her voice rang out in his mind. 'Look, and you'll see that no one here blames you. Her life, her choice. You couldn't have stopped Avril Carroll. We ALL know that there was no stopping that woman once she set her mind to something. All that remains here is to honour her. Right?'

Startled, Ben once more swept his gaze back over the group who had assembled. And of course, Elspeth was right. Everyone was merely looking at him expectantly. There was no hint of any form of accusation.

Granted, it was a little disconcerting that Avril's childhood friend had decided to read his thoughts right then.

'Try guilt written all over your face,' her voice came again. 'I mean, okay, ever since your talk of our childhood antics, you basically let me in. Still, get a grip, and I'll get gone again. Okay?'

Ben cleared his throat. "Sorry, I... yes, sorry. Give me a second."

He jumped back towards the podium, pushing off with a bit more force than was necessary. The amulet of Isis glowed faintly beneath his shirt as a small shower of sparkles glittered on the carpet where he'd formerly stood.

Ben quickly reached back for his prepared speech, but even as he took it in his hands, and fumbled with the sheets to find his place, he shook his head. He folded it up.

"Avril handled herself admirably," Ben resumed. "As she always did. And I suppose her involvement was inevitable, after she tapped into the Possibility Chalice. She was, perhaps, the only one among us who could."

This time, he made a point of looking at everyone as he spoke.

"On her last mission, she helped to keep her assigned soldier alive, Ana Graham. Not to mention my old friend Pascale Petit, who had been kidnapped to use as a pawn. She survived an attack by a centuries old vampire. She resisted corruption. And she used her bullet attack to bring down a large view screen on the head of their greatest foe, when damage would be maximized. Just before a Maelstrom occurred to seal the deal."

He smiled at the thought of it. She had been a resourceful woman. In much the same way he was.

"And through it all, somehow, Avril never found occasion to use my shield. She used her wits and cunning to pursue the mission instead. And then, at the end, when the Akashan crown telepathically told her there was a way to keep the Gaunt Man imprisoned for years? That's when she made the split second decision."

This last bit REALLY hadn't been in his prepared notes. He was so fired.

"She made him pay. She accomplished something that few could ever dream of accomplishing. In fact, I was told that Avril's last words were to him, and I quote: 'I know this won't be permanent for you. But when you return, they'll be even stronger.'"

Ben took in a deep breath.

"So, going forwards, we'll be doing all we can to live up to her promise. For my part, I know that every time my unbreakable shield functions to save a life, it will be because Avril saved those charges for someone else to use. Thank you all for your time, and --" Ben turned to look at the photograph one last time. "-- thank you Avril. Godspeed."

He hurriedly moved to sit down, as a musical selection began to play... Magic Sunday. <I will be with you, now and forever>... weirdly poignant.

It took several seconds for Ben's heart rate to resume a more normal pace.

'Pssst.'

Ben didn't even turn this time, just reaching up to rub his forehead. 'What now, Elspeth?' he thought back. The music played on.

'Just a good news/bad news kind of deal. Any preference for the first?'

Ben gestured vaguely in the air, certain that she could see him.

'Fine. Good news, I'm pretty sure everyone without the proper clearance didn't QUITE catch the naughty bits there, because of some phantom coughing in the back of the room. Courtesy me. Meaning your job is secure.'

'Oh. Thanks.'

'Don't mention it. Wouldn't have been a proper eulogy without those parts, really, so thank you for being so straightforward. Avril would be pleased, I think. You did right by her.'

Ben smiled, despite himself. 'Thanks again. Truly.' He looked towards Avril's photograph once more. She seemed to smile back. 'Then what's the bad news?'

'Ah, yes, that would be the circumstances under which your team now has an opening for a telepathic Storm Knight. I will apologize in advance there? I don't have the magic skills of my friend.'

Ben began to gesture vaguely again, when the full weight of what Elspeth had just broadcast fell upon him. He spun in his chair at that point to regard the dark haired woman once more, now seeing her in a completely new light.

Elspeth Fletcher merely returned his look with another quiet smile.

(RIP Avril Carroll, Jan 2021 - Jan 2023)

Tuesday 28 February 2023

Word Games 3: Not Wordles?

This post is the third (and last) in the series looking at my scores for "Wordle" and it's spinoffs. You can find the first post, where I look at the basic idea of having 6 attempts to guess a five letter word HERE. You can find the second post, where I look at solving multiple wordles at once (or varying word length) with their distributions getting less normal HERE.

I call this last entry "not wordles" in part because the objective is no longer to guess the words, but instead to fill a grid, as well as because there's actual math spinoffs. In fact, what follows are the six games that I'm still playing, having set aside most of the other ones in the interests of time over the past year.

Aside: While the previous two posts were mostly written in August 2022, this one was mostly written in February 2023, with stats to reflect that. Also, do consider supporting the creators.

MATH WORDLE

The oldest one I still play daily is Nerdle, where you have 8 spaces to fill in a math equation, complete with the equals sign, and still only six guesses. Sound hard? Thing is, the way I play, it's honestly not. But that's due to finding some good seed "words" (equations) once again. I've been doing this one for over a year now.

The site has grown big enough that there are variations, such as less spaces, two to do at once (like dordle), and the ability to have squaring or brackets take up a space. I've dabbled, but really don't have the time, given some of the other games I want to get to in a 24 hour period. Maybe one day I'll devise good seeds for them and do more.

For standard Nerdle, my "seed" guess is a straightforward subtraction that knocks out six numbers, and gives me a sense of the equals sign location. My second guess is almost always a multiply/add combo to knock out the other four numbers, and can take two forms, depending on the equals sign result from the first guess. (Keeps the equals in place if it's right, shift it right if it's not.) If you really want to know the specifics, ask away.

All that means is, after two guesses, I know every number used (though I only have a vague sense of duplicates), I know where the equals sign is (it's always in one of three locations, so if the first two were wrong, it's in the last), and I have a fair sense of the operations to use (including division, as the only thing not yet input). From there, two more guesses can work it out most times.

There's the statistics for it, above from when I reached game 100, then below current to late February 2023. Above, we see the average number of guesses is 3.43, with a spread (standard deviation) of 0.682.


By this point we have whittled the average down to 3.38 guesses with a spread of 0.637... not a HUGE decrease over 288 additional games, largely because it's basically impossible to nail it in 1, and given my gameplay, 2 is equally unlikely. So we have this hugely skewed distribution from 3. Granted, I did manage to increase my 3-game-wins from 55% of all games to 61% of all games.

The thing that really blows my mind about this game overall is that they can detect commutativity. Meaning if you enter 8*9, but the real answer is 9*8, the tiles will spin and it will still be accepted. (You can shut that off, I don't.) That wasn't always a thing, but it was implemented fairly early on.

Note that entering 14+1=15 is still wrong if it's really 11+4=15 though. (As it should be, but still, sigh.)

There were also some other math game sites out there that I dabbled with a year ago, but I neglected to track them. Feel free to discuss options in the comments.

WAFFLE

Waffle is the best game, and I'm not just saying that because I'm on an amazing streak, coming up on just shy of a full year. (Technically I won one more than is listed, because I don't think the Canuckle team-up ended up counting overall.) This board is shaped like a waffle, it's 5x5 with 6 words (three horizontal and three vertical) sharing letters. But the letters are jumbled.

To play, you simply have to swap the tiles into a correct (green) location, and every game is winnable in 10 moves. But you get an additional 5 moves (totalling 15) because it's nigh impossible to get every swap right every game (there's that +5 again!).

Then as you play, you get stars, so there's a pretty easy score to track. Also, the sentences at the end are funny, take the time to read the definitions. Also also... Jiminy Jillikers? Sure, why not.

Noteworthy, because of the whole swapping issue, is that there's nothing I can look up in the dictionary. I mean, I suppose I could (you always get the four corners of the waffle, thus start/end letters) but it would be shots in the dark instead of simply, y'know, solving it. I haven't lost yet, though it's been close a few times, notably at the start.

The best trick with the waffle, I've found, is NOT to (for instance) swap an "A" one up into it's logical position... but rather to swap in the "A" from the other side of the board. At best, you get a two-for-one green, and at worst, you get more information about the tile you swapped out for the "A". Because now that it's elsewhere, even if it doesn't go yellow, at least you're narrowing down the words where it could be.

This is what that scoring looks like. You want to talk skewed distributions? There you go.

At 100 games back in June, I had 389 stars, and 0-3-4-8-14-28-43. That meant 43% of games were perfect, with the average star ranking being 3.89 (spread of 1.31). Given the 347 games we're at now, we see 41% of games were perfect, so that's a decrease. But I haven't fallen to zero stars in these subsequent 247 games, with my star ranking increasing slightly to 3.99 on average (spread of 1.10).

I trend towards four star games, essentially, with low spread. (The percentage for 4 OR 5 stars went up from 71% to 72%.)

Of late, there's also "Deluxe" waffles weekly, which is a 7x7 grid of 8 words. You get 25 moves, but these are much more tricky, because you don't have the corners. I have, on occasion, looked something up there if I have enough known letters (in wrong positions) to figure things out.

I don't think deluxe scores are tracked, but there I MIGHT have closer to a normal distribution. Because I have very few 5 star wins, and at least once I've only won on the final swap. Anyone else is welcome to chime in with their observations.

SQUAREWORD

This is my last long runner. It's like wordle, in that you make a guess, and you learn whether you have correct letters in the right location... for five stacked words. But it's a 5x5 grid, and while you guess horizontally, valid words exist vertically as well. Which can provide clues for missing letters. You still get the info about whether letters exist but are in the wrong positions, but again just horizontally... they'll fill in vertically everywhere they align with the guess.

The trick with a game like this (as I alluded to last post with kilordle) is to guess words that fill in the missing holes, rather than guessing the words themselves. Which can make for an extra challenge. For instance, if you've got **ICK, and you realize it's STICK, you should guess instead STEAL, because the ST will still complete the necessary word and now you have additional information from the EAL part for the other words. The challenge being picking a word that provides additional USEFUL information.

I've beaten this one in five. It was not with the five words on the board.

My seed word every time (which I determined after a number of weeks) is "STARE". If that doesn't seem to go anywhere, my follow-up word is "DOING". By that point I generally have something I can reason out, or possibly look up in a dictionary. Yes, look up, as some words aren't common, it's not easy to make a 5x5 grid.

Playing this way on December 29th revealed one word **ARE and another ST**E. Giving me a chance. But that last one could be STONE or STYLE, while the first could have been any number of things. Still, an 'L' was likely given two vertical Ts, so I actually took the time to work out the most likely outcome based on all the rest of the grid. (For instance, HORSE seemed likely at the bottom.)

Thus for my second word I went with FLONG. What's that? Dunno. (A bad fling?) It was accepted as a word, giving me both FLARE and STONE. That's exactly what I mean by not guessing the words themselves. And once I had that, I was able to enter the other three words, including the HORSE. (Had FLONG not worked, I would have tried to permute in/out the letters from the other words instead.)

The final scoring here is green tiles for guesses 1-5, yellow for 6-10, orange for 10-15, and red for any guesses 16 or above. I've never had to move into the orange tile range on this one, though I've had some 10s. Here's the current stats for 240 games.

The average is exactly 7.6 guesses to completion, with a spread of 0.965. Again it's a skew, which is reversed from the Waffle. Since there you want to end high, while here you want to end low.

There is another variation of this game out there, "Squardle" (not to be confused with the one below having an "e"). It has a waffle grid but is to be filled with guesses, not swaps. When I last played, words would fill in both horizontally and vertically simultaneously. You have a limited number of guesses, but by correctly getting a word, the guess doesn't count (ie- total is increased by 1, unless it was last guess). There was also a weekly board which looks like the squareword, but again limited guesses.

That game had some loading glitches in late May 2022, and I haven't made the time to return to it. I think I prefer the games where you can keep going past failure, takes the pressure off.

I will say that showing you which letters had to exist in a vertical or horizontal direction was a clever feature only in this game. As I recall, my first seed word was usually PEACH, my second was LIONS or LOINS (depending), and the third was RUGBY (if there's a Y, it's usually lower right corner). Then I'd play from there.

SQUAREDLE

Not to be confused with the one that has no "e" (above), or with Squaredle UK. That last involves swapping, much like waffle, but in a full 5x5 gird like squareword. And you could only swap along the horizontal/vertical, not diagonally. It started by scoring with maximums for time and swaps, then changed around when I stopped playing (I only played for a couple weeks long ago).

No, this Squaredle has a board of letters which could be 3x3 for easy, 5x5 for more difficult, or simply a curiously patterned board of letters. It changes by the day. You move through the board like a queen does in chess, picking up letters to form words. I ended up trying it in summer 2022, starting to play more seriously in late August. Though a freebie paid weekend let me delve into the archive and play missing pieces all the way to August 1st for a longer streak.

The only thing is, it doesn't have a cumulative score, aside from the streak. Though there may be more features when you pay in. (They have a weekly puzzle for subscribers, for instance.) All you really get as stats looks like this:

It gives either the percentage of accuracy (right/wrong guesses), percentage time (finish faster) or percentage bonus words (according to dictionaries), whichever is lower. All relative to the other players. Meaning the percentage can somewhat improve (or get worse) later in the day, once more have played. There are some little achievements you can win along the way too, as well as Special Puzzles like for holidays or the like (separate from the weekly paid one).

It's very different than all the games I've mentioned before, and is something I can kind of have on in the background. I always try to get the Featured Bonus Word too, because it often provides interesting trivia (like about mach as a unitless measure) or background information on the puzzle's creation (which can hint at other words, like anniversary or something).

At this point, with a streak of 212, it has perpetual motion for me, much like the following game.

CELL TOWER

I haven't found too many playing this one, but it's another fun one for which I cannot use a dictionary. In the same vein as Squaredle, you have a grid, but it's always 7 by 12. You need to divide the grid into regions of 4 to 8 letters, that read as english words from left-to-right going top-to-bottom. This last is interesting if there are "holes" due to other words... there is a connection to Tetris, almost. The goal is to use every single letter in the grid.

The scoring is a series of arrows, moving you to the right if you have a correct word in the correct place. A wrong sequence of letters will move you up instead; removing it moves you back down. I found this one early, and have been playing since Game #2, currently at #300. A few have given me trouble, but I haven't used the hint feature yet.

There was a typical end result, and again like Squaredle, there is no analysis comparing all prior games. I suppose I've been informally tracking the number of grids that I got correct on the first try, like that one. There's 30 out of almost 300 games, meaning I can do it about 10% of the time.

POLYGONLE

Here is the last one I play regularly these days. This one replaces letters with different shapes and colours, where the words can be 6, 7 or 8 letters long... and there is always at least one double letter. (Often more than one.) So that's the goal as you guess words, use ones that have the double letter in the given position. You can guess without any repeats too, you'll just be wrong.

If I can think of a word with the required letter doubling, I'll try it. If not, or I'm in a hurry, I'll generally use FREIGHT or FREIGHTS to knock out letters. Followed by BLACKOUT if that first didn't produce much. (That's obviously 8 letters... the 6 letter case I can usually come up with a word, the 7 letter second guess tends to vary.)

This time we're back to a regular scoring system of how many guesses does it take. Again, I don't go right to six guesses, largely because of my tendency to NOT play hard mode, and attempt words that give me information about missing letters.

At 100 games, the distribution was 0-26-47-24-3-0. Which is not far off a normal distribution, really! That data gives an average of 3.04 guesses, spread/deviation of 0.79. Now, 65 games later, we're starting to look a bit more skewed:

The scores there an average of 2.95 guesses, and a spread/deviation of 0.800046 (so very slightly higher, even as my average decreased).

You'll notice it is possible to achieve a score in 1 guess, perhaps more so than any other game. Still, it may be harder than you think, once you realize how many words have doubled letters in the same place. It was after thinking for a while, and playing around with suffixes that CLUELESS was the first one I scored on right away. Feel free to ask about the second if you're real curious.

At this point, we started the post talking about actual math, and here we are with mathematical shapes standing in for letters. A good place to end off.

WRAP-UP

There hasn't been as much generic mathematical analysis this time around, in part because of the different scoring systems used in every game. Of more interest might be comparing your game play to mine... and I'm curious about that, so feel free to let me know what you do in the comments.

Is your system better? Do you have a system? Do you want to adapt mine?

I guess the other thing this post has been doing is explaining is where some of my time has gone, as opposed to doing more blog posts or working much on "Time Untied", the Work-In-Progress sequel (which admittedly is over 225k words). The rest of the time being pandemic teaching and parenting, to be clear.

These puzzle games are fun though, and easy to do in the background as I'm handling something else, which is harder to manage writing-wise.

That's everything then. Thanks for reading, comment if you have thoughts, see you in the next post. Whenever that is. (You can always check out my serial site, currently running "Marmalade Mercury", while you wait! That still updates regularly.) Take care out there.