It’s 1987. You’re looking awesome in your oversized Michael Jackson “Bad” t-shirt as you slot a chunky, grey game cartridge into your NES console. But instead of the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt title screen, all you see is a jumbled-up mess of an image that looks like an 8-bit Picasso. What do you do? The same thing everyone did – you take the game cartridge out, blow into it, and put it back in. Lo, and behold: this time the game loads perfectly and you can squish goombas or shoot ducks to your heart’s content.
But in the pre-internet age, how did we all “know” to blow into cartridges? And like rubbing the magnetic strip on a credit card or shaking a Polaroid photo, why did we keep doing it even when product manufacturers and scientists insisted that it didn’t work and could actually cause damage? Joe Hanson, biologist and author of the popular science blog It’s Okay To Be Smart, offers up some answers in a neat YouTube video asking just that.