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

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AquaSonic
AquaSonic

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11 Songs Inspired by Literature

Jonathan Dore, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Jonathan Dore, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Devo and Thomas Pynchon. Mick Jagger and Charles Baudelaire. Though they seem like rather unlikely pairings, many great rock songs have been the result of a lyricist finding inspiration in the pages of a book. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

1. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)" // Pink Floyd

The Novel: Animal Farm // George Orwell

Pink Floyd felt so strongly about Orwell’s barnyard take on revolution that they made a mascot from the book’s dictator pigs. The first incarnation of the famous Pink Floyd pigs popped up in 1976 for the photo shoot for 1977’s Animals album, which is based loosely around Animal Farm themes. "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" is about people in society with wealth and power.

2. “My Ántonia” // Emmylou Harris

The Novel: My Ántonia // Willa Cather

It's somehow not surprising that Emmylou Harris is a fan of Willa Cather. Written from the perspective of Jim, the man who loved Cather’s title character in My Ántonia, the song was actually composed several years prior to its release on the 2000 album Red Dirt Girl. Harris hung on to it for a while, not sure what she wanted to do with it since she had written it from a man’s perspective.

“One day I got the idea to make it a conversation and the song just seemed to write itself. Well, then I had to pick a 'leading man,'" Harris said when the album was released. "I had just done a show with Dave Matthews and I loved the way we sounded together. And he did a simply beautiful job.”

3. “Whip It” // Devo

The Novel: Gravity’s Rainbow // Thomas Pynchon

Devo's singer/bassist Jerry Casale told the website Songfacts that his band's monster hit was based on Pynchon's postmodern novel:

"'Whip It,' like many Devo songs, had a long gestation, a long process. The lyrics were written by me as an imitation of Thomas Pynchon's parodies in his book Gravity's Rainbow. He had parodied limericks and poems of kind of all-American, obsessive, cult of personality ideas like Horatio Alger and 'You're #1, there's nobody else like you' kind of poems that were very funny and very clever. I thought, 'I'd like to do one like Thomas Pynchon,' so I wrote down 'Whip It' one night."

4. “Wuthering Heights” // Kate Bush

The Novel: Wuthering Heights // Emily Brontë

An 18-year-old Kate Bush wrote her breakout song after seeing just 10 minutes of Wuthering Heights on TV in 1977. In 1980, she told an interviewer on the Canadian show Profiles in Rock that she was inspired by the novel's heroine:

“I am sure one of the reasons it stuck so heavily in my mind was because of the spirit of Cathy, and as a child I was called Cathy. It later changed to Kate. It was just a matter of exaggerating all my bad areas, because she's a really vile person, she's just so headstrong and passionate and ... crazy, you know?”

5. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” // Bruce Springsteen

The Novel: The Grapes of Wrath // John Steinbeck

Springsteen was inspired by John Ford’s big-screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Great Depression saga. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” is a 1990s version of The Grapes of Wrath, meant to serve as a reminder that modern times are just as difficult for some. Rage Against the Machine covered the song in 1997.

6. “Sympathy for the Devil” // The Rolling Stones

The Novel: The Master and Margarita // Mikhail Bulgakov

In 1968, Mick Jagger’s then-girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, passed along a little book she thought he might enjoy. Jagger ended up writing “Sympathy for the Devil” after reading the novel, which starts when Satan, disguised as a professor, walks up and introduces himself to a pair of men discussing Jesus.

Jagger later suggested that some of the lyrics may have been inspired by the works of Charles Baudelaire as well, which makes “Sympathy” the product of a pretty well-read rock star.

7. “Holden Caulfield” // Guns N' Roses

The Novel: The Catcher in the Rye // J.D. Salinger

Guns n' Roses' much-awaited 2008 album Chinese Democracy contained a song called “The Catcher in the Rye” after the J.D. Salinger classic. Some surmised that the song is really about another culture-changing event that Holden Caulfield was involved in: the assassination of John Lennon in 1980. Lennon’s murderer was carrying a copy of the book when he pulled the trigger.

8. “Tales of Brave Ulysses” // Cream

The Poem: The Odyssey // Homer

Even Eric Clapton couldn’t resist the Sirens from The Odyssey; this classic Cream song references the mythological enticing beauties (Clapton sure knew his share of those). Though it’s Clapton singing, the lyrics were written by Martin Sharp, who had just returned from vacation in Ibiza and was inspired by the exotic scenery—beaches and women alike, presumably.

9. “Breathe” // U2

The Novel: Ulysses // James Joyce

Speaking of The Odyssey, it’s no surprise that The Edge and Bono would want to pay homage to their fellow Irishman James Joyce by setting “Breathe” on June 16. That’s the day Leopold Bloom embarks throughout the pages of Joyce’s Ulysses, and it’s also the day that Joyce fans everywhere honor his work by celebrating Bloomsday.

10. “Ramble On” // Led Zeppelin

The Novel: The Lord of the Rings // J.R.R. Tolkien

If you’ve ever listened to the lyrics of “Ramble On,” this is not going to come as a surprise to you. For example:

“'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor
I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up
And slipped away with her.”

11. “Scentless Apprentice” // Nirvana

The Novel: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer // Patrick Süskind

This horror book was a modest hit thanks in part to Kurt Cobain, who frequently mentioned that it was one of his favorite reads. He liked it so much, in fact, he wrote a song about it and put it on his band's 1993 album In Utero. The book is about a man who kills young women and captures their scents in order to make the perfect perfume. I won’t spoil the ending for you—and neither does “Scentless Apprentice.”