CORE MEMORY

ANECDOTES AND REFLECTIONS FROM ATARI VETERAN AND ET CODER HOWARD SCOTT WARSHAW…

THE ORIGINAL 2600 Pac-Man conversion is Tod Frye’s most famous Atari exploit. Many claim that, together with ET, Pac-Man created a one-two punch causing Atari to hemorrhage money and tailspin into the first industry crash. That hemorrhage was a metaphor. Tod’s infamous ‘Sprinkler Lobotomy’ incident, however, was a very literal hemorrhage.

It started the way many great stories do: by testing boundaries. Despite our amazing diversity in almost every dimension, the one trait that all good VCS engineers had in common was the irresistible impulse to test boundaries. Be it 2600 hardware, the 6502 processor, standards of propriety, authority in general or even chemical tolerance, we tested any and all boundaries, that’s just who we were. This time, Tod’s ‘boundary du jour’ happened to be gravity.

His latest experiment revolved around aspirations of moving down a hallway without touching the floor. Tod was inspired when he noticed he could jump in the air and put one foot on each wall of our hallway and suspend himself there. This was enough of a ‘look at me’ moment to keep him satisfied… for a few minutes. But as Tod says when recalling the incident in Once Upon Atari (www.onceuponatari. corn), “We’re engineers, we develop a new system and explore its capabilities… and then we develop new features.” Next he learned how to inch his way higher until he was standing (straddling) a full five feet off the floor. This was cool, but not nearly enough to satisfy Tod’s sense of absurdity.

IM • • Having mastered the vertical climb, Tod started working on the capacity to move forwards. He found that by taking shod leaps he could work his way slowly down the hallway, each leap accompanied by a thunderous bang. He became increasingly adept at moving down the hall, and the faster he went the louder it got. Eventually, deeply resonating wall-shaking
tremors occurred on a regular basis and were just another feature of our unique daily environment.

Tod practiced to the point where he could actually traverse an entire hallway quite quickly, provided all the doors were closed. Anyone contemplating opening their office door waited for the Doppler effect to signal safe passage, lest you find Tod’s foot planted squarely in their face.
Tod ran down hallways about five feet off the ground quite regularly and was Icarus-like in his desire to fly as high as he could, sometimes having to crouch a bit to avoid the ceiling. We all enjoyed the sport of it.

Sometimes an open door would form an impasse, but Tod was working on a solution, for now he would simply ‘dismount’, or jump down to the floor. One time, Tod was rolling down the hallway a little too close to the sun and came upon an open door. Naturally he went to dismount, but he didn’t notice the sharp jagged edges of a water spindlier jutting out of the ceiling just ahead. When Tod moved to release his feet, his forehead met the metal fixture. He collapsed in a heap, leaving a bit of blood, two hairs, and the future of his ‘experiment’ hanging on the sprinkler head above.

But fear not, gentle reader, this is Tod Frye. The man who jumped off a fourth-floor balcony a year earlier and lived. This is only part one of the infamous Sprinkler Lobotomy. Next time, the bloody aftermath.