Jun 30, 2017

Aladdin's Castle Birthday Party

Aladdin's Castle
Laurel Mall - Hazleton, PA  (July 1987)
Aladdin's Castle was one of my very favorite places in the world.  I played my very first video games here.  Unlike many parents, my dad and my grandpa didn't just stand me up in front of the demo screen to pretend to play.  They would give me a dollar or two in tokens and let me play the games.  My dad tells me that he once blended in to a group of college kids who formed a crowd to watch me play Discs of Tron.  Apparently, I was pretty decent for a kindergartner.

For my seventh birthday, Nana gave me a party here.  For a few hours, my elementary school friends and I ate pizza and cake, drank soda and played some video games while my grandpa snapped these photos (click here to see more).

The arcade closed in the early 90's, but these pictures help me remember the wood paneling, the faux brick walls, and the games that we now look back on as retro.  I wasn't able to tell what all of the machines are in these pictures, but I was able to identify the following:

  • Birdie King
  • PlayChoice 10 (featuring 1942, The Goonies and Pro Wrestling)
  • Galaga
  • Galaga 3
  • Legendary Wings
  • Rampage
  • Rush N' Attack
  • Karate Champ
  • Crossbow (out of order)
  • Elevator Action
  • Sinistar
  • Raven (pinball)
  • Cybernaut (pinball)
  • Gold Wings (pinball)
  • Ms. Pac Man
  • Pac Land
  • Discs of Tron
  • Speed Buggy
  • Sega Turbo
  • Pole Position
  • Ring King

Jun 29, 2017

The Official Lunch of Hazleton, PA

Jimmy Dogs and Farmer's Iced Tea from Jimmy's Quick Lunch.  If you visit, get the homemade rice pudding for dessert.

Jun 28, 2017

Jun 27, 2017


by Alex Ocias
An online game that captures the essence of an abusive relationship.  The instructions command you to take action.  If you are obedient, you are praised, and the world becomes easier to navigate.  If you disobey, you are insulted, and the world becomes more colorful, but more difficult to get through.  More that just a little bit scary and unsettling, particularly in the childhood memories it somehow seems to resurrect.  Click here to play, or don't.  The choice is yours... or is it?

Jun 26, 2017

Rambo Atari

If you build in that many games, don't forget one thing: a good supply of joysticks.

Jun 25, 2017

Surprisingly Good Oatmeal

Apple Cheddar Rosemary instant oatmeal
Quaker Oats (2017)
Last year, Quaker put out pack of three flavors of instant oatmeal that were submitted by consumers as a part of their Bring Your Best Bowl promotion.  The flavors were Vanilla Chai, Lemon Ricotta Pancake and Apple Cheddar Rosemary.  People who bought this package were encouraged to try all three and vote for their favorite.

When I first bought this pack, Apple Cheddar Rosemary was the flavor that I expected I would like the least, but it was delicious and by far the best of the three.  It ended up winning the contest, which earned a $250,000 prize for the creator.  The flavor is now being sold as a limited edition flavor and is in stores now.

Jun 24, 2017

Wabbit Season

Earlier in the summer, we discovered a nest of baby bunnies in the back yard.  We put a deck chair over the hole that they lived in and surrounded it with some bricks to help protect the bunnies from the rain, and to act as a line of defense that would slow Harvey down in case his curiosity got the best of him.

Harvey was curious, so I brought him over to the nest to have a look.  With supervision, he was very well behaved.  He watched the baby bunnies and sniffed at them a little bit, but he didn't try to paw at them or pick any of them up in his mouth.  He's a very sweet and gentle dog.

Yesterday, after several weeks of staying huddled together in their nest, the baby bunnies decided to come out and hop around.  Harvey may be a good boy, but when he saw small, furry animals running around his back yard, he happily chased after them.  I doubt he'd hurt them deliberately (he has caught birds before, and after he dropped them, they flew away completely unharmed), but he wouldn't be doing their health any favors either.  It's a risk I didn't want to take.

I was concerned about the mother rabbit rejecting them if they had the scent of a human, but I did a little research first and learned that it's a myth.  They were a little scared, and one was particularly hard to catch, but they were as gentle with me as I was with them when I was able to scoop them up - no scurrying or biting.  So, one by one, the baby bunnies were relocated to a nice patch of grass in the front yard with plenty of plant life to take cover from birds and the sun, and where my little pup will be unable to chase them.

Jun 22, 2017

A Clockwork Flood

Paramount Theater During The Agnes Flood
Wilkes-Barre, PA - June 22, 1972
Forty-five years ago today, a flood caused by Hurricane Agnes caused floods that devastated Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  At the time, the Paramount Theater on Public Square (now the F.M. Kirby Center) was showing Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

Jun 21, 2017

Flashback To The Crazed Wave

A major geek-out moments happened for me earlier today.  There was a discussion on an Atari fan group on Facebook about our favorite game on the 2600.  The one that my dad and I played and enjoyed the most when I was growing up was TazSteve Woita, the man who created the game, saw my answer and responded.

Jun 20, 2017

Cartoon All-Stars to the Cover Song

All Star
Brock Baker
Cover of the 1999 hit song by Smash Mouth done by Brock Baker in the voices of 24 classic cartoon characters, ranging from Goofy to Hank Hill.

Jun 19, 2017

They Should Go On Tour With Kansas

FM Kirby Center - Wilkes-Barre, PA
I'm not going to pretend that I'm the world's biggest fan of Toto.  I don't mean that in a way that is meant to be disparaging or disrespectful.  I'm just not very familiar with a lot of their music.  In fact, the only songs of theirs that I know well are Rosanna, Hold The Line and Africa, but the latter is one of my all-time favorite songs, so I wasn't going to pass up the chance to see them this close to home.

While I'm happy to fork over the cash for tickets to see a rock concert, I have to draw the line at $50 sweatpants.

I may not have been familiar with most of the songs they played, but this was a great show.  I enjoyed all of the music (both the songs I knew and the ones I didn't), and I learned quite a bit about the band that I never knew.  For example, I had no idea that lead singer Joseph Williams is the son of legendary score composer John Williams.  I also didn't know that he was the voice of Simba as an adult when he sang Hakuna Matata in The Lion King.

Over the next few weeks, I think I'm going to have to do some research and spend some time listening to Toto records so that I can catch up on a fantastic band that I haven't taken the time to fully appreciate.

Jun 18, 2017

A Dynamic Duo Of Dynamic Duos

Allen Stone / Tears For Fears / Daryl Hall & John Oates
June 17, 2017 - Prudential Center - Newark, NJ
Daryl Hall and John Oates are Philadelphia legends who are responsible for some of my favorite music from the 70's and 80's, and Tears For Fears are one of my favorite bands of all time.  Although they're known as an 80's new wave act, Roland Orzabal kept going throughout the 90's, and he and Curt Smith reunited in the early 2000's to make a fantastic album, Everybody Loves A Happy Ending.  I never would have guessed that they would co-headline a joint tour, but I'm very glad that they are.

The show was at the Prudential Center in Newark - home of the New Jersey Devils.  I saw the Trans-Siberian Orchestra here before.  It's a nice venue, and it's pretty easy to get to from Northeast PA.

The opening act was Allen Stone.  I've never heard of him before yesterday, but he was pretty good.  I did a little research and it looks like he's released three albums since 2010.  I'll have to check them out.

I saw Tears For Fears once before in New York back in 2010.  They were incredible then, and they were every bit as good last night.  They played Change and Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, which they didn't do the last time I saw them, and they did an amazing cover of Radiohead's Creep.

This was my first time seeing Hall and Oates, and they were fantastic!  They played through most of their top hits of the 70's and 80's.  I was a little bummed that they didn't play Method Of Modern Love, but the show was great, so I have no complaints at all.

I couldn't find a setlist for Allen Stone, but here is the setlist for the rest of the show.

Jun 17, 2017

My Autobot Needs An Oil Change

Transformers: The Last Knight billoard
Newark, NJ
If my car suddenly turns into a robot, I can't say that I wasn't warned.

A Reuben On The Road

Panther Pub
Village Square at Panther Valley - Allamuchy, NJ
On the way to see Hall & Oates and Tears For Fears at the Prudential Center, we stopped at this pub off of exit 19 on Interstate 80 for something to eat.  I hope that we have a reason to come back to this area sometime because the I'd love to pay another visit to this pub.  They serve one of the most delicious reubens that I've ever eaten.

If we ever do make it back, I'm going to have to try The Adult Happy Meal.  I was tempted today, but I still had about 45 minutes of driving ahead of me, so it wasn't the best time for a pint and a shot.  However, I am very interested to learn what the toy comes with it.

Jun 16, 2017

Open Up And Say Ahh-Some

Dr. Dude And His Excellent Ray
Bally Midway (1990)
I shared a lot of photos from the Timeline Arcade yesterday, but this pinball machine is deserving of its own entry.  This is the first time I've seen or played Dr. Dude.  In fact, I've never even heard of it before, but it definitely left an impression.

The font of the words "Dr. Dude" and "Excellent" in the logo combined with the year that the game was released make me wonder if this was originally planned to be a Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure game.  The Dr. Dude logo is different from the Bill & Ted title screen, so this is probably just my imagination, but my thoughts went straight to the film when I saw this machine.

The game tells the story of a nerdy teenager named Ben A. Glitch who discovered the three most excellent ingredients of hipness that were missing from his life: a heart of rock & roll, a magnetic personality, and the gift of gab.  He invented a Jacuzzi called the Molecular Mixmaster and the Excellent Ray which enabled him to transform into Dr. Dude.  This new character is decked out in a leopard print jacket with a horseshoe magnet belt and a "Funky-Dude Stethoscope" with a built-in Walkman.  He's also got a pompadour haircut, a Bruce Campbell chin, and a head mirror with sunglasses.

The table is loaded with bonus games, including the potential to score a gazillion points if you reach Superdude Status.  You achieve this by following the steps that Ben did to transform into Dr. Dude - complete the missions for the Heart of Rock & Roll, Magnetic Personality and Gift of Gab.  Then, hit the ball into the Molecular Mixmaster, and finally to the Excellent Ray.

It's a very colorful, fun pinball game with a lot of personality.  I'm surprised that it wasn't a bigger hit for Bally Midway.  It might have flown under the radar because it was released in 1990.  This was a low point for arcades - too late for the early to mid 80's high point, and a couple years before for the arcade renaissance brought on by Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II really took off.

I have no idea what the 100 PTA and 500 PTA on the coin return buttons means.
Flyer Source: Absolute Pinball

Heaven Is A Place In Hanover

Timeline Arcade
Hanover, PA
This may be one of my favorite places in the world.  A visit to the Timeline Arcade feels like you just hopped into Doc Brown's DeLorean and went back to 1985.  When you walk in, it's like stepping into Aladdin's Castle or Ed's Funcade on the boardwalk at Wildwood.  They have just about every vintage arcade and pinball game that you can think of.

The Timeline Arcade is on the second floor of the former First National Bank and Trust building at 22 Carlisle Street in Hanover.  I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to bring all of these arcade and pinball games up the stairs and around the corner.

You don't have to insert a coin to play anything at the Timeline Arcade.  Each of the games are either set to free play, or they have a card reading device installed that give you credit to play when you swipe your Timeline Arcade game card.  The cards are purchased at the front register.  You can pay $10 per hour of gaming, or you can buy a card for $25 card that will allow you to play all day.  As long as you have an active card, there is no limit to the number of games you can play.

There's a section of the arcade that is dedicated for console gaming.  They have an area with an HDTV hooked up to modern consoles that I didn't play or take a picture of.  It seemed pretty cool, but I couldn't turn away from this epic corner of retro console goodness.  There are two CRT televisions with an Atari 2600, NES, SNES and Sega Genesis hooked up to them, and a very nice selection of games, magazines and tip books.  Had it not been for all of the incredible vintage arcade and pinball games, I would have happily planted myself here and stayed all day.

There is also a room that appears to be set up for pizza parties.  This room has a few arcade games, including Dance Dance Revolution.  It also has stacks of board games that you can set up at one of the tables and play with friends, or with total strangers that you meet at the arcade.  The highlight of the room is Mick Jaguar and the Sly Cats.  They're a full animatronic band that the owner of the arcade picked up from a pizza parlor in Missouri.    The band consists of with Mick Jaguar on guitar, Langley Lion on drums, Nick Panther on keyboard, and The Chirpettes on backup vocals (they are the two small birds behind Mick Jaguar).

This is the view on the left hand side when you first walk into the arcade.  In this photo, you can see the classic Donkey Kong Jr, the laserdisc shooter Mad Dog II: The Lost Gold, the dual screen Punch Out, and the corner of a Nintendo Playchoice-10 cabinet.  Q*Bert and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are in the background.

I was thrilled to find a Spy Hunter sit-down arcade cabinet against the wall in the first row of games.  This was one of my favorite games as a kid, but the only one I ever remember playing in the arcade was the traditional stand-up arcade machine.  Playing it in a racing cabinet was just too cool, and the fact that the machine is right next to a window gave it a fun sense of realism.

As much fun as Spy Hunter was back in the 80's, it was definitely a quarter eater.  It's pretty difficult and it's not hard to go through a couple dollars in a short amount of time.  The ability to continue without paying an extra quarter each time allowed me to get farther in the game than I ever had before.

The machine on the left hand side of the photo on the left is a game that has bothered me for over 30 years - Dragon's Lair.  It's a full motion video arcade game that came out in 1983.  Because it was animated by Don Bluth, it is visually stunning, bright, colorful, and everything you'd expect from one of his cartoons.  This was even more impressive to look at in the arcades of the 80's.  Back then, pretty much every game was pixel art or vector graphics with a chiptune soundtrack, and here's this gorgeous cartoon playing off of a laserdisc.  That's where my compliments for this game end.

I have never gotten Dragon's Lair to work properly - not the first time I played it, not this week at the Timeline Arcade, nor at any point in between.  I understand that it's not a traditional video game where you move your character around and swing a sword.  It's very similar to Sega CD games like Sewer Shark and Night Trap that came out a decade later - it's entirely based on timing.  Press a button or move the joystick at the exactly the right moment and it will switch to a video track that shows your character successfully achieving its goal.  However, those Sega CD games had a coherent story that you could follow.  My experience with Dragon's Lair is that Dirk (your character) is faced with a challenge for about three seconds, then he turns into a skeleton and dies.  This is immediately followed by Dirk being placed in a completely different environment for three seconds, then he dies again.

It's a pretty polarizing game.  You either love it or you hate it.  I truly want to love it because it looks amazing, but literally every single time I have played the game over three decades, I have walked away thinking that the machine is broken.  Frankly, I can't tell if it has glitched out and is randomly playing tracks from the laserdisc or if it really is programmed to warp you to a completely separate level every time you die.  If the game play is so awful that you can't be sure if it's malfunctioning or if it's supposed to be that way, it's a bad game.

On a more positive note, they have a custom built Nick Arcade cabinet hooked up to a Sega Genesis with Sonic The Hedgehog.  Nick Arcade was a game show on Nickelodeon that aired in the 90's.  The early episodes featured a lot of Genesis and Turbografx-16 games, and this cabinet looks almost identical to the ones that were on the show.  Very cool!

The other two games in the photos above are Kangaroo and Rampage.  I played a heck of a lot of Rampage in the arcades when I was a kid.  It's a great game where you get to be either a giant lizard, wolf or ape monster and go from city to city smashing buildings and eating anything you can get your hands on, including people.  In contrast to Rampage, Kangaroo is a relatively peaceful game where you play a mommy kangaroo who is rescuing her baby from a gang of kidnapping monkeys.  I had this for the Atari 2600 when I was a kid, but this is the first time I ever saw or played the arcade cabinet.  I'm glad I had the chance to have that experience.

Gorf was released by Midway in 1981 and is, in my opinion, one of the greatest achievements of the golden age of arcade gaming.  Although it rarely gets talked about with the same reverence as other games of its era, this space shooter stood out from its contemporaries.  Other games from this time period, such as Space Invaders, Asteroids, Missile Command and Pac-Man would increase in difficulty as you played, but the advanced levels were basically the same as level one.  The primary difference would be that the game would get faster and add more enemies to overcome.  In contrast, Gorf had five distinct levels, each of which were completely different from one another.  The player would progress from levels 1-5, then would loop back to repeat a more difficult version of each level.  If I were ever to try to set a Twin Galaxies record, this is the game I'd want to shoot for.  The current world record is a score of 1,129,660, which was set by Keith Swanson in 2011.  If I practice on MAME, I think I might be able to beat it, and I can think of no better place than Timeline to do it.

Toobin' is another classic that I think is overlooked by a lot of gamers.  It was released by Atari Games in 1988 - a time when the vast majority of games involved killing or beating up a bad guy, and most of the exceptions to the rule were racing games.  I have no problem whatsoever with violence in video games, but I have a deep appreciation for creativity and originality, and Toobin' delivers on both.  You play as a dude floating down a river on an intertube at the top of the screen.  The object is to collect power ups and go through each of the gates while obstacles try to sink you.  It's an especially fun game to play with a second player because the game allow you to bump each other into obstacles or to push them away from a power-up so that you can steal it.  Unfortunately, I never had the chance to play this in an arcade when I was a kid.  I discovered it in the late 90's on the Midway/Atari arcade compilation Arcade Party Pak for the original Playstation.

The third game in the photos above is one that was at practically every arcade I have been to, from its release in 1987 to present day.  It's a war themed shooting game called Operation: Wolf, in which your goal is to rescue hostages by using an Uzi to fire thousands of bullets at the enemy.  It's one of the best shooting games of its time, but I was more of a puzzle, platform and beat-em-up sidescroll gamer as a kid, so I didn't play it too much.  In fact, my most vivid childhood memory of this late 80's Taito classic is hearing the attract mode speak the words "Operation... Wolf" in a stern tone while I played another nearby game in the arcade.

These games are on the wall near the console gaming section of the arcade.  As you can see in the reflection of the Joust screen, there is a four player Pac Man Battle Royale across from these machines.  These three are Roadblasters, Berzerk and Joust.  The monitors on Berzerk and Joust were replaced, but those seem to be the exception, not the rule.  The majority of the games I played had CRT monitors, just as you remember them.  The LCD screens don't bother me one bit as long as the game plays faithfully, which they do.  I had to get a few games of Joust in while I was there.  It's been on my mind ever since I read Ready Player One.

There are way too many games here to do a retrospective on all of them.  I'm sure I'll write about each of them at some point in the future, or I'll circle back and add to this post later.  The photos below are just some of the games available to play at the Timeline Arcade in Hanover.  I didn't want to spend too much of the afternoon taking pictures when there were so many incredible games to play.

Gorf (1981 Midway)
Q*Bert (1982 Gottlieb)
NBA Jam (1993 Midway)
Narc (1988 Williams)
Arkanoid (1986 Taito) - the marquee is for the sequel, Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh, but it's the original game.
Frogger (1981 Konami)
Tapper (1983 Bally Midway)
Centipede (1981 Atari Inc.)
Point Blank 2 (1999 Namco)
Meteor (1979 Stern)
Taxi (1988 Williams)