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

12 Good Ol' Facts About The Dukes of Hazzard

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Getty Images

When The Dukes of Hazzard premiered on January 26, 1979, it was intended to be a temporary patch in CBS’s primetime schedule until The Incredible Hulk returned. Only nine episodes were ordered, and few executives at the network had any expectation that the series—about two amiable brothers at odds with the corrupt law enforcement of Hazzard County—would become both a ratings powerhouse and a merchandising bonanza. Check out some of these lesser-known facts about the Duke boys, their extended family, and the gravity-defying General Lee.

1. CBS's chairman hated The Dukes of Hazzard.

CBS chairman William Paley never quite bought into the idea of spinning his opinion to match the company line. Having built CBS from a radio station to one of the “Big Three” television networks, he had harvested talent as diverse as Norman Lear and Lucille Ball, a marked contrast to the Southern-fried humor of The Dukes of Hazzard. In his 80s when it became a top 10 series and seeing no reason to censor himself, Paley repeatedly and publicly described the show as “lousy.”

2. The Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee got 35,000 fan letters a month.


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While John Schneider and Tom Wopat were the ostensible stars of the show, both the actors and the show's producers quickly found out that the main attraction was the 1969 Dodge Charger—dubbed the General Lee—that trafficked brothers Bo and Luke Duke from one caper to another. Of the 60,000 letters the series was receiving every month in 1981, 35,000 wanted more information on or pictures of the car.

3. Dennis Quaid wanted to be The Dukes of Hazzard's Luke Duke—on one condition.

When the show began casting in 1978, producers threw out a wide net searching for the leads. Dennis Quaid was among those interested in the role of Luke Duke—which eventually went to Wopat—but he had a condition: he would only agree to the show if his then-wife, P.J. Soles, was cast at the Dukes’ cousin, Daisy. Soles wasn’t a proper fit for the supporting part, which put Quaid off; Catherine Bach was eventually cast as Daisy.

4. John Schneider pretended to be a redneck for his Dukes of Hazzard audition.

New York native Schneider was only 18 years old when he went in to read for the role of Bo Duke. The problem: producers wanted someone 24 to 30 years old. Schneider lied about his age and passed himself off as a Southern archetype, strutting in wearing a cowboy hat, drinking a beer, and spitting tobacco. He also told them he could do stunt driving. It was a good enough performance to land him the show.

5. The Dukes of Hazzard co-stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat met while taking a poop.

After Schneider was cast, the show needed to locate an actor who could complement Bo. Stage actor Wopat was flown in for a screen test; Schneider happened to be in the bathroom when Wopat walked in after him. The two began talking about music—Schneider had seen a guitar under the stall door—and found they had an easy camaraderie. After flushing, the two did a scene. Wopat was hired immediately.

6. Daisy's Dukes needed a tweak on The Dukes of Hazzard.

Bach’s omnipresent jean shorts were such a hit that any kind of cutoffs quickly became known as “Daisy Dukes,” after her character. But they were so skimpy that the network was concerned censors wouldn’t allow them. A negotiation began, and it was eventually decided that Bach would wear some extremely sheer pantyhose to make sure there were no clothing malfunctions.

7. Nancy Reagan was fan of The Dukes of Hazzard's Daisy.

Shirley Moore, Bach’s former grade school teacher, went on to work in the White House. After Bach sent her a poster, she was surprised to hear back that then-First Lady Nancy Reagan was enamored with it. “I’m the envy of the White House and I’m having your poster framed,” Moore wrote in a letter. “Mrs. Reagan saw the picture and fell in love with it.” Bach sent more posters, which presumably became part of the decor during the Reagan administration.

8. The Dukes of Hazzard's stars had some very bizarre contract demands.

Wopat and Schneider famously walked off the series in 1982 after demanding a cut of the show’s massive merchandising revenue—which was, by one estimate, more than $190 million in 1981 alone. They were replaced with Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer, “cousins” of the Duke boys, who were reviled by fans for being scabs. The two leads eventually came back, but it wasn’t the only time Warner Bros. had to deal with irate actors. James Best, who portrayed crooked sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, refused to film five episodes because he had no private dressing room in which to change his clothes; the production just hosed him down when he got dirty. Ben Jones, who played “Cooter” the mechanic, briefly left because he wanted his character to sport a beard and producers preferred he be clean-shaven.

9. A miniature car was used for some stunts in The Dukes of Hazzard.

As established, the General Lee was a primary attraction for viewers of the series. For years, the show wrecked dozens of Chargers by jumping, crashing, and otherwise abusing them, which created some terrific footage. For its seventh and final season in 1985, the show turned to a miniature effects team in an effort to save on production costs: it was cheaper to mangle a Hot Wheels-sized model than the real thing. “It was a source of embarrassment to all of us on the show,” Wopat told E!.

10. The Dukes of Hazzard's famous "hood slide" was an accident.

A staple—and, eventually, cliché—of action films everywhere, the slide over the hood was popularized by Tom Wopat. While it may have been tempting to take credit, Wopat said it was unintentional and that the first time he tried clearing the hood, the car’s antenna wound up injuring him.

11. The Dukes of Hazzard cartoon went international.


YouTube

Warner Bros. capitalized on the show’s phenomenal popularity with an animated series, The Dukes, which was produced by Hanna-Barbera and aired in 1983. Taking advantage of the form, the Duke boys traveled internationally, racing Boss Hogg through Greece or Hong Kong. Perhaps owing to the fact that the live-action series was already considered enough of a cartoon, the animated series only lasted 20 episodes.

12. In 2015, Warner Bros. banned the Confederate flag from The Dukes of Hazzard merchandising.

At the time the series originally aired, little was made of the General Lee sporting a Confederate flag on its hood. In 2015, after then-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley spoke out against the depiction of the flag in popular culture, Warner Bros. elected to stop licensing products with the original roof. The company announced that all future Dukes merchandise would drop the design element. Schneider disagreed with the decision, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “Is the flag used as such in other applications? Yes, but certainly not on the Dukes ... Labeling anyone who has the flag a ‘racist’ seems unfair to those who are clearly ‘never meanin’ no harm.'”

10 Fascinating Facts About Chinese New Year

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iStock.com/aluxum

Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning January 25 in 2020, China will welcome the Year of the Rat, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. Chinese New Year was originally meant to scare off a monster.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A lot of families use Chinese New Year as motivation to clean the house.

woman ready to clean a home
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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. Chinese New Year will prompt billions of trips.

Man waiting for a train.
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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. Chinese New Year involves a lot of superstitions.

Colorful pills and medications
iStock.com/FotografiaBasica

While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. Some people rent boyfriends or girlfriends for Chinese New Year to soothe their parents.

Young Asian couple smiling
iStock.com/RichVintage

In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. Red envelopes are everywhere during Chinese New Year.

a person accepting a red envelope
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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. Chinese New Year can create record levels of smog.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
iStock.com/lusea

Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. Black clothes are a bad omen during Chinese New Year.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. Chinese New Year leads to planes being stuffed full of cherries.

Bowl of cherries
iStock.com/CatLane

Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand. In 2017, Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. Panda Express is hoping Chinese New Year will catch on in America.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

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