7 Things You Might Not Know About the Game Simon

debaird, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Introduced in 1978, Simon represented an evolution in tabletop gaming. Not exactly a board game but not quite a video game, it straddled the line between the past and future of recreational diversions. To play the game, users must memorize a series of tones and lights on the four-button surface, then repeat them in order. As the patterns grow more complex, the game becomes more challenging. (Or frustrating, depending on one’s perspective.) Simon was a hit upon release and has remained a pop culture fixture for over 40 years. For more on the game’s history, keep reading.

1. Simon was invented by Ralph Baer, the “Father of Video Games.”

In the 1960s, German refugee and former World War II Army intelligence officer Ralph Baer was a military engineering contractor who decided to moonlight as a video games pioneer. Baer visualized a system that could be connected to a television to play games on the screen. In 1971, Baer and his employer, Sanders Associates, filed for and later received the first-ever video game patent. The system would become the Magnavox Odyssey, which went on sale in 1972.

Years later, Baer would have another idea. Working as an independent consultant for the toy firm Marvin Glass and Associates, Baer was drawn to an Atari arcade game called Touch Me. He and Marvin Glass employee Howard Morrison had seen it at a trade show in 1976. While they liked the premise—players had to repeat a musical sequence—they felt the execution was lacking and the sounds were unpleasant. Using Touch Me as a jumping-off point, they decided to try and craft a better version. (It was only fitting, as Atari had taken a cue from the Magnavox Odyssey to create their arcade hit Pong.) Along with programmer Lenny Cope, Baer and Morrison worked for nearly two years on a handheld version originally titled Follow Me that had four buttons. Crucially, the four tones they selected were much more pleasant to the ear. Baer selected the four notes played by a bugle. Milton Bradley licensed the idea, and Simon (named after the children’s game Simon Says) was released in 1978.

2. Simon was the hottest toy of the 1978 holiday season.

Making a splashy debut at the trendy Studio 54 nightclub in New York on May 15, 1978, Simon quickly made an impression with adults and found itself hastily added to many holiday wish lists. That winter, several stores reported a Simon shortage and long lines of people hoping to get a crack at a new shipment. One store sold through 1000 of them in just five days. Milton Bradley ultimately put Simon on allocation, meaning that stores received only a portion of their orders until they could ramp up production to meet demand.

3. Simon was very expensive for its time.

Simon originally had a retail price of $25, which amounts to about $92 in today’s dollars. Unlike video game systems, Simon could only do one thing. But people were enamored with computer-based diversions, with many pointing to the novelty of the microprocessor chip as a key reason the game was so popular. (Just a few years prior, the chips had mainly been used for handheld calculators.) The original Simon was also big, taking up considerable space on a tabletop and devouring multiple D batteries.

4. Simon got a sales boost from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The year before Simon went on sale, director Steven Spielberg released Close Encounters of the Third Kind, starring Richard Dreyfuss as a man who establishes a relationship with extraterrestrial life. During the finale, the aliens communicate using musical notes and lights on their spaceship. Though there was no connection between the movie and the game, the popularity of Close Encounters helped raise awareness for Simon, which exhibited a similar pattern. More than 10 million copies were sold by the end of 1982.

5. Simon led to a lot of knock-offs.

Milton Bradley found that there was no shortage of devices looking to capitalize on the Simon phenomenon. A device called Einstein was rectangular instead of circular but had a similar layout. Atari, which produced the Touch Me arcade game Baer and Morrison used as inspiration, released that same game in a handheld version. Among the knock-offs, only Tiger Electronics had a subtle sense of humor about taking obvious inspiration from Simon. They titled their octagon-shaped device Copycat. According to Baer, none of them took off because their noises lacked the charm of the four-note bugle.

6. Simon inspired a Queen album cover.

The musical toy had fans in Queen, the rock band led by Freddie Mercury. For their 1982 album, Hot Space, the band seemed to take inspiration from the design of Simon for the cover, which features the four bandmates in a four-colored grid.

7. There’s a touch-free Simon.

Since its inception, Simon has seen a variety of spin-offs hit the market. In 1979, Milton Bradley released Super Simon, with four buttons on each side of a rectangular device that pitted players against one another in a timed contest. Simon Stix with drumsticks followed; Simon Swipe offered touch-based interaction. The most intriguing might be Simon Air, a vertical Simon iteration released by Hasbro—which bought Milton Bradley—that allows players to wave over the colored sections with their hands. Another version, Simon Optix, uses a headset to flash colors before the user's eyes. Players can then use their hands to replicate the pattern.

It’s National Cookie Day! Here’s Where to Score Some Free Treats

UMeimages/iStock via Getty Images
UMeimages/iStock via Getty Images

If you plan on eating as many baked goods as possible this December, now's your chance to get a head start. Today—December 4—is National Cookie Day, and chains across the country are celebrating by handing out free cookies. Here are the best places to snag a treat before the day is over.

    • Great American Cookies, a chain that's concentrated in the southeastern U.S., is marking the day by rewarding members of its loyalty program. If you already have the loyalty app, you can swing by a participating location any time today and pick up your free original chocolate chip cookie without making any additional purchases. The promotion only applies to customers who signed up for the program before midnight on December 3, so you aren't eligible for the free snack if you download the app on your way to the store.
    • The cookie giant Mrs. Fields is also participating in the holiday. Buy anything from one of the chain's stores on December 4 and you'll get a free cookie with your purchase. If you spring for the Nutcracker Sweet Tower, which is made from five festive containers of baked goods, you can send a Mrs. Fields Peace, Love & Cookies 30 Nibbler Tin to a friend for free.
    • But what if you're looking for a free cookie with no strings attached? Surprisingly, a hotel chain may be offering the best deal for National Cookie Day. Throughout December 4, you can stop by a DoubleTree by Hilton and ask for a free cookie at the front desk. DoubleTree provides complimentary cookies to guests at check-in all year round, and every year on National Cookie Day, the hotel chain extends that offer to everyone.

There's no shortage of great cookies across the U.S. If you're willing to travel to satisfy your sweet tooth, here are the best chocolate chip cookies in all 50 states.

License to Bird: Meet the Real James Bond

American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.
American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.

On January 4, 1900, a child was born in Philadelphia. His name was Bond. James Bond. He would not grow up to be a globe-trotting, license-to-kill-carrying playboy spy like the other James Bond. Instead, he became an ornithologist, and lived a fairly quiet, normal life—until someone borrowed his name.  

Bond lived in New Hampshire and England while growing up, and developed an accent that a colleague described [PDF] as an “amalgam of New England, British, and upper-class Philadelphian.” After graduating from Cambridge, Bond returned to the U.S. to work as a banker, but his childhood interests in science and natural history spurred him to quit soon after and join an expedition to the Amazon to collect biological specimens for Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences.

After that, and with no formal training in the field, he started working as an ornithologist at the Academy, and was “among the last of a traditional museum breed, the independently wealthy, nonsalaried curator, who lacked advanced university degrees.” Working at the museum, Bond became an authority on the bird species of the Caribbean, and his 1936 book, Birds of the West Indies, was considered the definitive guide to the region’s birds at the time. 

Despite his many scientific accomplishments—which included dozens of papers about Caribbean and New England birds, more books and field guides, numerous medals and awards and other researchers using the term “Bond’s Line” to refer to the boundary that separates Caribbean fauna by their origin—that book would be what catapulted Bond, or at least his name, to international fame.

In 1961, Bond was reading a London newspaper’s review of the latest edition of his book and found eyebrow-raising references to handguns, kinky sex, and other elements of a life that sounded very unlike his. He and his wife Mary quickly learned that another James Bond was the hero of a series of novels by Ian Fleming, which were popular in the UK but just gaining notice in the U.S. Mary wrote to Fleming to jokingly chastise him for stealing her husband’s name for his “rascal” character. 

Fleming replied to explain himself: He was a birdwatcher and when he was living in Jamaica beginning work on his first spy novel, Birds of the West Indies was one of his bird “bibles.” He wanted his main character to have an ordinary, unassuming name, and when he was trying to drum one up, he remembered the author of the book he turned to so often. “It struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born,” Fleming wrote to Mary. (Fleming later called “James Bond” the “dullest name I’ve ever heard.”)

Fleming told Mary that he understood if they were angry at the theft of Bond’s name, and suggested a trade. “In return I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit,” he wrote. “Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.” 

He also invited the Bonds to his home in Jamaica, which they took him up on a few years later. During the Bonds’ visit, Fleming gave James a copy of his latest novel, You Only Live Twice, inscribed with the message “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity.”

For the next few decades, until his death at the age of 89, Bond’s famous namesake caused the ornithologist a few minor annoyances. Once, he was supposedly stopped at the airport because officials thought his passport was a fake, and the occasional bank teller would likewise think the same of his checks and refuse to cash them.

Young women would often prank call the Bond house late at night asking to speak to 007, to which Mary would reply: “Yes, James is here. But this is Pussy Galore and he's busy now."

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