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Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit tips and tricks

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Remember the Tickle Me Elmo rush of 1996?

The toy, an interactive version of the Sesame Street character that laughed when you so much as touched it, was the biggest holiday prize of the year. Parents literally fought over the thing in stores, and Tickle Me Elmo became a source of horror stories and an odd sense of pride for people that got one for years to come.

If you’re too young to remember that time, think about how tough it’s been to snag an Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5 or RTX 3080 graphics card this year. Console and PC gamers can relate to the weeks-long wait for even a smidge of hope of claiming their prize. Throw in a screaming kid, and you have Tickle Me Elmo — and proof that no matter the simplicity, a great concept mixed with a big brand can make for the holiday commodity each season.

I say all of that to say this. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit will be the Tickle Me Elmo of this holiday season, though the battles for ownership will likely play out online rather than in stores. Though the console wars and Nvidia card shortage are dominating the gaming conversation now, Mario Kart’s ubiquity, fun-for-all ages style and relative affordability for parents and casual players will no doubt make Home Circuit the story of November and December. Think the Animal Crossing: New Horizons phenomenon, but with a mixed reality hook.

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Home Circuit is stunning in both its simplicity and its execution. It’s Mario Kart, but in your house. You make the courses. You choose where item boxes, boosts and other elements of the course belong. And the customization plus the novelty of seeing the action play out in front of you is remarkably fun, both for kids and for people old enough to remember when Elmo was the talk of the holiday season.

I came into my test run of Home Circuit skeptical but walked away with nothing but nitpicky fixes. At $99.99, it is a bit pricier than the $30-something people spent for a giggling toy 24 years ago. But it’s also markedly cheaper than the new console generation, and for parents and Mario Kart fans alike, a consolation prize that has that patented Nintendo magic behind it.

To get a sense of what this game can (and can’t) do, my wife, my dogs and I put our Nintendo Switch, real-life racers and the track options to the test. We were left with my wife literally sweating as she raced Mario down a hallway, a terrified corgi and laughter that likely annoyed our neighbors. Here are some of the takeaways from our time with Home Circuit and the do’s and don’ts for when you line up at the starting line.


Do: Clear the room

The first thing we did with our kart was see just how far it could go in every cardinal direction. The result: About 45 feet of leeway before the connection to your Switch cuts out. That’s a ton of real estate, and to make the most of it, you’ll want to unlock the kart’s higher speed options, which should be familiar to fans of the Mario Kart series.

Home Circuit’s hardware has 50cc, 100cc, 150cc and 200cc options. The latter two are unlocked by completing races in the game’s Grand Prix mode, where you compete against virtual opponents to get circuit trophies, just like in your typical Mario Kart title. It takes five first, second or third place Grand Prix results to unlock 150cc and 10 to get 200cc, which is a very good call by Nintendo — the kart actually does go faster, much faster, in real life at each of these intervals. The speed and turn radius take some getting used to, and in this version of Mario Kart, there can be real-life consequences for missing a cut, including but not limited to your dog getting smacked in the face. (No animals were hurt in the creation of this content, I promise).

Make space for your track, but don’t be afraid of using things like coffee tables or other furniture as obstacles. In our testing, we found that even brick walls don’t cut the Switch signal, even at around 30-40 feet. At 150cc, a Nintendo representative recommended a 10×12 meter space for a track, or about 32×40 feet of space. It isn’t required, but it’ll make your life easier and allow for some creativity for those faster-paced races.

Don’t: Go outside the lines

An important warning: The four gates used to make your course are the only thing that matter when it comes to the race. The track you create outside of that is a recommendation, not a rule. There’s an honor system here: Racers need to follow the track of their own volition and not create their own Rainbow Road-style shortcuts.

There are ways to restrict movement, obviously, like using obstacles to create lanes, but make sure they’re not too flimsy if you really don’t trust your craftier friends to stay on-track.

Do: Jumps and ramps (responsibly)

That same Nintendo representative did not recommend going vertical with the kart at all, which is totally understandable. The hardware, while durable, relies on a front-facing camera that stands above your racer’s head through an attachment to the back of the kart. It is made of plastic. It is breakable.

But forget about that. Warnings be damned, we wanted to see Mario fly, and there are probably plenty of people out there planning some ridiculous courses for their karts as I type. After unlocking all the speed options and getting an understanding of what we were working with, we set up some cardboard ramps and tried our luck.

I regret to inform my fellow daredevils that the ramp options are pretty limited when it comes to this kart. You can yeet yourself using a few degrees of incline on less than a foot of height at 200cc, but it’s not all that impressive. You can, however, build ramps for your kart to ascend with little trouble at that speed and 150cc, then plateau onto a second story and set up a fall or a ramp for the kart to go down on the other end.

Don’t bother with the lower speeds for any of this; though the game does a great job of making it look like you’re speeding down the raceway even when at 50cc and 100cc, but the immersion is ruined when the kart hits a 1-degree cardboard ramp and can’t make the ascent.

There is definitely someone out there with an understanding of physics who will find a way to make this thing leap several feet into the air. That person is not me. For a layman, making a ramp that can make your kart defy gravity is a tall task.

Don’t: Trust your children

This one’s a warning for parents purchasing Home Circuit, courtesy of my sibling-having wife.

The gates you use to create the course are made of cardboard. While sturdier than expected, the cardboard is, of course, breakable. Children are prone to breaking things when they’re mad. It’s very easy to see a world where one kid gets upset with another and decides to burn it all down, ruining the fun for everybody, yourself included. Make sure you do the responsible thing and supervise.

Do: Customize before cutting loose

The journey to unlocking 200cc will also earn you several options for course creation, including gate effects and weather options that can affect your race. Rain leads to speed-boosting mushrooms growing on the course. A magical gate turns the camera and controls around, forcing you to adjust your approach.

Part of the fun of the Grand Prix is experiencing all these different effects while competing against virtual foes, and the same goes for racing against real-life opponents if you commit to adjusting your custom creations. Take some time to really think through what could throw off your fellow racers or create some chaos. I found it helpful to write down some ideas or combinations that I loved from the other series, and you might, too.

Throw in some real-life obstacles, and you’ve got a course that even Nintendo designers would envy.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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