Just So Nobody’s Caught by Surprise at the Solstice


So here in the Northern Hemisphere we’re looking at the summer solstice tomorrow, or today if you’re reading this at the right time, or sometime in the past if you’re reading it after that. Anyway. Please remember that while this is the longest day of the year, it is not the day when sunset comes the latest in the year. This phenomenon may seem confusing if you don’t know this piece of information: Astronomers have always hated drive-in movie operators, and vice-versa. I hope this clears matters up for you.

In Which I Have A Week Of Changing Re-evaluations


I don’t know how much is the appropriate amount to think about famous knock-off movie Ratatoing, but I don’t think I’m far outside the norm. Plus, Nathan Rabin blogged about it a couple days ago, and reading that made me realize: oh, that name is surely not meant to rhyme with “boing”, right? You’re supposed to think rat-at-oo-ing, so it’s even closer to Ratatouille. Rat-a-toing is just wrong. And then I tried watching the movie and it turns out? No, it’s “boing”, just like I thought when I didn’t know anything. So the week’s not even half over and I keep having to re-evaluate everything. Or I can stop thinking about stuff and, it turns out, be okay, just less tired of it all.

Statistics Saturday: The Movies (an incomplete list)


  • The Hustler
  • The Apartment
  • The Discrete Charm of The Bourgeoisie
  • The Casablanca
  • The Dog Day Afternoon
  • The E.T.
  • The Fall of The House of the Usher
  • Who Framed The Roger Rabbit
  • The A Hard Day’s The Night
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty The Valance
  • The Mon Oncle
  • The Night of The Hunter

Reference: The Big Rich: The Rise And Fall of The Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, Bryan Burrough.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why would anyone make a Gasoline Alley movie? January – March 2021


The current Gasoline Alley story is built on some Hollywood types coming in make a movie about the town. While the town’s residents are interesting to the comic strip readers, one might ask why anyone in-universe would care about this town? Longtime readers enjoy the more-or-less plausible lives of interesting characters. But why pick this place, other than that Walt Wallet is a generation older than Betty White?

While searching for something else, I ran across this timeline of events in Gasoline Alley. It’s a list of some of the big story events including when Skeezix turned up on the doorstep. and seems to be pretty solid for events up to about 1950, that is, the era when the comic strip made its reputation. It may not convince you — I mean, breach of promise stories? Everyone did them back then and that’s such an alien idea today, like suing somebody for not wearing a hat — but it gives some idea what all happened.

Over on my mathematics blog, I just looked at the comic strips which observed Pi Day. How many of them were about mathematics? The answer may surprise you!

This essay should catch you up to mid-March 2022 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about June 2022, there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. And now, action!

Gasoline Alley.

1 January – 19 March 2022.

The current story had just been called when I last checked in. Some Hollywood types are descending on Gasoline Alley to make a movie. Rufus and Joel try to clean City Hall up to the point that it shines. The movie makers slip and fall on the wet floor. The comic relief pair suppose that the movie makers want to sue them for damages. After their attempts at disguising themselves fail completely, they run off to hide in a cave.

Joel, mop in his hand: 'Oh, man! We done done it now!' Rufus, standing over the puddles of water: 'We sho' is sorry, Mr De Millsbrothers! Th'flo' was wet!' DeMillstone: 'My name is DeMillstone! SOMEBODY BETTER HELP ME UP!' Assistant: 'Do you need an ambulance, C.B.?' DeMillstone: 'Get those two men's names on the double!' Assistant with a clipboard: 'Doubling pu right now, sir!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 8th of January, 2022. Cecil B DeMillstone is an almost inevitable name for a Hollywood Movie Mogul in this genre. Rufus I assume is mashing the name up with the Mills Brothers, who were a quite popular singing quartet especially through the Golden Age of Radio.

The movie folks turn their attention to Walt Wallet. They turn over some kind of prospectus for a movie based on his life. It’s a big, bold work, not bound tightly to the facts. He calls Skeezix over to describe some of them. And to recount a story that … actually, he’s told before, back in January and February of 2014. But he claims that when exploring in Egypt ages ago he and his party, desperately short on water, fell into the tomb of the Pharaoh Do-Ra-Mi. They found an urn on the shelf, with ancient, stale water that they drank happily. And then found the hieroglyphics proclaimed it the “Energy Shot – For Youth”. Which, well, he is a pretty spry fellow for being six years older than the SOS distress signal. But back in 2014 when he told this story he was making up that it was the Fountain of Youth. He was spinning yarns back then, which, fine. But when why his shock in 2022 when someone believed him?

In the flashback, young Walt Wallet looks over an ancient urn, while a camel licks him and two porters look on: 'After drinking the water, I felt great and tried to decipher the hieroglyphics on the urn!' In the present day Skeezix asks, 'What did it say, Uncle Walt?' Walt: 'Extreme energy shot for Youth!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of February, 2022. When this joke was done back in February 2014 — the first panel of the 2022 strip seems to be an elongated version of the 2014 version — it set off a short-lived mania for Walt’s Fountain-of-Youth water. I’m not surprised I had forgotten this, but I am surprised Skeezix doesn’t remember it, because he had the plan that abated the mob scene. On the other hand, Skeezix has had nearly a decade of other shenanigans around him, too.

After sharing this and some other, lesser tall tales with Skeezix, the movie folks call to say never mind. They’re not doing Walt Wallet’s life, which is a shame, since this was an excuse for Scancarelli to draw a young-looking Walt Wallet doing a lot of fun action. (One of the stories shows him hopping a train, which seems mundane enough to have happened.) But the movie folks have decided to do a science fiction piece, Teenage Thing Meets The Creature From Gasoline Alley. Scancarelli’s heart is in doing a 1950s radio sitcom and I like him for that.

The movie producers still want to get hold of Rufus and Joel. The pair emerge from hiding, when the bear they were hiding with kicks them out. And that’s where we stand. Will it turn out they’ve made a bad assumption about what the movie folks wanted them for, so that their winter hiding in a cave was foolish? There’s no way of knowing except reading, or remembering the rules of the 1950s radio sitcoms that the comic strip wants to be. We’ll check back by June, anyway.

Next Week!

The only question worth asking right now is when is Mark Trail going to punch an NFT? And the answer is, always, not soon or often enough. But if we’re lucky by next week I’ll be able to tell you just when Mark Trail does. That’s Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail next Tuesday, if things go to plan.

March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing: Walls vs Spider-Man


Walls

The Case For: Are the best vertical surface available to 1990s college students to hang their posters of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Blues Brothers, or a Mandelbrot set.

The Case Against: Somehow increase the noise of the people in the hotel room next to you by 12 to 18 decibels.

Spider-Man

The Case For: Has the superhuman power to take good action pictures on a timer.

The Case Against: In one of his adventures on The Electric Company, Spider-Man was beaten by a Wall at Shea Stadium.

Statistics Saturday: Some Cartoon Characters I’d Believe Were Adapted Into Movies Recently


I mean, if you told me, I’d have no way of arguing you were wrong. Here I’m talking about movies where these characters are the stars, you know, the protagonists. I’m sure every one of them had a cameo in Ready Player One, Space Jam II: Space Jammier, Scoob!, and I’m guessing that one where space aliens jam a giant Pac-Man into a city or something? I don’t know, I just saw the commercials and figured that was enough. Anyway if you want to put one over on me, and start talking about a movie starring any of these, I would never suspect you were fibbing. Also I don’t know why you’d want to put that over on me, but that’s your business, isn’t it?

  • Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har-Har
  • Grape Ape
  • The Silverhawks
  • Tom Slick
  • Mighty Mouse
  • The Herculoids
  • Space Ace
  • Hoppy the Marvel Bunny
  • Superchicken
  • The Tazmanian Devil
  • Droopy
  • Huckleberry Hound

Reference: The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation, Frank O’Brien.

Statistics Saturday: Some Movies You’d Think Would Have At Least One Dragon In Them


  • How To Train Your Dragon
  • Eragon
  • Dragonslayer
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Pete’s Dragon (1977)
  • Dungeons and Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God
  • The NeverEnding Story
  • Quest for Camelot
  • Spirited Away
  • Pete’s Dragon (2016)
  • Dragon Fighter
  • The Flight of Dragons

Not listed: Disney’s Robin Hood although doesn’t that really feel like it should have at least one dragon in there, somewhere?

Reference: The Most Unsordid Act: Lend-Lease, 1939-1941, Warren F Kimball.

A message of importance to the young


So, now, I know that you want look to me as a respectable or “cool” figure. Before you bestow this trust in me, though? You should know that in the 80s I read more than one article about the making of Earth Girls Are Easy from in Starlog magazine. So, just, scale your expectations of me to that, please. Thank you.

Statistics Saturday: 15 Things You Can’t Believe Happened Earlier In 2021


  • Bean Dad
  • Sea shanties on TikTok
  • Like three probes orbited or landed on Mars and one of them had a helicopter
  • Balloon Boy
  • The Kellogg’s strike
  • That morning we all found a box of Peak Freans on our counter even though they haven’t made Peak Freans since like 1989 and nobody could explain where all these Peaks Freans came from
  • That guy did that really good impression of Robin Williams learning of John Belushi’s death
  • Culture Club released the hit song “Karma Chameleon”
  • The imperatives of state bureaucracy drove European governments to impose family names on all their inhabitants, without regard to local culture or the lack of community need for such things
  • The controversial “Rashomon” episode of Scooby and Scrappy Doo aired
  • Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins died
  • Ken Russell’s film adaptation of The Who’s Tommy uses rather a lot of beans, is unconnected to “Bean Dad”
  • End of the Recombination era of the universe, when electrons and atomic nucleuses finally became cool enough to bind together into atoms, allowing photons to travel great distances, causing space to no longer be opaque for the first time
  • Boss Baby 2 came out
  • Audiences were enchanted by that “so good … but no lumps!” commercial but can’t remember, was it for gravy? For Alka-Seltzer? But Alka-Seltzer was that “Mama Mia, that’s a spicy meatball” commercial, right? That was like four years ago?

Reference: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, Nick Taylor.

Statistics Saturday: Ten Most Amazing Facts Of The Week


  • Despite the name no so-called “universal remote” has ever in fact been remote from the universe.
  • No United States president has ever been born in the future.
  • The 100 pleats in a chef’s hat represent the 100 times that the guy who bought the hat-pleating mechanism insisted on showing this was too a good purchase and would pay for itself in time.
  • In the Star Trek episode “Court Martial” Spock discusses what would happen “if I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity”, implying there are enough zero- and negative-gravity planets around he needs to shut talk about them down before it even starts.
  • There must always exist at least one breadbox that cannot be put inside another breadbox. However, if the universe were infinitely large, we could not count on this being true.
  • No episode of the 1980s animated series of The Smurfs establishes that Gargamel knows of the Snorks.
  • Those coworkers whose names you aren’t sure you have yet, and it’s too awkward now to ask about? Sara and Mike. If there’s a third, it’s Darryl or maybe Darren. Go confident on the “Darr” part and underplay the second syllable and you’ll get away with it.
  • D is known as “the sunshine vitamin” because it was first discovered by spectral analysis of the sun. It would not be seen on Earth for nearly a generation after its detection.
  • Not only could they make Blazing Saddles today, they did, which is where everybody was all day and why they’re all tuckered out. You should have come over and helped, you’d have had a great time. Maybe you can catch them next month when they hope to make Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One.
  • Despite every advance in the technology to write songs, they are likely to be outnumbered by unwritten songs through 2024 at the soonest.

Reference: A Diplomatic History Of Europe Since The Congress Of Vienna, René Albrecht-Carié.

Statistics Saturday: Comic Strips That _Starlog_ Thought Were Being Made Into Movies in 1987


Not listed: that time Ralph Bakshi thought he was making a primetime TV cartoon version of Blade Runner.

Starlog magazine MediaLog entry: 'Animation: it's not a dream. Really. Back in the animation races after a career hiatus to concentrate on painting, Ralph Bakshi has acquired the rights to a recent SF classic. Bakshi is developing an animated version of Blade Runner, aimed at a primetime TV slot. This projected Blade Runner would combine some animated characters with some live-action background elements.'
Wait, an only partly-animated Ralph Bakshi project? How could that ever happen?

Also not mentioned: that Tintin project because I don’t think Tintin was ever a comic strip and, like, Betty Boop had a short-lived comic even if it wasn’t good.

Also, coming back to the mentioned: Motley’s Crew? Really? Huh. I mean, I guess that’s a comic strip that existed all right, but … Really. Huh. I mean … huh. You’re passing on Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells for this, then.

Reference: Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: How One Man’s Courage Changed The Course of History, Giles Milton.

Statistics Saturday: The Official Ordering of the Star Wars Movies


  1. Star Wars: A Star Wars Story
  2. Star Wars: A Wars Star Story
  3. Star Wars: A Star Stories War
  4. Wars Star: A Stars War Story
  5. Star Wars Stars: A Story
  6. A Wars War: Star A Star Story
  7. Star Star: A Wars Star Stories
  8. Star Wars Star: A Wars Star War Starry Story
  9. Star Wars: Star Wars Story A
  10. Star Star War Star Wars: A War Stars Story Wars Star Story
  11. A Star Wars Story: Star Wars

Honorable mention: Star Wars: Sraw Rats, the secret movie for people who know Star Wars forwards and backwards.

Reference: Who’s Who In Mythology: A Classic Guide To The Ancient World, Alexander S. Murray.

Statistics Saturday: The Duration of 15 Things as Measured by the Runtime Of Turbo (2013)


ThingDurations in Runtimes of Turbo (2013)
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address0.05938
Apollo 14135
Bambi0.7292
Construction of the Empire State Building244.375
First non-exhibition/spring-training baseball game of the Houston Colt.45s, 10 April 19621.583
“The Gates of Delirium”, by Yes0.2274
The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (including commercials)1.250
The Hundred Years’ War637,711.71
One second0.000 173 6
Robert Altman’s Popeye1.1875
The 1960 Summer Olympics262.5
Thunderhawk roller coaster (one ride cycle only), Dorney Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania0.01354
Turbo (2013)1
Turbo Teen (complete series, including commercials)4.0625
We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story0.7396

Reference: Roughing It, Mark Twain.

Statistics Saturday: 15 Famous Movie Mis-Quotes


  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real thin man!” — Not said by Nick or Nora Charles, The Thin Man.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real treasure of the Sierra Madre!” — Not said by Fred C Dobbs, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real love story!” — Not said by Jennifer Cavalleri, Love Story.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real wizard of Oz!” — Not said by Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real Goldfinger!” — Not said by Goldfinger, Goldfinger.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real cool hand, Luke!” — Not said by Dragline, Cool Hand Luke.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real space odyssey!” — Not said by Dave Bowman, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real Scrooge!” — Not said by Mr Snedrig, Scrooge.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real shape of water!” — Not signed by Elisa Esposito, The Shape of Water.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real Casablanca!” — Not said by Rick Blaine, Casablanca.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real space jam!” — Not said by Lola Bunny, Space Jam.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real planet of the apes!” — Not said by Dr Galen, Planet of the Apes.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real Wall Street!” — Not said by Gordon Gecko, Wall Street.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real Turbo!” — Not said by Turbo, Turbo.
  • “Yowza yowza, that’s a real Chinatown!” — Not said by Lawrence Walsh, Chinatown.

Reference: Inside Nick Rocks: The Complete Story of the Music Video Show You Remember Being On Between Mr Wizard’s World and You Can’t Do That On Television, and How it Changed the World — and Whatever Happened To “Joe From Chicago”, Dr Will Miller.

Statistics Saturday: Star Wars Movies versus Star Trek Movies


Bar chart showing the count of Star Wars and of Star Trek movies, per year, 1977 to 2020. Star Wars has a lead from 1977 to 1985; after that Star Trek takes the lead and never loses it again, although by 2019 Star Wars comes close to tying it.
Not pictured: that special 75-minute extended cut of The Omega Glory that Gene Roddenberry adapted from the original Star Trek to play in theaters in Italy and France in 1969 alongside the View-Master reel, nor The Ewok Adventures and Ewoks: The Battle For Endor, made for TV and aired in 1984 and 1985.

Reference: Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941, Michael E Parrish.

Statistics Saturday: Some imaginary _Star Trek_ movies


  • Star Trek: Revolution
  • Star Trek: Blackbird
  • Star Trek: Nobody’s Child
  • Star Trek: Nowhere Man
  • Star Trek: The Night Before
  • Star Trek: Yesterday
  • Star Trek: Across the Universe
  • Star Trek: Tomorrow Never Knows
  • Star Trek: Here, There, and Everywhere
  • Star Trek: Octopus’s Garden
  • Star Trek: She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
  • Star Trek: I’m Happy Just To Dance With You

Reference: The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan.

Statistics Saturday: The Internet, by Volume


Large chunk: arguments that the Star Wars prequels are good, actually. Equally large chunk: arguments that no, no they are not. Small chunk: absolutely everything else
Not depicted: arguments that The Rise Of Skywalker, by returning to the menace of Emperor Palpatine and bunches upon bunches of Death Star cannons, is making a trenchant point that among the tragedies of authoritarianism is that it lacks creativity. That even in terror all it can truly do is make more of what has already been terrifying; all prospect for original life is strangled by the drive to control. Omitted because even people who like The Rise Of Skywalker don’t like it enough to argue for it.

Reference: Wotalife Comics #4, cover date Oct-Nov 1946, Fox Feature Syndicate, publisher.

Distracted thoughts after seeing The Dot And The Line: The Movie teaser trailer


Hey, does it feel to anyone else like we should have heard Robert Zemeckis announce he’s trying to do a computer-animated remake of Who Framed Roger Rabbit by now? Has anyone checked in to see what he is working on? Maybe we could just make sure?


(So my favorite part of the teaser trailer is how right after the “COMING / IN UP TO 3-D / SUMMER 2022” title card you get Dot, Line, and Squiggle all shouting as they realize they’re going over the waterfall. What’s yours?)

Statistics Saturday: 10 Trivia Answers That Are All Paul Blart, Mall Cop


  1. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  2. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  3. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  4. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  5. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  6. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  7. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  8. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  9. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  10. Paul Blart, Mall Cop

Fun fact: one time Trivia Night at the local bar was about something I knew I knew nothing about, so I warned everybody at the table that I was just going to offer “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” for every question. The first couple times they chuckled at the bit, but this faded out after like the third question. Nevertheless, I carried on, and you know? By about the ninth time? It started to change. My commitment to the bit paid off: before the end of the night everyone agreed this had the structure of a joke and was slightly amusing, they guessed, in its way.

Reference: The Footnote: A Curious History, Anthony Grafton.

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.)

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.

There are many small things to watch on TCM tonight


I apologize for the late notice; I only learned myself a couple hours ago. TCM (United States feed) is spending tonight showing “Leonard Maltin’s Short Film Showcase”. It’s a bunch of short films, as you’d think. Some of them I’ve seen; some are new to me. Many of them are comedies. There are a handful of travelogues, musical shorts, and dramas too.

Robert Benchley gets a couple entries, with “A Night At The Movies” right around … now, Eastern time. Three hours from now, less about ten minutes, Pacific time. Or, “How To Sleep”, sometime after 5 am Eastern and Pacific. Thelma Todd gets four entries, two of them with ZaSu Pitts. I’d recommend any Thelma Todd or ZaSu Pitts piece sight unseen. Some of the shorts, including at least one Thelma Todd one, star Charley Chase. Chase is an interesting person. In the silent era he was one of the second-tier comedians who kept edging his way up into the first tier, right up until he attempted a movie adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and made basically every choice wrong. That’s not on tonight and you’ll think better of Chase for that. There’s also, somewhere around 12:45 am, “Buzzing Around”, starring Roscoe Arbuckle, about inventing a magic rubber coating that makes things unbreakable. Other miscellaneous things include a bunch of Pete Smith specialties. Pete Smith made a lot of short films, mostly comedy documentaries, all with a reliable American Cornball tone. You’ll either kinda like it or not.

As I say, I don’t know how much of any of this I’ll watch. It is probably good for dipping into as you have ten minutes. One I am warily curious about, and that’s running sometime around 5:20 am, is titled “The Black Network”. The summary: “In this short film, the owner of a shoe polish company sponsors a radio show that showcases black performers”. So this does sound like a chance to see people whose talents were discarded. But, ooh, that mention of shoe polish does not sit well at all. Mm.

In which I think about Fly Me To The Moon for some reason


I got to thinking about Fly Me To The Moon, which is not a forgotten computer-animated movie from 2008 because even the people making it did not know they were making it. In the movie, a fly sneaks aboard Apollo 11 and saves it from Soviet flies.

The film has a page of goofs. It leads with the characters giving each other high-fives years before high-fives were a thing. Also, the movie apparently ends with Buzz Aldrin explaining to viewers that there weren’t any flies on Apollo 11.

Also the Wikipedia plot summary and the IMDB Goofs Page disagree about whether the Apollo capsule lands in the Pacific Ocean or in Florida. I grant that people of good will could disagree about the contents of an ambiguous scene. And that a movie does not need to have a single reading to be good. But I think if it is unclear whether an Apollo capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean or in Florida then the movie is doing something to stoke confusion, is all.

The trivia page mentions that this is Christopher Lloyd’s fourth film in which he interacts with members of the McFly family. So that’s also kind of sitting on my head today.

Tales From The 80s


So if you’re in my age cohort you grew up seeing the opening credits of Tales From The Darkside. You know, where the camera pans across footage of a forest while the foreboding voice of Perilous McDoomenough intones, “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he BELIEVES to be … reality.” And then the screen fades to a posterized negative image about how there is “unseen by most an underworld”. And then you changed the channel because whatever was coming next would have to be way too frightening to watch.

I got thinking, you know, this has to be like slasher movies were. The hype makes it sound like this intense and barely-comprehensible experience. And it turns out to be about as scary as an SCTV episode. I was too much of a coward to watch horror movies as a kid. I mean, except the one time that they had us do a sleepover for Vacation Bible School and we camped out in some of the classrooms off in the CCD wing. And one of the things they showed was Friday the 13th. I thought it was pretty good. Also I don’t understand how this could have happened. We went to a pretty liberal diocese but still. I think we also watched Heathers. I know Vacation and European Vacation we watched at my friend Eddie Glazier’s bar mitzvah. I’m not sure I should be talking about this 35-plus years on. I might be getting somebody in trouble.

But that’s sort of how terror was for a white middle-class kid growing up in the suburbs in the 80s. And yes, I mean New Jersey-type suburbs, which in other states are what you would call “urbs”. Or “great undifferentiated mass of housing developments and corporate office parks stretching from the Amboy Drive-In to the Freehold Traffic Circle, dotted by some Two Guys department stores”. Still. I grew up a weenie and I would be glad for that if I didn’t think being glad about myself was kind of bragging.

And we knew how to be recreationally scared. We just had to think about the nuclear war. New Jersey enjoyed a weird place for that. I know in most of the country you came up with legends about why the Soviets had a missile aimed right at you. One that would be deployed right after they bombed Washington and New York City. “Of course the Kremlin knows Blorpton Falls, Iowa is the largest producer of sewing machine bobbins outside the New York City area. They’ll have to bomb us so the country can’t clothe itself well after World War III.” It was a way to be proud of your town and not be responsible for surviving the nuclear war.

Central Jersey? We didn’t have to coin legends. We knew, when the war came, we’d be doomed. It wouldn’t be for any reason. It’s just we’re close to New York City, we’re close to Philadelphia. Nothing personal. All we were doing was being near something someone else wanted to destroy. This turned out to be great practice for living in 2020 that I don’t recommend.

Oh, sure, there was the soccer field what they said used to be a Nike missile base that would have protected New York City from the missile attacks. Maybe the Soviets would have an old map, or refuse to believe that they built a soccer field in the United States in the 60s. That former-Nike-base could be a target, if the Nike missiles to intercept the missiles didn’t work, which they wouldn’t.

You might ask: wait, why didn’t they put the base that was supposed to protect New York City in-between New York and the Soviet missile bases instead? The answer is that in-between New York City and the Soviet missile bases is Connecticut. The construction vehicles for the Connecticut site set out on I-95 in 1961 and haven’t made it through traffic yet. Central Jersey was a backup so they could build a site that couldn’t work but could abandon. Anyway I don’t know the soccer field was ever actually a Nike base or if we just said it was. If it really was, I suppose it’s a Superfund clean-up site now. Makes me glad I realized I didn’t want to socc. I wanted to type in word processor programs from a magazine into my computer.

Anyway after thinking about that long enough, it turns out the movie threats we faced were kind of cozy. Yeah, they might turn you into an Alice-in-Wonderland cake and eat you, but at least you’d be singing all the way.

So back to Tales From The Darkside. You know what you find if you go back and watch it now? Tales From The Darkside never even had episodes! They knew everybody was going to be scared off by those credits. Each episode, for all four seasons, is one frozen negative-print posterized image of a tree while someone holds down a key on the synthesizer.

It is way more terrifying than I had ever imagined.

Statistics Saturday: Disney Direct-To-Video Sequels By Whether They Rate Roman or Arabic Numerals


Roman Numeral Arabic Numeral Neither
Pocahontas II Lilo and Stich 2 Aladdin
The Little Mermaid II Brother Bear 2 Beauty and the Beast
The Lion King II The Lion King 1½ Aladdin (again)
Cinderella III The Fox and the Hound 2 Beauty and the Beast (again)
Cinderella II An Extremely Goofy Movie
Lady and the Tramp II The Little Mermaid
Mulan II Tangled
101 Dalmatians II Atlantis
Tarzan II
Bambi II
Hunchback of Notre Dame II

Not listed: Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas because it is a Wikipedia prank and does not exist.

Reference: Joseph Henry: The Rise of an American Scientist, Albert E Moyer.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who is Dethany and why does she look like a villain? May – August 2020


Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.

Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.

While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.

On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)

It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.

(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)

Dick Tracy.

17 May – 9 August 2020.

Actress Fortuna Dyer was getting into character for her Breathless Mahoney bio-pic. Thing is Breathless Mahoney was a villain. Dyer wants information out of B.O.Plenty, who back before his heel-face turn kind of got pretty near murdering her. Tracy gives Dyer an interview, recapping the Mahoney-Plenty story of the 40s. And asks her not to contact Plenty, who’s gone all good.

Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.

Shaky: 'Breathless, we've been at this for two weeks now. What would you say to dinner with no movie talk?' Dyer/Breathless: 'I wondered when you'd bring that up. Sure, we can go out. But tell me something ... do you shake *all* the time?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2020. “Because if you do shake all the time, well, this could be even better than that time I was dating Chef Wiggly!”

Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.

Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.

In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.

So a thing Ugly Crystal maybe never mentioned to Shaky when he mistook her place for a safehouse? Her dad’s Lafayette Austin, undercover cop. Also he has like a dozen belt buckles so it’s easy to find one’s missing.

On the movie set, Shaky, playing Original Shaky, says, 'Come on, Breathless. I said I was sorry.' Dyer, as Breathless: 'No, Shaky. I don't take that from anyone. We're through!' Shaky: 'Please, baby?' Dyer: 'No. I've filed charges.' Shaky: 'You what?' Dick Tracy: 'Shaky.' Shaky: 'Buzz off! This is none of your business!' Tracy: 'Oh, but it *is*. You're under arrest.' Shaky: 'Ugh ... Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of June, 2020. Having yet another instance where characters play Dick Tracy characters, particularly with Current Shaky playing Original Shaky for this movie cameo, made this a confusing strip to read when it came out. What we’re seeing here, through the first panel of the bottom row, is a movie scene being filmed with Shaky playing his uncle the Original Shaky, and Dyer playing Breathless. The last two panels are the real Dick Tracy intruding, breaking up the scene with an actual real-world arrest. This seems needlessly jerky of Dick Tracy. Like, he couldn’t have waited one minute for the scene to be clear? But, Shaky responding to something off-script so plausibly suggests that maybe his real calling was an actor. He’s certainly not a competent crook.

Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.

Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .

Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.


The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.

Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.

The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.

Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.

Alex Wilson: 'What have you tried to persuade Miss Dendrobia to leave?' Coney: 'The usual cat and mouse. But she won't scare. After the last try she brought Dick Tracy into the situation.' Wilson: 'We may be on borrowed time, Coney. You've had no luck finding Viller's Millions?' Coney: 'No, but too many of his old mob remember his bragging about it being hidden in that warehouse. It MUST be there!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of July, 2020. OK, yeah, but, like, Villiers was operating in the 30s. There was probably some candy bar named “Villiers’ Millions” and it was advertised as the combination bar that filled you up like a five-course dinner served to a member of the Sugar Trust. They sponsored Stoopnagle and Budd for three months in 1934.

Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.

Howdy gets some information from Bookworm, which might be a shout-out to the Adam West Batman. With that information he drives over to On The Fastrack and kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre. Howdy gives Dendrobia the ultimatum: get her boss (Rose Trellis) to let go of the warehouse and she gets Guy Wyre back.

And, the 9th of August, Sam Catchem meets up with Sleet. Catchem knew her back when she was a racketeer and paid $500 to kill him. So it’s nice they’ve gotten past that. What relevance it has to these proceedings is unknowable as of Sunday. (He was getting information about Wyre’s kidnappers.)

This catches you up to mid-August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020, or want what Dick Tracy news I come across, I may have something at this link. Thank you.

Next Week!

I look through a couple months’ worth of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, unfortunately still in reruns for the dailies. I believe at least some of the Sunday strips are new, but haven’t checked. I’ll let you know what I find.

And one last note. Over on my mathematics blog I’m spending the rest of the year explaining one mathematics term at a time. I’m leaving a lot of mathematics terms un-explained. But you might like what you see. Thanks for reading.

Statistics Saturday: King Kong, Perception vs Reality


King Kong perception: Tiny sliver: boring stuff in 30s nasal voices. Good-size wedge: Fay Wray tied to that giant wall. Enormous wedge: King Kong fighting airplanes atop the Empire State Building. Good-size wedge: Twas Beauty killed the Beast. King Kong Reality: one-third of the pie, 'OK the *characters* are racist but the *move* presents the Islands acting sensibly with respect and even sympathy for their needs and ... oh yeah, the Ship's Cook. Oof.' Nearly all the rest: 'King Kong fighting dinosaurs! Lots and lots of freaking dinosaurs!' Tiny wedge: 'Empire State Building, airplanes, Twas Beauty, Etc.'
Not pictured: that guy who falls in love with Fay Wray’s character and I guess she loves him back because even as you stare at him you focus on all the people with personalities around him.

Reference: Something New Under the Sun: satellites and the beginning of the Space Age, Helen Gavaghan. Bonus fun fact according to Gavaghan: for a while in the mid-50s rocket designers talked about something that could launch to earth orbit as an “LP rocket”.

A mystery of Brobdingnagian proportions


If you’re like me, again, a thing I don’t recommend, you were amazed to learn there was a movie version of Gulliver’s Travels back in 2010. Yeah! Starred Jack Black and, of course, James Corden and everything. Nobody cared about it, or went to see it, which is why even Jack Black and James Corden are learning about it right now, from this post.

Still, this entails a mystery. Logic tells us that there should have been, somewhere between 2015 and 2018, a somehow more indifferently received sequel. Its name should most likely be Gulliver’s 2ravels. It should star whoever’s the one-tier-lower versions of Jack Black and James Corden. I can find no evidence it exists, though. I’m not saying that all our troubles are caused by this unexplained gap in the popular culture. We should just see if maybe that’s a problem and if we could fix it.

Statistics Saturday: Days Of The Week The CBS Sunday Night Movie Has Been On


Day of Week Has Hosted the CBS Sunday Night movie?
Sunday Yes (1986-2006, 2020)
Monday No
Tuesday Yes (1972-74, 1986-2000)
Wednesday Yes (1977-81, 1986-2000)
Thursday Yes (1965-75)
Friday Yes (1966-77)
Saturday Yes (1981-86)

Not listed: the CBS Late Movie (1972-89) as it aired outside prime time and I didn’t want to list it.

Reference: Fantasia Mathematica, Clifton Fadiman, Editor.

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