Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How to beat Kingdom Rush: Frontiers

So if you own an iPhone or iPad, immediately close this blog and go buy Kingdom Rush: Frontiers. It's the sequel to what I consider to be the best Tower Defense game ever. It has many levels of complexity, the art if beautiful, and there is tremendous replay value. The first one was fairly hard, but I found the new one to be fairly easy. I don't care very much about achievements, I just want to beat the game.
And I did pretty fast. Here's how:

1. Don't waste money buying heroes - The free ones of Alric, Mirage and Cronan are fine. The definitely increase with value as you earn new ones, so stick with Mirage when you get her, and then Cronan for the rest of the game.

2. Learn when to run - While it's not a big deal if your hero dies (they respawn in 30 seconds), sometimes pulling them away from battle for a few seconds will let the regain their heal and use distance attacks. Cronan can resummon dead boars, or launch a stampede if he's got breathing room.

3. Assassins and Knights Templar are equal - I found the advanced barracks to have roughly equal value. The Assassins can deal some damage, but don't get hung up on their robbing skill - it's only a single gold piece. And the knights are basically just defense.

4. Best deal ever: Maxed out artillery - The high level artillery are so valuable, I try and get them out as quickly as possible. The Battle Mecha is not only cool, but provides great air cover. But it has a single significant weakness- it's useless against big enemies. So the Dwarve's Core Drill is essential at the higher levels to take out the Saurian Brutes and Gorillons. So use both as you get at the higher levels.

5. Pass on the archers - At the higher levels, the archer towers, even the advanced ones, don't offer much. Yes, the Tribal Axethrowers are good to debuff the many witchdoctors, but they just don't hit hard enough. The archer towers are good at some lower levels to kill bees and birds, at least until you unlock the mage towers. Speaking of which:

6. Necromancer tower rocks - First, it looks great. Second, raising oodles of skeletons is great defense. And third, the Death Rider is great, and the pestilence is all right. The Archmage tower is great too for firepower, but I always get some Necromancers up first.

7. To beat the final boss - Umbra is pretty easy - I KO'd him on the first encounter. To get past his awful tower zapping ability, throw out a bunch of first-level barracks (the cheapest tower). He randomly kills a tower, so by adding useless ones ideally he'll target them and not your good towers. Having at least 2 of each artillery on the center corridors is critical.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Japan's toilet technology bows to no nation

Japan is obsessed with cleanliness. They hand out wet ones before every meal (no matter how modest). Their subways are so clean they have legit restaurants in them. And they care a lot about their restrooms. Here is a gallery of typical toilets that we encountered:

 (Above) This is a pretty typical Japanese toilet. You can see a zoom in on the control panel below.

As you can see, it's much more than just a bidet - which has excellent usability via the picture of a rear end with water shooting up at it. It also plays music to cover the embarrassing sound of a natural body function shared by all humans. There's also a seat warmer.

 Here's another control panel that offers not one but TWO ways to rinse yourself.

 This is a rare low-tech version, but it at least still was motion sensored.

 Another rare low-tech version but notice the foot-operated flusher. It'd be a shame to touch anything with your hand, after all.

Here's what appears to be another standard-ish model, except that the control panel is on the wall. I believe there was a few options - noisemaker, flusher and maybe bidet controls.

 This was a highlight. We went to Tokyo's Akihabara district, famous for video game parlors and six story buildings dedicated to anime and manga. We went to one of the many Sega stores and finally found this: a video game built into a urinal! The game I played was basically just to see how long you could... um... relieve yourself for. The animated cherub below...
 ...would encourage / taunt you. When you were done it would tell you how many millileters you were able to... umm... release? It was free - you just went.

So after all of this impressive porcelain, you could image my surprise when I found this: a literal hole in the ground. Dianna said they were called "Eastern toilets" and that she had found them before in Italy. You squat over it and hold on to the railing (if provided) and just go. There's a high pressure water jet that shoots horizontally after you're done to clean it out. It was pretty brutal. We saw Japanese people enter these stalls, take one look and then turn around and find another. This one was in a metro station.
 It wasn't until our final night in Narita that we found this: an actual, 100% electronic-free toilet. Ironically, this is the guest toilet in our suite that we somehow lucked into. The other toilet was a typical "Bidet Deluxe."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

10 essential phrases to help you get around Japan

I spent four months listening to Japanese language podcasts, reading Japanese phrase books, skimming Japanese textbooks and even creating Japanese flash cards to burn words into my head. In the end, I was able to get by using very, very few words.
  • Sumimasen (sue-me ma-sen) / "Excuse me" - Used dozens of times every day. Works when you bump into someone, when you're trying to get around someone blocking the elevator, or when you need to signal a waiter. 
  • Konichi wa (Cone-itchy Wa) / "Hello", but more accurately "Good afternoon" - For extra credit you can say "Ohio Goze-zai-mas" / Good morning, or "Kombah wa / Good evening
  • Arigoto (Arr-ee-got-toe) / "thank you" - used constantly. 
  • Toyde wa doku deska (Toy-de wah dough-ku desk-ka) / "Where is the bathroom?"
  • .... Doku deska? / "Where is it?" - Used after the word you're looking for, like "Tokyo station wa doku deska?" This followed by a point to a map is often enough to get you there. 
  • Mizu (Mee-zu) / Water- many restaurants won't give you water unless you ask, and often even if they do it's literally the size of a Dixie cup. They must be the most dehydrated people on earth
  • Kudasai (Kuda sigh) / "Please" - You put this at the end of a sentence. So if you wanted to say water please you'd say "Mizu, kudasai. "
  • wakarismasen (Wa-car-ee-ma-sen) / "I don't understand" - Normally they'll be able to tell by the clueless look on your face, but it's still good to know
  • Eigo ga hanesemaska (Eggo ga ha-nah-she-mas-ka) / "Do you speak English?" - I used this ISPs the beginning a lot when I had more energy, but later on I was able to get by without it. still a nice way to impress. 
  • Making an X with your hands / Check please - no need to learn the words. This way is faster and can be done from the other side of the room. Also, they will often not bring you your check until you ask 
Pointing and gestures can help a lot, and some people (although definitely not all) know some English. Generally, the farther you get from Tokyo the worse people's English is. People in your hotel will know serviceable English (they are usually fluent in Tokyo), but taxi drivers and restaurant staff often know very little.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Japanese restaurants: sushi is just the beginning

Dining experience 
When you walk into Japanese restaurant, people WILL shout at you in Japanese. Mostly, they are saying hello hello and an idiomatic traditional welcome. They may ask you if you want smoking or nonsmoking (assuming they have different sections) but most likely they will just give you a seat at a table or booth. I've yet to sit on the ground. 
If you asked for an English menu, and they have or, they'll bring it. Otherwise, you'll either be able to order by picture or you're out of luck. 
They probably won't bring you water. You can ask, and they'll most likely bring you a small Dixie cup with water. 
You'll place your order, they'll bring it and the check. Then you won't see them again. No refills, no "How is everything?" And no dessert upsells. You probably will bring the check up to the cashier. Most places take credit cards. 
Almost all restaurants will give you either a hot napkin or a wet nap before you eat. Etiquette is for you to use it your hands and then set it aside. Your table will most likely have chopsticks and maybe toothpicks. Many restaurants don't have napkins at all - they assume you'll be using chopsticks and won't be dirty. Sometimes there will be hot sauce or hot spices, soy sauce, hot mayo or a plum sauce. 

There was a time when eating sushi was adventurous. Well, to my dad it still is. But for most of the people I know it's passé. But over here, sushi is just one of many types of food. Sometimes each restaurant serves only one type. Other times they'll have a ton of different foods - and often fries and pizza and other western stuff thrown in as well.
Some styles I've seen:
  • Yaktori - skewers of chicken, pork, veggies, prawns, etc. 
  • Noodles - soba, udon and many other types, sometimes with meat or sometimes just plain (ugh). Yakisoba, one of our favorites my be here if you are lucky
  • Sushi - using sashimi (no rolls) but they may have a few
  • Fried everything - fried prawns, fried pork, fried beef, and fried acne on your face when you're done
  • Hot plate - different types of noodles or meats served on a hot plate, like those Chinese restaurants when you were younger
  • BBQ - as the price of meat decreased, so has beef made its way to the center stage. Huge pieces of meat, or thinly sliced cuts, and everything in between. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Japan is brought to you by the letter "S"

  • Sushi
  • Sumimasen ("Excuse me")
  • Sumo
  • Soy sauce
  • Shinkansen (bullet train)
  • Shrines
  • Soba noodles
  • Sapporo 
  • Subway
  • Stairs
  • Sore feet
  • Sleep
  • Sayonara

Good news! Americans aren't the worst travelers

Most stereotypes have a grain of truth in them. Americans are not always the best travelers. We come in wearing fanny packs, loud clothing and never bother to learn the language. We complain about everything and go straight to the McDonalds or similar western fare. I have witnessed this.
However, I am pleased to announce that we have company and, quite possibly, have even surpassed when it comes to boorish behavior:
  • A huge troupe of amazingly loud Indians who close the elevator door on you if the think the elevator is too full (it wasn't)
  • Two Japanese women who hand their dirty dishes to a waiter while he is taking our order
  • Two Japanese families who have a loud pow-wow in the hallway at 7 am about what they are doing that day, with their doors wide open
  • An Indian man who bumps me out of the way when I am talking to the concierge and starts his own conversation as if I hadn't been speaking
And we did see a huge group of Americans eating by the McDonalds at Narita airport when we were leaving, we ate there too. There's only so much sushi and noodles you can eat. Really.