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10 Must-Have Board Games for the iPad

With the increased screen real estate of the iPad, it’s the perfect device for playing board games. If you haven’t had a chance to browse some of the great titles available on the App Store, here’s some of our favorite board games to get you started.

Scrabble

Such a classic, Scrabble is awesome on the iPad platform. Enjoy playing against friends (or a computer) on a gorgeous large game board. If you have an iPhone, download the free Scrabble Tile Rack and arrange your letters on your own device. When it’s your turn, simply flick them towards the game board and they’ll appear, ready for you to place and score big. Similar to the iPhone version, you can play against your friends locally or over a local network. Scrabble is $9.99.

Words with Friends

If there’s one app at the moment that’s popular across social networks and mobile devices, it’s Words with Friends. Similar to Scrabble, this game allows you to play, turn based, against friends who are playing on their iPads, iPhones or Facebook accounts. The app supports push notifications to let you know when it’s your turn, and you can chat in-game with your friends. At $2.99, this is definitely a fun board game for those who enjoy playing against friends and don’t want to take the leap to Scrabble.

Game Table

One of the first game apps on the iPad, Game Table provides a virtual game board for a variety of games, like checkers, chess, poker and other card games. It’s not a traditional game in the sense that you’ll have scoring or rules and stuff. Instead, it’s simply all the pieces to play games without all the fuss so you can play them any way you want. For 99 cents this app is a great value and the developers have promised that additional game pieces for Backgammon, Go and Reversi will be added soon.

UNO HD

While UNO technically is more of a card game than a board game, I decided to include it because it’s a very fun experience on the iPad. It features all of the traditional UNO rules and actions, like Draw 2, Reverse and Wild cards. It also supports multiplayer (sharing one device or multiple on a Wi-Fi network) and features challenges allowing users to unlock additional themes to give the game a fresher look. UNO HD is $4.99.

Strategery

Strategery is an engaging game originally designed for the iPhone that has been optimized for the iPad as well. This game of world domination features you as leader of a “country” (think Civilization style) and you battle against your neighbors to gain/lose territory. It supports pass-and-play style multiplayer (with up to five players) or online battles with push notifications. The iPad version allows for much larger maps and a much more engaging experience if played like a traditional board game (a group of players gathering around the iPad). At $1.99, this app is a definite must-have.

Theme Checkers

Of all board games, Checkers (or Chess) was probably the most expected to debut on the iPad. There are a variety of both available now, but my favorite is Theme Checkers HD. Just like a real game, the movement is very fluid and natural. This game supports one and two player modes and regularly updated themes for unique checkers experience. Users can even create and install their own custom themes as well. Theme Checkers HD is 99 cents, so give it a spin and see what you think.

Board Box

If you’re looking for a little more than just checkers or chess, you should check out Board Box. Similar to some of the others I’ve mentioned, it includes checkers and chess, but this app goes further by including Reversi, Tic Tac Toe, Go, Draughts and more. Not only does it include the regular version of these games, but it also includes some variants. This app doesn’t support an automated second player, so you’ll either need to suffer from having a split personality or have a friend to play against. If there’s nobody local, you can play against friends through email. The developers of Board Box have promised that there will be no in-app purchases for this app so as they continue to update and add additional game boards and variants, the updates will be free. At $3.99, Board Box is a great investment.

Ludo

If you’re a fan of Parcheesi, you should definitely check out Ludo ($3.99). Supporting up to four players (both human or computer), the game plays like real Parcheesi, except with a fresh modern interface and smooth animations and sound effects. Though there are a few other Parcheesi variants on the App Store, this one is definitely the best for the iPad. Additionally, your game state is saved so you can start and stop the game as you please.

Moonlight Mahjong

If you’re one who loves playing mahjong, check out Moonlight Mahjong for 99 cents. Putting a literal spin on the traditional idea of mahjong, this version is 3D, allowing you to use touch gestures to tilt and turn and zoom in and out. There’s over 90 built-in board layouts. When you get bored with those, you can create your own and share them with others. Plus, it offers for support of multiple players (even across Wi-Fi or against an automated opponent). If you’ve never given mahjong a shot, this is an excellent game to reduce stress and relax.

Honey, That’s Mine!

This is a “sweet” board game where players compete against each other to collect the most honey. If playing on the iPhone or iPod touch, the game supports pass-and-play for multiplayer, but if you’re on the iPad, the larger screen makes it easy to just place your iPad on a table and play against your friends. The idea of the game is rather simple, but the options for computer opponents and difficulty variations give this game additional replay value. Honey, That’s Mine is available on the App Store for $1.99.

This is just a small sampling of some of the apps available for the iPad. If you’ve tried these or found others you like, share your thoughts in the comments below. Personally I’m thrilled to find replacements of my favorite board games on the iPad. Just imagine how many little pieces I don’t have to keep up with anymore!

Re-Create a Fancy Steakhouse Dinner at Home On the Cheap [Dining]

While it’s true that sometimes nothing beats the atmosphere and personal attention of dinner at a fine restaurant, it can also set you back $100 or more. Try re-creating the experience at home for less than half that amount.

Family advice blogger Amy Clark had to give up dining out after a decrease in income and the birth of her two children. Now she and her husband indulge themselves in a great steak dinner by hauling out the fine china, pouring wine into fancy stemware, and cooking up some prime cuts of beef right in their own kitchen.

Clark did some digging and put together a great menu (complete with instructions) of marinated, grilled steak, roasted red potatoes, and pan-friend asparagus that rivals just about any steak joint out there. If you're not into grilling outdoors in the middle of a blizzard, she's got you covered there, too—just use a heavy, cast iron grill pan right on the stove top.

The toughest part of getting your steak cooked to perfection is knowing how long to grill it. The ideal length of time depends on what cut of meat you start with and how rare you want it, but Clark offers a general timetable to get you started:

Filet: 13-18 minutes

Ribeye, Boneless: 6-8 minutes

Ribeye, Bone-In: 9-12 minutes

T-Bone /Porterhouse: 14-16 minutes

Top Sirloin: 13-16 minutes

Strip, Boneless: 10-12 minutes

You can also determine the doneness of a steak by how it feels when you press on it. Check out the post to grab recipes for Clark’s potato and asparagus side dishes. Add a salad and a good bottle of wine, and you’re all set.

To cut even more corners while still enjoying a tasty dinner, be sure to check our previous tip for making a $5 steak taste more like a $50 steak.

How do you re-create your favorite aspect of dining out when you’re actually staying in? Fresh flowers on the table? Special music? Appetizers? Shoot us your ideas in the comments.






Build a Silent, Standalone XBMC Media Center On the Cheap [Winter Upgrades]

You won’t find a better media center than the open-source XBMC, but most people don’t have the space or desire to plug a noisy PC into their TV. Instead, I converted a cheap nettop into a standalone XBMC set-top box. Here’s how.

In the spirit of our Winter Upgrades theme this week, this guide details how to turn a cheapo nettop (think netbook for the desktop) into a killer settop box running XBMC. It handles virtually any video file I throw at it with ease (including streaming Blu-Ray rips from my desktop), it looks tiny next to my Xbox 360, it’s low energy, and it’s whisper quiet.

Huge props to this guide on the XBMC forums, which served as the starting point for much of what I did below.

What You’ll Need

  • Acer AspireRevo: This $200 nettop ships with 1GB of RAM, an Intel Atom 230 processor, 160GB hard drive, Windows XP (which we won’t use anyway), and an integrated graphics chip that handles HD video and can output it to HDMI. It also comes with a small wired keyboard and mouse, but once you’re done here, you shouldn’t need either of them. Oh, and it’s tiny. (Other, more powerful nettops will work [like this one’s beefier, $330 older sibling], but this is the cheapest one I could find with the NVIDIA ION graphics powerful enough to handle the HD playback.)
  • XBMC Live: This is a Live CD version of XBMC that boots directly into XBMC and has a tiny footprint. Basically all you’re running is XBMC, so your media center stays light and snappy. You can find the download specifically set up for these NVIDIA ION machines on this page, you can grab the direct download here, or download via BitTorrent here.
  • A thumb drive: It doesn’t have to be huge, but it’ll need to be at least 1500MB of capacity, according to the installer. You should also format it to FAT32.
  • An IR receiver/Windows Media Center remote: This isn’t strictly necessary, but if you want to control your shiny new XBMC via remote control, you’ll need some sort of supported remote with a USB receiver. I bought this $20 remote because it was the cheapest I could find. (Incidentally, it also works like a charm with XBMC as soon as you plug it in.)

Getting XBMC Live up and running on your nettop is a breeze if you follow a few simple steps, so let’s get started.

Install XBMC Live on Your Thumb Drive

XBMC Live allows you to try XBMC on any computer from a bootable CD or thumb drive, then optionally install the lightweight, XBMC-focused Linux distro directly to your device if you like. Since our nettop doesn’t have a DVD drive, we’ll need to first install XBMC to our thumb drive.

(There are ways around this. If you had a USB optical drive, you could probably burn XBMC Live to a disc and go from there. The thumb drive method isn’t much more difficult, though.)

Here’s how it works:

1. Download the XBMC Live installer with the updated NVIDIA drivers included on this page (direct link, torrent link). Update: Huge thanks to Mike and Aaron for the file hosting and torrent creating. It’s a 341MB file, so it may take a while.

2. Burn XBMC Live to a CD
Once the download completes, unzip the xbmc.zip file. What you're left with is an xbmc.iso file—the disc image of the XBMC Live installer. Now you need to burn this ISO to a CD. Install our favorite tool for the job, ImgBurn, then right-click the xbmc.iso file and select Burn using ImgBurn. (If you’re running Windows 7, you can use its built-in ISO burner, too, by selecting Burn disc image.)

3. Install XBMC Live to Your Thumb Drive
Now that you’ve burned XBMC to a CD, you’re ready to install it to your thumb drive. To do so, plug in your thumb drive, put the XBMC Live CD in your DVD drive, and reboot your computer. If it’s not already your default setting, go into your system BIOS (for most computers hitting Delete at the first boot screen will launch your BIOS) and set your optical drive as the primary boot device.

(All this means is that when your computer boots, it'll first check to see if there's any bootable media in your optical drive. If not, it'll continue booting to your secondary device—generally your hard drive. If your optical drive does contain bootable media—like your XBMC Live CD, for example—it'll boot it up.)

When XBMC Live loads, select “Install XBMCLive to disk (USB or HDD)”, then accept the first prompt (by pressing any key). Next you’ll end up at the “Choose disk to use” prompt, where you’ll tell the installer that you want to install to your USB stick. Be careful here not to choose your hard drive, because it would be happy to overwrite your operating system if you told it to. Remember, your thumb drive is the Removable disk. After you pick the disk you want to use, confirm that you want to proceed and let the installer do its magic. (It’ll only take a few minutes.)

Eventually the installer will ask you if you want to create a permanent system storage file, which presumably you’d want if you’re not sure whether or not you want to install XBMC Live to your Acer’s hard drive. I went ahead and created the system storage (even though we’ll install XBMC Live directly to the hard drive in the next step.) Once the installation finishes, you’re ready to proceed to the next step.

Set Your System BIOS

You’ll need to make a couple of tweaks to your system BIOS to get it working smoothly with XBMC Live. So plug in your thumb drive, boot up your Acer AspireRevo, and hit Delete at the first boot screen to edit your BIOS. Look for the “Boot to RevoBoot” entry in the Advanced BIOS features menu and disable it. While you’re there, set your XBMC Live thumb drive as the primary boot device. (You can set the primary boot device back to your hard drive later, after you’ve installed XBMC Live to your drive.)

Then go to the Advanced Chipset Features menu and set the iGPU Frame Buffer Detect to Manual and set the iGPU Frame Buffer Size to 256MB. (This is detailed here; the actual guide says 512, but that requires that you install more RAM—something I may do in the future, and will detail with a guide if I do. The 512 buffer size will help you stream the larger HD videos without hiccups.)

Now that your BIOS are set, you’re ready to try out XBMC Live on your Acer AspireRevo.

Boot Up/Install XBMC Live to Your Hard Drive

At this point, you’ve got two choices. You can either restart your Acer AspireRevo and boot into XBMC Live to play around a little before you install it to your disk. If you’re sure you’re ready to install it for reals, just go ahead and run through the exact same installation as you did above, only this time install it to your nettop’s hard drive. When you install to the hard drive, you’ll also set a system password. This’ll come in handy later.

The Final Tweaks

Okay, so far so good. XBMC should boot up directly from your hard drive now, and if you’ve plugged in your Windows Media Center remote, it should also be working without a hitch. You’ve just got to make a couple of adjustments to make it shine.

Now, what makes your little nettop work so well is that its onboard graphics processor can handle all the HD business without eating up your regular processor power, so you'll want to enable this in the XBMC settings. So head to Settings > Video > Play, find the Set Render to section, and set it to VDPAU.

Now, depending on how you’re planning on hooking up your XBMC Live box to your television, you’ve got a few more tweaks you’ll want to make. Namely this:

If you want to use HDMI for your audio out, head to Settings > System > Audio hardware, then set the audio output to Digital. Set your Audio output device to hdmi, and set the Passthrough output device to hdmi. Last, enable Downmix multichannel audio to stereo.

If you are using HDMI as your audio out (I am, and it’s pretty nice), you’ve got to make one final tweak if you want the audio output to work with menu sounds. (It’ll work fine with video without making this tweak, but the click-click sounds that play when you move around the XBMC menu are nice to have.) If that applies to you, create a new text file on your regular old computer (name it asoundrc.txt) and paste the following code (again, this awesome tweak comes from this post):

 pcm.!default { type plug slave { pcm "hdmi" } } 

In the next step, I’ll show you how to copy that file over to your nettop (a little trick that’ll also come in handy for manually installing plug-ins and copying files to your nettop).

SFTP to Your XBMC Box

If you want to transfer files to your XBMC Live box from another computer, you’ll need to get yourself an FTP client (I like FileZilla) and log into your nettop with the password you set when you were installing XBMC Live. To do so, create a new connection in Filezilla that looks something like the screenshot below (the default user is xbmc).

Once you’re connected, make sure you’re in the /home/xbmc/ directory, then copy over the asoundrc.txt file we made above. (The one you want to use if you’re running your audio through the HDMI output.) Once it’s copied over, rename the file to .asoundrc, restart XBMC, and the click-click menu sounds should be working along with regular old A/V playback.

The same SFTPing method here will be useful if you ever want to manually install any plug-ins or skins down the road, or just copy over media directly to your nettop's hard drive. (Though we'd recommend streaming—see below.)

Other Options

As I said above, you can buy more expensive, meatier machines, but for my money this Acer nettop has worked perfectly. Apart from upgrading to better equipment, you can also add up to 2GB more RAM if you’re up for the job (RAM’s so cheap these days, anyway). Like I said, though, so far I haven’t seen the need for it.

I also quickly switched the skin to the MediaStream skin, which is the one you see in the photo at the top of the page. For a look at some other great skins you may want to apply to your XBMC box, check out these five beautiful skins—or just head to XBMC's main skins page.

Now that you’ve got it all set up, you’ve probably also realized that 160GB isn’t all that much space for your media. You’d be right, of course. You’ve got two pretty good options. First, the nettop should have something like four free USB ports still, so you can easily plug in a big old drive that way. Assuming, however, that you can run an Ethernet wire over to your nettop, your best option is just to connect it to a shared folder on your home network. XBMC works like a charm with Samba shares (Windows shared folders use this).

Whichever method you use, you just need to add your extra hard drive space as a source in XBMC. You can do so through any of the individual menu items (videos, for example), or you can add a default Samba username and password in the settings so it can connect automatically without asking for a password each time you add a new watch folder on that machine.

At this point I could go into more detail on how to use and get the most out of XBMC (it can be a little hard to get your head around at first, even though once you do, it’s not actually confusing). We’ve covered souping up your XBMC—and building your classic Xbox XBMC machine—and both offer some help in those directions. But stick around; tomorrow we'll follow up with an updated guide to some of our favorite XBMC tweaks.


This guide covers in pretty close detail one method for putting together a dedicated, quiet XBMC media center without breaking the bank, but it’s certainly not your only option. If you’ve gone down this road before, offer your tips and suggestions in the comments. For my part: I’m completely in love with my new little media center.

Adam Pash is the editor of Lifehacker and loves a good computer-based DIY, especially when the results are as beautiful as XBMC. His special feature Hack Attack appears on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Hack Attack RSS feed to get new installments in your newsreader, or follow @adampash on Twitter.






Goby Helps You Find Fun Things To Do [Entertainment]

If you have an idea what you want to do and where you’re going to be but you want someone else to figure out the rest, Goby can take care of the searching for you.

Skydiving in Las Vegas? Rock climbing in New York City? Sailing in Bar Harbor? Give Goby a rough idea what you want to do and it scours calendars, event listings, directories, and more to bring you relevant information about everything from extreme sports to theater listings.

You can sort the results by relevance, distance, date, and even the name of the event or activity. You can also filter the results via categories. If you wanted a dinner theater experience, you can easily drill down through the results for theater to include only dining experiences.

Have your own favorite service or tool for finding things to do? Let’s hear about it in the comments.






100- Low Entertainment Center Pt. 4

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An important aspect of building furniture that many new woodworkers overlook, is the importance of finishing BEFORE the project is completely glued together. That’s the primary focus of this part of the series.

A few of the topics covered in this part:

  • How to deal with color differences between plywood and solid wood trim.
  • Raising the grain and applying water-based dyes.
  • Theory and application of wiping varnish.
  • Creating shelf pin holes for adjustable shelving.
  • Applying angled trim to the shelves.
  • Final glueup and clamping strategy.

I mentioned my finishing DVD in the video, so here’s a quick link for anyone who might be interested. A Simple Varnish Finish

JIG IT® Shelving Jig JIG IT® Shelving Jig
Our original JIG IT® Shelving Jig is now even better!
Get perfectly, consistently spaced and centered shelf-pin holes!

JIG IT® Shelving Jig

**New Project Plan!!**
sketchupfileimageIf you are interested, we now have a digital plan available for this project. The set includes a PDF plan/cutlist and a full-featured Sketchup file. The download is available in the Wood Whisperer Store.

Quick Links:
Low Entertainment Center Pt. 1
Low Entertainment Center Pt. 2
Low Entertainment Center Pt. 3

99 – Low Entertainment Center Pt. 3

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The absolute worst time to find out you’ve made a mistake is while the glue is drying. So this part focuses strongly on the importance of a dry assembly, which I consider to be an essential part of the glue up process. By the end we’ll have a partially glue-up entertainment center.

A few of the topics covered in this part:

  • Gluing trim pieces.
  • Using biscuits.
  • Clamping strategies.
  • Using a wood filler to hide miter flaws.
  • Cutting the big bevels on the top and bottom trim.
  • Sanding.
  • Dry assembly strategy.
  • Measuring and cutting the back panels.
  • Initial glueup.

**New Project Plan!!**
sketchupfileimageIf you are interested, we now have a digital plan available for this project. The set includes a PDF plan/cutlist and a full-featured Sketchup file. The download is available in the Wood Whisperer Store.

timbmateAnd this is the filler I recommended in the video. If you’ve had bad experiences with fillers in the past, you really need to give this stuff a shot. Shopping through this affiliate link will also help out the show.

Quick Links:
Low Entertainment Center Pt. 1
Low Entertainment Center Pt. 2


Build an Air Hockey Table [Weekend Project]

Love air hockey but don’t have a small fortune to spend on an air hockey table? Build a rock-solid monster of an air hockey table and be the envy of your old school arcade-loving friends.

This isn’t a simple build that you can cobble together with some plywood you scrounged from the dump and some duct tape. You’ll definitely be investing a solid weekend or two in the construction process. The payoff, however, is an awesome air hockey table for a fraction of the price of a retail model.

How much of a fraction? A crappy Wal-Mart air hockey table will run you around $400, a commercial-grade arcade model will run you anywhere from $1,000-$5,000. Depending on the supplies you have on hand before you start this project your cost will be closer to $100.

Check out the link below for a detailed build guide and if you have tales of your own DIY arcade and gaming adventures we’d love to hear them in the comments below.





TicketFlow Scours Ticket Sites to Bring You Deals [Tickets]

Why leave price aggregation to the airline travel sites? TicketFlow aggregates concert data from thousands of venues making it a snap to find performances in your locale and price range.

Plug a band or artist name in and Ticketflow will pull from hundreds of ticket vendors to bring you all the available tickets. You can narrow the results with parameters like price, date, time of day, and location. Once you’ve settled on a venue, you can compare the seats available, right down to the section, row, and how many tickets are available.

For more concert-searching goodness, check out previously mentioned Livekick. If you’d love to see some set lists and memorabilia from past concerts you’ve been to, check out another cool concert tool we’ve covered called SongKick. Have a great concert resource? Let’s hear about it in the comments.





Break Away from Guidebooks for Cheaper Vacationing [Travel]

Guidebooks are a staple item for many travelers. While there is nothing wrong with using a guidebook to get a feel for the environment you’ll be vacationing in, it’s a sure way to pay high prices and fight crowds.

Photo by mode.

Over at the frugality blog Wise Bread, they’ve put together a handy guide to budget travel. One quick way to cut down on the cost and the time spent waiting at crowded destinations is to ditch the guidebook:

Consult a good, locally researched guidebook like those in the Lonely Planet series for basic background and logistical info before you travel, but don’t use it to plan your every move, like where you’ll stay, eat and hang out. By the time a guidebook recommends something, it’s usually overrun with tourists (and overpriced).

What can you do if you aren’t using the guidebook? You can follow another bit of advice they offer by obeying the “Three L’s Rule” to Look for Lines of Locals and keep your eyes and ears focused on finding the places the non-tourists go to enjoy the local culture.

For more money-saving travel tips, check out the full article. If you have your own tips for getting more out of your travel while keeping the costs down, share the wealth in the comments below.





Make a Willow Whistle [Fun]

Whether you’re looking to indulge in old-timey fun or impress kids at a family picnic with your versatile maker skills, willow whistles are simple, noisy, and, of course, really cheap toy. Photo by Mirko Macari.

Willow whistles, for the uninitiated, are basic whistles created from the soft green branches of weeping willow trees. Armed with a pocket knife, you’ll find their construction a straight-forward affair. As this editor can attest, after a few practice runs, you’ll be a pro. Check out the video below to learn how to make a willow whistle and see a few different ones in action:

We'll add extra emphasis on selecting very green and new growth branches—while old willow branches might be prized by florists for their curly and beautiful appearance, they make for poor raw material for your whistle. If you've been dying to share a trick for making some old-school toys but never had the right moment to share (you poor soul), now's your time to shine in the comments below.





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