105 Minutes Of Your Life You Won’t Get Back, Unlike Any Other 105 Minutes Somehow?


So the overhead business is that my mathematics blog had another comic-strip-review day. No pictures, but you can get to places with pictures over there. That’s something, right?

In other news, my love was directed to a pinball podcast from 2007. It features something like an interview with Python Anghelo, crazypants designer behind video games like Joust and pinball games like Popeye Saves The Earth, the game with the most intense backstory ever when you consider a Popeye pinball game really just needs to set up stuff that he can then punch.

The interview is enlightening because it tells me what it would be like to interview a Dr Bronner’s Soap Label that had gone into game design. I think the host asks two, many three question, one of which gets answered, and then just lets Anghelo talk. Here’s the specific episode, TOPcast show 42 from the 1st of July, 2007. In at least one point Anghelo seems to suggest he composed poems for guidance for his game concepts, and I don’t know of any of them which have come to light, but the poem for the cancelled Zingy Bingy must have been to die for. Or to kill your game division for.

For those who somehow don’t know the big names of 80s/90s pinball design: there were a bunch of big names in 80s/90s pinball design. Don’t worry about who’s who. Zingy Bingy was a concept for making an “adult” pinball game. According to legend it featured things like flippers that were shaped to resemble a part of the male anatomy which was not fingers and which could under the right circumstances grow. Also according to legend the project went on until an actual grownup at headquarters heard this was going on. That covers the essential background. Go, enjoy listening, and pause anytime you start feeling dizzy.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose two points before trading was suspended in order that everyone could make valentines to give to all the other traders, thank you. Also to wonder about people who complain that they make kids give valentines to everybody else in class these days because they’re all pretty sure that’s the way it was done back when they were kids too, and it’s not like it was any hassle back then.

103

Meanwhile In Cyborg Spinach News


While we were all busy with whatever it was keeps us busy BBC News had this article: ‘Bionic’ plants can detect explosives. And while all we children of the 70s are thinking of a field of grain waving in extremely slow motion while that na-na-na-na-nanananana sound effect somehow suggests … speed or strength or something the lede tops us:

Scientists have transformed the humble spinach plant into a bomb detector.

I bet they’ve also made it not so humble either. I can picture spinach plants now calling out to other plants in the area. “Yo, eggplant over there, you ever save lives and protect property? Huh, how about that. Hey, broccoli! You ever detect a bomb? I thought not! Ooh, you sprig of lemon balm! You — oh, wait, never mind,” it says, falling back, as it remembers lemon balm’s courageous service for spinach’s father in the Clome Oven Wars. So it’s not completely full of itself. But it’s lost a certain natural humility too.

Researchers said they meant this as a proof of concept, that concept being that they can now get lunch to message their iPhones. This could see a future in which the whole process is fully automated and none of us have to interact with the salad courses ever again. Should be a great future we’re making somehow.

Here is the necessary link to that crazypants Popeye pinball game backstory. You’re welcome.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose four points, bringing it back to the 100 that it started at so very long ago. Now traders are split on whether they should call the whole thing off as a near catastrophe narrowly averted or whether the whole sub-100-era should be written off as a learning experience and they’ll do much better now. Ah, but imagine if we were able to learn from experience. What would be totally different, wouldn’t it?

100

Coming Soon To Meridian Mall


Sign on an empty storefront: 'FunShop X-treme: Coming Soon To Meridian Mall'. There's a reflection of me broken up by the division of panes of glass so it kind of looks a little like I have a third leg, if you don't know how reflections work.
Photograph taken by me, using my iPod on one of those peculiar days when I had three legs. It’s surprisingly easy to get used to, as my only actual dance style is to shuffle one way and then the other, following the patterns of the WiiFit Step Aerobics dance, and for that it doesn’t really matter what the extra leg is doing.

It’s the X-Treme nature of this that makes it so thrilling! While it’s too soon to say for sure what’s coming, my guess is “1997”.

And as usual for the day before Monday I talked about comic strips over on my mathematics blog. It’s friendly territory. I say something nice about Ernie Bushmiller’s art, the way everybody says nice things about Ernie Bushmiller’s art.

(The Meridian Mall is my favorite place to buy a dime’s worth of longitude.)

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile Index rose five points over the course of the day, owing to traders being undecided whether it should rise ten points or whether it should just stay right where it was since that had been working out so well for everyone. They compromised and everyone thought that a great idea except for the one who thought it should have just risen five points in the first place, and complained everyone stole her idea.

135

Statistics Saturday: Seven ‘Kabibble Kabaret’ Exchanges That Are Not Actually Jokes


I can’t help it. They’re awful and yet compelling for some reason. I’m sorry, so very sorry. Dates are when the vintage Thimble Theatre reprint with the Kabaret exchange appeared on ComicsKingdom.com which you should totally subscribe to if you like comics at all. The vintage strips alone are worth the price.

  1. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Is music the food of lovers? — Z.V.
    I know a lot of couples that are on a more than eighteen day diet. (17 June)


  2. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Do you know what love is? — T.V.
    No — but I was kicked by a mule once! (24 June)


  3. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Does a jilted lover really die of a broken heart? — L.R.
    I do not care to discuss the movies (5 July)


  4. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Shall I propose marriage to a girl I know only for a week? — T.G.
    If she remembers you, I think it O.K. (7 July)


  5. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Do women like men who ignore them? — L.R.
    You can’t ignore that kind, brother. (8 July)


  6. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    What do you think of husbands who go on vacations without their wives?
    Why, then, think of the husbands (16 July)


  7. Dear Mr Kabibble,
    Why do lovers always quarrel? — L.R.
    Can you imagine what they could do with a reason? (21 July)


L.R. has a lot of problems.

(You can nearly correctly suppose everything else parsed as a joke, specifically, “wives they so awful amirite fellas”. Honest. If you were trying to do a bit about hacky, misogynistic comedy of 1930 you wouldn’t imagine boldly enough to get at some of that stuff.)

Something For Fans Of Bad Stuff


Comics Kingdom runs a bunch of vintage comic strips. Among them they’ve got the original, 1930-era Thimble Theater. That’s from the time when Elzie Segar introduced Popeye to his comic strip. The current storyline is the one during which Popeye really took over. He’s going up against the Sea Hag, that’s just all about Popeye. None of the former cast is ever going to be the protagonist again.

Thing is, the last couple weeks, they’ve been running something extra. Whatever source Comics Kingdom has for the daily strips has included a weird little extra. It’s billed “Kabibble Kabaret — By Hershfield”. It’s from humorist Harry Hershfield, who created the ancient comic strip Abie the Agent and who apparently ran this in Chicago papers in 1922, and New York City newspapers from 1926 to 1935. And this little panel, a quick little daily joke, is exquisitely bad.

They’re mostly hacky, ancient jokes about what an awful thing marriage, like:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do couples profit by their mistakes? – J.J.Z.

No = LAWYERS

Some are almost incomprehensible anymore, like this one originally from the 8th of January, 1930:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do women like cavemen? – N.Z.

Most men are afraid to prove it

What Hershfield and the totally non-made-up N.Z. are getting at is this old idea of the different types of seductive men. One of the types was the forceful-brute-caveman type. I know this because I like silent movies and there’s a streak of comedies wherein, like, Harold Lloyd has a fantasy of dressing up like Fred Flintstone and dragging off a Jobyna Ralston-class actor. It’s solidly funny because, well, Harold Lloyd could be funny putting on his glasses. Here, well, it’s just weird. Lloyd probably should’ve used it on a Nola Dolberg type instead.

In the main feature, among other stuff, a cop that's lost at sea with Popeye declares, 'Well, blow me down!' And Popeye says, 'Quit stealin' me stuff - ya ain't no sailor.' In the Kabibble Kabaret, 'Dear Mr Kabibble, Shall I leave my husband while he's rich? - K.V.. Answer: That will make him the world's richest man.' Yeah.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre and Abe Hershield’s Kabibble Kabaret for the 14th of January, 1930, rerun the 27th of June, 2016. Putting aside everything else, it’s pretty great that Popeye has been in the comic strip not quite a year at this point and in the third panel he has to tell the cop to stop stealing his lines. It’s neat seeing how modern-meta they could be back when you didn’t know how much they did that. (Sad to say the cop seems to be dropped after this story. He’d be the most interesting character in Thimble Theatre if he didn’t have the bad luck to be up against Popeye. You have to feel for him. It’s like being stuck in Wings with Paul McCartney sucking up all the oxygen.)

I have been cutting down on how much stuff I read for its ironic value. Too much snark is a bad thing for the soul. But this — this really hits some magic combination. The jokes are escapees from Fred Allen’s Graveyard of Dead Jokes. The social mores have shifted enough it’s hard to get why many of them are supposed to even parse as jokes. And they’re told so compactly that rather than having telegraphic snap they read almost like gibberish. Take this:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Shall I give my husband a lecture when he comes home late? – T.R.

He probably came from one — they go on for days sometimes

It’s like they’re designing this specifically for me to find it compelling.

And I will admit there’s a couple salvageable jokes there, or ones that I can imagine working with the right delivery. And the occasional one that I think just works as it is, eg:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Is love what it used to be? – N.K.

Why, what was it?

Still, though, overall. Wow.

On Things You Can Touch Or Punch


I was with a friend at the local hipster bar. I mean my local hipster bar. We weren’t anywhere near his. I know I talk about it a lot as the local hipster bar, but please understand. Their new logo is a rendition of their raccoon puppet, holding a couple of fireworks and a can of beer that’s labelled “Ham”. It’s a fine place and they’ve started having glazed-pottery nights.

My friend got to mentioning something or other coming up, and how he hoped it would go, knock wood. And he knocked on the bar. To this extent all seems well. I’m pretty sure the bar is wood and his knocking was in fine mid-season form. He carried off the knocking with no injuries and no dryads left stranded on base.

It got me thinking about the custom of knocking wood. It’s a good-luck gesture. It’s supposed to work by getting the attention of the wood-spirits who overheard you. You can see why that would work. Gumans drawing the attention of supernatural spirits has worked out well for the human according to every legend ever. “Well,” say many humans in these legends, “drawing the attention of that naiad or whatever it was sure has cured my problem of not being turned into a grasshopper!” Or else, “I used to think there was no way I would wake up chained every morning to be torn apart by hyenas. Then I stumbled into that pooka drinking party!” “I didn’t ever used to have a ferocious lightning-beast living in my belly button. But then thank goodness I fell through the wall of that Shinto shrine!”

Still, apparently the knocking of wood does help, if we can take any guidance from how rarely people at hipster bars get their eyes dipped in magic nectar so they can see the fairy creatures and then have their eyes gouged out so they can’t see the fairy creatures anymore. It did get me to thinking about one of those little cross-cultural differences. The English, I understand, merely touch wood, tapping the nearest piece lightly, rather than rapping sharply on it.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a dryad. And I couldn’t find any to interview before deadline. I have to think if I were one, though, I’d be more inclined to do favors for someone who tapped me rather than knocked on me. It’s got me wondering about the cultural differences. Why should Americans figure the best way to get a magic spirit to do what you want, or at least leave you alone, involves punching it?

Well, because Americans are good at punching, I admit. Look at the great legendary figures of 20th Century American Culture: Popeye, Superman, Dwight Eisenhower, Muhammad Ali, Mary Richards. They’re all people who punch through problems. Even Captain Kirk only used his phasers when he couldn’t punch for some reason. And they’re all pretty successful so maybe they have something with their punch-based plans.

At least they look successful. But, like, if you watch the cartoons Popeye gets shipwrecked a lot. Probably that’s because he has more chances at shipwreck than the average person. Someone in, say, Havre, Montana, who never enters a body of water bigger than a coin fountain might expect to be shipwrecked only eight times in her life. Popeye must run a higher risk. Still, you have to wonder about if he shouldn’t pass up on sailing in favor of a punching-based lifestyle.

But punching is a cherished part of American culture. One of the leading myths of the early 19th Century Mississippi River valley was of Mike Fink, a bombastic, tough-talking, hyperactive bully who spent his time punching, shooting, or punch-shooting (punching with a gun) everything he could find, especially if it wasn’t a white male. His friends explained he was really a great guy, just you had to understand his point of view, before he punch-shot you. But that’s what friends of sociopaths always say so that they don’t get punch-shot-punched next.

I can’t draw any big conclusions about British touching and Americans knocking wood, though. Most of the differences between British and American cultures were invented by the Tourism Boards in 1958, so that people could share stories of how different things were on their vacations. I’ll bet any number of British people who don’t care about tourists knock wood whenever they feel like.

It still seems risky. I’d stick with touching, or if it wouldn’t be redundant buying the wood-spirits a round. Culture is a complicated thing.

Oh Yeah, The Katzenjammer Kids Ended Nine Years Ago And Nobody Noticed Until Now


Back when the first rumors of Apartment 3-G‘s cancellation came I wrote that King Features pays someone (Hy Eisman) to draw The Katzenjammer Kids, which “can only make sense as a point of pride”. It’s the longest-running syndicated comic strip, originally created in 1897 by Rudolph Dirks. In its day it had many imitators and, following a creators-rights dispute, a long-running duplicate strip The Captain And The Kids also created by Dirks. Its popularity has declined, certainly, what with Dutch humor taking some serious hits from the sinking of the General Slocum and the end of vaudeville and the World Wars and all that. But it was still there, logging in one new Sunday strip a week for an alleged fifty newspapers worldwide. A distribution of “about fifty newspapers” is what they claim about any strip that nobody has found in actual newspapers in living memory.

And then a couple weeks ago, in the wake of 3-G‘s sad end, rec.arts.comics.strips maven D.D.Degg — who tracks the start and end dates of comic strips — noticed something. King Features Weekly Services, which had distributed the comic strip, no longer listed it. Degg’s searches through feature directories found that in 2015 the strip was listed as “reprints only”. The 2013 directory didn’t say anything about it being reruns only. This naturally led to the question: when was the last new Katzenjammer Kids published?

The Captain writes out his New Year's resolutions: fixing the roof, getting more exercise, all that. Momma points out he resolved them each of the last five years too.
Hy Eisman’s Katzenjammer Kids for the 1st of January, 2006. Probably the last new New Year’s comic strip for the venerable but not actually read comic strip. Yes, I get the dramatic irony in it being about repeating New Year’s resolutions.

Eventually, Michael Tisserand with The Comics Journal did the ridiculous and contacted Hy Eisman. Eisman reported (says Degg of what Tisserand said) that the last Katzenjammer Kids comic he drew was in 2006. Nobody has been able to find any publicity or news attention given to the longest-running comic strip going into reruns. But Degg did discover that King Features mentioned right there in its 100th Anniversary supplement to the newspapers that the comic strip ended in 2006.

If I can work out, or find someone who has worked out, when exactly the new strips ended I’ll pass that on. (Comics Kingdom’s web site includes the strip going back to October of 1998 and there might be a hint in the copyright notices.) Or I’ll just wait and freeload on Degg’s work. Eisman is still, reportedly, drawing new Popeye strips for Sundays. But it does strike me that in 2008 the Sunday Popeye strips dropped a storyline in which Wimpy was running for Mayor without resolution. And his maybe running for Mayor was mentioned again in 2012. I haven’t caught an exact rerun yet, but now there’s reason to be wary.

A Note To My Seven-Year-Old Self, Who Can’t Even Recognize Me


Hi. OK, yes, it’s a week and a half after Thanksgiving and the only leftovers we have left are pies. Two kinds of pie. No, it’s really me. I swear. There’s good reason that we have pie left over that long: we didn’t eat so much pie as we figured. No, I swear, it’s me. Um.

No, I am not now the astronaut who draws Popeye. Well. Yeah, see, it turns out that drawing Popeye is a bad use of astronaut time. And astronaut work is a bad use of Popeye-drawer time, too. No, I swear to you, this really is me. Um. Well, no, I’m not an astronaut. They don’t need a lot of astronauts and I went through my 20s and 30s weighing like three times what an astronaut should. No, I don’t draw Popeye either. They don’t need him drawn so much these days either.

Well, there is good stuff, like, I’ve had pizza with the guy who plays Father Guido Sarducci. Who you don’t know, but trust me, in a couple years you’re going to be impressed by that. Oh, Dad knows who that is. He’ll think it’s neat. Anyway, uh. Hey, you know, it’s okay sometimes to eat only one bagel, instead of two or three, even though it’s so much harder to stop eating bagels. Also every movie or TV show about a circus is going to disappoint you because they’re all about how the circus can’t pay its mortgage. The people who make movies honestly believe that people fantasize about being part of a circus with money problems. Nobody knows what’s wrong with movie makers.

We’ll probably have the pie finished off in a day or two. No, none of them are minced meat pie.

Caption This! Contests On The Starship Enterprise


Troi, Riker, and O'Brien are sitting up on the beds in sickbay. That's most of the action.
The 24th Century enjoys a great number of medical advances, but the one that makes the biggest difference is they have shiny blankets.

Troi, Riker, and O’Brien rehearse for the deciding round of this year’s Sit Like Kermit The Frog Contest.


Right caption? Wrong caption ? Let me know if you’ve got a better. Also, my mathematics blog talks more about comic strips, and you’d be stunned how quickly I’m able to get from a Popeye strip into demon-summoning!

Popeye On Another Roller Coaster


Amusement parks are great places for cartoons. By definition an amusement park is the sort of strange, surreal place where anything might happen. And a cartoon is a way we represent the potential for reality, without losing the sense that something else might happen yet.

Popeye would go back to amusement parks several times. Surprisingly few times, I’d say, given the potential for Popeye to show off his superhuman prowess, and for the ability of an amusement park to provide any setting or prop useful. But for this week let me share Abusement Park. This was originally released to theaters the 25th of April, 1947, so it’s more nearly seasonally appropriate than King of the Mardis Gras, despite its other shortcomings.

The biggest shortcoming is that Jack Mercer doesn’t act in it. Mercer was the voice of Popeye most of the time from 1935 up to his death in 1984. But there were exceptions, such as a streak from 1945 to 1947 when he was, if I’m not mistaken, in the Army. In this cartoon Harry Foster Welch voices Popeye. Welch performed for most of 1945-to-1947. Abusement Park happens to be the last time he performed the character. His isn’t a bad voice, and he plays Popeye reasonably well, I think. It’s just hard escaping the most common performance.

The plot’s also a bit weaker than King of the Mardis Gras, I think because the earlier cartoon presents Popeye and Bluto trying to appeal to a whole audience, rather than attending just to Olive Oyl. There’s somehow a difference in trying to draw a crowd to trying to win a single woman’s attention. Also, and I admit this is a silly thing, but it has always bothered me, since childhood, that Popeye blows into a telephone and explodes a lighthouse. It’s not that I don’t think he could do it. It’s just such a jerk move. Sometimes the parts of the cartoons where Popeye shows off his strength forget that he’s also supposed to be nice.

As before the action ends on a roller coaster, an impressively gigantic one. While the action runs nicely wild — if you’re not satisfied with a battle fought in midair along a chain of elephants we just don’t have anything in common — Famous Studios doesn’t make use of the 3-D settings the Fleischer Studios did. I wonder if they even had the equipment anymore. There aren’t the wonderful and hypnotic movements along the course of the roller coaster track, where all those structural supports move in perspective. The roller coaster itself gets panning shots, or gets shunted off-camera fast enough. It doesn’t look bad, mind you. But it’s hard not to conclude the animation for this roller coaster sequence was a lot less trying than that for King of the Mardis Gras. The chipping away at budgets and animation and effort that would make 1950s Famous Studio cartoons such a chore weren’t bad yet, but they were coming.

Popeye is the King of the Mardi Gras


I want to do some more amusement park/boardwalk shorts for July. I’m not aiming exclusively at cartoons, but they do offer some great examples of amusement park action. Probably that’s because they can actually be as wildly out of control as amusement park cartoons like to present themselves as being. (Of course, a cartoon is a thoroughly controlled medium. A real actor can ad-lib a facial expression or a bit of movement that even the best cartoon can’t. Freedom and control are weirdly entwined concepts.)

The Popeye cartoon King of the Mardi Gras was released the 27th of September, 1935. Really, what is the better time to watch a cartoon with Mardi Gras in the title and its catchy recurring song than six months after Mardi Gras? Or, for that matter, to watch a cartoon that says it’s happening at Coney Island than a month after the end of summer? I’m not sure they understood calendars back then.

Anyway. It’s a black-and-white Popeye cartoon, so you know already it’s almost certainly worth the watching. Wikipedia asserts this to be the first time Popeye’s voiced by Jack Mercer. Mercer would be the default voice for Popeye until 1980. There’d be a few substitutions, mostly while Mercer was in the Army. But whether Fleischer Studios, Famous Studios, King Features Syndicate, or Hanna-Barbera, Mercer would be the default voice. Even in this first appearance he’s got the voice down. The performance doesn’t have to change much to be right.

The plot’s got a nice natural build, with Bluto and Popeye taking turns out-doing one another’s stunts. It gives Bluto maybe the best line, too, the wail of everyone who’s tried to make a living as an artist on the Internet: “Don’t anyone want to see a man choked to death — free?”

Since the cartoon dates to 1935, the Fleischers make use of some live-action backgrounds, for a wonderful three-dimensional rendering of the amusement park. It’s gorgeous. And it’s almost a touchstone for roller coaster history, too.

At about the 40-second mark there’s a view of a roller coaster with a loop. That’s a curious choice. There were no loops on roller coasters in the 1930s. There were a handful of roller coasters that did loops made before about 1910, most of them with names like “Flip Flap Railway” or “Loop the Loop”. But these weren’t terribly successful. They didn’t carry many passengers per hour, and they weren’t very good rides, by accounts. These Loop the Loops were built before the innovation of “upstop wheels”. Those are the sets of wheels that clamp roller coaster cars to the top and bottom of the tracks. That keeps the car secured tightly to the track. Without those, though, a Flip Flap car would have to stick to the track by going so fast it couldn’t possibly drop off the loop. The result is the ride has to be not much except one small, tight, neck-breaking loop. So after a few seasons of this, the rides quietly disappeared before World War I.

In the 1970s new roller coasters, mostly using steel tracks, would make loops that could be more graceful, and less painful. As a result loops have almost become the default element of a roller coaster ride after the first drop. Sometimes before.

In the climax, Bluto runs off with Olive to a ride billed as a “Thrill Ride Scenic Railway”. “Scenic Railway” is indeed an old name for roller coasters. This normally connotes a ride that’s slower and less thrilling, but that takes one past tableaus of, well, scenery. There are few of those left, especially with scenery still intact. The only one the Roller Coaster Database lists as still operating is The Great Scenic Railway in Luna Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. There’s another at the recently-reopened Dreamland in Margate, Kent, United Kingdom, but it’s not yet opened. That’s a real pity, as that roller coaster dates to before automatic braking. A railroad brakeman has to ride with the car and slow it at the right moment. Imagine!

At about 7:26 there’s a fun sequence on the Scenic Railway where the track rolls a bit side to side, one side of the track going higher than the other. That’s a fun ride element known as “trick track”. It was popular in the 1920s, but faded out of use after that. The only roller coaster I’m aware of that still has any is the Shivering Timbers ride at Michigan’s Adventure, in Muskegon, Michigan. I don’t see why it’s gone extinct. It’s a fun and seemingly easy way to add excitement to what would otherwise be a straight block of track.

Just before that is a moment of the roller coaster going in a bow-tie loop. I don’t know if there were any early roller coaster that did that. There are modern examples of this, such as Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. I am curious whether the animators were building on stuff they might have ridden, or remembered hearing about, or were just imagining what might someday make a thrilling ride.

The Scenic Railway, besides its fun for an amusement park buff, is also an artistic triumph. The wooden roller coaster requires drawing a lot of track structure, in perspective, and moving quite rapidly. The Fleischers don’t skimp on that. I like to believe the work that’s gone into that makes the action funnier. But I admit I’m also amazed they didn’t build models of a railway and use pictures of that for the foreground railroad. That would have to have looked at least as impressive.

Statistics July: Or, Statistics April, Another Time


The mysterious drop in readers continues. I heard a rumor that WordPress’s statistics page has started failing to count views from mobile devices. I don’t know if that’s so, although it would explain why the number of readers here and my mathematics blog collapsed simultaneously, and why other statistics-watchers reported similar sudden drops. My mathematics blog has struggled back above the 1000-reader mark, I believe because of the Mathematics A To Z glossary project that got me posting something nearly every day. I can’t repeat that here, though, since I already post something every day, and posting two things in a day would just be madness.

Anyway, the number of page views in June was a mere 739, down from May’s 759 and April’s 808. The May and June numbers are nearly the same number of views per day, though, so perhaps I’ll see an uptick in July.

The number of unique visitors rose, though, for the third month: from 303 in April to 359 in May to 380 in June. That’s almost got me up to where I was in October, when I accidentally got noticed by fans of the Kinks. It’s the right direction anyway. This does mean the views per visitor has dropped for three months, from April’s 2.67 to May’s 2.11 and then to a mere 1.94 in June. But I can take mere, if there’s enough of it.

Might not be enough, though. There were 365 likes recorded for my pages in June. That’s down slightly from May’s 380 and more from April’s 402. It’s not awful, though. The number of comments was down. There were 108 in April, and 81 in May, and only 59 in June. I need to start asking more open-ended questions, I guess, and giving obviously wrong answers to inspire reader enragement.

WordPress tells me I start July with 585 viewers, and that I just crossed 18,000 total views on the 1st of the month. The 18,000 is a nice and orderly piece of data.

What were the most popular posts in June? Sayeth WordPresseth:

The United States as ever sent me the most viewers (546), with the usual Anglosphere nations following up: Canada (45), Australia (43), the United Kingdom (24), and New Zealand (13). India gave me five readers in June, too, up from two.

The single-reader countries were the European Union (?), Italy (see what I mean?), Mexico, Morocco, Russia, and South Africa. None of them are single-reader repeats.

Finally, I’ve read advice that it’s worth reminding people how to follow your blog, so that people who read it can be nagged into reading it again. This seems logical. Since I’m right now on the Twenty Fourteen theme here, there’s a green button on the upper left that reads “FOLLOW, PLEASE” which is good for that. On my machine the FOLLOW is split between two lines, because that somehow makes sense to the computer as a thing to do. Maybe it would be different if I changed to Twenty Fifteen.

If you have an RSS reader, then I agree with you that’s a good way to follow posts and I don’t know why it’s getting so hard to do that anymore. Anyway, https://nebusresearch.wordpress.com/feed/ will give you my posts. https://nebusresearch.wordpress.com/comments/feed/ should give you comments, too. And my regular old Twitter account is @Nebusj, which is about what you might figure except I sometimes chat with people you don’t know about things you have to kind of guess about. We’ll see.

Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … Reconsidered


A while back I talked about the backstory Python Anghelo designed for the pinball machine Popeye Saves The Earth. I hesitate to call the backstory “crazypants”. I don’t want to wear out a good term by overuse. Also “crazypants” is inadequate to describe it. “Crazypants, crazyshirt, crazysocks and crazyshoes, crazyblazer, crazysheltered from the crazybuckets of crazyrain by a craizywaistcoat and crazyumbrella” gets more at it. Somehow Anghelo, most famous for Joust, had a strange vision for Popeye. Joust you’ll remember as the “medieval knights in space using ostriches to bludgeon pterodactyls” game.

The plan sketched out had Popeye bothered by the hypodermic needles Olive Oyl finds on the beach. So he buys the Glomar Explorer. With the help of Al Gore and H Ross Perot, he launches a space ark with two of every animal in the world. They journey to such worlds as Odorsphera, where the natives’ lack of noses causes the planet to smell terrible; a planet of spotted and striped people; a planet where everything is red; unisex gay world; and a planet with three moons. Finally they land back on an Earth ruined by total ecological collapse, with the few, disease-ridden human survivors resorting to cannibalism. Was the game as fun as this preliminary concept suggested?

Back in the 90s we didn’t think so. Usenet newsgroup rec.games.pinball judged this Bally/Midway table to be the worst thing humanity had accomplished in at least 875 years. It was so awful the group sentenced the game to the ignominy of having its name rendered without vowels. I believe they’re still calling it “P-p-y-” over there. And I’m not joking: nobody on the group questioned whether “y” served as a vowel in this context.

Cute picture of Popeye, Bluto, and a number of animals looking concerned or indifferent on a ship, with the Earth and Moon in the background.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I do not know how Popeye (right) accidentally sailed to translunar space.

But I got to play the game this past week. I wanted to share my impressions of how the game lives up to its crazystuff potential. Sad to say, not much of the concept makes it into the game. What is there is just enough to baffle people who hadn’t read the nine-page document. For instance, there’s nothing in the game suggesting Popeye is going into space with any of the animals. Sure, the art on the side of the machine shows the Earth and Moon in the background of Popeye’s ark. But it also shows an eager young raccoon perched atop a giraffe who’s weighted down with a heavy, Funky Winkerbeanesque ennui. That could mean anything.

Animals bunched up on a space-going ship. At the back of the ship Bluto is being whalloped by various animals including a monkey.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. Far right, Bluto is whacked by a monkey.

There is an environmental theme, with Bluto locking up animals that Popeye frees. And there’s these Bluto’s Cartel shots. In them Bluto does stuff like put bricks up across the video-display scoreboard. This the game explains as Bluto’s Earth Pavers. It’s always nice to see a shout-out to Usenet foundational group alt.pave.the.earth. But if Bluto is paving the Earth one cinder block at a time, he’s really not much of an environmental menace. Over a normal working life he might be able to pave, like, something the size of Rhode Island with cinder blocks. But that’s not so much of the Earth. Also he’s building walls, which are vertical. The surface of the earth is more horizontal, like a floor. If Popeye left him alone he’d probably screw up some wind farms and make a nasty shadow but that’s it.

Another Cartel challenge makes it look like you, as Popeye, and Bluto, as Bluto, are winching control wheels to drown the other in a tank of water. That’s a misunderstanding created by not paying attention when the challenge gets started. In fact you and Bluto are trying to drown one another in a tank of oil.

And that kind of describes the game. The playfield has a lot of fun art of animals lounging around or singing to themselves. There’s also tiger- and lion-men paying shuffleboard with turtles who are either really big or the lion- and tiger-men are really small. Lion- and tiger-men really aren’t endangered. Heck, they take over Pittsburgh one week every summer for Anthrocon. They don’t need Space Popeye. The game is full of mysterious asides like this. Like, I get why Wimpy would put a bottle of catsup in a champagne bucket, but why would Popeye put a wrench in his?

Fun play field art of animals in comic action, mostly. Lion- and tiger-men playing shuffleboard with turtles, an iguana sprawled out over the 'Special' score light, that sort of thing.
Playfield detail on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I’m not sure the penguin in the center at the bottom is doing a fan dance with a tablecloth but cannot rule it out.

The video screen has some fun animations, must say. And the voice acting is not bad, considering that everybody born before 1980 learned how to do Popeye’s voice except the people hired to do Popeye’s voice in projects like this. And the game with everything working is not so bad, though I bet it broke all the time in annoying ways in actual arcades. And I could point out gameplay issues that make you hate everybody who takes pinball seriously, but why? The game probably deserves to have at least two of its vowels restored.

Koala on the edge of the ship, staring down. I may be reading a sense of despair into its expression that the artist didn't intend.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. The koala contemplates the complicated ways of fate while sitting at the prow of a space-going ship.

So, in conclusion, may I point to the side art again and ask: is that koala on the edge of Popeye’s space ark contemplating suicide? It’s a strange and disappointing game, but humanity has probably done worse things in the last 875 years. Well, 886 at this point.

Some Stuff To Look At


Over on my mathematics blog, yes, I looked at comic strips again. No equations, I promise.

Otherwise I’d like to bring people’s attention to Comics Kingdom, the web site for King Features Syndicate. They have a great selection of vintage comic strips, mostly soap-opera and story comics. And they’ve just added Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre, or as every person in the world knows it, Popeye. My love and I are a bit Popeye-mad and this is a chance to read him as he was introduced to the world, one strip a day.

Castor Oyl and Bernice the Whiffle Hen are haunted by a mysterious, shrouded figure.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre (Popeye) for the 1st of January, 1919. Popeye is a few weeks from being introduced and taking over.

The reruns are beginning from about three weeks before Popeye makes his debut. This does join the story — centered around the magical Whiffle Hen, Bernice — several months into its run. Some folks on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips have complained about that. I don’t think it’s a bad decision, though. Segar is good about explaining the story to those joining it in progress. And the strip pre-Popeye is competent but a bit dull; Popeye explodes across it and takes over by about his third sentence. Better to get to the good stuff sooner.

Statistics May: Or, Statistics April, Continued Again


Finally I have a window to explore the strange state of my readership statistics. I’d had a weird, catastrophic drop in my readership, from 1,053 views by 483 visitors in march down to 808 views by 303 visitors in April. That trend … well, in May the number of views dropped to 759, though the number of unique viewers rose back to 359. I don’t know what to make of this. The number of views per visitor was more in line with what I’d expect. That was 2.11 in May, compared to April’s anomalously high 2.67. March was 2.18, which is about what I expect.

Still, the number of likes received over the month dropped again: from 443 in March, to 402 in April, to 380 in May. The number of comments similarly fell, from 113 in March to 108 in April to 81 in May. Perhaps I just didn’t have subjects that lent themselves to cross-chatter? Or that might reflect the end of the First Betty Boop Cartoons project, since listing all the previous firsts was counted by WordPress as a comment for reasons that make sense to WordPress’s statistics team.

If I’m reading it right stuff was basically fine except for the third week in May (the 18th through the 24th) when people just didn’t come around. I don’t see anything odd about that week’s selection of articles and cartoons and stuff, though.

Well, the month of June started at 17,231 page views, and 568 WordPress followers. Ten of them added in the month of May, so, hi there.

Now on to the popular business of listing stuff. The most popular articles in May were:

As for the popular listing of countries: the greatest number of readers in the reader-deprived month of May came from the United States (542), with runners-up the United Kingdom (33), the United Canada (28), and the United Australia (20). Sending me a single reader each were the United Belgium,
the United Bulgaria, the United Chile, the United Egypt, the United European Union, the United Finland, the United Hong Kong, the United India, the United Italy, the United Norway, the United Saudi Arabia, and the United United Arab Emirates. United Finland United is on a three-month streak of sending me a single reader. I don’t know how a reader can be coming from the United European Union considering there’s countries in it that are already listed.

Here’s some of the search terms I got. Good luck working out what they mean:

Betty Boop: Goodbye, Freddie, nice knowing you


I decided to look at another Fearless Fred Betty Boop cartoon this week. I might do one more, at the risk of exhausting his catalogue. This week’s is also Freddy’s last outing, No! No! A Thousand Times No!, originally released the 24th of May, 1935. How could I resist something so close to its 80th anniversary?

As with his debut, She Wronged Him Right, this is a story set in the frame of a theater. It’s not the same theater as in that cartoon, nor in Betty Boop’s Prize Show. So the Fleischers might be recycling general ideas, but not swiping old animation for new cartoons yet.

The cartoon is enjoyable but also confusing. The animation is merry, the story strong and funny. The framing of the stage allows for neat optical illusions and ingenious tricks to suggest how the show might be done on an actual stage. But why have the stage?

The plot is fairly strong and linear. There’s room for a few of the classic Fleischer-y flights of fancy, though, such as the Dick Dastardly-esque villain’s morphing into a wolf, and topping that by putting on a sheep costume. So why did the Fleischers bother with the framing? Why not just declare in the title that it was set in the era of the Spoof Melodrama? There’s some fun in the convention that all this is happening on stage, but several of the jokes, like the inset shots of the diamond ring or the plate of pearl-carrying oysters, would not be visible on stage. They only make sense as inset shots on screen.

I wonder if the Fleischers supposed that Betty Boop was necessarily a contemporary character who couldn’t be tossed into an arbitrary background. Popeye and, to the best of my knowledge, Koko the Clown similarly were almost always set in a contemporary world. If they were to go to medieval times there would be some explicit in-cartoon reason for the diversion. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves is explicitly set in the contemporary world, and the Popeye cartoon Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp is framed as a screenplay.

Yet this cartoon was released almost a year after Poor Cinderella, in which Betty explicitly plays a character and successfully so. Perhaps, having experimented with the Spoof Victorian Melodrama and this framing device before, they felt the need to stick with it.

It’s a shame because at least part of the dullness of later Betty Boop cartoons is that they got too similar and too routine. Betty could have played a character in a strange setting, especially in fairy tale or spoofs. Why not do more like this?

Ridiculous Episodes Of History


Tamim Ansary’s book Games Without Rules: The Often Interrupted History of Afghanistan describes the first time Afghanistan sent a diplomatic mission to the United States:

The Afghan delegation came to New York in 1922, but as it happened a ludicrous adventurer hit town at the same time: an old woman named “Princess” Fatima Sultana … She came festooned in jewels and looking like every New Yorker’s image of a Theda Bara-style exotic from the mysterious east. Her jewels included one particularly large diamond she called the Darya-i-Noor (River of Light). She was travelling with a rascal who called himself the Crown Prince of Egypt. …

To make matters worse, these two con artists fell victim themselves to an American con artist named Weymouth, who convinced them he was with the Department of the Navy and said he would present Fatima to the president of the United States — he had his eye on that diamond. The New York press didn’t know which was the real diplomatic delegation, and they picked the one they found more entertaining: Princess Fatima and her entourage.

Princess Fatima would lose her diamond and run out on her hotel bill. The actual Afghans got ignored. And we have to wonder how the United States lived through a bad episode of Top Cat. I don’t mean to make myself sound too intelligent. I was nine before I realized I was smarter than some episodes of Three’s Company. But I was definitely only eight years old before I couldn’t buy the fake-exotic-royalty-in-New-York plot. The heck, people?

But the incident reflects something historians hope you won’t ask about. Until about 1975 the whole world was so casually run that anybody could put anything over on anybody else, anytime they wanted. For example, from 1927 through 1931 the cash-strapped Soviet Union stayed afloat by selling counterfeit trains on the New York Central. Passengers would gather around a marvelous painting of what looked very much like a train. They’d only notice fourteen hours later that neither it nor they had gone anywhere. The scheme finally ended when the United States extended diplomatic recognition to the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad wanted to laugh about this, but they had just bought track rights through the Canadian province of “Roberta”.

In 1852 a group of Americans hoped to take over Cuba for the benefit of the Cubans, they kept telling themselves and everyone else. So they built a replica of the White House and the Capitol in Havanna out of some wood they had left over from another project, to lure the American government over. As it happens they only managed to fool the vice-president, William R King. He didn’t die of embarrassment at being fooled, but when he left for the real Washington he only got as close as Alabama.

In 1817 Great Britain annexed the Caribbean island of Saint Martin O’The Lee. Its exact location was unknown to everyone and the land was proven in 1932 to never have existed. Despite that, sectarian violence continues along the arbitrarily-drawn border known as Chamberlain’s Belch. That’s named for Neville Chamberlain, but not that Neville Chamberlain. Also not the other Neville Chamberlain you’re telling people you thought of right away because you want to seem smarter to them. It’s the other other one.

In the mid-30s a mysterious figure claiming to be another brother wormed his way into Popeye’s nephews. The hoaxer would appear in shorts for over a decade before vanishing, probably absconding, never to be heard from again. And the amazing thing is that five years after that another of the so-called nephews would vanish, revealing he had been an impostor all along too.

In 1645 an Italian lawyer presented King Louis XIV with a moon for Venus. Astronomers kept insisting they saw it for over a century. It wasn’t until 1762 that everybody involved admitted that they had to be dead of old age by then. And so it they were, and we went back to ignoring that big shiny moon-like thing hovering around Venus. Don’t stare.

Dozens of Rhode Island cities in the 19th century fell for groups of organized rowdies presenting themselves as the state government. The actual state government chased after them, wielding brooms and biographies of Roger Williams, for decades before the last of them finally set up in New London (“Mystic”), Connecticut as a government-in-exile. They’re still there.

We’ve tightened things up since those days. Today, anybody can still put anything over on anybody else. But they have to go through a metal detector and put their keys and loose change in a plastic bin first. It’s progress.

Betty Boop: Dizzy Dishes


Previously entered as the first Betty Boop cartoons:


While there’s one more “first” Betty Boop to include, the above review of first appearances — of her character design, of the short-lived revision in the late 30s, of her character as someone named Betty Boop, of her as protagonist — brings me to the final of the really compelling “first Betty Boop cartoons”. This would be Dizzy Dishes, the 1930 short that’s credited as the original appearance of Betty Boop.

She’s not named, although come to it nobody in the cartoon really is. She’s also not the protagonist; she comes in at about two minutes forty seconds in, and spends a minute on-screen, as the waiter-protagonist gets distracted from his mission of delivering spot gags set in a cabaret. She sings, with the protagonist — usually identified as Bimbo, and I suppose that’s as good a name as any — taking some or all of her “boop-oop-a-doop” refrain from “I Have To Have You”.

Plot and characterization are not the primary focus of an early-30s Fleischer cartoon, which is why we never really get a clear answer why Bimbo is so reluctant about delivering the roast duck to the demanding customer, who looks to me like Disney’s Pegleg Pete, with a couple early hints of Bluto worked in. The Internet Movie Database claims the character is Gus Gorilla, which is believable enough, and that he’s voiced by William Costello, who would be the first animated voice of Popeye. Delivering six minutes or so worth of gags are the focus and that’s done fairly well with an opening string of demanding customers and Bimbo’s attempts to keep up (watch how he handles a demand to make two bowls of stew).

I hate to say it, but Betty Boop’s appearance slows the proceedings down, though they do recover their odd and occasionally nightmare-fuelish bent (the roast duck lays an egg! And it hatches!) soon enough. Soon enough Gus Gorilla loses his patience, and goes after Bimbo, and I am kind of on Gus’s side here. It all ends, as any great early-30s cartoon will, with a resolution that makes you go, “wait, what?”

Color Classics: Time For Love


For today’s Color Classic cartoon from the Fleischers I’d like to present Time For Love, released the 6th of September, 1935. It’s immediately familiar from the opening for using as the main theme “Love In Bloom”, marginally known as the Jack Benny tune, at least among the people who still remember Jack Benny. Folks should; you could run a course in how to write just based on how his shows were structured.

This cartoon hasn’t got anything to do with Jack Benny besides the musical reminder, though. It’s a pastoral cartoon, something a bit out of the Fleischer Brothers specialty, but it does mean the gorgeous three-dimensional sets in back can be ones of natural beauty.

The story, of a swan being seduced by a superficially impressive (black) swan who proves to be cruel, and needing rescue by her lover, does not present her in a very good light, it must be admitted, though her original lover comes out looking admirable. It struck me, though, as having essentially the structure of a certain strain of Popeye cartoons, ones in which Olive Oyl leaves Popeye for the apparent charms of Bluto, and you know where that’s going — cartoons like I Never Changes My Altitude or Beware of Barnacle Bill or The Man On The Flying Trapeze. The action isn’t as intense as those — a couple swans we never saw before aren’t going to have the narrative energy of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto, and “Love In Bloom” isn’t as rousing a song as “The Man On The Flying Trapeze” — but I’m intrigued by how strongly the action is transposed to new characters.

I don’t suppose the Fleischers were thinking to do a Popeye cartoon in feathers here. If they were, well, we’d know it, by the swan’s lover being more of a presence. But there is this correspondence, and it makes a sweet little sentimental cartoon a touch more when you notice it.

Color Classics: All’s Fair At The Fair


For today’s cartoon I’m stepping back into the Fleischer Color Classics, with a short released the 26th of August, 1938: All’s Fair At The Fair. The title gives away the subject: it’s a World’s Fair cartoon, and since it was the late 30s it’s a severely Art Deco setting to show off the automated and mechanized world of tomorrow, the one that doesn’t really need people in it.

This is a setting, and a hook to hang jokes on, that’s well-designed for the Fleischer Cartoons: Max and Dave Fleischer had a particular thrill for ingenious mechanisms and gadgetry. Sometimes I suspect they’re a little bothered to have to have characters in their cartoons, and so the automated, people-less World of Tomorrow plays to their strengths. After the initial scenes this is a very empty World’s Fair, with just one country-hick pair of characters appearing at all. I’m not sure the characters even had any written dialogue. The way they mutter evokes the contemporary Popeye style, in which the voices were recorded after animation. But Elmer and Miranda haven’t got the personality of Popeye and Olive Oyl, and Jack Mercer (the voice of Popeye) and Margie Hines (who had taken over voicing Olive Oyl and Betty Boop) couldn’t do much to give them character.

But this isn’t one to watch for the characters. It’s one to watch for gadgets doing things, and for the lovely background and set designs. That works, all, doesn’t it?