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In a recent bid to become more cultured by embracing reading to widen my knowledge and vocabulary, I set about trying to find a book that would really stimulate my mind, yet be fictional and readable at my leisure.
I happened across a review of Room by Emma Donoghue one day last year on the television, and it struck me as a book that I could really get into, due to my interest in psychology during my sixth form years.
Room follows the story of a five-year-old boy called Jack, who knows nothing other than the four walls and the contents of the room he was born in, and his mother, who he refers to as Ma.
He sleeps in a wardrobe, so as to be hidden away from "Old Nick" - their captor, who his Ma has occasional nightly visits from, and in the dark of his wardrobe, little Jack counts the creaks Old Nick makes upon the bed.
Ma has been trapped in the room for seven years - can she and Jack come up with a plan to escape their captor's evil clutches?
Getting into the story
Being written from the perspective of Jack, the book is written in such a way to try and reflect the speech of a young child - not least one who has some stunted development from his unfortunate upbringing. I personally felt this a little difficult to cope with during the first few pages of the book, as it made the text feel a little disjointed.
Over the next few pages I began to settle into the style of writing, and later was able to put it to the back of my mind rather than focus on it too much to fall into the story.
I found Donoghue's descriptions of the characters easy to picture - I envisaged a somewhat ferrel little boy for Jack before beginning to read the story, but despite his appearance he seems well educated and has the sort of manners you might expect one could learn within the confines of his four walls.
Ma was a little harder to picture until further into the book, as you have to wait for Jack to start describing her, which he does every so often to help you imagine her. It seemed to be that her appearance and personality was developed through the repetition of their daily routine, which in turn helps you come to understand their predicament.
Keeping your interest
I have to admit that after a crucial turning point in the book - which I don't think I am ruining by indicating that there is an escape attempt as you might expect - the story takes a bit of a nosedive, and loses the strength of atmosphere that it had before. It all seems to easy, and the reactions I would have expected the characters to have following this escape attempt are really lacking.
As a result I found myself continuing to read more out of habit and wanting to know if there would be a sudden change in their personalities or reactions, rather than wanting to complete the book or see if it ended happily. It just didn't seem to sit right that they adapted so quickly to change.
Following the hype of the review that I mentioned previously, I was left quite disappointed when reading Room. Having studied psychology at school, I had my own ideas and interpretations of how someone who had once lived a free life might respond to a long time in captivity, but was interested to see how the author would interpret the possibility of that same person and their offspring making it out into the real world.
I felt like I was left wanting a lot more from the characters because the way I envisaged the story traveling did not happen. Perhaps if I had allowed myself to be fully immersed in the story I may have been happier with the outcome, but as it was my preconceptions left me disappointed.
I think I would still recommend this to others as it gives you an opportunity to delve into a dark scenario that luckily the majority of us never encounter, but it puts things into perspective and makes you glad of what you have. But I would stress to go into this story with an open mind, as otherwise like me you may not be happy with the outcome of the plot if you have already formed ideas of what you believe should have been the outcome.
I bought Room from a Book Publishers Clearance store, as part of a 3 for £5 deal, so it was a really good deal.
The UK RRP is £7.99, but I think you would likely find it a lot cheaper online rather than the likes of Waterstones or WH Smith.
Published by Picador, the ISBN for this book is: 978-0-330-51902-1.
Also published on Ciao.
I was a very lucky girl this Christmas, but it seems Santa got his wires crossed as I got two copies of the same CD... in the words of Homer Simpson, "D'oh!"
Luckily Santa kept his receipt, and I managed to swap one of the CDs for some Microsoft points, and in browsing the Xbox Marketplace, I came across a cute looking little game called ilomilo.
A puzzle game created by SouthEnd Interactive and released in 2010, ilomilo is the tale of two creatures called "Safkas", named Ilo and Milo. The two friends live on opposite sides of a park, and each time they leave at night, and go to return to meet each other the next day, the route to the meeting point becomes more and more complicated (hence the advancement of difficulty in the levels).
The story goes that one night they were so upset at the thought of leaving each other, they cried, and their tears resulted in the subsequent levels being played underwater. They then go on to draw maps out for each other to make it easier to find each other, but this appears to make things even more confusing and difficult!
In the last chapter, the two friends decide to search for the sun together rather than going home every night, so that they can always be together. I don't know what happens in the end yet, though I could probably guess I don't want to look it up and ruin the end of the game for myself!
According to the internet there are 49 levels (I haven't made it this far yet so had to research to tell you!), and as you may have guessed from reading the background I have provided, the aim of each one is to reunite Ilo and Milo. I bought the game as a co-op game to play with my fiancé, which is just as well, as you are supposed to take control of Ilo and Milo independently throughout the levels. You can do this by yourself in single player mode, but it is a bit more complicated for me personally this way!
The levels are made up of squares or cubes, some of which can be picked up and used to help you reach different areas in the level to either reunite Ilo and Milo, or pick up collectible items along the way.
My fiancé and I find the game both entertaining and challenging, which is perfect as it keeps us engaged and looking to progress through the game. It really exercises our brains as we work out where we should go and how best to get there, as the less cubes you travel on, the better the score you get - though you still are meant to go round and get all the collectibles.
The graphics are very good, and the game makes good use of 3D. The colours are mainly quite muted, apart from Ilo and Milo who are bright red and bright blue. It is very similar to Little Big Planet for PS3 due to the colours and textures used, and the overall "cute" style to the game.
The soundtrack does grind after a little while. The best way to describe the music that supports the game is to imagine a primary school orchestra playing the same tunes over and over on recorders and xylophones - not good!
The quality of the sound is good enough, its just the sound itself that is a bit wearing!
There are 15 achievements available in this game, which add up to a total of 250 gamerpoints.
The achievements are:
Anyone for tea? - Get to chapter 2 (20G)
Halfway there - Get to chapter 3 (15G)
Smelly Jelly - Get to chapter 4 (15G)
Finally Together - Complete the game (20G)
Meet Up - Completed a level (20G)
The Student - Complete the tutorial (20G)
The Hunter - Complete all bonus levels (20G)
One of Each - Collect one Safka of each colour (20G)
The Egg Hunters - Help find all 10 of the floating eggs with the fly while playing cooperatively (10G)
The Musician - Play the solo instrument to the music theme in the main menu (20G)
The Shuffler - Get a score of 500 points or more in the ilomilo shuffle game (10G)
You're In The Way - Defeat a Nabber in the same move as you complete a level (10G)
I have already got 7 of the 15 achievements, having only had the game for about a week, so they are not incredibly difficult to collect, but I think the last few might take a little bit of work.
I have been really enjoying playing ilomilo with my fiancé, and I think we will get a lot of use from this game not only by getting right up to completing the game, but also from trying to improve our performance.
We are suckers for the likes of PS3's Little Big Planet (he actually proposed to me through that game!) so we were probably already likely to fall for the cuteness of ilomilo.
Definitely recommended as a nicer alternative to all the shooting and killing games around - it still holds your interest in the way of really teasing your brain and testing your problem-solving skills. It's also good as a co-op game as it encourages you to work as a team rather than individuals.
As I mentioned previously I bought this using Microsoft Points, a total of 800 I believe. If you were to convert this to real-world money, it would equate to about US $10 or approximately £6.40 in the UK.
Also published on Ciao
Another of the board games I was lucky enough to own when I was younger (and I still own now) was Monopoly Stock Exchange.
About the game
Released by Waddingtons in 2001, the aim of this game is to buy and sell company shares to increase your wealth and become the winner. The game comes with an electronic calculator-like device which helps you keep track of the complex figures in the stock market.
Much like the original game you start from the GO space, but instead of buying London streets you float companies to become their President. Throughout the game you can buy shares in other's floated companies, and if you buy more shares that the owner you become the new President. When you land on a company square, you pay your rent to the bank (unless you are the President of the company).
You can build offices and head offices on the company squares as opposed to the traditional houses and hotels, which raises the price of rent, and if you need to raise money elsewhere you can sell your shares to the bank or trade them with other players.
The other change is that instead of chance and community chest cards, you have Bull and Bear cards, which are obviously themed around stock markets. The cards are similar to their predecessors in content, in that they could send you to jail, or earn or lose you money.
The issue most people find with Monopoly is that it can go on forever and ever. For this version of the game, it is suggested that you win when you are the only player left in the game who isn't bankrupt, or alternatively, if you are the richest player after an agreed time limit you win.
*The colours and set up of the board are very similar:
*Gilette and Unilever are represented in the brown squares
*KLM, Swissair and British Airways are represented in the light blue squares
*United Colors of Benetton, Swatch and Marks & Spencer are represented by the pink squares
*T.G.I. Friday's, Pizza Hut and Burger King are represented by the orange squares
*MG Rover Group, Peugeot and Daimler Chrysler are represented by the red squares
*Electrolux, Mitsubishi and Toshiba are represented by the yellow squares
*Alcatel, Siemens and Nokia are represented by the green squares
*Telefonica and BT are represented by the dark blue squares
*Powergen and British Gas are in the utility spaces
*Tesco, Woolworths, The Body Shop and Sainsbury's are in the train station spaces
Playing the Game
It's important to note that most moves in the game need to be recorded via the stock exchange calculator-type device. You still have the paper money, but if the stocks aren't recorded properly then the game won't be accurate.
If you land on an unfloated company you can buy it or it goes to auction if you pass on it, and if you land on a floated company you must pay your rent to the bank. If no bid is made, you get the company for free!
If you roll a double you move your token as usual and then roll again. If you roll three doubles in succession, you have to go to jail just as you do in the original Monopoly.If by the end of your turn you haven't become the President of a company (unless it was through a trade), you can do one of three things:
*Buy up to two available shares from the bank from the floated company your token rests on
*Buy one available share from the bank in any one floated company
*Or decide not to buy any shares from the bank.
During your turn you can adjust the amount of offices/head offices you have, sell shares to the bank, trade shares and companies with other players.Outside of your turn you can collect rent from utilities and retail spaces, sell utilities and retail spaces to the bank, trade with other players and bid in auctions.
The game is extremely complicated. Due to the fact that everything must be recorded on the calculator-type thing, it is essential to remember to input the things that occur during the turns otherwise things won't be recorded and the game won't work out properly.
There buttons are all easily identified as they are labelled by either symbol of the token or by the action it carries out. However, I would suggest that an adult takes on this role as it is a bit much for a child.
As you might have guessed, it is very lengthly if you don't set a time limit as the game suggests. For this reason it means a lot of time goes by before you can muster the enthusiasm to play it again together.
As I've mentioned on other reviews I do take more care than perhaps some others might take over their possessions, but I have to say it has lasted well.
The box is strong and sturdy and is only just starting to show wear in the corners, but even so it is not going to split any time soon.
The board itself is also made of strong cardboard, and there are no tears in the joining sections as yet. The Bear and Bull cards are all in good condition, and the calculator is still using the original battery that came with it!
Waddingtons states that this game is for people aged 12+, and I think I would have to agree with them. Younger children will lose interest pretty much straight away as there is a lot to take in, particularly because there are so many figures to deal with in the stocks, and unless they were incredibly bright and good at maths, they might find it a bit dull.
I got this when I was 12 or 13, so I was able to pick up on what was going on, but I still did find it a bit hard to get my head around all of it, and remembering to input all the game moves in the computer device. I still got enjoyment out of playing the game with my friends and family, but some of the joy was lost on having to explain it over and over and also having to go back to the instruction manual several times over.
It is also a bit out of date now, as I know some of the companies (Woolworths in particular) are no longer around in the capacity they used to be, so this is the only place I'd ever consider buying shares in some of them! It'll probably make you feel old as the kids start asking you what Woolworths was!
I used to really like this gaem, but I would say that this probably won't be quite the hit it was ten years ago as kids these days are usually more entertained by electronics and gadgets, so if you are able to get hold of one for a decent price you might be better keeping it in good condition and selling it to a board game collector!
Another shocker - I've looked online to see if this game is available, and it appears that you're most likely to find it either direct from a board game collector or from eBay, where one is currently being auctioned starting from £59.99!
Also published on Ciao
As a child, I loved board games of all shapes and sizes. Particularly the old favourites Monopoly and Cluedo. Every year I would put one or both on my Christmas or Birthday lists, and eventually I was lucky enough to get one of each.
A few years on, different versions of the games came out, and I didn't ask for them as I was happy with my two board games, but I was lucky again as my family bought me these as well.
The second version of Cluedo I was lucky enough to own was this - Cluedo Super Challenge Edition: Passport to Murder.
Published by Waddingtons in 2000, the story behind the game is that it is June 1926, and anthropologist Dr. Black is on his way to visit Cairo. Joining him on the Trans-Continental Express from London are a number of friends rounded up by Mrs Peacock in order to celebrate his birthday.
The celebrations, like the journey are cut short soon after the train pulls into Istanbul's Sirkeci Station , as three days later, Dr. Black is found murdered.
As per usual, the main characters provided as suspects are Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Reverend Green, Mrs Peacock, Miss Scarlett, and Mrs White. These are also the playable characters on the board game, and they are represented by a grey model of themselves standing on a coloured disk that represents the colour in their surname.
However in this game, there is also Mr Brown, Earl Grey and Miss Peach. This makes it a little bit harder than normal because not only are there more suspects than usual, but because they are less recognisable they are not always to first to come to mind when you are accusing someone of the murder.
There are also four station attendants that are cardboard cut outs on disks, but they are not suspects in Dr. Black's murder.
As ever, the weapons are represented by little metal models of various items that could have been used to murder Dr. Black. The items are a dagger, a candlestick, a bottle of poison, a spanner, a blunderbuss, some lead piping, a rope, an axe and a revolver.
There's no Miss Scarlett in the dining room with the candlestick in this version of Cluedo, as of course you are in a train station. The possible locations for the murder are as follows: the cocktail lounge, the engine room, the kiosk, the waiting room, the dining car, the barber's shop, left luggage, lost property and the ticket office.
Murder Card Holders
In this version of the game, instead of sliding the cards representing the murderer, the weapon and the location into a card wallet, you have three murder card holders in different colours that hold the cards. There is a burgundy case, a silver case and a cream case. Each of these has four sliding corners, and when you pick up a clue card these corners reveal a colour or a number, and by looking at the list provided and via process of elimination you can work out the card that the colour or number relates to.
There are several blue cases that are to be placed on 'sleuth' spaces - i.e. where there is a magnifying glass on the board. On the bottom of these cases is a picture, which matches a picture on the key inside each player's passport. They allow you to do things like look under the murder card holder's shutters, take a murder card from another player or speak to a station attendant for a clue.
Playing the Game
Each player is in charge of a suspect, and as usual Miss Scarlett always goes first. When it is your turn, you have to throw both dice and move the token - the example given in the instructions is that if you throw 6 and 3 you can either move 9, 6 or 3 spaces. If you throw a double you can either move the amount of spaces given, or ignore it and roll again. If you roll a double 6, all the used clues can go back on the game board and back in play.
During the game you move through the different rooms in the station and train, and the idea is to try and land on the clue cases - you don't have to land on it exactly, and when you do get one you pick it up and read the corresponding clue. After you have used a clue from a clue case or station attendant you should place them face down by the side of the game board, out of play.
You keep a record of the evidence you uncover by crossing things off on your detectives note sheet, or writing the colour or number of the corner you find from the cards under the murder card holder shutters.
Winning the Game
In a game with more than two players, you have to read out your accusation by saying:
I accuse (insert name here) of committing the crime in the (room) with the (weapon).
You then take a look at the murder cards making sure no one else can see, and if you are correct, of course you win! If you are wrong in any way, you are out of the game and you have to put all the cards back in the right holders. Any murder cards have to go back in the deck and the other players carry on until the murder is solved.
In a two player game, obviously if you are wrong, there is only one person left to guess, so rather than them playing on their own the other player automatically wins the game.
Playability Compared to the Original
With a name like "Super Challenge Edition", it's no surprise that this game is more difficult than the original. When I was younger I did struggle to get my head around it all, and needed to ask my parents or revert back to the instruction manual to remember what certain things meant. I vaguely remember this being a bit frustrating, but over time and through playing it several times I mastered the rules and came to enjoy it a lot, both with my peers and with my family.
Now I am older, and haven't played it in a while, it did at first present itself as being a bit complicated, but after reading the instruction manual again it all came flooding back and I would now have no problem explaining to someone younger how to play the game.
As this was brought out in 2000, I can only imagine I had it near to the time it was brought out as I would have started secondary school the year after and it's unlikely that I would have been bought a board game after that sort of time.
So assuming I had it the year it came out, and it's now 2011, the game is now 11 years old. Frightening!
However the reason I bring this up is because aside from scuffs on the corners of the box from being stored in a cupboard with all our other games, the game is in excellent condition. As I've mentioned on previous reviews I am always very careful to keep my things pristine, but I think it is really impressive that a game of this age is not showing any real signs of wear. The box is made of sturdy cardboard, and the game board is even sturdier cardboard. The cards are made of card (obviously), and have a coating on them which I think would help keep them from getting wet and destroyed, and the game items are all made from strong plastic.
I thought it was worth pointing out it's durability as with kids you need things to be able to take a bit of a hit as things can get rough, particularly if things aren't going someone's way!
This game is aimed at children aged 8+, and I think this is about right, because as I have mentioned already this game does take a little bit to get your head around it all.
Having said that, it entertained me and my family many times over when I was younger, and though we don't play it now it is really down to the fact that I'm older now, and we all lead busy lives and don't tend to sit down to do board games anymore. We are more likely to play a quick game on the Xbox than bring out a board game, which is a bit sad really but it's a sign of the times and things do change.
I don't think it is worthy of completely replacing the original Cluedo - the game is a total classic and I don't think it would appeal to as wide an audience if it were to be quite as complicated as this edition of the game is. But it doesn't mean to say that it is not good in it's own right because it has another dimension to this murder mystery game.
As I have also stated before the quality of the game in terms of its durability really impresses me, as it really should have taken more of a battering in all these years.
I would recommend this to people who enjoy family friendly board games, are interested in murder mystery and like a good challenge.
I don't know how much was paid for my copy of the game as it was given to me as a present, but I can tell you that it is available online for a ridiculous amount of money now! The cheapest I can find it is for £39.99 on eBay, with others on eBay and Amazon asking for a whopping £99.99! Unbelievable!
Also published on Ciao
I've always enjoyed and appreciated arts and crafts, but have never really given myself credit for being able to create something beautiful with my own hands. My best friend and her mother-in-law have been into making their own gift tags and greetings cards for some time now, and recently introduced me to the art of scrapbooking.
Why I bought the book
I decided I would give crafting a scrapbook a go for my recent holiday to Florida, and purchased a copy of Scrapbook Page Maps by Becky Fleck.
Having never embarked on a creative project of this scale or nature for that matter, I knew I would struggle and perhaps leave it once I'd started it, which would have been really disappointing given the sentimental importance of the images I was looking to scrapbook.
Having a basic sketch to draw from, get an idea of measurements and what layouts would suit pages of the size I wanted to fill was of importance to me, as it gave me a sense of comfort. Not necessarily because I'd know I was "doing it right", but I felt I could envisage where I was going with my own ideas.
About the Author
According to the back of the book, Becky Fleck is a graphic designer and illustrator, and has owned her own design agency for more than 15 years. Her work has been published extensively in various media, and she also teaches at exhibitions, conventions and craft stores.
In the prologue of the book, she says that her friends were forever asking her when she would write a book about scrapbook sketches. She found herself being particularly creative in her drawings when watching her favourite American football team play, and made a habit of drawing sketches throughout the season when her inspiration levels were at their highest. She started off posting them online to help others fight creative blocks, and eventually ended up publishing this book back in 2008.
In this book, she combines her own ideas with those of another 14 incredibly talented artists to give you a more varied idea of what makes a good page layout.
Chapter One - Using Sketches and Making Them Your Own
At the beginning of this chapter, Becky tells us that she used to love cooking as a child, and that the reader should imagine a sketch like their favourite recipe. You bring all the ingredients together (pictures, writing, embellishments and paper), and follow the sketch like a recipe's instructions. Yet as you become more confident, you may add new ingredients, skip a stage, try new techniques or spice it up a little.
I think this is quite a nice way of looking at it, as she basically tells you not to be frightened to changing things about, or be frightened to try out new ideas. The lovely thing is until you stick it in you are not resigned to keeping any element of the page on your layout.
This chapter shows you 16 black and white sketches, and throughout the chapter we are provided with 36 colour images of the artist's interpretations of her original sketch. The quality of the photos is brilliant, as you can really see depth in the image, which is particularly important if the layout uses 3D embellishments.
The other great thing here is that the layouts are designed to fit different page sizes, those being: 8 ½ x 11 inches (both vertical and horizontal layouts, as well as double spreads) and also 12 x 12 inches (both single and double spread layouts).
Not only that but the book shows you how to make your own decorated embellishment picture frame, how to add another dimension to titling by paint flecking the chipboard letters, and how to bring a photo to life by layering colour chunks of the image onto a black and white version of the image.
Chapter Two - The Versatility of Sketches
At this beginning of this chapter, the focus is more on being able to adapt a layout drawn for a particular size to another page size, and not having to conform to measurements. She says, "I encourage you to abandon the notion that you have to follow the sketches of this book exactly as they are drawn."
This time there are 16 sketches, and the artists have provided 41 layouts that adapt the design to different sizes of paper backgrounds. Due to the large amount of layouts presented in this chapter, there is only one suggested decorative technique in this section, which is customised embossed labels made using a label maker, for use in journaling about your photographs.
One thing I didn't mention about the layout images in chapter one and chapter two is that the layouts are captioned on some pages, showing what supplies were used to create the look and where they came from. This is quite useful, however you have to remember this is an American book so the supplies aren't so readily available here - check and see whether you can get them delivered online before you set your heart on specific items!
Chapter Three - One Sketch, Three Ways
This chapter takes ten sketches, and then several of the artists interpret them with their own individual styles and ideas. This is to show you how one idea can create different visions for different people.
This results in 29 different layouts - but 3 times 10 is 30 I hear you say! This is because one of the artists choses to combine two of their ideas as a double page spread, which I would count as one layout.
The technique shown here is creating a beaded embellishment with acetate and craft glue.
I particularly like this section because the layouts give you a little bit of an insight into each artist's life by showing you who they have scrapbooked and why the event was worth scrapbooking. The layouts tend to be a bit more everyday than the ones I am creating for my holiday scrapbook, but I still think it is a lovely idea to capture moments that otherwise would go unnoticed.
Chapter Four - From Simple to Savvy
This chapter is basically to help you leap from the relatively simple to much more intricate and difficult designs. There are 16 sketches here and 35 corresponding layouts.
These layouts differ from others in the book because they use different materials like hessian, 3D layering, and more adventurous paper pairings that beginners might be a bit frightening of attempting. Techniques explained here are embossing homemade buttons and stiffening fabric to use in your scrapbook.
This chapter flows straight on to single 12 x 12 page layouts designed to show you who the artists have been and tell you more about them. They are accompanied by gushing thank yous from the author, and I think this is a lovely touch as it really shows their personalities!
After that there is a source list, which gives you the telephone numbers and websites of the suppliers of the items used to create the layouts, which is really good, though again I must stress that this is an American book so be ever so careful if you want to call the companies, as it will cost you a fortune, and this kind of hobby is expensive enough as it is!
There is an index to help you source layouts by size, amount of photos used, or each of the techniques demonstrated. This is a really useful tool if you haven't marked pages that you are working from because it saves you a lot of time trying to find your layout!
This is a fantastic feature of this book. The author has designed 60 cards and a box to keep them in, which are copies of all the sketches provided in the book. On one side of the card you have the sketch and the page reference, and on the other side you have a full colour layout and a few bulleted materials to try on the layout.
These are perfect for putting in your bag when you go to Hobbycraft or your local craft store, as they aren't too big, but enough to see what you want and need if you want to make an exact replica, or to help you in choosing your own different colour schemes.
I haven't actually taken mine out of the pages yet, as I'm a bit pernickety in keeping all my things pristine, particularly books! But should I need to go and buy any materials based on a particular layout I will take it out and pop it in my bag.
I have found this book to be a real help in creating my holiday scrapbook. It has shown me not only how to chose elements that suit each other and my photos, but also how to bring my own personality across in my work. I will upload some photos of my scrapbooking as well as of the book so you can see what I have done with some of the ideas the book has presented me with.
I think ways this book could be improved is more of the step by step instructions for interesting and unusual techniques to make your scrapbook a little bit different, and also maybe sections on how to scrapbook for specific events like weddings, births, holidays, Christmas and so on.
I know that the author has since released further books with the same title with a 2 or a 3 added to the end of the title, but I haven't seen those so I don't know whether or not she has implemented any of my ideas for improvement in them, so it is possible. I do know that Scrapbook Page Maps 2 was cheaper than the original title when I bought this off Amazon!
I would conclude by saying this is a good purchase for someone who like me really wanted to get into this craft, but didn't really know where to start and wanted a bit of a helping hand to guide them through. I'm a little more confident in coming up with my own sketches now, but still like to flick through this book to see if my layout would be compatible with ones I have sampled from this book. It is possible to find these ideas online, but I like the convenience of having lots of ideas together in one place, in a book that I can read rather than sitting in front of my laptop screen all the time.
The book is currently £8.50 direct from Amazon in brand new condition, but the Amazon Marketplace shows you can get a copy for less than £5 if you are happy to have a used one. If you do get a used one do check your bonus cards are still attached or come with it because they will be handy I'm sure.
Amazon seems to be the cheapest place to buy this book apart from trusty old eBay where you might just get lucky with a bargain!
(Also published on Ciao)
Mario Kart has been a staple in the average gamer's diet for many years, across different consoles or platforms, but perhaps one of the best versions of the game currently available is this: Mario Kart DS, for, you guessed it, the Nintendo DS.
My friends and I bought our Nintendo DS's when we were about 18 years old, and I am now 22, so they have seen a lot of use, and this game was pretty much the whole reason why we invested in the console!
About Mario Kart DS in General
As you probably could have guessed, Mario Kart is a racing game based on various characters from across the Mario franchise, each with their own specific skills, traits and karts.
When you start the game, you are given the choice of playing single player, multiplayer, searching for opponents on Nintendo WFC, accessing your records or changing the options.
I will tell you more about the modes available for both single and multiplayer games, but I think the most important element to tell you about is the items. What gives this racing game the edge is that although you might not be in a good position in the race in the beginning, you can help yourself climb the positions by using items such as turtle shells, star power, bananas and speed boosts. Some items affect the other players and hold them back, whereas others improve your own performance. This makes the game that much more playable because even if you haven't played it before you can be in with a chance of winning!
Single Player Gameplay
As a single player you can take part in a Grand Prix, where you can compete in the Mushroom, Flower, Star, Special, Shell, Banana, Leaf or Lightening Cup, and you race in four races to complete a Grand Prix.
You also have the option of taking part in a time trial, and you can either race yourself from previous attempts, or you can download your friend's "ghosts" or if you get really good you can access the ghosts of the staff who programmed Mario Kart DS.
The third option for single players is VS, which allows you to play each of the races separately without having to go through a whole Grand Prix, which is good for those who might be a little bit short on time but still fancy a go.There is also the option to play in a battle, which can be one of two:
*Balloon Battle - you have to burst opponents' balloons with items, but if all your inflated balloons burst, you lose. To blow them up to stop yourself losing, you can blow into the DS mic.
*Shine Runners - Collect "shines", either from the map or stealing from other opponents. Those with less shines get booted out over time, and the person with the most wins!
Lastly there are missions, where there are six groups of mini levels to attempt, and you are rated on your performance by letters or stars depending on how well you have done.
The first person to go into the multiplayer option has the chance to host the game, so you press create a group and then everyone else can join it. You can choose how the races will pan out, by choosing the speed of the vehicles, whether or not your have computer players and their level of difficulty, and whether it is the first to win a certain number of races, or if you want to earn points for positions.
Unlocking Further Game Options
You have about 12 characters and a selection of karts to choose from when you first start playing Mario Kart DS, but you can also earn yourself more options by completing the previously mentioned Grand Prixs.If you complete all the 50CC Grand Prixs with gold trophies you can unlock Daisy and Bones. If you complete all the 100CC Grand Prixs with gold trophies you can unlock Waluigi and several new karts. If you complete all the 150CC Grand Prixs with gold trophies you can unlock more karts, and if you complete all the mirror 150CC Grand Prixs you unlock all the remaining karts.
The Nintendo DS was never created to be an amazing hand held console for graphics, so these aren't spectacular, but they are ok for the speed of the game and the gameplay. Myself and my friends due to our age sometimes play this as a drinking game, so the graphics matter even less in this situation! But I doubt it would be something that would bother younger children, and older children will know this is much the same in both the Wii version of the game and the new Nintendo 3DS version.
I have to admit I usually keep the sound turned down when I play as it really gets on my nerves! It is ok for a little while, but the music is the same over and over each time you play a course, and when you play it as much as I do that's a lot of times you're going to hear it!
I prefer to either talk to my friends if we are playing together, or put my own music on to listen to, that way it's a bit more varied!
As I stated at the very beginning of my review the main reason I bought a Nintendo DS was for this game, and I haven't been left disappointed! Although I have bought other games and they have since come and gone, I would never ever consider getting rid of my copy of Mario Kart DS because it gets so much use, and I always go back to it.
It is another great game for bringing people together, though in our case there is often a great deal of aggression when the same people are being hit by items when they were doing well, over and over again!I would say that the best part of this game is the multiplayer - yes it is good that you can play it on your own if there is no one else to play with, but it brings people together if you are all in the same room, or you can also play with people via Nintendo WFC. I haven't managed to do this yet as the security settings on our internet are too strict and I can't connect yet due to the firewalls etc. I do think it is a good feature to have, but I can't tell you how reliable the connection can be.
I bought this pretty much when the DS came out, so I probably paid quite a bit, maybe about £25? But I can't remember exactly - sorry! A few searches reveal that currently the prices online are:
*Amazon - £21.97
*Play.com - £23.99
*Zavvi - £24.95
Also published on Ciao
I was very lucky in that when I decided to become an Xbox Live user, the membership deal meant that you would get a free game as part of the package of having Xbox Live for a year. The games you could choose from included Halo Reach and Kinect Sports - I can't remember the other two but I have a feeling it might have been something like Kinectimals and Assassin's Creed. You can tell which ones me and my fiancé went for can't you!
So my choice was Kinect Sports, as I wanted another game that made use of my Kinect and that I could play with friends on social occasions, and as it came with the Xbox Live membership, it was effectively free.
Kinect Sports was brought out by Microsoft in 2010, as a launch title for the Xbox 360 Kinect hardware. It was intended to not only be a family game but also to demonstrate the motion-sensing capabilities of the Kinect hardware. This was achieved through the six sports games based on Football, Volleyball, Table Tennis, Boxing and Track and Field.
There is now a new sequel to the game which was released in October 2011, which is called Kinect Sports Season Two, and this includes six new sports games - Golf, Darts, Baseball, Skiing, Tennis and American Football.
About the Game
When the game loads your first menu sees you outside a sports stadium, and you are asked to pick who the main player will be. I believe if you want to play as two players you can both select your profiles, but this is a little bit further into the game.
You choose options using your hands as you do with all Kinect-specific titles, and in Kinect Sports there are three game modes:
*Main event - you choose a specific sport to play, either alone or with/against a friend (who can either be in the same room or on Xbox Live if they have a copy of the game for their own Xbox.
*Party play - for large groups of players in a party situation where you can be in teams and take it in turns to compete against each other with mini games.
*Mini games - shorter games based on the sports in the main events, including things like time trials and survival games. Up to four people can play these games.
You can choose your opponents - these can be either friends and family in the same room as you, computer opponents (i.e. AI characters), or online opponents. This is a good feature as it means you don't have to play on your own all the time, though that is also an option if you don't fancy being competitive with anyone other than your own personal bests.
There are also varying levels of difficulty if you choose to play against AI opponents. You can play against beginners, ameteurs, professionals, or champions. The aim is to increase your own champion status, and each time you play a game and do well you level up, and this allows you to work towards achievements.
I'll go into a little more detail about each of the games and their associated mini games...
Obviously this game is based on one of our nations most popular sports. To control the ball you can kick to pass and shoot (if you wait too long you will get tackled!), and you can defend by either sticking your foot in front of the ball as an opponent tries to put it past you, or by using your hands if you are in goal. You will be given free kicks or penalties if there is any foul play from the opposing team.
In this game friends and family can't be both on your team and the opposing team, so this is more of a two player mode.
The mini games associated with this are Super Saver (you have to block the striker's shots, and each goal conceded makes you lose a chance, and you only have three to use!) and Target Kick (you are now the striker and you have to hit targets).
This game is controlled as you would imagine - you put your hand over the bowling ball to "pick it up", and you extend your arm towards the television to throw it. You can also put spin on your throw by bringing your arm across your body when you throw.
This game is available to play with up to four players, and there are two mini games based on bowling. The first is One Bowl Roll, where you have to knock down specific pin patterns with just one bowling ball, and this is very similar to the football mini game as you have several chances before the game ends. The second game is Pin rush, where you pretty much throw bowling balls as quickly as possible to knock down as many pins as possible in the time allowed. You can earn bonus time by reaching certain numbers of knocked down pins.
In this game based on beach volleyball you can serve the ball by throwing it up, and choose whether to hit it overhand, underhand or as a jump hit. The idea is to be the first to seven points, and you can play with another player in the room, or with more people online also, but not friends and family all in the same room.
The mini games based on volleyball are Bump Bash, which is a game of avoiding the items the opposing team throw at you whilst hitting targets, and also the other game is Body Ball, where you have to hit the ball with you head, hands or feet according to the game's commands.
The game is standalone - there are no associated mini games. You can control your character by punching high and low in front of you, blocking high and low, and by power punching, which is achieved by pulling your shoulder back before punching. This is obviously a one on one game, so you can play on your own, with someone else in the same room, or via Xbox Live.
This game uses your hand as a table tennis paddle, and your other hand is used to serve the ball. You can also perform power slams by hitting the ball extra hard. You can play this game alone, with another person in the room, or with people on Xbox Live.
The mini games associated with Table Tennis are Paddle Panic, which gives you two paddles and a time limit to return as many balls as possible, and Rally Tally, where the aim is to keep a rally going for as long as possible, until a shot slips through.
Track & Field
This is a bit different to the other games as you play a series of mini games to complete one complete athletic game. You do a sprint, throw a javelin, run a long jump, throw a discuss, and also jump hurdles. Each of these events can be played as mini games, rather than having different mini games associated with it as with the other sports.
The game graphics are fairly good and are based on your avatar from your Xbox. The connection between your movements and the Kinect receiving them and putting them on the screen are fairly fluid so there is no real delay, which I know sometimes occurs on other games consoles and is incredibly frustrating!
The sound makes the most of your television speakers, and there are some great clips of big hits in the games, such as "Celebration", "Monster" and other recent hits that many members of the family of all ages will recognise.
I really like this game as it gets me moving in a different way to my other favourite Kinect games, the Dance Central series. Admittedly some of the events do leave me out of breath, but then I haven't done serious physical activity since my P.E days at school!
The opportunity to be able to play this game with others both in your own home and online make it more enjoyable as there are different outcomes every time when you play with a selection of people.
There is also something like 70 achievements to be collected through getting to different stages of the game, which helps the longevity of the game if you are into collecting or are in anyway competitive.
This game is good for both adults and children, as it's not difficult to get to grips with how to control the game, and it is good as an activity to be played with parents and children rather than having to spend a lot of money on a night out together - though it could never be an effective substitute to playing the real sports in the fresh air!
The only negatives you might experience is that you have a lack of space to play as you have to kick, punch and swing your arms, and also if you're not a fan of seeing the competitive sides of your friends and family it might not be a good game to play.
If you are looking to purchase this game it will be a lot cheaper now than when it was first released due to the fact it has now got a sequel that has been released. Using an app I have on my internet browser, the cheapest you can get this new from one of the more well known companies is £19.95 from Zavvi, though you may find it cheaper on Amazon Marketplace, Play Trade, or eBay.
Also published on Ciao
Kinect Adventures was the game launched alongside the Xbox Kinect in 2010, and given away with the hardware for consumers to play if they had not yet invested in other titles for the hardware.
The game utilises the Kinect motion camera by tracking your body movements in order to control your on screen character.
Five Mini Games
The game is composed of five mini games based on sports and adventure, which makes it have a bit of a different spin to it rather than being Xbox's answer to Wii Sports. I will give a breakdown of each game here:
Here your avatar is in a glass tank under the water, and you have to plug the holes that form in the walls and floor due to water pressure and marine animals. You use your hands, legs, feet, head and body to block the cracks to repair them, and as the difficulty increases you have to do several at once.
You are given a specific amount of time to fix the cracks, and the quicker you do it the more adventure pins you earn. Any time left over at the end is also added to your adventure pins total.
This can be a one or two player game.
In this game you board a raft and use your body to steer it to collect adventure pins. You can step or lean to the left and right to move it in the direction you want it to go, and also you can jump to make the raft go on ramps.
There are always more points up on the clouds and higher parts of the game as it's more difficult to stay up there, and you usually have to continue jumping to stay up there. You lose points if you crash into things like wood and markers on the way.
This can be a one or two player game.
This game is very similar to breakout, in that you have to use your body to control a ball that breaks blocks at the end of the tunnel. You can use your arms, legs, head or body to stop the ball going past you, and also if you "hit" it with force, the ball goes faster and you can try and break all the blocks quicker.
Like 20,000 leaks, it has three rounds, and the game ends either when time runs out or when you have broken all the blocks. Again extra time left over is added to your pin total.
This can be a one or two player game.
This game is very reminiscent of a track and field style game. You have to duck, dodge and jump over hurdles as you speed down what looks like a mine cart track. If you jump in between the hurdles you go faster, as you do also if you pull yourself along when you get to a gate. You get adventure pins for avoiding obstacles, and for getting to the finish line quickly. Extra time left is added to your pin total.
This can be a one or two player game, and if you do play it together it is done via a split screen to be able to cope with two people being at different points in the course at the same time.
In this game bubbles come out of the walls, floors and ceiling, and the aim is to collect them all. You get adventure pins by popping the bubbles, and to do this you have to move backwards and forwards, and flap your hands to go up, and put your arms straight to you side to go down.
This can be a one or two player game, but you can only get the bubbles that are on your side of the screen, so it effectively works like Reflex Ridge as a split screen although it doesn't appear like that when you see the game.
To give the game a bit more longevity, there are three different modes in which you can play the game.
This is basically the story mode. You have to follow a pre-programmed selection of challenges from each of the five mini games. For a player to be able to continue through the mode, you have to either get a certain number of medals, or of a certain colour (bronze,silver, gold or platinum), get a certain number of adventure pins, or you have to complete a number of timed challenges.
At the end of each activity you either get another challenge to do, an achievement, an avatar clothing award, or maybe a timed mode is unlocked or a living statue (video clip) can be added to kinectshare.com.
This allows you to play the same levels that are available in adventure mode, only you don't have to work your way up to them, from easy to difficult. This is better for people who don't have time to commit to adventure mode, or the patience!
This mode is unlocked by playing through adventure mode, and is for more competitive players. Instead of collecting adventure pins you collect time pins, so that you gain more time to complete the challenge. This mode is only available for Reflex Ridge, Rally Ball and River Rush, due to them being timed games anyway.
Unlike other reviews where I have listed each achievement, I won't do so this time as there are 32 and you've probably all got better things to do with your time! The achievements can earn you a total of 1000 gamerpoints, and they are fairly easy to get, though some may take a bit of perseverance and time, if you can be bothered to spend that time on them that is!
When I first bought my Xbox and Kinect (both at the same time), I got this game with the Kinect as all consumers do, and I bought Dance Central as well as part of a deal on HMV. Having spent so much in one go, when Dance Central failed to turn up at the same time as the other products I spent a lot of time playing Kinect Adventures as it was my only option.
It took a fair while to work my way through the story mode, and I did it with my fiancé as well so I'm not entirely sure if that made it easier or harder! The gamerpoints and achievements started stacking up fairly quickly, and there's just a few left to get, though I don't choose to finish this game off when I have other newer games to play.
What I guess I'm saying is that the novelty wore off fairly quickly from this game, and although it started off being somewhat popular with my friends that came to try it out, they now much prefer Kinect sports mini games.
Also when my copy of Dance Central finally did arrive, I quickly switched to that and played it over and over, only bringing Kinect Adventures out every so often.
The great thing about this is that it does come free, so you haven't had to spend any money to try it out. I've seen it in CEX and gamestation once or twice for about £7, but that's totally unnecessary unless you bought your Kinect second-hand and want to try it out. I'd suggest you stick to Kinect Sports as it has far better longevity.
Also published on Ciao
It might come as a surprise to some that as a child of the 80's, I didn't discover UNO until I was about 15 years old. The first version of the game I played was the Toy Story version, shortly followed by UNO extreme.
I then decided I needed to have a set of my own UNO cards, as it's a great game to play with my nieces and nephew. So I popped down to Toys R Us, and got myself this set of Simpsons UNO cards.
The object of the game in UNO is to get rid of all of your cards in each round, and score points for the cards your opponents are left holding. Points are totalled at the end of each round and the first player to reach 500 points wins.
I know that not everybody plays the game entirely to those rules - I often consider a "round" as one game, rather than adding up the points to 500, as it's one of those games that could go on forever, particularly if there are a few of you playing.
In order to prepare for play, you are supposed to each draw a card and the player with the highest number should deal. The dealer should then shuffled the pack and deal seven cards to each player, then place the remainder of the pack in the middle of the players as the draw pile. The top card is then turned over to start a discard pile.
When you are all set up and ready, the person to the left of the dealer starts the game. The idea is to match a card from your hand to the card on the discard pile, by either the number, the colour or the symbol. If you don't have a card that matches, you have to take a card from the draw pile - if this card can be played you can put it down, however if you still can't match it to the discard pile you have to keep it in your hand. Then play passes to the next person on the left so you go round in a clockwise motion.
You can actually choose not to play a playable card from your hand but you would still have to pick up a card from the draw pile and carry out the process as mentioned above.
When you have one card left, you need to call UNO, or if you are caught not saying this before the next person starts their turn you have to pick up two cards. If you can play that card on your next go then you can be out of the game, if not you have to continue to play as normal by picking up another card from the draw pile and playing it if possible - not forgetting to shout UNO if you are left with one again!
I shall talk about the action/symbol cards in the next section, as in Simpsons UNO they are specific to the Simpsons.
The Simpsons UNO
First off, you have to start by mentioning the container the game comes in. The cards are held in by a plastic mould inside Homer Simpson's head! It is a real novelty though, as although it looks good, the front of Homer's face comes off from his head very easily indeed, and that means the cards can fall out all over the place - not ideal in any situation really, let alone if you are in the car playing it or on holiday where the wind could blow them away and you'd lose them!
That aside though, the theming through the pack itself is great. The back of the cards are black and red with a yellow border, and they feature the UNO logo, the Simpsons logo, and a picture of Homer peaking over the edge of the card.
Here are the characters to cards, and if they are an action card, also their purpose:
0 - Represented by Homer staring at one of those famous pink donuts, as though he's never seen anything so wonderful in his life!
1 - Represented by Maggie with a big red football hand on her head that says "We're No. 1".
2 - Represented by Groundskeeper Wullie holding a tray of steaming haggis - just in case you needed an unsubtle reminder that he is Scottish...
3 - Represented by Otto the Bus Driver jamming to the tunes on his Walkman.
4 - Represented by Lisa kicking her leg out and doing what looks like "jazz hands".
5 - Represented by the dog, Santa's Little Helper.
6 - Represented by the cat, Snowball, coughing up a hairball.
7 - Represented by Bart looking suspicious and holding a spray paint can.
8 - Represented by Disco Stu in a Saturday Night Fever style pose.
9 - Represented by Marge carrying a tray of freshly baked cookies.
Draw Two Card - Represented by the twins Sherri and Terri, and also identifiable by the usual symbol of two white cards in the top and bottom corners. When you play this card the next player has to pick up two cards and miss their turn. This card can only be played on a matching colour or on another draw two card.
Reverse Card - Represented by a picture of Bart naked with a towel covering his bum, and also identifiable by the usual symbol of two arrows in the top and bottom corners. When you play this card the direction of play reverses, and again this can only be played on a matching colour or another reverse card.
Skip Card - Represented by a picture of Homer naked and either running or most likely skipping, also identifiable by the no entry style symbol in the top and bottom corners. When you play this card the next player is skipped and misses their turn, and it can only be played on a matching colour or another skip card.
Wild Card - This is actually wrongly printed in the instructions that come with the game, so I'm telling you the right card! Represented by a picture of either Kang or Kodos (the aliens), also identifiable by the colour wheel symbols in the top and bottom corners. When you play this card you can choose what colour is in play, rather than following the pile as you usually have to, though you can choose the last colour played if you wish. You can play this card even if you have a coloured card that would be able to be played.
Wild Draw 4 Card - Represented by a picture of Homer looking absolutely exhausted with the three kids hanging off of him and identifiable by the colour wheel and four card symbol in the top and bottom corners. When you play this card you can choose the next colour in play, and the next player has to pick up four cards from the draw pile and lose their turn. You may only play this card when you don't have another card that can be played.
Blinky Card - Again this is wrongly printed in the instructions as it is confused with the Wild Card, so I shall tell you the right card! Represented by a picture of the three eyed fish Blinky and identifiable by the four cards symbol in the top and bottom corners. When you play this card, you call out a colour of your choice, then each player has to take cards off the draw pile until they get one of that colour, and those cards are added to their hand. When everyone has done this, play continues with the colour that was chosen.
Myself and my family have found this enjoyable to play, because it encourages you to be together as a family, creates a bit of interest as it becomes more competitive, and the Simpsons characters help raise interest in other members of the family who would otherwise pass on playing.
I think the Blinky card also adds another dimension to the game play as it is unique to this version of the game as far as I'm aware, and it creates tension as you hope and pray the first card you get is the colour that was called, so you don't end up with tens of cards in your hand.
Perhaps the only downside is that if you are playing by the proper UNO rules and counting up the points, the game can go on for a long long time. It's ok for the first few rounds as you're all enjoying it, but later as people are dwindling behind while others are miles in the lead it starts to get a bit wearing, but it all depends on the players really.
Quality of the cards
I am very precious with my possessions, so my cards are all still in very pristine condition. I think the cards are pretty good in terms of flexibility, and would only really show signs of wear if you were to completely fold them over.
I'm not entirely sure how the cards would stand up to water or liquids like drinks, the cards have a shiny coating on them, but I think it would only be for minor spillages that it would survive - if you dropped them in a swimming pool they would probably be severely effected even when rescued and left to dry.
It is also likely that after being used over and over the corners may start to split from being shuffled, as is common with most card decks.
As I said before though, I am uber cautious in looking after my things so I'm not 100% sure what kind of poor treatment the cards can hold.
I really like these cards because it is a great game for us to play together as a family, and even the younger kids like to play it as they find it easy to match by colour or by character perhaps more than the numbers, and only need a little bit of help with the action cards, which is fair enough as even the adults forget what they all do!
I would recommend these for household and holiday play, but as I mentioned before about the casing, it comes loose so very easily, so it is definitely worth putting an elastic band around the case and perhaps even around the pile of cards to stop you losing them all and being unable to play in future because key cards are missing from the deck.
It is very handy to keep the instructions with the game as well as it tells you how to play, what the action cards do, and how to add up the cards' points if you are playing the game as UNO intended! The instructions are in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, which is another bonus because it is something you could do with exchange students while they are spending time with you and everybody will understand and be able to enjoy the game.
I bought my Simpsons UNO cards from Toys R Us in store, and I can't remember the price, but I doubt it was more than £5.99. You can't get this online, but you may still be able to get it in store.
The game is retailing on Amazon for over £30 which is ridiculous - don't buy it for that price because that is obscene, you can look for it elsewhere in places like eBay and pay far less!
Also published on Ciao.
Tragic, pathetic, worrying - all words one might use to describe a 22 year old woman with a penchant for the Disney Cartoon Show, Phineas and Ferb. This is something I accept, yet cannot help but be filled with joy when I see the program, or in the case of my recent holiday to Disney World Florida, the opportunity to give them a hug and have my picture taken with them. Yes I do realise they are men/women in suits, and yes I do think it's ridiculous to stand in the blistering heat for upwards of 45 minutes waiting to see cartoon characters, but I did it!
What's worse is the love for Phineas and Ferb has spread to my fiancé and my two best friends, and we actually get them to record new episodes on their Sky plus box. Oh how I long for a hobby...
Anyway, a while ago my best friend and I took a trip to Toys R Us in search of my niece's birthday present, and were shocked to see a whole display of Phineas and Ferb merchandise. I had discovered it watching American TV on holiday in Tenerife, and my best friend saw it actually over in America, so we were surprised to see it here so early since it's inception - even Disney World did not have merchandise for the show at that point my friend informs me.
We instantly forgot about the mission in hand, and she bought a model of the platypus come spy, Perry and his nemisis, Dr Doofenshmirtz, and I bought these Top Trumps cards for a laugh.
About Top Trumps
Many of you will be familiar with Top Trumps. The game centres on having 30 cards with an image of an item, person or character, followed by an information box and about five categories, which are given a numerical value. So say for example you have a car, your categories might be things like speed or miles per gallon. For a celebrity singer, you might have number ones, albums, singles, etc.
The aim of the game is to win all the cards by calling out the category you think you have the highest value in. So for a car you might go for speed because your card says 220mph, and then your friends will then tell you what values they have. If you have the highest number, you keep all their cards in play (depends on how many people you are playing with), if one of them has the highest number they keep all the cards in play, and if they are equal, the cards are put in the middle and another category must be chosen. The process continues until one player holds all the cards from the pack.
Phineas and Ferb Top Trumps
The cards come in the typical top trumps container, which is a clear case with a coloured edge that has a hole at the top to make it easier for retailers to display the top trumps series together. In this case the coloured edge is yellow to compliment the Phineas and Ferb red and yellow logo.
The back side of the cards is emblazoned in the words "Top Trumps Specials", as well as the Phineas and Ferb logo, and images of the title characters and their pet platypus, Perry. The entire face of this card is bright, bold and attractive, which is great in convincing younger children to stick with the game.
On the main side of the card, you have a full colour image of a character, a box of information about said character, their categories and their values, and a yellow speech box with a typical quote from that character. It is finished with a yellow border to match the other side of the playing card.
Obviously the first two characters are fairly obvious - Phineas and Ferb! Alongside them are their family members - Ferb's dad Lawrence, Phineas' mum Linda, his sister Candace, his grandmother Betty-Jo and Ferb's Grandpa Reginald.
You also have their pet platypus Perry, and his alter ego Agent P, and Candace's boyfriend Jeremy, his sister Suzy and Candace's best friend Stacy. From Phineas and Ferb's group of friends there is Isabella, her pet Chihuahua Pinky (who is also an agent), Baljeet and his old school friend Mishti, their biggest fan Irving and the bully Buford.
Perry's alter ego Agent P has a boss called Major Monogram, who's assistant is Carl the Intern, and of course Agent P has a nemisis, Dr Doofenshmirtz, who is in the deck along with his ex-wife Charlene and his daughter Vanessa, as well as some of his creations Norm and Balloony.
If you thought Norm and Balloony were loosely added to make up numbers, I think the last few characters are even looser. There are Meap and Mitch, who are intergallatic equivalents of Agent P and Dr. Doofenshmirtz, Thaddeus & Thor who are rivals to Phineas and Ferb, an old band called "Love Handel" and "2 Guys in the Park".
I felt that the last few in particular were where the Tops Trumps people and Disney people were struggling to make up the numbers, though having not watched every episode I can't really say how big or small a role these characters have, but even so I'd imagine they were only in it once or twice.
On these cards there are five categories. They are: Big Ideas, Technology, Spoilsport, Secrecy and Adventurous.
The highest scores are as follows: Big Ideas is 15, Technology is 30, Spoilsport is 20, Secrecy is 80 and Adventurous is 5.
The reason I have given the highest numbers is to show you that if you were giving these cards to a younger child you have an idea of whether they would be able to comprehend the higher numbers. I would have thought so because this is still only double figures, nothing gets higher than 80.
I have played this a few times, and we have kept it going for a loooooooooong time. I'm not sure if this is because a lot of the characters have similar statistics/values, or because the numbers only go as high as 80 so there is more chance of getting the same number. This is particularly the case when more than two people play, when we've played as four players it usually ends up one player goes really quickly, then three play for a bit, then another drops out and the last two keep going until close to the end of time.
This could go either way for kids - they may either love it and you will have piece and quiet for ages, or they will lose interest due to the time it takes to finish, a la Monopoly!
I think Top Trumps in general is a bit of fun for kids, and some adults as well. I'd imagine that once you have played one you've pretty much played them all, but we all know that children get hooked on crazes, and this is one of them.
If you know someone who really loves Phineas and Ferb this is a great alternative to a soft toy or a figurine because you can actually play with it, without the need for any imagination as you have the game all wrapped up in a nice little plastic case.
I also liked the fact that the little info box was on there, because it meant I learned a little bit more about the characters that I might not have otherwise known.
These are good for playing with in the home, in the car, or on holiday, and the cards are hopefully big enough not to lose. The case that it comes in is also good because the way it opens means that the lid doesn't come loose, which would otherwise make it difficult to keep together. Though a trusty elastic band would always do the trick!
I would recommend this to fans of Phineas and Ferb and Top Trumps, and if you know a fan of both - you've got it covered!
I bought this for £3.99 at Toys R Us, and they are available online for this same price! I think this is a reasonable price for this game too.
Also published on Ciao
I've recently developed a passion for cooking, and I find that not only do I get the joy of eating my own creations, but I absolutely love cooking for other people.
In my quest for new recipes to try out, I decided to do a Google search for cupcake recipes. When the results page came up, this book leapt out at me - Lily Vanilli's A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!
About Lily Vanilli
Lily Vanilli - born Lily Jones - is a baker and cake designer based in London. She began baking as a hobby, much like myself, going on to sell her cakes at Swanfield Market near Brick Lane in London.
According to the dust cover, Lily is known for her unusual recipes and often experiments with with savory ingredients like avocado and bacon (bacon being in one of the recipes I shall mention later).
Lily states that at the height of London's cupcake craze, the cakes being made formed a world of cutesy icing and often very poor baking. As a reaction to this, she was attracted to the idea of doing the opposite - making cupcakes that looked grotesque but tasted delicious.
For more on Lily herself visit www.lilyvanilli.com.
A Zombie Ate My Cupcake
The front cover of the book is instantly appealing, appearing like the poster of a 1950s horror film, or a graphic novel. It features a "Zombie Hands" cupcake in front of a haunted house, and the title is in white, dripping writing. Inside the first image is of "Black Rose" cupcakes, which on first glance look terribly artistic and difficult! There are then cartoon style pages leading up to the contents and the book's introduction.
The book features 25 different recipes for gruesome looking cupcakes, and I'll give you a little run down on each, starting with "Day of the Dead Skulls". To make it easier to identify which of the recipes I have tried, I will put a little asterix by the title.
Day of the Dead Skulls
These are based on a batch of chocolate cupcakes - the basic recipe for which can be found at the back of the book - inspired by a Mexican celebration that takes place on November 1st and 2nd to remember the lives of friends and family who have died. Looking at the actual recipe, there are several items that are quite specialised so it might be a tad difficult to get these ingredients unless you go to a dedicated baking store. In terms of difficulty, I think it would be quite simple to achieve, I'd give it a difficulty rating of 3/10.
I think this could possibly be the easiest of the cupcakes, looking both simple and effective. It uses a flat tipped piping bag for the white bandages, and a minimal amount of red and black icing for eyes. I'd give this a difficulty rating of 1/10.
Here is where Lily Vanilli's unusual choice of ingredients start to make an appearance. Based on pecan, nutmeg and cinnamon cupcakes, the frosting is made up to look like a fried egg and bacon - only it uses REAL bacon! At first I thought this would be really disgusting, but given one of the other ingredients is maple syrup, I think this idea could work out really well! In terms of difficultly I would imagine it would rate about 2/10.
These cupcakes are formed from vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, made to look like hamburgers. I think these would go down a storm at any child's birthday party, as there's nothing scary or gruesome about them and I'd much rather give them those than a McDonalds! It has dyed coconut lettuce leaves and red and yellow icing for ketchup and mustard. The only issue here might be that these include sesame seeds, and I know many people do have an allergy to them. In terms of difficulty I would probably rate them slightly higher as you have to take the time to do two batches of different cupcakes, so I'd give it 4/10.
Now the recipes are starting to look really scary, this one being three coconut jelly eyeballs surrounded by marzipan worms! The base of the cupcake looks fairly simple with vanilla frosting, so I think the difficult part would be working with the coconut milk and gelatine as it is probably quite unusual for your average home baker to take on. The food colouring for the worms is copper, however I think you could get away with a small drop of red instead if you didn't want to go to a specialist shop. In terms of difficulty I would rate this 6/10.
These guys look incredible! Basic frosted cupcakes with a shard of sugar glass sticking out, with cherry sauce blood dripping down them. I've really wanted to make these cakes fully, however having read what needs to be done to make the sugar glass I am concerned about how hot you have to melt the ingredients. I also don't have a candy thermometer, so it would mean a bit of expense before starting to make them. When I originally went to make these I settled on doing the basic cupcake and frosting just to try out the basic ingredients and they were delicious. I do think they look really effective with the glass shards but they would be hard to make. I'd say they are probably a 7/10 difficulty rating due to the high temperatures of the sugar syrup.
Sweeney Todd's Surprise
Inspired by the infamous Fleet Street barber, you can probably guess how these look - topped with a marzipan pie crust and a marzipan finger sticking out, with cherry sauce blood oozing out. Thanks to the incredible craftsmanship and the shimmery luster dust Lily has used on these cakes, they look incredibly professional and pretty hard to replicate to the same standard. If you are good at art and crafting these may be quite simple, but due to my level of crafting and some specialist ingredients I would rate these as 8/10 difficulty.
These are probably one of my least favourite of the recipes, as I don't think they look as impressive as some of the others, but my fiancé thinks they look great! They feature marzipan fingers with almond nails clawing out from cocoa powder soil. These are wider than the other cupcakes, so if you don't already have a muffin tray these may be difficult to make in regular cake trays. There are no extra colourings to be added to these cupcakes so I'd say they'd be a 2/10 in difficulty.
Again, given the quality of the appearance of the other cupcakes, these are not on my favourite list. Based on vanilla cupcakes, the ghosts are crafted from marshmallows and meringue frosting, with black fondant or chocolate chip facial features. I do think these cupcakes would taste nice but they do use a lot of eggs to create the meringue topping. I'd give these a difficulty rating of 2/10.
Perhaps the most simple but effective of the recipes, this cupcake is simply cream-cheese frosted with pomegranate seed bites and cherry sauce blood. I think these cakes will taste absolutely delicious like cheesecake, and the effort to make them will be quite minimal. For that reason I would rate these 1/10 for difficulty.
These cupcakes feature gingerbread tombstones on a chocolate frosting and cocoa powder soil, accompanied by fondant flowers and writing icing inscriptions. These look a little bland in colour due to being mainly brown, but many of the nicest tasting things are brown - like chocolate, cola, coffee, tea! I think these are most suited to being made during the Halloween period as it would be a little odd to have these lying around unless you're currently fleeting as a goth or emo! Like the Zombie Snacks, I would only rate these higher in difficulty because alongside making the cupcakes you also have to make the gingerbread biscuits, so I'd say they are probably 4/10 in difficulty.
Perhaps quite loosely related to zombies and scary things, but these crabs look fantastic! They are achieved by moulding dyed marzipan into claws and shells and frosting eyes. Again these cupcakes feature luster dust as an ingredient, and it is amazing how much of an impact the shimmer of the stuff makes in terms of the cake looking professional. These can be based on any cupcake but the suggested types are red velvet or lemon and almond - I'd be inclined to try lemon and almond for something a little bit different. I would rate these 4/10 difficulty due to the availability of luster dust.
Morbid Meringue Bones
I will admit that when I came across this recipe I felt a little cheated as I was expecting the book to be all cupcake recipes, as the front cover suggests. However I think they are good for something a little bit different, and when you've built your confidence these could be incorporated into your own designs. These follow a basic meringue recipe and are served with cherry and raspberry sauce. Due to the often unpredictable nature of meringue cooking, I would rate these 5/10 difficulty.
Another of the more simple recipes, these are vanilla frosted cupcakes with fondant ragworms. I think achieving the shape of the ragworm could be hard, though Lily says all you need to do is form a long worm shape and then use a fork to press down and make the little legs. Due to the food colouring being chestnut, which might be difficult to locate, I would rate these 4/10 difficulty.
These cupcakes look stunning - frosted in vanilla with black gum paste petals formed into the shape of a rose on top, which could easily be adapted to other colour roses. My fiancé and I were all set to make these the other day, until we read the petals must be made a day in advance to allow them time to dry. Unfortunately we didn't have the time to do this, so we settled for the Mutant Ears cupcake, which is coming up shortly. Due to the time restraints I would rate these 5/10 difficulty.
Again like the Morbid Meringue Bones I was disappointed that this was not a cupcake recipe, however these could be made to decorate a much larger cake. Like the Sweeney Todd Surprise decoration, I think you would need to be very good at arts and crafting to produce an effective looking beetle, and they also use the illusive luster dust. I would give these a rating of 5/10 due to difficulty of crafting and finding that luster dust!
These were inspired by the Vacanti mouse, bred in 1995 with a genetic mutation and what looked like a human ear on its back. These ears are made of dyed marzipan and placed on top of vanilla frosting. My fiancé and I made these the other night and they were so simple! The red velvet cupcake was light and fluffy, the frosting tasted deliciously naughty and we jazzed up our ears (which we crafted by looking a picture of a real ear) by using sugar alphabet letters as earrings. We offered these to our parents and to his siblings and they went down a storm. Not only did they identify the ears straight away, but they also said it tasted amazing. In terms of difficulty we did not struggle much at all so I'd rate these as 2/10 difficulty.
This recipe also goes towards satisfying Lily's interest in combining strange ingredients, as they are based on lime cupcakes with avocado frosting and yellow and black fondant. I was talking to my dad about these and neither of us can comprehend how the avocado frosting might taste, so we'll just have to try it out one day! I'd give these a difficulty rating of 2/10.
These cakes would be perfect for birthday parties for little ones who are fans of the aliens in Toy Story or just UFOs and planets in general! They are based on raspberry cupcakes, with multicoloured frosting, marzipan planets and silver dragees. The style of the frosting makes these cupcakes look more like the fashionable London craze cupcakes Lily berates at the beginning of the book, but her artistic flair makes them stand out against the crowd. I would rate these as 4/10 difficulty due to the multicoloured icing and planets.
These were the first properly decorated cupcakes I tried out with my fiancé. These are made based on red velvet cupcakes with pink buttercream frosting, and in the picture Lily has used the cherry sauce blood. We opted out of making the cherry sauce due to time constraints, but made a real effort with the brain style icing. We took these to our friends and to my brother and niece, and though one of our friends asked if we had put mince on top of the cakes, whilst my niece (who is 3) was completely undeterred by the brain shaped icing and devoured the whole thing at supersonic speeds. I think this is a great review in itself! I would rate these as 1/10 difficulty because they were so easy!
These cakes are additives in cases, but they do look fantastic! The cupcakes themselves are multicoloured, with blue frosting, white cloud frosting and gold luster dust coconut shavings. Little children would love these, but I can't help feel they would produce a serious amount of hyperactivity! You need a lot of bowls for this recipe as you have to mix the cake mix with the individual colours before putting them all together. I would rate these 4/10 due to the luster dust, the layering of the cake mix and keeping the blue frosting from bleeding into the white.
These are in a similar vein to the Shattered Glass cupcakes in that they have coloured sugar glass "jewels" and chocolate brooches on a vanilla frosted cupcake. I'd say these are probably even more difficult than the Shattered Glass cakes due to all the colour and chocolate moulding. They also contain - you guessed it, luster dust! I would give this recipe a difficulty rating of 9/10.
Wow. These are incredible! Of all the recipes in the book this one looks the most impressive. These are red velvet cupcakes encased in dyed white fondant, covered in cherry sauce blood. Lily has made these for Valentines Day and various charity events, and I'd imagine they go down an absolute storm! I'm too scared to attempt this at the moment, mainly due to the fact there is so much red colouring and currently I'm using my mum's kitchen, so life wouldn't be worth living if I stained anything! In terms of difficulty I think the hardest part would be trying not to get the colouring everywhere, so I'd rate it 7/10.
Fallen Angel Cakes
These are another of the cakes that I don't feel are particularly related to the zombie theme, but this still look very sophisticated. Based on honey and almond cupcakes they have vanilla frosting and gold luster dust coated chocolate nuts and coconut shavings. I really like the idea of the combination of flavours of this one, and I think this is probably one I would really like to try next, if I can find the luster dust! I'd rate this as 4/10 difficulty due to the rarity of luster dust.
Devil's Food Cupcakes
Another of the more simple looking designs, this cake is made of chocolate cupcakes with ganache frosting and dark chocolate horns. They look and sound so rich, so I think you'd maybe even have to share one of these between two people! Looking at the recipe I would rate them 3/10 for difficulty.
Personally I am really really pleased with my purchase. I bought this book as a bit of fun in my newfound love for cooking and it is exactly that! My fiancé and I have really enjoyed making the recipes we have followed so far and our friends and family have really enjoyed eating them. It's getting to the stage where we might have to give it a break for a while, as my best friend's wedding is coming up in September and at this rate none of us will fit in our dresses and suits!
Judging by the reaction of my little niece, which I spoke about earlier, I feel that some young children will be quite happy to help make and eat the cakes, but some slightly older children might be a little bit put off by the fact that some of the decorations are so convincing. I think most adults would see it all as a bit of fun though.
Due to the basic cake and frosting recipes being written separately at the end of the book, you also have the option of creating plainer cakes, or you have the basis for making your own weird and wonderful designs, which I would love to try when I build up my confidence a little bit more.
I hope that Lily Vanilli will bring out more cookbooks as I think she's got a lot more to give, but in the meantime there's always her cakes at Harrods Food Hall and if you visit her blog (lily-vanilli.blogspot.com) she regularly posts pictures and new recipes. At the front of the book she also says she'd love to see pictures of people who have made cakes from the book, so if you do make any send them to email@example.com.
I bought my copy of A Zombie Ate My Cupcake! from Amazon.co.uk at £6.99, however I believe it is currently retailing on there for £5.63. The package arrived in their usual cardboard packaging, which meant that the book arrived in perfect condition, and any marks or bumps on it now are from cooking! If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book I would advise checking Amazon, Waterstones and eBay for availability.
Also published on Ciao
As an adult, I have a passion for learning languages and using them when I go abroad - not only because I hate being labeled as a lazy British person, but also because it gives me a sense of achievement.
I put this down to the fact that when I wass younger, my mum would always give me books to help me learn French, German and Spanish - not necessarily because she wanted me to be bilingual, but she knew it would be a useful tool when I came to look for a career.
One such book was My First 100 Spanish Words. I still own the hardback edition, which is described on the front as a "pull-the-tab" word book. It varies ever so slightly from the one in the picture in terms of illustration on the front and back covers, but other than that it is exactly the same.
Background information about the book
First published in 1993 by World International Publishing Limited in Manchester, the book was a UK only product.
At the time, the writers ( a team at a company called Brainwaves) stated that Spanish was spoken by nearly 300 million people throughout the world - and that doesn't include holiday-makers.
According to wikianswers.com, nowadays Spanish is spoken by 330 million people as a first language, and by a further 50 million as a second language. It might not seem like a huge rise, but remember we are talking millions!
Clearly one of the main challenges in producing a children's book is keeping the attention span of a little person. This has got to be even more difficult when you're trying to teach them a second language!
This book is beautifully illustrated in bright colours to attract your attention and hold it there. In each section, you are presented with a full page picture of a scene related to the section topic, which includes pictures of the items you are learning about. The intention here is to get the child more involved by actively searching for the animal/person/object in the picture before saying aloud the Spanish word for it.
The book has six sections - five different areas in which to learn the names and spellings of items in Spanish, and one which is there to aid your pronunciation. It has a full page picture on the left, and a page with smaller pictures on it, which initially tells you the English name for the object, but then when you pull the tab, you are presented with the Spanish terms.
The sections are as follows:
The Farm / La Granja
In the full page picture, the scene is fairly active with numerous animals around the farmhouse and in the fields, as well as farm workers using machinery and tending to crops. On the page to the right, there are twenty individual images of farm-related personnel, animals, buildings and machinery.
The Spanish terms are fairly straightforward, with the exception of "Scarecrow" which is rather long and a bit ominous looking in general.
The Shop / La Tienda
The full page picture for this section depicts a fairly chaotic looking store where milk has been spilt on the floor, posters are a bit skewiff on the walls and children are naughtily picking up sweets while their parents aren't looking. On the second page, the words to learn are mainly food items, with the exception of bag, trolley, cashier and till.
The scariest looking word here is for till - "la caja registradora", but I think this is much easier to grasp than "Scarecrow" as mentioned above.
The Park / El Parque
The full page picture is again very busy, with mothers pushing their babies in prams, dads relaxing with a book on the lawn, and several children carrying out activities such as skipping and skating. The second page has a variety of objects from plants and installations like slides and swings, to birds and roller skates.
In my opinion the most daunting word here is for swings - "los columpios", but that's only in comparison to the other words on the page. I'd say it was quite achievable after a few attempts.
The Town / La Ciudad
The full page picture shows a busy town setting with various vehicles going up and down the roads, people using ATMs, policemen directing people and people working in an office. The objects on the second page included people, buildings and transport.
The most difficult looking word here is for petrol station - "la gasolinera" - I think you'll agree that's not too bad!
The Home / La Casa
The last of the word sections has a full page picture featuring a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom and bedroom, with a mum, dad, son and daughter carrying out various activities in each. Across the page, the words to learn range from members of the family to objects like television, bath and staircase.
The worst looking word here is for fridge, "el frigorifico". Again I don't think it's that bad, but against the other, smaller words, it could be daunting for a little one.
This double page spread has six coloured panels which relate to the different word sections in the book. Each panel is made up of three columns - one with the English words, one with the Spanish spellings, and the last with the Spanish pronunciation.
Depending on the age of the child learning Spanish, it might be wise to help them with reading the pronunciations, as it might seem a bit confusing to have for example "farmer, el granjero, el granHEro" put in front of you. I'd imagine children of about 6 or 7 would maybe understand how to read the pronunciations a bit better, but it all depends on how advanced their reading and understanding of language is.
What age range would benefit from using this book?
As I say, I had this book when I was younger - I'd say around four or five perhaps, and I didn't have much trouble with it at all. I really enjoyed reading it and learning from it with my mum.
At the same time, I believe she was picking up new words by teaching me, and at that point she would have been around 38.
Now, I have a little niece aged 4, and her mum's sister currently lives in Italy with her partner and my niece's two cousins. My niece can already hold short conversations in Italian, so I believe learning the Spanish words from this book would be a complete doddle for her. I'd say she's clever, perhaps not child prodigy status, but able and aware of picking up new skills - so if this sounds like a child you know I think they'd be able to learn from this book too.
Why is this book so useful?
There are a few reasons why I believe this book is so good. First of all, the fact that the pull out tabs have both English and Spanish on them means that the book can be used either for English children learning Spanish, or Spanish children learning English. I'd imagine it would be particularly useful for a family where perhaps your children live with you in England speaking English, yet your brother or sister's children live with them in Spain speaking Spanish. The book easy to use for both purposes and I believe it could help breakdown the language barrier between the children because of the "point-to-the-picture" element.
Secondly, I believe that the full page picture helps the child retain the learned words in their memory. Looking at the pull tab page means they can read the answer straight away, whereas looking at the full page picture to both find and name the item brings a new element of difficulty to test the child.
Another good point is that even though it is a children's book, it would be so simple for an adult to use. It's much more exciting than a regular language book, and you'd pick up these 100 words in no time at all.
My overall opinion
I really recommend this book, because it will really appeal to children with the bright colours and wonderful illustrations, and I don't think they will feel like they are learning, it will seem more like play.
It's so useful to have the pronunciation guide in the back too, as it ensures you are teaching the child how to say the words properly. Also as I mentioned before it is "backwards compatible" if you like, because it can help Spanish children learn English.
On the back of my copy it says the recommended retail price is £5.95, but I don't think we paid that, and this is going back more than a decade! I'd imagine you can get it for a couple of pounds in book stores, but I know for sure you can get a copy identical to mine for just over £2.60. I don't think it's a massive amount for what can be a huge investment for your child's future.
Interested in purchasing the book?
For those of you interested in getting the book either to ease yourself in or for a child, you'll be needing this:
ISBN 0 7498 1272 9
Also published on Ciao
I purchased my iPod in the summer of 2006, and it still serves me well to this day. I bought it before a family holiday to Portugal, which then unfortunately did not go ahead, but don't regret my purchase one bit.
The History of the iPod
The original iPod was launched in 2001, by Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his team. The name for the invention came from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and was proposed by freelance copywriter Vinnie Chieco.
Before this particular model, there were four other generations released. The first model was controlled by a mechanical scroll wheel, connected by FireWire and came in 5 and 10gb capacities. The second had a touch-sensitive wheel, again connected via FireWire, had a revised hold switch and came in 10 and 20gb capacities. The third version saw the first complete redesign of the iPod, with an all-touch interface, dock connector and a slimmer case, and it also came in 10, 15, 20, 30 and 40gb capacities. The forth generation came in both a black and white and photo version, inheriting the click wheel from the iPod mini, and coming in capacities of 20 30, 40 and 60gb for black and white, and in 20 and 60gb capacities for photo.
The Fifth Generation iPod
The fifth generation saw the second full redesign of the iPod. It had a slimmer case, larger screen and video playback, and this time the iPod was offered in black or white. It came in 30 and 60gb capacities.
On 12 September 2006, the 60gb model was then updated to 80, a brighter screen was added, as was gapless playback and 3-D photo transitions.
My Experience of the Fifth Generation iPod
As you may have already worked out, I purchased my iPod before the second released of the fifth generation iPod, but I was still extremely satisfied with my purchase. I ordered the black version in 30gb capacity, and at that time, it cost me approximately £170.
Having had other, less impressive mp3 players before, I noted a considerable increase in quality in the iPod's performance in comparison, and was impressed with all its features. I was able to store huge numbers of songs - I had over 5000 at one point, videos and photos. I was able to use the click wheel with ease to find the artist I wanted to hear, or to start a slideshow of all my photographs. I could also choose to shuffle songs if I did not want to listen purely to one album or one artist. It also had a few games including a music quiz that kept my occupied for some time. It also had an impressive battery life, going on for hours whilst being constantly used. Since then the battery life has reduced somewhat, but is still at an impressive level.
I was so impressed with my iPod, I went on to buy the iSymphony stereo system, which I have reviewed on Ciao. I have also purchased many accessories and add-ons for my iPod to keep it from getting damaged, and to play it through my car stereo. I also bought travel speakers from Tescos to take with me on my next family holiday.
In conclusion, in it's day the 5th generation iPod was at the top of it's game, and was all you could ever hope for. Now in the wake of the iPod touch and the other new additions to the Apple iPod family, you could get far more features from a newer model. However, if you don't want to spend a huge amount on an iPod, I would definitely recommend this model as it still has a great range of features, and is better than any other make of mp3 player in my opinion.
Also published on Ciao.
As a child of the 80s (just), my childhood music formats were casette tapes and CDs. Luckily I didn't buy too many of the former, however the latter - I have accumulated an obscene amount over the years!
After hundreds of hopeless attempts to sell my unwanted CDs on eBay, and hardly making enough pennies to make it worth my while sending them, I decided enough was enough and went in search of another way to make money from my CDs.
It was a combination of watching The Gadget Show and reading Ciao reviews that led me to this: Musicmagpie.co.uk.
Musicmagpie.co.uk was originally launched as an easy way for people to get rid of their CDs in the transition to digital music, whilst also getting a bit of money for them. It soon caught on, and then the team launched Gamemagpie, which has now become part of the main Musicmagpie site.
Much more recently the team have started to allow you to sell them your old DVDs aswell, making it one of the first sites to take all three forms of multimedia discs.
Registration for the site is really very easy, much like any other sales site. You just enter your personal details from name and address to telephone number - no credit card details here - let them know where you heard about them from, and then you're ready to go!
No doubt you'll have already put together a pile of CDs, games or DVDs that you want to get rid of, but if not, grab a few and start looking them up on the system. There are several ways of doing this. You can either type in the barcode number manually (very time consuming), use your computer's webcam as a barcode reader, or download the iPhone app and use your phone camera as a barcode scanner.
If the CD/DVD/Game has been recognised (some game formats are not accepted and some CDs are not accepted if they have a large amount of the title already), the screen will then show you how much they will offer you for the item. For the CDs I have sent, this has been anything from 30p to £1.62, however I've tried others which have been £3.50+. Remember of course these are very old, not even worth calling guilty pleasure CDs. I think the newer and rarer the CD, the more money you get, which would make sense.
You have to then add another 9 items as you can only do a minimum of 10, so it might even be worth clubbing up with a friend if you only want to get rid of a few. When you have met the minimum of 10, you then press place order. I can't quite remember if you can ask to have the money transferred to your account, but I have always had money sent to me by cheque as I'm keen on keeping my bank details safe.
You then are asked to check your email where you will be sent freepost labels and a checklist of the CDs you have submitted to be sold. Check these carefully because they send two sheets, and they tally up to how many you send in a box. Pack the items up in a box with just enough protection to keep the cases from cracking (you get money taken off if your CDs are in a bad way), include the checklist, seal it up, stick on the freepost label and take it off to the post office.
And that's it! Now all you have to do is sit back at home, wait for a confirmation email to say they have arrived, followed by a second email confirming your CDs have all been approved and your cheque is on its way.
A few weeks later you get a letter from the managing director with the cheque attatched to the bottom. Simple!
My opinion on the service
Having started off feeling very wary of a service that I thought too good to be true, I can only praise musicmagpie.co.uk for not only ridding me of some musical atrocities, but also paying me for the pleasure! The only thing I had to do was find a box to post them in, and I just used an old shoe box!
The process of putting the CDs into the order couldn't be simpler, so there's really no effort required at all unless you are inputting all the barcode numbers one by one.
The one thing I could maybe have a bit of a niggle with is how long it takes for the cheque to arrive. I think it is purely because I know that I am waiting for it to come through that it feels like the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months, so it probably isn't that bad really!
All in all I think it is really worth doing if you haven't had any success with eBaying your stuff and you can't bear to look at the hideous CDs taking up your space!
The website uses a simple black, white and blue colour scheme in fitting with the musicmagpie.co.uk logo. There is a menu bar across the top which has pages that explain how to get started and how it works as well as a support section for any issues with orders and your account.
For those who are interested in making more money or getting freebies, there are a few other sections that may be worth a look. The about us section explains the other formats that musicmagpie accept. The freebies page takes you to links for freebies, vouchers, competitions and make money online. I have tried a few of the links on the freebie section but to be honest a lot of the websites it takes you to want you to sign up to many others to get the freebies. Not good!
There is also a comparison tool for selling your mobile which is quite useful, and I've used this to get rid of some really ancient specimens! Granted it was only a few pounds each for the really old ones, but well worth it if you're never going to use them again!
My opinion on the website
I found the website very easy to use, but I much prefer to use the iPhone app as it is far more convenient. That said if I didn't have an iPhone or my friend was considering using the service, I would recommend using this website.
I think it is easy for people of any age to get their head around, and the process of printing out postage labels etc is not incredbily taxing as they are all sent to you via email.
So all in all a great service with an easy to use website, definitely worth trying out in my opinion!
Following a recent burn injury to my left eye, I decided to embrace the fact that I still have my sight and read something, rather than strain my eyes for the television. Not wanting to spend too much money on a quick read, I popped to my local Tesco and purchased a copy of That's Life!
That's Life! is a "real life story" magazine published by H Bauer Publishing, who also brought us Take A Break, Bella, Spirit & Destiny and Eat In. According to their own "About Us' page, they are the largest publisher in Europe and also publish in the US and Mexico.
Having read the odd Take A Break over the years, I felt that I would probably enjoy That's Life!, but it wasn't exactly what I expected.
The tagline at the top of the 8 September/Issue 36 edition of That's Life! is "Puzzles! Prizes! Cash!" - so it's fairly obvious what you are setting yourself up for when you pick up the magazine. On the front page of That's Life!, straplines for stories inside include:
'Sarah Harding' trapped my two-timing lover
KILLED BY MUMMY... because Daddy had an affair
My warning to mums - BREASTFEEDING left me INFERTILE
HONEYMOON HELL! I caught my GROOM abusing YOUNG GIRLS
DISGRACEFUL! Family hated my 'UGLY' baby
No prizes for guessing then, that these titles have been exaggerated to catch your eye. For example - Sarah Harding never trapped the woman's lover - she used a picture of her on a fake Facebook profile to trick him into meeting her for what he thought would be an affair with another woman. The breastfeeding story? Well it wasn't the act of breastfeeding that left her infertile, it was her concern with ridding herself of baby fat that lead her to effectively starve herself, which like many eating disorders might do, left her POSSIBLY infertile. And the ugly baby story - she may have had a condition similar to leprosy so people were unsure whether or not her condition was contageous - no one said they hated her or that she was ugly.In terms of the writing, it is very much structured as though the individual has given answers to questions, and a journalist or editorial assistant has bulked out the story to make it readable. From the depth I have read the stories, I haven't spotted any spelling mistakes or grammar issues, though in this kind of publication it wouldn't really bother me!
It might just be me being a bit slow, but although I am usually fairly good at puzzles, I was stumped turning the first page! The puzzles seem a little more advanced than Take A Break, which surprised me, and a lot of the answers require you to have quite an extensive knowledge of famous names such as actors and singers. There are 9 puzzles altogether, which is somewhat disappointing but I guess you can't ask for much more nowadays for your 68p's worth. The good thing is that they are varied, including sudoku, wordsearches, arrow words and spot the difference.
The following items were available to win or earn in this issue of the magazine:
You can earn up to £1000 for a story
Puzzle 1 - win £100 cash
Puzzle 2 - win a Halloween break at Chessington World of Adventures
Puzzle 3 - win £3000 cash
Puzzle 4 - win £1000 cash
Puzzle 5 - win £200 cash
Puzzle 6 - win £100 cash
Puzzle 7 - win £200 cash
Puzzle 8 - win £200 cash
Puzzle 9 - win £200 cash
So not very varied - but still, hypothetically if you won all of the cash competitions in this issue you'd have £5000. Not to be sniffed at, but of course the chances of winning them all is highly unlikely!
This actually surprised me, but unless I'm missing some advertorials, I only counted a total of six adverts , which I personally think is brilliant, because it leaves more room for stories and puzzles, much more preferable! And of the six, several were for bingo or other publications that are hosted or published by the same publisher of That's Life!.
As soon as you pick up a magazine like this, you're not expecting top quality journalism, or a thrilling read from start to finish - it really is there just to be picked up and put down at leisure. Of course I wasn't expecting overly great things, but the magazine did the job I purchased it for - gave me something to read, puzzles to do and killed a bit of time.I would say it would be ideal for someone waiting for transport, sat in a hospital waiting room or ward, or as a break time read at work. It probably wouldn't last you much longer than that kind of time frame.
All in all you get what you pay for with your 68p, and the title is very much comparable to other similar magazines on the market.
Also published on Ciao