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I had played a bundle of Mumbo-Jumbo games before, and I thought it worthwhile enough to pay a couple of bucks for a selection of their games that weren’t in it. I was right.

7 Wonders II - A relatively mindless match-3 game; nothing special, but exactly what I was looking for in that instance. An excuse to play a lot of Bejeweled without a lot of quirks you need to think about.

Gardens Inc. – From Rakes to Riches - A casual/puzzle game in the same vein as Legends of Atlantis: Exodus or Prehistoric Tales, in which you need to gather resources and plant/rebuild gardens to earn money and advance the plot. (As I think I noted before, it's like the resource-management part of an RTS game without the combat.) It's cute, if a little repetitive. The plot has a distinctly “Rodgers and Hammerstein musical” vibe to it, playing very fast-and-loose with legalities as the mustache-twirling villain attempts to steal our heroine's family home.

Gardens Inc. 2: The Road to Fame - A sequel that adds a few twists (“coin frenzy” levels and a couple of new obstacles to clear) but is mostly just more of the same. If you like the gameplay of the first, you'll like it here too. The story follows the events of the first game, as Jill tries to win a nationwide gardening competition while also trying to solve the mystery of the Rose Thief's crimes.

Glowfish - I'd call this an “action/puzzle” game; you play as a little glowing fish who sets out to save his captured friends, and in each level you need to collect them and then either spin them to defeat foes or deposit them to open doors (or both). You can move in any direction and the danger level isn't terribly high; much of the game is finding the secret areas to get 4 stars in each level. It didn't grab me as much as the other games.

Luxor 3 - As noted when I reviewed Luxor 2 HD, this is a cross between Centipede and a Snood-style match-3 game. This improves on the previous game, adding puzzle and survival levels and a power-up/upgrade store; but still has the problem of running out of level designs early and then getting very repetitive. Fun for a while, but not worth grinding the entirety of.

Overall: While I'm not sure if anything here is a particularly amazing game, they're eminently playable casual games and there's no question I got my money's worth.
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As predicted, we open with a rewinding to see how all the characters survived the space station exploding, and the first episode is dedicated to getting the band back together. The surviving members, that is.

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Overall: Assuming there is a Season 4, I’m in.
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The wacky adventure of Jake Peralta and the cops of Brooklyn Precinct #99.

I don't actually have that much of a review to write here, because I don't think this gave me any particularly deep thoughts or commentary. It's just hilarious.

Jake is tolerable because he’s willing to admit he’s wrong and the narrative lets him both be good at his job and also an absurd dumbass. Characters can be stupid for two-thirds of an episode and then have the “Time to be a hero!” moment* which lets things be resolved like grownups. Which means that every character gets a chance to be both the funny, stupid one and the straight man, depending on the scene, and that works just fine. Essays have already written on the fact that, because they have two black men and two Latina women, no-one has to be the token character or fit a stereotype. Really, despite the characters being able to be summed up as simple tropes, the depth the writers are able to cram into them is staggering.

Overall: Yes, this is great. Now to find the rest of the seasons.

* Yes, that was a PJ Masks reference. ARR has been watching it heavily since it was added to Netflix.
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Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten - A tower defense game with rpg elements, and as I think I established with Gemcrafter: Chasing Shadows, that's the thing that makes tower defense work for me: Being able to grind if I can't complete a level. Also, there are sliders that multiply your XP and gold rewards from battles, so you can adjust the difficulty level as you see fit. (I suspect that “serious” tower defense players would object to this, but whatever, who cares.) The plot doesn't take itself terribly seriously, with your main character being a straight woman to the wacky barbarians, craven archers, sociopathic cultists, etc. But I think that does well to prevent the game from being grimdark (this is against a background of being thrown in a plague pit/mass grave that a mysterious sorcerer is turning into his own personal zombie army), and it does hold together pretty well. I enjoyed this and would recommend it.

Injustice: Gods Among Us - A fighting game starring the Justice League (and assorted others), revolving around a world where the Joker nukes Metropolis and Superman goes nuts, kills him, and takes over the world. I'm not wild about the art style, especially for the female characters, but it's certainly not the worst I've seen in 30 years of reading comics. I appreciate that the story mode has a Very Easy setting, because I'm not good at fighting games (I just button mash to victory) but I was interested in seeing how the plot unfolded. I give them credit for making all of the matchups in the early game (before the “Kryptonian nanotech pills” excuse came up) ones that are feasible, with the possible exception of Aquaman taking down the Flash and Shazam in sequence. There are about a zillion different modes and a zillion things to unlock (I loved the variety of costumes they managed to include) so there’s no end to reasons to fight the sort of 2D matches made popular by Street Fighter. Mostly, I played the Story Mode and then decided that was enough for me. (Also, I had a hell of a time getting this to run. I reinstalled everything I could think of before finally just copying two missing DLL files from a different game.)

Breath of Death VII - This is a retro-jrpg that doesn't take itself the least bit seriously. In a dystopian future after humanity is wiped out, undead rule the world and a skeleton named DEM decides to go adventuring. Geek-culture references abound. The team that made this went on to make Cthulhu Saves the World, which uses the same system and same type of humor, but is a stronger game overall with slightly less repetitive dungeons and a better overall game-flow/experience curve. This is fun for the few hours it takes to play through, but I'm glad the developers built on this and improved it later.

Bastion - Three-quarter-view action/adventure game where the world builds itself around you, as you smash your way through it, trying to steal cores to rebuild the Bastion. I feel like I should like this more than I actually do, if that makes sense. I don’t even have a particularly good way of defining why it didn’t work for me, I just wasn’t won by the lore or the gameplay and didn’t want to keep playing it. Oh, well.

Destiny Warriors: Way of the Ninja - An RPGMaker game of low/middling quality, in which you play young ninjas-in-training who are sent on various missions. This doesn't take itself seriously but also manages to generally avoid being funny; the writing is riddled with repetitive tropes, typos, misspellings (What the hell is a low-rouge ninja?) and profanity. The systems are passable: It has variable difficulty levels, a variety of abilities and elemental weaknesses, some puzzles, sidequests, and tolerable battles. But the balance is kinda lousy and you have a tendancy to have to guess what will be useful or not, because the shops aren't available during missions. Reviews claim this is a 12-hour game, and that your effectiveness against random battles (even on easy mode) plummets in the final chapter. I was amused for a couple of hours, but not charmed enough to go the distance here.

Uticon

Oct. 3rd, 2017 10:06 am
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I spent this past weekend up in Utica, NY with my dad, where he was a guest at Uticon. We've been up before for this and similar cons (Ithacon, Mighty Mini-Con), and they're fun little one-room affairs with an artist's alley and a dealer's room all rolled into one. We hang out at my dad's table, he sells a few books and signs some autographs, we chat with the other guests, and I do some bin-diving to find fun things at bargain prices. The fact that a four-hour drive is involved is actually a bonus, as without ARR along I can sit in the front seat, sing along to whatever we want, and actually hang out with my dad.

(Jethrien also noted it was ridiculous that I was going to a con and getting a good night's sleep in the bargain, but without anyone waking me up early, I got to sleep until 7:30. Luxury!)

Though the turnout for the con was mediocre (the weather was lovely in Utica and people apparently weren't that excited about an indoor activity given that), the dealers were out in force with some nice stuff. I found a bunch of Transformers for ARR (two non-transforming McDonald's toys I negotiated free with a purchase, four $1 Legends-class movie figures, and a $6 Galvatron), got myself a bunch of trade paperbacks (mostly from a $2 box), and found the Transformers movie adaptation and movie prequel comics for cheap. ARR is definitely not ready for the Bayformer movies, if for no other reason that they go for over an hour without any robots showing up. But he clearly has interest in that timeline and I would like to read comics with him, so this seemed a decent compromise. The comic version cuts out a lot of the human screen-time in favor of more pictures of giant robots, and doesn't have the jerky-cam problem of Bay's directing style.

A standout comic, incidentally, was Gamer Girl and Vixen: Flirty Money, an indie comic that I spotted and thought, "That looks fun." And it is--lesbian supervillians have a meet-cute and become partners (in crime and otherwise). I'll want to keep half an eye on if this creative team does another Kickstarter.

Overall: A good time! We might do it again next year.
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When Luigi and Toad find a mysterious book in the castle's storeroom, they accidentally release the population of the Paper Mushroom Kingdom into their own—including Paper Bowser, Paper Bowser Jr., and Paper Kamek. Who proceed to team up with their 3D counterparts to kidnap both Princesses Peach and take over the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario, Luigi and Paper Mario to the rescue!

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Overall: Credit to the creators that each Mario & Luigi game has kept the same basic feel and gameplay but added enough quirks to make it feel like a different game. If you like non-series rpgs with action commands and lots of minigames, here you go (again).
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This was kind of a spontaneous “I had been hearing good things about it” watch; also thirteen 22-minute episodes isn't a particular commitment (and an easy binge-watch). Kristen Bell as an utterly terrible person is a good start to anything, really. I'm going to warn for spoilers here because I really enjoyed this and recommend watching it, and it'll work better if you aren't spoiled.

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Overall: This was a delight. Watch it.
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This was sorta-kinda a Blues Traveler concert, in that they did Blues Traveler songs, but it was more of a “chamber piece” setlist and featured only Popper and keyboardist Ben Wilson.

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Overall: I rather love the intime concert style City Winery offers. They're three for three for concerts I've seen there.
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Sky Conway, Tim Russ and Walter Koenig attempted to get their own Star Trek spinoff going a few years ago. They produced a pilot and called it "Star Trek: Renegades", and crowdfunded a bunch of money. You can read my review of that here. No one picked it up, so they tried to make it on their own, only to have Paramount come down hard on Trek fanworks, forcing them to file the serial numbers off of the final product. I think this was originally supposed to be a series, then a two-part movie. What was eventually released is an hour long. And it's kinda awful.

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Overall: ...I'm glad that was only an hour long and I didn't pay much for it.
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“Tell me again how you punched a dragon to get your magic hand.”

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Overall: I kinda wish they could have cut the drama and upped the snark in a couple of places; and this was an interim piece the same way Age of Ultron and Civil War were, even if it was a better-organized one. It's fun and doesn't feel stretched the way the other series do, but it also lacks some of the pathos because we can't concentrate on any one part.
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Star Wars! / yah-dah-dah Star Wars! / yah-dah-dah Star Wars! / Yah-da-da-DAH

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Overall: This follows the same formula as the other Lego games. We beat it in about 10 hours and didn’t feel much need to go back and find all the secrets; we just don’t have that kind of time at this point in our lives. Perhaps in a few more years, ARR will be able to join us for these games.
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A mercenary (“geohound”) named Ryudo is hired to accompany Elena, a songstress of Granas, in sealing the remains of the evil god Valmar. Unfortunately, the sealing does not go according to plan, and they both end up on a quest to find the other pieces of Valmar before he revives are destroys the world.

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Overall: There's plenty here. The systems are complex but understandable, the plot is decent and the dialogue is nicely done. The PS1-era graphic system drove me nuts. On the whole, I don't think it's much that I couldn't get from a KEMCO game--and the latter is portable and costs a buck. I apparently should have played this ten years ago rather than letting it sit on my shelf. Despite some decent concepts, it hasn't aged well.
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Harry Potter starring depressed millennial grad students instead of children. And boy oh boy, it’s another adventure in terrible life choices. Every character is like Barry Allen.

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Overall: If you like “superpowered characters making extremely poor life choices” as a genre, this is one of the purest examples I think I’ve seen.
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The main plotline about the Cluster from season 2 is wrapped up, then we have a season where Jasper is the real concern; then we get much more into a saga with the Diamonds, rulers of the Homeworld Gems.

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Overall: It irks me that Season 4 ends on a cliffhanger, but I think I'm going to wait until Season 5 finishes airing before I hunt down and watch that. This series has turned into something made for marathoning.
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Following the events of Jessica Jones, Luke has recovered and is working as a janitor and dishwasher up in Harlem. At a nightclub owned by criminal mastermind Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, who is connected to several sinister forces from Luke’s past.

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Overall: I’m not interested in Daredevil or Iron Fist, but I did want to watch The Defenders, and I wanted to watch this first to keep late-arrival spoilers to a minimum. I enjoyed it more than I expected to.
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Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick - I kinda wish I could have dinner with Anna Kendrick, but like, random pizza at a mutual friend's house low-stakes dinner. Because she seriously seems like such a fun person. And I realize that she's got an editor and was being diplomatic, but it's impressive she can be so grateful to the Twilight series for paying her rent while she got the rest of her career of the ground. And what she says about Stewart and Pattinson cements my theory that they were a great cast of people who were trapped in hell together. Though I think my favorite of her stories was about attending an awards show stoned off her face. I really enjoyed this book; it was a fast, enjoyable read and really funny.

I Did NOT Give That Spider Superhuman Intelligence! by Richard Roberts - A side-story to the Supervillian series, my initial impulse was that I didn't like the mostly-immortal Team Tiny as much as our usual middle-school protagonists; and that didn’t change much. Honestly, Irene isn't a terribly likeable character. She's taken it upon herself to be shallow and immature in her advanced age, and it's irritating. The story overall is uneven, and the ending is a bit of a whimper, as we don't even get to see the big fight between the truce-enforcers and the killers, not to mention the actual takedown of the Bad Doctor. And a bunch of bits either don't make sense or you have no idea why they're important unless you're up to date on the rest of the Supervillian series. I thought this was the weakest of this author's books that I've read.

How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel - Fascinating and blasphemous deep-dive into how the Hebrew bible has been interpreted, how we currently think it was constructed, and how much historical validity we can trace to the events therein. This is a very long and very dense book, and about a third of it is footnotes. (It probably could have used another editing pass--there are a bunch of repetitive bits in different chapters, and the “ancient interpretation / modern interpretation” formula breaks down in places, and the Kindle version screws up a number of the footnotes.) I was familiar with a bunch of the concepts, like the documentary hypothesis (JEPD etc. as different authors) but this gets into significant details of the history of that theory and its evolution. Also, I didn't realize how many of the Genesis characters directly related to later historical nations and people. (Cain and the Kennites was the one that really caught me off guard. But also the sons of Israel's tribulations and their relation to the historical fortunes of the corresponding tribes.) There’s a lot of material here—it does cover the entire Hebrew bible, after all—but if this author did a corresponding book on the Christian bible, I’d totally read that too.
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We took a Viking (brand name, not actual Vikings) river cruise down the Rhine, starting in the Netherlands and ending in Switzerland, though the only part of Switzerland we saw was the airport in the wee hours of the morning. We did have a lot of lovely excursions before that, though. I had already written up much of the blow-by-blow in emails to my parents, so I only need to slightly clean them up for posterity:

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Overall

I found this all very restful and relaxing--there's a lot to be said for having no real responsibility for a period of time. (And I've eaten a ton of cheese and sausage and my insides haven't punished me for it, which likely says a lot about the impact of stress.)

We were definitely the youngest guests on the ship. I wasn't expecting us to be the youngest people on our ship, but I was expecting it to skew older, and that's been okay. I've always been good at impressing people's parents.

We’d totally take another Viking cruise and recommend them.
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Slash or Die - The name is misleading, implying that some amount of slashing would, in fact, prevent your death. It will not. You will die, many many times, regardless of your ability to slash. Fortunately, your experience and gathered souls remain every time you die, and you can use them to upgrade your hero so as to hopefully survive longer next time in this mouse-driven slash-em-up. Repetitive, but moderately fun.

Fenix Rage - A puzzle platformer game with some Sonic inspiration. Jump/dash/go fast to collect cookies and avoid enemies in small, self-contained puzzle levels. I was underwhelmed, as there's certainly a puzzle element (which way you go, how you dash, etc), this is mostly dependent on your twitch reflexes, which I don't really have.

HassleHeart - A pixelated arcade-style game in which you play a rapidly-discharging robot. You need to lure various sorts of humans with power-ups that attract them (drugs for junkies, sushi for soccer moms, cash for bankers) and then punch them and steal their hearts to use for power. It’s cute, but very one-note.

EvilMorph - Balls-hard puzzle platformer with the gimmick that you turn into enemies you kill (in each stage), gaining their powers. To give you a good sense of the difficulty, I'll note this gives you achievements for dying a lot. It's strangely more fun than it warrants, but I did eventually get tired of pixel-perfect blind jumps and “gotcha” traps.

Obulis - An interesting take on the falling-marble puzzle game: The marbles are suspended by chains that you need to cut, in the right order and with the right timing, to get them to fall or bounce into the correctly-colored holes. I didn't find it particularly entertaining because the timing matters so much; even early on, being able to see a solution didn't necessarily mean you could implement it without half a dozen tries, and that's frustrating.

About Love, Hate and the other ones - A puzzle-platformer starring Love (a blob who can attract things) and Hate (who can repel them). Similar to Obulis, I give them credit for coming up with a new twist on a standard puzzle setup, but my brain didn't really click into it and I lost interest quickly.

Crazy Pixel Streaker - I guess this is a “dodge-em-up”? You're a streaker at a soccer game, and you need to attract fans to join you and fight off the players and security guards trying to stop you. From there it's pretty much a standard arena-fighter, of the variety you often see with hoards of zombies. Funny concept, not much game behind it.

VolChaos - A fun little puzzle-platformer without a lot of bells and whistles: You play an explorer who lost everything important to him in favor of just grabbing gems and outrunning lava. And you spend the game doing exactly that. Each level is timed and everything (especially the rising lava) is trying to kill you. Not much beyond that, but good for what it is.

Button Tales - A match-3 game with the twist that you can “flip” the buttons over to reveal other buttons, and those flips don't count as moves but can still make matches. You have limited moves otherwise, and there are an assortment of limited-use power-ups that you receive over time; and there are the usual assortment of goals that change for each level. And a framing story about rebuilding the button kingdom, but whatever, that part's forgettable. This requires a bit more patience than some other match-3 games (you really need to take the time to flip if you want to get anywhere in the later levels), but it's fun. I may play more of it over time.

Moorhuhn: Tiger and Chicken was also in the bundle, but I couldn’t get it to run without crashing.

Overall: This ended up being a decent collection of “that was fun for half an hour, now I’m done” sort of small indie games. Nothing I'd strongly recommend unless you're really into that genre/style, but entertaining for the price.
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Mad Bullets - This was the standout of the bundle: An arcade-style Old Western shooter to be played with your mouse. Procedurally-generated segmented areas so playthroughs aren’t always the same. Plenty of sub-missions to undertake. Doesn’t take itself seriously. Only mildly racist (as per the genre). Quite a lot of fun, really.

Elliot Quest - A clearly NES-inspired Metroidvania, featuring elements of Zelda 2, Metroid, Kid Icarus and Castlevania 2. It's got a world map that separates the action areas, a town, alternate endings depending on your actions, lots of good stuff. Unfortunately, it also has NES-level difficulty, and without a game genie, that's too much for me to deal with. (You have infinite lives, but lose XP every time you die. And dying is very easy, especially as you get past the first dungeon or two. So, yeah.)

Year Walk - There’s a fine line between, “mysterious and atmospheric” and “nonsensical and obtuse” and this is well into the latter. It’s an exploration game based on the Swedish myth of going on a “year walk” to try to divine the future. And there are puzzles that you can find and, if you thought Myst was easy, you might even be able to solve them.

Earth Overclocked - A ¾-view action/roguelike in which you have a limited time to gather the pieces of your time machine from “Distorted Earth”, where everything is trying to kill you. After it killed me—very quickly—several times, I decided to leave the world as it was.

Zombie Vikings - A delightfully tongue-in-cheek side-scrolling beat-em-up starring (you guessed it) zombie vikings, sent to retrieve Odin’s eye which was stolen by Loki. I thought it was okay, but I suspect the co-op multiplayer is the real meat of the game and I don’t have much interest in that.

This bundle also included Bloodsports.TV, Rack N Ruin, GemCraft - Chasing Shadows, which I already had from other bundles.

Overall: I got my money’s worth from Mad Bullets, and the others were fun to try, being reasonable guesses at things I might like that mostly just missed the mark.
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Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi - Scalzi's first novel, which apparently has been republished over and over as his other work continues to be popular. It's not quite as brilliant as some of his other work, but there are a lot of clever ideas. Some parts are trite or absurdly glossed-over, but they’re often different from the usual ones, so that’s nice. It's fun, it's funny, it's a fast read.

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage - Part travelogue, part informational, large part fuck-you to various hypocritical conservative pundits; the rough theme of this is Dan Savage looking at the seven deadly sins and writing a chapter of the current state of each in America. Really, it's a series of articles about things that interested him; interspersed with explaining exactly why Bennett, Bork, GW Bush, etc are sexist, homophobic and hypocritical assholes; and held together with a rough framework that's mostly an excuse. It feels dated to me, and I suspect it would be really weird for someone who wasn’t conscious of politics circa 2002. I thought The Kid was a much stronger book.

The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories by Terry Pratchett - A collection of Pratchett's earlier works (from when he was a teenager), intended for young readers. The description that kept coming into my head was, “Pratchett writing Just-So Stories,” though that's more about the tone than the content. They're cute, but fairly shallow and the best bits are the footnotes he clearly inserted later. I think this is only for the completist fan.

My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut by Hannah Hart - Hart is a Youtube star who I've follow on Tumblr for years; I enjoy her humor (generally off-the-cuff drunken wackiness) in measured doses. That said, the book is less a book and more a thrown-together series of long-form rants with a vague food theme. Each segment tries to vaguely drive towards a bit of positivity or a life lesson of some sort, but the progress towards it is scattershot at best. Sometimes there are puns; sometimes there is inexplicable hatred of vegetables. At basically no point is heat applied to food. This is entertaining, but leaves no lasting impressions.

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