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Cuszoom.com Pool Table Review

Posted on August 27, 2012 | 0 comments

Aramith Fusion Knock Off While working with a preferred designer in Northern Virginia we ran into an issue with a pool table from cuszoom.com.  Normally I would not refer visitors to my web site to a competitor but in this case I feel obligated to provide some education.  We are the authorized manufacturer's representative for the Aramith Fusion Pool and Dining Table in Maryland, Virginia, and DC.  The Fusion Table has been around for years and is a favorite among designers, architects, and buyers looking to source a table for apartment buildings.  The hallmark of the Fusion Table you can read in detail from my previous REVIEW, but in simple terms it has a super modern clean look like nothing else on the market.  

While I have a very good relationship with the designer in this case she could not pass up a "Fusion Look Alike" on cuszoom for half the price.  She placed the order with them, paid in full via check, then confirmed that the table would be available in 2 to 3 months.  As a designer the Pool / Dining table was for a client so her cost basis and delivery time frame was now promised to her client.  As the delivery date approached my designer took the time to contact Cuszoom.com to confirm the table would be shipped and presumably set up at the clients location by the promised delivery date.  At this point she was informed the table that she bought and paid for months earlier was in fact back ordered for another few months.  In a panic she contacted us looking for a way to fill this order under a very tight time frame.  

Her first disappointment came as the price of a real steel frame slate top pool table was much higher than what she had budgeted with her client.  As there was no other real option at this point she confirmed the order with us for a real Aramith Fusion Pool/Dining Table.  When she called cuszoom.com to get a refund there was some confusion.  Apparently they could now fill the order ASAP!  When my designer friend called me back to apologize and cancel her Fusion Table order as everything was going to move ahead smoothly with cuszoom I was more than a little exasperated.  Having never heard of this company with I started digging online.  What I found was troubling to say the least.  I forwarded the following link to my designer from Complaintsboard.com.  To sum it up, cuszoom.com is aparently an Internet Scam.  There are dozens of people complaining about false advertising, missed shipping deadlines, a total lack of customer service, and in some cases downright fraud.  Cuszoom also has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau stemming from multiple customer complaints.  After reading this my designer immediately re-ordered the Fusion table for her client.  Weeks later she has yet to receive a refund or even a return call from Cuszoom customer support.  This is definitely a case of "if it seams too good to be true it probably is" and  reinforces the need to make an effort to seriously research a companies reputation before spending thousands of dollars!

 

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Aramith Fusion 7' Dining Pool Table Review

Posted on August 06, 2012 | 2 comments


As part of our blog we are continuing to review some of the best selling and most unique game tables available today.  One of the most unique tables in the world is the Fusion Table by Aramith.  The Belgian Aramith brand is the largest and best know maker of billiard balls in the world.  Aramith was recently purchased by Iwan Simonis, a 300 year old company and one of the largest manufacturer's of pocket billiard table fabric in the world.  With this type of corporate pedigree, we expect big things from the Fusion Dining Pool Table!  The Fusion Table is available in 7' only with half a dozen wood finish options, powder coated steel, and stainless steel cabinet styles.  What makes the Fusion Table truly unique is the patented leg riser system that allows the table to rise from 30" dining height up to 33" (regulation American Billiards table height) making it a true hybrid dining and billiard table in one. 


Style

The Fusion Table by Aramith was the first steel frame ultra modern style table to hit the US market almost a decade ago.  The design was almost indistinguishable from a high end modern dining table and did not look like anything on the market at that time.  The very clean minimalist modern lines are beautifully proportioned with the legs pushed all the way out to the corners of the table.  The lack of visible pool table pockets and very little depth to the play surface look cleaner overall than similar tables that have entered the market over the years.  Very chic wood finish options like Wenge (Dark Chocolate), Grey Oak, and Walnut fit beautifully into the modern high rise apartments and contemporary homes in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and DC.  The one piece steel frame blends seamlessly into the rails of the pool table when the dining top is removed, wrapping the steel frame over the rail edge as a final touch.  Despite many knock offs and modern competitors, the Aramith Fusion Table is still the best looking metal frame dining style pool table money can buy.

Score:  A



Construction

In order to look the way the Fusion Table does some very unique engineering comes into play.  The slate play surface is one piece 3/4" slate instead of the typical 1" three piece slate you see on modern high end pool tables.  To push the legs out to the corners of the table almost 300 pounds of steel are used to construct the frame as lighter materials would bend or wobble under the weight of the slate play surface.  The wood rails and dining top are actually veneered manufactured wood or HDF (High Density Fiberboard).  This is typical of most modern dining furniture but very rare on slate pool tables over $3,000.  Another odd bit is that all of the hardware is designed to be put together with an allen wrench, just like you would a dining table from IKEA!  The main issue we have with the Fusion Tables construction is that without 1" three piece slate you cannot truly get the play surface flat, and the light weight 3/4" slate on the already generally light 7' table size does not help.  Over all, the Fusion Table is very well constructed for a high end steel frame dining table but leaves much to be desired as compared to industry standard pool table construction in this price range.

Score:  B-

Value

When trying to determine the relative value of the Fusion Table you run into a problem:  do you compare this to other modern style 7' pool tables or try and figure out what it would cost to get both a high-end modern dining table in addition to a high end modern pool table for your home?  Very few tables give you the true combination, and all of the major manufacturer's offerings are priced similarly to the Aramith Fusion Table (MSRP $7,995).  The fact is you can get a better playing 7' three piece slate table for less than half the price of the Fusion Table.  Throw in a high quality dining conversion top for around $1,000 and you are still way less than the hybrid style Fusion.  The problem is, nothing can substitute for the 30" dining height and low profile cabinet that allows you to put any standard dining room chairs around the Fusion.  Typical pool tables sit too high and do not have ample room to tuck your legs under the table when you attempt to use them while dining.  No other manufacturer has designed a way to "raise" the play surface up to the more comfortable (and regulation) pool table playing height of 33".  So to be fair, you really are getting two things in one, making the Fusion Table a good value if you were going to spring for a $2,500 plus modern steel frame dining table and still wanted to add an ultra modern 7' pool table at over $5,000.

Score:  B-

Conclusion

The Aramith Fusion Dining Pool Table is definitely not for everyone and is very controversial among specialty retailers around the country.  Putting aside the taste specific modern style, most pool table buyers will be happier with a better playing three piece slate table in solid wood for under $4,000.  Most high end dining set customers will not want to spend close to $8,000 and not even get dining chairs.  If you only have room for one or the other though, the Fusion Table truly stands alone as the Worlds only table that works both as a regulation 7' pool table and a gorgeous modern dining table.  What sets the Fusion Table apart is to some degree it's exclusivity and "wow" factor.  High end apartment buildings and corporate headquarters while disguised as a conference table are the natural habitat for the Fusion.  When we demonstrate the Fusion Pool Table leg risers in our Maryland Showrooms it never fails to drop jaws in amazement.  Despite some complaints about the odd ball construction, this table is still engineered to last for decades with heavy duty steel and diamond honed slate.  Our final recommendation would be to use the Fusion primarily as a dining table and sometimes as a pool table to impress your friends, not the other way around.  With these stunning lines and modern materials you will spend more time admiring your Fusion Table than you will playing on it anyway!

Final Verdict:  B

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Billiard Industry Trade Show Insider Update

Posted on July 22, 2012 | 0 comments

 

 This week Big Al is at the BCA "Summit" industry trade show in Chicago and will be periodically updating his blog.  Stay tuned for real insider info on new products, equipment, and juicy rumors!

July 18th:  Trade show blog

Well it is Tuesday and I'm In Chicago at the annual Billiards and game room products show.  Interesting displays of new pool tables, shuffleboard and table tennis. Also some really cool new cue stick designs.  You should see some of these pros playing!  I'm going to get some words from Eva and hopefully a picture to post on our Facebook page...

July 19th:  Trade show blog

The highlight so far has been the BCA cocktail party, over 600 folks from the billiards industry spent hours sharing notes and ideas.  Home recreation and game room products are still in demand and evolving like any other product area.  Spent time visiting with 8 time world champion Nic Varner, his game is still amazing.  Watched Eva shot 9 ball off the nose of the Pres. of Brunswick billiards, Austin was a great sport.

July 20th: Trade Show Blog

Headed home today with a boat load of new product ideas and designs for the stores.  Great news is that dealer attendance was way up this year over the last couple of years at the show.  Most dealers in attendance see positive progress in their stores with more people showing interest in home entertainment.  Perhaps we have turned the corner as an industry?  Anyway, keep checking the blog for new product introductions over the next couple of months, we are very exited about the things you will see in our Maryland showrooms in the 3rd and 4th Quarter of 2012!

Summit 2012 Draws Solid Attendance in Chicagoland

Exhibits, Education and Social Events Highlight Event

Broomfield, Colo. - July 23, 2012 - The 2012 edition of the Billiard Congress of America's (BCA) Summit 2012, formerly the International Billiard & Home Recreation Expo, was held at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel in Schaumburg, Ill., July 18 - 20, 2012.

 

Total buyer attendance for the three-day event was 965, a 36% increase over the 2011 show and the largest attendance since the event in 2008.

 

"Despite continued economic challenges, we are very pleased Summit 2012 generated a substantial increase in attendance," said Summit 2012 Chairman Skip Nemecek. "There was a real energy on the show floor, in the seminars and during the social events that was shared by both attendees and exhibitors resulting in an all-around compelling event."

 

With 293 booths and 98 exhibiting companies, the show floor was comprised of 35,000 net square feet of exhibit space, with an additional 10,000 net square feet of educational and training space. Of the 98 exhibiting companies, 21 were first-time exhibitors or returning to the event after an absence, including: Altivo Pedras, Ltda., American Classic, Inc., Ball Teck Korea, Boraam Industries, LLC, Carrom Company, Cosmos Industry Co., Ltd., Cyclop Phenolic Billiards, DFI Casual Dining & Barstools, ES Billiard Tip Mfg., H. Home, Harmon Designs, LLC, Incredible Technologies, Inc., Jiujiang Jiuxing Sports Co., Ltd., Montage Furniture Services, Nanjing Kanghom Sporting Goods Co., Ltd., Petro Enterprises, Primo Craft, Inc., Robertson Billiard Supplies, Inc., Tobias Designs, Triumph Sports USA, and Venture.

 

"The show this year was beyond our expectations," said exhibitor John Bertone of Kamui Tips. "We picked up many new customers and we were happy to see all of our old friends and peers. We look forward to coming back to Chicago next year, not only for the pizza, but also the social interaction this venue provides."

 

In addition to Summit 2012's show floor activity, the Business of Billiards Seminar Series offered six seminars designed to provide tangible, immediately implementable business improvement solutions.

 

"The education alone was worth my BCA dues," said retailer Michael Zimmerman of Zim's Rack. "Everything else that was included as part of Summit 2012 and the BCA member benefits are added benefits for our business."

 

The industry social, sponsored by the Billiard Congress of America, on Wednesday, July 18, attracted hundreds of show participants who enjoyed free cocktails and soda, while mixing and mingling with old friends, networking with industry leaders and watching a trick shot exhibition by BCA Hall of Famer Ewa Laurance.

 

"We can't wait to come back next year," said retailer Anthony Been of Bill's Recreation. "The variety of exhibitors was above our expectations and the opportunity to meet people during the industry social and on the exhibit floor was great. We also gathered more information from the seminars than ever before."    

Sponsors of Summit 2012 included: Ace Product Management Group, Inc., Atlas Billiard Supplies, Cue & Case Inc., Championship, LLC, Imperial International, Iwan Simonis, Kamui Tips, Tweeten Fibre Co., Siriani & Associates and Viking Cues.

 

During the event, the Billiard Congress of America also announced Summit 2013 will return to the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel from Wednesday, July 10 through Friday, July 12, 2013. More information on Summit 2013 will be available as it develops at www.bcasummit.com.

 

"Coming back to Chicago is a wonderful choice," said exhibitor David Start of California House. "The location is great, the venue is outstanding to work with and we look forward to returning to Chicago. As a matter of fact, we have already increased our booth size for next year."

 

About Billiard Congress of America 

 

Founded in 1948, the Billiard Congress of America is a non-profit trade organization dedicated to growing a united, prosperous and highly regarded billiard industry through BCA leadership. The BCA seeks to enhance the success of its members and promote the game of billiards though educational, marketing and promotional efforts, an annual industry trade show and other programs designed to encourage billiards as a lifestyle and make pool everybody's game. For more information, visit bca-pool.com or call 303-243-5070.


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Champion Shuffleboard Grand Champion Shuffleboard Table Review

Posted on June 26, 2012 | 0 comments

Today we are going to review one of the best selling shuffleboard tables in the World, the Grand Champion by Champion Shuffleboard Company.

As Champion Shuffleboard (formerly American Shuffleboard) dealers for almost two decades we have sold dozens of Grand Champion model Shuffleboard Tables.  For years this was the true benchmark for furniture style tournament shuffleboard in the home or business, but how does it stack up against modern table competition?  This table features a solid hardwood and veneer cabinet, customizable furniture finishes, and the trademark poured polymer finger joined maple play surface.  Size ranges from 12' all the way up to tournament 22' lengths.  The Play Surface carries a lifetime warranty against manufacturer's defects and the cradle/legs have a three year warranty.

Style

The Grand Champion is a step up from the more rudimentary Champion Shuffleboard Model in the style department.  The maple veneer and hardwood cradle and legs are available in any number of custom wood stains and wood species.  The most popular is a medium to dark mahogany on maple wood with natural maple accents, like the one shown here in one of our Maryland showrooms.  The design on this table is simple and classic, based on the antique tables from the early 20th century.  The Vintage Charleston model is a more expensive evolution of this style concept.  For years the Grand Champion was the nicest looking table on the market with this kind of build quality and it still holds up today.  The game has changed, however, with much nicer looking finished wood cabinets hitting the market at this Price Point.  Bottom line is if you want the traditional Champion Shuffleboard look that has come to define this manufacturer look no further than the Grand Champion.  If you want a shuffleboard table that matches your pool table or more updated style room this will stick out like a sore thumb.

Score:  B+    
 

Construction:

Champion Shuffleboard can be credited for inventing modern shuffleboard table engineering.  The 3/4" maple boards finger joined to create the play surface and the poured polymer 1/4" thick created the first maintenance free shuffleboard that never needs refinishing or sanding.  This is still true today, where most manufacturers are still perfecting the curve of the play surface, the spacing and "tune" of the climate adjusters, and even the moisture content of the the wood.  Champion figured this element out years ago, giving them a real edge on quality play surface construction.  They back up this engineering with a lifetime warranty on the wood and poured polymer where many other manufacturer's will only guarantee the polymer, hoping it will not crack over time.  The cradle, leg, and scorer construction are not as bullet proof as the play surfaces unfortunately.  We have had some issues over the years with veneer splitting or scorer mechanisms failing prematurely.  Most of these problems are quickly remedied but you get the impression the engineers at Champion are better handling commercial table construction than building fine furniture.  Fit, finish, and presentation of the cabinets remains a work in progress, but as one of the largest custom manufacturer's in the country you have to think it will only get better over time.  In the end, the play surface is what you are really paying for and Champion builds one of the best.

Score:  A-

Value:

The Grand Champion is an upper-mid priced shuffleboard table when compared to similar construction and style tables from other manufacturers.  This makes it a good value if American Made and having a premium warranty are high on your priority list.  If furniture style or price point are more important to you then better looking and certainly less expensive tables are available.  Everything is going to be a trade off, but it is hard to argue with twenty plus years of happy customers who still own Champion Shuffleboard tables worry free.  The best value in the Grand Champion size range is 16' and larger, perfect for a nice rec room or commercial space.  Better values in the smaller sizes are available as import boards (less expensive) or from other custom manufacturers (more style options).  The Grand Champion is certainly a long term investment and if you look at the purchase over decades instead of just years, this is a very good value.

Score A-

Conclusion:

In the end you cannot go wrong with a Grand Champion Shuffleboard Table if you want a larger size and traditional look.  Another often overlooked aspect of larger shuffleboard tables is the scoring.  Champion makes the absolute best commercial score units on the market, so if you want to drop $1,500+ on a nice commercial scorer like the one in the picture at the top of this review, buy a Champion board.  We love the Champion play surface when setting these up because the thinner (3/4" maple boards in stead of 1" like most manufacturer's use) tend to "curve" better and stay more true without adjustment.  The climate adjusters are also factory installed before shipping so the boards come in semi-tuned and never warped. The cradle is a classic design but can be a little plain jane for this price point.  The plastic sleeve covering either end of the board is great for durability but looks kind of cheap compared to this tables big brother, the Grand Champion Limited Edition.  We also do not like that the cradle and wood components other than the play surface do not carry a lifetime warranty against splitting, cracking, ec.  We sell pool tables for a fraction of the cost of the Grand Champion that have a lifetime warranty on all wood components, why not this?  Complaints aside, this is a great board than anyone would be lucky to own.

Final Verdict:  A-

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Brunswick Tremont 8' Pool Table Review

Posted on June 06, 2012 | 2 comments

 

As a new feature in the Blog we are going to start reviewing some of the game room options shown in our store.  While it is difficult to be completely un-biased, we are going to look at individual items and do our best to compare them "apples to apples" with other similarly priced competitors.  The first pool table up for review is the best selling Brunswick Tremont 8' Pool Table, a long time favorite in Maryland, Virginia, and the rest of the country as well.  Here are some basic build specs on the table that play into our review:

-Three Piece 1" Framed Slate Play Surface, Brunswick Certified

-Hardwood and Hardwood Veneer Construction with Plywood and HDF support structure

-Lifetime Warranty on all wood components, slate, and cushion rubber through Brunswick Billiards

-Metal Bracket Style Corner and Cross Beam Construction, Faux leather pockets, around 715lb

Style:

The Tremont is a long time best seller because the style is so accessible and universal.  The arched cabinet leading into a ball and claw carved leg has dominated the pool table industry for almost 20 years.  Here is that unmistakable look of a fine furniture style pool table at a surprisingly low price point.  The shield style pocket is also a winner as the look is "cleaner" than the outdated tassel style fringe pockets and the leather shield is more durable.  Brunswick currently only offers the Tremont in the super popular Chestnut Finish and 8' home size.  Around 70% of all modern Brunswick Tables are purchased in the Chestnut finish so once again this looks like a much higher end pool table than it actually is.  There is not much carving or other detail work on the Tremont as those little touches increase the price quite a bit.  The Tremont does feature Diamond Plastic rail sights and a nice rail and blind profile that balances the overall look of the table.  For the money, the Tremont by Brunswick is a great looking table compared to just about anything on the market today.

Score:  A-

Construction:

The Tremont is the least expensive table in Brunswicks Contender line of Pool Tables and this means some sacrifices were made in the construction department.  The Brunswick Certified three piece matched slate is a shared component with every other Brunswick Table, so this is definitely a premium feature.  The rails are solid hardwood, although not a particularly high end wood as they appear very "filled" and artificial next to higher end tables with natural Maple, Cherry, or Oak rails.  The cushion rubber on the Tremont is Brunswick's Centennial Grade cushion.  This cushion is featured on many Contender grade tables and it is noticeably slower than the Super Speed Cushion on the  Brunswick Collection pool tables.  The metal bracket corner and cross beam construction is stable but not as solid as a true dove tailed or post style table would be.  Brunswick's biggest cost cutting measure is the wood veneer cabinet on the Tremont.  Veneer is much less expensive than solid wood, especially on these long side panels.  Customers interested in solid hardwood should look elsewhere.  Over all, the Tremont is stable and stays level, but too many compromised are made to the construction for this to be considered a "players" table.

Score:  B-

Value:

A big reason the Tremont remains a best selling Brunswick pool table is the price point.  With an online price of $1,749 buyers are presented with good value for under $2,000.  Many other major manufacturer's don't have ball and claw leg furniture tables under $2,500 (sorry I can't compare Brunswick to off brand manufacturers).  That being said you can get veneer pool tables for hundreds less and some hardwood tables start around the Tremont price point as well.  The Brunswick Lifetime Warranty is a unique feature at this price point.  The Tremont carries the same warranty as a Brunswick Isabella!  This means Brunswick dealers actually get paid to go back and fix a problem (if any ever crop up) and parts are easily sourced from the largest pool table manufacturer in the world at no cost whatsoever to you as the owner. This is the least expensive table you can buy that still carries what is arguably the best manufacturer warranty available.

Score:  B+

Conclusion:

The Tremont Pool Table by Brunswick offers a good value and excellent overall style but comes up a little short in construction and options.  Another little complaint we hear about the Tremont is the faux leather pockets.  They are noticeably cheaper looking than the real leather pockets Brunswick uses on the collection tables and even the leather shield pockets used by other import lines.  This is the perfect table for families or casual players looking for a solid table to invest in who are willing to compromise a bit on play and finish options.  Brunswick only makes the Tremont in an 8' home size with the Chestnut wood finish, ball and claw legs, and shield pockets.  If they offered a few more wood finishes, beefed up the construction, or put nicer cushions on the Tremont it would be a category killer, until then it remains one of the better values for recreational buyers.

Final Verdict:  B+

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Game Room Ideas for Kids

Posted on May 19, 2012 | 0 comments




Most of the people we talk to in Maryland, Virginia, or DC about putting together a game room have children that will also use the space.  We love the traditional "man cave", but most families have a mixture of adult and children's activities in their basement or bonus room.  Today we are going to break down the most popular and user friendly game room games by age group.  This is a good way to future proof game room purchases and get more years of fun out of your investments.

Under Five Years of Age:  If you have young children at home the game room is often either a place to go to escape for more adult activities while the kids are asleep or a giant toy filled rumpus room.  It is difficult to keep small kids occupied for long but there are a couple of exceptions.  If you don't have one already get a small to mid size flat screen TV on the wall and buy a game system like the Nintendo Wii.  Not only can you and your not so grown up friends have fun playing Video Games, it is a great way to keep the kids occupied if you want to have a poker night or squeeze in a few games of billiards.  At this age most kids will not be able to grasp the "point" of traditional table games, but they still like to be part of the action.

Five to Eight Years:  This is the golden time where you get to influence your children's interests for possible the rest of their lives.  Most kids have developed sufficient motor skills to start participating in games like Table Shuffleboard, Billiards, Air Hockey, or even Darts!  The key at this age is to start them slow, usually on a stool or with help from mom or dad to hold the Puck or Pool Cue.  Shuffleboard Tables are easier for most kids to get the hang of because all they have to do at first is whip the pucks from one end to the other.  A set of Bowling Pins will help this quickly become a favorite activity!  Don't get discouraged if the kids still want to veg out in front of the Video Game System.  If you take the time to show them how to play traditional games correctly and take breaks when they get frustrated you might be surprised how quickly they get hooked.


                                                                                                Every kid loves cracking a puck into these Bowling pins by Legacy Billiards

Nine to Twelve Years of Age (Tweeners):  At a time where we begin to loose our kids undivided attention to the glut of media and outside peer influence there is still a place to go for real family time:  the Game Room!  If you spent time when they were younger including them in games and teaching the basics this can be the most fun you ever have in your recreation space.  Think about it, now they are old enough to play ping pong, shoot a game of pool, even throw darts and even win once in a while.  In a couple of years they will be teenagers and much less interested in hanging out with Mom and Dad on a Saturday night.  This is the period where many parents invest in a real lifetime game room activity like a nice slate pool table or hardwood shuffleboard table if they have not already.  Once kids are hooked on these games the tables will see a ton of use over the next ten years.


Teenage Years:  This can be a tough time to get kids to hang out at home, especially with you!  Parents who always had a game room at the house often find that their teenagers end up spending time with Friends at home, especially if the years have added plenty of fun activities.  You might be left out sometimes, but as one father told me recently, "It is worth every penny knowing exactly where they are, even if I can't use my own Pool Table"!  This is the time to add more skilled games to your space, especially Foosball, Darts, Poker, and Arcade Machines.  The key to keeping the game room fresh over the years is adding more challenging and competitive games.  Remember to invite yourself in once in a while to show those kids that Dad and Mom can still kick some butt in their old age.



                                                                                                    The Worthington Foosball is a great tournament table with a higend

College Age Kids:  This is possibly the easiest time you will have enjoying your game room with the entire family.  College kids home for the holidays or summer are drawn to the parents game room like flies to dung.  Paying a dollar a game to shoot pool at college is a great way to get them to appreciate how good they had it at home all of those years.  Now that they really think they are good at these games you will have some pretty heated competition as well.  This is the result of centering your family activities at home around traditional games and not just video games and movies.  Trust me, you will never keep up with new video games like a college kid will, but the rules of Foosball didn't change over the winter.  In fact, you might want to get some new cloth on your pool table or pick up a new pool cue before they get home, no way are you going to lose on your own table after all these years!


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What ever happened to the American Arcade?

Posted on April 24, 2012 | 1 comment

This article is courtesy of arstechnica.com

 

In North America, gamers are now generally divided into two distinct generations: those that grew up in the midst of the vibrant video arcade culture of the '70s and '80s; and those born since.

The latter group's experience with arcades is primarily through redemption-machine-filled restaurants like Dave & Busters and maybe a few neglected cabinets at their local movie theater or bowling alley. But in Japan, this divide does not exist. Arcades there have continued to grow and evolve since their introduction. Multiple floors fill not just with hardcore gamers, but with families and casual players looking for the kind of face-to-face social gaming experience hard to find on this side of the Pacific.

Brad Crawford is a member of the first generation. "I remembered growing up with [arcades], and going [to Japan] and seeing what they had become was just mind-boggling," said Crawford, who became enamored with Japan's arcade culture while spending three years living there starting in 2005. The experience inspired Crawford to create 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience, a recently funded indie documentary (currently in post-production) that tries to capture a thoroughly modernized Japanese arcade experience completely unknown to most in the West.

Re-learning the arcade culture

After being removed from arcade culture for so long, Crawford told Ars it was a bit hard at first easing his way into the scene, especially in an unfamiliar country. "If you're not a super-skilled video game person, it can be pretty intimidating, because Japanese people can be pretty good at video games," he said. "It's kind of scary at times, especially if you don't speak great Japanese, which at the time I didn't at all."

Crawford said that at first he would usually just watch the high-level competition going on around him more than he would play. Eventually, he found simply sitting down for a friendly match was the best way to break through the language and culture barrier and become part of the community.

"It's hard to break the ice, but at the same time there's those games that you can always just sit down and play," he said. "There's something about that connection that you can find with people that have like-minded hobbies, and through that you can end up having a good experience and making some good friends."

"They're more concerned about not being able to communicate with you in terms of language," he continued. "If you can make video games the language, I think it can become a great tool in terms of communication. If you give them a good game they're going to respect you for that. ... It's just about putting the time in, showing up and being a regular face so you're not intimidating anymore. It's not something that happens overnight. It takes time."

Arcade demography is arcade destiny

To Crawford, the very different fates that have befallen North American and Japanese arcades has to do with demographics and urban planning as much as differing gaming tastes between the two countries. "Japan is so dense in population, such a mass of people, so that's really why things are this way, there's so much foot traffic everywhere," he said. "A lot of North America just doesn't have that quality to it."

Japan's train-based transportation culture makes it more inconvenient for those who live downtown to visit friends in the suburbs, Crawford said. Generally limited living space means the giant suburban basements and rec rooms that serve as gaming palaces for many Americans are a rarity in Japan. In this kind of environment, downtown arcades became a convenient place for people to hang out and have fun before heading home for the night.

"People are stuck downtown waiting for their friends; they don't have massive social scenes at their houses," he said. "I don't know if I invited that many people over to my house in Japan. It doesn't happen."

These factors have combined to create a modern Japanese arcade that would be practically unrecognizable to a Westerner with memories of dingy, badly lit rooms full of young hoodlums. The gleaming, multi-floor palaces cater to all sorts of players. There are crane games and sticker-picture machines on the first floor to draw people in from the street. More hardcore players show off on carefully arranged rows of dance, fighting, and shoot-em-up games on the higher floors.

But that doesn't mean Japanese arcades were always such clean, friendly places. "When we were speaking with people, they would have similar kinds of memories of arcades having a bad reputation in Japan, of them being dark places where delinquents would go," Crawford said. "I think North America and Japan went through the same phase of gaming, but Japan didn't give up and let it die. They took that negative image and really fought against it. Companies like Taito and Sega actively looked for different ways to bring in different audiences." In other words, the only reason American arcades are remembered with a bad reputation? They never got the chance to grow out of it.


Games like this Golden Tee are more often seen in residential Man Caves than Arcades

A Western arcade comeback?

It wasn't until Crawford returned home to his native Winnipeg, Canada that he realized just how much he missed the arcade scene. He had been missing it his whole life. "Physical gaming with your friends has become something that's pretty few and far between now," he lamented. The closest he's come to recreating it on this side of the ocean is by attending massive fighting game tournaments, like the Evolution event in Las Vegas. Last year, Evolution attracted thousands of people (and over 2 million online spectators) to watch and participate in battles on games like Super Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3. "You want that experience again, so any time you have that opportunity to experience even a little bit of it, you're like 'yes, give me that.'"

Events like these show there's a whole generation of Western game players, now centered around those in their mid to late 30s, looking to capture something that's missing from much of modern gaming. "Everyone wants that sense of competition, to feed their competitive nature, to beat your opponent," he said. "Now it's just so anonymous. You have little kids swearing at you and berating you [in online games]. At the arcade, you could steal their money if you beat them." Not to mention, if you curse someone out at an arcade, you'd better be big enough to defend yourself.

There have been a few spotty efforts to bring back serious arcades in the US: Insert Coin(s) in downtown Vegas and a recently repurchased Chinatown Fair in New York City among them. But with a decades-long gap since arcades were really a significant part of American social life, Crawford admits bringing them back to their previous stature outside of Japan will be tough.

"Whether we just talk about nostalgia or a movement, I think it could come back," he said. "I think we could see the culture revitalized—maybe not to its former glory, but at some level. There's people out there trying, and I applaud them for it, but it's definitely an uphill battle."


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Pool Table vs Shuffleboard Table: What should I get?

Posted on April 14, 2012 | 1 comment

 The two largest and most expensive games you can add to your game room are either a Pool Table or a Shuffleboard Table.  While many families have both games, for most it is a decision of one or the other.  In Maryland Pool Tables are still king, but Table Shuffleboard is catching up quickly.  In Northern Virginia Shuffleboard Tables have a slight edge in popularity, possibly reflecting a southern influence.  Here is a quick break down of pros and cons of both owning a Pool Table or a Shuffleboard Table.

What kind of space do I need?

A pool table will take up most of even a large room because you need to try and allow 5' or more around the play surface.  The smallest home slate pool table we recomend is 7', or 78" by 39" on the play surface.  This means your room should be at least 16 1/2' by 13' for just the pool table and surrounding area.  For many this means taking up an entire room in the basement or losing other entertainment activities like a big walk behind home bar or full size home theater setup.  Table shuffleboard has a definite advantage in space because nice quality tables can be as little as 12' long and 3' wide.  Unlike a pool table, table shuffleboard can be put right up against a wall, in a hallway, or even up against the back of a sectional couch.  You just need a couple of feet at each end to stand.  The exception to this is a full 22' shuffleboard table.  If that is your desire you had better have a huge room and most importantly, a way to get the thing in! 

What is the family going to be happiest with?

If at least two adults in the house enjoy playing pool then if makes sense to get a pool table because they can introduce the game to everyone else.  The problem with pool is that there is a bit of a learning curve for beginners, so if Dad is a shark and no one else has played before it is not going to be fun for everyone.  One big advantage shuffleboard has over billiards is that almost anyone of any age or ability level can start playing right away.  Unless there is an extreamly skilled player in the house, shuffleboard is a very beginer friendly game.  This fact alone is pushing many buyers into getting a shuffleboard table because not everyone wants to spend time practicing so they can beat "dad" on a regular basis. 

What is going to get the most use over the years?

Both a quality home pool table or a shuffleboard table will be around for decades.  These are extreamly long term purchases, unlike almost anything else you can get for home entertainment.  Most of us are concerned, however, that after we buy one of these games it will just sit around and collect dust because the family has grown tired of it.  The key to avoiding this schenario is setting up our entertainmnet spaces for multiple activities and using the equipment we already have in new and interesting ways.  Shuffleboard tables can be converted easily to shuffle-bowling tables with a simple set of wood bowling pins.  Pool tables have a definite advantage for multiple use because there are so many differnt games that can be played on an American Pocket Billiards Table.  Here in Maryland Billiards is dominated by 8 ball and 9 ball games.  Some players are shooting hybrid games like 7 ball, one pocket, or even straight pool.  There are even special ball sets that can be used to create all new versions of pocket billiards.  Over all, the most popular alternative use of a pool table remains putting a ping pong conversion top on the table and getting two games in one!

 Finally, what is going to be the best value for the money?

This is the big question: should I spend all of this money on a pool table or a shuffleboard table and what is this thing going to cost me up front and in maintanance over the years.  Pool Tables have the advantage in up front cost as a decent quality three peice slate major manufacturer pool table can be purchased new or used for under $2,000.  After that expect to spend around $300 to $500 every ten years in Maryland or Virginia on Pool Table recovers.  Good quality cues, balls, and accessories are only a few hundred dollars and should last at least 15 years.  Shuffleboard Tables are a larger up front investment.  Expect to pay at least $3,000 for a good quality 12' home table, and at least $5,000 for a 20' wide tournament play surface table 16' or larger.  There are cheaper tables out there but the warranties are shady and the manufacturers have no credibility.  After the initial purchase a shuffleboard table requires no maintanance and only a few dollars worth of shuffleboard powder and silicon spray every year.

In the end most people are going to get the game that they played growing up and think friends and family will enjoy the most.  While both of these games represent a major investment in dollars and space, as long as they get used it is always worth it over time.  That is why generation after generation families in Maryland and Virginia have been passing on the tradition of entertaining around home pool tables and shuffleboard tables.

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25 Awesome iPhone Tips and Tricks

Posted on April 12, 2012 | 0 comments

 This article is courtesy of yahoo.com

Whether you're a seasoned user or brand new to the iPhone world, chances are you're probably not using your smartphone to its fullest.

Don't worry, you're not alone, as these pocket-sized computers boast many hundreds of features buried in the operating system.

And so here we share a number of our favorite iPhone tips and tricks, some of which you may know already. Hopefully there's a good number of ones you aren't aware of yet. Most of these following 25 suggestions will work with all versions of the iPhone, but be sure to have the latest software installed (iOS 5.1).

OK, here we go:

Take a photo with your headphone cord: Now that you can use the volume up or down buttons to snap a photo, steady your hand while framing up the photo and when you're ready to take the picture, press the button on the cord so it won't shake the iPhone. Voila!

Dry out a wet iPhone: You're not the first one to drop an iPhone in a toilet or sink. If this happens, don't turn it on as you can damage the smartphone by short-circuiting it. Lightly towel dry the phone. Don't use a hairdryer on the phone as it can further push moisture into areas that aren't wet. Submerge the iPhone in a bowl or Ziploc bag of uncooked white rice and leave it overnight. If you have it, try using a desiccant packet you might find with a new pair of shoes or leather purse.

Dismiss suggested words: If you're typing an email or note and the virtual keyboard is suggesting the correct spelling of the word — and you don't want to accept it — you don't need to tap the tiny "X" at the end of the word in question. Simply tap anywhere on the screen to close the suggestion box.

Take photos faster: Even if your iPhone is locked you can double-tap on the Home button and you'll see a camera icon you can tap to open the camera immediately. Now you can use the volume up button to snap the photo, too. You can also use the volume up on the headphone cord to take a photo (if you want to) and pinch the screen to zoom instead of using the slider bar.

Use location-based reminders: You probably know Siri can be used to set a reminder, like saying "Siri, remind me to call mom at 4pm today." But did you know you can set location-based reminders on your iPhone 4S? Say "Remind me to call mom when I leave here" or "Remind me to call mom when I get home" and you'll be notified accordingly.

Get word definitions: Apple has recently added a built-in dictionary and you can access it in most apps that let you select a word. Simply press and hold on a word — such as in an email, reminder, iBooks, and so on — and you'll see a pop-up option for "Define."

Revive a frozen iPhone: If your smartphone freezes on you and pressing the Sleep/Wake button on top of the device doesn't do anything, don't panic. Instead, press and hold the Home button and the Sleep/Wake button at the same time. You'll be prompted to swipe the "Slide to Power Off" tab. This so-called "hard reset" resuscitates the frozen iPhone. You'll first need to wait through a full shut down and restart.

Get more done in less time: You can create shortcuts to words and phrases you use a lot, such as Northern California Association for Employment in Education. In Settings, go to General, then Keyboard, and select Add New Shortcut. Now you can add new words or phrases and assign shortcuts to them (such as "NCAEE," in the above example, and it'll type out the full word each time.

See a 6-day weather forecast: If you're one of the many weather junkies out there, you probably know you can swipe down the iOS device's screen and you'll see the Notifications center. Weather will be at the top, but did you know you can swipe to the left or right and you'll toggle between current conditions and a 6-day forecast? Plus, jump to the Weather app by tapping anywhere on the weather bar inside Notifications screen.

Select URL domains faster: When typing a website address in Safari, you don't have to type the ".com." For example, you can type "yahoo" in the URL box to get to yahoo.com. On a related note, you can press and hold down the .com button and you'll see a list of alternatives to choose, such as .net, .org and .edu.

Make your own ringtone: Don't settle with the ringtones provided by Apple and you need not pay your carrier for more of them. As the name suggests, the free Ringtone Maker app lets you take a clip from your favorite songs and make ringtones out of them in seconds.

Feel and see when people call: Apple has added a number of accessibility features to iOS 5, specifically designed to assist those with hearing, vision, mobility and other disabilities. For example, those who are hearing impaired might opt to have the LED flash when a call comes in. If you're seeing impaired, you could set a unique vibration pattern for different people in your Contacts, so you know who's calling.

Find your lost iPhone: As long as you sign up in advance, the free Find My iPhone app will help you locate your device on a map (on your computer or other iOS device). You can display a message or initiate a loud ring (in case it's under the cushions), or remotely lock or wipe its data.

Save photos in Safari: You're surfing the web in Safari and stumble upon a photo you'd like to save. Simply press and hold on a photo when on a website and you'll be prompted with a menu asked if you'd like to "Save Image." Once the photo is saved, you can view it offline, email it or set it as wallpaper.

Take an iPhone screen grab: On a related note, if you want to take a screenshot of a website or application, press down on the Home button and tap the Sleep button. You'll hear the camera click, see a white flash and the screenshot will be saved to your Camera Roll.

Get new sounds: It's been a long time coming, but Apple has added the ability to select custom tones for incoming text messages, new emails, voicemails, tweets, calendar alerts, reminders and more. You can select something you like from within the Sounds menu. You'll also notice you can scroll to the top of this list of sounds and you'll see a "Buy More Tones" option, which takes you to iTunes.

Zip to the top of the page: In Mail, Safari, Contacts and other apps, simply tap the status bar at the top of the screen — the area that displays time, battery and cell bars — to jump back to the top quickly.

Prolong your battery: Speaking of the battery, here's how to squeeze more life out of your iPhone between charges. Turn down the brightness of your screen, turn off wireless radios you don't use (such as GPS, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) and reduce the number of apps with info you have "pushed" to your phone. Also, make sure you lock it before putting in your pocket, purse or backpack or else it could turn on and drain the battery.

Spread out the keyboard for easier typing: Here's a tip for iPad users: If you like typing while holding the tablet, rather than stretch your fingers or thumbs for those middle letters like G, H, Y or B, you can drag the keyboard to each side of the screen to separate it into two, allowing you to easily type while holding it.

Learn some gestures: Close any app ridiculously fast by putting your four fingers and thumb stretched on the screen and pinch inwards. Sweet! You can also magnify what's on your iPhone screen with a three-finger tap. You'll first need to go to Settings, General, Accessibility, and select the various gestures options here.

Create an "app" out of a website you visit often: To add a website to your Home screen, just visit the webpage in Safari and at the top of the screen, tap the Go To icon and select "Add to Home Screen."

Create a music playlist on the fly: You no longer need a computer to create a playlist. In the Music app, tap Playlists, then select Add Playlist and give it a name ("Marc's Workout Mix"). Now, tap any song (or video) to add it to the playlist. You can add individual songs, entire albums, or all songs by a particular artist.

Don't waste your day deleting messages individually: You can delete unwanted emails en masse rather than deleting one at a time. In your Inbox, simply click the Edit button and check off the emails you want to delete with your finger and then choose Delete.

Keep track of your texting limits: If you don't have the best texting plan and don't want to unnecessarily pay to send more texts than you need, here's a tip to turn on the character count in the Messages app. Enable this in the Settings>Message option to keep an eye on your word count. Usually, your one text becomes two after 160 characters.

Mirror your iPhone with your TV: If you own an Apple TV, you can instantly and wirelessly share exactly what's on your iPhone 4S or second- and third-generation iPad with your HDTV, connected to an Apple TV — such as games, apps or videos. Simply double-tap the Home button, swipe all the way to the right and select AirPlay Mirroring.

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11 New Lives for Dead Tennis Balls

Posted on March 30, 2012 | 1 comment

 Thanks to Gizmodo.com for this one.

11 New Lives for Dead Tennis Balls—None of Which Involve Tennis

Old tennis balls may not be able to bounce around the court, but they can be incredibly handy around the house. Here are eleven second acts for the Wilsons. Just give the balls a chance.

1. Park perfectly.

Tape the ball to a string and hang it from the garage ceiling so it touches the driver's side windshield when your vehicle is parked in the ideal spot. Pull forward until you tap it.

2. Remove scuffs.

Cut a small X in the ball with a utility knife. Then stick it on the end of a broom handle. Use it to easily rub off scuff marks on wood or vinyl floors.

3. Put a ball on a pole to wipe cobwebs off ceilings.

4. Cover a hitch.

Fit a drilled ball on a trailer hitch to prevent scratches and rust.

5. Stop doorknobs.

Cut open a tennis ball to protect your walls from door handles if the doorstops aren't doing the job. The ball will at least keep the handle from bashing a hole in the drywall.

6. Fluff laundry.

Drop two or three clean balls into the dryer next time you're drying comforters, pillows, towels or jackets. They'll bounce around and collide with the laundry to fluff it up and dry it faster.

7. Prevent hammer damage.

Cut a slit in a tennis ball and slide it over the business end of a hammer. It'll cushion the face, making a finish-saving mallet to knock stuff into position.

8. Protect floors.

Put balls on furniture legs when rearranging it. Stop scratching up the floor. Make it slide.

9. Deck chair legs get stuck between the boards? Give 'em ball shoes.

10. Childproof doors.

To stop a small child from opening a door, place a ball over its knob. Note on tip five—it works best for door handles you don't need to twist.

11. Make a puck.

In Minnesota, kids fill a ball about a quarter full of pennies and use it to practice hockey stick handling off the ice. The pennies make it as hefty as a puck, so it won't go flying when you slap it. Just tape it up thoroughly.

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