Monday, January 29, 2007

Scientists: Flores island 'Hobbit' is new species

Creature had brain about one-third the size of modern adult humans

"New computerized casts of abnormally small Homo sapiens brains are reigniting the debate over the skeletal remains nicknamed "The Hobbit."

Ever since the 18,000-year-old remains of the three-foot-tall adult female hominid were unearthed in 2003 on the remote Indonesian island of Flores, scientists have argued whether the specimen was a human with an abnormally small head or represents a new species in the human family tree. The diminutive creature had a brain approximately one-third the size of modern adult humans.

Some scientists named the specimen Homo floresiensis, a dwarfed offshoot of Homo erectus, a human ancestor that lived as far back as 1.8 million years ago.

Critics dismissed the remains as that of a human with a pathological condition called microcephalia, characterized by a small head, short stature and varying degrees of mental retardation.

In the latest study, the evidence supports the claim of a new species. A team of scientists led by Dean Falk, a paleoneurologist at Florida State University, compared computer-generated three-dimensional reconstructions, called "endocasts," of brains from nine microcephalic modern humans with those of 10 normal modern-human brains.

"We asked, ‘Is there anything other than size of the brain that separates these two groups?'" Falk said.

According to the researchers, the answer is "yes." They found that two ratios, created using different skull measurements, could be used to accurately distinguish the normal humans from the microcephalics nearly 100 percent of the time.

For example, dividing the distance from the front of the frontal lobe to the back of the occipital lobe of the brain by the front of the frontal lobe to the back of the cerebellum gives a ratio that reveals how much the cerebellum protrudes from the back of the brain.

"In microcephalics, the cerebellum tends to stick out farther back than in normal people," Falk told LiveScience. "We were able to quantify this with a ratio."

The other ratio quantified how wide the frontal lobes were for each skull and, according to the researchers, also could be used to distinguish normal humans from microcephalics.

Falk's team then applied this classification system to a virtual endocast of the skull of LB1. According to the researchers, LB1's features are closer to a normal human skull than to a microcephalic.

"We have answered the people who contend that the Hobbit is a microcephalic," Falk said.

As a control, the researchers also analyzed the skull of a human dwarf that, like LB1, also stood at about 3 feet tall. The technique correctly placed the dwarf skull in the same category as normal humans.

The team's findings are detailed in the Jan. 30 issue of the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Questions remain

While the new technique suggests LB1 was not a microcephalic, it does not rule out that it was not a Homo sapiens. As evidence of that, Falk points to what she says are several advanced features of LB1's brain that are unlike those of modern humans or any other known hominid species.

"What we have is a little tiny brain that has four features that you can see with your eyes that are advanced and distributed from front to middle to back," Falk said. "In other words, this thing appears to be globally rewired. Those are really advanced features. They're not like humans, they're not like anything."

Robert Martin, curator of Biological Anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, is not convinced by the new evidence.

One of his major criticisms has to do with the sample of microcephalic skulls the team used.

"They're being a bit naughty about this," Martin said in a telephone interview. "Four of the nine microcephalics were not adults."

Falk's team maintains their inclusion of young skulls is justified because microcephalics are generally believed to achieve maximum cranial capacity by around four years of age.

Martin, who criticized a similar comparison done by Falk's team in 2005 as flawed, again disagrees.

"What we're saying is LB1 was definitely an adult. If LB1 was a microcephalic, he was one with a mild condition who managed to survive into adulthood," he said. "So the proper comparison is with microcephalics with a mild condition who were adults."

"I don't have any problems with having new hominid species," Martin added. "I just don't think this is one of them."

Another expert in the field, Bernard Wood of George Washington University, spoke in favor of Falk's research.

"Dean Falk and her colleagues have injected some much needed scientific rigor into the debate about the brain of Homo floresiensis," Wood said. "They show that the microencephaly 'explanation' for its size and morphology is untenable. I hope we can now get down to the important task of trying to understand the biology of H. floresiensis without the distraction of non-existent pathology.""

Hubble's Primary Camera Shuts Down

"The primary camera on the Hubble Space Telescope has shut down and is likely to be only marginally restored, NASA said Monday, a collapse one astronomer called "a great loss."

While other scientific work can still be done by the aging observatory, the unit that failed, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, is the one most scientists depend upon. NASA scientists say they expect to be able to restore just one-third of its observation ability, probably by mid-February.

"We're not optimistic at all" about returning it to full function, said Dave Leckrone, a senior scientist on the Hubble at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

However, all is not lost. Next year NASA plans to send space shuttle astronauts to upgrade the popular telescope in a mission to install new instruments that will actually exceed the capabilities of the current system.

In the meantime, astronomers must fall back on the 16-year-old Hubble's other instruments.

"So, clearly the observations will continue, science will continue, but it's a great loss, no doubt. It's a great loss because this was a fantastic camera that just produced incredible science," said astronomer Mario Livio at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which coordinates use of the Hubble by the scientific community. He called the broken camera system a "serious workhorse."

The Hubble's main camera shut down over the weekend, the third outage in less than a year for the instrument. An initial investigation determined its backup power supply had failed, NASA said.

Installed during a March 2002 servicing mission, the Advanced Camera for Surveys increased Hubble's vision and has provided the clearest pictures yet of galaxy formation in the very early universe. The instrument consists of three electronic cameras, filters and dispersers that detect light from the ultraviolet to the near infrared.

It was the most heavily in demand from the astronomical community and accounted for two-thirds of the latest proposals for observing time on the Hubble, said Preston Burch, associate director and program manager for the Hubble Space Telescope at Goddard.

The ACS had been switched over to a backup power supply in June when its main power supply malfunctioned. In September, it automatically shut down again as operators were switching between two of its three instruments. Investigators believe debris stuck in a switch caused a voltage drop that shut down the instrument.

"I think it's important to remember that ACS was designed to work for five years. That's typically the design life of most of these instruments and it's pretty well met that," Burch said."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Psychologist Evaluates 'Jungle Woman'

"A Spanish psychologist met Tuesday with Cambodia's "jungle woman," hoping to unravel some of the mystery surrounding the woman who emerged from the forest, naked and unable to speak, after what may have been nearly two decades in the wild.

Hector Rifa, a doctor of psychology from Spain's University of Oviedo, said his priority was to ensure the woman was receiving proper treatment for whatever traumatic experience she has undergone.

But it was possible he may find clues to the woman's true identity - whether she is indeed a girl who disappeared in 1988 while tending water buffalo, as claimed by a family in northeastern Cambodia who has taken her in as their long-lost daughter.

Rifa said he plans to spend several days at the home of village policeman Sal Lou, who claims the woman is his 27-year-old daughter Rochom P'ngieng.

"I can only tell you that I am (now) taking dinner with them, a nice family," he said, stressing that he was there "to make an evaluation" of the woman.

Sal Lou's family, members of Cambodia's Pnong ethnic minority, say they are certain the woman is Rochom P'ngieng because a scar on her right arm matches one that the missing girl had from an accident before her disappearance from the remote village of Oyadao.

With no other evidence supporting their claim, however, others have speculated that the woman may have a history of mental troubles and simply became lost in the jungle much more recently.

The family's hut has drawn crowds of villagers and journalists, eager to see the woman who was found Jan. 13 walking bent over out of the jungle. She pats her stomach when hungry and uses animal-like grunts to communicate.

Rifa has been working with indigenous people in Rattanakiri province over the past four years for the Spain-based group Psychology Without Borders.

He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he thinks the woman's behavior shows she is having difficulty adapting to normal life, as would be expected if she had been lost in the jungle for an extended period of time.

Sal Lou has said he is willing to undergo DNA testing along with the woman "to clear any doubts that she is my child.""

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dylan video

Here's a link to the music video of Dylan's 'Thunder on the Mountain', from his current Modern Times album.

National Archives Digitizes Documents

Anyone interested in finding out who the FBI was investigating before it became the FBI or seeing the works of noted Civil War photographer Mathew Brady will soon be able to do so digitally.

Footnote Inc. already has digitized 4.5 million pages of historical records and recently signed an agreement with the National Archives to digitize millions more.

Initially, subscriptions cost $99.95 annually, $9.95 monthly or $1.99 per image through Footnote's Web site. Digitized materials will be available for free by Feb. 6 at two facilities in the Washington area and at regional locations in 11 states, according to Archives' spokeswoman Laura Diachenko.

After five years, all images digitized through the agreement will be available for free on the National Archives Web site.

Footnote, based in Lindon, Utah, already has posted Brady's photographs and Bureau of Investigation case files from 1908 through 1922, when it was tasked with investigating violations of national banking, bankruptcy, naturalization, antitrust and land fraud laws. When the nation entered World War I in 1917, the bureau acquired additional espionage and sabotage responsibilities. It did not officially become the FBI until 1935.

The next batch of materials to be brought into the Digital Age will be the Archives' sizable collection of materials currently on microfilm, according to the agency.

But the agreement with Footnote is "non-exclusive," which means the Archives can make similar deals with other companies, like it did recently with Google Inc. (GOOG) to digitize some films, Diachenko said."

French WWI Veteran Dies at Age 108

"One of France's last World War I veterans, Rene Riffaud, has died at age 108, leaving just three known French survivors of the 1914-18 conflict, the National Veterans Office said Tuesday. Riffaud died overnight Tuesday, said Marie-Georges Vingadassalon, a spokeswoman for the office.

Of the three surviving World War I veterans, the oldest - Louis de Cazenave - is 109, according to the veterans' office.

Only belatedly, in 2006, did France recognize Riffaud as a veteran of the war, giving him an official veteran's card after his granddaughter brought his case to the government's attention.

In a November interview with The Associated Press before attending Armistice Day commemorations in Paris, Riffaud played down his war role.

"I did like everyone else, I went with the flow. I was mobilized like all other citizens," he said.

"The war was a massacre," he said. "There was a lot of destruction, lots of spite and lots of heartbreak for everyone. It must not happen again."

The Veterans Office said he was born Dec. 12, 1898, in Tunisia and joined a colonial artillery unit in April 1917.

His wife, Lucie, died in 1979. They were married in 1930, the veterans office said. It said he had one son, who also has died, and three granddaughters.

He worked as an electrician after his demobilization, and opened his own electrical repairs company.

He told the AP he was in a village in eastern France when the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918.

"We were guarding a bridge. An officer arrived and told us that the armistice had just been signed," he said. "We went to town to celebrate, to eat bread that wasn't blackened, and we amused ourselves by watching the flights of geese taking off to go and bathe in the Rhine."

Commemorations nationwide are expected to mark the death of the last member of France's revered club of officially recognized "poilus" - meaning hairy or tough - as it calls its veterans from the 1914-18 war."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mystery of Napoleon's death said solved

"Putting to rest a 200-year-old mystery, scientists say Napoleon Bonaparte died from an advanced case of gastric cancer and not arsenic poisoning as some had speculated.

After being defeated by the British in 1815, the French Emperor was exiled to St. Helena — an island in the South Atlantic Ocean. Six years later, at the age of 52, Bonaparte whispered his last words, “Head of Army!”

An autopsy at the time determined that stomach cancer was the cause of his death. But some arsenic found in 1961 in the ruler’s hair sparked rumors of poisoning. Had Napoleon escaped exile, he could have changed the balance of power in Europe; therefore murder speculations didn’t seem outlandish.

However, a new study — combining current medical knowledge, autopsy reports, Bonaparte’s physician memoirs, eyewitness accounts, and family medical histories — found that gastrointestinal bleeding was the immediate cause of death.

“This analysis suggests that, even if the emperor had been released or escaped from the island, his terminal condition would have prevented him from playing a further major role in the theater of European history,” said lead study author, Robert Genta of University of Texas Southwestern. “Even today, with the availability of sophisticated surgical techniques and chemotherapies, patients with gastric cancer as advanced as Napoleon’s have a poor prognosis.”

The original autopsy descriptions indicated that Bonaparte’s stomach had two ulcerated lesions: a large one on the stomach and a smaller one that had pierced through the stomach wall and reached the liver.

Genta and his colleagues compared the description of these lesions with current images of 50 benign ulcers and 50 gastric cancers and found that the emperor’s lesions were cancerous.

“It was a huge mass from the entrance of his stomach to the exit. It was at least 10 centimeters [4 inches] long.” Genta said. “Size alone suggests the lesion was cancer.”

Bonaparte, the researchers said, had a very severe case of the cancer which had spread to other organs.

“Even if treated today, he’d have been dead within a year,” Genta said."

Jet With Anti-Missile System Leaves LAX

"An MD-10 cargo jet equipped with Northrop Grumman's Guardian anti-missile system took off from Los Angeles International Airport on a commercial flight Tuesday, the company said.

The FedEx flight marked the start of operational testing and evaluation of the laser system designed to defend against shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles during takeoffs and landings.

Adapted from military technology, Guardian is designed to detect a missile launch and then direct a laser to the seeker system on the head of the missile and disrupt its guidance signals. The laser is not visible and is eye-safe, the company said.

"For the first time, we will be able to collect valuable logistics data while operating Guardian on aircraft in routine commercial service," said Robert L. DelBoca, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman's Defensive Systems Division.

During the current test phase, which concludes in March 2008, nine MD-10s equipped with the Guardian system will be in commercial service. Katie Lamb-Heinz of Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems said all those aircraft will be freighters. The ultimate goal is to defend passenger airliners.

The testing is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Counter-Man Portable Air Defense Systems program. BAE Systems has also been working for the government on a similar airliner defense system and has successfully tested it.

John Pike, a defense analyst at, an Alexandria, Va., think tank, suggested that development of the system was the lesser of issues for the airline industry.

"I think the problem is making the numbers work in the sense of figuring out who's going to pay for it," he said.

More than capital costs, airlines are likely to be most concerned about the costs of maintenance and aircraft downtime, he said.

"They've gotten these airliners now (so) that they are just remarkably maintenance-free. They've also gotten these airlines to the point that they've got razor thin margins," he said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., viewed the plane Monday and said she was encouraged.

"This program is very promising because it's already met the operational testing. Now it's a question of how does it actually work in terms of stresses on the system while the airplane is in operation for several hours," said Boxer, a longtime proponent of equipping planes with anti-missile technology.

Boxer said her first priority is to equip the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, more than 1,000 commercial airplanes operated by airlines that contract with the Pentagon to make military flights during emergencies.

No passenger plane has ever been downed by a shoulder-fired missile outside of a combat zone. But terrorists linked with al-Qaida are believed to have fired two SA-7 missiles that narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002.

The first commercial flight with the Guardian system followed 16 months of tests on an MD-11, an MD-10 and a Boeing 747 using simulated launches of shoulder-fired missiles.

The Guardian system appears as a pod with eye-like features attached to the belly of the FedEx MD-10, a freight version of what was originally the three-engine widebody DC-10 airliner.

DHS gave Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems $45 million each in 2004 to adapt military defense systems to civilian airliners, requiring improvements because military systems need too much maintenance and mistakenly fire too often.

A government report obtained by The Associated Press last summer said that both the Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems prototypes still don't meet the reliability standards set by the DHS, and it could be 20 years before every U.S. passenger airplane has such a system.

Billions of dollars would have to be spent to protect all 6,800 commercial U.S. airliners.

The report said testing showed that the systems can be installed on commercial aircraft without impairing safety; at least one company can supply 1,000 systems at a cost of $1 million each; and operation and maintenance will cost $365 per flight, above the $300-per-flight goal.

Northrop Grumman said Tuesday that during the 16-month flight test program a ground-based "electronic missile surrogate" was used to simulate launches and each time Guardian functioned as designed, automatically detecting the simulated launch and mock missile.

"Had the threats been real, an invisible laser beam safe to humans would have disrupted the missile guidance system and protected the aircraft," the company statement said."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mr. Spock Surprises College President

"Wright State University President Kim Goldenberg received a surprise at his retirement bash, a visit from Mr. Spock of "Star Trek," aka actor Leonard Nimoy.

Nimoy greeted Goldenberg with the Vulcan salute, usually paired with the well-wishing, "Live long and prosper."

Goldenberg, 59, said he and his wife, Shelley, are Trekkies.

"We don't collect the paraphernalia and all that," he said. "We like the show for its philosophies."

Goldenberg will retire Jan. 31 after nine years as president of Wright State.

About 200 people attended the celebration Thursday night at the Dayton Art Institute.

Nimoy, 75, starred in the original "Star Trek" TV series, which ran from 1966-69, and in numerous "Star Trek" movies."

Mild London Makes For Slippery "Ice Chess"

"Chess is a challenging game at the best of times. But try playing it in Trafalgar Square, with huge pieces carved from ice — on a relatively balmy British day that threatened to turn pawns to puddles.

Organizers of London's Russian Winter Festival knew players in their ice chess match Thursday would be battling not only each other but the weather. But the match was completed and the sculptures survived, despite a drizzly day and temperatures that reached 55 degrees.

Wegg-Prosser said the pieces, which were carved to look like local landmarks — the king was the Gothic tower that houses Big Ben — were still intact at the end of the hour-long match, which began at 8 a.m.

"It takes at least three hours for them to melt," said Yulia Wegg-Prosser, the chess spokeswoman.

A second board was set up in Moscow — also experiencing warmer-than-usual temperatures — and the Russian team, led by former world champion Anatoly Karpov, offered a draw to the British squad, captained by grandmaster Nigel Short.

Players and spectators in both cities were connected by satellite link.

Even in January, temperatures rarely fall below freezing in London, so the melting of ice sculptures is not new to the Russian Winter Festival, said Lieran Stubbings, a festival organizer.

Last year, a sculpture of St. Basil's Cathedral in Trafalgar Square disappeared before the end of the event, confounding festival-goers.

"People were asking where the sculpture of St. Basil's was," Stubbings said. "We were just laughing and pointing to the nearest puddle."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Defense Workers Warned About Spy Coins

"Can the coins jingling in your pocket trace your movements? The Defense Department is warning its American contractor employees about a new espionage threat seemingly straight from Hollywood: It discovered Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside.

In a U.S. government report, it said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

The U.S. report doesn't suggest who might be tracking American defense contractors or why. It also doesn't describe how the Pentagon discovered the ruse, how the transmitters might function or even which Canadian currency contained them.

Further details were secret, according to the U.S. Defense Security Service, which issued the warning to the Pentagon's classified contractors. The government insists the incidents happened, and the risk was genuine.

"What's in the report is true," said Martha Deutscher, a spokeswoman for the security service. "This is indeed a sanitized version, which leaves a lot of questions."

Top suspects, according to intelligence and technology experts: China, Russia or even France - all said to actively run espionage operations inside Canada with enough sophistication to produce such technology.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service said it knew nothing about the coins.

"This issue has just come to our attention," CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion said. "At this point, we don't know of any basis for these claims." She said Canada's intelligence service works closely with its U.S. counterparts and will seek more information if necessary.

Experts were astonished about the disclosure and the novel tracking technique, but they quickly rejected suggestions Canada's government might be spying on American contractors. The intelligence services of the two countries are extraordinarily close and routinely share sensitive secrets.

"It would seem unthinkable," said David Harris, former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. "I wouldn't expect to see any offensive operation against the Americans."

Harris said likely candidates include foreign spies who targeted Americans abroad or businesses engaged in corporate espionage. "There are certainly a lot of mysterious aspects to this," Harris said.

Experts said such tiny transmitters would almost certainly have limited range to communicate with sensors no more than a few feet away, such as ones hidden inside a doorway.

"I'm not aware of any (transmitter) that would fit inside a coin and broadcast for kilometers," said Katherine Albrecht, an activist who believes such technology carries serious privacy risks. "Whoever did this obviously has access to some pretty advanced technology."

Experts said hiding tracking technology inside coins is fraught with risks because the spy's target might inadvertently give away the coin or spend it buying coffee or a newspaper.

They agreed, however, that a coin with a hidden tracking device might not arose suspicion if it were discovered loose in a pocket or briefcase.

"It wouldn't seem to be the best place to put something like that; you'd want to put it in something that wouldn't be left behind or spent," said Jeff Richelson, a researcher and author of books about the CIA and its gadgets. "It doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense."

Canada's physically largest coins include its $2 "Toonie," which is more than 1-inch across and thick enough to hide a tiny transmitter. The CIA has acknowledged its own spies have used hollow, U.S. silver-dollar coins to hide messages and film.

The government's 29-page report was filled with other espionage warnings. It described unrelated hacker attacks, eavesdropping with miniature pen recorders and the case of a female foreign spy who seduced her American boyfriend to steal his computer passwords.

In another case, a film processing company called the FBI after it developed pictures for a contractor that contained classified images of U.S. satellites and their blueprints. The photo was taken from an adjoining office window."

On the Web:

CIA hollow coin

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

All Is Not So Bad in the State of Denmark

"Sweden has more blond beauties per capita, Italy and France have far better cuisine, and most of the free world can boast of better weather. But over the past 30 years, the citizens of Denmark have scored higher than any other Western country on measures of life satisfaction, and scientists think they know why.

In a paper appearing in the Dec. 23 issue of the medical journal BMJ, researchers review six likely and unlikely explanations, and conclude that the country’s secret is a culture of low expectations. “It’s a David and Goliath thing,” said the lead author, Kaare Christensen, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. “If you’re a big guy, you expect to be on the top all the time and you’re disappointed when things don’t go well. But when you’re down at the bottom like us, you hang on, you don’t expect much, and once in a while you win, and it’s that much better.”

The researchers arrived at their findings by a process of elimination and humor. Blonds may have more fun, they argue, but Sweden has a higher prevalence of them. As for climate, Danes “bask in a somewhat colder and cloudier version of the balmy English weather.” They also eat fatty foods and drink a lot, and genetically they are not significantly different from their gloomier Scandinavian neighbors. And in 1992 the Danes won the European Championship in soccer, creating “such a state of euphoria that the country has not been the same since.”

But on surveys, Danes continually report lower expectations for the year to come, compared with most other nations. And “year after year, they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark,” the paper concludes."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Cows Engineered to Lack Mad Cow Disease

"Scientists have genetically engineered a dozen cows to be free from the proteins that cause mad cow disease, a breakthrough that may make the animals immune to the brain-wasting disease.

An international team of researchers from the U.S. and Japan reported Sunday that they had "knocked out" the gene responsible for making the proteins, called prions. The disease didn't take hold when brain tissue from two of the genetically engineered cows was exposed to bad prions in the laboratory, they said.

Experts said the work may offer another layer of security to people concerned about eating infected beef, although though any food derived from genetically engineered animals must first be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"This research is a huge step forward for the use of animal biotechnology that benefits consumers," said Barbara Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington industry group that includes the company that sponsored the research as a member. "This a plus for consumers worldwide."

The surviving cows are now being injected directly with mad cow disease, known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, to make certain the cattle are immune to it.

Those key results won't be known until later this year, at the earliest, according to the Sioux Falls, S.D. based biotechnology company Hematech Inc. that sponsored the research. It can take as long as two years for mad cow disease to be detected in infected animals."

Inventor Creates Ping Pong for Three

"Secil Boyd keeps dreaming up new ideas from remote control flying gadgets to new table games and even space-matter theories. "My mind doesn't seem to turn off so easily," the 53-year-old inventor joked at his Holualoa art gallery.

Boyd has invented a type of three-player ping pong, he's come up with a special relativity theory and even made a remote control flying toy out of a Christmas gift from his daughter.

TriPong uses an odd-shaped table at regulation ping pong height and Plexiglas "nets" that divide the table into three wedges, each with a neutral zone and scoring zone.

He pitched the idea several months ago to a major mainland sports company and now is in negotiations for a development contract. After a presentation, their production staff built one and have played it since, Boyd said.

"By this time next year," Boyd said. "I predict this will be the hottest seller they've got."

The idea came from his father, who taught his two sons cutthroat billiards.

"With three players, you've got that extra competitive energy," he said. "It just changes the game."

Each player starts with one point and it takes three points to win, so players must team up to keep themselves in the game.

"If you win TriPong, you're better than the other two players," Boyd said. "When you lose the ability to play like a team, the winner will emerge.'"