Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Elevating the Pixel? Or Just Moving It Around?

It’s hard for me to admit this, but I’ve been experimenting for some months now — with pixels. They’re not my pixels. Largely, these pixels were put in place, square by square, by a Japanese person decades ago. I’m just taking them out of their original video game context and modifying them to varying degrees.

(via sprites from this game)
(via sprites found here)
(via sprites from this game)
It’s not art, though there are some true artists out there doing amazing work with pixels. Like Paul Robertson. You can’t question his artist credentials. So then what the hell am I doing, aside from passing time between one task and another? Can I just say that I’m digitally doodling? Is it e-collage?

And what do we call these throwback compositions: images inspired by and often made within the constraints of antiquated technology? Do we just call it all pixel art, as this process was called back in the 80s? Or is the retro aspect to what people are doing now — making art that’s inspired by old video games and that exists on its own, separate from actual video games — inherently different?

More digi-doodles after the jump.

(via sprites i found here)
(via sprites from this game)
(via sprites found here)
(via sprites i found here)
(via sprites i found here)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sneezing Around the World, Part Three

So I accidentally made a little series on sneezing. Excuse me.

In the first part, I noted how many languages’ words for sneeze actually sound like sneezing. And in the second, I listed as many worldwide onomatopoetic sneeze words as I could find. It would me sense to finish this little adventure into the realm of nasal explosions with a list of how different languages respond to sneezing, I felt, but it turns out that Wikipedia is already over that one — not only with every translation of bless you you could think of but also often with the polite response to the sneezer gives to the blesser.

Some highlights, however:
  • According to Wikipedia, deaf people using American Sign Language typically don’t respond to sneezes. Is that true? Does that make sense? I feel like it doesn’t, especially how the noise of the sneeze is hardly the most intrusive aspect of the act.
  • Japanese people also generally don’t respond to sneezes.
  • The Belarusian and Chechen responses to sneezing varies according to the gender of the sneezer.
  • Wikipedia translates the Cantonese sneeze response as “a great fortunate occurrence,” which is certainly an enthusiastic way to view sneezing.
  • The Czech response translates as “Bless God,” which seems counterproductive if you live in a culture where God traditionally issues all the benedictions.
  • An alternative Georgian sneeze response translates as “Million dollars” — “referencing the belief that one loses money while sneezing,” Wikipedia explains.
  • Germans don’t have to use Gesundheit, “health,” and can instead wish for contentment, wealth or beauty.
  • The Persian sneeze response translates as “May purity be bestowed upon you,” and although that’s nice, a tissue might be a more effective means of achieving that purity.
  • One of the Portuguese responses to sneezing is santinho, “little saint.”
  • In Vietnamese, if the sneezer is a small child, you can say something that translates as “rice and salt.”
Of course, in all this discussion of equivalents for bless you, I’d like to point back to my old post, “Fucking the Subjunctive,” in which I talk about how the subjunctive has not vanished from modern English. In fact, a form on the subjunctive mood is used in two common but antithetical English expressions: bless you and fuck you.

Finally, some people suffer from a rare disorder that causes them to sneeze uncontrollably after a large meal. No, really: It’s called snatiation, a portmanteau of sneeze and satiation.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Does Nintendo Hate Eggplants?

Though literally late to the game, I’m playing through Nintendo’s new Kid Icarus. As I get older, I forget sometimes how much I enjoy playing video games, so it’s nice to have one to unwind. And it’s especially fun to see Nintendo’s take on characters that I first met more than twenty years ago and largely hadn’t seen since.

This includes the Eggplant Wizard.

For those who never played the original NES Kid Icarus, the Eggplant Wizard was a recurring enemy that attacked by transforming the hero, Pit, into an eggplant with legs. Eggplants not being known for their nimbleness or courage, an eggplantified Pit had little recourse aside from jumping about and trying to dodge the sharper-clawed monsters coming at him. In Kid Icarus: Uprising, the Eggplant Wizard returns, looking a bit more polished than he did back in the day, but ultimately being every bit as annoying.

In fact, there’s even a Tempura Wizard that will transform Pit into a tempura shrimp on legs and then try to eat him, but that’s a different story, to be told in my nightmares. No, this article is about eggplants. People who never played Kid Icarus might have known the Eggplant Wizard anyway because he was a featured villain on Captain N: The Game Master, the mostly terrible Saturday morning cartoon series that featured characters from NES-era video games.

The series placed the wizard alongside actual big bads — like King Hippo from Punch-Out!! and the Mother Brain from Metroid — as if he were more than a generic annoyance, but that’s hardly the weirdest creative made by a show that tried to promote the Game Boy by introducing a sentient, stretchable Game Boy as a character. But the Eggplant Wizard’s presence on Captain N probably marks the highest-profile moment for aubergine in a video game-related medium.

But here’s the weird part: There’s kind of a history of Nintendo featuring evil eggplants. I’m not the only one to notice the weird preponderance of eggplants in video games. The website Sydlexia actually features a whole history of the eggplant on the Nintendo Entertainment System. That list begins with Ice Climber, a vertically scrolling title where your Eskimo heroes can collect various produce items for bonus points, Pac-Man-style.

It’s in Wrecking Crew, released six months after Ice Climber, that the eggplants turn evil. In this quasi-Mario Bros. spinoff, Mario has to contend with three headaches: ambulatory wrenches, a burly, Bluto-esque foreman, and the Eggplant Men.

As far as Nintendo-produced games go, Sydlexia’s list ends with Kid Icarus, which came out in 1986. A handful of third party games feature eggplants too, however, sometimes in a negative context — the very Mario-like Adventure Island games feature it as an anti-power-up that saps your strength and slows the music down — and sometimes in a positive one — the princess in Kickle Cubicle has a guard of eggplant retainers. I’ll leave it up to you how to assess the eggplants in Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom, which are a sexy anthropomorphic barmaid and a Fidel Castro parody, respectively. But after sorting through the extensive files my brain keeps on useless video game knowledge, I can think of two more recent, but less-than-pleasant Nintendo eggplants.

In Wario Land 4, the first boss is a doll-toting toddler eggplant that gets a lot less cute once you’ve roughed her up a few times.

In one of the Mario baseball games, Waluigi — who himself is eggplant-colored, even if it’s Wario who’s eggplant-shaped — has a power-up called the Whiskered Eggplant. It’s an eggplant with a mustache, and yes, “eggplant with a moustache” could essentially be a description for Waluigi himself.

And then there’s Smash Bros. Brawl, where the story mode features an army of little foot soldiers that, to me, looked so much like the Eggplant Men from Wrecking Crew that I just assumed they were. Apparently they’re not, but you have to admit, the resemblance is really strong, associated purple clouds and all.

And truly, what could be more harrowing than facing down an army of eggplants bent on world domination?

A better question: What gives?

Well, it’s possible I just forgot all the positive depictions of eggplants I’ve ever seen in a video game, and I’m twisting Nintendo’s gallery of products to reflect my own anti-eggplant agenda. (It’s possible. I don’t actually care for eggplant.) Or I could have just not played the majority of pro-eggplant games out there. However, it’s also possible that the eggplant might be more commonplace in Japan than it is here in the U.S., and that fact’s being reflected in the games that Japan makes. But if that’s the case, maybe the eggplant carries certain connotations in Japan that are inspiring video game designers to make it evil. I looked. I found next to nothing, aside from an old wives’ tale about eggplants causing infertility in newly married woman.

Maybe it’s just that someone at Nintendo regards eggplants the same way I do — purple and gross?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Of Kebab and Helicopters

The setup: There’s now a doner kebab place up the street from me, and until I looked it up, I didn’t know what doner kebab was aside from a vaguely meat-related thing. Spoiler: It’s not free, donated meat. Probably for the best.

The background: I like it when words get broken up in a way that’s different than how they originally came together. Like helicopter. If you asked most people to guess what two word parts formed helicopter, they’d probably say “Why are you talking to me about word parts? You’re ruining my cocktail party.” But if you pinballed off everyone else at the gathering, you might eventually end up talking to the second-most boring person there, and, lacking other options, he or she’d probably guess that helicopter was formed by the word parts heli, which we use today in words like helipad, and copter, which is actually a word on its own today. But that’s not actually how the word formed: it’s helico — from the Greek word for “spiral,” helix — plus pter — from the Greek word for “wing,” pteron, as in pterodactyl. And while that makes sense, it’s just not what most people would guess.

The tasty nugget of knowledge: The word kebab works in a similar way, I learned today. If you were, say, roasting vegetables on a barbecue, you might not hesitate to call them kebabs. In fact, in preparing to cook them, you might explain that you were going to stick some vegetables on a kebab and throw them on the barbecue. That’s not what kebab meant in the past, however: According to Etymonline, shish kebab goes back to a Turkish word siskebabp, with the sis meaning “skewer” and kebap meaning “roast meat.” Somewhere along the line, Americans switched it and decided that the kebab was the pointy thing and the sish was the delicious thing, and that thinking exists even though we have doner kebab — the Turkish version of what might be called gyros in a Greek place — being all delicious and meaty but lacking a pointy component in spite of that kebab being there.

One more thing: Doner means “turning,” which makes sense if you’ve ever seen the meat being sliced off an endlessly rotating spit. But I feel like a lot of people don’t put it together that gyro means the same thing, and gyro comes from the same Greek word that gives us gyrate and gyre. Doy. Why didn’t I ever realize that?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sneezing Around the World, Part Two

On Sunday, I posted the various worldwide translations for the word sneeze, and Carl commented that he’d be interested in learning the various words for the actual sound of sneezing — you know, the noise the English-speaking render as achoo.

Carl’s comment:
I have been more interested in the other language equivalents of “achoo.” I remember when I worked in a Japanese school, I heard one the teachers say/sneeze “hakushon,” and I thought to myself, “That’s not what a sneeze sounds like Shes faking it” But now I think about all the times I've said/sneezed “achoo” and if those were fake too.
Here’s a list of the various onomatopoeia I could find for sneezing. (Links at the bottom of the post.)
  • Arabic: atchu
  • Batak: atcim
  • Bengali: hach-chu
  • Bulgarian: apchix
  • Catalan: atxum, atxís, atxim
  • Chinese: hāt-chī (Cantonese), ā tì (Mandarin)
  • Czech: hepčí, kychnut
  • Cypriot: apshoo (which is purported to also be the name of a village in Cyprus, though I can’t find it here)
  • Danish: atju, hatju
  • Dutch: hatsjoe, hatsjie
  • Estonian: atsihh, atsih aptsihh, aptsih
  • Finnish: atshii, atshiu, atsiuh, atshii, atshiu, atsiuh
  • French: atchoum
  • German: hatschi, hatschu
  • Greek: apsu, apsiu
  • Hebrew: apchi, itush
  • Hindi: achhee, aak-chheen, aak-chhoon
  • Hungarian: hapci
  • Icelandic: atsjú
  • Indonesian: hacciihh, wa-hing
  • Italian; etciú
  • Japanese: hakushon, kushu
  • Kazakh: apschoo
  • Korean: etchi
  • Latvian: apčī
  • Lithuanian: apčiū, apči
  • Macedonian: apchixa
  • Norwegian: aatsjoo
  • Persian: achu
  • Polish: apsik
  • Portuguese: atchim, atchô
  • Romanian: hapciu
  • Russian: apchkhi
  • Serbian: apciha
  • Sinhalese: hacis
  • Slovak: hapčí
  • Slovene: ačih, ačiha
  • Spanish: achú, achísorachís
  • Swedish: atjoo, atjo
  • Tagalog: hatsing
  • Tamil: a-choo
  • Thai: hud-chei
  • Turkish: hapşu
  • Vietnamese: hắt xì, ắt xì
Are some of these more widely accepted than others, in the way that achoo is what most English dictionaries seem say is the standard way of representing the sneeze noise? Probably, but it’s an interpretable sound, you have to admit. Even English has alternate renderings for achoo, among them hachoo, tchoo, achew, atishoo, kerchoo, kachoo and (apparently) ahem. And no, the similarity between atishoo and a tissue seem to be coincidental, according to Etymonline, though now that I think about it, doesn’t handkerchief sound weirdly like a sneeze noise as well?

In response to Carl’s comment, it does seem like haukushon would be in the minority: Most of the sneeze words end in a vowel. Maybe the Japanese and the other ending-in-a-vowel sneezers are just more polite by virtue of trying to close their mouths and limit the outflow of sneeze particles?

Also, do Japanese sneezers truly say haukushon when their nasal situation gets critical while English sneezers say achoo? How would a person raised in isolation sneeze? Or would they say anything?

Sources: the Wikipedia page for sneeze, the Wikipedia page for cross-linguistic onomatopoeias, a Meta Filter thread, this page on sneezing that seems to be a repurposing of an old version of the Wikipedia page, a Word Reference forum thread, and a list of Japanese onomatopoeia on Transparent Language.

And check out Part Three!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Language Professors HATE Him!


Okay, I can get behind the logic of dermatologists hating that one woman who discovered that anti-aging secret — it was blueberries and badger smegma, by the way — and even why dentists hate that other woman who discovered that teeth-whitening secret — it was sandpaper, by the way — but this? Disregarding for a moment the fact that linguists would probably love the person who discovered the secret to learning a language in ten days, language professors don’t generally teach language: They study it. The only person who would hate the man who invents a new, quicker method of learning language would be, like, the immigrant lady who cornered the market on teaching her native language to businessmen at the late-night learning annex. And even then, there’s still palm-reading and keys made while you wait.

Also: “Pimsleur Approach” sounds like an affliction one would acquire from drinking Pimm’s Cups to the point of slurring speech, which, just maybe, is the secret to new language mastery.

Also also: Most verbal-minded folk would have noticed that the second “H” is the wrong font size and should actually be on the same scale as the “L” or the “P.”

Also also also: Is that really the highest-resolution photo you could find? Really?

Also also also also: I will click on the pop-up when the headline reads Professional Break Dancers HATE Him!, Fitted Sheet-Folders HATE Him! or Parallel Parking Experts HATE Him! Nothing else can fool me.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sneezing Around the World

In the tail end of yesterday’s post, I wrote that Greek at some point used the word ptairo to mean “sneeze.” This is significant, just because ptairo kind of sounds like a sneeze — maybe along the lines of ptooie with a more explosive ending. So I got to thinking: Do other languages’ word for “sneeze” sound like sneezing? Using the magic of Google Translate, I’ve made a short list.

Whenever possible, I used the phonetic rendering of the word. Some languages such as Farsi, Arabic and Hebrew I left out because a phonetic spelling wasn’t offered on Google Translate. In many cases, I wasn’t sure if the word being translated was the noun or the verb — not all languages use the same word the way English does — but they’re all referring to the sudden rocketing of snot from the nasal passages.

Decide for yourself:
  • Afrikaans: nies
  • Albanian: teshtij
  • Albanian: p’rrshtal
  • Azerbaijani: asqırmaq
  • Belarusian: čchać
  • Bengali: hām̐ci
  • Bulgarian: kikhane
  • Chinese: dǎ pēntì
  • Croatian: kihati
  • Czech: kýchnout
  • Danish: nyse
  • Dutch: niezen
  • Esperanto: terni
  • Estonian: aevastama
  • Filipino: pagbabahin
  • Finish: aivastaa
  • French: éternuer
  • German: niesen
  • Greek: ftárnisma (and yes, I notice that this isn’t ptairo, but that first syllable isn’t not far off)
  • Gujarti: chīṅka
  • Hatian Creole: etènye
  • Hindi: chīṅka
  • Hungarian: tüsszentés
  • Indonesian: bersin
  • Italian: starnutire
  • Japanese: kushami
  • Korean: jaechaegi
  • Latin: sternuisse
  • Latvian: šķaudīt
  • Lithuanian: čiaudėti
  • Macedonian: kivnete
  • Maltese: tgħatas
  • Norwegian: nyse
  • Polish: kichać
  • Portuguese: espirrar
  • Romanian: strănut
  • Russian: chikhatʹ
  • Serbian: kijanje
  • Slovak: kýchnuť
  • Spanish: estornudar
  • Swahili: kuchafya
  • Swedish: nysa
  • Tamil: tum'mu
  • Thai: cām
  • Turkish: hapşırmak
  • Ukrainian: chkhaty
  • Vietnamese: nhảy mui
  • Welsh: tisian
  • Yiddish: nysn
My favorites? Czech and Turkish. The one I’m most disappointed in? Yiddish. Come on, Yiddish. With your rich library of throat-clearing sounds, I expected more from you.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Hard-to-Pronounce Name for a Hard-to-Love Plant

Tweeblaarkanniedood. Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it. I’ve been fooled by Afrikaans before, and I’ll bet that the spelling is not phonetic. According to this Flickr user and a few other sources, tweeblaarkanniedood translates not as “typed while drunk” but as “two leaves cannot die,” which either sounds like a motto for some weird club or the tagline for a movie nobody wants to see. Regardless, the meaning seems appropriate when you see what this plant looks like.


Giant leaves rolling and tumbling like waves in a surreal desert landscape in a dream shared by Georgia O’Keefe and Salvador Dali. Truly, the tweeblaarkanniedood — perhaps better known by its scientific name, Welwitschia mirabilis — won’t give you the warm cuddlies that you’d get from some dumb, obvious flower like a gerbera or something. But it’s commanding, you have to admit. These plants can live for 1,500 years, possibly even longer, which means that the specimens alive today have seen a great deal of history — or would have if they weren’t rooted into the Namibian desert. You may also be surprised to learn that they’re gymnosperms, meaning they’re related to pines and gingkos. Now, you may have noticed that these plants don’t much resemble pines or gingkos. It’s true. The genus Welwitschia comprises just this one specimen. And it’s pretty much on its own all the way up to the order Welwitschiales.

Elusive pronunciation aside, I like tweeblaarkanniedood as a name for this plant. The plant is long-lived and fascinatingly messy-looking, and it makes me happy when the structure of a word reflects the thing being referring to. (And yes, I realize that to a South African, that word may not sound weird. To my American ears, it does. We just don’t hear those letters in that order nor in such great numbers.) I’m happy to know that something with such a name is held in esteem in its native country. Scope out the tweeblaarkanniedood on the Namibian coat of arms. That isn’t some puddly, green alien that’s disrupting the symmetry beneath the shield.

Other creatures with names of note, any one of which could have bene the subject of its own post had I not discovered the tweeblaarkanniedood:

This is a hoatzin, a South African bird that’s also known as the stinkbird on account of the fact that it smells like shit. (The tweeblaarkanniedood, I should point out, does not have a reputation for smelling like shit.)

And this succulent is the Dudleya taskiae, better known to the world as the Santa Barbara island liveforever. Name notwithstanding, it’s super endangered. Let’s not make this one really awkward, people.

There’s a relative of quinoa that goes by the name Strawberry Blite, which suggests a cross between Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Brite that turned out to be evil. (And obvs, such a creature would be evil.) It’s edible but toxic in large amounts.

And finally, the sneezewort. It, um, makes you sneeze, which would make the story of its name fairly straightforward if it wasn’t also known as bastard pellitory, fair-maid-of-France and goose tongue, among other names. Wikipedia does point out that its scientific name, Achillea ptarmica is notable because ptarmica comes from a Greek word meaning “sneeze,” ptairo. And doesn’t that sound like an accurate, evocative word for sneezing?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Surprisingly Sexual Pixels (or — The Lady, or the Old Homosexual?)

When I last wrote about Squaresoft, the purveyor of countless adventures for indoors children (1987 to present), I explained the awkwardness of Square’s Tom Sawyer, a Nintendo Entertainment System title. Despite the success that Final Fantasy would find across the Pacific and despite the fact that Mark Twain’s characters made the game an easy sell to Americans, Square’s Tom Sawyer remained in Japan. And while we can’t be sure why, the blatantly racist depiction of Jim probably didn’t help.

Today, it’s another Squaresoft title that never reached American shores and that also dealt with themes that American gamers at the time would have found surprising.

Between February and May 1996, Squaresoft released the last few games for the Super Famicom, the Japanese equivalent of the Super Nintendo. Of them, only one would make it here, and among the ones that didn’t was Bahamut Lagoon, a spin-off of the Final Fantasy series that introduced military simulation elements in a way that sort of makes it a forerunner to Final Fantasy Tactics. (In fact, according to the Final Fantasy Wiki, Bahamut Lagoon was originally going to be called Final Fantasy Tactics.) Also, there’s a bunch of dragons. You know — like you do. But this post isn’t about war strategy or dragons. Nope, it’s about sexuality.

In the game, you control your standard non-speaking protagonist. And while there’s a princess to be fussed over — a princess named Yoyo, unfortunately — there’s also an older gentleman, Sendak, who is wise but doddery and who is skilled in magic.

And he’s also gay. And that’s surprising to me.

Full disclosure: I haven’t played Bahamut Lagoon, but I had some awareness ever since a spread in Diehard Gamefan teased it back in the day as “AWESOME GAME YOU’LL NEVER PLAY, YOU MONOLINGUAL LOSER!” or something to that effect. And I can’t remember how I ended up reading about it, but I learned that this one character was either outright gay or just unusually, specifically interested in the hero to the point that he makes increasingly obvious passes at him over the course of the game. Most discussions about the game mention this in one way or another, and they should: Gay or apparently gay characters in video games still aren’t that common today, to say nothing of games released in 1996.

Now, if that weren’t strange enough, here’s the kicker about gay ol’ Sendak and his constant propositions: You have the option whether to rebuff him. As TV Tropes points, out, “Sure, it’s played for laughs (as is most romantic character interaction in the game), but for a 90s Squaresoft SNES game, it's downright revolutionary.”

And, unless I’m mistaken, you have to be nice to the old guy at the expense of being nice to Princess Yoyo — which, I mean… her name is fucking Yoyo. (If any of you have firsthand experience with choosing or rejecting homosexuality, lemme know how that works out.)

In conclusion, two asterisks that didn’t fit anywhere else.

First, Sendak’s name. It is odd that the older gay man would share his name with a famous author who himself was gay, yes? But I have to assume that it’s a coincidence, because Maurice Sendak wasn’t openly gay until after 1996, and even during the kerfuffle about indecency in In the Night Kitchen seems to stem from the fact that there was a nudity in a children’s book at all and not just that nudity in a children’s book written and illustrated by a man who might have been gay. Or did it?

Second — and this is a short but important one — this game is freaking beautiful. Yes, it sometimes veers toward the kind of saturated multicolor you’d normally see on wolf-howling-at-the-moon t-shirt, but it’s still truly remarkable what the designers were able to achieve with a fourth-generation console.

Video game obscurities, previously:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Have You Seen Roni Griffith?

First, something that can’t be argued: 80s singer Roni Griffith looked like Virginia Madsen before we knew that Virginia Madsen looked like Virginia Madsen. The proof? The video for her minor hit, “Desire.”

Now, some statements which may be slightly less easy to agree with:

Roni Griffith is not the name of a pop star, even by 80s standards. It’s the name of your mom’s friend. You know — Roni Griffith, who bought a used Cadillac and then told everyone it was brand new, but you’re mom’s other friend Nancy Cardinelli blabbed because she’s married to the owner of the Cadillac dealership and oh my god, can you believe that Roni Griffith?

To me, the video is notable for a few reasons:
  • Backup dancers gyrating in mesh structures that look like expanding condoms.
  • Roni’s trench coat.
  • Roni’s passing resemblance to Melanie Hutsell, which puts Hutsell in on a level with Virginia Madsen that I hadn’t considered before.
  • They keyboard solo.
  • Roni’s fun dance where it looks like an invisible man is dragging one of her arms over to the side.
  • The fact that she’s performing from a podium wreathed by artificial leaves, as if her trench-clad body were the stamen emerging from some wonderfully dated flower.
And it’s strange to me that this perfectly danceable 80s track would be so obscure today when so many other equally danceable (but equally trite) 80s songs should remain in rotation in bars and at Obnoxious Girl parties today. Unfortunately, there’s little information about Roni available online, so I have to go buy the flimsy bio that Wikipedia provides, which, brevity notwithstanding, offers this telling sentence: “On the eve of her first music video and her launch on the new music media outlet MTV, Griffith decided to walk away from everything based on her morals and values as a Christian in the secular music industry.” She later released a collection of contemporary Christian songs. Perhaps the giant mesh condoms drove her that direction?

Theory: In retrospect, the invisible man pulling her arm to the side in the “Desire” video was obviously God.

Also: She once performed on Saturday Night Live with her original band, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, in an 1981 episode hosted by Elliott Gould. I had also never heard of this band.

Also also: She’s American. Is that surprising? I would have bet that she would have been British.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why Name a Street After Locusts?

EDIT: In record time, we have an answer. Thanks, Nancy! Is it weird that I had never heard of a locust tree before Nancy told me about it?

Look at a map of any city street grid and you’ll see what the city used to be and how people want it to seem. In among numbers, letters and cardinal directions, the last names of founding fathers and other notables intersect with trees and animals suggest nature even when the existence of the asphalt street and cement sidewalk quite likely displaced nature. Newer housing developments do this in a degraded way: Instead of historical people, it’s the developer’s wife and daughter and mother-in-law, and they’re criss-crossing absurd, contrived combinations of nature words. If you find yourself at the corner of Amber Leigh Avenue and Shadypalm Street, you almost definitely wandered into a part of the city that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Also, you probably made a wrong turn.

But I have a question that I was unable to answer by searching on the internet, and I’m wondering if posting it here might make the answer come to me. (It’s worked in the past.) What’s up with Locust as a street name? There’s a Locust Street here in Los Angeles, there is a Locus Avenue in my hometown and Google Maps tells me that there are Locust Streets all throughout California. Other states have them too, but I’m more interested in the Californian Locust Streets just because, unless I’ve misunderstood, we don’t often get locusts here, not like Midwestern states did back in Laura Ingalls Wilder times. (EDIT: Apparently there was an incident in Sacramento County this year.) But even for the states that did historically suffer those scary, farmland-decimating clouds of locusts, it seems odd to me that you’d want to namecheck something so unwanted and destructive, even considering the occasional tendency to give streets strange or unpleasant names.

So I’m asking you, internet: Why would anyone name a street after a locust? Why is there a Locust Street anywhere? And why are there so many in California?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Possible Solutions to The Secret of Seagull Island

This movie exists:

I can say that much. But I will not research The Secret of Seagull Island beyond just verifying that it is, in fact, a thing, because I’ve decided that the VHS cover art is perfectly entertaining and that the actual plot of the film would pale by comparison. I’d much rather just imagine what this could be about.


The Secret of Seagull Island (1963) is a classic B-thriller starring French actress Berthe Jean-Alphonse in her English language debut as Babette, an intrepid ornithologist who sails to the fabled Seagull Island in order to determine the cause of strange — and violent! — activity in the local seabirds. But when she discovers that the mystery has ties to her own dark past, she requires the help of her estranged sister Agathe (Jean-Alphonse plays both roles), who may have dark intentions of her own.

See, here’s another:

The Secret of Seagull Island (1974) is an underrated Italian erotic film starring singer-turned-actress Ermina Molinari, as Francy, a lonely lighthouse keeper whose lover, Gabbiano, will only meet with her by moonlight. When Francy learns that Gabbiano has been cursed by the sand dune witch (Molinari plays both roles) to take the form of seagull during the day, she proceeds to make love to every shorebird on the island in a misguided effort to break the spell.

Okay, another:

The Secret of Seagull Island (1969) is a previously banned British horror film starring Flick Dunsow in her final role before her timely suicide. Dunsow plays Imogene, a curator at the London Ornithological Museum who is sent by her plotting superior, Muriel (Lady Caroline Sturgeon, Dunsow’s stepmother at the time), to an island to fetch a rare seagull specimen. The island happens to be the ancestral home of Muriel’s family, and Imogene endures an endless onslaught of attacks from these grizzled, island-bound relatives as she seeks to right a wrong darker than viewers could imagine. (In flashbacks, young Muriel is played by Dunsow in a dual role.)

I could do this all day:

The Secret of Seagull Island (1980) is the avant-garde Swedish epic starring Kajsa Håkansdodder as Kaw, a girl raised by seagulls after a herring boat disaster left her stranded on an isolated island. Kaw’s tranquil life of scuttling about the shore and scavenging meat scraps from dead seals is changed forever when the island turns out to be Ireland, and a band of nuns pursue her in hopes of making her wear bloomers. (Håkansdodder plays all roles, including the seagulls.)

No, I really could do this all day.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Terrific Typos of Super Mario Bros. 2

This shouldn’t be a spoiler, exactly, because if you didn’t know by now, you probably don’t care. But as the Nintendo-playing world of 1988 was shocked to discover, the big, concluding surprise to Super Mario Bros. 2 is that it’s all Mario’s dream. I’ve actually written about it here before, notably in the context of J.J. Abrams and Lost, before Lost ended and made us wish that was all a dream. But the end of Super Mario Bros. 2 works like this: You kill the big bad, you celebrate and then poof! — Mario is suddenly in bed and the game’s cast of characters scrolls over a looped animation of him snoring.

See, it looks like this, per the second iteration of the game:

But these end “credits” have had a few weird discrpencies in them over the years. The one people tend to know involves a boss that we never saw again in any game ever: Clawgrip, the big stupid crab. But due to that “R”/“L” thing that occasionally happens when translating from one language to another — and don’t forget, it’s not just Asian languages, because it happens in Spanish too — Clawgrip’s name was incorrectly rendered as Clawglip in the initial American release of the game:

That’s not the only irregularity that had to be edited in later editions. The main Mario series female didn’t go by Peach back then, and because Toadstool is either overlong or unfeminine or both, the credits initially identified her as if her name were actually Princess — you know, like a sad girl who’s so far the opposite of royalty that her parents try to elevate her with a “noble” name without appreciating the irony.

And a minor, otherwise unremarkable ladybug enemy, Hoopster, got mistakenly IDed as Hoopstar — a regrettable mistake that surely resulted in the firing of dozens.

But the real story here, my friends, is the awkwardness between Birdo — the egg-spitting dinosaur who made many a game-player ask “Wait, what is it supposed to be?” — and an ostrich character. Their names got switched in the original go-around.

There’s a certain weirdness to this. To this day, Birdo’s name in Italy is Strutzi, which sounds very Euro-cute and stylish but actually just comes from struzzo, “ostrich.” And when you get into it, a dinosaur that spits giant, softball-sized eggs isn’t actually all that different than a dinosaur-like bird that, in real life, also makes softball-sized eggs. Regardless, by the release of Super Mario All-Stars, the first of many Super Mario Bros. 2 remakes, the names had been changed… though not exactly fixed.

Which, yeah, maybe isn’t super helpful.

In 1996, the game was repackaged in Japan as a semi-sequel that was released with the title BS Super Mario USA. (The BS stands for Bandai Satellaview, a satellite modem peripheral released only in Japan, but those letters kind of make sense, given how the game is a “sequel” but also totally isn’t at all.) For this version of the game, the character names switched to their Japanese versions. And in Japan, Birdo has always been Catherine. I can only imagine that Ostro the Ostrich’s name was altered to follow suit.

Clearly noting the problem, Nintendo made a commendable effort to rectify it altogether for Super Mario Bros. 2’s inclusion in Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World. But while the intentions were good, the method was excessive.

However, every character being named Linda did make it a lot easier for new players to immerse themselves in the world of Super Mario Bros. 2, I guess, even if every subsequent Mario game would be jarring and weirdly lacking in Lindas. It may surprise you to know that the whole Birdo/Ostro confusion didn’t get completely sorted out until 2001, when Super Mario Bros. 2 got an additional tweaks and an aesthetic upgrade for its release as Super Mario Advance for the Game Boy Advance. And there, for the first time in eleven years, Birdo was listed as Birdo and Ostro as Ostro.

Right, but there’s the last one. Inexplicably, Mario’s name got changed to Hector Rodriguez, which only stuck for five or six years before everyone just reverted back to calling him Mario again. Conversely, Luigi’s name change remains in effect to this very day.

And that’s why Hector sister, Erma, is one of the most popular sidekicks in the history of video games.

This has been my exhaustively researched lesson in video game history. I thank you for your time.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Longstanding Hatred Between Elephants and Dragons

Here are some facts about elephants that even the most well-read pachydermophile may find surprising:
Elephants have no knee joints, so if they fall down they cannot get up again. To avoid falling, the elephant leans against a tree while it sleeps. To capture an elephant, a hunter can cut part way through a tree; when the elephant leans against it, the tree breaks and the elephant falls. Unable to rise, the beast cries out, and a large elephant tries to lift it up, but fails. In some accounts, twelve elephants next attempt to lift it, and also fail. Finally a small elephant comes and succeeds in raising the fallen one.
And here are more:
The elephant’s life span is three hundred years. They travel in herds, are afraid of mice, and courteously salute men in whatever way they can. They once lived in both in Africa and India, but now only live in India.
And finally this chunk of information:
The dragon is the enemy of the elephant, and hides near paths where elephants walk so that it can catch them with its tail and kill them by suffocation. ... When it is time to give birth, the female wades into a pool up to her belly and gives birth there. If she gave birth on land, the elephant's enemy the dragon would devour the baby. To make sure the dragon cannot attack, the male elephant stands guard and tramples the dragon if it approaches the pool.
Yep, that’s the one I was looking for — the one that explains, inasmuch as it can be explained, the strange medieval meme of illustrating elephants locked in combat with dragons. Poking around Tumblr, I found this post, which featured an elephant that was either appealingly stylized or appealingly erroneous:

Curious about why anyone would draw such a thing, I searched and ended up at The Medieval Bestiary, where I found that when artists of the day weren’t drawing elephants carrying bricked fortresses on their back, they often did so fighting with serpentine dragons:

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that elephants would appear in medieval European art. Elephants did and still do, after all, live within walking distance of Europe — it would be a long walk, yes, and it might even be more like stamping distance, if we’re being technical about it, but still. Looking at the depictions themselves, however, I’d guess that many artists based their illustrations off descriptions of elephants without ever having seen one in person. So what gives? It’s apparently allegorical. Quoting the Medieval Bestiary once again:
The elephant and its mate represent Adam and Eve. When they were still without sin in the Garden of Eden, they did not mate, but when the dragon seduced them and Eve ate the fruit of the tree and gave some to Adam, they were forced to leave Paradise and enter the world, which was like a turbulent lake of pleasures and passions. The elephants mated and she conceived, and “gave birth on the waters of guilt.” The big elephant represents the law, which could not raise up mankind from sin, nor could the twelve elephants, which represent the prophets. Christ is the small elephant who succeeded to raising the fallen. The burning skin and bones of the elephant represent the commandments of God, which allow nothing evil to enter the pure soul.
So there you go: perfectly sensible.

In closing, I want to say that I really hope some fourth-grader researching elephants stumbles onto this blog post and presents all this information to his class.