Teeny Tiny Nintendo

Two years ago my oldest brother, Mike, proposed to his girlfriend of five years and announced they’d be moving across country to LA, where his girlfriend’s family is located.  For the engagement ring he contacted a woman in Seattle who does customized rings.  As part of the design process she sends out a mock-up ring made of green wax.  At my brother and his (now) wmike and ria engagedife’s going away party he showed us the wax ring and told us about trying to hold up one of his wife’s current rings against the wax ring to gauge if he got the sizing right. In the process of doing this, he broke the delicate wax ring. He showed us the broken ring inside of its tiny box, about 1 x 1.5 inches. I gasped when I saw the box and loudly admired its tiny size. Nonchalantly my brother asked, “Do you want it?”

I took the box home, in love with its perfect tiny shape, and inspected the broken wax ring inside. I suddenly couldn’t remember whether his wife, Ria, had shown any emotion when he gave the box and its contents away – had she looked hurt, like she wanted to keep the memento of Mike’s covert ordering of her engagement ring? Is she the sentimental type and wanted to keep the tiny memento? Is she going to forever wish Mike had not given this away to his mini-driven younger sister?

It was in that moment I knew I needed to use the wax ring and box to make my brother and his wife a wedding present mini.  It would be such an important mini.  It would memorialize their love for one another, my love for them, and it would use the exact object that symbolized the start of the long road to their wedding day.

It wasn’t hard coming up with an idea of what the mini would be.  My brother and his wife are huge gamers.  At their wedding they received a gift of a portrait of the two of them riding a Mario Kart go-kart, Ria wearing a Toad cap and Mike with a Mario mustache. Their cake toppers were Mario and Princess in go-karts.  The first time I remember meeting Ria, she was coming from a game of tennis with Mike (and had probably just whooped his butt, too).  Every time Mike and Ria visit you can be assured we’ll play a family board game.  From the moment these two set hands on their first NES, they were hooked for life, perfecting their gaming skills on separate coasts, just waiting for the day when they’d meet their match.  A couple that games together, stays together.  And the ring box was the perfect size to make my brother and his wife an original Nintendo.



A year after their engagement, I started receiving emails with bridesmaids’ plans, dress and shoe talk, and still I had done no work on the mini. The box sat untouched in a protected plastic container on my minis table.   I was so nervous to make that first cut into the engagement ring box, I wanted to be fully prepared with a game plan.  There wasn’t going to be another engagement ring box for me to work with.

When I build up the pressure like this, it only makes me plan better and do more practice runs before making crucial cuts.  I think that’s why this mini came out so well.  Before cutting into the box, I made a 3D replica of what I wanted my final Nintendo to look like, matching the exact specs of the ring box.  The Nintendo has a very specific shape, with its left and right sides angled inward, but the front and back sides remaining at 90 degree angles.  Because it’s an older gaming system, the shape is boxy and not complex.  Often because I’m working with my hands, and hand-held tools, if there’s a manufactured shape I have to recreate, I need to allow for some interpretation.  Modern electronics tend to have sleek shapes with slight, smooth angles and rounded corners that are hard to perfect.

To help replicate the Nintendo, my boyfriend loaned me his childhood system, which allowed me to examine every detail, down to the input plugs and the tiny square holes on the bottom edges (I’m still not certain why those are there.  Is it a design feature, or do they serve a practical purpose?).

It wasn’t until May of 2012 that I made the first cut in the engagement ring box.  I decided I’d use only the top part of the box, and make the angled bottom of the Nintendo from separate cardboard pieces.  This would allow me to get the angles just right and to assemble the Nintendo in pieces so I could make adjustments along the way if needed.

To signify that this wasn’t just any Nintendo, but Mike and Ria’s wedding present Nintendo, I decided to include an engagement ring.  Making the ring excited me so much, after making the first cuts into the box, I switched focus and made the engagement ring.  It is made with a small metal ring (used in jewelry making) wrapped with thin wire to add some detail, then the ends of the wire are shaped into a small circle that serve as a bezel to hold the diamond.  To make the diamond I smashed a shiny bead with a hammer and picked out a rock.  The box for the ring was the hardest part.  I wanted sharp angles, but I couldn’t find a way to assemble balsa wood or cardboard to build a box that small.  I ended up using a Styrofoam square that I cut down and chiseled out the center of to create the hole for the velvet cushion and ring to rest.  My biggest discouragement was the paint job of the box.  I did a few different paint jobs and wasn’t pleased with any of them.  I recall the actual engagement ring box being wooden and I couldn’t get the paint to look like real wood.  I ended up sanding the paint just slightly to give it a grainy look.  The presentation of the ring in the end was so tiny and adorable, I almost wished it was my own engagement ring. I’d have to carry it around in a matchbox to show everyone.

I’m really proud of the input plugs on the Nintendo. I could have just painted these on, or used a bead and asked viewers to use their imagination, but sitting at my minis table I was inspired by a rubber tubing material I used for the rim of my aunt’s mini canoe. I found that when I stuffed the tubing with colored Sculpey then used a toothpick to make a dot in the center of the Sculpey, this looked exactly like the real input plugs.


The controllers were a full week challenge for me. I spent a day making the buttons – the cursor and the A and B buttons.  I had to settle for painting on the Start and Select buttons because there just wasn’t enough room on the controller, which I made out of two square bolts, glued together and covered with Sculpey, then cooked to harden.  The cursor is cut from eraser, and was surprisingly hard to do.  I started from a chunk of art eraser and then cut a very thin long slice.  It’s so hard working with eraser because as I move my X-acto knife through the material, the material bends and rarely can I achieve a perfectly level slice.  Then when I cut the cross shape from the thin slice, it kept coming out slightly uneven on each cross tip.  I cut about 10 cursors before I had two I liked, and even then, once I placed one of them on the controllers, I was driven crazy by any imperfections.

The A and B buttons are made from a 1/16-inch wide round solid tubing found at the hardware store.  It was a miraculous moment for me when I found this material.  I had been struggling trying to use the input plug method (filling the rubber tubing with red Sculpey) , but the Sculpey kept falling out when I tried to cut the button from the Sculpey-stuffed tubing.   I spent another 5 days worrying about how I would attempt to paint such a small thing with the exact details I wanted.  Then one night I just went for it and when the first controller was finished, I sat back and stared at my work.  These are my favorite minutes in miniing, when I come out of an intense paint job and see my work from afar, see what my hands are capable of.

I stressed for another day about having to repeat what I had just succeeded at creating, then finally just went for it and created the second controller.  I do have a favorite controller of the two, and it’s the first one I did. You would think that after doing something once, I’d be better the second time, but sometimes I just can’t outdo the first run done in the heat of the moment.


For the Nintendo games, I returned to my trusty eraser. These were pretty easy to create, but have a lot of imperfections. When you slice eraser, it has tiny holes in it that look like Swiss cheese.  Also I ran into the problem of the cut never being perfectly level.  I had to paint the worst ones heavily and make sure to fill these holes with the paint so none of the eraser showed. In the end I stacked them the way they are in part because it looked good, but also to hide the worst looking games. I printed the game labels on a color printer and these also helped cover up some of the Swiss cheese eraser. The ribbed detail on the games (which also appears on the Nintendo box) is green sushi grass. I’ve had that sushi grass in my minis materials for a long time, knowing it would come in handy (I first used it in the bento box). The ribbed detail on the Nintendo and the games is super important and after debating for awhile how I’d create this detail, the sushi grass came to the rescue.


The Nintendo Powers were a fun addition for me because they required doing some research in Google Images to find pictures of Nintendo Powerfrom the 1980s and 90s. I remember my brother’s bedroom walls being plastered with the fold-out posters that came with each edition of Nintendo Power. But I had to employ the help of my other brother to confirm which Nintendo Power issues to include and which games to include. The difficult part was the limited choices on Google Images. The photo for the Nintendo Power had to be taken from a specific angle, directly above the magazine, so that when I printed it out and downsized it, it would look like a mini magazine cover. I did the same thing for the game labels, of which there were even fewer options. Ebay is a great source for photos of old Nintendo games. And printing nonwork related things on the color printer at work is one of my favorite past times.miniNintendo_Powers

My mom generously offered to buy a display case for the mini, which ended up being the drive for me to finish the mini in time. I needed to give her exact specs in order for her to order the case, and the case needed to arrive in time for us to head to LA for the wedding.  I ended up zipping through the last steps, adding wires and placing all of the elements.  My favorite discrete detail of the mini is the placement of the wires, which form a heart when you look at it from above.  As a final extra special detail, I used a piece of the wax ring, which has been sitting there unused through most of the process, as the on/off light for the Nintendo.  Immediately after the green button was in place, I confirmed with my boyfriend that the light is actually a red light. The gamers would notice!  Regardless, I kept it as is, happy to have found a way to include the wax engagement ring in the mini.

miniNintendo_planeThe Nintendo, my boyfriend, and I took the six hour journey out to LA and I held the boxed mini in my hands the whole way, bringing it through security without any troubles, and nodding off on the plane with it wrapped in my arms. As soon as I arrived at the airport and my brother and his wife  were there to pick us up, I couldn’t wait any longer and gave them their wedding gift on table at the baggage claim of Long Beach Airport. The squeal from Ria and the smile on Mikey’s face made this the most rewarding mini I’ve ever made yet.




Some More Photos

Mike and Ria hosted their reception at the Orange Country Center for Contemporary Art. Their reception was like no other, with board games on every table, mini cupcakes (!), food trucks catering our dinner, a DJ that played the good tunes, and let’s not forget the open bar with the maid of honor’s brother as the bartender. Mike and Ria surprised me with the Nintendo set up at the reception on its own pedestal, with a label included! It was so flattering to have people come over to me with compliments and questions. In its travels to OCCCA, the mini suffered a small injury, so I took the oppotunity to do a quick re-glue to put a controller wire back in its socket.