Weird Contests Weekend


Puzzlers puzzle at the Landmark Center, downtown Saint Paul

Sometimes, during the Minnesota winter, it can be difficult to find the motivation to drag yourself out of your house into the freezing temperatures and treacherous icy streets of the city. It doesn’t take much time to start feeling the claustrophobia of a self enforced hermeticism, though. For us, it’s important to get out.

Last weekend, there were a couple of interesting and challenging competitions, each featuring a very different theme, that popped up around town, and we had a lot of fun participating in them, staying warm and staving off that seasonal depression.

The first was Fair State Brewing Cooperative Giant Pasty Stout Mix Off last Friday evening. Fair State is one of my favorite breweries in the Twin Cities so I was intrigued by their competition, celebrating the imminent release of a variant of their Giantsbane American Double Stout, a pastry infusion they’re calling the Duke of Bakefordshire.   

My wife, Lindsay, was not really that into beer before I met her. While I myself enjoy drinking a pint now and then, she’s been perfecting her cocktail making skills. Over the years of being dragged to breweries, though, she has found that stouts and porters, especially those heady imperial varieties (double the malts, and alcohol, of a normal brew) appeal to her. So much so, we’ve made a point to check out the various infusions announced at various local breweries and when she saw this opportunity, she jumped on it with gusto.

Mixers would infuse their Giantsbane with a pastry theme of their choosing, and Lindsay wasted no time in concocting the perfect flavor combination. I, being true to myself, frittered away my time. Fair State provided a number of ingredients to choose from, but also allowed each contributor to bring their own home brewed secret ingredients. The resulting mixes were judged on taste, presentation, creativity, and of course, the name (every beer needs a good name, after all). It was a fun, social event as beers with all manner of interesting adjuncts were presented and shared. The results will be released on February 9th.   


Arriving at Landmark Center on a frigid morning


On Saturday, we were invited by a friend to participate in the Winter Carnival Puzzle Contest held in the Landmark Center in downtown Saint Paul. We’d never participated in something like this, but after Lindsay introduced me to the cozy winter fun of working on a puzzle while watching comedy or under blankets on the couch, I was intrigued with what a contest would be like, and felt like it was a perfect match for a more relaxed Winter Carnival event, especially as the temperature plunged so much that other Carnival mainstays were being cancelled.



Arriving at the Landmark Center as snow was falling, the cavernous main room was packed with tables ready for contestants to start obsessing over puzzle pieces. I have never before witnessed such devotion to the jigsaw puzzle as dozens of teams worked together to put together a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle in the two hour time limit, each with a twist in how the final product differed from the cover image. It was interesting to consider what events led to the banning of such useful puzzle solving cheats as spatulas and flashlights. It was quite serious, though also laid back and, while were weren’t exactly running with the top dogs (who completed their puzzle within a half hour), we did finish ours before the first hour was done.

All in all, a successful weekend and the feeling of accomplishment will help us through some more frigid weather.

Laborial Day and Trivia Mafia


612: Brew in Northeast Minneapolis

The first Saturday in August this year, the 4th, marked the exact halfway point between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which is definitely an odd date to mark and one that had never occurred to me before. I think that, in future, though, I’ll definitely be sure to mark Laborial Day down on my calendar!

For the past year or so, my wife and I have gotten a little bit obsessed with the Twin Cities own trivia empire, Trivia Mafia. We’ve tried out a few of the local versions of bar trivia offered in the metro and have found it to be the best mix of risk and reward and have had quite a bit of fun at some of the many local establishments that offer trivia nights, officiated by some very funny hosts. Along with a group of friends, we’ve had some success, even participating in the annual winter invitational last March. Well, we didn’t do the worst, but Kitten Mittons has been known to pull a win on occasion, netting some free tickets to a local show or event or gift cards to one of the participating establishments. In fact, we won the tickets for last fall’s Adult Night at the Children’s Museum playing Trivia Mafia.


Laborial Day Trivia Stop #1 at Sociable Cider Werks

However, Trivia Mafia offers more than trivia nights at venues across the Twin Cities and beyond. For the last few years, they have established a new tradition of Laborial Day, the halfway point between the two bordering holidays of summer. Yep, here in Minnesota that means that snow, so deep just four months ago, will be here in four more months as well, so participants wear black and white to symbolize the color schemes of each. While Trivia Mafia is generally free, a $5 admission fee gets you into the Laborial Day festivities, along with oreos (laboreos) and ice cream sandwiches. Of course, there is trivia as well, four special trivia quizzes each held at a different Northeast Minneapolis brewery for four entertaining (and slightly intoxicating) hours.


Red River Foodtruck outside of Socialble

This year was a coolish day as we traversed the streets of Northeast, beginning at Sociable Cider Werks, an old favorite, before heading on to Able Seedhouse (a new favorite), 612:Brew (an established brewery I’d yet to have visited), and ending up at the stylish Bauhaus Brew Labs. Each an easy walk from one another, it was quite a blast to sample a different brew at each location and keep on trying to come up with answers. As with Trivia Mafia in general, each was based on a theme, and some were kinder to us than others.


Laborial Day in full force at Able

Surprisingly, we did pretty well on the subject of Cleveland, Ohio (the 216 area code to riff off the 612 Brewing location) for a blog so obsessed with the Twin Cities. Still, it was perhaps better that we didn’t excel, since the prizes for each segment is a round of beer or cider for the winning team. If we were on fire, that could have proven a bit much, though perhaps those who succeed early may be at a disadvantage later. We never found out! All in all, one of the funnest days out of the summer and I would be excited to try our luck again next year.  


“Use your noodle, not your google!” Mural at Bauhaus Brew Labs that seemed appropriate for Trivia Mafia’s slogan



The party prepares to enter…

My old friend Dave married his sweetheart Rachel on Saturday, hosting their wildly successful  wedding (including a beer drinking ceremony) at the Science Museum of Minnesota. What great environs for a wedding party! The tastefully nerdy event, complete with a dinosaur theme and Star Wars music made the museum an awesome venue for the happy day.

As the best man, it was up to me to prepare something fun for the bachelor party in February. After hearing hushed tales of the challenge and excitement by other local delvers into secrets, the groomsmen and I planned the perfect outing for the guy who tormented us through many hilariously entertaining sessions of the Tomb of Horrors back in the day. We donned our Hawaiian shirts, a nod to Dave’s trademark convention uniform, and secretly charted a go at our local room escape adventure, EscapeMSP. A “real life room escape game,” EscapeMSP is among the first places offering this fun new puzzle in the Twin Cities. Within an hour, you and your team must escape the diabolical plot set up for you by solving tough puzzles and searching for clues. This makes it a great place for groups of people with a flair for the dramatic and a desire to experience some hands on adventure.

After a celebratory round of beers at St. Paul’s wonderful Flat Earth Brewery, which Dave favored even before moving to St. Paul four years ago, we drove out into the uncharted suburbs just west of Minneapolis. After a final swig of Tomatin whisky to aid our courage and wit, we found our way to a nondescript office park, where the challenge awaited us. Behind the unassuming door of an everyday office suite, we discovered a large room furnished with a massive boardroom table, from which we signed our waivers and received our mission. EscapeMSP offers several different mission themes (including one they added within the last month) – we chose the James Bomb room. Dropped into the roles of M15 agents tasked with deactivating a bomb, we joined a few other adventure seekers and entered an adjacent room to see if we had what it took to beat the puzzle. As soon as the handcuffs came out, I think we knew things had gotten serious…

It was quite the struggle! In the end, we came so close to defusing the bomb, failing to discover only one vital clue! Next time, next time! Finishing off the evening with several more stops for food, drink, and merriment, in the end, the stag night was quite a success and I think we’ll be accompanying Dave on another go at escaping the room in the not too distant future!




Snow and Comedy!


Lake Minnetonka

Well, it is the first week of January, 2016, and I’ve already had some pretty awesome adventures so far! With a new and luxurious layer of snow, and some chilly temperatures, this Sunday I was able to go on a little morning cross country skiing tour on Lake Minnetonka with my sister, a relaxing and scenic way to begin the day. The lake has frozen and the snow is deep, the ice silent except for the wind. It is hard to believe that we went kayaking on these exact same waters only six weeks ago or so! It didn’t seem like winter was ever going to come, but come it has, and I am happy for it!

Under the guidance of my girlfriend, Lindsay, I’ve been checking out some more of the vibrant stand up comedy scene here in the Twin Cities. While I’ve written about my favorites in Improv at the Huge Theater, I have had less experience with the comedy scene here. On Sunday, on Lindsay’s invitation, we checked out the hilarious Boy Kisses Comedy Showcase at Universe Games on Lake Street, which has been going on for a little more than a year now, every Sunday at 7:30, all for free! What I great way to wind down a weekend!


Boy Kisses!

Hosted by comedians Turner Barrowman and Collin Klug, this was a really fun show, one that shows a lot of signs of being a great incubator for funny people in the Twin Cities, especially with its low cost of entry (free!). So go see it while there is still room to sit! Universe Games is a cozy little game store and coffee shop that really seems to be a nice fixture in the LynLake neighborhood, dispensing games of the board, collectible card, and roleplaying type as well as coffee and tea, and crammed full of people waiting to watch some of the Twin Cities funniest people riff on a shared topic, it is great.This Sunday, the theme was the always hilarious Astrology, which led to some pretty funny (and dark) places. While Universe Games has plenty of stuff to buy for the kids (and kidults) in your life, and candy was passed out during the course of the show, it might be better idea to leave ‘em at home Sunday nights! Well, the kids, anyway, if not the kidults. It makes a great (and cheap) night out and I’m looking forward to stopping in with Lindsay on another Sunday soon!


Crowd waiting for Jackie Kashian, January 6th, 2016

Yesterday, we saw some more great comedy at the Acme Comedy Club, among the foremost venues for stand up comedy in the country, a well deserved distinction. Tucked away in an old warehouse in the North Loop, it is a pretty atmospheric place for comedy. The North Loop, by the way, has recently been listed as one of the top 25 vacation destinations in the world by Fodors, so I am definitely hoping to spend more time here this year and the Acme is definitely one of the venues that strengthens this somewhat amusing distinction. I had been there once before, so I relished the opportunity to return with Lindsay and see some super funny stand up.

This week, the super funny Wisconsinite Jackie Kashian is in town, with her deliciously nerdy stand up, complete with great video game references and some awesome awkward childhood stories. After a few local stalwarts, the Los Angeles based comedian captivated the audience, discussing everything from depressing casinos to her penchant for treacly romance novels. I will definitely check out her podcast, Dork Forest.

You should definitely see her this week, she’s in town at the Acme until Saturday!

Universe Games, 711 W Lake St

Acme Comedy Club,  708 1st St N

Local RPG Flavor Promotion: Fantasy Renaissance Adventure Modules from Cut to the Chase Games

The last couple days have been wet, moody previews of what is to come in the next couple months as we transition into the long winter season here in Minnesota. Perfect times to grab some hot tea or coffee, a good book, and get comfortable indoors.

Perhaps that’s why the Twin Cities are such a hot bed of nerdy pursuits, as well. I keep meaning to write about some of the history of board games, RPGs, and other weird geek stuff in the area, which go back decades. I can definitely cop to enjoying quite a bit of time in the dead of winter or the dog days of summer, passing the time with a game of D&D in a cozy library or cool basement. When things weren’t happening outside, you could always go on adventures inside. Of course, my memories of the pen and paper role playing games don’t go as far as many people. Is there something about the weather in the Upper Midwest that lends itself to this? I’ll definitely devote more time to this on a later post.

So, in the meantime, feel free to check out what my friend, Weird Dave, who appeared in the last entry, is working on with his company Cut to the Chase Games. He just launched his Fantasy Renaissance Adventure module series for 5th edition on Kickstarter, the latest iteration of D&D, and a variety of other fantasy rpg systems. These adventure scenarios for “low-level” characters (great for beginners) are geared to recapture that nostalgic, cozy feeling, though with a nice, modern kick in my opinion; much fun was had during the playtesting, fun that really did recapture those feelings of exploration and adventure back in the day. I think at least three gnomes died in the course of the first scenario, and one or two humans, but in the end victory was ours!

Yep, promotion, promotion. Judging by the number of “likes” I get, this is a-okay on WordPress! Maybe even toss a few gold pieces his way too. Get it before it appears in the local game shops! Of course, I had been hesitant to join Kickstarter, as it could prove just too much a temptation to dig into- I’m now considering signing on to back three other projects!