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Platform Tour v1.0.4 with WAVs (VB.NET 2003) 452 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 80MB Project Page
Platform Tour v1.0.4 (VB.NET 2003) 6.61 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 80MB Project Page
Power II: The Island Demo (VB.NET 2003) 3.41 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 40MB Project Page
Blocks: Extended Renderer Version (VB.NET 2003)137 KB Windows XP, Vista, 7 No DirectX RAM usage: 20MB Project Page
Quadrill v1.1.2 (VB.NET 2003) 1.57 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 70MB Project Page
Quadrill v2.1.2 (VB.NET 2003) 1.42 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 80MB Project Page
Quadrill v3.1.1 (VB.NET 2003) 1.17 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 120MB Project Page
Quadrill v4.1.1 (VB.NET 2003) 2.88 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 180MB Project Page
Quadrill 4 Full (VB6) 4.52 MB Windows XP Uses DirectX 7 RAM usage: 80MB Project Page
Quadrill 4 Demo (VB6) 1.41 MB Windows XP Uses DirectX 7 RAM usage: 80MB Project Page
Jump-Cross (VB.NET 2003) 109 KB Windows XP, Vista, 7 No DirectX RAM usage: 20MB Project Page
Quadrill 3 full version (VB6) 530 KB Windows XP Uses DirectX 7 RAM usage: 50MB Project Page
Quadrill 3 map editor. (VB6), 200 KB
Syntax Highlighter (VB.NET 2003), 23 KB
Guide on How to Use the .NET programs on my website.

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Iceplug News

Jul 22, 2023, 20:54
Played through FF9 again Yes, I played through FF9 again. I originally played through FF9 back in 2009, but I apparently never wrote about it. The original playthrough was with the PSX Disc version on my PS2. This playthrough, on the other hand, would be on the Steam PC version, which includes, in addition to an obvious lack of changing out discs, increased mouse control and higher quality graphics. The original limitations of the PSX meant remembering FF9 looked very crunchy back in 2009, but the crunch is gone.
Story One thing I was looking forward to was remembering the story of FF9. Before, I could tell you practically the entire story of FF8 and FFX, but not FF9. The game does a pretty good job of showing the scale of these eidolons are as they are used to lay waste to entire cities. I couldn't help but feel like these eidolons would not be nearly as powerful once my party got strong enough to use them (obviously, they would only end up doing middling damage to most enemies I used them on). There's a nice character continuity with Zidane: while showing that Zidane does indeed stay mostly true to one predefined aspect (helping others), he does still show growth in other areas that challenge this aspect but still manages to pull through. I'll try to keep it spoiler-free, but the game sort of hits a speedbump after Kuja does his act of terror and everyone pretends for like the next hour or so that Kuja got killed when he very clearly didn't and is still a menace to society. That part was weird, but for the most part, the story was pretty good. Necron, the final boss, pretty much seems to come out of nowhere; undoubtedly being some manifestation of some aspect of nature borne from our party and Kuja's situation, but with little else.
Characters: The characters are, perhaps, designed to be callbacks to old Final Fantasy games.
o You somewhat obviously have the thief with long-haired Zidane who is central to the plot, but unfortunately doesn't have the blue hair (which I guess clashes with his outfit). Perhaps, Zidane fills the role of the monk due to similarities in hair and clothing, but with thief swords. Zidane fits somewhere in between FF7 Cloud and FF8 Squall as all three end up going on a journey of self-discovery. While Cloud discovers that he isn't who he thinks he is and Squall's journey is mostly personal growth, Zidane has a little bit of both going on. He's also the horniest main character in all of Final Fantasy.
o Originally, the black mage was hidden under the large wizard hit to provide this aura of arcane mysterious black magical powers. In FF9, Vivi as a kid is coming to grips with the concept of death, and it weirdly seems that everyone else acts like this concept is a coming-of-age problem that has already been settled.
o Steiner, I assume, plays the role of the warrior, but is visibly in armor all the time. He spends most of the game at odds with Zidane up until multiple people tell him the Queen wanted to kill the princess.
o The other warrior contender is Amarant with the bright red hair, who cannot equip the heavy armor that the warrior can normally equip. Amarant does his own thing and, for some reason, decides to go into Ipsen's castle by himself, a callback to all Final Fantasy games where some character just decides to the leave the party for some foolish reason, and then you struggle to fill the role they left behind if you were relying on them for some strategy.
o Freya dresses up like the Red Mage but fights instead a Final Fantasy Dragoon. Indeed, Freya does not take up any magic traditionally expected of a Red Mage and, instead of knives and small swords, fights with lances... and dragoon skills.
o Quina doesn't seem to fit any class of the original Final Fantasy games, and Blue Magic wasn't a thing until FF5, so I think they just went appropriately off the rails with Quina. The eternal confusion over Quina's gender is perhaps unnecessary as they could either ask for one or just assert a neutral gender.
o Eiko plays the role of white mage as a somewhat assertive child that is slightly younger than Vivi, but definitely does not look the part. Her nature sort of lies opposite of Vivi and perhaps what you might expect of a white mage; I'm definitely here for subverting expectations of mages (I'm waiting for Final Fantasy to give me my Quistis-esque teacher as the monk, the black mage with washboard abs, and white mage party animal), however, Eiko swooping in trying to get Zidane is too long and unnecessary of a reach just for FF9 to fail the Bechdel Test.
o Garnet (or Dagger) also tries to play the role of white mage as she appears early in the game wearing the classic white mage cloak. She then proceeds to let you down for the rest of the game, dedicating most of her available spell usage to useless status recovery magics (all of which you have items for and the items are easier to use). Then, you realize that, with exception of Curaga, all of the really powerful white magic spells (Full-Life, Esuna, and Holy) are only learned by Eiko. Then, in the second half, she randomly fails to execute her commands (Command failed! Dagger can't concentrate!), and then they force her into your party, following up with a section where Eiko gets captured and you might consider putting her in your party, but you just use items instead. She eventually recovers but still doesn't get access to the best white magic and instead gets more summon magic. Side note: I feel like Final Fantasy summons have never been good. They're always depicted to be situation- and/or world-changing events, but in battle, struggle to live up to a well-planned physical strike or black magic spell.
FF9 also brings back from previous Final Fantasy games, but the selection of which parts to bring back are questionable. I do appreciate that you cannot have characters attack spaces where dead enemies used to be (that's exclusively from FF1) and that there are no spell-rank charges (from FF1 through FF3), but those are pretty low hurdles to achieve. For instance, I'm really confused over the FF9 Tent, which is based off of the tents from earlier in the franchise which didn't heal you all the way. In FF9, one tent heals you halfway, and you have to use two tents to fully recover, which means selecting the tent option twice and watching the tent cutscene twice. Also, games with these tents also provided the option of at least buying cabins, which healed your party fully, but it's not in FF9. Also, tents don't heal dead party members (but inns do): after observing that inns recover dead party members, I feel like I would be excused in expecting tents to do so, as they do in every other Final Fantasy from 4 forward. They don't, you get got, learn your lesson, and use Phoenix Downs on dead party members before going into the tent. Fortunately, Phoenix Downs are incredibly inexpensive in FF9 (they're the cost of 3 Potions) and characters' lives are therefore much less valuable in this game.
Sidequests: There are plenty of sidequests in FF9. The most recognizable one is the card game, Tetra Master. Sadly, there are no benefits that you can take to increase your abilities in combat as there are in FF8's Triple Triad. The game has you point arrows to capture cards that don't have arrows pointed back. If arrows are pointed back, then a "battle" takes place. FF9 is aggressively tight-lipped as to how the battle works (among other things coming soon). The most significant part is that there is inherent luck within the battle (so you can't just play Tetra Master in real life without comprising on the rules). This embodies the chaotic nature that lies within practically every aspect of FF9: here's an idea, but we made it more random. More information from the game can be found at the RPGClassics FF9 shrine and other places. Also, there is apparently a hard cap on the total number of cards you can have (100). While in Triple Triad, all Tonberry cards have the same stats, a Tonberry card in Tetra Master may have different properties than another Tonberry card.
Then, there's Chocobo Hot and Cold, which is apparently another large expansion to the game using chocobos (all PSX Final Fantasy games have a very complex system that allows you to get chocobos in order to get to some location on the map). After about 90 minutes of Chocobo Hot and Cold, I had barely cracked 100 points and I needed 10,000 to get the Robe of Lords, so I gave up. I assume that one could spend about 6 hours or so and find all of the secrets of Chocobo Hot and Cold, but I'm content with just reading about them. Also, there are perhaps hundreds of exclusive items only available through Chocobo Hot and Cold. Maybe they could have put more to the game to justify gating off all of the extra content that is behind it; as it is, I could have sunk time into racing Hippaul and discover that not much is hidden behind that.
MechanicsThe biggest elephant in the room is the combat in FF9. It uses the ATB System that the previous five games all used. About 25% of the game, you'll notice that the battle effects (the animations for attacks, spells, and other moves) in FF9 are very long and that the ATB Gauge never stops, which leads to the battle effects queue getting backed up and you then have to play FF9 by managing the battle effects queue. The idea that you switch your play style to queue management means that Haste and Slow have very little point (as they're now akin to taking a faster car to a railroad crossing with a train on it). It subverts your expectations as a Final Fantasy aficionado, so you perhaps have to approach it from a fresh perspective to appreciate it. I believe that my own problem with it is that the game doesn't seem to acknowledge that this is how battle is, so you always feel like something is wrong that you watch a character die, then have to wait for all your characters to move, then wait for all of the enemies to move again, then you can revive them and hope that they don't take a classic Final Fantasy death when the enemies target your newly revived character. Combine this with several menus that prevent you from preemptively taking moves until you meet the prerequisites. For example, if a character gets silenced, you cannot enqueue a spell until you first recover from silence, which means you have to once again wait for all of your characters to move, then wait for all of the enemies to move, and then the Echo Screen goes off, then wait for all the enemies to go again before your magic goes off; your mages lose two or three turns to Silence.
As you begin to understand the effects queue, you observe that some status ailments and all status enhancements eventually wear off and that they wear off based off of real time and asynchronous from the effects queue. Thus, you can have a situation where you cast Float on your party and while watching the animation of Earthquake, you character loses Float and therefore takes damage from Earthquake. This greatly dampens the effects of these status effects (including Sleep, one of my favorites). However, Poison and Regen are also asynchronous and thus their potency is enhanced, with Auto-Regen being one of the best iterations of Regen in any Final Fantasy, as your characters can recover over a thousand HP between two successive long-form anime magicks.
However, as you get later in the game, as you start understanding how to manage the effects queue, you'll notice that enemies are also doing things that indicate that gaming the queue is well-established. The first is that some special enemies will have essentially no downtime between their attacks if you simply observe them and the second is that other enemies will then hop the effects queue (similar to a counterattack) to get off multiple attacks per round (wait a minute... did you just cast a bunch of magic spells in one turn?); this leads me to yet another subversion of expectations but one that subverts another subversion of expectations. Every subversion of expectation is something that I suppose I have to come to grips with.
There are also things that I am less inclined to accept. FF9 does not do a very good job of showing the damage numbers. There are three contributors:
o the damage is not on screen for very long (half of a second, which is what it is in all of the PSX FFs) in combination with some moves having visual effects that are on screen for over five seconds;
o the damage is based on where the character is on screen, but the damage values frequently coincide with a change in camera DURING the half of a second, effectively cutting it down to a quarter of a second; and
o the damage frequently flies under the HUD elements, which I believe is unique to FF9 and also does not help. These things make it a lot harder to accurately assess the potency of the enemies' moves. Frequently, I, the video game player, had to consult the video just to check out how damaging certain moves are. Characters' HP also goes down much earlier than when the damage values appear on screen, and this delay also seems to be the longest out of all of the PSX FFs, although I could be wrong.
Also, there are several attacks that FF9 surprises you with that have huge levels of variance (chaotic damage). Of course, the first time you see these huge swings in damage your party members suffer, you might think that it's due to differences in gear. While that may contribute sometime, observing the same character take an order of magnitude more damage from the same attack is all the evidence you need. A good example of the effects of this is the fight with Deathguise. Deathguise opens with Meteor, which does a widely varying amount of damage to everyone in the party. This was my first attempt, where three of my party members die from full health and the fight looks absolutely hopeless. You can observe that they all took about 150-500 damage more than their maximum HP. You might say, "Oh, you just got unlucky", but when damage numbers vary widely, getting unlucky is the point of why the attack is the way that it is. My second fight, after changing literally nothing, was much more negotiable (Steiner, for instance, took 2500 damage instead of 4500). The catch with having battles like this is that it makes doing absolutely nothing before going back into battle a viable strategy, because you can then get lucky instead of having to make meaningful changes... but how do you, as the player, determine when meaningful changes actually need to be done in situations like this? It led me to an interesting quandary: is the damage taken completely out of your hands and how much control can you take out of the player's hands while keeping them engaged?
Not to be outdone, Necron features Grand Cross (previously mentioned in my article about FF characters surviving miscellaneous doomsday scenarios by final boss), which tries to inflict multiple random status ailments on every party member (including Instant Death and Near Death), and follows it up with Neutron Ring here's an idea, but we made it more random, which is chaotic damage to all members of your party and sometimes over 7000 damage?
Also, for some reason, Necron uses Curaga on itself and the healing numbers are entirely off-screen?
All the above being said, there are several really nice things that bubble up in the FF9 battle system. In addition to Auto-Regen being really good, there are several innovative tactical options available. Stone monsters reliably die when Soft is used on them. Tents can be used to inflict status ailments on enemies (I don't understand how this works; did the enemy fall asleep in the tent?) and Gysahl Greens can be used to cure Berserk. Charge is used to stuff all low HP party members' physical attacks into the effects queue for free. Amarant's opening moves of Spare Change and Throw makes him seem like he's going to be FF6 Shadow, until Amarant eventually learns Life and Auto-Life skills, for some reason.
While it was fun to play FF9, it is unfortunately a very slow game, although if you don't mind the slow nature, there is a good amount of reward you can get from it with proper use and understanding of tactics.

Jun 9, 2023, 14:08
Summer Games Done Quick 2023
Last week, I went to SGDQ 2023 in Minneapolis to play the following game: The Incredible Hulk
Like every run, several months of practice went into it as well as some amount of fortune to get selected to run at SGDQ 2023. On my previous trips to SGDQ, I'm generally nervous about getting sick, so I usually stay for only a brief window of time. This trip would therefore have me leaving home in the morning of May 31st to get to the venue hotel close to noon as well as leaving the event on June 1st. If I play my cards right, I would leave the hotel after performing on stage and before being there longer than 24 hours and save money on parking.
The thing that I realized a moment after getting onto I-35 is that I just did about twenty hours of driving two weeks ago in (and around) New Hampshire and although I felt a little bit that I should have arranged for a bigger break, I also figured that it's nothing to worry about. Indeed, the drive to I-35 was fairly uneventful. I forgot that, for some reason, I-35 in northern Iowa has these unsightly areas where part of the road looks like it fell off. Also, while freeway traffic is well-behaved in Iowa with cars staying out of the left lane except to pass, I almost always encounter in Minnesota at least one vehicle in the fastlane going only slightly above the speed limit.
After getting into Minneapolis, I went to Sonic, mostly because there was no Sonic close by where I stayed in New Hampshire. I also haven't been to Sonic since the pandemic, so I was a little overdue for another stop. After getting my food, I made my way to the hotel, which is deep in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, surrounded by one-way streets and skyscrapers. Finally, after checking in to the hotel and the event, I began making the onsite preparations for the run; I'll spare you the details as you can see the finished product.
If you haven't already watched the run, you should do so. The goal of staying underestimate was mostly dependent on not dying in unfortunate, "geez Louise" places early in the run (that's a reference to this Star Wars Episode I speedrun back in 2019, which is one of my favorite runs to rewatch to date. It's perhaps unnecessary to worry about these otherwise trivial jumps when the last level is loaded with harder obstacles that I've spent more time analyzing how to avoid. In addition, I also went in with the mindset of it not being necessary to prove onstage that I deserve to have the record or anything like that. In fact, for every run that I've done onstage, I've lost the record to someone else. It just happens, so it's not necessary for treating the stage as a record defense championship. So, I just went onstage just to have fun and not go overestimate. I kept my time short as it is my fourth (of four) runs that got scheduled on a Thursday and, like all GDQ Thursdays, they start running humorously behind schedule and need to speed everyone up to at least keep pace with itself.
One of the other things about GDQ is that, at this point, a lot of people who used to go to GDQ don't go anymore as they've gotten older and such. While there were certainly a few people there that I would have recognized, I never actually bumped into anyone I did. So, I just kind of left... of course, after going to the video game store that is about a half-mile away from the event. At any rate, I budgeted time properly and got back from the video store just in time to leave the hotel parking area before the 24 hr period passed.
I noticed that there was a new Raising Cane's added to the city that was closer to home than the previous one... granted, it's still in Minneapolis, so it's only about 5-10 miles closer to home than the other one. Nevertheless, I still participated in the traditional post-GDQ Raising Cane's stop on the drive home.

May 27, 2023, 18:25
Kansas and Oklahoma
As mentioned in the previous article, I visited Kansas and Oklahoma back in 2021 shortly after getting vaccinated. There were three goals of this trip: to sell some old video games for money; to go to Bonner Springs, KS; and to go to the ghost town of Picher, OK. This trip, of course, happened in the summer for maximum heat and minimum chance of there being snow and ice to deal with. I didn't want to do any flying, so I wanted to find somewhere exciting to go that was not cross-country.
The first destination is Picher, OK, which involved me taking I-35 south all the way to Kansas. Once in Kansas, I needed to take several roads to actually make it to Picher, OK; one of which is the US-69, which goes alongside I-35 for all of Iowa and Missouri, and the other being Kansas Highway 7, adorned with the relatively colorful golden Kansas highway marker. One of the interesting things is the realization that the area near a ghost town is similarly kind of dead, as well, which was pretty evident while going south on the US-69 into Picher and passing huge forests with large and completely destroyed buildings popping up once every three miles or so. After getting into Picher, I actually headed straight through it to go to Miami, OK to go to the Sonic drive-in restaurant (another restaurant that's not available at home) and then return to Picher, OK with food.
The most prominent feature of Picher, OK is this mountain range made of a material called "chat", which is prime grounds for video game streamers that make fun of their chat. The story here is that the chemicals used to extract the lead and zinc polluted the groundwater and everyone had to evacuate. However, everyone didn't evacuate right away, so a tornado hit the town and the tornado had a little bit more of a convincing argument to leave. There's a cleanup effort that is apparently happening in the city, but it looks very slowgoing and also explains things such as seeing decent trucks parked in front of functional buildings that lie in front of a townful of bombed-out buildings. Some more wrecked buildings and stuff like this gorilla statue that stands as a memorial of a ball game that was won here many years ago.
Before it became dark, I needed to head back to Bonner Springs, KS and get my motel room. It's always nice to pay a visit to your namesake city (it was not named after me lol). There are theoretically interesting things to do here, but it was twilight as I pulled in and I was planning to leave in the morning. Nevertheless, I did get a picture of the city on a sign.
The next morning was another drive from Bonner Springs to Omaha to go to the Gamers store (all of the stores in Iowa were permanently closed a few years before this). I sold almost all of my Pokémon games; if you recall, I was on a quest to collect them all and I couldn't get my Pokémon from generation 5 to generation 6, so they were all just stuck on the generation 5 cart, for which all of the online services were long since shut down. The reliance on an online service is such a hard ask nowadays because you can't always pick up old games and get all of the functionality. I sold basically my entire GBA and DS repertoire, but I kept Pokemon Y and Pokemon Gold/Silver; the former is probably going to get sold at some point in the future, and the latter is there only because I like the soundtrack. Another game that I kept was DKC3 for the GBA, which I would end up replaying and falling in love with the soundtrack.
After this trip was a stop by Raising Cane's and a return back home. I might consider selling more cartridges, but time will tell.

May 20, 2023, 20:20
Finally Visited All Fifty States
Yesterday, I just got back from New Hampshire as the final part of my quest to visit all 50 states in the USA. This trip came about after a student was curious as to why I always wore T-shirts of different places in the USA, which was then followed up by the question, "How many states have I been to?" At this point, the answer was 44, although I believe I incorrectly said 43 at the time. The follow-up question, of course, was "which states have I not been to", to which I jokingly replied, "Why you gotta bring up the ones I haven't been to instead of the ones I have been to?" In truth, the answer was Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. After this, I took a short drive down to Kansas and Oklahoma the next summer (Summer of 2021; I'll talk about it later) and then was left with how I would visit the remainder: Illinois, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
The last four states are not all adjacent to each other, but the latter three definitely are, so a VT-NH-ME trip would definitely have to happen. The plan then turned into: before flying out to NH, drive to IL and knock it out first. The decision to fly into and stay in NH instead of VT and ME was mostly so that I could travel a short distance to get to each state before returning to the hotel.
So, here's what happened: since the first day had me flying out of Des Moines at 4:18pm, I had enough time to drive to IL and get back to the airport in Des Moines in time to catch the plane. This ended up getting cut perhaps a little closer than I wanted, for a few reasons. The first is that I got lost in Cedar Rapids trying to get to Interstate 80. Getting lost also helped hammer in the fact that Google Maps, which was used to plan the trip, represents the US roadmap roads differently: in Google Maps, Interstate 380, which leads to Interstate 80, is shown with the classic Interstate highway symbol, whereas the phone software shows I-380 as an unremarkable highway-looking street. Eventually, I found my way to I-80, where my plan was to go to Moline, IL. However, I decided that I would simply stay on I-80 and take the first exit in Illinois that had a gas station. This led to the second issue: entering IL on I-80 from the west did not show any gas stations right away. I The problem, of course, that IL is farther away on this route and I traveled further into IL to try to find something interesting. I didn't find anything interesting, so I took a picture of this radio tower.
At this point, it was 11:45am and I had 4.5 hours before my plane left from DSM, so I started to head back. I took a short stop at "Iowa 80, the World's Largest Truckstop" simply to get gas; sadly, I didn't have enough time to see anything notable there, other than it is truly a substantially large truckstop. After 2.5 more hours of driving, I make it to the airport at 2:45pm. I was concerned about the lines for security being long in the middle of the day. They were not. In fact, there were only three people in line ahead of me, and two of them were already through by the time I made it through the security rope labyrinth. The flight was great; I had a row all to myself while flying into Washington, D.C. for a two-hour layover.
Unfortunately, the plane leaving DC for NH was delayed AND overbooked(?) and I needed there to be no delays in order to get to the NH Car Rental office before they closed. After a second delay which pushed the whole flight back an hour, the car rental was out of the picture. If that wasn't enough, the boarding agents needed eight people to volunteer off of the flight. The compensation was a deduction from the next plane booked and a $12 voucher for airport food, but they now fly me to Boston tomorrow morning and I take a (now also free) taxi ride to Manchester. However, since the car rental place was going to be closed until tomorrow morning, I decided to take the volunteer for what is basically free gift cards at this point. The problem, of course, is I have to sleep in the airport, which I was not prepared for in the least. A man started speaking to me in Spanish, but since I couldn't recognize any word, I just said that I don't understand. In retrospect, I could have *at least* spoke to them in Spanish. Maybe at some point, I'll stop being a coward and actually attempt to have a conversation in Spanish. I mean, I had a basic exchange in Swedish while in Sweden, and Swedish is perhaps my fifth weakest language, so I should at least start working up my Spanish-speaking skills.
I had to very uncomfortably sleep on my Spanish and French books in a small slightly darkened area of the airport for five hours. Eventually, I tossed and turned until 4:30am, where I used my $12 airport food voucher, which was used to get a cup of fruit and a bottle of water (it was actually more than the voucher, of course... ha ha lol airport food). Another hour later, I was enroute to my new stop: Boston.
In Boston, I caught a taxi cab and came to the sudden realization: Manchester is very much New England, which means New England roads and New England traffic! Apologies to anyone from New England, but New England roads and New England traffic are perhaps the least enjoyable driving environment. However, it is better than driving in Manhattan! At this point, I drove my rental car successfully to the hotel. I took one wrong turn after mistaking an overpass for a river bridge, but otherwise made it to the hotel perfectly fine. I found myself on NH-3A, but was relieved that the NH-3A went right back to the airport for some reason, so I could try again.
One of the things about Manchester is that there are toll roads, and I wanted to avoid paying tolls, so I opted to commit to taking small streets only. However, most of the smaller 'major' roads in Manchester weave through the city and frequently require turns in order to navigate correctly. Another special (that seems to be particular to Manchester) is that roads may not be labeled and/or may not be cued correctly. A few examples: consider that I'm trying to follow the US-3 in this picture. The US-3 highway sign on the right clearly indicates that the US-3 turns left here, so you want to get into the turning lane in order to stay on the US-3. This is, however, not the case. The US-3 goes straight through this intersection, so you just go straight through it. The sign is completely 90 degrees wrong; in this case, the left turn takes you to a Taco Bell . Here's another picture where you need to figure out if the US-3 turns left here or goes straight. Did you find the cue? It's circled in this picture. Is this realistic for me to see while driving in stop-and-go traffic? Of course not. For fun, here is the same intersection from the other way, where the US-3 is now labeled with a plain rectangle which, in some states, would be state highway 3, but since NH has a special state highway decal, I know this isn't it. Also, this is the signage you get when trying to figure out if this is where you need to turn right to get onto the Londonderry Turnpike. Maybe turnpikes just aren't labeled like other streets.
Anyway, the first day in New England was pretty uneventful as I was still tired from the bad sleep I got. I did, however, make it up the state highway NH-114A to get to the Level UP Gaming store to buy some video games (these stores are always a good find on road trips since all of the ones in Iowa closed up) and then back to the Burger King (all of the Burger Kings near home went out of business as well) to call it a day. However, I had two days left and two states to visit. I got to watch some Survivor as well as other shows on the 'day off'. The hotel that I stayed at had a few idiosyncrasies including this dead fish on the sidewalk next to the hotel.
The goal for Thursday was to go to Vermont's Hogback Mountain Country Store. The trip required me to navigate the US-3 through downtown Manchester (where some of those previous pictures came from). After getting out of Manchester, all of the turns were clearly labeled. I got lost twice while in Manchester but quickly recovered. I got lost once outside of Manchester by foolishly following two cars in front of me after realizing they were heading to the Interstate (again, avoiding Interstates because they might have tolls). This wrong turn took me onto a fortunately toll-free Interstate that decided not to have any exits until six miles later, so I lost a lot of time there. Once in Vermont, I successfully navigated through Brattleboro (because their highway signs are labeled), however, there were a lot of strange construction sites heading into the mountains. Even though it wasn't very clear what type of construction was happening, there were numerous areas with only one lane and traffic needed to be alternated, which added a lot of time to the trip. Eventually, I made it to the store, where I went to the museum. In the museum, there were a lot of large taxidermized animals, but on the bottom floor, you could see a large collection of birds, including bald eagles, barred owls, hawks, and ravens. The owls were great as they just perched there staring directly at you, whereas the other birds just sort of ignored you. I also bought a Bernie Bar, as Vermont loves them some Bernie Sanders memes, and got some great Vermont mountain pictures. I returned to NH, went to Popeye's, and then called it a day.
Since Thursday went so well, I decided to add two stops to the Friday schedule before returning to the airport and flying home. The first destination was at the end of a two hour drive that led to Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, which was actually a really nice looking lake, with a picturesque peninsula that is almost completely covered in duck guano. There was a sign that mentioned something about parking costs for going to the lake but there didn't seem to be any means to pay or anyone trying to enforce the rules, so I just kind of ignored them while wondering why it would be necessary to pay to go to a lake other than to get them tourist dollaz.
Admittedly, since I still needed to go to Maine, it probably would have been smarter to go to Maine first, but oh well. Maine, at this point, would be the last state to be visited and rounding out the New England trip as a whole. It would theoretically be only a three hour drive from Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg; unfortunately, I didn't compensate that I was driving through Manchester and, more importantly, avoiding Interstate toll booths, so the drive actually ended up being about 3 hours and 45 minutes, which unfortunately meant that I had only about 15 minutes to go to the lighthouse and the gift shop before leaving for the airport. I was confused as to why the weather was 58F outside but everyone was wearing large jackets and the reason is because it was incredibly windy on the oceanside. Nevertheless, Maine became the 50th state that I visited and my quest is now complete.
On the return to the airport, there was significantly more traffic than the first time, which made it a little more concerning that I might not make it to the airport in time, but I made it back to Manchester 2 hours before the scheduled plane departure. I gassed up my rental and attempted to drive back to the airport; unfortunately, since we're still in Manchester, I missed the road to the airport because the signage changed and I somehow found myself on the NH-3A. However, remember from two days ago that the NH-3A goes directly back to the airport, so this put a nice little symmetry on the trip. I made it to the airport 45 minutes before boarding time and flew back home.
One of the security personnel was curious if I had been to Alaska since I was wearing an Alaska shirt. I told him about the trip where I went to Anchorage and drove halfway to Fairbanks before realizing that I didn't want to go all the way.
The trip, of course, ends with the slightly unnerving drive back home at 1 in the morning, but it was great. I enjoyed this trip quite a bit, despite it taking me a bit to muster the courage to drive around Manchester this many times. I yelled at a lot of misplaced signs and unlabeled intersections, but the reward was great. It wouldn't have been enough of a challenge if Manchester were easy to navigate and if the New England streets were arranged in a nice grid, so that made the reward that much worth the effort.

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The story of Iceplug:
Iceplug - sting ray (NOT A MANTA RAY!) that swims in cold waters, usually near the poles, though mostly in the south, near Antarctica. The average babies are born at about a foot long and wide (they look like squares) and are usually a light orange and translucent. After about 6 months, they become more opaque and start to take on a bluer color. Their tail can grow to almost 5 feet, and the adult Iceplug grows to about 25 feet. Not to be outdone, most adults create stashes of coral in their homes and forge them into tridents (which are actually quite effective weapons).

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