Sunday, February 28, 2010

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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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!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

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.

Monday, February 22, 2010

No Periods, Just Conversational Ellipses

Springboarding off that reference in the previous post to Judge Forcer Crater, I stumbled onto Wikipedia’s list of people who disappeared mysteriously. It’s a good read. Of particular note: people who disappeared centuries ago and the fact that child actor Joe Pichler — who played James Van Der Beek’s religion-obsessed little brother in Varsity Blues — has been missing since 2006.

Also: Judge Force Carter. To think it wasn’t his awesome name that would make him memorable.

Hindenburg 2.0

If you trust my taste in TV shows at all, please give the new FX series Archer a try. I’ve been catching up with the six episodes released so far and am stoked that that the show has been picked up for a second season, which I hope will be a full one. Don’t trust me? Then try out the below episode, “Diversity Hire”:

Archer comes to us from the bounty of God, of course, but more directly from Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, who got their start on Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and later went on to do Sealab 2021 (which was great) and Frisky Dingo (which kind of sucked but which I’m willing to overlook). In fact, Archer manages to combine the humor of Sealab with the more sophisticated story structure of Dingo. And the series boasts one of the more impressive and more talented vocal casts of an animated show in recent memory: two Arrested Development alums (Jessica Walter, who played Lucille, and Judy Greer, who played Kitty), as well as H. Jon Benjamin (Home Movies), Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live), and Aisha Tyler (the single African-American actor to have a recurring role in the series history of Friends). If that’s not enough, it being and FX series also means that the show has uncensored swears. Of course, there’s no quicker way to my heart than animated, swearing funny people.

I also have to credit the series for deftly dropping obscure references. Jessica Walter’s character compared an absentee bartender to Judge Crater, a sort of 1930s version of D.B. Cooper. I’d never heard of Judge Crater before, and I’d guess a lot of you who read this blog haven’t either. Click the link. Let Archer teach you something cool.

Or just go watch Archer.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

David Lynch Weirdness — And Not the Typical Kind

So the bartender character on tonight’s Cleveland Show that looked like David Lynch and sounded like David Lynch was, in fact, voiced by David Lynch.

I wouldn’t have continued watching had I not been so convinced it really was him doing the voice. And it was — though I can’t imagine why he would. The role wasn’t particularly bizarre or funny or Lynch-y in any way. Given that he wasn’t playing himself and didn’t have any reason to be on the show, I’d say his guest role was actually weirder than Thomas Pynchon’s on The Simpsons, which, by the way, happened twice.

Also, the same episode had Kristen Wiig also do a voice. This is less weird because Wiig is primarily a comic actress who normally appears on TV. However, the episode gave her nothing to do. The role just wasn’t particularly funny. So weirdness again. Why hire a funny person like Wiig to be the boring person on a sitcom? Isn’t that like hiring a supermodel to appear in a movie and then dressing her in an ugly monster costume the whole time? Couldn’t they have hired someone much cheaper for such an unremarkable role?

EDIT: Apparently Lynch was asked to do the role because his film Wild at Heart inspired Mike Henry — creator, showrunner and voice of the title character — to get into writing and comedy to begin with.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dwarf Mount

Spied and photographed yesterday at a thrift store:


Despite having lived in Santa Barbara for ten years, I’d never heard of Dorfmont’s until yesterday, when I saw the above clothing label. Just hearing the name in my head, though, I can imagine why it’s no longer around and rarely mentioned anymore. Nothing says elegance like climbing on top of a dwarf. Sometimes, you’re better off not naming the business after yourself.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Flip, Flop, Splat

Our local Fox affiliate frequently airs commerials for an area chain of adult stores. The commercials --- which all feature that grainy, washed-out look that tells you the thing being advertised cannot afford anything nice --- have panning shots of the more family-friendly wares, including flip-flops. Which is weird. I mean, the other kind of thong would make sense, but these are the foot kind. On one hand, I feel like this could be a good idea, since people in Southern California often wear these types of sandals and might realize they need new ones at any given moment, even when they're hunting dildos. On the other hand, there's also nothing good about selling flip-flops at an adult store, because even if you did find the sandals of your dreams there, you could never honestly answer anyone who asked you where you got them.

"I love your flip-flops! Where did you get them?" your friend would ask. And you'd look down, grind your toe into the ground, and ashamedly respond, "Adult store. They were next to the lube."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Beezo That Should Not Be

Looking through a box of old documents, I recently found the instruction booklet that came with the copy of Super Mario Bros. 2 I received when I was a kid. For whatever reason, I’ve held onto it ever since. I flipped through the booklet and reveled in the nostalgia until I happened across something that, as a kid, I had noted as strange.

See if you can spot it:

If you were as obsessed with Super Mario Bros. 2 as I was, you might realize that the background behind the pink Beezo character doesn’t fit. Those wavy lines mean that the Beezo is flying in front of the “ice world” version of the green hills that you see throughout the game. However, there’s only one ice world and only one stage in it that has those white hills: Stage 4-3. (The younger version of me knew the stages by heart. I fired up the Virtual Console version to check and make sure that this was the case.) You encounter the hills right at the start of the stage, but there are no Beezos there. The only one that shows up in the stage appears much later, right before you fight Fry Guy.And since I’m on the subject, were there any pink Beezos in the game at all? I can remember red ones, green ones and gray ones, and that’s it.

I guess this little mystery could be easily solved by assuming that the above screenshot was taken from a beta version of Super Mario Bros. 2, but that itself strikes me as strange to consider, since the game already had a prototype-like-ancestor in Doki Doki Panic. But a proto-Super Mario Bros. 2 does exist, and this article spills the goods about it. This probably is the source of the image, I’d bed, and it’s not even all that weird, since I also had one of the Super Mario Bros. 3 boxes with the alternate map layout for Grass Land.

One more thought about the instruction booklet: For the snake-like Cobrat enemy, it notes that it “moves on Wart’s command, often appearing in the dreams of Toad.” As I kid, I wondered what this meant, but is it a hint to gamers that Toad is the most effective character to use the desert levels?

Super Mario Bros. 2, previously:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Undercooked? Oversalted? Swimming in Vinegar?

From the Travelocity website:

I realize that certain people must avoid spicy food for medical reasons, especially when they’re confined to airplanes and the tiny bathrooms therein, but I feel like referring to these peoples’ meal preference of choice as “bland” is just hammering home the point that they can’t enjoy good food. It’s kind of like places where unmarried women still have to identify themselves as spinsters on legal forms.

Also, should I be surprised that they have “bland” but not “vegan”? Or would vegan be covered by one of the other options? What about “gluten-free”? Or is that covered by “bland”?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Name Is Drew and I Was a Childhood Logophobe

Every now and then, I find out that something I’m vaguely aware of is a recognized phenomenon. Often, it’s the case that I’ve either never really put this thing into words and then find that someone else has. Or maybe I’ve thought about it but assumed that I’m the only one who gave it any consideration, only to find out that not only do people know about it but they’ve already given it a word. (This happened when I found out about phonesthemes, if you’ll remember.)

Today, I discovered a phenomenon informally known as logophobia: children’s irrational fear, hatred or dread of the production company logos that run at the end of TV shows. I too once feared these — not all of them, but just certain ones — to the point that I would actually leave the room when certain programs ended so I wouldn’t have to see or hear these five-second notices about who made the show. Why? I can’t really tell you. They’re not scary in and of themselves and I now have trouble remembering what about them bothered me so much. But now at least I know I’m not the only one. Today I stumbled upon a blog post featuring an eight-minute documentary called The S From Hell, which details various adults’ childhood fear of the Screen Gems logo.

I have to say that I don’t especially find the Screen Gems logo scary. Maybe a little grating, especially with those harsh colors and that jarring synth. And jarring synth seems to be a common element to a lot of the production logos that would have been on TV when I was a kid. However, whenever anyone seems to write about their own experiences with logophobia, it tends to spark discussions among other people about the particular ones they found scary. (Like, really: Check out this lengthy threat on MetaFilter about scary production logos.) I was happy to see that people found my three most dreaded logos noted here and there.

In order:

This one, which aired after the original run of The Brady Bunch and some of the syndicated reruns, is apparently nicknamed “The Closet Killer,” because it sounds like the soundtrack to a murderer jumping out of your closet and stabbing you to death.

Then there’s the Viacom logo, which aired at the end of practically everything. It’s nickname among logophobes is “The V of Doom.”

And finally there’s this one, which I associate with the end of Muppet Babies. I was terrified of that silver monster man who comes leaping out onto the “M” and the “P.” Today, I can see that it’s obviously a stylized Spider-Man and that Marvel Productions is a branch of Marvel Comics. (How Marvel came to produce Muppet Babies is another mystery for another time, I suppose.) But back in the day, I was sure this agile monster would bound off those letters, through the screen and eat me and my family. I can specifically remember nightmares about him. They’ve stopped, of course, and ol’ Spidey doesn’t bother me in the least today, though I have to admit I got a little choked up during the subway scene in Spider-Man 2. Probably unrelated.

So now I’m curious to know: Do any of you who read this blog remember being scared of or otherwise bothered by any production logos? Or am I the only person I know weird enough to belong to this little club?

(A note: And yes, technically speaking logophobia refers to an obsessive dread of words, so to refer to this particular fear as such in inaccurate. However, this seems to be what people are using when they talk about this, so I’ll stick with it.)

(Another note: In watching videos of various production logos, I came across one I’d never scene before, for the Mark VII Limited company, which produced shows like Dragnet and Adam-12. It looks like this:

Upon hearing it, I couldn’t figure out why it sounded so familiar, as I was certain I’d never seen it. Then, reading other logophobia-related posts, I found out why. Have you figured it out yet? If not, click here.)

TV, previously:Things creepy or horrifying, previously:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Less Pumpkin, More Inferno

I’d never thought of it in this way, but there’s a theory put forth by Linda Badley in her 1996 book Writing Horror and the Body that likens Carrie to a dark modernization of the Cinderella story. Sue Snell is the godmother figure, who tries to make life better for the tormented Carrie. And both stories have their climax set at a formal party where the respective casts see the undoing of any efforts to elevate the status of the victimized Cinderella character.

Of course, in place of the carriage’s transformation back into a pumpkin, Carrie ends with her killing everybody in an firestorm, so that would be small difference between the two stories.

This post going up the day after Valentine’s Day is totally coincidental, I swear.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Because it’s Valentine’s Day, apparently, I should dig up an old VD-related post that’s as true today as it was when it was originally written.
Dear Valentine,

On this special day, I wish you love and romance and sweet giggles and gushes of twinkle-fairy kisses from heaven. I'd like nothing more in the whole, wonderful world than to take you to a dewy meadow blooming with love blossoms and feed you bonbons that I made myself with love and beauty and corn starch and love. I'd stuff you so full you'd be plump with candy heart goodness, then you'd vomitgasm into my mouth and all over my face with rainbows — except instead of normal rainbows, they'd be just red and pink and purple, because those are the only true colors of love.

Then I'd pull your heart from your chest with tongs of love and squish it against mine, with a schloppy-squooshy noise that can only be the true noise of true love.


In my brain, this note is written in this card:


Remember, celebrate the big VD safely!

The 2010 Olympic Mascots: Cute or Adorable?

So the mascots chosen for this current Winter Olympics are very cute, very graphically current, and very likely the kind of characters children will want emblazoned on their hats, shirts, backpacks, footy pajamas, snowsuits and bedspreads. Good on you, committee that foresaw the marketing opportunity that resulted from this winning formula: a little Sanrio by way of a sanitized Happy Tree Friends, drawn in the style of Samurai Jack.

I am led to understand that the one on the left — Sumi, some sort of mishmash of thunderbird and black bear — is actually the mascot of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympics, while Quatchi the sasquatch and Miga the “sea bear” (orca + Kermode bear) represent the games currently airing on TV. There’s apparently an “extra” mascot: Mukmuk the marmot. I have yet to figure out what he does aside from add an additional character to the line-up that children (first)worldwide must now collect.

These four are certainly a step up from the abstract nightmare that was the mascot pair from the 2008 Winter Olympics in Turin: Neve and Gliz, the crudely drawn snow monsters that eat children’s hearts and want to blanket the world in a permanent blanket of life-stifling ice.

Even worse, the mascot for the 2008 Winter Paralympics is Aster, an anthropomorphic snowflake who lacks arms and legs.

But in the small amount of Olympic mascot research I felt compelled to do this morning, I think I’ve found my favorite of all: Waldi the dachshund, emblem of the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics and the first-ever official Olympic mascot.

Just from an aesthetic viewpoint, Waldi has class. Artist Otl Aicher clearly designed the dog to look dignified and not just sell T-shirts to screaming eight-year-olds with sticky cotton candy hands. With his cool color scheme (picked to exclude red and black, colors of the Nazi party) and abstracted Charley Harper-esque shape, Waldi looks a little more grown-up than the googly-eyed terrors that have roamed previous games. (Remember that sin against God that was chosen to represent the 1996 Atlanta games?) Waldi’s form was so celebrated, in fact, that the 1972 Olympic marathon was designed to resemble him. But all of Waldi’s virtues that I’ve mentioned so far pale in comparison to one fact I learned about him from his Wikipedia page: “Waldi was based on a real long-haired Dachshund named Cherie von Birkenhof.” There you go. That clinches it. A real-life dog with a given name and surname, no less. And, of course, anything involving a dog with a last name makes that thing the best of its kind ever.

In conclusion: an Olympic-related but non-mascot-related matter: Is anyone else unnerved by the fact one of the official Winter Games sports is called skeleton?

EDIT: Going through and closing Olympics-related tabs, I found the page for the Fuwa, the five little monsters that represented the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Apparently, they are cursed.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Where the Viaduct Looms

Two pictures of suburban decay. And yes, these depict a location in the U.S., not New Zealand.

abandoned radio station

rusty old machinery

That is all.

Friday, February 12, 2010

That’s a Bingo!

Hey, and if you want to, maybe, you could read my interview with Christoph Waltz, a.k.a. Colonel Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds. If things go as I expect, he will be the first Oscar-winner I have ever spoken with. Things that were cut from the final version of the article include that we spoke the morning after he had finished filming his scenes as the villain in the new Seth Rogen Green Hornet movie and some discussion about how Michel Gondry is, like Tarantino, good to work with.

EDIT: Actually, now that I think about it, if you want to read a better interview article with a less famous person, read one I neglected to post here: Casey Wilson, formerly of Saturday Night Live but forever in my heart.

David Lynch Meets Legend of Zelda

I’d bet that David Lynch does not play video games. I can’t say why, but I have a hunch that he’s just not that kind of guy. And if I told people that Lynch had an impact on one of the most widely played video games series ever, they probably wouldn’t believe me. And even if they did, they wouldn’t expect Lynch to have left his mark on a Nintendo series. But he did.

A few months back on this blog, I mentioned Iwata Asks, an online series in which Nintendo president Satoru Iwata talked to his employees about their creative processes. (I was happy that someone finally explained the origin of the “P” on the P-Wing in Super Mario Bros. 3, if you’ll remember.) A new Iwata Asks has gone up that details the Zelda series in promotion of an upcoming game. In it, Iwata speaks with two longtime developers, Takashi Tezuka and Eiji Aonuma, about The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, an early title released for the Game Boy. In it, Link washes up on a strange, dream-like island. The area is populated with suspicious characters that Link must interact with, and the developers said in the interview that the idea behind this setting came from Twin Peaks.

It’s not as outlandish as it sounds. People who weren’t around for Twin Peaks might have a hard time imagining just what a big deal the show was, at least for its first half. And I’ve heard before that it was even bigger in Japan. The actors from the show even appeared in character in TV ads for coffee. Here’s how it comes up in Iwata’s conversation:
Aonuma: Whoa, here we go. (laughs) Iwata-san, do you know about Twin Peaks?

Iwata: No. Bring me up to speed. (laughs)

Tezuka: We were talking about this before you arrived. I was talking about fashioning Link’s Awakening with a feel that was somewhat like Twin Peaks. At the time, Twin Peaks was rather popular. The drama was all about a small number of characters in a small town.

Iwata: Okay…

Tezuka: So when it came to Link’s Awakening, I wanted to make something that, while it would be small enough in scope to easily understand, it would have deep and distinctive characteristics.

Aonuma: At the time, I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was like, “What is this guy talking about?” (laughs) But since Twin Peaks was popular at the time…

Iwata: You thought he just wanted to be trendy?

Aonuma: Yeah. (laughs) I thought, “You really want to make Zelda like that?!” Now the mystery is solved. (laughs) When I was reading Tanabe-san’s comments in the strategy guide, I saw, “Tezuka-san suggested we make all the characters suspicious types like in the then-popular Twin Peaks.”
Tezuka goes on to explain that prior to Link’s Awakening, these “suspicious types” didn’t really exist in the series but they ended up carrying on to the later titles. So there you have it: Proof that not only did Lynch influence one Zelda game but also the series as a whole.

And I can totally see it now, even though I played the game after Twin Peaks’s run had ended and before I ever watched it. Link is stranded in an isolated area much like Agent Cooper is stuck in the remote, titular town. The people in both locations are eccentric, to say the least. Link runs around doing favors for these folks, learning little bits about them, and then ultimately stops the big bad and gets to leave. (In that respect, Link’s Awakening turns out a lot better for the hero than Twin Peaks does.) As someone who has loved David Lynch for a long time — and loved video games for longer — I am delighted to learn about the intersection of these two things I wouldn’t have ever expected to cross.

So that, in and of itself, it pretty damn neat, but there’s a bit more speculation to be had now, knowing that the game’s developers had Twin Peaks in mind. I’m going to hold off here just because it’s really of interest only to Twin Peaks nuts and Nintendo nerds — with an emphasis on the latter and bonus points if you’re both. Seriously, the geek radiation may melt your face. But click through to read the rest if you’re up for it.

Still here? Good.

Now, I could write forever in an attempt to unpack Twin Peaks and analyze every little part of it. However, if I had to pick out three big motifs from the show to talk about in the context of Link’s Awakening, it would be owls, dreams, and doppelgangers. Both Link’s Awakening and Twin Peaks have them. I don’t necessarily think these overlaps are intentional, but in the context of the Iwata Asks interview, I think it’s fun to look at further connections.

First up: the hooters.

a twin peaks owl

One of the many lingering mysteries about Twin Peaks is the meaning of a phrase spoken by several of the town’s suspicious types: “The owls are not what they seem.” The nature of the local owls may be mysterious to the characters on the show, but viewers quickly figure out that these birds don’t seem to have humanity’s best interest in mind. They watch various nighttime happenings from the trees, they are manifestations of the forest’s resident evil spirit (BOB, the show’s big bad), and they even have a creepy hangout called Owl Cave. There, characters find creepy pictoglyphs made by Native Americans that depict various supernatural phenomenon and even a map of the local area. Just a little Zelda-ish.

a zelda owl

Link’s Awakwning
features just the one owl — a nameless but wise character who guides Link on his adventure around the island. It too has clearly been lurking about, getting a feel how what goes on around it. And yes, it’s a lot more benevolent than the Twin Peaks owls, but it’s not above suspicion. During the game, Link learns that he’s trapped on Koholint Island, which exists only as a product of the dreams of the Wind Fish, a sort of deity that sleeps in a giant egg at the top of the island. (As we all hope to do one day.) If Link wants to go home, he must wake this sleeping thing up, but in doing so he’ll cause Koholint and its inhabitants to vanish forever, just as any dream would when the person having it wakes up. Therefore, though the owl is helping Link, it also wants Link to wipe the island from existence. Sort of a heady concept for a child’s game: save yourself by destroying reality. What’s more, when Link finally completes his quest and awakens the Wind Fish, the owl explains that it is actually a manifestation of the Wind Fish, sent out into the world to do its bidding—maybe kinda-sorta like how the Twin Peaks owls might be manifestations of BOB. It no longer needing to guide Link, the owl fades into thin air.

So that’s one: owls that essentially function differently in either work but who also have some fundamental similarities. The way dreams work in both Twin Peaks and Link’s Awakening matches up a little more closely. Twin Peaks is famous for its dream sequences to the point that even people unfamiliar with the show have some idea what they’re about: red drapes, zigzag-patterned floor, a creepy dancing little person, and backwards talking.

Below is the first glimpse of that dreamspace.

As the show progresses, Agent Cooper learns that Laura Palmer (the blonde woman) had the same dream at the same time he did. There’s a sense that perhaps dreams can be a place people can inhabit as they would a room or a geographical location. Later it comes to light that the dream took place in a supernatural space called the Black Lodge, a kind of hang-out for evil dream spooks. But despite it not being a physical location with a street address and a mailbox, Cooper and other characters physically enter the Black Lodge in the series finale. And the otherworldly beings that live in the Black Lodge can leave and appear to humans who are either dreaming or fully awake. Overall, there’s a lot more going on with dreams throughout the show, but the notion of being able to physically pass into and out of dreams as if they were physical places is the important one to keep in mind here.

Link’s Awakening has this concept too, to an extent. Whereas Super Mario Bros. 2 ends with the standard “It was all a dream!” revelation, the player learns mid-adventure that Link’s Awakening is set in a dream, even though it’s the Wind Fish’s and not Link’s. Regardless, Link is literally in a dream. The Wind Fish has created a small universe that Link can walk around in and interact with as if it were real — at least until it fades away and Link re-enters his own reality.

However, he’s not the only one to make it out of the dream. Though Zelda’s name appears in the game’s full title, the princess herself is absent from Link’s Awakening. In her place is a similar-looking young woman named Marin. She is the one who finds the shipwrecked Link at the game’s beginning and takes him home. She also longs for a different life, specifically as a seagull that can fly away to a new place. (As we all do.) She may get her wish: If the player can beat the game without letting Link die once, an altered version of the credits features Marin with wings, flying away. It’s not necessarily canon, but it does suggest that this girl who’s a product of a dream makes it out into the real world—at least as a parting gift to dedicated players.

Finally, there are the lookalikes. Twin Peaks has them, Link’s Awakening has them, and consequently most later Zelda games have them as well. As the name of the show might imply, Twin Peaks has a lot of doubling. Some of it is figurative. For example, Laura Palmer has two high school boyfriends. Characters lead double lives. Characters look alike. One pair of lookalikes even discovers that they’re half-sisters. It’s all very soap opera-ish. More important to this discussion, however, is the literal doubling. Sheryl Lee, the actress who plays Laura, also plays her identical cousin, Maddy. Cooper gets his own double when Bob possesses his body in the Black Lodge, stranding the good one there and sending an evil Cooper out into Twin Peaks. Even the Black Lodge itself has its own double, the White Lodge (of course).

laura and her lookalike
Link’s Awakening presents its doppelgangers and lookalikes differently, but I’m tempted to say that if anything from the game other than the “suspicious types” originated on Twin Peaks, it would be these. Right off the bat, there’s Marin. At the start of the game, Link confuses Marin for Zelda. For the rest of the game, Marin is right-hand gal when he needs her, getting herself abducted at one point but and ultimately helping him complete his quest and standing in for Zelda, who never gets mentioned again after Link’s initial mistake.

hey, it ain’t called legend of marin
A Zelda doppelganger in a Zelda game makes sense. What really helps set Link’s Awakening apart from the other games in the series, as far as being a bit “off,” is the presence of more out-of-place doppelgangers — specifically ones for Mario and Luigi. For Mario, it’s Marin’s portly father, Tarin. And if the mustache isn’t a giveaway, you learn that Tarin collects mushrooms (ding!) and at one point gets transformed into a raccoon (ding!). In the interview, Iwata himself notes the strangeness of this character, saying “Did that guy who looks like Mario appear because you wanted to make someone who looked suspicious? He did look suspicious, but….” And it is strange. He doesn’t belong there.

Tarin’s role is small, but Luigi’s is even smaller. Indignity of indignities — he’s a nameless chicken farmer. And that’s about it.

the koholint mario bros. — mushroom-picker and chicken farmer
Various Mario enemies make appearances too, including Super Mario Bros. 2 big bad Wart, who apparently only gets to appear in Nintendo games that turn out to be dreams. Link’s Awakening even draws from obscure Nintendo titles. There’s a cameo by Richard, a character from the Japan-only The Bell Tolls for the Frogs. It’s almost like Link’s Awakening has Nintendo characters taking roles in a play — or appearing in a dream in a mixed-up fashion. Later Zelda games still feature Marin, Tarin, and Mr. Chicken Farmer in a sense — as doppelgangers. (Yeah, the doppelgangers get doppelgangers). Marin shows up in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, more or less, as Malon — a ranch girl instead of an island girl. Tarin is Talon, Malon’s father. And someone who looks a whole lot like that chicken farmer is now Ingo, who works on Talon’s ranch but deeply resents his boss. And if that weren’t enough, yet again different version of these three show up again, in Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which bumps Link into a wonky version of his regular reality.

I’m happy that there’s a connection between a show I love and a game I enjoyed when I was a kid — certainly happy enough to put all this up. Again, I’m not trying to assert a definite causation or inspiration relationship between Twin Peaks and Link’s Awakening, but I do think the admission that the Twin Peaks played into the series at some point allows room for a little speculation.

If nothing else, the two works create an interesting dialogue about a few ideas you don’t see too often in TV shows or video games — and certainly not in conjunction with one other.  And since I’m on the subject — and probably never will be again — I’ll conclude by saying that I’d kill to watch a video of David Lynch playing video games and narrating what’s happening and what he thinks about it. Can we make this happen?

David Lynch, previously:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Sky Over Paella

And, with this post, we come to the last of my New Zealand-releated photos. I know, you’re devastated. You can’t stand that I’m now returning to writing about pop culture detritus and nothing indicative of me as a person. It will be tough, but you can pull through, I know it.

During the home stretch of the trip, we stayed in the North Island beach town of Paihia, the pronunciation of which always made me think of paella. And not without good reason, either, as Paihia had plentiful, high-quality seafood. However, what I’ll remember most about this town wasn’t in the water but above it — and seen from the deck of the house we were staying in. During one rainy day, we got a great view of the only full-arc rainbow I can ever remember seeing, and with the faintest hint of a second arc above it, no less. I took a few pictures, knowing that the beauty of natural phenomena like rainbows doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to photography. In an effort to convey this awesome sight to everyone who wasn’t around to see it live, I’ve crudely stitched together the pictures on Photoshop. If you blur your eyes a little, you won’t notice the rough corners and could feasibly imagine yourself there.

rainbow at opua

(For the full effect, I encourage you to go ahead and click on the big version.)

Later that night, I played with my camera a bit and got some cool shots of the harbor at night.

storm in opua 1

storm in opua 3

storm in opua 4

storm in opua 5

storm in opua 6

Say goodbye to New Zealand!

Attack of the Sheepotaur

Little did I know when I put up a post here a few months ago titled “The Sheep Man Cometh” that I’d eventually find something even more deserving of that title. (This is what I get for continuing to blog about video games.) May I present an even creepier humanoid sheep, courtesy of the good people at New Zealand thermal clothing company Icebreaker:

Feel weird about it, people. Even that tagline seems suggestive of a love that dare not baa its name.

Also, “enjoy” a close-up of the couple that is roughly one-fourth sheep:

That muscular ram-man is up to no good with that naked nymph on his back. Icebreaker specializes in keeping you warm, but she’s not wearing any clothes, so we’re left to assume how ram-man plans to raise the temperature.

This isn’t my first run-in with Icebreaker’s sexually grotesque ads. The company seems to specialize in visuals that suggest some freaky mating between humans and the wooly ones. During my last trip to New Zealand, I managed to spot these images:

I just don’t understand the idea behind this — by which I mean that I do but I find it both off-putting and suggestive of the New Zealand stereotype of what shepherds do with their flocks in the lonely hours of the night. It would kind of like an emblematically French company using anthropomorphosized frogs or a recognizably American company using fat eagles eating hamburgers and spilling mayonnaise all over their bibs.

Icebreaker — it keeps you warm while it sins against nature.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Now Let’s Risk Our Feathers!

From Wikipedia, a list of various translations of “Let’s get dangerous,” catchphrase of cartoon superhero (and childhood favorite) Darkwing Duck.
  • Egyptian: يلا بينا نغامر (“C'mon, let's risk it!”)
  • Bulgarian: Пипвам ги за миг! (“I capture them quick!”)
  • Cantonese: 等我搞破壞! (“Wait till I do some destruction!”)
  • Danish: Lad os så vove fjerene! (“Now let's risk our feathers!”)
  • Dutch: Laten we lekker link gaan doen! (“Let's get freakin’ risky!”)
  • French: Cette chanson craint un Mask! (“This song is creepy!” — or, according to my own attempt, “This song fears Mask!” Neither make much sense.)
  • Indonesia: Mari hadang bahaya! (Let’s charge the danger!”)
  • Korean: 덤벼 보라고! (“Go ahead and attack me!”)
  • Russian: Ну-ка, от винта! (“Well, clear prop!” — which Wikipedia notes is aviation slang.)
Can’t vouch for these translations, but some verbal fun nonetheless. One wonders what the translations made of the show’s many puns. How does the name of spy agency director J. Gander Hooter translate into Hindi?

Disney, previously: