A member of Mercer’s dance team became an internet sensation in November when her attempt at a basketball dunk went horribly wrong. Sophomore Jenny Mazurkiewicz was at the basketball tipoff event when Sydni Means, her friend and point guard for the women’s team, challenged her to go for a dunk. The problem: it wasn’t the court regulation hoop. It was an unweighted youth goal. “The second I went for it, I realized that this was not a real goal, and that it wasn’t anchored down at all,” said Mazurkiewicz. “So I was hanging onto the goal and going back, and I was like, ‘I should probably let go of this goal . . . I'm about to hit the floor,’ and it was all slow motion. But obviously it only took a matter of like a second for me to fall,” she said. The next thing Mazurkiewicz remembers is a group of basketball players hovering over her in disbelief. She had crashed to the floor and took the entire goal with her — and Means caught the whole thing on video. “Some of them were pulling the goal off of me, Sydni was cracking up in the corner . . . I was barely there, but I was just laying on the floor,” Mazurkiewicz said.[infographic align="left"]
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If you’re sick of the caf every day like the rest of us, take matters into your own hands right from your dorm. Some of these easy recipes need a kitchen, others just a microwave — and maybe some dorm room improvising. Just try not to set off the fire alarm (again). Microwave Nutella Cake in a mug It’s chocolate, it’s cake and it takes two minutes in the microwave. This is the essence of college life. [sidebar title="Ingredients" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="off"] ¼ cup self-rising flour ¼ cup white sugar 1 egg 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 3 tablespoons milk 2 (or more!) unsweetened cocoa powder 2 (or more) tablespoons Nutella spread ½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon vanilla extract [/sidebar] Needs a kitchen? No Time: 5-10 minutes Directions: Stir all ingredients into a large microwave-safe mug until batter is smooth. Microwave on high for 1½ – 2½ minutes, until cake has risen in the mug and set in the center. Source: allrecipes.com Mushroom Chicken This is a simple dish I like to throw together in the middle of the night when I don’t feel like doing anything special. I like to use flavored rice, but any kind works. The best part: it leaves leftovers for cram night. [sidebar title="Ingredients:" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="off"] 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts 1 cup cream of mushroom soup 1 cup chicken or beef broth Preferred serving size of rice Salt Nonstick pan spray [/sidebar] Needs a kitchen? Yes Time: 20 minutes Directions: Boil rice in water with salt. Set aside. Combine cream of mushroom soup and broth. Set aside. Apply nonstick spray to skillet or pan, sauté chicken on one side at medium heat for 4 minutes. Flip chicken, add soup/broth mix to pan. Simmer for 5 – 7 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Soup/broth mix should be reduced to a sauce. Serve chicken and mushroom sauce over rice. Source: Inspired by recipe suggestion on box of Uncle Ben’s rice Omelet in a mug If you’re sick of having cereal every morning and have dishes piling up in that small sink, this microwave omelet is for you! [sidebar title="Ingredients" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="off"] 1 egg 2 egg whites 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese 2 tablespoons of diced cooked ham (or sandwich meat) 1 tablespoon of diced green bell pepper (optional) Salt and pepper Nonstick cooking spray [/sidebar] Needs a kitchen? No Time: 15 minutes Directions: Spray microwave-safe mug with nonstick spray. Combine all ingredients in mug. Microwave on high for 1 minute, stir. Return to microwave for 1 – 1½ minutes until eggs are completely set. Source: allrecipes.com Microwave Broccoli and Cheese This is the struggle casserole. All you need is a microwave and an electric kettle. [sidebar title="Ingredients" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="off"] 10 ounce package frozen broccoli florets, thawed 3 tablespoons butter, melted Salt and pepper ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese [/sidebar] Needs a kitchen? No Time: 20 minutes Directions: If you don’t have a kitchen, boil broccoli for 2-6 minutes in an electric kettle. If you do have a kitchen, just use a stove. Drain broccoli and place in a microwave-safe casserole dish. Add melted butter, salt, pepper, and cheese over broccoli. Microwave on high for 1 minute or until cheese is melted. Source: allrecipes.com Mediterranean-Creole Chicken This one takes some simple preparation beforehand, but bakes in just half an hour once it’s ready. Do some homework in the meantime. No, seriously. [sidebar title="Ingredients" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="off"] Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning 2 boneless chicken breasts ½ – 1 cup Kraft Zesty Italian salad dressing 1 lemon 1 teaspoon oregano 1 garlic clove, chopped [/sidebar] Needs a kitchen? Yes Time: 10 minutes prep, 1 hour marinate, 30 minutes bake Directions: Sprinkle chicken breasts with seasoning. Mix salad dressing, garlic, oregano, and lemon juice in a large plastic bag. Marinate chicken in bag in refrigerator for 1 hour. Place chicken on a tinfoil-covered baking pan and bake for 20-30 minutes. Source: My mother
Time is as big of an enemy in “XCOM 2” as any one of the new aliens. The number of times I have come up a day late and a dollar short on a critical research project or scouting mission is as big as the memorial wall of soldiers that have fallen under my command because of it. “XCOM 2” is the sequel to 2012’s excellent reboot of the turn-based tactics franchise, “XCOM: Enemy Unknown,” which saw the player leading humanity’s first and last line of defense against an alien invasion as the commander of the international XCOM Project. The new title follows a timeline in which the player loses — they failed to defeat the invaders, and are now leading an underground insurgency against an entrenched alien occupation 20 years later. Old nations have been abolished, the world’s population has shuffled around, and the iron law exists in new concentrated urban centers. Admittedly, the aliens have pretty good taste in architecture. Overview/The Good For the “XCOM” hallmarks of tight management of limited resources and pitting a small elite squad against an overwhelmingly superior enemy, Firaxis couldn’t have picked a better setting. The reactionary, defensive missions of “Enemy Unknown” have become offensive, guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks as the rag-tag remnants of XCOM seek to undermine the alien authority however they can. The biggest gameplay change this new setting introduces is the new concealment system. Many missions will see the squad enter the battlefield hidden from the enemy, able to move from cover to cover as they sneak past patrols. The overwatch mechanic, which allows a soldier to essentially skip their turn in exchange for getting a free shot during the enemy turn, has been reworked: no longer will every soldier on overwatch immediately all shoot the first thing that moves, resulting in massive overkill on a single target and letting the rest go free. Units will now take overwatch shots one at a time which, combined with the new concealment system, lets the player set up some deadly ambushes. A well-orchestrated ambush can, with a little luck and a blessing from the hidden dice rolls, wipe out an entire enemy squad. Most missions now include a main objective besides eliminating every enemy on the map — rescue a VIP, destroy a target, etc. — and many of them have a turn limit in which they must be completed. Generally, these missions aren’t quite as stressful as the infamous time-limited train mission from one of the “Enemy Unknown” DLCs, and fit in with the hit-and-run theme. They force the player to be more aggressive and less passive, outmaneuvering the enemy to complete the objective before time runs out. Concealment can help here, allowing the player to sneak in closer to the target faster. Levels are also now procedurally generated, meaning you never know exactly what to expect on each mission and have to stay on your toes. The system is well-made, offering a much wider variety of levels than the first game, and making it impossible to nail down the “ideal strategy” for each individual map — a big flaw of the good but limited pre-made levels of “Enemy Unknown.” Enemy AI has been reworked as well to coordinate and be more aggressive. Officers will mark one of your soldiers for focus fire, a foot grunt will set up a flanking shot, and another will set up overwatch — leave your soldier there, and the flanking enemy will probably kill them next turn. Move them, and the one on overwatch will kill them instead. Which do you deal with first? New enemy types are abounds in “XCOM 2,” and returning faces have been revamped. The squishy sectoids of the first game have all grown up and learned how to mind control, shape-shifting monsters disguise themselves as civilians and snake ladies will squeeze your troops to death boa constrictor-style. The aliens are much more advanced this time around, and present a greater challenge across the board. The XCOM team isn’t without their own new toys, however. The four soldier classes of “Enemy Unknown” have been completely overhauled, with revolvers, swords, pet robots, and — my new favorite — grenade launchers coming to bear against the enemy. Psychic soldiers also now exist as their own independent fifth class, instead of simply being a regular soldier with psionic powers. All five have useful and defined roles to fill within the squad; which ones the player will rely more on will depend on how they prefer to approach a situation, but it’s generally a good idea not to leave base without at least one of each. The strategic aspect of the game — base management and the world map (or “geoscape”) — are all redone as well. No longer in an underground ant hill, XCOM operates out of a repurposed alien airship appropriately dubbed the “Avenger.” Engineers are now individual people instead of a number on a screen, who can be assigned to individual tasks like staffing a workshop or clearing out debris from various rooms. The geoscape is now highly randomized, giving different starting locations and continent bonuses with each new game and forcing the player to adapt to each new scenario. The Avenger can fly across the world, responding to tips from resistance forces and attacking alien bases. This time around, the player is in a race against time to beat the aliens as they work on a doomsday project, their progress bar looming ominously at the top of the screen. Destroying enemy bases and completing story missions can slow their progress, but it can never be stopped without their ultimate defeat. This gives a greater sense of urgency, and really forces the player to prioritize their limited resources — you never have enough time or supplies to get everything you want, and have to work with what you’ve got. Soldier customization has been greatly expanded. No longer the clandestine operation of professionals it was during the invasion, occupation-era XCOM is a band of misfits and irregulars, and the customization options show it. Mullets, hats, aviators, piercings, tattoos and more, everything is there to make your A-Team. Literally. There’s a dedicated character creator outside the main game, and characters you create there — be they soldiers, friendly VIPs or enemy assassination targets — will appear over the course of the game, mixed in with randomly generated ones. It takes a steel will not to go on a mission to the past to save your favorite soldier by re-loading an old save after they eat a plasma grenade. While there are dozens of different character voices available to choose from in several languages and multiple English dialects, Russian is curiously absent from the English version of the game, despite it being in the game files. Thankfully, there’s a mod for that. Indeed, “XCOM 2” was designed from the get-go to be heavily moddable, and most of my personal taste-related gripes about the game have either already been fixed or fixes are in-progress by members of the community. Other mods range from custom hats and tattoos to overhauls of entire game mechanics, like hacking and enemy AI. Some even adjust or altogether remove the turn limits in missions and the doomsday clock, but given that the game is balanced around these timers, I don’t recommend using them with normal gameplay rules. The Bad As excellent of an all-around improvement “XCOM 2” is over its predecessors, there are a number of flaws. Most of them are on the technical side — the game is graphically beautiful compared to the first game, but many effects are poorly optimized and load times can be atrocious on some hardware. Low-end machines can especially struggle, having a game that’s uglier than the first on low graphics settings while still running worse. I’m playing on the High preset on an i5-6600K processor and GTX 970 graphics card without much issue, but complaints of poor performance are abounds across the net. This is especially disappointing, because Firaxis is one of the most veteran PC game developers in the industry. One would expect a PC-only title would have better optimization than this. The game itself is also filled with bugs. Some are annoying but generally innocuous, such as extended pauses (we’re talking 10+ seconds) during cinematic camera sequences as your soldiers shoot the bad guys. Others, like completely losing control of a soldier and being unable to give them orders, can break the game and force the player to re-load an old save file. If you’re playing on Ironman mode, which auto-saves every time you take an action and thus makes you live with every mistake, you might just be out of luck. Most of these serious bugs are fairly uncommon, but I’d hold off on an Ironman run for now. Modders have already come to the rescue with some gameplay-related bugs, like actions triggering when they shouldn’t or equipment not working as advertised, but only an official patch can fix some of the more egregious issues. Meanwhile, the “Second Wave” options from “Enemy Unknown” which allowed the player to mix up the rules are entirely missing. Modders are also working on re-implementing them, but their absence in the base game is a disappointment. Sometimes it feels like Firaxis adopted the “let the modders fix it” attitude that plagues some other games. Despite these shortcomings, however, “XCOM 2” is turn-based tactics at its finest. Its hallmark features have been expanded, the challenge is bumped up, and many flaws from Enemy Unknown have been ironed out. For any fan of strategy or tactics games, “XCOM 2” gets a big recommendation from me. Summary Pros: Many new features and enemies Old features overhauled and improved Interesting premise and setting More varied mission types Randomized maps and geoscape improve replayability Excellent graphics and detail on high settings Extensive modding support Cons: Poor optimization Many bugs Missing Second Wave options Final score: 9/10 “XCOM 2” is available now on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Some of my favorite mods for the game can be found here, and a graphics optimization guide can be found here.
A bias towards white male characters is a well-documented reality in the mainstream video game industry. The all-too-common perception among executives at game publishing companies, such as Activision and Ubisoft, — that games featuring characters outside of the majority don’t sell — is reminiscent of the only-boys-buy-toys attitude that has long dominated children’s cartoon production. In other words, your standard game hero is a middle-aged white guy with short dark hair and a gun, and he is everywhere. From “Doom” in 1993 to “Grand Theft Auto” in 2003 to “Bioshock” in 2013, the overwhelming majority of high-profile gaming heroes follow this model. Sprinkle some “Resident Evil,” “Uncharted” or “Call of Duty” in between as you like, and be sure to market your build-your-own-hero game with similar poster characters à la “Mass Effect,” “Saints Row,” or the just-released “Fallout 4.” In 2007, the project that eventually led to 2012’s “Sleeping Dogs” by way of the shuttered “True Crime” franchise was reportedly forced by Activision to change its hero from a woman to a man. The reason? A chick can’t be a renegade cop — nobody would want to buy that. Meanwhile, when Dontnod Entertainment’s 2013 game “Remember Me” was infamously turned down repeatedly by publishers on the basis of its female protagonist, they publicly stood by their heroine to the media: [pullquote speaker="Jean-Max Morris" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that[/pullquote] “We had some [publishers] that said, ‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that,’” the game’s creative director, Jean-Max Morris, said in an interview with Penny Arcade at the time. Later that same year, the legendary Lara Croft of “Tomb Raider” fame made her reboot debut and likewise helped reboot the debate on feminism in video games in the wake of “Remember Me.” The new-and-improved Lara was well-received and moved enough copies to warrant a sequel, which also just launched this month, but she still stands in the company of few. Gender is but one part of the multi-sided coin, and — racial minorities suffer from even less representation — even international releases from Japan, such as “Metal Gear” and “Mario,” tend to feature white characters. It’s here that I would like to point towards a little old franchise that’s been getting quite a bit of attention lately: “Star Wars.” I don’t plan on touching the #BoycottStarWarsVII mess with a ten-foot lightsaber — you can look that up on your own. Rather, I’d like to highlight and shout to the heavens the magnificent effort that is the “Star Wars: Battlefront” reboot, just released on Nov. 17. Context: “Star Wars: Battlefront,” a fan favorite that’s been missing in action for a decade since the acclaimed 2005 release of “Battlefront II,” is quite possibly the most anticipated game of the year, vying against the likes of “Fallout 4” for press attention and holiday dollars. It’s also being made by Swedish developer Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE), best known for their “Battlefield” franchise, a series of multiplayer army shooters after which LucasArts modeled the original “Battlefront” games. My own opinion of their latest efforts aside, DICE is known for making good video games. What they are not known for is making a diverse cast of characters. Almost every single one of their past titles involve historical or hypothetical real-world clashes of first-world armies, and the soldiers that populate their games reflect it. A consistent cast of a bunch of white guys and one black dude can be chalked up to a degree of “realism”; even today in the US, after the lift of the ban on combat roles for women, there are essentially no female “foot grunts,” and white and black soldiers together make up 95 percent of the U.S. Army. However, Russia, a favorite country to feature in DICE’s games, does allow for female foot soldiers, and indeed they make up 10 percent of Russia’s troops. Yet across five games that feature the Russian army (“Battlefield” 2-4 and the two “Bad Company” spin offs), exactly zero include female player-characters. With the new “Star Wars” game, however, this tradition has been thrown on its head. “Battlefront” offers not only both male and female player-characters to use online but also black, white, East Asian and other uncommon ethnic variants of said characters. Even age representation is diverse with the young to the 60-somethings all making their appearances as rebel volunteers and Imperial conscripts. Players hear both male and female officers on the radio directing the battle, and even the masked Imperial stormtroopers get the gender treatment — which is apparently a real thing in “Star Wars” that has, to my knowledge, never before been portrayed in an official movie or game. The real kicker, though, is the clothing all of these characters wear. Rebel soldiers and Imperial troopers alike are all kitted with the same gear regardless of gender. Nowhere to be found are the special lightweight slim-waist wide-hips breast-highlighting armor and uniforms that plague the heroines of so many other titles. You know what I’m talking about. The game not being released yet, all of these observations are from my experience in the open beta test back in October. The exact implementation of these features may be subject to change in the release as some features were disabled in the beta. Still, before now, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to get this game. I’ve become very disenfranchised with DICE’s work as of late and was worried that “Battlefront” would end up in the “skip it” bin like their other recent efforts. However, whether or not I actually liked the game play in the beta (I did), this game has now already been automatically added to my purchase list. This is a trend I want to support. Some reviewers around the net, such as Forbes’ Jason Evangelho and the Escapist’s Steven Bogos, seem to have already tossed it in for everyone except the most hardcore “Star Wars” fans. However, whether or not I like DICE’s general handiwork (not really), whether I enjoyed the game play in the beta (I did), and whether or not the full release is being well-received (dubious), “Star Wars: Battlefront” has been automatically added to my purchase list. Game of the year or not, the work that went into representing the traditionally unrepresented is a trend I want to support. I’d like to exit with this exchange on the official “Star Wars” Facebook page regarding the lack of gendered armor. Video game industry, give us more of this, please.
Over 150 people in the United States have contracted the measles since the start of 2015. 2014 saw nearly 650. When the medical community declared victory over the measles as an endemic disease in 2000, it didn’t foresee a social movement unraveling the decades of work just 15 years later. Vaccination is mandatory across the U.S., but all but two states allow for religious exemptions. Many of those even allow for vaccine exemptions based simply on philosophical or personal beliefs. California, the epicenter of the latest measles outbreak, is one of the latter. The growing anti-vaccination movement stems from a laundry list of misconceptions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Chief among them is the fear that they can cause autism, an idea that has managed to stick around long after the paper making the claim was debunked. In fact, the 1998 study was even deemed fraudulent, and its author, Andrew Wakefield, lost his medical license over the ordeal. Here’s the deal: study after study since then has failed to find any link between vaccines and autism — so many to the point that the Institute of Medicine suggested the money being spent on such research be used elsewhere after reviewing a dozen separate (legitimate) papers on the topic. As an aside, as someone with a mild case of Asperger syndrome, itself a mild form of autism, I find the degree to which some people act like the risk of autism being the end of the world somewhat offensive. We’re talking about dying from a preventable illness, and I’m the worst-case scenario? Thanks. Here’s a few more bits of misinformation that could use some clearing-up while I’m on the topic, courtesy of the Center for Disease Control and Convention: Vaccines aren’t some mysterious complicated medicine; they’re simply dead or severely-weakened samples of the virus that act like “wanted posters” for the immune system. Receiving multiple vaccines at once will not “overwhelm” a child’s immune system. “Spreading out” vaccinations does not provide proper protection and in fact reduces the likelihood of developing proper immunity. The form of mercury found in some vaccine preservatives is easy for the liver to filter out and exists in tiny, safe amounts. Immunity from actually catching a disease is more effective long-term but also far more dangerous and is therefore ill-advised. Keeping a disease in check relies on something epidemiologists call “herd immunity.” The principle is simple: by keeping everyone who can be vaccinated, it reduces the spread of diseases and protects those who cannot be immunized, such as newborns and chemotherapy patients. It also protects the very small handful of people who fail to develop immunity with a vaccine. The problem is that only a small number of people voluntarily refusing to participate in herd immunity compromise the whole system. Case in point: Mississippi, one of the two states that do not allow religious or philosophical exemptions, reports a nearly 100 percent vaccination rate and had had no cases of measles since the current outbreak. Conversely, communities in Colorado, the state with the lowest vaccination rates, are debating on whether to bar unvaccinated students from attending school, according to a report by a Colorado NBC news partner. The fact that blocking kids from their education is even necessary in the year 2015 is criminal. The tools to prevent the spread of disease have been widely available for decades not only for measles but also for many other common illnesses such as whooping cough. These diseases aren’t just inconveniences; they can and do kill. Voluntarily putting oneself, one’s children and one’s neighbors at risk by refusing to vaccinate is nothing short of reckless. Selfish, even. I can understand a lack of knowledge causing concern, but it takes all of five seconds to punch in a Google search and find an abundance of information, FAQs and myth-busting articles from the CDC, World Health Organization and legitimate health info websites. My personal plea to you, dear reader: educate yourself. Learn the risks and the benefits that far outweigh them. Spread the word to your friends and family, and get immunized. Vaccines are available in all sorts of places: public health centers, pharmacies, doctors’ offices and many school clinics (including Mercer’s own), to name a few. This measles outbreak is just a warning shot for a larger problem. Everyone needs to work together to prevent some disease that’s even worse from starting a round two.