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Revised sanitation rules send flu germs to hyperspace

January 23, 2013

Being a guy, I have taken a number of guy-endorsed precautions to guard against the flu. For example, until further notice, the five-second rule governing the edibility of food that has hit the floor had been modified into a three-second rule.

There are other important things we do as well, such as putting our computer keyboard in the dishwasher.

We have imperfect understandings of whether or not microwaves kill germs, but it never hurts to try.

But as a teen, I remember we lived by similar “sanitation of convenience” rules that mostly involved self-imposed solitary confinement. With a friend. And an Atari game board.

Ah yes, Atari. Ever notice how every now and then you discover that someone like Monty Hall is still living, and you’re pretty stunned? I experienced a similar reaction this week when I learned Atari was filing for bankruptcy.

I’m sure a million other 50-somethings thought the same thing I did: “You mean just now?”

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I couldn’t imagine that Atari was still around. Atari. It is to today’s video games what stone tools are to agribusiness. And the sounds were just incredible — little electronic grunts, hums and chirps that sounded like a coffee maker mating with a smoke detector.

Not that I didn’t worship at its monocolored altar in its day. True, it had all the blazing excitement of a game of checkers, but it was as if the checkers were controlled with joysticks, and we wasted countless hours in spellbound fascination.

But I am a realist when it comes to the passage of time, and after the first time trying to describe “Asteroids” to a little boy, I never mentioned Atari again:

“What you did, see, was you had this little triangle on the screen, and ...”

“Was it a spaceship?”

“Well no, I wouldn’t really call it a spaceship, it ... “

“Was it a ray gun?”

“Not exactly, it was more of a ... well, like I said, a triangle.”

(Silence.)

“No, it was cool, the triangle would shoot these little dots at ‘asteroids’ that were floating through space. These asteroids would blow up the triangle if they hit you, so you had to shoot them first.”

“What happened when you hit an asteroid.”

“Oh, that was the exciting part. It would turn into, like, three smaller asteroids.”

(More silence.)

“But the smaller asteroids would go faster than the big asteroids. See what I mean? And there would be more of them, so, you know, it was harder to avoid them, but you could move your triangle across the screen. And if things got really hairy, you could hit ‘hyperspace.’”

“Hyper what?”

(Silence.)

“What happened if you killed all the asteroids?”

“You know, I don’t remember.”

Looking back on it, we 1970s-era teenagers probably should have been mildly insulted at the implication that something as mind-numbing as Pong would be in the least bit entertaining.

But, sad to say, if we could control its movement and it glowed, we were pretty much hooked.

I don’t even try to keep up with modern-day computer games. I played Wii once, but I was so self-conscious about how ridiculous I must have looked whipping an imaginary ball through the air that I couldn’t focus on the screen.

Besides, I’m sure those communal video-game controllers are just loaded with flu germs.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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