March 12, 2018

Black & white cookies of Dyker Heights

This is the third in my series of posts about black & white cookies. Today, I headed to Dyker Heights to visit six bakeries: Grandma’s, Gold Star, Mona Lisa, and the Tasty Pastry Shoppe on 13th Avenue (a.k.a. Dyker Heights Boulevard), St. Anthony’s Bakery on Fort Hamilton Parkway, and the other Mona Lisa Bakery location, on 86th Street (where I’d been a number of times before; I was curious to see whether the two locations differed in quality). Read more...

January 24, 2018

Black & white cookies of Borough Park

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Black & white cookies of Midwood. Today—continuing my search for the perfect black & white cookie—I headed to Borough Park, to visit four bakeries: Shlomy’s Bake Shoppe, Korn Bakery, and Gross Bake Shop on 16th Avenue, and Weiss Bakery on 13th Avenue. Read more...

January 17, 2018

Black & white cookies of Midwood

The black and white cookie: so familiar to New Yorkers, so unknown elsewhere. But who makes the best one? I drove down to Midwood to visit five bakeries (Meir’s, Isaac’s, and Ostrovitsky’s on Avenue J; “Kosher Bakery” and Weiss Bakery on Avenue M) and find out. Read more...

September 22, 2017

“The Gradebook of Class 10-B”

This was written by my mother. I’ve translated it from Russian to English, and reposted it here, with her permission. I’ve also added a couple of footnotes, for the benefit of my Western readers.

Every word of it is true.

Leningrad. An ordinary secondary school in the new residential district near the Piskaryov Cemetary. I’m 20 years old, and I’m the new “class teacher”1 for class 5-B2. Soon enough, we’ve been together for six years. They’re tenth-graders3 now; the last, graduating, grade level. Strong, smart boys; beautiful, smart girls. One problem: they’ve grown out of school; it bores them. Every blessed day, Tamara Naumovna4, the school principal, calls me on the carpet: “Your 10-B…” I already know the usual litany of mischief—“disrupted a lesson, smoked behind the school building, taunted the young math teacher, ditched Literature en masse and ran off to play soccer instead… etc., etc., etc.” I nod my head, while thinking that I’d ditch that Literature class too.

My 10-B knew, deep in their hearts, that I was on their side.

But once, even my patience reached its end. After yet another summons to the principal’s office I went back to my 10th-graders and, in anger, said: “How long are you going to keep up these childish pranks? If you’re set on making trouble, at least go for the bigtime!” I didn’t mean anything by it. It was the outburst of a tired schoolteacher. But we remember the story of Pandora’s box… Read more...

September 20, 2017

“How M. Gorbachev Bought Me A Ticket to America”

This was written by my mother. I’ve translated it from Russian to English, and reposted it here, with her permission. I’ve also added a couple of footnotes, for the benefit of my Western readers.

Every word of it is true.

“Never”. That was the operative word, when our relatives, in the ’70s, would leave for Israel or America. We’ll never see each other again. We’ll never get a letter. We’ll never talk. Never, never, never.

My father was in the military, and a Border Guard, to boot—and those were KGB troops. Our relatives had decided to emigrate. The word “never” began and ended all conversations about it. They were carried on in whispers. Fear on a genetic level. My aunt and her family left. We were orphaned, and tried not to speak of them, because it was sad and painful.

Who, in those years, could’ve thought that Gorbachev would come, and that our life, in a moment, would change so much?

I remember well how, one evening, I was sitting in front of the television, and suddenly realized that I was NOT SCARED. That was it. Not afraid. Not afraid to speak aloud. Not afraid to discuss family in America. Not afraid… yes, not afraid at all to write them a letter. Read more...

September 14, 2017

Soviet kids’ atlas

This is a Soviet children’s atlas that my mother got for me when I was 5 years old.1

World and Man: A Geographic Atlas
World and Man: A Geographic Atlas2

(click illustrations to see full-size version)

I remember being enthralled by it. You can see, in the well-worn pages, the time I spent leafing through this thing. Read more...

September 12, 2017

Old Blog, New Home

My blog, Cognitive Pie, is now hosted here at the OborWiki Network. I’ll be migrating my old posts from elsewhere on the internet to here in the next little while. Stay tuned!

April 28, 2017

“In a world with wizards and dragons…”

... in a world where dragons fly, wizards teleport, and warriors routinely survive hundred-foot falls, it’s not a big deal for a character to unlearn one ability and learn a different one in its place.

Just as with the sentiment described in my last post, I see this sort of thing all the time. Someone proposes that a fantasy RPG should contain some element—some game mechanic, some fantastic phenomenon, whatever. Other folks object: “this makes no sense”, they say. The proponents parry: “In a world where [some fantastic thing], why shouldn't there be [proposed thing]?

I've seen this reasoning used to justify metagame mechanics (forgetting all the martial techniques you’ve spent years practicing, and learning completely different ones; PCs vanishing into thin air when a player is absent), setting-altering justifications for attempts at game balance (“sure it makes sense for fighters to throw fireballs—maybe magic radiation permeates everything and gives every person in the world innate magical superpowers”), and all sorts of weird game mechanics and fictional scenarios.1

People tend to sense that there”s something wrong with this logic. They push back. But not very well; the responses to this kind of argument are rarely coherent. Sometimes people appeal to “realism” (more savvy or experienced gamers and designers might instead say “verisimilitude”); sometimes it’s setting coherence, game balance, fun, etc. Read more...

April 26, 2017

Holistic Fun and the Fallacy of Composition

This is a sentiment I hear pretty often, in discussions about game design:

“[element of the game] is not fun. Therefore, let’s change it, or remove it from the game.”

(Here’s an example in a discussion about the cost of resurrection magic in Dungeons & Dragons.)

This is a textbook example of the fallacy of composition.

The fallacy of composition is the idea that a whole must have all the properties of every one of its parts. So because chlorine is poisonous and sodium explodes upon contact with water, NaCl (table salt) must be more dangerous than white phosporus…

The fallacy of composition is obvious nonsense. So why do people forget this when they talk about games? Read more...

April 25, 2017

Class Balance in Tabletop Role-Playing Games: Kinds of Fun

This is the first in a series of posts about class balance in tabletop RPGs. This post describes the “kinds of fun” model of class balance.

Sean K. Reynolds says that you can’t balance classes in a tabletop RPG except on the basis of damage. Many players and GMs agree (in my experience, anyway).

They’re wrong.

There are two ways of thinking about class balance in tabletop role-playing games (a.k.a. “pen-and-paper RPGs”) that solve, or cut through, the problems SKR describes, and that describe player views and behaviors fairly well. This post talks about one of these ways of thinking: the “kinds of fun” model. (A subsequent post will describe a lower-level model of class balance, the “evaluative metrics” model.) Read more...