WTF Fun Fact 13213 – The First Video Game

The first video game ever created was called Tennis for Two. The game was played on an oscilloscope. It was created by physicist William Higinbotham in 1958.

Is Tennis for Two the first video game ever?

“Tennis for Two” is considered to be the first video game ever created, even though we’d hardly recognize it as a video game today.

Developed by physicist William Higinbotham in 1958, the game was played on an oscilloscope and was a simple simulation of a game of tennis (kind of like Pong).

An oscilloscope is an electronic instrument that allows people to visualize electrical signals. In the case of Tennis for Two, the oscilloscope was used to display the game on its screen.

The game consisted of two dots, representing the ball and the paddles, which could be moved up and down by players using knobs. Players would try to hit the dot back and forth across the screen. The game ended when one player failed to hit the dot (or ball) ball back to the other side.

Despite being pretty basic, Tennis for Two laid the foundation for the modern video game industry.

Who played Tennis for Two?

The first video game was created as a demonstration for visitors at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where its creator worked.

“Tennis for Two” was an instant hit with visitors to the laboratory. In fact, the game was played by thousands of people over the course of the next few years and featured in newspapers and magazines, sparking public interest.

Tennis for Two was the first game that allowed players to compete against each other in a virtual environment, and it provided a new way for people to interact with technology. Of course, very few people had the tools to play it.

A forgotten history

Despite its success at the time, Tennis for Two was not developed further. It was eventually forgotten as the video game industry continued to evolve. But it paved the way for the creation of more advanced and sophisticated games.

By the time Pong was created (the game considered to be the first arcade video game), most people didn’t know about its predecessor.

Pong was created in 1972 by Atari, and it could be played on arcade machines or home consoles.

While Tennis for Two is a two-player game, Pong could be a one or two-player game. And while Tennis for Two had no scoring system (the game simply ended when one player failed to hit the dot), Pong kept score. Each time a player fails to hit the ball back, the opponent scores a point. The game ends when one player reaches a certain number of points.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Complete History of Tennis for Two” — History Computer

WTF Fun Fact 13077 – The Origin of Bowling

Who knew the origin of bowling goes back thousands of years?! It could go back to over 5000 years, to be exact.

What is the origin of bowling?

According to the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame (cited below): “A British anthropologist, Sir Flinders Petrie, discovered in the 1930’s a collection of objects in a child’s grave in Egypt that appeared to him to be used for a crude form of bowling. If he was correct, then bowling traces its ancestry to 3200 BC.”

If Petrie’s assessment is inaccurate, bowling would still be many centuries old. It could go back to 300 AD Germany. At the latest, we know bowling was already popular in 1366 in England “A German historian, William Pehle, asserted that bowling began in his country about 300 AD. There is substantial evidence that a form of bowling was in vogue in England in 1366, “when King Edward III allegedly outlawed it to keep his troops focused on archery practice. And it is almost certain that bowling was popular during the reign of King Henry VIII.”

Variations on bowling

Of course, ancient and medieval bowling didn’t have the same technology as we do today. These games were variations on trying to hit pins with balls.

Immigrants from Germany, England, and the Netherlands all brought their own pin games to America, where lawn bowling became popular.

But bowling was rarely a wholesome sport. Aside from getting banned in England briefly in the 14th century, “An 1841 Connecticut law made it illegal to maintain ‘any ninepin lanes,’, probably because bowling was the object of much gambling.” By this time, New England mansions were already home to personal bowling lanes.

“While it is uncertain where the tenpin game evolved, by the late 1800s it was prevalent in many states such as New York, Ohio and as far “west” as Illinois. However, details like ball weights and pin dimensions varied by region. But that changed when restauratnteur Joe Thum finally pulled together representatives of the various regional bowling clubs. On September 9, 1895, at Beethoven Hall in New York City, the American Bowling Congress was born. Soon, standardization would be established, and major national competitions could be held.”

In 1914, we saw the first modern bowling balls in America. By 1952, we had automatic pin setters and bowling was becoming popular on television.  WTF fun facts

Source: “History of Bowling” — International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame

WTF Fun Fact 13066 – Video Games and Surgeons

Surgeons who play video games for at least a few hours a week make fewer errors during surgery. This specifically relates to non-invasive and very precise laparoscopic surgery.

Surgeons who play video games

In an article titled The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century (cited below), researchers from Beth Israel Medical Center, New York University Medical Center, Montefiore Medical Center, Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, Iowa State University, and Virginia Commonwealth University found that video games are correlated with better surgical outcomes.

According to the authors:

“Past video game play in excess of 3 h/wk correlated with 37% fewer errors…and 27% faster completion…Current video game players made 32% fewer errors…performed 24% faster…and scored 26% better overall…than their nonplaying colleagues…Regression analysis also indicated that video game skill and past video game experience are significant predictors of demonstrated laparoscopic skills.”

Videos games for surgical success

The researchers set out to measure the relationship between “laparoscopic skills and suturing capability, video game scores, and video game experience.”

Because they found a correlation between video game skills and positive laparoscopic surgical skills, the researchers suggest that medical training curricula might video games in the future. But this applied to surgery that didn’t require a large incision. Instead, laparoscopic surgery uses a small incision or hole and is largely computer-guided. It’s a more popular kind of surgery because there are typically fewer risks involved for the patient and less down-time.

While the authors acknowledged the drawbacks of playing video games excessively (such as poor grades and possible heightened aggressiveness), they also highlighted the benefits.

More specifically:

“Disturbing negative correlations with video game play include lower grades in school; aggressive thoughts, emotions, and actions (including physical fights); and decreasing positive prosocial behaviors. Excessive game playing has also been linked to childhood obesity, muscular and skeletal disorders, and even epileptic seizures. Other physical findings have included increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones (norepinephrine and epinephrine)… However, positive benefits of video game play include increased performance on eye-hand coordination tasks and neuropsychological tests and better reaction time, spatial visualization, and mental rotation.”

The benefits of gaming

The authors cited other studies that found correlations between playing video games and the ability of gamers to process visual information, improve their spacial awareness skills, and develop better visual attention processing.

These are all crucial skills for surgeons.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century” — JAMA Surgery

WTF Fun Fact 13006 – Brain Cells Learn To Play Pong

Fun Fact: Lab-grown human and mouse brain cells living in a petri dish became sentient enough to learn to play the video game Pong.
That’s right – scientists found that brain cells learn to play Pong, the 1970s tennis-type video game.

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In news that we don’t find even remotely comforting, brain cells grown in a petri dish have been shown to become sentient enough to learn to play video games. And we’re not kidding when we say that their next plan is to get the brain cells drunk and see what happens.

Sentient brain cells living in a dish

To be clear, these are cells that are living in a petri dish – not a person. They are human cells derived from stem cells and mouse cells derived from embryonic cells. There are 800,000 cells in total involved in the experiment.

Not only have the cells learned to play the game Pong, but they keep improving. “They played longer rallies and were aced less often,” reported The Guardian (cited below). Of course, Pong is a very simple game, which is why the researchers chose it in the first place.

The study that revealed the experiment was just published in the journal Neuron.

The researchers hail from Cortical Labs, Monash University, the University of Melbourne, and University College London.

How can brain cells learn to play Pong?

According to The Guardian, the researchers out the cells on something called the “DishBrain,” “a multi-electrode array that can sense cell activity and stimulate the cells, then gave the cells feedback on whether the paddle was hitting the ball.”

Within five minutes the cells started to communicate using electrical activity to operate the game. It sounds like sci-fi, but it’s true.

“Now the researchers will see how the cells perform when they are drunk or given medicines. They hope to use the DishBrain to learn more about conditions such as epilepsy and dementia.”

“This is the new way to think about what a neuron is,” a researcher said.  WTF fun facts

Interested? See for yourself:

Source: “Scientists teach brain cells to play video game Pong” — The Guardian

WTF Fun Fact 12932 – Nigel Richards, French Scrabble Champion

Nigel Richards is from New Zealand. He’s a worldwide Scrabble champion, but his most impressive feat may just be winning the French-language Scrabble World Championship without actually knowing how to speak French.

Memorizing vs learning

If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you know that there are two parts to success – grammar and vocabulary. You can be great at grammar, but if you can’t memorize new words then it doesn’t do you much good. Equally, you can know lots of vocabulary words, but if you can’t put them together in a sentence (or even pronounce them), you can’t actually speak the language.

Nigel Richards memorizes the dictionary

Before trying his hand with French, New Zealander Nigel Richards won a couple of English-language Scrabble championships. But that clearly wasn’t enough of a challenge. That’s when he decided to tackle French.

But when you’re playing Scrabble, grammar doesn’t matter, only the words in the dictionary do. So Richards decided to try and memorize as many words as possible from the French dictionary.

Clearly, he did a great job, because he beat all of the actual French speakers in a 2015 tournament.

According to NPR (cited below): “It was only in late May [of 2014] that Richards began his quest to win the French world title, according to the French Scrabble Federation. That’s when he set about memorizing the French Scrabble dictionary.”

Richards obviously has an impeccable memory. After all, there are 386,000 words in French Scrabble and only 187,000 in North American Scrabble.

Scrabble expert Stefan Fatsis told NPR: “Basically, what he does is, he looks at word lists and looks at dictionary pages… he can conjure up the image of what he has seen. He told me that if he actually hears a word, it doesn’t stick in his brain. But if he sees it once, that’s enough for him to recall the image of it. I don’t know if that’s a photographic memory; I just think it’s something that his brain chemistry allows him to do.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Winner Of French Scrabble Title Does Not Speak French” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact 12832 – Humanity’s Obsession with Call of Duty

Millions of people have answered the Call of Duty, religiously okaying the first-person shooter video game from Activision over the years.

In fact, every year, Call of Duty players collectively log 475,000 years of gameplay. If you add that up over the course of just six years, it has cost players a combined 2.85 million man-years. That’s more than 14 times longer than humanity has existed!

Answering the call of duty

According to Gamerrant: “Call of Duty, which began all the way back in 2003, has 16 console games and one mobile game over those 17 years. Since these titles have been available across many platforms and are incredibly replayable, many individuals have put in an amazing number of hours just trying to trick out their arsenal, fulfill other challenges to get the best gear, or just play with friends. With Call of Duty Modern Warfare (2019) smashing sales records too and player loyalty at an all-time high, those hours have really added up over the years.”

And there are more impressive stats :

“The oldest human remains have been carbon-dated at about 200,000 years old, so that makes the collective years and hours spent playing Call of Duty an absolutely mind-blowing number. Considering that there are currently 7.8 billion humans on earth right now, that’s about 3.2 hours per human. With more than 300 million copies of Call of Duty sold worldwide over the last 17 years, with many of the games breaking records (like Black Ops 4, Modern Warfare, and more), that’s about 80 hours per copy.”

Bringing people together

Apparently, some consider Call of Duty not a violent hobby but a way of connecting people. Gamerrant called it “a wonderful tool to stay connected while having some fun. Also, with this many gamers and the devs working together, they can help generate donations for natural disasters, like the Australian wildfires. All told, these amazing numbers are both a boon for Call of Duty and its devs as well as fans of the series worldwide.”

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Humankind has now spent more time playing Call of Duty than it has existed on Earth” — Washington Post

WTF Fun Fact 12788 – Monopoly, The Landlord’s Game

Charles Darrow is credited with inventing the board game Monopoly, but even he wasn’t aware of the real inventor of the game. Lizzie Magie invented Monopoly, only she called it “The Landlord’s Game.”

The Landlord’s Game becomes Monopoly

In 1932, Charles Darrow was playing a real-estate board game with friends. It wasn’t a game you could buy in a box, but one that was passed between friends who made their own boards. Darrow presumably had no clue it had been invented by a progressive feminist writer named Lizzie Magie nearly three decades earlier. She had called it The Landlord’s Game, but it was colloquially known as “the monopoly game.”

Darrow was so taken with it that he asked for a set of rules and took the idea to Parker Brothers. Then he seems to have taken credit for inventing it altogether, which helped him make millions in royalties.

According to The Guardian (cited below), “one journalist after another asked him how he had managed to invent Monopoly out of thin air – a seeming sleight of hand that had brought joy into so many households. ‘It’s a freak,’ Darrow told the Germantown Bulletin, a Philadelphia paper. ‘Entirely unexpected and illogical.'”

The Real “Monopoly”

Magie wrote about her game in a political magazine in the early 20th century, noting: “It is a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences. It might well have been called the ‘Game of Life’, as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seem to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.”

She created two sets of rules – “an anti-monopolist set in which all were rewarded when wealth was created, and a monopolist set in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents,” according to The Guardian’s story about a book on the history of the game titled, The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon.

Magie had even patented the game and published a version through the Economic Game Company. It was popular among progressive intellectuals, but interestingly enough, the monopolist’s rules became far more popular.

The real Monopoly

Magie wasn’t sure what to think when Parker Brothers approached her about buying the rights to the game for $500 after they were approached by Darrow, but she did sell them. Only later did she find out why they wanted to buy them. And she never received any of the millions in royalties that Darrow did. Nor did she receive any of the credit until recently.

According to The Guardian, “She died in 1948, a widow with no children, whose obituary and headstone made no mention of her game invention. One of her last jobs was at the US Office of Education, where her colleagues knew her only as an elderly typist who talked about inventing games.”

Today, Parker Brothers is owned by Hasbro, which still credits Darrow with inventing the game in 1935.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The secret history of Monopoly: the capitalist board game’s leftwing origins” — The Guardian

WTF Fun Fact 12585 – Ronald Wayne Sells Apple

We’ve all heard of Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. But do you remember the third co-founder, Ronald Wayne?

The trio founded Apple Computer Company (now Apple, Inc) in 1976. But while Wozniak and Jobs each owned 45% of the company, Wayne had 10%, which would make him the tie-breaker in any disagreements between the two Steves.

He was the administrative brains among the computer geeks. And like any good businessman, he wanted to mitigate his risks.

Funny enough, Wayne’s first business sold slot machines (and ran out of luck, going into debt that he had to pay off personally).

The three met when they all worked at Atari, and Wayne invited Wozniak and Jobs to his house to discuss the future of computers. Jobs suggested they start a business, with Wayne (who was the 41-year-old “elder”) at the time acting as “the adult in the room.”

Wayne drafted the partnership agreement and designed Apple’s first logo (which was replaced the following year). But he got cold feet as he considered the future of the business in light of his past failure and the resulting debt.

Legally, all partners in a company are responsible for its debt, so when Jobs made a purchase order with a $15,000 loan, Wayne started to get cold feet. The vendor Jobs purchased from wasn’t known for being speedy with their deliveries, and Wayne saw warning signs.

His job at Apple also wasn’t his passion – he enjoyed engineering and his slot machine designs. So he did what any intelligent businessman might do – he moved on to greener pastures. Well, at least they seemed greener at the time.

Renouncing his 10% of the ownership after just 12 days (though Wozniak’s account is that it took a few months), Wayne sold his shares back for $800.

Just for comparison, in 2011, the contract signed by all 3 men in 1976 was sold at auction for $1.6 million. (Oh, and Wayne sold that as well – in the 1990s he gave it up for $500 before he knew what it might be worth someday.)

Wayne says that he made the best decision he could with the information he had at the time, which is respectable. And while he retired to a trailer park to collect stamps and play penny slots, he insists he doesn’t regret the decision.

Had he stayed with the company, his life would have certainly been different. Those shares would be worth a mind-boggling $300 BILLION today. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Apple just hit a $1 trillion market cap—here’s why its little-known third co-founder sold his 10% stake for $800” — CNBC