In Which I Just Get Mean About Trick-Or-Treating During The Pandemic


“It’s perfectly safe to go trick-or-treating while the pandemic’s out of control,” say parents who for the past ten years have had the cops X-ray their kids’ Jolly Ranchers. Sure. All right. I’m calling your bluff. I’m handing out popcorn balls.

Related issue: I have no idea how to make popcorn balls. My best ideas for how involve, spraying a handful of popcorn with glue? Maybe rolling some kernels with silly putty until it all coheres? There’s some trick to it, I’m sure. Oh, right, of course there’s a trick, because it isn’t trick exclusive or treat. Don’t mind me, I’ll run out of whatever mood this is soon.

In Which I Evaluate Some Phobias


As this is a time of year to celebrate what scares us, let’s review some phobias.

The Fear that You Will Not Find Any Of These Greeting Cards Has The Right Tone to Send. The most common fear of all, outranking fears of death, falling to death, public speaking while dead, and dentistry while dead (receiving or performing). Take comfort. The last greeting card with the right tone was a Father’s Day card last sold in 1992. Just write something nice and apologize for the card being too flippant or too gushing and, I don’t know. Include some stickers or a ten-dollar bill or whatever. You’re fine.

The Fear that You Will Need To Handle The Toilet Paper While Your Hands Are Still Wet. It happens to us all, we’re in the shower, we need to something unsuitable for the shower, we have to face the consequences. Very good phobia, combining as it does a plausibly common scenario and an inconvenience we somehow take to be embarrassing. I’m not rating these, but seriously? Four out of five, unless you have that extra-soft toilet paper in which case five out of five.

The Fear of A Hole. Not the fear of any hole, mind, or the fear of particular patterns of holes like you see in morels or something. Just the fear of that one Hole. You know the one. But the world is huge, like, almost Earth-size. What are the odds you’ll ever be near that one Hole?

The Fear that You Know Something Almost Everybody Is Wrong About But Can’t Find The Blog Entry That Would Prove It. Endemic to know-it-alls, and terrible because then you feel this thing like shyness or reticence about correcting people. For me, this manifests with where I heard raindrops actually fall with the pointy-end down, round-end top, the opposite of the way we draw them. SEND HELP or at least good citations. Wikipedia doesn’t count.

The Fear that We are Running Out of Halloween Puns. Common and understandable. But we don’t need that many Halloween puns, and since there’s normally a fifty-week gap between times we need to use them, they’re not likely to be overused. If you do need some more, you can listen to some old-time-radio horror show like Inner Sanctum Mysteries and restock. They’ll be as good as new.

The Fear of Clowns. I am told this one is common and if that’s your thing, fine. I’m not feeling it, though. People will argue the point and say, like, isn’t the Pennywise the Clown from It scary? And, like, I guess so. But the scary thing is Pennywise is an immortal unstoppable supernatural monster out to rend the flesh of his victims. Would that be less scary if it were manifest in the form of Bob Newhart? And now that I’ve said that I’d like to see it. I figure it would have to go something like this:

“Hey — hi? Hi, up there? I — no, look down. No, not — over here, in the drain. … Yeah, the sewer. Hi. Uh, you look like a nice kid, what’s your name? … Joey? … Geordie, sorry, I thought you said … oh. Joey. … Not Joey. Could you say it slowly? … Yeah, maybe if you spell — look, Geordie, Joey, whatever … hey, would you — well, I’m in the drain for good reasons. … All right, I’m in the sewer for good reasons. … … What are they? … … Well, uh … they … hey, have you ever tried going in the drain? I don’t mean that kind of going! I mean entering, visiting in the drain. Have it your way, the sewer. Yeah. It’s better than you’d think. … No, I said think, not stink … okay, yes, have … have your little giggle. Yes, it’s very funny … I mean, it’s not that fun … Look, would you like to come down here and I can … give you a toy boat and, uh, rip your arm off and maybe give you a balloon. What? Repeat that? Give you a balloon. See? … Oh, before that … ah, there was a toy boat … Between those? Between the toy boat and the balloon … … … Look, it’s really neat down here, I promise. … Like, we all float down here. Jo … Geor … Sport-o, you’re a kid. Kids like to float, right? … … Well, yeah, it is mostly a lot of water here in the drain. … Yes, in the sewer. … Yeah, pretty much everybody floats in any water. Well, you got one over on ol’ PennyBob there … uh … hey, Georbie(?) … Are there any other kids up there? Could you put one of them on, please? … … … … He — Hello?”

All right, yeah, that is less scary. The clown thing must count for something.

I do not recommend any of these be put on a Phobia Improvement Plan.

Some Kinds Of Jack-O-Lantern, With Such Warnings As Apply


I feel my essay last year, Some Kinds Of Jack-O-Lanterns, With Such Warnings As Apply didn’t get enough attention when I first published it. So here’s the chance to give it some attention anew. Thanks for your attention, or the attention of whoever you got yours from.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? When was Camelot attacked by kaiju? August – October 2020


The kaiju story — a giant sea-beast smashing the castle walls — was back in 2009. It got referenced as Valiant returns to Camelot and sees they’ve repaired the damage. So, this essay should catch you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant through to late October 2020. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, I hope I’ll have a more up-to-date plot recap here. And, on my other blog, I’m explaining terms of mathematical art, one a week, through to December. You might like those too.

Prince Valiant.

2 August – 25 October 2020.

Last time, Queen Aleta explained to villagers that those two strange women were not witches. She knows this because she’s the Queen of All Witches. And she’s putting these non-witches under her protection. So they’ve got long happy lives ahead. Prince Valiant and company leave for Camelot, and home.

They can’t get there except through a party of Saxon raiders, out to attack some local village. That’s a pretty standard encounter, earning about 25 xp all around. With the start of September, Prince Valiant finally arrives back in Camelot. It’s been something like three years for them in-universe and about twice that for us readers.

It is well after noon before Val and Aleta, having ridden all night to Camelot, awake. Besides, it has been a long time since they last slept in a feather bed. They might not have risen at all that day, if Val did not have a knightly duty to report to the kingdom's regents ... who also happeen to be his son and daughter-in-law. As the family leave their townhouse, they see the glistening marvel that is Camelot's castle for the first time in years. Nathan gasps: 'The walls ruined by the sea beast! They are all repaired!' Val, too, is impressed --- it was his estate that was held to pay for those repairs, and he had no idea his estate was so productive.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 13th of September, 2020. I reference the sea beast — rendered neatly in the clouds — as being a Godzilla but it was more like a (1925) Lost World or Gorgo type monster scenario. It’s from before I was reading Prince Valiant regularly, but I learned of it from Brian M Kane’s The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion. That book was fun, and enlightening. Also it included an early-draft and a revised-draft of part of the sea beast battle and just how it got better in the revising.

Everything’s looking good, too. Like, they’ve fixed the damage from that time Godzilla attacked (summer 2009). Indeed, the place is thriving, just like you always worry about when you leave your department unsupervised a while. Prince Arn, Valiant’s son, explains that Sir Gawain is managing everything very well. Sir Gawain has never managed a thing well in his life. So what’s the trick?

Well, it’s the same trick as always: finding a good steward. In this case, it’s someone from before I started reading the strip carefully. A woman named Rory Red Hood, with whom Gawain’s fallen in love. And who turns out to know how to manage estate business. Gawain’s been hiding her, because her leveler impulses made her awkward to have at court. So on the one hand, she’s a fugitive from King Arthur for her relentless pushing the notion of commoners governing themselves. On the other hand, she makes a lot of money.

Gawain has hidden his outlawed paramour Rory Red Hood, and her aide Little Ox, at Val's country estate. This puts Val in a particularly awkward position. 'My son and daughter-in-law are Camelot's regents, and have outlawed you! Now my dearest friend expects me to deceive the kingdom and my family!' Rory will have none of Val's quandary: 'Gawain, my time here is up! I never really expected Prince Valiant to be any more sympathetic to Lockbramble's wishes than any of your other lords! I only ask that you give me a day's head start.' But Gawain only smiles, and gestures to the small man with the large book sitting by himself. 'Easy, Rory. First allow the prince a moment to glance through his estate accountant's ledger ... ' In words that even Val can understan, the accountant makes things very clear: 'Rory Red Hood's skills at farm management have transformed your estate's fortunes, and so mande you a very rich man!' The revelation gives Val pause --- as does Aleta's surprise appearance: 'And how, pray tell, has my household been transformed?'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 11th of October, 2020. So you know Prince Valiant is a fantasy because it involves a noble understanding questions like “how much money do I have?” and “how much money does this other person have?” Anyway, the name of Rory Red Hood reminds me of an episode of the History of English podcast, about the legend of Robin Hood. It mentions near the end how in the 13th(?) century, when it was fashionable to give people surnames that described their job or their personality, there are several court records giving someone’s surname as “Robin Hood”. And doesn’t that sound like someone fun to … hear about, without really having them in your lives? Because, like, there’s all this stuff with the Model Parliament and the suppression of the University of Northampton and the number of watermills in England reaching the 10,000 mark and all. Don’t need some Robin-Hood stirring up trouble in your personal life too.

I do like the lighthearted cynical air, and low-key historical verisimilitude, of all this. Aleta talks of how the Misty Isles folks tried this demokratia stuff centuries ago, and it worked fine. At least until the people decided to let a tyrant do their thinking for them. I suspect we’re hearing some motivated history here. She talks with Princess Maeve, co-regent. Aleta argues Rory is much less trouble than the surrounding thanes who’ve been whining about Rory’s existence. And also makes a lot of money. Maeve convinces her husband that Rory is not a real problem, by kicking him out of bed until he agrees.

And that’s where we sit. It’s not the most action-packed story we’re on. But I do like how it’s so tied to the problem of how to manage a land, in a time before bureaucracies could professionalize things. So, Mark Schultz, Thomas Yeates, thank you for writing this story for me and me alone.

Next Week!

The Villiers Millions! Vampires! Dethany from On The Fastrack! Svengoolie! Brenda Starr! Little Orphan Annie! It’s been busy times in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. Join me for a plot recap that, actually, I already wrote most of this past weekend. I’m trying to build a buffer of stuff to post. I’m expecting next few weeks are going to be, let us hope the final, boss rush of mind-crushing Republican venality, and need some space. Can’t wait!

60s Popeye: Strange Things Are Happening, and I have questions about them


We’re back in the hands of Paramount Cartoon Studios this week. Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer have credit for the story. Seymour Kneitel’s the director and the producer. It’s a group that I trust to be competent, if nothing else. From 1960 here’s Strange Things Are Happening. Popeye is in a boring house, but it’s not his usual Boring Suburbs house, and it’s not clear that he’s even in the suburbs. He might be in the actual woods, if you go by the initial shot.

One compulsive habit, watching these, is thinking of improvements. It’s a little game, one unfair to the people who made the cartoon. They were working under constraints of time and budget and other obligations. Me, I’ve had forty years to see these things and let them settle into my mind. And, if I can’t think of a fix, I don’t have to let on that I was trying to repair it.

Still, I watch this cartoon and try to think how to make it better. The starting gimmick is fine: a mysterious figure is suborning all of Popeye’s acquaintances to get him to a mysterious place. But we get this structural problem. Who the person is and why he wants Popeye is supposed to be a punch line. This is fine, but then: does it make sense that he would go to the Sea Hag, and her Goons, to beat up Popeye first? The sensible thing is to try to have Olive Oyl get him to the designated place first. If that doesn’t work, then try less-close friends like Wimpy or O G Wotasnozzle. Go to his actual enemies like Brutus or the Sea Hag as last resorts.

But then that order wrecks the suspense. Could someone bribe Olive Oyl into putting Popeye in real harm? … All right, yes, since disloyalty and shallow, selfish greed is core to every Thimble Theatre character besides Popeye and maybe Eugene the Jeep. This isn’t really Thimble Theatre, though. This is the characters as a sitcom cast in the back half of the tenth season. You know the mood. It’s when all the actors have been friends enjoying a good thing so long that all the sharp edges are worn off their characters’ interactions. It doesn’t make sense for the King Features animated Olive Oyl to sell out Popeye. It makes a little more sense for Wimpy to do so, but still not much.

(It is interesting Wimpy lures Popeye in with the promise of repaying him for a past hamburger. I guess Seer-Ring is Believer-Ring was right about how he keeps his line of credit going.)

Brutus and the Sea Hag, eyes closed, mouths smiling wide, and clapping. Both have quite large hands; the Sea Hag's are definitely larger han her head and her fingers seem to be leaning backwards.
Well, it’s nice that Brutus and the Sea Hag will put aside their villainy for the sake of celebrating — holy cow what is with the Sea Hag’s hands? I know we don’t look at Elzie Segar designs for anatomical realism but yipe? When she got up today did she accidentally put on a koala’s hand? Backwards?

I can’t remember what it was like watching this as a kid. Someone who hasn’t seen as many shows as I have wouldn’t expect they’re just trying to trick Popeye onto a version of This Is Your Life. (The trick needed because Popeye would never choose to go to something hagiographic like that.) So the lack of suspense is my “fault” for being the wrong kind of audience. But I can still be bothered by the internal logic. Granted the TV producer has all Popeye’s friends on board with getting him to the studio. What is his in-universe reason for making hushed, last-minute whispers to Popeye’s acquaintances to kidnap him? Why talk about getting him to “this address”, that they seem to not know, instead of “the studio” or at least “the place”? What were they going to do if Popeye didn’t decide to take the day off (from what?) and go fishing?

I was going to ask why the Sea Hag would go along with getting Popeye to the TV studio. But her plan did involve getting two Goons to beat him up, and then had it succeeded, would land him in a situation he found humiliating. So that actually hangs together, except again, this is the Sea Hag as worn down by season ten of the sitcom. (This even though she’d never been animated before 1960!).

I want to fix this cartoon but I don’t see a way to do it.


If Popeye’s Boring House is in the woods, why does he walk from there into the city to go fishing?

Wotasnozzle had all but succeeded. If he hadn’t started that foolish talk about surgery Popeye would have drunk the knockout drops and the cartoon would have ended there. This isn’t a plot hole. Characters making mistakes is not by itself a flaw.

We get another diner, but no mention of Roughhouse.

Also, without giving too much away … let’s just say the next cartoon is a companion piece.

Statistics Saturday: Ranking of _Nightmare Before Christmas_ Alternate Universes


  1. Jack Skellington opens the tree-door into Saint Patrick’s Day Town instead.
  2. In a Prisoner Of Zenda scenario Jack Skellington has to pretend to be Santa Claus long enough to foil the evil plot that would destroy all holidays. Everywhere.
  3. They kidnap the Santa Claus from the Rankin/Bass Specials Universe, the one who never saw a Christmas he wasn’t ready to ditch.
  4. Story is set in an alternate history where a Progressive-era reformer convinced the American culture that his, highly idiosyncratic, order for washing his body parts was the one and only one truly hygienic way to clean, and since most everybody is naturally drawn to a different order and has to train themselves out of it most folks have very slight bathing or showering-related neuroses, and while there’s modern research showing whatever order you wash your body parts in is fine, not following The Cleaning Protocol is still seen as this weird-o hippie moon-man attitude and is shunned by respectable white cis-hetero society.
  5. Sally has a specific interest that isn’t this Jack guy that I guess knows who she is but I’m not positive he does?
  6. It starts with what looks like a Freaky Friday scenario, Jack and Santa swapping bodies, only for Jack to slowly realize that in the future he grows up to be Santa Claus.

Reference: Empire Express: Building The First Transcontinental Railroad, David Haward Bain.

(Have to say I’m really interested in how #4 there plays out with the baseline story.)

And Now I Am Deeply Amazed By The Moon


I’m sorry not to have seen this before yesterday because it would absolutely have been the most amazing Moon fact ever. But I just watched the Moon ask the woman working the can-recycling room at Meijer’s to repeat whatever advice she was giving three times because the Moon just was not hearing or was not understanding it. Three times. Can you imagine the reserve of self-confidence needed to ask that much?

I’d tell you what the woman’s advice was but I couldn’t get my iPod to stop playing this podcast about the Empress Maria Theresa even when I asked her to repeat herself — once — so I left without any idea what this was about. But the Moon, man. Three times. That is just beyond human ability.

Some Astounding Things About The Moon


You maybe heard NASA want to announce something astounding discovery about the Moon. I bet it’s something about water. They’re always astounded by discovering water on the Moon. If you put all the water they’ve found on the moon together you’d have, like, six ounces of water. I know that’s not much, but it’s a lot considering the Moon is made out of rock. Anyway, while we wait for them to announce how they’ve spotted four micrograms more water let’s consider some real astounding facts about the Moon:

Because of the way the Romans set up their calendar, and defined the ides at the middle of the month to lunar phases, it’s impossible to have a full moon on the 16th of a month. If it looks like the 16th is going to be a full moon anyway we insert leap seconds as appropriate. There’s a risk of a full moon on the 16th of September, 2800, despite all these corrective measures. Most experts think we’ll solve the problem by doubling up the 15th of September, the way we did with the More-15th of February, 684. Note, as the experts do, that the 15th is not the ides of September and if you make that mistake they’ll know you’re an impostor.

Ham radio operators are allowed to bounce any signal they like off the Moon. However, the operators are held responsible for any damages or for any settling the messages do while in transit.

The Moon has never actually listened to Pink Floyd. It acknowledges that Pink Floyd’s probably played on the radio at some point and they didn’t turn it off, so far as they know. But the Moon is more of a Strawberry Alarm Clock fan. At least the early days, when they got on stage riding magic carpets their roadies carried. The Moon claims to be a big fan of Walk The Moon, but still hasn’t listened to the copy of What If Nothing that it bought in 2018.

The Moon won $27,500 in the Rhode Island lottery in 2014, but never roused itself to collect its winnings. It’s still getting in arguments about this.

The Moon believes itself to have a great sense of humor. This isn’t so astounding since everybody does. But the Moon is in there trying. Unfortunately all it’s discovered, as a premise, is the antijoke and boy does it hit that button a lot. It’s not even good antijokes, either, just something that denies the premise of the gag as fast as possible. If you stick it out, and make the Moon carry on a bit it eventually digs into interesting or weird antijokes and there’s something there. But it insists that the first, instinctive response is the good one and it’s just, you know, you could do so much more.

The concave surface of the Moon is why it always seems to be looking at you.

The Moon insists on tipping 20%, which is fine, but insists on doing it to the penny. This is all right, but the Moon also has absolutely terrible group-check etiquette, insisting that it’s fine if everybody just tosses in money until it reaches a pile that is the bill plus 20% exactly. The protests of everyone that this is making it take longer, with more stress, and come out less fair, than actually figuring out who got and who split what with whom fall on deaf space-ears.

Monday was not named after the Moon. The day was named first, and then someone happened to notice the Moon on a Monday. Yes, this implies an alternate history in which we call the Moon “the Day”. That timeline must be quite confusing.

The Moon has heard about those Quiznos advertisements back in the 2000s that everybody found weird and confusing, but never saw them and thinks it would be a little creepy to go look them up now.

The Moon claims that when it finds those “disruptive” scooter-rental things abandoned on the sidewalk it picks them up and tosses them in the street. We can all agree that, if we must have dumb tech companies wasting investor money on “disruptor” technologies, they should be punished for leaving their litter in the sidewalk. But pressed on when the Moon last actually did this it turns out it never has, but it’s totally going to start next time it sees one.

The word “Moon” did not rhyme with “June” until the Tin Pan Alley Crisis of 1912. It had the vowel sound of “Mon” in “Monday” before then.

While in mythology there are rabbits living on the Moon, in fact the Moon is living on rabbits, who are still really upset about that lottery ticket thing. I can’t say they’re wrong, either.

Maybe it’s five micrograms more water. That would be astounding. We’ll see on Monday.

I Assume He’s A Duck Fan


You know, out there must be fans of The Plucky Duck Show. This was a short-lived spinoff of Tiny Toon Adventures made up of Tiny Toons segments featuring Plucky Duck. And among them? I bet there’s at least one person who loves The Plucky Duck Show and can’t stand Tiny Toons, even though there’s nothing in Plucky Duck that wasn’t in Tiny Toons except parts of the credits sequences. Well, I salute you and hope you have fun sticking to your weird guns.

At least we know there’s no strange holdout fan of Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why did Heloise tell Mrs Daft they called their Aunt ‘Mom’? July – October 2020


I think she panicked? At least she hadn’t figured on ever having to explain Kadia was anything but her sister to Mrs Daft. That may seem like an oversight but she didn’t know she’d need an explanation anytime soon. That’s what I have, anyway.

So this essay should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, for mid-October 2020. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, or are looking for the Sunday continuity, or other Phantom news, you should find an essay at this link. And on my mathematics blog I’m still writing one essay for each letter in the alphabet, with this week reaching ‘S’. You might enjoy.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

27 July – 17 October 2020.

Last we checked, someone had written to The Phantom’s post office box in Mawitaan. It seems to be Imara Sahara, mother to Kadia Walker and wife of terrorist Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. After Heloise Walker got The Nomad arrested, The Phantom rescued Sahara from her husband’s terror compound. She, sensibly, fled while he slept, and has only the Walker post office box to try to find her daughter.

The Phantom writes back, arranging a meeting on the outskirts of Mawitaan. But withholds information such as Kadia’s survival. He doesn’t know who wrote that letter, or whether they’re being eavesdropped on. The Phantom is late for the meeting, not at all helping Sahara’s paranoia. But he’s convinced she isn’t accompanied, at least. The Phantom gives her an address, saying that she lives with the friend she fled New York City with. Sahara realizes Kadia’s New York City friend was Heloise Walker, and the name can’t be coincidence.

Imara Sahara 'I suppose you've been watching me these last few hours!' Phantom: 'To be certain you weren't followed. Or didn't lead anyone here on purpose.' Imara: 'On purpose!?' Phantom: 'You could be in the custody of any number of governments by now. I don't know you well enough to say you'd never trade me for something you wanted.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of August, 2020. The Phantom avoids admitting how he forgot and was playing Trivia Murder Party 2 on Johnny Hazard’s Jackbox stream all night.

The Phantom explains that the Walkers came to him on her behalf and he set up the post office box. And that addressing it to “Walker” then let him know who it really was. I mention this lie because it’s well-delivered. It make sense Sahara would believe it. Later, Heloise Walker tells a lie and it’s a mess that the recipient accepts because … I’m not sure. I think the lying motif shows the difference between the father’s experience and Heloise’s enthusiasm. But I’d be open to the argument that I’m reading things into a storytelling coincidence.

Kadia: 'Heloise ... you never *did* tell me wh a police colonel I never even met would help me get work with Gugu Lee!' Heloise: 'Oh! Um ... Well ... ' We see the scene of Colonel Worubu getting his orders from the Unknown Commander's safe: 'Put in a good word? For two students I don't know? The Unknown Commander must have his reasons ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 22nd, 2020. They have to go through all this mysterious-safe trouble because Colonel Worubu won’t add the Unknown Commander to his professional network on LinkedIn.

Over to Heloise, though, and Kadia, who’s taken the Walker surname and considers herself adopted. They’re in Bangalla, attending school. They’re boarding with a cheerful motherly type, Mrs Daft. They even have a job working a cafe. The Phantom arranged the jobs, getting references from Colonel Worubu of the Jungle Patrol. If this seems like a petty use of The Phantom’s influence, well, yeah. But asking someone to do you a small favor is a reliable way to make them like you more. Yes, human brains are broken. So could be The Phantom’s shoring up his social network. Also he figures if Kadia does become a danger, in another (justifiable) low moment, having Colonel Worubu ready is a good move.

Heloise, running up to Kadia and Imara: 'Mrs Sahara! Quick! Give me a hug! So our LANDLADY can see!' Mrs Daft, watching the confused group hug: 'Their favorite aunt! They call her Mom! How sweet ... why didn't I think of that with *my* favorite aunt?'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of September, 2020. “It’s kind of weird, and my favorite aunt loved weird!”

Imara Sahara interrupts their breakfast by pulling up. Kadia calls out, “Mom!”, to Mrs Daft’s confusion. Heloise tries to explain why Kadia is calling someone who’s not Mrs Walker “Mom”, and it gets weird. She claims it’s their aunt who’s so much a favorite she might as well be their Mom and that’s why they’ve called her that. Mrs Daft accepts this explanation. Heloise huhs, and considers how they are never going to have trouble explaining boys in their rooms after curfew.

Imara Sahara tells of her escape from the North African compound, and of meeting The Phantom the night before. And that the Walker family had arranged his sending. Here Heloise does better at lying in a way consistent with what Kadia thinks she knows. She claims her dad arranged it through go-betweens that protect that mysterious man’s identity. The lie works for Imara, but not for Kadia.

Kadia was sure that Mr Walker went to save her mother. But she also knows she’s had a heck of a time after learning her father was international terrorist The Nomad. So she wonders what she’s wrong about now.

Kadia: 'Mom, I don't even use OUR NAME anymore! Not even in my own mind! I'm a WALKER now! Kadia Walker! I have FRIENDS here! I like my SCHOOL! I have a FUN JOB on the weekends! And best of all? No one knows ... NO ONE KNOWS ... who I really am.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 17th of September, 2020. So yes, keeping an eye on your friend/sister is important as she deals with, like, everything. But you might need to call in an expert. And you do have an expert meddler’s number.

Imara tells Kadia that she has a new name, and assets that would “never” be connected to The Nomad. They can have their lives back and leave Mawitaan right away. Kadia can’t have it, refusing her father’s “murder money” and calling Diana Walker her mother now. It’s a horrible, messy scene, punctuated with Mrs Daft encouraging them to invite their favorite aunt to lunch now.

Heloise goes to Imara, trying to talk her into trying again, sometime when Kadia is less shocked. Imara says she wishes the Walkers had left her alone to die. Kadia smashes Imara’s windshield and demands she never come around again. She’s reasoned that Imara must have known who her husband was and what he was doing. It is hard to see how she wouldn’t, but people can be quite oblivious, given any motivation to be.

Heloise relays the events of the day to her parents. Kit Walker tells Diana that he believes she didn’t; “unlike you, she just has terrible taste in men”. This man, by the way, is someone who used to have her family leave a bedroom window and door open all the time in case he popped in unannounced some day. All right. Also, Diana proposes that they should get Kit Junior back home. Kit Senior had sent him off to study at a Himalayan monastery, a development that hasn’t lead to as many stories as you might have expected. And, what the heck, last story the hallucination of the 20th Phantom scolded the current Phantom for sending him off. (Sending Kit Junior off, by the way, to a place that the 20th Phantom wanted the 21st to go.) Might be time for a change.

The story feels at, or near, an end. I am curious whether Imara knew what was going on and, if so, how much she was willing to accept. She is hurt by Kadia’s turn, in ways that fit and that remind one that our protagonists are not the only people in the world. Kadia’s doing well in making connections. But she also has a lot of trauma on her and needs better therapy than being watched by Walkers. She’s going through her superhero or supervillain origin story now. Heloise has fumbled a couple points this story, but in ways it makes sense to fumble. Would have helped if Heloise had not tried to explain the “favorite aunt, called Mom” thing to Imara, though.

Next Week!

Hey, how’d it go when Queen Aleta revealed to the common folk of King Arthur’s time that there are witches and she’s one of them? Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant gets its plot recap next Tuesday, again, all things going well. Thanks for reading.

You know, it is a little odd Mary Worth hasn’t called Heloise Walker, just to check whether she needs a quick meddle to pair-bond already. Hm.

In Which We Get Some Answers About Forest Royalty


Bambi, of movie and book fame, we remember is one of the princes of the forest. And then we know that he’s not a king because it’s the elk who are the kings of the forest. But this leaves us with the obvious question: who are the barons of the forest?

In the hopes of learning, I called Felix Salten (1869 – 1945), author of the original novel Bambi, A Life In The Woods. He said, “We were all having a pleasant time, and then you had to go and be like that. Why? Why do you do this?” before hanging up. I think this is an important contribution to the debate.

My love suggested that boars could maybe be the barons of the forest. This sounds good.

60s Popeye: Jeep is Jeep


The title seems clear enough. And the credits are promising: it’s another Paramount Cartoon Studios product. That is, the people who’d been animating Popeye since 1933 and could do it in their sleep, and from 1952 to 1958 did. There’s the guarantee of basic competence here. The producer and animation director are Seymour Kneitel. The story’s another by I Klein. Here’s 1960’s Jeep Is Jeep.

This cartoon looked ready to be great. I’m a Eugene the Jeep fan from way back. You’ve seen my icon here. And in the first scenes we see Popeye is not in his Boring Suburban House. He’s in a Boring Suburb, sure, but his house is boat-shaped. Usually a good sign.

That’s a paragraph that tells of my disappointment. Not that it’s another introducing-the-Jeep cartoon. And not that it’s introducing the Jeep after we’ve had several cartoons, including from Paramount, with Eugene. That part’s almost a tradition. Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep, in which Popeye’s introduced to Eugene by Olive Oyl, came out two years after Popeye the Sailor with the Jeep, in which Popeye introduces Eugene to Olive Oyl. That’s fine. This is not a serialized comic.

The problem is first it takes forever — at least, until 1:45 — before Eugene gets into the cartoon at all. This in a cartoon that runs 5:40, counting the credits. And then another minute explaining his gimmicks: he’s magic, can walk through walls, and can answer any question.

Animation cel of Swee'Pea riding bareback on Eugene the Jeep, who seems happy to be his steed.
OK but this part? Life goal.

Finally, at 2:42, Swee’Pea wanders off. Understandable, since what kid would be interested in a magic dog that’s just arrived? And Popeye finally notices this, about 2:58 in, and the story finally starts: Eugene leading Popeye to Swee’Pea. The premise is all right, if a low-animation-cel remake of Popeye the Sailor with the Jeep. At least one joke — Eugene walking through a stone wall, and Popeye punching his way through — is directly reused. (It also ends with Popeye doing one of his oldest animated moves, punching a train into stopping.) The cartoon’s this low-energy remake even before Eugene finally arrives. Popeye doing tricks while babysitting Swee’Pea evokes the Fleischer’s I Likes Babies And Infinks, but very slow.

There’s no blaming people for reusing jokes, or even whole plots, especially not 22 years later. But the original cartoon had more and better jokes. And it had the punch line that Eugene was mischievously leading Popeye on a needless chase. Without that? It’s a slow march through not much fun.

Statistics Saturday: How Many People Wanted To Know What Was Up With Mark Trail This Past Week


Drawing from WordPress’s statistics page and how many people went to Mark Trail-tagged items. Promise.

Day of WeekReaders Asking About Mark Trail
Last Friday4
Saturday5
Sunday16
Monday120 [ First Jules Rivera strip publishes ]
Tuesday158
Wednesday188
Thursday126
Friday147

Reference: Ideas: A History from Fire to Freud. Peter Watson.

All my Mark Trail plot recaps are gathered at this page. Those and all my story comics plot recaps are at this link.

So, Turns Out Fortunes Are Hard To Make


OK so I would totally be out of here and busy being rich, but it turns out my plans for a food planer ran into some problems. Like, you have to make one, and then you have to make millions, and then you have to sell them. And sure, everybody gets the idea. But then pressing something that smooths out the peanut butter and then going to smooth out the sour cream? That gets some mixes that just don’t go over well. I’m sure this can all be sorted out but honestly? I’m getting to think that being rich is just too much effort.

The Fast New Sound


So you know about the speed of sound, right? Don’t worry, it’s easy to catch up. Turns out sound travels at some speed. It’s like 750 miles an hour at normal temperature and pressure. Slower at temperatures and pressures that make the speed of sound slower. Faster otherwise. I told you it would be easy to catch up.

But how fast can you make the speed of sound? I don’t mean you particularly. I know you’ve got enough projects, what with looking at the news and then screaming at the wall. I mean you as if you were someone who wasn’t you, and who had to do something about the speed of sound. I admit I don’t know what I’d do about making the speed of sound faster. Maybe drop a loudspeaker from a helicopter and check how fast that sound hits the ground. I know, you’d think, what if we just made the sound louder? But it turns out loud doesn’t convert into fast. Loud just converts into nervous.

So we need better schemes to make fastness. The trick is that sound works by the elasticity of the thing it’s moving through. You know elasticity well, from all the time you spend bouncing. Me, I know it from trying to get the elastic band off this bundle of radishes. I don’t know how but the elastic band winds through every stalk, so there’s no taking it off except by going into higher dimensions of space, from which the radishes are still banded together.

Here’s where I read that a bunch of people at the Queen Mary University of London, the University of Cambridge, and the Institute for High Pressure Physics in Troitsk worked out just how fast you could make sound. It turns out it’s about 36 kilometers per second.

This fastest possible sound happens if you send sound through solid atomic hydrogen. You don’t have any solid atomic hydrogen, I’m know, because that only exists when you have, like, a million atmospheres of pressure. And I checked. The atmospheric pressure on Earth is one atmosphere of pressure. Maybe physics works a little different in Troitsk. Probably it does, or why would they have a whole institute for the high-pressure physics of Troitsk? But I bet none of the people with the institute are reading this. They’re doing things like figuring out the fastest speed of sound. They don’t have time to read me going on like this.

Or do they? We have to consider some of the benefits of making sound really, really fast. Like, at 36 kilometers per second, Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans would zip by so fast you could hear it a third time in your life. So there’s time savings involved. I know, you could just hit the thing on your iPod that makes songs play faster. You can. I can’t. My iPod is in the shop, being repaired. I hope it’s an iPod repair shop. I know you wonder why I didn’t check that first. The answer is that I have spent parts of five consecutive months now trying to get a Nintendo repair shop to repair a Nintendo Switch. No part of that process has gone well. You know that deep bone-weariness you experience when, like, you see “Suncoast Video” is Trending under Politics for some undoubtedly awful reason? That’s what I feel when considering consumer-electronics repair. Entering a storefront at random and wordlessly shoving my iPod at a person who turns out to be the hummus manager at The Pita Pit can not be worse.

What other benefits are there on the sound thing? Oh, I bet if you had sound the fastest it could travel, then inhaling helium would actually lower the pitch of your voice. I wrote that as a joke, but I think that would actually work? Except you have to start out encased in solid atomic hydrogen at more than one million atmospheres of pressure. I don’t know what you’d say in that case.

The article said it turns out the fastest possible speed of sound depends on the fine structure constant and the proton-to-electron mass ratio. The mass ratio is what you get from looking at how often protons and electrons are commented on compared to retweeted. The fine structure constant is a general agreement about how nice it would be to have some direction in our lives these days. How this gets back to sound I’ll never know.

In Which My Fortune Is All But Made


Yeah so I had the idea for the invention that’s going to make me rich beyond all reasonable dreams. It’s a food planer, so you can use it to level out the surface of your ice cream or peanut butter or, heck, even sour cream, and get the experience of breaking the nice smooth surface every single time. Thanks for being with me in my journey through life up to this point, where I get fame and wealth and the acclaim and thanks of the millions, but obviously now I need to drop all this blogging foolishness and go into doing whatever it is wealthy people do all day. Rebalancing portfolios or something. Been fun writing; see you later!

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Jules Rivera destroying Mark Trail yet? July – October 2020


OK, so it’s not Mark Trail’s week. But yes, Jules Rivera took over the daily strips on Monday. Her Sunday strips start next month. This is why Mark Trail looks different. Any news about the Mark Trail that I get, I’ll post in an essay gathered here. Yes, I too am worried by Tuesday’s revelation that the new Mark Trail may be a tiny little bit self-aware, but, hey. We adapted to Mark Trail sometimes internalizing thoughts for James Allen, after all. Mark Trail can notice how much Mark Trail has blown up boats and cars and islands the last few years.

But this essay is, in the main, about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This should catch you up to mid-October. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, if there is a January 2021, you’ll likely find a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about Alley Oop, if there is news.

And, last, on my mathematics blog I’m still working through the alphabet, explaining terms. This week we get to ‘R’. No, it’s not a joke about the beloved statistics computing and graphing programming language! Ho ho! Had you going there, though, I bet.

Alley Oop.

20 July – 10 October 2020.

Everyone was hanging around in Moo, last we left off. Ooola was rehearsing a play. She impressed Gromp, the director. Gromp pitches another job for her: using the play as cover to enter neighboring land Lem and steal King Tunk’s giant opal. She hates the plan. Gromp sends his dinosaur, Steve, to make her see reason. She beats Steve in a fair fight, though, and hauls Gromp off to be in a desert island cartoon.

Gromp, tied up, on a palm-tree-deserted-island: 'What are you doing? Are you just going to leave me here?' Ooola: 'Yep.' Gromp: 'But I can't swim!' Ooola: 'I hope you like coconuts.' Gromp: 'I do! Especially shredded over a nice chocolate dessert. And the milk is divine! [ Noticing Ooola swimming away. ] Oh, very funny. Hey, how am I going to open them?!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 1st of August, 2020. It looks harsh, but if there’s one thing we know about being in a desert island cartoon it’s that someone else is coming along any minute now.

That, the 1st of August, wraps up that little story. From the 3rd we get a string of events leading into the current story. It starts with a joyride: Alley Oop wants to go to an amusement park. So they return to the present, and Doc Wonmug looks for the greatest amusement park, past, present, or future. But who can tell him what that is? rec.roller-coaster just fights about Kennywood versus Knoebels versus Efteling versus Holiday World. (Did you consider Waldameer? Especially if you have a family? Very under-rated park, especially if you aren’t all about high-intensity everything.) So he goes to The Clawed Oracle.

Ooola: 'You know, I'm kind of looking forward to the amusement park.' Wonmug: 'What's in the fanny pack?' Alley Oop, showing off his fanny pack: 'Zinc for my nose, quarters for skeeball, antacids in case I overeat, a compass so we don't get lost. I'm so excited!' Wonmug: 'You know, they might not have corn dogs in the future.' Oop: 'What? I changed my mind! I want to go somewhere else!' (As they ZANNNNG! into the future.)
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of August, 2020. A fanny pack. Really. I would not have guessed Alley Oop was also in the American Coaster Enthusiasts group.

The Clawed Oracle, off in a never-before-mentioned room of Wonmug’s Time Laboratory, is a cat. She pronounces that the greatest amusement park ever is in Saint Louis in the year 3277. They zip off to Future Saint Louis. The place stinks, apart from the giant pine tree air freshener hanging from the Arch. What looks like an abandoned warehouse is labelled Amusement Park #41. Inside is an array of virtual-reality goo-filled tubes. Despite the ominous everything, they go in.

Attendant, to Our Heroes in their goo-filled VR tubes: 'Once I press this button your body will stay here while your consciousness controls an avatar in the park. When you're ready to leave, just say the password 'finicky veranda garbanzo' and your session will end.' Wonmug: 'How long do most people stay in?' Attendant: 'Ten years is average.' Ooola: 'Wait, WHAT?' Oop: 'That doesn't seem great.' Attendant: 'Enjoy!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of August, 2020. A throwaway line established that the admission price was about ten thousand dollars (in 2020 money), which sounds like a lot, but if you can live for ten years on that? That’s a pretty sweet deal. Well, except the upcharges get you: Wonmug wasted another fifty thousand (2020) dollars in avatar-change shenanigans. I have to suppose that, like, park fries or the reverse bungee rides are similarly scaled.

It’s a good time, though, until the fortune teller learns they’re from the 21st century. On that she leads them to a secret reality within the virtual reality. And to Phil, leader of the Underground Stronghold Alliance. He tells of the Great Culture Famine, a mysterious event that destroyed culture. All that’s left since 2081 are these virtual-reality amusement parks. But what can three time travellers do? They leave the park and journey to Phil’s coordinates in 2081. And there they meet … The Clawed Oracle.

It turns out The Clawed Oracle is an eternal ethereal being who manifests on earth as a cat, so that’s a nice gig. She reveals who’s responsible for the Great Culture Famine. It’s Dr Wonmug, yeah. Indirectly. It’s really the clone of Albert Einstein that Wonmug made and then abandoned on a farm. She sends them off to deal with Einstein Two. (Why not Zweistein?)

Einstein Two: 'I'd like to show you something. It's the culmination of the horrible hand that life dealt me. It's taken me nearly fifty years to build. I kept it secret from my parents until the day they died. [ Revealing a machine ] Ta-da! Behind the grand culture eraser! It will destroy all forms of art and culture, past, present and future.' Wonmug: 'This is LITERALLY what I was talking about before, when I asked about the Great Culture Famine.' Einstein Two: 'I guess they COULD be related, but I just don't see it.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of October, 2020. In the follow-up we learn Einstein Two’s gone on to become a local politician, successfully defunding the library and the school’s dance program because everybody has smart phones now.

Einstein Two’s gripe: his parents insisted he put all his scientific energies into the farm, and the zany cow bra business. So he invented a Grand Culture Eraser, to destroy all forms of art, past, present, and future. He has justification for this: he’s grown up to be a STEM jerkface so doesn’t see why gadgetry is not a life. Einstein Two proclaims this a gift to every child whose love of science was crushed by small-mindedness. Then Alley Oop punches his machine to rubble. Ooola smashes his backup, too. Dr Wonmug tears up the machine’s plans. Alley Oop digs up and rips up the backup plans. So that’s some success.

And that takes us to the start of the week. Also into a new timeline. Saint Louis of 3277 “now” has a giant chandelier hanging from the Arch. And Amusement Park #41 is the aquatic stadium any amusement park used for dolphin shows back in the 1970s when we were making that mistake. This looks like the resolution of a storyline. But it could also be the transition to a new story. Too soon to tell.

Next Week!

So how did the reunion between Kadia and her mother Imara Sahara go? Pretty good, right? It’s, like, literally impossible it could have gone bad. We’ll check in on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week, all going well. Thank you.

So I only just today got this Far Side comic


Like my subject line says. I’ve seen this particular Far Side now and then for thirty-plus years. It was only today, when I saw it bundled with other historical strips under the History Shmistory label, that I realized Gary Larson’s joke. This now takes, by far, the record between me seeing and me getting the joke. It was previously held by another Far Side strip, the famous “I think you misunderstood … I’m Al Tilly, the bum” incident.

In a career counseling office. The counselor tells a seated bearded man holding a ten-gallon hat, 'Well, Mr Cody, according to our questionnaire, you would probably excel in sales, advertising, slaughtering a few thousand buffalo, or market research'.
So “Al Tilley, the Bum”. It was this scene at a castle rampart and the guard has thrown his spear at this hobo, and missed, and the hobo says, “I think you misunderstood” and it was like twelve years later that I twigged to how the joke was the guard thought he’d said he was Atilla the Hun. But the scene was funny already even without the name confusion, right? Anyway, nobody ask why the door sign implies they’re outside the career counseling office, OK? It’s a comic strip convention and once you notice this you’ll never enjoy a setting again, ever.

In my defense — and this applies to the Al Tilly the bum incident too — part of my slowness was that it wasn’t obvious I was missing a joke. Imagine if the caption read, “Well, Mr Smith, … ” instead. It’s a fine enough non-sequitur joke that someone might be good in sales or market research or buffalo-slaughtering. Larson played fair, of course. If the identity of the person seeking a career didn’t matter, he’d have been named Smith or Jones or even not addressed by name. The beard and ten-gallon hat were also cues, although it’s not like comic strip characters won’t have long beards or quirky fashion choices either.

I suppose it’s all a reminder that you can tell any joke you like, but you can’t control what joke the audience hears.

60s Popeye: The Glad Gladiator and wait, is that Ham Gravy? I think that’s Ham Gravy!


This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is another with story by Cal Howard. The only other Cal Howard cartoon I have got noted is Tiger Burger. The animation director is Eddie Rehberg, last seen doing everything on Frozen Feuds, that weird Alice the Goon picture. Jack Kinney’s the producer and ultimate director. Back to ancient days, then, with The Glad Gladiator.

Is deliberate anachronism funny? Sure, when it’s The Muppets doing it. But everybody else? I don’t mean whether it’s funny to snarkers pointing out historical inaccuracies in Hagar the Horrible. I mean to a normal audience.

This cartoon opens with the message that it’s set in Rome, 800 BC. Popeye ends up in a gladiator fight in the Colosseum. Before the eyes of the Empress, Olive Oyl. There’s a background gag where the restrooms are marked Ben Hur and Ben His. And then I come back to: 800 BC? For a Roman Empire setting?

This is not something anyone should care about. The setting is “Ancient Rome” and Popeye is there to do some stuff riffing on Roman Empire epic movies of the time. Fine and respectable enough. But then why set this to 800 BC, a time when Rome barely existed and none of the stuff that’s featured, including the Appian [Free]way Popeye riffs on, were around? Why give it a date at all? Other than to tease someone who’d know?

A historical story — book, tv show, movie — is always a battle between historical truth, story economy, and verisimilitude. (You could do a story with samurais tromping around 17th century Mexico, but would people buy the premise?) A cartoon especially has no reason to care about getting the historical details right. So why is this detail there at all? Did Cal Howard just write in an ancient-days number and not care afterward? Or was he doing this mindfully? Of course this Popeye cartoon isn’t history. But now it’s so much not history that even the seven-year-old watching it, who might know the legend of Rome’s founding being in 753 BC, would know it was off?

If he was being wry, I’m not sure it was a good joke. In part since I’m not sure a joke was meant. That’s a hazard of wryness, though. But if it were meant, it’s a very slight joke. “Ha ha, I know this quickly-made Popeye cartoon is of dubious historical integrity?” Am I making too much of an arbitrary choice? Maybe. But if something works, I like to credit it as deliberate. Even if the writer went with whatever came to mind, they chose to use that impulse, and to not edit it out. There’s judgement even in the arbitrary. And then there’s the crowd scene.

Scene of the audience in the Colosseum. The front two rows are filled with mostly minor characters from Popeye/Thimble Theatre.
Wait, but why aren’t Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl sitting next to each other? Oh wait yeah because it’s funny when husband and wife don’t actually like being around each other. Forgot.

We do get a couple glances at the audience in the Colosseum and the front two rows here are filled with minor Thimble Theatre/Popeye characters. And that is an interesting choice. I’m not sure about everybody because they’re out of their usual garb, and it turns out when you remove accessories, Elzie Segar used the same face a lot.

If I’m identifying things right, and I’m open to other opinions, in the upper row, left-to-right, are: Ham Gravy, original Olive Oyl boyfriend, who vanished after about 1930. Cole Oyl(?), Olive’s father. The Sea Hag, who’s appeared once or twice this series. Oscar, introduced to the comic in 1931 so Popeye could have a really dumb crewman. Nana Oyl, Olive’s mother. (Her name is a reference to “Banana oil”, 1920s slang for “nonsense”. Also 1920s slang for “nonsense”: any two-word phrase.)

Lower, front, row, left to right: George W Geezil(?), pawn shop broker and Wimpy-hater. John Sappo, bland protagonist of Elzie Segar’s other strip, the one that brought us O G Wotasnozzle. O G Wotasnozzle (or, possibly, King Blozo hunched down). Alice the Goon. I have no explanation for how Ham Gravy makes the cut and Wimpy or Rough House do not. Also, yeah I’m not positive whether Nana Oyl is sitting in the first or second row either.

Filling a crowd shot with minor Popeye characters? Sure. Anyone could do that. They’d put in Wimpy, Sea Hag, Alice the Goon, Swee’Pea. If you have to dig deep put in Rough House or Geezil. Someone had to think to put in Ham Gravy. Or Sappo. Or Oscar for crying out loud. Someone thought “we need a quick shot of Ham Gravy”, and had that vision carried out.

This, yeah, is the sort of deep focus I get into as I look for what’s interesting in the cartoon. We get Popeye in a Vaguely Roman-ish makeover for his sailor’s suit. It’s a nice look for him. But I expect being on a different model like that to require the rest of the animation to be cheaper. That expectation holds up; there’s a lot of characters sliding around or disappearing. And the story is all a lumbering push to have Brutus and Popeye fight each other in the arena. The opening credits for the cartoon run at 16:59 in the YouTube video link. They actually start fighting about 20:57, for a cartoon that ends at 22:45. And it’s not like we’re stuffed full of a lot of gags about contemporary America recast as Ancient Rome. The sign for the intersection of Columbus Circle and XXVIII Street is about it. That and — get ready to laugh — a guy twirling pizza dough! Shows how mores have changed. As a child of the 70s and 80s I know it’s sushi that’s the instant-laugh zany food. Not pizza. Pizza is boring.

And that’s my trouble with the cartoon. It has a few fleeting moments of personality. But it’s mostly a slow march to a small fight. The title card that maybe heightens the anachronism humor, and the attempt to identify all the bit players in the stands, is about all I’ve got.

Statistics Saturday: Top Five Letters In October


  1. E
  2. R
  3. O (second O)
  4. C
  5. O (first O)

Reference: Life Science Library: Giant Molecules, Herman F Mark.

(You know, plenty of people complain how October isn’t the tenth month, but do you ever hear anyone complaining how it hasn’t got eight letters in it? Yeah, me neither.)

Today in how pop culture overwrote the part of me that has personality


Featured on our roller coaster calendar this month is a ride from Six Flags Magic Mountain, their roller coaster Scream!. And apparently all this month every time I glace at the calendar my mind is going to go to zany wacky Dadist 90s cartoon Freakazoid!, and this one episode where — are you ready for the unpredictability? — a couple times each episode they had a low-key Ben Stein-ish voice say, “Scream” and then people scream. If someone would like to take this idea off of me, and let it occupy their thoughts instead, please drop a note.

I’m going to be in so much trouble if their November roller coaster is Candle Jack.

A Fluid Dialogue


“You know the convenient thing about the 32-ounce size?”

“It’s not so intimidating as the 40-ounce size?”

“And you aren’t paying one penny more for the freedom from intimidation.”

“It seems to me that it also has the advantage of being twelve ounces more than the 20-ounce size.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. What if we didn’t make a 20-ounce size?”

“Then you wouldn’t have any way of getting the 40-ounce size except buying the 40 ounces.”

“You haven’t anyway: there is no 40-ounce size. If you want 40 ounces you’ll just have to make do.”

“Maybe for now I can avoid wanting 40 ounces.”

“The other grand thing about the 32-ounce size is that it’s over 32 ounces more than the zero-ounce size.”

“That’s a size you can’t really have too much of.”

“And at zero ounces they fly off the shelves. We need to ballast them against even slight breezes. We tried surrounding them with a fine mesh, but that created a fine mesh — that should be fine mess — that even got into the News of the Mildly Interesting Yet Not Excessively Weird. Too many people mistook them for a bee enclosure.”

“Apiary.”

“No, more Reuters-ish.”

“What would I make do if I wanted 40 ounces?”

“Use two 32-ounces and an empty seven-ounce bottle. It’s a traditional puzzle. It dates back to the Mayans, who never figured it out because they didn’t know what an ounce was.”

“You can’t get to 40 ounces from two 32-ounces and taking away seven ounces at a time. You get to 50 ounces instead.”

“How can you get 50 ounces if you don’t have 40 ounces first?”

“You come from the other direction.”

“It’s a six-ounce bottle you need.”

“Just curious but what is it 32 ounces of?”

“Are you wondering what comes out of it or what goes into it?”

“Let’s start with what goes in and see where that get us.”

“It gets us into the 32-ounce size.”

“Only if we’re ingredients. We’re not unless it turns out the bottles are inside-out and we don’t suspect it because it’s only revealed in the last minute.”

“No, if we were ingredients we’d have heard something along the lines of `let us out’ or maybe `we’re not ingredients’.”

“So we’re not ingredients?”

“Now that you’ve said that, it could turn out we were all along. Thanks for messing up a good bit of confusion.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’d hope so.”

“What got the Mayan worried about forty ounces?”

“They liked things in twenties. In retrospect, the 20-ounce size could have been a great seller to Mayans of the seventh century. Have you ever felt better for knowing what the ingredients of something were?”

“There are times I’ve felt growing appreciation for whatever is meant by ‘sorbitol’.”

“And have you ever liked what you knew about what went into something?”

“No, but it’s left me awake all night, steadily unsettled.”

“That sort of feeling you can’t put a price on, unless you count student loans.”

“You can do it with seven ounces. Start with three 32-ounces and take seven ounces out eight times over.”

“You get there faster with eight ounces seven times over.”

“Yes, it’s so much more scenic taking the local roads.”

“It’s mature to restrain yourself from wanting the 40-ounce size.”

“We all have our difficulties to overcome.”

“The 32-ounce size would be a 40-ounce size, if it came with eight ounces free.”

“If the eight ounces were free they wouldn’t come with anything. They’d have to be bottled and rigidly constrained relative to the 32 ounces.”

“They might associate of their own free will.”

“Is the 32-ounce size larger than a breadbox? If not, is it bigger than a bread loaf?”

“No, but I realize I don’t know what a loaf of bread weighs. I just thought of it as weighing one loaf, slightly less for denser loaves.”

“Then we’ve expanded the boundaries of your ignorance?”

“Yes, but marginally.”

“Delighted to be of service. Don’t worry. This is covered your normal monthly charge.”

“Thank you; please come again.”

In case you still needed help to understand my character


Ordinarily, I respond to e-mails with the sort of alacrity you saw in the 17th Century, when The Honourable North-East Passage Company would drop a note to their factor who had skipped that whole north-east part and somehow found himself in Sri Lanka, and it would take three and a half years and a colonial war to get there, and then the response would come the next time there was a transit of Venus. This even for the smallest, most petty things, like reassuring my siblings, who I like and who like me, that everything’s fine and hope you’re having a merry [ checks what month it now is ] Halloween.

But! My father e-mailed me with a calendar question? I am on it. The only thing holding me back is the need to double-check my sources and then boom.

What I’m saying is, guy who wrote me in 2017 about gathering some Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfics together? Could you drop me another note and maybe ask me about when we’ll next have a Leap Day that’s a Sunday, so I’ll be sure and answer? Thanks. It will be 2032.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Could Jules Rivera take over Spider-Man too? July – October 2020


I do not know Jules Rivera’s schedule besides that her Mark Trail starts next week. Maybe she could, maybe she couldn’t take over The Amazing Spider-Man. It does seem like Marvel and King Features Syndicate should be able to find someone to, if they had any interest in carrying on the comic. But, for now, I update the reruns of Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man and post news about the strip. If there is any. I figure to stop if we get to the point that the reruns are ones I’ve already recapped.

Meanwhile, on my mathematics blog, I’m writing essays about the words of mathematics. Coming up this week: the letter Q. It will not be about the quadratic formula.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

12 July – 3 October 2020.

Mary Jane Parker had just knocked on Dr Strange’s door. She’d wanted to, but actually doing so was an unexplained impulse. Dr Strange is pleased to meet both. He remembers Mary Jane Parker from seeing her on Broadway. He remembers Peter Parker as existing. Also as being Spider-Man. Dr Strange has those mind powers, you know, and can read scripts.

The impulse to knock on the door came from Xandu, trenchcoated street mystic master. He wants to steal Dr Strange’s Wand of Watoomb, which will make him happy. You understand. I smiled writing the first half of that sentence. He’d bumped Mary Jane and thanks to that can see what she sees, although not hear what she hears. More, he gives her the compulsion to walk to the forbidden upstairs and through the locked door to grab the Wand of Watoomb.

Mary Jane, under a spell, looking around Dr Strange's stuff: 'There are ... so MANY artifacts in this CHAMBER. Somehow, I know that the one I want ... is THIS one!' She reaches for a wand. Outside, Dr Strange races upstairs, Peter Parker trailing: 'HURRY, Peter! We may already be TOO late!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of July, 2020. OK, so the haunt’s revealed with the magic wand in the Sacred Chamber, so that’s going to be haunt #32, The Lost. Whoever has the highest sanity is the Traitor.

A burst of magic and Mary Jane swaps places with Xandu. Xandu takes over Spider-Man’s body, which, like, keeps happening to him. Well, he has the proportional ability to resist magical body-control of a spider. Xandu compelling him to punch Dr Strange and then do nothing, standing still. You know, like snarkers always say he does.

Xandu leaves Dr Strange’s mansion and grabs Mary Jane along the way. He apprehends her, to become his Queen. He also misapprehends that Mary Jane is married to Dr Strange. He’s going to feel SO AWKWARD when he finds out. She asks to see his kingdom, to distract him from killing Our Heroes. And meanwhile Spider-Man and Dr Strange escape their magical bondage by remembering Dr Strange has a magic thingy around his neck.

Spider-Man: 'A whole ROOM FULL of 'mystic talismans' - and the one you plan to use was hanging around your NECK the whole time?' Dr Strange: 'I wa dazed by Xandu's attack ... needed to gather my WILLPOWER! And now ... I HAVE!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 22nd of August, 2020. Look, you get the Angel Feather, you put it in your inventory and just forget it’s even there until you remember it’s good for a sanity roll up to eight and you wasted four turns, all right? Lay off.

Xandu and Mary Jane pop over to the Realm of Nightmare. It’s one of those 70s comic book realms where everything is droopy shapes and silhouettes that sometimes look like teeth. Nightmare, lord of the realm, rides his horse in to threaten Xandu and Mary Jane. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to freeze him solid. And then has an even better idea, moving a chunk of the nightmare world to Washington Square Park. Dr Strange does a lot of work building up this menace to Spider-Man, and the audience. Xandu does the same, only using Mary Jane.

Me, I admit, I’m not shaken. The Nightmare Dimension doesn’t strike me as all that fearsome. There’s elevated walkpaths that don’t look safe, given how far they are from level and how none of them have handrails. And there’s silhouettes of spiders. I guess that’s annoying, moreso if you have mobility issues. But annoying isn’t the same as terrifying. Oh, and there’s lots of those energy clouds and bubbles flying around, like you see all over Marvel Comics. But if you didn’t buy the original premise of “ooh, this is scaaaary”, it’s not going to become scaaaary by having energy ribbons around it.

Xandu: 'Mary Jane Parker - have you decided you'll WILLINGLY be my queen?' Mary Jane: 'What girl WOULDN'T? You've got enough power to turn a city block into a dream world. All I ask is that you let Spider-Man and Dr Strange leave us in peace!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 1st of October, 2020. Oh, great, so it’s a two-phase haunt. That’s good to know. Now if we could get a single not-awful roll maybe we could make some progress here.

Well, Mary Jane, trying to keep Spider-Man safe, kind of suggests she might marry Xandu if he transforms the world into a nightmare land. So that’s the project he’s working on now, as October gets under way. If I am judging right from when this ran in 2015-16, we should finish around the 22nd of November. The follow-up story, back in 2016, was about J Jonah Jameson losing control of the Daily Bugle to Elias Starr, the villain Egghead. One of Ant-Man’s villains, which is why you’re thinking wasn’t that Vincent Price on the Adam West Batman? We’ll see what they do with the reruns, when we get to that point, though.

Next Week!

A journey to the greatest amusement park of all time! Plus Albert Einstein’s Clone. All this and more in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, if all goes well. Thanks for reading.

Statistics September: How September 2020 Looked At Me, And What For


As I’ve said before I like starting the month with a look at what got read around here, and how much. I’m sure this is going to be fun. WordPress kicked me off the Classic, or “good”, post editor and the New, or “bad” one is really bad. Like, it was annoyingly many steps to embed pictures in yesterday’s Popeye cartoon post. And every attempt working through the Bad editor to embed the video starting at the right time marker failed. I had to post it and then edit it using the back path to get the Good editor back. It takes some doing to screw up stuff like that. Don’t worry. You’ll hear a lot more from me on this topic.

All the statistics I track around here were up this past month, which is to say, good. WordPress reports 4,479 page views in September, which is the third-highest month I have on record. (April 2020 and November 2015 were higher yet.) That’s a good bit above the twelve-month running average of 4,018.7 views per month.

These views came from a recorded 2,623 unique visitors. That, too, is up from the running average 2,347.3. I think that’s also the third-highest unique visitor count, but WordPress doesn’t make that number easy to track. There were 130 things liked, which is above the average 94.4 and the largest number since July of 2019. And there were a positively chatty 41 comments, well above the 25.7 average. That was the greatest volume of comments since April 2020, owing to people turning caps lock on.

Bar chart of monthly readership. The last several months have seen around four thousand page views and two thousand to 2500 unique visitors each month.
You don’t suppose it’s possible I got like a thousand page views between 7:59 pm and 8:00 pm when the new month started, do you?

What articles were popular here? The most popular things published in September were:

I was, in the interest of fairness, looking for top things posted in August too, but it turns out nothing from August was as popular as the Jules Rivera news. That’ll happen.

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in darkest pink, most of the Americas, Europe, Russia, and the Pacific Rim in light pink, and scattered African countries, plus India, also in pink.
I feel like I’m far less popular this month in Africa, but it turns out the difference is two page views from Zambia and one from Ethiopia. Well also that Ukraine wasn’t interested in me this month either.

77 countries sent me any readers last month. That’s down from August’s 78 and July’s 82, and not at all significantly so. There were ten single-view countries, noticeably down from August’s 18 or July’s 28. I suppose next month there’ll be minus two.

CountryReaders
United States3,108
India223
Canada149
Brazil135
United Kingdom114
Australia103
Philippines99
Sweden38
South Africa34
Germany32
Norway31
Italy27
Finland26
Spain25
Japan23
Netherlands23
France15
Denmark14
Nepal14
Trinidad & Tobago14
Mexico12
Indonesia11
Belgium9
Portugal9
Argentina8
Singapore8
Turkey8
Colombia7
European Union7
New Zealand7
United Arab Emirates7
Hong Kong SAR China6
Ireland6
Switzerland6
Thailand6
Chile5
Honduras5
Malaysia5
Peru5
Slovenia5
Venezuela5
Fiji4
Greece4
Hungary4
Qatar4
Taiwan4
Austria3
China3
Czech Republic3
Ecuador3
Guyana3
Israel3
Kazakhstan3
Kuwait3
Myanmar (Burma)3
Pakistan3
Poland3
South Korea3
Vietnam3
Bulgaria2
Egypt2
Guadeloupe2
Kenya2
Nigeria2
Puerto Rico2
Romania2
Russia2
Belize1
Bolivia1
Costa Rica1
Croatia1
El Salvador1
Iceland1
Jamaica1
Maldives1
Mauritius1
Paraguay1 (*)

Paraguay is the only country that was a single-view country in August. And no countries are on a three-month or longer streak. So that’s fun.


My plan for the next several weeks of story comics is to do these, on these days:

All this is subject to revision in case of news or anything getting in my way. I am thinking of what I might shuffle around to make sure the week of Election Day is as low-stress for me as possible, around here at least, for example. I’ll have some What’s Going On In The Story Comics post, or news, at this link. And hopefully a plot recap every Tuesday, Eastern time.

Also in my plans: a long-form essay Thursday evenings, Eastern Time. Also Statistics Saturday posts, Saturday evening, Eastern Time. And I’m hardly out of 1960s Popeye cartoons to talk about Sunday evenings.


Through the start of October I’d posted 2,799 things here. Those collected 188,327 views from 106,121 unique visitors. WordPress thinks I posted 16,141 words this past month, an average of 538.0 words per posting for all thirty posts. My average post, year to date, has been 548 words, so my goal of writing shorter was going great until I started this post.

If you’d like to be a regular reader here, please click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page. Or if you’d rather read without being tracked, add the RSS feed for this page to your reader. If you don’t think you have a reader, get a free Dreamwidth or Livejournal account. You can add RSS feeds to your friends page from https://www.dreamwidth.org/feeds/ or https://www.livejournal.com/syn as you like. And my @nebusj Twitter account announces posts. Don’t try to contact me through it, though. Safari often refuses to let me see Twitter. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what the pattern is. Am I going to make the surely slight effort it would be to clear up the problem? No, not this year. Why would I want to see more Twitter than I already do? In 2020? Thank you for your understanding.

60s Popeye: Popeye Revere, a title that makes me remember the cartoon wrong


A confession to a cultural blind spot: I’ve never actually read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere. I know chunks of it, mostly because of cartoons quoting it, sometimes at what seems to be great length. This is one of those cartoons. Thanks to it, I feel like I know enough of the original I don’t have to know the original. There are a bunch of movies I know I’ll never watch either because SCTV gave me the essentials. That’s right, Humoresque, I don’t care if you’re showing in TCM or not! So there!

This is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Noel Tucker and the animation director Ken Hultgren. Here’s 1960’s Popeye Revere.

Some of these cartoons I remember nothing about. Some are seared into my memory. This was one I thought was seared in, largely by Popeye adapting Longfellow’s words. Who could forget about the chance “to hear// of the midnight ride of Popeye Revere”? Me, apparently, since that’s not what Popeye says. It’s Poopdeck Revere, everywhere except in the title of the cartoon. Why did the cartoon not have the correct name? What were you afraid of, Jack Kinney?

Which gets at my other question: why is Poopdeck Pappy in this? Were they worried it would confuse viewers to have Popeye-Narrator and Popeye-Revere both talking? In other tell-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons Popeye gets cast as the male hero. Real Popeye does more narration this time than usual, yes. I think he says “to every Middlesex village and farm” at least eighteen times over the course of two minutes.

I’m not opposed to Poopdeck, mind. He’s a fun character. He can take the little-stinker roles Popeye evolved out of. But it’s not like Paul Revere is a little-stinker character. So why this choice?

Animation frame showing Poopdeck Pappy (dressed as Paul Revere) leaping handily over a barrel rolling toward him.
200 points!

The big addition to Longfellow’s poem, I assume, is Brutus as a Tory trying to stop Poopdeck’s ride. Brutus throwing barrels at Poopdeck, which he leaps over, reminded me “wasn’t there something about Donkey Kong starting out as a Popeye video game?” It’s more complicated than that but, yeah, the path to Donkey Kong included an attempted Popeye license. This is probably coincidence, though. The molasses, or as they spell it molassas, does give the cartoon a punch line.

There’s not much standing out in the animation here. There is one neat little effect, as Poopdeck rides and calls to every middlesex village and farm. As he turns side to side his figure grows larger and smaller. It’s a nice addition of life to a basic cycle.

Animation frame showing Poopdeck Pappy (dressed as Paul Revere) partly behind the barrel rolling toward him. His hand might be in front of the barrel; the animation cels are ambiguously placed. In any case it's too late for him to jump over the barrel, except by virtue of an animation error.
OK this looks bad but you actually want it, because it times-in a collision-detection glitch that gives you a frame clipping in your GPU that Metroids your gigablorpz. I don’t know how video game speedrunning works.

Swee’Pea seems to have an attitude about hearing all this stuff regarding Poopdeck Revere. At one point he holds up a sign, ‘PURE CORN’, for the audience. It seems like a cheap thrill, and an insincere one. (It’s your cartoon, after all. If you don’t like it, why didn’t you make a better one?) But then remember the opening of the tell-me-a-story frame. Swee’Pea asked if Paul Revere’s ride really went like that in the poem. And Popeye goes ahead and basically re-reads the poem, just with slight recasting. I understand Swee’Pea feeling caught in this fix.

Statistics Saturday: Some Drowsy Numbers


  • eighty-yawn
  • 143 (Generation I)
  • snorety-one
  • eight, but lying down
  • twenty-nap
  • snorety-two
  • one thousand, three hundred and pillow
  • melatonine
  • seven, after a mug of warm milk
  • infini-z
  • snorety-snore
  • quarter-rest

Reference: Under the Black Flag: Exploits of the Most Notorious Pirates, Don C Seitz.

In which I’m just having a hard time keeping up with it all


Again, I’m sorry. It’s just that WordPress has decided to force me to use some new, “Bad” model editor to enter these posts instead of letting me carry on using the Classic or “good” editor. And if that weren’t enough strain, TCM went and changed their web site so now it shows much less information, but is also slower about it. I haven’t wanted the new version of any web site since 2004 and I have never met anyone who did.

In Which I Question The Adequacy Of Our Seasons


I don’t mean to suggest we don’t have bigger problems. Also I agree we have smaller problems. The medium-size problem I’m looking at here is: do we have enough seasons? I mean in the year. I mean weather seasons. I know we’ve got all sorts of sports seasons, like baseball and football and preseason baseball and basketball and postseason baseball and hockey playoffs. I mean seasons like spring and summer and stuff. We’ve got four of them, and been trusting that to cover the whole year, and I’m just asking if that’s enough to cover the year as we’ve got it these days.

Take spring, for example. We know it as a time for spring cleaning, which we get around to once we’ve run out of other things to do in spring. And yet for all that cleaning, we never get around to anything else with spring. We never set aside a season for spring curating, for setting our springs out in a thoughtful manner that lets us appreciate them. Or just see their development. Maybe come to understand how new spring technologies have come and changed the way things spring. This paragraph belongs in a different essay written on the same starting point, and doesn’t fit the mood of the one I’m writing at all. But I like it as it is, and so I’m sticking with it. You can go ahead and imagine the essay that goes off in this paragraph’s direction.

The big old blocky names for seasons works fine for some period during them. But when they get a little changing the categories break down. Like, right now we in lower Michigan are in early autumn, or fall, depending on whether you’re east of US 127. That is, we’re in the time of year where it’s autumn, or fall, between 9 pm and 10 am every day, but then it’s summer between 10 am and 2 pm, and again from 5 to 7 pm. Between 7 and 9 pm it’s free pick, the days alternately sunny or ice-monsoon. There is no weather between 3 and 5 pm, as that’s too late in the day to finish anything before rush hour.

The period lasts a while and it’s not fair to call that ‘autumn’ because so much of it is not. All it really has to call it autumn is that we buy more cider than we’ll have time to drink. It’s not like late October, which is some of the most autumn-nest weather you’ll find. That’s when the sun emerging from the clouds somehow makes your skin feel colder. We handle that by around the 24th of October putting the sun behind a cloud, from which it doesn’t emerge until March. Which is another seasonally-elusive time of year, when the cloud-covered sky feels warm on your face, but touching the ground causes a sleeve of ice to run up your boots and cover your legs.

Granting these kinds of periods have enough identity we need to give them names, what names? The early one in the year seems easy enough, since we could go with ‘sprinter’ or ‘wing’, depending on what fits the sentence. The one this time of year is tougher to make the syllables match. ‘Sumtumn’ sounds like the year is a fat baby we’re teasing, and maybe some years are like that but I’m through with teasing 2020 for anything ever.

And I know giving these parts of the year names are going to inspire other problems. Like, there’ll be a part of the year that’s not really summer yet but still not sumtumn. What do we call that, summer-sumtumn? Keep this up and we’re going to end up with seasons given names like summer-sumtumn-summer by half-winter, or something. I didn’t mean ‘something’ as a season name, but maybe that’s where we’ll end up.

You know maybe I should have written that other essay instead, the one where I come up with like four zany seasons of doing mildly quirky behavior. Too late to rewrite it now. All I can do is think back about it during the season of regrets, which is all of them.