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100 Pieces of Advice from 100-Year-Olds

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What’s the secret to a long and healthy life? All centenarians have their own habits and morning routines by which they swear. In July, the world's oldest woman—116-year-old Brooklynite Susannah Mushatt Jones—attributed her longevity to a daily dose of four strips of bacon. For 110-year-old Agnes Fenton, “three cans of Miller High Life a day and a shot of good booze at 5 p.m.” does the trick (Johnnie Walker Blue is her drink of choice). From daily naps to ice cream, here's what some very old people credit for their lengthy lifespan.

In 2011, Huffington Post interviewed a centenarian named Ruth. Since the age of 92, Ruth has committed to weekly Pilates classes. She also has a mean sense of style.

1. “Don’t look at the calendar. Just keep celebrating every day.”

2. “Invest in quality pieces, they never go out of style.”

3. “I make myself go out every day, even if it’s only to walk around the block. The key to staying young is to keep moving.”

NBC talked to a 100-year-old doctor who still ran his own practice. He had a few untraditional pieces of medical wisdom to share.

4. “Exercise, to me, is totally unnecessary. I think it’s mostly overrated.”

5. “The use of vitamins? Forget it. And I don’t encourage going to a lot of doctors, either.”

6. “Fall in love, get married. Sex is to be encouraged.”

This centenarian shared advice about love, forgiveness, and passion:

7. “Even if you feel hatred, keep it to yourself. Don’t hurt other people for any reason.”

8. “Don’t ever give up on love.”

9. “Nobody else controls you.”

10. “Make time to cry.”

11. "Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be.”

12. “Don’t compare. You’ll never be happy with your life. The grass is always greener.”

13. “If you are embarrassed to be dating someone, you should not be dating them.”

14. “Do one thing each day that is just for you.”

15. “Don’t be a cheapskate.”

16. “Forgive.”

17. “Find your passion and live it.”

18. “Most time things will figure themselves out.”

19. “Choose the right parents.”

20. “Have a pet. Life gets lonely sometimes. Pets are reminders of how we’re all living things.”

21. “I’m not saying you have to practice one religion or another, or not practice one religion or another… I’m just saying that you should figure out what you believe in and live it completely.”

22. “Learn to adapt.”

23. “Take time to mourn what you’ve lost.”

For Adrine Lee, the key to longevity lies in four simple steps:

24. “Keep going and never give up.”

25. “Make yourself walk.”

26. “I drink the faucet water.”

27. “Don’t just die all because you want to.”

And then there’s advice about how to find happiness.

28. “Life is fun. It’s all up to the person. Be satisfied. You don’t have to be ‘happy’ all the time, you need to be satisfied.”

29. “Love people. Find something to like about the person—it’s there—because we’re all just people.”

For others, the key is in education.

30. “Get a great education. That is something that no one can take away from you.”

One centenarian was interviewed by Jay Leno. She gave the following advice:

31. “Think positive.”

32. “Exercise every morning… I have a machine… it’s a cross between a rowing machine and a bicycle… [I do] 150, 200 [rows] every morning. I won’t leave my bedroom until I’ve done that.”

And then there are the 100-year-olds who are even more active than the average 20-year-old couch potato. This centenarian, an avid skier, had this to share with younger generations:

33. "Be active. I do things my way, like skiing when I’m 100. Nobody else does that even if they have energy. And I try to eat pretty correctly and get exercise and fresh air and sunshine.”

34. “If you’re positive you can get through it OK. When you think negatively, you’re putting poison on your body. Just smile. They say laughter is the best medicine there is.”

Sardinia, an island in Europe, is well known for its high proportion of centenarians. They offered their own advice about health and medicine.

35. “For years I would not take any medicines at all. I don’t think they do much, and lots of times the doctor is using you as a guinea pig.”

36. “Don’t die too early.”

A common trend among advice from 100-year-olds? Keep on truckin’.

37. “Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what.”

38. “You can involve yourself in local problems. There are all sorts of things that have to be tended to in the world.”

39. “Have lots of people in the house and lots of different kinds of people—young, old, black, white, people from all over the world. People have always energized me.”

40. “Just keep going.”

Many centenarians swear by exercise.

41. “I attribute my longevity to a great extent to walking, not being in the back of the car strapped down.”

42. “I’ve done almost everything that I know of: ballet, I’ve done tai chi. I’ve done yoga. I walked 4 miles a day. I stretched and flexed. I wrote the book.”

Other 100-year-olds believe in rock and roll lifestyles.

43. “I put my health down to whiskey and cigarettes. I only drink when I’m out, but my doctor said I wouldn’t be alive without them. I’m still alive, and I can lift my elbows—it’s great.”

This 100-year-old doctor had a treasure trove of advice for younger people.

44. “We all remember how as children, when we were having fun, we often forgot to eat or sleep. I believe that we can keep that attitude as adults, too. It’s best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.”

45. “For breakfast I drink coffee, a glass of milk, and some orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil in it. Olive oil is great for the arteries and keeps my skin healthy. Lunch is milk and a few cookies, or nothing when I am too busy to eat. I never get hungry because I focus on my work. Dinner is veggies, a bit of fish and rice, and, twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat.”

46. “There is no need to ever retire, but if one must, it should be a lot later than 65.”

47. “When a doctor recommends you take a test or have some surgery, ask whether the doctor would suggest that his or her spouse or children go through such a procedure. Contrary to popular belief, doctors can’t cure everyone. So why cause unnecessary pain with surgery? I think music and animal therapy can help more than most doctors imagine.”

48. “To stay healthy always, take the stairs and carry your own stuff. I take two stairs at a time, to get my muscles moving.”

49. “My inspiration is Robert Browning’s poem 'Abt Vogler.' My father used to read it to me. It encourages us to make big art, not small scribbles. It says to try to draw a circle so huge that there is no way we can finish it while we are alive. All we see is an arch; the rest is beyond our vision but it is there in the distance.”

50. “Pain is mysterious, and having fun is the best way to forget it.”

51. “Don’t be crazy about amassing material things. Remember: you don’t know when your number is up, and you can’t take it with you to the next place.”

52. “Science alone can’t help or cure people.”

53. “Find a role model and aim to achieve even more than they could ever do.”

54. “It’s wonderful to live long. Until one is 60 years old, it is easy to work for one’s family and to achieve one’s goals. But in our later years, we should strive to contribute to society. Since the age of 65, I have worked as a volunteer. I still put in 18 hours seven days a week and love every minute of it.”

Other centenarians offered relationship advice.

55. “This is some advice for the ladies. Don’t marry an older man, marry a younger one.”

What else? Just live.

56. “I try not to worry. I just try to live.”

57. “I try to have enough trust and confidence in myself to deal with things as they come.”

For others, old age comes by keeping a simple lifestyle.

58. “I don’t eat very much, but I always eat a fruit, a vegetable, and a little meat, and always make sure that I get sardine and salmon at least once or twice a week.”

59. “For less than seven years I had a mortgage. I paid everything outright, and I’ve lived that way until today. That is the secret to longevity right there.”

60. “Keep busy doing what you like.”

Or is old age just about luck?

61. “You gotta have good genes.”

62. “You gotta be… lucky for 100 years.”

63. “Try not to eat anything that’s healthy. It’s true. I eat whatever I want. The secret to longevity is ice cream.”

64. “Quit while you’re ahead.”

65. “It’s just as important to take care of your mind. I take two classes… and I’ve studied everything from anti-Semitism to current events.”

The modern day fountain of youth? Humor.

66. “[Humor is] a life force, a way of surviving the difficulties of living.”

67. “When you laugh at yourself, you prevent others from laughing at you.”

68. “I think [people] have to be curious. They have to be interested in life outside their little aches and pains. They have to be excited about seeing new things, meeting new people, watching a new play—just passionate about life.”

69. “I don’t care what you’re passionate about: maybe saving Dixie cup covers. But if you do it passionately, you’re alive.”

70. “Age is not a disease.”

Other 100-year-olds offer advice about how to protect yourself.

71. “Don’t get hurt.”

On Reddit, a grandson created a thread where he allowed people to ask his 101-year-old grandmother for advice. This is what happened:

72. “Be honest. I’ve rarely lied. And when you are honest with people, it comes back to you, and they are honest with you. It’s too much work keeping up with a lie. You don’t need the extra stress.”

73. “Keep an open mind, and things seem less strange.”

74. “Always listen to the other person. You’ll learn something. Try to sit back, because you will learn a lot more listening to others than telling them what you know.”

75. “You have to love what you do. if you find a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life.”

76. “Take naps every day.”

77. “You get one family, so stick with them. But it depends if these hardships are financial or emotional or other types. Stick it out. Some days are worse than others, and you have to be ok with that. The night is darkest before dawn.”

78. “I try to take the time to look at and appreciate the smaller things that make this life beautiful. When I do that, time slows.”

Other centenarians had this to say:

79. “Do something interesting every day; otherwise you disintegrate.”

80. “Learning new things makes you happy and keeps your mind active.”

81. “Sleep well, try not to worry, and enjoy good dreams.”

82. “I participate in lots of activities. I play Bingo, do meditation and crafts, and attend fitness classes, like Zumba Gold for seniors, chair yoga, and sittercise… I don’t miss happy hour either! I drop in three times a week.”

83. “Be lovable. I’ve lived a long life because there are so many people who love me.”

84. “I take a drink of Scotch every day. And I feel great afterward.”

85. “Keep kosher.”

In an interview for the Washington Post, this 100-year-old took a reporter for a spin around the city in her car. She had this to say to him:

86. “I never drank, smoked, or fooled with the weeds, you know, that stuff. And I don’t let anything upset me, especially traffic.”

87. “I don’t like stress. I can’t stand arguing. If anybody is fussing, I’m gone. I like to be around positive people, people who lift you up not bring you down.”

What else? In the end, most advice seems to boil down to a common core: live your life to the fullest.

88. “Mind your own business, and don’t eat junk food.”

89. “Laughter keeps you healthy. You can survive by seeing the humor in everything. Thumb your nose at sadness; turn the tables on tragedy. You can’t laugh and be angry, you can’t laugh and feel sad, you can’t laugh and feel envious.”

90. “Look inside your soul and find your tools. We all have tools and have to live with the help of them. I have two tools: my words and my images. I used my typewriter, computer, and my cameras to fight injustice. Whenever I see a possibility of helping people who are in danger, I want to help them.”

91. “Have a good appetite, lots of friends, and keep busy.”

92. “Have a good wife, two scotches a night, and be easygoing.”

93. “Never run out of responsibility; if you don’t have one, find one. Find a cause and knock yourself out for it. It will enhance your brainpower, interest in life, and keep you alive longer. I’m alert because I work. Virtue is its own reward.”

94. “It is very important to have a widespread curiosity about life.”

95. “Keep yourself alert, active, and educated. Beat to your own drum.”  

96. “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, and don’t retire.”

97. “Take one day at a time, and go along with the tide.”

98. “You have to be lucky, but I made the best of things when bad things happened. I also ate prunes every single day.”

99. “Do what you have to do. Don’t analyze it, just do it.”

100. “Take it easy, enjoy life, what will be will be. Sleep well, have a Bailey’s Irish Cream before bed if you have a cold—you will wake up fine the next morning.”

This post originally appeared in 2013.

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Cell Service: Inside the World of Prison Librarians
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Eric Francis, Getty Images

While working as a librarian at one of the Ohio Department of Corrections' facilities, Andrew Hart received a fair amount of strange book requests. But one, from 2012, stands out in his mind.

"I was wondering if you could find a book for me," the inmate said.

“What is it?” Hart asked.

“I want a book on deboning chickens."

Hart paused. “Why would you need that?”

“I want to be a butcher when I get out.”

“I was not,” Hart tells Mental Floss, “going to get this guy a book on deboning chickens.”

There were other requests: books on getting out of restraints, survival guides, and other titles that would not be appropriate for a population of violent offenders. But for the two years Hart spent working as a prison librarian, the sometimes odd interactions were a small price to pay for helping to facilitate a sense of normalcy in an otherwise isolating and restrictive environment. With their carpeted floors, windows, and computers, prison libraries are one of the few sanctuaries available to inmates—a place that looks and feels like part of the outside world.

“I think it reminds them of a school library,” Hart says. “It brings them back to their childhood.”

The escapism afforded by the books can dilute the urge to pass time by engaging in criminal behavior. Libraries can even prepare prisoners for reentry into society after release, arming them with knowledge to pursue careers.

That ambition is what prompts graduates with degrees in library science to take detours—some temporary, others permanent—into managing books behind bars. Like public librarians, Hart organized book clubs, wrangled donations, and set up a shelf full of recommended reading. Unlike his public counterparts, Hart also had to take self-defense courses, check returned books for blood stains, and remain mindful of attempts to manipulate the privileges the library offered.

“You can be friendly,” he says of his interactions with inmates, “but you can’t be friends.”

 
 

Being allowed the pleasure of reading has been a privilege for prisoners for nearly as long as the idea of criminal detention itself. In the 1700s, religious tomes were handed out with hopes that wayward convicts would find spiritual guidance and correct their behaviors. In the 19th and 20th centuries, an increase in public libraries bled into penal institutions, and scholars advocated for “bibliotherapy,” or rehabilitation through literacy. Inmates devoured texts on psychology and law, increasing their self-awareness and sometimes antagonizing officials by challenging their sentences or their treatment within a facility.

Today, roughly 1.5 million Americans are incarcerated in federal or state facilities that offer varying degrees of access to literature, from a few shelves full of worn titles to sprawling legal and recreational selections. When Hart decided to put his bachelor’s degree in criminology and master’s in library science to use at the Ohio facility, he was dismayed to find that the unit had only 600 books in its inventory.

“It was dimly lit and barely had any computers,” he says. “My heart just sank.”

Hart set about improving the library by opening up interlibrary loans—where inmates could request books from public libraries—and “hustling” for book donations from local merchants and other sources. “When you think of a library, you think of books,” he says. “I wanted inmates to come in and see the shelves were full.”

In the two years Hart spent at the facility, the library’s inventory grew from 600 books to more than 15,000. When prisoners weren’t after books on deboning animals, they sought out titles on crocheting, affordable living in tiny homes, and what Hart calls “street lit,” a genre of memoirs from reformed criminals. The Japanese graphic novel Naruto was popular; so was the Christian-driven Left Behind series, about the people who remain following the Rapture.

Inmates at a women's prison read books in the library
John Moore, Getty Images

Anna Nash, an institutional librarian who oversees multiple facilities for the Institutional Library Services arm of the Washington State Library, says that young adult titles are in demand. “So are paranormal romance titles,” she tells Mental Floss.

That prisoners seek out escapist fiction is not so surprising. But for the groups of prisoners who are admitted to the library on a rotating schedule, it’s as much the environment as the content that makes them feel as though they are somewhere else. “The library feels normal,” Nash says. “I had someone who worked in a public library come in as a volunteer one time and she was surprised at how clean everything and everyone looked. It’s a place where prison politics can be quasi-suspended.”

If a prison is home to inmates who segregate themselves by race or gang affiliation, the library is a place to congregate. Hart spearheaded book clubs and discussion groups; Nash recently finished a meet-up to discuss George Orwell’s Animal Farm. For one project, Hart solicited recipes from inmates and compiled them into a cookbook that he had custom-printed. For another, he collected art for publication and had the warden of the prison choose his favorite for the cover. He also became a notary so he could help inmates with their legal documents.

“I think it helped them see me in a different light,” Hart says.

 
 

How inmates see and perceive librarians is often the variable that separates public libraries from prison facilities. “They want to test you, to see how far they can go,” Nash says.

When Nash accepted her first job at a Washington prison library in 2008, friends and relatives were puzzled. “You’re in there with men?” some asked. “With murderers?”

She was. And as a staff member, she was expected to exert no less authority than any other employee of the prison. Upon hiring, she underwent a self-defense course in the event an inmate attacked her. She told inmates to tuck in their shirts so that they couldn’t obscure contraband. She admonished them to keep a physical distance from one another.

Nash also avoided answering any personal questions, no matter how innocuous they might seem, like "What’s your favorite book?" “They’re trying to test boundaries," says says. "We used the word ‘testing,' which is trying to get a staff member to do something they’re not allowed to do.” An inmate, for example, might want to tear the comics out of the newspaper. If Nash said no, the inmate would argue that another employee had let them do it before.

An inmate reads a book in his prison cell
Ian Waldie, Getty Images

“They will try to play you,” Hart says, recalling the time a prisoner asked if he could tattoo a friend in the library, a fairly obvious infraction of the rules. “They want to seem chummy with you, like you’re two friends hanging out.” A prisoner might have a story for why they need to make more copies of legal papers than what’s allowed, or why they need to check out more books than the maximum allotted. To get an official to bend the rules is something of a victory for the prisoner, and one that could conceivably result in a breakdown of the supervisor's authority.

For Nash, being a woman assigned to a male population posed its own challenges. “When someone walks in and says, ‘Hey, beautiful,’ they know what they’re doing,” she says. “And if you smile back, they think it means something more.”

Hart has heard stories about employees developing inappropriate relationships with inmates. “It can creep in, where you begin bringing in stuff for them,” he says. “You want to be their friend, but you have to maintain that separation.”

It’s better to be the one doing the asking. When Nash tries to find out what a prisoner wants so she can make a recommendation, the answer can depend on whether they have a release date in sight. For some, a library isn’t just a release from prison; it’s a way to avoid prison after their release.

 
 

At the age of 20, Eddie Parnell flunked out of community college after less than one semester. Drugs held more sway than an education. “Once I tried meth, that was it for me,” he tells Mental Floss. The descent wasn’t immediate—he could hold down a job while fending off misdemeanor charges—but it was inevitable. At 30, Parnell began the first of what would become three prison stints for drug possession and burglary, the final one stretching for 31 months in Walla Walla, Washington.

At Walla Walla, passing time with a television was an expensive proposition. “A TV cost $275 and we made $30 a month working in the kitchen,” Parnell says. “So I would just dig my heels into a good story.” Parnell read Louis L’Amour westerns before growing tired of their repetitive narratives; he segued to Clive Cussler and Stephen King. Some of the paperbacks were so worn that inmates would tape labels from shampoo bottles to try and reinforce their torn covers.

For much of his sentence, Parnell read books simply to pass time. But Walla Walla’s educational library—a separate facility from the regular library—promised more. The department had just received a boost from philanthropist Doris Buffett (sister of Warren Buffet) that helped fund a program where inmates could earn an associate’s degree based on the belief that educational funding was sorely lacking when exploring solutions to the issue of recidivism.

Parnell decided he would pursue a degree in molecular bioscience and used all of the resources available to him—including the librarian—to make sure he was stepping into the right environment upon his release. “I couldn’t have done that without access to those resources,” he says.

A prison inmate holds up a self-help book
John Moore, Getty Images

According to the National Institute of Justice, two-thirds of released inmates are rearrested within three years, so mired in the cycle of criminal offenses that they see no other alternative. “They say reentry begins at sentencing, but the culture is still a ways off from that,” Nash says.

Even so, inmates often come in seeking information on how to build opportunities during and after their imprisonment. Some opt to try and learn a trade or how to start a small business. Others take advantage of the reference material in reentry programs to try and cultivate an exit strategy, whether it’s earning a GED or pursuing a degree. Upon his release in 2014, Parnell went the degree route.

“I graduate in May,” Parnell says. “Instead of being a detriment on society, I’ll be paying taxes. The library system contributed to this.”

 
 

For all of the benefits offered, prison libraries still come up against bureaucratic obstacles. The longest-running one is censorship, or the idea that certain titles aren’t suited for incarcerated populations.

But who decides, and why? Recently, New Jersey corrections officials were criticized for taking a book titled The New Jim Crow out of circulation. Published in 2010, the nonfiction work details accusations of racial discrimination in sentencing. Such action is in conflict with a librarian’s support of freedom of speech and publication and the American Library Association’s call to fight censorship as part of its ethical mandates.

“In Ohio, I called it the ‘banned book list,’ even though a lawyer vehemently told me not to do that,” Hart says. “Usually, it’s when a review team of a librarian, an administrator, a teacher, or someone else finds something objectionable.” The New Jim Crow is certainly a nebulous choice; other titles, like how-tos on weapons-making or combat, are natural omissions. “I couldn’t even get a tai chi book in,” Hart says.

Titles can be taken out of circulation for reasons other than content. A handful of times, Hart tossed a book he thought had blood stains on it. When he mentioned it to an inmate who worked in the library, the man said that wasn’t likely to happen too often.

“Why not?” Hart asked.

“We’re not going to return a book with blood on it,” he said. “We’ll take care of it.”

After two years, a fatigued Hart went on to another state job outside of the prison system. “It was fulfilling but very stressful,” he says, citing long hours and the demands of a job with limited resources.

Like Nash, who still works with inmates in Washington, Hart still finds tremendous value in making sure offenders have access to the written word. For inmates who choose to take advantage, it can be a life-changing component of doing time.

“Libraries reduce mental, emotional, and physical conflicts in the prison system,” Parnell says. “If a person is reading a book, they’re not picking a fight in the next cell over. If not for the library, I would be getting ready to go back in.”

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Sally Died of Dysentery: A History of The Oregon Trail
MECC
MECC

The eighth grade students sat and watched as Don Rawitsch dragged an enormous device into their classroom. It was December 3, 1971, and Rawitsch—a student teacher at Carleton College outside of Minneapolis who taught history at a local grade school—was ready to show off what his roommates, Paul Dillenberger and Bill Heinemann, had managed to create in only two weeks of programming and with limited, amateur coding skills: a game called The Oregon Trail.

There was no screen to focus on. The computer’s interface was a teletype machine, which spat out instructions and the consequences of a player’s actions on sheets of paper. Adopting the well-worn shoes of settlers migrating from Missouri to Oregon in 1848, the students debated how best to spend their money, when to stop and rest, and how to deal with the sudden and unexpected illnesses that plagued their game counterparts. Rawitsch even supplied them with a map of the journey so they could visualize the perils ahead.

The students loved it: The Oregon Trail would eventually morph from a part-time experiment in guided learning to a staple of classrooms across the country. Kids who had never before heard of diphtheria or cholera would bemoan such cruel fates; tens of thousands of people would (virtually) drown trying to cross rivers; more than 65 million copies would be sold.

But Rawitsch was oblivious to the cultural touchstone The Oregon Trail would become. He didn't foresee the simple game having much of a shelf life beyond the semester, so at the end of the year, he deleted it.

 
 

As low-tech as it was, the first version of The Oregon Trail was still miles ahead of anything Rawitsch could have imagined when he set about trying to engage his students. As a 21-year-old history major, Rawitsch was young enough to realize that his teenaged students needed something more provocative than dry textbooks. In the fall of 1971, he decided to create a board game based on the precarious movement of 19th-century travelers looking to head west to improve their living conditions.

On a large piece of butcher’s paper, he drew a map that provided a rough outline of the 2000-mile journey from Independence, Missouri to Willamette Valley, Oregon. Along the way, players would have to contend with a morbid series of obstacles: fire, inclement weather, lack of food, outdated sicknesses, and, frequently, death. Every decision played a part in whether or not they'd make it to the end without keeling over.

A screen shot from 'The Oregon Trail'
MECC

Rawitsch showed his idea for the board game to Dillenberger and Heinemann, two other seniors from Carleton, who both had experience coding using the BASIC computer language. They suggested Rawitsch’s game would be perfect for a text-based adventure using teletype. A player could, for example, type “BANG” in order to shoot oxen or deer, and the computer would identify how fast and how accurately the typist finished the command—the quicker they were, the better chance they had of securing dinner.

Rawitsch liked the idea, but he was due to start teaching westward expansion in just a couple weeks, so there was no time to waste. Heinemann and Dillenberger worked after-hours for two weeks to get The Oregon Trail ready. When it made its debut that December day in 1971, Rawitsch knew he had a hit—albeit a transient one. Like a teacher who had supervised a special crafts project for a specific classroom, Rawitsch didn’t see a need to retain The Oregon Trail for the future and promptly deleted it from the school’s mainframe system.

Dillenberger and Heinemann took permanent teaching jobs after graduation; Rawitsch found his number called up in the draft. He declared himself a conscientious objector and as part of that found work at the newly-formed Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), a state-sponsored program that sought to modernize public schools with computing supplies. It was 1974, and Rawitsch believed he had the perfect software to go along with their initiative: The Oregon Trail. Even though he had deleted the game, Rawitsch had kept a printout of the code.

Typing it in line by line, Rawitsch had the game back up and running and available to students across Minnesota. This time, he consulted actual journal entries of settlers to see when and where danger might strike and programmed the game to intervene at the appropriate places along the path. If a real traveler had endured a 20 percent chance of running out of water, so would the player.

Rawitsch got permission from Dillenberger and Heinemann to repurpose the game for MECC. It’s unlikely any one of the three of them realized just how much of an institution the game would become, or how MECC's business partner, Apple—then an upstart computer corporation—would revolutionize the industry.

By 1978, MECC was partnering with the hardware company to sell Apple IIs and learning software to school districts around the country. Rather than being a regional hit, The Oregon Trail—now sporting primitive screen graphics—was becoming a national fixture in classrooms.

 
 

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, school computer classes across America devoted at least some portion of their allotted time to the game. The covered wagon and its misadventures offered something that vaguely resembled the hypnotic, pixely worlds waiting for students on their Nintendo consoles at home. In that respect, The Oregon Trail felt a little less like learning and a lot more like entertainment—although completing the journey in one piece was an unusual occurrence. More often, players would be defeated by malnutrition or drowning in attempts to cross a river. They'd also be confounded by the idea they could hunt and kill a 2000-pound animal but were able to take only a fraction of it back to their wagon. (Confronted with this during a Reddit Ask Me Anything in 2016, Rawitsch noted that "the concept represented there is supposed to be that the meal will spoil, not that it's too heavy," and suggested incorporating a "fridge with a 2000-mile extension cord.")

A screen shot from 'The Oregon Trail'
MECC

An updated version, Oregon Trail II, debuted on CD-ROM in 1995. MECC would change hands a few times, being acquired by venture capitalists and then by the Learning Company, and was even owned for a period of time by Mattel. Attempts to update it with flashy graphics felt contrary to the spirit of the game; like the settlers it depicted, The Oregon Trail seemed to belong to another era.

Today, both Dillenberger and Heinemann are retired; Rawitsch is a tech consultant. None of them received any profit participation for the software. Their joint effort was inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2016 and was adapted into a card game that same year. Today, players of the popular role-playing game Minecraft can access a virtual Oregon Trail world; the original game is also playable in browsers. Technology may have advanced, but you can still die of dysentery as often as you like.

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