Sunday, November 30, 2008

Barcode: Tamo

This marks our fifth trip to the Seaport/Fort Point area this month (more times than we've been there in the past couple years), so yes, it looks as if the predictions about this neighborhood on the rise might finally come true.

It doesn't hurt that there's such a wealth of bars and restaurants to choose from. Now add Tamo, the high-end lounge at the Seaport Hotel, to your list of those worth a visit.

The people behind Tamo know their way around some simple classics, but also have an eye toward pushing conventioneers, travelers, and loyal regulars outside their cocktail comfort zone. Still, with the economy the way it is, one can't help but wonder about the future of the $12 martini bar.

"This is a sad night for me," bartender Micah Eli lamented last week. "All my regulars are getting laid off." Our sense of empathy was momentarily short-circuited when he offered up a bowl of nuts, wasabi peas, and dried cranberries. Yes, we are easily distracted.

The return of bar snacks, by the way, is a trend we're glad to see.

Eli's first recommendation was the Basil Gimlet (Grey Goose, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, fresh basil, $12). Nothing surprising, but the fresh lime and basil gave a crisp, airy touch to this popular standby.

Next up was the PB&J (Frangelico, Chambord, Butterscotch Schnapps, milk, $12). "The Frangelico is your nut, and the Chambord is like your Concord grape jelly," said Eli. "The butterscotch combines the two and keeps them together." There's something innocent and playful about this one with its echoes of childhood bag lunches.

We moved onto the Blueberry Peach Cobbler (Absolute Peach, fresh blueberry puree, milk, graham cracker crust, $12). Expecting something overly sweet from its end-of-the-sugary-bowl-of-cereal color, it was surprisingly balanced, with a mixture of tart blueberry and a whisper of peaches.

Eli gets a lot of help with ingredients - like the blueberry puree from chef Rachel Klein, whose restaurant Aura encompasses the Tamo bar. "She's so creative she's brought us a whole new dimension," he said.

The lychee puree used in the Lychee Martini (Grey Goose, Soho Lychee Liqueur, lychee puree, cranberry juice) is another product of the kitchen. Looking like a robust Cosmo, it has a nice round fruit to it, and a potpourri of perfumes on the nose. None of which is going to matter when we all get our pink slips, but at least we can go out drinking in style.

Tamo at the Seaport Hotel, One Seaport Lane, South Boston. 617-385-4000.

Boston Globe

Friday, November 21, 2008

Barcode: Legal Seafoods

Surprisingly, it's legal

The cocktail scene in Boston can seem a little insular at times, particularly with a lot of the same boldface names popping up in columns like this one. So we thought we'd move beyond the beaten martini path and try a place you might not expect to put much thought into its drink list: an East Coast (albeit locally based) chain restaurant.

We should have suspected something was up while looking over Legal Sea Foods' suspiciously interesting "Raising the Bar" menu, with its fresh fruit purees and house-made syrups. But when Legal's beverage operations specialist Kara Kukull explained that the company has been working with Eastern Standard's renowned bartender Jackson Cannon as a cocktail consultant, it all started to make sense. Whoops! So much for our plan to branch out.

"There's been a revival of these classic cocktail techniques," Kukull told us from behind the bar at the Kendall Square location. "There's more awareness of the value of quality in general."

To illustrate her point, she designed a taste test for us, setting two Tanqueray gimlets on the bar. One was made with Rose's Lime Juice, and the other was their Gimlet Classique (all drinks $9.95) made with fresh lime and real cane sugar. The difference was remarkable. There is simply no comparison between the pure flavors in the house-made lime cordial and the cheaper character of the Rose's. The color helps as well. Sipping a drink that's the color of icy lime as opposed to Martian green makes it feel like it's something that actually came from nature.

The Cranberry Bog Lemon Martini (fresh cranberry puree, Absolut Citron, house made sour, bitters; pictured above), a seasonal appropriate cocktail, was similarly well-received. The skins of the cranberries gave it a depth of texture, while the blend of the citrus and the bitters added layers of flavor and aromatic complexity.

Speaking of seasonal, The French Canadien (Benedictine, Canadian Club, caramel syrup, half and half) had us pining for Thanksgiving. A hard-shaken, frothy mix that puffed in the glass like a cloud, it pushed forward notes of clove and nutmeg and cinnamon. A second dessert-like option was The P.C. (house-made pear puree and caramel syrup, St. Germain, Bacardi Limon). The caramel syrup was like the liquid of the gods and the grapefruit and florals of the elderflower liqueur and slight spray of fresh citrus blew our minds.

We're not sure how well they'll go with a cup of clam chowder, but at least you know you have options.

Available at any Legal Sea Foods location.

Boston Globe

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nightlife Picks

THE CRYSTAL METHOD Pioneers of the big beat electronic explosion in the nineties, Las Vegas duo The Crystal Method put an American stamp on the genre with smash crossovers like "Busy Child." Since then they've been the go to team for spicing up action movie soundtracks with a thumping techno rush. 10 p.m. Nov. 20. $20. Underbar, 275 Tremont St., Boston. 866-926-8499,

SAVORY Sometimes you want to take in good DJs without the pressure of, you know, moving around on the dance floor. Savory on Friday nights at the artistically-minded bistro Channel Café is your chance to take it easy. Tonight guests Mark Ingram and Patrick Barry serve up a menu of funk, deep house and down-tempo while you dine. 6 p.m. Nov. 21. Channel Café, 300 Summer St., Boston. 617-426-0695,

ANGULAR HAIR AND GUITARS You would think that DJs Brian L. and Matt Ransom, both employees of Harmonix, the local company behind the wildly popular Rock Band video game series, would know a thing or two about rock. Saturday night they focus on post-punk, new wave and 80's. 9 p.m. Nov. 22. River Gods, 125 River St., Cambridge. 617-576-1881,

BIAS DESIGN Bias, the Boston-based screen-printing, urban style company celebrates the launch of their new fall line with a sneak preview party and pre-sale at the Other Side Café. With music, drinks and hip new fashion, there's plenty to be, ahem, biased about. 9 p.m. Nov. 20. The Other Side Cafe, 407 Newbury St., Boston. 617-347-1019,

Boston Globe

25 Most Stylish Bostonians of 2008 -- Jennifer Thompson

Jennifer Thompson

Age: 35

Profession: Twelve-time Olympic medalist in swimming, anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Residence: Brookline

Where are your favorite places to shop in Boston?

What are your most indispensable clothing items?
I've always loved my jeans. I've been a jeans snob for many years. I'm a longtime fan of 7's and True Religion. I have several pairs; I shouldn't buy anymore, but I tend to. I like wearing sundresses a lot too, so that's why I picked one for this shoot. I tend to be a fan of the $200 party dress. For no reason! If I'm going out for dinner or drinks I try to dress up. I lived in New York City for a while where dressing up is an everyday occurrence. I kind of like that about it.

What are you saying about Boston?
Well, people don't wear sparkles here too much. I'm trying to bring it to town.

Being a doctor is a job that probably doesn't give you much opportunity for stylish expression, does it?
Well, I do wear scrubs every day, so I try to mix it up a little bit with gold sneakers, or a fun scrub hat. Otherwise we all look the same. It also frees up my wardrobe money for fun clothes versus work clothes.

Is there a stylish way to accessorize with Olympic medals?
Well, they're a little heavy for earrings, otherwise it would be a nice option.

Do you still swim much? How have swimming styles changed for better or worse since you started?
I just recently joined the Cambridge Masters swim team. I've only been about five times though. The suits have gotten paradoxically bigger and more material. You'd think less material would be better, but the material is so fast, now we cover our whole bodies.

Got any big style regrets from the past?
The big high school perm. That's something I won't repeat.

You got to see a lot of the world through swimming. What was the most stylish city? I like a mixture of boutiques and H&M. This place I discovered recently that I really like is The Velvet Fly . . . Mint Julep, and various ones on Newbury Street. I can't keep track. Barcelona and Rome.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ani DiFranco

DiFranco strikes a responsive chord

Something often overlooked in the journalist-driven mythologies of Ani DiFranco (paragon of indie-minded business success, charged symbol of conflicted gender politicking) is what a dynamic guitar player she is. Those in attendance at Symphony Hall on Sunday night were quickly reminded of this as DiFranco transformed from busker to poet to rock star and back, sometimes all within the span of a single song.

On the crowd-pleasing "Little Plastic Castle," DiFranco worked up a percussive acoustic rhythm, strumming out rapid bursts of punchy chords as thousand of diehards hung on her every word. It was hard to say who seemed more excited by the results: DiFranco basking in the glow of the rapturous welcome or the capacity crowd standing throughout the performance, laughing at her stories, and screaming out declarations of love. Standing up, DiFranco said of the stately hall, "is probably not what this room was designed for."

What it is designed for is maximum acoustic efficiency. The three other members of the band (on drums, upright bass, and percussion) worked the angles of the room with light cymbal brushes, chunky bass notes, and reverberating vibraphone chimes that created an organic, enveloping warmth. Here the band built a funky jazz rhythm, there they offered only minimalist embellishments. On the new song "Nov. 4, 2008," DiFranco beamed with delight as she sang: "The victory was ours. Never had so many people donated to a campaign." It was presumably about Barack Obama, although it was hard to make out the rest of the lyrics over the roar of the crowd. At the very least, the thundering applause settled any question about the political affiliation of an audience at an indie folk-rock concert in Boston.

Less exciting was DiFranco's jazz-club slam-poet persona, with its by now dreadfully cliched exhalation meter, or the reliance on corny sexual innuendo she often employs (to the audience's delight). She hit her stride on the rocking numbers, wringing the neck of her acoustic as if coaxing some imaginary feedback from it, finger plucking rapid-fire melodies, and bouncing about the stage in rhythmic glee. Better still were the moments of defiant optimism, such as on the title track of her latest album, "Red Letter Year," where her plangent voice unwound from anguished whisper to rabble-rousing indignation.

Kindred spirit Erin McKeown opened with a set of forcefully projected, emotive folk. On the songs "Put the Fun Back in Funeral" and "Born to Hum," she directed the audience to accompany her on whispers and three-part harmony humming. The fact that we all played along should give an idea of the performance's intimacy and winning charm.

Boston Globe

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nightlife Picks


FLOSSTRADAMUS Fresh off spinning uber hip parties for the likes of Vice, The Fader and South by Southwest, Chicago DJ duo Flosstradamus pull into town for a sick night of indie electro and mashups like their cracked-out mix of Lil John and Zombie Nation on the "Act a Fool" remix. Yikes. 10 p.m. Nov. 14. $15. The Estate, 1 Boylston Place., Boston. 617-351-7000,

HOT FOR TEACHER In the immortal words of the philosopher David Lee Roth, "I think of all the education that I missed, but then my home work was never quite like this." Join the naughty school kids for mix of top 40 and old school at the Place's weekly school-themed dance party tonight. 10 p.m. Nov. 19. The Place, 2 Broad St., Boston. 617-523-2081.

CHRISTOPHER'S CATWALK Boston On Your Feet Project comes together with some of the area's hottest boutiques for a fashion runway show to benefit children's cancer charity Christopher's Haven tonight. Expect styles from The Velvet Fly, Rick Walkers, and Oak, complementary rum cocktails. 8 p.m. Nov. 13. $20 - $25. Parris, Quincy Markey Building, Faneuil Hall, Boston.

TETON GRAVITY RESEARCH The extreme sports production company throws a party tonight for the Boston premiere of their ski and snowboard film "Under the Influence." Athletes from the film will be in attendance, and DJ Franklin will get the crowd moving. Let's see if they move as good on a flat surface as they do on a downhill. 7:30 p.m. Nov 14. The Roxy. 866-926-8499,


BOSTON SWING CENTRAL This weekly dance party offers lessons for beginners at 8 p.m. followed by a dance party at 9 p.m. Tonight the six piece band The Swing Legacy set the hoppers swinging to the sounds of Duke Ellington and more. Nov. 14. $10 - $13. Boston Swing Central, 8 Inman St., Cambridge.

HAVANA SATURDAYS And you thought the Copa Cabana was the hottest spot north of Havana. With dance lessons for beginners and hundreds of dancers every week from newbies to pros, the rotating cast of Djs and live bands keeps the crowd on their toes, literally. And unlike a lot of these others nights, they serve alcohol, (aka magic dancing juice.) 9:30 p.m. Nov. 15. $15. Jorge Hernández Cultural Center, 85 West Newton St., Boston. 617-312-5550,

BELLY DANCE CLASSES It's not really a "belly" dance if you're learning how to move your entire body, now is it? Get the footwork down, learn how to move your hips, and master that all important question of what to do with your arms (finger cymbals help), at this three session belly dancing class. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19. $17. Jose Mateo Ballet Theater, 400 Harvard St. Cambridge. 781-962-1983,

TANGO SOCIETY OF BOSTON Check out the Argentine Tango dance lessons and party every Wednesday at the Tango Society of Boston. Whether you're a beginner or one of those smooth villains always whisking everyone's wife away for a breathless dance romance, there's a level here for you. 7 p.m. Nov 19. $8- $15. The Tango Society of Boston, 16 Bow St., Somerville. 617-699-6246,

Boston Globe

Ten Cheap Drinks

Chill Out

Feeling budget-minded? Here are 10 great cocktails that refresh for less.

Like everything else in the city, bar prices have been steadily inching upward over the past few years. These days, $12 is about average for a specialty cocktail at a lot of forward-thinking bars, and some of them are even worth it. But we've also seen some drinks trending toward the $13-$15 range, and a few as high as $18. That's fine if you sleep on a bed made of money. But with the economy the way it is, you may be minding the drinking budget for a while. That doesn't mean you've got nothing but well liquor to look forward to, however. We've found 10 (relatively) cheap but still interesting drinks for you to choose from at bars you'll actually want to spend time in. Thank us later.

Demi-Peche (wheat beer, peach syrup), $6.

This cocktail takes the idea of adding fruit to your wheat beer (usually lemon) and kicks it up a notch with the sticky sweetness of peach syrup. A totally thirst-quenching and refreshing drink, consider ordering one of these next time you're here, dancing all night.

Middlesex Lounge, 315 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-868-6739.

Negra Noche (Patron XO Cafe, cream liqueur, coffee, coffee rum), $7.

Sneaking a shot of tequila into your morning iced coffee, which roughly sums up the appeal of this cocktail, sounds like the type of thing that could improve your day. Still, it's probably a better idea to wait until after work to try it. Silly rules.

Silvertone, 69 Bromfield St., Boston. 617-338-7887.

Sherry Julep (pale cream sherry, muddled mint, sugar, Cava), $8.

Tapas are usually relatively inexpensive, but not if you order the way we do. Better, then, to keep the drinks on the affordable end. A twist on the mint julep, this cocktail's deep fruit flavors of apple and plum make for a crisp, fresh combo with the mint. Not sweet, just fruity, and with plenty of sparkle from the Cava.

Toro, 1704 Washington St., Boston. 617-536-4300.

Raspberry Lime Ricky (Stoli Razz, Chambord, fresh lime juice, sugar, soda), $8.

All the sugary goodness of whatever half-mythical soda-shop past you want to draw from, but served in a dimly lit, cramped but cozy city bar. It's like getting drunk on nostalgia, but, you know, also in the literal sense.

Columbus Cafe, 535 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-247-9001. www.columbus

Sauza Gold Margarita (tequila, sour mix, lime, salt), $6.50.

Nothing out of the ordinary about this standard margarita, except for two key things: Like most of the other margaritas at this affordable Mexican restaurant, it's really, really big, and really, really cheap. Unlike other giant margaritas, it's not just loaded with sour mix. You'll actually get tequila all the way to the end.

Border Cafe, 32 Church St., Cambridge. 617-864-6100.

Golden Goddess (Gosling's gold rum, Amaretto, pineapple juice, orange juice, grenadine), $8.50.

It was cold outside and the heat was blasting at River Gods when we ordered this nutty, fruity, and sweet take on an old rum favorite. A few sips in and we almost forgot where we were. The sun came out, we could hear the sounds of the surf on the beach.

River Gods, 125 River St., Cambridge. 617-576-1881.

Mango Ginger Breeze

(house-infused ginger vodka, mango puree, sweet and sour mix, ginger beer), $8.50

When even the sports pubs like Tavern in the Square are doing in-house infusions and using fruit purees on their drink lists, you know that mixology style is spreading far and wide. Here, the combination of the ginger-infused vodka and ginger beer makes for a snappy mango flavor that tickles the tongue.

Tavern in the Square, 1815 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-354-7766.

Shiver (Campari, grapefruit, Eau de Vie of Douglas fir), $8.

After one sip of this bitter cocktail, there'll be no question about where it gets its name. With licorice and vaguely medicinal aromatics from the Campari, the citrus of the pink grapefruit, and the bracing, holiday pine notes of the brandy, there's a lot to digest here. But it's got a pleasant, spine-stiffening bitterness to it that's easy to get used to, especially when you give it a big squeeze of the plump, juicy orange garnish.

Chez Henri, 1 Shepard St., Cambridge. 617-354-8980.

Pineapple Mint Sangria

(Spanish table wine, pineapple, mint, ginger ale), $7.50.

In terms of buzz for you buck, you can't do much better than sangria, and it certainly doesn't hurt when it's as fun and drinkable as this one (pictured on front). A little too drinkable in fact. Deceptively strong, the smooth pineapple washes this one down in thirsty gulps.

Pho Republique, 1415 Washington St., Boston. 617-262-0005.

Margarita Caliente (jalapeño-infused gold tequila, triple sec, fresh sour), $7.50.

Tequila is spicy and hot enough on its own, but when you soak jalapeños in the bottle, well, that's asking for trouble. Except when it's not, like with this surprisingly drinkable cocktail. Sure, it's like doing salt licks off the side of the sun, but this infusion radiates a golden, salty, sour heat that doesn't bite too much. Unless you want it to.

Zuzu, 472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-492-1886.

Boston Globe

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Sea and Cake

Paintings in post-rock

The Sea and Cake’s ‘Car Alarm’ is an abstract watercolor of sound

On “Car Alarm,” the seventh album from Chicago’s The Sea and Cake, the band continues apace with their unmistakable post-rock push.

It’s a collection of songs that breathe and rush with an understated energy as front man Sam Prekop and company coax whispered, chiming loops out of guitar and keys. Tracks bleed into one another around the edges in a sort of abstract watercolor of an album, while Prekop’s sighing vocals hover above the fray in muted tones that soothe and lull. The sound is soothing even though there is obviously a high energy rock pushing it forward. Prekop says, “I wouldn’t say our goal would be to relax the folks, but I would hope you could get lost in it.”

What has the accumulation of your experi­ence brought to this album that you may have been lacking when you first started?

In some ways it’s a bizarrely similar experience for me. I feel like I’m starting over [with each album], and I think it’s ultimately to my benefit. I’ll forever be a student looking to get better.

You’re also a visual artist. How does your artwork inform your music and vice versa? There seems to be a painterly layering of instruments on “Car Alarm.”

I’ve never made any real practical connection between the two, but trust that either one would be quite different without the other. I will say that when I’m trying to describe a sound I might be looking for, I’d probably use terms that would be more suited to painting than music.

What activities do you imagine your music is best suited to accompany?

I hear about road trips involving The Sea and Cake’s music as an especially popular past time.

New York Metro

Friday, November 7, 2008

Barcode: City Bar

Locals may not have much opportunity to stay in Boston's fancy new hotels, but that doesn't mean we can't take advantage of the boutique bars setting up shop on their premises. City Bar and M.J. O'Connor's at the Westin Boston Waterfront are two of the newest to open, and both will feel familiar to anyone accustomed to their Back Bay locations.

M.J.'s is a sleek Irish sports pub that still has that fresh-out-of-the-box feel. Give it some time to break in and it should end up fitting nicely.We preferred the cozier environs of City Bar. It's a lean, dark, and handsome room. The lounge couches, banquettes, and low bar tables are all rich hues of brown and black, while the walls are painted in muted greens with overlapping geometric patterns. There's a soothing tenor to the room, despite the fact that it's anchored on one side of the cavernous, arboreal spaceship hull that is the Westin's lobby.

On the smooth wooden bar, blue-lit crushed ice illuminates chilling martini glasses. Against the bar mirror, a multicolored light show highlights the bottles arranged on the shelves, giving the impression that the spirits are stepping out onto center stage for their big solo.

Many of the drinks offered here are more than deserving of a moment in the spotlight. The Infusion Diabolique Bourbon (fresh and dried figs, cinnamon, and vanilla bean, $10) saves its energy for a big finish when an unexpected second wave of flavors washes over the back of the palate. Bravo. It's an extraordinary recipe, and like the others here it's the work of former Azure chef Robert Fathman, whose infusions were so popular he now bottles and sells them in a small batch line.

The bourbon's transition into a mixed cocktail, a take on the Old Fashioned called the Traditional (above, made with Citronge, bitters, and simple syrup, $12) is a bit shocking. It becomes a less subtle experience, something like sucking an orange you've left soaking in bourbon. (On second thought, that last idea sounds pretty good.)

The Infusion Diabolique Rum (lemon, orange, and ginger, $10) is likewise a symphony of taste. Mixed into the Devil's Water (ginger syrup, lemon juice, $12) it hits the ginger and lemon with a strike of spicy lightning.

Saving the best for the last, the Infusion Angelique tequila (fresh mango, lime, and Hawaiian pineapple, $10) somehow combines for a golden honey nose and a liquid honey consistency, with a sticky tropical heat.

Until any of these start showing up in motel mini-bars, we know where we want to stay.

Boston Globe

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Saving Money and Rescuing Clothes

Reuse and recycle. Both are familiar concepts when it comes to thinking about vintage and secondhand clothing. But rescue? That's something altogether different. It somehow suggests a more concerned and invested approach to cast-off clothing, and it's the philosophy behind Rescue, a new buy/sell/trade boutique in Allston.

The idea for the store came to Jeralyn Mason, 27, a native of Salem, N.H., when she was studying in New York City and working at the well-known secondhand shop, Beacon's Closet.

"It's a pretty huge buy/sell/trade store," she said. "I worked there for about four years, and that was when I started having the idea of doing my own thing."

With so much competition in New York and frequent complaints from her brother Paul, 25, who lives in Allston, that there wasn't anything like Beacon's Closet here, the siblings decided to fill a shopping void by opening a store in the neighborhood.

"In New York there are a few buy/sell/trade stores, and in San Francisco there are a ton of them . . . but as far as I know there are no others in Boston," Jeralyn Mason said. "The appeal of buy/sell/trade is that you can just come right in with a pile of clothes - they don't have to be the greatest clothes or anything - and you can get some cash immediately. Or you can trade this pile of clothes you don't want anymore for a few pieces that are brand new to you. It's like cleaning out your closet, but you also get new stuff."

Unlike other consignment or secondhand stores, Rescue's buy/sell/trade model gives customers their cut right away: 30 percent of their garments' proposed selling price in cash, or 50 percent in store trade.

"We just felt like with all the college students, especially in Allston, not wanting to spend full price on clothes is obviously an issue," Mason said. "And being able to trade them and get new stuff cheaper or get some money when you're broke and have to pay rent is going to appeal to people."

It isn't your parents' thrift store, Mason pointed out; she added that Rescue's approach is to focus on quality. "We don't want to have some disgusting, dirty, old-smelling thing for a dollar," she said. "We want to focus on nice things that are good quality that are modern styles. Even if they're vintage it's something that's trendy right now."

They also have designer labels on offer, and new items from lines like In God We Trust and Cheap Monday. Prices run from $5-$7 on the low end, to about $140 on the high end.

Sounds perfect for anyone who has a healthy respect for clothes. Because the truth is, sometimes you have to break up with a favorite shirt. But you don't want to throw it away. You just need someone to come along and rescue it.

Rescue, 252 Brighton Ave., Allston. 617-202-3838.

Boston Globe

Monday, November 3, 2008

Christopher Monks

In the video game world, as in most other endeavors, there are two types of people: those who read the instructions and those who learn on the fly. Of course, there is no manual for real life. There are laws, parental guidance, and social mores, but those aren't exactly comprehensive, and they definitely aren't funny. Christopher Monks's new humor book, "The Ultimate Game Guide to Your Life," aims to fill that void.

Monks, 39, has devised a role-playing video game called "Your Life" and an instruction manual that walks players through a series of challenges. It begins in the infant and toddler years (Level I, Challenge Four: Mastering Your Bowels); continues through the school years, parenthood, and middle age; and works toward the game's conclusion (Level VII, Challenge Twenty Eight: Your Death). At each step along the way, the player collects "life points" for mastery of such "mini games" as learning to crawl, getting a driver's license, and conceiving a child.

Ironically, Monks, a father of two from Arlington who works as the online editor for the literary humor site McSweeney's, says he tries to do things without the aid of an instruction manual. "If I open up a box from Ikea or start playing a video game, I like to think that I can figure things out," he says. "But inevitably I have to return to the instruction manual."

Things like rounding up the kids and taking them to the supermarket without a meltdown, on the other hand, aren't always as intuitive. Navigating adventures like that helped crystallize the concept of life as a series of mini-games for Monks. "Before a baby can crawl they have to sit up. Before they can stand up they have to crawl," he says. "In a lot of ways life is sort of like a video game in terms of the structure and the challenges you have to overcome to get to the next level."

Plus, he says, the book idea gave him a good excuse to spend a lot of time playing video games for "research."

The book is mostly tongue in cheek, but there's also some matter-of-fact good advice. "I don't want to come off like I'm Deepak Chopra or something," he says. "But I think there is some good advice about how to live your life, how to parent, and how to speak to your kids." Sounds like he's well on his way to completing Level VI: Your Grown-Up Years.

Boston Globe