The Kill Order

Hello everyone! I’m sorry I didn’t post last week; I was busy preparing for school and forgot to update. This week’s book is James Dashner’s The Kill Order, the prequel to his popular Maze Runner series.

I must say I wasn’t impressed with this prequel. I started reading this book expecting some answers to my questions about the original trilogy. However, this book uses almost none of the characters involved in the trilogy, and there isn’t much character development overall. Although I found out how the disease known as the flare affected so many people, the rationale behind the decision to release the disease was foolish and never fully explained. The first person to show resistance  to the flare is introduced, and I inferred that the group she was left with at the end became the start of WICKED, but I could be wrong. WICKED is the mysterious group in the original trilogy, and it is hard to figure out its ulterior motive and why it is involved with the flare. The whole book was confusing to me because of all the seemingly random incidents and character additions. Although interesting because “the beginning” is explained, I was left with a lot more questions at the end than the start. The Maze Runner was an exciting series with a good plot and development, but I didn’t see much of that great writing in The Kill Order. This book isn’t near the quality of The Maze Runner, and I would only recommend this book if you really wanted to read them all.

Queen and King Checkmates

The end of the game is near. You have a queen and a king left on the board; your opponent has just a king. How do you checkmate your opponent? Checkmating with a queen and king is very simple; there are only a few steps and most are repeated. So let’s start with a random position. White has a queen and a king, and black has a king.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1


WHITE TO MOVE

Pretend (just for a moment) that your queen moves like a queen, but it attacks kings like a knight. You want to move your queen so that it is one knight’s move away from the king. In this example d6, f6, and c7 all work. This creates a wall that the king can’t pass through. A common mistake is to just attack the king with the queen. This is ineffective because the king can move to either side of the attack. By not putting the king in check, we are achieving checkmate more quickly, because we have a wall.

In this example, the queen moves to d6. Then the black king will move to f7. Continue moving the queen so it is one knight’s move away from the king until the black king is confined to moving on just one row or column. To save some time, and to make sure everyone ends up in the same place, here is one example of the moves which could occur in this phase, starting from the position shown on the above board: 1. Qd6 Kf7 2.Qe5 Kg6 3. Qf4 Kh5 4. Qg3

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

This is where it can get tricky if you are not careful. It is easy to let the black king escape the trap, or to make the trap too small, which would result in a stalemate,

To block his escape: every time the black king moves, mirror his move with the queen. When the black king moves one space, in any direction, move the queen one square in that same direction. On the above board, when he moves to h6, move the queen to g4. When the black king can only move to one spot, in this case h8, stop moving your queen. In the above example the king will be on h7, the queen on g5. You must allow black’s king to move at least one square on his next turn, or it is a stalemate, so move your king towards the black king. Do not move the king in front of the queen! Otherwise the black king will be able to escape. On the board above, this means don’t move your king on the g-file. When your king gets to a spot directly across from the black king, with one space in between (see board below).

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

On your next turn move the queen to a spot between both kings, so it is attacking the black king, and being defended by the white king.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

This is checkmate! Queen and King checkmates are easy to practice: just set up a black king, white king, and white queen anywhere on a chess board and follow these steps. This is an important checkmate to learn because many players will end up with a queen at the end of a game.

Opening Principles

Now it is time to learn what you should be doing in the beginning of every chess game you play. The opening, moves used in the beginning to establish your pieces’ presence, will often determine how well you do for the rest of the match. Although I can’t promise you’ll win every time using these principles, you will definitely play better, and will win more.

1. Control the center.

As you may have already noticed, pieces can move to more spaces when they are placed towards the middle of the board. Because you want your pieces to have the most maneuverability possible, it is a good idea to have control over these center squares: e4, e5, d4, and d5.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

Most likely, the person with the greater control over these four squares will win the game.

2. Develop your minor pieces.

The minor pieces are the bishops and knights, because they are considered to be worth the least (besides the pawns). These are good pieces to move first for many reasons. They are good for testing your opponent’s defense, for being at the front of your attack, and for sacrificing. In addition, they also tend to be more maneuverable when there are lots of pawns in the game. The major pieces (queen and rooks) should not be moved in the beginning of the game. They are easily attacked by knights and bishops, and usually end up getting captured.

3. Protect your king (preferably by castling)

While it seems obvious that protecting the king is key, it is not enough to just station a rook to “guard” your king. You must actively seek to protect your king if you want him to be safe.  Castling is a great move because it puts your king behind three pawns with a solid rook defender. However, there are other ways to protect your king, as well. Some players rely on a heavy attack that gives their opponent no room to retaliate. Others take their chances in the middle of the board, and rely on maneuvering out of attacks with their king. In my opinion, castling is the best move for protecting your king and prolonging his survival.

So we have three things that we should do every game. What is the best way to achieve these goals? A good opening to consider is moving one of your two center pawns on the first move of the game. These are the e and d square pawns. Here’s why:

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

Assume you are white. You consider moving your pawn to e4. Before you move, you should ask yourself, “Does this move help me reach my goals?” This applies to any stage of the game, not just the beginning. In the opening, the three things you want to do: 1. Control the center, 2. Develop your minor pieces, 3. Protect your king.

Does 1.e4 help you achieve these goals?

1. Control the center: Yes. It puts a pawn directly onto one of the four spaces that you want to control.

2. Develop minor pieces: Yes. While not directly developing pieces, you may now move your bishop on f1 into the game, and both of your knights are still able to jump to the center.

3. Protect the king: Yes! Although not immediately obvious, we have already noted that moving this pawn allows you to move your bishop on f1 out, and your knight on g1 out, leaving the spaces between the king and rook free. This means that you can castle eventually.

All three goals have been met, so this is one example of a good move to play on your first turn. There are many others, of course, and you should experiment with several to observe the pros and cons of each.

The Inheritance Cycle

One of my favorite series of all time, the Inheritance Cycle, is a four-book series written by Christopher Paolini, who was just 15 years old when he wrote the first draft for Eragon, the first book in the cycle. This is not a quick read; all but the first book are over 750 pages long. However, it is worth the time because it is such a well-written saga,

The Inheritance Cycle tells a tale about a boy named Eragon, a farmer’s son who lives in a small cabin near a tiny village. Eragon is fated for grander adventures though: hatching the first dragon egg in decades; becoming an iconic hero and/or legend, depending on the opinion of different people; and traveling the land of Alagaesia. At the time of this story, Alagaesia is under the rule of Galbatorix, an evil king who rules through ruthless servants and the power of his own dragon.

Eragon must unite humans, elves, dragons, dwarves, were-cats, and even beast-men called Urgals, in order to overthrow Galbatorix, all while learning who exactly he is and why he was slated to liberate Alagaesia. Love, betrayal, and a surprising ending are all dictated by a mysterious prophesy that both hints at success and promises misery.

I particularly loved the language that Christopher Paolini used throughout his novels, and I’m not talking about the foreign tongues he incorporates. He infuses his words with feeling and passion, and I honestly felt like a character in the book, traveling with Eragon. As for the three or four foreign languages, the back of every book contains a glossary with all the words and their pronunciation.

In summary, I believe the Inheritance Cycle will become as iconic in the fantasy genre as Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. A great story dealing with finding yourself, and inspiring others to overcome their differences and weaknesses to achieve a goal. Don’t read this book if you are looking for a quick read or a distraction; read it to delve into an awe-inspiring world full of magic and mystery.

Castling

Castling, one of the best moves to use regularly, achieves many important objectives: it protects your king, keeping him behind a protective line of pawns; strengthens your rooks; and frees up your other pieces to take an offensive, rather than defensive, position. It is something that you should actively work towards every game. So, what is castling? Castling involves moving your king and rook, at the same time. It is the only move in chess where you may move two pieces at once. Basically you are switching the order of the king and the rook.

Let’s look at this position:

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

Obviously, this position is impossible in a real game, but it makes it easy to see how castling works. If you would like to castle “kingside,” (kingside is the side of the board that the king sits on) move your king two spaces (to g8 for black and g1 for white), and then move the rook over the king to sit next to it.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

“Queenside” castling is similar, just done to the other side. The king still moves two spaces toward the rook, but this time the rook moves three spaces over the king to land next to him (to d8 for black and d1 for white).

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

If you find it confusing to remember how many spaces to move when castling kingside or queenside, remember that the king always moves two spaces toward the rook, and then the rook sits next to the king. Some players even base their entire opening strategy on preventing their opponent from castling.

Now for some rules about when you can and can’t castle. First, there may be no pieces in between the king and the rook that you are using to castle. Second, you may not castle with any rook that you have moved already in the game, and you can’t castle at all if you have already moved your king. Also, you may not castle if you are in check, or if you end up in check after castling. In addition, your king may not be in check in either of the two squares it moves through. So on the previous board, white can’t castle if the king would be in check on e1, d1, or c1.

A side note: if you are looking to prevent your opponent from castling, a good idea is to put him in check, and force him to move his king, making it illegal for him to castle.

Which side to castle on? It all depends on the situation, as well as your own individual playing style. Kingside castling is more common because there are only two pieces in between the rook and the king, and the king is a little “safer,” without an extra space in the pawn wall. Queenside castling is considered a more aggressive move because the rook is placed more towards the center. Of course, the side you castle on may be determined by where your opponent’s pieces are aimed, where he castles, and if you have moved a rook already. There is no “better” side to castle because there are so many different ways to play the game of chess. What is good in one game may be a mistake in another, so it is best to know how to use both. In some future posts, I will discuss benefits of using both.

The Fault in our Stars

Many people have raved about this book by John Green this past year, and since the movie just came out, I thought that I had better read it as well. This book is about a girl named Hazel, and her life struggling with cancer. At first glance, it seems like another novel about someone suffering from an incurable disease. However, beneath the surface of this book is some truly deep life philosophy. At first Hazel is afraid to cultivate relations with other people because she knows the pain she will cause when she eventually dies. She even says, when explaining why she’s vegetarian, “I want to minimize the number of deaths I’m responsible for.” This is her outlook on life, whether about animals or people. Although an admirable intention, she doesn’t realize that she needs more from life.

Then she meets Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor with only one leg. Charming and confident, he shares his own philosophy with her, which is basically to live life to the fullest and enjoy the small moments of happiness. As she gets to know “Gus,” she finds herself warming up to him, even going to Holland with him to meet the author of a book she loves.

Touching scenes run rampant throughout the book, and as I traveled through her tale of the relationship she shares with Gus, I was more and more engrossed in the story. I found that I literally couldn’t put the book down. There are some definite tissue moments, especially toward the end, and I thought that John Green did a magnificent job with this book. Although Hazel is aware that she is slowly dying, she is able to find joy in her life. One side effect of this book: as I read, I was very aware of my own mortality, and about how to live life like it’s your last day on earth. A must-read for every high schooler, this is a different book with lots of very wise advice.

En Passant

Since this is my first chess post, I thought I would start with a relatively simple chess term. Many people find en passant confusing, but it’s really quite simple. I hope this clears up some of your confusion.

En passant is a French phrase that means “in passing.” In chess, it only applies to pawns, and only in certain, special conditions. It doesn’t happen often, but it is important to be aware when it can happen, because a well-timed en passant can alter a game’s outcome.

Let’s begin. Imagine this is the position:

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

Black to Move

Black moves his pawn on B7 to B5. Normally, black’s pawn is safe from capture by the white pawn. But, on the next turn, and the next turn only, white may move his pawn to B6, capturing the black pawn in the process.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1

It is as if the black pawn moved forward only one square, which of course would mean that the white pawn could capture it normally. Keep in mind, white can only en passant on the 5th rank for white, and black on the 4th. In addition, it only happens the very next move after the pawn has moved forward two spaces, and only if the pawns are next to each other. En Passant only happens with pawns, not any other piece. I see many chess players try to en passant a knight or a bishop. Don’t be that person!

My Week at WJMC: A Retrospective

The week I spent at the Washington Journalism and Media Conference was a lot of fun. Days filled with learning and friendship flew by, and many tearful goodbyes were exchanged on Friday. I have already posted a bit about each of the speakers from the week; here is an overview of the entire week.

Sunday: When I arrived just after noon, I was a little nervous. It was my first time on a college campus, and I didn’t know what to expect or who I would meet. After checking in, I unpacked my clothes in my dorm. Although my dorm didn’t have a mini fridge like some others, it was pretty cool; I bunked in my own little “room” and my roommates were nice. Then I met April and Courtney, who were the leaders of our color group, the Blue group. Just before dinner the entire Blue group, minus a few who were traveling, met each other. We truly had the best group; everyone got along well from the beginning, and we each brought unique qualities to discussions. Dinner was a fancy buffet and afterwards Peter Doocy spoke to the entire conference. Another color group meeting to discuss what we learned about Peter Doocy, then we headed back to our dorms to get ready for bed and blogging.

Monday: The earliest wake-up for the entire week, I stumbled out of bed and into the shower at 6:00 in the morning. It was worth it because we went to the Newseum. A museum focusing on the journalistic side of history, there were many cool exhibits there; sadly, not nearly enough time in the day to fully explore the Newseum. I plan another trip back to finish what I missed. After the Newseum, we took a tour of some of the monuments in DC. We saw the Lincoln, FDR, and Martin Luther King Jr. monuments, and the World War II memorial. After dinner, Candy Crowley spoke to us about living our life and career our own way, and achieving what we want. One of the longest days in the week, at 11 I just fell into bed, too tired to blog. I planned to report the next morning.

Tuesday: Here was the first 30 minutes of my day: wake up, shower, write up my blog post quickly, scarf down breakfast, and assemble at the color group meeting for bus boarding. This is what happens when you oversleep your alarm. I don’t recommend it. The first speaker of the day was Brian Lamb, the founder of C-SPAN network. He didn’t read a speech to us, instead he called on people in the audience and asked them question, then offered his views and advice to people. Lunch was at Buca Di Beppo. If you haven’t dined there, they served delicious pasta, and I loved their Chicken Parmesan. After lunch, we visited the National Press Club, a prestigious club opened only to journalists. There we listened to various speakers, including Ed Henry, Jennifer Bendery, and Jonathan Karl. Then, the highlight of the day: Hoda Kotb! A favorite of the WJMC, each year she makes an appearance to talk about her life. I have the least amount of notes on her, simply because I forgot to write.  I know I wasn’t the only one. We had another speaker after dinner, this time Matthew Schott, who talked to us about the importance of social media. Another full day, but I made myself blog to avoid the panic in the morning.

Wednesday: By Wednesday, I was starting to get into the routine. I was less tired, and most of the Blue group was upbeat as well. After breakfast our color group had a mock press conference that concerned a fictitious football player and the possibility of him using drugs at a party after a victory. To say it was an unusual press conference would be an understatement; the school’s statement and the family’s statement were completely different, and we went from the possibility of the football player doing drugs, to him using a meth pipe in literally three sentences. After this craziness, the first speaker of the day, Carol Guzy showed off her Pulitzer Prize winning photos, as well as some of her other, equally touching pictures. The whole room was silent as we witnessed these heart-breaking world events captured forever on camera. This was followed by a presentation by Jana Sweeney, who spoke of the impact of journalism in crisis situations, like in her job as a communications director for the American Red Cross. At lunch, we discussed the possibility that the American Red Cross was recruiting because their presentation was after Carol Guzy’s, which stirred up a lot of sympathy. After lunch, and yet another color group meeting, two people from Young Voices did a presentation about journalism advocacy. Then Amy Takayama-Perez explained the process of college admissions, and how we could increase our chances of getting accepted. Dinner was a magnificent barbeque, with music and dancing. Unfortunately, the party couldn’t really get started because we had to attend another lecture. Here we all split up into different groups. Along with Parker and Josie from the Blue group, I met with Dianna Russini, a sports reporter for NBC4. Finally the day ended with Kevin McCarthy, a movie reviewer, and his speech about how to interview people, especially the celebrities that some people find intimidating.

Thursday: The last full day at WJMC, but our group didn’t dwell on that, choosing instead to live in the moment, and save the farewells until tomorrow. Today was a lot less structured, what with all the people meeting their congressional representative at different times. We started with a group photo at the Capitol, then we did individual photos. Some people went off to the Holocaust Museum, while others took the Capitol tour. That left the rest of us to find something to do while we waited for our meetings. My mini group consisted of Josie and Nathan, who didn’t have meetings and just needed a buddy, and Nicole and I. Nicole’s meeting was right after pictures, so we dropped her off, then rebelled and got Starbucks, which many of us hadn’t had since the start of the week. After Nicole’s meeting was over, we went to see the inside of the Capitol, but all we ended up seeing was the lobby and the food court. It was a magnificent food court, by the way. After lunch, I went to my meeting with Representative Frank Wolf. Our group was supposed to meet up afterward outside the Air and Space museum, but somehow the others got lost on their way back from the Library of Congress, so I ended up arriving a little bit (read 20 minutes) before them. Luckily, some other WJMC correspondents were there as well, so I got to talk to them while I waited. After we got back to the dorms, we had an hour to “pack,” but I used the time to take a much-needed nap. Then I started getting all dressed up for the Gala at the Westin Arlington Gateway. Anticipated all week, the Gala was four hours of fun, food, and dance, celebrating our survival through the week. My mind blurred all night long I had so much fun. We got back very late at night, so I just threw all my clothes in my suitcase and flopped into bed.

Friday: The day of goodbyes, and the day none of us looked forward to. In the morning we had our final color group meeting, and we all exchanged emails and phone numbers. Many pictures and selfies were taken as we all slowly departed in groups: some to drive home, some to fly. All in all, I had an awesome time throughout my stay at the WJMC, learned a lot, and made many friends that still blow up my phone, days later.

The Warrior Heir

n246324-195x300

Although published all the way back in 2006, this book remains one of my favorites. The first of four books in the series, with a fifth coming out this fall, The Warrior Heir was written by Cinda Williams Chima, and follows the story of Jackson Swift, who is believed to be the only warrior heir alive.

The story is about five powerful guilds: the Wizard guild, the Enchanter guild, the Warrior guild, the Sorcerer guild, and the Seer guild. Each guild has special powers that they are known for: warriors are the best physical fighters and battle strategists; seers can scry the past, present, or future; sorcerers mix potion, poisons, and make magical artifacts; enchanters are the most attractive, can entrance other people and are experts in persuasion; and the wizards are the masters of spells and charms, making them the most powerful of the guilds. Because of their power, wizards rule the other guilds, at the other guilds’ expense.

How do you know which guild you are in? At birth, some people have a stone underneath their hearts, called a weirstone, which determines your guild. If you don’t have a stone, you are anaweir (pronounced “unaware”) and usually don’t notice anything about the guilds. Not all stones are created equal though; some people have a more powerful stone, and thus are more proficient in their given area.

This book follows Jack as he tries to make sense of this new world and how he fits in. Some highly detailed battle moments, a few touching romantic scenes, as well as plenty of drama are prominent in this book and the other books in the series as the action heats up. Although only the first book, it sets a very high standard for the rest of the series, as well as any modern-day fantasy novel.

Thursday Night: Gala at the Westin Arlington Gateway

Finally, the night I had been waiting for the entire week. The gala was held at the Westin Arlington Gateway, and I was anticipating over four hours of fun with my fellow National Youth Correspondents. Although the bus ride to the Westin took an hour because of D.C. traffic, none of us minded the ride. Up in the front, April and B-Money played music to get us in the mood, and everyone was having fun, laughing and talking. When we arrived, we got lots of looks from other people. The Westin probably doesn’t get many groups of 200 high school students, all dressed up in their best outfits, looking for a wild night.

The first event of the night was dinner, of course. Dinner was chicken with veggies, potatoes, a salad, and mousse cake. It was fun watching people try to figure out which of three forks and two knives to use. After dinner, speeches were made thanking all the various staff and the people who had helped set up WJMC and kept it running smoothly. Lots of clapping for all! Immediately after the speeches, a DJ showed up and the music started!

It didn’t take long for the lights to be turned down, and for the dance floor to get crowded. I had never been to a dance before, and was pretty nervous. I asked several people from my group how to dance “properly,” and they all gave me the same advice, which was: “be confident, and no-one will question what you are doing.”  I approached the floor, not without a little trepidation, but the music was loud and up-beat, and people were enjoying themselves, so I just threw myself into the mix. It did not take long to get over my nervousness. One or two songs in, I had sort of gotten in the swing of things, and was doing pretty well, or so I’m told. For three or four hours, my brain was in sensory overload, one loud song after another, one dance after another. There were a few songs that everyone as a group, in almost lines. I think I need to work on my choreography  with those. I apologize here to those whose feet I stepped on during those songs.

Around 11 to 11:15 things were wrapping up, and it was time to head back to the dorms. Half the people in our bus were trying to sleep, and the other half were shouting because none of us could hear each other. Sadly, after we reached the dorms, we had to pack our belongings for the morning. I was so tired that I pretty much just threw everything into the suitcase, took a shower and flopped into bed. I had a lot of fun that night, but did not look forward to the goodbyes the next day.