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14 Next-Level Facts About Nintendo

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Originally formed in 1889 as trading card company, the Kyoto, Japan-based Nintendo overcame the implosion of Atari in the early 1980s to revive the video game industry and make household names of pixelated characters like Mario and Link. More than 30 years later, it’s still reaping sales of $3.5 billion annually. Take a look at some lesser-known facts and trivia about pop culture’s digital Disney.

1. NO ONE IS REALLY SURE WHAT “NINTENDO” MEANS.

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As a onetime manufacturer of simple diversions like cards and other hand-held items, Nintendo was widely thought to have chosen its name as a reference to good fortune: “leave luck to heaven” was one common interpretation. (Nin means “let someone do,” while do can mean a temple or sanctuary.) But since no archival material from their inception survived, no one can be completely certain what founder Fusajiro Yamauchi had in mind. Hiroshi Yamauchi, the Nintendo president who passed away in 2013, once said that while the explanation was a reasonable guess, even he had no real idea what “Nintendo” was in reference to.

2. THEY ONCE MARKETED INSTANT RICE.

Nintendo’s pre-video game pursuits have been well-documented: the company tried everything from “love tester” machines to taxi services. Their strangest detour, however, may have been in the marketing of instant rice, which was part of some unique expansion efforts in the 1960s. Nintendo even tried peddling a vacuum cleaner before realizing the distribution relationships from their playing card history made them an ideal resource for toys and games, not small appliances and boxed food.

3. DUCK HUNT WAS RELEASED IN 1976.

More or less. Once Nintendo settled on a direction—exploring the exploding arcade and home game industry—they had a burst of success with Duck Hunt, a contraption that projected targets onto a wall and made them assailable with a solar cell built into a light gun (renamed the “Zapper” for home use in the 1980s). The popularity of Hunt as well as cabinet-style games encouraged Nintendo to pursue the home console business, where interchangeable cartridges would ensure players would never grow tired of the same title. (Or fowl.)

4. R.O.B. THE ROBOT WAS A TROJAN HORSE.

After launching their Famicom (“Family Computer”) in Japan in 1983, Nintendo considered partnering with Atari to distribute the console in America under the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) name—but Atari’s financial crash gave their brand a scarlet letter, leaving many retailers selling their product at a loss. To combat the widespread video game resentment that followed, Nintendo of America (NOA) decided to market the NES as a home entertainment system. They included the Zapper and a robot named R.O.B. that would react to the action onscreen. In reality, R.O.B. was prone to malfunctioning and only worked with two titles, but his presence was enough to convince both stores and consumers that this wasn’t another bust. The ploy worked: After a successful test market in the northeast in 1985 and 1986, sales of the NES soared to over 6 million (along with 33 million games sold) in 1988.

5. MARIO’S DESIGN WAS PURPOSELY LOW-TECH.

Legendary Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto drafted an iconic game character in Mario, the plumber (and occasional referee/doctor/race car driver) who saves damsels in distress in Donkey Kong and his own Mario Bros. series. But his look wasn't solely the result of artistic inspiration. The familiar mustache and hat were added because the technology of the era allowed for so few pixels onscreen; with his white gloves, a player could see his arms move; a hat covered up hair that couldn’t be adequately rendered.

6. NINTENDO DIDN’T ACTUALLY MAKE THE POWER GLOVE.

Blame for the barely-intuitive controller actually goes to Mattel, which obtained a license to create, manufacture, and market the device beginning in 1990. Because Nintendo insisted the glove work with its entire library of games, Mattel found itself trying to engineer a backwards-compatible accessory with little success. They predicted they’d move a million gloves that year, but only 100,000 were sold. (Not counting returns.)

7. THE COMPANY ALMOST RELEASED AN NES KNITTING MACHINE.

“Now You’re Knitting with Power” sounds like an April Fool’s prank, but it was something Nintendo seriously considered as an ad slogan. Former Nintendo employee Howard Phillips once posted a long-forgotten product brochure from the late 1980s on Facebook that demonstrated the company was playing with the idea of a knitting machine peripheral that could be attached to the NES. The add-on and the design cartridges were apparently met with a tepid reception during an industry event and never released.

8. THEIR CALL CENTER WAS LIKE A CRISIS HOTLINE.

The Captain Nintendo Hotline was an 800 number service that provided tips, but the overwhelming number of calls forced Nintendo to convert it into a 900 toll service by 1990. Game “counselors” could talk kids through difficult spots, but also found themselves being asked questions about school or—in the case of older gamers—marriage issues. The company eventually capped calls at seven minutes to avoid inadvertent therapy sessions.

9. THEY HAD TO BAN STEVE WOZNIAK.

Nintendo Power was the company’s direct-to-consumer subscription magazine that hyped new releases, provided strategy guides, and gave players a sense of community spirit at a time mainstream publications weren’t paying much attention to the industry. While they were happy to celebrate accomplishments in a high-score section, editors eventually had to prohibit Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak from submitting his record achievements in Tetris because they couldn’t keep printing his name month after month. (Wozniak obliged, but not before submitting one last screen shot as "Evets Kainzow," his name spelled backward.)

10. THEY TURNED DOWN TOM HANKS FOR MARIO.

It was inevitable that Nintendo’s success would bleed into feature films. While 1989’s The Wizard—about a gaming prodigy who conquers Super Mario Bros. 3 in what could be considered the most expensive toy commercial of all time—was a disappointment, 1993’s Super Mario Bros. live-action feature was more of a disaster. Before casting Bob Hoskins in the lead role, Nintendo (which had veto power over production decisions) decided that Tom Hanks was asking too much by demanding $5 million to star. "Nintendo got rid of Tom Hanks because he wasn't considered a bankable movie star," Jeff Ryan, author of Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, told io9. "He wasn't worth the money!" Hoskins was in, the audience was out, and the film would be the last based on a Nintendo-owned character to date.

11. THEY WANTED TO HELP YOU GAMBLE.

Not all of Nintendo’s bizarre ideas came prior to their video game success. In the early 1990s, the company had the notion of using burgeoning modem technology to allow users to play the lottery via their consoles. Nintendo set Minnesota as a trial market in 1991, offering carts that would let players pick lotto numbers for a low monthly fee of $10. While the state’s gaming commission approved the plan, pushback from politicians with concerns over gambling being associated with a device used frequently by children proved too tough to overcome, and the add-on was scrapped.

12. THEY WON AN EMMY FOR THEIR ORIGINAL CONTROL PAD.

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences isn’t above recognizing achievements outside of sitcoms and fictional ‘60s ad agencies. In 2007, they bestowed a (belated) Technological and Engineering Emmy Award on Nintendo for their “D-pad” innovation, the directional button that replaced the joy stick in home game systems.

13. THEIR REDMOND HEADQUARTERS HAVE MARIO BATHROOM SIGNS.

Nintendo of America operates out of Redmond, Washington, and the building’s design accents are what you’d expect from the House Mario Built. Bathroom signs have silhouettes of the plumber and his princess; conference rooms are named after Zelda and other Nintendo game characters; benches in the lobby are shaped like the D-pads, although that appears to have been simply a happy coincidence. The furniture provider didn’t do it on purpose.

14. SOMEONE JUST MADE A NEW NES GAME.

dustmop via YouTube

In 2015, game developer hobbyists Dustin Long and Andrew Reitano collaborated on Star Versus, a space shooter that comes in a classic NES-style cartridge and can only be played on the original console. Why didn't more third-parties create unlicensed games in the first place? Originally, Nintendo installed a "lockout chip" in cartridges that prevented unapproved games from working in their systems. Long and Reitano's firmware addresses the security chip issue; Long told Popular Mechanics he wanted to create something tangible that had to be obtained physically rather than develop a program for the many NES emulators online.

Additional Sources: Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children

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16 Geeky Coasters to Keep Your Coffee Table Safe
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Avoid unsightly ring stains on your coffee table with this delightful selection of coasters:

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. FLOPPY DISKS; $22.79

Floppy disks are not obsolete—at least in your living room area.

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2. MARIO; $20

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Unfortunately, no coins will be coming out of these coasters, but they will keep your table dry.

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3. GAME OF THRONES; $12.99

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Avoid a royal mess with house sigils of houses Targaryen, Stark, Baratheon, and Lannister.

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4. PACMAN; $20.95

Use these on a black table to recreate the retro video game.

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5. AGATE; $35

Rock on: These fancy agate coasters will look solid resting under your glass.

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6. ELEMENTS; $56.99

These glowing coasters are perfect for chemists, Breaking Bad fans, and anyone who forgot to pay their electric bill.

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7. BUILDING BLOCKS; $19.99

Build your own coaster with this LEGO-esque design.

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8. STAR TREK; $16.63

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This ceramic set celebrates all the best ships from Star Trek.

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9. DR. WHO; $22.99

Just make sure you don’t accidentally send your glass into a different time period when you set it down.

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10. RILAKKUMA; $1.95

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Bonanza

Cover your counter space with the cute face of Rilakkuma.

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11. HARRY POTTER; $50

Set of wood burned coasters featuring the crest of each Harry Potter house
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All the houses are present in this set of wood coasters.

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Etsy

Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean all manners go out the door: Never forget to use a coaster!

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13. BRAIN; $19.99

This set comes with 10 coasters, each with a slice of brain specimen. When you’re not using them, you can stack them together to create a full brain.

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14. THE LAST AIRBENDER; FROM $13

Aang and his entourage face off on these wooden coasters.

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Getting totally wigged by the idea of a stained table? All your favorite characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer can give you an assist.

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16. STUDIO GHIBLI; $25

Studio Ghibli Stone Tile Coasters
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These coasters feature scenes from the classics My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

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15 Educational Facts About Old School
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Old School starred Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, an attorney who—after catching his girlfriend cheating, and through some real estate and bitter dean-related circumstances—becomes the leader of a not-quite-official college fraternity. Along with his fellow thirtysomething friends Bernard (Vince Vaughn) and newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell), they end up having to fight for their right to maintain their status as a party-loving frat on campus.

The film, which was released 15 years ago today, marked Vaughn’s return to major comedies and Ferrell’s first major starring role after seven years on Saturday Night Live. Here are some facts about the movie for everyone, but particularly for my boy, Blue.

1. THE IDEA ORIGINATED WITH AN AD GUY.

Writer-director Todd Phillips was talking to a friend of his from the advertising industry named Court Crandall one day. Crandall had seen and enjoyed Phillips's movie Frat House (1998) and told his director buddy, “You know what would be funny is a movie about older guys who start a fraternity of their own.” After being told by Phillips to write it, he presented Phillips with a “loose version” of the finished product.

2. SOME OF THE FRAT SHENANIGANS WERE REAL.

While Crandall received the story credit for Old School, Phillips and Scot Armstrong received the credit for writing the script. Armstrong put his own college fraternity experiences into the script. “We were in Peoria, Illinois, so it was up to us to entertain ourselves," Armstrong shared in the movie's official production notes. "A lot of ideas for Old School came from things that really happened. When it was cold, everyone would go stir crazy and it inspired some moments of brilliance. Of course, my definition of ‘brilliance' might be different from other people's.”

3. IVAN REITMAN HELPED OUT.

Ivan Reitman, director of Stripes and Ghostbusters, was an executive producer on the film. Phillips and Armstrong wrote and rewrote every day for two months at Reitman’s house, an experience Phillips described as comedy writing “boot camp.”

4. THE STUDIO DIDN’T WANT VINCE VAUGHN.

Vince Vaughn in 'Old School' (2003)
DreamWorks

It didn’t seem to make a difference to DreamWorks that Phillips and Armstrong had written the role of Bernard with Vince Vaughn in mind—the studio didn't want him. After his breakout success in Swingers, Vaughn had taken roles in dramas like the 1998 remake of Psycho. “So when Todd Phillips wanted me for Old School, the studio didn’t want me,” Vaughn told Variety in 2015. “They didn’t think I could do comedy! They said, ‘He’s a dramatic actor from smaller films.’ Todd really had to push for me.”

5. RECYCLED SHOTS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY WERE USED.

The film was mainly shot on the Westwood campus of UCLA. The aerial shots of the fictitious Harrison University, however, were of Harvard; they had been shot for Road Trip (2000).

6. VINCE VAUGHN FANS MIGHT RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH.

In the film, Frank gets married at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California. Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that same church two years later for Wedding Crashers (2005).

7. WILL FERRELL SCARED MEMBERS OF A 24-HOUR GYM.

Frank’s streaking scene was shot on a city street. As Ferrell remembered it, one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with Stairmasters and treadmills in the window. “I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, ‘Shouldn’t we tell them I’m going to be naked?’ Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody was at the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.”

8. FERRELL REALLY WAS NAKED.

Ferrell justified it by saying it showed his character falling off the wagon. “The fact that it made sense was the reason I was really into doing it, and why I was able to commit on that level," Ferrell told the BBC. "If it was just for the sake of doing a crazy shot, then I don't think it makes sense.” Still, Ferrell needed some liquid courage, and was intimidated by the presence of Snoop Dogg.

9. ROB CORDDRY WAS NOT NAKED, BUT HE STILL HAD TO SIGN AWAY HIS NUDITY RIGHTS.

Old School marked the first major film role for Rob Corddry, who at the time was best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a jewel bag around his private parts for his nude scene, but his butt made it into the final cut. He had to sign a nudity clause, which gave the film the right to use his naked image “in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised.”

10. SNOOP DOGG AGREED TO CAMEO SO HE COULD PLAY HUGGY BEAR IN STARSKY & HUTCH.

Phillips admitted to essentially bribing the hip-hop artist/actor, using Snoop Dogg’s desire to play the street informant in the modern movie adaptation of the classic TV show (which Phillips was also directing) to his advantage. “So when I went to him I said, 'I want you to do Huggy Bear,' he was really excited. And I said, 'Oh yeah, also will you do this little thing for me in Old School a little cameo?' So he kind of had to do it I think."

11. SNOOP WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH VINCE VAUGHN ON SET, BUT NOT LUKE WILSON.

Snoop Dogg in 'Old School' (2003)
Richard Foreman, Dreamworks

Vaughn and his friends accepted an invitation to hang out in Snoop Dogg’s trailer to play video games on the last day of shooting. Vaughn recalled seeing Luke Wilson later watching the news alone in his trailer; he had not been informed of the get-together.

12. WILSON WAS TEASED BY HIS CO-STARS.

Vaughn, Wilson, and Ferrell dubbed themselves “The Wolfpack”—years before Phillips directed The Hangover—because they would always make fun of each other. A particularly stinging exchange had Ferrell refer to Legally Blonde (which Wilson had starred in) as Legally Bland. Wilson said it didn’t make him feel great. Wilson retorted by telling Ferrell that "the transition from TV to the movies isn't a very easy one, so you might just want to keep one foot back in TV just in case this whole movie thing falls through!"

13. TERRY O’QUINN SCARED HIS SONS INTO THINKING THEY WERE TRIPPING.

Terry O’Quinn (who went on to play John Locke on Lost the following year) agreed to play Goldberg, uncredited, in what was a two-day job for him. He neglected to inform his sons he was in the movie, and when they saw it, one of them called their father. “I got a call from my sons one night, and they said, ‘What were you doing in Old School? We didn’t even know you were in it!’ They said, ‘We’re sitting there, and the first time we see you, it’s, like, in a reflection in a window. And when we saw it, and we both thought we were, like, tripping or something!’”

14. THE EARMUFFS WERE IMPROVISED.

Before filming, Vaughn worked with Ferrell to figure out their characters' backstories and how they knew each other; he credited that with helping him figure out who Bernard was, which led to several ad-libbed moments. “The earmuff scene where he swears in front of the kids, and then I tell the kid to earmuff, that all is off the cuff. But that stuff is a lot easier to do when you know who you are and your circumstances, and who your characters are,” Vaughn explained.

15. FERRELL AND VAUGHN DIDN’T LOVE A SCRIPT FOR A SEQUEL.

Armstrong had written Old School Dos in 2006, which saw the frat going to Spring Break. Ferrell said that he and Vaughn read the script but felt like they would just be “kind of doing the same thing again.” Wilson, on the other hand, was excited over the new script.

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