15 Next-Level Facts About Nintendo

Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

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. Thanks to the success of the Switch, it’s still going strong decades later, reaping sales of 1.2 trillion yen ($10.7 billion) in the fiscal year 2018 alone.  Check out some facts about the house that Mario built.

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. Nintendo 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. Nintendo's Duck Hunt was originally released back 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 Nintendo 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. Nintendo's Mario 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. Nintendo 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. The Nintendo 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. Nintendo Power magazine 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. Nintendo turned down Tom Hanks. 

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. Nintendo once 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. Nintendo 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. Nintendo's 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. You can still buy new NES games. Just not from Nintendo.

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. A number of game developers create and market on their own "new" releases for the system, including titles like Haunted Halloween.

15. Your next Nintendo addiction might be theme parks.

The coming years will see a series of Nintendo-themed amusement park additions popping up around the globe. In addition to locations at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida and Hollywood, California, fans will also be able to visit Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan, where guests will purportedly be able to enter a Mario landscape through--what else--a green pipe. The Osaka location could be open as early as 2020.

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

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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Adorable Products You Can Buy for International Sloth Day

Amazon
Amazon

It’s that time of the year again, folks—the time when we all collectively lose our chill over a slow-moving, two- or three-toed mammal with an adorable squeak and poop that defies physics. That’s right: International Sloth Day is on October 20. Here’s a list of must-have coloring books, onesies, and Christmas sweaters that you can pick up to showcase your love of one of the internet's favorite animals.

1. Cuddly Microwaveable Sloth; $20

Intelex/Amazon

Warm your heart and your body with a plush sloth that doubles as a soothing heating pad. The toy is filled with millet grains and dried French lavender, a combination intended to help you get to sleep easier.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Hanging Ceramic Sloth Planter; $18

FattyBee/Amazon

This flower planter pulls double duty, communicating both your love of sloths and your appreciation for plants. And it makes a tasteful piece of hanging home decor, too.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Sloth Coloring Book; $7

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform/Amazon

Sloths themselves are already works of art, but you’d be forgiven for wanting a few more sloth-related crafts in your life. Now you can make your own masterpiece with this detailed coloring book. All you'll need are some colored pencils and you'll be ready to go.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Farting Sloth Coloring Book; $7

M & L Coloring Books/Amazon

But maybe traditional coloring books aren’t your thing. You’re in luck: Amazon sells a coloring book for the crowd that both loves sloths and laughs a little too much at farts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Sloth Socks; $14

Good Luck Socks/Amazon

These socks are ideal for people who might not want to wear their love of sloths out in the open but are very comfortable showing it off on their ankles.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Sloth Onesie; $40

Tipsy Elves/Amazon

No list of sloth-related products would be complete without a cozy onesie, and this one from Tipsy Elves is perfect for either pajamas or a last-minute Halloween costume. This onesie even comes with zippered pockets and cuddly sloth claws!

Buy it: Amazon

7. Sloth-Themed Ugly Christmas Sweater; $69

Tipsy Elves/Amazon

Why not celebrate the upcoming holiday season with this sloth-themed ugly Christmas sweater? You’re sure to be the hit of any holiday pub crawl or office Christmas party.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Sloth Mug; $10

LOZACH/Amazon

Embrace your inner sloth and declare your lazy feelings along with your morning cup of coffee.

Buy it: Amazon

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