You may know, my online chess rating hovered around 1300 for decades, “Hopelessly Mediocre Chess.” No matter which website or app I used, I was about a 1300 player, give or take. Then, a few months back, Emmons won a very long streak of games, beating me soundly time after time.

I discovered he was watching International Master Eric Rosen stream live on Twitch and watching his videos on YouTube. He was learning volumes about winning chess play, which explained why he was kicking my ass time and time again.

So, I had to start watching, too, just to keep up with Emmons’s gameplay. I quickly found Eric’s favorite opening to be solid and enjoyable, the Stafford Gambit. So, I’ve been studying it on YouTube (jump to links). These videos show some incredible chess traps and tactics.  As a result of this and some other studies, my rating has shot up, and I’m able to keep up with Emmons, at least for now. 

I got one of the most fantastic traps to work, and here it is.



Opponent Takes the Bait and Falls for the 
Evil Queen Sacrifice, Die in Eight Moves Thingy!!

I ruthlessly made the Evil Queen Sacrifice, Die in Eight Moves thingy!



However, it’s tough and rare to get the positions YouTubers show. Good chess players usually don’t fall for such traps. Yet, this 1576 rated player took the bait, hook, line, and sinker the other night.  This study is my actual game. 

Evil Queen Sacrifice, Die in Eight Moves thingy!
A crazy trap in the Stafford Gambit

Click on the arrows or click on the board and use the mouse scroll wheel to see each move.  I played black.




Eric Rosen’s Stafford Gambit Videos:


Grand Master Hikaru Nakamura showing International Master Eric Rosen what’s what.

Boiler Up! Elias!

Next week my youngest son, Elias, is doing his first campus visit as a high school student researching which college to attend. He recently watched his older brother make a prosaic and apathetic college search, only to acquiesce to their mother’s choice of colleges.  Don’t get me wrong, Emmons will have an amazing and fruitful education at Texas A&M. His mother chose well. But, Emmons’s decision to attend A&M, and he will tell you so himself, was purely utilitarian, without any passion or emotion, “It’s just the next step in what I have to do.” I have wanted him to show even an inkling of excitement, but no.  He even gets upset when I emote joy at becoming an “Aggie Dad.” It’s been a little disappointing and anti-climatic for me.  Alas, I think Elias is more inspired as he begins his search for the perfect collegiate experience.

In 5th grade, Elias had a class assignment to design and build a Rube Goldberg machine.  As all good elementary students do nowadays, he Googled “rube goldbureg machine” to research the assignment.  He kept showing me videos he found of the astonishing elaborate machines competing in the annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. As a certain university founded this competition in 1949, made it national in 1987, and generally dominates the competition each year, the videos tended to be teams from that certain university.  Consequently, without knowing my alma mater, Elias said, “I want to go to that college,” pointing at a team with an awesome Rube Goldberg machine trimmed in black and gold paint. I smiled, didn’t say anything, and my heart started pounding out the opening stanza beats to “Hail Purdue!”

Elias is my independent thinking offspring; he’s not going to submit to his mother’s or my college choices for him.  He has announced he will make his own choice and research the best fit for him.  So, we are readying for his first campus visit, which happens to be my alma mater.  He has plenty of time for other campus visits; he is just now finishing up his sophomore year.  I’m expecting a flood of nostalgia and reminiscing on my end of his Purdue Campus visit.  I haven’t been back on campus since my first date with their mother back in 1998 (I saw ol’ Drew Brees win that day, and now the dude is retired from the NFL).  Also, I hope I don’t unduly influence Elias’ collegiate choice with my love for my old school.

Should I let him know he would be a triple legacy with his grandmother and aunt receiving a Boilermaker education? Probably not; I think that can wait. 

Campus Visit for him,
Homecoming for Me!

Awe, Purdue! I was Purdue Class of 1991, but that stretched to the Purdue Class of 1992, then again into Purdue Class of 1993, and finally I joined the Purdue Class of 1994.

This Purdue Campus Visit will remind me that I did the Purdue four years on the seven-year plan. There was just too much to do; Boiler football games (the Fred Akers years – Ugh), fraternity parties (ΔΧ), four different majors (Philosophy, Psychology, something I forgot, and Leisure Studies), touring on bikes (rode home to Salem, Indiana one Fall Break – 180 miles mostly using Indiana State Road 135 South), dozens of campus organizations (College {insert a major political party’s name here} Club), more fraternity parties, a mid-degree Gap Year (not by choice), becoming a Lafayette Towny, learning to kite with a quad string stunt kite (full-size sewing patterns drawn on some university CAD/CAM & CNC thingy), backpacking the Smokies during breaks (800 miles total with university gear), coffee shops (anyone remember the Blue Café), hustling chess games for coffee money (Blue Café again), concerts (Sting & Gate Mouth Brown on campus and the Dead & James Taylor at Deer Creek), seeking university co-eds’ attention, taking ANTH 105 — Cultural Anthropology three times, taking five Spanish classes to get my required three courses of a foreign language, getting rejected by those university Co-eds’, bar-tending, completing the Around the World in 80 Beers challenge at the Knickerbocker (the most expensive damn T-shirt ever), street magic and mime (Red Brick Mime Troupe), some fun oddball classes (Etymology 105 – Insect Friend or Foe), some serious courses, a recreation class sitting next to Glenn Robinson, earning semester honors twice, and all kinds of other wild and collegiate things. I finished in the last class of the Leisure Studies -Therapeutic Recreation Concentration and a double major in Psychology. I had a hell of a time, and it lasted about as long as the third sentence in this paragraph (oh, now I remember, I was a creative writing major for a semester).

I hope I don’t bore him with my reminiscing during his Purdue Campus visit; I’ll do my best to contain it.

PS. I think I just wet myself… just a little bit.  Uh… Boiler Up!

We might have gotten some shit in our water, as a side effect of the botched rolling blackouts during this Texas Big Freeze. Our water trickled out along with the power but remained off quite a bit longer. I don’t know how much our lack of water was based on frozen pipes in the apartment complex or if Fort Worth turned off our water. It matters not; what does matter is we didn’t have water for about 36 hours. That in itself was a trite inconvenience (we can always drink Bourbon). What mattered is three men in one apartment, didn’t connect the real problem of a waterless lifestyle until it was way too late. Viewing the preverbal optimistic silver lining, our olfactory discomfort triggered an amazing use of all those STEM classes so espoused by our school district.

Emmons will leave for Texas A&M next Fall. He wants to double major in Physics and Engineering. Standing in front of the microwave, he quipped, “Fun Fact: a ½ gallon Mason Jar full of snow takes 00:06:00 in the microwave to meltdown to about a pint of water.” He continued, “We’ve got the math and can now figure anything out. Let’s see… it’s going to take a little over 21 minutes to flush the commode.” 

I started to poke a little fun with optimization questions. “Does it have to be fully melted to flush?” “Can you overheat a smaller amount of water to expedite the melting process?” and “Can you alter the chemical makeup of the solution to expedite the melting/flushing process (I.e., add salt)?”

I got some eye-rolling, and he recruited his young brother to follow him outside to fill 6 of said Mason Jars with snow.

I tried to help ? and accidentally moved the tank stopper a little when I tried to speed things up by dumping in a whole popcorn bowl of snow straight into the tank. I was immediately removed from the project, sent back to this keyboard, and told I can’t leave until I think about what I have done. I was also asked to do the math because I set the project back, “Damn near 18 minutes.”

Gotta love those STEM classes! 

What’s been your biggest problem during this Declared State of Emergency? I hope everyone is safe, warm, and well. After that, I hope you are having fun with your kids!


The boys wanted me to try to raise a little Disaster Relief. So, we're selling Fun T-shirts that I just overdesigned.

The boys wanted me to try to raise a little “Disaster Relief.” So, we’re selling Fun T-shirts, Survivin’ Texas Rolling Blackouts.

You’ve “Been There! Done That State of Emergency!” but, don’t have the T-Shirt yet? Or maybe you just want to show solidarity for us frozen ones in Texas!

<—– There is your chance!  All proceeds help the Ratliff Boyz do something cool!

We’re Survivin’ Texas Rolling Blackouts

Oh! Bless all y’all.

(the quaint Southern-style greetings don’t really disguise my Yankeeness like I think it does, right?)

Emmons and Elias before the Texas Blizzard of '21
Emmons and Elias at the Start of the Texas Blizzard of ’21

As I woke this morning, my iPhone notifications barked out alarm after alarm, like a beagle discovering a fox’s scent trail and howling, “Oooveeer Heeereee!” My usual guardian angels were seeking to check-in on my welfare. Those angels bless me. I sometimes don’t know how to express my gratitude for these folks without sounding maudlin.  



Timeline of the Past 48 Hours
Survivin’ Texas Rolling Blackouts

    •  Sunday
      • Snow and Rowdy Outdoor Play
      • Family Mood Bright and Social! – Happy!
    • Monday
      • 2:45 AM – The Power Went-Off for The First Time
      • 5:50 AM – The Power Came Back-On
      • 6:45 AM – The Power Went Off Again
        • Apartment Temperatures in The Lower 60°’s
        • Everyone Stayed in Bed – Family Mood Tired and Starting to Show Irritability!
      • 8:30 AM – Dad Notes No One Has Showered and the Power is Off.
      • 9:00 AM – Dad is Drying Off from a Steaming Hot Shower and Has a Big Smile
      • 9:30 AM – Family Mood is Chipper, Sons Confused About Dad’s Smile
      • 10:00 AM – Emmons Contemplates a Shower and Yells, “Hay!”
      • 11:00 AM – More Rowdy Snow Play
        • Outdoor Temp High 15° F
        • Apartment Temperatures in the Upper 50°’s
        • Family Mood Brightened, Social, and Getting a Little More Tired!
      • 4:00 PM – Grocery Run with Plan to Use 60-Year-Old Coleman Camp Stove.
      • Family Mood Pleasant and Anticipating A Glorious Meal of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
      • 4:30 PM – Home and Discovered 60-Year-Old Coleman Camp Stove Wouldn’t Start for the First Time in 60 Years
        • Family Mood Disappointed, but Resilient – Problem-solving Dinner!
      • 4:40 PM – Found a 6 lbs. Bag of Charcoal
        • Family Mood Quickly Rebounds.
        • Elias Volunteers to Cook on Grill
        • Outdoor Temp High 12° F
        • Apartment Thermostat Reads 54° F
        • Dad Coaches and Assists Elias with Starting Charcoal and Dinner
        • Lots of In and Out “‘Cause It’s F’ing Cold!”
      • 6:00 PM – Elias’ Meat Sauce is Done and Tastes Great!
        • Even After Setting Pot Directly on Coals, Elias can not get Water to Boil
        • Dad and Elias Decide Spaghetti cannot be Cooked
        • Family Mood Disappointed and Grouchy
      • 6:15 PM – Elias’ Renames His Meat Sauce to “Grilled Chili.”
        • Family Mood Brightens as All Scarf Down Grilled Chili
        • After Dinner Family Notices Water is Only Trickling
        • Every Other Apartment’s Family in the Building has Left for Hotel Rooms
        •  One Family Returns Stating Every Hotel Room is Full
      • 7:00 PM – Family Warm Selves in the car, Charges Electronics, and Texts Friends
      • 8:00 PM – The Apartment is Now in the Mid 40°’s
        • Emmons Gathers All Blankets, Sleeping Bags, and Pillows in Living Room 
        • Dire Scenarios Run in Dad’s Head as the Water Completely Stops – Paranoid Kicks-in
      • 9:00 PM – Dad Announces He Must Run A Late-Night Errand and Leaves in The Car
        • Dad Drives to Three Hotels – All Have No Vacancies
        • Dad About Loses It Alone in the Car, Papa calls and Everyone Regains Perspective
        • Just as Dad Strikes Out at Fourth Hotel, Elias Calls to Report the Power is Back
      • 10:00 PM – Everyone is Back Doing Usual Night-Time Stuff and the Apartment Temp is in the 50’s and Rising
    • Tuesday
      • 8:00 PM – The Apartment is a Toasty 72° – Everyone is Well Rested
        • The Family Collectively Notices the Aroma Coming from the Bathroom
        • The Water is Completely Off – but We’re Survivin’ Texas Rolling Blackouts

We’re in a Declaration of Emergency!

I’m sorry for just now being able to respond. We just want to let you know we’re Survivin’ Texas Rolling Blackouts. Our ability to use the internet has waxed and wained. Whenever we had it, I tried to put on a joyful face – which was easy as sitting in the car and warming ourselves and charging our electronics has been the joy.

However, the rest of the last 48 hours have tried me (we still have some more to go). I’ve been able to maintain my cool (pun intended) through most of it. At one point last night, I was cussing everything in creation, but at that very moment, Dad was finally able to get a phone call through and slapped me back to reality. This morning many have reached out to check on us, which makes me feel amazing and bolstered.

I know the news has reported on the rolling power outages during single digits temperatures in a state entirely unprepared for such. What the national news isn’t telling all y’all, some of those rolling blackouts are not rolling along with the tumblin’ tumbleweeds. In several areas, the “switch” controlling those rolling blackouts froze and broke; our part of Fort Worth was one. We and the surrounding areas went without electricity from 7 a.m. yesterday till 9:30 PM. That was on top of already having only two hours with electricity the night before. Now, I know I’m a Yankee in the deep South and got winter skills these here Texans can’t even imagine. But I had allowed myself to become as unprepared as a bloated Texas ego during a blizzard (I always look for a good simile, but in this case, the truth will do). The unprepared Texan kind of is funny; 50% of the state’s wind turbines have frozen and can no longer add to the electric grid.

Last evening, Elias earned a cosmic Karma merit badge; he tried to cook spaghetti and meat sauce on a charcoal grill in single-digit temperatures for us. He couldn’t get the water to boil, so he turned the meat sauce into barbecued Chili.

We’re the only ones left in the building, along with one other apartment, because water has frozen throughout. It did get down to 42° in our apartment last night. We kept our water running full blast in our apartment, but as Kenny Rogers sang, “somewhere in the darkness the water, it broke even.” We are preparing for a shower of problems once the pipes thaw.

As time gives me a broader perspective, I know there is enough comedy gold in these experiences to fuel a plethora of blog posts. I’m pondering posts titled “The Untimely Death of a 60-Year-Old Coleman Stove” and “A Three-Man-Bathroom’s Smell During a Water Outage,” to name only two.


The boys wanted me to try to raise a little Disaster Relief. So, we're selling Fun T-shirts that I just overdesigned.
The boys wanted me to try to raise a little Disaster Relief. So, we’re selling Fun T-shirts, Survivin’ Texas Rolling Blackouts.

We feel your prayers!
Thank you for your concerns.
Love y’all!