Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

One Year of Useless Babble

I can't believe that it's already been one year since Useless Babble was started up. So, given that we're celebrating a milestone, I'd answer some questions I hear quite often about the website, and talk about some of the articles from the past year that people loved.

A Brief History

Useless Babble has gone through about five different incarnations, starting on Geocities back in 1997. So, believe it or not, the site has been around in some form or another for most of the last 12 years. This page here, the one you're reading now, is by far the greatest version out there, a far cry from the fart jokes and Squaresoft fanboyism of the past.

This site was officially opened on November 19th, 2008 with four articles to start: The Great Crush Tasting, Perfect Synergy 1, Malleus Maleficarum for the 1600s Campaign and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency for the 1800s Campaign. Originally, there wasn't a set plan for when articles were to be released, and in the first couple of months, it wasn't uncommon to have two or three articles released a week, although they were usually shorter than the ones released now.

The Great Crush Tasting was a runaway hit, and got some great attention, but mostly because it was over six months later than expected. The tasting and article had been written back in late May of 2008, but problems with website design pushed the release back by months. In the end it was all worth it though, and the site was reborn.

You've Got Questions? I've got Evasive Responses.

Q: Who is Turd Ferguson and what the hell happened to him?

A: Well, I think enough time has passed that I can reveal the truth. Turd Ferguson is David Storms of The original idea was to have a series of dysfunctionally-functional men's etiquette articles written over a long period of time. Unfortunately, David had some obligations to fulfill, so Turd Ferguson's Life in Jeopardy never really developed beyond the men's room. We are working on a new collaboration though. It's too early to give details, but it should be good.

Q: Are the emails in the Mail Bag articles real?

A: Yes they are. Send me more emails.

Q: Did you really get food poisoning from the Mac Snack Wrap?

A: I went back and addressed this in the article, but I did have food poisoning that day, and it's extremely likely that the Mac Snack Wrap was the culprit. For the record it was a violent episode, and I still can't believe that this is the first time I've gotten sick doing work for the site, but it's likely not going to be the last.

Q: Where's the Greek Campaign Guide that you promised back in February?

A: There were some troubles with the campaign I was running at the time (see below), and it took away most of my free time. I ended up also doing a lot of design work for a friend's Victorian-era campaign (which will make it to the site next year). Two chapters are complete, and there's about 10 more to go. So, bad news: there's still going to be a long wait on this. Good news: there's a lot of new material coming, and it's designed to dovetail into other settings as well. (There's also a Chinese Campaign Guide and an Age of Discovery Campaign Guide in the pipeline too.)

Q: How many of your Heroes predictions have come true?

A: Well, it's a little early to give the final count (there are still some five or six episodes left in 2009), but about 3 of the predictions have come true, and another 3 are dangerously close to coming true as well. There will be an update to the article in January though with the final results.

Q: Where are the 1600s Campaign Recaps?

A: The 1600s Campaign was a bit troubled. Some players had to leave the group due to commitments elsewhere, and some of the players who replaced them were less than ideal. In the end, the campaign fell apart. I'm still planning to make 1600s recaps, but they won't be out until next year. On that note, the 1800s Campaign hasn't started, and I'm trying to find a good group of players to join. Even if nothing ever comes of it, I'll still put out a campaign guide eventually.

Q: Are you going to do more Goddamned Game Reviews?

A: Hell yes! I don't want to spoil too much, but think "Lee Trevino" and "Fighting Golf".

Q: What happened to the 1800s Campaign Previews?

A: In the same vein as what happened to the Greek Campaign Guide and the 1600s Campaign Recaps, these were delayed...mainly because I don't have enough players to run the 1800s Campaign. Right now design work is stalled, but it should be getting back on track soon. So, look for more coming up!

Horrors of the Ice Box: An Exercise in Self-Flagellation

So, it's time to fess up: Horrors of the Ice Box was just made because I couldn't think of anything else to do on the site that was 'humor-themed' and somebody had thrown the suggestion to be as a joke a few weeks before.

The inspiration is partly Bad Candy and partly an article X-Entertainment did back when I was in college. Originally the idea was to have friends suggest different 'horrors' to review, and in practice that still happens, but not as often as I'd like. Most of the frozen dinners are picked by walking through the freezer section of the grocery store (that means any grocery store I'm in, in any city I happen to be in at the time, regardless of whether or not the person I'm with is cool with this or not) and selecting what looks strangest.

Fun fact: The first article written was Swanson Stuffing Baked Turkey, but the first one posted was Michelina's Zap'ems Taco Bites. Both were reviewed in the same evening.

The rules are two-parts self-control, one part humor. And just so you know what they are...

  • Rule #1:
    I must follow cooking procedures exactly as they're shown on the container. I will not deviate from those instructions in any way, and I must prepare food in the fastest manner presented to me.
  • Rule #2:
    I must consume everything that comes with the meal. No hiding of disgusting parts will be tolerated. (In the unlikely event of bones or other inedibles, allowances will be made).
  • Rule #3:
    To make sure my palate is completely free of obstructions, I may only be allowed either water or alcohol. Alcohol does not include fancy-pants fruity girly drinks.
  • Rule #4:
    All food will be graded by smell, taste and mouthfeel, with less offensive qualities receiving higher marks. At the end, each part is receives an average score. The full meal is graded by the average score of each component. Appearance of the food is not graded because, let's face it, they all look pretty bad.

These rules get popped into every single Horrors article. The idea is that they act as a kind of blanket towards negative criticism over the reviews. Nobody can say that I undercooked the food if I'm up front about how everything is being prepared.

As a general rule: only the meal is consumed, no condiments. The drink is usually water, and the food is cooked according to the specifications on the box, using the quickest method of preparation.

So, the real question is which one was best, and which was worst?

Well, the best Horror was the WeightWatcher's Smart Ones Double Fudge Cake which was actually surprisingly good. They scored a respectable 7.6/10, almost a full point higher than the next closest President's Choice General Tao Chicken at 6.7/10.

The worst Horror by far was the Swanson Hungry-Man Sports Grill Beer Battered Chicken & Cheese Fries, which only received 2.8/10. It was pretty friggin' bad. I nearly threw up while doing that one.

As for specific categories, well, here's the...

Worst Stench
The Award for the Worst Stench goes to Swanson Hungry-Man's Sports Grill Jumbo Popcorn Chicken and Pizza Sticks for the pizza sticks! This holocaust of flavor is caused mainly by cooking bread in a microwave and smells like a dead animal dying in the hot sun.

Most Horrible Taste
The Award for Most Horrible Taste has to go to No Name Chicken Nugget Dinner for the mashed potatoes. Artificial butter substitute, a cloying sweetness, overwhelming saltiness and a strong chemical taste clinched this win.

Terrible Texture
The Terrible Texture Award this year goes to Swanson Hungry-Man's Beer Battered Chicken and Cheese Fries for their still-raw cheese fries. Plastic cheese, and an overwhelming greasy feeling made this one the clear winner.

*All awards available to the winners upon request.

Your Favorites

A lot of articles were popular, but some were just clearly better than others, so now it's time for the Top 5 most popular articles from the last year.

5. Horrors of the Ice Box: Meal, Ready-to-Eat
The MRE article was one that I had been wanting to do since before there was a Horrors of the Ice Box article. A while back, I had tricked my D&D group into thinking that after the Greek campaign, there would be a military-themed adventure based around the beginning of World War I. I came up with a fake adventure outline, some fake material ideas to tease the players with and before the adventure, I unveiled the MREs as a dinner to help set the theme. Imagine their surprise as they opened up the campaign guide to find that it was set in ancient China.

After the joke was done, I was left with a little more than a half-dozen MREs that occupy a box in the bottom of my closet. You can only give away so many to friends and acquaintances before they catch on and stop taking them from you. So, although a few occupy my closet to this day as emergency supplies, one made it's way as one of the Horrors of the Ice Box.

Fun Fact: Every MRE package is randomly packed and they're arranged in such a way that you can only see the name of the entree. It was a toss-up between Penne with Vegetable Sausage Crumbles in Spicy Tomato Sauce and Chicken Breast Fillet in Tomato Sauce with Cavatelli.

4. Super Canucks
Super Canucks was an article that I had thought really long and hard about. It's always pissed me off that everybody always associates Superman, a Kryptonian and American character with Canada because Joe Shuster, a Canadian was involved in his creation. I had resolved to figure out a top 10 list of superheroes who were Canadians.

Yeah, that was a big fucking mistake.

There's not a lot of Canadian superheroes out there. The vast majority are from Marvel Comics and belong to Alpha Flight. I ended up picking 5 heroes and 5 villains and tried to grab a list that represented not only the major companies, but also some of the lesser known characters.

Fun Fact: Even then it was hard, and I had to fight to not make a list of the Top 5 Lamest Canadian Superheroes. Characters such as Fleur de Lys for having a stupid costume, Puck for having a retarded superpower and Guardian for being a ripoff of the earlier hero Captain Canuck.

3. Zen and the Art of Character Creation
A simple set of instructions for how to create a role-playing game character and how to act civilly at the game table was more of a spur of the moment idea that took on a life of its own until it made up 5 installments over three months. The entire set is a continual favorite of readers, especially impressive for a gaming article that doesn't create any new material.

Fun Fact: All of the concepts that were explored in Zen and the Art of Character Creation came from my experiences as a Dungeon Master. I noticed that players, especially new ones were always getting hung up in the same places, regardless of the ruleset. Many of the negative playing styles from the first installment came from the same player. The same player once decided to stab my couch one night.

2. Cooking with Count Chocula
The background for Cooking with Count Chocula was covered in the introduction to the article. What I didn't explain was that I spent about 3 months looking for Count Chocula cereal in several cities and in dozens of grocery stores. I also didn't think far enough ahead once I actually got my hands on it, and forgot to get milk and eggs.

With no milk or eggs, I couldn't create much in the way of a third dish, which is how the Slimer cookies were spawned. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Fun Fact: I still haven't brought myself to have a bowl of Count Chocula yet, and the photo at the end of the article was a fake. I'll probably finally break open the second box at Christmas with my brother.

1. That's a Wrap!
Holy crap...I had no idea when I wrote this that it would become THAT popular. I've covered a lot of bad food, but that was the first time I had reviewed fast food. While the Mac Snack Wrap doesn't look like it's going to be picked up as a regular menu item at the McDonalds, it has brought a lot of discussion from people.

I've gone back to discuss the Mac Snack Wrap twice, once in the article itself and once in the questions above, so there's not a lot more I can say about it. Hopefully the next time that a major fast-food chain brings something disgusting to the test market, I'll be there. Maybe McPizza will make a come back.

Fun Fact: Nothing can kill the Grimace, but a Mac Snack Wrap will knock him on his ass for a few days.

To the Future

2010 is going to be bringing a lot of great new articles to Useless Babble:

More Valentines: People loved the Valentines from the Rejected Pile, so look for more this February!

Another Goddamn Game Review: More of these will be popping up in the next year, and rest assured, not all of them with be reviews of old NES games. I'm looking purely for bad games regardless of the system. Poor games know no console.

Origin of the PCs: A D&D article that focuses on a single race each installment. There's already been a preview posted for the half-giant race.

Top X Lists: Look for more Top X Lists in the same vein as Super Canucks coming next year.

Class Struggles: Another D&D article in the same vein as Origin of the PCs. These focus on a single class, and go in depth to its strengths and weaknesses. In early December a preview article on the shugenja will be posted.

More Soda Tastings: Like the Great Crush Tasting, but even more scientastic. I've got my hands on some 'smart soda' that claims to give the drinkers special benefits. How will they fare in a double blind taste-test? Probably not well, but it's still worth a laugh or two.


Well, so there you have it. It's been a year now since Useless Babble was put online and it still seems like it was yesterday. I hope everybody keeps with us through 2010 because it looks like it's going to be even better than 2009!

Until then!

Did you like this article? Then try:

Bookmark and Share