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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Feb 17 1999
Games Some People Play
At Entros -- an elaborate multilevel, multimedia playpen for adults who like to be offered games with their comestibles -- the "Mating Game" and six other high-tech "socially interactive" diversions draw a sold-out Valentine's crowd. Entertainment manager Jeff Gordon -- a jovial man with over 20 years of professional circus experience -- smiles and indicates a dark entrance hall curtained by black and white jester's ribbons. The hall is a short, dusky maze of punching bags that plops folks into a bright inner foyer where blinking lights indicate those games "playing now" and those "coming soon." Among this month's choices: "Big Toys," a mind and body arcade; "The Blender," a groupthink game show; "Interface," or high-tech blind man's bluff; "Time Portal," a time-traveling treasure hunt; and "Imogene's Gifts & Souvenirs," which allows you to "remake the world in your image."

The dining room is filled with barrel-chested gay men with elaborate facial hair who are celebrating International Bears Weekend, as well as the usual assemblage of friends, co-workers, and "wacky, fun-loving" couples. While folks luxuriate over their teppen-yaki seared salmon, squeals, shouts, and boisterous laughter emanate from the surrounding "arcades." Occasionally, a "team" scurries through the dining room, clutching a logbook and looking for clues. (Clues for "Time Portal" can appear anywhere -- in the bathrooms, under giant boulders, on small planes hanging from the ceiling, in VR glasses, or on the face of Franklin Delano Roosevelt if "God Bless America" is sung loud enough.) Between courses and cocktails, diners leap from their tables to join in games.

In the "Big Toys" arcade, a group of intoxicated acrobats and circus performers from AcroSports fails dismally at "Perfect Burger," a conveyor belt on which wooden hamburgers must be assembled at a maddening I Love Lucy pace; the participants do little better with "Hot Lunch," a game that involves catching a virgin Barbie with a magnet and dropping her into a volcano; they seem strangely adept, however, at the large, human-powered pinball machine.

Upstairs, in "Interface," a couple of Bears sign up with a "Game Guide." The guide -- a cheery-faced lad with a Teutonic name and a pseudo-military uniform -- straps a large helmet without eye holes over the head of one of the Bears, and escorts him into one of several dark little rooms. Using images sent from a camera mounted on the helmet, the guide-Bear tries to lead the blind-Bear to clues in the little room, without walking him into walls. This is only partially successful.

The "Mating Game" is held inside a Star Trek-style arena where nine teams stand behind nine consoles with six buttons that correspond to audiovisual aids presented on the large screens above. The game show host asks a question, the teams press the correct button, and a green or red light above the console indicates each team's astuteness. This sounds very civilized ... until people enter the room.

Points go to the most interesting team names, at the whim of the host: Menage a Sept and Nasophilists. The first question requires that each team pick out three types of dates from the given options. The six clues are pictures of Venetian blinds, Godzilla, Sigmund Freud, a rubber chicken, a TV dinner, and a boy in wooden clogs standing in front of a windmill. The answers: blinds, dinner, and Dutch. So far so good. Aphrodisiacs include rhino horn, Spanish Fly, and oysters. Kisses include butterfly, Eskimo, and French. Folks are excited and intoxicated, squealing and shouting like children.

Then, during the bonus round, when a demonstration of all three kisses is requested, things get a little daft as overeager couples rush the stage, swarming the unprepared MC. One woman falls into the podium and the computer, disrupting the fine balance between technology and man. The next bonus round proves equally disastrous: When attempting to produce a single condom from a crowd of 50, the host comes up empty-handed. (Even the Bears, who proved very adept during the "Junk Food" game, have nothing to offer.) Finally, during the last round, a woman who has whined incessantly about the accuracy of the computerized scoring system must be reprimanded.

"This is like Chuckie Cheese for the Media Gulch," says Celeste Mann, a 29-year-old research analyst whose boyfriend of three months brought her to play his favorite game, "Interface." "It's been interesting, though. I found out my boyfriend is really good at following instructions, but he isn't very good at carrying condoms."

Of course, it wouldn't cost $85 per couple to find out that bit of info on Valentine's Day at the Mad Dog in the Fog. (Condoms are in the bog.)

During the pub's live hybrid of The Newlywed Game and Britain's similar show, Mr. and Mrs., seven real-life couples line up in front of a rosy tie-dyed backdrop and wait for the leaden arrow of Cupid to strike. The idea: Reveal intimate details about your love life in front of your drinking mates without completely alienating your loved one or losing out on the $100 dinner at Postrio. It's brilliant.

The hostess, England's Jeanie Foster, and her glamorous assistant, leather-clad bar owner Steve Sparks, start out easy: Name your girl's favorite alcoholic beverage. (All but one correct answer.) What would she prefer if she were a bit down: a book or CD, a new outfit, a romantic meal, or your head up her dress? (One woman and four men choose "head up her dress.") What is her fantasy location for sex: a medieval castle, a log cabin, a luxury yacht, or the women's restroom in the Mad Dog? (Three women and two men choose the toilet; one contestant/employee chooses Sparks' desk.)

Then, it gets a bit tougher: Name the first place you made love. ("In my ex-girlfriend's bed." "In my best friend's bed, but he's here and doesn't know.") What would he prefer her to wear for a romantic night at home: something lacy, leather and PVC, a polyester leisure suit, or a smile? ("Smile, or no, bending over.") What would he prefer to lick off her body: cream, chocolate, maple syrup, or Guinness? (Three women and four men choose Guinness.) He's putting on weight; is he more to love, a "fat bastard," or ready for sexercise? (Sadly, there is only one "fat bastard.") And lastly, what do you do if you're hot and bothered in an elevator: push the stop button, have a quickie, a blow job, or a wank. (Five matching quickies, one button, and one quickie/blow job split.)

As at Entros, it isn't until the bonus rounds that things get a little out of hand. First round, the men put bags over their heads and try to choose their sweethearts by touching only noses. (Only one man stops at his woman's nose without fondling all of them at least once; the rest receive stern looks and a few colorful admonishments.) Second round, five pints later, the women are bagged and asked to choose their men by fondling only bottoms. (Only one woman stops right at her bottom; the rest -- including a couple of attempts by non-contestants wearing bags -- take their time and many trips down the line. This causes stern looks and one man to drop his pants.) Surprisingly, no one gets hurt and everyone gets a gift from Romantasy. Sean McCosh and Nancy Lin (of the recognizable body parts) take second place with a gift certificate for Good Vibrations a couple come in first, reminding us of an Oscar Wilde quote: "One should always be in love. That is the reason one should never marry."

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By Silke Tudor

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
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    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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