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October 2nd, 2005


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03:41 am - Athens, α-θ-ε-ν-σ
Hello from dezzikitty's house! All is well here. This has been rather a different trip than any of the past, as she now lives in Athens, Georgia, a town with a population just into six digits, about an hour and a half ENE of Atlanta. The temperature was well up into the 90s °F a few days ago, but happily has become at least a little more temperate since I arrived. (We've even had some overcast days and people are talking about "the first rain for a month".) Meg's living situation, with her sister and with two, three-month old, extremely playful sharp-clawed kittens, is definitely different to living with elsalus; living in the mosquito-riddled, wooded suburbs is far different from relatively European Boston. I flew in on Delta, because Virgin don't serve the route, and wrote up a comparison of the two airlines for another site.

Arrived at Manchester Airport at around 9am for a scheduled 12:05pm takeoff, having caught a couple of hours sleep in bed the night before and an hour and a bit on the train; not bad, considering I'm still always excited to fly overseas, helped by the very exciting young lady waiting for me at the other end. Happily, all the moving walkways on the quarter-mile or so walk from the railway station to the terminal were working. Queues inside the terminal were already on the hairy side; I ended up queueing for 35 minutes in what was perhaps a 25-party check-in queue dealt with by five agents and two BusinessElite agents. I was surprised to have to fill in details of my accommodation in the US on a separate form before check-in; however, I got a helpful and cheerful check-in agent (from a very variable line-up - though the most annoyed-looking one was clearly having problems with her contact lenses). No problems with getting my CO OnePass registered for the flight.

By VS standards, I would rate check-in as 50%, but that includes some degree of generosity accounting for the fact that most of the delays were really out of the airline's control. I was a bit irked to be told to be at the gate 75 minutes before boarding, though - albeit a figure that was later revised down to 65 minutes. Could this be the practical implication of continuing developments in US security regulations?

Grabbed some food at Boots, noting that their previously complicated red-dots-and-green-dots two-price-point scheme has been simplified to a flat rate of £2.99, good news for people like me who like to maximise purported value from their meals. I also picked up some fashion magazines for my girlfriend plus a poker magazine and a book for me. (Or was it the other way around?)

Manchester Airport terminal two is best described as "functional" airside - at least, for those of us who idly dream inspired by your descriptions of lounge luxury. The provision of arcade games is better than most, but points are lost for not having a terribly well-defined alcove at gate 208 and letting the seating area rather spill over into the body of the corridor. Boarding eventually commenced at around 11:25 or so. There were problems loading all the cargo onto the plane and eventually we took off at about 12:50, not 12:05. Not fun, but at least there are eight - count 'em, eight! - audio channels available even before take-off. Now there's a novelty.

I had selected seat 24E online; the aeroplane was a bijou 767-200 set up with a 2-3-2 configuration, so this got me an aisle seat. The seat wasn't very comfortable, particularly lower down my back. I managed to get possibly an hour's sleep soon after take-off - which, to be fair, is about average for me Westbound. Legroom was acceptable for a 6' frame and width was pretty good. This was a poor seat by Delta's standards; by VS standards, I would award it 50%.

The economy class menu was as follows:

Salad: Seasonal Garden Greens with Tomato and Carrots served with Dressing. Note the mention of tomato singular, which was accurate. A cherry tomato, at that. This was a small portion at best.

Entree, one of: Chicken Breast Medallions: Roasted Chicken on a bed of Orzo with Corn and Sweet Peppers, topped with Asparagus, Marinara Sauce and a Cheese Sauce or Cheese Tortellini: with mushrooms in Red Pepper Tomato Sauce, topped with Cream Sauce and a Tricolor Bell Pepper Julienne. Hope you like cheese, really; I'm less of a fan than most. I went for the chicken. The meat was two lumps, but not bad as nuggets go. Orzo is rice, apparently, and marinara translates to tomato. The cheese sauce was happily mild. All told, I would go as far as "fair-to-OK" - rather better than expected.

Bread and Butter, Cheese and Crackers, Chocolate Mousse Cake. The roll was a positive standout - better than most. The chocolate mousse cake was, akin to the salad, almost insultingly small.

Drinks were served fairly frequently, with occasional additional watercups; all alcoholic beverages were $5/€3/£3, all softies were free. Drinks were accompanied by sachets of peanuts. I was definitely ready for the snack, served slightly under an hour before arrival: vegetarian pizza topped with mozzarella cheese, eggplant, zucchini and peppers. Lots more cheese, but this was really decent. My only complaint was that it filled up the box so much that it was hard to remove and eat; I certainly wouldn't advocate lowering the portion size, but a larger box wouldn't go amiss... (though I doubt it would be possible, given the requirement to store so many boxes abreast per trolley. Perhaps reshaping the pizza to make it thicker but smaller might do the trick? Would this require more heating?)

By Virgin standards, I award 50% for food and drink - but note that this is probably really a 55% in disguise, compared to the first two which were more like 40%.

I once described Delta's entertainment to a friend as being "state of the art, for 1984"; he joyfully said "What! Does everyone have their own Spectrum?" Sadly not. Communal screens all the way, and not huge ones, but at least an improvement from the rather fuzzy projection TV they have had broadcasting onto the bulkhead cabin in the past. Headphones are provided for free and you are encouraged to keep them; they are the clip-over-the-ear style that Virgin used to provide in white, and the headphone converter jack has recently been redesigned for the better so they now reliably plug into my laptop without me worrying that the connection is poor. The free headphones to keep are probably the highlight of the Delta experience, which may sound pejorative, but they really are decent little headphones :-)

Movies were Kicking and Screaming (Will Farrell coaches a kids' association football team - meant to watch this, but slept through the start and couldn't find the will to catch up), Madagascar (another silly modern kids' cartoon, but lovingly made and some good giggles) and something with lots of martial arts, lots of guns and Bob Hoskins. This third film caught me by surprise; it seemed to replace at least some part of a block of TV shows. The radio channels were collectively far from my taste. Net result? 25% sounds a little stingy when you consider the free headphones, but only a little. I did enjoy reading Are you Dave Gorman? by Danny Wallace and the eponymous Mr. Gorman. Gently funny, with two or three wonderful wordplays which made me laugh rather louder than you would like to be seen laughing in a confined space.

Cabin crew were competent, attentive and pleasant, though far less funky than Virgin's. Full marks for not appearing to let the challenging circumstances affect them, slight dings for not going (well, not being needed to go) above and beyond the call of duty, plus some fraction of the blame for the late start. We took off about 40 minutes late and made up a little of that time, but I have a gut feeling that the engines weren't being spanked nearly as much as a Virgin pilot might have done.

So, running the scores, we're looking at a low 50%, a low 50%, a high 50%, a high 25% and a 75%. To me, that adds up to "adequate". The fare was a little over £400 plus taxes - not good, but probably typical for a fare from Manchester at this time of year.

Summarising, this was slightly less satisfactory than most Delta flights I have taken. I'm pretty sure that I've had at least 3 or 4 return flights on Delta and at least 3 or 4 on Virgin as well. Virgin are clearly far superior on entertainment, somewhat superior on food and drink and slightly superior on check-in. Not much to choose between them on cabin crew and I think Delta actually get the nod as far as seats are concerned - I'm pretty sure I've slept better on eastbound Delta in the past than I have on eastbound Virgin. That said, Virgin also have a considerable victory in terms of style, amenities, aesthetics and other intangibles. I'm not sure if there are many routes where DL and VS compete head-to-head. (Gurus?) I also suspect that Delta would be likely to be slightly cheaper than Virgin were the two to compete, but Virgin are clearly better value.

The real question is to pick between a direct Delta flight and an indirect flight where the transatlantic sector is on Virgin. So far Delta have been winning for convenience, but perhaps it's time to think again!

(Also on the airline front, interesting to see EU plans to include aviation within emissions trading. Not sure that they have thought through all the consequences of such a move - or, perhaps, they are prepared to accept some of the less immediately obvious consequences as worthwhile side-effects for the intended benefits, which is probable. I look forward to developments here with interest because analysis would just be speculation at this point.)

It has been a quiet week, mostly with trips out to Athens' many restaurants. America has remarkable food; many restaurants which are terribly unremarkable in the US would qualify as minor wonders of the world in the UK. Bagel bars and buffet restaurants with remarkable choice, and masses and masses of seating, are absolutely nothing special whatsoever in Athens. I do miss Anna's, the incredibly efficient assembly-line Mexican take-out restaurant in Somerville, though. The cost of these restaurants is extremely variable - some which qualify as extreme bargains due to the strength of the pound against the dollar, some rather less so. We also saw petrol prices rise about 9% in 24 hours - from $2.88 to $3.15 per gallon. UK petrol prices may have been on a roller-coaster recently but never quite to that extent.

Much of my time has been spent watching Firefly (all but three episodes so far) and then the Serenity movie on its day of release. I do admire the way US movie audiences dress up - Meg even bought herself a Shiny Shirt and other folk wore the trademark brown coats - and the extent to which American movie audiences aren't afraid to react openly during the movie itself. One unwelcome thing was that a trailer for a horror movie beforehand - where the trailer alone had an R rating - flashed the trailer's rating card on-screen for less than a second, so when the trailer crashed unexpected jarring images on-screen, we had had no time to prepare ourselves beforehand. Incidentally, you do occasionally seem to get blipverts (possibly not quite blipverts as such, but still advertising images faded out within a second) at the end of a TV ad-break as well. I'm convinced I saw five two-second blipverts separating the real ads in a break on UK Channel Four once, maybe in about 1990 or so, but have never found any record or mention of this.

The show and the movie were good fun, which is what they set out to be, with some excellent lines. The movie was unexpectedly violent, though - rather heavier on the sci-fi and lighter on the "western in space" roots of the original. Some of the actors and actresses have also aged rather visibly in the three years between filming. I probably would have given this a miss had Meg not been so much into it, but I've certainly enjoyed getting into the show. :-)

It has been delightful to learn the purpose of the flag on the US mailbox, which is an iconic part of the familiar-to-overseas-eyes US mailbox design; I had never previously properly understood what it was there for. If you put outgoing mail in the mailbox and raise the flag, the mailman will collect it from your mailbox and include it in the system. (Thus the mailman will check every postbox for a possible flag and mail to collect, even if there is no mail to deliver there.) How wonderful! I guess it is sensible - possibly, inevitable? - when there are people who live miles from their nearest postbox. I wonder whether many rural inhabitants in the UK take advantage of the counterpart collection service; it is possible to get daily collections from your door in the UK, but I think the fee is about £50/year or thereabouts.

One pleasantly surprising public transport innovation in Athens that I hadn't seen before: each bus - though there aren't many buses about in the first place - has a little fold-down rack on the front of it, and a bicycle rider can (after hailing a bus) fold down the rack and hook their bike onto the front. It's surprisingly simple and secure, plus a good way to extend the convenient bicycling radius. Why doesn't the rest of the world do that?
Current Mood: lovedloved

(23 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:jumbach
Date:October 2nd, 2005 03:48 am (UTC)
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For the most part, though, nowadays people take their mail down to a blue mailbox. They don't leave it in the unlocked mailbox at the curb; it is likely to get stolen by an identity thief.
[User Picture]
From:meggitymeg
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:24 am (UTC)
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That's the lovely thing about living in a cul-de-sac - no traffic to speak of, and therefore no one is particularly interested in my mailbox. :D I usually take my mail to the post office, too, but on days when I'm without a car, I wait until 1pm or so to put the outgoing mail out, since the mailman usually comes just before 2pm. No one's interested in my identity, anyway - there are much more upscale neighborhoods less than a mile away. :)
[User Picture]
From:deza
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:04 am (UTC)
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While you're in Athens, make sure you get to the Varsity for a steak with all the fixins and a frosted orange (mind the grease on the steak, though) and to the Grill for one of their old-time milkshakes and their fries with feta cheese dressing. Mmmmmmmmmm, I really miss the fries and feta. *begins looking at logistics of trip to Athens*
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:09 am (UTC)
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Been there! Well, to the Grill; dramawench is a very large fan of the fries and feta, so I had had them before. :-) (Meg likes the honey mustard dressing.) We passed the Varsity on the way and Meg told me all about the frosted orange to be had.
[User Picture]
From:meggitymeg
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:25 am (UTC)
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It has been delightful to learn the purpose of the flag on the US mailbox

You are too cute. :))
[User Picture]
From:leiabelle
Date:October 2nd, 2005 05:06 am (UTC)
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Hee, I'd never imagined that people wouldn't know the purpose of the mailbox flag. :)

Also, the buses in Gainesville have the bike racks too. Definitely a nifty idea.

Glad you're having fun with Meg! :D
From:gamps_garret
Date:October 2nd, 2005 10:49 am (UTC)
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Post Box Flags!

I've lived outside of true suburbia just long enough to have forgotten about them, I suppose. My sister and I used to play with our mailperson, gauging the distance by hairwidths to see what constituted "up" or "down." My mother was terribly irritated with us when we lost and the bills remained in the box. (If the flag is down, the mailperson assumes that any envelopes within are remnants of the prior day; s/he doesn't resort them.)

I had through-the-mail-slot-in-the-door service at Wickhaven, and here I have my very own mailbox with a key. The outgoing mail goes into a little, antique, gold post-box on the side of the building -- no flag.

Now I want to send letters!

<3
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 28th, 2005 08:07 pm (UTC)
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The other thing I was very pleasantly surprised to see in the US, having not encountered it before, was a mail tube. One of the hotels had a postbox and a long thin tube going directly above it for several floors, such that someone could (in theory - I'm not sure if it's still in use or not) drop their outgoing mail into the tube for eventual collection from the postbox. How grand!
From:daweaver
Date:October 2nd, 2005 11:00 am (UTC)
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most of the delays were really out of the airline's control.

From what you've said, this was a delay caused by having too few check-in staff available (within the control of the airline), or too few check-in positions available (within the control of the airport, but not outside the airline's remit). On the other hand, a queue throughput of 90 seconds per party keeps it moving. Sounds like a could-do-better, and is no worse than their lack-of-effort when I travelled from CDG some years ago.

Grabbed some food at Boots, noting that their previously complicated red-dots-and-green-dots two-price-point scheme has been simplified to a flat rate of £2.99, good news for people like me who like to maximise purported value from their meals.

You do realise that this is achieved by the effective abolition of the lower-priced range, non?

all alcoholic beverages were USD5/€3/£3

Ouch! That's (quickly rushes off to XE) €4.15 / €3 / €4.40. Such are the perils of not joining the Eurozone.

Actually, such are the perils of travelling on foreign carriers.

Perhaps reshaping the pizza to make it thicker but smaller might do the trick? Would this require more heating?

Yes.

it seemed to replace at least some part of a block of TV shows.

I note, in passing, that Delta seems to have switched television provider from AOL Time Warner to The Disney Corporation, which can only mean there's no chance to enjoy Richard Quest larking about at 35,000 feet due up. A loss to the world.

The radio channels were collectively far from my taste.

Mmm, I can see where you're coming from. Not a single speech programme amongst the offerings shows a distinct lack of imagination. If there's one thing to be said for travelling on the one Virgin Train with fully functioning audio, it's Dick and Dom.

We took off about 40 minutes late and made up a little of that time, but I have a gut feeling that the engines weren't being spanked nearly as much as a Virgin pilot might have done.

Slots? If the air position isn't available to take between Shannon and the Avalon, they can't go any faster.

I'm not sure if there are many routes where DL and VS compete head-to-head.

Not between the UK and her north American possessions; and as Delta doesn't fly to Australia, I doubt that any direct competition exists.

The real question is to pick between a direct Delta flight and an indirect flight where the transatlantic sector is on Virgin. So far Delta have been winning for convenience, but perhaps it's time to think again!

Orlando to Atlanta?

interesting to see EU plans to include aviation within emissions trading. Not sure that they have thought through all the consequences of such a move - or, perhaps, they are prepared to accept some of the less immediately obvious consequences as worthwhile side-effects for the intended benefits, which is probable.

Thanks for the heads-up. From previous discussions, it appears that £20 (€30) is a fair contribution to the direct environmental damage caused by one return trans-atlantic flight. €9 sounds about right for your average inter-EU flight. Direct effect will be to put a brake on demand, and probably cause some of the more marginal routes to close. It won't, of course, have any effect on well-run operations, but I'm sure that one of the more amateurish airlines will go under, and they'll bleat about the tax.

Enjoy!
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 28th, 2005 08:24 pm (UTC)
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It would be about fair to say 30% of the delay is due to the number of positions at the airport that Delta had chosen to rent, and 70% was due to extra procedure slowing down the length-of-time-taken-per-passenger rate, which I think is outside their control. We'll see what happens next time, to see whether the procedure has been streamlined at all, in three weeks and minus eleven and a half hours.

You do realise that this is achieved by the effective abolition of the lower-priced range, non?

I do, but I only ever used the higher-priced one - and only tended to buy the nominally-higher-priced items therefrom.

Typo alert: the charge for an alcoholic drink was €5, not €3. Yeahhh.

The slots are a possibility - mutter mumble transatlantic channel system that I don't understand - but not all subsonic aeroplanes of a similar size are capable of the same top speed (though there's not that much of a difference between, say, Mach 3/4 and Mach 7/8) and not all subsonic aeroplanes choose to fly at top speed. I think.

DL have announced an intention to shift some degree of their emphasis from US domestic to transatlantic, with new routes including ATL-EDI (which I might conceivably use, next May, if there's a good opening offer) and JFK-MAN. Still no VS overlap, though I now note you can book some Continental domestic legs on a Virgin codeshare, which is interesting - and, I think, a recent development. No way of connecting Manchester MHT with Manchester MAN, though. At the moment.

I do need a flight icon, I reckon.
[User Picture]
From:persona
Date:October 2nd, 2005 12:56 pm (UTC)
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Thus the mailman will check every postbox for a possible flag and mail to collect, even if there is no mail to deliver there.

In this age of junk-mail adverts, there will always be mail to deliver, even if none of it is actually addressed to the resident.
[User Picture]
From:jumbach
Date:October 2nd, 2005 02:13 pm (UTC)
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Oh yeah, forgot to say: those fold-down racks are quite common on U.S. buses. More transit systems than not have them nowadays.
[User Picture]
From:jumbach
Date:October 2nd, 2005 02:18 pm (UTC)
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Bike rack on an e-Tran bus, Elk Grove, CA. 2 January 2005.



[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 28th, 2005 08:25 pm (UTC)
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The Athens bike racks are very similar, but I think there were three of them on a vehicle at a time. It's a really nice scheme.
[User Picture]
From:undyingking
Date:October 3rd, 2005 07:13 am (UTC)
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Is it true that, as the B-52s claim, "If you go down to Athens GA, and you're driving in your car, you won't get very far before you hear people shouting out ('What's that?') 'Butterbean'!"?
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 11th, 2005 07:54 pm (UTC)
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It may well have been true at one time.

Meg's parents used to live next door to the B-52s.
[User Picture]
From:applez
Date:October 3rd, 2005 09:36 pm (UTC)

Mailbox flags

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I get the feeling these have fallen into disuse. Not just my urban experience where mail is often delivered through a shunt in the door or into the basement ... but well on a decade ago, the post office deliverer mostly didn't bother with the flag procedure at our suburban home in Virginia.

Now if you are really ready to be shocked ... there once was a time* when one could leave one's letters/etc., and the exact change in the mailbox without fear of theft, which the mailman would accept, process, and deliver.

*Died by the 60s I believe.
From:2ndavemusic
Date:October 5th, 2005 02:02 pm (UTC)
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By the way...try as I might, I found no mushy peas at Heathrow Terminal 3. I'm not sure I was disappointed by this, and I certainly don't hold you responsible, but I thought you ought to know.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 28th, 2005 08:26 pm (UTC)
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Ah! Harry Ramsden's, the fish and chip restaurant, should have had them. Oh well.
From:2ndavemusic
Date:October 29th, 2005 08:04 pm (UTC)
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Well, that's the thing: I didn't see a Harry Ramsden's.

Wrong terminal, perhaps? Or maybe they've been run out of town by someplace selling lattes.

Anyhoo, it was a little early for fish and chips (with or without the mushy peas). Oh well, indeed.
[User Picture]
From:sir_quirky_k
Date:October 12th, 2005 10:16 am (UTC)
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We also saw petrol prices rise about 9% in 24 hours - from $2.88 to $3.15 per gallon. UK petrol prices may have been on a roller-coaster recently but never quite to that extent.

The percentage changes are presumably larger because the US prices are starting from a far lower base...

I once described Delta's entertainment to a friend as being "state of the art, for 1984"; he joyfully said "What! Does everyone have their own Spectrum?"

Now *that* amused me. Though I was actually a child of the 1990s, and thus graduated from Commodore 64 to Amiga to PlayStation. (Though it was some time before we actually got rid of the Amiga. Sensible Soccer remains a contender for greatest game of all time.)

And don't ITV1 have blipverts after EVERY advert now?

Anyway. After all that - I saw your LJ via brigbother and daweaver. Certainly seems an interesting LJ too, with every update a potential epic. Never mind Event Television, this is Event Blogging. Also intrigued at your mathematical perspective to game shows, not least because I'm currently thinking 'How in the WORLD are Channel 4 able to offer a six-figure prize in daytime TV for Deal Or No Deal UK?'...

...I'm friending you. Reciprocation is optional, and you have the option of adding me to AIM and YIM (for each, my account name is my LJ name shorn of its underscores).
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 28th, 2005 08:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Someone - almost certainly that nice Mr. Bother - posted a link to a Flash version of DOND the other day. The Flash was basic, but the game was surprisingly interesting, and I'm looking forward to the show far more than I thought I would. (Specifically, I didn't think I would look forward to it at all.) It seems that fairly frequently you are left with one good prize and many poor prizes, so what the contestant is doing is betting at short, but usually good, odds that they will not knock out the one good prize in their next set of removals. As the payouts get closer and closer to true expected value over time, it seems to be a good policy to keep letting the money ride and ride - until, pop, you've knocked out the good prize and the deal value plummets. It raises interesting questions about the concept of winning on a game show, utility theory, mean vs. median and so forth. Whether I'll be able to make the time to think about them is another matter.

Did you know about http://www.purplesensi.co.uk/ ? Possibly more to the point, did you know about http://www.purplesensi.co.uk/sensi/games/download.html ? A-hem.
[User Picture]
From:sir_quirky_k
Date:October 28th, 2005 10:36 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I actually provided the link for the Flash version of DOND myself (in a Bother's Bar comment, which might explain how brigbother posted the Flash link) and have now played it entirely far too many times. The situation you described has happened to me in a fair number of the games I played, and it does mess with my mind - and that's without real money! Every time something like that happens in the real show, I think we're talking serious Event Television potential. And from a mathematical perspective, I'm pretty sure you're going to have a whale of a time with this show. Ditto me, despite only having A2 Mathematics (and AS Further Mathematics, which proved to be a bridge too far for me).

And thanks for that link, will most likely try it at the weekend.

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