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Koji Kondo: Our Beethoven?

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Da, Da, Da. Da Dada Da. Dada dada dada da dadada. While that may sound like nonsense, if I told you it's my best attempt to spell out the Super Mario Bros. tune, it becomes immediately recognizable. If you were born after 1970, chances are you can hum the theme from the first board of that game (and probably the underground second board) like it's the most natural thing in the world. In fact, even novice gamers can probably hum the tunes from all the major Mario titles of the last twenty years, thanks to that franchise's enduring popularity. And you might be surprised to find out that every major Mario game (with the exception of Super Mario Bros. 2, the black sheep of the family thanks to it not really being a Mario game*) was scored by the same man "“ the inexhaustible Koji Kondo.

Who?

koji.jpgKoji Kondo (born 1960) was just your average Japanese composer when he stumbled into a gig at a playing card company called Nintendo in 1984. The company, in business since 1889, had decided to venture into the emerging world of videogames. These games needed music and Kondo was the man who would give it to them. While there he composed a ton of music for a ton of games, but it was his work on a strange game featuring a plumber trapped in a fungus kingdom ruled by an evil dragon (and you thought Tamagotchis were weird) that really solidified his legacy. Speaking to Wired about the game's music, he said, "I wanted to create something that had never been heard before, something not like game music at all."

Style and Restrictions

To any composer, working in the videogame world was restrictive at best. Instead of commanding a symphony, Kondo had to work with only four tracks. Not only that, he had to turn those four tracks into tunes that were enjoyable on first listen but also on second, on third, on fourth "¦ on three hundred and forty-fourth listen. A thorough Wikipedia page cites his three main influences as Latin, Jazz and Classical—but to me at least, his music transcends categorization and instead becomes the template for what videogame music should sound like. Of course, as technology advanced so did the instruments at Kondo's hands. Anyone who has played Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii will testify that the score is at least comparable to any John Williams tune out there.

Trends/Popularity

It's hard to put an exact number on how many people have listened to Kondo's music, but if you add up the sales of all the major Mario games he scored you get a figure around 100 million. So, at a minimum, 100 million people have listened to Kondo's music. That's 1/3 of the American population—and that's the bare minimum. It's also the 3rd most popular ringtone right now. Not bad for a song more than twenty years old.

For comparison's sake, Google Trends shows Beethoven to be only 40% as popular as Super Mario. Google also shows Mario beating Bach by about 132,000,000 results. Like it or not, Mario is as much a part of our collective culture as the classical greats. And if Google numbers don't convince you that Kondo should be considered one of the great composers of our time, Paul and Linda McCartney apparently knew the tune by heart and hummed it to Kondo when the three met. I mean, he's a Knight of the Realm, you have to listen to him.

Tributes

The original Mario song has been re-recorded on just about every instrument you can imagine.

We've heard it on steel drums...

...on flute...

...on a ridiculous bass guitar...

...on a ridiculous double-guitar...

...on, oddly, drums...

...on the various instruments of the Notre Dame marching band...

...and on the power of human voice alone. It's even been covered live by Phish.

But what if you didn't like Super Mario Bros.? Why would you care about Kondo's music if you hate the game? Well, when I was a wee lad there were two kinds of people: people who like Mario and people who liked Zelda. Good news, Zelda fans, Kondo did the score for that, too.

*Super Mario Bros. 2 started life as a game called Doki Doki Panic, released for Japanese audiences. Looking for a quick way to capitalize on the success of Super Mario Bros., Nintendo inserted the Mario characters into the game and released it in the US as Super Mario Bros. 2.

Streeter Seidell is the front page editor of CollegeHumor.com and a mental_floss contributor.

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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