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Does blowing in a video game cartridge actually do anything?
March 28, 2014 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Since the first Nintendo game console came out in the 80's, I can recall everyone I know (myself included) blowing into the game cartridge and/or the Nintendo itself when something went wrong (freezing, etc.). What is the premise for doing this (I saw other people do it, and sometimes it seemed to work, so that's why I did, thinking maybe dustiness/debris was the issue...), and is there any legit evidence that this really fixes things?
posted by PinkPoodle to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Mental Floss take.
posted by drezdn at 12:39 PM on March 28


Nope. To quote myself:
Picture cartridges being "blown clear" by children who have had a snack and not brushed their teeth. Repeatedly. After a while, stuff starts growing. Not just the grey of dust bunnies, but the funk of ... stuff.
You might blow stuff loose, but you're just going to contaminate the surface. While you could help a while, and the buggers are tough in the amount of debris it can communicate through, you're better off using canned air to cleanly blow gunk away.
I'd start with canned air (but if your system isn't working, you'll likely need to do more). When using canned air, use the kind with a tip straw. Hold the cartridge so you blow air "up" and the debris falls "down".
If that's not enough, do a search for tools to crack the system and cartridge open, and clean it with a decent alcohol based cleaner and head cleaner swabs (not cotton swabs).
posted by tilde at 12:45 PM on March 28


I've always understood that just removing the cartridge and re-inserting was what really "fixed" it and blowing on it was just so people could feel like they were doing something to fix it, like opening your car hood and looking at the engine when your car dies, or shaking a Polaroid picture while it develops.
posted by bondcliff at 12:47 PM on March 28 [7 favorites]


We were convinced as a kid it worked, but the Mental Floss article is quite convincing to the contrary. It sounded so distinctive, too. Kind of like playing a pan flute, but with just one note.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:52 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Blowing into the cartridge will not help, but sometimes saliva would get in there and act as a bridge for the signal - this is why blowing barely ever seemed to work, but licking the connectors pretty much always did. The downside is that this would damage the cartridge in the long term.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:23 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]


Here's my take, its not the air but the moisture (slight) that comes with the air.

Get the contacts a little damp and the reinsertion helps remove the tarnish on the contacts that is preventing the connection.

(Theory has not been rigorously tested)
posted by mygoditsbob at 2:47 PM on March 28


Wow, I just had this conversation with a coworker today. He was informed recently that it was the saliva that did the trick, and you can achieve results by dipping a QTip in Windex and running it inside the cartridge.
posted by Ruki at 4:01 PM on March 28


You could dip a q-tip in isopropyl alcohol to clean the contacts if you wanted to play it safe and avoid rust.

A more reliable method is to use an emulator + USB controller.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:19 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Nope - but there is, as far as I can tell, a reason this came about. You see, the actual mechanism by which carts are locked into the NES is not electrically super great - which is actually okay for normal operation, as it mostly adds timing jitter, which is fine because it's a clocked bus anyhow, so as long as the clock has similar jitter, it's all good...

... except for the 10NES protection chip, which relies on very exact bus timing (in order to defeat man-in-the-middle attacks). You'll recognise this as the grey screen reset loop, and so you take the cart out, blow on it, put it in, and it goes away - because this time the electrical connection is _slightly_ better, and within spec.

You don't get these problems on the dogbone model, by the way, since they removed the 10NES chip from it. There is actually a mod you can do to the grey box NES to remove it, as well, if you want a more reliable experience.
posted by jaymzjulian at 1:34 AM on March 30


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