December 21, 1913: First Crossword Puzzle Published

On this day in 1913, the first crossword puzzle was published in the Sunday edition of the New York World. Invented by British journalist Arthur Wynne, it is now a staple of all newspapers.

First Crossword PuzzleOn this day in 1913, the first crossword puzzle was published in the Sunday edition of the New York World.  Invented by British journalist Arthur Wynne, it is now a staple of all newspapers.

Wynne’s crossword puzzle (pictured above) differed from today’s puzzles in the fact that it had no black squares. It was also called word-cross.

However, other papers saw the enjoyment its readers could gain from these puzzles and began incorporating them as well. The Boston Globe was publishing them by 1917 and many others were following suit by the 1930s. Ironically, The New York Times, whose crossword puzzles are considered the most difficult to solve, did not publish its first one until 1942.

October 1, 1987: Nintendo Releases Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out

On this day in 1987, Nintendo released “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.” This video game was one of the most popular of the 1980s and has evolved over the years.

Mike Tyson's Punch-OutOn this day in 1987, Nintendo released “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.” This video game was one of the most popular of the 1980s and has evolved over the years.

Nintendo signed a three-year deal to use Tyson’s likeness for the game where the player is Little Mac, a contender working his way up the boxing circuit. Mac’s final opponent is Tyson, who throws uppercuts that will put a fighter down in one punch.

Tyson’s contract with Nintendo expired after three years and was not renewed. He was replaced by Mr. Dream, who did the same things Tyson did.

Nintendo has since released a version of “Punch-Out”  for each new console it issues. The Wii version allows the player to actually box the opponents.

June 6, 1984: Tetris Released

On this day in 1984, the video game Tetris was released in the Soviet Union. This simple but hard puzzler may be the greatest video game ever and a symbol of common unity.

TetrisOn this day in 1984, the video game Tetris was released in the Soviet Union. This simple but hard puzzler may be the greatest video game ever and a symbol of common unity.

Invented by Alexey Pajitnov, an employee of the Dorodnicyn Computing Centre of the Academy of Science of the USSR, the game was released in Russia and began making its way through the rest of the Soviet Union. By 1986, the game was available on PCs in the US and by 1988 Tetris was on numerous video game consoles made by companies who claimed they had proprietary rights. Thanks to shady business dealings inside and outside the USSR during the Cold War era, the legal saga of Tetris is one of the most fascinating in history and a full account can be found at AtariHQ.com.

The early versions of the game had Russian themes and it was billed as the first game from inside the Soviet Union. However, even if you didn’t know the game’s origins, that Russian music now makes so much more sense. Yet – technical feasibility aside – it is a good thing this game came out in the 1980s instead of the 1950s. Can you imagine people naming names from secret Tetris parties during the era of McCarthyism?

In actuality, Tetris is the only Cold War-era piece of entertainment from the Soviet Union that American audiences truly embraced. Part of the reason for that is because countless Soviet artists had their creativity stymied by the state, but the greater reason is the universal appeal for this wonderful little game. No matter your nationality, religious views or personal history, you can waste hours puzzling and bonding over its simplistic difficulties.

Note: If you have any iPhone, downloading Tetris is a great way to spend 99 cents.

April 25, 1939: Batman Debuts

On this day in 1939, Batman debuted in issue #27 of Detective Comics. The creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, Batman had his own comic book by the spring of 1940 and has arguably remained the most popular comic book hero since then.

Detective Comics #27On this day in 1939, Batman debuted in issue #27 of Detective Comics. The creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, Batman had his own comic book by the spring of 1940 and has arguably remained the most popular comic book hero since then.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard the story of Batman. After witnessing his parents murder as boy, billionaire Bruce Wayne uses his ample resources and skills to fight crime in Gotham City as the masked vigilante, Batman. Through the years, he has faced off against famous villains like the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler and Scarecrow.

Since his debut, the tone and feel of Batman has evolved. Through the late 1930s and 40s, the comics were much darker with a hard-boiled feel, with multiple murders often occurring in one issue.

In response to the level of violence in early comic books, the Comics Magazine Association of America introduced the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s to allow publishers to self-regulate the content of their issues. The Batman issues that came out in the 1950s and 60s had a much more light-hearted, campy feel, much like the Adam West “Batman” television series of that decade as well.

By the 70s, movies and television were pushing the envelope and the code was updated in 1971 to allow comics to do so as well. The Batman comic books went back to their darker tone and the hero’s internal struggle became more of a focal point.

Nevertheless, the evolution of the Batman is a testament to the popularity and solidness of the character.  I can think of no other character that could go from being portrayed as a campy buffoon by Adam West to a tortured soul by Christian Bale and keep its fans.

Since his debut, Batman has had starring roles in more than 60 comic books, most notably his own and Detective Comics (prior to his debut, it was a hard-boiled detective series). He has also been the subject of 11 movies, a television series, 42 animated series or features, 28 video games and one radio series. Unless you are obsessed, it would be impossible to keep up with all of these, but here are a few items worth checking out.

  • Batman Chronicles, Vol. 1: This anthology contains Detective Comics issues #27-37 and Batman #1, showing how the character came to be.
  • Batman, The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Vol. 2: A great walk-through of the Batman saga through more than a dozen issues spanning 60 years.
  • Batman – The Movie (1966): While Adam West seems out of place as Batman in this day and age, this movie captures the era of light-hearted silliness and is still fun to watch today.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: In this series by Frank Miller of “Sin City” fame, an aging Batman comes out of retirement to save Gotham City in what may be the greatest Batman story ever told.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke: The wonderful graphic novel by Alan Moore, creator of “Watchmen,” tells what may be the most disturbing Batman tale ever and explores the sanity of The Joker, Batman and Commissioner Gordon.
  • A Death in the Family: In this shocking four part series about the Joker’s murder of the Jason Todd Robin, the series showed that it was not afraid to eliminate one of its main characters. Other comic book franchises are not so brave.
  • Batman (1989): Director Tim Burton’s take on the Dark Knight was part gothic, part camp and one of the biggest event movies of the 1980s.
  • Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995): One of the most visually stunning animated series ever appealed to Batman fans from all decades.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy: Never before has a movie series reinvigorated a comic book character in a manner that energized the loyal fan base and added a legion of new fans.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum: Of all the video games where Batman has been featured, this revolutionary one for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 is the best and considered by many video game fans to be a masterpiece.

March 1, 1989: Ninja Gaiden Released in the U.S.

Ninja GaidenOn this day in 1989, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) released Ninja Gaiden in the U.S.  The game, which was developed by Tecmo, has become one of the most popular in home-console history.

Ninja Gaiden was first introduced as an arcade game in 1988, but with a different plot. In the NES version, the story follows Ryu Hayabusa on his journey to America to avenge the murder of his father. Along the way, he is recruited by the CIA to prevent a villain known as the Jaquio from merging two demon statues and taking over the world.

While the plot sounds like one from a schlocky B-movie, it was one of the first games to feature a story with twists and turns. Its 20 levels are divided over 6 acts and reaching the end is difficult. Not that this is a testament to its toughness, but I have never beaten the game in my 20 years of playing it off and on.

The success of the Ninja Gaiden spawned two sequels, and versions for Sega and Xbox have since been released.  IGN lists the original Ninja Gaiden as the 17th Greatest NES Game of all time.