Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fruit Punch Oreos vs. Watermelon Oreos!

The ultimate battle of sublimely weird novelty twist-top cookies IS NIGH. 

We only have ourselves to blame here, folks. Every time Nabisco rolled out some weirdbeard, newfangled Oreos variation over the last four or so years -- be it Halloween-themed, Christmas-themed, or super-meta Cookie Dough-themed cookies-- we all went to our nearest Targets and snatched up the products like avaricious vultures. If there's one thing 21st Century America can't refuse, it's ironic, kooky cookies; what we have before us today, I am afraid, is the endpoint of our nation's long, unhealthy relationship with strange-for-the-sake-of-being strange junk foodstuffs.

Last year, you may have heard about the limited edition Watermelon Oreos. Yes, watermelon, as in the giant green fruit thingy. I'm not really sure if the item was nationally released -- I sure as heck didn't see it ANYWHERE around Atlanta in 2013 -- but it got plenty of Intraweb coverage, nonetheless. Well, it looks as if the experimental cookies have gotten a U.S.-wide distribution deal via Target this summer, so now junk food aficionados from St. Paul to San Antonio can cram the weird-ass tasting comestibles into their maws like hungry crabs and whatnot.

Now, that alone would probably be worth a feature story, but just you wait: not only has Nabisco given us nationalized watermelon Oreos, they have also given us an all-new cookie variation for summer 2014, and if you dare fathom it, they might be even stranger than watermelon cookies: would you believe these motherfuckers have released FRUIT PUNCH flavored Oreos, too?

Ever the backyard social scientist, I figured it was worth our collective time to try out both products, and compare their aesthetic and gustatory merits, side-by-side. Pour yourselves a tall glass of milk, folks; it's time to dunk ourselves into some absurdity.

To the best of my knowledge, Watermelon Oreos had a seasonal release last summer in select U.S. markets. This summer, it appears as if Nabisco has struck some kind of General Mills Monster Cereal-like exclusivity agreement, with most nationwide chains carrying the peculiar-looking, smelling and tasting dessert products. 

The cookies themselves are golden-hued, which if nothing else, is a positive for the sake of dental hygiene -- let's face it, NOBODY wants to be approached by someone walking around with the dreaded "Oreo Teeth" condition, especially if said individual is walking around with "Oreo Teeth" that smell like Watermelon Bubble Yum.

As far  as the cookie aesthetics are concerned, we're working with a nice pink and green swirl -- watermelon colors, obviously, but they are also well-suited as hors d'oeuvres if you're having a Joker or Barney the Dinosaur-themed get-together, too. In terms of scent and taste, they really do taste like Watermelon-flavored Bubble Yum, which I guess can best be described as a super sugary synthetic apple taste. At first chew, the combination of watermelon creme and cookie is pretty bizarre, but the more cookies you wolf down, the less weird they start tasting. I'd say after chowing down on an entire row of cookies, you'll be pretty much desensitized to the flavor; after that, if you can believe it, it's not a bad little dessert offering at all. 

Which brings us to the Fruit Punch-flavored Oreos, which are basically the only weird-ass, yet still seasonally appropriate, product variation I think the company could'v produced to out-kitsch the aforementioned Watermelon Oreos. I mean, shit, after this, they'd have to release a fish-fry or seaweed-flavored cookie to be considered "kooky," I reckon.

While the Fruit Punch cookies make use of the same golden cookie top mechanism that the Watermelon Oreos use, the stuffing itself, I am afraid, is uni-toned. As far as the creme flavor is concerned, I guess you can pick up the citrus taste, although, to me, it tastes more like a Coca-Cola flavored Oreo than a fruit-punch-flavored offering. As a whole, the cookie has the synthetic, Pop-Tart fruit filling taste going on pretty fierce, but as with the Watermelon Oreos, your taste buds become quite accustomed to them after a few handfuls. I mean, don't get me wrong, they still taste weird as hell, it's just that after some prolonged exposure, it becomes a weird as hell feeling you actually enjoy. You know, sorta' like French kissing, only with WAY more calories involved.

So, in a one-on-one limited time novelty product showdown, which Oreo permutation gets my official nod? Well, the two cookies tend to taste surprisingly similar after you've had time getting acquainted to both of them, so picking a gustatory victor here is really kinda' arbitrary. On the whole, the Fruit Punch versions was just a bit more tingly than the Watermelon variation, which you could argue was a bit smoother than its citrus drink competitor. If you're going for sheer taste, I might give a slight advantage to the Fruit Punch variety, but the Watermelon kind is probably the better overall product, with texture, hue and general WTF-value factored into the equation.

Which, obviously, begs the question: what doe this two things taste like when COMBINED into an Oreo Singularity? Well, ever the snack food adventurer, I decided to scoop out the creme filling in both cookies, and craft myself a one-of-a-kind, Fruit Punch-doused Watermelon Oreo...

...and yeah, it pretty much tasted like crap. I'm not quite sure what the respective sugariest things ya'll have eaten as individuals was before, but I'm willing to bet that this abomination of junk food is roughly eleven times more nauseatingly saccharine than anything that's ever knotted up your stomach before. I guess if you dig sudden insulin bursts, a handful of these custom cookies will have your blood sugar swimming in no time, but I reckon most normal people, with their normal taste buds, probably wouldn't dig this one too much. Hummingbirds, maybe, but people...I say "nay." 

So, uh, what more can be said about Watermelon and Fruit Punch Oreos? They look weird, they taste weird, but if you eat enough of them, they no longer taste as weird. I mean, I probably wouldn't hoard a whole bunch of packages for safekeeping or anything, but if you're a junk food aficionado such as myself, both permutations are probably worth a taste test.

In the wake of both products, I suppose the big question is, where could we possibly go from here? After releasing watermelon and fruit punch flavored cookies, there's really not that much virgin territory to explore. As the summer days drag along, could Cucumber Oreos be on the table? Or what about barbecue flavored Oreos? That would be a nice addendum for Labor Day get-togethers. Honestly, I'm kinda' surprised we haven't seen Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew flavored Oreos by now -- or  a cherry RC Cola variation. 

All I can tell you is that, with these limited-time products, the bar for what constitutes gimmicky junk food has been raised, and considerably. Unless Nabisco decides to trot out bacon-flavored cookies, I reckon these two items are about as kooky as cookies are going to get...for feasibly the foreseeable future, anyway. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Top 5 Christmas-Themed Horror Movies of All-Time!

Tis the watch kick-ass horror flicks with a frightful (yet festive) holiday hook!

Some movies are essential holiday viewing: "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "Ernest Saves Christmas," and if you're really feeling esoteric, maybe some "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," too. But what to do when you get tired of "White Christmas," and "The Santa Clause," and, uh, the first "Die Hard?" And furthermore, where do you turn when you want something darker than "Batman Returns," yet something still seasonally appropriate?

Well, I'm glad you asked, fellas, because I recently compiled a brief list of what I consider to be the finest Christmas-themed horror films ever. Yeah, a lot of these are really obvious, and you'll probably have no problem guessing at least two-thirds of the list just by the title alone, but as an abbreviated resource guide, I figure it'll do you in a pinch.

In the mood for some ho-ho-horror this Christmas, or just looking to add a little bit of creepiness to your Hanukkah or Kwanza festivities? Well, you're in luck, amigo: here are five flicks guaranteed to scare the jingle hell out of you this holiday season...

Number Five:
“Jack Frost” (1997)

“Jack Frost” -- not to be confused with the awful Michael Keaton family-friendly film released a year later -- is a really stupid movie, but it’s an endearingly stupid movie, made with at least a modicum of professionalism by people who at least attempted to craft a somewhat respectable film.

The storyline here is pretty simple. There’s this serial killer who is about to get executed around Christmastime, but wouldn’t you know it, the bus taking him to Old Sparky overturns and he gets melted in this weird-ass chemical mishap -- think, that one dude’s death in “Robocop,” had it been made with really primitive, shitty-looking CGI and sans that whole part about being run over by Red Foreman.

Of course, since this is a late 1990s straight-to-video horror film (complete with bitching lentacular VHS box art!), the serial killer dude isn’t really dead, he just had has evilness absorbed into a mound of snow, which in turn allows him to get revenge, a la Freddy Krueger and Chucky, via some abstract supernatural gobbledygook.

Yeah, it’s a mostly dumb horror-comedy (think “Leprechaun” here), with all of the predictably awful snowman puns you’d imagine a film of the like to contain. However, the cinematography is pretty good and as gimmicky as the premise it, the flick does manage to have a few decent scenes -- namely, the part where Shannon Elizabeth gets raped by a carrot. Alas, it’s a dumb movie (did I already tell you guys it’s a dumb movie?) but it’s an enjoyable dumb movie, at least. Unlike a lot of Christmas-themed horror films released since -- like the Bill Goldberg vehicle “Santa’s Slay” and especially those atrocious “Gingerdead Man” movies -- it’s not just snarky, po-mo, self-reflexive “let’s laugh at the inherent goofiness of the work as a whole” half-hearted cinema here. They gave the old collegiate try with this one, and as such? It’s probably worth a viewing this Yuletide season, especially if it’s a choice between this or something like “Santa with Muscles” or “Elves,” most certainly.

Number Four:
“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (2010)

A shockingly well-made Finnish film, “Rare Exports” is pretty much the best Christmas-themed, family-friendly horror-comedy ever made. Yeah, that’s right, “Gremlins” can go fuck itself compared to this one.

The film is very, very simplistic: a bunch of reindeer herders out in Scandinavia-land start wondering why their flock keeps dying, and then some scientist folks want to open up this giant burial ground nearby, and the tomb of this mysterious demon thing is unearthed and…well, I reckon you can figure out what happens from there, already.

Unlike most horror films with Santa as the villain, this time around, the evil Kris Kringle we’re dealing with isn’t just some standard wacko in a red outfit -- he’s an actual, honest-to-goodness Nordic demon or some shit, and he’s out to kidnap as many local children as he can. The acting in this flick is really, really good, and the direction is definitely sure-handed. And although it probably only cost a couple of dollars to make, it looks WAY better than a good 90 percent of the horror movies made stateside over the last ten or so years.

If you’re looking for a smart, creative and mostly suitable for children Noel-Horror flick, you’re unlikely to do better than “Rare Exports.” It’s inventive without being self-deriding, and enjoyable without being needlessly jubilant -- it’s a rare mix indeed, and probably a cinematic trail mix worth your time this holiday season.

Number Three:
“Christmas Evil” (1980)

Also known as “You’d Better Watch Out!” and “Terror in Toyland,” this early ‘80s slasher flick is usually considered the odd duck of the Triple Threat of Santa-themed splatter movies (which, as fate would have it, make up our top three selections on this countdown.) Whereas the other two Kringlesploitation films were more about the gore and nudity, this one is probably the most atmospheric of the trifecta; it’s certainly the most suspenseful, and in many ways, the most psychologically rich as well.

The film is very straightforward. This one kid watches his mama get felt up by his daddy (wearing full Santa garb, of course), so he develops this weird obsession with St. Nick as an adult. He works at a toy factory, and walks around his apartment -- in the full red and white costume -- and spies on neighborhood children, writing their names down on “naughty lists.” So yeah, we’re already dealing with all sorts of discomforting thematic, even BEFORE we get to the stabbing and slashing bits.

So, one day, the toy factory worker just snaps, and he decides to don his gayest regalia, steal a whole bunch of toys from work and deliver them to mentally handicapped children at a state home. And then, the wrong ruffians decide to give him a hard time, and from there? I suppose it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next.

As before, this is problem the least-exploitative of the big three Santa slashers, and it definitely has some damn fine moments -- especially the “dance scene” at the Christmas party, which is a work of post- Herschel Gordon Lewis psychedelic genius. And of course, you really can’t talk about the film without talking about the film’s finale, which is probably one of the top ten most brilliant endings in film history -- best steer clear from the Wikipedia until you’ve seen this one for yourself, lest you want to spoil one of the best “twist” endings this side of the first “Sleepaway Camp” movie, folks.

Number Two:
"Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984)

Of all the Christmas-themed horror films, none have been as controversial as “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” a mid-80s slasher film that drew protests and extremely sharp criticism from Siskel and Ebert -- who went as far as to urging their viewers and readers to write angry letters to the film’s distributor!

This is probably my personal favorite of the five listed on the countdown, and one of my all-time favorite slasher flicks ever. It actually has a fairly strong plot for the subgenre, and the acting -- while inescapably hammy -- is actually WAY better than your typical “Friday the 13th” style film.

The film concerns a young boy, who watches his ma and pa get butchered by a convenience store robbing Santa while his little brother cries in the backseat -- this, after getting a stern lecture about the “horrors” of Christmas from his supposedly catatonic grandpa a few minutes earlier. So, the kid gets sent to a Catholic school, where all the nuns beat him and tell him sex is evil, and eventually, he grows up to be all muscular and stuff so they give him a job at a local toy store. Of course, they make him put on the Santa garb, and at the company Christmas party, he finally snaps; after that, we’ve got rapists being strangled with Christmas lights, Linnea Quigley being impaled on moose antlers, a morbidly hilarious sled-related beheading and quite possibly one of the finest final acts of any slasher flick from the era.

I utterly adore this movie, and try to find an excuse to watch it every holiday season -- or at least, find an excuse to play the cheesy “Warm Side of the Door” montage song at as many get-togethers as possible. It’s a genuinely enjoyable film and something of B-movie mini-masterpiece, on par with something like “The Curse” or “Driller Killer.” Whatever you do though, just avoid the sequels, which range from comically horrible to gloriously inept to downright shit-tastic.

Number One:
“Black Christmas” (1974)

Of course, what else could possibly take the top spot? It’s pretty much the definitive Christmas-themed horror flick, and on top of that, one of the greatest slasher flicks of all time. What "It's A Wonderful Life" is to traditional X-Mas movies, this one is to degenerate X-Mas movies.

"Black Christmas," structurally, is your basic slasher narrative, which is pretty fitting since its arguably the first true North American slasher -- the Canadian opus, mind you, was released a good half decade before John Carpenter's "Halloween" allegedly "invented" the modern dead teenager flick.

So, there's this sorority, right? Well, some of the co-eds (among them, a pre-"Superman" Margot Kidder!) decide to stay on campus during Christmas break, and wouldn't you know it, some mouth-breathing pervert decides to start crank-calling them with obscene messages. And while the house mother is getting sloshed on liquor she keeps hidden in various medicine cabinets, some diabolical soul has actually snuck into the dorms, and whoever he or she maybe, this much is clear: he/she sure is creative with the cutting implements. And the strangulation devices. And quite a few other things as well, but I don't want to ruin the surprise for you.

It's a truly outstanding little horror film that feels a bit more real than most films of the type. For once, the townsfolk actually act like real human begins would act, and the police actually try to help the victims instead of laughing them off. Yeah, they made a "remake" a couple years back, but it's a piece of shit: if I were you, I'd definitely stick with original, and maybe even pair it with a back-to-back screening of "A Christmas Story." Yeah, it sounds like an odd combination -- that is, until you realize arguably the most iconic Yuletide film of them all was also directed by the same guy that made this one!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: “The Quest” by Daniel Yergin (2011)

It’s the long-awaited sequel to the best book ever written about the impact of petroleum on humanity; and yeah, it’s probably the best book about energy security and production you’ll read for the next 40 or so years.

In 1991, Daniel Yergin -- a Yale and Cambridge-educated economist -- released “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power.” The one-thousand page, exhaustively researched history book has since been called the “bible” of the oil industry, and in 1992, it earned Yergin a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Covering nearly 150 years of petro-history, “The Prize” covered just about every aspect of oil production imaginable, from its discovery in Pennsylvania in the mid-1800s by people who first wanted to use it as a precursor to Orajel all the way up until the first Gulf War. In the book, the central thesis put forth by Yergin was virtually incontestable: that the very trajectory of humanity itself, more or less, has been completely dictated by oil since at least the ass-end of the 19th century.

Oil was the veritable lifeblood of the Gilded Age, the fluid that created the most domineering and oppressive monopoly in U.S. history. It was also the unstated variable that swung World War II in favor of the Allied Forces -- lest we forget, both Germany and Japan saw their fuel supplies (and with it, their mobilization capabilities) virtually depleted prior to D-Day. It was the substance that allowed cross country, and then cross continental, travel to become a reality; as Standard Oil served as a boot on the back of the American labor force, by the 1950s, King Gasoline had become the great liquid liberator that allowed the American middle class to arise and prosper. Soon, oil became the embodiment of modernization itself, an economic necessity that ultimately became the anchor point of virtually all geopolitics; indeed, even now, the world economy hinges less on GDP than it does mbd (that is, millions of barrels produced daily.)

The thing that makes “The Quest,”  the sequel that took Yergin two whole decades to write, so interesting is that he isn’t preoccupied with predicting short-term petro-politics here, which, needless to say, would’ve been a much easier book to pen. Sure, there’s quite a bit (actually, several hundred pages, really) about the near-future of hydrocarbons in Yergin’s 2011 tome,  but at the end of the day, “The Quest” is much more focused on what the post-oil world will resemble than anything else.

At the core of the book is more or less the exact same thesis that Thomas Friedman posited in his 2008 pro-green-energy manifesto “Hot, Flat and Crowded.” Alike Friedman, Yergin believes the global economy of the not-too-distant future (nearly doubling, he predicts, to entail $130 trillion annually by 2030) will hinge on two focal points: first and foremost, how the world of tomorrow is going to meet the increased energy demands of  a good 2 billion people soon expected to enter the consumer class, and much more importantly, what sort of energy solutions will be available as technology increases and natural resources -- for the most part -- tend to vanish.

Of course, Yergin ain’t exactly the same kind of hippie-dippie liberal type that Friedman is, and as such, he very, very convincingly explains to us how new technologies, in tandem with exploration of as-yet untapped natural resources, will keep the Oil Express chugging along for at least another 50 or so years -- if not longer. But before we get into the futuristic-sounding stuff, Yergin feels fit to give us a primer on what today's energy markets look like -- you know, so we know what we're working with and stuff.

Rather fittingly and eerily timely, "The Quest" begins with a look at Russian's post "nuclear power in anarchy" 1990s phase. With the fragmented shell of the U.S.S.R. basically running on the bartering system, Yergin describes how Decree 1403 privatized the Russian oil industry, creating virtual oligarchies throughout much of the Russian countryside once the foreign investments started rolling in. Corporate mergers and even transnational exploration agreements follow suit; since the book's publication, it is perhaps worth noting that Rosneft acquired TNK-BP -- a consolidation that makes the majority-government-owned group the single largest publicly traded oil company in the world.

From there, Yergin talks about competing Russian, Iranian, Turkish and U.S. interests in the Caspian Sea region -- primarily, the mostly untapped resources in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The area's ACG field, Yergin reminds us, is the planet's third largest oil producing field, while the neighboring Tengiz and Kashagan fields remain relatively untapped.

Then, we hear about the 1997 Asian Economic Crisis, which as readers of "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" are already aware of, is more or less the true starting point of the late 2000s global recession. Yergin describes the impact of the "Jakarta Syndrome" in which oil producers decided to amp up production in the face of declining consumer demand. While oil consuming countries witnessed prices drop dramatically, the after-effects for third-world oil exporters was downright cataclysmic -- Russian stocks dropped by 93 percent, while the impact came *this close* to bankrupting the entire nation of Brazil.

This, of course, lead to the era of the super-merger. BP acquired Amoco in '98, with ExxonMobil forming shortly thereafter. In France, TotalFina and Elf consolidated in '99, with Chevron and Texaco merging in 2000. Conoco and Phillips would then merge in 2001, creating the world's largest "pure-play exploration and production" company.

Yergin then gives us a brief summary of how Hugo Chavez rose to power and turned Venezuela into pretty much the textbook definition of a "petro-state." He then talks about how a series of "aggregate disruptions" -- 9/11, unrest in Nigeria and Venezuela, Hurricane Katrina and especially the Iraq War -- turned the tides, so to speak, for oil exporters after a good decade of low gas prices for oil-dependent nations.

And here's where the perfect shit storm comes to a head; you see, from 2000 until 2010, world oil demand shot up 12 percent, with a good 50/50 divide among developed and developing countries. From 1999 to 2002, Yergin tell us that the average world demand was 1.4 million barrels per day (mbd). But from 2003 to 2006, that demand increased to almost five mbd. And then, speculators started purchasing derivatives like there was no tomorrow, resulting in a "hyperappreciation in asset prices" around 2008. Unless you've been living in a cave for the last six years, what happened next doesn't really require  an explanation.

Needless to say, the downturn decimated both the U.S. airline and automotive industries, giving a considerable leg up to developing world economies -- in particular, that funny-looking country over there next to Japan with the Guangdong Province in it and whatnot. Indeed, shitty times followed for Americans, but the ball was just beginning for OPEC: it's wealth went from $243 billion in 2004 to nearly $700 billion just three years later.

Yergin devotes an entire chapter to the rise of China, and it's a section well worth reading, even for those of you that don't give a shit about energy policy. So, PetroChina goes public in 2000, and by 2010, its market capitalization had grown a brain-melting 100 times over. Competitors Sinopec and CNOOC also went public, and China -- with its impressive 50 percent urbanization rate -- is now the world's second largest oil importer. By the end of the decade, Yergin tells (warns?) us, they very well could be numero uno.

Of course, China's prosperity hinges on a runaway train model that absolutely necessitates exponential economic growth; Hu Jintao's unbelievably ambitious plan requires 25 million new jobs be created annually to maintain both development and social stability, and as George Friedman fans can tell you, China indeed has some infrastructural problems that are definitely worth taking into consideration before being automatically hailed as the new global superpower. Not surprisingly, Yergin expects China's oil demand to grow phenomenally into the 2030s and 2040s -- as such, an energy agreement with natural gas-rich Russia is an almost inescapable reality.

There's a tremendous passage about how"Iron Man" Wang helped establish the Daqing oil field , which is a story so great I will allow you do your own homework on it. Yergin also lets us know that Deng Xiaoping never actually read "Das Kapital," which probably explained why he vouched for China's economy to be anchored around "petroleum export-led growth" in 1975.

While China is still heavily dependent on coal (its responsible for a good 70 percent of the nation's current energy), China has already become the world's fifth-largest oil importer, with major assets in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, South America and especially Africa -- and per, Yergin anyway --possible interests in Iraq. With GM selling more cars in China than the US and China-based Geely purchasing Volvo in 2010, Yergin says that China's future hinges largely on how its able to manage energy efficiency, especially its investments in alternative energy sources. Oh, and since Japan and Taiwan are kinda' next to the South China Sea, the area COULD prove itself to be a critical military flashpoint...someday.

Yergin devotes another huge chunk of his book to peak oil concerns, stating that "above ground political risks" remain bigger concerns than the possibility of the planet "running out of oil" anytime soon.

Giving a subtle "fuck you" to M. King Hubert and his contemporary, doomsaying followers, Yergin notes how the global oil industry rebounded from "supply erosion" in the 1880s, the 1910s, the 1940 and the 1970s, further arguing that technological advancements in drilling and mining, the goddamn massive Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia and a marked increase in liquid petroleum production -- which he estimates could top 114 mbd by 2030 -- ensures that we ain't going to have to go all "Road Warrior" for a couple more decades, at the least.

For Yergin, the name of the game here is "unconventional oil resources" -- i.e., non-crude petroleum. Already representing 27 percent of total world oil production (TWOP), he sees technological advancements in offshore drilling opening up new underwater oil platforms, while harvesting of gas-related liquids could feasibly represent 15 percent of TWOP by 2030. The exploration of "outer continental shelves" could result in huge oil discoveries, with Yergin referring to non-explored regions off  Brazil, West Africa and the Gulf of Mexico as a "Golden Triangle." Of course, Yergin does address the Deepwater Horizon spill (did you know the protective pincers fell just three inches short of preventing the Gulf spill altogether?) but hey! That just opens up new opportunities for containment companies, he reminds us, and if you're that much of an environmental worrywart, there's still the massive presalt deposits in the Santos Basin fields, too.

Obviously, any discussion of unconventional oil resources leads to a discussion of the Keystone XL controversy, and Yergin makes a damn fine argument in support of the U.S. taking advantage of Canadian oil sands. The Alberta tar sand fields represent the third largest known oil reserves in the whole freaking world, with an estimated 90 percent of the field still untapped. Of course, CO2 concerns and pesky Canadian legislation could muddy the proverbial waters here, but per Yergin, the sheer scope of the potential Athabasca reserves is something well worth pursuing, or at least deeply considering. Yergin also reminds us there's a lot of untapped non-conventional oil resources in Venezuela's Orinoco Oil Belt, but since it's in Venezuela...well, yeah.

And then there's oil shale (the U.S. alone, Yergin tells us, may be home to up to 6 trillion barrels), kerogen, synthetic fuels derived from coal and natural gas and "tight oil" exploration in the Williston Basin and the Eagle Ford Formation in South Texas. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (not at all a controversial practice, obviously) COULD amp up U.S. oil production by as much as 5mbd by 2020, Yergin predicts: even more amazing, he projects nontraditional liquids to represent a THIRD of the total global liquid oil capacity by 2030.

A gargantuan chunk of "The Quest" is dedicated to energy security, with an emphasis on cyber-attacks, grid vulnerability (just ask the 670 million or so Indians who lost power in 2012) and supply line chokepoints. Then we get some primers on the big dogs. Saudi Arabia -- home to about a fifth of the world's known oil reserves and the single largest oil company in the world -- gets a lot of ink, as does Iran, and its wacky uranium enrichment ambitions. And then we learn that Australia's liquid natural gas production might just surpass Qatar's in just three years' time,  and that there's a strong likelihood that shale gas will represent two-thirds of all natural gas production in the U.S. by 2032.

After that, Yergin gives us a brief history of U.S. energy production. We start with electricity and Sammy Insull being the least reputable person in history, and then we turn our attention toward Hyman Rickover and nuclear engineer Jimmy Carter. Yes, THAT Jimmy Carter, believe it or not. Then, he tells us how the Chernobyl disaster eventually lead to the Shoreham Plant in Long Island being sold for ONE U.S. dollar. Oh, and France's nuclear investments resulted in it becoming the world's largest energy exporter, or something like that.

Yergin goes in depth with the California blackouts that assailed the Golden State in the early to mid 2000s, explaining how "public utility commissions," "avoided costs" and "wholesale/retail disconnect" led to one of the greatest infrastructural SNAFUs in modern U.S. history. All you need to know here? Under California policies, the utilities companies were being charged ten times as much as costumers to provide energy, and while Gray Davis and his kindred were quick to blame out-of-state providers like the soon-to-be-reviled Enron, it was indeed local providers like the Los Angeles County Department of Water and Power that were charging the highest rates of all!

Since 10 percent of all capital investments in the U.S. are in power infrastructure, Yergin takes some time to describe our contemporary energy source options. While 25 percent of the world's coal supply is right here in the U.S., 2012 EPA regulations, per Yergin, made the construction of new coal burning plants virtually impossible -- indeed, Carbon Capture and Sequestration mandates would more or less double the cost of plant construction all by itself. Of course, there are blueprints out there that would reduce SO2 and other particulates, and some proposals have even vouched for the underground storage of CO2 in liquid states, but Yergin thinks these ideas are just too pricey and impractical -- not to mention possible environmental disasters in the making.

On the subject of U.S. nuclear investments, Yergin said that Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing -- at about $500 million -- pretty much makes the idea of new nuclear power plants unviable (although Southern Company has been in the finalization stages of constructing a few new plants in Georgia, however, for several years now.) Furthermore, terror and reprocessing concerns make nuclear power investments, stateside anyway, less than secure bets, even though China, Russia, India and South Korea have all made decisions to invest in nuclear energy. Obviously, the Fukushima Daiichi disaster has slammed the breaks on worldwide nuclear development, with China and the E.U. since implementing stronger stress tests and enforcing greater regulatory oversight of its existing plants.

And then, we get to the part of the book about climate change, which is mostly a timeline of greenhouse gas discoveries and cap and trade proposals. As a reference source and a legislative summary, it's pretty interesting, but its definitely one of the least intriguing aspects of the book as a whole. After that, though, it's time to talk about "new energies," and the book picks up considerable steam from there.

By 2011, 37 states and D.C. have renewable portfolio standards, and China has made substantial investments in ""Cleantech," becoming both the world's largest wind energy market and the largest manufacturer and exporter of solar cells. By 2012, Yergin tells us that 14 percent of all venture capital investments in the U.S. are in the Cleantech sector, and that contemporary federal investments in energy R&D is an estimated $5 billion. This leads Yergin to ask the $130 trillion question: in 20 years, how do we move to new energy sources that meet the ever-growing needs of the world economy?

While the failure of Solyndra was a huge blow to U.S. solar investments, Yergin tells us that concentrated solar hybrids -- alike those promoted by Desertec-- could become more viable as alternative energy sources in the upcoming years. And while the U.S. Department of Energy wants wind to power 20 percent of the nation by 2030, Yergin has no problem telling us that wind energy is currently more expensive than either gas or coal-based energy, and less reliable to boot -- even though modern turbines produce 100 times more energy than they did in 1980!

Yergin then gets into energy efficiency, praising Dow for cutting its energy use by a quarter from 1995 to 2005 and letting us know that U.S. airlines, as a collective, doubled their efficiency since the 1970s. Alas, while U.S. investments in smart meters and smart grids are a nice step forward (despite their cyber insecurity), Yergin reminds us that China and Japan's efficiency programs are much, much more ambitious than the ones stateside; and unlike America, the Asian powerhouses actually have a knack for hitting their energy reduction quotas, too.

So, where does Yergin see the future of energy taking us, then? One possible scenario he paints is a world where biofuels begin to gradually supplant petroleum -- a leap from "hydrocarbons to carbohydrates," Yergin cutely quips. He envisions the U.S. (which already has 2.35 mbd biofuel/transport fuel blend production quota set by 2022) becoming more invested in ethanol-like fuel sources; indeed, Yergin predicts that half of the U.S. Navy's liquid fuel supply could consist of such by the end of the decade. Interestingly, Yergin reminds us that the war of agri-dollars against petro-dollars actually goes as far back to the Teddy Roosevelt Administration, with prohibition (not to mention that standard gasoline is just a third the cost of "gasahol") helping steer the U.S. towards a petroleum fuel economy as opposed to a ethanol-based one.

Yergin talks briefly about the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which effectively banned the controversial fuel additive MTBE and established a new Renewable Fuel Standard. Even though the U.S. used approximately 41 percent of its 2009 corn supply for ethanol, Yergin tells us that we still lag far behind Brazil, whose auto fleet is already 40 to 60 percent ethanol-based -- a feat which has resulted in Brazil becoming an unexpected net exporter of oil.  By 2011, however, tax credits for U.S. ethanol production expired...and so did tariffs on Brazilian exports.

All sorts of cellulosic ethanol R&D is going on at the moment, Yergin states, with switchgrass and enzymatic conversion representing just two of the many non-conventional experimental fuel projects being funded, in part at least, by the U.S. government. By the way: did you know that algae is responsible for a good 40 percent of the world's oxygen supply?

Yergin winds the book down with a recap of the history of the United States automobile industry -- as well as take time to make fun of the U.K.'s absurd nanny state legislation, including a real knee-slapper called the "Red Flag Act." To summarize here? The Model T kills the electric car because its cheaper and more reliable, Corporate Average Fuel Economy legislation saves the U.S. an estimated 2 mbd in the 1980s, light trucks become all the rage in the late 1990s and in 2007, the Energy Security and Independence Act increases national fuel standards to 35 mpg by 2020. And also, that was the first year the Prius outsold the Explorer stateside; Yergin then tosses out a hilarious quip about Southern doofus exemplar Trent Lott telling Toyota his state legislature "are warriors on your behalf" after they opened a new plant in Mississippi.

Speaking of neo-electric cars -- your Tesla Roadsters and Nissan Leafs and the like -- Yergin said such vehicles could represent as much as a quarter of annual global sales by 2030. And also, the same guy that discovered what "smog" was was also really, really into weed, apparently. Ever the realist, Yergin reminds us that there are still plenty of problems with modern electric cars, namely "thermal runaway" and "range anxiety." Plus, the vehicles may indeed be too quiet, with Yergin stating that some manufacturers are attempting to creates synthetic engine sounds to keep the hard of hearing from being splattered by the Chevy Volts of ten years from now.

Basically, regarding the cars of tomorrow, Yergin is estimating increased efficiency and decreased emissions, with hydrogen and natural gas fuel cells possibly becoming a viable energy source in the not too distant future. By the way, did you know that China became the world's largest auto market in 2009, and are currently refining their own value-priced smart cars? Alike that one dude in "Detropia" forewarned, it may be time for us to start doing our research on companies like BYD, in preparation for when they inevitably take over the planet the same way Toyota and Honda did in the 1980s.

Concluding the tome, Yergin throws out a few more interesting stats (like North Dakota being the second largest oil-producing state in the U.S.) before arriving at his central thesis: that as billions of people across the globe slowly rise out of poverty, meeting the energy needs of a vastly growing consumer class might just be the single most important issue facing the modern world. Even so, Yergin doesn't think the world of two decades from now will be that much different than our world today; even with 2030 global energy consumption expected to increase 30 to 40 percent from today's rates, he still estimates that roughly 80 percent of the worlds energy will be produced by hydrocarbons at that point. With a $130 trillion global economy awaiting us, Yergin said that the future of humanity hinges on a successful transition from oil diversity to energy diversity -- a worldwide challenge, he concludes, that depends greatly on the "globalization of innovation" going on around us right now.

Now that my unofficial Cliff Notes write-up is over, I guess its time to give the book a proper review, no? Well, I am a huge fan of Yergin's work, and although it took me a few years to get around to reading "The Quest," I am glad I did. It's a truly comprehensive book that's informative without being stuffy and thought-provoking without becoming too political. It does an absolutely phenomenal job of condensing an insane amount of information into a digestible -- yet still meaty --  package, and there's hardly any aspect of the energy industry that Yergin doesn't adequately address and explain. More than just an intellectually-stimulating primer on modern energy, it's actually a damn entertaining history book, to boot -- with so much worthwhile information in it, written in prose so confident and straightforward, this one is guaranteed to come up when the debate about "best nonfiction book of the decade" arises in 2019. "The Quest" isn't just required reading for anyone who is interested in energy and future geopolitics; it's a freaking outstanding analysis of how and why the world, as we know it today, is what it is.

Friday, May 23, 2014

How Super Smash Bros. Reveals Your Hidden Mental Illnesses

Not only is Nintendo’s landmark mascot brawler an enjoyable multiplayer experience…it’s a also a handy guide to diagnosing your friends’ undiscovered psychiatric conditions.

Released in spring 1999, “Super Smash Bros.” is not only one of the most beloved Nintendo 64 games of all-time, but indeed the origin point of one of the most popular franchises in video gaming history. While fighting games starring mascot characters was really nothing at all new (years earlier, Sega had released both “Sonic the Fighters” and “Fighters Megamix”), the Nintendo love-in was an instant success, a skillful combination of self referential humor and simplistic (yet highly addictive) multi-tiered combat. While many gamers state that the secret to the game’s popularity is its accessible nature and crossover novelty, I believe there’s a secondary reason as to why the N64 title was such a hit with the masses: namely, the fact that it was a secret diagnostic tool that allowed players to get a glimpse inside the veiled psyches of their best buds.

There’s this thing called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly referred to as the DSM), which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The most recent edition, the DSM-5, was published last year. As the title implies, it’s basically the bible of modern psychiatry, containing a list of virtually every mental disorder under the sun, and the (mostly) stringent criteria one most meet in order to be diagnosed with a particular condition.

Upon flipping through the DSM-5, it became apparent to me that all 12 playable characters in “Super Smash Bros.” had certain characteristics that could feasibly qualify said characters for particular mental health diagnoses. As such, I quickly drew up a flowchart linking the characters with corresponding DSM-5 certified mental disorders; take a look below at your (and your friends’) preferred SSB avatar -- colloquially referred to as "mains" in common gamer lingo --  and let the questioning of your respective sanities commence…

If your favorite character is Captain Falcon, then your hidden mental illness is:
Narcissistic Personality Disorder

According to the APA, Narcissistic Personality Disorder involves expectations of constant positive reinforcement and recognition as a superior specimen, alongside an infatuation with personal power and ability (whether or not said person actually possesses the kind of power and ability he or she thinks they do.)

Now, per the game “F-Zero: GP Legend,” the namesake “Captain Falcon” is a title bestowed upon the best racer in the universe -- a moniker, it is perhaps worth mentioning, that the character canonically known as “Captain Falcon” in Nintendo media practically bestowed upon himself. In “F-Zero: GX,” Captain Falcon has become something of an Axl Rose-ish recluse, a character whose immense popularity has more or less resulted in his complete self-imposed exile from normal society. As “F-Zero X” informs us, Mr. Falcon lives in a grandiloquent island paradise, where he’s able to race on extravagant tracks without being bothered by others.

Under APA labels, Captain Falcon could be seen as displaying symptoms of both elitist narcissism -- characterized by a perceived status-backed privilege and illusions of grandeur -- and fanatic narcissism, which is characterized by feelings of omnipotence  and diminished self-esteem. “When unable to gain recognition or support from others,” the world’s most reliable source of information tells us, “they take on the role of a heroic or worshiped person with a grandiose mission.”

In Super Smash Bros., both the aesthetics and fighting style of Captain Falcon lend much credence to the Narcissistic Personality Disorder diagnosis. From Falcon’s specialized stage (complete with its daunting racecar obstacles) to the character’s flashy wardrobe to his megalomaniacal battle cry of “Falcon Punch,” it appears as if the F-Zero protagonist indeed fosters quite the ego.

If your favorite character is Donkey Kong, then your hidden mental illness is: 
Impulse Control Disorder

Per the APA, impulse control disorders (ICDs) cover a wide array of behaviors, from excessive gambling to pyromania to intermittent explosiveness disorder. As a general rule of thumb, however, all of the ICDs are classified under five umbrella behavioral tendencies: an impulse trigger, emerging tension, pleasure derived from acting upon said impulse trigger, palpable relief stemming from fulfilling urge, and ultimately, self-directed guilt.

As a character, Donkey Kong certainly displays symptoms of some kind of ICD. From his barrel-tossing debut to his numerous ground-pounding exploits in “Donkey Kong Country,” the character certainly has characteristics in line with the APA diagnosis criteria for impulse control disorder.

In Super Smash Bros., Donkey Kong was a character with two primary attacks. The first one was a “wind-up” charged shot, which definitely covers the five umbrella tendencies listed above. As soon as DK winds up (the impulse trigger), he literally radiates tension as the avatar begins glowing ominously. Upon release of the button, the game player unleashes a super-powerful attack, which said gamer typically finds extremely satisfying…although he or she may also feel secondary guilt, as it leaves the avatar open for attacks from the flank.

Kong’s other attack lines up rather nicely with the APA criteria as well: the character’s dreaded “power bomb attack,” in which he grabs a character, lifts him over his shoulders, and chunks them across the stage. Notably, gamers quickly uncovered that Kong can instantly kill an adversary by clutching an opponent and jumping off a cliff in an act of homicide-suicide; a maneuver that fits in with the designated definition of impulsivity -- “failure to resist a temptation, urge or impulse that may harm oneself or others” -- almost to perfection.

If your favorite character is Fox McCloud, then your hidden mental illness is: 
Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder

We’re cheating a bit here, as post-traumatic embitterment disorder (PTED) isn’t officially recognized as a mental disorder by the APA. However, there is a groundswell of support emerging from some psychiatrists, who believe the PTSD-like syndrome is prevalent enough to warrant full recognition from the American Psychological Association, and since it has its own Wikipedia page, that’s pretty much as good as official, anyway.

Per some German dude named Michael Linden, PTED can be described as complex, pervasive feeling of both anger and helplessness, in which the usually treatment-resistant “sufferers” typically desire some sense of revenge against agents that have wronged them. In some ways, PTED can be described as an obsession with “righting” a prior injustice -- a morally-backed thirst for vengeance, if you will.

With that in mind, Fox McCloud’s entire backstory can be considered PTED-borne, as he became a mercenary following the “death” of his father at the hands of the primary antagonist in the first “Star Fox” game. In “Star Fox 64” -- essentially a remake of the SNES original --Fox McCloud is even praised by his father’s ghost after the game’s final battle, indicating something of an internal validation of the character’s own PTED.

In “Smash Bros.,” Fox is a fleet footed character, whose primary attacks are ranged laser blaster shots. Swift yet silent, the avatar blazes across the screen, with a single-minded mission: not only does the character’s canonical history give a lot of credence to the PTED theory, even Fox’s fighting style seems to acknowledge it.

An adorable battle between Pokemon favorites, or a metaphorical war of body dysmorphic disorders?

If your favorite character is Jigglypuff, then your hidden mental illness is: 
Somatic Symptom Disorder

Jigglypuff is a “Pokemon”-spawned fighter whose gimmick, so to speak, is the ability to lull others into a momentary slumber. When Jigglypuff’s adversaries are temporarily dazed, he (it is a he, I am assuming) is able to dish out a couple of free shots, without fear of a counterattack.

Clearly, Jigglypuff's ability to hypnotize others wouldn't be considered an officially APA-recognized condition, but since somatic symptom disorder (SSD) is, perhaps we can use that as an analytical framework. SSD, simply put, is when an individual claims to experience physical pains or setbacks that haven't been diagnosed (or explained) by medical professionals. Very frequently, this is associated with hypochondria, but the newfangled APA term also entails aspects of several other disorders, including conversion disorder (the actual loss of physical ability due to worrying), and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) -- in short, an obsession with perceived body defects.

As one of the smallest characters in the game, Jigglypuff is also perhaps the most indistinguishable character in the first "Super Smash Bros." title (even Kirby, as we well soon see, had the ability to absorb the traits of other.) Obviously, one with BDD may be drawn towards a character so literally undeveloped, as a way of masking his or her own body image shortcomings. Subconsciously, a player with SSD symptoms may have a slight preference for a character who can put others into a somatic state, and those with sever conversion disorders would almost certainly have a liking for a combatant whom has the ability to project actual physical ailments on opponents -- we're talking classical Freudian transference here, basically.

If your favorite character is Kirby, then your hidden mental illness is:
Depersonalization Disorder

The character Kirby -- who debuted in a Game Boy title in the mid 1990s -- has made appearances in numerous video games, appearing on pretty much every console the Big N has released since (the Virtua Boy, notwithstanding.) As nothing more than a mute pink blob -- with hardly any other personality traits or even a relatable back story -- the character remains one of Nintendo's most intriguingly un-intriguing characters; indeed, the only time the character seems to have a solid "form" is when he literally sucks the personality out of his foes, and imitates their behaviors.

While the definition of what is and what isn't Depersonalization Disorder has fluctuated wildly over the years, the central anchor point the APA uses to meter the condition is persistent feelings of "being unreal." As a a dissociative disorder, those with Depersonalization Disorder tend to feel as if they constantly leave their "own" bodies; the following Wikipedia passage seems to describe not only the character of Kirby to a tee, but in many ways, his fighting technique in "Super Smash Bros.":

"Common descriptions of symptoms from sufferers include feeling disconnected from one's physicality or body, feeling detached from one's own thoughts or emotions and a sense of feeling if one is dreaming or in a dreamlike state. In some cases, a person may feel an inability to accept their reflection as their own, or they may even have out-of-body-experiences."

If your favorite character is Link, then your hidden mental illness is:
Social Anxiety Disorder

Despite being on of the most iconic video game characters of all time, the "Legend of Zelda" protagonist remains a virtually unquotable  figure -- although appearing in dozens and dozens of titles over the last quarter century, Link's vocabulary remains fixed at simple grunts, shrieks and yelps.

Far from being the strong, silent type, it appears as if Link's inability to engage in proper interpersonal communication stems from a severe case of social anxiety disorder. "[The disorder] is about more than just shyness and can be considerably disabling," the DSM-5 tells us. "The person, for example, may be so uncomfortable carrying on a conversation that he is unable to talk to others, particularly someone he doesn’t know."

Interestingly enough, the precursor to social anxiety disorder, social phobia, was formerly considered just a children's disorder in past iterations of the APA manual. As Link's age seems to fluctuate from game to game -- and, in some titles, within the same cartridge -- it's more than obvious that Link's social anxiety stems from some kind of troubling childhood experience, most likely a severe lack of communication with his parents. Indeed, Link manages to nail virtually every symptom of childhood-borne S.A.D., including prolonged bouts of tantrums, periods of physical immobility, intentional shying away from others, extreme clinging (in this case, towards certain inanimate objects) and, most telling, the inability to speak in social situations. These idiosyncratic characteristics are all present in the first Smash Bros. game -- perhaps a player's leaning towards the elfin hero may stem from a subconscious understanding of said characters social anxiety behaviors?

Luigi's glazed-over eyes are a clear indication of childhood maltreatment if there ever was one.

If your favorite character is Luigi, then your hidden mental illness is:
Relational Disorder

Since Mario is the literal poster boy for Nintendo, I suppose we can all understand Luigi's sibling rivalry grievances. However, a DSM-5 update to the definition of "relational disorder" gives us an entirely new framework to analyze the disjunction between the Mario brothers, and with this model in mind, Luigi's antipathy may indeed be a sign of something much more complex and troubling.

The current APA definition of "relational disorder"is a rather interesting one, as the disorder is perceived as a relationship-centered disorder instead of an individual one. The classical example would be that of a mother who gives special attention to one child, yet not his or her sibling -- a very, very likely scenario regarding Luigi's upbringing, which may indeed serve as the bedrock of his own relational disorder with his brother.

As a "hidden" character in "Super Smash Bros.," Luigi isn't even selectable until after a set list of player accomplishments -- which may or may not have been accomplished via the use of Mario as a selected character -- occur. With a fighting style comparable to his brother, Luigi can be seen as an "imitator" of sorts -- by selecting Luigi as an avatar, could it be that the actual controller holder is attempting to sublimate his or her feelings of intense sibling disdain through the game itself? 

If your favorite character is Mario, then your hidden mental illness is:
Reactive Attachment Disorder

Depending on who you ask, the omnipresent Mario can be considered a Renaissance Man apt at a litany of sundry activities -- practicing medicine, golfing, dancing, even filming motocross events -- or perhaps even the virtualization of the Nietzschean ubermensch, a cult of personality "above all others," so to speak. When evaluating Mario as a character, however, he tends to suffer from a bizarre inconsistency as social being: sometimes, he's posited as a being very much of the world, and at other times, he seems to be posited as an external presence, completely immune to the social norms and folkways of his respective environment -- i.e., the norms and folkways about NOT indiscriminately killing all living things on a left to right homicide spree

As such, the most likely clinical disorder Mario experiences -- and by proxy, his "Super Smash Bros." avatar -- is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a childhood disorder "characterized by markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate ways of relating socially in most contexts." The DSM-V breaks up RAD into two different categories, both of which Mario appears to suffer from: the classical "inhibited" form of reactive attachment disorder and social engagement disorder -- the "disinhibited" form of RAD, effectively

Whether he's launching turtle shells from moving vehicles, sucker punching Goombas or -- as especially the case in "Super Smash Bros." -- chunking fiery death at adversaries, I would say it's safe to describe Mario's typical behavior as a "persistent failure to initiate or respond to most social interactions in a developmentally appropriate way." Indeed, Mario's simultaneous "indiscriminate sociability" -- which may explain why he's calling "Pac-Man" death matches and officiating Mike Tyson bouts, -- is almost a pitch perfect description of social engagement disorder behavior. 

If your favorite character is Ness, then your hidden mental illness is:
Derealization Syndrome

When discussing Kirby earlier, we touched upon the similar depersonalization disorder, but when addressing Ness explicitly as a character, I believe it is well worth taking a look at the individual nuances of derealization syndrome -- a similar yet separate condition outlined in the ICD-10.

As a disassociative condition, derealization syndrome is most likely attributed to a confluence of factors, including neurological conditions, which may or may not include occipital or temporal lobe damage. Syndrome symptoms -- which impacts the way a person experiences reality, making the world around them feel "unreal" -- is most commonly reported by those who have experienced sudden traumas. 

What makes derealization syndrome such a fitting condition for Ness, the main character in the hyper-surreal SNES cult classic "Earthbound," is that both the character and the game Ness is most closely associated with stems from the real-life trauma experienced by the game's creator, Shigesato Itoi. As a child, he ambled into the wrong movie theater once and witnessed a graphic murder scene in a mystery film; the scarring event was echoed in the the climactic boss battle of "Earthbound," which consisted of a metaphysical dual between a young boy and what many have described as an "aborted alien embryo." Even creepier is that Itoh himself considered the scene a combination of "atrocity and eroticism," having completely ad-libbed the monster's dialogue from what could only be his long-dormant, and severely frayed, vestiges of childhood innocence. Needless to say, if one of your pals opts for Ness in your next game of "Smash Bros.," perhaps "most memorable childhood experiences" should remain a verboten topic of discussion throughout the contest.

In a game rife with pills, psychotropic drugs and phallic symbols galore, perhaps its only fitting that the final adversary in "Super Smash Bros." appears to be the disembodied hand of modern psychiatry itself. 

If your favorite character is Pikachu, then your hidden mental illness is:
Avoidant Personality Disorder

The undersized Pokemon character is clearly dwarfed by the rest of the "Super Smash Bros." cast. Indeed, the teensy Pikachu would indeed be the poster boy for fighting game frailty, was it not for his lightning fast reflexes and lightning fast...well, lightning. As a fighter that best works at a range, Pikachu seems to be an avatar best suited for those who share a disdain for up-close melee combat -- which, in the grand arena known as sociopsychology, is more or less a figurative stand-in for socialization in general.

The DSM-5 criteria for Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvDP) describes the condition as a state of persistent social inhibition, marked by inadequate feelings, an extreme fear of negative evaluation and -- perhaps most fitting regarding Pikachu as an SSB character -- a tendency to avoid social interaction (which, once again, is represented by physical combat in the Nintendo 64 metaphorical space.)

Of course, it's difficult to describe Pikachu -- as a canon character outside of the SSB realm -- as a figure that's both hypersensitive to criticism and fostering emotional distancing tendencies. However, the general behaviors of the character within the SSB arena definitely mirror those of individuals displaying strong AvPD symptoms; possibly, those who opt for the character as their "main" my indeed be selecting the character for subconscious reasons. 

If your favorite character is Samus, then your hidden mental illness is:
Schizotypal Personality Disorder

Samus Aran, the star of Nintendo's "Metroid" series, is a Sigourney Weaver-inspired ass kicker whose personality is marked primarily by profound silence and the remorseless rocket launchering of alien enemies. In "Super Smash Bros.," Samus is a character who, alike Pikachu, is best suited for ranged combat -- her charged laser beam shot, in particular, is a super powerful, high speed attack best utilized at extreme distances from adversaries.

In DSM terms, Samus' fighting style (as well as her canon, main series behavior) displays several similarities with the textbook definition of schizotypal personality disorder (SPD). Those with the milder form of SPD tend to favor social isolation, have difficulties maintaining close relationships and may be hesitant to respond when engaged by others -- all behaviors that suit Samus to a proverbial T. Furthermore, individuals with SPD are also known to dress in unusual attire -- something Samus' orange, red and green uniform would certainly qualify as. 

Beyond the APA criteria, Samus' schizotypal behavior is further "validated" by the World Health Organization, who list constricted affect -- that is, emotional frigidity -- and social withdrawal tendencies (perhaps into a ball, maybe?) in its DSM-analog, the ICD-10. And the proverbial icing on the cake? Theodore Milton's "timorous schizotypal" subtype seems to perfectly summarize Samus, as both character, fighting game avatar and possible player proxy: "Warily apprehensive, watchful, suspicious, guarded, shrinking, deadens excess sensitivity; alienated from self and others; intentionally blocks, reverses, or disqualifies own thoughts."

If your favorite character is Yoshi, then your hidden mental illness is:

Of all the "Super Smash Bros." characters, Yoshi is probably the easiest to diagnose, but it wasn't until last year that the APA declared Pica -- that is, the desire to ingest non-food items -- as a stand-alone psychiatric disorder.

Basically, the DSM-5 describes Pica as the "persistent eating of non-nutritive substances for a period of at least one month," in particular, non-nutritive substances that are "not culturally sanctioned." Well, anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Yoshi character can see why this is so fitting: indeed, Yoshi's entire shtick revolves around digesting things that are clearly not food in the traditional sense -- such as living combatants -- and then excreting them in egg form.

Of course, just because one of your friends seems to share a bond of sorts with the character doesn't necessarily mean he or she is an individual who likes to eat inanimate objects, per se. That said, if random household objects do tend to simply vanish after lengthy "Super Smash Bros." bouts at your homestead? There's a very strong chance said objects may be found within the digestive tract of whoever picked Yoshi, perhaps...