Margaret Robertson

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7 DOWN (5 letters): Donkey Kong company

The swells of the end-of-year gaming surge are still carrying me out to sea, the living room floor strewn with the wreckage of Fable 2, Resistance 2, Little Big, Mirror’s Edge, Gears Of War 2, Left 4 Dead and an unopened copy of Moto GP ‘08 I found in amongst the cookery books. The tide is showing no signs of turning, sweeping me out further and further, later and later each night. But somehow, every evening, I struggle back to shore, to my safe, sheltered, gaming harbour: BudCat’s New York Times Crosswords. Despite Valve’s millions, EA’s blanket media blitz and Sony’s increasingly unlikable promo Sackboy variants, every evening ends with me grabbing my DS and firing up an 18-month old game which opens with a inept cartoon of a vomiting cat.


But why? What could a game with no score, no story, no spectacle, and no real character beyond the vomiting cat (BudCat may well have reworked their ident since their recent acquisition by Activision) have to lure me away from the riches of this Autumn’s release list? The simple answer: clues like the one above. And yep, that’s a real clue from a real New York Times Crossword. Reading it, all you know for certain is there are only two people in this deal – you and the guy who wrote the clue – and one of you is being really, really dumb. Donkey Kong company. Five letters. Could it be a trick? Some clever crossword subtlety you’re missing?

Or has the esteemed New York Times got its Japanese heavyweights confused – all the more understandable when you allow these puzzles were compiled a good few years before the Wii comeback coup – and wants you to commit the sacrilege of inscribing ‘NAMCO’ into the spaces? And that takes you into a very satisfying game of second-guessing. Would the not-very-videogame-savvy crossword designer be more likely to have heard of Namco or Taito? Could they have asked the advice of their Sony-loving 12-year-old and been told, disparagingly ‘Ninty’?

Then: curve ball. Solving another clue gives you a terminal ‘I’. I? Weird. Unless…unless. No, can’t be. Couldn’t be. They’re not even Japanese! But yes, what fits is Atari. And suddenly, with a single, trivial oversight, the New York Times rewrites gaming history. Suddenly, instead of Pong, Nolan Bushnell unleashes a stark, monochrome rescue challenge on the world. AVOID MISSING PRINCESS FOR HIGH SCORE burns itself into the brains of a generation. A couple of sequels expand the world of this strange new hero and, keen to bring its popularity to bear on the 2600, Atari execs strong-arm Warren Robinett into populating Adventure with mushroom monsters and making the green dragon friendly.


The new franchise becomes so popular, that – at the last minute – the decision is taken to stop development on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and instead divert full resources to Mario’s Revenge, a hypnotic shooter in which the plucky plumber must shoot fireballs through a dazzling, kaleidoscopic barrier while dodging Donkey Kong’s laser-barrels.

Mario’s Revenge is such a huge hit it leads to the Great Videogame Surge of 1983. With its vast resources of cash, Atari bring forward development of its revolutionary Lynx handheld, which – thanks to the popularity of Mushroom Kingdom Games, which features goomba-skimming, piranha-plant-vaulting and dinosaur racing – outsells the Game Boy ten-to-one. Nintendo, resources depleted after losing successive court battles, drops out of the videogame industry. Atari, looking to consolidate its home entertainment empire, diverts a fraction of its massive wealth to buy television manufacturers Sony, resuscitating the failing Betamax format in the process.

And on and on we go. From one slip of a crossword compiler’s pen, I get thirty years worth of games I’ve never played, machines I’ve never touched, and crossovers I’d never imagined (who can forget when Bronson Pinchot lost out to Charles Martinet for the part of Larry Appleton’s countrified Mushroom Kingdom cousin in Perfect Strangers?). How could the combined might of Sony, EA, Microsoft and Valve ever match that? Although, if they could give me a hand with 46 DOWN (6 letters): In cubbyholes (S blank R blank) I promise I’ll get back to Albion, asap.

[Margaret Robertson is the former editor of Edge magazine and now videogame consultant. One More Go is her regular Offworld column in which she explores the attractions of the games she just can’t stop going back to.]

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  1. Really amusing article.

    I must admit though, when I saw the clue/boxes, first thing I thought was “Mario”– you know, he’s Donkey Kong’s company, at points. All up in his laddery, barrely house.

  2. You know what bugs me about NYT Crosswords for the DS? Having to sit through the ActImagine Video Codec load screen. I know it’s a negligible load time, but as far as I can think, the only reason they need that codec in the first place is for… the vomiting cat?! Stupid complaint, but it just seems so pointless every time…

  3. The Times Crossword spin-offs such as computer games and books — even those plastered with Will Shortz’s name all over them — are never as good or as well-edited as the daily ones.

    I must have gone through ten of the various Times crossword books, and you can always tell the difference between their clues and the real deal.

  4. WeightedCompanionCube

    Was it NAMCO or ATARI? ’cause I think Atari did release Donkey Kong for their home computers (and later their consoles). To further complicate things, Coleco released it for the Colecovision!

    The agreement with Nintendo was that initially Coleco got cartridge version rights, and Atari got the floppy disk version rights.

    This was all before Nintendo had a presence in the USA (beyond Game & Watch)

  5. It’s not really that big a jump; Nintendo offered Atari North American distribution of the NES, and were turned down.
    What I miss from the crash of ’83 was Atari’s vector games. The systems were often subject to failure in the field.. (bulk buys from vendors got a free set of repair kits with every 10 vector games..and they’d need them.)

    Atari re-engineered the hardware for it, but by the time the revised hardware was in production, they were going forward with raster games only.. My temporal rift includes the Return of the Jedi vector game.. And Space Paranoids. (bonus obscure reference)

  6. Good God, somebody needs to make a video games edition of Chrononauts. As soon as I finish this post I’m going to grab my copy of Steven Kent’s Complete History of Video Games and do exactly that.

  7. Donkey Kong company, 5 letters? “Mario”. As in, he and DK keep each other company, and the solver feels clever for avoiding the clue-writer’s trap. Reading on in the article and finding that the clue was simply mistaken hardly recommends the game to me, even though the wrong answer happened to provoke your imagination in a very cool way.

  8. That is a remarkably poor clue, yes. (I would have filled in DIDDY and not thought twice about it, then complained bitterly when I got the crossing ‘I’.)

    I find that nearly all pro crossword puzzle setters, even those in high-quality venues, tend to have a poor grasp of technology in clues, whether it be computers or video gaming, but the problem is not what SAMSAM suggests. The NYT Crosswords game is actually a compilation of crosswords taken directly from the newspaper, author and dates included. It’s basically an archive of the paper’s crossword output.

    In general, however, I find that I really like the NYT collection. Amazingly, it’s much better than Nintendo’s overhyped CrossworDS, which despite a better interface has puzzles that wouldn’t interest a third-grader.

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