AADL 2023 Staff Picks — Pulp Life

AADL 2023 Staff Picks: Homepage
➥ AADL 2023 Staff Picks: Words
➥ AADL 2023 Staff Picks: Screens
➥ AADL 2023 Staff Picks: Audio


Games, apps, sports, outdoors, and any other kind of hard-to-categorize cultural and life activities:



One Piece Card Game
I've enjoyed playing and competing in trading card games since I was little, but product fatigue for some of the games I play made me curious to look at new offerings. As a longtime fan of the One Piece manga by Eiichiro Oda, I was very interested to learn that Bandai was making a trading card game featuring the characters and events of the story. I got to try out a demo at GenCon and was immediately hooked by the simple but extremely well-designed gameplay. Featuring an interesting blend of mechanics reminiscent of Magic: The GatheringHearthstone, and Digimon, this leader-focused card-battling system is easy to learn but complex to master. My wife and I have been playing in tournaments every week since September, and are always excited for new sets coming out that might give us some fun new cards for our favorite decks. Bandai has a great learn-to-play app available for free on iOS and Android, but your Friendly Local Game Store is also a great place to learn how to play. We play weekly at Saline’s R U Game?, which has a great community; come learn to play! {Website}



A2CAF: Small + Indie Press
I was very excited to learn AADL was assembling a comics showcase for the older set, but when I read the names of its headliners, I had to pick my jaw up from off the floor. Despite her stratospheric talents, Jillian Tamaki sounded so down-to-earth as she discussed the process behind her newest graphic novel. An embarrassment of riches was displayed across all the festival tables, where I glimpsed King-Cat Comix and picked up Renkorama's great mini-comic Columbus in the Nineties. Can't wait for the next one! {Website}

Bicycle Film Festival
The Bicycle Alliance of Washtenaw brought this international showcase of short bike-flavored films to the State Theatre last winter (and will do so again in 2024!). Getting to watch the ingenuity, daring, and humor onscreen in a roomful of fellow bike fans was fantastic. {Website}

Second annual AADL Diplomacy tournament
What Lydia Polgreen wrote about the Survivor TV series also applies to the game Diplomacy: "It is, above all, a parable of success in America: Winning means being strong but not too strong, standing out by blending in, being smart but not too smart. Dissembling and deceitful but in a way that the ones you betray can’t help but admire you." In Diplomacy, you're constantly hustling, constantly stressed, always prepared to betray and be betrayed ... having fun, y'know? Before this tournament, I'd only played Diplomacy remotely (on the aptly-named Backstabbr interface), so getting to plot and be plotted against in person added a whole new dimension to things. {Website}

Cross-body bag
A friend measured, cut, and sewed together one for me back in February, and I've worn it practically every day since. It's probably saved me multiple hours' worth of frantic searching for the usual misplaced knickknacks. My version even has a (crucial) key leash.

I was just getting the hang of this wooden marble run set when it came due, so I'm left with a sense of unfinished business here. We'll meet again someday, Cuboro! {AADL}

This year brought several developments in the social media sphere. Amidst all the churn of other personal online communication platforms, my appreciation for this Web 1.0 staple deepened. It's so refreshing to find someone's well-tended blog and just breathe there for a minute. If you're considering starting a blog in the new year, this is your sign!



Decode Detroit
My favorite escape room is back with more puzzles in their new room Trouble in Paradise! This time you are in the lobby of a hotel trying to find the otherworldly disturbance that is causing objects to disappear. The folks behind Decode Detroit do such an amazing job making each experience immersive and fun. Bring your wits and your best friends! You’ll need both. {Website}



Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
I had the chance to revisit this museum this fall, and it felt like a field trip back to my childhood. The good ol' days. It was everything I remembered it to be. The exhibits are fun to look at or play with, and there is always an educational value behind each one. The folks who designed the museum are simply brilliant. Would definitely return in the future. {Website}

Community High School Ensemble Theater
(2023; original play premiered in 1978 by Tina Howe)

A hilarious and entertaining play told from the perspective of the art exhibit on display. The audience is seated in three of the four cardinal directions surrounding the stage, playing the role of three large paintings that the cast members view in the story. It is the last day of this art exhibit, and who would have guessed that it'd be the busiest and most chaotic day for one museum guard? How does someone obtain permission to photograph the artwork? Are the round-ended clothespins on display simply there to admire, or are they free souvenirs for the taking? Is there actually a secret message hidden amongst one of the exhibits? The answers to these questions and more can be found by visiting the Museum. {Website}

The most delicious plant-based egg substitute that I have eaten. I generally prepare it scrambled or as an omelet with some white rice. I have found the liquid product at Ann Arbor's local Whole Foods, Meijer, Kroger, and Target, while the frozen folded versions were found at Whole Foods and Kroger. {Website}

I'm exploring new ways to get creative. I've visited library events to learn how to make mini-books, use ink stamps to make art, and even purchased a 3D-printed cosplay accessory to finish myself (involving sanding, filling, priming, and spray painting).



BIG: Best in Games

My partner and I take my niece and nephew for a “day out” for their birthdays. My nephew wanted to play mini golf, but unfortunately, it was pouring rain that day, so after seeing a movie, we went across the street to BIG. I figured we’d just play arcade games for a while, but to my surprise, they have an indoor mini-golf course—just nine holes but they’re unique (one involves hitting your ball through a small hall of mirrors) and great fun! We played mini golf and arcade games and had a great time for a few hours! It’s a little bit pricey in my opinion, but then again it’s been forever since I’ve been in an arcade. It’s not a place I’m going to visit every week, but for special occasions, it’s fun! Perhaps next time we’ll try the laser tag or trampolines. {BIG: Best in Games}



Unstable Unicorns
We got this game as a present a couple of years ago, but we never had the opportunity to play it until this past year. It’s quickly become a family favorite! The rules are pretty straightforward, and the gameplay is only about 30 minutes. We all laugh at how creative the game makers were when they came up with the variety of unicorns. {Unstable Games}

CTH Improv
My best friend and I decided to attend one of the improv shows at the Community Theater of Howell on a whim. It was great fun! The artists interacted with the audience, and they kept the scenarios and scenes rolling. I’m looking forward to attending another of their shows in the future. {Website}



Middle Age Dad Jam Band

I saw Middle Age Dad Jam Band perform at the Blind Pig in September, and it was just about the most fun, entertaining, and hilarious show I’ve been to in ages. The band is middle-aged dads, but they are a large crew of comedians we know from television, and they happen to be talented musicians—I went to see Ken Marino and David Wain. The band performs cover songs of rock favorites while performing bits in between. They sounded amazing and I was blown away. The whole experience before, during, and after was surreal. {Website}

Just in general. I started listening to them in 2020, and I slowly got more used to them over time. Now I am a fanatic and like to listen to a few books at a time, in addition to reading physical books. I know it can be a hard medium for some to get used to (me!), but I am so glad I carried on because now I can consume even more books! {AADL} {Overdrive}



This past month I took a second stab at NaNoWriMo, this time in company with a friend who's also writing her first novel. I fell short of 50k again this year, but I got a whole lot closer than last time—and I feel like I got much more out of the exercise this time around than just words on the page. I gained a ton of confidence in my writing, learned techniques for placating my inner perfectionist, developed a daily writing habit, and most importantly, forged a creative partnership to help see me through the rest of this process, wherever it takes me. I have no idea when this book will hit shelves, but I know who's got top billing in the acknowledgments. {Website}

Spontaneous road trips
My spouse and I celebrated our very first wedding anniversary in September by renting a car and taking off for a week with pretty much no plan. Not at all our usual style—it just sort of happened. We ended up wandering through Indiana, checking out roadside attractions (shoutout to Michael at the world's largest ball of paint) and spending the night in a repurposed grain silo before making our way to Indianapolis, where we visited museums and made pilgrimages to sites from our favorite John Green novels. For the last leg of the trip, we looped back up to Michigan and spent a few days in Holland. Highlights included extra-long morning walks in beautiful public parks, going full tourist mode at Windmill Island Gardens, and three nights in a row of soft serve from Captain Sundae. Going plan-free worked really well for us! Maybe a new anniversary tradition?

Friendship bracelets
I got way into fun beaded bracelets this year. Collecting them led to repairing and restringing them, which inevitably led to making my own. It's a simple, relaxing activity that keeps my hands busy while I'm watching a movie or listening to an audiobook, and I even get a little accessory out of it! Also, many of my closest friends live pretty far away, and I'm always looking for ways to let them know I'm thinking of them. So that's how I ended up making friendship bracelets in my late 20s. The singular joy of seeing my favorite people wearing matching plastic jewelry I made for them has not tarnished with age.



Glenlore Trails
The Haunted Forest and Aurora
Commerce Township

A unique trail walking experience! My first trail was two Halloweens ago, experiencing The Haunted Forest for the first time. The theme for that one was different than the current iteration: Carn-Evil. There is so much to see and touch and do, even a skeleton horse race! Even just walking through, there was so much to take in that there was not a dull moment. Interactive, beautiful, festive, musical, and not-so-scary, Glenlore offers a unique way to celebrate Halloween and the winter season. Aurora is a mesmerizing walk through a winter wonderland and such a fun way to enjoy what some see as an otherwise blah season. Oh, and they have drinks (adult and otherwise), and snacks, too! {Website}



Roll and write/flip games
There's a real joy when you discover the genre of board game you enjoy the most and spend the rest of the year trying out as many as you can with your friends/family. I have found the board games I love the most are low-cost, low-setup, easy to learn, and high replayability. I found myself stumbling into the world of roll and write/flip games when my friend introduced me to Railroad Ink earlier this year. What is a roll-and-write game? Yahtzee is probably the most popular and simple of the versions. Essentially you roll some dice, or flip some cards, and allocate whatever is on those dice or cards accordingly. In theory, it sounds boring, but I have played so many I loved this year. If you are interested, here's the list: Railroad Ink, Voyages (and anything by Postmark Games), Welcome to the Moon (or ...the Neighborhood) and so many more. Board Game Geek is a good place to peruse through them, so I'll link that here! {Board Game Geek}

Heat: Pedal to the Medal
board game

You and up to six people race around a track playing cards to shift gears and trying not to spin out around corners to become the ultimate victor. This game is addicting, easy to learn, and fun! {Board Game Geek}



I call these “picks for surviving early parenting years in Ann Arbor.” 

The Playgrounds at Eberwhite Elementary
Ann Arbor has a brilliant number of playgrounds and parks, but the sheer magnitude and variety of options at Eberwhite Elementary School make it worth the trek from your neighborhood park. There’s (usually) a port-a-potty by the parking lot, and the Eberwhite Woods are right there and perfect for a little hike in the shade. Be sure to go around the back of the school for the playground option that’s probably best suited to toddlers and younger elementary-age kids. There are more swings and ADA accessible things back there, too. {Website}

Holiday’s Restaurant
For those OMG-please-don’t-make-me-cook-dinner nights, Holiday’s is great for families with young children. The West Stadium Boulevard restaurant is usually not too busy for dinner (though their senior menu seems to draw a regular crowd), so kids can make the usual amount of kid noise without causing side-eyes from the patrons. The staff is incredibly kind and knows how to work with kids (bringing extra napkins and crayons, not filling kid drinks all the way, and using code to ask grownups about dessert). And, they serve breakfast all day, so it’s entirely OK to order waffles with a side of broccoli. The bird feeders outside the windows are also a nice distraction for kids and adults alike. {Website}

Suckers at Zingerman’s Next Door
In a stroke of marketing brilliance, Zingerman’s Next Door stocks 25-cent suckers in old-fashion glass jars right at toddler height. The kids get a small treat, and grownups think they’re getting away with a cheap purchase; might as well throw in a pair of rugelach and a turmeric ginger latte. {Website}

Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan’s MomShare Support Group
This virtual support group for new and expectant moms and their babies was a lifeline during the pandemic, and its virtual (and free) setup is still an invaluable resource into the toddler years. Pop in on a lunch hour (or nursing/pumping session) to connect with other moms, discuss joys and challenges, and learn about resources provided by the Women’s Center facilitators or presenters. The occasional ask-a-doc sessions are a great opportunity to ask a pediatrician that nagging question you had about sunblock/sleep/nutrition/milestones/are babies supposed to sound and smell like that? {Website}  

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum Membership
Here’s what I discovered about memberships to museums/zoos/etc.: You can go for less than an hour and leave without guilt. The joy of being able to spontaneously go to some sort of fun activity place without committing to seeing everything and spending every single minute of your day there just to get your money’s worth (meltdowns be damned) is glorious. Need to kill some time on a miserable day between the farmers market and lunchtime (assuming, of course, that you already have plans to be at the library in the afternoon)? Pop into the Hands-On Museum for 45 minutes so your kids can sit in the ambulance and dance on the interactive dance floor. Membership is $100 for a year-long base-level family membership, which pays for itself fairly quickly (and again: no guilt for short visits). The other perk is that a lot of museums and activity centers offer reciprocity with their memberships; with AAHOM you can get into the Michigan Science Center in Detroit (which I also recommend) for half the price. {Website}



New York Public Library
Ubering directly from LaGuardia, I said hello to Patience and Fortitude, did freelance work in the Rose Main Reading Room, and stared in awe at a Gutenberg Bible and tens of other treasures literary and otherwise.

Walking in Central Park
My foot hurt for a week and a half after the fact, but my walk in maybe the most famous park in America was one of my favorites ever.

Taking the bus
This could just indicate a privileged, suburban perspective, but taking the bus recently has felt like capital "T" Travel, even in my own town—and "Travel" feels important lately.



Detroit Lions football
Sure, the trajectory hasn't been quite as good as we'd hoped, but it still sure has been fun to have a pretty decent football team again. Lions fans are hyped, and why not?! We've suffered for years and shout-outs to Goff, St. Brown, Hutch, the rest of the squad, and especially Motor City Dan Campbell for giving us a reason to turn our TVs on again on Sundays. Go Lions! {Website



Lillie parkrun
It’s been proven that spending time in nature is good for your physical and mental health, so a regular event like Lillie parkrun is always on my calendar and I’m going to list it here every year. {Website}



Connections game
New York Times
So much more fun than Wordle! Given 16 words, you have to try to figure out the connections between terms to sort them into related groups of four. No need for a NYT account to play. My whole extended family is obsessed with this daily brainteaser. {Website}



by Orta Therox & Zach Gage

Seeking an answer to the NYT's ownership of the daily puzzle space, Hearst hired puzzle game auteur Zach Gage and let him loose to create the ultimate daily "newspaper" puzzle page. As of now, you still have to get lucky and be one of the first to solve a puzzle each day to get in, but access is steadily increasing. Since getting in a few weeks ago, Puzzmo.com has become a daily stop for me. Including some of Gage's classics like Spelltower and Really Bad Chess, alongside an outstanding daily crossword and some new innovations to try, Puzzmo ups the ante on the daily puzzle page and is headed for greatness. Unconvinced? Check out Zach's manifesto. {Puzzmo}



Lifting weights
Most people who have had conversations with me this year have had to endure hearing me talk about strength training at some point. I don’t deny that I have somehow found myself part of the cult. I take creatine every day and a huge tub of whey powder has appeared in my kitchen. I study videos on squat technique. My exercise shoes are a pair of Chuck Taylors. What happened? Simply, I learned to love the lift. Deadlifts in particular are my favorite, where you pick a loaded barbell up off of the floor. It’s just you and the bar. It is heavy. You pick it up. You challenged yourself, met the challenge, and get to come back in a couple of days and try again. Maybe you can lift more, maybe you can’t. It’s OK. The bar knows how hard you’re working.

To be clear, I am not a poster child for strength training. Let’s just say that I do not have a natural gift for physical strength or stamina, nor am I what people visualize when you say the word “weight lifter.” But I just show up to the gym like I do everywhere else: wearing a baseball hat with my shirt tucked in weird and carrying a notebook. I just step up to the power rack, load up the barbell, and work out. How much or little I lift in comparison to others doesn’t matter.

Strength training is an often-overlooked component of the CDC/WHO adult physical activity guidelines. Medical experts believe that every adult should spend some time exercising all muscle groups at least two days a week. Who knew?! Strength training's physical benefits are enormous and it's of the greatest benefit to groups of people who don’t fall into the gym rat stereotype: women, older folks, people with chronic pain. It’s a shame I stayed away for so long because I thought I didn’t belong. We all do.

Field Notes
I am a lifelong lover of tiny books of all kinds. I read them, I write in them, and as a bookbinder, I make them. And this year I got into Field Notes: the US-made, design-obsessed pocket memo books. Seriously, they tell you on every one that they only use fonts in the Futura family—it’s that level of stationery nerdom. Field Notes have been on my radar for a long time. We ordered some with AADL logos in past Summer Games, and Field Notes’ founder, Aaron Draplin, did the Summer Game art in 2019. But this year I really got into carrying around tiny notebooks with me wherever I go. There’s just something that feels special about Field Notes, and they are durable enough to stand up to daily wear. {Website}

Unsubscribe button
Unsubscribe here? Yes, please. Unfollow here? Absolutely, don’t mind if I do. Suddenly, I am liberated from your thrice weekly sales announcements and long-winded navel-gazings. I’m sorry that you’re sorry to see me go, but I’m not.



Sticker books  
Are you afraid of commitment but love stickers? Consider a sticker book with waxed pages to stick your stickers where they can be organized without the permanent commitment!

Moonlight on Roseville Beach
Anyone who plays TTRPGs knows there’s a difference between playing role-playing games and buying role-playing games. I haven’t gotten to play this yet, but the book is beautiful! Described as “A Queer Game of Disco & Cosmic Horror,” you play amateur sleuths and monster hunters protecting your 1979 queer beach town from cosmic horrors, vindictive necromancers, fantastical beasts, and conservative politicians. The layout uses public domain art mainly used in pulp novels and it is an absolute delight through and through. (Website)



Plant swaps
The past few years have shown an uptick in public interest in houseplants. I fell victim to the craze in 2020, and have since built up an enormous tropical plant collection. It turns out there are a lot of people in the community with a similar level of interest, and going to plant swaps is a great way to connect and trade plants. The Planted Life hosted two this year in the area, and they were the best events of my year! {Instagram}



Going to concerts
I went to 12 shows this year—and it would have been 13 if one hadn’t been canceled. (I’m looking at you, RINI). I had so much fun at all of them, but here are a few standouts (not including Keshi and Suga, who I talked about in my music picks).

I saw P1Harmony at the Chicago Theatre in January and that show was a blast. The audience plays a large part in the experience of a show, and this crowd had so much energy and was so hyped to be there that it was impossible not to have fun. P1Harmony crushed with their vocals and dancing. The theater/security staff were very unorganized about where people were supposed to be while waiting outside to get into the venue, and it turned into a bit of a mob scene, but that was all forgotten once P1H started performing. I 100 percent would see them again.

I took my friend to see Epik High at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit for their birthday earlier this year, and the group put on a great show. The place was packed, and while the crowd didn’t quite know what to do with themselves at the beginning, Epik High immediately took care of that, making sure everyone was hyped up and jumping. I wasn’t very familiar with them going in, but coming out of that show I already couldn't wait to see them again. (And they already teased a 2024 tour … so I probably will.)

I saw Eric Nam at The Fillmore, with my best friend, after missing him at St. Andrew’s Hall last February and experiencing a year and a half of FOMO. This concert was one of my absolute favorite concerts of all time! It was a fun show! Every song was my favorite, we were singing and dancing, and we got moved from the balcony to a VIP table on the main floor—we were living! 10/10 would recommend. I saw him three days later in Chicago when I was there for a different concert, and while it didn’t stand a chance to live up to that first experience, it was still so much fun. 

Dying my hair
This year I went from having black and white hair to having silvery lavender hair, and I hit redhead and blonde along the way. It’s been a lot of fun playing with different colors. Shouts out to Betty Green Salon in Downtown Ypsilanti for taking such good care of my hair. {Website}

More AADL Staff Picks:
➥ 2022

➥ 2021
➥ 2020
➥ 2019
➥ 2018
➥ 2017
➥ 2016