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Archive for Monday, July 20, 2009

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The Edge

July 20, 2009

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‘The Road to Woodstock’ (Books)

Former headshop owner Michael Lang had scant promotional experience when he dreamed up Woodstock as a massive festival different from anything before it. As this memoir released 40 years later makes clear, it’s a wonder that Woodstock even happened at all.

Lang and his partners were kicked out of the initial concert site at the last minute, sending Lang scrambling through nearby Sullivan County to look for a replacement. He found a gently sloping hay field owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur who, luckily for Lang, was a friendly sort eager to accept these long-haired kids.

Meanwhile, renowned promoter Bill Graham, not wanting the competition, threatened to shut Woodstock down. Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman did, too, unless Lang and his partners coughed up $20,000 for leftist activities. The promoters gave him $10,000. (Hoffman went on to spend nights leading up to the concert taking down newly installed fences. His Woodstock adventure ended abruptly when he tried to make an announcement during the Who’s set, and Pete Townshend whacked him on the head with his guitar.)

This is an oft-told tale, but Lang keeps it interesting with insider’s tidbits. Lang, who wrote the book with Holly George-Warren, comes off in this book as a pleasant hippie hustler, unflappable in the face of looming disasters. His narrative is broken up throughout the book with brief testimonies from other people involved with Woodstock.

‘The Bigs 2’ (Game)

“The Bigs” was a major surprise in 2007, and not just because its first attempt to spell modern-day arcade baseball was so spot-on.

Rather, the big shock was how well the game pulled that off while also giving armchair managers everything they need to execute a smart as well as forceful game of baseball. And everything that made the first game work is preserved in “The Bigs 2,” which leaves well enough alone and elects instead to make a series of mostly welcome refinements.

Most prominent is the Batter’s Wheelhouse, which provides a visual indication of each hitter’s sweet spot. Attack a hitter’s sweet spot and fool him, and you receive an extra turbo boost and shrink the spot. Attack and serve up a bad pitch, though, and you probably can guess the consequence.

Elsewhere on the field, pickoff attempts now actually might work (or result in an overthrow), while losing a home plate collision or failing to catch a bullet line drive can lead to player injury. (So can beaning a hitter, for you nefarious types.) Turbo plays and stockpiling the offensive cache necessary to execute a no-doubt homer are fundamentally unchanged, but “The Bigs 2” adds a tier of risk/reward to both sides with the opportunity to make legendary catches or shoot for the moon with a supersized grand slam.

Versions play for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, Playstation 2

ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild language, mild violence)

‘The Devil’s Punchbowl’ (Books)

In his 13th novel, Greg Iles returns to his hometown of Natchez, Miss., where former Houston prosecutor and novelist Penn Cage, who appeared in two of Iles’ earlier thrillers, is mayor of a community that places a big bet on casino gambling to energize the local economy.

Cage is drawn into the vortex when childhood friend Tim Jessup, a former druggie who works as a blackjack dealer aboard the Magnolia Queen, comes to him with allegations that casino manager Jonathan Sands is luring high rollers such as NFL stars, rap artists and Chinese billionaires to the casino by offering access to dog fighting and kinky sex. Jessup is tortured and murdered on the way to a second late-night meeting with Cage that was to take place in a cemetery above where the Magnolia Queen is moored.

Efforts to bring the killers to justice are complicated by a web of corruption involving local cops and a pact that links Sands to a high-powered Justice Department lawyer who’s protecting him in return for his participation in a sting aimed at snaring a criminal mastermind from China.

Some readers may be troubled by the sexual abuse and torture, much of it carried out in a room deep in the bowels of the ship that’s called the Devil’s Punchbowl. Accounts of dog fighting are equally vivid.

Iles fans, accustomed to his deft writing and strong plotting with many twists and turns, will find plenty of suspense and action in this page-turner.

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