Sunday, August 31, 2008

Note From My Doctor

Dear Back of the Cereal Box readers,

Drew is unable to blog because he was bitten by a yeti. He will blog again when the yeti bite heals. It should not be long. If you see a yeti, run, because its bite may make you reluctant to blog.

Dr. Norman P. Mufflepuff, M.D.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Forgotten Jar Pixies

Anyone that actually played through the first Super Mario Bros. all the way to the end of level 8-4 should remember the game’s ending: a generic thank you from a pixelated mess that is supposed to be Princess Peach followed by Mario’s inexplicable reappearance back at the beginning of level 1-1. Only now the game’s levels were populated with the hard-to-kill beetle enemies. Beetle World, my brother and I called it.

Super Mario Bros. 2 offers something a little more cinematic.

When Mario — or, as the case may be, Luigi, Peach or Toad — does in the game’s final boss, Wart, by tossing a sufficient number of vegetables into his mouth, he dies, causing to materialize a door that leads to a plugged-up vase. Mario — or, again, whoever — pulls the plug and out spring eight strange-looking fairies whom the game hasn’t previously mentioned in any way. They don’t introduce themselves, but celebrate their liberation from their cruel amphibian captor and push his corpse crowd surfer-style into oblivion. (Yes, the game is strange.)

Then, of course, Mario wakes up, revealing the whole of Super Mario Bros. 2 to be a dream. As he snoozes away, the “cast” scrolls by — again, very cinematically, even more so than many games since. Included in the list of characters — in the list of enemy characters, no less — is the mysterious fairy. Its apparent name: Subcon — a fairly lame play on the word subconscious. Which is especially strange, since the name of the place in which Super Mario Bros. 2 takes place — per the game’s instruction manual and its intro screen as well — is also Subcon.

See for yourself:

images courtesy of the video game museum

The obvious conclusion would be that the little characters are, in fact, called “Subcon,” and the fact that they share their name with the place they live in is either a happy coincidence or some great symbolic association. (They are their country. Like America Ferrera or something.) As any keen-eyed person who has ever played Super Mario Bros. 2 through knows, however, the end credits are chock-full of typos. Birdo is “Ostro.” Clawgrip, the rock-throwing crab boss, is “Clawglip.” And so forth. So perhaps the Subcon fairies’ names are screw-ups as well. “Ostro” and “Clawglip” have been fixed down the line in various Super Mario Bros. 2 remakes, however, and the “Subcon” name has remained.

So who or what the hell are these things?

As far as I know, they’re just as mysterious in the game’s original version, Doki Doki Panic. (If they’re better explained and you know this and you’re reading this now, by all means please tell me.) And while a lot of that which populates Super Mario Bros. 2 was eventually pulled into the stable of regular Mario game elements, these little weirdos never showed up again.

I guess we’ll never know. Unless we’ve played through Doki Doki Panic and know the secret, in which case you probably do know and should tell me pronto.

EDIT: Just found the Doki Doki Panic ending on YouTube. Cleared up nothing.

Except that the Arabian family owns a pet monkey.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

High Art, Local News — Part Two

A headline I just wrote:

Fence to Deter Pooping in Creek, City Hopes

Where was that grad school application, again?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dogs and Gossip

While I’ve only seen two episodes of Gossip Girl and while I have only a superficial awareness of Tinsley Mortimer, I appreciate a good rip against a public figure when I hear one. Take, for example, Gawker’s treatment of the socialite, handbag designer and general target of ridicule. They drop the news that she will be making a guest appearance on Gossip Girl — which, by the way, features the talent of Kristen Bell and which for that reason alone has value. Given the character of the show as I understand it, Mortimer is a perfect fit. Then they promise an exclusive clip of the show featuring her.

This is what they show:

This delights me for several reasons. First: everything about it. I don’t know why anyone would have thought to make such a movie, but I’m eternally grateful that they did. Secondly, I can’t help but imagine Mortimer — who doubtlessly is aware of the blogs that mock her as the characters on Gossip Gir are of the online piddlings that drive the plot of the show — idly checking up on what the blogosphere has to say about her today. She’d see this, but not being the kind of person who gets jokes, and just sit in a state of total bewilderment. “Why do they say I’m dogs? Who are these dogs? Why do they say I’m dogs?!”


The clip, by the way, comes from something called The Dogway Melody, which we should doubtlessly all watch in its entirety at some point in our lives.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Amsterdam Breakfast

It’s nice to have relatives from out-of-the-country come and stay. It’s nicer when they say things adorably foreign. I nearly thought the Swiss Cousin Lorenzo would complete his entire stay without making any such slip-up, likely as a result of the fact that he’s been studying English in San Francisco all summer and now consequently speaks quite well, but this morning at IHOP he referred to the shredded, pan-friend potato bits on his plate as “hash brownies.” No no, Swiss Cousin Lorenzo, in the United States we don’t eat hash brownies for breakfast.

The difference between hash brownies and hash browns was explained.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Do You Not Hear the Thunder?

Men at Work’s 1981 hit “Down Under,” translated into a prose narrative.
Traveling in an old van on a trail frequented by unwashed youths, I had a hangover. I encountered a strange woman who made me nervous, but I nonetheless went with her back to her home. Though I’d rather gloss over the subject, we had sexual intercourse. The next morning, while eating, she finally realized I was Australian and asked me about it.

“Are you from Australia, where the women are always pregnant and men are habitual thieves? Do you not hear thunder?” she asked. “You’d better run, better take cover.” She presumably was referring to the thunder when she suggested that I take cover.

Then, another time, I was buying bread from a man in Brussels. He was in rather good shape. I asked him if he spoke the Australian dialect of English in which words like “combie” and “chunder” are understood. Then he gave me a sandwich smeared with yeast paste. Then he began speaking.

“I’m from Australia, where people drink a lot of beer and male inhabitants vomit, presumably as a result of plentiful beer,” he said. “Do you not hear thunder? You’d better run, better take cover.” Again, presumably he was referring to the thunder, which has apparently followed me to Belgium.

Another time, I was in Mumbai, visiting an opium den. As a result of heavy intoxication, I was prostrate and slack-jawed. I asked the man, possibly the opium den manager, “Are you trying to tempt me because I come from a nation that seems rich and plentiful in comparison to yours?”

Then the man said to me the following: “Oh! Do you come from Australia Where the woman are always pregnant and the men are habitual thieves? Do you not hear thunder? You’d better run, better take cover.” You see, because the thunder had at this point followed me from Belgium to India.
Loses a bit, doesn’t it? And, also, who knew that the song was called just “Down Under” and not “Land Down Under”?

Apparently this will have to suffice for the second song of the week, the first of which was this better song. Back on track next week.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Roynish Clone

Wish I could remember where I found this one, but I can’t. It simply appeared mysteriously on my unsorted list of candidates for word of the week. I chose it for this post simply because we’re now at “R” and it was the first on the list to begin with this letter. It’s also the first word of the week to have strong Shakespearean association, as many definitions of it cite a line spoken to Duke Frederick in As You Like It: “My lord, the roynish clown, at whom so oft Your Grace was wont to laugh, is also missing.”
roynish (ROIN-ish) — adjective: mangy; scabby; mean; paltry; troublesome.
This tragically out-of-use word, which is sometimes also spelled roinish, probably doesn’t mean all of those things at once but can instead mean any of them in a given social situation. You have to admit, however, that one word that could potentially pack in all five slams against one’s hygiene or demeanor is pretty great, especially because it doesn’t sound like a bad word. If put in the proper context, it could sound downright regal.

The Wiktionary claims that roynish comes from the French rogneux, which in turn came from the French word rogne, meaning “scab,” “mange,” or “itch.” Through, I found another etymology. (And, yes, I realize that comparing Wiktionary information against information could possibly be as worthwhile a venture as comparing bus stop restroom graffiti with tenement elevator graffiti. “This one says ‘Mexico sucks balls’ while the other says ‘U.S.A. sucks cock.’ What to make of this disparity?”) According to an affiliate called simply “Obscure Words” — which itself is rather obscure, as it’s not linked to in any way from — roynish traces back to the French roin, “scurf”or “scab” to the Vulgar Latin ronea. My non-Vulgar Latin dictionary doesn’t have an entry for ronea and efforts to find an online Vulgar Latin dictionary resulted only in online dictionary definitions of the term “Vulgar Latin,” so I guess that path ends there.

The “Obscure Words” definition also offers the spelling roinous, which Microsoft Word AutoCorrect insists on changing to ruinous. While I’m on the subject of technical failures, a Google search for the spelling roinish offers the correction “Did you mean finish?” No, Google, I didn’t. I’m not yet that stupid.

Regardless of precisely where the term came from, I enjoy it as a wonderfully awful alternative to the overused stable of pejorative adjectives we English-speakers have to use against unpleasant people. As this blog demonstrates in the post “Thou roynish, eye-offending hedge-pig,” roynish appears as one of the mix-and-match terms in the Elizabethan Curse Generator, which surely will delight us all.

Previous words of the week:

Friday, August 22, 2008

The First Lady of Video Games

I’ve previously noted how Google searches for “world’s largest suppository” and “opalescent dragon” turned up less interesting results than I hoped for. I have a new one today, and one that I’m a little more disappointed to present: Google does not seem to have a definite answer to my query of “first female video game character.”

I’d always thought it was Ms. Pac-Man, but I’ve never been sure. Her Wikipedia page makes no mention of it, though that might be because it’s actually for the game Ms. Pac-Man and not the character herself. This blog and this video game character fan site posit that the one to hold this title is, in fact, the be-bowed female counterpart to Pac-Man. (She’s not necessarily his wife, hence the “Ms.”). However, Google also little else. (Some results posit Street Fighter II’s Chun-Li or Metroid’s Samus, though I’m sure neither is the first.) And searching for the phrase sans quotation marks turns up little else of interest. (Results range from a list of non-overly sexualized video game heroines to a profile of Chrono Trigger’s prominent tranny character Flea to, inexplicably, a rundown of various body types of male video game heartthrobs.)

image from

So it is Ms. Pac-Man, right? Hopefully some other soul with nothing better to do but to Google this will now come across this page and correct me if I’m wrong.

Pac-Man, previously on Back of the Cereal Box:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Legend of Purple

Note: Eight years later, I updated and expanded this post. See it here.

Below is a YouTube video that plays the song “April” by Deep Purple. Yes, Deep Purple — the guys most familiar to me, at least, for songs like “Smoke on the Water,” “Woman From Tokyo” and the original version of “Hush.” I’d imagine most people my age haven’t heard “April,” however. It’s not even famous enough to warrant its own Wikipedia page. Those with a childhood rooted in Nintendo may wish to give a listem however, as it has numerous similarities to various themes from the original Legend of Zelda.

Frankly, I’m astounded. According to the Wikipedia page for Koji Kondo — the guy responsible for the music in most of Nintendo’s major titles, including the Super Mario Bros. theme — hasn’t necessarily admitted that “April” was a major inspiration for him when composing music for Zelda, but it’s hard to overlook the similarities.

Credit goes to NeoGAF’s “Cloudbush” thread, which I’ve written about before. Full of revelations, it is.

And for the sake of comparison, here is a clip of the actual Zelda theme. I felt a guitar version would best demonstrate the similarities. This one is played by Zack Kim, who does it by playing two guitars at once, which is pretty remarkable in an of itself.

Also, I’m going to include a different rendition as well — one of the original Zelda’s dungeon theme. Around the two-minute mark in “April,” there’s a brief part that sounds almost exactly like it, perhaps even more so than the overall song sounds like the Zelda main theme. Here is that, again played on guitar.

EDIT: Okay, while it's not ad admission of anything, Kondo mentioned in an interview with Nintendo Power magazine that he at one point played in a band that covered Deep Purple, among other things. So it at least seems possible that he could have been familiar enough with April to have had it influence his work. That's probably as close to a yes or no answer as we'll ever get.
Video games and music, previously:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Let’s Not Call Him "Blackie," Okay?

I’ve decided to answer at in full post form a question left by a commenter sometime back regarding an old Mario game. For better or worse, I seem to be good at answering these types of things, so as long as people are willing to ask about them, I’m willing to write.

The comment-question — or commestion, if you will — reads as follows:
Hi. I found your blog looking for this, and I figure you might know. I can remember playing this game at my cousin's house when I was a kid. It wasn't a Super Mario game, but I think Mario was in it. I don't think Mario was even in the name. I can't remember what it was called. I looked at lists of old Nintendos and didn't see it. It wasn't anything like regular Super Mario. And I think Wario was in it and would keep you from blowing stuff up. Can you tell me what this game is?
The answer: The inquisitive commenter was remembering Wrecking Crew, a game that most people should have trouble remembering on grounds that it’s actually not all that fun. Just hard. (In fact, ScrewAttack rated it the eighth worst Mario game ever.) I’d imagine the fact that it doesn’t have Mario’s name in the title hard to pick out, as nowadays most game’s featuring the company’s mustachioed mascot also feature his name in some manner. (Mario plays tennis? Mario Tennis. Mario plays golf? Mario Golf. Should Mario ever take up lacrosse, I’d wager the game will be called Mario Lacrosse.)

The title isn’t the only thing that might make Wrecking Crew hard to remember. The game itself plays little like what people today associate with Mario — you must break things with a hammer and cannot even jump to further this goal. Mario bounced his way through Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., always with cheerful boingy sound effects. Not so here. Unless Mario is climbing a ladder, he’s basically nailed to the floor.

image from

Even worse: Mario can’t even use the hammer he carries to fight off the various enemies he encounters: anthromorphosized wrenches, anthromorphosized eggplants, finally, the subject of this post. The last of these happens to be the subject of this post. It’s not Wario, but an early, pixelated 8-bit version guy who happens to look a lot like Wario: yellow costume, pointy evil facial hair, and a general Mario-like appearance coupled with a total disregard for whatever goal Mario is trying to accomplish.

not the wario

This is where I overthink things.

Among the types who have reason or interest to track such mostly meaningless matters, it’s suspected that this non-Wario — named “Foreman Spike” in North America and, unfortunately, “Blackie” in Japan — served as a sort of proto-Wario, or at least the series’ first-ever human antagonist and kinda-sorta anti-Mario before the real thing arrived years later. Though Nintendo saw fit to limit Spike’s subsequent appearances, he did show up again in a remake of Wrecking Crew: the title Wrecking Crew ’98, which came out in Japan only, for the Satellaview, a modem add-on for the Japanese version of the Super Nintendo. (It allowed people to download games via a satellite radio station, daily, between 4 and 7 p.m. So, basically, it was the Flinstones car version of what we have now.) Anyway, by 1998, Wario had become popular and Nintendo seemed to restyle Spike in Wario’s image. Oh, and also in the image of a gay leather daddy. Oh that Nintendo!

spike: gayest nintendo character until captain rainbow

Spike appeared just once more — again in a game that never made it to the U.S. For whatever reason, he drove the vehicle that picks up balls in Mobile Golf. And for this last appearance, Nintendo reverted Spike back to his old image — less like Wario, less gay, and without the big red nose. And, also, he drove the ball picker-upper for no apparent reason.

Weirdly, Nintendo brings up Spike again in strange ways. In Mario Kart DS, for example, that same stupid ball picker-upper appeared as one of the vehicles used by Wario’s cohort, Waluigi.

People like me can only assume such callbacks are intentional and a means to pull strange old bits of Nintendo nostalgia to the forefront again. I appreciate it, anyway.

While I’m on the subject of Spike and his three different looks over the years, I think I’ll mention a certain design trend that Nintendo likes to perpetuate with Wario and Wario-related characters: drunkard’s noses, or at least what a U.S.-raised guy like me has come to recognize as the cartoony indicator of someone who enjoys the sauce a little too much. Wario has one. Always has. Waluigi, who was clearly designed in Wario’s image, has one too. And the Wrecking Crew ’98 version of Spike got one too. Later in Wario’s video game career, he’d have the WarioWare series, which introduced more people with red, inflamed-looking honkers.

left to right: jimmy, dr. crygor, and master mantis

Possibly red noses mean something different in Japan to what they mean here, but nonetheless I enjoy the thought of Nintendo putting forth a game populated by alcoholics. And it would appear that the trend applies only to male characters. The closest a search for WarioWare characters with nose issues that I could find was the woman I like to call “Miss Sniffles” — the distraught, sweater-clad, city-dwelling blonde from the oft-used microgame involving snipping her snot string.

dual-screen action joined into one mucousy mess

End note: I, at least, enjoyed this. Perhaps I shall write more about obscure Mario characters. Perhaps I shall suffer horrible indignation as a result of putting my name on this. Time will tell.

EDIT: A commenter offered a theory on Spike’s Japanese name. Given the game’s demolition theme, it seems plausible, at least that the Romanji representing his Japanese name could have actually meant Breaky rather than Blackie. I’ll support it, especially since the character is depicted more often than not as not wearing black. Thank you, anonymous commenter.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Earl Sneed Sinclair

Until today, Sinclair Oil was a petroleum company of which I was wholly unaware. Its logo looks like this:

How much do we all want to bet that Sinclair Oil was the inspiration for the surname of the central family on the very self-aware sitcom Dinosaurs, whose patriarch is referenced in the title of this post. I'd like to think that this was the case, especially because all of the Dinosaurs characters died in the shows finale, thus making them all prime candidates to be petroleum products today.

Also, since the subject has already been brought up, did you all realize that Jessica Walter of Arrested Development fame and soon to be of neo-90210 ignominy was the voice of the matriarch on Dinosaurs? Just try to imagine what Lucille Bluth would sound like angrily saying "Earl Sneed Sinclair" and you'll get it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Neither Quicksilver Not Quick-Solving

Another break from alphabetical order, I’m afraid, but one I liked too much to pass up. And when I say “liked too much,” I of course mean “wrote all of before I realized that I’d just done a “Q” word last week. In any case, this week’s word, which is largely notable only for its more popular, truncated form.
quacksalver (KWAK-sal-ver) — noun: an ignorant pretender to medical skills.
Obviously, this obsolete word gave us quack, which, when not referring to ducks, means basically what quacksalver meant. Before today, I’d never thought about the strangeness of using a term associated with waterfowl to call out a fraudulent doctor. Turns out the two are actually related. As Peter Bowler relates in The Superior Person’s Book of Words, the longer form of the word comes to us from the act of people chattering boastfully, or quacking, about his pseudo-medicinal wares, which could have likely included salves. As doctors today might well take offense to the term quack, Bowler recommends always using quacksalver, as it may “pass unchallenged in a roomful of doctors, who will probably assume that you are speaking of domestic silver.” Bowler doesn’t, however, explain why the word became truncated the way it did nor why the verb quack — which the American Heritage Dictionary claims came ultimately from imitation of the noise a duck makes — came to mean “boastful chattering.”

Wanting more background on this, I looked up quacksalver itself at the AHD and found something more: The word, which this dictionary defines more strictly — “a quack or charlatan,” implying that you could use it for any sort of faker — comes from obsolete Dutch. The first part was derived either from the Middle Dutch quacken, “to boast,” or quac-, “unguent.” (I’ll admit I had to look up unguent. It means “salve.”) The second part comes from the Middle Dutch salven, “to salve.”

Odd that there’s the disparity with the first part, and that the world could either mean “boast” or “salve,” especially since the latter would make quacksalver mean “salve salver.” Or something. The altogether generic-sounding notes that the Dutch word is now spelled kwakzalver, which I think is infinitely more fun to spell and look at. So good call on that one, Dutch-speakers.

Encyclopedia Drew and the Phantom Skull

A happy Venture Bros.-esque coincidence involving a table candle and a wine glass at Ca'Dario last night. Nothing accompanies fine Italian food better than the reminder that you are, in fact, going to die.


Cred to Noam and his Noamphone.

Previous Encyclopedia Drew adventures:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Active or Just Popular?

There’s basically no time when accidentally typing “bustiest” when you mean “busiest” doesn’t result in hilarity, is there?

Shrine of the Sea Monkey

Things I saw and decided to capture with the picture box machine in my phone.


This, one of the many copies of Dori Carter's Beautiful Wasps Having Sex at a thrift store. The title struck me as hilarious, especially when paired with the cover image, until I realized that it probably refers not to wasps — the things that sting with rear-end venom injectors — but WASPs — the things that sting with gin-sharpened cutting remarks. Note to the cover designer: Acronyms become invisible when all the other letters are also capitalized as well. Doy. For whatever reason, the Amazon page for Beautiful Wasps Having Sex says that people who bought it also bought nothing else besides X-Files merchandise. Perhaps the books WASPs actually have venom injectors?


Then there's this: a sign posted at a different thrift store. (It was a busy weekend, clearly.) I have to give the sign's author credit for being far more optimistic a person than I could ever be. Realistically, a record player sold ten years ago is probably gone for good, likely sold again to other thrift stores twice over by now. And there's something wonderful in (a) publicly displaying a photo of your now twentysomething-year-old son gleefully holding a pair of oversized pajama pants, (b) having the only available photo of the thing you're looking for crop out about a third of said thing, and (c) informing the public that, despite the carelessness with which you treat your apparently treasured record players, you've somehow managed not to accidentally sell your son at a thrift store as well. Am I the only one who's never heard of an Altec Lansing record player?


And then this, which marks the first ever time I've bothered to mention Miley Cyrus on this blog. It wasn't a deliberate attempt to ignore her. I just didn't have good enough reason to bring her up until I saw this magazine, whose cover accuses her of doing the very thing that is the premise of the TV show that brought her stardom. You have to admit it's kind of funny. It's like accusing Raven-Symoné of being sassy. No, wait that's probably true. It's like accusing Cody and Dylan Sprouse of living in a hotel? Does that work?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Strange, But Not That Strange

Today I interviewed Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files. I actually texted this information to some people today, not so much because I wanted to talk about it but more that today was the only day that I could have done so and not been lying.

In short, if you get this text from me tomorrow, I'm probably just trying to relive today's glory.

Shark-Bitten, Love Smitten

As noted in my now three-day-old previous post, my paper put out a shark issue. Below is my contribution, which may sound familiar to anyone who was reading my blog back in January. It’s a story about avid Cereal Box reader Tharpe-Tharpe and the shark that brought pain, carnage and ultimately monogamous love. With a human, I should add.
Shark Bite: A Love Story

This story doesn’t involve anyone who lives in Santa Barbara. You may ask why, then, it’s being printed in a Santa Barbara newspaper. The answer, simply, is that this issue is devoted to sharks and this story is good enough that you should read it anyway, because you probably don’t know anybody else for whom a shark bite resulted in a marriage proposal. Yes, this shark story is also a love story — and one with a considerably happier ending than most stories involving sharks.

Last October, my friend Megan Tharpe and her boyfriend, Aaron Finley, took a break from their lives in West Hollywood — where she works as a photographer and he as a sound engineer at the Los Angeles club Largo — to spend a few days in Maui. Typical sun-soaked Hawaiian vacation business, it was, and all organized under Aaron’s rule: “Land is for sleeping on at night, ocean is for daytime.” That came to an abrupt halt on October 29, when a dip at the Maui Four Seasons beach — a spot that Megan picked, she notes with some regret — ended with Aaron’s brief but memorable one-on-one with a tiger shark. “I swam out past where the waves were,” Aaron described, “and was floating for 10 or 15 minutes when I felt like I slammed into something. I thought I had drifted into a rock. I looked up and saw this huge gray hump. … Then I noticed my leg was bleeding.”

As sharks sometimes do, this 10- to 12-footer took a chomp out of Aaron’s leg, in what Hawai‘i-area newscasters deemed a “catch and release,” probably resulting from the fact that the shark was disappointed Aaron was not a seal or a turtle. That one bite, however, managed to cause a crescent-shaped, 10-inch gash — from his calf to above his knee — that left a significant chunk of meat hanging off his leg and his leg bone visible.

Aaron described backstroking to shore before beachgoers realized his predicament and one “Baywatched” him out of the water and carried him like a baby to a place where those concerned could examine the extent of his injuries. “Then we saw that his calf was not attached to the rest of his leg anymore,” Megan recalled. Most of the pain felt more like a broken bone, Aaron recalled, and less like the huge wound that it was. “You’d think something like that would be more devastatingly painful,” Aaron posited, “but the shark’s teeth are so sharp that it punctures the nerve, cauterizes it.” To this, Megan chimed in with, “Aaron has an amazingly high pain threshold.”

In the end, of course, Aaron survived — thus his ability to tell me his story — though his being alive entailed nerve grafts, having a vacuum suck tiny marine crustaceans out of his leg, an extra three weeks in Maui with his stitched-together leg sticking straight out in front of him immobile, and the knowledge that his bite was only an inch away from his femoral artery. (Solana Beach resident Dave Martin died from blood loss this April after a shark punctured this artery while he was swimming in the ocean by his hometown, Aaron noted, pointing out how lucky he was.) He can walk now, though he can’t move his middle and pinkie toes. “Which is pretty good, considering a shark bit me,” Aaron said.

Of course, Maui papers wrote about Aaron’s ordeal and soon Californian papers did too, including ones read by his and Megan’s families. “And that’s how we got engaged,” Megan explained. “The hospital asked who we were, so just so I had full access to Aaron, I said I was his future fiancée.” So as news of the shark bite spread to everybody back home, so too did news of the apparent bite from the marriage bug, with the latter taking a backseat to the former. Megan’s father arrived in Maui a few days later and a recovering, hospitalized Aaron asked him, “It’s a little late to be asking you this, but it’s all right if I marry your daughter, right?”

Sure, the shark attack diverted Aaron and Megan’s initial plans as a couple, maybe even accelerated them. But certainly a couple that can overcome a shark bite can cope with a slightly altered course in life. When they said that they planned to marry this October 10 at the Maui Four Seasons, I assumed it was some sick joke until Megan explained their reasoning: “When the shark attack happened, we made so many friends in Maui. … It’s our favorite place on Earth,” she said. “And it’s also cathartic. And we’re celebrating a year that Aaron isn’t dead.” Aaron said he plans to try his luck at the same beach once again, figuring the odds that he’d be bitten again are astronomical.

“Unless you’re swimming in steak-filled water,” he added. Appropriate though it might be, that particular activity is not scheduled to be part of the festivities.
As the in-print version of the article states, you can see especially graphic photos of Aaron’s shark bite. Click here and here, if you’re not bothered by a little raw flesh. And if you wish to further follow Megan and Aaron’s path to shark-born matrimony, visit her blog, Misadventures in Wedding Planning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I Am, We Are, Mario Is, They Are

As everybody knows, the internet was invented to give people a chance to argue endlessly about subjects that don’t really matter. A while back, I stumbled onto one of these.

Below is a screenshot of a beta version of Mario Kart 64. If you’ve actually played the game, you might notice that it looks different than what eventually arrived on the Nintendo 64. The character models look a little more cartoony, and Donkey Kong isn’t there. In his place is a Magikoopa — one of those wizard turtles who occasionally show up in Mario games. I found it here, and people using this message board couldn’t agree whether this character was just a generic Magikoopa or a specific one — Kamek, a character introduced as a bad guy in the game Yoshi’s Island.

I know, I know — God bless the internet. It’s like bickering over whether Greedo shot first, only without the widespread interest. That’s what I get for wandering onto message board. The argument, however, raises a point about translation differences in video games and a sense of “self-ness” that works different in other cultures than it does in mine. Essentially, a person or a creature can simultaneously be an individual and all members of its group. A little heady for something that grew out of an message board argument about Mario Kart, but it’s true.

Think about Pokémon, if you happen to have been exposed enough to it. It’s mascot is Pikachu, who is an individual character, but Pikachu is also a race of characters, who looks exactly like Pikachu and are all called Pikachu. It doesn’t jive with the American notion of celebrated individuality — “I’m the best me there is!” — but it’s nonetheless accurate.

The answer to the Mario Kart argument is that the would-be kart-driving turtle is both Kamek and a generic Magikoopa. (“Stop, you’re all right. And you’re all losers.”) Kamek is an unique character in the west, for sure, but in his home country, he’s known as Kamekku, but so are all the generic, non-talking, quickly stomped Magikoopas. In short, not everyone makes the distinction that we might here in the U.S. or in other Western cultures.

Since the above beta screenshot is the closest Kamek or any of his generic counterparts got to being playable in Mario Kart, most casual video game players probably have no idea who is, but the self-as-all concept applies to some of the better known Mario characters as well.

For example, Yoshi is Yoshi, the sticky-tongued, green dinosaur buddy who has followed Mario around since Super Mario World. But at the same time, a Yoshi is also the entire race of dinosaur characters that look just like Yoshi, except when they’re colors other than green. And even when they’re other colors, they’re still called Yoshi. It’s very strange, when you think about it.

Maybe Yoshi isn’t the best example. Take Birdo. She’s the pink dinosaur — though Yoshi can be pink sometimes, so don’t get them confused. (This is the least of the identity problems these two bipedal lizards share.) Birdo herself isn’t even always pink, however; she shows up in other games in all manner of shades and sometimes even shows up onscreen in multiples. They’re all Birdo, even if none of them happen to be the Birdo.

Likewise again with Toad. Little generic Toads showed up as far back as the original Super Mario Bros., but only with Super Mario Bros. 2 did he get the name “Toad.” They’re everywhere now, but they’re not always necessarily the Toad, except when they are. All Toads look the same, to a degree. At the very least, there’s a ton with blue vests and red mushroom spots. This last one is further complicated by the fact that latter-day Mario games now feature the old man version of Toad, Toadsworth, and a girl version of Toad, Toadette. They don’t appear in multiples, however, so it seems like they exist as are unique characters. That is, all female Toads aren’t called Toadettes and all old man Toads aren’t Toadsworths.

At least we can all rest easy knowing that there’s only one Mario — except when you’re playing something like Smash Bros. and there are multiples of him on screen, but that’s a different logical snag.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Down Where It’s Wetter

My paper is putting out a shark-themed issue this week. Yes, I realize that Shark Week was officially last week, but hey — we’re an alternative weekly, so I guess we get to have an alternative Shark Week.

In any case, I sat in on a meeting to think of cover lines for our shark issue. This process basically amounts to group stream-of-consciousness brainstorming, wherein the participants blurt out anything that comes to mind that might have some relation to the cover story at hand — appropriately themed idioms, puns, any available alliterations, pop culture references, and whatever else comes to mind. Almost instantly, I got the Little Mermaid song “Under the Sea” stuck in my head, specifically the lyrics “Darling it’s better / Down where it’s wetter / Take it from me.” My God. What a filthy, filthy collection of lyrics, even for a Disney movie with more than its share of sex joke urban legends associated with it. This chunk of the song seems especially filthy when you remember that it’s sung by Sebastian, a crab, and it seems especially strange when you remember that it’s being sung to a woman who lacks any apparent human body parts from the waist down.

Past mermaidery:
And then there’s also the odd connections between Disney’s version Little Mermaid and Mary Magdalene, which I stumbled onto while trying to find a good list of the sex-related urban legends surrounding the film. I’d previously read about Mary-related imagery associated with mermaids in general but had no idea that anyone, much less Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, had tried to make ties the between Jesus’s supposed number one lady and the Disneyfied version of mermaid who wanted legs. See here and here and here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Happy Quoll Tag to You As Well!

After a brief delay in the posting of the blogs on the website, I'm attempting a comeback. To kick off the renewed commitment to the posting of the blogs on the website, I've chosen to slip in a word-of-the-week. Just pretend this went up Saturday. What, you were expecting Maria Bamford?
qualtagh (pronounced something like KWAL-tog, I'd guess, though the internet is not forthcoming with an official pronunciation) — noun: the first person you meet after leaving your house on some special occasion. Also, the first person entering a house on New Year’s Day.
This is one of those that appears in collections of strange words and has little use otherwise. In fact, I found this word in Erin McKean's Weird and Wonderful Words and a lot of Google hits for the term reference that very book. To complicate matters somewhat, people seem not to know exactly where the word comes from to the point where anybody I saw had broken it down into etymological chunks. McKean suggests "first foot" as an apposition for the term, and I wonder if that two-word renaming might actually be a calque from Manx English into the non-Manx English that I tend to prefer. People do seem to agree that qualtagh comes from the Isle of Man. This rundown of various season-based Manx customs includes it, anyway.

McKean goes on to elaborate on the term:
The new year’s qualtagh, for luck, is supposed to be a dark-haired man. A red-headed or female qualtagh is unlucky. Other things to bring luck to the house on New Year’s Day include serving black-eyed peas, having the qualtagh bring shortbread and whiskey (sounds fine for any day of the year), and sweeping all the garbage in the house out through the front door before midnight on New Year’s Eve (so that any of the misfortune of the past year is gone, not to return).
A neat little superstition, no? Word-based social network Wordie — "like Flickr, but without the photos" — offers a little more insight. User Reesetee, whose name may or may not be an Animal Crossing reference, claims that the word at one point "referred to the custom of going in a group from door to door at Christmas or New Year, making a request for food or other gifts in the form of a song." So there's that, too, providing that Reesetee hasn't set out to pull the collective legs of all us word nerds.

Not the greatest pick, I'll admit, but interesting enough. In the end, I was a little disappointed that this all had nothing to do with quolls or tags that one might attach to said quolls. I probably should have just run with quasihemidemisemiquaver and left it at that.

Previous words of the week:

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Tiny Earth

Though the Wii has brought video games back into my life to a degree, I don’t play them as much as I used to. As you may have already realized, however, I do spend some time thinking back on the old titles I played and, even more often, the ones I played repeatedly.

Wikipedia serves as an endless source of nostalgia for these bygone games, offering little reminders of my childhood with whatever details the articles’ writers deem encyclopedic enough. (“That’s right. Link did have to use the hammer to knock down the trees that hid New Kasuto, the predecessor to which had been reduced to a ghost town, literally. What fun!”) I occasionally write about these old memories, but only when I can justify it somehow — by tying a game to some obscure bit of trivia, like I did with Teresa and the Hopping Chinese Zombies, or by putting the game in the context of wistfulness for my own childhood, like I did with “Messages From Sahasrahla.” Somehow, I feel guilty about remembering just for the sake of remembering — not so much because I worry that you the reader might find unjustified nostalgia less interesting, but more that I feel I have to make it matter. Video games, viewed as such, don’t matter all that much to most people, maybe because they truly are just silly toys or maybe because most people haven’t given them the thought I have.

Consider this all, then, a prologue for what I’ll discuss in the below paragraphs and, retroactively, as an explanation for every other rant on the bytes and sprites that I’ve duped you into reading here.

Drop any associations you might have about the words “final” and “fantasy” used in conjunction. (Especially if your immediate association is Own Pallett’s pre-Arcade Fire project, which, by the way, is named after the video game series) Though the series has proved monumentally popular since its debut in 1987, most people haven’t played any of the twelve full-fledged Final Fantasy installments so far, and that includes even you geek-savvy Back of the Cereal Box readers, I’d wager. A quick explanation: For the most part, the Final Fantasy games exist independently of each other, with each sequel taking place on a world with a unique geography and history. Some games, especially early ones, skew medieval, some futuristic, some into an alternate past where the mechanical technology includes innovations that it shouldn't have yet. My favorite, by far, was Final Fantasy 6, which is often known as Final Fantasy VI or, due to the fact that these games appeared in the United States in a different order than they did in their native Japan, Final Fantasy 3.

To anyone who played and truly appreciated the game, Final Fantasy 6 likely represents a pinnacle of sorts for the 16-bit age of gaming. It offered a rather comprehensive storyline that seemed downright epic when I first played it in late 1994. (In retrospect, the travails of its twelve main characters strike me as a little hokey and maudlin. This could very well stem from the fact that the game’s plot was not written for an American audience, in which case I suppose I should be less judgmental.) Perhaps what helps the game stand the test of time nonetheless, I feel, is the fact that it has no genuinely central character despite having a single cohesive plot. The creators tell the story through the interactions of many different protagonists, each with his or her personal cast of supporting players. These individual stories slowly evolve into a central struggle. No mean feat, I’d say, even for a work of literature. The game’s story falls short of any true literary greatness, but for a video game and for something played by 12-year-old me, it was pretty engrossing.

The point of this all — and my chance to demonstrate how my Latin training paid off, as I look back on the game as a piece of text, written and then re-written in a different language — is that the significance of certain words chosen actually lent Final Fantasy 6 a deeper meaning than I realized as a kid. Remember when I said the game lacked a true central character? That’s still true, but two characters come closer to being the main protagonists than any others. They also happen to both be female — a relative rarity, both for the Final Fantasy series and for video games in general during the time this one came out. The game is divided into two distinct halves: the first in which the heroes attempt to thwart the villain from accomplishing something dreadful, and the second, which takes place one year later, after the dreadful thing has happened and has drastically changed the world for the worse. The first half begins focused around Terra, a young woman who cannot remember who her own past. Her gradual discovery of where she came from probably constitutes the first half’s most important plot thread. It drives a lot of the action. In the second half, the player begins as Celes, a supporting character from the game’s first half who gradually reunites the heroes to finally defeat the megalomaniac who caused the world to fall into its less-than-happy state in the first place.

terra, looking more beautiful than 16 bits could have ever made her appear,
in promotional art for final fantasy 6

Aside from the obvious parallels between Terra and Celes — both are only 18 years old at the story’s beginning, both exhibit paranormal abilities that initially set them apart from the rest of the game’s human population, and both begin the story in the service of the story’s villain — their very names suggest their nature as complementary components. Terra’s name, of course, comes directly from the Latin word for “earth,” while Celes’s would seem to suggest a truncated form of the name “Celeste,” which comes from caelestis, meaning “heavenly.” This merits notice not only because earth and sky carry symbolic significance as elements of the natural world, but also because the game itself takes place on the ground, as characters trot about the landscape, and in sky, as airships and a floating island figure heavily into the plot. (Had there been a third segment and had the game featured the sea as a significant setting, I would have bet its start-off character would have been named “Marin” or “Maria.” In fact, the game mentions an unseen character named Maria, a much-discussed opera diva, whose dead-on resemblance to Celes serves as a pivotal plot point in the game’s first half.) One of the theories that a beloved English professor once espoused (as have surely countless others in the profession) is that good fiction does not feature arbitrarily named characters, and for years I’d like to assume that this sort of planning went into Final Fantasy 6.

However, to assume it happened on the Japanese end of things would be incorrect, I eventually learned. However appropriate the symbolism that Terra and Celes’s names might imply, it can only be attributed to Ted Woolsey, an American and a longtime video game translator who has drawn some criticism for taking liberties with the original texts. (Others, however, defend him for doing a good job, given the constraints. More on those in a moment.) In the original Japanese, Terra is “Tina,” named so by her Japanese creators allegedly because the name sounds more strange and exotic to Japanese ears. Celes is still technically “Celes,” but her name could have been translated just as easily into English as “Ceres,” the name of the Roman goddess of the harvest. In that case, I’d guess her first name is pronounced less like the last name of the tennis player Monica Seles and more like a rhyme for “puh-leez.” Not only does it grate on the ears, but it blows my whole theory to linguistic smithereens.

Further evidence against my theory about the connection being important to the characters’ inceptions lies in the name of another character, Strago, a wizened old sage whose name in the Japanese version is “Stragus,” making his full name “Stragus Magus” — literally “wizard wizard.” (A stretch, I guess, but a translation that’s rooted in good standing. The Italian verb strego means “I bewitch,” a form of the verb stregare, and strega means “witch.” Stragus therefore seems like a reasonable masculine approximate, especially when you consider that it was filtered through Japanese. Magus is defined in English simply as “magician” or “sorcerer.” Thus, “wizard wizard.”) One of the technical hardships of translating character names from Japanese stems from the fact that the symbols that constitute written Japanese pack in a lot more linguistic info than do the letters of the Roman alphabet. As a result, the original Japanese game may only allot a certain number of spaces to fit names that, for the game’s original language, would have been more than enough. Once translated, however, the original names may not fit, leaving translators to either change the name or fiddle with the internal workings of the game to allow for more letters. (A good example of translators choosing the former: The game Chrono Trigger only allowed for five-letter names, leaving the protagonist’s name “Crono,” despite the fact that the game’s title used the correct spelling, “Chrono.” Different complications may arise as well. A prominent character in Final Fantasy 4, for example, is known as “Rydia,” despite the existence of the far more common name “Lydia.”) In Final Fantasy 6, this fate befell Stragus and gave him his slightly altered American name, Strago.

We already know how Tina became “Terra,” but I initially wondered if this sort of truncation could have resulted in Celes being chopped back from “Celeste.” Nope. “Celes” is officially translated as such, regardless of where she’s being appreciated. Thus, it would seem as though the “earth vs. sky” notion was never originally intended to apply to the two characters. I have to assume, then, that the metaphoric parallel the English version of the game introduces is unique, whether by design or by accident, and that we English-speakers were lucky to play through a version of the game with such a subtle but effective literary element. Strange, though, to think that it happened after-the-fact and possibly as a result of a total accident. I appreciate it, regardless, perhaps all the more so because it resulted from a translation upon a translation, and anyone who lend literary weight to words twice-translated has done well in my book. I like that I can approach content from a video game in this fashion, but also that such content can even make me think about the creators’ intentions and symbolism and language and meaning in a way that would more often be reserved for film or art or literature.

So there you have it: more pointless video game nostalgia that I’ve attempted to make seem like less of a waste of your time with the addition of context. Did I elevate it? Did I just lower myself? Will I ever have the guts to wax nostalgic on my own blog just for the sheer joy of remembering things that once made me happy?

Words in games, previously:

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Because Ants Aren't Insignificant Enough Already

Ants are pitiful things, constantly toiling away but likely to have their day’s work wiped out in an instant by the passing of some oblivious larger animal. And that’s saying that this comparative giant passes by without stepping on the ant itself, destroying him as well. Sure, ants have aphids to look down upon, but that’s not a whole lot to make them feel better.

It seems like needless further insult, then, that there exists a term for ants that’s even more demeaning. It’s my word of the week.
pismire (PISS-myre) — noun: an ant
Pismire, which I found on that vocab test I posted in this week’s link dump, sounds awful, I’d guess because it pairs piss and mire, both of which have fairly negative connotations. One of those connotations even reflects the word’s etymology. The American Heritage Dictionary says that pismire comes from the Middle English pissemyre — with the pisse meaning “urine” and coming from the smell of the formic acid that ants secrete and the mire meaning “ant,” probably Scandinavian in origin and related to the Danish word myre, “ant.”

This connection between ants and urine surprises me. I’ve heard of people mention the smell of ants before but have never noticed it myself. (Perhaps this means that my nose has just adjusted to a constant urine stench. Which would be bad. For me.) I guess it’s an actual thing, then.

This association between ants and urine is also the origin of the term pissant, which is related to pismire. Never having looked the pissant up but having understood its meaning from context, I had just assumed that the fact that it sounded like the word piss was a coincidence. It had never seemed especially vile or derogatory, and perhaps it’s not, in spite of the fact that piss is pretty much the most impolite synonym for urine that I can think of. (I’d say piss is to urine as shit is to feces. Now there’s one you didn’t see on the SAT.) The AHD defines pissant simply as “one who is insignificant” or, in an obsolete sense, as just “ant.” It also notes that pissant was modeled on pismire

Previous words of the week:


Wish me luck. Don't feel like explaining why I'm asking for this favor, but, please, just wish me luck.
Forty times you may question your life
Four to five with a hunting knife
Before you find out if you survive
Questioning marks have turned into stars

For the record you remember the few
Who for a second time you bid adieu
Forty days in the neon haze
Festering dreams are dressed in fakeries

You follow the skyway
You follow your right away
You follow the streets and the cars
And the shadows and the stars

Forty lessons you may hear from the sun
You never listened to a single one
Fallen leaves whisper like thieves
Not that you mind, you live on stolen time

You follow the skyway (etc.)

Fist loaded with a furious disdain
Your velocity will be your shame
Fast motion like a curious flame
The best I can do is to turn my back on you

You follow the skyway (etc., twice over)