Thursday, February 21, 2013

LEGO Tumbler: an exercise in custom creation


"Does it come in... black, gray, tan and purple?"

The crowning achievement of my LEGO career that spans back some 20 years is now complete. It's a lot more purple than I'd like, but until I can find three each of element number 4215982 and 4204624 on the black market (the LEGO Customer Service site lists them as "Permanently Out of Stock"), I'm afraid it'll have to stay that way. A special thanks to all the folks at LEGO Customer Service (especially Jamie, Peter, James, and Joonho with whom I corresponded) - I quite literally couldn't have done it without you.

Finally, my minifig version of the dynamic duo is ready to take on their arch-nemesis in style!

Holy Headroom, Batman!


Way back in 2008, in conjunction with the cinematic triumph that was The Dark Knight, LEGO partnered with Warner Bros. and DC Comics (as it was then called) to bring us one of the coolest (if not the coolest) licensed LEGO sets of all time: 7888 The Tumbler: Joker's Ice Cream Surprise. Needless to say, the prize of that set was not the charming ice cream truck nor even the armored Batman minifig made to resemble the suit worn by Christian Bale in the movie, but Christopher Nolan's epic tank-like version of the Batmobile, known as the Tumbler. In all, the set included 449 pieces, was priced at $49.99, and was available in stores for just over six months.

At that time in my life, a very different person must have occupied the skin-bag of my body, because that's the only explanation for why I don't have no fewer than three copies of this set at home; one fully assembled on my shelf, one scavenged for spare parts, and one mint-in-box, calmly appreciating to 15 times its original market price. (Set 7888 is currently going for $800 on Amazon and even more than that on eBay.) I don't know if that past person was not yet a fully fledged AFOL, or if he just didn't think of a LEGO set as a worthwhile investment. But either way, I've had to live with the disappointment of not having that set every day for the last four years.

This year, to coincide with The Dark Knight Rises, LEGO, DC, and Warner Bros. came out with a new movie-themed set: 76001 The Bat vs. Bane: Tumbler Chase. While both sets include a LEGO Tumbler, the model in 7888 compares to the model in 76001 like the full-sized drivable version compares to the miniature prop scale model used for effects shots. I mean, the new Tumbler (with the lame camo color scheme) barely has enough internal space to fit the Bane minifig, let alone Batman with his oversized cowl. Last month, I spent some time with 76001, including swapping out the brown and tan pieces for black ones and making some custom alterations, which got me thinking: why couldn't I try to re-create the Tumbler from 7888 using my own resources and the ones LEGO makes available to me?

If I were to go about realizing this mammoth undertaking, the first step would be to determine which pieces I need. LEGO Customer Service graciously lets you download PDFs of any set for which you know the number, so it's easy to get my hands on the design specifications. However, the complete inventory on the last page of the instructions includes all the pieces necessary to build the incidental ice cream truck as well as the coveted Tumbler - which means, if I want an accurate count, I'd have to go through the instructions step-by-step and mark which pieces are used. This becomes a little tricky because this set was made before the LEGO Revolution, where every step has a little box showing you which pieces are required for that step. I'd have to compare each picture to the step that came before it and see what has changed, which is no small task given the medium-quality scans provided on the website.

After this somewhat labor intensive process of making my own inventory, the next step is to figure out how I can get my hands on these pieces. Most of them can come from my own personal stock of LEGO bricks (albeit not all of them in exactly the right color) and for the pieces that I don't possess, there's the LEGO Shop's Pick A Brick feature. All you have to do is type in the Element ID (the six or seven digit number accompanying each piece in the instruction's inventory) and the search engine will give you the price and the option to buy it. There's a way to circumvent some of the rare bricks that don't exist in Pick A Brick by using the Design ID, a shorter number that refers to the same type of brick but in a different color. To find that number, which is not listed in the instructions, I can use the more detailed inventory provided on the truly amazing Brickset site. Clicking on the "Parts" tab brings up a visual inventory where every brick has a link to every other color and every other LEGO set in which that brick is available. Is there nothing the internet can't provide to us obsessive AFOL's?

But hang on... there are still some pieces that just plain aren't available in ANY color from Pick A Brick, including the piece you need for the VERY FIRST STEP of building the LEGO Tumbler from 7888. I must admit that I was about to despair the prospect of ever completing this project... until I noticed a link to the LEGO Customer Service replacement parts page. This hidden feature requires you to make a list of every brick you want, send it to LEGO, and wait for a personalized invoice from a real-life customer service representative telling you how much those bricks will cost. Then the only way to actually place your order is to call in and give your credit card number to a real person. It's more expensive than Pick A Brick, but it's much faster (since each order doesn't have to clear customs on its way from the warehouse in Poland where they all originate) and includes a much wider variety of available pieces.

The gang waits for the last shipment from Wayne Enterprises.
If you haven't been able to tell, I've already gone through the steps outlined above. I received my replacement parts order and my Pick A Brick shipment is en route to Los Angeles, according to the LEGO tracking site. But I can't wait and have to get started, whether or not I have the wheel wells or the front tires...

The first discrepancy between the instructions and my raw materials came in step 8, which calls for black 1x10 technic bricks, but I only have them in medium stone gray. So what if the very front of the vehicle is a different color than it should be? It will only set the tone for how the rest of it will look... On step 11, I actually had to replace some dark stone gray pieces with black ones, which will be totally unnoticeable. Then on step 16, some of the big plates in the cockpit that are supposed to be yellow will have to be substituted with red. You know, Batman's original costume was supposed to be red-tinted, but they decided it would look too much like Superman. We can just say this change is an homage to Batman's history. Plus, with the replacement red plates and light green 1x8 bricks, the cockpit is getting a decisive Robin-esque flair, which is appropriate, cuz he'll be riding shotgun most of the time.

Step 26 is the first spot where I needed to use a piece from the Pick A Brick order. Having to wait 13-18 business days after they receive your order is a real buzzkill, but my spirits were lifted at Step 28 when I used the last of the replacement gray 1x2 roof tiles. I'll be free to use the black ones that are called for in the instructions for the rest of the build. Ditto on step 31 for the dark stone gray lamp holders. The first real hard choice came in the next step, where I have to decide what to do with a brown 1x4 roof tile that has to be right up front. The instructions call for six, and I only have two black ones and two dark gray ones, so the rest have to be an out of place earth tone. I've tried to hide it behind the front tires, but until the Pick A Brick package arrives, I won't know how successful that strategy will look.

I had to stop at step 3 of instruction booklet 2 which calls for covering up a Pick A Brick piece that has not yet arrived. So I pause now to wait outside for the mailman and will post an update when the whole thing is done.

Batman and Robin admire their handiwork so far.

Monday, February 18, 2013

All-NRI Team 2013

As of today, workouts should have commenced at every team's spring training camps, signaling the official first day of spring, a full month before the traditional pagan-revered spring equinox. 30 facilities in Arizona and Florida are filled to the brim with pitchers and catchers and position players getting themselves in tip top shape in preparation for the long-awaited baseball season. And although I've made it my personal mission to document the inner workings of each team's 40-man roster, there will be a lot more than 1,200 athletes reporting in total.

When certain second-tier players are signed to minor league deals, those deals often include invitations to big league spring training. Add to those the prospects that GMs think could benefit from some seasoning, and you have the non-roster invitees (or NRI's). I did some digging and compiled a lineup made up of the top NRI's across the majors. To clarify, these are the players who scored the most points in the majors last year. I'm not on top of the track records of every team's minor league signings (at least not yet) nor do I know enough about their farm systems to judge the players who need a scouting report to be evaluated.

Let's mix things up from my earlier lineups and start with the rotation. 13-year veteran Freddy Garcia struggled to the tune of a 5.20 ERA for the Yankees last year, but nevertheless gave them some important innings, including for the first time from out of the bullpen. He'll compete for a spot in an already-crowded Padres rotation mix that will hopefully see some better luck in terms of injuries this year - the Friars ended last season with five starters on the DL. Erik Bedard also suffered through a 5+ ERA season while helping the Pirates in their quest for their first winning season in more than a decade, but looks pretty well poised to spend a significant amount of time in a disturbingly weak Houston rotation. Aaron Laffey didn't do anything tremendous for Toronto last year, but he's a good fallback option for a Mets team that has a lot riding on the injury comebacks of Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum. Samuel Deduno had a decent rookie season with Minnesota, but a decline later in the year was the cause for the Twins to bring him back on just a minor league deal. And finally, it's unlikely that Aaron Cook will get any significant time as No. 7 or 8 on a very talented Phillies pitching staff.

Before moving onto the bullpen, there are a few high-profile starters who scored in the negative last year, but whose name recognition merits their inclusion as honorable mentions: Jonathan Sanchez will try to catch on with the Pirates, Daisuke Matsuzaka signed with the Indians, Jair Jurrjens is now with the Orioles, and Nick Blackburn is still owed $5.5 million by Minnesota as part of an extension he signed in 2010. It's unusual to see a legit ninth inning presence on this list, but Matt Capps has three years of closing under his belt, but will have to battle to contribute to Cleveland's setup corps behind Chris Perez. While I could see a decent bullpen forming of the guys listed above, it's more interesting to mention the veterans who didn't make the team: LaTroy Hawkins, Chad Qualls (another three-team player) and Kevin Gregg will try to break camp with the Mets, Marlins, and Dodgers, respectively.

Of the various former high-profile veteran catchers signed to minor league deals this winter, Rod Barajas, who returns to the team that first signed him, is not only the top performer from last year, but also the best bet to catch on with a big league deal. Miguel Montero is an elite catcher (#5 on's positional chart), but he's never played more than 141 games and the only backup the Diamondbacks have on their roster is Wil Nieves. No. 2 on the depth chart Miguel Olivo could fit in nicely to a mediocre Reds catching mix that includes former prospect Devin Mesoraco and backup caliber Ryan Hanigan. Honorable Mentions: Jesus Flores, who logged significant time with the Nationals for the first time since 2008 while Wilson Ramos was dealing with fallout from his harrowing kidnapping ordeal, but wasn't needed when Washington acquired Kurt Suzuki at the trade deadline, should provide backup or the Dodgers behind A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz. Yorvit Torrealba (one of just four players to spend time with three different teams this season) will compete with Ramon Hernandez for the Rockies' backup catcher job. Humberto Quintero could spend some early-season time with the Phillies while Carlos Ruiz serves his suspension.

This team's top overall scorer Casey Kotchman was once a top 10 prospect, but now he's been bouncing around at the clip of seven teams in the last six years. For the Marlins, he'll light the fire under Logan Morrison, who is moving from left field to first base where his balky knee shouldn't give him as much trouble. Yuniesky Betancourt, somewhat of a fan favorite when he played shortstop for Seattle, picked up the rest of the infield positions last year with Kansas City - which are good tools to have, given the injuries that so often befall the Phillies' infield. After 12 years with the Tigers, Brandon Inge became expendable with Miguel Cabrera's move across the diamond to the hot corner. After being cut loose by Detroit, he was picked up by the A's and delivered some memorable walk-off hits while filling in until Josh Donaldson was ready to take the job. He'll be blocked in Pittsburgh by Pedro Alvarez, but he should provide a solid veteran presence off the bench. Cody Ransom had an interesting journey last year: he started with Arizona, then was claimed off waivers by Milwaukee, only to be claimed right back a couple months later. He should ride the bench with the Padres next year backing up Chase Headley and Everth Cabrera on the left side of their infield.

In another story of a player returning to his original team, Juan Rivera is all but a lock to make the Yankees as a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman, a role he played for the Dodgers last year. Speaking of the Dodgers, center fielder Tony Gwynn is the only player in this starting lineup to be returning to his same 2012 team as an NRI. But despite all their high-profile additions, Gwynn might be needed to fill some early-season outfield holes as Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford recover from their various injuries. Brian Bogusevic might have been the league's least-deserving starting outfielder in 2012, so it makes sense that he would move from one 100-loss team to another, where he joins a Cubs reserve outfield mix that includes Tony Campana and Scott Hairston. Shelley Duncan played some left field with the Indians last year, but will be looking to provide a right-handed compliment to Luke Scott in the Rays' DH mix.

Nothing that exciting to say about the bench, except that Jeff Baker and Scott Moore are more utility type players than they appear on paper. As far as honorable mentions, I could see Jayson Nix landing the same utility infield role with the Yankees as he had last season. Barring an abysmal spring, Rick Ankiel is basically a lock to win a starting job with the Astros, since I've scoured their 40 man roster for weeks now, and I still can't find three major league caliber outfielders. Likewise, Bryan Petersen and Austin Kearns are good bets to return to the Marlins as bench outfielders.

Spring Training games officially start next Thursday with the Red Sox playing a pair of split squad games. To say I can't wait for actual real-life baseball to start could be the understatement of the off-season.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

AL All-Acquired Team 2013

After waiting as long as possible to see if a mystery team was going to make a surprise play for Kyle Lohse, here's the American League's All-Acquired lineup. Spoiler alert: it's much more impressive than the NL's...

Traditionally when a player puts up career numbers in a walk year, he sets himself up to cash in nicely via free agency. (cf. Adrian Beltre's 5yr, $64mm contract he got after hitting a ridiculous 47 HR in 2004.) However, all veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski was able to get after posting a career-high 27 HR and .827 OPS was a 1yr deal to catch for the Rangers. He'll be 36 years old this season, so his opportunities for signing a long-term deal are dwindling. Their primary backup will be defense/on-base specialist and former hedgehog owner John Jaso, but they'll also have the option of using Mike Napoli, provided his degenerating hip holds out. I pencilled Naps in as the starting 1B in deference to's player rankings, which put him in the top 100. Maybe that's because they figure his production will increase with the move to 1B, but going by last year's numbers, I'd be tempted to pick switch-hitting excessive celebrator Kendrys Morales or three-true-outcome master Mark Reynolds.

Kelly Johnson has seen his points decrease every year since his one 2,000+ point season with the Diamondbacks three years ago, but he made enough noise for the Rays to take a flier on him. One thing I can say for sure about Kevin Youkilis: he will have a better season than Alex Rodriguez in 2013, although I'm not certain what kind of demoralizing effect the Yankees' no-facial-hair policy will have on him. Jose Reyes spent just one year of his 6*yr deal (the * is for an option year) he signed with the Marlins in Miami before he was flipped to the Blue Jays in a monster deal. He spent most of his career in the very competitive NL East, so we know he can handle the high-pressure situations that comes with playing in baseball's best division.

In what's looking like a rerun of last off-season, the Angels once again picked up the biggest offensive target on the market, signing Josh Hamilton to a 5yr, $125mm contract to join Albert Pujols in what's quickly becoming a star-studded lineup. Joining him in this outfield will be two new additions to the Indians: outspoken right fielder Nick Swisher, and the latest top-50 free agent to sign, Michael Bourn. Again based on's player rankings, I put Melky Cabrera as the DH, despite his recent suspension for testosterone use, but if you don't like that move, there are plenty of other options to go around. Veteran speedster Shane Victorino, former good defender Torii Hunter, and comeback candidates Michael Morse or Lance Berkman all could be suitable DH candidates.

Then there's the rotation, which sports a pair of 2,000+ point scorers in defending NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey (who, at age 37, is surprisingly young in knuckleballer-years) and workhorse James Shields (who cost the Royals the minor league player of the year to acquire him via trade). Dickey's new teammate Josh Johnson is hoping to rebound from a disappointing season that pales in comparison to the disappointment of the Marlins' season as a whole. Ryan Dempster will try to right the ship formerly known as the Red Sox rotation, and Jason Vargas has blossomed into a very solid lefty. Speaking of lefties, the other lefty option for this rotation is veteran Mark Buehrle, who came over to Toronto with Johnson and Reyes, etc. And there's also the other two acquisitions made by the Angels to shore up their pitching staff: Joe Blanton, who long ago looked like he might be a star with the Athletics, and Tommy Hanson, who more recently looked like he might be a star with the Braves.

The bullpen is anchored by two-year closer Joel Hanrahan, who was brought to Boston to do for their bullpen what Dempster is supposed to do for their rotation. Things get a little shady from here on out, as I once again deferred to the rankings with Ryan Madson, who never got a chance to follow up his one year as the Phillies' closer due to Tommy John surgery. Then there's Brett Myers, a reliever last year who was promised a starting job in the Indians' rotation. I would say that Wade Davis is the best pure reliever of the bunch, but of course he started the two years prior to 2012 and could get a look for the back end of the Royals' confusing rotation. Jose Veras might close for the Astros, and Burnett is in there because of course you need a lefty. I'm too lazy to check, but swing man Philip Humber might have had the worst season stats for any pitcher during the year in which he threw a perfect game.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

NL All-Acquired Team 2013

As of tomorrow, pitchers and catchers will have reported to Spring Training camps for all MLB teams. Despite the torrents of snow hitting the east coast, this southward migration of athletes officially marks the end of winter, and what better time for the unveiling of 2013's All-Acquired Lineups, my annual feature summing up off-season player movement. There's two rosters, one from each league, made up of the best players acquired (either by trade or free agency) by teams in that league. Here's the NL squad, with the AL to follow once all the camps have opened. Let's see which league bagged the best prizes this winter:

The Pirates picked up former Yankees backstop Russell Martin on a two-year deal, leaving doubts about who will frame pitches for the Bronx Bombers this year. The Canada native had his worst season since 2010 with the Dodgers when he played just 97 games due to a torn labrum in his hip, but he'll still be an upgrade over the Bucs' 2012 combo of Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry. As a backup, the NL squad has a choice of new Mets starter John Buck or the more defensively focused Jeff Mathis, who were both part of that crazy deal between the Marlins and the Blue Jays. Although Michael Young was the primary DH for the Rangers last year, and despite the fact that he was traded to the Phillies to play 3B, he's this team's best option to play 1B - which is actually where he played the majority of the games where he was on the field. I would also leave a roster spot for Ty Wigginton to serve as a backup.

This team has a decidedly weak middle infield: the best option at 2B is Skip Schumaker, who was acquired by the Dodgers as a backup for Mark Ellis, and SS will be handled by Cliff Pennington, who went to the D-Backs in the deal that netted Chris Young for the A's. (Is it me, or have those two clubs hooked up for an inordinate amount of deals in the recent past?) Another new Diamondback, Martin Prado, played LF for the Braves last year, but was brought out to the desert (and extended for four years) to man the hot corner, which is where he'll play on this squad. One of the players who went to Atlanta in that same deal, Chris Johnson, played well enough to garner a look for a bench spot, despite his lack of versatility.

Two-thirds of this outfield will be made up of Uptons, both of whom were acquired by the Braves. Younger brother Justin, the centerpiece of the aforementioned deal with Arizona, will man LF (despite playing RF his entire career, but homegrown Braves star Jason Heyward isn't going anywhere) while free agent acquisition B.J. will take over CF from recently-signed Michael Bourn. Late of Bourn's new team, the Indians, Shin-Soo Choo will play RF, his natural position, despite the fact that he was traded to the Reds to play CF and lead off. This lineup leaves former Twins speedsters Denard Span and Ben Revere on the bench, next to yet another new Diamondback, Cody Ross, playing for his fourth team in as many years.

The rotation is headed by this off-season's top free agent pitcher Zack Greinke, who was one of only four off-season acquisitions made by the free-spending new Dodgers owners. (Most of their big splashes were made before last season's end in that record-setting waiver wire deal with the Red Sox.) After that, there's a pretty steep dropoff - it's sad when the No. 2 scoring starter for this best-of club (Edwin Jackson, late of the Nationals) is just the No. 3 starter for the lowly Cubs. Dan Haren's 2012 was so disappointing (a 1,000+ point / 25+ points-per-game dropoff from 2011) that all he could get was a one-year trial deal to be buried deep in the Nationals rotation. A fellow one-year deal recipient, Shaun Marcum, will try to prove he can stay healthy for a full season before latching on with a contender the following year.

There are a number of choices for 5th starter. Going by overall fantasy point totals, the choice is Brandon McCarthy, although it's questionable whether he'll be ready for opening day following a harrowing brain injury sustained from taking an Erick Aybar line drive to the head. There's Korean star Hyun-Jin Ryu who will have to compete with pretty much everyone but Greinke for a spot in the Dodgers' revamped rotation. Former Twin Scott Baker hasn't pitched since 2011, but will try to restart his career with the Cubs. And speaking of Cubs, we'll see how Scott Feldman does with a chance to start full-time, albeit with an inferior team. Finishing games will be Rafael Soriano, the Yankees' fill-in for Mariano Rivera last year. Backing him up is former closer Heath Bell, potential future closer Brandon Lyon, and lefty longman Tom Gorzelanny. Straight setup muscle will be handled by Wilton Lopez, one of the Astros' last trade chips, and Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa, who will likely challenge Carlos Marmol for the closer job. And for someone who can either start or relieve, the Cubs (again with the North Siders!) just picked up swingman extraordinaire Carlos Villanueva.

Stay tuned tomorrow to see who the AL picked up. Maybe it will

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Super Bowl Ads 2013

Yesterday I received an email from Hulu Plus (for which I recently signed up in an effort to remain at least marginally in the loop of modern television after canceling cable last year) prompting me to look at the top five ads from Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast. A couple years ago, when I was working on a show about advertising, I used the blogosphere to chronicle some of the game's best spots. This year, where I once again watched the game in a household that collectively cared more about the commercials than the outcome of the game (although that was not the case for yours truly: CONGRATULATIONS RAVENS!!!1), I was decidedly underwhelmed with what some of the nation's top advertisers brought to the table. But that doesn't mean there weren't some gems here and there.

Looking back at my old article from 2011, I wouldn't be surprised if we remembered Super Bowl XLV more for its revolutionary automotive ads than yet another big game featuring Ben Rapethlisberger. (This year was the first Super Bowl in 10 years not to include either Big Ben, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning - a welcome break from the headline makers and commercial hogs.) Volkswagen's "The Force" spot still ranks as one of the most loved commercials of all time, completely overshadowing last year's dog-themed effort and this year's racially insensitive spot where a white cubicle jockey from Minnesota feels the need to talk like a Rasta. Still not sure what Jamaican culture has to do with a German car company; it might actually have been funnier if the spot's protagonist spoke in an exaggerated German accent instead.

Kia and Audi followed up their impressive offerings from two years ago, the former with a convoluted explanation of where babies come from (spoiler alert: it involves lots of cute rocket ships) and the latter told an evocative story of what adventures might result from going stag to the prom (spoiler alert: it involves a pretty nasty shiner). Jeff Bridges is still narrating for Hyundai, who also sponsored the pre-game show but failed to come up with any truly head-turning ads. But the most enigmatic car ads of the day came from the Chrysler Group: ads for halftime show sponsor Jeep and Ram Trucks lasted far too long and looked like they were advertising for the Army and the agricultural subsidy, respectively. As beautiful as the ads might have been, I doubt if they left viewers thinking about the brand or their products.

The above-mentioned Kia spot was the lone car ad to make it into Hulu's Top 5 (at number 5, no less). Number 1 was the return of the irresistible Budweiser Clydesdales. This heartwarming 60 second spot takes us through the life of a horse, from its upbringing, to its sale to its new corporate masters, to when it escapes from its bonds for a touching reunion with its trainer. Thankfully the spot cuts out before the Budweiser security team tackles and punishes the rogue animal. Number 2 was GoDaddy's 30 second offering where supermodel Bar Refaeli makes out with a stereotypically nerdy computer programmer. The fact that so many people are up in arms about this spot says much more about aesthetics in our society than about website domain hosting.

Next, at Number 3, people were talking about the winner of Doritos' annual Crash the Super Bowl contest, "Goat 4 Sale." While it's always fun to see animals beat up on unsuspecting humans, I actually preferred the other Doritos spot, "Daddy Princess," where a group of jocks submit to wearing dresses and makeup in order to cash in on the sweet snackly reward. Rounding out the list, Number 4 was The Rock's action movie inspired romp through the city as he goes on a mission to restock his fridge with milk. What a coincidence that the pro-wrestler-turned-action-star made a triumphant return to the ring just days earlier to win the WWE Championship at Royal Rumble, just in time for his big Super Bowl moment.

So those were supposedly the most talked about ads, but none of them were among my favorite ads of the afternoon. An Oreo ad where all hell quietly breaks loose in a library following an escalated debate about over the superiority of the cookies or the creme had everyone in the room in stitches. (It's obviously the creme, btw.) Amy Poehler displays her brilliant comedic timing in a spot for Best Buy. (But I'll still always hate you for breaking GOB's heart...) YouTube record holder Psy makes an appearance using his trademark dance moves to plug pistachios. (I'm still not sick of that song, but that's coming from someone who took the trouble to learn all the lyrics in Korean for the sake of karaoke night.) Taco Bell put an elderly spin on its "Live Más" campaign with a charming story about a group of seniors who escape from their retirement home for a night of partying. (UPDATE: Production company Biscuit Filmworks just posted the director's cut for this spot, featuring a MUCH more convincing music track than the version that aired.)

And last but not least, for a brilliant combination of storytelling and relevance, I have to mention Tide's "No Stain is Sacred," where a 49ers fan drops some salsa on his favorite jersey, which miraculously lands in the shape of legendary quarterback Joe Montana. He does the talk show circuit, earns millions in endorsements, and transforms his house into a shrine... only to have his jersey washed by a crafty Ravens fan. So in a Super Bowl broadcast marred by a 35-minute blackout, we still saw some pretty decent advertising. The real test now is to see what these ads do for their brands' bottom lines.