Guarding the Homefront


The last time I played a video game with either of the Mario Bros. in it, Reagan was in his first term and Mr. Mario was chasing an ape. So I might have missed some of the nuances in this story from GameSpot—but I think I've got the gist:

In the town of Ravenna, Ohio, five teenage girls, ages 16 and 17, crafted some life-sized power-up boxes modeled after those in [Super Mario Bros.]. The cardboard boxes were covered in shiny, gold wrapping paper and had the black question marks familiar to most gamers. As an April Fools joke, the girls laid 17 of these boxes around the town in public spaces Friday morning.

The humor was lost on some residents, however. After noticing one package on the steps of a church, a concerned citizen reported the "suspicious package" to local authorities, who called in the county's hazardous materials unit and the bomb squad.

Upon further inspection, no materials designed to harm people, mushrooms to increase a person's size, or flowers that bestow the ability to project bouncing fireballs were found inside the boxes. The packages were empty.

According to the Ohio Record-Courier, "the incident will be referred to the Portage County Prosecutor's Office for possible charges against the girls."

[Thanks to Tim Dreier for the link.]

NEXT: My Brain Made Me Do It

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  1. Send the Koopa Troopas after them!

  2. The trouble with a prank like this is that it assumes its intended victims are, or ever have been, familiar enough with a decade-plus-old video game to remember the kinds of vivid details the pranksters are trying to mimic. It’s not surprising to me that it was all lost on the townsfolk.

  3. Suspicious boxes with question marks on them? I guess the Riddler must be on the Ravenna most wanted list.

  4. I do not mean this at all as a slur on small towns, but – what is the last time a small town actually had a serious security incident? I mean, does Ravenna, Ohio really feel so oppressed by the presumed threat of explosives in a box that they need to go gestapo on kids? Do people in Bunghole Creek, West Virginia really think that Osama has them in his sights?

    I work in a skyscraper. I fly out of LAX. I take the subway. I attend mass sporting events, concerts, etc. I rely on the California aqueduct. I frequently loll around the pool at Vegas. I don’t want to hear about burgs – population 1000 and some cows – spending money and time on security. Spend it where it’s needed, boys, or give it back to the taxpayers.

  5. You should mean that as a slur on small towns, they mostly bite it.

  6. They should have at least put some giant coins in those boxes.

    I miss Super Mario Brothers.

  7. I’m surprised the local SWAT goons didn’t gun those kids down, and their little dogs too!

  8. Naah, I romanticize small towns. You know, like girls with curly hair always want straight hair, and vice versa. I – urban to the core – have an image of small towns as bucolic, friendly, smell-the-flowers places.

  9. I, too, work in a skyscraper. I attend mass sporting events, concerts, etc. I rely on the California aqueduct. I frequently loll around the pool at Vegas. (copied mercilessly from OP) i don’t ride the subway here, but I like BART when i’m up north.

    I do NOT romanticize small towns since i grew up in one. What a stifling, small-minded environment!

    But I do agree, let’s put security money into places that really need it. Otherwise, what’s going to protect Dodgers Stadium when the bomb hits. Or who’s gonna actually keep the gunman from getting to the El-Al counter this time (yeah, i was there when that happened)? Or how about some bioterror money? That siphons to the rest of the DHS to where it becomes useful.

  10. According to the Ohio Record-Courier, “the incident will be referred to the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office for possible charges against the girls.”

    Apart from littering, what exactly would the charge be for these kids? Or is there some USA PATRIOT provision that allows local officials to use anti terrorism laws against people who leave empty boxes lying around?

  11. “The trouble with a prank like this is that it assumes its intended victims are, or ever have been, familiar enough with a decade-plus-old video game to remember the kinds of vivid details the pranksters are trying to mimic.”

    Mario is probably the most widely recognized video game character of all time, and has had either a main, supporting, or cameo role in multiple dozens of games.

    /just sayin’

  12. “Whaddya in for kid?”
    And they all moved away from me on the Group W bench.
    “…and causing a disturbance.”
    And they all came back… mother stabbers and father rapers…

  13. I do not mean this at all as a slur on small towns

    I grew up near Ravenna. Slur away.

  14. jpe, so did I. Always seemed like a weird town.

    But, for what it’s worth, I think this prank was hilarious!

  15. Everyone…everyone…please look at the date on this article.

  16. The Internet: It’s April Fools every day!

  17. Hey, Bourgeoise, did ya see the B-2 Bomber fly over Dodger Stadium on Monday? Wheee! I looove it when they do that!

    And no slurs on Ravenna – I went to the municipal website and it looked quite pretty. Old buildings always impress me.

  18. “Everyone…everyone…please look at the date on this article.”

    Zefram, there’s no indication that the article is false and the website mentioned in the article really does exist:

  19. Zefram,
    For what it’s worth it was picked up by at least a few other ‘reputable’ papers.

  20. To back up what mediageek said: the Mario franchise is actually the number one video game franchise in the country, and the various Mario games have sold over thirty million units over the past four years alone.

    If *anything* is going to be immediately recognizable in the world of gaming, it’ll be something associated with the whole Mario franchise. Or GTA with its “newsworthiness.”

    The girls sound like they have a great sense of humor; it’s unthinkable that they could actually be prosecuted for what they did.

  21. I’m just a little more careful about where I direct my outrage after that story about the university student’s little red book being taken by homeland security. And it being around april fools day.

    If it is legit, let the outrage flow!

  22. I personally think that it’s great that girls that are getting busted for nerdy video-game like pranks…I wonder if any of them will go to college in the Columbus area…:-)

  23. Ayn Randian,
    Well, they didn’t get busted with dope so at least the HEA won’t screw with them if they choose to pursue a college career. Here’s to hoping for more geeky girls!

  24. Honest to God, I used to do stuff like this too. And I don’t mean like when I was 16, either – I last was involved in a massive (>100 “installations”) weird-stuff campaign like 2 years ago. But I try to be involved in this sort of thing whenever the opportunity comes up, and in fact have a substantial personal history of participation in scattering of weird objects d’art around.

    Hard to believe that this stuff is terrorism. True or April Fools, this story has sure made an impression. I heard about it a couple days ago from a young woman who was somewhat startled by the criminalization of typical youthful artistic behavior…..

  25. I went to the municipal website and it looked quite pretty.

    That’s because they photoshopped the Deliverance-like townspeople out.

  26. In 1979,when I was a sophomore in high school, the top three students in the class ahead of me and one of their class sponsors went to Dallas to buy decorations for the prom. On the trip, the three students, all 17 years old, made a paper sign saying “Help, We’re Toddlers Being Kidnapped” and held it up in the window of the teacher’s car. Someone saw it and called the police, and three DPS cars were waiting at the high school when the group returned, the teacher even having to be questioned for an hour or so. I’ve always wondered who thought that toddlers could write tht well or that kidnappers would continue happily driving while their victims signalled for assistance, and finally who thought toddlers ever got as tall as those three students. Just thought you’d like to know that idiotic overreaction to student pranks existed before the Department of Homeland Security.

  27. This wasn’t really a prank or a game. It’s a kind of public art. Read more here:

    I believe it was organized by the guy who produces the Daily Dinosaur Comics strip. (Love the dude and the strip.)

  28. Somebody way too old for Super Mario Bros must sure have watched too many early cartoons to think real-life bombers leave shiny boxes with question marks. Damn Warners, corrupting our now geriatric youth…

  29. They should have left a big, round, black ball with an endlessly fizzing fuse in the center of town. I mean, if you’re going to get busted for terrorism anyway…

  30. I’m with Bee. I’m sick to death of small town middle America concerning itself over terrorism.

    Small town middle America – listen up and listenm good:



  31. I saw the movie, and I don’t remember any shiny boxes with question marks.

  32. The biggest mistake I ever made was being born in Ravenna. This prank’s exactly the kind of thing my smart-and-bored younger sister used to get up to (in Ravenna, Ohio) when she was in high school. Except that fifteen years ago, the cops were merely overzealous because they were raging pricks, not because they were raging pricks ennobled by their li’l anti-terror crusade.

    Omigod, Skeeter!! The terrorists are bombing Deluxe Pastry! They hate our freedom and our maple-frosted cream sticks!


  33. This is more in response to the comments than the article. Its not only about whether the terrorists want to blow up small towns is it? Timothy McVeigh didn’t buy ammonium nitrate at Barney’s and the 9/11 terrorists weren’t taking flight training at LAX. By most accounts OKC is small-town middle America. Arresting kids for this sort of prank is stupid, but it is equally stupid to say that middle America shouldn’t concern itself with terroristic threats.

  34. Boy, Mario was the best!

    Sonic sucked ass in comparison.

    Can anyone remember the jump on World 8 Level 1? It was hard! You had to land on the little block and then make another megajump!!!


  35. Mike,

    Having been to OKC many times (I lived in OK for two years), I must disagree with your characterization of OKC as ‘small town Middle America’. It may not be say New York or LA but it is most definately not a small town. Also note the reason it was chosen is because it had a huge Federal building.

    Ravenna has a population of around 11,000. OKC has 1.3 million in the metro area.

    I think the sentiment most people have isn’t that if you don’t live in NYC or LA that you shouldn’t be concerned about terrorism just that some fear should be scaled to the reality. If I were still living in OK and Norman, Oklahoma I would be far less worried about terrorism then say OKC.

    Also the statements about the training and the equipment gathering are a bit misleading, since, in the end, McVeigh and the 9/11 hijackers didn’t attack where they got supplies. I can see people in smaller town with those sorts of supplies/training being supicious if someone like my swarthy self comes marching in and wants to buy several thousands gallons of ammonium nitrate
    but the context of this Ravenna incident was the idea that the deadly Super Mario brother boxes might have an attack.

    There are plenty of good strategic/political targets in Middle America, they just aren’t likely to be small towns. Let me state, though, there are some good targets in small towns, all over America that are usually associated with military installations. Many bases/forts associated with intel, for instance, are near small towns.

  36. I think it is a stretch to call OKC (population 500,000) a small town. A small town has only a few thousand people and the prime targets consist of a Dairy Queen and a feed store. A lot of small time cops get tired of writing tickets and are looking for any excuse to go “tactical” on someone.

  37. I used to live in Ravenna. Weird place; Italian hillbillies and the ghetto were the distinctive facets of that town. Oh yeah, it’s also the home of the crazy chick who killed a pregnant woman, stole the baby right out of her womb and passed it off as her own for a couple of days until she was arrested. I’m sure those teens will do some time in juvie.

  38. Jeremy,

    I agree with your feelings about the sentiment of most people. I was responding directly to previous commenters. Bee asks when the last time a small town had a serious security incident. I guess it depends on your definition of “serious” but if you include things like pipe bombs and arson as serious then the answer is not very long ago. Jersey said that he was sick of small town middle America concerning itself with terrorism. Not a very practical solution for our world to pretend there is no threat, no matter what size of town you live in.

    Any jerkoff with access to the internet can build a pipe bomb, would you want to open an unattended box left on the steps of the post office?

    What this comment thread has done is turn an incident where the police took sensible precautions and turned it into an excuse to ridicule people from “Bunghole Creek.” If DHS had swept these girls away to a detention center, I would be protesting mightily, but if the local gov wants to give them community service good.

  39. Mike,

    I see where you are coming from and I agree there is a lot of unnecessary small town/middle America bashing in this thread.

    Though I don’t know why the girls should be punished even with community service since it is unclear to me exactly what crime they should be charged with other than perhaps littering. They didn’t deface or damage anything.

  40. Mike,
    Point taken, but I actually grew up in the Bunghole Creek in question (and went to school down the line in Monkeyclit Township) and feel very comfortable casting any and all aspersions on the quality of the local gendarmes.

    Moreover, exactly why is putting Super Mario boxes around town grounds for community service, or civil punishment of any kind? It’s not like they called in a bomb threat, and it seems they did try to fess up to defuse the situation once people started to flip out. It’s that the girls might be up on charges that really boggles my mind, even more than the notion that the terrorists hate the Deluxe Pastry shop or Ravenna’s south-of-crappy public library as much as they hate our freedom.

  41. But Johno, unless they’re punished, how they gonna learn that folk don’t take kindly t’that sorta nonsense round these parts?

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