• Mechanical pencil torture test

    Starting about 1979, a craze by Japanese schoolgirls for drawing cute cartoon figures caused skyrocketing sales of mechanical pencils. Dozens of companies began designing and manufacturing mechanical pencils and they haven't stopped. Today, Japan is to mechanical pencils as Switzerland is to watches.

    Of course, there are exceptions, but for a really good mechanical pencil, the place to go is Japan. "Look for unique features like retractable tips and auto-rotating lead mechanisms," explained Elaine, the mechanical pencil expert at Jetpens. "These details are small yet practical, and they'll be appreciated by artists, students, engineers, and everyone in between."

    Jetpens provided six of their favorite mechanical pencils, priced at $35 or less, for me to use and abuse.

    The lineup that arrived:

    Uni Alpha Gel HD Shaka Shaker Pencil $10.00
    Pilot Delful Double Knock Mechanical Pencil $8.25
    Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil $19.50
    Pentel Graph Gear 1000 $16.50
    Rotring 600 $33.00
    Uni Kuru Toga $16.50

    Except for the German-made Rotring, all of these pencils are Japanese.

    A lot of what makes a mechanical pencil good or bad is in the eye (and hand) of the beholder. The grip and feel that appeal to me may not work for you. So let's begin with the cold hard facts and figures.

    Pen Body Material Lead Advance Weight (grams) Tip/Pocket Protection Method Finger feel Weighting Advance per click (shake)
    Uni Alpha Gel HD Shaka Shaker Pencil Plastic Shaker 17.4 None wide, cushioned, smooth Front .0450 inches
    Pilot Delful Double Knock Mechanical Pencil Plastic Shaker 20.1 Retracts wide, smooth Front .0450
    Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil cap metal, body plastic Push 21.6 Cap medium, smooth Neutral .0169
    Pentel Graph Gear 1000 Metal Push 20.5 Retracts medium, knurled Back .0210
    Rotring 600 Metal Metal Push 22.5 None narrow, knurled Neutral .0225
    Uni Kuru Toga Top plastic, bottom metal Push 15.1 None medium, knurled Front .0225


  • Moonlight Corn-Hole

    Corn-Hole, in case your mind was going in a different direction, is a sport similar to horseshoes except a specially made wooden box is used instead of a sand pit and bean bags take the place of horseshoes. While it's impossible to say with certainty where and when the game was invented, Cincinnati most certainly is a Corn-Hole hotspot. Corn-Hole is to Cincinnati what dogsledding is to the Yukon.

    Learning Corn-Hole is easy. Assemble two Corn-Hole platforms and eight corn-kernel filled bags and you're ready to play the game. Tossing and landing a bean bag on the Corn-Hole board earns single point. Pop it through the Corn-Hole, and you'll earn three. The player or team with the most points at the end wins. Simple it may be, but a spirited game is exciting, and there actually is a fair amount of skill and strategy. Plus, you can play it without ever having to set down your beer.

    Corn-Hole can be played anywhere and by anyone. But it does require building a Corn-Hole board. It'll cost you a few bucks, but it's an easy project, even for a beginner.

    Moonlight Corn-Hole

    Making a Corn-Hole board is easy. Here's one that can easily be constructed by just about anyone. Best of all, it lights up for night time play.

    The Moonlight Corn-Hole platform is regulation sized, and sports a high-tech LED lighting strip system. This design not only lights the Corn-Hole itself, but provides a bright outline of the entire platform.

    LED strips are some pretty great stuff. They have come down remarkably in price in the last few years, and since they draw little power, an inexpensive and rechargeable 9-amp-hour 12-volt battery provides enough juice for hours of moonlight play. LED strips are designed so they may be cut into any length desired, are weather proof, and are safe around children and pets.