Nerdy Clams Need to Know
by Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast
Growing up as a nerd in the 80’s was hard. I mean, you’ve seen Revenge of the Nerds, right? Nerdsplotation, man. Sure, the nerds were the loveable heroes who overcame all odds, won the Greek Games, take over the Greek Council, and throw together a dope musical production number. One of them even tricked the hot girl into having sex with him. (I feel like that’s not cool any more, now that I think about it.) But how much did that movie do to make life easier on the common nerd? NOT ONE BIT.
Young nerds today have it easier. Being nerdy is actually cool now. Plus, with the Internet, you can find other nerds all over the world and in your own backyard. In the 80’s, we lived in isolation and fear, meeting in secrecy for the occasional game of Dungeons and Dragons or screening of movies like Labyrinth and Willow. Today, you have ComicCon and PAX and Nerdapalooza. (Yes, that’s really a thing.) In fact, there’s so much information out there for the budding young nerd that it may be difficult to filter down to the good stuff. That’s where I come in. From time to time, here on the Clam, I’ll give you a few tips and pointers about cool nerdy stuff you may not know about. Music you’d dig. Games you’d enjoy. Books you’d love. At MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast, we have a feature called Nerds Need to Know, and it’s time for that knowledge to contribute to your nerducation.
This isn’t Nerd-Lit 101. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by telling you to read Lord of the Rings, Neuromancer, or Ringworld. You’re a nerd, right? You know better. You’ve read those already, along with at least twenty of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, and all five books of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. (If you haven’t, don’t tell anyone, and fire up your Kindle – it’s gonna be a long night.) In this section, I’ll bring you books you maybe haven’t heard of yet, but should.
Let’s start with Ready Player One, by Earnest Cline: It’s the nearish future, 2044, and the world isn’t awesome. It’s overcrowded, fossil fuels are long gone, resources are scarce. People live in “the stacks” – towers made from putting one mobile home on top of another on top of another until they’ve become wobbly skyscrapers. This future has only one cool thing going for it: OASIS – a massively multiplayer online virtual reality. Everyone is part of it. There are whole worlds within it. Kids even go to school in it. And when its creator died a few years back, it was revealed that his fortune, as well as controlling ownership of OASIS, would go to the first person to find an Easter egg he had hidden in the game behind three gates, unlocked by hidden keys. The clues were in his will, his journal, and the common knowledge that he had been a big fan of 80’s culture.
Our hero, an orphan teen from the stacks named Wade Watts, finds his life changed when he figures out how to find the first key, within a simulation of a Dungeons and Dragons module from the 80’s called Tomb of Horrors, with a final boss battle from the video game Joust. Suddenly he’s a real player; he’s on the leader boards, and everyone knows his name. He has endorsement deals, so he can afford to go into places in the game previously unavailable to him as on his free gaming account. In the game, he’s the target of the gunters (egg hunters). Out of the game, he’s offered a huge bribe to help a corporation called IOI find the egg, and when he turns them down, the corporation blows up his WHOLE FUCKING NEIGHBORHOOD. (They didn’t realize he wasn’t home.) So now he’s on the run, with only the help of a few friends he met in the game. His only way out is to win, navigating through numerous familiar fantasy worlds, sorting out clues that include anything from reenacting parts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and War Games to songs from Schoolhouse Rock, and Cap’n Crunch cereal prizes.
I could tell you more, but where would the fun be in that? Read the book, already!
You know the drill. I know you have a deck of Magic: The Gathering cards kicking around, and you know about D&D. (Uh oh: I’ve mentioned D&D three times in one article. That means that the Hand of Vecna is going to attack me after dark.) You probably own Settlers of Catan, or at least have a friend that does. Maybe you even know about Fluxx. Well, bully for you – I’m going to talk about it anyway.
Fluxx is a card game by Looney Labs. There are several themed versions of the game, including Pirate Fluxx, Oz Fluxx, Cthulhu Fluxx, Zombie Fluxx, and Monty Python Fluxx. (Hell, there’s even a Stoner Fluxx, but drugs are bad, mmmKay?) Each of the themed versions has cards specific to the theme, but the basic rules are the same: You deal out two cards to each player. On your turn you draw a card, and then play a card from your hand. That’s it. That’s all the Basic Rules card tells you.
“But Len Pal,” you might interject, “how do you win? How do you even know which card from your hand to play?” I was getting to that, Nerdy Clam. The cards become the rules. Well, some of them do. There are Goal cards that include various conditions to be met in order to win the game. For example, in the sci-fi themed Star Fluxx, a goal card entitled That’s No Moon requires you to have the Space Station and Small Moon cards in front of you. Or in Oz Fluxx, the goal card entitled No Place Like Home requires you to have Dorothy and Kansas in front of you. Make sense? Cool. But not all the cards are goals or Keepers like Dorothy and the Space Station. There are also New Rules cards that change the basic rules, so that on your turn you draw or play two, three, or more cards, or that set a limit on the number of cards you may have in your hand or keepers you may have played in front of you.
Then there are Actions cards that let you do fun things like steal another player’s keeper, trash a new rule, let all your opponents fall asleep in a field of poppies so that you take an extra turn, or trade hands with another player. There are Surprise! cards that you can play even if it is not your turn (provided that certain conditions are met). And finally, there are the Creepers. Creepers are like keepers, except that when you draw one, you must play it in front of you immediately, and draw a new card to replace it. Playing it doesn’t count as part of your turn. Unless the goal card says otherwise though, you can’t win if you have a creeper, so you need to get rid of it first.
The game works best with three to five players. You can play it with just two, but it’s not as fun. And I know from experience that a ten player game technically works, but can take so long that it’s just not worth it. When playing with four players, luck of the draw aside, an average game runs about fifteen to twenty minutes. We typically play five or six hands in one session (sometimes swapping from one deck to another if we get bored with Kansas and Flying Monkeys and want to try our luck with Innsmouth and Yog-Sothoth instead.
And good news, Nerdy Clams: The G33k store and Toodeloos! on Main Street in Gloucester both carry Fluxx.
Okay, I’m stumped. I can’t think of any nerd music to shame you about not already owning. Does Weird Al count as nerdy music? Not with a #1 album on the Billboard charts. Plus most of you are probably too young to remember nerdy artists like Tom Lehrer or Barnes and Barnes. So let’s get right to the good stuff: Nerdcore Hip Hop.
If you’re saying “Stuff like MC Chris, right?” well… I’m just going to say “Sure, kid” instead of telling you to fuck off. It’s not your fault. You didn’t know. And sure, MC Chris is all right, despite being kind of a dick to other artists in his genre (to the point of even getting pissed when folks lump him into the nerdcore category, because he’s too cool for that). I like his music; I’ve even bought some of his merch. But no, I’m not talking about him. Maybe in some future installment of this column, if I feel he’s worth including when talking about the best of nerdcore.
Instead, let’s talk about the Godfather of Nerdcore Hip-Hop himself, MC Frontalot. Currently finishing up his sixth studio album, MC Frontalot is one of the founders of the entire genre (and who actually coined the term nerdcore hip-hop). Front has been dubbed the PAX rapper laureate, performing at every Penny Arcade Expo from 2004 to 2014. He even wrote the Penny Arcade Theme Song, which he performs differently at each PAX event.
But you didn’t come here for his resume. What’s this dude all about? I’ll tell you: he’s about pure, unadulterated nerdiness in all its glory. He raps about internet life: Message No. 419 is about Nigerian email scams, I Hate Your Blog is probably about this article, Zero Day is about a virus outbreak, and Pr0n Song is about, well, other stuff you can do on the Internet; about love: Goth Girls is about his lack of luck with girls dressing a certain way; about games: Final Boss is about video games, while Charisma Potion and Critical Hit liken his life to D&D, and Hassle: The Dorkening is about his experience playing Magic: The Gathering; and plenty of other nerdy goodness: I’ll Form the Head references the Japanese robot cartoons of my youth, Yellow Lasers describes an experience at a Star Wars convention, and Invasion of the Not Quite Dead is one of my all-time favorite songs about zombies. Oh, and let’s not forget Tongue-Clucking Grammarian and First World Problem – song concepts so good, Weird Al got a number one album on the billboard charts with them. (I’m not saying he stole Front’s ideas and ran with them. It was probably a perfectly innocent mistake.)
I can’t really sell you on a musician just by telling you titles of his songs though, so you’re going to have to take the next step yourself. Go onto YouTube and search for MC Frontalot. Scroll through the results and find some of the titles I mentioned above, and then some I haven’t. Once you realize how much you like his stuff, go to iTunes or wherever it is you kids buy the music these days, and buy his albums. (Nerdy rappers gotta eat.) In addition to the great music, the albums also include skits between songs, featuring folks like Wil Wheaton and Kristen Schaal.
Okay, that’s all I have for you today. I’ll be back again soon to talk about The Dresden Files, The Resistance, and Schäffer the Darklord. Until them, stay out of trouble, you Nerdy Clams.