[Surf’s Up, as published in the St. John's Telegram, on Thursday, October 18, 2012.]
While it’s evidently customary now for stores to start draping
products in orange and black pretty much as soon as the back-to-school sales
feel tired, I actually try not to pay attention to Halloween until, well, about
this time of October.
While I applaud my self-control for not (yet) buying a box
stuffed with tiny chocolate bars – as if the entirety would make it to the
door! – I’ve been checking out a few treats online.
Last year, I loved playing with an app that breathed new
life into A Charlie Brown Christmas, which turned the iconic TV special into an
interactive storybook. This year, the same makers are back with a take on that
other seminal Peanuts holiday classic, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
As with the first, it’ll cost you some money (about $5 in
this case), and while I had no trouble recommending the Christmas edition, I’m
not as enthralled at all with the Great Pumpkin.
I have nothing against Linus’s hero, I should note. Rather, I
have a few gripes with how this particular app is designed, and what it expects
users to do.
Again, the app opens with a wonderfully nostalgic tableau: a
child’s record player gently spins while you hear a jazz theme by Vince
Guaraldi. If you want to be transported back to the Sixties, this will do the
The problem is that as soon as you get started, you’re taken
not to the story, but instead to a staging area where you first must create an
account (or log in via Facebook, which I somewhat reluctantly did).
This left a little grit in my mouth, and that uneasy feeling
got worse. I could not proceed until I had created an avatar – and I was not at
all amused to see the creators trying to sell upgrades, all within moments of
getting us to pay for the app in the first place.
Fortunately, you can create a decent avatar and
trick-or-treating costume (your character will join the famously dressed
Peanuts gang) for no extra cost. Still, by the point that I was finally able to
get into the story itself, I was ready to toss an egg at someone’s house.
The saving grace is that the main part of the app is wonderful.
The graphics are crisp and in high-definition, presented as if the elements
were layered paper cutouts. The original voices from the TV special are used,
as well, and a reader can move through the chapters (tug on the bookmark to
advance) or skip to favourite moments. I think this will appeal more to the
nostalgic, but maybe children will love the story, too.
In all, I liked it – but having to go through all those
hoops left me feeling a bit like Charlie Brown on his back, foiled yet again by
the football-swiping Lucy.
Elsewhere this week
Shock Till You Drop When did getting the pumpkin scared out of you turn into
such a huge business? Even beyond their home base of October, frightening
things demand a lot of our pop-culture attention, and if you need proof, just
try keeping up with the movies, shows and games based around zombies alone. Shock
Till You Drop caters to the fans who can’t get enough of what scares them, from
trailers of upcoming movies to tidbits and links to horror-genre goodies.
Ultimate Pumpkin Stencils Carving a pumpkin used to involve a steak knife and a few
minutes. The artistry of a few, though, is now widely accessible thanks to the
web, where templates for fairly complex patterns are easy to find. Search for
free pumpkin stencils (or templates, as an alternate keyword) and you’ll no
doubt find something nice, but if you want something cool and of the moment,
you may well have to pay. I’m recommending this site, which sells templates for
several dollars, often in batches.
All the Angry Birds, for instance? Got them. Same goes for
comic-book heroes, movie characters, music fads (Gangnam Style, meet One
Direction) and even oddball choices, like Walter from Breaking Bad. (That, I
guess, is if you want to scare the wits out of the higher-brow TV aficionado.)
Carving a pumpkin or two is something two of the three of us are good at. (Hint: I'm not one of them.) We bought a pumpkin the other day. It's early, and I'm not sure how well it will last until Halloween, but then again Nick wants to have a zombie pumpkin. We'll keep you posted.
Martha incidentally is a dab hand with pumpkin puree. That's another thing to look forward, too!
I snapped this a while back at Michael's, while Martha was hunting around for supplies. (I suspect I'm far from the only husband to stroll around there for something interesting to look at, or just pass the time.) There's a full Halloween display, of course. I thought these had that creepy-cute thing going on.
When Nick asked if we could get two pumpkins this year - one big one, one quite small - I had a hunch of what he had in mind. And then he carved it out, pretty much as he told me he would as he snickered in the car.
The New Yorker's Halloween cover is brilliant. Although I saw nary a parent out there tonight (mind you, we weren't out long) with a smartphone, I think artist Chris Ware - more from him here - nails something about the obsession grown-ups have with their gadgets, perhaps at the expense of their kids.
This wasn't the plan. The plan, hatched in February, when we visited Disney World, was that Nick was going to go as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. (You know, Mickey Mouse in the red cape and blue hat, the one with the stars. The side deal, which I was willing to go along with, is that I would go as one of the brooms carrying pails of water (the pails actually holding treats and such), with Martha more than willing, somehow, to turn a grass skirt into the broom part of my costue. Like I said, we were all willing to do what we had to do.
Well, that got cast aside, as nine-year-old boys are wont to do. Instead, in September he informed us that he was going out as the Grim Reaper. And that was that. Martha stitched the costume this week, and it turned out really well, given that it was just one big heaping pile of fabric at the start. Our friends Christine and John donated their (plastic) scythe.
I'm suggesting that Nick go around tonight with a sack with "soul food" on it, for his snacks.
One of these years, I'll get around to carving one of those brilliant pumpkins that people talk about for years. In the meantime, here's a link to a collection of pumpkins with social media motifs. Very clever.
Our son was being outfitted just now for the costume he'll wear for Halloween. He's going as the Grim Reaper, and was holding up an almost weightless plastic skull, which was part of a lawn decoration we bought last year. I couldn't resist, and got him to repeat, "Alas, poor Yorick" .... and I misfed him the line "I knew him well," which I should have known instantly is not what Hamlet said next. (That would be, "I knew him, Horatio.") (And the words after that spawned one of the better novels of my generation.)
Thus was our son Nick's introduction to Hamlet. "What's with the Shakespeare stuff?" he asked. Good question. And I'm sure he'll have decades to think about how rich that answer can be.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.