Fallout Shelter the new hit game

Scratching that Fallout itch
For fans of the Fallout series, this has been a great week. Bethesda dropped a ton of new information, screenshots, and videos for Fallout 4, along with a release date: this upcoming November.
But for those Fallout fans who just can't wait, Bethesda also announced and simultaneously released a free app game for iPhone called Fallout Shelter. Fallout Shelter is a strategy game where you have to build fallout shelter rooms, gather resources, and keep all your little people (called Vault Dwellers) happy.
The game is currently only available for iPhone, but Bethesda has announced that they are working on an Android version which will be out soon.

App review: Map My Ride

Track your bike rides
I recently moved to a new neighborhood where I can bike right out my front door, rather than having to rack up my bike and drive it to a trail. With this new inspiration to get out and ride, I went looking for good apps for biking. 
Map My Ride is the one all my friends use, and I have to admit, if all my friends used an app to jump off a bridge, I probably would, too. I see them using Map My Ride when they post their rides to Facebook, which is interesting and kind of braggy and obnoxious and neat, all at once.
Map My Ride has a ton of features, and that's just for the free version. There is a paid version that has even more bells and whistles. Frankly, I only need a few bells and whistles: I want an app that will use GPS to clock my mileage and show me my route and time. That way I can use that feedback to tinker with my workout, as well as track my progress over time.
I might occasionally want to post my rides to Facebook, and that "occasionally" is the only problem I see here. I have yet to figure out how to finish a ride without automatically posting it as a public Facebook post. Which is a problem because I start out from my house, and I have privacy concerns. So each time I finish a ride, I then have to go in and set it as a private ride as a separate step.
I assume this is just a setting I haven't found yet. The interface for all that stuff is a little confusing. But it is very easy to start, pause, restart, and finish a ride. As far as the basics go, it's great! And it's free - you can't beat free!

New app will block Kardashian news for you

Live a Kardashian-free life!
App developer James Shamsi is tired of people getting inundated with celebrity news, at the expense of real news. He has created #KardBlock, an app which will block all Kardashian mentions from your web browser. The app will also block Kardashian-related news about Bruce Jenner, Lamar Odom, and Kanye West.
"We're tired of logging onto any site and seeing stories of the Kardashian family overshadow the REAL news," states the app's official website. Future iterations of the app are being developed to block Justin Bieber news from your feed, as well.

Woman uses Pizza Hut app to escape kidnapper

This week, when Cheryl Treadway and her children were held hostage in her home at knifepoint by her boyfriend Ethan Nickerson, rescue came from an unlikely source: the Pizza Hut app.
Nickerson had confiscated Treadway's cell phone when he took her hostage. But she successfully lobbied him to let her use it for a few minutes, so that she could order some pizza for the kids, who were scared and hungry. 
While ordering pizza, Treadway bravely managed to sneak in a few extra messages to the delivery driver: "911 hostage help!" 
The Pizza Hut restaurant called police, who were quickly dispatched to Treadway's home, where the distraction they caused allowed her and her children to escape out the back. 

Valentine update for Simpsons: Tapped Out ups the ante

They're starting to get serious!


I am glad that The Simpsons: Tapped out finally updated from the Christmas edition. I was getting a little tired of the ever-falling snow. And it always kind of bothered me the way that no one was wearing winter clothes as they walked around in the snow. (Put on a parka, Homer!)
The latest update for Valentine's Day brings little hearts as the "currency of the day." Like candy at Halloween and Santa Coins at Christmas, you can earn little hearts for tapping things. These hearts can be exchanged for premium items to help decorate your world.
Fair enough. But I notice two other interesting features of this update: first, you now know which friends have visited you. When you visit a friend's town and click the Valentine's Day cards, you both earn hearts. And when your friend fires up their game, they will see who clicked to leave them a heart. 
This puts a lot more social pressure on players to keep on top of visiting their friends' games. And given that earning hearts is on the line, I predict that a lot of needless friend drama will arise from this new "feature."
The second feature is that not only do YOU have to update YOUR game to play… your friends also have to update THEIR games before you can visit THEIR towns. 
So what, you might ask? Well, this is basically going to eliminate all the dead wood off the books. It means that if you have a friend who is no longer actively playing, their towns are now off limits to you. Unless you can convince them to log into their game and update it, that free ride is over. 
It also means an extra hurdle for players who have set up multiple accounts in order to be their own friends. You will now have to go through the process of logging in and out of each account in turn, in order to update them. (It's a two-part update: updating the software through the App Store, and an update that downloads and installs when you start the game.)
In addition to a new set of love-related quests, I noticed that they also added two new super-expensive items for purchase in the Buildings menu: an Escalator to Nowhere ($1,000,000) and a Popsicle Stick Skyscraper ($2,000,000). I have about $70,000 so I should be able to buy one of those in about… never.

App review: Plague Inc.

It'll make you want to wash your hands, in a good way.


Plague Inc. has quickly taken over from Robot Unicorn Attack in the title of "best game I'm the worst at." I have played four games so far - four entire games - and accrued a score of a whopping 55 points. But I can't stop playing! 
This game is all about destroying the world. And don't we all want to destroy the world once in a while? (It's okay. I won't tell.) Plague Inc.is about the global spread of a deadly disease versus the scientists trying to find and deploy a cure. The twist being that you play the disease.
You begin by naming your disease and selecting a few early traits. As the game spins out, you get points for tapping bubbles that appear. You can use those points to buy new features for your disease which will make it spread faster, be more deadly, or become more difficult to cure.
Plague Inc.is a game of infinite complexity. As an example, you begin by selecting the country (or multi-country area like "Central Africa" or "Western Africa") where you want your plague to begin. Each country has either sea ports or airports or both or neither. 
If you start in a country without ports, it will take longer for your disease to be spread to other countries. However, that can give you time to build up your disease's abilities. Choose a country with both a sea port and an airport and your disease will spread faster. But this means that the scientists will also start working on a cure sooner.
As you play, the game scrolls up little news items to keep you abreast of your plague's progress. These news items have a lot of tongue-in-cheek dark humor, which brings a lot of fun to the game.
Each game takes about 1-3 hours to play, meaning that you can blow through a round in an evening of half-watching television, or keep pausing it and play it periodically throughout the day. Contagion rates high in what I call "pick-up-able-ness." You can pick it up and play it for as long as you like - minutes or hours - and it doesn't really matter. 
Plague Inc. costs 99 cents. You can either earn new abilities and disease types by playing and accruing points, or buy them through an in-game purchase. So far I have only played with the default plague (bacterial), but parasites and viruses are also available. Evidently the Zombie plague type is currently in development and should be released soon.

App review: Jigsaw Puzzle

Family fun and brainless entertainment.

Lately I have found myself losing steam on 100 Floors. I seem to have stalled out around floor 64 or so. The problem is that I typically want to play games on my iPad late in the evening, in between watching something on Netflix or during commercial breaks. And after about 8 p.m., my brain is completely off-line. It's the worst possible time to try playing something that requires a lot of mental engagement, either in the form of thinking (100 Floors) or reflex activity (Robot Unicorn Attack).

That's why Jigsaw Puzzle has become my new favorite app.
I love doing jigsaw puzzles. But I never do, because my home is too small, and I have cats, and what do you do with the puzzle once you're done? Jigsaw puzzles present many problems of form factor. Problems which have all been solved by this clever little app.
The gameplay is about what you would expect. The graphics look pretty good, at least on my iPad 1. You touch the pieces and move them about. It comes with a "table" so you can move pieces in or out of the frame. Within the frame, there is a button you can touch to make the completed picture appear. It's either there or it isn't, so it's not entirely like doing a real-world puzzle where you can have the picture beside the puzzle as you work on it.
When you put together two pieces that match, there is a satisfying "click" sound. You can then move all of the joined pieces together as a unit.
Jigsaw Puzzle is free to download, and comes with several puzzles you can play before you decide whether or not to upgrade. You start with a basic pack of eight puzzles. For each puzzle, you choose the number of pieces. It ranges from 4 to 400, although you can only have a maximum number of 49 pieces in the free version.
I was lucky enough (or it was sales-trickery enough) to hit the game during a sale: only $2.99 to upgrade to the Premium version. I found it well worth the three bucks. In addition to having the ads removed and getting more puzzles and more pieces, you also gain the ability to create custom puzzles from your own pictures. You get about 100 puzzles, plus 10 super-hard puzzles in the Tournament Pack. And of course, you can buy more puzzle packs from their store, to the tune of about 70 puzzles for $5. 

100 Floors: A fiendish puzzle-solver for iPad/iPhone

How to play 100 Floors

A friend recently mentioned that she was hooked on "100 Floors," so of course I had to give it a try. It's an understatement to say that the game is baffling at first. You find yourself looking at an elevator lobby, with no clue as to how to proceed or what's happening. I have to confess, I went online to find a walkthrough for floor 2. It was the only way I could figure out what was going on.

How do you play 100 Floors? The conceit is that you are working your way up to the top of a 100-floor building. At each floor, you must solve a puzzle in order to get the elevator doors to open. The puzzles use not only logic and lateral thinking, they also take full advantage of your iPad or iPhone's multi-touch and accelerometer. Some puzzles are solved by shaking your device, others by tilting it back and forth, towards you or away, or even holding it perfectly flat.
(I solved one floor entirely by accident. I got frustrated and flopped back on the sofa in exasperation with my iPad in my hands. When I did so, it tilted the iPad forward such that the solution was revealed.)
Rated one of the "Top Apps" in the iTunes App Store, 100 Floors is also available for Android and Kindle Fire. It is free, with the ability to pay 99 cents to have the ads removed from the bottom. (I found the ads unobtrusive, but oddly specific. They seem to be scraping the content of my Amazon wish list, or maybe it's just a coincidence that I happen to have a lot of popular titles on my wish list.)
As you play, occasionally an item will end up down in one of the boxes at the bottom of your screen. This is your inventory, and you may need to use those items in later levels. Simply tap the item's box to highlight it, then tap on the screen wherever you want to use it. Beyond that, I shall say no more.
The puzzles grow in complexity as you get higher in the building. I peered over my friend's shoulder as she worked on solving Floor 91, and was blown away. Frankly, I'm still stuck on Floor 28. You can easily find walk-throughs for each of the floors, although these walkthroughs just give you the solution. It's a pity no one has a hints guide, it would be nice to get pointed in the right direction instead of simply handed the answer.

Following up on The Simpsons: Tapped Out

I miss squashing zombies!

I have been playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out for iPad for a few months now. There is a lot to like about the game, but some frustrations as well.

One of the best things about the game is the way that it stays fresh and current. Several times there have been special items and outfits released ahead of time, to tie in with an upcoming episode. Most recently, we got the Cool House and a Cool Homer outfit to tie in with last week's episode about a hipster invasion of Springfield.
The game also stays current with the seasons and holidays, which I enjoy. There was a Halloween update with zombies to squash, trick-or-treat outfits for the kids, and great ghoulish town decorations like a tree dangling a hanged skeleton. The Halloween update included a string of mini-quests that revolved around "pieces of candy," a special currency that dropped from thematic actions like squishing a zombie or sending Lisa trick-or-treating.
The Thanksgiving episode stuck to adding Macy's Day Parade-style balloons to your town. Those were fun for about five minutes, then I stuck them back into inventory.
Currently, the game is running a Winter update. It's snowing in my Springfield and I love it. I am less enamored of the race to collect "Santa coins," although I love being able to decorate the houses in town. A mixed bag. But the best part of the Winter update is that the game dressed my hanging skeleton in fuzzy pink mittens and matching scarf, as you can see above.
The game's stability has improved over the last few months, but it still occasionally crashes for me. Fortunately it seems to do a pretty good job of auto-saving. I rarely lose more than a few minutes of gameplay. 
On the whole, I consider The Simpsons: Tapped Out to be a sort of high tech Zen garden. Once or twice a day I fire it up, click a bunch of stuff, watch my Springfieldians go about their business, then return to my day.
My only real complaint has to do with the quests, or lack thereof. Somehow I have missed out on a lot of quests, or accidentally failed them, or not received them. I'm honestly not sure which. 
I'm at level 19, and yet there are businesses and houses from level 17 and 18 that I have not yet unlocked. Unhelpfully, the game just says that it "requires quest to unlock." But what quest, and how? I suspect the seasonal quests are getting in the way of the regular ones, but it's impossible to say.

Journal and diary apps for the iPad

So many ways to record your life.

If you want to use your iPad for journaling, you will find yourself faced with a bewildering variety of choices, both free and paid. The first thing you should do is narrow down your list of "must-have" features:

  • Will you be attaching photos very often? Or do you imagine this as strictly a text entry sort of journal?
  • Do you ever want to make your entries public, by sharing them on Twitter, Facebook, etc? Or is this going to be a private diary?
  • How much security do you want? (Note: Even if you don't share your iPad with another household member, you probably want at least a basic password protection to keep any random coworker or fellow student from picking up your iPad and paging through your diary.)
  • What kind of style do you want? Classic leather-bound look, fun and sparkly, or high tech calendar-based?
1. Notes App
The Notes app is your most basic option. Included by default with all iPads, this one gives you a few choices of font, and looks like a yellow legal pad. Entries are automatically dated, and you can search them. But this is a bare-bones app, and it also does not have any password protection available. 
This is a great app if you want to use your journal as an all-purpose calendar and note-taking job, like a digital version of a Franklin Planner. Day One is powerful and flexible with a lot of ability to tag, organize, and sort your entries. Some users find it overwhelming, but if you feel like a traditional diary would be too restrictive, you should definitely give Day One a whirl.
This is the one that I finally settled on. It auto-saves after every character entry, and gives you the ability to backup and restore via Dropbox. The interface is clean and un-cluttered, and you get the choice of a plethora of fonts and paper styles. If you want something that feels like a traditional diary, but with digital options like search and automatic back-ups, then My Daily Journal is a great choice.
4. My Secret Diary
If you want sparkles, stickers and secrets, then My Secret Diary is for you! This app lets you attach all manner of media, including not just photos but MP3s, has mood stickers to illustrate your day, and plays music directly from your iTunes library.  My Secret Diary is definitely the most fun of all the diary apps, but be warned: it does not currently offer an export or backup capability, meaning that if the app has a problem, your entries could be lost.