The Burnt Offering is where Stu Horvath thinks too much in public so he can live a quieter life in private.
I should probably begin this story with a charming anecdote about the winters of my youth, a tale of snow forts and the swishing of snow pants. Perhaps something with sledding, that evokes the nostalgic mischief and wonder of a wintertime Calvin & Hobbes comic.
Unfortunately, my most vivid winter memory, the one that overrides all others, happened last year.
Every time it snowed last winter (and it snowed a lot), I would trek up the hill to meet my friends at the Silver Bell Tavern. It’s a dump of a place with taps of questionable cleanliness, fluorescent lighting and all the ambiance of a laundromat. It is comically narrow, too – if you’re sitting in the front of the bar and it is busy, don’t even dream of trying to push your way to the bathroom in the back. You’re going to have to walk around the outside to the back door.
All class, the Silver Bell.
The important thing about the Bell is that a lot of the bartenders – old coots with nothing much to do at the best of times – live within walking distance. This ensures that even in the worst storm, the Bell is open for business.
And so, week after week, after shoveling the sidewalk and the entire length of the driveway, I would stick my earbuds in, crank some heavy metal and stomp up the hill. The ritual was a middle finger extended to the elements that were conspiring to make this the most psychologically punishing winter I’ve ever experienced. It was important to do things in spite of months of miserable weather, to carry on, if even for only a little while before stomping back home.
Day in, day out, I wear a pair of brown harness boots. Most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned, these boots are, but they’re worthless in the snow and ice. The wet cold gets right into the leather, salt crystallizes on the sides and the soles have about as much tooth as geriatric ward. When I have to shovel snow, I wear a big clunky pair of hiking boots with half-inch treads. I reckon I could walk up walls with them.
Now, on this particular evening, I had just finished dinner when I got the text saying folks were meeting up at the Bell. Another storm, another weekday night of drinks. I bundled up as usual – flannel, coat, scarf, wool hat, gloves. I put the earbuds in, queued up my heavy metal playlist on Spotify and stepped out into the cold.
I took exactly one step out into the cold.
The front porch was covered in ice. It dawned on me too late that because this was an ice storm and not a snow storm, I hadn’t gone out to shovel. Since I didn’t shovel, I had never put on the heavy duty boots. I’d have done better to strap banana peels on my feet.
Up in the air I went. I hovered there, improbably, for a good minute or two. I wonder what a passerby would have thought to see me levitating there in so awkward a position for so long. I idly contemplated grabbing one of the railings, but upon observing the position of my feet relative to the position of my head, I decided I was already fully fucked. I gave myself over to my fate and careened down onto the bricks.
The corner of the bricks that marked the first stair, to be totally accurate. That is where my posterior came to rest, if only briefly. For, you see, my butt had just discovered that the stairs were also covered in ice, like frozen waterfall, like a trap, like a subconscious suicide pact. Fully at gravity’s mercy now, I slid rudely down all six steps to the front walk that, surprise, surprise, was also encrusted with slippery death.
I continued, inexorable, along this most frigid of Slip’n Slides before halting just shy of the single step up from the sidewalk, seventeen feet from where I began. I laid there, completely prone, staring at the red clouds of the night sky for a long time. Let’s pretend that Metallica’s “Trapped Under Ice” was chugging into my ears.
It was right about then that I gave up every last ounce of affection I had for winter, for snow, for cold. It evaporated out of me and went sailing into the sky while I contemplated just how badly my entire body would hurt the next day (as it turns out, about three times as bad as I expected).
It occurs to me that was a story about sledding after all.
* * *
A Good Snowman is Hard to Build didn’t soften my heart when it comes to winter. This year has been even worse than last year, temperature-wise, and, while North Jersey hasn’t had nearly the amount of snow that folks to the north have had to suffer, what snow we have has hardened into icy bulwarks. You’d need a pick ax and a blowtorch to build a snowman with it.
And yet, the game captures some delightful idea of winter, the kind I’d like to experience. I could go for making a snowman, honestly.
A collaboration between Alan Hazelden (Sokobond), Benjamin Davis (Sushi Snake) and sound designer Ryan Roth, A Good Snowman is a quiet, contemplative puzzle game about, well, the name says it all. You control a little black monster who wanders a hedge garden and attempts to put together snowmen with each area’s available snow.
There are three sizes of snowball. Little ones pushed over more snow grow in size. The idea is to stack them up, big on the bottom, little on the top. Big ones, obviously can’t go on top of little ones. The result is a very elegant series of puzzles concerned with space and movement. The puzzles never even approach frustrating – the overall feeling of the game is one of tranquility.
Once you’ve finished a snowman, you have the option of hugging it.
A Good Snowman isn’t a very long game – I worked through it in a little over an hour, though I honestly have no idea if that is because the puzzles are actually easy, or if I just happen to be good at this particular sort – but it is a lovely one. The visuals are minimal but delightful, the music ethereal. There is a starkness, a sense of loneliness, even, mixed with the game’s playful calm. And perhaps a hint of joy? Is that even possible in the grey winter months?
And the monster never slips and falls. Not even once.
I’ll leave it to you to decide if that is a benefit or a drawback.