The Rise of Nintendo: A Story in 8 Bits

An account of Nintendo’s rise from a playing card manufacturer in 1889 to a video game industry giant in the ’80s and ’90s. Adapted from Console Wars, out this month:

After several decades of staggering success, Fusajiro Yamauchi retired in 1929 and was succeeded by his son-in-law Sekiryo Yamauchi, who ran Nintendo efficiently for nineteen years, but in 1948 he had a stroke and was forced to retire. With no male children, he offered Nintendo’s presidency to his grandson, Hiroshi, who was twenty-one and studying law at Waseda University. It didn’t take long for Hiroshi Yamauchi to make his presence known. He fired every manager that had been appointed by his grandfather and replaced them with young go-getters who he believed could usher Nintendo beyond its conservative past.

With innovation on his mind,Yamauchi branched out into a number of other, less lucrative endeavors, including an instant-rice company and a pay-by-the-hour “love hotel.” These disappointments led Yamauchi to the conclusion that Nintendo’s greatest asset was the meticulous distribution system that it had built over decades of selling playing cards. With such an intricate and expansive pipeline already in place, he narrowed his entrepreneurial scope to products that could be sold in toy and department stores and settled upon a new category called “videogames.”

Source: Grantland
Published: May 14, 2014
Length: 20 minutes (5,168 words)

Dropped

On the career of Anthony Gatto, arguably the greatest juggler alive, who at 40 is now running how own concrete resurfacing business:

Since 2010, Gatto has juggled in Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba, a show based at Walt Disney World in Orlando. Recently, though, I heard a rumor that Gatto was getting ready to retire from juggling to open a coffee shop. I did some Internet searching and discovered he now runs a concrete company in Orlando. It’s called Big Top Concrete Resurfacing LLC. The “T” of the Big Top logo is in the shape of a circus tent, but otherwise there’s no hint of Gatto’s achievements on the company website. “We are committed to offering a cost effective solution to tearing out and replacing old, damaged and deteriorating concrete,” reads the “About” page. “From stained micro-toppings to metallic floor finishes, counter tops and garage floor epoxy coatings, we have the solution for you.” A small head shot shows what looks like a smiling Gatto. Next to the head shot is a name. The name is not the one that has amazed audiences for the last 30 years. “Owned and operated,” the page says, “by Anthony Commarota.”

How did the greatest juggler in the world end up working in concrete?

Source: Grantland
Published: Mar 18, 2014
Length: 25 minutes (6,300 words)

The Steroid Hunt

A brief history of how reporters first covered performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, starting with the time Baseball Weekly writer Pete Williams hit the gym with Ken Caminiti:

His post-workout high set him off to report on creatine, the supplement Baseball Weekly would dub the game’s “new gunpowder.”

Baseball Weekly had a decent travel budget and Williams was able to interview lots of players. The list now reads like a suspect list of the steroid era. Mark McGwire. Jason Giambi. Mike Piazza. They wanted to talk to Williams. The word cheater was barely in circulation. In the age when few ballplayers took weight lifting seriously, the players thought of themselves as innovators. Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson, whose home run total jumped from 16 in ’95 to 50 in ’96, pulled out supplement after supplement to show Williams. There’s this, Anderson said. And this … McGwire declared Power Creatine “the best product on the market today.”

Source: Grantland
Published: Jan 16, 2014
Length: 25 minutes (6,273 words)

From Here to Paternity

A visit behind the scenes of Maury Povich’s long-running daytime talk show—and how he ended up the reigning king of televised paternity tests:

Listen to the familiar voice of Maury Povich:

This is Tiffany. In two months, Tiffany is marrying her fiancé, Cornelius. But the results of this lie detector test may stop that wedding dead in its tracks.

Cornelius is a rapper. But Tiffany fears he’s using his studio to lay down a lot more than just tracks. And get this: Tiffany has a very good witness — their neighbor, Candice.

Source: Grantland
Published: Nov 8, 2013
Length: 15 minutes (3,994 words)

Stranger in a Strange Land: A Very Personal History of ‘Ender’s Game’

Rany Jazayerli reflects on his early discovery of Ender’s Game, what it taught him about empathy and about himself, feeling isolated as a young Muslim in the Midwest. And it’s the characters’ empathy that made the anti-gay views of the book’s author, Orson Scott Card, so troubling:

That endless loneliness is what makes it so easy to root for Ender. Card is so deeply sympathetic, so deeply empathetic to Ender’s plight that the reader can’t help but feel the same way. It’s what makes the book essential reading for every kid who has walked away from the protective embrace of his or her parents, which is to say every kid who has ever hit puberty. To be young is to feel alone, like an outcast, like a misfit. Adolescence is alienation.

Source: Grantland
Published: Nov 1, 2013
Length: 18 minutes (4,737 words)

Rocked: An Oral History of the 1989 World Series Earthquake

Former players, broadcasters, fans and city officials look back on the Giants-A’s series and the devastating 6.9 quake that rocked Candlestick Park and the Bay Area:

"McGwire: We thought the whole place was burning up like in 1906.

"George Thurlow, fan, upper deck: The mood of the crowd was jubilant and excited and Wow, that was cool until the first radio announcements began. The first one that I have written down was, ‘The Bay Bridge is down.’

"Dolich: They didn’t say a piece collapsed. It was, ‘The Bay Bridge collapsed.’ You can only think, Oh my god, this is a horror movie coming true.

Source: Grantland
Published: Oct 25, 2013
Length: 47 minutes (11,754 words)

The Legend of Harvey Scissorhands

A brief history of Harvey Weinstein’s relationship with filmmakers and the editing room. Does he make movies better—or are Good Harvey and Bad Harvey working together?

“Plenty of filmmakers have lambasted Weinstein for his savage butchery — Luc Besson, Mike Leigh, James Ivory — while others have praised Harvey for helping them find their film in the editing room. Scorsese himself told Roger Ebert that the 168-minute version of Gangs — which was Scorsese’s most successful film in the decade since Cape Fear — is his director’s cut, which might be true. But it’s definitely true that any discussion of the editing of Gangs of New York always calls to mind, as critic Peter Bradshaw put it, ‘a butcher — an unprincipled villain who cuts and slashes, mangles and chomps: Harvey Weinstein.’”

Source: Grantland
Published: Oct 17, 2013
Length: 12 minutes (3,131 words)

Poison Tree

An open letter to Grand Theft Auto IV’s protagonist Niko Bellic about Grand Theft Auto V and video game culture:

“Almost everyone I know who loves video games — myself included — is broken in some fundamental way. With their ceaseless activity and risk-reward compulsion loops, games also soothe broken people. This is not a criticism. Fanatical readers tend to be broken people. The type of person who goes to see four movies a week alone is a broken person. Any medium that allows someone to spend monastic amounts of time by him- or herself, wandering the gloaming of imagination and reality, is doomed to be adored by lost, lonely people. But let’s be honest: Spending the weekend in bed reading the collected works of Joan Didion is doing different things to your mind than spending the weekend on the couch racing cars around Los Santos. Again, not a criticism. The human mind contains enough room for both types of experience. Unfortunately, the mental activity generated by playing games is not much valued by non-gamers; in fact, play is hardly ever valued within American culture, unless it involves a $13 million signing bonus. Solitary play can feel especially shameful, and we gamers have internalized that vaguely masturbatory shame, even those of us who’ve decided that solitary play can be profoundly meaningful. Niko, I’ve thought about this a lot, and internalized residual shame is the best explanation I have to account for the cesspool of negativity that sits stagnating at the center of video-game culture, which right now seems worse than it’s ever been.”

Source: Grantland
Published: Sep 25, 2013
Length: 10 minutes (2,650 words)

Hard Knocks: Shanghai

Can American football succeed in China?

“Football in America is closely associated with working-class communities, the ready-made tableau of small towns throughout the South or Midwest where collective esteem rises or falls according to how the local team did. This isn’t always how it works elsewhere. In England, for example, there remain pockets of middle-class NFL fans who turned to the sport after the hooliganism of the 1980s left them alienated from soccer. In rural China, the NFL’s flag football initiatives have helped democratize the playground; nobody grows up playing the sport, so there’s no natural hierarchy. They can all — boys and girls — be awful and then learn together. But in cities like Beijing or Shanghai, football seems to represent the cosmopolitan or exotic — it’s the distinction associated with being into something others just don’t understand.”

Author: Hua Hsu
Source: Grantland
Published: May 2, 2013
Length: 22 minutes (5,635 words)

Out in the Great Alone

The writer follows the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska in a Super Cub plane:

It turned out that Martin Buser, the musher whom I’d watched start the race, had come up with a strategy that was blowing people’s minds. He wasn’t stopping. Conventional Iditarod tactics call for frequent voluntary rest periods in addition to the two eight-hour breaks and one 24-hour break mandated by the rules. Iditarod sled dogs are bred for stamina, but they need food and sleep. Mushers, who will be almost unimaginably sleep-deprived by the time they reach Nome in any event, need at least token periods of semi-unconsciousness. You know the story of the tortoise and the hare? Yeah, the hare definitely wins the Iditarod. Slow and steady is not the ticket in the long-distance dog-mushing game. You want a lot of naps punctuated by periods of hellish subzero hustling.

Buser, though? He ran from Willow to the Yentna checkpoint and stopped for just 21 minutes. Then he ran to Skwentna and stopped for half an hour. He ran to Finger Lake, in the snow country just before the mountains, and stopped for 26 minutes. Then he ran practically all the way over the Alaska Range on no rest. Through Rainy Pass on no rest. When he reached Rohn, just before 10 on the morning of Monday, March 4, he’d driven his dogs nearly 200 miles in less than 20 hours, and he hadn’t stopped for longer than it took to have a vet eyeball them at the checkpoints. It was demented, was the feeling on the trail. What the pound-sign-percent-asterisk-dollar-sign was the guy thinking?

Source: Grantland
Published: Apr 24, 2013
Length: 77 minutes (19,296 words)