Entertaining History: Nintendo & Hanafuda

So a few years back I’d picked up a cheap copy of Nintendo’s 2006 Clubhouse Games for the Nintendo DS, a couple of years after it had come out.

Clubhouse Games

Now, at first glance, this game just seemed like a somewhat run-of-the-mill multi-game release featuring a wide range of classic games like Solitaire, Checkers, Backgammon, Dominoes and a variety of others — conveniently all in one cartridge. It was the kind of game I liked to have for when I went on trips like work conferences and was bored in transit.

But it turned out to be much more than that, for me at least. Besides the fact that it has been the best multi-game release I’ve played due to its variety, in-depth instructions and excellent gameplay, it also introduced me to a game I’d never played before. One I eventually fell in love with.

I’m talking about Koi-Koi.

Koi-Koi, according to this Nintendo’s game rules, “is a version of the Japanese card game Hanafuda.” The rules go on to state that “Nintendo got its start manufacturing Hanafuda cards in the late 1800s.” As for gameplay, the basic goal in Koi-Koi is to “create pairs of the same suit using the cards in your hand and the shared cards.” Kind of like what you do in Texas Hold ‘Em poker, using a combination of cards dealt to you as well as the community cards.

But I have to admit that I wasn’t too keen on learning Koi-Koi at first, even though I found it interesting that Nintendo had started so long ago as a manufacturer of these cards instead of in the 1980s with video games as I’d assumed.

No, my instinct had been to use this Nintendo release to play games I already knew and liked, even though I did find the Hanafuda cards pretty and unique. Here’s what a few of the cards look like, to give you an idea; this picture comes from an Amazon listing for one of Nintendo’s Hanafuda decks of cards (which they still make):

Nintendo hanafuda cards

Luckily, Clubhouse Games had a “stamp” play mode that required a player to play each game at least 3 times before you could access the next game; so if you wanted to play Backgammon, you had to have cleared previous games like Checkers and Chinese Checkers first. Although I didn’t have to play this mode (I could have stuck with “free play” which lets you choose whatever you want right away), I tend to want to make use of all included features on any game I buy — at the very least, I like to give it a shot. Plus doing so unlocks other benefits, like new designs and music.

I’m a video game geek, yes. But then, you might already know that.

Anyway, once I got to the Koi-Koi phase of “stamp” mode, I “played” it by randomly clicking cards just to hurry along the process until I could lose three times (you only have to play, not win) and be able to progress past it. As I did so, I found myself growing to like the cards and their artistic beauty the more I saw them, since each game of Koi-Koi lasts twelve hands. But still not eager to learn an unfamiliar game at the time, I kept clicking away until I was able to move past Koi-Koi and eventually complete all of “stamp” mode.

But next up was “mission” mode, where a player has to reach a few particular milestones in each game to proceed; in Hanafuda, one goal was to earn 150 points. Clearly, randomly clicking wasn’t going to work now since I actually had to win. Since I didn’t want to give up so close to beating all components of Clubhouse Games, that meant actually reading the rules in full and understanding the nuances of the gameplay and the scoring. At least now I was familiar with what the cards looked like.

As I did so, I found myself marveling at pretty much everything about Hanafuda, down to its name — which, by the way, charmingly means “flower cards.” I loved the organization and design of the cards; there are 12 sets of 4 cards each which represent every month of the year. Kind of like how Western cards have suits; well, in Hanafuda, the depictions of each month makes for the equivalent of a suit.

Images for each month vary but all share a common theme that ties in with what happens in nature during that time of year. For instance, since cherry blossoms bloom in March, the March cards all feature images with cherry blossoms. (See why they’re called flower cards?) Here’s an example of one of the March cards, from a physical deck I later purchased:

March cherry blossom scroll card

I don’t know what the scroll says, but you don’t need to in order to play.

I was inspired to find out more about these cards and discovered sites like Hanafuda.com with great info on the variations of gameplay, helpful tips and even a Flash-based version of the game you can play online for free. (Check it out if you’d like to play a practice game or two; although I prefer the gameplay in Nintendo’s Clubhouse Games, this one is decent.)

Incidentally, if you’d like to see what each month’s theme is, check out this link from that Hanafuda.com website. And here on the Hanafuda site you can see a side-by-side comparison between each month’s theme and a picture of its source of inspiration from nature, since at first glance it can be hard to recognize what each scene is representing from the cards alone.

I didn’t stop there. Now I was really curious about how Nintendo had started out making these cards in the 1800s. Since I love reading about how major businesses got started, especially ones I personally like, I decided to read up on Nintendo.

I came across Playing to Wiin: Nintendo and the Video Game Industry’s Greatest Comeback, by Daniel Sloan, published by Wiley in 2011.

Playing to Wiin

This was a very interesting read throughout, and I loved the information I found out about Hanafuda cards through this book, such as this trivia:

“Fusajiro Yamauchi…launched ‘Nintendo Koppai’ in September 1889 as a hanafuda card business. Fusajiro saw Kyoto’s gamblers as well as its landed elite, students, and laborers as yearning for the turn of a friendly, well-made card. The city had been home to Japan’s emperors from the 8th century into the 19th, but like the entire nation it had endured a ban on card gambling for about 250 years. The new Meiji Era government, as a sign of its progressive agenda, decided to allow card games using pictures instead of numbers — one of many changes under a new Constitution that included weightier moves such as national elections and the end of serfdom. With the end of the card-playing prohibition, Fusajiro had a ready market for his ‘flower cards,’ which stunned players with their beauty.”    

As time passed and I was reading the book, my interest in Hanafuda kept growing, and before I knew it, I was officially hooked. I began playing Koi-Koi on Clubhouse Games on a regular basis, now eschewing most of the other games on the cartridge in favor of it. I played as I ate breakfast; I played in bed before falling asleep.

I was addicted.

Soon I decided I wanted my own “real life” deck, and went with this one made by Nintendo and sold on Amazon; this is where the cherry blossom card pictured above came from.

I also read Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World, by David Sheff, published by Vintage in 2011.

Game Over

According to Sheff:

“In the absence of horse or dog racing or sports pools, the yakuza, Japan’s equivalent of the Mafia, operated high-stakes games of hanafuda in casino-like parlors.”

I got a kick out of the cards’ somewhat less-than-respectable beginnings; quite a contrast with their pretty, innocent look! Which I suppose was the whole point, in a way. Who would ever suspect these cards of being associated with anything illegal?

Sure enough, an especially intriguing account of Hanafuda’s origins comes from the history section of the Hanafuda.com website — here’s a little more background on how the cards came into existence and were used for gambling:

“Hanafuda’s most obvious predecessor is actually the Portuguese Hombre deck, which was the first 48-card deck to appear in Japan. Portuguese traders and missionaries arrived in Japan in the 16th century, and were quick to invite the locals to participate in their card games. Prior to the arrival of the first European traders, the Japanese used playing cards almost exclusively for recreation, but the gambling card games preferred by the Portuguese visitors quickly gained popularity among the natives. The Japanese government saw the danger in this new hobby and quickly banned private gambling. Less than a century later, when Japan instituted its new isolationist policy, all foreign playing cards became illegal. As a result, Japanese card fans abandoned the Westernized designs of the Hombre deck in favor of their own homemade decks depicting Japanese characters and scenes. What they retained was the original 48-card design of the Hombre deck, and a penchant for gambling. Over time, the images became more uniform so a standardized set of rules could be developed, but as the government banned one deck after another for being gambling-oriented, card players had to become more clever in their deck designs. In this way, the original hanafuda deck was designed in the late 18th century. Its use of image association instead of an obvious point system made it more government-friendly.”

Aha! So the cards’ simple nature scenes really were designed to camouflage their true use! Clever indeed.

The book Introduction to Japanese Culture, by Daniel Sosnoski, published by Tuttle Publishing in 2013, also discusses the non-Japanese origin of hanafuda cards:

“A fact that surprises many of its devoted fans, however, is that hanafuda was not a Japanese invention at all…hanafuda was actually a Western import.”

Intro to Japanese Culture

Sosnoski states that “the ‘flower card’ game was first introduced to Japan in the late sixteenth century by Dutch traders at Nagaski,” and “underwent a number of changes and regional variations in the following centuries” — but ultimately, “it has become so much a part of the culture that most Japanese think of it as their own.”

In the book, Sosnoski also touches on the gambling side of Hanafuda cards as well; apparently the use of these cards for gambling continues even to the present day:

“Today hanafuda is like poker in most parts of the United States: recreational games are permitted, although betting, even in penny-ante games, is technically illegal. Of course there are those who cannot resist playing for big stakes. Every year the newspapers report at least half a dozen cases in which police raided a secret hanafuda parlor and arrested the players.”

When I first saw Hanafuda on Clubhouse Games, I never would have guessed that there was a gambling underworld associated with these beautiful cards — both in the past and today!

Yet in Things Japanese: Everyday Objects of Exceptional Beauty and Significance, published by Tuttle Publishing in 2014, author Nicholas Bornoff confirms “that hanafuda has always been prized by serious gamblers.”

Things Japanese

And back on the history link of Hanfuda.com, it’s reported that the word yakuza, the Japanese term associated with crime and gangsters, was first related to the Japanese word for a bad hand in a Hanafuda gambling game. In fact, the site says that “many yakuza tattoos have been inspired by images from the flower cards.”

Wow. I thought I was just playing a cute card game from Japan.

I had no idea I was such a badass.

All jokes aside, I love when seemingly simple forms of entertainment, or anything really, turn out to have an unexpected history behind them, so I figured I’d share this one with you.

By the way, you can play lots of different games with Hanafuda cards besides Koi-Koi. If you’d like to learn more about the cards and the various popular games you can play with them, I recommend the book Hanafuda: The Flower Card Game, which features thorough instructions as well as helpful illustrations for a variety of Hanafuda games. Written and published by Japan Publications, it was first released in the 1970s and has been reprinted over the years; the one I have is the 15th edition from November 2010 (below):

Hanafuda the Flower Card Game

Also, if you’d like to own a set for yourself but prefer cards with point values on them for ease in scoring, you may want to go with a Hawaiian deck. Hanafuda is popular in Hawaii, and cards there typically feature point values on the faces of each card. Here’s an example. On a related note, the game is also popular in Korea (where it’s referred to as Hwa-tu) and a Korean deck features a few extra cards.

I’d say trying Hanafuda for yourself is worth it, if you haven’t yet — and it’s the closest you’ll get to being one of the yakuza gambling in a casino parlor in 1880s Japan.

It’s like playing with a piece of history. And who said history can’t be fun?

Why I Love the Internet — Videogame Walkthrough Edition

In the past I’ve written about specific reasons I love the Internet (here and here, if you’re curious) and tonight another one occurred to me; it involves something that may seem small to some, but I find myself really appreciative of its existence online whenever I’m in need of it. I’m talking about…

VIDEOGAME WALKTHROUGHS!

For those of you who don’t play videogames — you shouldn’t rule them out! There are so many great games, and they’re not all Mario-type games like you may think, or only for kids! No; there are also suspenseful mysteries, interactive novels, language-learning options and so much more!

Sorry, I digress…I meant to say, let me share what a wonderful thing a walkthrough is for those of you who don’t play videogames, or somehow haven’t used this wonderful resource.

A walkthrough is, essentially, a step-by-step outline or video posted online which shows you how to play a specific videogame. So, players who are stuck in a game and don’t know what to do next or how to beat a particularly difficult challenge or puzzle don’t have to do what I did back in the day before the Internet — stay stuck and frustrated until you either give up on the game, or wait to find someone who knows the game you’re playing, if you’re lucky.

To be fair, in those dark days, there were special videogame guidebooks and magazines which often offered tips on unlocking hidden modes or figuring out certain aspects of the game you might be struggling with. But, at least for me, those resources weren’t always that easy to come by — either the newsstands near me didn’t carry them or were out of stock when I needed one, or the issue just didn’t contain the specific information I was looking for. Plus, it could be pricey to buy them on a regular basis, especially since each issue would cover multiple games yet I might only be interested in a particular one. Besides, sometimes I was playing an older game that the magazines were no longer actively covering anyway.

If I owned the game I was playing, I did have a basic manual — but that just included general information on the game’s premise, what the console’s buttons did for that specific game, etc. No inside tips or solutions to hard-to-get-past challenges. And I had no access to a manual at all when I rented a game from the local video store (ah, remember those?!). While many games are easy enough to pick up and start playing, some are not — so some of those rentals that looked good at the store would be really frustrating once I got it home and got stuck, with absolutely no information to help!

Today, that’s no longer a problem for kids (and adult players, ahem), thanks to the ability to share tips and gameplay videos online! Here are a few examples of the kind of resources I’m talking about; as an example, I’m using a game I played some time back called The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks:

And here’s a list of video walkthrough results that pop up for this Zelda game when you search for it in YouTube.

Obviously, there’s a wealth of resources out there compared to the “old” days!

What also stands out to me about these helpful resources are the people behind them. While some may be from commercial ventures which benefit from advertising and other incentives, I often come across others which seem to be posted by players who just want to help other players, with no obvious benefit to themselves besides perhaps being seen as an expert in the industry. I have to say I find this pretty impressive, considering typing up an in-depth guide or playing the game in full just to demonstrate it for others via a video is a very time-consuming process (especially since most of the videos I’ve seen are from people replaying the game, once they’ve figured it all out). And I’d suspect this is a thankless effort a lot of the time — yet there’s still no lack of people posting these tips and videos!

So, this is just another reason I love the Internet!

Neurotic note: My initial instinct here was to write “videogames” as one word. But as I was writing, I started wondering if it should be two words; I checked online (more love for the Internet) and learned that there’s actually a debate about this, but the industry itself seems to lean towards “videogame.” Bet you didn’t know that was such an issue, huh? I know I didn’t! If you like debates on words and grammar as much as I geekily do, you can read a bit more on this here.

Funny Quirks, or Smart Moves? (Stream of Consciousness Saturday)

socs-badge

I have some funny little ways; idiosyncratic things I do that people often find odd. I’ve written about some of them before, and a few more have come to me that I thought I’d share.  I’d love to hear what you think of them, either way! Here goes…

When I’m shopping at the supermarket, I wish I could just casually toss the products I want to buy into my cart and be done with it, like I see so many other shoppers around me do.

But I can’t.

No, instead I am compelled to closely inspect all jars, cans, containers and bottles. And I mean, closely.

Now I know many people do a form of this with certain things, like checking that eggs aren’t broken or that fruit isn’t damaged or too ripe before buying them.

But I’ve been told that what I do goes beyond that. Some examples:

  • I look under the lid of products like peanut butter and cottage cheese to make sure the inner seal is secure.
  • I unscrew the cap from a carton of milk or juice to confirm the inner plastic pull-tab is still in place.
  • If I buy a product that comes in a spray bottle, like hairspray, I do one test spritz to make sure the atomizer nozzle works.
  • I squeeze cans to make sure they don’t feel swollen and full of air.
  • I check paper products that are wrapped in plastic, like paper towels, to make sure there are no holes in the wrap that have exposed the product to dirt.
  • I look over and gently tug the foil seals on yogurt containers, to be sure there are no holes or gaps in them.

Now it occurred to me as I was writing this that I must sound like Mr. Bean when shopping. You’ll see what I mean in the video clip below, which I then had to look up on the official Mr. Bean YouTube channel:

And maybe, just maybe, I am kind of like that. But I must share why I have these funny quirks when shopping. Quite simply, in the past, I’ve come home with spray bottles that won’t spray, food products with a missing or loose safety seal, and so on — items I can’t or won’t use, all of which have been an annoyance, especially when I really needed the item in question. Plus it’s also a hassle to have to return to the store; sometimes I haven’t wanted to bother with that, so I end up throwing out the product and losing the money.

Basically, once I’m inconvenienced by something, I tend to remember it to the point where I will go to great lengths to avoid it again. And that is why I neurotically check everything before I buy it.

For the record, though, doing this doesn’t take as long as it might sound — I’m not quite as crazily in-depth about it as Mr. Bean there!

And on somewhat of a side note: I usually try to do my quick checks in plain sight of a supermarket employee and/or other customers, even though at one time my instinct was to try to hide my paranoia. But I never want it to appear that I’m actually secretly tampering with products; I want to make it clear I’m checking and buying each item. And when I have found an issue (it really does happen more than some might think), I tell an employee so that no one else ends up taking the defective item home.

The benefits of what I do at the store also extend to anyone who eats from the food I buy once I get it home — not only are the items as secure as possible, but I take some additional protective measures at home, too. For instance, once I open said jars and bottles, I quickly wash the insides of the lids and caps with soap and water. This is especially true with products like peanut butter, since items like that are not consumed in full once opened and some of it will often touch the lid; I want that lid clean before that happens! Otherwise, I picture germs just sitting in the jar day after day, spreading throughout. So, washing it with soap and water first gives me some peace of mind! Now no one has to worry about the germs of anyone else who may have opened the jar in the store, then closed it again without buying it for whatever reason — although I admit that likely doesn’t happen a lot. But still…

So, while some say what I do is funny, in a weird way, I say I’m just being a smart shopper. And in a sense, I’m performing a public service, also helping those who shop where I shop and eat from the food I buy!

But what do you say? I’d love to know your honest opinion!

Note: This post was created as part of LindaGHill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. This week’s prompt was: “funny/haha or funny/peculiar.” I clearly went with funny/peculiar, as per the opinions of people who have shopped with me and found my ways strange…!

Opinion: Don’t Dismiss Amazon’s Fire Phone Just Yet

In today’s news, it was reported that the price of the still relatively new Amazon Fire Phone has been slashed to just 99 cents. Yes, CENTS. Here, see for yourself.

It should be noted that that’s the price if you take a two-year contract with AT&T, the phone’s exclusive provider. Still, that’s a steep markdown considering the phone launched just a couple of months ago in July at a price of 199 DOLLARS with a two-year AT&T contract.

The TV report I saw said that this drastic price cut appears to be in response to poor sales of the phone, saying it has been “struggling.”

I have some thoughts on this “struggling” product, which I feel shouldn’t be dismissed just yet — I think we may one day be surprised by its longevity and eventual popularity.

First, some background

I don’t own the phone, although I have been intrigued about buying it for two reasons. First of all, I like Amazon and their products; for example, I own their Kindle PaperWhite and find it great. So I’d be open to a phone made by them. Secondly, I don’t currently own a smartphone; I still have an old flip phone. (Stop laughing!) So for me, this would be a fine transition into the smartphone realm.

However, I do see that people who already have a smartphone won’t necessarily be compelled to switch. The Fire Phone’s operating system is a custom-built version of an Android system, so it doesn’t offer the full spectrum of Android functionality; for instance, from what I’ve read, you can’t use many popular Google apps and services on it.

According to this article by Ryan Whitwam for Extreme Tech, “When you buy a Fire Phone, you get Amazon’s services in place of Google’s. That means no Chrome, Play Store, Google Play Music, Google Drive, or Gmail. Instead you get Silk Browser, Amazon Appstore, Cloud Player, Cloud Drive, and Amazon’s generic email client.”

Clearly, this makes the Fire Phone less than appealing to customers who are used to a full-fledged Android operating system and enjoy these Google services, or those with an iPhone and the wide range of apps and services available on that system as well.

Once you add in the fact that customers would have to use AT&T, you can see why the Fire Phone does have some issues; I know I personally prefer Verizon, so this aspect alone has been a major reason why I decided against movin’ on up into the smartphone world with this phone even though I was initially excited by it. So it’s even more understandable to me why someone who already has one, especially if they’re not already an AT&T customer, would hesitate to make this change.

Advertising fail?

I also didn’t like Amazon’s advertising strategy for the Fire Phone at first. Have you seen the commercials for it, featuring pretentious kids schooling adults around them about how great it is? If not, here’s one of them, from the Fire Phone’s YouTube channel:

When I first saw these ads, I thought, “Does Amazon really want its phone to be considered a kids’ phone?”

Think again

Yet think of this advertising strategy in light of what Apple did over the years to position itself as a leader in the tech industry: early in its history, and even today, Apple has made deals with schools to provide them with computer equipment for free. This has been a great charitable move on their part, but let’s be honest — there’s also a benefit to them as well. They’ve wanted Apple to be familiar to kids in order to plants the roots for a strong customer base in the years to come; their view from the outset was that the system you first learn on is likely to be the one you’ll buy later on. This approach has been well-documented; take a look at this article by Todd Oppenheimer in The Atlantic, which mentions how Apple “shrewdly” went about turning “legions of families into Apple loyalists” with strategies like this.

So my guess is that’s what Amazon is striving for, too — gaining customers in the future by planting the seeds now. Step one: target kids in the ads and now slash the price so low there’s really no barrier to getting one. That way, parents are more likely get the phone for their kids — or better yet, kids may proactively start begging their parents for one.

Then, who knows, maybe some parents might actually be more open to switching their own phones once they have exposure to it from their kids; but even without that, those children may one day be loyal Fire Phone customers due to their exposure to it at an early age. I mean, I know I have a fondness for Apple computers to this day from my time learning on an Apple IIe in school! So it just might work, and is likely the best advertising approach Amazon could use at this phase in the Fire Phone’s existence.

It’s not just about the phone

Besides, I don’t think the Fire Phone is supposed to be a powerhouse product on its own, but rather a driver of increased sales for Amazon overall. This fits in with the business approach commonly used by Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who’s always been more focused on long-term standing versus short-term gain. Some examples:

  • Even in Amazon’s early days, Bezos wanted to offer products more cheaply to build a strong customer base, even if it was at a loss to Amazon in the moment.
  • He was also willing to direct customers to other external sites if they searched for a product he didn’t sell; the goal was to make Amazon a customer’s first stop, even if that meant referring them on to other businesses when necessary. (I’ve noticed Amazon still does this to this day, although their inventory has grown so much it’s rarely necessary to be directed to an external site now.)
  • Jeff also allowed customers to post negative reviews of products before anyone else did so; people found that shocking at the time, saying it would adversely affect the site’s business, but Jeff wanted customers to view Amazon as a place they could trust buying from, as well as a one-stop-shop where they could both research and purchase the right product for them.

Amazon has also sold its hardware, like its Kindle e-readers and tablets, relatively cheaply; the focus has typically been on gaining customers and purchases for accompanying electronic books and services versus on sales of the hardware itself. Similarly, its Fire Phone offers Firefly which makes it easier to identify and purchase products directly from Amazon; you can read more on that feature in this CNN article by Doug Gross, which confirms this approach and says that “the Fire Phone is designed to pull you into Amazon’s growing universe of products and services and then keep you there.”

So to me, the Fire Phone is just another example of Amazon hardware being offered at low prices in order to boost its sales in other areas. This makes the phone a win-win situation for Amazon; I can see loyal Amazon customers enjoying that benefit, and Amazon is positioned to really benefit from that convenience to the customer. The phone becomes just one small part in its overall strategy to increase sales even further.

Plus, down the line I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon’s phone offers better features than it does currently, much like the evolution of the Kindle, which took years to develop and improve.

Incidentally, if you’d like to read more all about Amazon’s growth and strategies over the years, in addition to the linked articles here I highly recommend reading One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com by Richard L. Brandt. I learned a lot about Amazon’s history and sales practices from this book, plus it’s an interesting read as well.

So, don’t dismiss the Fire Phone just yet. It may seem to be “struggling,” but that’s only if you look at it in black-and-white terms, on a standalone basis. I believe it has some tricks up its sleeve that may just position it for long-term success in ways many might not expect — and besides, it’s just one part of Amazon’s overall, big-picture approach for ongoing growth in the future.

Absurd Humor

Every now and then a show comes along that makes me laugh out loud, literally. Which, for as common as that expression is, rarely actually happens to me. Not sure about you, but most times when I find a show funny, I’m more quietly amused by it; at most maybe I’ll smile. But a true laugh? Pretty rare.

Here are the few exceptions to that; perhaps you’ll find a new favorite here, too! Most of these shows feature an absurd kind of humor I tend to favor, starting with my most recent favorite:

Drunk History on Comedy Central

I caught a couple of episodes of this show recently and was so amused by it that it inspired me to write this post!

If you haven’t seen the show yourself, the premise is based on people recounting true stories from history — but while drunk! So of course that comes out all crazy and makes for really funny narrations.

The show maximizes its comedic effect by having actors reenact the historical events being described by the drunk narrator, with the actors’ lines being dubbed with the narrator’s delivery. Kind of like lip-synching, only I suspect the actors actually say their lines the way the narrator said them, and then they’re muted with the narrator’s voice dubbed in over them. I find it funny when a male narrator’s voice seems to come from a female historical figure, and vice versa.

It’s especially amusing when the narrator suddenly slips out of the narration, perhaps to say something to the film crew; this is often left in the reenactment. For example, in one story the narrator abruptly says, “Can I get my cheesy bread I brought?” At first it’s confusing because the actor portraying the historical figure is shown as saying that. Then the camera cuts to the drunk narrator who repeats her sudden request and is clearly craving food in her inebriated state.

The whole dynamic is somewhat hard to describe, so it might be better if you just see this brief clip of their episode on First Ladies, from Comedy Central’s YouTube channel; this segment depicts Woodrow Wilson’s wife taking care of his presidential duties once he had a stroke that debilitated him (and yes, that is Courteney Cox in one of the show’s guest-starring roles):

Personally, I think it’s even better when you see a full episode — it’s on Fridays at 2:15pm if you like it and want to DVR it! You can also visit the show’s website here.

A couple of my friends have wondered if this show is a bit controversial, since it can be said to be promoting excessive drinking. I can see that but I must admit, I still get a kick out of it (is that kind of wrong?). Plus, I’ve learned more from the few episodes of the show I’ve caught so far than I would have expected. I mean, did you know that about Edith Wilson? If I ever did learn that, I’ve clearly forgotten it. Either way, I think there’s something to learning in a humorous context that makes it “stick” more — and certainly makes it more fun!

Next up is a show I would have never thought I’d watch if you described it to me, but I happened to catch it when a friend was watching it and ended up really enjoying it! Plus, I have this show to thank for introducing me to Drunk History:

The People’s Couch on Bravo

Have you seen it or heard the premise? If not, here’s what it is:

It’s a show where you watch people watching TV.

Yup, that’s it. But strangely, it’s really entertaining! The viewers they choose to feature make really funny comments on the various shows they’re watching, which is fun to see if they happen to be watching a clip of a show you follow. But even if they’re watching a show you’ve never seen, it’s still amusing.

How could watching people watching TV be amusing, you ask?

Well, first of all, because of the witty commentary. Secondly, for the odd voyeuristic feeling you get watching people in their homes watching TV, eating and just hanging out. And finally, because you’re shown clips of what they’re watching so you’re not lost; plus the scenes are never so involved that you feel like you would’ve had to see the show in full yourself to be able to get the commentary the viewers are making. And, as happened to me with Drunk History, it’s a great way to get introduced to a new show you may end up loving!

To get a better idea of the show’s fun vibe, take a look at this episode from the show’s YouTube channel; it includes the viewers watching a scene from Drunk History (during minute 20, if you want to jump straight to that part):

See? I love when one of the viewers said, “She needs to eat a couple pieces of bread, soak it up,” referring to the narrator’s drunkenness which caused her to say “Burning Man” instead of “Birmingham” during the story of Claudette Colvin, the first person arrested for protesting racial segregation on buses (yes, before Rosa Parks — I told you the show teaches you things!). This clip is actually not only a great example of why I like The People’s Couch, but also another great example of why Drunk History is so funny!

For more videos and information on The People’s Couch, visit its website.

Other absurd shows that have made me laugh out loud have included:

South Park on Comedy Central

When I first watched it years ago, I found the show so bizarre on a regular basis that I was entranced by it. I particularly remember an episode where there’s a monster, one of whose legs is “TV’s Patrick Duffy.” I don’t know how to make that sentence make any sense. That concept and line was just so out there I couldn’t stop laughing — how do they think these things up?! Perhaps you might want to see the full episode on the show’s official website if you haven’t already.

For a shorter taste of the show (or a re-taste if you’re a fan), here’s a funny clip of the show from Comedy Central on Hulu, called “The Importance of Saving Money”  — which many people will be able to relate to firsthand, unfortunately:

While I don’t watch the show as often as I once did, I still get a kick out of it whenever I happen to catch an episode! You can find many other clips and full episodes on the links above for Hulu and the official South Park Studios website.

TMZ on Fox

I feel bad for admitting to this, but I also have a special fondness for TMZ; many of the things said on the show make me laugh in that “I feel bad and should be doing something more productive but I can’t help it” kind of way.

If you somehow don’t know about TMZ, it’s basically a celebrity gossip show. I usually never watch shows like that, but it’s nothing like Entertainment Tonight or any of those other shows. Unlike most Hollywood news shows, this one doesn’t put celebrities on a pedestal and will say things about them you’ve likely thought or would appreciate, versus the typical “this star’s in a new movie which is GREAT” kind of suck-up drivel the other shows mass produce.

Here’s a clip demonstrating the more “real” dynamic I’m talking about, where the show discusses Angelina Jolie’s wedding and the dress she wore:

Part of what I like a lot about the show is how it highlights the staffers and their opinions; the show highlights them as much as it does the celebrities they’re reporting on. I’ve seen newer shows copy that dynamic but I feel like TMZ did it first, or at least better. Makes for a fun, guilty pleasure to watch regardless of whether you’re interested in the people they’re talking about; the staff members’ personalities and interactions alone make it worth it.

Blind Date

This show is no longer on, unfortunately, but it always stood out to me as being surprisingly funny; I felt its comedy was often overlooked and underrated. To me, it seemed like the show was viewed first as a dating show, but I always saw it as a comedy that happened to feature real blind dates, because the commentary the show added to what we were watching was usually spot-on and hilarious.

For those of you who never saw it, the show would film a couple on a first, and blind, date, featuring added-in captions as well as thought bubbles each person on the date was supposedly thinking about the other as the date progressed. I found the writers to be so insightful and clever with their humor; the added music and effects were also great at furthering the jokes between the writers and the viewers.

Here’s a good segment as seen in this video posted on YouTube by magician Murray SawChuck, who once appeared on the show:

I have to say, I miss this show! Luckily, we have people like Murray who post their appearances online!

Mr. Bean

Sadly, this show is also no longer currently on the air except in reruns you may catch here and there, although I haven’t caught one in years; luckily I own the series on DVD thanks to a thoughtful birthday gift from my closest friend!

This show featured British actor Rowan Atkinson portraying a socially maladjusted adult who consistently finds himself in awkward and embarrassing situations. The best way to get a feel for the show is by watching it — the outlandish scenarios and superb, yet almost completely wordless, acting are truly unique!

Here’s a brief clip from the official Mr. Bean YouTube channel, featuring a segment of an episode where Mr. Bean is at church, and having some…trouble:

I couldn’t get enough of the show after the first time I discovered it; if you feel that way too, you can watch many more videos on that official YouTube channel. Or, you can visit the official Mr. Bean website.

So, if you’re ever in need of a real laugh and share a similar appreciation for the absurd, I suggest you watch these shows if you haven’t already! And another great batch of shows can be found on my previous post, here. Enjoy!

Reruns, I Love You So! (Stream of Consciousness Saturday)

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Reruns are my guilty pleasure; almost an addiction of sorts.

I probably watch a lot more of them than I should; although to be fair, the word “watch” isn’t completely accurate since I tend to just leave these familiar, favorite shows on in the background as I do other things, especially tedious errands like sorting laundry, shredding papers…you name it, a loved rerun will always make the chore fly by, whether the show is being rebroadcast on TV or I’m playing a DVD. Plus since I’ve seen it before, I’m not likely to get so sucked in that I focus more on the show than on what I’m doing.

Usually the reruns I’m drawn to are from sitcoms; I rarely want to watch old dramas and mysteries again, even though I loved shows like 24 and Lost when they were on the air. For me, the main draw of those shows was the suspense, which doesn’t exist once you know how things turn out!

Nor do I usually rewatch movies, unless it’s Christmas and we’re talking about A Charlie Brown ChristmasElf or A Christmas Carol (the Alastair Sim version from 1951, of course; in my opinion, none other compares!). Perhaps because movies are longer and more involved; I’m more likely to get distracted (or on the flip side, bored) by them.

No, my favorites vary depending on my mood but usually include episodes from sitcoms like:

  • The King of Queens (my all-time favorite!)
  • Perfect Strangers (I never see this in reruns anymore on TV, but I have seasons 1 and 2 on DVD and am eagerly hoping for the rest to be released)
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (although I can’t stand the episodes after they switched the actress playing Aunt Vivian; Janet Hubert was the best)
  • The Honeymooners (none of my peers like this show, but I love it!)
  • I Love Lucy (I always find most of the jokes and plotlines to be very relatable and amusing even today, versus some other old shows that seem too dated to watch other than for nostalgia’s sake)
  • Frasier (I’ve seen all of the episodes thanks to Netflix, but still put on a rerun of it now and then when it airs on TV)
  • The Middle (yes, this is still on the air, but it’s also already in syndication too, and I love putting an episode on when I find one or remember to DVR it — and occasionally I catch one I hadn’t seen the first time around)
  • Keeping Up Appearances (this is a British sitcoms from the 90s; it’s a bit slapstick but I like the main character’s uptight ways and her forced attempts to move up in social status, failing each time)
  • As Time Goes By (another show from England; it starred Dame Judi Dench and featured a mature, understated form of comedy I like a lot)
  • Becker (rarely do I catch this on TV but I have it on DVD; it featured Ted Danson in an ornery role, playing a doctor from the Bronx)

This is by no means a complete list; I’m sure I’m missing another couple of shows. But this is a pretty good idea of the kind of reruns I love. I can’t give them up and can’t imagine not being able to re-enjoy them via reruns, DVRs and DVDs. I love the technology that makes this possible; without it, it’s quite possible I would never get anything done!

Note: This post was written as part of LindaGHill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday; this week’s prompt was the prefix re-. The word “reruns” popped into my mind and I ran with it — with a rerun on quietly in the background, of course (The King of Queens, if you were wondering)!