MONOPOLY Goes Modern

Would you like fries with that labradoodle?

Mr. MonopolyIf I were dead, I’d be rolling over in my grave right now. But since I’m not, I’ll have to settle on rolling my eyes along with every kid who ever suffered through a rainy day MONOPOLY marathon, which is basically every kid and ex-kid in America.

Love it or hate it–and I feel a little bit of both whenever I play–MONOPOLY is a sacred part of our culture. Everybody plays. You play because your little sister bugs you till you say yes. You play because you can’t go outside because it’s raining or they’re spraying Naled. You play because it’s Christmas vacation, you’ve already tortured your little sister, and you don’t have anything else to do. You play because you don’t want to play strip poker with grandma. You play because there’s nothing else your family can agree to do together.

And now, it pains me to say this, MONOPOLY–the most popular board game in history, with more than 250 million copies sold–has gone commercial.

I know it seems an ironic complaint to make about a game that glorifies capitalism and has aggressively licensed versions from Armyopoly to X-Menopoly. I think we still have a version of Santa Barbopoly around here somewhere.

But despite these transgressions, one part of the game remained sacred: the tokens. You may abhor the game, or make up your own rules to make it go faster, but everyone has a favorite MONOPOLY token, and it never feels quite right when you’re forced to play with your second favorite.

Parker Brothers, the game’s manufacturer, has even done a nationwide analysis and found that certain personality traits are associated with certain MONOPOLY tokens. You’ve got your wheelbarrows, who are always prepared to take in loads of easily maneuverable money; your canons who are constantly aiming to make a big noise; your race cars, who drive hard deals in their negotiations; your shoes, who trod their way patiently around the board; and your top hats, who simply want to own it all.

Not only do we get attached to our game tokens, they’re also educational. The only iron–and for that matter, the only thimble–my son has ever seen is the one in his MONOPOLY game. And now, or rather “Here & Now” which is the name of the new edition, they’ve gone corporate.

Instead of traveling along the board as a battleship, you can now trudge along as a Motorola RAZR cell phone, McDonald’s fries, Starbucks coffee, a Toyota Prius or a New Balance sneaker. The trendy labradoodle is the least commercial of the new tokens, which also include an unbranded laptop computer and passenger jet.

I could understand the branding better if Parker Brothers was suffering through hard times. Toys aren’t the big sell they once were and board games are in danger of going the way of the Pteranodons. Kids are now electronic game experts in preschool and two-dimensional toys have a tough time competing for attention when there’s a super-surround-sound-mega-amazing Game Boy in the room. Or so I’m told. My poor deprived child, as he constantly reminds me, has to play with books and balls and art supplies most of the time, so he’d probably be glad to play something that actually came with instructions.

But believe it or not, this commercialization of MONOPOLY has nothing to do with sponsor money. McDonald’s, Starbucks, and the others did not pay for product placement fees. Yes, you read that right: they got the brands on there for free. They are simply there to represent a sign of the ubiquitous branding of American life. According to the company, MONOPOLY: Here & Now Edition was designed to answer the question: “What would the most popular board game of all time look like if it were invented today instead of in 1935?”

In addition to giving the old shoe the boot in favor of a New Balance running sneaker and trading in the terrier for a labradoodle, there are new properties with inflated prices (landing on Times Square with a hotel will cost $20 million), larger currency denominations, airports replacing railroads and more modern utilities like internet service replacing the old water works. I guess you can always buy your Evian online.

The Chance and Community Chest cards have also been updated. Instead of winning $10 in a beauty contest, you can now win $100,000 in a reality TV show, and when you go to jail, it’s for identity theft and insider trading. Oh, and when you pass GO, you collect $2 million dollars. Not bad for a few hours work.




Matt Collins, Vice President of Marketing for Parker Brothers, says, “For the past 70 years, millions of Americans have tasted the thrill of ‘owning it all’ by playing MONOPOLY. The new MONOPOLY: Here & Now Edition allows aspiring real estate tycoons to enjoy an elevated game play experience that more closely matches today’s America.”

So $2 million for passing GO matches today’s America? I hope my editor reads this. I’m gonna ask for a raise.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound

A Sugarcoated Lesson on Navigating the News

Image: Jon S,

Image: Jon S,

Certain Santa Barbarians, who shall remain nameless for fear of lawsuits, seem to be having a humongous amount of difficulty understanding what constitutes the difference between a news story, an opinion piece and a column. So, as a public service for the seven of you who don’t have the benefit of high school journalism experience, I offer this column as an attempt to help clarify the differences.

Not to put the seven of you on the spot or anything, but this very morning I explained the difference between fiction and nonfiction to my second grade reading group, and they got it in about three seconds. I also apologize in advance for the complexity and sophistication of my examples, but not every story can be about animals.

News–Candy Kidnapper Strikes Again

Chief Johnny B. Good addressed a crowd of reporters at a press conference yesterday about the recent rash of candy thefts at local schools. “The good news is that children are eating less candy. Without all that sugar zipping through their brains they are able to concentrate better on their schoolwork, which will ultimately bring in more taxes to increase our salaries. The bad news is that there appears to be a serial candy thief in our community, and we won’t be able to catch him until we have higher salaries.”

According to data presented by Good, since September 1 a total of 103 pounds of candy have been stolen from local schools, including: 19 Abba Zabbas; 13 Big Hunks; 11 Mars Bars; 59 Snickers Bars; 52 Rolo Rolls; 27 bags of plain M & Ms; 11 $100,000 Bars; 39 Oh Henry’s; 17 Butterfingers, and one still-fresh Twinkie which had been stapled to the wall of a 5th grade classroom at Harding School since 1978.

Other schools reporting candy thefts include Montecito Union, Monte Vista, Laguna Blanca and Garfield Elementary School, which has been closed for more than 30 years.

Anti-cavity activist and Dentist Wally Wonka, said, “Whoever the candy thief is, he should not be hunted down by the police, but rather he should be applauded for his valiant efforts to improve the dental health of the children in our community.”

Chief Good said there are no leads or suspects in the case yet, and encourages anyone with information to contact the police at 555.1234.

Opinion–Kudos for Kidnapper

Faster than an eating contest, more powerful than a ten-ton Big Mac, there’s an alarming problem facing our nation’s children and it’s called obesity. We have met the enemy, and then we et the enemy.

Sure we can force kids to take P.E. class instead of running around on a football field with all those silly instruments. And yes, we can also regulate the percentage of fat in the cafeteria’s chicken nuggets that no one ever eats anyway. But there’s a better way to fight this epidemic, and the Candy Kidnapper has found it.

As any parent knows, the only way to control kids these days is through fear. Make them so scared of the notorious Candy Kidnapper that not a single Skittle will ever again pass their lips.

We’ve tried facts–more than 30 percent of American children are considered overweight–and they’ve had absolutely no impact. We’ve tried force, like no dessert until you eat all of your vegetables, and they fed them to the dog when we weren’t looking. Now it’s time to try fear.

Column–A Sweet Confession

It all started with that teensy tiny Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup peeking out of that sweet little kindergartener’s Dora the Explorer lunch box. It was going to melt before lunchtime anyway, and then she would have had chocolate all over her pink polka dotted dress.

We certainly didn’t want that.

So I took it.

It was the best Reese’s I’ve ever had, and believe me; I’ve had a lot of Reese’s. Taking candy from that kid was like taking candy from a baby, only a slightly bigger baby.

That peanut butter cup was my gateway drug; once I got a taste I couldn’t stop myself. But the police got it wrong, I never took a Mars Bar: I hate coconut. And there’s no way it was 103 pounds. It was 97 pounds, at the most.

Nothing tastes better than stolen candy. You know what I mean. It’s Halloween and as a parent you’re forced to “inspect” your child’s loot for the good stuff, leaving them only the sour fruity crud to fight over.

If these kids weren’t so darn gullible they would still have their treats. Kindergarteners will fall for “Look, over there,” and even “share” their candy with you if you ask in a high squeaky voice.

Yeah, it’s a bit sinister, but it sure goes down sweet.

So the next time you read one of those rabble rousing newspaper stories, make sure you get your facts–and your fiction–straight.

Class, are there any questions? You can email Leslie at Email email

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound

Science Goddess, Hear me Roar!

Image courtesy Wikipedia, creative commons.

Image courtesy Wikipedia, creative commons.

An introduction to the Leslie Science System

Quite frankly I’ve been confused about conventional science since elementary school, where I learned in English class that “i” goes before “e” except after “c,” and then it was time to open up our scIEnce textbooks.

I tried to participate in my junior high science fair, with what I thought was a brilliant and much-needed scientific investigation into which jokes are most likely to make my classmates laugh so hard they pee their pants in class or spurt milk out their noses in the cafeteria.

Believe it or not, my teachers quickly killed that line of scientific inquiry.

Darwin, babe, I feel your pain.

From that day on, I became more of a liberal arts kind of girl. Physics, schmysics–the only relationship I had with Newton was through his fig cookies, which in the Leslie Science System actually qualify as health food. Any food that substitutes bowel cleansing fruit filling for chocolate does not qualify as a cookie.

While not everyone buys into it yet–hey, relativity wasn’t an easy sell for Einstein either–the Leslie Science System has served me well over the years. Particularly when it comes to dealing with my husband, who is one of those oddball people who believes in using logic to win arguments. I say there’s nothing wrong with choosing the cutest doctor to deliver your baby, since you’ll be spending so much time together. Or voting for a particular political candidate because you think that Jon Stewart will have a lot of fun mocking him for the next four years.

The Leslie Science System is also great for procedural explanations. I’ve used it to explain to my husband the proper way to light a birthday cake’s candles (Leslie math: your age plus “one to grow on”) or to clarify why it costs $500 every time I go to Costco (Leslie’s law: for every item you put on your Costco list, you will stumble on seven other items you can’t live without).

It’s the same kind of highly evolved logic that comes into play when you buy new sheets for your bed, and then have to replace the carpet and the dressers and the curtains and the husband because the new sheets made them look shabby.

It is also the same kind of advanced thinking required to understand the intricacies of preparing to go on a diet (eat a lot for at least two weeks before, so that the first few pounds will come off easily and encourage you to stay on your diet).

It’s really quite simple once you understand the system. It’s science, Leslie style.

Still, man, given the slow speed in which the world embraces new scientific methods such as the Leslie Science System, I was quite surprised when I was recently asked to write two children’s science books. Perhaps this would be my opportunity to revolutionize the world of children’s books. Perhaps people were finally coming around to my way of thinking.

Imagine my surprise when my editor told me I had to do actual research on spiders and volcanoes and include actual facts in my stories.

“You mean I can’t just make stuff up, I mean use the Leslie Science System, like I do in my column? I really think it’s catching on,” I told him.

“Sure you can,” said my editor. “But I won’t pay for it.”

So I bit the bullet, wrote the books, and cashed the checks. Now you can buy the books at Just click on “read” for more information. After all, as my fellow unappreciated-during-his-lifetime scientist Einstein said, “Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.”

“Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine…” and strange as it may seem, Leslie really did publish two science books this summer. . Email email

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 15. 2006.

Happy Birthday to Me

Photo courtesy George Hodan,

Photo courtesy George Hodan,

When I was born they had to use forceps, which screwed up my face. Family lore has it that dad’s first words upon seeing his firstborn were (to my mom): “It’s okay honey, we’ll buy her pretty clothes and develop her personality.”

My husband gets a big kick out of that one. Until I remind him that now it’s his turn to buy me pretty clothes, and maybe a diamond trinket or two.

Like that’s ever going to happen.

He has lowered the bar on my expectations down so low that I’m thrilled if he remembers to make dinner reservations, and positively orgasmic if he deigns to call a babysitter. So maybe he learned something at Harvard.

The one thing he doesn’t have to be subtly reminded about is the all-important cake. The chocolate cake. We settled that issue early on in our relationship.

I was young and naïve and googly-eyed in love at the time, and tickled to death when my future husband took me out for a lovely birthday dinner. My favorite friends were all there, the food was great, the drinks were plentiful, and he had even bought me the perfect pair of earrings I had slyly hinted might flatter my lobes.

After a rough, first year start—“not every girl dreams of a boyfriend who will give her a $3.99 birthday gift from K-Bee Toys,” I explained, gently—it seemed like Zak was finally starting to “get” me.

It was that night that I started to think our relationship might not just be a phase (which my sister still thinks), that he might actually be “the one.”

Then he took me home, and the trouble began. There was no cake. No cake! Not just no chocolate cake, which would have been a near-fatal error in itself, not an ill-advised angel food concoction or an unfortunate cheesecake. Not even a pineapple upside down cake!

I was about ready to turn Zak upside down when he offered the pitiful excuse, “But we just had crème brulee at the restaurant. With a candle.”  And what on earth did that have to do with my missing birthday cake?

He truly didn’t get it.

In my family, birthdays are a big deal. They last at least a month, with both family and friend versions of the celebration. In recent years we’ve widened the spectrum a bit to include the family with and without kids celebrations, and the friends with and without kids celebrations, which should pretty much fill my calendar until Thanksgiving.

Cake is mandatory, but candles are optional. However, as my husband learned the hard way (“it’s just a flesh wound, darling”), the proper way to count out birthday candles is your age plus “one to grow on.” This is science, and his family is clearly medieval.

And by the way, I saw a really cute purse on sale downtown. I think it would look great with my personality.

Leslie will be accepting birthday wishes—and cake—for the next several months at

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 8, 2006.



A Tale of Two Trips

Family travel by Traveloscopy, courtesy

Family travel by Traveloscopy, courtesy

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of childhood, it was the age of parenthood, it was the epoch of excitement, it was the epoch of dullness, it was the season of laughter, it was the season of bickering.

It was August, and it was family vacation time.

It is not often that a 30-12-year-old woman has the opportunity to vacation separately with her family of origin (mom, dad, and 30-10-year-old sister) and her family of record (husband and 7-year-old son)–and certainly not within the course of a week.

There are reasons that these double family vacations haven’t really caught on. Most people have a lot more common sense than I do.

This kind of travel time warp doubleheader is definitely not for the faint of heart, stomach or ear.

Traveling with Zak and Koss (my husband and son, or my “roomies”) is always an adventure into the great unknown. Each new phase of our son’s maturity comes without warning, so we never know how he’s going to behave from vacation to vacation. One summer he was napping through five-hour car trips and the next it was, “Are we there yet?” “I’m hungry,” “Can I get a toy?” and “Are we there yet?” every two seconds.

On the other hand, traveling with my parents and sis (my “homies”) is an adventure into the well-trodden paths of the past. My whole life flashed before me many times during the week, and not just in deja vu over the ultra-competitive card games and battles over the shower schedule. When my dad is behind the wheel, you take your life into your hands. Other people dream of snakes on a plane, but the only scarier thing I can imagine besides dad driving in the rain, in the dark, on unfamiliar Colorado mountain roads, is his reaction to having my sister and mom point out that he just drove over the median strip and wouldn’t he rather let one of them drive instead?

Unlike the rest of my homies, I have no illusions about my driving skills, although I do often wonder whether to attribute them to nature or nurture. My dad deserves credit for teaching me to use the brakes on an empty freeway, and my mom (otherwise known as “GPS Joannie”) gives my dad at least a 33-mile heads up every time he is within a half an hour of the next required turn. With this gene pool to draw on, it’s hard for me to believe that my husband doesn’t appreciate my navigational skills when we travel down unfamiliar highways.

Should I be insulted that on our recent trip up the coast–take Highway One for a million, zillion, windy, narrow miles, then look for the signs to Monterey–Zak trusted the map to our second grader, rather than rely on the Dinaberg sense of direction? Not only did Koss get us to our hotel without a single wrong turn, he managed to avoid all cries of “Are we there yet?” by plugging himself into DVDs, books (“Snakes in a Car,” anyone?), and inexplicably, the soundtrack from “Rent,” while skillfully shunning exposure to any of that pesky scenery that his dad and I find so appealing.

Despite our differing levels of enthrallment with the Pacific Ocean, for the rest of our trip, my roomies and I were in perfect sync on almost everything. This was the first vacation I can remember where we were able to choose our restaurants without the added consideration of what kind of toy came with the kid’s meal. I could lose sight of my son for more than a second without feeling the symptoms of a heart attack, and wishing I had the nerve to use one of those kid leashes. Sure I was still the parent, but my roomies and I could be buddies too, equally sharing in the coolness of the aquarium’s jellyfish and our amusement at the sea lions that “wrestled” right under our noses at one waterfront restaurant.

Traveling with my homies, on the other hand, brought out my inner teenager. I couldn’t help but bristle a little when, for each and every outing (including going downstairs to the hotel gym) my mom made sure I had a sweater and a room key. And while we didn’t have to sneak the champagne at this particular family wedding, mom did hand me my place card, decide when it was time to leave, and remind me to make sure to go pee and say thanks to my host and hostess.

On the other hand, traveling with my homies allowed me to bask in the magic of uninterrupted sleep in the morning and uninterrupted reading time in the afternoon. I had almost forgotten what a pleasure it was to read a single book in the course of a day, and not be responsible for anyone else’s teeth, clothes or bedtime story. While I spend plenty of time with my homies year round, it was nice to be able to have the luxury of long, adult conversations about art, politics, and family. OK, so it was People Magazine versus Us, Hilary Clinton’s hair, and how funny it was to see Grandma Evie dancing to “My Hump,” … but nobody interrupted us to ask for dessert or needing help with the TV remote. Except my dad, that is.

It’s funny how going on vacation with your parents can make you feel both old and young at the same time. Come to think of it, so can spending time with your kids.

Is Leslie the only one crazy enough to try a roomie/homie doubleheader? Let her know at email

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 1, 2006.