Letter to Celestia – a MLP game based on Love Letter


Munchkin Loot Letter

The Premise (or, “why bother?”)

I bought Love Letter for my kids under the assumption it was a classic game with lots of opportunity for repeat game play. And for the most part, that proved true. However, the basic premise of the game (the suitor wooing the girl) and the artwork (a bit – ahem – Medieval misogyny) didn’t appeal much to my daughters. So we moved on Loot Letter, a game I found out later was based on the popular role-playing game Muchkin (sidenote: after I bought Munchkin for my daughters, they played it every day at least twice…going on a month now. Great. Game.). This was much more fun, and yet…something was missing.

As HUGE fans of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (and Equestria Girls, of course), we decided to create our own MLP version. Naturally, we started with a Google search to see if other fans had come up with the same idea. We found this one (bold, but didn’t have enough instructional detail for new game players), this one (nice! but didn’t have the look we were after),  and this one (cool, but based on EG, not MLP:FIM).

So we decided to make our own!

The Cards

2016-02-10 19.57.16We ignored the sets we found and listed out the eight cards. Then we mapped a pony to each role. This was an iterative and collaborative process (with a 12, 10, 8, and 6-year-old…super fun!) that resulted in a surprising amount of agreement.

We Googled for the best images to use (we considered – but ultimately didn’t worry about – copyright issues). I came up with a few card designs and modified them based on the girls’ feedback.

I then printed out the prototypes, cut and laminated them, and tested them with the girls. While the girls were satisfied with my rough deck, I wasn’t. Comparing a few card deck-producing services, I chose makeplayingcards.com, which offered bridge-sized cards in a finish and a price point that was very attractive. With a hinged plastic case and only 18 cards (16 game cards and 2 instructions/card lists), this provided plenty of space for the scoring tokens. I was insanely pleased with the results and we’ve been playing with these almost every day since they arrived. 

The Tokens

At first, I opted for Swarovski crystal beads for the token, but though they were SPARKLY!! they were hard to handle and keep from getting lost. We then tried plastic pony beads (pony…get it?!?!) and, while easier to handle (and cheaper), they had the tendency to roll away. I finally found small plastic cubes that work perfectly!

The Full Deck

If you’re interested in printing your own version, either:

I hope you have as much fun with this game as we do!


“The Camera” [short film]

A colleague of mine produced this using minimal equipment, existing props and sets, natural lighting, and even his sister as the star! That said, for a film created from the mine of one guy and almost no budget, the story and effect is powerful. I’ve watched a couple times and it still gives me chills at the end. Some amazing talent to have thought up, filmed, edited, and scored this short. Enjoy!

Blue Like Jazz: the movie is as great as the book

I had the privilege of seeing Blue Like Jazz (the movie) recently and thought it was a fantastic newcomer to the world of faith-related films. I say privilege because this movie almost never saw the light of day. Due to funding issues early in production, BLJ was almost relegated to the annals of movies-that-never-were. Instead, a couple of devoted fans turned that failure around by launching a project for it on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. In just ten days, the project raised the $125K it initially wanted, then continued to climb. By the project’s deadline, roughly 4,500 contributors had contributed almost $346K. I was one of those contributors and my donation gave me the honorable status of “Associate Producer.” At the time, this made it the most funded Kickstarter project ever (see BLJ featured in this Kickstarter blog post). You can read Don’s synopsis of this journey on his blog.

My bias runs deeper than just being a Kickstarter donor, however. I’ve enjoyed Donald Miller’s books for years. His disarming writing style and nonjudgmental approach to tough questions of faith strongly resonate with me. Blue Like Jazz was my introduction to Miller’s books. I don’t know when or why I decided to pick it up, but the book has since become one of the few I feel compelled to give to others who, like me, approach faith with a critical mind. The movie, like the book, tell a chapter in Miller’s life; his wrestle with God during his transition from high school to college.

It tracks the mystery of what a personal relationship with God looks like in a disarmingly genuine way and leaves out the preachiness, condescension, and over intellectual-ness most books in the “Christian” genre fall into. I’d even go so far as to say BLJ keeps such enlightened company as classics like Screwtape Letters in presenting the story of God’s love as just that: a story, not a lecture or scientific proof.

Some of my favorite moments, themes, and quotes in the movie:

  • When Don is hanging out with his freethinking dad, he gets the sage advice to “Write your own story,” don’t let others write your story (plan your life) for you.
  • Attending Reed College – and surrounded by primarily non-Christians for the first time – Don finds that many liberal-minded individuals proclaim themselves “open minded”…unless it’s about Christ or anything to do with traditional religion.
  • A familiar paradox is evident in the Reed student body: they emphasize wanting to be free, yet one of Don’s first friends there advises him to “get in the closet, Baptist boy, and stay there.”
  • The idea that you can get “lost a sea of individuality” – that is, everyone is trying so hard to be something different, that a sense of community, of belongingness, of a common “tribe” gets lost.
  • I loved Don’s cameo as pretentious author giving a reading in a book store!
  • While it was dramatized, I got the distinct impression that Reed College is full of geniuses…doing mostly stupid things.
  • At a pivotal point, Penny says “It turns out I like Jesus…a lot.”
  • The scenes where Don is hanging out with mostly emotionally messy individuals struck me as the very crowd Jesus is described as hanging with.
  • A thread I found interesting in the story is that while Christians can’t escape (and shouldn’t deny) the brokenness of the church, likewise those who embrace a hedonistic lifestyle should acknowledge the emptiness and meaninglessness in it.
  • “I hated them because I thought they made me look like a fool.”
  • “God isn’t like me.” (Don says this during an apology for how he has behaved and how he represented (or denied) Christ.)

While BLJ may have been denounced by conservative Christians, I found the film set the bar a bit higher for “Christian” films. For one, actual actors with actual acting talent were employed. While I don’t mean to slam other films specifically, it’s obvious when amateurs deliver lines and when seasoned actors do so. The only aspect I found lacking was that I would have preferred a bit more character development, especially in the supporting cast. All in all, though, I’m extremely glad to have supported this effort, I’m proud of all of those who made it happen, and I hope to see more films like this in the future.

Research that Hebrew word carefully before it’s permanent [I just Googled]

There’s an increasing interest in using Hebrew and other foreign languages on jewelry and tattoos. Even the Bieb and his pop have latched on to (or fomented) this trend. Whether it’s the mystique of using an ancient language or the beauty and abstraction (to non-speakers) in the script, the appeal is understandable. What is harder to fathom is how careless consumers and artisans can be in getting the translation of their work correct. There’s even a whole website devoted to such disasters.

What I Googled: sanctified in Hebrew

Why I Googled it: I saw a ring via a Pinterest pin that claimed to have the Hebrew word “Kodesh” (meaning: sanctified, set apart) on it. Knowing some Hebrew, I was curious to know if the word was rendered correctly. Translation and design mistakes frequently occur because the Hebrew alphabet and right-to-left writing are unfamiliar to the artisan and the words do not always translate easily.


What I found out: There are various spellings (in Hebrew) of the word “kodesh.” This is due to the fact that vowels are designated by various symbols below, above, and within certain Hebrew letters. Which means that without vowels, it’s difficult to determine what a word is if it’s taken out of context.


Somewhat predictably, Strong’s Concordance was one of the first search results I checked that proved helpful. I looked up the word sanctified (#6942) and found that the word קדש is often translated as the verb “holy,” “sanctified,” or “set apart.” Wikitionary also captured this definition.

The ring I had seen used the word קדוש (note the additional letter vuv). When I originally searched for קדוש, without vowels, I found it translated as “kadosh,” meaning “speciality.” After additional research with Strong’s (#6918), I found that it is more frequently translated as either the noun or adjective form of קדש. The Hebrew Wikipedia entry(after running it through Google Translate) also supported the alternate spelling of the word.

Google Translate

Sensagent and Wiktionary were additional helpful resources in figuring out this puzzle. Both interpreted the word as holy, sacred, or blessed.

This would seem to be the more accurate word choice for use on jewelry since it describes the person (or what they’re striving toward). This is the same word that is used in perhaps the most well-known of all Jewish prayers, the Shema Yisrael.

The takeaway: Based on these results, I concluded that the word used on the ring is indeed correct. And, in case you were wondering, Justin Bieber and his dad must have done their research, too, since their ink is the correct way to spell Jesus in Hebrew (which is Yeshua, more frequently Anglicized as the name Joshua).

The new “Scale of the Universe” interactive animation – the best way to get perspective on life

If you need to gain some perspective on life, check out the Scale of the Universe 2, an updated interactive animation first published in 2010. The new version includes information on many of the featured elements. Starting at a common reference point – the size of an average human being – the slider lets you zoom waaaay out to see, for example, the largest galaxies photographed by Hubble and waaaay in to see, for instance, the smallest particles known (or hypothesized) by theoretical physicists.

Lest you think that this amazing animation is a big-budget product from some science-loving organization, think again. According to ABC News:

“Scale of the Universe 2″ was created by Cary Huang, a 14-year-old ninth grader from Moraga, Calif., with technical help from his twin brother Michael…”My seventh grade science teacher showed us a size comparison video on cells, and I thought it was fascinating. I decided to make my own interactive version that included a much larger range of sizes,” said Cary in an email forwarded by his mother. “It was not a school project — just for fun. However, my science teacher loved it so much she showed [it] to the class! My brother, Michael, helped me put it on the internet.”…Cary said he worked on the project, on and off, for a year and a half, getting information from Wikipedia and astronomy books.

Nice job, guys!

Click the image to start exploring the universe!

Three wonderful children’s books

Jon Acuff recently recommended a couple of children’s books with encouraging messages, which I quickly added to my reading list (though unfortunately, our library doesn’t carry them yet). Coincidentally, I also recently came across some children’s books that stand out from the dozens we plow through monthly.

I often feel overwhelmed when I enter our local library to find new books that the kids will enjoy and that have a positive and meaningful message. Thankfully, our librarians regularly pluck out some of their favorites and place them on top of the low children’s bookshelves. I’ve taken to simply browsing these selections since it has resulted in many gems. Here are three that recently stood out.

moon rabbit (Natalie Russell). If you’ve ever experienced the desire to travel beyond your home, then had the conflicting desire to return to the comforts of home, you’ll appreciate this charming tale. Little Rabbit loves her city life, but longs to find her soul mate. One day she follows the sound of music to the country and finds Brown Rabbit, with whom she becomes fast friends. Hanging out in the countryside enjoying her new friend, Little Rabbit eventually longs for the familiar experiences of the city. The two new friends find a wonderful compromise in the final pages of the book.

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves (Julie Rawlinson). Fletcher is a young fox who loves his favorite tree. But something is terribly wrong as the tree begins to lose its leaves. Fletcher struggles as nature and other animals begin to prepare for Fall, but in the end finds that change isn’t so bad after all! You can hear the entire book read in this video.

You and Me, Little Bear (Martin Waddell). “Mommy, Daddy, play with me!” This is a refrain every parent hears countless times every day. Little Bear is no different and wants to play with his dad. But Big Bear has a busy day of chores that he can’t put off (sound familiar?). The two find out, however, that work and play do not have to be as different as we often make them out to be. Simple watercolor images make this a great anytime story.

Flipped architecture turns high-rise apartments into a jungle [TED talk]

In this visually stimulating TED talk, architect Thomas Heatherwick shows off some of the best designs inspired by biology in his portfolio. While some may go gaga over the famous Seed Cathedral, in a surprising conclusion to the presentation, Heatherwick reveals plans for high-rise apartments in Malaysia that are designed…upside-down. This unique configuration provides the economic benefit of creating more of the valuable top-floor real estate while also creating ample space for a natural rainforest ecosystem.

The before and after pictures below show how a seemingly simple adjustment in a traditional design – the “flip” – produced a dramatically new result (click each image for the full-sized version).

Traditional Design

Revised Design

Rendered Design

While he doesn’t explain structural aspects in his talk, the design does not seem especially suited to earthquake-prone regions (which seem to be increasing around the globe).

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