Girls Play Chess


Hi, I’m R. My wife created the Geeks and Lollipops blog to talk about home schooling and raising our daughters who self identify as geeks and girly girls. Fortunately, since they are home schooled no one has told them yet that robots and dinosaurs aren’t girly. (Seriously, gender assigning science fiction is moronic, but I digress.)

So one day I asked, “Hey, you want me to contribute some stuff about games and the kids?” While we all play games I do tend to be the ringleader. She said, “sure.” There was great enthusiasm. She was whooping and hollering with joy. On the inside. Quietly. But I know it was there.

Anyway…. great plans were made. Then I did nothing for three weeks. Then International Women’s Day happened and I said to myself “hey, we’re raising women here, I should do this!” And so here we are with my first gaming blog entry.

As a homeschooling parent I’m an educator who uses games to teach. I’m a librarian too and have done public events with games. And finally I’m a geeky dad who is raising geeks. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about games – history of games, theory of games, the playing of games and the value of the experience both educational and entertainment.

Normally we will talk about more contemporary games but I thought I would start with a well-known classic – Chess. When I used to work in a public library I was always amazed at our chess events – they were almost all boys. I have girls at home who learned chess from me and they enjoyed it. Was it only being taught to boys? Were they the only ones being invited? I don’t know but in my experience girls enjoy chess just as much as boys but there are things about teaching chess I don’t like; more on that shortly.

I’m going to assume that everyone knows what chess is and most of you probably know the rules. If you don’t they are readily available with a quick Google search. Chess is well known for good reason. There are chess clubs, professional organizations, books and software galore. Perhaps no other game has the cultural weight and respect of chess in the western world. Unfortunately that level of exposure has also led to it being analyzed to death and having a reputation as a bit stodgy and unwelcoming.

It isn’t that the game is hard to come by. You can buy the cheapest plastic set, a travel set with magnets or free phone apps to play against another person and they are as good as thousand dollar sets. You can even make your own for pennies with a pen, ruler, some paper and scissors. It is the game play that has both good and bad.

The good of chess is that it has great tactical depth due to the significance of your choices and lack of randomness. It’s also completely open with no hidden information, which makes it great for teaching even if you’re playing with the student. The lack of randomness has disadvantages too though. Because the board starts in a static position there are a reasonably few variants on the first few turns. Indeed, memorizing is a major part of the game, which is not fun but does quickly separate experience levels.

And if you want to play chess like this that’s great and it is a great game. There are legions of resources to help you play it like this from theory tutorials to patterns to memorize to problems to solve. But it’s also not the only way to play it…

A standard 8x8 chess board with pieces on the side.

A standard 8×8 chess board with pieces on the side.

There are thousands of chess variants. I am only going to talk about a few you can play with a standard chess board and pieces or some things you can add from your local crafts store for a couple of bucks.   Nor am I going to talk about variants that use random resolution between pieces. To me that changes the spirit of the game. The shared thread of these variants is that they shake up the experience and show ways to make chess more welcoming to new players. Seasoned players have less of an advantage due to memorized patterns and gambits but gain a more novel experience that can bring fun back to the game.

First – Who Watches the Watchmen?

A standard chess setup showing the added Watchmen pieces.

Answer: your rooks. and pawns. and bishops. anyway, you get the idea.

This first variant uses so called Fairy Pieces. This term is used for chess variants that add new pieces to the board. This version was initially inspired by a version I read in a Piers Anthony novel when I was a teenager. I’ve since discovered I completely misremembered what was in the book and like my version more.

To represent the pieces I’m using two pawns from another plastic set and these are the Watchmen. Watchmen rules are defined as follows: they can move any direction like a king but one or two spaces at a time. They cannot take another piece nor be taken. Therefore, they are spoilers that block lanes and create problems. This simple change makes a huge change to the game.

This variant has put only two, one per player, on the board but you could easily vary the number (make it two per), change where they are and change the number of squares they move.

Next up: Chess960

While I wouldn’t ask anyone to listen to Bobby Fischer’s political or social stances he is

Setting up the Bishops in a Chess960 setups.

Setting up the Bishops in a Chess960 setups.

worth listening to about chess and he has long been concerned about the same issues I’ve mentioned. He did not create the idea of randomizing pieces but he did experiment for the best way to do it in a form that would preserve critical game elements while introducing randomness to the setup. It’s now alternatively called Fischer Random Chess or Chess960 (for the 960 possible starting board positions).

Here you can see me doing a random setup by the rules, using some six-sided dice to assist in the random selection.

Determining the position of the rooks in a Chess960 setup.

Determining the position of the rooks in a Chess960 setup.

Rule 1) Bishops must be placed on opposite-color squares. Since there are four of each I roll two six sided dice and re-roll anything above a four or if the numbers come up the same. Going from left to right, that gives me the squares to put them in.

Rule 2) The king must be placed on a square between the rooks. With six places

Moving black pieces to mirror white randomized setup.

Moving black pieces to mirror white randomized setup.

left I roll to see where the rooks go. In this case I ended up with only one spot between them, if I had more than one I would have rolled for where the king ended up.

Then I rolled to determine all other locations. After setting up white I put black down in parallel locations.

If you want you could even combine this with the Watchmen or other fairy pieces and make the game even more different.

Next: Hordes Chess

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with World of Warcraft. Also called Dunsany Chess this create uneven sides for a very different play experience. One side is a standard board and the other has 32 pawns. At one time I might have had 32 pawns between sets but one set was mostly lost thanks to little children. I know, games losing pieces with kids, it’s unimaginable isn’t it? It was a cheap plastic set and they were learning so it’s not so bad. But, anyway, since I’m short I’m instead substituting some beads from a crafts store.

Just imagine each of those pawns is an orc and get to work.

Just imagine each of those pawns is an orc and get to work.

I’ve cheated a bit here, as in Dunsany chess the pawns should be white but if you’re making the rules when you play variants! Also, only the normal side gets two squares to move on the first turn with pawns.  One nice thing about this variant is that is allowed me to let my daughters play the pawns which have simpler rules while I played the side with more rules so that they could learn the movements while I played with them them.  Time learning while playing is always better than just listening to your mom or dad explain stuff!

So, there you go, three ways to play chess variants and involve your biological spawn … er, children, and encourage them to play games. Enjoy!


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Gamer Girls and Local Game Stores

There was a report done a few years back that said over 60% of Americans are gamers of some kind (Monopoly and Sorry are games and do count). Of this percentage, over 50% were women.  But you wouldn’t know that from walking into most of your local game stores. 

Ten years ago if you walked down the game aisle at Target you would see Checkers, Monolopy, Game of Life, Sorry, Chutes and Ladders, etc. But today you will see such geeky games as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Ticket to Ride Europe, Fluxx, and Smash Up (among others), games you normal do not find unless you visit your local game store. 

Most people buy a game, take it home, and only play with family, or friends who come to visit. This is the way I grew up. As an adult with children, though, I have discovered the joys of my local game store.  Did you know, you can bring your board games to a store and play with people there? You don’t have to listen to your kids whine because they are being forced to play with you again. You don’t have to wait until your friends are available to come over. 

My game store, Abubika, is wonderful. It has a community for almost anything game related you could possibly be interested in playing. Miniature games, dice games, living card games, collectible card games, and board games. In fact, you will find a huge selection of board games available to play for free (which is pretty standard in most game stores I have visited). There are even RPG groups you can join. 

But, walk into any game store in the country and you will see mostly men and boys. If you walk in the gaming area of a Con you will see the same. Yet this study indicates that over half of all gamers are women. Where are we?!

I suffer from pretty severe social anxiety. I had to down medication before heading to my game store for the first few months. I have gone into stores ready to play and been completely ignored in the past, so this was expectation going to my game store the first time. I was pleasantly surprised to find a warm and welcoming crowd which welcomed me and my geeky interests with open arms. 

We have been playing here for over a year now. Some days we even being both of the littles (aged 7 and 9 years old). Our 9yo even plays WarmaHordes with other adults in the store. She also loves to play Magic with us at home. 

We are seeing more women come into the game store lately and I am loving the change. But the question in the forefront of my mind is, what can game stores do to bring more females into their stores and keep them? How can we promote a community of social female gamers?

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Cooking Tip – Creamy Soups

The key to making a nice silky, creamy soup is to use creme fraiche as a topping to be stirred into the finished soup. Why?  It doesn’t curdle when boiled, unlike most creams and sour cream.  It has a light, refined flavor that you can’t get with just sour cream – you can add heavy cream to the sour cream to get a similar flavor, but it will separate when you add it to your soup base.


If you live in a large, urban city then you may be able to find it in your local grocery store.  But, if you’re like me, then finding it can be a challenge in smaller towns – and finding it at a reasonable price is even harder.


The cure?  Make your own.  Yes, it’s easy.  Just add one Tablespoon of buttermilk into one Cup of heavy cream.  Stir, then let sit at room temperature for 8-48 hours.  Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for up to two weeks.  See?  Easy!  If you want to add it as a topping for fruit, you can add vanilla and sugar to taste.


Now, go and grab a soup recipe and give it a try.  I promise, you will be amazed!

tomato soup


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This year I have done a lot traveling. We went to Hood River, Oregon this spring. It was beautiful. Our hotel room looked out right onto the river, complete with a family of geese that came by every day. 


This summer saw us in San Francisco. This city by the bay has so much history! Plus, we were there the week the ruling came down from the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage for the entire country – which just happened to fall on the same week as their gay pride parade!


But, by far, my favorite place was Alcatraz. 


We learned the island was first a fort during the civil war, then a penitentiary. Then we learned about the Indian occupation during the 70s. It was all so fascinating!


Then, just last month, was a visit to Mrytle Beach. We all got extremely sunburned – even after being lathered in sunscreen – but we had so much fun in the surf! 


So what kind of traveling have you done this year? What fascinating things did you learn about the place?

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Black History Month Lesson


Mother in the 70s responds to question about keeping her children home from school because she doesn’t want local schools to be segregated.

Friday I decided to go to The Museum of the New South in Charlotte, NC as a field trip for the girls.  We are in the beginning of Black History Month at the Hamby Academy and learning about the Civil Rights Movement.  I skipped some important Civil War lessons to begin with this because of the exhibit at the museum – From Selma to Montgomery.  We did look at the log cabins and the old cotton gin they have on display.  We talked about the lunch counter display from the sit in at the old Woolworth’s building (which isn’t there any more) and The Friendship Nine counter sit in in Rock Hill (which IS still there).  They also had a bus with a video feed of when segregated schools and busing began in Charlotte.  [Really, lady in the video, you would rather go to jail than send your kids to school with children of other colours??!!]

Separate but equal?  Not at all!

Separate but equal? Not at all!







The girls saw displays of black and white water fountains.  They were completely befuddled by why people would think the water was any different.  Also, why was the one for blacks so “icky looking” – the pipes showed and were rusty and the girls said they wouldn’t want to drink out of it.

I will never understand those who hate simply because of someone's skin colour.

I will never understand those who hate simply because of someone’s skin colour.







I think the hardest part for them was the exhibit of photographs showing the peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery and the police officers in gas masks tear gassed people.  They also used clubs to beat men, women, and children who did nothing more than dare to ask for themselves to be seen as equals in society.  People on the side of the roads with hateful signs.  It made my 8 year old cry.  I made me come very close.

I don't think this guy has read the Constitution.  Or its preamble.  Or the Bill of Rights. ...

I don’t think this guy has read the Constitution. Or its preamble. Or the Bill of Rights. …

She said it was a lot to think about and she needed time to process before she could share her thoughts on our experience.  But one things she said stood out to me.  “Mom, I don’t understand why people hate someone because the colour of their skin.  It doesn’t make sense.  People are people.”

We talked about everything we saw, while on the way home from the museum.  We talked about why it was important to learn about these things.  Why it was import to talk about what happened.  And why the violence still hasn’t completely gone away.  If we don’t remember the struggle, if we don’t talk about the horrible things in our past history, it is bound to happen again.  We need to be able to recognize it for for what it is, about who the people who hate really are.  Call a spade a spade, people.  Racists.  Racists need to be called out.  If they aren’t, we will see the violence again.  And not just in the killings of unarmed black kids, and the lack of prosecution in those cases.  But in political leaders trying to make voting as difficult as possible at the poles, in police stopping a person of colour in certain neighborhoods, in store managers following around people while they shop simply because they aren’t white.  Remember.  Never forget what people have fought so hard for, for what people have died for.  Do not let those today take away their hard won freedoms.


Peace Meets Violence

Peace Meets Violence



MLK Speech



What are some of the things we are missing?  What are some of the things you are going into with your classes and kids?  Let’s share ideas!




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Shed Happens: A Shark Rotator Review

Geeking out over new vacuum

Geeking out over new vacuum


I love animals.  I also help local rescue groups with transport and fostering.  I also own dogs with goals to cover everything with their cast off dog hair.  I kid you not.  My husband has one of those glue paper rolls at work to take off the dog hair when he gets in the office.  My reusable grocery bags elicit the comment, “So, dogs or cats?” from farmers market people. (Answer is, both…and rabbits, too.)  I have to sweep no less than every other day or my hallways and doorways look like they haven’t been touched in months.  Sweeping is a pain, but I hate the hair more.

What do you mean I shed??

What do you mean I shed??

Back a few months ago I attended a conference for bloggers, and the people from Shark were there.  They were launching a new vacuum and had it on display.  I own one of their steam mops and love it to death.  But I have had vacuum cleaners for my dog hair and have had very few good, long lasting results.  They will run great for a week or two and then their motors get overwhelmed and they are no good in about three to six months.

So I mentioned my disbelief to the ladies at the conference.  They were ready for this.  They had BAGS of hair.  They dumped one on the show floor and let me wield the machine myself.  The vacuum was light and the vacuum head swiveled, so you could move it around easily – and it went under the couch they had set up in their booth.  I was sold.  After stopping by their booth a few times and talking to them at length I told them I was buying one at the end of that month, when they were released to the public.

A week later one of their representatives contacted me and asked if I would like to receive one for free, try it out, and then blog to you nice people about what I discovered.  Our home is 2200 square feet.  The only carpet in the house is in our walk in closet, the rest is vinyl (bathrooms) and hardwood floors.  I was so excited they chose me to help get the word out on this vacuum.

The Shark Rotator comes with a hardwood floor attachment, with a reusable cloth to pick up all the little dust and hairs the vacuum misses, so I was covered for the whole house!  And let me tell you, that attachment has become my best friend!  It also has a wand attachment for the couch – it is magic!  I can vacuum all of the public spaces in the house in about fifteen minutes now.  And I have been running this for about two months, and the Rotator is still going as strong as day one.  AND I have yet to get a tangle of hair in the rollers!

Let me reiterate something here.  I was prepared to purchase this vacuum on my own.  If the company wrote me tomorrow and told me they were thankful for the review and could I return the vacuum, I would cry before sending it back – and then promptly go out and buy one of my own.  THAT is how much I love this vacuum.  It makes cleaning up around the rabbit cages so much easier.  The wands detach easily and the attachments go on and come off easily.  This is seriously one of the easiest to use vacuums I have ever had.  You can even detach the canister from the vacuum body and carry it around and up and down stairs.  And the lift away lets you vacuum fit under the couch and chairs, so you don’t have to move them around!

I would recommend this vacuum to all of friends and family.  My animals….probably wouldn’t.  They would all prefer I go back to the broom and dust pan.  And let them battle to the last man standing with the vacuum.

Bilbo is not as big a fan of the vacuum as I am.

Bilbo is not as big a fan of the vacuum as I am.

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Children and Choices

I just read an article on Huffington Post about Yulia Volkova, former member of the Russian girl band t.A.T.u, saying she would condemn her son if he came out as a gay, but she would be ok with her daughter being lesbian.  This floored me.

Why would one be more acceptable than the other?  Apparently, she believes it looks better to see two women holding hands and kisses than two men. “A man must be a man,” she is quoted as saying.  Men must procreate.  Ummm, ok, but if that is your reasoning, they need a woman to procreate with, right?  Choose one side or the other, but please get off the fence!  Relationship choices isn’t about what looks pretty, it is about who you love, who you are attracted to, not what will look better in a picture.

Our children need to feel supported, they need to know they are loved.  This is the only way they can grow healthy and happy.  It’s like telling your kid who wants to be a cowboy that you will disown him unless he becomes a doctor.  If your child can make a living and support himself/herself by being a cowboy/girl, then why wouldn’t you be happy that they found a career that makes them happy???

I have always told my daughters that I will love and support them in all of their decisions.  All I have are girls, but if I had a boy I would tell him the same thing.  I think seeing two people in love holding hands and kissing is the best thing.  We need more lovebirds in this world!


So, Yulia, this is my response to you:  Love your children and their choices.  Be their mother and support them in whom they love, male or female, boy or girl.  BE THEIR MOTHER.

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