Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MindGames in Austin, and Barton Springs Pool

  I don't usually advertise that I'm a member of Mensa.  I know, it pays to advertise, but when I mention Mensa in polite conversation, I sometimes get a really weird response.  If I could jump into the brain of the person giving me the weird response, it might be something like, "Huh. She's one of those super smart people.  I bet she thinks I'm an idiot.  Well, I'm not an idiot, so fuck you, lady."  (I'm just speculating here. And I certainly don't think you're an idiot, hypothetical person.) You wouldn't get that response if you were, say, a member of some group made up of the top 2% of engineers, or the top 2% of elite athletes, but anyway, I am a member of Mensa, and every now and then I go do Mensa things. This weekend, Joan (yep, she's a member too) and I went to Austin board games for three days.  Oh, the things Mensans have to do to keep our super smart cards.

It's called MindGames.  The board game manufacturers need to road-test their games before they're generally released, and for some reason they decided Mensa would be a great partner.  What happens is, you volunteer to be a judge, and you show up on the aforementioned weekend and play as many of the new games as humanly possible.  Some people stayed up all night.  I can't do that anymore (ah, middle age), but I was up pretty late, and I don't think Joan got to bed before three.

This isn't to say all went well, though. It started out pretty bad.  Joan got into one game with a group of people at the beginning and was then unable to find a way into another game.  Instead of having announcements with a bullhorn like normal people, they were running a screen where people had to program in what they wanted announced -- "Need 2 more for Schmovie at Table 5," for example -- and by then the 2 more had long since been found.  She got so frustrated she was ready to bail on the whole event, but then I got there and once we were a team, it was a lot easier to start and get into games. So happy ending, sort of, but I think they ought to go back to announcements with a bullhorn.

Among the new games there were some clear standouts.  One is called "The Duke," and if you like chess, you're gonna love this one.  It's like chess where some of the pieces change how they can move halfway through.  Did that make your brain go tilt?  Seriously, the different pieces have specific ways they can move, and then suddenly they change.  It's a pure strategy game and not easy but it was a LOT of fun.  Highly recommended.  Next on my short list is "Schmovie."  You're the director of the next big Hollywood production. You get a genre by rolling a die, and the essential elements of the movie are drawn as cards.  So you might, for example, end up directing a musical about the life of a vegan actress.  The other players give you titles.  Mine was, "It Ain't Over Till The Skinny Bitch Sings." Thank you, thank you.  Be here all week.  Imagine adding alcohol to this game and using it at your next house party.  Yep, it only gets sillier from here.

By the way, if you ever want to do this, you don't have to be a member of Mensa.  You can be a guest judge.  You just need a member to invite you, so if you want to be invited, get back to me.  Next year it's in San Diego, May 1-3.  And they should have solved the bullhorn problem by then.

The other Big Event in our trip to Austin was the Barton Springs Pool.  I sort of collect famous swimming pools and spots, like some people collect stamps.  If I can get in it and splash around, it counts.  I've done the Plunge at Mission Beach (biggest swimming pool in Southern California), the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Willard Bay (also Utah), Lake Powell, the Pacific Ocean (dozens of times) and now Barton Springs. Here's a list of the ones I want to check out (nifty that a lot of them are in the Maldives; I can knock off several with one really expensive trip). Someday I'm gonna find out who owns the house that has that pool that's decorated with the signs of the Zodiac and just invite myself the heck over.  (You haven't seen it?  Okay, Google "Cars video Magic" and take a good look. Isn't it gorgeous?  The song's not bad either.)

But anyway.  The Barton Springs Pool is the largest natural-spring pool in Texas, its total length being just shy of 1/4 mile.  By "natural springs pool," what they mean is, water pours in from a spring and fills the pool, then flows past it and down Barton Springs Creek.  The water is completely replaced every day, so there's no need for chlorine.  Even in the middle of one of the worst droughts in Texas history, the pool was full and there were plenty of kids splashin' around.  I swam the whole length of this pool not once but twice.

For the life of me I can't figure out how to align these two photos in Blogger, but if I could align them, you could see the whole length of the Barton Springs Pool.  Like I was saying, it's a very big pool.  The lifeguard towers are far enough apart that I hope the lifeguards all have radios because shouting won't always do the job.

That's me down there.  Joan was taking a picture and I just happened to look up in time for the frame.  Movin' pretty good, aren't I?  You know, when you think about it, I'm built like a seal.  And seals are pretty fast in the water, especially when they're being chased by killer whales.  Or in my case, a rogue salamander.  Yeeks.

It was an awesome experience. There were plants in the water, with flowers on top, and swimming above the plants was like flying above a rain forest.  I saw several small schools of fish, and once something zipped under a bush that looked disturbingly like a snake.  My first thought was water moccasin.  Tracy says it was probably a salamander, though, since if it were a water moccasin it would have cheerfully chased me and bitten the daylights out of me.  Apparently they do that.

The only downside of the Barton Springs Pool?  It's frick'n COLD.  They promised me 68 degrees.  They lied.  If it was more than 65 I'll eat my swim fins.  Not the coldest water I've ever swum in--that would be the water off the coast of San Diego, on a day when the water and air temperatures were both 55 degrees, and yes, that was incredibly stupid of me and I haven't done anything like it since.  But it was cold enough.  (I'm used to about 80 at the Tom Landry pool.  I am spoiled rotten.)  On my way back the second time, I noticed I was getting colder and colder, which is not a good sign, and that I was also slowing down, another bad sign.  By the time I made it back to the ladder, my teeth were chattering.

That aside, though, a fine time had by all. Austin, we love you. Cheers!

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