HOW IT STARTED Drawn from the 1989 video game Zero Wing, known for its awful Japanese-to-English translations
JUDGMENT CALL This hip catch phrase are a mystery for us
Nothing is more adored by cubicle-dwelling Gen-Xers than geek kitsch. And nothing is geekier or kitschier than Japanese video games of the 1980s, back when efficient translation was not considered essential. The dialogue of Zero Wing contains such gems as "Somebody set up us the bomb," "Take off every Zig for great justice" and a chilling warning from a villain known only as Cats: "All your base are belong to us." Late last year, fans with too much time on their hands started doctoring photos to show this last phrase cropping up everywhere from George W. Bush billboards to Budweiser ads to the cover of TIME. Then Kansas City computer programmer and part-time deejay Jeffrey Ray Roberts, 23, sampled the quote and added an annoyingly catchy dance track. "I did it for the sheer inside-joke value," he says. "Everyone was trying to one-up each other." Next came a two-minute music video, and soon "All your base!" was being yelled out of dorm windows on campuses around the country. Much like its Web predecessors, the Dancing Baby and the "I kiss you!" home page of Turkish journalist Mahir, All Your Base spread from office to office via e-mail like a benign virus. As a slide show rather than bandwidth-hogging video, it takes seconds to load (on such websites as thefever.com/AYB2.swf). Much of the spreading was being done last week by dotcom workers in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, where good laughs are in short supply these days. But the inside joke may not be inside much longer: All Your Base T shirts are now being sold online.