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.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, 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. Good luck deal hunting!

12 Festive Facts About White Christmas

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Paramount Home Entertainment

In 1953, Paramount Pictures set out to make a musical built around and named after the most popular Christmas pop song of all time. At that point “White Christmas” had already become a holiday classic thanks in no small part to Bing Crosby’s hit recording of the song, but would it translate to the same success on the big screen?

With Crosby’s star power leading the way and Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair, White Christmas overcame some early development struggles and even some anxiety from composer Irving Berlin to become one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time. Here are 12 facts about its production and reception.

1. The song "White Christmas" was already a hit.

Though the film didn’t come along until 1954, the story of White Christmas actually began more than a decade earlier, when Irving Berlin composed the future holiday classic that would become the title track. Berlin wrote the song in 1940, and the next year Bing Crosby—the singer still most identified with the song, despite many cover versions—sang it on his Christmas radio show.

By 1942, Crosby had recorded the song, and over that same year it made its first film appearance in Holiday Inn, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The film helped earn “White Christmas” the Oscar for Best Song in 1943, and over the course of the 1940s the song climbed to #1 on the charts several times. It would go on to hold the title of bestselling single of all time for decades, until it was finally eclipsed by Elton John’s rewritten 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind.” Because of the song’s enduring popularity, particularly during the World War II years, it was only natural that Hollywood would want to capitalize, and by 1949 what would eventually become White Christmas began to take shape at Paramount Pictures.

2. White Christmas was originally set to co-star Fred Astaire.

By the late 1940s, Irving Berlin and executives at Paramount Pictures were working on piecing together White Christmas as a movie musical with the title song as its centerpiece, and they had big plans for the film’s stars. The project was originally envisioned as the third installment of an unofficial trilogy of buddy musicals starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The duo had already teamed up for Holiday Inn in 1942 (which also featured “White Christmas”) and Blue Skies in 1946, and White Christmas was supposed to mark a triumphant reunion. Unfortunately, Astaire ultimately turned the project down, reportedly due to lack of interest and a concern that he might be getting too old for such a film.

3. Bing Crosby almost passed on White Christmas.

While most of the casting drama surrounding the film was tied to the Phil Davis character, there was also a point during pre-production on White Christmas that the film almost had to go searching for a new Bob Wallace. In January of 1953, when Astaire decided to back out of the project, Crosby also decided he wasn’t sure the film was right for him, and initially planned to take time off to be with his son following the death of Crosby’s wife, actress Dixie Lee. Later that some month, though, Crosby decided to stick with the project, and White Christmas moved ahead.

4. Danny Kaye was cast at the last-minute.

Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

With Fred Astaire out of the picture, Paramount had to search for a new star to play Phil Davis to Bing Crosby’s Bob Wallace, and settled on Donald O’Connor, who was fresh off the success of Singin’ in the Rain. O’Connor was all set to play Davis in the film, but became ill shortly before production was set to begin. Now anxious to find a new co-star in time, the studio offered the role to Danny Kaye, who decided to go for broke and request a salary of $200,000 plus a percentage of the film’s gross. Kaye was apparently certain the studio would say no, but they agreed to his terms rather than attempting to wait it out for O’Connor’s health to improve. Kaye was cast as Phil Davis, and O’Connor would later go on to work with Crosby on Anything Goes.

5. Rosemary Clooney couldn’t dance.

Rosemary Clooney was one of the most acclaimed and beloved singers of her generation, and with White Christmas she became a co-star of one of the most acclaimed and beloved musical films of all time. Clooney was able to do this despite one particular shortcoming, which she was always honest about in both interviews and in her eventual autobiography: She was not a dancer. Clooney’s character, Betty Haynes, only has two real moments of dance in the film—in “Sisters” and in the “Minstrel Show” medley—and both times the choreography is rather simple and (in the case of “Sisters”) makes use of a prop to help make the scene visually interesting without too much actual dancing involved.

6. Vera-Ellen couldn’t sing.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

To complete the duo of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was paired with Vera-Ellen, who was already an experienced and acclaimed movie musical performer considered by many to be one of the best dancers in Hollywood at the time. Clooney recalled feeling “inadequate” when paired with her new co-star in terms of learning her limited White Christmas choreography, but also noted that their dynamic was rather evened out by both Vera-Ellen’s patience and the fact that she couldn’t sing. Vera-Ellen’s vocals were dubbed in White Christmas, largely by an uncredited Trudy Stevens, but by Clooney herself for the song “Sisters.”

“If they could have dubbed my dancing, now, we would have had a perfect picture,” Clooney later joked.

7. Bing Crosby improvised a lot of his White Christmas dialogue.

By the time White Christmas came along, Bing Crosby was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, a veteran singer and actor who could pack audiences in and commanded respect on the Paramount Pictures lot. This meant his job came with a lot of perks, including the opportunity to embellish and flat-out improvise much of his dialogue on the fly. As co-star Rosemary Clooney recalled later on a commentary track for the film, when Bob Wallace used phrases like “slam-bang finish,” it was often because the phrases were favorites of Crosby’s. Clooney also recalled that the little monologue Crosby’s character goes on when they meet in the Columbia Inn lounge for sandwiches and buttermilk was largely made up by Crosby on the spot, faux German accent and all.

8. Bing Crosby didn’t like shooting White Christmas's "Sisters" scene.

One of the most famous scenes in White Christmas involves Bob Wallace and Phil Davis rolling up their pant legs and lip-syncing to Judy and Betty Haynes’s song “Sisters” in an effort to cause a diversion so the sisters could escape a vengeful landlord and hop on a train to Vermont. It’s an instantly memorable, and very funny movie moment, but apparently Bing Crosby was actually somewhat uncomfortable about the scene. In an effort to liven the performance up and get a rise out of his co-star, Danny Kaye improvised the moment when he begins to slap Crosby with his feathered fan. If you watch the scene closely, you can see Crosby caught off guard by this, and by the end of the scene the two men are cracking up on camera for real. According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby was convinced that the take was unusable, but director Michael Curtiz liked the spontaneity of it, and used it in the finished film.

9. White Christmas features an Our Gang cameo.

Early in the film, as Bob and Phil get to know the Haynes sister, they discuss the sisters’ brother Benny, who Bob and Phil knew from the army and who ostensibly connected them for their meeting at the club. Judy Haynes then offers to share a recent photo of Benny, who Phil had already referred to as “Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy.” The photo appears only briefly, but fans of the Our Gang series of comedy shorts might recognize Benny Haynes. He’s played in the photo by Carl Switzer, who was Our Gang’s Alfalfa.

10. White Christmas was the first movie released in a new format.

A scene from White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

At the time White Christmas was produced, film was having to increasingly compete with television for the attention of the American public, and this meant numerous gimmicks were deployed to get people to go to the movies. This included even more prevalent use of color on the movie screen (at a time when television was still a black and white medium), as well as a more ambitious use of aspect ratios to emphasize the “big” in big-screen. White Christmas was envisioned as a Technicolor showcase, but it also became the first film to be released in Paramount’s new widescreen format, VistaVision.

The format featured special film magazines that were mounted to the side of the camera lens, which fed the film negative through the camera horizontally rather than vertically. This created a more detailed widescreen exposure that was then printed vertically just like any other film. The result was a format that could play on virtually any movie screen and offer an increase in quality, unlike other contemporary large format options like CinemaScope, which required an adapter.

11. Irving Berlin was nervous about White Christmas.

By the time White Christmas was in production, the title song was one of the bestselling and most beloved songs in the world, and had already been in heavy circulation for more than a decade. Still, that didn’t stop Irving Berlin from being nervous about how the film would be received. Though he wasn’t always on the soundstage during shooting, Rosemary Clooney later recalled that Berlin showed up every day at the cast’s recording sessions for the soundtrack, and as Crosby and company recorded the finale version of “White Christmas” the legendary composer couldn’t stop nervously pacing around the studio. Eventually, Berlin’s worried look proved so distracting that Crosby went over to him and said: “There’s nothing we can do to hurt this song, Irving. It’s already a hit!"

12. White Christmas was the biggest movie of 1954.

White Christmas was released in the fall of 1954 and, on the strength of Berlin’s songs and the Technicolor and VistaVision production values, quickly became a hit for Paramount. The film was the highest-grossing movie of 1954 with a box office take of $12 million. It was also the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz’s career, which was impressive considering his resume already included classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca.

Additional Sources:
White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney (2000)
White Christmas commentary track by Rosemary Clooney (2000)
Backstage Stories from White Christmas (2009)
Christmas in the Movies by Jeremy Arnold (2018)