Plugged In

Old-school exposé: Blowing on NES cartridges did more harm than good

Plugged In

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If you owned a Nintendo Entertainment System back in the day, you probably had a game seemingly crap out on you at some point. Perhaps the game wouldn't boot  up correctly, or would suddenly stop working in the middle of a loading screen.

For millions, the solution was clear: Remove the cartridge and blow into it again and again until it worked. It was the mid-80s version of wiping a DVD on your shirt -- and it seemed foolproof.

But now it appears we were all just fooling ourselves.

Mental Floss did a deep dive investigation to find out if blowing into a game cartridge actually works. The answer? No. In fact, it probably did more harm than good.

It turns out the problem was as much with the hardware than the software. Dirt in the NES's cartridge slot conspired with dirt on the game cartridge to create a poor connection, which caused loading problems for the clunky gray carts. Wear and tear on the springs in the system's connector didn't help, either.

"When things went wrong inside your NES, the problem was usually a bad connection between the cartridge and its slot," the site found. "That could be due to tarnishing, corrosion, crud in various places, weak pins in the slot, or other issues."

Wouldn't blowing on a cart to get rid of dust help? Not so much. It turns out that blowing actually introduced additional humidity to the cartridge. Your well-intentioned efforts inevitably meant coating the connector pins in a wee bit of saliva, causing corrosion on the copper contacts and even mold growth.

Nintendo itself warned against the practice at the time, telling users "Do not blow into your Game Paks or systems. The moisture in your breath can corrode and contaminate the pin connectors."

Ultimately, it wasn't the blowing that improved things, it was the repetition that came with removing and re-inserting the cartridge. Every time you did so, it gave the NES another chance to make a successful connection between the system and the game. The blowing part was really just a placebo effect.

So apparently we all weren't amateur engineers, just weird kids uselessly blowing into finicky chunks of plastic and metal. Time to update the resume.

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