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Geek & Sundry via YouTube

How Wil Wheaton Boosts Board Game Sales

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Geek & Sundry via YouTube

Wil Wheaton was a child actor, arguably best known for his roles in Stand By Me (1986) and Star Trek: The Next Generation. You probably know that he’s now become something of a geek overlord, not to mention the archenemy of Sheldon Cooper on TV series The Big Bang Theory. But unless you’re a member of the gaming community, you may not know that Wheaton is pretty huge in the tabletop gaming industry, thanks in part to his web series on Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry YouTube channel.

In TableTop, which is gearing up for its fourth season, Wheaton invites various guests to sit down and play games with him. But we’re not talking Monopoly or Scrabble. TableTop dives into everything from popular party games such as Cards Against Humanity and Wits & Wagers, to role-playing games like Fiasco and Dragon Age. Guests have included game designers, actors, writers, Internet celebrities, and Wheaton’s family.

Here’s an episode where Wheaton plays Carcassonne with comedian Kumail Nanjiani, writer Nika Harper, and YouTube gaming personality Jesse Cox.

These seemingly simple videos of friends enjoying a fun diversion have caused a tabletop game boom. After each episode airs, the games played on the show benefit from major sales boosts. According to Wheaton, the effect started almost immediately, just three episodes into season one. He told Fortune:

“We started getting emails and phone calls from game shop owners and publishers because they were not prepared for the explosion of sales that they had. They wanted to know if we could let them know a little bit in advance when an episode was going to air, so that they could stock up. . . . We have looked at sales figures from the big game distributors, and it’s pretty cool. People see our show and then you just watch the spike in the sales. And for a lot of games the only reason that spike trails off is because the game sells out and they have to take time to make another printing.”

Dave Chalker, creator of the game Get Bit!, agreed that his Kickstarter-funded game benefited after appearing on the first season. “While Get Bit! definitely had its fans prior to TableTop, there’s definitely been a big boost,” he wrote on Critical Hits. “I’m sure it’s been a factor in translating it into 4 different languages for international editions (which led to a game of the year nomination for the French edition), as well as winning the Origins Award for Best Children’s, Family, or Party game.”

One game store tracked their sales of several games before and after they appeared on TableTop. The only one that didn’t see a huge spike was Settlers of Catan, which the owner attributes to the fact that Catan was already a pretty mainstream game.

Need more proof of the Wheaton Effect? Here’s an analysis of sales and BoardGameGeek ranks of the games King of Tokyo, The Resistance, and Alhambra. There are even more here.

Though the monetary sales of games are obviously a good thing for both publishers and independent game makers, Wheaton says he's just happy that more people are coming together to play games: “There is a wonderful, timeless, communal experience that is a fundamental part of who we are as social animals, of getting together in the same place to do something together.”

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Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
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science
Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
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Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Nervous System
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Art
Every Laser-Cut 'Geode' Jigsaw Puzzle is One of a Kind
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Nervous System

If you haven’t picked up a boxed jigsaw puzzle in a while, trust that they’ve undergone a serious transformation since your childhood. One of the most innovative companies in the category is Nervous System, a self-described “generative design studio” that composes computer programs to create puzzles based on patterns found in nature.

Their latest project, Geode, is a line of jigsaw puzzles modeled after agate stone. Like the rest of Nervous System’s puzzle inventory, it has an unusual and dynamic design; it's meant to mimic the band pattern of actual agate created by trapped gas in volcanic stone.

Several geode puzzles are shown
Nervous System

According to Nervous System’s site: “To create the organic shape of the pieces, we designed a system based the simulation of dendritic solidification, a crystal growth process similar to the formation of snowflakes that occurs in supercooled solutions of certain metallic alloys. By varying the parameter space, the system can produce a variety of cut styles. Each puzzle produced features its own unique landscape of interlocking shapes. No two are alike.”

Though lovely to look at, the puzzles utilize Nervous System's "Maze" piece-cutting method, which results in irregular and distorted shapes that may prove "fiendishly difficult" for some.

The 8.5-inch puzzles are made from plywood and feature 180 pieces. You can grab one for $60 at Nervous System’s online shop.

[h/t MyModernMet]

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