2206: Mavis Beacon
Cueball is being congratulated by the game he plays, Mavis Beacon, on his computer, because he has beaten the end boss and unlocked a new ability - the ability to type capital numbers...
Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing is a computer game first released in 1987, with the goal of teaching touch-typing and improving typing speed on a computer keyboard. Unlike many video games, Mavis Beacon contains no combat and therefore does not feature any "end boss" (a very powerful enemy encountered as the final challenge of the game). In many video games, defeating major opponents "unlocks" special features, such as improved weapons. Also, playing Mavis Beacon, although it may improve typing skill, has no effect on how typing works on one's computer.
In the caption, however, Randall asserts that after 30 years of playing Mavis Beacon, he encountered and defeated such a boss. Playing the same game for 30 years is rare. Regardless, Randall claims that defeating this "end boss" unlocked an ability to type esoteric "capital numbers," which Randall depicts as more extravagant versions of the familiar numerals. Although modern Latin letters have different letter case (i.e. capital or upper case and small or lower-case), Arabic numerals - the conventional numerals 0-9 used in the Western world - do not.
Stating that the game is old enough that it could have been played for 30 years, could be another attempt at making people, who actually did play the game in the early days, feel old. But this doesn't seem to be the main point of the comic.
Typing such numerals is said to require pressing the Alt, tilde (~), Scroll Lock, and numeral keys at the same time. Some keyboard layouts do not have a scroll lock key or a separate tilde key (such that pressing ~ actually requires pressing a shift/modifier key along with the ~ key), and in any event pressing four or five keys at once would be quite difficult. Needless to say, pressing all those keys simultaneously does not, in fact, do anything like what the comics describes in any known computer system, though some smaller subset of those keys together (i.e. "Alt ~" or "Alt numeral-key") might activate other operating system or user-defined shortcuts.
Keyboards vary in how many simultaneous key presses they can process (rollover). Computer keyboards for English may be limited to as few as 3 simultaneous keys, whereas other languages or higher quality keyboards may be able to handle an unlimited number of keys at once. (A musical keyboard might need to handle 10 or more simultaneous keys, likewise gaming or braille keyboards may need to handle many simultaneous keys.)
In the title text, Randall notes that certain typefaces feature text figures, numerals that have ascenders and descenders, much as lower-case letters do, rather than all standing at the full X-height like capital letters. He then goes on to joke that, conversely, there are true "capital numerals," but they are a guarded secret of Mavis Beacon. Mavis Beacon was the character created as the typing instructor for the Mavis Beacon game, and is fictional, not a real person. Additionally, as a typing instructor, this person (even if she actually existed) would not be able to change typographical standards. Randall's description of Mavis Beacon as a "number maven" (that is, expert or connoisseur) contrasts with her supposed field of expertise in typing, which involves letters and punctuation more than numbers.
The comic itself hotlinks to this article: Oldstyle Figures. It is about typographic oldstyle digits.
- [Cueball is sitting in an office chair at his desk in front of his computer reading a message that is shown coming from the screen with a zigzag line, going to the text above him. The two upper lines (of five) are separated from the lines below, but connected with a small zigzag line. The computer short cut is written in three boxes. The last line is the numbers from 1 to 9 and 0, in a highly stylized format but recognizable in this context. The digits are shown below in their standard appearance since the stylized versions cannot be reproduced in this transcript.]
- Use this power wisely.
- Key Code (secret!!):
- + + + Number
- [Caption below the panel:]
- After 30 years, I finally beat the end boss of Mavis Beacon and unlocked the ability to type capital numbers.
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