Marcia Wallace died earlier this week, prompting The Simpsons immediately to retire Edna Krabappel, the harried, world-weary elementary school teacher that she brought to life. I grew up with the Bob Newhart Show, and evidently watched it enough that by the time The Simpsons went to air, I recognized Marcia Wallace's name when it appeared in the credits.
Here's a roundup of Edna Krabappel and her indelible catchphrase.
[My column Surf’s Up, as published in The Telegram in St. John's on Thursday, May 23, 2013.]
In one of the earlier Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons, there’s a segment where Lisa conducts a science experiment involving some Coke, a tooth and (courtesy of Bart) an electrical shock that makes everything go haywire. How much so? Well, the electrified tooth gives rise to a tiny society that evolves before Lisa’s eyes.
“One of them is nailing something to the door of the cathedral,” Lisa gasps. “I’ve created Lutherans!”
Making your own congregation is one thing, but the fun of seeing a miniature civilization come together is a joy that millions of people share on a daily business, and they don’t need a tooth and some cola. Instead, you can do it simply and enthusiastically with a phone, tablet or PC.
The granddaddy of all simulation games is undoubtedly SimCity, which debuted (believe it or not) in 1989, and which has spawned all kinds of spinoffs and ventures in the years since. The main allure, though, is the same: build a city, and keep the people happy and prosperous while keeping all of the elements in balance. It can be harder than it first appears!
The Sims is one of the spinoffs, and it’s a juggernaut in its own right. Meant to be played on a desktop computer, it debuted in 2000, and went on through subsequent versions to change the industry (it set the Guinness World Record for bestselling PC game), and continues to evolve for different platforms, like gaming consoles.
The Sims brand shows absolutely no sign of slowing down at all. For the last few weeks, owner Electronic Arts has been whipping up interest in The Sims 4 … which won’t even come out until next winter, at the earliest.
Of course, the success of all things Sim has spawned imitations and variations aplenty. While the Sims puts players’ minds, whether they appreciate it or not, to the challenges of urban planning, there are so-called “sandbox” games like Minecraft, in which players build something digitally from scratch. Minecraft, which I’ve written about (if not glorified) at length here before is something different, and not quite as satisfying as building a city to call your own.
Here are two that I find both relaxing and addictive.
City Story Metro
The gaming company Storm8, which makes a seemingly never-ending series of “story” games that follow similar Farmville-like templates, produces this app for users of iPhones and other Apple products. At present, it’s not available for Android and other competitors.
The idea is simple: you start with a grid, and you begin adding things like houses and buildings. It’s easy and fun to get started, with rewards and incentives coming quickly as you unlock levels and goals. That’s standard game design: they want you to stick around and keep coming back. Over the longer term, City Story Metro rewards regular gameplay with constant additions, and new ways to make a city look cool. (I spent a fair bit of time making a chunk of mine resemble Central Park.)
Megapolis takes that model, and ramps things up considerably. The graphics are more akin to 3D, and you will find replicas of many recognizable structures and world landmarks. In that regard, your city will look considerably spiffier and more realistic.
The principles are the same. You need to have a balance of residents, who pay taxes, but who need infrastructure and services, which require revenue, which must also come from industry, which requires energy … It’s all interconnected and interdependent, and the game requires balanced goals.
It also requires patience. You can speed things up if you use what Megapolis calls Megabucks, which can be gradually earned … or bought in batches, with real money. Like City Story Metro, which has a similar option, this is where the makers of a “free” game stand to earn considerable amounts of money. (This is why this kind of game is called a freemium.)
An interesting problem with Megapolis is that it is available on different platforms, but they cannot always talk to each other. For instance, you can play on Facebook, which offers options you cannot get on mobile devices, but you won’t be able to add anyone from the mobile system as a friend … which is kind of odd, given that gathering neighbours is critical to advancing through the game’s stages.
Small matter, though. I find Megapolis makes for a wee bit of strategic thinking. It may take a few weeks to get to the level I next want, but it’s fun to imagine what might happen, and it’s one of my favourite ways to unwind with a hot beverage.
The most obvious attraction of the Harlem Shake meme of the last few weeks is that anyone could (and evidently did) produce their own version of the video: an opening shot, with a jump cut to a wildly dancing, usually gyrating crowd. Get a few friends, organize yourselves, turn on the camera, upload ... boom.
Give The Simpsons some credit for having to animate it!
That video went up on Friday and has been seen at least a million times since. That's a small fraction of the overall views of the countless Harlem Shake knockoffs ... and it's not even the first time Homer made an appearance in one, either! To wit, this pick of 10 of them, which starts with a very clever use of the Peanuts classic A Charlie Brown's Christmas.
One of the things I like about The Simpsons: Tapped Out is the incremental additions of characters and situations, including a few that have been tied into episodes of the show. The most recent is a hipster version of Homer you can adopt, with the usual blue-and-white costumer replaced by retro-minded attire that would not be out of place in, say, Brooklyn ... or Portland. The look is connected to next week's Simpsons episode, The Day The Earth Stood Cool, which features Portlandia's Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, not to mention the Decemberists.
The tasks for the too-cool-for-you Homer include drinking "Duff Blue Ribbon," as seen above. You can also give Homer instructions to "walk around acting superior," "listen to indie rock" and "screen mumblecore films," among others.
These have been funny touches. Fat Tony, the every-syllable-is-worthy-of-being-enunciated mobster, showed up a little while ago (tied into a Tony-centered episode) and before that the Mayan version of Homer, which connected to this year's Treehouse of Horror episode. I'm curious to see what's next.
IFTT stands for If This Then That,
which plays on the type of logic that is one of the cornerstones of programming
languages, as well as math. That is, if [x] is an input, then [y] is the
action, or output.
OK, don’t panic. You don’t need to
know any programming at all to enjoy IFTT, but it will work better if you use a
social media network or platform or two.
Or several dozen, even. IFTT is
basically a connecting device between more than 50 different “channels,” as it
calls them, and lets you configure them any way you can think of.
Actually, you don’t have to even do
that. You can piggyback on the recipes – yes, that’s what they’re called here –
that others have devised. Some examples: if Amazon posts a free MP3 (which they
do all the time, by the way) then you can have a notification sent straight to
Weather alerts? Meet Twitter. Your
Instagram pics? Have then backed up in Dropbox.
The ideas go on and on, and show
some creativity. One of the things that pleases me is the reliance on some
underrated favourites. One of them is good ol’ RSS, or really simple
syndication (to use one of its names), which is far from trendy but which is
the backbone of how a lot of what’s online gets to audiences. Here, you can get
RSS to pull needles out of digital haystacks, and deliver them to you neatly
and the moment they’re found.
Give it a shot. You might discover
a very valuable tool … or three.
The Simpsons do Halloween
Last month, I wrote about a
Simpsons game called Tapped Out, which has been rebooted after an awkward
start. I noted that it was fun, and kind of addictive.
Well, it’s now even more
entertaining. Over the last week, an upgrade for Halloween has rolled out, and
if you’ve ever seen the annual Treehouse of Horror specials, you’ll know the
Springfield crowd go all-out for the bewitching season.
There are new characters,
games-within-games and spooky incentives, but the most fun has to come with the
zombie onslaughts that roll out twice a day or so (including, ahem, from the
pet cemetery – that’s right, Snowball 1 is back!). If they touch regular
characters, the zombiefication takes over.
You can squish a zombie with your
finger (and turn Homer and others back to normal with a tap), and the reward
might include a roll of toilet paper or a package of eggs – perfect for
“sharing” with your virtual neighbours!
Tapped Out is still only available
for Apple devices, but it appears to have overcome its shaky start from last
winter; it’s currently the highest-grossing app for iPhone and iPad, which is
remarkable because you can play it for free. (The money comes from upgrades,
where are packaged in a clever way. I confess to splurging a few bucks to get another
zombie generator. Less than a movie ticket, I rationalized.)
As with the regular game, what
makes the Halloween edition of Tapped Out so charming is astonishing attention
to detail. It also differs from many games in that it is actually written; that
is, the show’s writing staff comes up with the gags and scenarios, and there
appears to be as much care with the Halloween sequences on your screen as with the
latest Treehouse of Horror. (In fact, the two are connected, with some of the
new jokes riffing on plot details from the actual show.)
As I plant a new pumpkin patch
around Willie’s shack, it’s hard not to get in a fiendish mood … and also start
wondering what might be coming to Springfield when the Christmas season kicks
I had a chuckle over how Matt Groening and The Simpsons played a bit of a prank on audiences this last week, first by Groening suggesting that Springfield was based on Springfield, Oregon ... and then the show itself (after a welcoming note in the first frames of the opening) having Bart turning things on their head with this twist on the weekly chalkboard message.
I'm not sure why there was much of a fuss; while Springfield could indeed be anywhere, it's been no secret for many years that Springfield draws its inspiration from another city in Oregon, namely Portland, which shares the same topography as Springfield. Groening even grew up on a street with Evergreen Terrace in the name. The names of streets in Portland, such as Lovejoy, Flanders and Kearney, inspired many of the characters on the show.
Anyway, that wasn't even the best part of the opening animation.
This week's couch gag (the name given to the weekly joke in which the family runs to its beloved and ageless couch) was from the drawings of cartoonist Bill Plympton, and it was all-out hilarious, with Homer falling in love with a couch and then dumping it for Marge. (My favourite moment? The couch doing pole dances at a strip club.) Imagine what a whole show would look like.
Meanwhile, I'd love to see other cartoonists (Roz Chast comes to mind, or Robert Mankoff, or Garry Trudeau, or Aislin...) get a similar crack at reinterpreting the familiar characters.
In all, another great moment in a strong series for a show that had once been running low on steam.
We posed for a family photo a couple of weeks ago - a bunch of them, and with extended family members on Martha's side. It actually went quite well, and the results are handsome. I'm not why we don't do it more often, whether it's at Christmas or not; we certainly have not had the difficulty that, say, the Simpsons encounter! (The image above is from last Sunday's Christmas-themed episode, which was as sharp and joke-filled as the series has ever been.)
The best sight gag I've seen in a while. Here's the backstory.
It only took about two years, but this evening we tapped into the digital archive and watched a 2009 Simpsons episode called Bart Gets a Z, the Z referring to a too-cool teacher who uses Twitter, Facebook and texting to teach the kids. Where was Mrs. Krabappel? She got sacked for getting drunk on the job (Bart slipped some Irish into her coffee), and she wound up running a muffin shop. Among her competitors? The above, a nice rip on H.R. Pufinstuf.
Our son just came up with this one, as a possible Christmas special title for The Simpsons.
"Look what's under the Mistle-[annoyed grunt]"
If it needs explaining, "annoyed grunt" is the script direction given to Dan Castellaneta, who came up with "D'oh!" As an ongoing joke, "annoyed grunt" now shows up in show titles and elsewhere, and is meant to be read as good ol' D'oh.
Indeed, as Castellaneta himself explains in this interview, the Simpsons writers still insist on using "annoyed grunt" in scripts, even though D'oh has become an accepted component of English usage.
My contribution to St. Patrick's Day - don't get me started on green beer and plastic hats - is one of my favourite exchanges in the Simpsons Movie, in which Lisa meets and falls for Colin, the young boy from Ireland:
Colin: I'm Colin.
Lisa: I haven't seen you at school.
C: Just moved from Ireland. My dad's a musician.
L: Is he ... ??
C: He's not Bono.
L: I just thought, because you're Irish and you care about ...
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.