Flintstones Mathematics


I don’t have very high expectations when I watch The Flintstones, or when I enjoy some of the show’s spinoff theme products, like the 1990s movies or the pinball machine based on the first one. Mostly the show’s existing is enough. But I have to have some standards. Now, here, from the bottom of the playfield from the pinball machine is an example of the Flintstones licensed theme product bothering me.

The play field shows off a 'Firerock' rock tire from Fred Flintstone's car.
Lower play field of The Flintstones pinball machine. Photographed by Casey Davis at the Internet Pinball Database.

I concede that not every Flintstones bit of rock-themed wordplay can be as natural or as smooth as naming celebrities “Stony Curtis” and “Ann-Margrock”. That’s an impossibly high standard. But I want them to be better than naming the place “Texarock”. “Texarock” is just a sad, sighing surrender from the idea of writing rock-themed wordplay. Anyway, look at the tire on the center of the pinball playfield: “Firerock”?

Of all the possible products to place in the movie they couldn’t get Firestone? Or worse, they did, and they screwed up the name? Either way, it’s a sad moment in this movie we didn’t really need.

Anyway, since I’m done grousing about that, over on my mathematics blog have been a couple of discussions of mathematically-themed comic strips, and if you haven’t read them already I’d be grateful if you did read them now. If you have read them already then I’ve got nothing to complain about. Except the Flintstones pinball machine, anyway.

Statistics Saturday on a Tuesday: February 2015’s Readership


And now for the most popular thing that I write and the inspiration for the Statistics Saturday posts: listing countries that sent me a noticeable number of readers in February 2015. The United States sent me the most, at 888, which intrigues me since the United States sent my mathematics blog 555. I have to wonder if the guy entering numbers into the WordPress statistics page couldn’t be bothered to move his finger to a different digit. He must have, I guess; Canada sent 43 readers, and Australia 32, which are still some pretty easy numbers to enter. Germany gave me 25 readers.

Sending me a single reader each were a bunch of countries: Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Iraq, Isle of Man, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Repeats from January were Isle of Man and Turkey, and nothing’s got a three-month streak going. My readership in India dropped from nine down to four, which drew my eye to notice that WordPress claimed I had four readers from the European Union, even though it also lists readers from countries that are part of the European Union, like the ten in Italy or the three in Austria. I don’t know what’s going on there.

The number of page views has continued its slight downward trend — from 1,251 in December to 1,071 in January to 1,046 in February. But I just have to cling to how February is such a short month that per-day things are looking pretty good: after 34.55 views per day in January, the average rose to 37.36 in February. That’s down still from December’s 40.35 but what am I going to do about that, write more popular stuff and market myself more effectively or something? Anyway, the month starts out with 14,628 total views of pages here, and this is five months in a row that there’ve been a thousand-plus views. I do like all that.

The number of viewers dropped — 626 in December, 553 in January, 505 in February. That’s also something where the shortness of February worked against me since January averaged 17.84 visitors per day and February 18.04. And yeah, December gets all smug about its 20.19, until it remembers how October (when I accidentally riled up a Kinks fan site) brought in 28.87. Anyway, thew views per visitor in February were 2.07, higher but probably not significantly higher than January’s 2.01 and December’s 2.00.

Something WordPress’s new statistics page does offer and that I like are that it lets me see how many comments and likes I got. In February there were 99 comments, up from 93 in January. And there were 345 likes, down from January’s 382, but there the shortness of the month doesn’t excuse anything. Sorry.

The most popular articles in February were:

  1. Wizardless, describing my failure at pinball league one night. By the way, I did see the Michigan state pinball championships that weekend, although I didn’t play in them, what with my not being good enough, as see the end of the previous sentence.
  2. What Came First? Plus, The Usual, in which I ponder something about the world of Funky Winkerbean not directly related to how the comic strip’s author, Tom Batiuk, hates his characters and his readers.
  3. A Grain Of Solace, in which my peaceful acceptance of not knowing how to pronounce “quinoa” was disrupted.
  4. Statistics Saturday: 2015, To Date, a pie chart of surprising popularity.
  5. And The Golden Moment, wherein the “quinoa” thread spun off to my discovering the location of the transcontinental railroad’s Golden Spike was a difficult and debatable mystery.
  6. Really, Though, Comic Strip _Momma_ Going Quite Mad, with three examples. Also there’s a picture of our pet rabbit.

Wizardless


I want to talk a little about playing pinball lately, and I know not everybody is even aware you can play pinball lately, what with it not being 1978 anymore, so let me bring folks up to speed. In the old days pinball machines were relatively sedate affairs: the backglass and playfield art would be a picture of, oh, whatever, wizards in space, or boaters being tormented by Neptune, or the background characters of Mary Worth singing. On the table there’d be a bunch of bumpers, which are the mushroom-shaped things you’d think would be called kickers that kick the ball around; and a pair of kickers, which are the triangular things above the flippers that you’d think would be called bumpers; and the flippers, which are just flippers; and a bunch of drop targets, which are the things you aim the ball at and that fall down when you hit them. And the rule set was pretty straightforward: the targets would be themed to either sets of playing cards or else pool balls, and you would try to knock them all down, and if you managed that, they popped back up and you try to knock them down again.

Then someone went and invented computers, and put them in pinball machines, and they also added ramps just too late for the people who made the Evel Kneivel pinball machine, and it all got complicated because the rules could change, giving you, like, eight seconds to shoot the world’s steepest, most inaccessible ramp ever, in exchange for 2.25 billion points. With scores that enormous being thrown around, of course, they had to get corporate sponsorship for their themes and so wizards playing 9-ball in a baseball park wouldn’t cut it anymore. These days a pinball machine is themed to a popular movie/TV show franchise, a comic book superhero, or a band, which is why pinball magnate Gary Stern has been polishing his Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park reboot script for years.

I should say that while pinball scores got kind of out of control back there in the 90s there’ve been efforts to rein them back in, so that a normal good score is only like tens of millions anymore. Some machines have been pretty serious about reducing the score, though: the current world record for The Wizard of Oz pinball is 4, although a guy playing in the Kentucky state championships this year has a new strategy he hypothesizes will let him score 6 or, if the table is generous about giving extra balls, maybe even 7. He’s daft.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I had a really good game of The Walking Dead, a pinball machine of such fantastic complexity that nobody knows what all the rules are. The leading theory is that there’s actually just a seed program inside that develops new rules on the fly, so that every time someone works out “OK, if I shoot the ramp three times something good happens”, it’ll suddenly change to, say, “you have to shoot the ramp four times after hitting the Creepy Zombie in the middle twice and identify which presidents George Clinton was vice-president for and maybe slip an extra quarter in the coin slot if you know what’s good for you”. But that one time, good grief, but I was hitting everything and starting modes that nobody even knew existed. I put together a score that was about what I would expect if you added together all my Walking Dead games for an eight-month period and put it together into one game.

So. The next league night, when we play for actual competitive points, I knew I was going to flop badly and yes, it happened. On the table Tales of the Arabian Nights I put up a score of 289,180, and trust me, your pinball friends are torn between laughing and thinking with horror of what if it happened to them. Arabian Nights dates to when scores were just starting to get out of hand, so it could have a theme as uncommercial as legends that have enchanted people for centuries, but still. People who walk past it without stopping to play routinely score 600,000, and people who put coins into other machines at the pinball venue — including the change machine or the machine selling gumballs — will often get a million points from Arabian Nights.

I didn’t just flop; I flopped epochally, like if the “Agony of Defeat” guy didn’t just stumble, but also burst into flames and smashed into Evel Kneivel’s rocket-sled on its way to draining. I honestly feel accomplished, and all set for the state championships this weekend.

My Appropriately-Sized Rhode Island Terror


I just knew going in that describing the size of Rhode Island in terms of football fields was going to be a popular one, because it just had that certain xkcd-ish nerdly panache to it, by combining geodesy, sports, and things that other things get compared to a lot even if you don’t really know or care much about the things. So I was happy about all that.

But, and I know this is ridiculous: I was deeply worried about whether I would get this right. I knew that by giving stuff that could be not obviously wrong numbers I was potentially arousing the powerful Worldwide Nerdly Precision League. This is a shadowy group, communicating primarily by means of pun cascades and posts that convert things — any old things: speeds, fuel economies, lists of Vice-Presidents of the United States with their pets — into stupid measurements like “furlongs per fortnight” all the while trying to troll others into correcting mistakes they pretend to make. Rouse them and they will hound you past death, trying to pin down whether you meant the London firkin or some other non-London yet nevertheless English firkin, such as the Bristol firkin, and they will not accept that you could care less, an expression that they’ll also debate with you.

So in my quest to get the measurement of Rhode Island right I discovered there are no two sources on the entire Internet that agree about how big Rhode Island is. A lot of them just round it off to the nearest ten miles, even though that risks rounding the state down to a slender twig blown about in the strong wind. Some of them give up altogether: Wikipedia just describes Rhode Island as being “larger than three elephants standing end to end, but not much. Not those elephants, a different three elephants”. Finally I gave up and found the United States Coast Guard’s Geographic Information Services depository and got a map of Rhode Island that if the Coast Guard is fine with I can live with. I trust the Coast Guard to keep track of Rhode Island even though it’d save them a lot of craggly little corners if they lopped off the whole island and went with those pretty straight borders on the east of Connecticut and south of Massachusetts instead. I guess that might risk their running a cutter or whatever they have into Quonset but the people of Quonset have dealt with worse. I imagine. They’ve done a lot of stuff, what with making huts and not being Woonsocket, I guess.

But this set off a new problem because the best GIS software I could find was QGIS, which is open source. Open source software is different from professional software because, when you want to get a piece of professional software, you download it and then run it. With open source software, you download it, and then discover that to run it you have to download something else. When you download that something else and try to run it, you find out you have to download some other thing. That other thing you can download, but to actually run it you have to resolve some package dependency issue. You Google for that and discover one StackOverflow page with somebody describing what sounds like your problem, except that when you describe your problem there’s antecedents and verbs and the sentences parse. It seems close enough, though, so you follow what you think is the best answer, as it’s the one in which all the sentences parse even though the paragraphs don’t, and the settings it describes aren’t exactly in your version of the software but some things described with imperfect synonyms are, even if none of them are under the described menu options, which are different anyway, that the StackOverflow answer says. This works, except that every time you start the program it pops up an alert box containing nothing but an exclamation point and three buttons marked “OK”, “Dismiss”, and “Cancel”, all of which do the same thing if you click them twice, which is to go away and let you use the program, except every now and then the software switches the typeface over to I’m going to guess Korean and you have to delete the preferences and start over. But it’s worth it because if you complain about it someone tells you to pitch in and help fix the problem instead of just complaining.

It was easiest to measure the lengths not at all because while you can turn on a grid to make measurements of stuff in QGIS, it’s open-source software, so while you can do pretty much anything, there’s no guessing how except that it won’t be anything like you learned from any other program you ever used, ever. But when I found how — it required three sherpas and a gyrocompass — it was easiest to measure the state in kilometers and I was going to accept that, because I could convert the size of a football field into meters and just do the stupid division like that. I finished all that and scheduled the article to be posted and went off to play pinball all day.

Except. Right about when the post was scheduled to appear I thought: did I convert “120 yards into meters”, or did I screw up and enter “120 feet into meters” instead? Did I make Rhode Island three times as big as it should be? Or worse did I somehow make it one-third its rightful size? I did my best to struggle on with making a shiny ball bounce against a diverse set of things a lot of times, but I kept thinking of how I’d get home to face dozens of comments from the New England Chapter of the Worldwide Nerdly Precision League, and I’d have to flee my home and move to some other country where they don’t play American football. And not a small country either, something that would take dozens of thousands — literally, scores of great grosses — of football fields cricket pitches to cross. I swear, I spent hours thinking I might just be an idiot for having come up with numbers like “1772” or “1999” or even “788”. At least the “4940” I was pretty sure about.

Anyway, mercifully, I got back home and checked my notes and it looks like I was wrong about being mistaken, and I had not messed up calculating this bit of nonsense. So there’s that. You’re welcome, all.

As I make it out by the way Rhode Island is about 86.4 kilometers east-to-west, about 97.5 kilometers north-to-south, and about 247 meters top to bottom because nobody’s told me about any part of the state that’s dry land but below sea level, so if you want to figure out what that is in terms of Canadian football fields or cricket pitches or pinball table sizes good luck.

How I Annoy Squirrels


We’ve got a bunch of planters around the yard, since this is a good way to get a little extra soil space for growing carrots or flowers or those slightly smelly plants that our pet rabbit likes to eat, and they turn out to be a little more fun as the early stages of fall set in because of the squirrels that hop into the planters, sniff around the soil, determine that it won’t do for their various squirrel-related needs, and hop off again to chase off other squirrels who’re also examining the planters.

This week with winter setting in abruptly — last night the xenon condensed out of the atmosphere, which would cover the land with a thin layer of a mysterious lavender film if we hadn’t sold off all the xenon rights to some mysterious Dutch pinball manufacturer years ago — and I had to go about moving the planters inside so the cycle of freezing and thawing that we dearly hope develops at some point this winter won’t go cracking them.

I knew this wouldn’t be popular with the squirrels, who were busy staring angrily at me through all this, but I didn’t realize the red squirrel was going to give me the “got my eyes on you” gesture. I kind of hope that all us humans look alike to the red squirrels so there’s only a one in seven billion chance he exacts his vengeance on me. (Or her vengeance. I suppose something like half of red squirrels have to be female.)

It’s Great Being Tall, In Case You Wondered


So we were at pinball league — not that one, the other one — when I reached up and plucked a can of soda out of thin air. “How did you do that?” my love demanded, as the soda was a surprise even though it was just a can of Diet Mountain Dew. Well, there’s these small shelves, a couple inches wide, running just below most of the ceiling at the pinball league’s location. All the taller people put their drinks up there, out of the way. “What is it like being tall?” my love wanted to know, and I don’t want to sugar-coat it: it’s pretty great.

There’s down sides, of course, like how you can’t be comfortable in an airline seat unless you gate-check your legs, but nobody’s been comfortable in an airline seat since 2007, when United started charging $25 per flight segment for “Double Plus Economy” seats in which flight attendants would not repeatedly batter passengers with bags of rocks. But otherwise, being tall is a great thing and I suppose it’s only fair to tell you about some of the privileges.

First, you’re never actually fat as long as you’re tall. Until five years ago I weighed about as much as the Principality of Andorra, but because I could peek down over top of the refrigerator, all that obesity did was make me look even bigger yet, since people could see me from so far away. When I started losing weight — I’d leave some in the junk drawer, some outside the garage for the squirrels to use as nesting material, some in the Weird-Sized Falling-Apart Books About Motorcycles section of the library — I got appreciably skinny, and yet that didn’t hurt my apparent tallness either. It just made me look more like a compass needle, the tallest of all the orienteering tools.

The next thing is you never have to play basketball again. If a social group starts talking about basketball of course they’ll look to you, as a tall person, as a ringer. You can just shake your head and wave them off, saying, “Oh, I’m no good, you should stick with people who can really play,” and everyone will assume you’re being self-effacing. If you stand firm on this they’ll suppose you’re more interested in their having a good sporting match between roughly equal teams. If they draft you into the game anyway you can do like me, standing around looking befuddled and thinking about rockets, and as long as you ever at any point touch the ball in any play that ever results in a score, you’ll get credit for being a good team player. You can’t lose except by actually participating, and showing that you can’t dribble without the ball somehow hitting your foot, your nose, and your car simultaneously. You didn’t even take your car to the basketball game. And yet — smile afterwards and you still look charming.

Tall people always get to influence society — George Washington was put in charge of the Continental Army because he was taller than anyone else in the room, and he finally won the Revolutionary War when qualified negotiators established King George III was shorter than him — but it’s not always in obvious ways. For example, as someone more than six foot two inches tall, every year I get to introduce two new phrases that become common sayings even though people don’t know quite what they’re supposed to mean. I’m not perfectly satisfied that I’ve got my late-2014 choice perfected just yet, but, what the heck, you’re friends, or at least readers. This time next year, when you realize you don’t even clearly remember life before everyone used the aphorism, “it’s as real as bowling”, know that’s one of mine. You’re welcome.

I shouldn’t say this, but I guess you know about taller people being able to see the tops of refrigerators. There’s a thriving zine culture of fascinating reading materials distributed exclusively on the tops of taller consumer appliances. I guess you could get a stool and examine them but I don’t think you’d appreciate the social mores quite well enough. Sorry.

In all, I’d say that given the choice between being tall and not, I recommend being tall, because it would hurt my knees to crouch around all day and even then I wouldn’t be all that not-tall.

Statistics Saturday On An October Day


So, now, September 2014: by pretty much all the reader-count-based measures there are this was my most successful month as a humor blogger. According to WordPress’s statistics page I had somewhere around 825 views from 467 unique visitors, which is well above August’s 682 views from 369 visitors. It’s also the first month I’m aware of where I had at least ten views every day, and for that matter, twenty views most days. I’m not sure what lead to this steady popularity, although I imagine part of it is I’ve felt like I’m writing at more ease lately. (Of course, this did come to an average of only 1.77 views per visitor, which is the lowest monthly average WordPress has for me, but we can’t have everything, can we?)

I got to my 8,691st reader this month. If I have another month like this, I should reach a good round 9,000 around mid-October.

The most popular articles the past month, and I’m glad to say they all had at least twenty views each, were:

In the ever-precious Nations of the World report, the United States once more sent me the overwhelming majority of my readers, 701, even though I try to use “humour” as an equally valid tag for my posts. I think that’s working, too, since the next-most-common sources of readers were the United Kingdom (33), Australia (19), and Canada (16), and I notice that India has consented to send me eight readers the past month, above even the six that I saw in August. That’s not as good per-capita as Brazil (eleven readers), although it does edge out Singapore which sent me no readers the past month, which kind of hurts since I know some folks from Singapore and follow them on Twitter and everything.

I have a bunch of single-reader countries this time around, though, among them: Albania, Barbados, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Mexico, the Russian Federation, and Turkey. None of them were single-reader countries in August.

As for search term poetry, nothing much this month either, I’m afraid. I do seem to be a destination for people searching for “compu-toon”, at least, and of course “can you enter a snail in the indy 500”. “What percentage of the world like saturdays?” captures my imagination, as does “percentage of pages taken up by each letter in a dictionary”, though, and I hope I was of use to the person looking for “what did twain title his story an awful ____ terible middvil romance”.

How The Pinball Machines Broke Down


This is, to the best of my ability to reconstruct, how the various pinball machines broke down during what proved to be Demolition Derby Night at the league.

  1. TOTAN. I would like to begin my defense by saying that I was acting properly with respect to normal operational use of this pinball machine. To wit, I was aiming at stuff and hitting the flippers and all that, while the machine wasn’t giving the correct response of very many points. One may speculate that the machine was just coming off a bad night, perhaps after quarreling with an old friend or getting bad news about its car’s brakes. But we must dismiss that hypothesis because it was certainly giving plenty of points to the other people playing in the group with me. Anyway when the left flipper stopped flipping, up, down, or sideways, that was that for Tales of the Arabian Nights.
  2. IJ. While it is true that I was not doing a lot better on Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure, I can’t take any blame for this machine going down because it was the league’s champion player, a kind of supernatural entity manifested whenever sufficiently many machines are brought together in the spirit of fair competition and $2.00 Pabst Blue Ribbon Night, who broke this one. During the “Well of Souls” mode, a portion of the game in which an estimated eighty balls are launched simultaneously on the playing field and you’re left to deal with that, at least one ball showed a previously unsuspected ability to stop being so-called “solid” matter and become some kind of Bose-Einstein Condensate, passing through the thick rubber bands and getting stuck inside that little triangular kicker that’s right above the flippers. I don’t want to seem ungrateful because seeing a ball stuck in such a freak position is a kind of privilege, but this does mean he’s taken the league’s crown for “balls stuck in freak positions”, which I had previously held by getting a ball stuck on the parapets of the castle on Medieval Madness.
  3. G: HS II. I’m completely innocent and uninvolved in this one because we were upstairs glaring at, oh, I’m going to guess The Simpsons Pinball Party, which was only broken in that it’s kind of a lousy game. But while we were there, Getaway: High Speed II‘s ball plunger suffered from a sudden onset of “impostor syndrome”, my age cohort’s great neurosis, and felt so ridiculous at the idea that it was expected to launch pinballs out onto the playing field that it couldn’t do that anymore and just hummed nervously. The curious side-effect of this was making its impostor syndrome no longer a syndrome, because it was right to believe it wasn’t up to the job it was doing.
  4. CQD. Old British telegraphic and wireless Morse Code distress signal, superseded in 1906 by SOS. Not in fact a pinball machine, although the way things were going that night, it was the best game of the lot and I came in eleventh. Passengers were unloaded onto the Aquitania and the ship ultimately towed to Halifax.
  5. FT. So I had this terrible first ball that drained instantly, which at least brought up the “fed up with briiIIIiick!” sound clip from the Father Ted pinball machine, and the second ball was no good either, and when I heard the “what do you say to an extra ball?” sound clip I was ready to swallow my pride at take the pity-award extra ball, and then someone who wasn’t even in the league came over and pointed out nobody ever made a Father Ted pinball machine and we had to scrap all the scores for that too, which is a shame because I’m almost positive I could have got Rabbit Rock Festival Multiball and that would have changed everything.
  6. WtCJ. My continuing insistance that there was too a pinball named Welcome to Cactus Jack’s, about an Old West saloon where cactuses polka dance, drains my credibility every time I bring the subject up and encourages speculation that my time in grad school was one of hallucinogens and eigenfunctions. I insist this is only partially true.

All things considered it was a pretty rough night.

And Featuring TV’s Frank As The Spirit Of Competition or Fair Play or Maybe Soccer


OK, so this is kind of a strange one, but if the dream world is any guide to go on there’s some big stuff going on. The first is soccer, which apparently is due for one of those big mega-spectacular events that makes people talk about how it’s just about to catch on in the United States, as if it were Doctor Who or health care or something. But this time it seemed to be working, as there was this enormous, sprawling hotel stuffed full of convention-goers getting into every aspect of soccer, from roleplay through cosplay through wait my spell checker has “cosplay” but not “roleplay” in its dictionary? Weeeeeeird.

Meanwhile my father had some kind of role going around the many, many bathrooms and renovating them, which was doing extremely well and extremely quickly, often removing the fixtures in the time between your entering the room and your getting to the fixtures. He’d lay down those really lavish carpets you see in bathrooms of people that make you wonder how they clean them, too, which I hope the hotel wanted. Anyway, he’d also rearrange the fixtures so well that they’d be completely unfindable. This might have been a warning by my subconscious that I shouldn’t have had that last can of Fresca before bed.

Still, the convention was coming to its end, and was giving way to people gathering all a-quiver with excitement for the Bablyon 5 marathon due to start any minute now. As TV stations gathered in anticipation but found it took longer than they predicted, so they cut away to criticizing the plan at the White House ballpark to drum up interest in pinball by lining up a string of machines along the third base line and letting folks play for free. “The place is way too hot and muggy,” critics said, and proved this by pointing to an abandoned lot in Queens.

Anyway with all the soccer-convention people bringing their whole families in there were skeptics, naturally. Frank Conniff was there to help, naturally, in an elaborate and heartfelt if confusing sketch showing the consequences of people not believing in soccer which gave to a doubting child joy at the idea of soccer, or maybe sporting events, or conventions, or whatever it was the sketch was exactly about. And I think to my final dreaming days I’ll remember him, in white gowns and waving a statue, smiling to the kid saying “Thank you, Spirit of Competition … or … Fair Play … or … Soccer” and his answering, “Yeah, just, whatever, kid.” And turning with a twinkle in his eye to head towards the elevator.

I don’t know what exactly it means, and of course I can’t speak for Frank Conniff, but I think he would likely agree that sports, Babylon 5, my father, hotels, and bathrooms are all things which exist.

Some Numbers for May 2014 (“14” Excluded)


Since Saturday was a day for statistics of general use, let me make this Sunday one for talking about how the blog is doing, and let’s never mind that it’s actually Monday according to the WordPress Server Clock because that’s getting too confusing.

I had my most popular month of all time in May: 571 page views, up from 396 in April, and pretty convincingly more than the previous record (468, in March). The number of unique visitors is up, too, from 167 in April to 186 in May, although that’s the fourth-highest number of unique visitors on record. It is by far the highest views-per-visitor ratio, 3.07, that I’ve had; it’s up from 2.37 last month. I also had my 5,983rd page view, so I missed the big six thousand just barely, for May. Ah well. At least I got it somewhere around the first of June, which is pretty neatly organized.

The most popular articles the past month were:

  1. Math Comics and Ziggy for some reason; it’s just pointing to mathematics comics and mentioning a Ziggy that mentioned Popeye.
  2. After Our Pet Rabbit Had A Day Outdoors, the stirring true story of the aftermath of letting him in the yard a little.
  3. Math Comics Without Equations, which is an even more mysterious entry because it’s from January and it’s again just a pointer to the mathematics blog.
  4. Five Astounding Facts About Turbo, That Movie About A Snail in The Indianapolis 500, of course. Hey, are they having the Indianapolis 500 this year?
  5. Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … I Don’t Even Know, the engagingly deranged story which the late game designer Python Anghelo (best known for Joust) dreamed up for, alas, one of the least interesting pinballs of the mid-90s.
  6. About the Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame, which I just really like myself, so I’m glad it’s well-received here.

The countries sending me the most readers the past month were the United States (478), Canada (15), and the United Kingdom (10). Just a single reader each came from Cyprus, Finland, India, Italy, Slovakia, and Spain. Fewer countries sent me a single reader each last month, but Italy and Spain were among them.

Among search terms that brought people to me:

  • socrates chewed gum
  • meaningless awards
  • chase nebus
  • comic strip “unstrange phenomena”
  • s j perelman counter revolution

Good luck, whoever was looking for things.

Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … I Don’t Even Know


The 1994 pinball game _Popeye Saves The Earth_, as photographed by Allen Shope at the Internet Pinball Database.

Popeye Saves The Earth was a pretty mediocre 1994 pinball game designed by Python Anghelo, the famous game designer behind Joust, one of the leading early 80s video games about bludgeoning people with ostriches. Recently I acquired a document purporting to be Anghelo’s proposed theme for this pinball through the elaborate process of looking up the game on the Pinball database. It’s a mere nine-page document and yet it’s the most wonderfully deranged Popeye-related thing I’ve seen in weeks. I recommend you read the whole thing, so let me share the good parts, so you can go on to be disappointed.

Anghelo observes that based on King Features’ strips it “became very obvious to me that Popeye The Sailor has not kept up with the times”. This is true. After a long and successful run, Popeye left pop culture after 1985, when creation of the Fox Network meant there weren’t independent TV stations running two-hour cartoon blocks of his work anymore, and he hasn’t been let back in since. How does Anghelo set up a new adventure for the sailor man?

He sets Popeye as 50, comfortable and bored, watching “the Simpsons, reruns of the Flintstones”, even Mickey Mouse, as we all did in the early 90s, but “consuming too much spinach brew”. Olive Oyl is his “still faithful wife”, tending one of the world’s largest seashell collections, and Swee’Pea is in his early 30s, having retired as a Navy pilot and facing the tough job market by considering a degree in astrophysics, which has always been a license to print money. Bluto’s now an oil tycoon, despite a recent oil spill, and “The Sea Hag runs and owns a Japanese/Norwegian fishing fleet that kills whales [and] porpoises”. I kind of appreciate a multinational just being open about it. I imagine its Chief Financial Officer appearing on CNBC — no Indiegogo for an outfit this organized — to say, “Hi. I’m Jeanene Evil. Give us money and we will kill whales.”

Anyway, Popeye goes fishing and finds nothing but plastic bags, tires, styrofoam cups and all that. Olive, seashell-hunting, gets gobs of tar from Bluto’s oil spill all over her feet, tangled in a drift net, and “stung by a discarded syringe that washed up on the beach”, because if you’re playing pinball, it’s because you want to see a tarballed, net-stuck Olive Oyl jabbed by a discarded syringe. Popeye heads to the United States for some answers, and finds pollution in New York harbor, a devastated shrimping industry in New Orleans, and depleted tuna stocks in Los Angeles, and sees Jacques Cousteau, Diane Fosse, Carl Sagan, Peter Moyers, and Greenpeace calling for a stop to the insanity, so, he calls in some favors from Vice-President Al Gore, sells the rights to show Popeye cartoons in 1994 for enough scratch to buy Howard Hughes’s Glomar Explorer (“the biggest ship on Earth”), and mounts it atop eight shuttle boosters as Popeye’s Ark 2000. I should warn you, from here the proposed backstory for this pinball game gets a little nutty.

So Popeye goes to all the continents, gathering, for example, from North America two buffalos, two bald eagles, two chipmunks, two manatees, “and the last 2 condors in existence”, which makes him sound like kind of a jerk, because we might need those chipmunks. Somehow, Popeye’s plan to launch chipmunks into outer space on the Glomar Explorer is “heavily ridiculed”, but Popeye answers everyone’s doubts “in an extraordinary two-hour telecast underwritten by Texas billionaire Ross Perot”, because the one thing that absolutely shuts down widespread ridicule of an insane plan is the timely intervention of any billionaire Texan. Also they blast off right away.

Popeye “heads for Saturn — the biggest planet in the solar system, and enters its orbit to use as a sling out of the solar system”, which suggests that despite his game-design prowess Anghelo had only a layman’s understanding of orbital dynamics and couldn’t develop it into something realistic. That or maybe Jupiter was stolen by a space chipmunk? I don’t know.

As the good Professor Holkus-Polkus warned Popeye “over Spinach Schnopps”, out past Pluto the Ark enters a “terrible river of space storms … a spatial gulfstream of whitewater rivers that flow between solar systems and galaxies”, so soon, Popeye’s Ark “travels in one week to places that comets and pulsars travel in 100 billion light years”, which is pretty good for the Glomar Explorer weighted down by manatees and chipmunks.

On the 99th planet they set down, in one of the ten seas, to discover the planet stinks. The leader has “three eyes, a huge mouth, and no nose. Popeye notices no one has noses, or a sense of smell! The planet is Odorsphera”, and as people who have noses and visit Odorsphera suffer and die “from unknown causes”, the inhabitants helpfully kill them first. Rather than have his nose chopped off Popeye relaunches into space, with a pair of three-eyed tarantulas as a gift.

From here Anghelo’s proposal gets a little sketchy, suggesting the exact play of this pinball game hadn’t quite been worked out. On the next planet, the King is spotted on the front, striped on the back, and everyone is either spotted or striped, while Popeye and his crew are neither and so feel the eye of striped/spotted-on-plain prejudice. “Next planet — red planet — everything red”, which tries to bridge the gap between innovative pinball design and haiku.

Next, at the top of page eight, comes a paragraph I must quote in its entirety:

Alternative planet — unisex — gay — do not want pairs of heterosexuals. Jeremy, explore this one.

I do not know what Jeremy discovered. I imagine that if I were Jeremy, my report on exploring this one would have been, “We’re trying to design a pinball game based on Popeye”, with maybe a mention that Popeye’s traditional strengths have been more in the fields of “sailing” and “eating spinach” and “punching things” and less in “chipmunk-bearing spaceflights to Unisex Gay World”.

Other planets include Canibalia, where animals are extinct and higher mental beings use lower mental beings as servants and protein; one with a “high society of animals — eagles” that don’t allow people; “no water planet, 3 moon planet, female planet, planet with 2 suns — never nighttime” and the admonition, “Jeremy, go crazy with these”. Were I Jeremy, my response would be: “Go?”

Anghelo’s proposed pinball narrative goes on to note Popeye’s been travelling too long, the animals are multiplying, the ship needs repair and, oh, yes, “Somehow incorporate Bluto and Sea Hag in the ship’s adventures”.

So, the game would have Popeye “leave the cosmic river and return on a cosmic shortcut through the Pavronian system of interstellar gaseous storms” back to Earth, a polluted, oily, cloudy Odorsphera-like planet with no animals and widespread death, disease, and cannibalism among surviving humanity, which really captures the heart of both Popeye and pinball. The animals are released back into their natural habitats, where they had been taken from before all their species were extinct in the wild, “and there is great joy!”, naturally.

I admit this is staggering, and I can even kind of see where elements of this might have made it into the final produced machine, which folks managed to play nearly two-thirds of a game on before finding it was too dull to continue. But it’s also impressively wild, and I have to wonder what the backstory is like for his other games, specifically, Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Ball.

Also, somewhere in the multiverse, someone — I’m thinking maybe even Jeff Wayne — has turned this outline into a prog-rock opera, and I’d like to see the album art Roger Dean made for it.

Statistics Saturday: Hi, Dad


After a little chat with my father not related to his appearance in dreams of warning, I’d like to include a couple of numbers for Statistics Saturday or Sunday or Whatever which relate to him and to the humor blog posts from this month.

  • Number Of Entries That My Dad Thinks Were Funny He Guesses Though He Didn’t Understand Them: 4.
  • Number Of Entries That My Dad Didn’t Notice But Is Sure He’d Think Were Great: 6. (Thank you!)
  • Black Knight 2000 Lightning Wheel: 200,000 points.
  • Number Of Entries About The Scary Problem In The Basement I Needed My Dad’s Advice On Fixing: 0.
  • Number Of Things I’ve Done To Fix That Scary Problem In The Basement: 1, if going to the hardware store counts.
  • Number With No Particular Connection To My Dad: 2,038.
  • Number Of Times I Realize I Ought To Call My Dad In-Between Times I Actually Do: Like 8 or something embarrassing like that.
  • Year When My Father Revealed To Me That “I’m Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover” Wasn’t A Little Ditty Bugs Bunny Just Made Up: 1979.
  • Number Of Times Out Of Ten That My Father Refers To It As “Ruptures” Instead Of “Rutgers”: 6.
  • Runs Batted In: 26.

It’s The 70s, So Sure, Pinball Can Be A Game Show


Now that I’ve seen an episode of The Magnificent Marble Machine I know finally what Sid and Marty Krofft’s Password Plus would have been like.

I like how the game show really captures the essence of what makes pinball great: sluggish play by a pair of amateurs on giant board with a handful of targets, for up to a whole sixty seconds, that you get to only after twenty minutes of puttering around watching people try to guess whether “President’s Pad” might be a clue to naming “The White House”.

Now I’m sure the world feels better that I’ve made fun of a forgotten short-lived mid-70s game show. At least the world except the people who made it in the first place, so, I’m sorry about that.