Chess around the globe

Wend Magazine, an outdoor adventure/travel mag with an eco-sensitive slant, has a great photo gallery on their Wend Blog today that celebrates the game of Chess and its universal appeal around the globe. In fact, the blog post compares it to soccer when it comes to international popularity, with chess boards bridging cultural and language barriers across the planet.

The classic game traces its origins back to 6th century India, and over the centuries it has evolved into an art form. Learning the moves of the various pieces is a simple affair, and yet it opens the door for complex strategies and intense battles, played out on a black and white checker-board.

Wend warns that when you play a game abroad, you not only play for yourself, but your entire country, and offers up a few things to consider before sitting down at the chess table. That advice includes such things as don’t play anyone over 60, as they are probably better than you and it’s a no win situation no matter the results, and get familiar with local rules before you play, or you may find yourself schooled by some obscure tactic.

Of course, the real highlight of this post is the photographs, and they are fascinating. There are shots from all over the planet ranging from Argentina to Uzbekistan, and plenty of places in between. The photos capture players of all ages in all kinds of settings, and really do show just what an international game chess has become. Checkmate!

The five best beach vacation games

Sandcastle!A day at the beach is always fun. I personally like to barbecue and play games — but if you’re traveling, you probably don’t have a grill with you, much less a cooler, a bunch of friends, or even so much as a pail and shovel. Here are five great beach games that don’t require tons of people, don’t wreck the beach (or disturb others), and which require under $20 in props.

1. Kite flying. Kites are awesome, easy to pack in that outer suitcase pocket, and they’re usually cheap to buy on location if you didn’t plan ahead. They have some great, cheap kites on, like this one. Make it a competition by timing who can keep it in the air the longest, or fly it the highest.

2. Sandcastles. I mean, duh, right? But this list would be incomplete without the building of sandcastles, a time honored tradition. Make sure you collect lots of flair from all over the beach to decorate, and if you want a little competition in your beach day, try timed sandcastles with a friend — you each get half an hour to make the most impressive sandcastle. If you don’t want to spend money, use the coffee mugs from your hotel room for building — a butter knife will also come in handy.

3. Digging to China (unless you’re in China; then it would be Digging to America). This is a simple, but really fun game. You and a friend go to just where the water is coming up on the shore, and dig as far down as you can in five minutes. Whoever’s hole is the deepest wins. You may find the ocean does you a favor — or completely ruins your effort. Consider it the universe deciding whether it likes you or your friend better.

4. Sand darts. Draw a “dartboard” in the sand, or perhaps just a basic concentric circle target. Make an X where participants should stand. Each player tosses a quarter, or a room key, or a rock, or whatever you have, and tries to hit the center of the target.

5. The quiet game.
This is excellent when traveling with children. Everyone lies down on their towels, side by side, and the first person to say something loses. Ah, sweet silence.
Don’t forget to put on suntan lotion … and return those cups to the hotel!

Day in the Cloud goes live at 30,000 feet

Earlier in the month, we told you about Virgin America and Google’s Day in the Cloud Event. And yesterday, I let you know that I would be on board one of the competing flights to take part in the event at 30,000 feet. And that’s exactly where I was this morning as I answered trivia questions, solved puzzles and joined thousands of people on Virgin America flights and on the ground competing to win tons of great prizes. I even tweeted for Gadling during the flight. So, what happens when technology, puzzles and flying intersect? Organized chaos and lots of fun.

I was on flight 921 from LAX to SFO. A competing flight from SFO to LAX was attempting to beat the best score on our flight. But there was one glitch: there were log-in issues when it came time to connect to the gogo in-flight wifi. It seems that there may have been problems with the company that handles the billing for the internet service. So, when a plane-load of people attempted to log into the system simultaneously, a Day in the Cloud became, temporarily, a day at the “still loading” screen.

Eventually, most of the issues were worked out. They even found the bandwidth for Good Day LA to broadcast live on the flight. Reporter Suzanne Marques covered the event and you may even spot me when you watch her segment (Hint: I’m wearing a Gadling t-shirt).

Google created the game and put together a tough contest. I was seated next to professional puzzle designer and competitor Wei-Hwa Huang, who was invited to take the challenge. He seemed to have a much easier time solving the puzzles and finding the answers in Google Apps than I did. His mental gymnastics and fast fingers resulted in the highest score of anyone on the two competing flights, which meant that everyone on Flight 921 walked away with prizes.

What can we learn from the Day in the Cloud? Well, in-flight wifi is here to stay, but, there are still some kinks to work out. For one, gogo sets the pricing for the airlines but they are considering lowering the costs to entice more users. Right now, many people find it too expensive. Also, the 3G network, while reliable, is still glitchy at times, especially if there is a rush of people logging in. However, I was impressed with the overall speed and reliability of the system once things settled down a bit and I’d defiitely utilize the service in the future.

The Day in the Cloud contest is running all day today, so you can still compete at home, in the office or on a Virgin America flight. Remember, though, that when the captain puts on the Fasten Seatbelt sign, that you need to return to your seat, buckle up and put your thinking cap on. My bad jokes, like wifi on Virgin America flights today, are free.

Undiscovered New York: It’s all fun and games

You’re casually walking near New York’s Washington Square Park when an unusual sight comes into view. A giant Pac-Man comes running past your side, trailed by two blue and red ghosts in fast pursuit. Has your mind lost its grip on reality, you wonder? Fear not, these crazed video game characters writ large are actually playing Pac-Manhattan, a real life version of the famous video game played with humans and New York City’s streets as the playing field.

Truth be told, Pac-Manhattan is just one example of how seriously New York City takes its games of leisure. Although images of frantic chess players in Washington Square Park might dominate your thoughts of games in New York City, it’s only part of the story. Whether we’re talking about games played in the street, in a park or on a board, New York is a great place to play some of your old favorites or try out some gaming experiences that are a bit more unusual. The opportunities are only magnified by New York’s diverse immigrant culture, who brings with them the unique games and traditions of their homelands.

Ready to check out a Cricket match in the Bronx or Boules and Bocce in Brooklyn? Would a clue from a New York City scavenger hunt draw you in to learn more? It’s time to start keeping score as Undiscovered New York goes in search of the city’s lesser known games. Check it out below.
Games Outdoors
Sure, you probably already know New York is a baseball town. But what about a Cricket town? Or a Bocce town? If you like your games international then New York is where to find it. New York’s diverse array of immigrant groups have brought with them an equally interesting mix of favorite pastimes, lending a decidedly multicultural flair to the city’s leisure time.

One sport that has been gaining in popularity is Cricket. Devotees from around the globe gather around the wicket at Cricket fields like the one at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. Even if you don’t have the slightest idea how to play it can offer visitors an amusing insight into one of the world’s more popular games. If you want to learn more, New York Cricket is grand central for all things cricket in the Big Apple.

Equally beloved by New Yorkers is the sport of Bocce or Petanque, a strategy game which involves hurling metal balls across a gravel pit or grass. Though the rules vary slightly by country, the game is widely played in Europe, and the Continent’s New York descendants have taken a distinct liking to the sport. Ready to give it a try? Head to Brooklyn bars like Floyd’s or Pit Stop which both have their own court. Courts are also widely available at many city parks. Make sure to come back in September for the city-wide tournament.

Mind Games
New York is no doubt a thinker’s town and that fact figures prominently into many of its gaming pursuits. One example of that are the New York scavenger hunts created by Watson Adventures. Teams of contestants scour the city’s historic neighborhoods and museums in search of answers to some tricky questions. It’s a great way to learn more about the city and explore some less familiar/overlooked elements that give New York its particular charm.

If thinking games are more your style, you’re probably already familiar with Washington Square Park’s chess corner. Pretty much every day, hard core devotees spend their afternoons racing the clock at one of the park’s several permanent tables. Just down the street on Thompson is row of chess-themed stores selling an array of themed chess sets (think American Independence and The Simpsons) and players come to hang out strike up a few matches. Even if you’re not the next Bobby Fischer, it’s an interesting look at a culture that has long thrived in New York City.

Video Games
Gamers rejoice – New York’s got enough video game goodness to keep trigger fingers busy for hours. Gamers who have reached drinking age should make sure to stop by bars like Barcade in Brooklyn. It’s filled with 40-50 vintage 1980’s arcade games like Frogger and Space Invaders. Grab a quality pint of beer and and a few quarters and you’ll be set for the evening. Other bars like Crocodile Lounge on 14th Street offer a selection of bar games like Skee-ball as well as a FREE pizza with each drink.

If you’re looking for that rare Asian import game or vintage copy of Tecmo Bowl, look no further than Video Games New York. Devotees of Nintendo 8-bit goodness will find just about any older game to suit their heart’s content.

Kids-eye view of the Olympics

Scouring through what the blogosphere is saying about the Olympics, I came across a blog written by a 12-year old in Beijing. His name is David and he is National Geographic Kid’s correspondent for the Olympics.

He’s an American child who has been living in China since he was two; he moved to Beijing last year from Suzhou.

The blog is straightforward and has that wonderful child-innocence about it. He writes clearly and does a great job being informative. His posts so far break the Olympics down to basics where he talks about things like: The different cities where the games are being held and why, the mascots, and getting around in the city during the games.

What makes his posts interesting is what he chooses to share, and of course, that they are written from the perspective of a child thrilled to be at the Games. Certainly a novelty in the blogosphere and worth keeping a tab on.