Statistics Saturday: Questions Raised By Learning Kings Dominion Amusement Park Had A Wayne’s-World-Theme Area


I swear.

  • Buh?
  • Wait, what?
  • Really?
  • Like, Wayne’s World the movies?
  • Oh wait wait wait. I mean, “Way”?
  • They had Wayne and Garth impersonators at the thing?
  • The 90s, huh?
  • All right but how can Wayne’s World be part of a whole Kings’ Dominion? Are we to believe the dominion encompasses more than a single world? Given the difficulties in establishing a functioning imperial bureaucracy over even a single planet?
  • Is this a bit?
  • The heck?

OK, but the “Mid-No-Way” is worth a chuckle at least the first time you hear it.

Reference: Functional Analysis: A Short Course, Edward W Packel.

Statistics Saturday: Most Popular American Roller Coaster Names By Decade


Decade Most Popular American Roller Coaster Name
1890s Scenic Russian Mountain Panoramic Train Ride
1900s Drop The Dips Fairyland Lunar Cyclorama
1910s Figure Eight Speed-O-Plane Greyhound Flyer
1920s Racing Jackrabbit Zipper
1930s Swing Coaster
1940s Atomic Jet
1950s Comet Jet
1960s Meteor Jet
1970s Loop The Looping Loop Looper: The Bicentennial Looptacular
1980s Bobsled Ultragroove
1990s Laser Gunpuncher 2000max
2000s Death Kraken
2010s Steel Death Kraken

Source: The Kind Of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century, Volume 2: Statistical Physics and Irreversible Processes, Stephen G Brush.

Explaining Vincent Price


A couple of weeks ago I got momentarily confused between Vincent Price and Prince. This was all my fault and not at all Price’s, nor Prince’s. I wasn’t reading carefully enough. But it revealed to me that there was some link between Vincent Price, Saint Louis, and roller coasters. Who knew?

A Labor of Like knows, and came out of a relatively quiet period of blogging to explain the story. I’m glad to know more than I did before, and I hope you will too. The story’s pretty densely packed; I hope you all enjoy.

It doesn’t actually explain the roller coasters thing technically speaking.

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.

Amusement Parks For The Apartment Dweller


I thought I’d take a break from my Betty Boop cartoons, since it’s July and that’s really amusement park season at least where I live. Especially since it’s the Fourth of July weekend. I don’t know about you. I couldn’t even swear whether you’re there right now.

So I went looking for amusement park-themed cartoons and realized there’s not so many as I figured. Some of the ones that are around I’ve already shown off. I’m as surprised as you, since the gag potential for amusement parks seems obvious. But one that came to mind was a Betty Boop and Grampy cartoon after all: Grampy’s Indoor Outing.

The story’s simple. Betty Boop and Junior are looking forward to the carnival. After a merry opening song, though, it rains. And Grampy — or here, Professor Grampy — comes to the rescue. He works up several amusement park-type attractions out of household gadgets. They look strikingly plausible, too, the way the best cartoon contraptions do. The cartoon is less about fake-outs and diverted expectations than the earlier Grampy cartoons, though; it’s more about cleverly turning the ordinary into wonderful gadgetry.

The sets are lovely, as ever. Look especially at Grampy’s kitchen, painted so as to look like it’s got a narrow depth of field. It makes the cartoon so much more solid.

The final stunt, the utterly impractical one, is also where the Fleischers break out their 3-D sets and the combined animation-and-live-action filming techniques. It’s for a good effect, too. The roller coaster rolling around the edge of a building looks wild, and like the sort of cartoonish excess that would never happen in the real world. If you’re willing to count Florida as part of the real world, and I have my doubts, something reminiscent of its building-hugging, twisty paths might be built soon. The PolerCoaster design might also be built in Georgia, which I suppose is a slightly more real place than Florida. The cartoon version, and for that matter the proposed PolerCoaster, are still hair-raising to consider.

Incidentally, the YouTube page from which I got this video, and many sources, identify this cartoon as starring Betty Boop, Grampy, and — as the kid — Little Jimmy. The kid is clearly named Junior by both Betty and Grampy, though. However, I see where people are coming from by calling him Little Jimmy. I figure to discuss that later.

On Underwear Procurement Difficulties In The Era Of The Second World War


So I’ve been reading Maury Klein’s A Call To Arms, which is about how the United States managed to produce all the stuff needed to win World War II. It’s a great story, the kind you just don’t get from picking up on flipping through the mysterious boring numbers on the cable box until you find a documentary, where apparently World War II consisted of magician Jasper Maskelyne pulling pranks on Rommel in 1940, and then the landings at Normandy.

But really important were industry’s production numbers. For example, the Philadelphia Toboggan Company — before and after the war a leading maker of roller coaster train cars — astounded the world by converting to war needs and making 12,172, which it turned over to Archibald MacLeish, head of the Office of Facts and Figures, on the 14th of May, 1942. The 12,172 toured the nation to cheering crowds, though it came under increasing fire from Republican leaders as an attempt to force the New Deal down the throats of the public and destroy even the idea of ever having an economy, a job, or any nice things ever after. To bury the controversy, seven weeks before the midterm elections the 12,172 was sent as a fact-finding expedition to Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces in China. I wonder how that expedition is going. You’d think it would have reported back by now.

But all this production couldn’t be done without some missteps and there’s one that apparently really happened that’s caught my imagination. From the chapter “Making Haste Slowly” — page 121 in the copy I have — is this:

Some of the army’s outmoded procurement efforts became a joke. One recent order called for $300,000 worth of 1917-type underwear that could not be made on 1940 machines.

And I have to trust that this happened because it’s got a citation number — 53 — and everything; Klein even figured in the back of the book to follow it up with “53. Time, December 23, 1940 (14-15), Newsweek, December 23, 1940, 31-33, 35”. If that isn’t proof the thing happened exactly as described, what is?

If that isn’t the most imagination-capturing item about the underwear of 1917 you’ve read in the past month I’m afraid you and I live in very different worlds. I mean, just think of it: what were they doing with underwear in 1917 that they could not make it anymore on the machines of 1940? That’s equivalent to saying there was underwear in 1991 that we’ve lost the ability to make today, and I can’t even think what that means. I could understand the other way around, with 1991 machinery unable to make 2014 underwear. Modern underwear includes astounding features of both technology — don’t think I’ve overlooked the USB plugs or the Bing search engine in my latest set of BVD’s — and comfort — such as the layer of plastic microbeads included just so they can leak into the water supply and finally finish choking off the fish population. But that’s the wrong way around, timewise, and besides in 1940 the Bing search engine was a spare New York Bell time-and-weather operator whose station was disconnected. If anyone had suggested linking her to men’s underwear there would have been a scandal and they’d have fired her three times over just for having anyone suggest it of her.

Clearly what we’re seeing is a side effect of the revolution in clothing after 1917, when people wore way too many things. Women’s clothing before World War I could require up to two weeks to put on or take off, and the underwear alone required the help of three friends and a horse or strong mule. Men’s clothing was less challenging, requiring at most ten days and a supportive goat, but it was still an era when people dressed more formally to ride a roller coaster than they do today when presenting their credentials as Ambassador to the Court of Saint James. But then came the 30s, when people couldn’t afford so many clothes, and besides there was the Summer of Nudity when guys who’d been watching Tarzan movies started walking out on the Jersey Shore beaches without even wearing shirts, which sounds hilarious until you realize that was Grandpop, and which you’re now going to look up and find out I didn’t even make up.

Anyway, I have to guess that what happened is underwear-makers forgot how complicated underwear could be, and this in 1940 caused the Army’s procurement division to get made fun of a little bit in Time and/or Newsweek. And for some reason the World War II channel on cable is always going on about Rommel at Tobruk and the landings in Normandy, leaving the Army’s underwear uncovered.

From The Days of Sensurround


You maybe remember a while back I got to wondering about the 1977 disaster film Rollercoaster. There’s a scene near the end where they needed a rock band, and apparently the producers’ first hope was that they’d get Kiss to play the scenes. Somehow that didn’t happen, and they got Sparks instead, because Kiss and Sparks are very similar bands what with having two S’s and on K in both their names.

It turns out that according to somebody or other on the Internet Movie Database, which is the soundest citation possible not involving “forwarded in e-mail from your grandmom”, the producers also considered at some point having the Bay City Rollers perform. This is obviously a huge departure what with that band having only one S and no K’s to speak of, and makes me wonder if the producers even knew what they were looking for. It’s almost like they figured once they had roller coasters everything else would just fit, whatever letters they had. I don’t know.

Dream Job at Kennywood


It’s a touch belated but I wanted to thank the Kennywood amusement park of my dream world for hiring me as a special investigator, and I appreciate their putting me up in their hotel while I solved the mystery of whether their rivals next door were putting in a new roller coaster. It’s a mystery to me, though, why you even needed me to work for you, since anyone could see they were putting up a roller coaster by looking out the windows at the end of the hotel corridors, where you could see the towers of the new coaster going in place.

While I’m at it, though, and I don’t mean to seem ungrateful for this position that existed while I stayed in rem sleep, I don’t see why it was necessary for me to check into a hotel room, leave my suitcases there so as to look like I was still occupying the place, and then move on to sleep in such lounges or floor kitchenettes as the other wings of the hotel had. Really, a room at all wasn’t necessary because you could see the roller coaster towers even as you were driving in to Kennywood. Again, I don’t understand why I needed to be a part of this.

Anyway, it was a fun job while it lasted and they totally should have a hotel that exists in reality unless they had to remove rides or parking spaces to make room for it. The place was very comfortable except for my sleeping on the floor in a kitchenette for whatever reason. I don’t understand the job, I’m just glad to have had it. But it all seems a touch absurd to me.

Numbers for October 2013


Having numbers worked out all right in September, so maybe I can give that another try.
For the month of October I got 370 views — down from 397 in September, and my third-highest overall for a month. This is from 179 unique viewers, itself up from 162 in September, and (by a nose) almost my third-highest overall. Go figure. 179, interestingly, is known as Grothnik’s Prime Number by people who have never heard of Prime Numbers or of Grothnik.

The most popular articles over the past 30 days:

  • The Monster In The Living Room, because it does combine everything important, like the pet rabbit, and physical injury, and I had good cause to mention it on Usenet, which is a thing that exists still.
  • Flying Turnabouts, regarding the strange case of Knoebels’s new Flying Turns roller coaster that we’re getting to next year unless the world ends. And if it does end, we’re going to see it out on a road trip there.
  • Disappointment, regarding my successful non-victory in the Robert Benchley Society contest.
  • The Platonic Stooge, my wonder at a thing Plato and the Three Stooges have in common.
  • Also, Just Hush, Benjamin Franklin , about my wood-cutting experience and an epigram from Benjamin Franklin that apparently isn’t as common or popular as I thought it was. I tend to do that. My default assumption is if I’ve heard of it, then everyone else has, and so my timely allusion to the Battle of Manzikert goes terribly unappreciated.
  • Police Blotter: Traffic Incident, about something that was obviously designed to make the news.
  • The top five countries were the United States (304 viewers), United Kingdom (12), Canada (10), Australia (8), and Austria (5). Sending me a mere one reader each were France, India, Mexico, and Spain. France was the only one to send me a single reader last month, and they only sent the one the month before that, too.

    The Benjamin Franklin thing is he’s quoted as saying “Cut your own wood and it will warm you twice”, which, yeah, just hush there.

    Flying Turnabouts


    There’s this great amusement park in northeastern Pennsylvania, Knoebels. They’ve spent, and I’m not exaggerating here, nearly a decade and several millions of dollars building and testing a roller coaster called the Flying Turns, re-creating an early-20th-century ride to such levels of historic authenticity that nobody alive knows how to make it work. Well, there’s rumors going around that they might actually have it working, like, this weekend. Conceivably, it could be running right this minute. And now we’re, and I’m not exaggerating this either, torn on whether to head out there the moment we hear them announce that the ride is open since, after all, it might close again and never reopen.

    Here’s my current thinking almost exactly as I said it aloud: after the time and money spent on this, if they open it, and if on the first public ride, carrying a passenger load of nuns and orphans, the cars run over a baby chipmunk and fly off the track, leaping into the air and exploding into a fireball which ignites the local trees and spreads into a wildfire that burns down everything as far east as Wilkes-Barre and as far north as the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, then, they might take an extra month at the opening of next season to reopen it.

    And I’m still not perfectly sure.

    More Warnings from the Dreams


    Just because your undergrad school has a two-person dorm room mysteriously available does not mean that you personally would be the person to best solve the mysterious emptiness by moving into it with a guy you knew later in the 90s, particularly if you were kind of savoring the idea of having it to yourself. Just tell the guy that the other mysteriously open dorm room is at least as good and this way you’ll both have dorm room to yourselves. Also, that guy interviewing you for the student newspaper despite being, like, two or three decades too old for it is only humoring you in asking for details of your plan to install a modest roller coaster on the engineering campus by where the A and H buses first stop (near the mathematics building), so don’t be fooled by his enthusiasm, even if he had no idea it was going to be so popular a proposal.

    Pondering Blackbeard


    Stipulating that there is an afterlife in which all persons who ever lived are able to meet one another and speak as they like, then, and let’s not consider the sorts of scheduling problems that presents one you really think about it (sure, there are probably only dozens of people today who’d like to talk to 19th century superclown Dan Rice, but when you multiply a dozen people by the over thirty years left until the end of time, that’s a lot of demands on his time, plus he was more popular back in the day), I’d kind of like to be there when someone tracks down Blackbeard and tells him that by the early 21st century, his name is plastered all over stuff like kiddie roller coasters at Great Adventure or some pretty fun miniature golf courses that include randomly selected facts about pirates alongside that agonizing one where the hole is in the middle of this little hill and you just can not possibly get it in without overshooting. I think the confused and awkward silence to follow could be among the greatest confused and awkward silences of all time.

    On The New Blogging Standards


    I’m sure everyone’s heard by now that the International Organization for Standardization — the group that’s brought us best-selling hits like ISO 9000, ISO 9001, ISO 2000, and their mashup, ISO 9001-2000 — is proposing a change to the fundamental unit of blogging as set out in ISO 764 (“Horology: Magnetic Resistant Watches”). Naturally I’m torn about this and I’m surprised more people aren’t bewailing them. I grant that the old unit of blogging — making fun of the Superfriends — is tired, and not just because I’ve been desperately trying to think of anything fresh I could possibly say about the episode where the Wonder Twins are so wholly overwhelmed by a roller coaster with defective brakes they need the help of an actual superhero. But it’s been the style for a good long while, and it’s shaped how we think about blogging, and goodness knows, what if they change it to something like “pointing out Animaniacs episodes that don’t have jokes, just a big pile of pop culture references draped over each other” instead? I need to know what they’re changing things to before I can vehemently oppose the change correctly.