Ten New Games for Long Car Rides

October is the month for retreating in New England. This week I’m in between two retreats to New Hampshire, my 11th and 12th fall retreats there in my six years of grad school — I’ve gone to all six math department retreats, four with my church, and two with the Graduate Christian Fellowship.

Retreats in grad school have provided what frisbee tournaments in college and sightseeing across the Western US in my childhood did: Long car or bus rides. When I’m not sleeping, getting to know or catching up with people, or just pontificating on society in general together, it’s often the right context to play some kind of game with the other passengers.

But given the moving environment and constrained seating positions, such rides don’t easily lend themselves to nearly any of the board games in our collection. Card games like Hanabi or A Game for Good Christians probably come closest but often those need some kind of surface to play onto. Growing up, my siblings and I would keep a wooden tray under one of the seats in our mini-van, which we would then place on the armrests of the two captain’s chairs for such a surface on which to play card games, but that was always a bit imperfect as cards would slide around whenever we went around a windy mountain road.

In this post, though, I want to focus on games that don’t require any advance preparation or equipment. Many of these games typically spread by word-of-mouth, but I’m hoping that by articulating them in a blog post, we can speed up that process. They aren’t all “new” per se, but unless you spend a lot of time around me, I can almost guarantee you haven’t heard of half of these. Without further ado, here are the categories:

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Turning Off the Noise

One of my favorite albums of all time is Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown (2003). In addition to the radio smash hits Dare You to MoveThis is Your Life, and Gone, the album also featured a song that I initially found a little strange. Here’s the chorus:

If we’re adding to the noise
turn off this song
If we’re adding to the noise
turn off your stereo, radio, video

Why would the band be telling you to turn off their music? Is this some weird reverse psychological tactic?

Listening to the rest of the album, Switchfoot seems to be trying to express their humility: Are we really worth listening to? If we’re just adding to the cacophony of modern life, turn us off. Here they are in Ammunition expressing a similar point (with shades of GK Chesterton):

Blame it on what you’ve been through
Blame it on what you’re into
Blame it on your religions
Blame it on politicians

We’ve been blowing up
We’re the issue
It’s our condition

We are the fuse and the ammunition

If 2003 was cacophonous, 2016 is all the more so. And it’s all too tempting to blame it on the politicians, the religious leaders, but we need to recognize our own role in this. We’ve been blowing up for a while now, and it isn’t contributing anything good to the world.

I’m ashamed of how much I revel in reading about politics and hoping for Trump’s downfall. Even as I link to these songs on YouTube, its top recommendation for me is a Stephen Colbert asking “Did Rex Tillerson Call Trump a ‘Moron’ or a ‘F***ing Moron’?” And I have to admit, YouTube knows me well — I am tempted to watch that just to bask in the schadenfreude and speculate about its implications for… yes, that’s what they’re calling it these days, “Rexit.”

Unpresedential, yes. Unprecedented, yes. But ultimately so much of the news out of the Trump White House is noise, if especially juicy and addictive noise. We need to recover a healthy sense of when what we’re filling our minds with is merely adding to the noise, and if so, mute it. Here’s David Brooks a couple of months ago:

For the past two years Trump has taken up an amazing amount of my brain space. My brain has apparently decided that it’s not interested in devoting more neurons to that guy. There’s nothing more to be learned about Trump’s mixture of ignorance, insecurity and narcissism. Every second spent on his bluster is more degrading than informative.

Now a lot of people are clearly still addicted to Trump. My Twitter feed is all him. Some people treat the Trump White House as the “Breaking Bad” serial drama they’ve been binge watching for six months. For some of us, Trump-bashing has become educated-class meth. We derive endless satisfaction from feeling morally superior to him — and as Leon Wieseltier put it, affirmation is the new sex.

The analogy is apt; I clearly feel addicted. But don’t a lot of other important people feel the same way? One of the lessons of 2016 is that our leaders aren’t all that different from us. Every celebrity who is drawn in to comment on the political situation is getting the same information we are and responding in the same way.

It’s also worth repeating that the relationship between Trump and the media is actually rather mutually beneficial. Non-Fox media executives may have seemed to be trying to tilt the election in Clinton’s direction, or at least underestimated Trump’s chances, but it’s pretty clear they benefit from everyone being glued to the television wondering what the reality TV president is going to do next.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with reporting on the president. As Maggie Haberman of the New York Times put it, what Trump says is news because he is the president. But that doesn’t mean we have to pay attention, to “catch up” on the news regularly.


To pick one example in particular, I’m convinced that it is completely useless to spend any time thinking about the Russia scandal. Unlike the election itself, the means for justice to be served in that area generally does not involve the broader public.

Yet when Garry Kasparov and Julia Ioffe came to MIT to speak at the Starr Forum on the “Trump-Putin phenomenon” our biggest lecture hall was completely packed:

Trump Putin Phenomenon

It was an interesting forum because both of the speakers were rather surprised and in some ways disappointed at the level of interest. As Kasparov commented, he had just written a book about AI, but when he got invited to talk at MIT, it was about Russia. Ioffe, a Russian-American reporter, was more direct, berating the media for their poor understanding of Russia and for painting a picture of Vladimir Putin as hypercompetent and installing Trump as a puppet. This environment has led to some horrible reporting on the subject, with multiple major news stories about the apparent scandal falling apart, forming what Glenn Greenwald describes as “an incredibly reckless, anything-goes climate when it comes to claims about Russia. Media outlets will publish literally any official assertion as Truth without the slightest regard for evidentiary standards.”

Given that it doesn’t directly matter what we think about information we’re not fully privy to, and the advance media reports we read on the subject are actually reasonably likely to be fake news, this forms all the reason to simply turn off that segment of the news.


For me, I realized upon reflection that my Twitter account was merely adding to the noise. It was this really strange hobby that both made me more anxious and helped me accomplish none of my goals in life. I’ve since deleted the app on my phone and tablet, and I’ve logged out on both of my computers. It’s only one such channel; I still have to figure out what to do about YouTube, but it’s been a good first step so far.

How are you trying to turn off the noise?

What hangups do you have with Christianity?

I originally titled this blog “The Christian Rationalist” because both my faith and what I hope is at least close to rational thought together form the basis for how I live my life. It’s true that it sounds a bit pretentious, but “A Christian Rationalist” just didn’t have the same ring to it.

More subversively, though, I’m implicitly claiming that Christianity and rational thought are compatible. This cuts both ways: obviously some usually nonreligious folks find Christianity irrational, but there are also Christians who find rational thought antithetical to their faith. In the larger context of the blog, I try to push on both misperceptions, modeling a successful synthesis. Here are a few examples:

But that’s only the beginning. I’d like to write more about this synthesis, at the very least to be able to bring my friends together from these different camps and articulate the core of our disagreement. It strikes me as rather strange that so many thoughtful people would firmly fall on one side or another without some sort of means of resolving that disagreement.

At some point when I’m better able to articulate what rational thought entails, I’ll ask the reverse question, but for now, I’d like to ask my rationality-minded non-Christian friends what holds them back from joining the faith. What hang ups do you have with Christianity?

Let me drive this home a bit further by sharing my experience. From being a Christian, I’ve gotten a natural community almost anywhere I go, a robust ability to process both success and failure, and a sense of purpose bigger than myself. In just the last five years, my church has been literally my favorite part of living in Boston, and I met my wife and many of my closest friends through the Graduate Christian Fellowship.

If that’s a possibility, why not learn more? What stops you, or what would stop you if you thought about it, from looking into becoming a Christian?

Farewell to Summer

As of about an hour ago, fall has officially begun. The equinox feels as good a time as any to reflect on my summer, as well as provide a cognitive break point and encourage myself to treat fall differently.

Normally, I reflect like this approximately once a month, reviewing my previous month, getting a handle on the big picture of my upcoming schedule, and setting some personal goals. I don’t write them for an audience, but my plans aren’t really secret — I often tell Grace or other friends like my community group what I’m thinking. In a certain sense, though, God is my audience, and I’ve certainly felt waves of conviction and resolve while reflecting, similar to those I’ve felt in church or reading through the Bible.

Naturally, though, my choice to make this reflection public before writing it will likely inflect my writing in various ways, some of which I might not even be aware of. I already feel a need to edit my language to be more precise; when writing for myself, I feel a bit more free to follow ideas as they come rather than retrace my steps to write more precisely. Anyways, here goes.

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Five More Things Millennials Need to Kill

I’m a millennial, and I like to read about what’s unique about my generation, even if it’s just a lazy analysis of market trends that might as well be noise. But the one consistent thing I keep reading is that Millennials are Killing Everything. At least, that’s what the Miami Herald says, offering 27 examples. Business Insider claims that ‘Psychologically Scarred’ Millennials are killing countless industries, but I can count, and they only have 19 in their list. Even BuzzFeed seems to mock their own style of headline: Here Are 28 Things Millennials Are Killing In Cold Blood. Not to be outdone, Mashable offers 70 things millennials have killed.

Since this seems to be our generational superpower (apparently always alongside avocado toast), I have a few more things that I’d like to see us use it on.

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