476. Let’s Think of Better Fall Flavors than Pumpkin Spice

Summer is fading into autumn, and we all know what that means: pumpkin-flavored everything.


More specifically, autumn brings pumpkin spice-flavored everything. The difference is important. As certified snackologist Mike Fahey points out, pumpkin spice is generally a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. These spices are carefully blended in order to mask the taste of actual pumpkin. Mr. Fahey puts it bluntly: “Pumpkin spice is the name for a combination of spices used to make pumpkin taste less horrible.”

I live in the United States, where the fall season happens every single year. It’s awful. The chilly weather, drab colors, and gaudy Halloween merchandise are bad enough; the pumpkin spice craze just adds insult to injury. Every year, as the weather turns painfully cold and Americans celebrate strange pumpkin rituals, I wonder why I ever left the tropics. Ecuador, my homeland, isn’t flooded by freezing temperatures and pumpkin spice-flavored products year after year. What self-destructive, Lovecraftian madness brought me back to Indiana four years ago?

What even started America’s obsession with pumpkin spice? I don’t know, but there are theories. Wikipedia tells me it started in the early aughts, and that Starbucks is to blame.

My favorite theory comes from Nerd Rage, a webcomic about angry nerds.

Seriously, though, this pumpkin spice craze needs to stop. It tinges everything from candles to Oreos to coffee—and when coffee is at stake, I can’t just sit and do nothing.

(For the record, I don’t dislike the pumpkin spice flavor. I’m just tired of it. We need something new!)

Here, then, are some suggestions for alternatives to pumpkin spice. Here are other autumn-appropriate flavors for candy, cookies, coffee drinks, and everything else.

Apple cinnamon

Apples are amazing. Since they’re gathered in the fall, and popular ingredients for cold-weather treats such as pies and dumplings, apples are a perfect flavor for autumn. Just add cinnamon for touch of spicy warmth, and lo! Not only is the apple cinnamon flavor delicious, but evocative of cozy kitchens and fall harvests.


Autumn is the perfect season for bonfires, which also makes it perfect for toasting marshmallows. As I grew up in Ecuador, marshmallows were a rare and delectable treat. (I speak of genuine, toastable marshmallows, mind you, not of the fake, dissolve-into-pink-syrup-upon-contact-with-heat “marshmallows” on Ecuadorian store shelves.) Yes, I love marshmallows. Add chocolate and graham crackers, two hearty ingredients ideal for chilly weather, and you have the s’more.

Nothing says autumn like s’mores.

Marshmallows and chocolate have the added advantages of melting in heat, making them perfect for cookies, brownies, and other baked treats. In cold weather, nothing beats a hot, gooey mess of marshmallows and chocolate.


The taste of gingerbread is basically identical to the pumpkin spice flavor, but with a hint of molasses and no clichéd association with pumpkins. It’s a win-win!

Maple sugar

Maple is a strong, sweet, distinct flavor that lends itself beautifully to baking and confectionery. Since the leaves of the maple tree are famous for their stunning autumn colors, maple sugar (or maple syrup; take your pick) seems like a great taste for the fall season. And on the subject of maples….

Maple leaves

Maybe Japan has the right idea.

These actually look pretty tasty. I would eat them! (Of course, I’ve eaten such odd things as fried leafcutter ants, but that’s not the point.)

Fried leaves can’t possibly be worse than pumpkin, right?


For some reason, nuts remind me of autumn. Is that a rational association, or am I just nuts? (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) Maybe I’m weird, but in my mind, nuts evoke images of baked treats and fall colors. Nuts are not only terrific for baking, but underutilized for coffee beverages. Almonds, walnuts, or pecans complement coffee very nicely!


Nah, I’m just kidding. Fruitcake is gross.

Colada morada

All right, I admit it: I just really want to drink this seasonal Ecuadorian beverage here in the United States. It’s tasty, and I miss it so much. My parents recently brought me back a bottle of the stuff from Ecuador, and I intend to cherish the heck out of it—and then to drink it, of course.

What are your suggestions for alternatives to pumpkin spice? Let us know in the comments!

Tadpole Treble

Tadpole Treble is the epic tale of a tadpole lost, alone, and far from home. This tiny amphibian must find her way back, dodging such dangers as piranhas, snapping turtles, and… musical notes.


This quirky game is the work of Matthew Taranto, a man whose wise words I literally have framed and displayed on my desk. He created the Nintendo-themed webcomic Brawl in the Family, which ran for about six years. (I mourned its end on this very blog.) Upon concluding the webcomic, Taranto began working full-time on Tadpole Treble.

Each stage of the game is basically a long musical staff, along which players must dodge the notes of the stage’s musical score. It’s a neat intersection of music and gameplay: two elements of game design that are too often disconnected.

Tadpole Treble

The game will be released for Steam (a digital marketplace for video games) in just a couple of days. I’m holding out for the Wii U release later this spring. It was apparently a childhood dream of Taranto’s to make a game for a Nintendo system, and I’m glad he’s finally done it.

In other news, one of the game’s songs, “Thunder Creek,” has been stuck in my head for two weeks.

I don’t usually support indie projects, but when Tadpole Treble showed up on Kickstarter a year or two ago, I tossed a few dollars its way as a small thank-you to Matthew Taranto. Brawl in the Family helped me through one or two really dark days, and he seems like an incredibly nice dude.

If I were a rich man (yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum), I would consider donating toward more projects on Kickstarter, and also supporting creative people on Patreon. However, I’m definitely not a rich man, so I’ll have to settle for cheering them on.

Go, little tadpole!

436. I’m Pretty Sure My Cat Is a Buddhist

I acquired a cat some time ago. She’s a sweetie, and apparently a devout Buddhist.


Pearl is the cutest Buddhist I know.

I have four reasons for thinking Pearl has chosen Buddhism as her way of life.

My cat practices meditation.

Pearly spends much of every day sitting on the windowsill, gazing serenely upon worldly things as earth and sky, lost in contemplation of the cosmic infinite. Meditation is an essential doctrine of Buddhism, and one the Pearl-cat practices faithfully.

At any rate, I’m pretty sure that’s what she’s doing. Why else would she spend so much time staring blankly out the window?

My cat practices yoga.

Yoga is another important expression of Buddhist belief. Given her mastery of the physical aspects of yoga—stretching, contortion, forms, and postures—I can only assume that Pearly has also mastered the discipline’s mental and spiritual aspects.

Cat yoga

This is a picture of another cat, not of Pearl. Out of respect for my cat’s devotion to her religious disciplines, I decided not to share photos of them on this blog.

The Pearl-cat frequently stretches, strikes graceful poses, or contorts her body with astonishing flexibility. I assume it’s all part of some esoteric yoga routine, albeit one that involves licking oneself.

My cat practices feng shui.

The ancient Chinese art of feng shui arranges a household to achieve an optimal flow of chi (spiritual energy) and harmonize with the surrounding environment.

This channeling of spiritual energy is a concept similar to bending in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the classic animated series… but much less likely to flood my home, tear it down, or set it on fire. (For that, I have my typewriter monkeys.)


So far, my cat has limited herself to feng shui. I sure hope she doesn’t get any other bright ideas for redirecting spiritual energy.

Feng shui owes more to Taoism than to Buddhism, yet related concepts appear in certain schools of Buddhist belief, so it’s not much of a stretch to suppose my cat dabbles in it.

Pearly frequently rearranges my apartment in mysterious ways: knocking over seashells on display, batting magnets off the refrigerator door, and trying to eat the Legend of Zelda poster over my bookcase, among other things. She also carries her toys (stuffed mice which my younger brother and I have named “the Plague Rats”) around the apartment, depositing them in unexpected places.

These baffling rearrangements of my living space have no better explanation. The Pearl-cat is apparently practicing feng shui to redirect my apartment’s spiritual energy. I suppose I should be grateful. After all, some people pay for this sort of thing.

My cat practices zen gardening.

Zen gardens are a form of artistic and spiritual expression at temples of Zen Buddhism. These pebbly works of art, crafted from scattered rocks and rippling gravel, are meant to suggest nature and help meditation.

Pearly’s zen garden is an ever-changing tapestry of sand, into which she etches designs whose meanings I can’t even begin to guess.

Zen garden

My cat’s zen garden isn’t quite this artistic, but I’m certain its scrapes and scratches represent some unfathomable meaning.

The Pearl-cat’s zen garden doubles as her litter box. Despite her lofty contemplations of spiritual things, she’s really quite pragmatic.

I’m not sure how to respond to my Buddhist cat. As a Christian, I feel I really ought to do something. Should I take her to church on Sunday? (My church might not appreciate that.) Should I give her a Bible? (I don’t think she can read.) I don’t know, guys.

If anyone is curious about the religious views of my typewriter monkeys, they’re a mixed bag. A few of my monkeys are Darwinists, appropriately enough. Another says he’s a Roman Catholic “like Daredevil and the Judge from The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which are not encouraging comparisons. At least one of my monkeys worships the Helix Fossil from Twitch Plays Pokémon. Now that my cat has embraced Buddhism, my blogging team has become even more diverse.

I may not agree with my cat’s religious beliefs, but at least she doesn’t worship the sun.

All things considered, it could be worse.

Geeks Vs. Nerds: A Dorky Comparison

Geek vs. nerd

Comic by Brian Gordon.

I am not a nerd. (At any rate, I like to think so.) I am, however, a dedicated geek. The difference is neatly explained in the comic above. I knew it already, but then I’m totally a dork, so that’s no surprise.

In another attempt to define the differences between such labels, some well-meaning nerd (or possibly dweeb) made the following diagram:

Nerd venn diagramAlthough the diagram was (presumably) made as a joke, it offers unexpected insight. Geeks, nerds, and their ilk are fascinating creatures. They are frequently lumped together in the same sociocultural category, but their differences are worth exploring.

By the way, did you notice that in the last panel of the comic above, the word preferred is misspelled? You didn’t? Huh. Maybe I am a nerd after all.

413. Reacting to Stuff on the Internet

The Internet is a weird, wonderful wilderness. (In fact, the www in web addresses stands for the phrase Weird, Wonderful Wilderness, not World Wide Web as widely believed.*) The Internet is packed with stuff. Some of it is good. Some is bad. A lot of it is cats.

Some of the stuff on the Internet demands strong reactions, whether positive or negative. Words alone are not always enough to convey these reactions. Some feelings are too deep for words.

This, you see, is why we have images, videos, and GIFs.

Yawning cat

I told you there are a lot of cats on the Internet.

(For my readers who aren’t Internet nerds: A GIF is a low-quality video file whose footage loops with no audio. GIFs are basically moving pictures.)

Today I’ll show you a few of my favorite reactions to stuff on the World Wide Web. Here we go.

Shock or Surprise

Reaction intensifies (GIF)

This flabbergasted-bordering-on-traumatized kitty comes from The GaMERCaT, a webcomic about games and cats. (Yep, more cats. Welcome to the Internet.)

Refusal or Disagreement

Nothing says “Nope” quite like the martians from Sesame Street. When a simple “No” won’t suffice, the martians’ “Nope nope nope nope nope” does the trick. This is educational television at its finest.

Sadness or Loneliness

Raining on the Tenth Doctor

There is only one thing sadder than a person standing alone at night in the rain, and it’s David Tennant standing alone at night in the rain.

Joy or Nostalgia

Even Studio Ghibli’s most emotionless character is overwhelmed by waves of emotion, which may have just been waves of water before some Internet person edited in the feels.

What are you go-to response to stuff on the Internet? Let us know in the comments!

*I made this up.

The Best History Lesson in the History of History

Never before has video game history been so awesome… or so darn catchy.

Fun Fact: Nintendo existed for nearly a century before it began producing video games. It dabbled in everything from card games to cab services before striking gold with franchises like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda in the eighties.

This post was originally published on September 18, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

Out of Ideas

Creativity is hardThe struggle is real.

Errol Elumir is a geek, and formerly the owlish half of musical duo Debs & Errol. He draws a daily webcomic, My Neighbor Errol, chronicling his day-to-day life with his crabby daughters and ever-patient wife. The comic is written with self-aware humor and sprinkled with geeky references. (Yes, there’s quite a lot of My Neighbor Totoro, which is how it should be.) While the art is simple, relying on reused assets and plain backgrounds, I enjoy my daily dose of humor from the Elumir family.

Heck, Errol’s enthusiasm for Studio Ghibli’s mascot led me earlier this year to acquire a new neighbor of my own.

This is your fault, Mr. Elumir.

This is your fault, Mr. Elumir.

Blogging and web cartooning are different media, but they have a lot in common. For example, they update consistently, requiring a steady stream of ideas for new comics or blog posts. Like Errol, I sometimes run out of ideas.

However, every time I think I’ve finally exhausted my options, something new occurs to me. Necessity is called the mother of invention, but it’s more like an aunt. The mother of invention is desperation.

Errol pokes fun at himself for exploiting his daughters for comedy, but I think there’s quite a difference between exploiting something and merely saying of it, as I often say of things, “Heh, that’s pretty funny.” My Neighbor Errol is a funny webcomic, and gave me one more idea of something to write for this blog.

That said, now I’m out of ideas. Flipping heck.

Bored Games

Board games, bored gamers

The GaMERCaT is an adorably funny video game-inspired webcomic by Samantha Whitten.

I don’t like board games.

Mind you, I have nothing against them. Many people love MonopolyClueSettlers of Catan, and, um, whatever else is popular these days. Board games bring people together in fun, laughter, and friendly competition. To everyone who enjoys board games, I have this to say: Good for you.

I just don’t like ’em.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I detest board games. I played my fair share as a kid, and enjoyed them. Somewhere down the line, I guess, I ran out of patience. Starting a board game demands an implicit commitment to finish it, and I don’t want to become stuck in a long session of Monopoly or Settlers of Catan.

Board games encourage fun and fellowship, sure, but so do many video games. I’ll take a few rounds of Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. over a board game. There is, however, one series I’ll always avoid: Mario Party titles. These are basically board games in video game form, trapping players in tedious sessions of rolling digital dice and moving around a virtual game board. Meh.

Board games, bored gamers, am I right?

…I’ll show myself out.

The Perils of Self-Motivation

From the cartoonist who perfectly expressed how it feels to grow up comes his latest step toward being a successful adult. I sometimes have the same conversation with myself, except that I want to do something in writing or publishing instead of being a comic artist, and my language is a little less coarse.

Edowaado has a point: Starting a successful career isn’t as easy as it sounds. His imaginary self also has a point: Everyone has to start somewhere.

I hope Edo is able to achieve his dream of becoming a comic artist. In the meantime, he’ll keep making comics, and people will continue enjoying them. I may someday find a niche in writing or publishing. I may not. Either way, I’ll continue writing. The nice thing about creativity is that it isn’t reserved for professionals!