I want you back in my life, colawars.83p

Do you know how things you trea­sure from your past prob­a­bly would­n’t hold up if you tried to enjoy them again years later?

That does­n’t apply here, buddy.

Because there aren’t more impor­tant things to think about these days, nope, my mind recent­ly start­ed wan­der­ing back to a game I played on my graph­ing cal­cu­la­tor back in high school.

I did a lot of that back then, most­ly dur­ing class­es not nec­es­sar­i­ly math. And while there were def­i­nite­ly bet­ter games, more atmos­pher­ic games, more fun games, more Tetrisy games — and dozens of oth­er games I spent more time on — I’m not sure any cap­tured my imag­i­na­tion quite like this one did.

It was called Cola Wars and this game was absurd. You would buy and sell cans of Coke, Sprite, Moun­tain Dew, RC Cola and — because it was the late 90s — Jolt. You’d buy them on the street from a deal­er and try to re-sell them. Prices would go up and down. For some rea­son you had to avoid the cops.

I was struck by the sheer… I guess the word would be “ran­dom­ness” of the idea. It did­n’t cross my unso­phis­ti­cat­ed mind that it could have been a metaphor, an alle­go­ry or some­thing. I sin­cere­ly believed that some­one in the world just one day decid­ed that they would make a game about the risks and rewards of illic­it­ly sell­ing soft drinks on the sec­ondary market.

So when I lat­er dis­cov­ered that there was a game called Drug­wars, and that TI-83 was def­i­nite­ly not the first plat­form it was avail­able on, and that the weird drinks game was a rip-off — if not a sim­ple find-and-replace — it explained how this mys­te­ri­ous, supreme­ly odd duck came into existence.

And I guess it took away some of the appeal. But just a lit­tle. I’d love to find a copy and play it again, but the places I would nor­mal­ly look have failed me. And I’ve done some seri­ous Way­back Machine spelunking.

Help me, the Internet.

That time I sparked an international penis competition during the World Cup

Are you there, Inter­net? It’s me, Everett. Hey, so I actu­al­ly wrote this years ago, around World Cup 2014, and nev­er post­ed it. P.S. Warn­ing: there are car­toon dicks in this post. It is not rec­om­mend­ed for audi­ences of any kind.

There’s this Mia­mi park­ing garage I fre­quent, and in this garage recent­ly was this car that had­n’t been moved in a while.

At one point the car sim­ply bore an unimag­i­na­tive “wash me” traced into the dirt (but in Span­ish), and some for­mer finger-painting arteest lat­er added a penis to this. It had a pair of tes­ti­cles at the bot­tom and a shaft extend­ing upward — this is pret­ty much what you would expect if you asked any­one in the world to draw you the Pla­ton­ic ide­al car­toon dick.

Hel-lo, mid­dle school.[fn]Speaking of which, oh man, I have this great sto­ry involv­ing my friends Chris and David in 6th grade.[/fn]

I walked by it a few times — always cring­ing, not out of moral­i­ty but good taste — before it occurred to me that I could fix this; I’d not only make this total­ly safe-for-work, but I would make this awe­some. I start­ed by adding a few extra cir­cles to where the tes­ti­cles were at the bot­tom, cre­at­ing the appear­ance of a plume of smoke. And going up the side of the shaft, I sim­ply wrote “USA.”

I’d con­vert­ed this crude penis nobody wants to see into a total­ly sweet Space Shut­tle in the process of launch­ing. Or so I thought.

It turns out that at the time some­where in the world, some coun­tries were play­ing some soc­cer (foot­ball, what­ev­er, shut up) thing, and a small but ardent group of peo­ple were con­cerned with the out­come of this tournament.

International Penis Car

Crazy, right? Well, as it turns out, they all seemed to park in this garage. Over the course of a few weeks, in strange out­bursts of nation­al pride, new penis­es began fill­ing the wind­shield along­side the USA penis. Each of these bore the name of a coun­try that — I’m just assum­ing here — had teams that were com­pet­ing in that soc­cer (f.w.s.) thing. Some were big. Some were small. One was Belgium.

I’d sparked an inter­na­tion­al cartoon-dick-measuring contest.

So was it my fault that every­body com­plete­ly missed what I was going for? Should I have drawn a launch tow­er? Sol­id rock­et boost­ers? Or would they have just seen these as penile enhance­ments? That’s like­ly, since the oth­er par­tic­i­pants took my smoke plume to mean that this was a six-testicled mon­ster cock. (Something-something… ani­me.)

The next time this hap­pens, I think I’m writ­ing “NASA.”

Is this going to be forever?

Let’s talk about me.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was­n’t released at a very good time for me. I was in col­lege, away from home and most of my gam­ing friends. Also, it was released for the Nin­ten­do Game­Cube, which his­to­ry has shown us was­n’t a ter­ri­bly suc­cess­ful con­sole. In fact, I don’t think any of my clos­est friends back then owned a GameCube.

But because I know peo­ple who know peo­ple, there was a hand­ful of oppor­tu­ni­ties to play Melee over the next few years.

I’d be at peo­ple’s hous­es and find mostly-young, mostly-male groups gath­ered around the TV trad­ing smash attacks between sig­na­ture Nin­ten­do char­ac­ters in the most won­der­ful­ly whim­si­cal car­toon fight­ing game imag­in­able. Mor­tal Kom­bat this is not. Up to four play­ers at a time would spend a few min­utes at a time bat­tling Links, Mar­ios, Kir­bys, Pikachus[fn]By the way — just sayin’ — f Pikachu.[/fn] (and many oth­ers) in lev­els pulled from famil­iar Nin­ten­do games. They’d be talk­ing trash and throw­ing flow­ers and bombs and base­ball bats at each oth­er… much as my clos­est friends and I had spent lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of hours doing a few years ear­li­er in the Nin­ten­do 64 Super Smash Bros., the orig­i­nal game in the series.

smash-bros-melee2001’s Melee, how­ev­er, was a very dif­fer­ent beast from ‘64,’ and is still held in high regard by many, and still a tournament-favorite — despite new install­ments of the series being released in 2008 and 2014.

Gosh, I’ve always hat­ed Melee.

Even today it’s still the fastest-paced and most bru­tal game of the series — the speed each game runs at is a design deci­sion made by the devel­op­ers — but Melee felt espe­cial­ly amped-up com­ing from the down­right glacially-paced 64, even today still the slowest-paced game in the series. That alone made it tough to get into Melee—imag­ine pick­ing up the con­troller and being mer­ci­less­ly pound­ed by up to three oth­er play­ers (who prob­a­bly play this all damn day), while you strug­gle to fig­ure out how to not acci­den­tal­ly fall off the edge of the level.

Seri­ous­ly you guys, when you’re ready to play a real game, I’ll kick your ass with Link in 64!” is a thing I prob­a­bly said every time I played Melee.

Speed was one prob­lem for me in Melee, but my oth­er one was the Game­Cube con­troller. Yeah, I know: the design is still held up as one of the best con­trollers ever, believed by many to rep­re­sent Nin­ten­do at their peak, right before their Wii-era fol­ly of appeal­ing to the dread­ed “casu­al” mar­ket with the waggle-motion-centric Wiimote. The clas­sic Game­Cube con­troller is still sup­port­ed in new­er Smash titles, and is still the choice among the hard­core Smash crowd… despite the half-dozen oth­er con­troller options that are also sup­port­ed at this point. How could I pos­si­bly not see what an amaz­ing gift Nin­ten­do had bestowed upon us with the Game­Cube controller?

gamecube-controller-smash-brosYeah, so I nev­er real­ly “got” the Game­Cube con­troller. I nev­er learned how to effec­tive­ly use the soft ana­log ‘shoul­der’ but­tons, nev­er became com­fy with the lay­out of the right-side ‘fire’ but­tons (X, Y, A, B) — the real meat of any con­troller. Com­ing from 64, I knew what the C‑stick was for, but it just was­n’t the same as the four yel­low but­tons of old. And I’m sor­ry, but the Z but­ton is just wrong—it goes on the bot­tom, you jerks.

With a decade-plus of hind­sight, it’s clear now that my prob­lems with Super Smash Bros. Melee, and with the Game­Cube con­troller in gen­er­al, were most­ly due to a lack of famil­iar­i­ty. I did­n’t have the chance to spend time alone learn­ing Melee at my own pace… or bar­ring that, hav­ing hours upon hours to spend com­pet­ing with close friends to sharp­en my skills, like I did in high school. And I’ve always felt a lit­tle hand­i­capped when it comes to pick­ing up steam at new games that favor play­ers with, you know, reflex­es. I did­n’t real­ly grow up with games at home when I was young — I def­i­nite­ly missed a lot of the for­ma­tive stuff that oth­er 1980s babies grew up on.

Any­way, although I essen­tial­ly sat out the entire Game­Cube era, busy with col­lege and oth­er life stuff, my inter­est in gam­ing was rein­vig­o­rat­ed with the release of the Nin­ten­do DS and lat­er the Wii. (Yes seri­ous­ly, the Wii.[fn]The con­sole was cheap enough, the motion con­trols seemed inter­est­ing enough, and the poten­tial for amaz­ing first-party Nin­ten­do games (Mario, Zel­da, etc.) made me take the plunge. I camped out on release night in 2006. Also, I had a job, some mon­ey, etc. And despite the tons of shov­el­ware, there were more than enough good Wii games.[/fn]) When the Wii-era Smash game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, came out a cou­ple of years lat­er, there was no stop­ping me from pick­ing it up.

I enjoyed Brawl and played a lot of it. Hav­ing my own copy at home put me in a good posi­tion to get fair­ly good at it. It was very dif­fer­ent from 64—way more char­ac­ters and way more every­thing — and as a lot of the hard­core com­plain, way, way dif­fer­ent than Melee. “It’s so slow!” “It’s for noobs!” What­ev­er; the slow­er pace and the not-GameCube con­trols are prob­a­bly what I liked most about Brawl. Thank good­ness they cor­rect­ed their Melee mis­step, I thought.

My new­found enthu­si­asm for con­sole gam­ing died down a few years lat­er. I haven’t real­ly been keep­ing up with the new Nin­ten­do Wii U or 3DS stuff at all. But my orig­i­nal Wii remains below the TV, and I turn it on every cou­ple of months, usu­al­ly to play an old-timey 8- or 16-bit classic.[fn]There’s a good chance it’s Dusty Dia­mond’s All-Star Soft­ball. Got­ta stay sharp.[/fn]

Some­thing hap­pened last week. An Ars Tech­ni­ca arti­cle about com­pet­i­tive Smash, and the endur­ing tour­na­ment lega­cy of Melee, showed up in my RSS. Before I had even fin­ished the arti­cle, I’d already been to Ama­zon and ‘Prime’d myself a Game­Cube con­troller and mem­o­ry card… and an over­priced used copy of Super Smash Bros. Melee.

My girl­friend was going to be out of town for the rest of the week. The time was right to dive in headfirst.

What hap­pened to me?

Look, I devel­oped this atti­tude as I grew clos­er to 30 a few years back. It goes a lit­tle like this:

So… is that it? Is this real­ly how it’s gonna be for the rest of your life?

As I read the Ars arti­cle through these attitude-tinted lens­es, I decid­ed that my hat­ing Melee was based on shaky rea­son­ing at best. The way I felt about it after my few tries may have been a gen­uine and rea­son­able reac­tion to get­ting pum­meled while flail­ing use­less­ly with this weird-ass con­troller, but let’s be hon­est: I nev­er gave the game a fair shot.

That, paired with the fact that Melee’s still so wide­ly held in such high regard almost 14 years lat­er — it’s def­i­nite­ly not just mind­less fan­boys trum­pet­ing the new hot thing — made me think hey-why-not? I essen­tial­ly have a Game­Cube just sit­ting there — it’s actu­al­ly built into the hard­ware of the orig­i­nal Wii.

A cou­ple of days lat­er, my lit­tle care pack­age from the past arrived. Pre­dictably, I still fuck­ing suck.

But I think it’s going to be fun this time.

Not everyone’s a critic

As a kid, I hat­ed “crit­i­cal think­ing” questions.

I did­n’t know what the term even meant, but what I did know was that about a third of the ques­tions at the end of each chap­ter in my school text­books were “crit­i­cal think­ing” ques­tions. I’d read the assigned text — well, usu­al­ly — but skim­ming the chap­ter for key words would mag­i­cal­ly reveal the answers… at least for all the nor­mal questions.

In what year did Napolean what­ev­er? I knew the hack for that: scan the text for numbers.

My goal was to get my work done as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, because the draw of TV time at home, and “free time” in class was strong. Crit­i­cal think­ing was an annoy­ing road­block to very impor­tant leisure. I just want­ed to get done.

As an adult, I take my time when I work — I just try not to com­plete­ly Dou­glas Adams my dead­lines, if you catch my drift. Qual­i­ty is impor­tant (although it’s only job two), and if I fin­ish some­thing ear­ly, odds are it could use some more thought, anoth­er look tomor­row with fresh eyes, or some­thing like that.

There real­ly is no prize for fin­ish­ing first.

I real­ize now that the crit­i­cal think­ing ques­tions were the only ones that ever real­ly mat­tered. Teach­ers prob­a­bly told us that, but it did­n’t mean any­thing at the time. And when I look around today, I get the sense that to a lot of my peers, it still doesn’t.

Derechos, am I right(s)?

Span­ish is a lan­guage I’ve stud­ied on and off through­out my life, but nev­er hard enough, it seems. See­ing a pam­phlet recent­ly, titled Declaración de los dere­chos, made me feel that way. The actu­al mean­ing (“dec­la­ra­tion of rights”) was easy enough for me to fig­ure out, but I was sur­prised when I real­ized that the Span­ish word for “rights” is dere­chos.

Whether or not you under­stand Span­ish, you may be won­der­ing why I found this so strange.

Well, a word in Span­ish I cer­tain­ly know is derecha (which means “right”… as in, the direc­tion that isn’t “left”) — it’s one of the first words any­one learns in Span­ish. And despite that word and dere­chos hav­ing dif­fer­ent gen­ders, it can’t be a coin­ci­dence that the two words are almost the same in both Eng­lish and Spanish.

What’s so weird about that? Why should­n’t these Eng­lish homo­phones be sim­i­lar in Spanish?

I’d explain it like this: I most­ly feel this way because of how it works with anoth­er pair of Span­ish words — in Eng­lish, the word free has dif­fer­ent mean­ings that each trans­late dif­fer­ent­ly. Most of the time we prob­a­bly think of it in the “cost­ing zero dol­lars” sense… but there’s also the arguably higher-minded def­i­n­i­tion “exist­ing with­out restric­tion.” In Span­ish, they’re two very dif­fer­ent words, the for­mer being gratis and the lat­ter being libre.

In the English-speaking world, I see the dif­fer­ence between the two “frees” most often come up in the Free Soft­ware[fn]You may also know this as “Open Source,” although there are folks who will tell you that they’re not the same thing. These folks have beards.[/fn] com­mu­ni­ty. When dis­cussing Free Soft­ware phi­los­o­phy, peo­ple will wax elo­quent about the dif­fer­ent mean­ings of free, using phras­es like “free as in beer” and “free as in free­dom” to help con­trast the two. They’ll also occa­sion­al­ly veer into expla­na­tions of Span­ish vocab­u­lary to high­light the dif­fer­ence, point­ing out that gratis and libre are more pre­cise ways to describe two kinds of soft­ware, both of which are “free,” but in sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent sens­es of the word.

With my mind steeped in this soft­ware salon cul­ture of the back-alley forums of the Inter­net, I became so keen­ly aware of the extra mean­ing words can pick up when trans­lat­ed into oth­er languages.

And that’s why I find it so hard to believe that, en Español, “rights” are sim­ply dere­chos. The trans­la­tion should be some­thing more abstract… more libre-like. I would­n’t have guessed that when trans­lat­ed, my rights become “not lefts.”

No Ovaltine please — we’re cool

As a kid, I did­n’t know any­thing about Oval­tine aside from their com­mer­cials, so I had­n’t seen it as a spon­sor of clas­sic radio and tele­vi­sion, as a joke on Sein­feld, or as a big fat liar in A Christ­mas Sto­ry. I can’t remem­ber any of my friends hav­ing any­thing to say about it, either.

I was total­ly unbiased.

But from the com­pa­ny’s mar­ket­ing alone, I could tell that rich choco­late Oval­tine was uncool. I had nev­er drunk any — and decades lat­er, I still haven’t — but if I ever had, I cer­tain­ly would­n’t have told any­one about it.

I’m not exact­ly sure why the stuff made my lame-sense tin­gle as a kid. Maybe because Oval­tine was named after a shape (and shapes are for lit­tle kids), or that its mar­ket­ing proud­ly pro­claimed that it was full of vit­a­mins (like every­thing par­ents love, and kids don’t), but what I sus­pect it was… was a lit­tle more basic than that.

Watched the ad above? Note the end­ing. “More Oval­tine, please!” closed all Oval­tine ads of my child­hood. My present-day cyn­i­cal, works-in-marketing self can imag­ine some agency sell­ing this con­cept to the Oval­tine com­pa­ny with “Look, these kids not only love this vitamin-filled drink, but they love it so much they’ll devel­op man­ners and ask for it polite­ly! Par­ents will eat this up!”

But my kid self saw things a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly. “Wow, these kids are super-polite. That’s total­ly uncool.[fn]Full dis­clo­sure: I was kind of a polite kid, and I def­i­nite­ly thought I was uncool. Shoe fits.[/fn] I don’t want this. Where’s the Nestlé Quik? That rab­bit is cool.”

There’s a mar­ket­ing mes­sage here, and it prob­a­bly goes a lit­tle some­thing like this:

If you have dif­fer­ent tar­gets, your mes­sag­ing needs to speak dif­fer­ent­ly (use “code-switching”) when speak­ing to dif­fer­ent tar­gets — there’s per­il to face when one tar­get receives a mes­sage tai­lored to anoth­er. It may fall on deaf ears, or maybe turn them off, entire­ly. Tell my mom about the vit­a­mins — tell me about the chocolate.

And so on. But there’s also a human mes­sage here:

Look, as you grow you’re encour­aged to “act your age” and as part of that, cast aside things and behav­iors asso­ci­at­ed with peo­ple younger than you, and instead do things that are more becom­ing for some­one as grown as you are. Soci­ety beats the kid out of you.

To be able to act your age is won­der­ful and arguably nec­es­sary… as long as you can still, as they say, “walk a mile” in small­er shoes when the sit­u­a­tion calls for it. And, of course, rec­og­nize why a kid — this kid, kind of grown up now — may not be inter­est­ed in your vit­a­min drink, how­ev­er how rich and choco­latey it might be.

 

Interchangeable Parts: Double-edge safety razors

This is the first in a series of posts about cool things with inter­change­able parts. What?

The first time I shaved, I used a cheap dis­pos­able razor that I hap­pened to find in the bath­room. I was 15.

These were dread­ful, by the way.

I did­n’t know any bet­ter at the time, and I did­n’t learn any bet­ter for a while. It was easy to just keep using pro­gres­sive­ly bladier multi-blade car­tridge mod­els. Two blades to start, then four after a cou­ple of years. I stuck with four long after the world had moved ahead, but I soon caught up with the whole five blade deal.

Clear­ly my razor was­n’t the only tool in the bathroom.

I’d hear mum­blings from oth­er men about bet­ter ways to shave, but the thought of my moth­er scold­ing me because I cut my throat open because I was using a dan­ger­ous razor still loomed large in my otherwise-independent adult brain. I was in my mid-20s by that point, but I’ll nev­er out­grow that sort of thing because she’ll nev­er out­grow not let­ting me hear the end of it if some­thing goes wrong.

It’s a good thing I did­n’t lis­ten to hypothetical-her (sor­ry, mom) because if I had, I would­n’t have picked up my first double-edge razor a cou­ple of years ago.

My what?

Double-edge razors are also known as “safe­ty razors” because they were a heck of a lot safer than those big, scary straight razors that were com­mon before them.

It may seem iron­ic today, because it’s def­i­nite­ly eas­i­er to cut your­self with a double-edge than with a car­tridge razor, but you know what else is eas­i­er to cut with a double-edge? The hair on your face. Which is what matters.

Shav­ing with one of these sharp thin­gies requires you to take it slow, but that’s alright.

Seriously though, they’re actually good

I use a double-edge razor because[fn]I don’t use them for the same rea­sons these strange shav­ing gear fetishists do.[/fn] I find them to be more effec­tive, lead to less skin irri­ta­tion and few­er ingrown hairs, and over the long run, actu­al­ly be cheap­er. It’s also nice that shav­ing this way leads to a lot less waste to be thrown away.

It was only after I began shav­ing with one for the rea­sons above, that I real­ized anoth­er ben­e­fit: I’m shav­ing with an open sys­tem of inter­change­able parts.

Fuck yeah, interchangeable parts

Since safe­ty razors have been around since the very ear­ly 1900s, any patents on the sys­tem have long-since expired. That means that any­one can cre­ate han­dles or blades that are com­pat­i­ble with every­thing else avail­able for the sys­tem, which leads to a wealth of choice for both han­dles and blades… which of course means low prices.

What excites me much more than the poten­tial for sav­ing mon­ey (sor­ry again, mom) is the poten­tial for cus­tomiza­tion that such an open sys­tem allows. Basi­cal­ly, I can pair any razor designed for this stan­dard—fat han­dles, skin­ny han­dles, short han­dles, shiny onesdouchebag ones, ones from the future, uh, this one—with any blade that I want. This means I can sep­a­rate the style from the sub­stance; I can pair my favorite han­dle with my favorite blade and have what is, to me, the ulti­mate shav­ing machine.

Also, cheap

Ever heard some­one com­plain about how expen­sive it is to shave, or more specif­i­cal­ly, to buy refills for a car­tridge razor? I prob­a­bly don’t need to explain the razor and blades busi­ness mod­el that car­tridge razors fol­low. (If you like pay­ing a lot of mon­ey for the rest of for­ev­er, you’ll love it.)

If you perused those Ama­zon links above, you’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing what’s wrong with my idea of “cheap.” Well, the double-edge razor turns the razor and blades mod­el on its head; in this world, the han­dle is the more expen­sive item, with $30 US not being unusu­al for the more com­mon brands. How­ev­er, this buys a qual­i­ty met­al instru­ment that will like­ly out­live you… and you def­i­nite­ly make up for it with the blades — 10¢ or 20¢ blades are common!

The future

The double-edge shav­ing sys­tem isn’t going anywhere.

While it’s obvi­ous­ly less pop­u­lar now than it was in its hey­day (but so were fedo­ras, and cool guys still wear those), we know how the Inter­net changes things; retail­ers can use it to sell obscure prod­ucts to weirdos every­where, the kind of things mass-market brick-and-mortar loca­tions would nev­er both­er stock­ing on their shelves. I don’t mind buy­ing online and wait­ing a few days, so I can have any blade I want deliv­ered to my door.

Cheap­er, bet­ter and ulti­mate­ly, more inter­change­able. That’s why I shave like this.