It is my job to report about video games, and some would (hopefully) say that does a service to gamers out there. But sometimes I wonder how I can really give back to the gaming community. I could invite people to my office and give them free games that I don't want, though not many people are really within driving distance. This weekend I dreamed up a more far-reaching charitable effort: I would help Nintendo system owners memorize their friend codes.
If you don't own a Nintendo DS or Wii, you might not be impressed by the effort I decided to make. If you're more of an Xbox person, you've built your friends list over Live just by sending invites addressed to your friends' Gamertag player nicknames.
The Nintendo fans out there, however, have had a harder time matchmaking with friends on "Mario Kart DS" or building a buddy list on their Wii to trade Miis. To do that kind of networking on a Nintendo system, both parties interested in linking up need to exchange a system-specific 16-digit code. These Friend Codes can't be transmitted through the DS or Wii. You've got to call your friend or e-mail them — maybe even see them in person! — to swap info. This makes the system more kid-safe, but it also makes it much harder to build up a big list of friends. Who can remember a 16-digit code? I still haven't memorized my credit card number, and I've been using it for years.
I got a Wii back in November and soon exchanged Friend Codes with about a dozen friends. Each time, I had to send them my code, input theirs, and then wait for the Nintendo network to recognize we both wanted to be on each other's friends lists. A couple of months ago, however, my Wii broke. I got a new one. I was excited, but then spotted the dark lining to my silver cloud: My new system would force a new Friend Code on me, a Friend Code that I'd need to send out to everyone and hope they'd be willing to cancel my old listing and type in the new. That's when I realized the true pain of these 16-digit codes.
This weekend I envisioned a solution: Friend Sentences. Have you ever seen a 1-800-MATTRESS commercial? Or have you ever had to dial 1-800-FLOWERS? I want to help people make similar, easy-to-remember word combinations out of their 16-digit Nintendo codes. This would help people more easily remember their number and pass it around. I've discovered the name for the telephone version of these things is "phone words," and there's a whole industry out there for them. You can hire an Australian company called the "National Dial-a-Word Registry" (DialaWord.com.au) to get yourself a great phone-word phone number. Their slogan: "The unfair advantage."
I wasn't ready to hire the Australians, so I hopped around the Web looking for sites that would translate Friend Codes to words. I found several sites where I could just punch a number in. Unfortunately, though, they are all built to handle phone numbers, none of which are 16 digits long. The best site I found is PhoneSpell (PhoneSpell.org). It can handle six to 10 numbers at a time and will even add an extra letter if it helps complete a word.
It's not a perfect setup, but it was good enough for me to try it with my old Wii number: 8088 6878 9715 7557. I put in the first eight digits. The best results were 808 TOTS 8, which wasn't so hot. When I let the system add an extra letter, I wound up with 808 UNTRUE. Next, I punched in the final eight digits. The Web site sent me a discouraging reply: "Believe it or not, we did not find any interesting mnemonics for 971-575-57. Everything is working fine, this is not a bug. Some numbers just have such odd combinations of letters and/or too many zeros and ones that they simply do not have good mnemonics. Sorry."
I got creative and entered the middle eight digits of my Friend Code. I got MUSTY 715. The last four digits could be PJPJ. The first would have to be 8088. So consider, what's easier to remember? 8088 MUSTY 715 PJPJ? Or 8088 6878 9715 7557? Did I crack Nintendo's Friend Codes? Or did my idea just crack into a mess of unusable pieces?
My new friend code is 3536 6979 4706 2132. PhoneSpell offers the following: ELF ON OX 7 YIP 06. I think I can remember that. And I think the rest of the world can too. Now people I give that Friend Sentence to will just need a cell phone nearby so they can remember which letter stands for which number.
There you go, Nintendo fans. I hope that helped.
— Stephen Totilo