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Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Raccoons

This weekend, I’m turning my whole blog red to celebrate Canada Day weekend.  I am Canadian, and I wanted to do something special for this blog as we celebrate Canada’s 145th birthday. 

And, for this special weekend, I thought that I would make this whole weekend Canadian themed.  Tomorrow, I’ll feature a quintessential album by one of Canada’s most successful musical artists, but for today, I thought we’d add a little bit of Canadian spice to the Saturday Morning cartoon feature.

Before we get into that, however, you may have noticed that the contest deadline has changed.  That’s because I have not received any winning entries as of yet for the contest at all.  To enter, you need to scope out the May 24, 2012 entry on the blog and find the items that match the clues that I’ve given out on the entry.  The new deadline is August 15.  And, I’ll add on some more incentive.  You don’t HAVE to answer every question.  If you don’t know it skip it.  Just answer as many as you know, and the person who gets the most questions correct will be declared the winner.  Please send all entries to no later than August 15, 2012.   Remember what the prize is...the chance to control my blog for one whole week.

Okay, now back to the special Canada Day blog entry.  Today’s blog entry is about a Canadian cartoon series that first began as a series of television specials on CBC.  A few years later, it was turned into a regular series, which lasted an additional six years on the channel. 

Have you ever heard of a singer named Lisa Lougheed?  Many of you in the United States and abroad probably have not, but in Canada, she had a few single releases up in these parts, including 1992’s “World Love” and “Love Vibe”.  Her first single, however, was released all the way back in 1987, when Lisa was just a teenager.  It was this song.

The song was called “Run With Us”, and it did fairly well on the Canadian Adult Contemporary Charts, peaking at #8 in 1988.  However, I’m sure that many of you Canadians reading this blog who are my age or older may recall this song from another source.  This song happened to play over the closing credits of today’s Saturday Morning cartoon feature.

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s focus is on the Canadian cartoon, “The Raccoons”, created by Kevin Gillis.

TRIVIA:  Lisa Lougheed also voiced the character of Lisa Raccoon in “The Raccoons”.

The show was one of Canada’s most successful cartoons, airing in both Canada and the United States (and presumably some other nations in the world aired it as well).  But some of you might be surprised to learn that the program aired during the entirety of the 1980s and part of the 1990s as well.

The conception of “The Raccoons” began in the late 1970s.  At the time, show creator Kevin Gillis was already making a name for himself on several Canadian television programs including “Celebrity Cooks” and “Yes You Can” (the latter of which I remember watching in the earliest days of YTV), and came up with the idea along with columnist Gary Dunford.  The show was based on a conflict that was happening at a cottage in their hometown.  I’m not particularly sure what the conflict was exactly, but given that in most episodes of the show, the Raccoons have to prevent their home from being destroyed by a greedy land developer, I’m under the assumption that a similar situation was taking place.  But, don’t quote me on that, as I honestly have no idea.

Whatever the case, at some point during the development of the characters and show, Dunford decided that he didn’t want to be a part of it, and backed out.  Gillis, on the other hand, refused to let his Raccoons die.  So, he took his creations to a lawyer based in Ottawa, a man by the name of Sheldon S. Wiseman, who saw a lot of potential in the characters.  He and Gillis then assembled a team of writers, animators, and musicians to begin work on a television special in 1979.

On December 17, 1980, that special, “The Christmas Raccoons” aired for the first time on CBC.  This television special was such a huge hit that two more television specials were immediately commissioned, in 1981 and 1983.  Shortly after this, a home video was released in 1984, “The Raccoons:  Let’s Dance”, which also proved to be popular.

By 1984, everybody was talking about the Raccoons, and that same year, executives from both CBC and The Disney Channel had a series of business meetings, and decided to begin funding the show for an entire series of shows.

TRIVIA:  The entire series was estimated to have cost $4.5 million to make.

The first episode of the television series aired in the fall of 1985, and the series ran until early 1991.  So in total, “The Raccoons” had aired on television for almost eleven consecutive years (the lone exception being 1982, when no episodes were filmed).

And just who were “The Raccoons”?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  For here is the section of the blog where we introduce all of you to the world of Evergreen Forest.

Evergreen Forest is just like your typical run of the mill Canadian forest.  There are lush green trees, beautiful scenery, and of course, the frolicking of the critters within the forest.

And here are some of these creatures now.

First, there’s who I would probably call the main characters of the program, the Raccoons.  There’s Ralph and Melissa Raccoon.  Ralph and Melissa happen to be a couple that are married and happily in love (admittedly a fact that I did not know until years after the show fact when I was younger, I thought they were brother and sister!!!), and live in their dream home lovingly called the “Raccoondominium”.  They both work at an office for a newspaper entitled “The Evergreen Standard”.  Ralph is the editor of the newspaper, and Melissa happens to work at the paper as a photographer.

TRIVIA:  Ralph was voiced by Bob Dermer, who also did the voices of Grumpy Bear on Care Bears, and Sam Crenshaw from Today’s Special.  Melissa, however, was voiced by no less than FOUR voice actors.  On the television series, she was voiced by both Linda Feige and Susan Roman, but on the television specials, she was voiced by a couple of famous ladies...singers Rita Coolidge and Dottie West.

There also happens to be a third Raccoon living with Ralph and Melissa.  No, they don’t have a child, but they did have a childhood friend who acted as if he were a child.  Bert Raccoon was your classic scene-stealing character.  Voiced by Len Carlson, Bert often spent each episode being happy-go-lucky, carefree, and excited.  He’s a huge fan of comic books and toys, and his personality can sometimes get him into some tough jams.  Nevertheless, Bert happens to have a sense of responsibility and knows the difference between right and wrong.  He works for the Evergreen Times as a newspaper carrier (and sometimes even writes articles for it as well), and he is always thinking of new ideas to make Evergreen Forest better...even if his rather impulsive nature can sometimes get the better of him.

There’s a very big reason why the three Raccoons decided to work at a newspaper.  Firstly, I believe that they have fun doing what they are doing.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it, you know?  However, there’s an even deeper reason why they have chosen the career path they have.  In some manner, their quest to find out the happenings in and around Evergreen Forest has helped them preserve their home for generations. 

You see, just outside of Evergreen Forest lives someone who sees the forest as one last barricade between himself and huge riches.

Cyril Sneer, voiced by Michael Magee.

The sad thing was that he didn’t even need any more money.  When we’re introduced to him, he’s doing quite well all on his own.  Unfortunately, Cyril Sneer happens to have as much greed inside of him to fill the entire length of his nose and then some.  And considering that Cyril Sneer is an aardvark, you know that has to be a lot of greed!  Sure enough, in the television specials that preceded the series, as well as the first few seasons of the series, Cyril Sneer regards Evergreen Forest as a gold mine.  By chopping down every tree he can, he can utilize the lumber and industry economy to his own advantage, and make a killing in profits in the process.  Of course, if he were to succeed, Ralph, Melissa, and Bert would end up homeless, and we couldn’t have that.  There wouldn’t be much of a show if that happened, now would there?

And to make matters worse, Cyril Sneer ended up having some allies in his quest for domination of Evergreen Forest.  With his dog, Fang, and his henchmen who are simply known as “The Pigs”, he attempted to come up with various plans and schemes to get whatever he wanted, no matter what.

It’s just too bad that the Raccoons ended up foiling each and every one of their plans.  Leave it to the Raccoons, they certainly knew how to put Cyril Sneer out of commission in a jiffy.  Mind you, the Raccoons had a bit of help along the way as well.  You had Schaeffer, a sheepdog who started off being a dimwitted dog, but as the series progressed, he became a lot smarter, even opening up his own business and helps fix the printing presses at the newspaper whenever needed.  A smaller sheepdog named Broo also makes several appearances during the series, befriending Bert.

There was also a woman named Sophia Tutu, who was first introduced in the 1981 television special “Raccoons On Ice” (which coincidentally is my all time favourite Raccoons episode, for it also incorporates another Canadian pastime – hockey – into the episode brilliantly).  She’s a bit of a ditz when we first meet her, but always has a kind word to say about anyone.

Now here’s something shocking.  The Raccoons biggest ally turned out to simultaneously be related to their worst enemy. 

Yes, Cedric Sneer was the son of the ruthless, money-hungry Cyril Sneer.  At the same time, he was also the best friend of Bert Raccoon.  Although Cedric is the only heir to the Sneer family fortune, his personality differs so much from his father’s that one might not even think that they are related at all if not for the fact that they look very similar.  Whereas Cyril is greedy and strong-willed, Cedric is shy, weak, and a bit of a nerd.  Although Cedric loved the Raccoons, he would often back down from a fight with his old man, as he feared him.  Over time though, Cedric would eventually develop a bit of a backbone, and he stood up to his father on more than one occasion.  In fact, in many episodes, the various plans that Cyril Sneer came up with to uproot Evergreen Forest were foiled by none other than his own son!  How’s that for delicious irony?

Of course, Cyril Sneer himself would end up becoming softer as he grew older.  Mind you, he was far from being a complete angel (because let’s face it, angelic Cyril Sneer would have been quite boring).  But Cyril did have his moments of greatness.  His love for Cedric far outweighed his love for money.  Even though Cedric was more often than not the main reason behind the failure of Cyril’s plans, it seemed as though all was forgiven by the following episode.  He also helped save a schoolhouse from being demolished, helped Lisa Raccoon give up smoking, and even went as far as stopping a more sinister baddie named Milton Midas from causing more damage after he completely destroyed a lake due to pollution.

I think in this case, Cyril Sneer even showed that the greediest of us do have a heart inside somewhere.  It just takes certain circumstances in order for it to appear.  I’ve often seen Cyril Sneer described as an anti-hero, and I think that description fits him well, so I’m going to use it too.

It has been several years since I’ve seen an episode of “The Raccoons”.  I suppose there is a part of me that hopes one day that the show will be resurrected in some form.  I know new episodes are out of the question as both Len Carlson and Michael Magee have passed away.  But, I would love to watch some of the old episodes again.  It truly was a one of a kind Canadian program.

I even owned some of those Raccoons themed colour changing markers in the second grade and used them for every possible art assignment.  Oh, to be a kid again to watch the show while drawing with my favourite markers.

That does it.  I’m writing a letter to CBC telling them to bring back my Raccoons!  They’re a Canadian institution, for crying out loud!

Friday, June 29, 2012

"My Three Sons" - In Loving Memory of Don Grady

I would imagine that it would be hard to say goodbye to somebody who you were quite close to.  I know that over the last couple of years, I have had to say a fond farewell to a couple of people who really meant a lot to me. 

I would imagine that this applies to people who starred in one of your favourite television shows as well.  Sure, the chances of you actually meeting a sitcom star that you grew up watching on television are slim to nil (well, unless you happen to live in Hollywood, California or New York City, that is, in which case your odds grow slightly exponentially).  However, when you read about them passing away in the newspaper, online, or over the radio, it makes one still feel quite sad.  It’s almost like you lost an old friend. 

Certainly there have been instances of this over the years.  I imagine a lot of people mourned the loss of Redd Foxx when he died of a heart attack on the set of “The Royal Family” in 1991.  I remember being shocked in 2003, when John Ritter unexpectedly passed away after being rushed to hospital from the set of “8 Simple Rules”. 

And then there was the recent passing of Don Grady, who passed away on June 27, 2012 from cancer just nineteen days after his 68th birthday.

If that name doesn’t quite ring a bell, you’re probably a bit on the young side.  It’s perfectly fine.  Before video sharing sites came along, I was unaware of the impact that Don Grady had in the world of prime time television.  After all, I was born nine years after the show that made him a star went off the air.  But, with today’s blog entry, I hope that I’ll be able to shed some light on who Don Grady was, as well as the show that helped make him famous.

That show, of course, was “My Three Sons”.

“My Three Sons” was a sitcom that ended up having a lot of notoriety attached to it.  First, the show was one of the few sitcoms to survive and thrive after a switch in networks.  In most cases, a show relocating from one network to another will in all likelihood kill the program.  Not “My Three Sons”, however.  The show swapped networks in 1965, moving from ABC to CBS, and ran for another SEVEN years!

You know, come to think of it, that’s another point that I would like to make in regards to “My Three Sons”.  The show debuted on September 29, 1960.  The show wrapped up on August 24, 1972!  If you’ve kept track, that’s twelve seasons that the show aired!  With 380 episodes filmed, it became the second longest running live-action sitcom of all time.  Only “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet surpassed “My Three Sons” with 435 episodes filmed over a fourteen season run.

Anyways, the show was all about a man named Steven Douglas (Fred MacMurray).  Douglas was a widower who worked as an aeronautical engineer who was trying to rear three sons on his own. 

Now, there’s a lot that I could say about the show itself (certainly with almost four hundred episodes of material to work with, I could talk about the characters, episodes, and theme songs for ages.  But, I thought that most people who read this blog might enjoy reading the behind the scenes moments in regards to “My Three Sons” rather than having a huge plot summary.  In my experience, that’s what I’ve noticed.

So for today, I’ll post some nuggets of trivia associated with this program, with a special focus on the late Don Grady.  Are you ready?  Here goes!

1 – The first season of the program contained 36 episodes (a lot when you consider that the average season of a television sitcom runs between 22 and 25 episodes).  All episodes of season one were directed by Peter Tewkesbury.

2 – The first five seasons of the show were filmed in black and white.  Part of the reason why the show swapped networks in 1965 was because of the fact that ABC did not want to commit to broadcasting in colour television.  As a result, when the show moved to CBS, the show aired in colour until the end of the show’s run.

3 – The three sons at the beginning of the program were Mike Douglas (Tim Considine), Robbie Douglas (Don Grady), and Richard “Chip” Douglas (Stanley Livingston).  But after Considine left the show in 1965 following a falling out with executive producer Don Fedderson, another child, Ernie Thompson, moved into the household to be adopted by the Douglas family.

4 – Ernie Thompson was played by Barry Livingston, who happens to be the real-life brother of Stanley Livingston.

5 – William Frawley (who many may also remember as Fred Mertz on “I Love Lucy” played the role of “Bub” during the first five seasons.  However, Frawley became ill during the filming of season five and “Bub” was replaced by Uncle Charley, played by William Demarest for the remainder of the show’s run.  Frawley would pass away in March 1966.

6 – Many of the show’s cast members had musical connections.  McMurray began his career playing saxophone during the 1930s, Grady played drums for the band “Yellow Balloon” in the 1960s, Tina Cole (who played Katie Miller Douglas) was born into the musical family “The King Family”, and Dawn Lyn (who played Dodie Harper Douglas) happens to be the younger sister of 1970s heartthrob Leif Garrett.

7 – The only actor to be in every episode of the series was Fred MacMurray.

8 – The show was filmed out of order due to the contract stipulations in MacMurray’s contract.  His contract allowed him to only work 65 days per year, and have a 10-week break in between filming, so that he could work on other projects.

9 – Don Grady was born Don Louis Agrati on June 8, 1944 in San Diego, California.

10 – Grady’s sister was Lani O’Grady, who once worked as a Mouseketeer.  She died of a drug overdose in 2001.

11 – Grady composed the theme song for Donahue.

12 – In 2008, Grady released an album entitled “JazRocPop”.

And, just because I thought it would be nice to see, I’ve included an interview that was done with Grady and the Livingston brothers just three years ago on CBS.

Rest in peace, Don Grady.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Lovin', Had Me A Blast

Are we all excited for summer vacation yet? I hope you are, because it's finally here! And, I'm sure that for many of you, you have plans for the summer. Whether you're hanging out at the mall sipping back Orange Julius beverages, lounging around at the beach hoping to get a little bit of a tan, or riding roller coasters until you vomit, I hope you enjoy yourselves.

Certainly, I have my own plans for the summer. I just attended the eighth grade graduation of two of my nephews a couple of days ago, and this August, I have a friend who is visiting from New York during my vacation away from my real job, so definitely expect to see a blog entry regarding that visit sometime this summer.

I don't know what it is about summer, but it just makes everything seem so much more fun. Buying Slush Puppies at the local gas station. Feeling the warm sunshine on your face. For kids who are young enough, getting two and a half months of freedom from school, homework, and evil teachers.

Summer's a great time for everyone.

So, I thought I'd talk about summers gone by, and how much I loved them. Because, that's basically what I mean by the note's title. The summer lovin' talks about how much I loved summer as a kid. Not about some Australian exchange student I fell in love with over one summer...or any summer romance that I may have had growing up because I never had one...but, you know, summer just began, so there's still hope for a summer fling...

...okay, now I'm going off on a tangent. I do that a lot.

Summertime for me was a great time as a kid. For one, being a kid who didn't have the greatest in-school memories, summer provided me two months of freedom to do whatever I so desired. I would have water balloon wars with people, I'd swim in my teeny-weeny Sesame Street kiddy pool (and don't laugh, that pool was cool until my dad accidentally plowed into it with the lawn mower and tore a hole in it.), and I'd walk over to Darling's Convenience Store and buy an ice cream and play Bubble Bobble. Sadly, Darling's has been replaced with a beauty salon, but I'll always remember the memories associated with that place.

I mean, let's face it. Summertime in the '80's was the absolute best (and by eighties, I mean the decade, not the temperature...though I guess both could apply).

The 1980's were also the summers that I probably remember the most.

Having been born and raised in a small town called Brockville, Ontario, I remember summers in the 1980's always being jam-packed with lots of activities and fun for people of all ages.

One of my favourite memories of Brockville summers that I can recall is the park program groups that I attended for six summers between 1987 and 1992 (or, if you want more detail, between the ages of six and eleven). They used to be run by the Brockville Parks & Recreation group and they were spread out in several different playgrounds. I don't quite remember all of the playgrounds that took part, but there was Toniata, Westmister, J.L. Jordan, Bramshot, and the program that I was a part of, Commonwealth. Okay, so technically, it was Commonwealth for 5 of the 6 summers I was there. In 1991, we were at the now torn down John Knox playground because Commonwealth was undergoing renovations in 1991, and lemme tell you, John Knox playground was so horrible in comparison to Commonwealth, as all they had for playground equipment were seesaws, a tunnel, and a basic set of monket bars...

...and, off I go on another tangent. If I do this again, please slap me. Hard.

As I was saying, I attended the Commonwealth group. To register for the park program, we were asked to join the playgrounds that were closest to where we lived. Since I was already a student at Commonwealth Public School at the time, it made perfect sense, right?

It proved to be quite bizarre as well. Whereas inside Commonwealth's hallways, I was always kind of treated like I was the uncool kid, or had leprosy or something, many of the kids who were in the playground group with me were very cool kids. The groups were for children aged 4-12, and there was a huge cross-section of kids of all ages. Certainly, the older kids hung out with the older kids, while the younger kids hung out with the younger kids, but when we all got together for group activities, we were all one group, and more importantly, we were all one group that got on well. That's not to say that we were all perfect fact, I can recall being a bit bratty in my younger days. But, that's par for the course. I mean, we were all kids once, right? Certainly going from one of the younger kids to five years later being one of the older definitely was quite a ride.

And, the park program was FUN!

Our camp leaders were always full of energy, and believe me they needed it to keep up with us kids! I don't remember all their names, but I do know a few. I guess Rebekah was one of the earliest ones I remember. Of course, I had known Rebekah for years prior, as she was one of my sister's best friends. Actually, speaking of which, my sister was also a program leader during the John Knox summer of '91, which was for the most part good (except when she caught me acting out...LOL). There was Elizabeth, who was probably with me for almost the whole run I was there, so she was probably the one I was closest to. I also remember a leader named Justine. The final year I was there, we had Shannon and Jennifer, who were also pretty cool. I can't seem to remember too many male program leaders though, which is a shame. But, the ones I do remember were special in their own way.  Yes, sister...even you.  :p

I guess the things I remember the most about the park program was that every single day was filled with surprises. We had theme weeks (Rock N Roll week, Transportation week, Colour week, etc) where we'd have costume contests and craft projects related to the week's theme. We also had special events based on what day of the week it was. For instance, on Tuesdays, we'd have a guest speaker come in to talk about nature and we'd make nature related crafts and play nature related games. Wednesdays we'd spend the afternoon at the Youth Arena where all six playgrounds would gather together for a mondo arts and crafts session. We'd draw pictures, and do all sorts of crafts like painting soda pop cans green and making them into frog statues (and yes, I still have mine). Thursdays we'd all head up to St. Lawrence Park for swimming. Good times.

We'd even take outings out of town. Annual trips to Crazy Horse at the 1000 Islands Camping Resort (which had a neat waterslide and mini golf course) and Studio 801/Celebrity Sportsworld in Kingston, Ontario (which sadly doesn't exist anymore, I believe) were things we all looked forward to.

Those park program memories are memories that I'll always treasure.

Another high point to look forward to was Riverfest and the Great Balloon Rodeo. The Great Balloon Rodeo was held just outside of town, and much like the name suggested, it was a festival that celebrated hot air balloons. There certainly was a lot of balloons both on the ground and in the air, and of course the kids in town would get toy balloons in all colours to play with. Of course, I hated balloons when they popped, so I never got any. There were also rides like the Scrambler and the Tilt-A-Whirl that one could ride on. Sadly, the festival is no longer in operation, which is a shame.

And then there's Riverfest. Only those people who would have grown up in the Leeds/Grenville area would have known what Riverfest used to be like, but let me tell you, it was so much fun.

For starters, it only cost $5 to get in for the entire TEN-DAY festival. Nowadays, it costs four times that much for a quarter of that length of time. But, back in the day, the cost was well worth it.

You got in with the annual Riverfest buttons. Here are a few examples of the buttons below:

As far back as I can remember, each year, the buttons were a different colour to prevent people from reusing them from year to year, though I could be mistaken. You will also notice that there is a 5-digit number on the bottom of the button. Every day, they'd draw a number at random at the CFJR booth for a prize. The final day of the festival had the best prize...usually a weekend getaway. I never won the button prizes, but I DID win a prize pack from a local restaurant years ago in a ballot box drawing. (The restaurant later closed down).

Sadly, the last year I can remember them using buttons was in 1995 (I've saved some of the old buttons, and 1995 is the most recent one I have). The next year, they used wristbands, which in my opinion was a substandard replacement...but anything to cut costs, I suppose.

Anyway, once you had your button, you were free to partake in any of the activities Riverfest had to offer. There were buskers down at Block House. Fireworks for Canada Day. The annual Riverfest parade on King Street. Sidewalk sales. Carnival midways. The whole nine yards.

The entertainment was very impressive, and I have to hand it to Brockville, back in the day, they did get some big names. Back in the day, I remember them having a lot of country acts like Crystal Gayle, Eddie Rabbitt, and Tommy Hunter...which seemed to please my parents moreso than me. But, then, we also had April Wine, Jann Arden, and the Barenaked Ladies, who I saw for Riverfest '96...or maybe it was '97...I can't remember. It was before their U.S. breakout in 1998...that much I know. Even recently, we have had Theory Of A Deadman, Hedley, INXS, and Finger Eleven come to Riverfest to perform.

Summertime in Brockville back in the day was awesome. It's just a real crying shame that summers in Brockville these days don't seem to be a good as they once were. I honestly feel sorry for children who live here now.

The park program that I used to attend as a kid no longer runs. I think 1995 was the last full year of it, and by then I was too old to attend. A shame too, because that would have been an awesome summer job for me, and then it would have been one of those full circle type things, where the kid grew up to be a counselor.

In fact, it seems to me that there aren't a lot of opportunities for kids to actually be kids in Brockville anymore. The park program is no more. St. Lawrence Park's waterfront seems to be closed more days than it is open. Riverfest had a great run for almost three decades, but the people of this community seem to have given up on that. I suppose we always have RibFest, a festival in which people can (and often do) eat as many portions of ribs, chicken, and blooming onions as they can possibly scarf down, but even that festival can get old. No wonder the kids in this town seem to be so restless. Aside from an outing at Walmart, there's not a whole lot for them to do in this town. It's very sad.

I wish there was at least a way to recapture some of the magic that I experienced during my summers here as a kid and bring it to some of the kids today. I think they deserve to have the summer that I grew up having.

And this leads to THURSDAY CONFESSION #26, which this video best explains.

Yes...the old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be. But, at the same time, I'm not going to let the lack of things to do in this town stop me from enjoying this summer. Besides, my friend who is visiting me in August has plotted and schemed to make sure that she gets me to see more good about the place I call home.

I accept the challenge, Sharyn D. Bring it on.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Honourable Mayor Of Sim City

When I first started this blog over a year ago, I initially had a different set of theme days. Initially, I had a feature that I used to do every Thursday known as “Thursday Night At The Arcade”. It has since been replaced by the Thursday Confessional, mainly because I was running out of topics to cover for the video game feature. 

But just for today, I'm going to bring back the video game least for this week, anyway. After all, I decided that Wednesdays are a day where we would talk about books, toys, and games. And as far as I'm concerned, video games certainly fit in with the theme.

But alas, I am rambling. I'll shut up now.

For today's blog entry, we're going to take a look at a simulation game that has been ported to several consoles and personal computers over the last few years. It's a video game that has captivated millions of people all over the world, and the game allows the player to assume the role of mayor.

I'm sure that all of us at some point have fantasized about what it would be like to run an entire city. I imagine that for some, it would be too much power and responsibility to handle, but for others, it would be a dream position.

Think about it for a second.  A mayor of a city often has to make some difficult decisions.  You have to decide whether or not a community needs an industrial park or more schools.  You have to decide if you want to build a mass transit station or fix the roads that you have.  If a natural disaster occurs, you want to make sure that you have the best emergency plan possible so that your whole city doesn't burn to the ground.  And to add to that, you also have to maintain a budget, balance taxes, and make sure that everyone in the city has electricity.

Do you still want to be mayor of a city now?

If the answer is yes, then you might just be in luck.  There is a video game available that can serve as a test.  It's a game that puts you in charge of an entire city.  You can assume the role of mayor in an assigned city, or build one directly from scratch.  Your actions will determine how happy your citizens are.  Just remember though, the happier the people are, the better chance you have of staying on as mayor.  If not, well, it's GAME OVER.

Of course, the game that is on the discussion table for today is SimCity, which was created by Will Wright.  It was first released on October 3, 1989 for the PC, and over the past 23 years, several versions have been released of the classic game.  The one I played the most was when it was ported to the Super Nintendo console in 1991.

The history of the creation of the game is this.  Will Wright had created another computer game for the Commodore 64 called "Raid On Bungling Bay".  The game was a basic war-based shoot 'em up game, and one of the features that Wright worked on was designing the various maps that the levels took place on.  However, Wright soon discovered that he enjoyed creating the levels more than playing the actual game itself.

This was how the idea that would become SimCity was born.

Wright developed the first draft of the game in 1985, and the original title was supposed to be "Micropolis".  In fact, the game itself was a bit unusual in comparison to other computer games in the market, as initially it was designed as a game that couldn't be won or lost.  And game manufacturers were wary or distributing the game at first because of this.  Even Broderbund (which was responsible for putting out the Carmen Sandiego games) turned Wright down.  Wright. however, refused to give up.

And it's a good thing he didn't because three years after creating the game that would become SimCity, he met with Jeff Braun, the founder of a little company known as Maxis.  In 1988, he agreed to release SimCity through Maxis.  Later that year, both Wright and Braun returned to Broderbund to clear the rights to the game when it was nearly completed.  But when a couple of Broderbund executives saw the game in action and saw how fun and infectious it was, they immediately signed Maxis to a distribution deal.  The following year, the game was released on both the Amiga and Macintosh platforms, as well as the Commodore 64 and IBM platforms shortly after.

So here's how the game is played.  You are responsible for creating your own city and serving as mayor of said city.  There are three kinds of zones that players can build.  There are residential zones, which include cottages, houses, apartment buildings and condos.  There are commercial zones, which include small shops, office buildings, and shopping plazas.  And industrial zones contain your factories and manufacturing plants.  In addition, you can build police stations, fire stations, power plants, and airports.  Now, depending on how one places these zones, the zones can develop at different rates.  Now, if you were to place a residential area right in the middle of an industrial zone, you'd be fairly hard-pressed to get people to move in.  But if you have a residential zone near a commercial zone, you might get both zones to grow.  After all, people like to be able to shop close to where they live, right?

In the Super Nintendo version, the game also provides bonus buildings to place within your city if you do well with growing it.  For instance, if you reach certain levels in population, you can build amusement parks, casinos, statues, and city parks.  Each reward has its perks (for instance, casinos can add money to the yearly budget), and it's been my experience that if you place these rewards in the center of either a residential or commercial block, they will be guaranteed to grow huge.  I once put a park in the middle of a residential block, and immediately got a hospital, a school, and six condos!  It's the power of rewards.

You also have control of spending money to pave roads, fund police and fire stations, and ensure that your citizens have transportation options.  But of course, you need money to be able to grow your city.  And, sometimes you may have to raise taxes to pay for the cost.  Not a nice feeling to do, but sometimes you may have no choice.

Well, unless you enter a CHEAT code that gives you unlimited money.  If you're good, I may reveal the code at the end of this blog.  :)

Now, each new game begins in the year 1900, and you have to do a budget every January.  This part of the game always threw me, which is why I tended to use the cheat feature.  However, the largest city I've built was one that had 300,000 people, so I consider that a success.

Oh, and did I mention that at random occasions, you might have to save your citizens from random disasters that may occur?  The basic game of SimCity had half a dozen possible disasters that could happen, and if you weren't careful, these disasters could spell doomsday for your poor city.  I'd say the two most common disasters are fires and plane crashes.  In my experience, I've seen those two more than any other ones.

TRIVIA:  In the Super Nintendo version, if you do not build an airport, you will never see a plane crash.

But there are so many other disasters out there.  And as if SimCity isn't complicated enough, the game has six scenarios that will put you to the ultimate test.  And, each scenario is actually based on real-life cities, and even real-life situations.  The six scenarios are...

San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

Tokyo Monster Attack of 1961 (based on the Godzilla movies)
Bern Traffic Crisis of 1965
Detroit Crime Crisis of 1972
Boston Nuclear Meltdown of 2010 (thankfully not real)
Rio de Janeiro Flooding of 2047 (I guess we'll find out in about 35 years if this is real or not, eh?)

Each scenario lasts between 5-10 years of game time, and some scenarios are harder than others.  In my experience, I've beaten exactly half.  I can complete the Bern, Detroit, and Boston scenarios without much hassle.  The hardest one in my opinion is Rio de Janeiro.  But, if one can beat all of these scenarios on the Super Nintendo version, two more scenarios will open up.  One takes place in 1991, where you have a land mass with no rivers or lakes whatsoever, and the other takes place in 2096 where you have to stop an alien invasion in Las Vegas.

However, these scenarios just add a lot more fun to an already fun and challenging game.  A game that really helped people decide whether or not they could handle running a city.

As for me...I'd make a terrible mayor.  But, hey, I'm honest about it.

And, now, as promised.  Here's how you can score almost unlimited funds on SimCity's Super Nintendo version, courtesy of GameFAQS.


At any time while playing a city, spend all of your money on buildings that require funding (such as police stations, fire stations etc). When the tax screen apears at the end of December hold down L. Select ''Go With Figures'' and then go back to the tax screen. Turn all of the dues to 100% and exit still holding L. When you release L your money will be at $999,999.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26, 1927

Welcome to the twenty-sixth of June, everybody. Because it's Tuesday, we're going to go back in time to a significant event in history dealing with pop culture and entertainment. This time around, we're going back in time to a year that I've never done before. In fact, we're actually going back to a decade that I have never done before.

Of course, before we do that, we have some other bits and bites to get through first. June 26th was a busy day in history, and I think that we have to talk about some of these events before we get to the main topic. After all, it's what we do every Tuesday, right?

All right. So, let's see who is celebrating a birthday on June 26th, shall we? We have Charlotte Zolotow, Eleanor Parker, Yoshiro Nakamatsu, Colin Wilson, Dave Grusin, Robert Maclennin, Jean-Claude Turcotte (no relation to me), Billy Davis Jr., John Beasley, Pamela Bellwood, Mick Jones, Gedde Watanabe, Chris Isaak, Patty Smyth, Greg LeMond, Terri Nunn, Harriet Wheeler, Sean Hayes, Chris O'Donnell, Gretchen Wilson, Rebecca Budig, Derek Jeter, Jason Kendall, Matt Striker, Chris Armstrong, Ed Jovanovski, Chad Pennington, Quincy Lewis, Brandi Burkhardt, Jason Schwartzman, and Jennette McCurdy.

In short, June 26 seems to be the year of the athlete, as most of these people listed play some form of professional sport. Look it up if you aren't convinced.

And, in case you're wondering, here are some of the significant events that took place on June 26.

1723 – Baku surrenders to the Russians after a siege and bombardment

1848 – The end of June Days Uprising in Paris, France

1857 – The first investiture of the Victorian Cross in Hyde Park, London

1870 – The Christian holiday of Christmas is declared an official federal holiday in the United States

1886 – Elemental Fluorine is isolated by chemist Henri Moissan

1907 – 1907 Tiflis Bank Robbery takes place in what is now called Freedom Square in Tbilisi

1917 – The first U.S. Troops arrive in France to fight alongside Britain and France against Germany in World War I

1934 – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passes the Federal Credit Union Act, which leads to the creation of credit unions all over the United States

1936 – Initial flight of the Focke-Wulf Fw 61, the world's first practical helicopter

1941 – Soviet planes bomb Kassa, Hungary during World War II, which leads to Hungary declaring war the next day

1942 – The first flight of the Grumman F6F Hellcat

1945 – United Nations Charter is signed in San Francisco, California

1948 – Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery, is published in The New Yorker

1959 – The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway

1960 – Madagascar becomes independent from France

1973 – Nine people are killed following an explosion of a Cosmos 3-M rocket at Plesetsk Cosmodrome

1974 – The first UPC is scanned at a grocery store in Troy, Ohio using a package of Wrigley's gum

1975 – Two officers are killed as well as a member of the American Indian Movement in a shootout at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; Leonard Peltier is charged with the murders and later convicted in a controversial trial

1978 – Air Canada Flight 189 crashes into Etobicoke Creek ravine, killing two

1983 – Daytime soap opera “Loving” debuts on ABC as a two hour movie starring Lloyd Bridges and Geraldine Page, show would be cancelled in 1995

1996 – Irish journalist Veronica Guerin is shot in her car on the outskirts of Dublin

2003 – U.S. Supreme Court rules that gender based sodomy laws are unconstitutional

2007 – Fashion designer Liz Claiborne passes away at the age of 78

2008 – U.S. Supreme Court declares the District of Columbia handgun ban unconstitutional

Wow, June 26th was a busy day in history, wasn't it? It kind of makes you wonder what year we're going to focus on, doesn't it?

Well, we're going back in time eighty-five years to June 26, 1927.

(And, yes, I did design the year picture just like the logo. I think I'm going to do this for all future Tuesday Timeline entries.)

So, what happened on June 26, 1927? Well, it happens to be a very important day in the world of amusement parks. I imagine that for those of you who love riding on roller coasters at the park may know the significance of this date in history. But for those of you who don't, I'll fill you all in.

Have you ever heard of a place known as Coney Island? It happens to be located on a peninsula just outside of Brooklyn, New York. Traditionally, it has been known to be a hub of entertainment filled with amusement parks, at least one major resort, and a national hot dog eating contest. Between 1880 and 1945, Coney Island was considered to be the largest amusement park area in the United States. At the height of its popularity, there were three parks in direct competition with each other. There was Dreamland, Steeplechase Park, and Luna Park. 

Steeplechase Park closed up in 1964, and MCU Park now sits in its former location, and both Dreamland and Luna Park closed after they were both destroyed in separate fires. However, these parks later reopened as new incarnations with the same name in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Another park, Astroland, was in operation between 1962 and 2008. In addition to Dreamland and Luna Park, there are Deno's Wonder Wheel and Amusement Park, 12th Street Amusements, Eldorado Arcade, and Kiddie Park.

And Coney Island is where our story begins. For on June 26, 1927, a Coney Island treasure first opened up...a treasure that has provided thrills to riders over the last eighty-five years. It has since been named a historical landmark by New York City (one of three Coney Island rides to get that honour), and it continues to be loved by thousands of people each year.

Today, we're going to take a look at the Cyclone, one of America's oldest wooden roller coasters currently in operation. The coaster was opened to the public eighty-five years ago today.

During the period known as the Roaring Twenties, roller coasters were all the rage. It seemed as though a new roller coaster was being built every few months. On Coney Island, two roller coasters were already getting a lot of buzz. When the Thunderbolt was completed in 1925, and the Tornado was built just a year later, it prompted brothers Irving and Jack Rosenthal to come up with a roller coaster design of their own. The brothers invested $100,000 into the project (a ridiculously high amount in 1927), which was to be built on the intersection of West 10th Street and Surf Avenue. Vernan Keenan was hired to design the coaster, while Harry C. Baker supervised the construction of the coaster. When the coaster was finally completed in early 1927, the estimated final cost of the coaster was approximately $175,000 (in 1927 dollars).

TRIVIA: When the ride opened, the cost to ride the coaster was a mere quarter. As of 2011, it costs eight dollars to ride!

The ride itself boasted a series of features that made it stand out when compared to other roller coasters. It contained an eighty-five foot drop, could carry almost fifteen hundred riders per hour, and went at a speed of 60 miles per hour. When the Cyclone was completed, it was at the time the fastest roller coaster in the world, an honour that it held onto for almost five decades before it was unseated by the Screamin' Eagle in 1976.

The ride was extremely popular for years after it was completed, and the coaster was reportedly the site of a supposed legend. Although I have no proof of whether this event really happened, but I found it to be an interesting tale to say the least. Reportedly in the late 1940s, a coal miner who had aphonia (the inability to talk) rode the coaster. Upon reaching the coaster's first drop, the man screamed and said the words “I feel sick”, the first words he had spoken in years! Upon the realization that he had spoken, he passed out cold! Again, it's hard to say whether this story is real or make-believe, but either way, I was amused.

Of course, there were some instances in which the Cyclone almost shut down for good. By the late 1960s, the ride was beginning to show signs of decay, and was actually shut down the following year. The Cyclone was purchased by the City of New York in 1971, but due to the decrease in riders, the ride was officially condemned, and was at risk of being demolished completely when the New York Aquarium expressed a desire to expand. But thanks to an impromptu “Save The Cyclone” petition was started up, the Cyclone was soon leased to the Astroland Amusement Park (which was situated nearby), and was completely refurbished by the owners of the park. On July 3, 1975, the Cyclone was re-opened, and has remained open ever since. Even though Astroland went out of business in 2008, the ride is still in operation, largely due to the fact that it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

While the majority of the history is positive in regards to The Cyclone, the roller coaster has had its share of horrible accidents. At least three people have been killed while riding the Cyclone. However, in at least two of those cases, it was carelessness by the riders themselves that caused the deaths, not the ride itself. In the third case, a 53-year-old man broke several vertabrae while he was riding and died from complications from surgery to repair the damage four days later.

But in the long run, The Cyclone has been at the center of a lot of accolades. It was prominently featured in the 1978 film, “The Wiz”, as well as the 1988 film “Shakedown”. You can watch the trailer for that film below to see what I mean.

The coaster is also the site for a world record set by Richard Rodriguez. In 1977, when Rodriguez was 19 years old, he rode on the Cyclone for a grand total of 104 consecutive hours on a roller coaster! And for the Cyclone's 70th anniversary in 1997, tightrope walker Tino Wallenda walked across a tightrope suspended between the two highest points of the coaster.

TRIVIA: Does that last name sound familiar? If you watched Nik Wallenda traverse Niagara Falls across a tightrope just a week and a half ago, you might see the connection.

One final note to add before I end this look back through time. You know how the Cyclone was built after a couple of other successful roller coasters were built on Coney Island previously? You know, the Thunderbolt and the Tornado? Well, the Thunderbolt was closed up in 1982, and torn down with the arrival of the new millennium, while the Tornado's fate was sealed by arsonists who torched the coaster in 1977.

Of the three coasters that were built during the 1920s on Coney Island, the Cyclone is the only one still standing, and still in operation. No wonder it's loved so much by so many people.

That's our look back on June 26, 1927. I hope you enjoyed the ride!