Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Same Actor, Same Role, Different Language

Gérard Depardieu played what is essentially the same role in the 1991 French movie Mon père, ce héros and its 1994 remake, My Father the Hero. And Penelope Cruz played what is essentially the same role in the 1997 Spanish film Abre los ojos and its 2001 remake, Vanilla Sky. These are the only two incidents I can think of in which an actor appeared in the same role in both a movie and its remake, barring those appearing in short films that were ultimately allowed to grow to feature-length ones. Can anyone else think of actors who have done this? I’m sure I’ve heard of others and I’m sure there are many I’ve never heard of. Please inform me if you know of any.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

At the Bottom of Night

Sleepy time for the Chrono Trigger crew in a poster I received with my copy of the game.


For the diehards: the other poster.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Timberdrake

A promo poster that arrived with my copy of Secret of Evermore


If only the game had been as good as this stained glass design. Oh well — nostalgia nonetheless. Again, excuse the pinholes and tears, as this too spent some time on my bedroom wall.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

With Their Noses High in the Air

It being so close to Christmas — and this post likely being the last word-of-the-week one before December 25 comes and goes — you’d think I’d try to find something holiday-related to put up. No such luck. I won’t be regurgitating the story behind mistletoe or nog or poinsettia. Instead, I’ll just be sharing with you a word that I just recently learned and thought was cool, if only as a means of saying three syllables what might otherwise need more.
nosism (NOS-iz-em) — noun: the use of we in referring to oneself
Also known as the royal we, the editorial we or the stuck-up jerkass we, the use of the this plural pronoun by an entity that’s more on the singular side — that is, too wee to be a we — seems like something you’d do to make yourself seem more powerful. The opinion of just a me is one thing, but the shared opinion of an us is a bit more threatening.

This is why nosism might be practiced by monarchs or the monarch-minded, since they would have reason to keep up the appearance of being authoritative or, as the Wikipedia page on pluralis majestatis notes, speaking on behalf of the whole country. And this is also why a newspaper editorial might be written in the plural first person, even if the text itself is typed out by just one guy: to give what’s written the weight of the entire editorial board. The trouble is, of course, that anyone with a brain is wise to this practice, so rather than making the we-speaker seem like a bigger deal, he just seems like a bigger dick, especially when taken out of the royal and newspaper contexts. It’s also noted on the Wikipedia page that we can also be used in an educational sense — “If we add three plus three, we get six.” — and a patronizing one — “How are we feeling today?” as a doctor might ask —

As noted on A.Word.A.Day, nosism comes from the Latin nos, meaning “we.” Whee.

Previous words of the week:
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Questions Posed to the Hard-to-Shop-for Gift Recipient

“You have Netflix already, right?”

“Oh, well, have you already purchased that coat you had your eye on?”

“Model train set? Yes?”

“Okay then, do you already own heirloom chickens, by any chance?”

“And would you have any interest in owning a vintage cricket uniform?”

“Are you lacking at all in the ninja star department?”

“Why would you think these are strange questions for me to be asking?”

“Well, now that that’s behind us, have you ever felt like your life would be better if Toni Basil choreographed a hip hopera based on your life?”

“What about pickles? Do you like pickles? Because I am pretty close to just buying you an economy jar of Vlasic dill spears? Is that what you want? A gallon of dill spears?”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Second Truth From the Left

Scanned: The poster of Secret of Mana.

A thought: What the hell was the secret being referred to in the game’s title?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Who Put the “P” in the P-Wing?

Like many kids, I played Super Mario Bros. 3 until my fingers hurt. During all that time spent in front of a television sent, fingers a-twiddling, I had an opportunity to think. One of the things that has bugged me about that game is a very special item called the P-Wing that allowed Mario to fly over a given stage, avoiding injury and the certain death that bottomless pits bring. But why was it called P-Wing? What does that “P” stand for?

These are questions that seemed quite pressing to a child. Now, as a 27-year-old, I’ve finally gotten the answer. (Though I kind of forgot I was looking for this answer for roughly seventeen years. So there’s that.) has a regular feature called Iwata Asks, in which Nintendo president Satoru Iwata talks to the people who develop Nintendo games and has them walk him through the history of a given franchise or staple video game element. It’s basically as close to director’s commentary as video games can get. The release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii last month prompted a discussion on the history of the Mario franchise that yielded some cool tidbits, including that Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, initially wanted to call him Mr. Video and that the Goombas — those ambulatory mushrooms, quietly villainous and so easily stomped — are, in fact, shitakes. (That latter bit might be kind of a “no duh” to anyone with eyes and a basic understanding of what mushrooms look like, but the Japanese name for the critter translates more or less to “chestnut people,” leading some to think they were chestnuts with legs. Chestnuts with legs! The insanity of it!)

I might not have even had a look at these interviews had I not seen a tip-off at game blog Destructoid, which noted that the P-Wing was to Super Mario Bros. 3 what a new function called the Super Guide is to New Super Mario Bros. Wii: a means of helping unskilled players clear difficult levels and proceeding with the game. For the former, it allowed them to flit right over the hard parts. For the latter, it allows the computer to play through the level, demonstrating how to clear obstacles.

Destructoid didn’t note it, but the article also answered how the P-Wing, this item for baby players with clumsy little starfish hands got its name. Nintendo veteran Toshihiko Nakago is explaining the physics of flying in Super Mario Bros. 3 — which, by the way, involves a raccoon tail and ears, just like we now use today — and how normally Mario would need to get a good running start before he could take off.

I’m not sure who came up with the name, but we all referred to this as “the runway.” So at that point, we looked again at the maps and completely reworked the levels so that Mario would have places where he could take off from. In the end, we made it so that if you got an item called the P-Wing, which was the Koopa Paratroopa’s wing, you could fly through the whole level.
So there you go. The item — a wing with an otherwise mysterious “P” on it — comes from the Paratroopa enemy, hence the initial. The Koopa Paratroopa — a winged turtle whose name is a pretty obvious pun on paratrooper — has been airborne ever since the original Super Mario Bros., and it’s his wing that makes the P-Wing-powered Mario so ready for flight… even though he’s still flying with raccoon parts.

The funny thing about the “P” behind the P-Wing is that it’s probably a coincidence that this explanation of its name ended up working out sensibly in English. In Japan, the Paratroopa is called Patapata, which comes from the Japanese onomatopoeia for a pattering noise — usually of feet but apparently in this case for the flapping of wings. It just so happens, then, that the Japanese and English names for this thing happen to start with the same letter. The rest of the characters’ Japanese and English names don’t, by the way, and those translating the original game clearly didn’t take initial letters into account when they dreamed up English-friendly names for the characters.

Regardless, that settles that about that “P.” Eight-year-old me would be so satisfied. Current me: slightly less so, I suppose, but happy nonetheless.

So… What, then, does the “P” on the balloon power-up in Super Mario World stand for?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Place Is Death

A photo:

muck and bones

Horrifying, I know. I found this photo — my own, on my own Flickr account, taken about five years ago — bookmarked on my browser under the title “This Place Is Death,” for reasons I don’t understand. The title is shared with an episode of Lost. No other clues.

Happy holidays!

God Bless Vespuccia

A few years ago, I saw the play Pentecost, which features a lot of characters going on in different languages and, often, talking about language itself. At one point, while being held hostage, three characters talk about how life would be different if the continent of America had taken after Amerigo Vespucci’s last name and not his first. It would make sense, really, for the continent that I’m currently typing this post on to be called Vespuccia, since historically people have things named after their last names. In the play, the characters briefly imagine how life would have been different with a more traditionally named continent, with people singing “God Bless Vespuccia” and “I Wish They All Could Be Vespuccian Girls.”

But why the hell did this landmass get named after his first name?

According to this news article and a wealth of other historical resources, German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was the first person we know of to use America in description of any chunk of the New World. He chose Vespucci’s first name, presumably, because it rendered into a feminine Latin-style word more easily than did the dude’s last name. “Europe and Asia have received names of women,” Waldseemüller wrote. “I see no reason why we should not call this other part Amerige, that is to say the land of Americus, or America, after the sagacious discoverer.”

waldseemüller’s claim to fame — and possibly vespucci’s

Of course, what Waldseemüller didn’t know at the time was that Vespucci would not be remembered at the discoverer of the New World but as the person who helped explore South America — specifically what is now Brazil. (By the way, the two women from whom Europe and Asia allegedly got their names, by the way, are Europa, who in Greek mythology was abducted by Zeus in the form of a bull, and Hesione, a seemingly minor character in Greek mythology who happened to be married to Prometheus. There’s a lot of speculation that Asia actually got its name from other sources, some of it pretty damn sure that the source is actually Akkadian.)

Although the Vespucci-Waldseemüller story is the widely accepted one for explaining how America got its name, other theories exist — some plausible, some not, and some placing the coinage of the word at long before Columbus or Vespucci ever sailed across the sea.

Here, then, are a few of them:
  • According to what are described here as “fanciful theories,” the name is alleged by some to have come from the arrival of Eric the Red’s son at a land of “wheatfields and vines” in the mid-thirteenth century. A Scandinavian word amt meant “district” and combined with Eric the Red’s name to form Amteric, or “The Land of Eric.”
  • The same site notes that others — Christian white supremacists, according to the author — advocate that America got its name from Norse sailors arriving at the coast beginning in the eleventh century. They called the land Ommerike, meaning “the farthest outland.” The author, however, goes on to note that the Norsemen’s adventures to the New World weren’t known beyond their “teeny, fancy hat-shape part of Europe” until much later in history. (What I’ve written of Scandinavia in that last sentence may not represent the author’s original intention.)
  • An 1888 article in The American Geographic Society of New York discusses the possibility that the name could come from Amerique Mountains, a gold-rich area in Nicaragua that both Columbus and Vespucci allegedly visited.
  • Finally, as this BBC article notes, still others claim the name comes from a Welsh-descended Briton named Richard Amerike (also Richard Ameryk, or, in a less Anglicized form, Richard ap Meurig). Wikipedia notes that Amerike may have financed the John Cabot’s voyage to the New World, which resulted in the discovery of Newfoundland.
Regardless, the theory that ties the name to Vespucci is the one that most people stand behind. I, for one, am at least glad that Vespucci’s first name was what it was, for had it been Giuseppe or Guido, we Americans could have found ourselves living in Giuseppia or Guidopolis. As for Amerigo itself, the Online Etymology Dictionary traces it back to the Gothic Amalrich, “work-ruler,” the Old English form of which appears as the last names Emmerich and Emery. The Wikipedia page on Vespucci ties Amerigo to the medieval Latin Emericus, the German Heinrich and the English Henry, though, notably, these claims are marked with that famous superscript “citation needed,” so make of that what you will.

In any case, alternate theories about the origin of America — even ones that aren’t generally accepted as being correct — make for fun reading for onomastics wonks like me. I can only guess that the multitude of educated guesses as to where America might result from the notion that it came from someone’s first name just seems strange, even if that explanation is the one that the majority of people educated in this matters agree to be correct. (I mean, Waldseemüller did put Vespucci’s portrait in the 1507 map, so he at least seemed pretty sure of what he was doing.) I’m glad that it worked out how it did, because the notion of singing “Vespuccia the Beautiful” just doesn’t sit right.

Etymology, previously:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I Love Tina Tina Shanooz

Saturday Night Live last night continued its trend of leaving the goofiest but most creative sketch for last. This week, it was “New Doorbell,” which, unless I’m mistaken, is the first sketch Jenny Slate has led since she said accidently said fuck during the season premiere. Happy to see her getting the screen to herself once again. Here’s the sketch:

Why I like this sketch:
  • For one, it’s good to know that Slate can lead a sketch without blurting profanities.
  • For another, this sketch reminds me of In Living Color, especially if a Fly Girl were to have hijacked the stage and tried out her own sketch. Or if some entrepreneuse Fly Girl hijacked the stage and tried pitching her new personalized doorbell company.
  • A simple concept well executed, with a character we have not seen before.
  • Girl’s name is Tina Tina Shanooz.
  • I feel as though I must have met women like Tina Tina, though I’m pretty sure I haven’t.
  • The sketch began with Nasim Pedrad as the woman answering her door and then jumped to Slate as Tina Tina, allowing me to differentiate one from the other, finally.
  • Slate’s character kind of reminds me of Amy Poehler’s impression of Rosie Perez, and that’s a good thing.
Last week’s episode also ended with the weirdest of the night’s sketches — and considerably weirder than Tina Tina Shanooz, though maybe not as funny. Though seeing Blake Lively lose her shit on the line “WAUGH! Potato chip thief!” stuck with me.

Points for “Potato Chip”:
  • It gave Lively more to do than most of this episode’s sketches did.
  • And it really reminded me of a sketch that I would have seen in a rerun of one of the SNLs from the first seven seasons of the show, though perhaps that’s just all the wood grain.
  • The line “This did not end the way I imagined it, in my undry dreams. So I shall collect my hemorrhoid donut and bid you adieu.”
“Potato Chip” wasn’t the highlight of the Blake Lively episode. No, that would be the sketch that referenced someone named DJ Deuce Groan. But I still liked it. Hey SNL, maybe more like this instead of sketches where Kristen Wiig in a sweater can’t handle surprises?

If Her Daddy’s Poor, Just Do What You Feel

While every blog operating on the Gregorian calendar may be busily compiling end-of-year countdowns for the best, worst or otherwise most memorable things of the past decade, I have instead to offer you all something else as we rocket at breakneck speed toward a year that doesn’t look like it has eyes in its center. Yes, I’m choosing to inflict upon you all something that I’ve bouncing around my head for some time now: Drew Mackie’s three catchiest yet most annoying pop songs in the history of recorded music.

Mungo Jerry, “In the Summertime”

Melanie, “Brand New Key”

David Dundas, “Jeans On”

(Personally speaking, Dundas is probably the most notable of these three, as he later went on to do the score to Withnail and I, although I doubt that many people walk away from that movie talking about the score. In any case, the opening to “Jeans On” was sampled in “Sho Nuff,” a Fatboy Slim song that I encountered back when I thought it was cool to encounter Fatboy Slim.)

Simply put, once I hear one of these, I won’t be able to not hear it for days. They’re irritating, for sure, but I will stop short of calling them outright bad, as they each have a staying power that has to be respected. Whether it’s deceptively good songwriting or something accidental about the beats that bored into the brain wrinkles, these will not leave you soon. I’m interested to hear if any readers have a similar interactions with any of these lingering wonders.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mega Man Reclaims His Masculinity

Disclaimer: No, I won’t be exclusively writing about old video games, new retro-style video games, or specifically Mega Man 10. However, it just occurred to me that I got something to say.

Coming off the giddy high of learning that an evil sheep robot will feature prominently in the upcoming exercise in eight-bit nostalgia that is Mega Man 10, I have come across additional information that I like a little less. It’s being reported on various gaming blogs that another one of the game’s eight bosses will be a fairly uninspired robot named Commando Man. (Lamely military-themed. Does not derive power from shedding his underwear.) Also, unlike Mega Man 9, which broke decades-old gender barriers by pitting Mega Man against a mass of pixels that we players were told was supposed to be female on some level, Mega Man 10 will feature no female villains. “So what?” asks the practical gamer. “Pixels is pixels and it doesn’t make a lick of difference in the long run.” And Mr. Practical Gamer would be correct. However, thinking about this news in light of what I know about the production of Mega Man 9 makes for an interesting look into the brains of the people who make these games (dudes, mostly), the people who play them (again, mostly dudes), and the process of deciding what the former group thinks the latter will enjoy.

As I wrote about earlier on this blog, another Mega Man 9 boss, Hornet Man, was initially conceived of as also being a ladybot, Honey Woman, until the production team decided that two female Robot Masters would just be too big a departure for loyal Mega Man fans. The result of this was Honey Woman getting morphed into Hornet Man and Splash Woman — a mermaid-tailed robot whose attacks included singing — the sole do-badder who would have to squat instead of stand. (If robots urinated, that is. And since Splash Woman lives underwater, I’d imagine she’d just do it wherever she wanted, the slob.) I find this line of logic a little strange. Veteran gamers, who grew up controlling Mega Man and pew-pew-pewing through level after level, were delighted to have a new, old-style game to play through. The realization that two of the game’s bosses were gynoids instead of androids wouldn’t have exactly made them throw their controllers to the ground and stamp them into little pieces in disgust.

So there’s that. But there’s also the odd decision on the part of the Mega Man creative team to pigeonhole how these female robots would function and appear. Roughly half of the series’ bosses have names that imply some degree of badassness — Tornado Man, Shadow Man, Blizzard Man, Napalm Man, Knight Man. The rest range between slightly odd — Spring Man, Dust Man, Magnet Man, Time Man — to vaguely pornographic — Hard Man, Wood Man, Plug Man, Top Man — to fairly wussy-sounding — Plant Man, Crystal Man, Ring Man, Bubble Man.

Note that the two female Robot Masters, Splash Woman and the nixed Honey Woman, fall squarely into that last category, with honey being about as innocuous a substance as you could find and a splash being second only to dewdrops and fine mist in terms of dinkiness. I mean, in the universe of these games, robots can and are made to do anything, so there’s no reason the female-looking ones couldn’t be made to be as fierce as the male-looking ones. For example, the series has never had a Tsunami Man, so there’s no reason the designers couldn’t have made Splash Woman a little more imposing by avoiding Daryl Hannah references and calling her Tsunami Woman. Instead, the final product seeks to remind anyone looking at her that she’s not only a girl but the girl — at least so far, at least for the bad guys.


splash woman says “tee hee”

It’s not surprising, given that the majority of the video games I grew up playing had female characters designed and named to seem sweet, small, pretty or otherwise benevolent. But it’s interesting to think about, especially in the sense that while current video games are getting more progressive, as far as sexual politics, this throwback Mega Man game still goes for some of the old stereotypes.

So, then, since this seems to be the pattern that the female Robot Masters should follow, here are my predictions for the villainesses that may appear in future retro-style Mega Man games:
  • Bunny Woman (fires carrots, procreates profusely)
  • Lipstick Woman (traps you in slicks of caked-on make-up)
  • Stove Woman (hefty, yells at you for treading into the kitchen, is made of pastries)
  • Waitress Woman (throws dishes, spills drinks on you, cries when you ask to see her manager)
  • Scented Candle Woman (weaker but pleasant-smelling version of previous fire-based bosses Heat Man, Flame Man, Burner Man, etc.)
  • Flower Woman (is not a robot but is actually human woman selling flowers; tragic case of mistaken identity)
  • Hysterical Woman (follows no discernable pattern, cannot be defeated)

Blue and Different Kind of Blue, for Fancy People

Word of the week! Times two! Words of the week, if you’d rather! And both of them chromatically themed! And in the same one-sixth of the spectrum, no less!

Beyond the sixteen members of your typical Crayola starter set, there exists a more sophisticated set of colors and corresponding vocabulary. Unfortunately, most of these words are of use only to artists, interior decorators, people who want to sound smart and people who’d rather bystanders didn’t understand what they’re talking about. Appropriate though incarnadine, ponceau or minium may be to describe a given shade of red, these words overshoot the intersection of accuracy and pomposity and land square in Asshole Territory. However, in case the appropriate situation comes along, I’m offering you these two fancy terms, both of which refer to specific shades of blue. Consider this the third in a growing series of color-related words of the week, behind sinople and zinnober.


perse (PURS) — adjective: dark blue or grayish purple.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word comes from the Middle English pers, which in turn comes through Old French from the Medieval Latin Persicus, meaning “Persian.” The word came to me, however, after I read Cintra Wilson’s September 23 Critical Shopper article, in which Wilson reviewed Maxfield, a high-end vintage shop on Melrose that has ties to the Perse family. As she always does, Wilson finished the article with three squibs set off with verbally related kickers — in this case Perse, Purse and Perverse. Wilson meant the family Perse, but her use of the word nonetheless led me to learn that it would also be a color. (It actually led me to learn a lot of fancy color words, thanks to this list, which appeared on the resulting Google search.) I’d guess that the Perse family is more likely to have ties to what we now call Iran than the color, but I’d guess that the Perses know the chromatic sense of their name, given that they’ve trafficked in fashion retail for so long.


pavonated — (PAV-on-ay-tid) — adjective: 1. peacock blue. 2. like or colored like a peacock.
Finding much about perse was tough, but pavonated was even tougher. Pavonated, like pavonine, comes from the Latin pavo, meaning “peacock.” (Never would have expected that I would have reason to use pavonine more than once on this blog.) Pavonated apparently originated as a heraldic term referring to a peacock close — with close referring to a bird depicted with its wings at the sides of his body instead of distended, as if in flight. (The same website that defines a peacock close also notes, however, that close should only refer to birds that might be depicted in flight, such as an eagle or falcon, and not the ones that more often strut around on their legs, so peacock close is apparently bad usage.) At some point, the term apparently lost its associations with the bird itself and instead came to imply bird’s color. Oddly, it seems to only exist as an past tense participle adjective — that is, as something that looks like a verb but isn’t. The verb to pavonate doesn’t seem to be have been used enough to appear in any dictionaries known to Google. Not unheard of, given current English words like disgruntled.

So there you go: two obscure but potentially handy words to describe shades of blue you may encounter. Use them wisely.

Previous words of the week:
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Feed Your Family Bugs for Christmas

This Christmas, why give your loved ones presents they’ll just forget in a week? Why give your wife a diamond ring she’ll just end up throwing in the gutter? Why give your children toys they’ll just trade for drugs? No, make this Christmas one to remember by giving the important people in your life bugs — specifically those holiday time favorites, honeypot ants, those magical insects so gorged with food that their abdomens swell, rendering them crawling Tupperware containers filled to the brim with sweet, sweet candy.

Ah, yes — picture the looks on your family members’ faces as they partake in a tradition beloved by the Australian Aboriginal people: biting into the unnaturally enlarged midsection of these unfortunate creatures (which are used by other members of their species essentially as dessert carts) and savoring the sugary goo that flows out. Honeypot ants make for a memorable addition to any holiday gathering. Your children will say, “Christmas was never as good as when you fed us bugs.” Chocolate fudge what? Gingerbread men who? In the Australian outback, these ants would normally spend their days regurgitating their delectable stores for other members of their colony, but think of how much those in your human colony will appreciate stealing this precious, life-giving fluid and eating it as treats, when they’re already full of so much other food.

Remember: This Christmas, make your family eat bugs.

(Totally serious on this one. Proof below.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Sheep Man Cometh

In what I can only imagine is an effort by legendary video game company to make a nod to my New Zealand heritage — and mine alone — a new sequel to the Mega Man series was announced today, and it will feature among its line-up of evil robot bosses a contraption named Sheep Man.

In true Mega Man style, the weapon you win for defeating Sheep Man is also sheep-themed: something called Thunder Wool.

Those who have kept up with this blog for a while might remember my excitement in June of 2008 when Capcom announced Mega Man 9, a deliberately retro, straight-to-WiiWare installment of the old Nintendo Entertainment System series. The big news then was that the creators decided to make one of the eight Robot Masters female — or as close to female as a robot can get. The result stuck Splash Woman at the end of a list that began with Fire Man, Ice Man, and Elec Man and ran the gamut of every such-and-such-themed robot you could think of. Remarkable though this may have been at the time, today’s news is much bigger. Sheep trumps woman. New Zealand heritage and all.

The announcement — which appeared in Nintendo Power magazine, another fondly remembered part of my childhood that I’m pleased to hear is still around — was accompanied by purposefully off-model concept art. I assume the ram-horned monstrosity in the left corner is supposed to be another interpretation of Sheep Man.

Of course, nothing could be as disturbing as the other sheep-man-hybrid that has appeared on this blog. I’m happy to reintroduce the world to him.

Feel weird about it.

Sheep, previously:
Game geek? Subscribe to the video games-only feed for Back of the Cereal Box.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Three World Warriors

Ryu, Guile and Chun-Li, as they looked back in the days when a certain globe-spanning martial arts tournament had a lot fewer competitors.




Please excuse the pinholes, tears and creases — these were tacked to my bedroom wall at one point.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Burn! Bobonga!

Another scan: Crono, Marle and Frog take on snarly evilness in one of the two posters that came packed in with my copy of Chrono Trigger.


What’s the Heckran doing in the snow?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bamboos, Early Winter

A full article scan: the review of Samurai Shodown II by the late, great Diehard Gamefan magazine.


Years later, I am still blown away by how much art this publication fit onto a single page.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Less Famous Last Words

“It’s totally safe. Watch me.”

“I hope that isn’t poison gas.”

“Hey, aren’t you that guy they keep showing on the news?”

“But you did check the guidebook to see what kind of mushrooms these are, right?”

“Look out for what?”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Invasion of the Tartars

Thanksgiving morning, my mom sent me to the grocery store. She had been tasked with making lemon pie but realized that she lacked cream of tartar, an ingredient that makes the difference between good, fluffy lemon pie and sucky, flat lemon pie. So I went and picked it up from that swarming zoo of a supermarket, all the while wondering why this particular item was called cream, since it’s a powder, and why it’s called tartar, since it has apparently nothing to do with the seafood sauce or raw beef

The internet, as always, has explained it all. Drop dead, Clarissa.

According to Merriam-Webster, cream of tartar is a salt, so why it gets to be known as a cream is a complete mystery to me. (Full disclosure: I took Physics AP to pass out of high school chemistry, so there’s much about chemical classifications that I don’t understand. Most of these are cooking-related, like why baking soda gets to be a soda.) This particular sense of the word tartar comes from a term that the Online Etymology Dictionary traces back to the Greek word tartaron, meaning “a substance encrusting the sides of wine casks.” According to Merriam-Webster, there’s essentially no difference between this byproduct of fermenting grape juice, sometimes known as bitartae of potash, and the product now sold as cream of tartar. And it makes sense that cream of tartar is a wine byproduct that helps pastries rise, since yeast, which is also used to turn baking one-stories into high-rises, is an integral part of winemaking.

Also, if you think about it, the notion of crud accumulating where it’s not supposed to also works for dental tartar. It should be no surprise, then, that the two words share the same etymology.

So what’s the deal with tartar sauce? The soundalike has no relation, in either the verbal or culinary senses. The sauce — defined by Urban Dictionary as “the gay version of mayonnaise” — seems to come from the Tartars, who inhabited Tartary, the region that once spanned the region between the Caspian Sea, the Ural Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. (These people, now known as the Tatars, survive today. Charles Bronson was apparently one, so good for him.) According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term Tartar originated in the fourteenth century in reference to the hordes of Ghengis Khan — which included some people now known as Tatars, but lots of others as well. The Mongols themselves allegedly called themselves the Tata, though the resulting term Tartar may have been influenced by the Latin Tartarus, “hell,” presumably by the way they conducted themselves. By the seventeenth century, the term could just refer to a “savage, rough, irascible person.” Regardless, the pickles-and-mayonnaise recipe seems to be historically tied to Turkish people and not Mongolians.

Sometimes spelled tartare sauce, the phrase is first recorded in French, which also gives us tartare in the sense of steak tartare, “highly seasoned ground beef eaten raw.” Curious, then, that the legacy of the Tatar people would be seafood sauce and raw steak, but it’s more than a lot of people can claim. Also good to know: the sauce and the steak have no connection with dental crud.

Food and words, previously:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Before Pug-Beagles Walked the Earth

A quick update to my long-delayed word-of-the-week series. Lovers of designer dogs should know that I won’t be writing about the kind of animal that usually comes to mind when one hears the word puggle. No, the subject of this post is a little harder to love.

image courtesy of ugly overload

See? That little scrunched up whatchamacallit ball is a baby echidna — cute in its own way but probably less-than-appealing to the trophy pooch crowd. And this baby echidna and his fellow echidnitas would probably be pretty pissed to know that that there’s another species trotting around and being called puggles.
puggle (PUH-guhl) — 1. a baby monotreme. 2. a mixed breed of dog created by mating a pug and a beagle.
That’s right. Long before the term became associated with pug-beagles, it referred to baby monotremes — that bizarro order of egg-laying mammals that includes platypi, echidnas. I first encountered the word in this June 8 New York Times article on the wonder that is the echidna. Here is the sentence: “They lay leathery eggs, as reptiles do, but then feed the so-called puggles that hatch with milk — though drizzled out of glands in the chest rather than expressed through nippled teats, and sometimes so enriched with iron that it looks pink.” Lovely, no? (I have a previous entry on the monotreme habit of milk-sweating, in case you’re interested.)

If you’re Googling the term puggle, expect a hell of a lot of canine-related articles and not too much on the history of original definition of the term. The Wiktionary page, however, claims that the original puggle comes from the Australian verb puggle, meaning “to clean drains.” According to Wiktionary, “English settlers in Australia would puggle to get rabbits out of holes and sometimes find an echidna,” with the source of this possible etymology coming from a November 11, 2000, broadcast of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Radio National Science Show. And I guess if you pulled out a baby echidna from a pipe and didn’t know what it was, I guess puggle is as good a name as anything else. Obligatory Simpsons reference: That’s an odd name. I’d have called them chazzwazzers.”

Incidentally, I checked Wiktionary’s list of baby animal names to see if some unfortunate species’ young was coincidentally called pekapoos or goldendoodles. Thankfully no. However, I did learn a few new ones: cria (a baby llama, vicuna or alpaca), leveret (a baby hare), and parr (a baby salmon).

Previous words of the week:
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wanderer of Time

A scan from Final Fantasy VI: Yoshitaka Amano art of Terra in her Magitek armor.


Dreamy, really.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Pixelated Boob by Any Other Name

A preface: This does start out being just about video games, but eventually I get to boobs. Video game boobs, to be specific, but boobs all the same.

Way back when, I put up a post here on name oddities in video games. No, not that one. I mean the one about how three of the bosses from Street Fighter II exchanged names when Capcom translated the game for English-speaking audiences. It’s never been explained officially, as far as I know, but I agree with the notion that Capcom wanted to avoid possible lawsuits resulting from similarities between one of these boss characters, an African-American boxer named M. Bison, and the real-life African-American boxer Mike Tyson. (Really, would you want to enrage the guy?) Given that the original Japanese version had already recorded the voice samples — particularly those of the announcer, who would say things like “M. Bison wins!” or “Such and Such a Character versus M. Bison!” — it was easier to just shift the names so that M. Bison became Balrog (appropriate for a bruiser), Balrog became Vega (appropriate for the guy from Spain), and Vega became M. Bison (kind of a lame name, really, for the game’s big bad).

Back in the day, Street Fighter II “inspired” a whole host of similar games featuring combatants from many lands competing in globe-crossing martial arts tournaments. One of these has been rattling around in my memory for years, only vaguely recalled from the days little me used to play it at a pizza place where I grew up. This game was one of the paler Street Fighter II imitations, to be sure. The only clear memory I had of it was the presence of a scantily clad female fighter from Egypt stuck with the odd name Chaos. I finally Googled her and found that the title of the game was Martial Champion, which, it should be noted, is a pretty lame title for anything. Chaos, however, was there — indeed looking petty darn Egyptian, if because she was wearing a sexy Halloween version of a pharaoh costume instead of anything an actual Egyptian person would wear.

image credit: system 16

And here she is taking on the other female fighter, Rachael, your all-American girl-next-door who also happens to be ninja.

image credit: system 16

In the above image, they’re fighting on Chaos’s stage, which like Chaos herself looks stereotypically Egyptian. Why then, I wondered as a kid and wondered again now, is her name Chaos? Reading the Wikipedia page for Marital Champion, however, I found out. And the reasoning is similar to what prompted Capcom to switch around its Street Fighter II character names. What I didn’t remember about the game’s line-up of playable characters is that it also included a Chinese fighter — that special kind of hopping Chinese vampire, it turns out, even though I wouldn’t have known what one was at the time — who was saddled with the equally improbable name of Titi. In the Japanese version of the game, Chaos and Titi’s names were reversed, with Titi being a very sensible name for an Egyptian princess whose full name might be Nefertiti. and Chaos befitting the evil dude. But why the stateside switch? I presume the names ended up how they did in the international versions of Martial Champion simply because they didn’t want a lady fighter to have a name that would read similar to titty. Thus, the Egyptian princess got stuck with the name Chaos, for no apparent reason, and the freaky chaotic vampire got Titi. I suppose the vampire should have been happy that Titi wasn’t named Melonie, Busomania, or Princess Sweatercows.

So that theoretically explains that. But odd, isn’t it, that a scantily clad character can show her assets but not have a name that reflects those assets? I’d say that titty is an inappropriate enough word that the company that created this game, Konami, would have wanted to avoid the association, even if the name still does exist in the game, now attached to a male character. Still, it’s an odd notion that the mention of a slang term for breasts would somehow be worse than, say, the expanse of cleavage being revealed by Martial Champion’s other female character, Rachael. Practically no one remembers this game and the characters therein, so any strangeness perceived in Chaos, Titi and Rachael is pretty much a moot point. However, these are issues that persist in video games even today: the seemingly inexplicable name change thing, sure, but more importantly the odd issues of censorship, the whole “You thought this had to be removed but you let this slide?” thing.

One more bit about Martial Champion before I never mention it again: Aside from the Chaos/Titi confusion, the game’s English version seems to have been further doomed by a terrible U.S. marketing campaign. How unappealing — much less inappropriate to the look of the game — is the Martial Champion arcade flyer?

Holy Christ, that’s awful — as seemingly trying to piggyback on the success of Mortal Kombat, with its digitized life action fighters. Way to make a rip-off even more derivative, Konami.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Oswald the Vengeful Rabbit

So since the game actually made it onto Gawker — and not just the Gawker family’s game blog, Kotaku — I suppose I should write something about Epic Mickey, a slightly twisted Disney video game that has me more excited about the round-eared one than I’ve been since I was a kid.

Disney has a long history with video games, going back to a 1981 Game & Watch title, Mickey Mouse. My earliest Disney game memory — and likely that of many people who will read this blog — is 1987 NES title, Mickey Mouscapade, which had Mickey and his ladyfriend hopping Mario-style through various levels, shooting stars (for some reason), fighting villains like the evil queen from Snow White (for some reason) and finally rescuing Alice from Alice in Wonderland (for some reason).

Mickey Mouscapade was great fun at the time, but, in retrospect, the game kind of sucked, even for a first-generation NES title. Easily the worst part was the play control; Minnie follows Mickey around, jumping slightly after he jumps and landing slightly behind where he lands. This resulted in Mickey successfully leaping over those bottomless pits that so often dot the landscape of platformer-style video games but Minnie falling in and plummeting to her death, causing Mickey as well to die (again, for some reason.) Regardless, Mickey definitely has a place in my fond memories of playing video games.

Epic Mickey looks different. Rather than stick Mickey and his Disney cohorts in a bright, shining universe with smiles on every rock, tree and cloud — you know, like where Mario has been living for the last twenty years — the game’s designers have tried to grow Mickey up a bit. Mickey’s new world is a little dark, a little steampunky. Take, for instance, this nightmarish half-robot version of Donald Duck.

Not exactly the same waterfowl that hugs the kiddies at Disneyland, is it? Gaze also at this trippy concept art.

If the in-game graphics of Epic Mickey come close to matching what’s above, then we’ll be in for a treat.

What has me most excited about this game, however, is the news that its big bad will be Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks debuted in 1927, a year before the suspiciously similar-looking Mickey Mouse stole the spotlight.

Money disputes prompted Disney and Iwerks to eventually leave Universal Studios, which maintained ownership of Oswald until 2006. Wikipedia explains that as part of a deal between Disney and NBC Universal, the former traded the latter sportscaster Al Michaels for Oswald. Michaels now workings alongside John Madden at NBC, and Disney finally got the rights to a bunch of old Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon shorts. (I have to wonder how Michaels must feel about this trade. “You, sir, are basically worth the same as an obscure cartoon character that few remember and who looks basically like our current mascot.” Wikipedia notes that Michaels at least publicly had the sense to make a joke about the trade: “Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice. I’m going to be a trivia answer someday.”) In any case, Oswald is back — and presumably pissed for having been shoved aside for some many years while Mickey lived the good life, being all recognizable even to people who don’t own TVs or have access to movie theaters.

This sort of thing thrills me: a fictional universe with a long history pulling an obscure also-ran from its archives and giving him or her a chance to shine once again. It doesn’t happen often enough, though I suppose superhero comics do it pretty well. Who would have expected Batman’s Jason “Robin No. Two” Todd to be resurrected from the dead? To draw an example from a different form of pop culture, the new Melrose Place wins points for me — even though I haven’t watched it — for bringing back Laura Leighton’s character from the original series, Sydney Andrews, even though she too was once dead as a doornail. It’s fan service, I guess, but it’s something that really clicks with the geeks who know a given universe inside and out. (“They thought of that! That’s what I think of! I feel validated!”) It’s good to know that the people in charge of a given franchise know at least enough about it to appease the experts.

I don’t know how well the game Epic Mickey will be received, but it gets points from me for rescuing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from obscurity. And I look forward to beating the crap out of him at the end of the game.

A closing thought: Mickey Mousecapade’s control issues notwithstanding, I do think that the -capade suffix needs to be used more often.

Game geek? Subscribe to the video games-only feed for Back of the Cereal Box.