Don't call Ms. Pac-Man a fad. Leg warmers and Rubik's Cubes, those were fads. The "femme fatale of the game world," as she was initially advertised, remains a superstar 25 years after shooting to fame in 1982.
Ms. Pac-Man is a master of reinvention, hopping from platform to platform to keep her celebrity fresh. She established herself on arcade consoles (25 cents per play) and today celebrates her 25th birthday with an iPod version of her iconic game ($4.99 per download at iTunes).
Not too shabby for a character once dismissed as derivative. Ms. Pac-Man was inspired, of course, by her beau Pac-Man, created in 1979 by the Japanese company Namco. The yellow fellow's better half hit arcades three years later, sporting red lips, major eyelashes, and that cute little red bow.
In terms of game play, Ms. Pac-Man is similar to her sweetie, though faster-paced; with four different mazes, featuring "warp tunnels" that connect opposite sides; and so-called coffee breaks that track her courtship ("Act 1: They Meet").
But even after a quarter-century, Ms. Pac-Man has yet to reveal all her secrets.
From her surname's origins to her "Friends" cameo, here are seven trivia tidbits about the virtual world's most a-maze-ing lady:
1. The name "Pac" stems from "paku paku," which is Japanese slang for the motion of eating, kind of like "gobble, gobble" in English. The original 1979 game was called "Puck Man," which was wisely tweaked before its American launch.
2. Ms. Pac-Man's first maze features 220 dots, four power pellets, and four ghosts, named Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Sue. All of the ghosts also appeared in Pac-Man, except for Sue (she's the orange one), who replaced the original's Clyde.
3. Theoretically, there is no limit to the highest possible Ms. Pac-Man score. The current record belongs to Abdner Ashman of Queens, N.Y., who in April, 2006, hit 933,580. That's a lot of bananas, the most valuable bonus fruit, worth 5,000 points each.
4. A 2001 poll by Game Informer Magazine ranked Ms. Pac-Man the No. 9 video game of all time. Similarly, IGN.com in 2003 listed it at No. 13 and noted, "Let's not forget, Ms. Pac-Man was a pioneer for female video game characters of the future. You go, girl!"
5. Hardcore Ms. Pac-Man geeks have developed their own jargon, as explained on the site Pactionary.com. For example, "premature pac-ulation" occurs when players mistakenly think they've eaten a power pellet, only to turn around and die while trying to eat a ghost.
6. Ms. Pac-Man's likeness has graced dozens of products: clocks, clothing, dolls, games, housewares, jigsaw puzzles, makeup bags, plastic figurines, sneakers, toothbrushes, windup toys, plus (alongside Pac-Man) a highly collectable plastic lunchbox.
7. The video vixen has also appeared in films ("War Games," "Man on the Moon"), music (rapper Lil' Flip samples her sounds on his 2004 tune "Game Over"), and television "Futurama," "Scrubs"). An entire 2002 episode of "Friends" revolves around the pursuit of Ms. Pac-Man high scores. Also, check YouTube for several live-action re-creations.
Want to play? Current versions of Ms. Pac-Man are available for major game systems, in addition to the aforementioned iPod edition, and hipster bars across the country proudly tout their old-school consoles. (Traveler's tip: New York's LaGuardia Airport has an arcade unit inside security at Central Terminal, Concourse A.)
Propelled by her game's perennial appeal, and a touch of eighties nostalgia, Ms. Pac-Man is still trendy 25 years after her original heyday. And that's more than we can say for leg warmers.