[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.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
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 trick.
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.)
Give your monitor or laptop an all-hallows makeover. Again, you can find an endless supply of options with a search engine, and these are just two options you might like.
I hope to have some more Halloween options in next week’s column. Now, off to watch our son turn a pumpkin into a spaceship!
John Gushue is an editor with CBC News in St. John’s. Twitter: @johngushue.