Thursday, August 20, 2009

Beginnings, and Bonte games***

"...the aftermath of confidences is embarrassment."

Beginnings. Have been on my mind lately.

A kaleidoscopic vision, no less. Beginnings in terms of relationships, projects, life, books, work, whatnots. Beginnings as difficult, as easy, as complicated, as natural, as piecemeal, as small, as grand, as fresh, as endings. Beginnings. A word of many flavours, many explorations. For now, it will remain - kaleidoscopic, but one day maybe the colours will shift into a pattern I will know as the one I have been waiting for. I am in no hurry. It is enough to have an idea, to be tantalized by the possibilities, to have, something new in the palm of my mind.

But in the meantime, there is this, that started it all.

Agatha Christie's novel 'The mystery of the blue train'. Its heroine: Katherine Grey, with quiet gray eyes, a sense of humour, and a fortune from the last old lady she had been a companion of. Its hero: A murder in a train. Assorted supporting characters in Riviera, her destination, and in St. Mary Mead, her origin. And the threads which get tangled with hers following the murder - the good-for-nothing devilish and handsome gambler, Derek Kettering; his multimillionaire heiress wife Ruth; her ruthless, Midas like father; the dancer Mirabelle, lending the exotic touch of depravity to Derek's existene; the hard working secretary who falls in love with Katherine.

The story opens - 'It was close on midnight when a man crossed the Place de la Concorde', and you know it is a mystery novel, out and out. The late night clandestine sale of - something small but highly expensive, which goons are after. But it might have started anywhere - any place in the first few chapters could have done for a beginning. It could have started with the dancer Mirelle upbraiding Derek for his pusillanimity in obtaining money or divorce from his wife. It could have started with Ruth Kettering reading love letters from her highly inappropriate paramour, or her father remonstrating with her for doing so. It could have started with Katherine Grey in the lawyer's chambers, learning of the extent of the inheritance she has just come into. Or in the Blue train, Ruth Kettering talking to Katherine Grey - "I am in trouble and don't know what to do." Or even from the sentence Katherine thinks to herself at the end of this conversation - "the aftermath of confidences is embarrassment.' I wonder if I could do it - start from this sentence and rework the opening chapters while keeping the rest of the novel intact, not changing its purpose or nature. It is an interesting, and idle, speculation, but the idea itself is fascinating - that there can be a multitude of openings, given the same book. A fun idea because there are so many possibilities.

Do possibilities excite you too? New beginnings, new ideas?

Talking of new things, here is something new again - something I didn't expect to be showcasing so soon. But, what the heck, it is all the rage with my kiddo, so who am I to quarrel with destiny? Although I must admit, I have tried my best to switch back to the staple diet of our educative and fun games suitable for young 'uns, as opposed to these new and attractive snacks, some of which would classify as junk perhaps. I know I found them, and some of them are quite useful for developing logic and reasoning - yet, I am uneasy at some level, preferring that the sounds from the computer belong to cute and cuddly animals or alphabet and numerals. Read on and see what you think.

Bonte games are the creation of the Belgian games designer Bart Bonte. Some are point and click games (a term I learned after I found these; it means a game in which you look for clues in a given scenario, and find helpful objects needed to complete a task in hand, usually some sort of escape) like Bonte room or Free the bird. Others involve pure logical reasoning - something like the questions in aptitude and IQ tests. The most recent addition is a word game, a kind of variation on scrabble in that you have to make words from falling letters as quick as you can. If you have a pre-teen or a teenager, they are wonderful I think. Heck, it is easy to get addicted to them yourself (but mercifully its a short addiction). But for a kindergarten kid? And yet, would you believe it, for the last month mine has been asking for just these, in particular Loose the Moose, another of those point and click games!

The game is simple, once you get the hang of it. Though I must admit I never had the patience to work it out, and instead relied on the ubiquitous walkthroughs for all such games. (A walkthrough is a step by step solution kindly provided by some smart person for lazy ones like me!) I suppose I could justify it by the need of the hour - show something new quickly to the kid or else this meal opportunity is lost! But truly, I am lazy too! Ok, about the game - collect things from around the room, get the mouse out and get him to do your bidding so as to find the key out of the room. I made the moves the first time, but from then onwards, I am just required in an advisory role. You'd think that once or twice would have been enough, but no, kiddo here wants it all the time. I don't know whether the facination is from the mouse making screeching noises as it jumps, or the Moose head from which the game gets its name, but there you are! Its become so annoying that I have had to ban it outright!

On the other hand, I have tried to encourage Factory balls or Factory balls 2 - both of which are excellent logic games, involving the use of common sense and a bit of logic to decorate balls in a given fashion. I thought it would help in developing rational thinking. Perhaps I am wrong about that - perhaps it is too difficult for my child, hardly four, in that the moves are getting memorized rather than reasoned. But at three and a half, the answer to the conundrum about grass/goat/tiger/man with one boat and a river to cross had come in easily, so I did think that this would not be too hard... I would recommend it wholeheartedly to you though, and older kids. My only regret at the end of these games is that they are so short!

Duck - think outside the flock is the first of the Bonte games I had encountered, and saved it up because it looked so cute and was all about reasoning. To begin with, you are encouraged to click on the ducks to figure out what they may be required to do and it is very simple. Simple enough for pre-schoolers with a hand on the mouse. The higher levels get progressively difficult, and I am invariably called in after a while. But while it lasts, it is fun, and I am hoping that with time, more levels will be within the grasp of that mind.

I am not, purposely, featuring all the games on this site - that is for you to explore if you find it interesting. So Doggnation, which involves planning out sequences in advance, and some quick (but not too fast) mouse flicks, is a wonderful end to this post. It is a game for teens, or pre-teens at the earliest - I had to play it all by myself just to show the built up castle at the end - but wow, it is fun! There are dogs standing, with some building blocks. And there are dogs moving through whose job is to take the blocks according to the order mentioned at each level. Sometimes they can take one, other time, more; there are no limits to retrials, and at the end you have the satisfaction of having successfully sorted out the kind of puzzles you thought left behind with grade school. Unless you are a computer geek of course, in which case it is right down your alley :)

Be sure to remember that not being a kiddie site, there are ads all over, and you have to supervise to prevent the wrong clicks. Also, as Mr. Bonte also shows, blog fashion, the latest games he has found over the web, sometimes you can find yourself in alien lands which had looked promising but are way over the head for your pre-schooler. Bookmark the site, for there are surely going to be new additions from time to time.

The urls -
Bonte games -
Factory balls 2 -
Duck - think outside the flock -
Doggnation -
Loose the Moose -

P.S. The aftermath of confidences is embarrassment. I wonder. It is true that sometimes the very atmosphere of confidential exchanges makes you share stuff you wouldn't otherwise, and then follows the inevitable self questioning - how much did I reveal? What did I make myself look like? Should I have said this or that about another person? And you might then want to hide, to wish away this person you opened up to. But isn't it also true that you might, after being confidential, discover a friend, a deeper respect than ever before?