Sunday, February 28, 2010

To Be Battered Is a Disorder

The best of January and February 2010, at least of this blog:
And, of course, the clickable visual index:

Don’t Shoot the Hard Hats — Helmet Enemies in Mario and Mega Man

The following post links etymology, translation, and video games — and all in the context of two underappreciated video game grunts.

If you’ve ever played a Mega Man game, you’re familiar with the little baddies that are basically living, walking hard hats. You happen upon them and they initially just look like a stray helmet, perhaps dropped by a forgetful construction worker. “What a helpful item!” you say. “Perhaps I shall take it for my travels!” Then, little eyes poke out from beneath the brim and the creature fires at you. “WHY ARE YOU HURTING ME, HELPFUL HAT FRIEND?!” you cry out. Eventually, the trauma is too great and you must take your Mega Man back to the video rental store. In tears, you ask the clerk for a selection with friendlier hats. (A dramatization... or was it?) In most instances, these pests are invulnerable, as their little helmet bodies reflect any projectiles that you fire at them. However, when their eyes pop up and they fire at you, you have a chance to attack. If you can get a shot in during these few seconds, you can take these guys out.

A visual aid:

Despite its frequent appearances in Mega Man games, the name of this particular pest is debated. To some, it’s Mettool. To others, it’s Metall, Mettall, Metaur or Mettaur. The last of these has risen in popularity in the past few years, but the Mega Man wiki groups all the appearances of these characters under the simpler name Met.

Now hold that thought and consider this: If you happened to have encountered the Mega Man hard hat baddies, then I’m willing to bet that you also tangled with their Mario series equivalent, the nasty, invulnerable baddies known in the U.S. as Buzzy Beetles. As with the Mettaur, projectiles — specifically Mario’s fireballs — don’t faze them. And stomping them only stuns them. In short, they’re hard to deal with in many of the same ways the Mettaurs are.

Another visual aid:

Just today, I learned that the Japanese name for the Mario beetles is Metto, which, like Mettaur and its variants, comes from the English helmet. Though the connection seemed plausible, I wanted to double check. Really, why should the names come from the second syllable of an English word? But indeed, the Japanese seem to have two words for helmettetsubou and herumetto, the latter of which is a direct transliteration of the English word helmet into Japanese.

So there you go: these two characters are linked in that their original names reflect their nature and, while both Japanese-sounding, ultimately come from English.

This strangeness makes me re-think my suspicion of a character in the Japanese movie Hausu. All of the girls in this particular horror movie are named to reflect their personalities. The fat one is called Mac — inexplicably so until it’s revealed that the name comes from the English stomach. (She likes to eat, get it?) If Mettaur and Metto can come from a translated and retranslated version of helmet, then maybe the explanation behind fatty Mac’s doesn’t seem so illogical. Nonetheless, interesting to see how an English word can get repurposed in two very different ways, while still spreading awareness about the benefits of hard hats.

Games ‘n’ names, previously:
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Law & Order: Global Domination Squad

If pressed to name the various incarnations of the Law & Order franchise, even a casual TV viewer would probably be able to recall the original show and its perversity-prone spin-off, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, as both appear on NBC. If the person being quizzed has basic cable, he or she might also be able to name Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the spin-off created for NBC but since relegated to the USA network. And an especially TV-savvy interviewee might be able to name the various cancelled spin-offs, Deadline, Trial by Jury, and Convinction.

But did you know that the Dick Wolf universe — which, by the way, is a dimension populated almost exclusively by hard-driven brunette lawyers — includes both British and French extensions? TF1 is currently running the third season of Paris enquêtes criminelles, which happens to be the only of the spin-offs to ditch the signature voiceover and titlecards between scene changes. But it’s apparently done entirely in the L&A spirit and “will be connected with the Law & Order canon,” according to the Wikipedia page. Meanwhile, ITV1 is currently running the second season of Law & Order: UK, a truer-to-the-original spin-off that includes all the trappings of the original show. It even has it’s own uniquely British voiceover intro:
In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime, and the Crown Prosecutors who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.
According to Wikipedia, Law & Order: UK is the first U.S. drama to be adapted for British television, which seems kind of shocking in that American pop culture is so powerful and omnipresent but which is no-so-shocking when you remember that the U.K. just rebroadcasts any American shows that don’t suck (and a lot that do). So remember that even if you feel like you’re watching too much Law & Order, you could always be watching more, provided you’d be okay with watching non-New Yorkers stumbling across battered corpses during their morning jogs.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

URMIAY, Mr. Sailor

Some of you might remember a small kerfuffle that arose back in 2007, when Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy and the game’s cover seemed to be displaying a secret message.

The cover:

U R Mr. Gay?

And the message, of course, was communicated by indicating seven letters in the title by putting a star beneath them. In the above image, the letters spell out “UR MR GAY,” in order, even according to where the line breaks happen. I’m not actually sure who first noticed this strangeness, but it made the rounds online — to the point where the people at Nintendo couldn’t have not noticed it. Now, in the next few months, a new Mario games will come out: Super Mario Galaxy 2. Something purported to be the official cover art has hit the gaming blogs. Once again, the cover art seems to be communicating a message — a response to the original question even.

The new cover:

Read left to right, it doesn’t mean much — “URMIAY”? — but read in reverse, the letters spell something more meaningful — “YA I M R U,” or transposed into actual English, “Yeah, I am, are you?” Apparently Mr. Gay is owning up to his title.

Not proof of anything, I know, but if The Little Mermaid can have a giant penis on its cover, why can’t Nintendo’s game cases work like a cruisy bus station bathroom?

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Bunny Caldwell (Née Flingus), Age Eighteen

EDIT: Nope! Turns out this is all wrong. Baranski said so herself. See conversation in comments.

Do you ever wonder what Christine Baranski looked like as a teenager? I know I do constantly — and especially so if she happened to actually be eighteen at the time but still looked like an awkward fourteen-year-old. And especially especially if she happened to be acting, using a less Polish-sounding stage name (say, something like Chris Charney) and playing a character who gets to hang out in the Brady Bunch living room.

Joy of joys: The answer to all of our troubles, Christine Baranski-related and otherwise, can be found on YouTube. The clip is non-embeddable but easily clickable. If you’d like to see the girl who would become Baranski, skip ahead to the 4:45 mark; she plays the first girl to be questioned in the game of Truth or Dare. But know that skipping ahead will make you miss other bizarre slumber party hijinks, including a chip-eating frenzy scene that’s weirdly reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and a glimpse at an inexplicable party game called “Ha,” which Spencer rightly describes as involving “laying in a weird circle, laughing for fifteen seconds, and then… not playing anymore.”

A screengrab:


It surprises me a bit, considering how much I watched the reruns as a kid, but I only have one other Brady Bunch post of note on this blog, but for fans it’s worth a look. It features a video of a woman burning to death in the Brady Bunch kitchen. Enjoy!

Shitter Island

Martin Scorsese has directed more great movies than most contemporary directors. However, Shutter Island is not among his triumphs, in my opinion. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I left the theater so frustrated because a movie had wasted my time.

The film was not a complete failure. It looked beautiful and the acting was generally good. Nearly all of the problems I have with Shutter Island stem from the script, adapted from Dennis Lehane’s novel by Laeta Kalogridis. As such, my discussion of the film will include a whole lot of spoilers. If you intend to see Shutter Island, stop reading now. Go see it and form your own opinion. A lot of critics enjoyed it and I’m in the minority for disliking it. However, I can tell you this much: I personally think you’d be better off saving your money and seeing something else. Hit the jump for the review.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Feed Me!

Something strange is happening with this blog's feeds — both the regular Blogger one and the Feedburner one — and new posts aren't showing up. Has this ever happened to any of you? How can I fix it? Of course, I ask knowing that if if this post too fails to show up in any of my feeds, then no one reading remotely will be able to answer.

So, damn.

In case you're feeling deprived, here are the posts that haven't showed up yet:
EDIT: The problem has been resolved.

The Ungrateful Mushroom

That list of “did you ever notice?” video game facts is proving generative for this blog. So much we have learned! The bushes in Super Mario Bros. are just green-colored clouds, Sega seems to have legally and financially screwed over the singer who did “Groove Is in the Heart,” and the weird double hyphens in Golden Axe exist for a reason.

Here’s one more, though I should say that it was most recently brought to my attention by my friend Ryan. The following screen should look familiar to anyone who’s made it past the first boss in the original Super Mario Bros.:

Straightforward, yes? A grateful Toad — held captive in an empty brick room and probably bored to tears as a result — must be the bearer of bad news and tell Mario that the princess is somewhere else. Pointing towards where she is would be more helpful, sure, but whatever. We’re lucky he hasn’t developed Stockholm syndrome.

Or has he?

Here we go: irrefutable evidence that Toad isn’t so happy to see Mario. He’s totally giving a double-barreled “fuck you” in the form of matching middle fingers. What a jerk. You’d think a midget wearing a turban and a bikini top would be jollier. Of course, it’s worth noting that Toad’s rude seemingly behavior could actually result from the limitations of the graphics of the time, which weren’t good at demonstrating gratitude or really anything else, abstract emotion or not. Lest we forget, here’s the blocky monstrosity that was supposed to be Princess Toadstool:

Here’s her father, the Mushroom King:

And here’s Princess Toadstool’s mother, Queen Moldspore:

A profound context for this little examination: Sometimes the captive does not want to be rescued.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cyclone Ranger

Of course, you must be familiar with the song “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors. If not, refresh your memory of it with a cover by Kirsten Dunst (because because) dancing around in a cosplay getup (because because) and dancing with a sparkle wand around Akihabara (just because, okay?).

But this post isn’t about sparkle wands. It’s about lyrics. Apparently the correct lyric towards the end of the song is not “cyclone ranger” — which is what it sounds like, even though that doesn’t make any sense — but is actually “psyched Lone Ranger,” which also doesn’t make any sense. Comprehensible or not, the lyrics are apparently easier to understand in certain recordings.

Some lyrical context:
No sex, no drugs, no wine, no women
No fun, no sin, no you, no wonder it’s dark
Everyone around me is a total stranger
Everyone avoids me like a psyched Lone Ranger
This information is helpful, I guess, but now I’m baffled by what could be meant by the phrase “psyched Lone Ranger.” Anyone?

Mysteries, previously:

A Grammatical Question for God Himself

Having attended Catholic school for my entire childhood, I find myself thinking about my religious upbringing fairly often. I’m not an atheist, but I’ve since distanced myself from Catholicism and organized religion in general. But I’m also aware that being raised Catholic has shaped my worldview to the point that no matter what my relationship may be to this particular branch of Christianity, I’ll probably always think about everything like a Catholic. It makes things interesting, to say the least.

This weekend, for no reason in particular, I found myself thinking about the Lord’s Prayer — the example that Jesus is recorded as giving for how to talk to God. Jesus literally says, “Hey, pray like this, everybody,” and then rattles off what is probably the best-known prayer in all of Catholicism if not Christianity in general. (An admission: Though I know what its proper name is, I have referred to it as the “Our Father” for as long as I can remember. Most Catholics do, I think. But it’s funny, because calling the prayer just by the first two words that appear in it is kind of like calling the American national anthem the “Oh Say Can You See.”) As far as prayers go, it’s a good one in that it covers most of the bases a good Christian should aim for when giving a ring to the man upstairs. However, there’s a line in it that bothers me, I just realized, because I can’t figure it out grammatically.

The line that trips me up — which appears as either one sentence or two, depending on whether you’re reading Matthew or Luke in the King James version — seems to be grammatically elliptical. I can add in words to make it make sense, at least according to how I speak, but I’m honestly not sure what the correct interpretation is. The line is this in Luke’s version:

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.”

And this in Matthew’s version:

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

It seems pretty straightforward, but I’m not sure it is. What, exactly, does “Thy kingdom come” mean? Doesn’t it seem like it’s missing words? The confusion is especially troubling because I know what the lines means — or at least what the younger version of me was taught that it means: The person giving the prayer is talking directly to God and saying “May your kingdom come here, to the material word, and may your (Your) will be enforced here as it is in the place where you’re already in charge.” I’m sure it’s either a grammatical construction I’m just unfamiliar with, probably because it is its less in fashion now than it was when the King James version was published, but doesn’t the construction “Thy kingdom come” seem like an especially clipped way to express that wish, especially when it’s supposed to be said to God? Shouldn’t it be something like “When your kingdom comes here” or “May your kingdom come”? And wouldn’t that be a little informal for such a speech?

It’s not, I’m pretty sure. Figuring that something got lost in translation between the original and the English, I decided to look up exactly how the Latin version of the prayer would translate. (Another admission: I had to learn the Latin version, the “Pater Noster,” at one point. See, I told you I was raised really Catholic.) In Latin, it’s “Adveniat regnum tuum.” The first two words, regnum tuum, translate to “your kingdom.” The first one is the third person present active subjunctive of advenio, “I arrive.”

The mood being subjunctive is key, I think. Unless I’m mistaken, this chunk of text is actually an example of the jussive subjunctive, which is used when wishes are being expressed and when deities and supernatural entities are being invoked — “God save the queen” and “Heaven forbid” and such. Appropriate here. And funny, since the one other time I’ve ever had reason to talk about this grammatical tidbit on this blog was in the post that theorized that it’s also an explanation for the odd syntax involved in the phrase “Bless you” and a certain other commonly used though less polite two-word phrase. (A third admission: Yes, I’m declining to say it in this context. See, I told you I was raised really Catholic.) So anytime you hear anyone say that the subjunctive is absent or disappearing from contemporary American English, you now have one more example of how some old-fashioned bit of syntax has persisted through today, keeping this verbal mood alive just by virtue of the fact that people are and always will be used to it even if they don’t think about its grammar.

That, I think, is the answer, though I admit I could be wrong and I’d welcome corrections or clarifications from any grammarians Googling their way here. And, of course, if divine powers spell out the answer for me, all the better.

Grammar, previously:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ax Is Not Equal to Battler: What’s the Deal With the Equals Signs in Golden Axe?

A personal challenge for my geekish tendencies: In this post, I will relate an obscure punctuational phenomenon to video games and a luxury hotel. Go!

So back when I was a kid, a staple of pizza party birthdays was Golden Axe, a swords-and-sorcery beat-em-up released by Sega in 1989. (You know which one I’m talking about, people my age. This is the game where you would beat up little gremlins to get magic potions and where you could ride those weird animals with chicken beaks and whiplike tails. Ah, memories.) As with all arcade games, Golden Axe had an “attract mode” that gave the machine something to do when no one was playing. In addition to the typical “Winners Don’t Use Drugs” card, this particular game’s attract mode flashed pictures of the three playable characters and the big bad.

Visual aids, courtesy of Hardcore Gaming 101:

See those weird equals signs between the characters’ first and last names? (Or, rather, what a Japanese person thought should pass for appropriate, Western-sounding first and last names? Though I must admit that I wish my name were Gilius Thunderhead.) What’s the deal? Well, this message thread — a collection of little-known video game facts that I previously linked to sometime back — points out that the symbols are actually double hyphens, a fairly rare punctuation mark used in the following instances:
  • When a nonstylized hyphen simply looks too boring, because you’re fancy like that.
  • On a related note, it’s officially a double hyphen that separates the two parts of the name Waldorf=Astoria.
  • In Merriam-Webster dictionaries, a word that normally would be hyphenated but that is split between two lines gets a double hyphen in order to demonstrate that the word’s internal punctuation should remain at all times, not just when it spans the end of a line.
  • And, finally, in certain contexts, a double hyphen separates first and last names. When writing in katakana characters, an em dash or a regular hyphen normally does this job. However, if this symbol could be mistaken for a prolonged sound mark (ー), the double hyphen does the job. It also sometimes gets to separate multiple foreign names. The example Wikipedia gives for this is the Russel-Einstein Manifesto, which in katakana would look like a bunch of symbols most of you can’t read with what looks like an equals sign in the middle.
So there you go. Though the Japanese usages don’t quite seem to fit the instance seen in Golden Axe, it seems likely that the double hyphens there resulted simply from a designer’s effort to separate first names from last names, Giliuses from Thunderheads. Next time you’re staying at the Waldorf, playing Golden Axe with a bunch of 1990s-era children, or simply struck with the realization that your hyphens look to ordinary, you have options.

A video game-specific follow-up: Those chicken things? With the saddles and the whiptails?

They have a species name, I’ve learned: bizzarians. Or bizarrians, depending on who is typing.

And remember:

… But they do spend all day plunking quarters into a arcade machine slicked over with pizza grease. Thank you, William Sessions.