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Simon who? The story behind a playground favorite

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Was Cicero the original Simon?

Simon says, put your hands on your head. Simon says, turn around.

Put your hands down. Out!

If that gives you flashbacks to standing in kindergarten, arms at your sides, while all your classmates point and stifle giggles, let's just say you're not the only one.

'Simon Says' is centuries old, a childhood favorite all around the world, and remains popular in today's classrooms where teachers use it to teach impulse control, listening ability, and motor skills. But where did the game originate, and just who was Simon, anyway?

Turns out it wasn't Simon Says, to begin with. It was "Cicero Says" -- in tribute to renowned Roman orator and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero. In Latin, the phrase is "Cicero dicit fac hoc," meaning "Cicero says do this." Why? As one of the most respected and enduring wordsmiths of the ancient world, if Cicero said something, you listened -- and so the game was born.

Unfortunately for Cicero, someone forgot to tell fellow statesman Mark Antony the rules.The pair had a bitter rivalry that would end with Antony and his political allies declaring Cicero to be an enemy of the state, assassinating him, and placing his head and hands on display in the center of Rome. Guess "Cicero says, don't assassinate me" didn't quite have enough pull.

So how did we get from Cicero to Simon? The change could be a simple matter of centuries of use turning the relatively unfamiliar "Cicero" into something more normal and everyday -- but at least according to some, it's a reference to another great historical statesman, 13th-century French-English noble Simon de Montfort.

De Montfort's reputation for commanding authority comes from his actions during the Second Barons' War in medieval England, where he imprisoned the then king, Henry III, and replaced him with the era's first democratic parliament. In other words, de Montfort's words had enough sway to overrule even the monarch.

It didn't work out well for him. After his revolutionary alliance collapsed, poor de Montfort would end up continuing Cicero's tradition of post-mortem humiliation. After he was killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265, his body was chopped up and distributed to Henry's most important supporters. Simon says yuck.

Regardless of where it came from, Simon Says would eventually give its name to one of the most popular electronic toys of the 1980s, the circular, friendly-looking Simon. It was the work of legendary inventor Ralph H. Baer -- widely considered the 'father' of video games -- who took inspiration from the age-old game, the harmonic musical tones of a bugle, and a little-known Atari arcade machine called Touch Me that worked along similar lines. Millions were sold, and it remains in production today, more than 30 years after its introduction.

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