Issue 43 - 01/01/22


  • The 10 Denizens of I-35
  • A Weird Deep Dive Into Another Weird Deep Dive
  • Smashmouth's Greatest Hits
  • Book Report: 2021
  • Ask Sam
  • A Correct and Definitive Egg List
  • Housekeeping
  • Office Chart

The 10 Denizens of I-35

Chief Standards Correspondent Matt Spradling

Ah, the interstate: where else can one's soul wither and die daily while trapped in gridlock city commutes, experience the adrenaline-squelching excitement of semi-trucks changing lanes into you at 75mph with time-bomb tires waiting to explode mere feet away from your head, and wage mortal combat against the endless lonesome night on some godforsaken stretch of road without even cows for company, and all of this on the same contiguous piece of asphalt?

Many of the tribulations faced on I-35 - the Platonic archetype of the interstate which plies its dark trade between Austin and Fort Worth (and also other unimportant places) - are contentions of the soul, personal in nature and biblical in scale. However, for better or worse, the rest involve other actors, the denizens of the night, some of which are haunted sojourners like you, while others seem to exist forever and phantom-like on the road, profoundly alone and without destination.

They will appear in the darkness like isolated signal flares on the horizon across a vast ocean of post-apocalyptic emptiness, a curious mixture of fear and relief in tow. Soon, though, they will be all too near. Out of the darkness they dance and crawl, terrible as angels to behold and dreadful as the nameless things which gnaw paths far beneath the earth.

No guide for such a cryptic and treacherous species can ever be truly comprehensive, but perhaps my meager observations from long years of expeditious travels can provide a desperate baseline of preparation.

The Camper - To begin with, we examine the most commonly recognized and reviled denizen: those who abide in the left lane even though they are not passing anyone or even driving particularly fast. Besides being literally illegal, this creates no end of headaches for everyone else as it puts a thick stick in the spokes of the passing system that smooth interstate travel relies on. At worst a Camper will evolve into a Parader, obliviously (or perhaps proudly) leading a long trail of the stymied in its wake, unable to escape from their fume-filled purgatory.

The Sloth - This is a subspecies of Camper. Ostensibly less problematic as they technically obey traffic law by using the left lane to pass, the Sloth wreaks havoc by passing at 1 or less mph's difference from the passee, essentially becoming a Parader who torments their followers by teasing them with painstakingly gradual progress. This is especially perilous if the passee bears any Sticker DNA, as detailed later on.

The Twin - Although most denizens are solitary beings, occasionally a Camper and a Twin will form a symbiotic, predatory relationship, taking up positions side by side in the left and right lanes and proceeding together at the same speed, thus becoming a collective Camper more implacable and formidable than any lone denizen could be. Twins are especially insidious because they are not technically doing anything wrong despite clearly being complicit.

The Leapfrogger - Sometimes you are the passer, and sometimes you are the passee. For a Leapfrogger, though, this duality is mind-breaking and results in an eternal feedback loop. A Leapfrogger will pass you - generally even with proper protocol - but then will gradually slow once they are in front of you, causing you to need to pass them in turn. The Leapfrogger will then be driven by murky, subconscious urges to pass you again, but will inevitably slow again once this is done, resulting in an eternal dance of torment. One of my oldest foes, Leapfroggers are often impossible to effectively combat and on multiple occasions have caused me to pull over for a break, accepting defeat in return for never having to see them again.

The Sticker - The Sticker is a close relative to the Leapfrogger but is in a way more proactive and forthright about its challenge, taking the concept of the passing dance and tightening it into one seamless, constant, mirroring movement. The Sticker will travel at a slow or moderate speed, causing you to pass them in the left lane, but will then accelerate to match your passing speed, effectively trapping you in the passing lane beside them. They will then match your speed as you either accelerate or decelerate in attempts to shake your new parasite, but some cases can be persistent well beyond the point of plausible deniability and can even curse you to become an unwilling Camper. This is sometimes described as "forced Twinning," and I would not wish it upon my worst enemy.

The Bullet Bill - To understand why this denizen is one of my greatest nemeses, I suppose it is necessary to know a little about how I travel. In terms of speed, I traditionally stick precisely to 5 over the speed limit and adjust this rigidly when the limit changes. Maybe it's just the case that my elderly jeep's speedometer is lagging and I'm not actually going as fast as it says, but this seems to be as close to a universal standard as I can find. In theory you won't ever get ticketed for 5 over, so this is the speed limit from a practical standpoint.

Bullet Bills, however, care naught for standards. They move through the world with no objectivity, relativity, nuance, or perhaps even perception, with all the poise of a cannonball. If a Bullet Bill has decided to go 70, they will go 70 whether the limit is 75 or 55. The inevitable result of this is that you will be cruising at 80 in a 75, performing at peak skill and efficiency to work your way past a difficult and messy pack or perhaps just the lone Bill, and eventually are rewarded with the relaxation of open space. A minute later the limit will drop by 10, so you will accordingly drop by 10, only to find the aforementioned Bill now gaining and passing you, dooming you to repeat the ordeal all over again once the limit raises. The kicker is that they will presumably perceive you as being a Leapfrogger.

The Theorist - A subtle menace, but a menace nonetheless. However strongly we believe in our own systems and methods, and in the systems and methods which promulgate societal order, there come times when these methods do not align with the situation at hand and exceptions must be made. All that is to say that situational awareness is important. This is what the Theorist lacks, and what leads them to maintain the speed limit in the middle lane - not an incorrect move in theory - while every other denizen of the night passes them apace, disrupted and made to split off to both the left and right rather than being granted uninterrupted use of the left and middle. Speed limits are objective safety measures, but is disrupting the rhythm of every other denizen not more dangerous than slight speeding, or even more simply, accepting that one is currently driving relatively slowly from an actuarial standpoint and moving to the right? In D&D parlance, the Theorist is lawful neutral where the Bullet Bill is chaotic neutral/evil.

The Chaotic - This is simply a denizen who does not use cruise control. Literally all of you are Chaotics and you should feel ashamed.

The Horde - This is the other non-solitary type of denizen and in fact describes a large collective; a macro-denizen, if you will. In the wastelands of the interstate, some desperate travelers will cling to any order they can find, often leading to the formation of packs. Hordes are perceivable as waves of denizens; one minute you will be cruising at a consistent speed with no other traveler near you, either ahead or behind, and the next minute a Horde will overtake you, numbering as few as 3 or as many as dozens, whizzing past like a Mad Max gang. It's difficult to argue against strength in numbers, but ultimately this brings us to the guide's final entry:

The Wingman - Every so often, when the weather is fair and the moon is high, you might happen upon a traveler not so different from yourself, not yet corrupted by the chaos; they adhere to traffic law as well as the universal standard, and even, apparently, cruise control. Maintaining a distance simultaneously safe and intimate, you may follow each other through packs and through empty spaces alike, through perils and through safety, and even perhaps through deepest, darkest Waco. You might be forgiven for getting attached. Unfortunately, this should be avoided. The interstate is not the place for friendships; nothing good can grow here, and even the most benign pleasantries can lull you into a false sense of security and end up causing you harm. Stick to the guide, your principles, and your instincts, stay focused on the trials at hand, and you may yet make it through another night in the wasteland unscathed.

A Weird Deep Dive Into Another Weird Deep Dive

Chief Art Correspondent Alex Speed

Have you seen this? Have you heard about this? There is a new Beatles documentary (it is no longer "new" in the internet sense I guess, but compared to other Beatles documentaries from the past sixty years it is maybe the newest one) that I want to say is fifteen hours long.

Many of you (all ten of you who have made it this far into this particular Newsletter) will be very glad to know I have gone full circle on one of my most favorite bits - I have started actually going to therapy. I don't think I do therapy normally or correctly because in the last session I had I spent forty of Justin and I's precious fifty weekly minutes trying to explain how much I love The Beatles and what this weird self-indulgent documentary means to me. There have already been plenty of reviews of this series written by people who are much more gooder at words than me so I won't be doing that. I will talk about two ideas here: 1) That expectations and perspective are weird and mostly fake and 2) That people can be human and also create more than human things.

Idea #1

I would like to take this opportunity to talk about expectations and the weird pressure applied to them through limited perspective.

I think there were a lot of widely accepted ideas about what happened in the Beatles' final days: that they were constantly fighting for creative control, that Yoko was the devil incarnate who broke up the band, or that things were so hostile the band could no longer be in the same room. These ideas were largely accepted as fact, built up mostly through the lore of fandom. Regardless of what the truth was it became easier for fans to accept this black and white version of reality. The need for acceptance of complexity was replaced by a handful of convenient scapegoats.

The army of Beatles fans decided their perspective on an issue they weren't a part of was fact. This shaped both the global perspective and the general expectation about what would come next for this group of people. Our framing of the situation as a black and white, bad vs good story made it easier for us to accept the expectation that the greatest band of all time was no longer a band at all.

This documentary serves as a reset on expectations, and permission to return to a perspective that captures the nuance and complexity of working to create great art with great artists. The more difficult to digest truth is that these great artists continued to collaborate well beyond the years they spent in the same studio. There would be no Ram from Paul without John's angry blues influence, there would be no All Things Must Pass from George without Paul's masterclass in arrangement, and there would be no anything from anyone without Ringo's calming presence and genius level percussion. The beauty of creating art with people is seeing their residuals show up like old friends.

Idea #2

I am currently sitting at a diner in Bozeman, Montana and "Oh! Darling" is playing while I drink very strong coffee and try to convince myself to stop eating some of the best biscuits and gravy I've ever had in my life. As soon as the song started I stopped mid-conversation to sing along to what I genuinely think is one of the best songs ever recorded.

It is so easy to hear a song from an album that you hold in sacred regard and imagine its creator as something more than human. The beauty of this new documentary is the aggressive humanization of the most powerful deities of the music world. Paul McCartney doesn't stop being the most interesting melodist of all time just because you see him get frustrated at John Lennon's lateness. The creation of near perfect art is somehow simultaneously more achievable and less achievable with the realization that before these men were music gods they were and always will be human beings. The tension being held between superhuman and guy who cries thinking about how he misses his friend is a whole new way to enjoy this beautiful catalog of music.

Ultimately the fun eight hours I spent watching this new footage did me, a guy who sometimes makes things, a lot of good. I think at first I got really sad that I didn't have anyone to share it with. That my obsessive love of this group couldn't easily be explained to anyone I was currently texting, and that made me feel a little lonely in my compulsion. Upon further viewing this loneliness morphed into a more welcomed feeling - like I was spending some time with an old friend I forgot that I had.

Smashmouth's Greatest Hits

Chief Dungeon Correspondent Marina Martinez

I have been running a D&D campaign for my friends for nearly 2 years now (our first game was February of 2020, back when we had hopes and dreams). We haven't played on a consistent schedule, especially because of the panini, but we've had a lot of good sessions and adventures. Has everybody been having fun? I sure hope so. Have they done a lot of stupid shit? Yes absolutely. Am I using Matt's own platform to publicly drag him? You betcha.

For reference, here are the characters that make up Smashmouth, Attorneys at Law (they are not lawyers, that's just the party name):

Gen Fairbrook: a blind halfing ranger/cleric with a dog named Gork and a southern accent. Very endearing. (Played by Sami McKenzie)

Bea Ornoughtoby: a chaotic rock gnome bard with a shapeshifting hat of inspiration and an unnatural love of coupons. (Played by Wendy Fernandez)

Dircc: a cowboy orc warlock that has a pet rock, a Gucci cape, and an adorably limited understanding of magic. (Played by Matt Spradling)

Champ the Scamp: a little purple tiefling rogue/barbarian with too many swords and not enough baths. Also maybe not even named Champ. (Played by Sam Strohmeyer)

WIthout further ado:


(The 'hit' refers to me hitting my face with my palm)

(My intention was to rank these in order of stupidity, but it also worked out that they're in chronological order as well. I think the party has collectively lost a brain cell each time they've leveled up.)

10. Brought a Kobold into a boss battle instead of a high level paladin NPC

It was the beginning of the campaign, so obviously I wanted them to be prepared and not instantly all die during their first big battle. Yenfire, the courageous paladin that brought them all together, was a stone's call away if they needed backup. Perfect back up plan, right? Apparently, capturing a Bostonian kobold and recruiting him to fight against his employer made more sense. Little 10 hit point Korbag was more logical than 37 hit point Yenfire, I guess. Looking back, this was an excellent indicator of how the campaign was going to go.

9. Incited a riot instead of apprehending cultists

This wasn't even supposed to be a fight, really. They were supposed to listen to a man preaching in the town square and tail him back to Bad Guy HQ. I think it was Champ that threw a rock at the man instead and kicked off a big fight in the middle of a crowd. Somebody cast SHATTER (Bea) and a civilian was killed. I should've stopped trying to plan things at this point, honestly. I should've known. They're also so lucky that despite committing murder the city leader never found out and gave them an award for solving the little cult problem.

8. Solve a tricky riddle with the entirely incorrect solution

I am not a fan of running combat in D&D, but I AM a fan of watching my friends struggle. Therefore, puzzles. I usually have puzzles meant for children (which are even then sometimes too much), but on this one instance I came up with a riddle all by myself and it was very good. There were 5 stones on the mouth of a blocked cave with pictures of different creatures with different numbers of legs and a riddle that would explain the order in which to press the stones. (I can't for the life of me find the exact riddle or solution but it required just re-reading the riddle and realizing the numbers in the riddle corresponded to legs on the stones). I think it took them like 10 minutes of grumbling before Bea solved it. And I use the term 'solve' loosely, because it was not the correct answer. Did she press the stone buttons to the cave entrance correctly? Yes. Was she able to explain her reasoning to anyone? Of course not. Hate that.

7. Posed as lawyers during a murder investigation

After being inducted into an organization (TACOSE) that stressed remaining inconspicuous, the party immediately decided to pose as the lawyers of a fellow member of said undercover organization that they were rescuing from murder charges in a wild west town in the mountains. This is maybe not as dumb a thing as it sounds, but it was only sheer dumb luck that their deception rolls were good enough that nobody called them on it. Sheer dumb luck should be the tag line for this campaign, actually. They did clear their associate of murder charges, but a child in a library had to leave them a book and a very good drawing for them to gather all the evidence. Jerky was the real MVP for this arc.

6. Posed as archaeology students with a child as their TA

It was at this point I truly realized that my friends were all Problem Children, and that absolutely nothing was going to stop them from trying to put children in positions of power. They went to a village on the outskirts of a forest (and a swamp) to investigate the disappearance of another fellow organization member and came across a dig site where an ancient ruin was being unearthed. A few archaeologists were already there (the bad guys, unbeknownst to them at the time), so I guess posing as additional archaeologists to gain access to the dig site made sense. What DIDN'T make sense was having the only literal child in their party be their TA. Sam majored in anthro so like it wasn't the WORST idea but! They can't keep getting away with this! What I hate most is that their deception roles are always so GOOD and this sort of thing WORKS and no matter how unbelievable it is to me, all the NPCs completely accept it. 'Marina, all of the NPCs always seem so tired and they sigh a lot' yeah I know! Y'all just bring that out in people I guess!

5. Focused on playing matchmakers instead of chasing down an important time sensitive lead to the main story

Okay, this one was actually kind of sweet. The party saved this really grumpy man from an underground labyrinth and thanks to one really good insight check, they uncovered his tragic romantic backstory involving the sweet and helpful mayor of the local village. Towards the end of the mission in the village, the bad guys got away, but rather than try to track them (or at least potentially get a really cool plot related thing I'd counted on), they decided to help the grumpy man resolve his issues with the happy man and helped set up a really cute proposal scene in the local tavern. Actually? This wasn't dumb, it was very wholesome. It's still on the list, though, because the alternative would've been cool. This is actually just the list of things they did that I'm bitter about, you caught me.

4. Walked on their hands backwards into a swamp hag's lair

This was just Bea. Bea is just like this. Water? Getting in it. It's extra dumb because nobody stopped her, though. If anything they encouraged it. If you don't stop a crime from happening you're complicit. Also, ACAB.

3. Rammed a ship in the middle of the ocean, causing both ships to sink

...I feel like this one is self-explanatory.

Because of the cool proposal, it turns out that the TACOSE HQ was destroyed! Uh oh! So they had to go to another continent for research purposes (and also because Wildemount happenings are more vague at this point in time according to Critical Role canon). Did I put Champ in a leadership position on the ship? Maybe. Did I force him to make a tough judgement call that the actual captain of the ship was just cool with? Idk the details are fuzzy. But WHY would I have expected them to just ram their ship??? Do you know how much damage they did to the other ship???? More than a ship's HP worth of damage. Anyway good thing Champ had a magic pocket boat. I feel like I should also mention: Bea fully turned into a shark and ate a man. Nobody commented on that but I feel like you should know that that did also happen prior to the ship ramming.

2. Jumped into a pool of water instead of going to the entrance of the really cool jungle temple

When half of your party can't swim, it makes sense to not voluntarily go swimming, especially if you were basically shipwrecked (voluntarily) and had already risked it enough for one day. Luckily, sense is not something any member of Smashmouth seems to have on their character sheet. Sometimes your DM feels bad and gives you a really cool jungle temple a la Indiana Jones to go through with the possibility to learn some cool stuff and get cool gear! But I guess also sometimes jumping 40ft into a bottomless pit of water sounds better than that. This also caused them to be trapped in the secret back entrance to the temple in a room that rained down obsidian and was slowly going to kill them all while a basilisk tried its darndest to TPK them from outside. It's what they deserved and I personally did nothing wrong. Also they rescued a snake man (from..themselves?)

1. Conducted an entire soap opera on skates during a gala heist

I was so sure that after nearly losing Champ to petrification that they'd be more careful on their next mission. This was foolish of me.

I fucked up, y'all. I let Bea have roller skates. Somehow, due to these skates, she seduced two guards. Did this help the mission at all? Absolutely not. Were Wendy and Matt absolutely convinced that they were onto something by playing up the drama? Absolutely. (Up to this point, you may have pinpointed Champ and Bea as the two main trouble-makers of Smashmouth. Correct! Unfortunately, Dircc got really into roleplaying while undercover as their quest-giver at a fancy party so he's on the naughty list now, too. Also everyone there thinks the poor man is in an unhappy marriage.)

Also shoutout to Sami/Gen for doing nothing wrong, ever. I appreciate you. Champ was also, surprisingly, the MVP of this escapade. He stole the heist objective with a 40+ slight of hand check (the stats are BROKEN) and...found his dad? Who knows, maybe! That's for next session.

I know it seems like I did a lot of complaining, and yes that's literally what this whole article was for, but running this campaign is honestly one of the most rewarding things I do and I'm glad I roped all my friends into playing D&D with me. As we head into 2022, I am both excited to finally get into everyone's character backstories and terrified at the prospect of how their hijinx and shenanigans could possibly escalate from this point. We're using Exandria as the campaign setting, so whatever happens, they canonically cannot destroy the world. I'm clinging onto that fact like a lifeline.

Book Report: 2021

Chief Literature Correspondent Matt Spradling

I began the year unemployed, which meant I had ample time to spend on the important things I wouldn't normally be able to do as much, like get through Critical Role campaign 1, or run until my legs broke, or have mental breakdowns, or watch Inside eight days in a row when it came out, although I think I was employed again by that point, which certainly did not stop me.

One other hobby I got back on track with was reading. I love reading, and books are the only thing I collect, and this collection is actually the only real thing keeping me physically tethered here rather than flying to live somewhere very far away where I don't have reverse seasonal affective disorder for 2/3 of the year and where I can actually save money and maybe see a star sometimes. But a cool library is probably good too I guess.


Baptism of Fire - Andrzej Sapkowski

This is the 3rd book in the now-famous Polish Witcher series, or the 4th book depending on how you look at it, or the 5th book depending on how you look at it, but certainly not the 6th. I've had a weird time with the Witcher books. The third game is probably my favorite game of all time even without having played the first two, and I love fantasy books, so I assumed the book series the games were loosely based off would be perfect for me. Really though, the novels (as opposed to the short story collections) feel strange and murky and intentionally confusing, if still original and unique and technically solid enough. This continued that trend for me, although it maybe started moving in a better direction. I suppose I love the idea of these books more than I actually enjoyed reading them. 3/5

Kings of the Wyld - Nicholas Eames

I actually already wrote about this one a year and a few issues ago, so I won't rehash all of it, but this is a great book to help get back in the swing of reading when you're out of the habit. I have a huge amount of love for a fake genre I made up just now called Casual Fantasy, in which it's definitely fantasy, but not super serious and fleshed out fantasy like Tolkien, or grimdark, but just kinda feels like a fun jaunt through an inviting world packed with adventure. Think Adventure Time. Anyway this is pretty much that. 5/5

The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie

Are you figuring out that these are all going to be fantasy books yet? Surprise! Ha ha. What was I trying to escape from? This was an odd one, but it was also quickly apparent why Ol' Joe is getting a lot of hype these days. I'm only giving it a 4/5 because this book alone is a little slow in many places and focuses on doing a lot of character work, organic world-establishing, and setting up pieces on the board, making it less of a great standalone book and more of a great diving board for the next books in the series to fly from.


Bloody Rose - Nicholas Eames

This is the sequel to Kings of the Wyld, and I was super skeptical that this was possible but I actually like it more. Essentially the same as the first, but with slightly more relatable characters, an undead plot which I'm a sucker for and frankly satisfied the blue balls Game of Thrones left me with, less world-establishing responsibilities, and a less-confused tone (a downside of Kings' fast pace was occasional whiplash between cartoonish silliness and some actually quite serious things.) I also haven't mentioned yet but all of these so far have been published by Orbit who do amazing work in terms of cover design and how the book feels in your hand, so growing my collection of Orbit series has been satisfying and has given my shelf a nice, rejuvenated glow. Please sponsor me. 5/5

Men At Arms - Sir Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's books don't quite hit the heights of your Tolkiens and your E.L. James', but I would say he is my favorite author just, like, as a person and based on his interviews. Being the Douglas Adams of fantasy is a fairly apt comparison, and Discworld is undoubtedly the greatest ever achievement in the genre of Casual Fantasy which I made up ten minutes ago. Many of his books' audiobooks are free to find on YouTube with dubious legality. I really do recommend watching some of his interviews, as well as this incredible remembrance by Neil Gaiman.

4/5 for enjoyment of the story, elevated to 5/5 because this is the book that includes the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

Dune - Frank Herbert

I started off reading a copy and then switched to an audiobook halfway through, hoping it would help the pacing get less in the way. Honestly, if you take this book on its own, I feel it gets in its own way at almost every turn and ended up feeling hardly worthwhile for me, although I understand that later books in the series change course and subvert a lot of what you take away from the book initially. It's a lovely world, though; I wish Herbert had actually described it more. 2/5

Neuromancer - William Gibson

I had some bad luck with sci-fi this year. I thought I would love this because it's classic sci-fi, classic cyberpunk, I was very into cyberpunk at the time by way of the game, and I've been wanting to get into Gibson for a while. Maybe it's because I listened to the audiobook and it requires a more careful approach, but I honestly got absolutely nothing out of this. 1/5


Sword of Destiny - Andrzej Sapkowski

This is one of the two short story collections in the Witcher series and I think this is where the series really shines. Maybe it's just because I discovered the world through the games which offer a lovely time full of crazy unique, entertaining, and engaging side quests alongside the also-good main quests, but I love Geralt's one-off adventures and monster-hunting quests far more than the main novels so far. Maybe part of it is that Sapkowski puts absolutely no effort into keeping you from getting lost, and with short stories, there's simply less time to get lost and more focus. 4/5

Mort - Sir Terry Pratchett

Whereas Men at Arms was book 2 of the "Night Watch" arc, Mort is the beginning of the Death arc which I think I enjoy even more. Pratchett's Death is one of the most fun and unique characters in fantasy. 4/5

Before They Are Hanged - Joe Abercrombie

Having carefully set up and filled out the LEGO table in book one, this is where you get to start playing with them and smashing them into each other. It was hard to describe at the time and I've forgotten a lot of my feelings about it since March, but I was struck by how watertight the pacing is and just how much it sucked me into a story rooting for torturers, murderers, and outcasts. Feels like robust classic fantasy given a sleek modern fantasy treatment. 5/5

Death's End - Cixin Liu

The ending of the "Remembrance of Earth's Past" trilogy most commonly referred to as The Three-Body Problem. I'm fairly certain this is my favorite sci-fi of all time. I've also written about the first book in an issue long-past, so won't go too in-depth, and I also won't go too in-depth because I strongly doubt anyone is still reading at this point anyway, but this series is so stuffed full of crazy imaginative ideas it's genuinely exhausting to get through while giving it the attention it deserves, and even though I loved the 2nd book I had to take a long break before getting through the 3rd. 5/5


Work sucked all my energy away and I didn't do anything fun or creative but at least I had some more money.


Work sucked all my energy away and I didn't do anything fun or creative but at least I had some more money.


Work sucked all my energy away and I didn't do anything fun or creative but at least I had some more money.



Last Argument of Kings - Joe Abercrombie

The third in the "First Law" trilogy after the other two listed before. I'm not even done with it yet but it's such a satisfying, rip-roaring, thread-tying time that it would have to seriously shit the bed in the last couple hundred pages to not make it a 5/5, and thankfully I know it won't because everyone probably wouldn't praise the series so much if it did.


Work sucked all my energy away and I didn't do anything fun or creative but at least I had some more money.


Roverandom - J.R.R. Tolkien

It's a Tolkien story about a dog that gets turned into a toy and goes to see the moon wizard, what more do you want? 5/5


Work sucked all my energy away and I didn't do anything fun or creative but at least I had some more money.


Work sucked all my energy away and I didn't do anything fun or creative but at least I had some more money. I have picked up a couple history books about Arthurian legend and the end of paganism that I've had a good time starting, though. What a smart boy I am.

Anyway these all paled in comparison to Critical Role campaign 1 so maybe just do that instead. Watching/listening to things is easier than reading anyway. Books are pretty dumb. Nerds.

Dear Sam

Chief Ancestry Correspondent Sam Strohmeyer

Dear Sam,

How do I stop eating potatoes for every meal? I feel like this isn't a good plan in the long run but they're so good.


Starchy in Saskatchewan

Dear Starchy,

Starchy, baby, I am so sorry. I am so sorry those ugly bitches tried to make you believe that eating potatoes, and only potatoes, for each and every meal wasn't "a good plan." Potatoes are the one gift that God has given us and it is your right and responsibility to enjoy them to their fullest extent.

With love,


Dear Sam,

What should I do with this?

Wondering in Washington

Dear Wondering,

What should anyone "do" with anything, really? I think we can find the answer in a recent dream I had:
I was hanging out with my co-workers when one of them mentioned that they had recently had part of their brain removed and wanted to try eating it. I didn't want to do that, but they were pretty convincing! The co-worker then pulled out a large garbage bag full of brains, leading me to the conclusion that maybe they were lying about only eating their own lil brain nugget. Long story short: I grabbed the bag of brains and fled the scene on my skateboard. The security guard followed me but he was unprepared for all of my sick tricks and stunts and stunt tricks.

You're welcome!


Dear Sam,

What do you do if there's a lot but too much? And then when it is time then it is maybe not the same that there used to be but you don't know if you do.

Unsure in Utah

Oh Dear Unsure,

I wondered about this exact thing when I was but a sapling of a girl, with white-blonde curls and legs so spindly they would drop to the ground at the mention of a cool spring breeze. I took my quandary to the place I always took my quandaries, my great aunt Marthagor, and she became lost in thought in the wake of my inquiry. About seven hours later, she came to and sat me down on her spherical lap before launching into this simple song:

Sheep can jump and ants will bite
Take the bottle to smash tonight
Big man sings oh he sings so long
Voice kills the birds oh no oh no
That's okay
Never look into my eyes
Be taller be taller hahahaha

Happy New Year!


A Correct and Definitive Egg List

Chief Egg Correspondent Wendy Fernandez

With the end of 2021 behind us and the quickly escalating pandemic on our heels, I know what you're thinking; what exactly are Faberge Eggs and which are the prettiest? Well you're in luck. Inspired by a tweet by @grnpointer, I have compiled a list of the 48 known Imperial Eggs. While I respect @grnpointer's opinion, we have to acknowledge the ball they dropped when it came to correctly ranking the eggs. So as a winter treat, I give you the correct egg rankings from worst to best.

48. Bringing up the rear in a cacophony of failed musicians and depressed clowns is the Love Trophies Egg. Is this a pretty paperweight? Yes. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it an egg? Absolutely not. This alleged egg missed the mark on any relation to poultry while looking like a failed wedding cake at a Vegas ceremony. The style is unremarkable and bears no significance to either the Russian nobility or the nation in general.

47. The Orange Tree Egg is also not an egg, however, what it lacks in avian charm it makes up for by looking like a tree. In fact, it looks so much like a tree that it was not granted last place. I like to pretend there's a bird somewhere looking for a nice home to lay a real egg, and maybe this is their second or third choice.

46. Continuing our trend of eggs that aren't eggs, the Mauve Egg with Three Miniatures resembles a cheap valentines gift you give before a traumatic one-sided breakup. Its charm exclusively comes from the three portraits of the Romanov imperial family that are revealed once opened, and this connection to the motherland wraps up the bottom three eggs.

45. The Colonnade Egg is our first egg on the list that actually resembles an egg. Unfortunately it also resembles a half made nursery for an unborn child born directly into a sorority.

44. The Empire Nephrite Egg gets points for looking like an egg, but loses points for its weird suspension between two pillars. While the color is beautiful, I don't support the imperials it depicts so it's doomed to an eternity in the bottom 10.

43. The Standart Yacht Egg is the first Faberge to ask the question: what is an egg? While there are other clear eggs higher up on this list, the random family yacht suspended in the middle of the crystal casing is an odd choice. This egg represents nothing more than a flex on their wealth, and we are not beginning 2022 with the 1% ranked higher than they deserve.

42. Ah, 42, the best number. The Blue Serpent Clock Egg dared to be bold when no one asked. Much like Satan, the serpent this egg depicts angers God and disappoints. Does anyone want to eat an egg that also ticks? That is also a clock? We don't live in Peter Pan and we definitely don't follow J. M. Barrie's questionable dialogue. Would Robin Williams approve?

41. The Steel Military Egg is an atrocity. Russia has always been proud of their military, but to make an entirely metallic egg? That poor bird. This does not look appetizing in any way nor does it bring glory to the motherland. I could probably make this in my backyard with a fire and a couple of bricks. Shame.

40. The Red Cross Portrait Egg is also ridiculous. It's no secret the shady business the Red Cross has been up to since its establishment in 1881, and whether this red cross represents that organization or not, I don't care. It's ugly and I don't like it.

39. The Egg with Revolving Miniatures dared to be clear, but did it better than the Standart. The representations of the imperial family help carry the theme to somewhere almost relevant, and introduced movement into the definitive ranking. Overall, it could be better but not bad.

38. The Third Imperial Egg is a misleading egg, so it gets points for trickery. There is no Second or First Imperial Egg. It's like a bad movie naming itself as a sequel to trick you into buying a ticket (*cough Trolls 2 cough*). This solid gold facade definitely looks expensive, but unfortunately looks tacky while doing it. My grandma had something similar to this in the off limits room growing up.

37. The ​​Red Cross Triptych Egg makes me ill. The only reason it's not next to its brother at the end of the list is because it has beautiful gold Russian detailing. I have nothing further to say.

36. The Lilies of the Valley Egg marks a transition in this list; this egg is actually pretty. It's pink, frilly, and elaborate. While I'm not sure if I would eat this in any capacity, I would love to drink a cup of tea next to it.

35. The Flower Basket Egg is adorable. It makes me think of my life in a pasture with many sheep. It's cute, it's tasteful, it's farmlike, I believe this egg has been close personal friends with at least a chicken.

34. The Order of St. George has secrets, it's quaint and takes care of its business. St. George founded Moscow by slaying a dragon so I would have liked to see more of that motif, but this egg is fine on its own. It understood the assignment and passed with an average grade.

33. The Peacock Egg also understood the assignment. Besides the next egg on this list, this is truly the definition of an egg. Inside the egg it features a peacock which is our first bird! We love the representation.

32. The Romanov Tercentenary Egg is special because it looks like a cracked egg, which is a beautiful example of foreshadowing. The portraits on the sides of the egg are okay, but the magic happens inside; a beautiful globe representing how everyone was against the Romanovs shines in the light of a new world order. 32/48 points for this one.

31. We have another clock egg on this list, but with better taste than its cousin. The ​​Madonna Lily Clock Egg is an unquestionable egg and an unquestionable clock. The only issue here is that it's a questionable pineapple which is neither here nor there. It's also not clear what any Madonna has to do with this Faberge, so there's room for improvement.

30. Have you ever wanted a really expensive tennis trophy? Great! Let me introduce you to the Royal Danish Egg. This egg looks like someone tried too hard on Easter and now everyone is afraid to eat it. Not because it's pretty, but because the amount of glue seeped into this egg is deadly and probably caused your uncle's arthritis.

29. Now the Diamond Trellis Egg looks like something my mother would want for her birthday. It's simple, elegant, and way out of my budget. If I had an unlimited budget to purchase one of these eggs, I wouldn't buy this one. It looks like it got stuck while putting on a bracelet and gave up because no one was around to help. Overall it's pretty, but not for me.

28. Alexander III was a pretty good guy, so it follows that the ​​Alexander III Commemorative Egg is also pretty good. The outside isn't the flashiest, but the Alexander bust hidden in the center of the egg like a forbidden Tootsie Roll Pop has implications that are beyond me. If anyone knows what this means, please contact my therapist.

27. The Tsarevich Egg is the first egg on the list to look truly Russian. It's gold and has a portrait of the golden boy. While there isn't a Tsarina Egg to compare, this egg looks royal and delivers the biggest royal secret: the face of the royal anemic bloodline curable only by mysticism or a single large aspirin.

26. The 15th Anniversary Egg features a portrait of the last of the Romanovs in watercolor tasteful watercolor painted on crystal ivory. It's tasteful finery lets me know I'm poor and could never afford such a three dimensional photo album. This egg has been useful in finding all the bodies of the Romanovs since no one can seem to remember anyone other than Anastasia.

25. The unfinished Blue Tsesarevich Constellation Egg was the last egg made before the revolution. It's jaw dropping and scientific. As a backyard astronomer myself, this is a personal favorite although not the most beautiful. It's a shame the base is weird, clouds are not conducive to stargazing, but maybe it would've been different if it had been finished.

24. The Alexander III Equestrian Egg has a horse in it. It's pretty but it's weird.

23. Now the Renaissance Egg lives up to its name. It takes everything that's been happening and rotates it 90 degrees. This is a fresh take on the concept of the egg and I respect the decision. It created more realestate to introduce the pearl to the decorations, and the finery feels like it could teach me about Italy. But would I eat this egg? Yeah.

22. The Rosebud Egg is also Russia incarnate. It's another personal favorite and something I could see myself owning if I had a couple million more to my name. I've always said if I were the monarch of a kingdom these would be my national colors. Everything about this egg screams imperial and I'm not mad about it.

21. The First Hen Egg is as egg as it gets. It is gold. It has chicken. It is neutral and expensive. It is egg.

20. Now the Pelican Egg is another beautiful avian egg. Its sleek exterior makes me want coffee for some reason, and makes me want to bite into it. It is one of the most edible looking eggs on this list, and I want to unwrap it and find the little chocolate core it's selfishly keeping to itself.

19. It's no secret Peter the Great was one of the greatest leaders in Europe. So it follows that his egg also cracks the top 20. What it lacks in color it makes up in intrigue. This egg is hiding a secret compartment or something, it has to with lines that intricate. It looks like the little Italian porcelain figurines you can find in any antique store, but this egg makes them relevant to a new continent.

18. Everyone hold onto your socks because the Alexander Palace Egg has been known to sneak into your house in the middle of the night and steal all your pairs. The Alexander Palace replica inside this egg puts to shame the lego house I built yesterday. If I were a kid again, I just know I would stare at this egg for hours before finally deciding to test a small lick. I wouldn't eat this egg, but I would lick it all day long.

17. The Catherine the Great Egg earns a higher ranking than her grandfather-in-law's because of the pretty pink color. Much like her reign, this egg took everything great Peter did and made it better. This is also the first egg that I think would truly smell good. Good job Catherine, shame about your husband though. Sudden unexplained illnesses can be so inconvenient.

16. The Swan Egg is reminiscent of the Diamond Trellis Egg, but incorporates the bird theme that defines eggs across the world. The way it opens hatches a beautiful little swan into the world. This is one swan the Queen of England does not own, take that House of Windsor. I was talking to a prophet the other day that said she may or may not die on Monday. Anything is possible.

15. Although it's not likely we'll ever get trans representation from Russia, we sure get a lot of Trans-Siberian Railway representation, and this egg is one such example. The railway is one of the most important and significant advances Russia ever made, and this egg is beautiful, and it has a lil train in it. I could see myself eating this egg but only on a special occasion, like Christmas or a visit to the Dentist.

14. The Coronation Egg confuses me because it looks like a pineapple. But this could also be a metaphor. The pineapple is a little cannibalistic, it tingles to eat because it's dissolving your mouth. It's kinda like how the Romanovs ended up eating themselves as well. It's a stretch but I think it works.

13. The Caucasus Egg is a role model. It's the egg they make you study in school until you can't bear to look at it anymore (like the Manifest Destiny painting). This egg set the stage for the other imperial eggs. It's timeless and truly fit to rule the county.

12. The Pansy Egg could have cracked the top 10 if it had smiled more, but speaking as someone who came 12th in her graduating high school class, spot #12 is where you want to be on the list. It dared to be beautiful in a way that didn't make it sit on stage in front of thousands. I can picture myself fiddling with the interlocking flowers until my fingers hurt. If I didn't know so many vegetarians, this green egg would make you crave ham as well.

11. The Rose Trellis Egg also deserved a spot in the top ten, but it failed to collect the $200 after it passed Go. If it were an age, this egg would be 17 forever. Right on the cusp of being an adult, but blissfully youthful and happy for the rest of its days. This is the egg you would give someone for a significant birthday, 16, 21, or 69.

10. Here we go ladies and gentlemen, the much anticipated Top 10. Coming in at number 10 we have the Napoleonic Egg. What it's doing in Russia we have no idea, but we'll watch it until it does something funny. No doubt hiding a dark chocolate interior, this egg might have been racist and homophobic last year, but we can change it in 2022. Unlike its namesake, I'm giving this egg more than 100 days of glory.

9. The Danish Palaces Egg is another adolescent beauty. This pink, free-range, non vegan, egg looks like it belongs to a little blonde girl with a heart of gold. She spends her days by her open window singing to the wildlife that brings her tasty morsels and pie. I envy her. I also think this egg would taste like strawberries, which I'm not sure is a good thing.

8. Picture an egg. Does it look like the others you've seen on this list? You'd be right if it does. Except this time, the Cockerel Egg captures the pure essence of a chicken. It sits atop the clock egg, proud, gazing at its masterpiece. No other egg dared put the chicken where it belongs, at the very top.

7. The Clover Leaf Egg redefined everything for me. What is egg and what is nature? Can the two work in harmony? Yes. You could introduce this egg to your parents on Easter and they would love you more for it. This egg is how I know I'm poor.

6. The Moscow Kremlin Egg made eye contact with me once and I've been thinking about it ever since. I don't know whose decision it was to put a giant egg over the Kremlin, but I want to shake their hand. It shows wealth, it shows status, it shows the looming presence of the imperial family over the courts and people of Moscow. I get chills.

5. We are in top 5 territory and this next egg does not disappoint. You've heard of a ship in a bottle, but have you heard of a ship in an egg? The Memory of Azov Egg is nothing short of a feat of nautical history. Unlike the Yacht Egg, the Azov circumnavigates my heart. There's no question that this egg was made for a king.

4. The Winter Egg was my top Egg for a very long time. It wasn't until recently that I sat down and decided to demote it to fourth. The whimsical eye journey this egg takes you on is nothing short of a delight. You can basically hear the Nutcracker playing when you look at this egg. It took the worst and most grueling part of Russia and turned it into art. I would undoubtedly eat this egg if I could, and I'm sure I would go on some sort of inner child journey like Ego did in Ratatouille while chewing it down.

3. Any of the top three can easily be #1, but here's my ranking anyways. If the Gatchina Palace Egg had hands, they would moisturize with only the best. The gentle design on the outside does not prepare you for the replica palace on the inside. It really drops you in expecting simplicity and forces you to survive the trials and tribulations of Russian Court. I wouldn't eat this egg but I'd caress its gentle hands.

2. The Mosaic Egg is the most quintessentially Russian looking egg on this list. It's thoughtful, reminiscent of Roman frescoes, and painfully beautiful. One look from this egg is enough to kill a man. Two looks to kill his family. I am once again compelled to lick this egg, but not eat it. You wouldn't bite a jolly rancher, would you? I'd sooner destroy a stained glass window.

1. And the most anticipated egg of the evening goes to a well deserved Alexander III Portraits Egg. This egg is so expensive looking it had to invent its own currency to define itself. I wouldn't eat this egg because I know I'm not worthy and never will be. Even looking at it I feel like I should lay down my life in its service. Like I said, Alexander III was a good guy, but I'm not sure that any Russian monarch was ever good enough to deserve this egg. Maybe Anna Anderson could have shed some light on other members of the Romanov family, but that turned out to be a dead end.

And there you have it. A definitive ranking of all 48 known and surviving Faberge Eggs. Like most normal, sane people, I can accept kudos in the form of applause or acts of service. Please contact your local editor to learn more about how to reach me.

With that, I wish everyone a new year because it's definitely already happening.


Stall Graffiti

It happens to the best of us. Believe it or not, if you're not on the newsletter mailing list, you're actually in some pretty auspicious company. There's an unfortunately long list of people who are not fans of the publication, including but not limited to OJ Simpson, Metallica, Jerry Falwell Jr. (not Sr.), Sir Alex Ferguson, and Xi Jingping. I can understand why you'd want to stay on such a famous list, but for better or worse, you're home now. Forever.

The mildew leak in Issue 34 from an unidentified source has not yet abated. Please stay clear until otherwise notified.


Do -

Do them.

It's fun and not an emotional pyramid scheme.

Silverfish - The Felice Brothers

The new album that came out this year contained a lot of the things I want from the Felice Brothers, but this in particular is top for me. Simultaneously funny, loose, and deeply, mortally heartbreaking. I'm not sure why but I always associate their quiet little honky-tonk piano with the holidays, so, that's kismet I guess. Man, Kismet Cafe has the best shitty Mediterranean food. I wonder if they're open on new years. It's a new year but I could relive my dour Coffee Bean lunch break days. The Bean at Hancock didn't survive the pandemic and is a Jo's now. They immediately are way better than the Bean was. Isn't the passage of time funny? I am the villain from Raiders of the Lost Ark who gets his face melted off with impressive practical effects for 1981.  -Matt

Guns for Hire - Woodkid

The number of times I've listened to this in the past week is between me and God, and she pinky promised not to say anything.  -Marina

Ooh La La - Faces

Man this is a fun song. I understand that it is a little weird and bad in lyrical content, but holy shit if you've ever had your heart broken like a couple times by a couple different ladies it becomes easy to slip into the feeling this song creates. The whole thing feels like some sort of circus that seeks to draw you into comfort so that comfort can cut you down to feeling small and stupid. It doesn't sound like a fun time but it is.  -Alex


Wild huh  -Matt


Famously the Cowboy Bebop theme song but also one of the greatest bops of all time. Its jazzy chaos captures the energy of the show perfectly and gets stuck in my head, like, most days.  -Matt

Now And For Always - A.R. Rahman, Christopher Nightingale

Is this my favorite song from The Lord of the Rings musical or is it a moving song of hope and love to listen to as you go into a new year? What if I told you it was both? Also Sam and Frodo were in love and there's nothing you can do about it.  -Marina

The Highway Song - Kat Hasty

This girl is a genius and no one will tell me otherwise. I heard this song for the first time driving down a highway in Montana and I stopped the playlist I was on so I could listen to this four times in a row. As a man from Texas who doesn't understand what it is like to be a female renegade I honestly feel like I have an ex husband I want to murder when I listen to this. When people ask me about modern Texas songwriters this is the first song I show them.  -Alex

Goodbye - Bo Burnham

I mean if you're not into Inside already at this point then you probably won't enjoy this but it feels like the perfect send-off for 2021 doesn't it?  -Matt


Banner - The Mountain Goats, Getting Into Knives

Join us next time for such hits as For Whom the Bellboy Tolls: The Spooky True Story of the Hotel Attendant From Hell!