Fear of a Black Hole: A Starmus Travelogue

By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

Last week I wrote a piece for the Clam about Ken Lawrence’s MC Hawking project, and how it led to an invitation to perform for Stephen Hawking and over a thousand other delegates, including eleven Nobel laureates, and many of the most brilliant scientists of our time. To recap, while playing around with his computer’s text-to-speech software, Ken realized it sounded a lot like Stephen Hawking, so he used his background in musical composition to make it rap. The resulting songs got pretty popular online, Professor Hawking’s people heard and liked them, and sixteen years or so later, it led to an invitation to perform at Starmus, a prestigious conference celebrating science, music, and the arts.

So, that happened. It was pretty amazing, and I’m back to tell you about it.

The Undisputed King of Theoretical Gangsta-Astrophysics

Artist rendition of MC Hawking

Starmus was founded when Brian May went back to school to complete his PHd in astrophysics, which was on the back burner for about thirty years while he was busy with his own musical side project, a band named Queen. His thesis advisor was Dr. Garik Israelian, who also happened to be a musician. The two struck up a friendship and realized that music and science should be celebrated together. The first Starmus festival took place in 2011 with about 200 attendees. The second, in 2014, hosted nearly a thousand, and the third in 2016 had nearly 1600.

Starmus featured three days of lectures by speakers like Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Kip Thorne, Martin Rees, author and futurist Robert J. Sawyer, cyber-security expert Eugene Kaspersky, Richard Dawkins, and astronaut Chris Hadfield, to name just a few. And I’m going to be honest and admit that at times, the science was a bit over my head. But that doesn’t matter – I came away with enough of a taste for it that now, I want to keep learning more about all of it! More than that, I want to make other people want to learn about this stuff!

Like, maybe you already knew that LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatories operated by Caltech and MIT, use intersecting laser beams two kilometers long to detect alterations in spacetime when gravitational waves pass through them. Just last month, their two observatories, located in different parts of the United States, detected gravitational waves caused by the merging of two black holes. For real, that happened.

You probably also knew that the science in the movie Interstellar was actually accurate. Astrophysicist Kip Thorne came up with the idea behind the movie, and worked closely with director Christopher Nolan (as well as his special effects team) to make a science fiction movie about black holes that actually got it right, both in terms of the plot and in the visualizations. Top of my to-do list now that I’m home is to watch the movie again with a greater appreciation for what I’m looking at.


One of these shows what a black hole really looks like.

I could write pages and pages about the different amazing lectures, but I won’t. (You’re welcome.) Honestly, there was just too much and I’m sure I’d get the science wrong anyway. Suffice it to say that every speaker made me want to run out and buy ten books about whichever topic they were presenting.

The trip was not without drama. On Wednesday, we arrived at the conference venue several hours early to have a tech rehearsal for Ken’s performance, but security wouldn’t let anyone in the building. We finally managed to text someone with enough clout to come get us. After the rehearsal, we ran into Deborah, Stephen Hawking’s personal assistant (whose idea it was to have Ken bring an MC Hawking performance to Starmus). She informed us that earlier in the day, Stephen’s daughter alerted the police to a number of e-mails and tweets the professor was receiving from a woman who said she was nearby in Tenerife, planning to kill him. Deborah seemed mostly unfazed, telling us that Stephen gets “stuff like that all the time”, but that they still have to take it seriously, which is why security was heightened for the rest of the week. We later found out that the woman, an American who appeared to be both a religious fanatic and mentally ill, really was attending the conference and staying in a nearby hotel. They arrested her and found the professor’s itinerary along with detailed plans for his murder in her possession.

Ken started his performance with a brief speech introducing himself and how he came to be known as “MC Hawking”, and then showed a seven minute mockumentary entitled MC Hawking: A Brief History of Rhyme, narrated by voice actor Dave B. Mitchell. The film provided a fictional biography of Stephen Hawking’s origins as a gangster rapper, until a scientific breakthrough tragically pulled him away from rapping and back into theoretical astrophysics. Within the film, scientists were shown with their faces blurred and their names changed to protect their identity, but the crowd roared with laughter to see Dr. Harick Gisralean, Dr. Feel the Grass Bison, and Dr. Myron Bay (Garik Israelian, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Brian May, respectively) tell stories about Stephen Hawking as a rapper.

Ken, MC Lars, and I were backstage, nervously awaiting the crowd’s reaction while watching the film in reverse on the back of a large projection screen. Ken said “if we get some laughs at the first joke, we’re okay”. Our worst fear was that the crowd would be offended by the idea of the professor as a trash-talking, bling-wearing, gangster rapper. But even just thirty seconds into the mockumentary, the crowd was hysterical.

When the film ended, a backing music video started playing the first verse of the MC Hawking song, a brand-new track entitled Fear of a Black Hole. The “Stephen Hawking” voice sang the first verse, and then Ken and MC Lars went on stage to sing the chorus. Lars sang the next verse, backed up by Ken, followed by another chorus, and then I handed Ken his guitar for a solo.

I need to give Ken props here. Any musician might feel intimidated performing in front of a fairly large audience. Probably even more so performing in front of an audience that included the world’s foremost scientists and astrophysicists, as well as some Nobel Prize winners and at least eight or ten people who have spent time away from Earth. But Ken had to contend with all of that in addition to seeing Brian May, one of the greatest guitarists of all time, staring up at him from the front row. Ken told me later that at one point he looked down and saw Brian smiling at him and bobbing his head to the music, and he had to look away, or else he might forget to keep playing.

After the guitar solo, Ken and MC Lars finished with another chorus, during which Lars shouted “Get your black holes in the air!” The crowd as one all threw up a hand gesture mirroring the one Lars and Ken were doing, of a hole made by thumb and forefinger, pumping to the beat. From behind the stage curtain, I watched Brian May gesturing along with everyone else. Mind blown.

After the performance on Wednesday, all of the pressure was off and we could just have fun. We didn’t have to point at Ken’s conference badge to get into the VIP areas anymore; now everyone knew who we were. The lecture series ended on Wednesday, so we took Thursday off to snorkel with some sea turtles. Around the hotel, we hung out with scientists and celebrities.


Ken and me with Dr. Feel the Grass Bison (wearing Ken’s E=mch bling)

On Friday, the conference moved to an auditorium about an hour north for the six-hour Sonic Universe concert. For the first hour or so, Hans Zimmer conducted an orchestra while Sarah Brightman sang. Rick Wakeman played piano while astronaut Chris Hadfield played guitar and sang David Bowie’s Space Oddity, just like he did on the International Space Station. Rick Wakeman then played Bowie’s Life on Mars on piano. Anathema played about an hour-long set, with Stephen Hawking on stage with them to provide narration during their first song, and eventually ending with Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever. A pretty ballsy song choice actually, with Brian May sitting in the front row. During the intermission, Ken got to spend a few minutes with Professor Hawking.



Are you serious? That’s tight!

At the start of the final segment of the concert, astrophysicist Kip Thorne took the stage and briefly explained how he came up with the idea for the movie Interstellar, and how he worked closely with director Christopher Nolan and his team to create a science fiction movie that actually got the science part right. Effects artists Paul Franklin and Oliver James then explained how they took Kip’s direction and created visualizations for the film that showed what a black hole really would look like up close. This would have felt out-of-place in any other concert, but especially after a week of scientific lectures, nobody fidgeted in their seats.

The point of the lecture was to explain the visualizations that were shown next. Hans Zimmer returned to the stage with a couple of guitarists, a violinist, and a string quartet. He played a keyboard along with the musicians in a band he called “Kip Thorne and the Black Holes” while beautiful (and scientifically accurate) visualizations of black holes and neutron stars played on the screen behind them.

Nothing I’ve written or could write would do justice to the amazing experience I’ve had over the last week. I’m at nearly 1600 words and I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface. Back here in the “real world”, there are people who don’t believe in climate change or vaccinating their kids, let alone show any real interest in the science that is all around us. I’m starved for it now, and you should be too.

I’ll leave you with this challenge. This summer, go to the Museum of Science. Read Bang! The Complete History of the Universe or A Brief History of Time. Watch Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddessy, and also watch Interstellar. You see where I’m going with this, right? Get out there and learn something.


— Len Pal, July 5, 2016

Gloucester’s Ken Lawrence, AKA “MC Hawking”, to Perform for Stephen Hawking

By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

We here at Clammedia Towers have some pretty nerdy friends. (We’re drawn to others of our own kind.) And just as communities cheer on the success stories of local athletes, musicians, or businesspeople when they achieve national or global recognition, we must do the same for our local nerds.

Take Ken Lawrence, for example. On the exterior, one might not even notice what a gigantic nerd he is. (Sure, he’s a software engineer, but these days, who the hell isn’t?) Most folks from Gloucester just know him as a guitarist in the heavy metal band F-Bomb, which plays at bars on the North Shore about ten times a year. How nerdy can you be when you’re banging out guitar solos to songs by bands like AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Tool?


Ken Lawrence performing with F-Bomb

But beneath that badass rocker façade lies a nerdy underbelly the likes of which have not been seen since Lewis, Gilbert, Poindexter, and the rest of the Lamdas went up against the Alpha Betas back in ’84. About sixteen years ago, Ken discovered that his computer at work had a text-to-speech program, and he noticed that when it read what he typed, it sounded a lot like Stephen Hawking. For fun, he keyed in some rhymes and made it rap.

That got a lot of laughs out of his co-workers. He could have just stopped there. Instead, he went home and wrote a few rap songs and put them on the Internet, purporting to be “lost tracks” uncovered from Stephen Hawking’s “largely unknown career as a gangsta rapper”. He created an MC Hawking website that included the songs, lyrics, some brilliantly photoshopped images of Professor Hawking alongside rap legends like Run DMC, NWA, and the Beastie Boys, and a fictional biography of Hawking’s path to rapping.

hawking 2

MC Hawking and Coolio Dropping Science

And people dug it. I mean, like, a lot. Think about it: who was using the Internet for more than e-mail in the late nineties? Mostly nerds. Hey, even the real Stephen Hawking heard it, and found it flattering, likening it to Spitting Image. And right around that time, a couple of other nerdy rappers were putting songs up there too. It became a whole thing. A rapper named MC Frontalot coined the term “nerdcore hip-hop”, and it stuck.

People wanted more MC Hawking tracks, and eventually Brash Records signed Ken to create a full-length album, A Brief History of Rhyme: MC Hawking’s Greatest Hits, released in 2004. It featured staple braggadocio rap tracks like The Mighty Stephen Hawking and E=MC Hawking, gang-style tracks like All My Shootings Be Drive-Bys, and most notably, the science tracks. UFT for the MC explains the concept of a unified field theory, and why it is so important. The Big Bizang describes the birth of our universe. And Entropy uses the melody of Naughty by Nature’s O.P.P. to explain the principles of entropy in such plain English that science teachers started using it in classrooms.

The album also included a few skits voiced by a voice actor named Dave B. Mitchell. You probably don’t recognize his name, but if you play a fair amount of video games, or watch the National Geographic channel, or for some reason you like the San Jose Sharks, you’ve probably heard Dave’s voice. Oh, and did I mention that the album cover art was done by Tony Moore, one of the creators of The Walking Dead?

hawking 3

Album Cover: A Brief History of Rhyme

Great stuff, right? You can listen to it on Youtube or buy it on iTunes (Warning: explicit lyrics and dope rhymes). “Wow, Len!” you’re probably saying. “You’re right! These songs are great. Ken must have gone on to become super rich and famous! And hey, have you lost weight?” Well, maybe a few pounds. It’s a struggle; I mostly work at a desk, and I really like brie, pasta, and Oreos. As for Ken, real life happened. Ken slacked off because like all of us, he has a job, other hobbies, and ten cats. Well, I don’t have ten cats, but Ken tells me that it’s totally normal to have ten, and that having ten cats doesn’t make him weird at all.

So the follow-up album sat on the back-burner for a really long time. A few years ago, Ken said “Hey, I got an idea for an MC Hawking podcast, and maybe that will motivate me to get going on more songs and stuff.” And so we did that, and maybe the effort level on new MC Hawking tracks went from about 5% to about 15%. But then one night when we were about to record an episode of the podcast, Ken said “Check out this e-mail I just got…”

It was from Deborah, Stephen Hawking’s personal assistant. She was writing because this year’s Starmus Festival in Spain’s Canary Islands was going to honor Stephen. The festival’s founder, Garik Israelian, hoped that MC Hawking could come to the festival to perform for the professor.

Um, what?

That’s right, they want MC Hawking to perform live on stage for the real Stephen Hawking (along with all of the other attendees and delegates, including eleven Nobel laureates, a handful of famous musicians and composers, and a whole bunch of scientists and astronauts. They’re nerds, but will they get it? We hope so. But how the heck do you perform an MC Hawking track live? They know the voice comes out of a computer, right?

The festival was hoping Ken would write a new song, and figure out a way to make it work on stage. They also hoped he’d allow a guest on the track, and spent a lot of time trying to get RZA from the Wu, but there were communication issues, and so Ken reached out to MC Lars, a nerdcore rapper most known for rapping about literature. (I wrote about him for the Clam a while back.)

The finished product is a track called Fear of a Black Hole. Inspired by Stephen Hawking’s recent discovery that energy isn’t destroyed in a black hole, but instead is simply changed, the track applies that as a metaphor for dealing with adversity or depression: “No matter how low you go, energy can never be destroyed.” To make the song work for a live performance, it includes verses using the regular “MC Hawking” voice (as well as a verse by MC Lars), and Ken’s and MC Lars’ voices on the chorus. Ken will also perform the guitar solo live.

And so on Sunday, Ken will be arriving in Tenerife. (And me too, because I weaseled my way into the trip.) On Wednesday, he’ll perform.

It’s been a long time coming, so go on: Cheer for your local nerd hero.


Sure, let’s send a bunch of pale nerds to a subtropical island.

No Snark Sunday: I’m a Bad Parent Too By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

I’m a Bad Parent Too

So this one time when Tiffany was little, her mom and I took her to the playroom in the downstairs section of the North Shore Mall in Peabody, MA. Her mom and I were talking (or maybe bickering a little) and we looked away for maybe a second. (That’s what it felt like, anyway.)

“Where’s Tiff?” one of us said.

“She was just right over there.”

(Okay, but she wasn’t right over there anymore.)

We searched the whole playroom quickly and she wasn’t there. I ran out and spotted her wandering onto the escalator about fifty meters away. I ran — this was before I smoked, so I could run fifty meters without collapsing, especially with all that panic-fueled adrenaline — and I caught up to her right before the top of the escalator. Panic turned into crazy relief that a close call was over; my little girl was safe. I felt pretty good about myself; I had saved the day. #BigDamnHero

This past weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo, a three-year-old boy somehow managed to get into the enclosure of a 450-pound gorilla named Harambe. The gorilla grabbed the boy and started dragging him around the enclosure. (You may have seen the video; it was pretty scary.) The zoo’s response team eventually determined that the only way to ensure the boy’s safety would be to kill Harambe. The boy was recovered with minor injuries, but Harambe wasn’t as lucky.

The internet loves this kind of tragedy, because everyone knows how it could have been prevented. We blame the mother, because if mom kept better watch of her kid, Harambe would be alive. We blame the zoo, because if they had better enclosures, Harambe would be alive. We blame the response team, because if they had used tranquilizers instead of bullets*, Harambe would be alive. We blame the very concept of zoos, because if we didn’t put animals behind bars, Harambe would be alive. We blame the kid’s dad, who wasn’t even with them at the zoo, because somehow if he didn’t have a criminal record, Harambe would be alive.

What happened to Harembe sucks. What that kid went through sucks. What the parents are going through sucks. And what the zoo is going through sucks. Nobody walked away with a smile on their face.

But I digress…

Look, people. It’s easy to blame the parent, but I’m betting that she and I aren’t the only two parents in the world that looked away for a second or two. (Really I’m betting nearly every parent has at one time or another, whether their kid did something dangerous in that time or not.) But we learn from our mistakes, and we keep loving our kids and try to keep them safe, despite how crafty the little buggers are.

So if that mom is a bad parent, I suppose I am, as well.

Len Pal – #ImABadParentToo

* Experts have agreed that using tranquilizers would have likely resulted in the child’s death. They’re not instantaneous like they are in the movies, and would probably have enraged the gorilla for a short time before he went unconscious – long enough for him to do serious harm.

Nerdy Clams Need to Know, Part II

Nerdy Clams Need to Know, Part Two: MC Lars
by Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

It’s been a while since the first installment of “Nerdy Clams Need to Know”, in which I discussed the novel Ready Player One, the Fluxx series of card games, and the music of MC Frontalot. I promised that in the future I’d talk about Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series of books, a game called The Resistance, and the music of Schaffer the Darklord. And I’ll still do all of that eventually, but not today.

Today I want to talk about MC Lars.


MC Lars created a style he calls “post-punk laptop rap”, using punchy guitar riffs and punk samples to drive his energetic lyrics, but the factors that really make Lars stand out in the nerdcore genre are his frequent use of literary themes and his extremely positive, upbeat attitude. Today’s hip-hop artists frequently rap about drugs and alcohol, violence, and sex. Lars raps about growing up, learning, counterculture, and quite frequently about great literature.

Yes, I said literature. I’m sure you’ve seen movies where some clever teacher manages to get inner city kids to appreciate Shakespeare by reading it to a beat as if it were a rap. Bonus points if you watched Free Enterprise all the way to the end and saw William Shatner’s rap adaptation of Julius Caesar. The idea of lit-hop isn’t all that new, but there’s a difference between doing it and doing it well.

MC Lars does lit-hop extremely well. Like, “get your kids listening to it in middle school” well. After listening to Lars sing Hey There Ophelia, they’ll want to read Hamlet. Listening to Ahab will inspire them to read Moby Dick. And of course MC Lars’ favorite is Edgar Allen Poe; he brings several of Poe’s poems to life, and his track Flow Like Poe provides the best explanation of iambs, diameter, tetrameter, and pentameter I’ve ever heard, deconstructing rhythm and meter in simple and fun terms.

But there’s more to Lars than just lit-hop. As a true DIY indie artist, MC Lars raps about the music industry in tracks like Signing Emo, Download This Song, Straight Outta Stockholm, and What Is Hip-Hop? In Hot Topic Is Not Punk Rock, iGeneration, No Logo, and Hipster Girl, he raps about trends and subcultures. And what nerdcore artist doesn’t rap about video games? O.G. Original Gamer and Guitar Hero Hero lovingly illustrate that you can take gaming a little too seriously. Nerdy enough for you?

“Sure, Len – good enough. But why are you telling us this right now, instead of that other stuff you promised?” Well, two reasons, really.

First, because his newest album, The Zombie Dinosaur LP, will be released on October 6th.

I’ve been listening to The Zombie Dinosaur LP for about a week now. It has everything you want from an MC Lars album: Sublime with Rome (Is Not the Same Thing as Sublime) calls out the music industry for sending out what’s left of bands after the loss of key band members. Hipster Mom is a follow-up to Hipster Girl, showing how family can impact the hipster lifestyle.

Now that you’re addicted to lit-hop, you’ll enjoy Dragon Blood (inspired by Game of Thrones), Forgot About Jack (about Kerouac and On the Road), and Never Afraid (about being an avid reader since childhood). Triforce is a Legend of Zelda inspired introspective look at growing up and embracing power, wisdom, and courage. And If I Were a Jedi (That Would be Hella Awesome) and The Ballad of Hans Moleman will appeal to fans of Star Wars and The Simpsons.

And second, he’ll be playing at Thunder Road in Somerville, MA on October 11th.

You have between now and then to fall in love with his music, see the show, and probably even take a selfie with him afterwards! I saw MC Lars last year at The Middle East (along with mc chris and Spose) and can honestly say it was one of the most fun live shows I’ve ever attended. This is The Joyful Smiles tour, and I’m certain it will live up to its name.

So what now? As I’ve said before, I can’t really sell you on a musician just by listing song titles. You’re going to have to take the next step yourself. Go onto YouTube and search for MC Lars. Scroll through the results and find some of the titles I mentioned above, and then some I haven’t. If you like it (as I’m sure you will), go to iTunes and buy his albums. (Nerdy rappers gotta eat.) I’ll be back again with more nerducation in the future. Until then, stay out of trouble, you Nerdy Clams.


Nerdy Clams Need to Know

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.

Nerdy Books

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!

Nerdy Games

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.

Nerdy Music

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.