New Books By Chris Kohler: Power-Up and Good Job, Brain!

In October 2016, not one but two books by me will be available in print and ebook formats! You can pre-order both of them on Amazon now.

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Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life

amazon buyMy first book, Power-Up, was originally published by BradyGames in 2004. Building off the research I did at Tufts University and a Fulbright scholarship to Japan, it’s an examination of Japanese video games from a variety of different angles. It explores the cinematic nature of games like Donkey Kong and Final Fantasy, and features in-depth, original interviews with industry luminaries like Shigeru Miyamoto, Fumito Ueda, Masaya Matsuura, Eiji Aonuma, and many more.

Power-Up went out of print many years ago and has been unavailable to purchase ever since, so I’m very excited that an all-new, updated for 2016 edition will be available October 19, 2016 from Dover Publications. The new edition has a foreword from Shuhei Yoshida, the president of Sony’s worldwide game development studios and one of the key figures in the Japanese gaming industry. I’ve written a new essay about Akihabara, Japan’s gaming district. Finally, there’s a massive new chapter all about the life and work of Nintendo’s late president Satoru Iwata. There’s also a beautiful new cover by my friend Karen Chu.

Even if you own the original, I hope you’ll want this new definitive edition as well. (More information here on its own dedicated page.)

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Good Job, Brain: Trivia, Quizzes, and More Fun From the Popular Pub Quiz Podcast

amazon buyAlong with my friends Karen Chu, Colin Felton, and Dana Nelson, I’ve been co-hosting a pub trivia podcast called “Good Job, Brain!” for the last four years, and playing in a pub trivia league for the last eight. Along the way, we’ve collected a whole library of crazy-but-true stories, funny quizzes, tricky puzzles, and helpful tips for winning at your local trivia night.

The best of our work has now been collected into this massive trivia book, coming October 18, 2016 from Ulysses Press. Besides a greatest-hits collection of bits from the show, there’s plenty of new material, too. Especially for the book, I teamed up with my friend, five-time American Crossword Puzzle Tournament winner Tyler Hinman, to create a devilish “cryptic crossword” guaranteed to test the brains of even experienced puzzle solvers.

Some of my other contributions to the book include a poem to help you memorize the Bill of Rights, a story about a ship full of garbage that sailed up and down the United States, and a quiz about the movie Troop Beverly Hills. Although most of my other work involves videogames, this is a 99% video game-free book, making it a perfect gift for any brainy person in your life. I’m sure you know one or two.

Japanese Curry: My Totally Not Comprehensive Guide

Photo: Michael Saechang (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Photo: Michael Saechang (CC BY-SA 2.0)

So, I’m kind of into Japanese curry. You may have seen that I was in the April issue of GQ Japan, eating curry. I wrote a story about my love for this most perfect of foods in 2008 in WIRED, and it was translated into Japanese and it went viral in Japan. It was a weird time.

With Japanese curry getting more popular in the U.S. as of late, I have to do a lot less to convince people that this strange dish is something they need to try, and more giving out recommendations for where to go. This gets a little trickier when friends go to Japan, because you can’t walk 50 feet without finding some totally new place that serves curry, and it’s usually pretty good, and maybe it’s mind-blowing I-will-never-enjoy-another-food-again good.

In other words, I could go live in Japan for 10 years and still not feel like I knew everything about the curry you can find there. But since I’m often asked about this, I’m writing down what I do know, to give you some kind of starting point.

The Chains

Let’s get the real easy stuff out of the way first. It won’t be too long into your stay in Japan before you instantly begin to recognize the beautiful, gleaming yellow sign of Coco Ichibanya, the nation’s biggest curry chain. This is like the Subway of curry, in the sense that they’re everywhere in Japan. Cocoichi is very good, I eat there a few times every trip to Japan, it always adds some new twist on the curry (the latest as of this writing is letting you select the level of sweetness, not just spiciness). It’s better than almost any curry in America. But it’s far from the best curry in Japan.

Go Go Curry, about which I wrote for WIRED in 2008, is another chain that’s been expanding a lot lately. You’ll certainly see it if you spend time in Tokyo. Go Go is a certain regional variation of curry — Kanazawa curry, which is sweeter, darker, thicker, and has a few other distinguishing characteristics in the way it’s plated and served. I also eat here once or twice every Japan trip. It’s also not the best curry in Japan.

There are lots of other smaller chains, tiny shops in train stations, etc. that you’ll find everywhere. They’re OK! You’re probably not going to have a bad plate of curry in Japan.

The Gourmet Stuff

It took me longer than I care to admit to learn this, but just like how Tokyo has its videogame district, its nightclub district, and its plastic-food district, so too does it have a curry district: Jinbōchō. This area of the city is better known as being the used and rare book district, but it’s also the hot spot for 欧風カレー. This means “European curry,” but make no mistake, it’s distinctly Japanese. But better. More expensive, but more delicious. The top shelf.

Two places in Jinbōchō you might want to try are Bondy and Persona. Bondy would be my personal pick for “best curry I’ve ever had in Japan.” In that issue of GQ Japan, there’s a place called Kitchen Nankai that I’ve never been to, but that looks amazing.

If you want to try some Jinbocho curry without actually having to go there, we found a great option on our last trip. There’s a small chain of curry stands called 東京カレー屋名店会, or “Club of Tokyo Famous Curry Diners.” They serve curries from five or more different gourmet Japanese curry places, including Japanese takes on Indian curry or dry keema curry, and you can order sampler plates of all five — curry flights! There’s one in Akihabara, in the “Atre” building, and it’s very convenient — it’ll be just to your right as you walk out the Electric Town exit.

Another place I fell in love with last time was called Moyan Curry — there are several, but we went to the one in Ikebukuro (conveniently, right across from the Super Potato retro game store). They actually had a curry buffet for lunch, if you can believe that. I ate a lot of curry that afternoon.

If you want to go even deeper into places I haven’t had the chance to try, Bento.com and this Japan Times story have lists of more upscale, historical, or just plain recommended curry places to get you outside of the Coco-Go Go rut.

Anyway, this is just a starting point, one I will update as I am able to try more places. Going to Japan on a curry binge is awesome. Have fun!

Nintendo’s “Rifle-Roulette”: Was the “Beam Gun” Sold in America?

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Nintendo of America was established in 1980 to sell Nintendo’s arcade games and Game & Watch handhelds in the U.S. But Nintendo products had been imported into the U.S. before that. This pre-NOA history is not well-documented. Nintendo was just one of many makers of inexpensive goods from East Asia that were sold in bargain stores and chintzy gift shops in the U.S., and nobody took much notice of this until recently. But you could definitely buy Nintendo-branded products here, particularly the “Roulette” board games it produced in the 1960s and 1970s. I have a Roulette board game with a price tag from the Circus Circus casino gift shop, and a smaller portable Roulette that’s been engraved with the name of a Las Vegas TV station — probably a promotional giveaway.

So I’ve tried to keep my eyes open for any Nintendo products with English packaging. “English” doesn’t mean “America,” of course; there’s a version of the classic Nintendo Ultra Hand toy that was apparently sold in Australia (the package art even features a kangaroo). But if I find something in English that seems like it’s been in someone’s attic in America for a really long time, that’s a clue that it might have been sold here in America.

Anyway: I can’t find any information online about this item I bought recently.

It’s Nintendo’s Kousenjuu (Beam Gun) SP, but it’s got stickers over the Japanese text on the packaging that read “Rifle-Roulette.” It’s in two pieces: the electronic roulette wheel itself (called “Electro-Roulette” in Japan) and the gun (called “Rifle”). These were sold separately in Japan — the rifle was actually the premium accessory, since you could also just buy a pistol-shaped gun that would work with the roulette wheel. Here, they were probably — probably — sold together. But who knows?

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Everything is in ratty condition, so bad that I wouldn’t have purchased it if it wasn’t the only example of this Anglicized version that I could find. The boxes are trashed, and the rifle itself is severely warped. But amazingly, the English-language instruction booklets for both the wheel and the rifle are still mostly intact. I say mostly because they are starting to disintegrate. Fortunately, I got them before they fell apart entirely, and I’ve scanned them in.

These are pretty fascinating to flip through. Note that both of the manuals actually had an additional warning (about not leaving batteries in a toy if you’re not using it) printed up on a mimeograph machine, and hand-pasted in to each book. These manuals were probably created by Nintendo in Japan — note that they refer to “UM-2” and “006P” batteries, which is how they refer to C batteries and 9-volt batteries, respectively. So there’s a hand-written note in pencil in both books, maybe written in once the games got to America, to use “C” cell batteries.

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The Beam Gun was a huge hit in Japan for Nintendo, and of incredible historical significance: It was Nintendo’s first collaboration with Sharp, which to this day is its close hardware partner. Nintendo’s Gunpei Yokoi worked with Sharp’s Masayuki Uemura on the Beam Gun, and Uemura eventually moved over to work for Nintendo, becoming the principal designer of the Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System. Until I saw this, I hadn’t seen any examples of a Beam Gun product in English.

The fact that the manual was probably made in Japan, and thus possibly by Nintendo, is a bit of evidence that we are looking at an official product made by Nintendo for export, rather than a U.S. importer buying Japanese stock and making their own ersatz English version by swapping out the manuals. But it’s not proof, either.

I’m mostly posting this because, as I said, I cannot find any other examples of this on the Internet. I’d love to hear from anyone who has encountered this as well, or any similar situation in which a Japanese pre-NES toy was stickered over with English or given an English manual. This shows, I think, that there are still things to be discovered—or at least documented!—about Nintendo’s early history outside Japan.

Retro Game Shopping In Japan

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Where do I go to buy old games in Japan?

I get this a lot. Don’t get me wrong; I love when people ask me this because I love talking about buying games in Japan because it’s the next best thing to actually doing it, which I don’t get to very often. 2016 marks my 15th year of shopping in Akihabara, and I wrote a guide very much like this in 2001 when I started.

Anyway. When somebody asks me where to buy games I usually end up writing them a long email or Facebook post or something. The idea here is that I can just link them to this page, at least for starters. Odds are you are here because you’re going to Japan soon and I linked you here. Hi.

In 2016, it is harder now than it has ever been to find old games in Japan. All available evidence points to the rise of Internet sales and the exploding popularity of videogame collecting. Collectors around the world are starting to desire Japanese games more and more, and once the games flow out of Japan, it’s less likely that they’d flow back in. I wrote about the disappearance of games in Akihabara in 2015 and boy were people mad! Because the Internet. But specifically because they thought I was ignoring the fact that you can find games outside Akihabara, and you can find anything if you’re patient enough. Well, sure you can! But that doesn’t help you when you’re on a one-week trip to Tokyo and only going to Akihabara for half of one of those days.

Point being, I don’t want or need to write a guide to shopping in Japan for people living in Japan. If you live in Japan, that’s awesome; feel free to drive out to tiny shops out in the boonies and then you can write a blog post that maybe I will read someday. The questions I get asked are exclusively from people who are short on time and opportunity. Where do I go?

Well, of course you go to Akihabara. But the classic games there have been compressed down into just a few stores, so you don’t really have to go poking your head in every single storefront looking for them. I’ll tell you what those are (as of January 2016). If you’ve got a very specific shopping list, go to Akihabara and knock them off one by one. I often do. But I also bargain-hunt, and fill my suitcase with things I didn’t think I was going to buy but found amazing deals on. And so I’ll show you where to go treasure-hunting, too, outside Akihabara but still within Tokyo city.

UPDATE, September 21, 2016: Updated the Akihabara section, after my most recent trip to Tokyo Game Show this month. All in all, Akihabara in 2016 was fairly disappointing: The stores were full of games again, but wow, the prices had exploded. I bought less on this trip than I ever have in all my years of Akihabara shopping. The good news is that more stores have opened and there’s been a new emphasis on classic Japanese PC software, which I have never seen much of in Akihabara stores before.

Akihabara

Japan’s “electric town” turned “nerd mecca” is home to many of the most amazing videogame stores in the entire world. Until recently you could assume that at least one copy of every ultra-rare Japanese game ever made could be found here on any given day, at one store or another. It’s still the densest collection of rare shit on Earth, but now it’s more a 90 percent chance of finding [game], not 100.

So this is where you go when you have a specific punch list. It used to be the case that there would be Famicom games around every corner, but by and large they’re now all concentrated into 6 stores: Super Potato, Mandarake Complex, Trader, Friends, Retro Game Camp, and Surugaya. There are another two stores I’d recommend you check out as well: Kaden no Ken-chan, and Beep.

Super Potato: I have a theory as to why Super Potato (map) is so well-known. Most Japanese game stores (or stores in general) stop you if you try to take any photographs whatsoever of anything. Not Super Potato! They’d let us go in there and film entire episodes of Retronauts. Well, of course they’d become the most popular store in the world. This is full of all kinds of classic games and hardware. They also have large collections of rare classic strategy guides and music CDs.

Mandarake Complex: Just up the road from Super Potato is this massive black monolith of a building with eight floors of nerd heaven (map). Take the elevator to the 6th floor and you’re in a videogame store as solid as Super Potato. Lots of rare stuff in the glass showcases, lots of not-for-sale museum items to gawk at, and actually fairly good prices on some games. Don’t forget to go in here even though you can’t see it from the street.

Trader: My first stop on any Akihabara trip. There are three (or more?) Trader branches in Akihabara, but you want the really big one that’s on the main Chuo-doori street (map). Used current- and last-gen games at great prices on the first floor, retro just up the stairs. There’s a JUNK section in the corner where you can actually find some great bargains at deep discounts, but they’re on clearance and you can’t return them. (I’ve never had anything not work.)

Friends: Everyone’s favorite Akihabara store. A true Mom and Pop shop (Mom runs the downstairs counter), Friends (map) usually has a big ol’ pile of rare games in their showcases too, and often have the best prices of anywhere. It’s hard to find – there’s a little tiny door you go in, right next to a coffee shop called Segafredo – but really, you do not want to miss it. (Cash only!)

Retro Game Camp: Easy to spot on the main street (map), but high prices. I don’t think I’ve bought very much at Retro Game Camp, ever. Possibly at all. But they might have that thing you want if no one else does. Because – I stress this – high prices. Retro Game Camp has been so successful that it opened a second location, Retro Game Camp Dungeon (map), in a basement store immediately across the street from the main branch. Different games, same prices.

Surugaya: The new kid on the block, Surugaya (map) just opened up its Akihabara store in 2016. It’s a tiny little shop jam-packed floor to ceiling with narrow aisles overflowing with classic games of every kind. Intellivision? They’ve got it. Old Japanese PC software? A big ol’ shelf, and that’s not counting the MSX, which has its own rack across the way. One more store to price-compare at is great news.

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These stores are where most of the games are, but there are more places you should also check if you’re in Akihabara.

Beep: Hard to find unless you know where you’re going (map), Beep specializes in classic Japanese PC software and hardware. If you’re looking to window-shop some amazing stuff, come here to see computer platforms you’ve never heard of, up and running in demo mode. Plus, many glass showcases full to bursting with weird old PC games you’ve never seen in person before and may never again. But Beep also has a couple of aisles full of console stuff, and since it’s not their specialty, sometimes their prices are better (but not always). It’s right next door to Surugaya.

Kaden no Ken-chan: Located on the first floor of the Tokyo Radio Department Store building (map) this is a little tiny stall packed full of games from all over the world. Prices are hit and miss, but sometimes you will hit! I found a rare U.S. Game Gear game there very cheaply, and he’s got lots of cheap junk items as well. If you’re seriously shopping, make sure to go here to price-check.

Now, when I go to Akihabara, I’m usually pretty jet-lagged which means that I get up super early in the morning. The first store that opens up, at 9:30 a.m., is Yodobashi-Akiba, the giant multi-level shopping complex by the train station. So I head in there and kill half an hour; they have substantially discounted prices on brand new software, accessories, toys, and such. At 10, I head over to Book-Off (map) also near the station. This chain of used book stores always (well, mostly always) has old videogames for sale, too. There’s also a Hard-Off in Akihabara (map) with games, but again, not at major deal prices anymore.

You might find a few other retro games here and there, often in shops that mostly sell porn. Your choice as to whether you want to bother looking.

Oh, by the way? There’s an on-again, off-again flea market that sometimes sets up in Akihabara. Definitely check Mottainai out to see if you’ll be there while it’s going on, because then you will definitely find some good deals on totally random games. (And you can haggle!)

Elsewhere in Tokyo

There’s Akihabara and there’s everywhere else. In general, here’s what to do: Keep an eye out for Book-Off. If you pass by one, go in. If you have a phone, check to see if there’s one near wherever you’re bumming around. The odds that you’ll find precisely what you’re looking for are low, but you might discover a treasure trove of uncommon old games at rock-bottom prices. In 2015, I did just that at random Book-Off stores in Tokyo. In 2016, they had all increased their prices, and I found no more amazing deals.

Here’s some specifics about other places in Japan.

Ikebukuro: Fast becoming another nerdy focal point in Tokyo, Ikebukuro actually has Tokyo’s second Super Potato store, and since it was less picked-over I found lots more stuff there that I was looking for. (There’s also a ridiculously good all-you-can-eat curry spot right across the street, incidentally.) Close to there is a giant Book-Off that had some rare games at slightly-less-than-top-dollar prices but also a whole section of cheap stuff.

Shibuya: The bottom floor of the Tsutaya across the big crosswalk from the station does carry retro games, although not that many. Up the hill is a Mandarake, which you’ll probably want to stop at even though it doesn’t have games anymore. But there’s also Yahoo-Off (map), which is a giant Book-Off (there’s some marketing tie-up with Yahoo! going on that I still don’t quite understand) that had great deals on old stuff.

Shinjuku: Nothin’ but a Book-Off, although one that I’ve gotten good deals at in the past.

Nakano: This is the home of Nakano Broadway, a multilevel ubergeek shopping complex filled with tons of stores selling all manner of nerd items. In here is Mandarake Galaxy, which is in the running for The Best Game Store Ever – like Mandarake Complex in Akihabara I’ve found the prices to be surprisingly reasonable on the rare stuff sometimes. There’s another game store in here somewhere too, and one called Big Mario that you’ll encounter on the walk from the station to Broadway. Neither are that great, but you won’t ever see me not investigate a store that sells old games, just in case!

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Outside of Tokyo

This is where my knowledge, especially these days, is a little fuzzy.

Osaka: If you are going to go to Osaka and Tokyo during the same trip, you might want to consider that the shops in Den Den Town, Osaka’s version of Akihabara, can sometimes have much cheaper prices for hard-to-find games. The best is Game Tanteidan (map) near Ebisu-cho station. There’s a Super Potato close by (in fact, there are many of them in Osaka). Osaka has two Mandarake stores, and last time I was there (which was a few years ago now) both had lots of old games. I’ve now heard that a chain of stores called Ojamakan is a great place for bargains, although I’ve never been to one.

Kyoto: Oddly, the home of Nintendo is kinda dead as far as retro game shopping goes. Apparently there’s a branch of a chain called A-Too in the Teramachi covered shopping street downtown, and there is an Ojamakan south of the city, but… I wouldn’t spend my time in Kyoto going game shopping, not when Den Den Town is just an hour’s train ride away.

Nagoya: Never been, but it has a Mandarake and a Super Potato. Apparently the Osu district is their Akihabara. Again: never been!

In Closing

 

I think people ask me where to buy retro games in Japan because they see all the games I buy and the good deals I get and assume there must be some Big Secret that I can let them in on. Honestly it is because I just spend way too damn much of my free time in Japan looking for old videogames. It’s less about knowing exactly where to go than it is about going to all of the places multiple times and being very thorough.

If that’s not your plan, and because you are not crazy I assume that it is not, ask yourself what your goals are. If you have a list of rare games that you want to buy, go to Akihabara’s big shops and grab them. You may find rare game in a Book-Off for five bucks but odds are it won’t be the specific one you want. If you just want to bargain hunt and hope for any kind of big score, you’re more likely to find it by hitting up Book-Off and other used-media stores in other districts, which you can do as you’re traveling around Tokyo to do other things. And if you just want to window shop, go to Super Potato like everybody else.

Here is an actual tracking report from a package I don’t have yet

It’s in reverse chronological order. Read from the bottom. Be amazed at the extensive multi-city vacation this package has been on.

The seller now has this package back in hand and is going to resend it tomorrow. Apparently.

Heckuva job, USPS.

Sorting Complete

Sep-17-12, 07:09 AM, LONG BEACH, CA 90804

Processed through USPS Sort Facility

Sep-16-12, 22:34 PM, LONG BEACH, CA 90809

Processed through USPS Sort Facility

Sep-15-12, 16:54 PM, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94188

Missent

Sep-14-12, 10:01 AM

Depart USPS Sort Facility

Sep-14-12, 00:00 AM, RICHMOND, CA 94804

Processed through USPS Sort Facility

Sep-13-12, 16:17 PM, RICHMOND, CA 94804

Processed through USPS Sort Facility

Sep-12-12, 15:48 PM, LONG BEACH, CA 90809

Processed through USPS Sort Facility

Sep-12-12, 03:48 AM, LONG BEACH, CA 90809

Depart USPS Sort Facility

Sep-12-12, 00:00 AM, LONG BEACH, CA 90809

Processed through USPS Sort Facility

Sep-09-12, 18:15 PM, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94188

Sorting Complete

Sep-05-12, 09:16 AM, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94105

Undeliverable as Addressed

Sep-05-12, 09:05 AM, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94103

Processed through USPS Sort Facility

Sep-05-12, 01:34 AM, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94188

Depart USPS Sort Facility

Sep-05-12, 00:00 AM, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94188

Missent

Sep-04-12, 10:30 AM

Out for Delivery

Sep-04-12, 08:36 AM, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94110

Sorting Complete

Sep-04-12, 08:26 AM, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94110

Arrival at Post Office

Sep-03-12, 13:06 PM, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94110

Processed through USPS Sort Facility

Sep-01-12, 19:08 PM, RICHMOND, CA 94804

Dispatched to Sort Facility

Aug-31-12, 18:01 PM, LONG BEACH, CA 90804

Acceptance

Aug-31-12, 10:32 AM, LONG BEACH, CA 90804

One Time, John Cena Freestyled a Kobun Heat Rap

It is May, 2004. I’m at my third E3. THQ is doing some kind of WWE videogame, as it often likes to do. I land interviews with a couple of its big stars, including John Cena.

Remember, we’re in 2004. So this is not John Cena, Incredibly Popular WWE Champion and Movie Star. This is John Cena, Relatively New Guy Who Likes to Rap and Wear Videogame Clothes to the Ring.

Cena’s star was definitely on the rise, but he’s a year away from the championship belt and thus has to sit in a tiny rooms on the E3 show floor and do an interview with some stupid doofus journalist. Carrying my official Kobun Heat-branded messenger bag and wearing a Donkey Kong shirt, I ask him about his love for old videogames, etc.

Finally, I ask: You freestyle really well. Could you do something on the topic of, say, Kobun Heat?

He could, as it happened.

Continue reading One Time, John Cena Freestyled a Kobun Heat Rap

Post One: How I Got Here

Let’s start from the very beginning.

Edited transcript of a letter to my grandfather Herbert Kohler, from his sister Helen Kohler Palaski:

Grandma Augusta Drager and her mother, Great-Grandma Wenzel, were born in Berlin, Germany. Grandpa Earnest-Bernhart Drager was born in Berlin, Germany. He was a mason contractor. His parents disowned him, because he married their servant. When he came back from their wedding trip, all his belongings were on the outside of a very high fence they had around their home. Later on in years, his wife died. His second marriage was to Grandma Augusta Wenzel Drager.

Because of small wars breaking out now and then in Germany, the men would have to go into service. So our grandparents moved over the bridge to Warsaw-Gaberna. Russia ruled there at that time. Our mother Amelia and Aunt Alvena Drager were born there. At that time, all schools were teaching German in the village. So when Russia changed the law to stop teaching German, most Germans went back to Berlin. They had to hold Grandma Wenzel by her hands to run back over the bridge. Russia did not want to let the Germans go back. They sent their soldiers to Berlin to try and bring them back, but because the grandparents were all born in Berlin, they could not.

Grandma Drager’s sister married a rich man; his name was Von Havenfelts. They came to the U.S. first, and Aunt Alvena came with them. Later on, they sent for our mother, grandma and great grandma. Our mother was about 12 years old. When they arived at Ellis Island, the aunt took off their kerchiefs and put hats on them, so the people would not know that they were foreign.

Later on, they sent for Grandpa Drager, but he was too sick. Members from the church wrote that he had died.

John C. Kohler was born on November 5 in the stone house on Main and Stone House Rd., in Trumbull, Conn. His father Engnatz and brother Thom came to U.S. from Germany. They were born in either Bonn or Posen. They settled in Trumbull, farming.

Grandma Margurete Rice Kohler came from Germany when she was 5 years old and settled in Danbury, Conn. Later on in years, she became a nurse. Her sister Katherine Rice was my godmother.

Later on in years, our grandparents moved to the home on Madison Ave. in Trumbull. The house is still there. Her brother Thomas had his farm a few miles away on Madison Ave. They were called the “Irish Kohlers,” and Grandpa was the “German Kohlers.”

Our grandparents had 8 children: Julia, Katherine, Margurete, John, Fritz, Anton, Joseph, and Conrad. Anton was the one who drowned in St. Mary’s By The Sea. A father with his daughter in his arms and about 4 others also drowned. They were all from Trumbull, on a picnic.

In later years, Grandpa Kohler gave up farming. Uncle Joe took over the farm. Our grandparents moved to Madison Ave. in Bridgeport, a few homes away from St Joseph’s Church. Grandpa was a member there. He was a coachman for the priest.

The last memory I have of him was holding Aunt Ida and me by the hands, walking up to the fire house on Madison Ave. to see the horses and the fire engine. I remember Grandma as being tall with grey hair. Grandpa had a long grey beard.

Of all the random people and events to whom I owe the unbelievably improbable fact of my own existence, none is more enigmatic than the mysterious, rich world traveler Von Havenfelts.

WIRED's Games Editor