Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Better Red Dead Than Anything Else

Has anything in the entertainment world ever been greeted with the same thundering applause as Red Dead Redemption 2? Even though movie reviewing has declined since Siskel and Ebert gave us “two thumbs up,” Red Dead 2 has elicited irrepressible enthusiasm and creativity from gaming critics. Here is one sample from an overwhelmed reviewer on quartertothree.com:

[The game’s] obsession with detail expects you to care, too. They expect you to care about the text in the catalog at the store, the meanderings of the various wildlife, the relationship between a cowboy and his horse, the gun oil you need to maintain your favorite pistol, the care it takes to kill an animal without destroying its pelt, the biscuits you eat by the campfire, chopping wood in the morning, whether to use your last tin of chewing tobacco, shaving before you visit a woman, putting on a warm coat because it’s colder up here, looking for wild mint to season your venison, whether to get a new varnish on your shotgun’s stock, finding where your durn hat fell after a shootout. These are the gameplay beats of Red Dead Redemption 2, which couldn’t care less about eliciting the Pavlovian responses that drive modern game design. This is no feedback loop. It’s a languid way-of-life sim with a few action set pieces. Imagine an arthouse movie with summer blockbuster production values, as if Terrence Malick had been given a Star Wars movie.

For more: check out the dozens of “100” scores on Metacritic.

2. The World Cup in Qatar?

Where temperatures reach 120 degrees? And where soccer’s most ardent global fans can’t indulge in their favorite spectator activity?What was once seen as a joke and a sign of FIFA corruption is now a national project deep in construction phase. As Qatar goes to work to “deliver amazing,” The Guardian’s David Conn visits the oddball Gulf state and ends up with an exuberant report. It’s part travelogue, part commentary on the cult of personality surrounding the young Sheikh Tamir, and all-out fascination with how Qatar’s wealth fuels its determination:

People talk proudly of how, after Saudi Arabia stopped supplying food including milk, and closed its border, Turkey and Iran filled the gap first, then a local food company, Baladna, set up a huge dairy. True to Qatar’s custom of applying its money to produce the best it can, Baladna is no scrappy farm of necessity; they delivered amazing. A gleaming complex of 14,000 Holstein cows, complete with a visitors’ centre, restaurant and mini-zoo, it is a gentle, almost mocking symbol of defiance, this dairy farm in the desert: a World Cup of milk. Dr Ghani, the air-cooling expert, scoffed: “You can’t blockade a rich country.”

3. 52 Assistants, No Peer

Ricky Jay, who died earlier this month, was the greatest-ever card magician. He was a card-shuffling raconteur, a regular in David Mamet films, an authority on the history of magic, and his sleight-of-hand maneuvers stupefied everyone. Vulture has assembled a collection of his best magic. A must watch.  

4. Designer Babies and the Chinese Resistance

This may turn out to be the science story of the year: a renegade Chinese scientist who altered the DNA of twin girls through gene editing while they were still in the womb. Perhaps equally striking is that more than 100 Chinese biomedical scientists issued a statement condemning the work. Nature reports on the controversy:

"This is a huge blow to the international reputation and the development of Chinese science, especially in the field of biomedical research,” the statement says. “It is extremely unfair to the large majority of diligent and conscientious scientists in China who are pursuing research and innovation while strictly adhering to ethical limits."

5. As I Don’t Lay Dying

“Bookselling has long been an embattled operation and its death is predicted regularly,” reports Rebecca McCarthy in her essay about working in New York’s Strand bookstore.  But she reveals other surprises:

Indie bookstores have actually seen a resurgence over the last ten years — according to the American Booksellers Association there are now over 2,400 indies in the United States, up from an all-time low of 1,651 in 2009. As Amazon’s first enemy, booksellers were forced to adapt early, and it’s paid off.

6. Did We Just See the Future of Football?

The recent Monday Night Football shootout between the Kansas City Chiefs and the LA Rams has been hailed as the game of year, even one of the greatest of all time. Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky wondersif the game was a harbinger of an NFL to come or just a one-night stand:

“I might need a couple beverages to relax tonight,” Sean McVay said after the Rams’ 54-51 win over the Chiefs in one of the most satisfying and exhilarating football games ever played. Maybe a cigarette? MNF viewers are walking around this morning like we got laid last night, and you know what? I’m not able to look you in the eye and say we didn’t.

Petchesky believes that last year’s story – concussions will kill football! – has been replaced by the wide-open, no-smashmouth style of play. “This is a copycat league. Every team will be trying to do what the Rams and Chiefs have done.”

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