WARNING: NOT EVERYONE HAS THE SAME CULTURAL CONTEXT
AND NOT EVERYONE IS RELAXED ABOUT PUBLIC SPACES
Five young women put up question blocks in Ohio today (April 1st) and the bomb squad was called in. The women may have to face criminal charges. While I feel this is an unnecessary and extreme response, I understand that sometimes people get frightened when they see something they don't expect. I can't recommend that you put these blocks up yourself in a space you're not responsible for.
To clarify some of the points in the article: this is not a sinister 'game', it is supposed to be a comment on public spaces being routinely used for advertising (billboards, etc) but not for art (these boxes). Also, despite what Ravenna Police Chief Randall McCoy says, the purpose of these boxes is not "just to see what kind of response you get". It is to bring a smile to people's faces, to get them to connect with their neighbours, to bring colour into an otherwise grey urban landscape. Posterchild and myself are both deeply sorry that things are not working out in Ravenna.
UPDATE (APRIL 7): You can see the some of the Ravenna boxes, as well as other boxes made in response to this story, below on this page, here. Response to this story being in the news has been overwhelmingly supportive of the girls involved, with the consensus being that no charges should be laid. One of the few dissenting voices was that of anti-video game crusader Jack Thompson, who called Poster Child a jerk for no reason.
UPDATE 2 (APRIL 10): Cooler heads have prevailed, and the women in Ravenna will not be charged.
Okay, now onto the Mario blocks!
How to Make Your Own Totally Sweet Mario Question Blocks and Put Them Up Around Town
Because It's Really Awesome
A friend of mine (who is not actually me) goes by the name Poster Child when he is doing art in public spaces. He believes that our public spaces (sidewalks, parks, etc) have been taken over by ads, and so he battles this creeping loss of public spaces by placing his art in similar situations. Those are the politics! The result is a lot of cool stuff that you can just come across when you're walking around town.
This page is for the question blocks that my friend did at the end of May, 2005. He thought that his town of Windsor, Ontario would look a lot cooler if there were question blocks, circa Super Mario Brother 1, around town. I'm putting this up so you can make your own question blocks and put them up around your town too!
Step One: Buy some shiny yellow wrapping paper. You'll also want to scrounge some cardboard for the question blocks and items and stenciling.
Step Two: Cut out on cardboard the items you want to make. This is easy because the pixels will be really big. It's a pretty simple job to paint both sides appropriately, and in doing this you may notice how the fire flower's flower is pretty much just a coin with a palette shift. THIS CAME AS NEWS TO ME. These question blocks we're making are going to have fire flowers and coins and mushrooms and even one-up mushrooms!
Step Three: By cutting out six equally-sized pieces of cardboard, you can form a box. By cutting out twelve, you can cut out two boxes, which is needed if you're going to hang them as my friend did! You can use duct or packing tape to hold your boxes together. Be sure to put your items inside the box before you seal it shut, whoops!
Step Four: Cover the boxes in wrapping paper! My friend made some boxes with special shiny holographic paper, and another with a more flat yellow paper. You can then either paint or stencil on the question mark and shadow. Stenciling with spray paint's a little faster, since you'll need to do this at least eight times (ten if you want question marks on the bottom).
Step Five: Get a length of string and attach the two boxes together. You want to have some length to the string, to make whipping the boxes up pretty easy. You can use duct tape if you've attached the paper really well, or you can attach the string back in step three when you made the boxes, but before you put the paper on. YOUR CALL.
Step Six: Put them up around town! The easiest way is to throw them like bolas. The high-reaching ones tend to last longer, and more people see them, but the lower they are, the greater the chance that someone will reach up, touch the box, and realize there's a prize inside. You'll make someone's week! If you're in Windsor, you should keep an eye out for these!
They look like this when you get them up really high:
My friend made four of these question blocks. The low-reaching set (it was hung on a tree hanging over a sidewalk, just at jumping height) is now gone, and we think that it was the one with the fire flower and the one-up mushroom in it. I hope that the person who picked it up is not a criminal, because it could make things difficult for the police!
MAKE YOUR OWN:
Others have now made their own question blocks. Chris Yates made his in comic form, and Oncepure made handy PDF templates for you! Simply open these pdfs, scale them to fit your printer's paper in the Print menu, and voila! You can choose from the block template and the powerup template.
POWERUP BLOCKS WORLDWIDE:
Thanks everyone for sending me pictures of powerup blocks you've made or come across! Here's all the ones I'm aware of so far. If you've seen more, please, drop posterchild a line!
EL PASO, TEXAS Joseph writes: Here's some pictures of me and some friends making and hanging mario blocks. We're from El Paso Texas we plan on covering the city with these blocks
and we also plan on making pokeballs. we'll keep in touch and send you more pics soon.
TORONTO, CANADA I write: Made out of scrounged plywood and measuring in at 2 feet cubed, this is the largest (any bigger and it wouldn't of been able to fit through the door)
and sturdiest Mario block I've built to date. Too bad it only lasted about 48 hours.
As you can see, this is also the first block Iíve built that you don't have to destroy to get at the powerup inside. It's Boppable and Reusable! In fact, it is also auto-reloading!
The falling leaves from the surrounding trees did the job nice and slowly. Slow and steady. Of course, if you were in more of a hurry, you could always reload it manually- as long
as you weren't really short.
I donít know who took it down, but I doubt it was the city. They arenít known to be that speedy. Iím guessing that someone thought that it would make a nice base for a coffee table
or a cool laundry hamper or something. Which is a shame, really.
Special thanks to Ryan North, pictured above bopping the block like crazy, for coming along for the install.
OHIO, USA Brendan writes: I had made a set of Mario Blocks to hang up around campus here at Kenyon in Ohio
for a performance art week that we had last year. I made paper bottoms for them, put painted mushrooms inside, and hung them
by tying a bag of rocks to one end of a string and using that to sling it over a branch. They were a HUGE hit. Walking down Middle Path
(the main walkway on campus) the next day and seeing someone run up and hit one with their head was possibly one of the best things that ever happened
to me before nine in the morning. Anyways, here are some pictures from the building process.
Unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries before I could get a shot of them hung up.
BERLIN, GERMANY Fritz writes: Hi posterchild, A while back I came across your site and found it a really awesome idea
to create some SMB related stuff in real life as i still play SMB today.
I honestly have to admit that my art and crafting skills are somewhat
poor so I used Oncepure's templates. I printed them on thicker paper and
laminated them to make them more resistant against humidity. The
resulting figures were hung into a tree near my flat.
ADELAIDE AUSTRALIA Sophia writes: i'm eighteen, studying graphic design and have been reading dinosaur comics for a long time now. i just wanted to send you some sweet pictures of the question
boxes that me and my super friend (tom) made. possibly the first in our fair country? who knows.. but i think they turned out ok? either way one of my
life long dreams has been fulfilled. we spent about 5 hours making them and were hanging them at four in the morning while cops flashed their search
lights at us. risky stuff, but we did it. hope you enjoy the pics. much love. sophia.x
ILLUMINARES LANTERN FESTIVAL, VANCOUVER:Noah writes: Dear Posterchild,
I made a question mark block paper lantern for the Illuminares lantern
festival here in Vancouver. Here's a photo of it on flickr.
I'll probably have a couple of more, possibly cooler photos after the
festival itself. Thanks for the inspiration, and reference images for
getting the pixel art right, heh.
TORONTO, CANADA I write: Last summer I made 4 big blocks to put up around the market during one of Kensingtonís remarkable "Pedestrian Sundays".
During Pedestrian Sundays they close the market off to cars and have special events. The night before I put up 2 sets of two blocks- each set had both a red and a green mushroom powerup.
I love the top picture. I was struggling with getting the blocks over the wires and the dude pictured came along and helped. What a throw! It was a lot harder than it looks!
All 4 of the blocks were down by the next day, but unopened, so I just put them in new spots!
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS, USA: Dante got a group together and made about 17 or 18 of these gorgeous blocks and put them around campus. Here's a newspaper story about it! The blocks turned out great, and it was making these blocks that allowed Dante to meet some people who have become close friends, which is also great! This project brings people together as well as getting them threatened by authorities sometimes in small towns. You can see a bunch more pictures here.
SOUTHPORT, UK: Sam put these mario blocks up at the his skate park. More pictures here!
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, USA: Jason snapped this picture of a Mario block being highlighted as a student project at NYU.
ANYTOWN, USA: Gina made this question block, put a free life inside (okay okay an image of a free life MUSHROOM inside) and put it up at her school. It was a big hit!
NORWAY: Peter is another visual artist who has made some really nice blocks in Norway. He's done some on the street and also taken this idea a bit further and moved it into a gallery setting, creating a Mario environment!
CENTERBURG, OHIO, USA: Alex and his sister made this nice question block, floating too high for anyone to reach.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, USA: Greg made this video showing where he placed his boxes, and people's reactions to them. The sound effects are great! You can watch this video directly on Youtube.
OBERLIN COLLEGE, OHIO, USA: These gorgeous boxes were put up around Oberlin College, Ohio, after the Ravenna girls got in trouble. Reihonna writes that "They brought a lot of joy to the students that were slugging through
finals, especially when they realized they contained items that one
could collect. A few of them even ended up being used a storage boxes a
few days later, which made my life a little brighter....
And happily, no one was arrested or attacked and many people enjoyed
them before security removed the empty boxes that were dangling from
trees. (Some people here are very climby and went into the trees/onto
the building to unpack their prizes and leave the boxes hanging."
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA: A gamer, Inferno_2.0, has made his own block, placing it at Fragmax LAN center. There's a picture of it in place here.
HARVARD, CAMBRIDGE, MA, USA: Laura writes, "Last Saturday, my friends Ellen, Christine, and I (left to right) devoted 7 hours of the day to what I consider to be a rather
successful mission to bring Mario blocks to the bosom of our alma mater.
After rigorous testing for powerup potency and block
punchability, we chose three prime locations around the campus:
the Law School a.k.a. Langdell Library, the Harvard College
a.k.a. Widener Library, and HarvardSquare itself. Compelled by equal parts magnanimity and lack of arm strength, we
decided to hang the blocks in relatively low, reachable areas, and as a
result only the Widener library block was still hanging by 11:00am the next
morning. I hope whoever found the others had the good sense to look for the
powerups inside, as we were particularly proud of them. It occurred to me
only after we had wrapped and strung the boxes that it might be a good idea
to write an email address on the back of the powerups, that way we would be
able to verify whether they were found. If nothing else, the kind of person
who climbs up trees and/or lampposts in search of fire flowers and big
mushrooms might make an interesting penpal."
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNITY (BERKELEY), CALIFORNIA, USA: Tami writes that "...a bunch of us here at UC Berkeley decided to put some up after being inspired by the photos on your site. They were promptly taken down the next day by students. We saw people carrying them around. It makes me giddy to think about students climbing the gate in broad daylight to get at the boxes.". They took a lot of pictures of theirboxes, including the power ups placed inside them!
CASPER, NY, USA:Alexis made some question blocks to put up in his town, but discovered that someone named Hyena had discovered them, replaced them with a mobile of coins, and demanded a ransom of five more blocks. Alexis left a note saying she doesn't negotiate with terrorists. Here's a larger picture of the coin mobile.
PORTLAND, MAINE, USA: Ty came across this block while out for a stroll. About a week or so later I got an email from Savannah, who with the help of her friend Tina, is responsible for these blocks! There were seven blocks in all: two sets of two and three single blocks. They were located in Deering Oaks Park; in front
of Papier Gourmet on Free St.; at the intersection of Union, Middle, Temple, and Spring; at the intersection of Congress and High St.; and (pictured) at the end of Dana St. on Commercial St. Shealsosent in a bunchof fantasticphotographs! Savannah and Tina would like to thank Patrick for the use of his shoes as counterweights.
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA: This summer my friend Sharkey told me he'd come across some at the University of Toronto. We met at the Bahen Centre and discovered this:
Somebody had made their own boxes here in my home city of Toronto! We puzzled at the placement (next to the recycling?) until we realized that we hadn't been there first. There was duct tape on the corner, showing that it had been hung up at some time in the recent past! Someone who probably doesn't know how to party had taken it down and put it by the garbage. This block is pretty awesome: it's very close to the ones Poster Child made, only painted by hand instead of stenciled. If you made these, could you let me know?
Anyway, I didn't want the block to get thrown out, so I took it home and put it up in a hallway, just in case! As far as I can tell there are no powerups inside, but I could be wrong.