It was a cool summer.

That was about all I could remember. Sure, the main events, the big trips, the vague outline of what I could write was there, tucked neatly away in the corners of my conscious mind, but that was it, all, the total. I needed the small stuff. I needed the details.

The comforting walls of my room should have relaxed me, but the deadline was still a weight on my mind. I struggled to recollect. My mind did not cooperate.

I could remember it being cool, though; it was at least a start. Cool. I could almost feel the breeze on my skin, touch the sun-filled air, but I needed more, a trigger, something to shuffle through my brain's messy files. Something -

The bright gleam of a CD caught my eye and I looked at the silver circle, ran my fingers over it, watched as the tiny points of information seemed to reflect the afternoon sun to my eyes in a million flecks of color. I laid back onto the warmth of the carpet.

A cool summer...

"In more ways than one!" The carefully phrased punchline sped at 700 miles per hour from my vocal cords to the ears of Toby Singer. His eyes were focused distractedly on the receding towers of the nuclear power plant, dimly visible through the schoolbus window, and he turned and laughed; we entered into a stimulating discussion about all of the interesting things that radiation can do to the human body as the heat-soaked asphalt flew by.

The day was bright; I imagined the sun, behind the atmosphere, behind the moon and two planets, blazing its light across 93 million miles of interplanetary space, through the window, to my face.

Bright - my mind was wandering, I knew; it was aware of Toby's conversation, but not paying full attention. Bright. Bright like harpsichord, like guitar riffs - I could almost hear them. The beginning of a song. . .

I think I'm gonna be sad
I think it's today, yeah

Yeah, that was the tune. A genuinely cool song, of course, but now it was stuck in my head.

The girl that's driving me mad
is going away

It wasn't bad, actually. In a way, my mind invited more realism in its imaginary corridors than the real recordings did, reverberating across the very tangible walls of my room. It wasn't that I imagined the Beatles in concert; I simply seemed to hear the song more clearly, with more depth. I hardly notice the lyrics - I had never really cared about them - but they complimented the tune and the murmur of the syllables seemed to produce a half-meditative feel.

She said that livin' with me
Was bringin' her down, yeah
She would never be free
When I was around

The day was warm, and I settled back. . .

And leaned forward, for there it was - I could see the hazy tips of the Cedar Point rollercoasters in the distance, barely protruding over the trees. "And that's the Mantis, and the Magnum, and the Blue Streak," I heard Toby proclaim, explaining the sights to his rollercoaster-wary friend.

We stepped out onto the burning cement.

The school separated into small groups. Toby went one way, to join the adventurous ones who would ride the big 'coasters, and I went the other, making my way towards Andrew Vreede, whose golden-topped head hovered, UFO-esque, over the 7th-grade crowd. Pushing, squeezing, and propelling myself in various ways, I managed to get there. We exchanged greetings, and he introduced me to Ian Mikusko, a brown-haired, medium-tall guy with whom I had spent an hour of detention. None of us had ridden a roller coaster before. All, as the responsible adults we were, were determined.

I don't know why she's ridin' so high
She oughta think twice, she oughta do right by me
Before we get to sayin' goodbye
She oughta think twice, she oughta do right by me. . .

I could still hear the song as we walked towards the Iron Dragon, past the crowds of people at arcades, the noise and the sun and the air combining and swirling around us, incomprehensible, yet clear as polar shadow. We ran and talked and swerved around the people, leaving a Family Circus trail of footsteps and exited conversation, each of us nervous and optimistic about what was to come.

And the Dragon was upon us.

It was paint and steel, foreboding, yet comparatively small. I could see the cars pulling into the entrance, swinging, suspended under the track like a beginner's Raptor. We climbed the steps, my stomach light-headed.

The grass was sheared and covered by cement around the line and entrance, but farther on, where the great steel tendrils dipped into the ground and the air, the green was thick and bright, like a jungle with a python, a undersea garden containing a giant squid. We waited there, on the last outpost before the savage wilderness, carrying on conversation of varying volume and frequency, as the line shortened.

She's got a ticket to ri-ide. . .
She's got a ticket to ri-i-ide. . .
She's got a ticket to ride, but she don't care!

We were at the front, and the song had finished and banished itself from my brain.

"Well, this is it," I said, or words to that effect. My footsteps sounded loud, even with the roar of the crowd in my ears, but my mind was louder: Do it! I climbed in, the black Styrofoam of the harness soft beneath my fingertips, the seat cool. I turned to see Ian beside, smiling, Andrew behind. I tried to relax.

Seconds later, I could hear Andrew's voice yelling, "No, wait, I changed my mind! Sorry!" and he stepped off, voice high-pitched, face red, form flashing in my peripheral vision as the car jerked foreword. The ride had begun.

I would like to say that I remained calm and lucid throughout the ascent, that my sheer willpower and presence of mind overcame all obstacles. That, however, is not how it happened.

In truth, the only two words going through my mind were, Oh, crap! As we ascended, I talked to Ian with exponentially increasing speed and pitch, watching the trees fall below.

Foliage passed right and left, downwards, back, receded into the fleeing earth as we rose, and then the trees were below and we were above and I could see, slowly, ever so slowly, like a baseball playback, the hill leveling off, curving, tracing our path as we flew through the sky, and suddenly the crest was rounded and we were past, flying down, around, up and under and through, and then, a second later, it was over, and the ride pulled to a stop.

I had to admit: it had been great. Really, really cool. Turns, hills, positive and negative g-forces had all gone by quickly and smoothly.

The ride was over, and Andrew stood sheepishly at the wooden-framed entrance.

During that day, he never once rode a 'coaster, never inflated his courage to the point of being greater than his fear and nervousness. Yes, we enjoyed water rides and other diversions, but the vast majority of the time Ian and I spent with 5'3" trombone player was spent riding the Mine Ride, trying to get him to ride it, himself. There were those who came for the water park alone, who avoided the rollercoasters like the Ebola virus, but I could see that Andrew wanted to ride one, tried to. We struggled against his non-courage, but were unsuccessful, and so, eventually, parted, smiling, 7th graders awash in the great living crowd that was Cedar Point.

I lay in bed that night, thinking of the rides, the people, the new quasi-friend of Ian. I thought of the twisting curves of the Wildcat, the supple smoothness of the Iron Dragon, the friendly comfort of the Mine Ride. I vowed to ride the Gemini. I thought about spacecraft and time machines. I slept.

Yes, it was a cool summer.

And it had its own soundtrack.

Ticket to Ride is also a renowned and elegant board game published by Days of Wonder and designed by Alan R. Moon. Winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award in 2004, it is a classic example of the 'German school' of board game design, joining such well-known games as Carcassonne and The Settlers of Catan. Though it is easy to learn, quick to play, and light on rules, it remains a deep and strategic game for both beginning and experienced players.

The original game board shows a map of the United States and southern Canada with cities and train routes marked upon it. Players construct routes between cities in an attempt to get the highest score. Each segment of track is worth points, but the core of the scoring depends of Destination cards. These each have a pair of cities, and a point value, and are kept secret from the other players. Those points are gained if the player connects the cities by the end of the game, and lost if the player fails to connect them.

From this simple setup, a variety of strategic options open. Segments of track between cities are given a length between one and six, and a colour. Claiming a route requires spending a number of cards in the colour of the route equal to the length of the route. Only one player may claim a given segment, so there is competition for the best and most valuable connections (for the longer segments are worth many more points than short segments).

Although claiming segments and completing routes are the ways to get points, most of the game turns are spent gathering cards. The cards come in eight different colours plus multicoloured wild cards, and the colour is their only distinguishing factor. Five cards are placed face up, and players can draw from these known cards or from the top of the deck; two cards per turn or one face-up wild card. The decision of when to accumulate and when to commit is the core of the game's strategy.

Each player is given a fixed number of train tokens, which when they run out signal the end of the game. Players are given up to three routes to complete at the start of the game and may draw more at any time, but may never discard them. At the end of the game the routes are scored and added to the points from the track segments themselves. Games generally take less than an hour, and often around forty-five minutes.

The depth of the game comes from the interplay of a few interrelated elements. The card system for building routes is random enough to make the game unpredictable, but is not so random that luck will outweigh skill in the long run. The strategy involved in devising a network that feasibly contains all the necessary routes is woven against the tactics in claiming the needed segments and blocking off opponents. That everyone's goals are secret adds an additional layer; are those disconnected pieces of track related or are they part of completely separate routes?

The success of the original Ticket to Ride has inspired new editions of the base game, rather than expansions as with many games. 2005 saw the release of Ticket to Ride Europe, which adds some new rules as well as importing the map of Europe. The different geography of Europe would change the game enough for a new strategic challenge, but the new rules complicate things further.

In the Europe game, some routes require a wild card to be part of their cost, which mitigates the 'poison-pill' effect of wild cards in the initial game due to their higher cost of acquisition. More deeply changed are the 'tunnel' segments, whose cost may increase upon attempting to build them depending on the top two cards of the deck; if any match the colour of the cards used to build the tunnel, an additional card must be added or the attempt fails.

The overall effect of the changes in the Europe version is widely debated among board gamers. Some maintain that the rules tweaks and map designed to encourage more agressive play make the Europe version superior, while others prefer the elegant simplicity and wide-open geography of the original North American version. Ultimately, though, both are games of the highest caliber.

Ticket to Ride is widely available through game stores and hobby shops, usually for less than $50 Canadian. In addition to the two board versions (and the upcoming Marklin Edition), there is also a CD-ROM version for Mac OS X and MS Windows.

This writeup is copyright 2006 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at .

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