Friday, October 31, 2008

I Was Single for WJM

The best of October 2008, according to the Back of the Cereal Box.
And, for the first time ever, my attempt at a clickable visual index of said month. Click away!

Bring Your Passport

So a while back, I posted a little nothing about an old Nintendo game called Clu Clu Land. It didn’t generate much interest, but, occasionally, people find my blog by Googling something related to this old and largely forgotten game. A few days ago, somebody Googled “clu clu land bubbles gloopy gender” — which, basically, gets to the heart of what my post was about — and ended up on my on this very post. I noticed this through the service I use to keep track of how people get here and ended up clicking the Google search results page myself to see what else showed up. (Oddly, my blog itself does not seem to show up in the search results at the moment. I assume that this will be fixed in the near future.) It’s mostly what you’d expect, but one thing caught me eye: a match on the website TripAtlas.com.

This is funny because TripAtlas — which seems like some sort of travel-planning site — apparently just bites information from Wikipedia and various Wikipedia knock-offs and, consequently, was fooled into posting an entry for what it thinks might be a foreign country. You know, the Great and Exalted Nation of Clu Clu Land. England, Switzerland, Swaziland and Clu Clu Land.

The page itself doesn’t have much info that is helpful in planning my vacation in Clu Clu Land, but I’m hoping there might be a list of hotels and popular destinations for other trips I plan to take one day to Candy Land, La La Land, and Land of the Lost.

Nuclear Merton

I just made sense of a certain victim of Japanese “L”/“R” confusion that’s confused me for years. Back when I had time to actually play video games — rather than just write about them — I played the hell out of Final Fantasy 6, in which your little men can learn a certain all-destructive super move called “Merton.” That word doesn’t mean a whole lot, and I just figured it out today: “Meltdown.” They were trying to say “meltdown.”

Trick or Quack

I could try to write something pithy about Halloween, but I could also just tell you to watch cartoons.



Cartoons starring Donald Duck, no less. Hally Happoween! (All thanks go to Paul Dini over at King of Breakfast.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Icey Spoon

The search result hilarity continues.
  1. Number one hit!
  2. Number one hit!
  3. Finally, a hit that actually led to something appropriate.
  4. Number one hit... for absolutely no reason, since Google leads to my post about the tendency for cartoon skunks to be French and promiscuous.
  5. Not a number one hit, but the the page that is, an article from the British newspaper The Independent, bears the unusual headline “Torso boy swallowed witchcraft poison bean.”
  6. Number one hit!
  7. Number one hit!
  8. The only hit, strangely.

Fields of Hitchhikers

A word of advice: When pitching your product to someone who might have reason to give you money, framing said pitch in a hokey-as-hell Halloween puns is not convincing.

The proof:


Allow me to restate the subject line for emphasis: “Witch new column do your readers vant? BOOst your circulation now!!”

The only reason I didn’t mark all future emails from this company — which, by the way, is trying to sell me on syndicated columns which I, by extension, now also think are shitty — is that I’m curious to see what kind of idiot move they’ll try for subsequent holidays. Rest assured, I have zero faith in them and their clients now.

One Panty, Please

Betsy, you missed out.

For those of you unfamiliar with my living situation, Betsy was a housemate until she moved out more than a year ago. Like everybody who’s every called our address home, however, she still gets mail here. (I’ve said it before: She actually gets far more mail than I do, election-related material notwithstanding.) Most recently, Betsy received the below promotion for Victoria’s Secret, that purveyor of things that purport to be sexy but actually only put thin covers on said sexy things.


Normally, this would be tossed right into the garbage, but I scanned it for one specific reason: its use of the word panty.

Seriously? Panty? In my mind, a panty should be half of a pair of ladies underwear — or, I suppose, underwear minimal enough that it can’t qualify as a full-fledged pair of panties. (Given that this is Victoria’s Secret I’m talking about, that actually may be the case.) That I can remember, I’d never heard of the term for women’s underwear used in the singular before. Just as virtually everybody says “pants” or “a pair of pants,” they should also say “panties.” I admit it seems illogical that all of these things that are technically singular should be so often stated in the plural because their central feature has two distinct parts. But I haven’t heard anyone speaking of cutting with a “scissor,” so perhaps we should enforce the rule anyway.

Both Webster and the American Heritage Dictionary have the term listed under panty but also note that it’s more often used in the plural, so apparently it’s not technically incorrect to use the singular, just a little strange.

I wonder if the mailer was printed to say panty specifically so some awful woman with a coupon for “free panties” didn’t come into the store and demand more than one pair.

Are you listening, Betsy? One panty and one panty only.

And of interest, on that note: Wiktionary’s list of pluralia tantum, or words that exist on the plural form. (The list of singularia tantum is apparently still a work in progress.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Kind of Name Is "Chandler Bing," Anyway?

An article that went up today at AfterElton.com proposes an interesting origin for the name of Matthew Perry’s character form Friends: the 1975 horror-porn-comedy Thundercrack!. This Curt McDowell film — reviews for which almost always seem to use the words “tasteless,” “pansexual” and “masterpiece” — features, among other things, two male characters named “Chandler” and “Bing,” respectively, who end up boning. Seems like it couldn’t possibly be a coincidence, especially given that Chandler seemed to be written like an in-the-closet gay character during the first few seasons of Friends.



Then, of course, he married Courtney Cox’s character, which is kind of like coming out as gay, if you think about it.

Palace of the Brine

Not to be outdone by the piglet squid, here’s one that’s maybe even better: the red paper lantern medusa.


Depending on who’s doing the talking, she’s also known as the aka-chochin kurage or the Pandea rubra. And the other wonders of the sea apparently love her enough that they’ll sublease her. There’s a video of all this wonderment at Pink Tentacle.

Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde: Smarter Than You Think

At the moment, I am haunted by the ghosts of Pac-Man. Unlike regular hauntings, which more often make people go crazy or become possessed or move away, this timely supernatural occurrence has prompted me to write another entry in the games-and-names file.

Way back when, I blogged about a prolonged night at Elsie’s in which I sat next to the Pac-Man machine and ended up watching the attract mode for way longer than I should have. As the lights flashed and repeatedly drew my attention, I watched the introduction of the game’s characters again and again and I noted that the four ghosts have two sets of names. Where as the four are introduced as Blinky (the red one), Pinky (the pink one), Inky (the blue one) and Clyde (the orange one), they’re also given an alternate set of names: Shadow, Speedy, Bashful and Pokey, respectively.

image courtesy of spritestrich

It gets weirder: This particular machine was one of the ones that contains all the major Pac-Man games and therefore scrolled through them, one by one. The included ghosts change. In Ms. Pac-Man, Clyde is replaced by another orange ghost, Sue, possibly in an effort to even out the gender ratio. In Pac-Man Jr., Sue is replaced with Tim, also orange.

But it all seems arbitrary, right?

In a sense, it is. However, Ashley Davis, a blogger over at Destructoid, put a post up last week specifically on the Pac-Man ghosts and why they got the names that they did. In short, though it might seem like Blinky, Pinky, Inky and the Clyde-Sue-Tim hivemind hover around dot-filled mazes in the exact same way, they don’t. In fact, the way they move is explained by their nicknames.

As Davis explains it, Clyde (a.k.a. “Pokey”) might seem like he’d move especially slowly, but he doesn’t. Instead, he moves around at a normal speed but not at all in pursuit of Pac-Man. He does his own thing; if he happens to snag Pac-Man and make him rotate counterclockwise into oblivion, it’s a total coincidence. His Japanese name, Otoboke, translates to something like “stupid” or “dopey,” Davis explains. Thus, “Pokey” — or, as we shall interpret it, “mentally challenged.” Thus, if Clyde kills Pac-Man, it’s probably as a result of the player being equally as mentally challenged.

Inky, as Davis explains it, is equally unlikely to kill Pac-Man. His Japanese name, Kimagure, translates to “whimsy.” And it might seem like his pattern is based on pure whimsy, but it’s apparently not. As it’s explained on the Twin Galaxies forum, Inky’s position on the screen may seem random, but it’s actually based on a the relationship between Pac-Man and Blinky, the red ghost. More or less, Inky resides on the part of the screen that’s twice as far from the distance between the red ghost and two spaces in front of Pac-Man. It’s very complex.

Pinky (a.k.a. “Speedy”) doesn’t actually move any faster than the rest of the ghosts. His Japanese name — Machibuse, “ambusher” — is more accurate, as she takes it upon herself to trap Pac-Man into corners with the help of the Blinky. (This website, by the way, switches the Japanese names for Inky and Pinky, but since it’s in the minority on the matter, I’ll assume it’s a mistake.)

And then there’s Blinky (a.k.a. “Shadow”). In Japanese, he’s Oikake, “chaser.” He bases his movements on Pac-Man himself, always with the goal of reducing the amount of distance between himself and the yellow dot-gobbler. If the vertical distance is greater, he’ll do what he can to reduce that so long as the horizontal distance doesn’t become greater, in which case he’ll reduce that instead. Davis notes that when Pac-Man consumes a certain number of dots, the behavior of Blinky — and only Blinky — changes. He goes into what is known among Pac-Man aficionados as “Cruise Elroy” mode. (Davis supplies some guesses as to where the term might come from, but she rightly leaves it as being obscure.) In this mode, Blinky moves faster than he would normally be able to.

Interesting, in my book, for two reasons: The four ghosts each have their own programmed motivation for getting around a given maze (one) and these motivations are hinted at by their names (two).

Davis leaves out one additional ghost, however, who’s little known even among those who pride themselves in their Pac-Man skills: the especially obscure green ghost, Miru (also translated as “Mil,” unfortunately). I read about her while browsing Wikipedia sometime back and had been meaning to reveal her existence to the world for a while before the Destructoid post gave me an opportunity. Miru appears in the 1983 Japan-only title Pac & Pal, which Wikipedia alleges could be the rarest Pac-Man title.


I’m fairly certain that Miru is the only truly female ghost in the series, Sue and Pinky’s names notwithstanding. You can tell by the fact that she, like Ms. Pac-Man herself, wears a bow on her head. And that’s a sure a sign of femininity as there ever was. (She looks like “a gooseberry with legs,” according to Wikipedia.) She apparently zooms around the maze, unaffected by the evil ghosts, and will grab items. If Pac-Man doesn’t intercept them from her, they get dropped in the “ghost box” in the center of the maze, where they become lost forever.


In short, Miru doesn’t sound like all that much help. In some versions, she’s apparently replaced by Chomp-Chomp, Pac-Man’s dog. If that’s not a slap in the face to early gender equality in video games, I don’t know what is.

courtesy of strategywiki.org

And that, my friends, is everything I know about the Pac-Man ghosts, their weird alternate personas, their additional American alteregos, and their dumb little sister that no one talks about anymore.

EDIT: I’ve found a bit more on the ghosts. First, what’s in the comments below is accurate. Pac-mania did, in fact, introduce new ghosts into the mix. The green one is, in fact, named Funky and the gray one Spunky, though they’re also apparently known as the far less fun-sounding “Common” and “Gray Common.” And Sue does reappear, now purple.

However, these aren’t the last of the ghosts. There’s also one named Yum-Yum, who appears in Jr. Pac-Man as some kind of Juliet to Jr. Pac-Man’s Romeo. The latter’s boyhood is represented by the fact that he wears a little propeller beanie on his head, while the former’s femininity is once again represented by the fact that she wears a bow. Below is a screenshot, which I nabbed from this YouTube clip.

Here’s Jr. Pac-Man, just after he’s dropped off by the stork.


And here’s little Yum-Yum meeting Jr. for the first time.


Finally, regarding the big four ghosts, I noticed in Chris Kohler’s Game Over a little section on their names. He translated the Japanese names of Clyde, Inky, Pinky and Blinky as “Slow,” “Capricious,” “Ambush” and “Chaser.” He also notes that the four Japanese versions of the ghosts have their own Japanese nicknames, just as the American versions have nicknames. The nicknames, in order are Guzuta, Aosuke, Pinky and Akabei, three of which are references to their respective ghosts’ colors. “Pinky” is obvious. The Japanese word for “red” is aka, and the word for “blue” is ao. Kohler theorizes that Guzuta comes from the Japanese guzutsuku, meaning “to linger” or “to languish.” Now we know.

Pac-Man, previously:
The intersection of video games and all things verbal, elsewhere on this blog:
Game geek? Subscribe to the video games-only feed for Back of the Cereal Box.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Go Maple Leaves!

Something cool that I learned: the grammatical reason behind why we say “Toronto Maple Leafs,” “still lifes” and “sabertooths” instead of “Toronto Maple Leaves,” “still lives” and “saberteeth.” It has to do with a thing called exocentric or “headless” compounds.”

And I am fascinated.

(Via Bradshaw of the Future)

Did Jesus Decline?

Too shocking for words. And they say that Japanese horror movies have the monopoly on demonic hair.


As comments on other blogs have pointed out, who knew that Brendan Fraser, Jimmy Kimmel and Buddy Holly (left to right) had ever belonged to the same Christastic girl group?

(Dina, via Quiddity, via Ectoplasmosis)

Mammity Island

Return of le link dump, courtesy of my Google Reader shared clips.
And, to start your Tuesday off on a wonderfully freaktastic note, here is the video for Of Montreal’s new single “Id Engager,” courtesy of Stereogum.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Drive My Car Into the Ocean

Meet Helicocranchia pfefferi, the so-called “piglet squid.”

courtesy of zooillogix.com

And here is a second view of the creature, looking slightly more piglet-ish. (Believe it or not, these are the same species, though the one below may actually be a subspecies: the banded piglet squid.)


As you can see, its common name is no misnomer in either case. This living water balloon’s tentacles and arms look more than a little like yarny, cartoony hair, a row of chromatophores below looks like a smile, and its siphon looks a bit like a snout. (At least I think it’s the siphon I’m seeing above the “smile.”) I’m guessing its discoverers named it after the small “p” piglet and not the A.A. Milne character — even if the second example looks more like a certain effeminate porcine resident of the Hundred Acre Woods. And that’s too bad, really, because the capital “P” piglet squid would have made a good playmate for the Dumbo octopus.


And then, of course, no one wants to play with the blobfish.


(Piglet squid info from Zooillogix, via Boing Boing)

The Damning Evidence

Of all the things to find in a used copy of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, perhaps the least appropriate would have been a receipt from El Paseo for a 64-ounce margarita.


In case you don’t process your units of volume all that well, 64 ounces is the amount of liquid contained in your typical orange juice container. It makes it all the more amusing, of course, that this copy of The Awakening happened to belong to Roommate Aly before it came into Spencer’s possession.

Point one: Edna Pontellier would not approve, Aly. And point two: A whole 64-ounce container of margarita would not result in an awakening, under any circumstances.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who He Was (And Why His Song Was Good)

Unlike some people, I enjoy songs with parenthetical titles. Somehow, the combination of “This Thing (Plus Another Thing Over Here)” results in something more powerful and more attention-grabbing that some boring song title without parentheses. When I see a title like that, I imagine that the song was initially called one thing — usually the part of the song that lives outside the parentheses — and then somehow the song grew to take on a life of its own. Maybe, during the recording of the song, the people involved found themselves referring to it differently than how it was initially written. Or maybe the people who listened to the song picked up on something essential, something important, something that should have been featured prominently in the title but for some reason wasn’t. Either way, this second bit — paradoxically additional but also necessary — became tacked onto to the title in an effort to make it more complete, at least in someone’s eyes.


This week’s song, Bill Withers’s “Who Is He (And What Is He to You?),” happens to have a parenthetical title, but that’s not the reason I chose to write about it. No, this simple song, which I think I first heard on the Jackie Brown soundtrack, does exactly what a good song should: Take something small and relatable and put it to music with a suitable mood.



“Who Is He (And What Is He to You?)” — which first appeared on Withers’s third album, 1972’s Still Bill — manages to be catchy and dark at the same time. That latter quality came as a surprise to me, who had previously only heard two other Withers songs, both of them fairly upbeat: “Lovely Day” and “Lean on Me.” And while both these songs express an abstract emotion — joy in “Lovely Day” and devotion in “Lean on Me” — I feel like “Who Is He?” captures something smaller and more complex: a fleeting moment, and a painful one at that.

Here are the lyrics:
A man we passed just tried to stare me down
And when I looked at you, you looked at the ground
I don’t know who he is
But I think that you do
Dadgummit — who is he, and what is he to you?

Something in my heart and in your eye
Tells me he's not someone just passing by
And when you cleared your throat
Was that your cue?
Dadgummit — who is he, and what is he to you?

When I add the sum of you and me
I get confused when I keep coming up with three
You’re too much for one man
But not enough for two
Dadgummit — who is he and what is he to you?

You tell me men don’t have much intuition
Is that what you really thinking, girl, or are you wishing?
Before you wreck your old home
Be certain of the new
Dadgummit — who is he, and what is he to you?
Simple and heartbreaking and damn near perfect, if it wasn’t for the Yosemite Sam-style minced oath that precedes each statement of the song’s title. (In the sung version, it’s almost unintelligible, and I’ve actually always wondered what he was saying until today.)

A summary would be especially short, as much of what goes on in this song happens in the narrator’s mind. Basically, while the narrator is walking with his girlfriend, a man passes them. The narrator does not know the man, but the girlfriend has a strange reaction that the narrator reads as an indication that she has been unfaithful with this man.

I can’t think of many other songs that do so much with so little. (Though Dr. John’s “How Come My Dog Don't Bark (When You Come Around)?” manages to do quite a bit — in similar thematic territory and with a parenthetical title, no less.) What I mean by this is that the song literally makes a mountain out of a molehill. All of the lyrics exist as a reaction to what could have been a meaningless turn of the woman’s eyes. I actually wonder if we’re supposed to think that she actually had been unfaithful of if we’re supposed to look more at the strange reaction of a man who perhaps loves too strongly. Think about it: The woman doesn’t get to plead her case at all. Should we even believe this narrator? Is he insightful? Or just paranoid and territorial?

In a different sense of making a lot out of little, the song has almost no action. At most, the events being described would only take a few seconds — and that’s saying that anyone of this is actually being spoken out loud and not just echoing in the narrator’s head as he and the woman keep walking.

And the fact that I could have taken the song so far speaks well of it. At least I think so.

Previous songs of the week: