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Tom Standage

A Game, a Gadget and an App

The new MacBook: light and elegant but not much cop at making pizzas

Tom Standage | November/December 2015

A GAME Papers, Please
As Europe struggles with the migration crisis, this unusual and award-winning game seems more topical than ever. Billed as a “dystopian document thriller”, it casts you as an immigration officer in Arstotzka, an imaginary eastern European country during the cold war, checking documents and enforcing ever-changing border rules. Process people quickly and accurately and you’re paid more; get anything wrong and you are penalised and may be unable to support your family. You start off ruthlessly efficient, but the changing rules quickly come to seem arbitrary, and you’re soon wondering whether to turn a blind eye to minor discrepancies to allow people to visit relatives, or families to reunite. Many modern games involve moral ambiguity, but it is a rare game that can make you feel genuinely uneasy. “Papers, Please” may challenge your view of what games can do — and its sombre mood will haunt you next time you go through a security checkpoint.

Papers, Please: for Windows, Mac and Linux: £6.99; for iPad: £5.99

A GADGET new MacBook, and Baking Steel
Two grey, slender slabs of metal have impressed me lately. The first is the elegant new MacBook, Apple’s thinnest laptop so far. The screen is pin-sharp and the whole thing runs for ten hours on a single charge. Best of all, there’s no fan, making this Mac absolutely silent. My second slab of metal is a Baking Steel — a steel plate that goes in the oven on pizza night. The steel stores more heat than a pizza stone, so the underside of the pizza base crisps quickly and evenly. There’s little danger of mixing up these two slabs of metal: the MacBook weighs almost nothing; the Baking Steel I can barely lift.

MacBook 12” with Retina screen: from £1,049
Baking Steel: about £50, plus £50 shipping, from bakingsteel.com

 

AN APP Overcast
Podcasts have taken off in the past year, driven by the word-of-mouth success of “Serial”, a real-life murder mystery, and the ubiquity of Bluetooth in modern cars. If you’re curious about podcasts but don’t know where to start, Overcast makes the process simple and quick. It recommends interesting podcasts and makes searching, downloading, subscriptions, playlists and storage easy, so you don’t have to worry about your phone filling up with stuff you don’t want. The premium version adds variable-speed playback and a “smart speed” function that imperceptibly shortens silences — so you can listen to more podcasts in less time.

Overcast: for iPhone and iPad: free (basic version); £3.99 (premium version)

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