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20 Things You Didn't Know About the Console Wars

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Video games were supposed to be a fad whose time had come and gone with Pong. Then Nintendo happened, and the niche arcade manufacturer burst into America's living rooms with the NES. After years of Nintendo's dominance, rival Sega attempted to dethrone the behemoth with aggressive pricing, clever marketing, and a blue hedgehog on speed. Here are some tidbits of what happened during the early days of this unlikely battle, as uncovered by Blake J. Harris in his book Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation.

1. Nintendo started off as a playing card company in 1889. Loosely translated, Nintendo means "leave luck to heaven."

2. Sega began in the 1960s as a merger between two jukebox manufacturers. The name is a condensed portmanteau of "service games."

3. In 1989, Nintendo launched Nintendo Power, a publication that featured video game hints, previews, and news. It became the fastest magazine to ever reach one million paid subscribers.

See Also: 25 Things We Learned in the First Issue of Nintendo Power

4. Howard Phillips, Nintendo's warehouse manager, had a knack for mastering the company's video games. This didn't go unnoticed, and soon the affable, bow tie-wearing Phillips became Nintendo's official "Game Master" and spokesman. He even starred in his own comic strip in Nintendo Power.

5. In order to guarantee constant demand for the NES, it was Nintendo's policy to always under-stock—they purposefully made fewer units than they could sell in order to keep the public wanting more.

6. Mario was named after Mario Segale, Nintendo of America's landlord. No one at the company had ever actually met Segale.

7. As Sega was struggling to compete with Nintendo, their Japanese division was adamant about producing a game version of Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, the schlock film from director Lloyd Kaufman. Sega of America had to repeatedly rebuff them until it became a running joke.

8. Sega spent millions of dollars to develop a game featuring Buster Douglas, the boxer who upset Mike Tyson to become the heavyweight champion of the world. The game was to be released right after Douglas' bout with Evander Holyfield, and when Douglas was humiliated in the third round, Sega had to regroup to acknowledge the overmatched spokesman's defeat in their advertising campaign.

9. In 1982, Universal Pictures accused Nintendo of copyright infringement, citing Donkey Kong's similarities to the 1933 film King Kong. The studio demanded that all profits from the popular game go to them, and promised a long legal battle if they didn't acquiesce. Howard Lincoln, Nintendo of America's lawyer, decided to take on the huge corporation in court knowing he had a card up his sleeve: For all their tough talk, Universal never even secured a copyright for King Kong in the first place. Nintendo won the case, and they were awarded over one million dollars in legal fees and damages.

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10. The original design for Sonic the Hedgehog came from Japan and depicted the critter as "villainous and crude," with "sharp fangs, a spiked collar, and an electric guitar." He also had a scantily clad, buxom human girlfriend named Madonna. Sega of America had to delicately push back, as their Japanese counterparts were all-in on their design.

11. Developers hated working with Nintendo due to the company's stringent policies. Companies had to pay Nintendo for the cartridges themselves, pay a licensing fee, and, on top of all that, agree to only make five titles a year.

12. Nintendo was well known for their strong-arm tactics. When Tengen, a game developer, invented a work-around so they could make games for the NES without having to pay a licensing fee, Nintendo allegedly convinced retailers to pull Tengen's products from the shelves, lest they lose the most powerful name in video games.

13. Even Wal-Mart was afraid of Nintendo. When Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske met with the retail giant about selling a small number of Genesis consoles in their stores, Wal-Mart turned them down, fearing Nintendo's wrath.

14. In an attempt to convince Wal-Mart to carry the Genesis, Sega of America turned Bentonville, Arkansas, the retailer's home, into Segaville. They bought up all the billboard space that was available in the town and turned a strip mall location near Wal-Mart's headquarters into a free Sega arcade. (The plan worked. Eventually.)

15. Playstation was originally the Nintendo Playstation. Sony and Nintendo came to an agreement to release a CD add-on for the Super Nintendo, but Nintendo surprisingly ditched Sony (without telling them) and went to Phillips instead. Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi worried that Sony was getting too ambitious, and by agreeing to a partnership, the gaming company would be ceding too much control.

16. To drum up excitement for the debut of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega filmed an hour-long TV special featuring young TGIF actors and actresses duking it out in a series of extravagant athletic competitions at Universal Studios. It was called Sega Star Kid Challenge and it was hosted by Scott Baio. Naturally, it's on YouTube.

17. For three straight years, the number-one selling toy in America was a Nintendo product. This dominant run was eventually halted when another iconic toy, the Super Soaker, dethroned the game company and took the top spot in 1991.

18. Sega's identity as the badass, in-your-face Nintendo alternative came from a Reebok Pump commercial that SOA CEO Tom Kalinske saw late one night on TV. It was so influential, Kalinske hired the man behind it to join Sega.

19. Dustin Hoffman was so intrigued by the film version of Super Mario Bros. that he requested to play Mario. However, Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa was not a fan and didn't think he was right for the role.

20. Tom Hanks, fresh off Joe Versus the Volcano, agreed to play Mario for $5 million, but Nintendo and the producers backed out of the deal because they feared Hanks couldn't handle a dramatic role.

For more history on the glory days of video games, pick up a copy of Blake J. Harris' book Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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