Kathy Tran

There's a new age-old question: Are art pop-ups — installations made primarily for Instagram's benefit — cheapening the traditionally high-brow art world experience, or elevating selfie culture by offering backgrounds far more interesting than your dirty bathroom mirror? No matter how you feel about the selfie factories, they're not going anywhere — especially in Dallas, where we can count at least eight happening just this last year. But nobody does it as well as Sweet Tooth Hotel, which changes themes seasonally and is always impeccably constructed by custom designers Built by Bender, with art installations by some of the city's greatest. With a Prince-themed bar and a silent disco fitness class, there's far more to do at Sweet Tooth than making a duck face with your friends.

Best Local Defense of the Affordable Care Act

Michael Lummus

Before a federal court hearing in Fort Worth, Alvarado's Michael Lummus took the chance to berate one of the attorneys representing plaintiffs trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act. "Why you lying, boy?" Lummus said. "That Obamacare saved my life, and people like you want to kill people like me because we can't work. I'm trying to find a job, but they ain't going to cover me if you take away pre-existing conditions."

Brian Maschino

When Dallas made the decision to take down its Robert E. Lee statue, one of the many arguments trotted out by those who wanted the statue left in Turtle Creek Park was that getting rid of it would be too expensive. As it turned out, the city made money on the deal, thanks to a successful online auction in June. It cost the city $450,000 to take the statue down. It got $1.5 million from an Addison-based attorney for the oversize bronze. Good riddance.

Eric Johnson may have won Dallas' mayoral election, but the tape that emerged of one of his fundraisers in May certainly livened up his race with former City Council member Scott Griggs. The tape made clear what many observers had whispered for a long time, that Dallas' moneyed cabal intended to do everything it could to stop Griggs. The anonymously recorded tape didn't change the election's result, but it crystallized what was at stake.

Dallas County District Attorney's Office
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot ran for office on a platform of ending mass incarceration and reforming the county's criminal justice system. Last April, Creuzot announced steps his office was taking toward that goal. Among other changes, Creuzot declared that he would no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases for first-time offenders or cases involving people arrested for possession of trace amounts of drugs, driving with a suspended license or stealing necessary items. It's too early to say how effective these changes will be, but it's always good to see an elected official walking the criminal justice reform talk.

Between the start-ups downtown and bar-saturated M Streets lies the calm, treesy East Dallas neighborhood, Lakewood. Lakewood was developed around 1914, which means that many of the houses are filled with an abundance of secrets from the past. Lake and city dwellers alike flock to the neighborhood to settle in and, for better or worse, never leave. Decades of relics and family histories pile up in the Hutsell houses; sometimes in the form of old postcards tucked away in a closet, others in a dress someone wore to their high school prom in the 1940s. There are always stories to hear, and there is always lots to buy. Sales are either independent or held by one of the many estate sale companies in the area, like Help Me Rhonda, Another's Treasure or Remington Estate Sales. There are, unfortunately, a fair share of McMansions to avoid. Most of the houses, however, have been in Lakewood since the 1920s. They're quirky in their age, with wooden floors that creak and doors that stick in the summer. Wandering around inside is reason enough to stop by. But if you're lucky, maybe you'll find something neat for yourself, like a haunted old portrait, or someone's attic-stashed collection of Playboy magazines.

Trae Patton/NBC
Maelyn Jarmon won the top trophy on NBC's The Voice.

It's not fair, because this was really no contest for Dallas' other reality show stars. For starters, Maelyn Jarmon is someone you don't root against or wish would stop being such a (insert your own filthy noun here). You root for her because she's genuine, nice and talented, unlike 99.1% of the people who make it through reality show producers' casting departments. The Frisco native became one of the first 12 finalists at the start of the 16th season of the NBC singing competition The Voice with a beautiful performance of Sting's "Fields of Gold" during her blind audition, and musical powerhouse John Legend chose her to coach for his first season on the show. The choice would lead to a big payoff for both of them when Jarmon finished first in a neck-and-neck race with Gyth Rigdon, giving Jarmon the top trophy and Legend's first win on his first season of the show. She deserved the win, and we're not just saying that because she was born on the near edge of the metropolitan area. Jarmon is completely deaf in her left ear and has only 80% hearing in her right ear. She deserves everything her music career is destined to bring her.

Dallas' comedy scene has grown so large and expanded so much that it's really hard to come up with a way to make a stand-up show stand out now that almost every theater, club and coffeehouse has an open mic. The only place left to hold an original, one-of-a-kind comedy showcase is to do one on a public street, and comedian Gretchen Young, aka GretchYo, found a way to do that without getting an angry letter from the North Texas Transit Authority. Young created the rolling comedy roadshow Destination Unknown, in which the audience sits on a bus and watches a series of Dallas' best up-and-coming stand-ups such as Tony Casillas, Ashley Elias and herself do a tight 15 minutes of some of their A-list material while the vehicle's in motion. The bus has a list of destinations to local bars and breweries that the guests don't know about until it comes to a stop. Something like this could reinvent the comedy-club concept with its faux brick wall, stool and two-item minimum with an overpriced ticket.

Let's face it: Good swing sets are few and far between. Some of them are too low to the ground; others have those painful ridges on the sides of the seats. Some of them are directly in the sun, which renders the chains and rubber seat scalding. When you find a good swing set, by god you hold onto it for dear life. Like a very special pair of swings at White Rock Lake, which hit nearly every criteria for an ideal swing set experience. Located behind the historic Big Thicket building, the swings are suspended by extra-long chains and are perched atop a slight hill overlooking the docks, the White Rock Lake trail and the water. There are multiple seats, and they're all nice and wide. They're shaded year-round by a canopy of old oak trees. They are a bit loud, however. The chains seem to echo throughout the small park, but it might add a touch of nostalgia, or perhaps authenticity, to the experience. Even the best swings have things they're working through, just like each and every one of us.

Kathy Tran
Free Play Arcade

The Dallas-Fort Worth area has become an interesting hub for new gaming technology, but the thrill of going to an old-fashioned video game arcade that doesn't require a wearable computer will never stop being fun. Free Play Richardson, the launch site of the Free Play retro arcade empire, continues to find ways to maximize its tiny space with neon-pink '80s ambience, the best new and classic arcade games and even some games that no other arcade has ever had under its roof. This past year, the Richardson arcade hosted some of the most fun gaming events in the area. The arcade became one of the first places in the world to get a full-size Atari Pong Cocktail Table that used physical foam pieces floating across a magnetically controlled surface instead of pixels. Free Play Richardson's success has ushered in a new modern arcade movement just when we thought going out of your home to play games was dead.

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