Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sorry Mario, But Your Dignity Is In Another Castle

Sixty-nine days have elapsed since the start of the new year. My most notable accomplishment of 2013 thus far: completing the original Super Mario Bros. trilogy.  My eight-year-old self would be incredibly proud of me.

I played all three games last month on my Wii. You know the theory that suggests that when you learn a new fact, it replaces an old one stored in your brain? It is not applicable to Nintendo knowledge. I remembered the location of every 1-Up mushroom, every warp zone, every whistle in the Super Mario games. It's my hope that I'll retain these sort of video game secrets the rest of my life. One day, I'd like to have the opportunity to pass down the Konami code to my future grandchildren.

The premise of the first Super Mario Bros. game is simple: a plumber named Mario travels through the Mushroom Kingdom in an attempt to rescue Princess Peach from the evil Bowser, the leader of the turtle-like Koopa race. The story is loosely based on real-life events that occurred in Japan in the early 1980s.

Bowser is a complex character. He is virtually indestructible, as evidenced by the fact that he's been resurrected in Super Mario games for nearly 30 years. Fell into a lava pit? No problem. Fell into a lava pit again? Who cares? Fell into a lava pit for a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth time? Big deal.

But Bowser obviously has his flaws. For example, he has an unhealthy obsession with lava pit rooms. The easiest way to avoid falling into a pit of lava is to not own a pit of lava.

Oh, and Bowser, perhaps it's time for you to have those question blocks removed from your castles. There's not much sense in letting Mario power up with mushrooms and earn 1-Ups in your own home, with the Princess' freedom on the line. How many castles with lava pit rooms and question blocks do you need, anyway? I know you are the king of Koopas, but one well-designed, booby-trapped castle should suffice.

More on the Super Mario Bros. series. The plot of the original game is recycled in Super Mario Bros. 3: the Princess is captured by Bowser, and Mario comes to her aid.

In Super Mario World, the fourth Super Mario game and the first for Super Nintendo, Bowser kidnaps the Princess, and Mario is forced to save her.

Notice a trend here? The Princess is abducted in Nintendo 64's Mario 64, the Wii's Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and countless other Nintendo-produced games along the way.

(I omitted Super Mario Bros. 2 for Nintendo because in that game the Princess is not in peril -- she's a playable character. But you eventually find out that Mario had dreamed the events of the game. He'd fantasized that the Princess is a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself. So you can see how much her personal problems have weighed on his mind.)

What is Mario's incentive to risk his lives for the Princess as often as he does? Well, the answer is pretty obvious, isn't it: He's in love. Isn't that why all men do really dumb things? Would Mario ever have another reason to run past fireballs, duck underneath bullets, and transform into a raccoon? He desperately wants to impress the Princess.

This feels like a slow-building romance that you've watched unfold on countless sitcoms. Except Mario is not Jim Halpert and the Princess is not Pam Beesly. Mario is more comparable to Skippy, and the Princess to Mallory Keaton.

The Princess doesn't let Mario get too close to her, doesn't show much gratitude for his bravery. She simply keeps her conversation with Mario to a minimum. Remember what she said to him at the end of Super Mario Bros.? "Thank you Mario! Your quest is over. We present you a new quest."

What a letdown for Mario. If I were him at that moment, I'd be crestfallen. I'd wonder to myself, "Really? I just conquered a fire-breathing monster for you and all you have to say to me is, 'We present you with a new quest'? What the...?! Alright fine, I'll accept your stupid new quest, but before I go, can I get a hug, or a friendly punch on the shoulder?"

This is the power that women have over men. If they want you to put your lives on the line for them, not once, but twice, you have no choice but to suck it up and hope you win some brownie points with them.

By the conclusion of Super Mario Bros. 3, the Princess can't even stand to be in the same room with Mario. She tells him, "Thank you. But our Princess is in another castle!...Just kidding! Ha ha ha! Bye bye." Good one, Princess. Bye bye to you too, you ingrate.

To be fair, her heart softens a little bit in the later games; she gives him a peck on the head in Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. U. But does she send any signals that she's willing to take her relationship with Mario to the next levels? No.

The Princess is nothing but a tease. She toys with Mario's emotions, strings him along just enough to ensure that he'll be there for her the next time she's captured by Bowser. Mario needs to come to grips with the fact that she's using him. And his brother, Luigi, for that matter. She's essentially pit the two against one another. Her story could be the basis of a Jerry Springer episode:  "I'm Juggling Two Plumbers -- And They're Bros.!"

I'm a longtime fan of the Super Mario games, but I'm pulling for Mario to break out of his cycle of rescue-rejection-repeat. I want to see him leave the Princess behind, once and for all, and maintain some shred of dignity.

There are many other princesses out there who would appreciate an adventurous but smallish hero. In fact, Mario may want to put in a call to Link; he knows a woman who is Mario's type.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Life Of Qi

A year ago, I signed up for Words With Friends. I did so with one goal in mind: Win Against Friends.  Defeat them. Annihilate them. Decimate them. Demolish them. Obliterate them. Outmaneuver them. Prevail over them. Vanquish them.*

* Synonyms for the word "defeat" courtesy of

Full of confidence and equipped with an extensive vocabulary, I assumed I would learn the nuances of Words With Friends rather quickly and then engage in a series of one-sided games with my closest pals. And the games have been one-sided, though, unexpectedly, not in my favor.

I have played approximately 50 games of Words With Friends in the past year. I've won 10 of them, if that. My winning percentage, at best, is .200. Unacceptable. Mediocre. Inadequate, even. (Exit, stage left!)

I've examined every one of my losses, and there's a common thread among virtually all of them. There was a particular moment midway through the vast majority of these games in which the tide turned and I fell into a deficit I could not possibly overcome. It's a moment that can be summed up with just two letters: "Q" and "I."

As in "Qi," a word I am convinced was created for the sole purpose of allowing my friends to tally an illogically high points total against me in Words With Friends. I never recover from the momentum swing caused by a well-placed "Qi." Just as I'm keeping pace with the other player on the scoreboard, BAM, he or she drops the "Qi" bomb on me: a "Q" on the "TL" tile (a triple letter score) and, if he or she is especially lucky, the "I" on a "DW" (double word score) or "TW" (triple word score) tile.

Seriously, what the heck is a "Qi"? I can guarantee you my opponents don't know. I propose that if an opponent cannot recite the definition of the word before play begins, he or she may not use it during the game.

I haven't the slightest clue what "Qi" means, but I can offer you my own personal definition: a "BS" word that should be banned from the Words With Friends dictionary. I would add a couple of "Qi" synonyms from here, but none are listed on the site, which further proves my point that it's a bogus word. Really, "BS" should be a playable combination; I use those two letters together in conversation way more than "Q" and "I."

After my opponent plays the "Qi" card, I wrack my brain in the hopes that I can come up with a word that's equally impressive and equally valuable in the game. Always, I fail. So I then attempt to mish-mash whichever letters I have. Maybe I can string together a bunch of letters, place one of them on a "DW" or "TW" tile and make up some ground that way?

One word I often try -- and I have no explanation for this -- is "Snooki." Yes, the nickname of Jersey Shore star Nicole Polizzi. Words With Friends does not accept "Snooki" as a valid word. I beg to differ. It is a valid word. Look at the cover of any magazine at the supermarket checkout line; it's absolutely valid.

Perhaps if I were to spell the word as "SnooQI," Words With Friends would be more accepting of it.