Sunday, July 25, 2021

Guns: Ruger Mini-14 Tactical review - A plan comes together


If you watched The A-Team back in the '80s, you might remember all the bloodless gunfights with hip-fired Ruger Mini-14s that were standing in for Ruger's fully automatic AC556 assault rifles:

The Rugers in the show looked impractical and silly as hell, but they still seemed fun to shoot. Since not every gun has to have some Serious Purpose, I set out to build something similar. I quickly discovered that getting a reproduction folding stock like Hannibal and Co. used would cost almost $300 (on top of the cost of a stainless steel Mini-14).

So, I went the cheap route, picking up a Mini-14 Tactical chambered in 5.56, along with a Choate folding stock. Could the Mini, configured like it was on The A-Team, at least keep up with my two ARs, the Housegun and Son of Frankencarbine?

Sights and Trigger

The Ruger Mini-14 rifle has always been the RC Cola to the AR-15's Coke - it does the same thing in the same way, but without the refinement and flair of the name brand. It starts with the iron sights: the Ruger fixed front blade and rear aperture are about as tough as a set of A1 or A2 sights, but adjusting the Mini's rear sight requires a hex wrench and is just a lot more finicky. Ruger includes scope rings and bases so that you can mount a traditional scope relatively easily, but adding a modern red dot takes slightly more effort than a flattop AR.

The Mini-14 trigger situation is much like the sights - serviceable enough for a defensive carbine, but a bit outdated in 2021. The trigger can certainly be gunsmithed into something special, but it's tougher to do compared to the hojillion AR drop-in replacement match triggers you can get off the Internet. And don't get me started on the M1 Garand-style safety - not sure what genius designed a safety that requires you to put your finger insider the trigger guard to use it.

Folding Stock

The synthetic fixed stock that came with the Mini-14 Tactical worked fine, but I think the Choate folding stock suits the gun much better. The default fixed stock is too long for a lot of cases and bags designed for 16" barrel AR carbines, but with the Choate stock folded, the Mini is actually shorter than the typical AR. Plus, if you're in a very tight space, you can shoot the Mini with the Choate stock folded, though I won't vouch for your practical accuracy.

Range Report

That brings us to the big knock on Mini-14s - that they're less accurate than an equivalent AR. Broadly speaking, I found that to be true, though the Mini might be "accurate enough" for your purposes. 

Like most folks these days, I had limited ammo to spare, so I carefully shot a few groups with the stock iron sights off a hasty rest. I got about 1.5" from PMC XTAC XP193 55 gr. at 25 yards - that's a little worse than my DDM4, but not by much, plus you don't get any height-over-bore issues with a Mini:

Lake City XM855 wasn't as accurate, grouping at over 2" at 25 yards.

Finally, I got roughly 2" from TulAmmo 55 gr. .223 at 25 yards.


Even today, there are diehard fans of the Mini-14, and I do see the appeal - it's a relatively handy, lightweight semiauto rifle with a cool Garand-like action. The wood-stocked models are a little less threatening than the typical AR, and can sometimes be used in jurisdictions where the AR is verboten. But in the end, it's a civilian-developed gun, and I'd much rather use a rifle system where the bugs have been worked out through decades of combat.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Music: 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition

If you're a classical music fan, and especially if you're a fan of Frédéric Chopin, you should be watching the XVIII Międzynarodowy Konkurs Pianistyczny im. Fryderyka Chopina (commonly known as the "Chopin Competition"). Held every five years and delayed from last year due to the pandemic, the Chopin Competition is one of the oldest classical music competitions around:

The preliminary round, which runs from July 12 to 23, 2021, features 160 young professional pianists from around the world, but mostly Eastern Europe and Asia. They're all competing in a desperate battle to pass into the main stage of the competition, held in October. There will be etudes, nocturnes, and mazurkas aplenty, and the whole event is streaming live and free via YouTube, thanks to the Fryderyk Chopin Institute and (by extension) the Polish government.

Tech: Katana Zero

Katana Zero is an interesting little game from Askiisoft. As you might be able to tell from the pixel art aesthetic, this is a semi-retro action title that mixes elements of Ninja Gaiden, Hotline Miami, and Max Payne into a frothy neo-noir narrative:

You play as an amnesiac samurai assassin in a neon dystopia. Your strikes are almost always instantly lethal to enemies, you can reflect bullets with your sword, and you can even slow down time. The catch is that you are just as vulnerable as the goons you are slaying, and any hit from anything is instant death.

Or it would be, were it not for a strange drug called Chronos that gives you superhuman precognition. Each level is broken down into small sections that you can repeat ad nauseam, with deaths being rewound and explained away as merely failed plans (sort of like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or the end fight in the second Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes flick). Chronos also figures heavily into the plot, which turns trippy in a way I won't spoil here.

I liked Katana Zero overall, but I wish there were more of it - more gameplay mechanics, more enemies, more levels. The whole thing is over and done with in a few hours, and there aren't too many secrets or challenges to hold your interest - this is no Celeste.  Still, if you can find it on sale (I played it on Microsoft Game Pass), it's well worth a try.

Rating: 80/100

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Movies: Collision Course

One of the weirdest movies you'll ever see is Collision Course, a 1989 low budget buddy cop film starring Pat Morita and Jay Leno. They star as mismatched police officers, one a fish out of water from Japan, the other a wisecracker from Detroit, on the trail of a stolen experimental turbo charger. I remember watching it on TV one slow afternoon, and was taken aback by its mix of screwball humor and extreme violence:

It's not a "good" action-comedy per se, but there is something charming about the practical stunt work, the '80s character actors (aside from Morita and Leno, the film stars Chris Sarandon and Tom Noonan), and the inappropriate-for-2021 jokes about Japanese people. The plot is totally secondary to the madcap antics onscreen, including silly explosions and a part where Morita's character drop kicks a guy's head off through a car windshield:

Rating: 6/10