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Test Pattern: Tag! You’re it!

Plus: Fast-food chains of the past; Sesame; Sponge Bob goes metal

Five-link Friday: Tag! You're it!

Is it just me, or was this one long week? Here are five light-hearted links to push the final workday of the week out the door a little faster.

• Think back on the forms of tag you played as a child. Did you just play the simple version? "Tag, you're it!" Did you play freeze tag? TV tag? I played all of those, but I just had no idea there were . Tag is truly a complicated yet simple game. You're it!

• As a mustard-hating kid, I loved Burger Chef because you could order your hamburgers naked and dress them yourself at the condiment bar. When all the Burger Chefs went under and our local one was turned into a savings and loan, I was quite sad. , including Burger Chef, Arthur Treacher's (not dead yet), Sambo's (one location remains), the Toddle House and others. Minnie Pearl sold chicken? Did she leave the price tags on it? The page reminds me of a site I've linked to before, the awesome , which features photos of other businesses operating in what was obviously once a fast-food place.

• This site is truly a beautiful work of art: . Click on any letter and it will take you to mini-bios of the "Sesame Street" characters whose names begin with that letter. Sure, the major players are there (, , but the joy is in finding the lesser players that strike a chord in your memory. , the little boy who had his own elementary school, was a favorite of mine. And hey, wait, when did Bert get a lookalike brother () and a nephew ()?

• Matt at X-Entertainment , including the classic "The Berenstain Bears And Too Much Junk Food," in which the baby bears meet all kinds of hip teenage vegetables, who offer them parts of themselves to eat. Hey, isn't that vegetable self-cannibalism?

• I am neither a fan of Iron Maiden nor or of Sponge Bob Square Pants, yet still I find , kind of hilarious.

Remember how Mystery Science Theater used to say "keep circulating the tapes" at the end of each show? Here's my version: Keep sending in the links!

3 commercials I like

This never happens. There are not one, not two, but three commercials running right now that I actually enjoy watching. Regular "Test Pattern" readers know that summer is the time for our annual discussion of the best and worst commercials, and to keep everyone from getting sick of the topic, I try to stay away from it most of the year. But I'm making a temporary exception to give kudos to these ads, because who even knows if they'll be around in summer? (Before anyone writes in and says "Get TiVo and don't watch ads at all," yes, I have it, and yes, I still occasionally tune in to the commercials.)

1) I get a huge kick out of the Cingular "push to talk" commercial that plays the voices of the different Walton kids saying their familiar goodnights. "Night Mary Ellen!" "Night Jim Bob!" The commercials cuts amusingly to houses of different sizes and style, ending with, of course, eldest son John Boy and the Waltons farmhouse on Waltons Mountain. Maybe it's just because I loved that show, but the commercial strikes me as cute, smart, and good at delivering its message — that you can use this product to bring together far-off family members. Smart ad.

2) This one may come as a surprise to those who remember when I posted about how much I hated the use of Salt and Pepa's "Push It" in a GM commercial. (I thought the lyrics were too graphic for a TV ad, readers were split on whether or not I was a big ol' prude.) Now I'm laughing my head off at an ad that also appears to use "Push It," but it doesn't play any of the suggestive lyrics, just the catchy "baby, baby" segment. Of course I'm talking about the ad for Nextel walkie-talkie phones where a co-worker storms into an office where three slackers are sitting around with a boombox dancing to the song. He screams that they need to get back to work — they don't know how many converters they have in stock, where the company trucks are, or where someone named Mackler is. One of the dancers gives him a withering look, snaps open his phone and computer, and in three seconds has all the answers for him. (Kudos to the unseen actor playing Mackler, who in response to "Mackler, where are you?" drones "At the airport" in the most bored tone imaginable.) Although I sympathize with the guy who's trying to crack the whip over the three goof-offs, the smug look on the face of Answer Man as he snaps his phone shut is priceless.

3) Not a big beer drinker, but I always stop to watch the "Girl in the Moon" ads for Miller High Life. (You can , once you verify you're of legal drinking age — click on "See My TV Moments" along the top of the page.) As a woman, I'm rarely taken in when commercials use sexy women to sell products, but the throaty purr of the woman who plays the moon girl is just irresistible, as are the nostalgic photos — people in a bar in the 1940s, old-time football players, 1970s couples — that flash in the background as she speaks. ("American Dreams" fans, these photo montages remind me of that late lamented show's opening credits.) I think my favorite is ad featuring two bar patrons who can't bear to look up at the TV as a World Series-deciding moment plays. Kudos to Miller for actually addressing their ad campaign on a well-done Web site, which explains that the Girl in the Moon trademark dates back to 1907. I couldn't find video or even a mention of the Nextel and Cingular ads on their sites, though maybe I'm missing something.

Usually, I can think of dozens of awful, aggravating ads, but it's rare to find even one that's well-done and doesn't insult the audience. And as long as they run, that's 30 seconds of my life where I don't have to be lunging for the remote to turn off the .

Survivor’ does the twist

Reality shows are always trying to think of some new twist to keep viewers tuning in and their ratings lively. Some of the twists are stupid ("Apprentice" pits college grads against those who don't have college degrees), some sounded better on paper than they worked out ("Big Brother" casts twins to play one person), but almost all the shows feel they need to try them.

"Survivor" is one of the old-time reality shows, and it's managed to crank out 11 seasons and stay in or close to the Nielsen top 10. The show has divided teams according to gender, it's limited food, it's brought back voted-off players, it's let players from past seasons (Stephenie and Bobby Jon) return for another season, it's introduced a mini-immunity idol. Some twists worked better than others, but the only twist I can think of that's gone completely flat is the idea that the person who wins immunity can give it up at tribal council if said person feels completely safe. Although Marcellas on "Big Brother" did make an equivalent bonehead move on that show, no "Survivor" has yet been stupid enough to give up immunity, so that rule feels like empty air.

Today CBS announced the which will be returning to Panama for the third time ("Pearl Islands" and "All-Stars" were shot there). The network also announced that, for the first time, the show will split the cast into not just two, but four tribes to begin the season. Each tribe will begin with just four members. Not only that, but the tribes will be divided by age and gender -- young women, older women, young men, older men.

As anyone who's ever watched the show knows, when the show has just two tribes, the oldest players are often fair game to get picked off right away. Younger women make it interesting, too. Last season in Guatemala, the beautiful blondes bit the dust quite early, but in some seasons, the young women have made it quite far (Heidi and Jenna on "Survivor: Amazon" come to mind). Now that each demographic group starts out on its own tribe, things should really get interesting. Will the older groups be outgunned in the challenges and have to start picking apart their own tribe, or will they surprise the younger folks? ("Old" is relative here -- the oldest cast member is 48.) And with just four people on each tribe to begin with, will loyalties run deep, or be easily tossed aside?

As was announced on the "Survivor Guatemala" finale, there's another twist, too. Back on "Survivor Palau," there was an episode in which one cast member, Janu, was sent off to a small island by herself to see if she could get by alone (though she'd seemed weak, she did just fine). That twist has been expanded -- in fact, the new season is subtitled "Exile Island." Each episode will end with one castaway being banished to a small island, supposedly for several days alone. While that may seem like a punishment, host Jeff Probst also said that there's something hidden on the island (another mini-immunity idol?) that if found, could help the exiled one win it all.

Unlike most reality-show twists, which feel hokey and complicated from the minute they're explained, these twists feel organic to the game. The cast has long broken themselves into cliques by age and gender, why not formalize things and see what that does to the show? The exile island twist is intriguing alone, but even more so once the mysterious treasure is added. (Will anyone secretly try to get sent to the island just for uninterrupted treasure-hunting time?)

"Survivor" may have been around for a long time, but when it comes to keeping an established formula fresh, the old dog shows up the new pups every time.

Five-link Friday returns

Oh, five-link Friday, how I've missed you. I've been storing up plenty of random linkage over the holidays, but remember, you can send in links you like too. I give special consideration to anything that makes me laugh, hasn't already been all over the Web, and, if possible, involves snakes on a plane. Just kidding about that last part.

• "Lost" fans who also use Macs, are you longing to recreate in your own home the panicked feeling of the castaways who must enter Hurley's magic numbers every 108 minutes? and enjoy your own number-crunching fun. Don't type them wrong! We don't know what will happen, but ... who can risk it?

• I rarely write checks anymore thanks to the ubiquitousness of places that take debit cards, but I almost wish I did write checks so I could get . I especially like the idea of giving money to your church by writing a KISS or Ozzy check.

• My husband has an impressive knowledge of the flags of the world (hey, everybody needs a hobby), but even he struggled with this . Give it a shot and see how you do. I'm terrible at this, though I do love seeing the answers. Too many tricolors! (Via Metafilter.)

• You may have heard of , the now-popular site feature baby animal photos so adorable that even a hardened Marine may dissolve into baby talk. But if you somehow need even more cute, check out , which is kind of a panda-centric version of the same thing. Whosa widdle biddy baby cutie, now?

• Not everyone is looking back on 2005 happily, as evidenced by the sad faces in the . The best will always be . May your 2006 be better than his 2005.

Snakes on a Plane’

Back from a blissfully long vacation, and I'm looking ahead to what's sure to be the entertainment event of 2006. Of course I'm talking about   currently scheduled for an August theater release.

If you haven't heard of "Snakes," think delicious movie cheese to match that of last year's TV-only   It's a movie whose title says it all, whose title sells the concept, the plot, the pure charm of it. There are snakes! And they're on a plane! Snakes in the oxygen masks that will automatically drop in case of a loss of pressure! Snakes in the barf bags — sorry, the "motion discomfort bags"! Snakes in the tray tables that must be upright and stowed! Snakes! On a plane! The whole concept is golden.

Sure, there's an official plotline. IMDB says "On board a flight over the Pacific Ocean, an assassin, bent on killing a passenger who's a witness in protective custody, lets loose a crate full of deadly snakes." But did we need that? Did we need anything other than those four magic title words?

I find my mind reaching back to all the transportation disaster movies of the past — "The Poseidon Adventure," "Airport," even "Speed." It's as if someone holding a vat of those films turned a corner at the movie studio and ran headlong into someone holding a vat of animal attack movies ("The Swarm," "Squirm," that one with the killer ants). The two mixed, and it was the best idea since chocolate met peanut butter or Crockett met Tubbs.

The movie's prospects are only improved by the fact that Samuel L. Jackson is the star. In fact, it's been reported that when the studio wanted to change the movie's name to the oh-so-dull "Pacific Air 121," , saying the name was the reason he took the role. OK, so this might not be true, but I like to think it is. Samuel L. Jackson is no dummy! He saw the pure brilliance in "Snakes on a Plane."

The good citizens of the Web have been embracing "Snakes on a Plane" for months now. (Warning: Almost all the Web links that follow use Samuel L. Jackson's famous compound profanity, if you're swear-word sensitive, don't click though. It comes up a lot in "Snakes" Web references, but it's funny every time.) There are . More A "Snakes on a Plane" . There's a "Snakes on a Plane" (sadly, audio only). There's even a Weblog devoted to .

Some may not understand the wonder that is "S on a P," but I think the owner of the Weblog devoted to it I quote: "Take 'Titanic,' which is not funny, and call it 'Teenagers On A Boat' — that's kinda funny. Add Samuel Jackson and some snakes and call it 'Snakes On A Boat' it's a little more funny. Then change the boat to a plane and for some reason it turns to GOLD. I can't really explain it, but for some reason this movie just works in the worst and best way possible, simultaneously."

In the coming year, there will certainly be plenty of touching, heart-warming, beautifully shot movies, many taking on issues and events that touch our lives and make us smile and cry. But in August, there will be "Snakes on a Plane," and for some of us, that alone is worth hanging in there for the next eight months.