Unraveling the Legend of Polybius, the Most Dangerous Video Game of the 1980s

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iStock

For several decades, a creepy urban legend has circulated in the darker corners of online forums devoted to vintage video games. The tale goes that in 1981, a game with some unfortunate side effects appeared in a few suburban arcades in Portland, Oregon. The game was said to have been housed in an all-black cabinet, and while playing it was fun, gamers soon noticed they were feeling terrible after their sessions—suffering from extreme anxiety, seizures, night terrors, and an obsessive desire to continue playing. Some were even said to have attempted suicide.

To make matters even weirder, men in black supposedly visited the cabinet every few weeks to collect some kind of data—not money—from the back of the machine. And just a few months after it appeared, the game was gone. Its name: Polybius.

Some said the game was connected to MKUltra, a (real) CIA program experimenting with behavior modification techniques and LSD from the 1950s through the '70s, although no evidence of that was ever found. Recently, Great Big Story's series "8 Bit Legacy: The Curious History of Video Games" set out to investigate Polybius, and found some surprising truths behind the mystery. They also found some fans attempting to recreate the game—hopefully minus the ill effects. You can learn more below:

The Violent Shootout That Led to Daryl Hall and John Oates Joining Forces

Hall and Oates.
Hall and Oates.
Michael Putland, Getty Images

As songwriting partners, Daryl Hall (the blonde one) and John Oates (the mustachioed one) were tentpoles of the 1970s and 1980s music scene. Beginning with “She’s Gone” and continuing on through “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” and “I Can’t Go For That,” they’re arguably one of the biggest pop act duos in history.

Unfortunately, it took a riot and some gunfire to bring them together.

Both Hall and Oates were raised in the Philadelphia suburbs in the late 1950s and 1960s. After high school, both went on to Temple University—Hall to study music and Oates to major in journalism. While in their late teens, the two each had a doo-wop group they belonged to. Hall was a member of The Temptones, a successful act that had recently earned a recording contract with a label called Arctic Records; Oates was part of the Masters, which had just released their first single, “I Need Your Love.”

In 1967, both bands were invited to perform at a dance event promoted by area disc jockey Jerry Bishop at the Adelphi Ballroom on North 52nd Street in Philadelphia. According to Oates, the concert was a professional obligation: Bishop had the ability to give songs airtime.

“When Jerry Bishop contacted you, you had to go,” Oates told Pennsylvania Heritage magazine in 2016. “If you didn’t, your record wouldn’t get played on the radio.”

That’s how Hall and Oates found themselves backstage at the Adelphi, each preparing to perform with their respective group. (Oates said Hall looked good in a sharkskin suit with the rest of his partners, whereas he felt more self-conscious in a “crappy houndstooth” suit.) While Oates had previously seen The Temptones perform, the two had never met nor spoken. It’s possible they never would have if it weren’t for what happened next.

Before either one of them had even made it onto the stage, they heard gunshots. A riot had broken out between two rival factions of high school fraternities. They “really were just gangs with Greek letters,” Hall later told the Independent. Peering out from behind the curtain, Hall saw a fight involving chains and knives. Someone had fired a weapon.

“We were all getting ready for the show to start when we heard screams—and then gunshots,” Oates said in 2016. “It seemed a full-scale riot had erupted out in the theater, not a shocker given the times. Like a lot of other cities around the country, Philly was a city where racial tensions had begun to boil over.”

Worse, the performances were being held on an upper floor of the Adelphi. No one backstage could just rush out an exit. They all had to cram into a service elevator—which is where Hall and Oates came nose-to-nose for the first time.

“Oh, well, you didn’t get to go on, either,” Hall said. “How ya doin’?”

After acknowledging they both went to Temple, the two went their separate ways. But fate was not done with them.

The two ran into each other at Temple University a few weeks later, where they began joking about their mutual brush with death. By that time, Oates’s group, the Masters, had broken up after two of its members were drafted for the Vietnam War. So Oates joined The Temptones as a guitarist.

When The Temptones later disbanded, Hall and Oates continued to collaborate, and even became roommates. Hall eventually dropped out of Temple just a few months before he was set to graduate; Oates went traveling in Europe for four months and sublet his apartment to Hall’s sister. When he returned, he discovered she hadn’t been paying the rent. The door was padlocked. Desperate, Oates showed up on Hall’s doorstep, where Hall offered him a place to sleep. There, they continued to collaborate.

“That was our true birth as a duo,” Oates said.

Hall and Oates released their first album, Whole Oats, in 1972. Using a folk sound, it wasn’t a hit, but the rest of their careers more than made up for it. More than 50 years after that chaotic first encounter, the two have a summer 2020 tour planned.

In 1995, You Could Smell Like Kermit the Frog

Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

The mid-'90s were a great time for Kermit the Frog. In 1996 alone, he led the Tournament of Roses Parade, was the face of the 40-year-old Muppet brand, and had both a movie (Muppet Treasure Island) and a television show (Muppets Live!) to promote. His career could not have been hotter, so Kermit did what any multifaceted, single-person empire does while sitting atop his or her celebrity throne: he released a fragrance. Amphibia, produced by Jim Henson Productions, was dripping with froggy sex appeal. The unisex perfume—its slogan was "pour homme, femme, et frog"—had a clean, citrusy smell with a hint of moss to conjure up memories of the swamp. Offered exclusively at Bloomingdale's in Manhattan, it sold for $18.50 (or $32.50 for those who wanted a gift box and T-shirt).

There’s no trace of a commercial for the perfume—which is a shame, since Amphibia is a word that begs to be whispered—but a print ad and photos of the packaging still live online. The six-pack and strategically-placed towel are an apt parody ... and also deeply unsettling.

Amphibia was the most-sold fragrance at the Manhattan Bloomingdale's in the 1995 Christmas season. "Kids are buying it, grown-ups are buying it, and frogs are really hot," pitchman Max Almenas told The New York Times.

It was a hit past the Christmas season, too: The eau de Muppet was cheekily reviewed by Mary Roach—who would go on to write Stiff and Packing for Mars—in a 1996 issue of TV Guide. "I wore Amphibia on my third date ... he said he found me riveting which I heard as ribbitting, as in 'ribbit, ribbit,' and I got all defensive," she wrote. "He assured me I didn't smell like a swamp ... I stuck my tongue out at him, to which he responded that it was the wrong time of year for flies, and besides, the food would be arriving shortly."

Not to be outdone, Miss Piggy also released a fragrance a few years later. It was, naturally, called Moi.

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