September 13, 2020 • Day 185
Hello friends. I hope everyone is staying as safe as they can, especially all of y’all on the U.S. West Coast.
This week in New Jersey the weather has started to cool down toward Fall, my daughter June has started all-virtual 1st grade, and I’ve begun closing in on the end of a very long-term project: finding all 900 Korok seeds in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
I mostly finished Breath of the Wild (including its downloadable expansion, The Champions’ Ballad) in 2017—all five Divine Beasts, all 150 Shrines, all the clothes and weapons and upgrades, I beat Ganon a few times. I found the 441 Koroks I needed to max out my inventory, and for a while, that was more than enough.
Recently, though, I’ve been visiting Hyrule again, partly as an escape from my house, into an outside world where the skies are always blue, the danger is virtual, the puzzles are all solvable with time and logic, and the evil is easy to spot because it glows red instead of blue.
BotW was released alongside the 1st generation Nintendo Switch hardware in March 2017 and was almost immediately hailed as one of the greatest video games ever made. And whereas these days you can find a contrarian take on just about any assertion (the earth is round? Actually, someone on r/amateurscience found proof that it is CUBE SHAPED, HAHA, OWNED!!!) even now, three years later, I haven’t found anyone who disputes that BotW is a near-perfect game.
As you explore Hyrule, trying to take over Divine Beasts, defeat Ganon, and rescue Zelda, you may notice a stand of trees that look almost uniform or a stack of metal bricks that’s slightly off. If you’re focused on finishing the main quest — which you might be, it’s both a great story and a great Zelda game — you might just troop past, thinking man, those are some weird design choices. But they are, in fact, puzzles.
There are 900 of these puzzles scattered throughout the game, and it’s a true indicator of how big the game is that the designers were able to cleverly hide 900 of anything. Solving each puzzle reveals a little forest creature called a Korok; your reward for finding one is a Korok seed (which, spoiler, is strongly implied to actually be Korok poop).
Officially, these cute little Ent/Ewok nerds and their poops are the mechanic to expand your inventory, so you can carry more weapons and such. (You trade the poops to a bigger Korok dude, who puts them in his maracas so he can do an awesome dance… it’s a long story.)
But Nintendo put far more of these Korok puzzles into the game than was necessary. You can max out your weapon slots by finding just 441 of the 900 Koroks; the other 459 are totally unnecessary unless you’re a completionist.
Finding all 900 Korok seeds is a silly goal. Some (most?) things in BotW reward you with special weapons or outfits — giving you a new advantage or tweak to the gameplay, adding depth to the game — whereas the reward for bringing all of the seeds to the maracas-playing giant Ewok dude is, well, a bigger, swirlier golden poop (and confirmation of the game’s longest-running in-joke).
The silliness is underscored by how hard it is to reach this goal. None of the Korok puzzles are that hard, and most of them are easy to spot once you know what to look for. But some of them are very well hidden, some are located in the midst of the game’s fiercest enemies, and again, there are so many of them. In Zelda terms, finding all the Koroks is like winning one of those hundred-mile ultramarathons where the prize is a hundred dollar bill stuffed into an old paperback book signed by the race organizer.
For some reason, I’ve always lacked the lateral thinking and patience to really do well at Zelda without a guidebook. Fortunately, Polygon’s Dave Tach published a staggering amount of guidebook material about the game right after release; when stuck, most questions about BotW can be answered by Googling “polygon botw [name of place or enemy].” And the nerds at the fansite/wiki Zelda Dungeon have an interactive map with the locations of every single point of interest in the game.
Painstakingly cross-checking the Zelda Dungeon map with my in-game map markers, plus using a special mask that jingles when a Korok is nearby (another long story), makes it possible to find all 900 seeds, but it still has taken hundreds of hours to get to this point.
This has been such a long-term project that I had given up on ever finishing; now that it’s almost done, I’m looking forward to finally seeing Hestu hand over that golden pile of shit, and the pursuit of it has been a nice distraction from the far less shiny shit happening in the world right now.
If you recently bought a Switch to check out Animal Crossing and haven’t yet tried Breath of the Wild, I cannot recommend it highly enough. (And don’t forget to ask me sometime why I say BotW and Animal Crossing: New Horizons are basically the same game.)
One of today’s big headlines is Dr. Anthony Fauci — echoing comments by other folks who know what they’re talking about, like Bill Gates — predicting that the soonest life in the U.S. will return to pre-Covid normal is mid to late 2021. (And Gates has said that, historically, that’s actually record timing to fully emerge from a global pandemic.)
Anyway, the specific question Fauci was asked was when we’d all get to go to theaters again. If he’s right that it’s late next year, in the interim we can expect a lot more things like Disney selling ‘premier access’ to would-be blockbusters like Mulan. Yes, we spent the $30, and we enjoyed it. In a better timeline where we could still go to theaters, and this movie had come out back in March, I’m sure we’d have spent $45 or whatever to go see it as a family, and we’d have enjoyed it then too.
Is it a good movie? 🤷🏻♂️ It’s exciting and beautiful, with great action scenes and plenty of callbacks to the animated original. Like Disney’s other live-action remakes, the reaction to Mulan (from the world, and our family) seems to be that it’s a cool, fun experience that only serves to highlight the classic-ness of the source material.
Some other stuff we’re watching:
Netflix’s new drama series Away, about the first manned mission to Mars, but more so about the astronauts’ feelings. It has serious network-TV-tearjerker energy (not surprising, given its producers have worked on Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and thirtysomething) and I seriously wonder how the world of the future managed to perfect email and video chat over millions of miles, but managed to launch a space mission that has a life-or-death engineering or medical problem in every single episode. That said, same reaction as Mulan: 🤷🏻♂️, it’s exciting, not a game-changer, great cast.
I re-(re-re-)watched two movies that I’m seeing in a new light given, ya know, [waves at everything]: 1976’s Network (directed by Sidney Lumet & written by Paddy Chayevsky), and 1995’s Nixon (directed and co-written by Oliver Stone). I could — and probably will — write a whole post or newsletter just about how these movies play in the Trump era. For now, I’ll just say they are highly topical in different ways, especially Network which, in satirizing the late-70s’ television and business culture by following those trends to logical, terrifying extremes, predicted the rise of runaway vampire capitalism and Fox News. It’s such a classic that it would seem blasphemous to remake it; that said, I wouldn’t mind hearing that someone is planning to air a filmed version of last year’s Broadway version starring Bryan Cranston (as the proto-Trump ‘mad prophet of the airwaves’, Howard Beale), Tatiana Maslany (as amoral, “television incarnate” producer Diana Christensen) and Tony Goldwyn (as the deeply moral but powerless newsman Max Schumacher).
I’ve been going easy on alcohol this week, due to being on antibiotics for an infected eyelid (another long story). The one cocktail I made was the Evolved Revolver, from David Lebovitz’s Drinking French.
The Revolver — rather like another dark, orange-bitters-y drink, the Black Manhattan — is thought to have originated in early-00s San Francisco speakeasy culture. Both drinks roughly follow the Manhattan formula (2 parts bourbon to ~1 part something else, plus bitters), but whereas a Manhattan smoothes and sweetens the whiskey, a black Manhattan darkens and deepens it.
The Revolver is credited to longtime SF bartender Jon Santer, whose current gig is as owner/operator of Prizefighter, a kickass bar in the East Bay that I can’t wait to visit again once bars and travel come back. Here’s the recipe:
2 oz “dry, spicy” bourbon (I used a 100 proof Knob Creek reserve; pure rye whiskey also works well)
0.75 oz coffee liqueur (St George’s Nola)
2 dashes orange bitters
Being a Manhattan, the “correct” way to make and serve a Revolver is to stir it with ice, then strain it into a chilled stemmed glass (The Literature™ says a coupe, but I use a Nick & Nora). But, really, whatever works — FWIW, drinks this strong and whiskey-forward are what rocks glasses and big ice cubes were made for.
Lebovitz’s “evolved” version adds a bit of sweet vermouth (0.25 oz), for sweetness, which kind of defeats the purpose, but still makes for a lovely drink. I’ve tried it both ways and both are good.
For those also mostly dry this week, I discovered two new, weird La Croix flavors at FreshDirect: Hi-Biscus! (which is, yes, hibiscus) and LemonCello (sort of a vanilla lemon).
I could see these both being as polarizing as coconut (which I love but everyone else I know hates); I liked them both, especially the hibiscus one, and I’m a big fan of the very 90’s approach to font, caps, and punctuation — in a sense, Hi-Biscus! is the most La Croix flavor that La Croix has released to date.
Here’s to all of you,