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25 Things We Learned in the First Issue of Nintendo Power

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Starting in July/August 1988, a generation of kids eagerly anticipated every issue of Nintendo Power. It was probably the first regular mail many of us received. Here are 25 highlights, tips, tricks, and celebrity cameos that greeted video game fanatics of the late-'80s.

1. Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start

Contra made The Konami Code famous, but it originated with a programmer on Gradius, Kazuhisa Hashimoto. "There was no way I could finish the game," said Hashimoto, "so I inserted the so-called Konami Code. There isn't [a story behind it], really. I mean, I was the one using it, so I just put in something I could remember easily."

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2. How to Get Mario 100 Extra Lives

One of Mario's most famous tricks. Here's a non-Nintendo Power tip for jumping over the flagpole.

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3. How to Beat Mike Tyson

If you want to give this a shot but don't have the patience to beat the King Hippos and Soda Popinskis of the world, remember these magic numbers: 007-373-5963.

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4. What Games Kirk and Candace Cameron Are Struggling With

"I am having problems getting past the Amoeboids in Gradius," explained the Growing Pains star. "I think that I'll have to place a call to the game counselors soon!" His sister Candace, who played D.J. Tanner on Full House, "has yet to rescue Zelda."

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5. Before Nintendo Power, There Was Fun Club News

A free publication called Nintendo Fun Club News preceded Nintendo Power.

Image credit: IGN

In an interview with Complex, founding editor Gail Tilden said, “The Fun Club newsletter started as a six page, simple thing in 1987. It was a direct response program to get a database of all our users. By the time we got to the Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! issue, however, we were at 600,000 readers, and it was a bigger bite out the market budget than we had anticipated." So they expanded it to a paid-subscription magazine.

There were seven issues of Fun Club, which you can find on eBay.

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6. The First Editor-in-Chief Was a 31-Year-Old Woman Who Kept a Low Profile

“No reader wants their mom to be the person running their video game magazine,” Gail Tilden explained to Complex. "It was very conscious that the editors did not have pictures of themselves in the magazine. It took away from the idea that the magazine was about ‘you,’ the consumer." Tilden served as editor for the first ten years.

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7. The Inaugural Power Rankings

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8. The Rest of the Top 10

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9. The Dealers LOVED R.C. Pro-Am

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10. You Could Call for Help

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11. The Existence of This Awesome Shirt

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12. The Cast of Characters for SMB2

"Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool and the Mushroom Retainer are getting involved in a strange dream world where they must hop, jump, run and find vegetables." To find out why kids in the U.S. didn't get the same sequel as kids did in Japan, read this Chris Higgins story.

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13. Where Everything is on Zelda's Second Quest

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14. How to Pull the Goalie

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15. The Umps in Bases Loaded Were Yuk, Dum, Boo, and Bum

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16. How to Beat Castlevania

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17. How to Beat Hewdraw

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18. What to Do With Pegasus' Flute

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19. There Were Books and Booklets

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20. The Exact Name of the Theme Song From Spy Hunter

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21. Someone Thought Double Dribble Was Amazing 

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22. Where to Get Screw Attack

Nothing in this issue about Justin Bailey, however.

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23. A Few Moves in Double Dragon

Including the devastating "Hair-Pull Kick."

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24. Big Things Were Coming

A few months later, Zelda II made the cover:

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25. We Were Playing With Power

The final issue of Nintendo Power was published in 2012, and the cover looked very much like the first one. Thanks to Kotaku for linking to the first issue and inspiring this trip down memory lane. Now go read Kevin Wong's history of Nintendo Power over at Complex Magazine.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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