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8 Video Game Hoaxes, Debunked

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Video games are full of secrets, mysteries, and hidden gems for gamers to unlock. But sometimes gamers are so desperate for mysteries to unlock that they’re willing to believe just about anything to find them. Here are eight video game hoaxes that were finally disproved.

1. The Game: Super Smash Bros Melee
The Hoax: Unlock Sonic & Tails

Nintendo released its first crossover video game, Super Smash Bros Melee—which featured 25 iconic Nintendo characters in one massive fighting game experience—in December 2001. That same year, Sega began licensing their characters and games to third party video game consoles after they stopped making hardware (the Dreamcast was their last console), and Nintendo released a Sonic game (Sonic Advance) for its consoles. So in 2002, when video game magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly wrote that it had discovered a way to unlock Sonic the Hedgehog and Miles “Tails” Prower as playable characters, it made sense. To play as Sonic and Tails, EGM said, gamers would have to defeat 20 enemies in a row in “cruel melee” mode.

In the weeks after EGM's issue hit stands, players tried and tried the trick, but had no success unlocking Sonic and Tails. EGM later admitted it was all a hoax and part of its April Fools’ Day issue. Nintendo would later add Sonic in its 2008 game, Super Smash Bros Brawl, but not Tails. Today, Nintendo has the exclusive rights to Sonic, but Sega still owns the character.

2. The Game: Super Mario 64
The Hoax: Finding Luigi

In 1996, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 in the United States with only two launch titles: Pilotwings 64 and Super Mario 64, which quickly became the most popular video game for the new console; gamers spent hours unlocking its many mysteries and secrets. It was even rumored that players could unlock Mario’s brother Luigi as a playable character.

On one of the statues in the castle’s courtyard, a plaque that illegibly reads “L is real 2401” can be found. It was believed that if Mario collected all of the game’s gold coins—allegedly, 2401 of them—and went back to the statue, Luigi would be waiting.

Gaming outlet IGN received so much fan mail about the “L is real 2401” secret code that they issued a $100 bounty if anyone could send them proof of its existence. No one ever did. The bottom line: Players could collect all the gold coins in Mario 64, but nothing would happen if they returned to the statue in the castle’s courtyard.

3. The Game: Goldeneye 64
The Hoax: Playing with All Bonds

The way the “Cheat Options” menu was designed in the first-person shooter Goldeneye 64 suggested that there were 24 cheats to unlock instead of the 23 that players had found in the game. Gamers believed that the 24th cheat was a way to play as the previous iterations of the James Bond character in multi-player mode. When early screenshots from the game revealed Sean Connery as James Bond, many gamers tried various ways to unlock the elusive cheat code, but were unsuccessful.

In 1998, Electronic Gaming Monthly published additional screenshots of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton as the Agent 007 as an April Fools’ Day joke, which led many more to believe the cheat code was real. The reality was that Nintendo could not secure the likeness rights of Connery, Moore, or Dalton, so the cheat code was scrapped.

4. The Game: Street Fighter II
The Hoax: Hidden Character Named Sheng Long

After Street Fighter II battles are finished, the victor taunts his fallen opponent via a title card. When gamers in Japan fought with the character Ryu and defeated their opponents, the title card would read, “If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch"—or Shoryuken, one of Ryu’s signature fight moves—"you cannot win!” 

When the game was imported for American gamers, Capcom mistranslated Ryu’s taunts. Instead of referencing Ryu's Rising Dragon Punch, the title card said “You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.” It was rumored that Sheng Long was a hidden playable character somewhere deep inside of the game, but when the fighting game was ported to the Super Nintendo, its instruction manual explained he was Ryu’s former master.

Electronic Gaming Monthly took this rumor one step further and published a story confirming that Sheng Long was a character that could be unlocked in the video game. Gamers would have to play as Ryu through the tournament without taking any damage or losing battles to unlock the mysterious martial arts master. Once again, EGM confessed that it was all a hoax and was part of an April Fools’ Day joke, despite publishing the technique in the magazine’s February issue (why anyone believed anything that the magazine published remains a mystery).

5. The Game: Final Fantasy VII
The Hoax: Saving Aeris

In 1997, Square released Final Fantasy VII for the original PlayStation. Halfway through the video game, one of its main characters, Aeris, dies. This was a very shocking revelation, and one of the first instances when players felt emotionally devastated over a video game’s storyline. That might explain why rumors emerged that there were ways to keep Aeris alive, including trying to find hidden gems and going on quests for non-existent characters. All known techniques were proven false. And although gamers spent hours trying to find ways to keep her alive, Aeris's death was important for the video game’s overall narrative.

6. The Game: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
The Hoax: Updating the Game for the Wii U

During Nintendo’s E-3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) presentation in 2012, a mysterious trailer emerged on the Internet. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was one of the most popular Zelda games for the Nintendo 64, and fans were happy to see that Nintendo was updating the game for the yet-to-be released Nintendo Wii U.

Although the trailer looked convincing—it even had high-definition graphics and a symphony score!—the proposed video game was a fake. Two video game designers named Pablo Belmonte and Paco Martinez created the trailer as a pitch and proof-of-concept to Nintendo for a Zelda remake.

The fake trailer garnered a lot of attention from video game outlets, fans, and even Nintendo, but the company has no plans to re-release an updated version of the Zelda classic.

7. The Game: Mortal Kombat
The Hoax: Unlocking the Red Ninja Ermac

The original Mortal Kombat arcade game had one hidden character, a green ninja called Reptile. But in the game's audit menu—where owners can access information and analytics about the game—there was a category called “Ermac,” which led fans to speculate that Mortal Kombat actually had two hidden characters. It was believed that the character could be unlocked if you won the fighting tournament by scoring double flawless victories and fatalities against all of your opponents. Once a player defeated the final boss, Shang Tsung, the red ninja Ermac would appear to challenge you to a battle.

The reality is that “Ermac” is short for “Error Macro,” which co-creator Ed Boon wrote as an error message in the game’s programming. However, the Mortal Kombat developers were so impressed with the fans’ passion for the rumored character that they eventually introduced Ermac in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 as a secret playable fighter.

8. The Game: Sony PlayStation 4
The Hoax: Viral Video Commercial

A few days before the start of E-3 2010, a viral video that promoted new PlayStation hardware surfaced on YouTube. The commercial teased the release of the PlayStation 4 just before Sony was slated to present the PlayStation 3’s new Move motion controller add-on at the video game convention. It didn’t seem likely that Sony would release a new console only four years after the release of the PS3. Nevertheless, the commercial was very convincing, as many gaming websites and blogs ran the viral video and promoted the launch of the PlayStation 4.

But hardware PR representative Al de Leon shot down rumors that Sony was working on a PlayStation 4. “I can confirm that this video is not from SCE (Sony Computer Entertainment),” he told Game Informer. Three years later, Sony announced the PlayStation 4 would be available for the holiday season in 2013.

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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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