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One of the Warp Whistles in Super Mario Brothers 3 is hidden in an unusual way: to find it, the player has to hold down the down button on a specific platform until Mario falls into the background of the world, at which point the player needs to run behind the normal exit into a secret room.

This is a pretty nifty secret, but I have absolutely no idea how anyone ever managed to figure it out. To the best of my knowledge nothing in the game ever indicates that this particular platform is special, that holding down the down button would ever have this sort of effect, or that it's even possible to get into the background.

How did the game designers ever expect anyone to figure this out? Alternatively, how did players first discover this?

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    The Warp Whistle made an appearance in the movie The Wizard. That could have been a strong hinting point. Also, the game manual gives away that there is a "Magic Whistle". For the longest time I had no idea where to find the Anchors in the game because I had no knowledge of the White Mushroom houses. – Ryan Aug 6 '15 at 16:50
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    @Ryan I bet a lot of people could find the second warp whistle on their first playthough, though, since running on top of the screen was a well-known mechanic from the first SMB, and there's a raccoon leaf right there. – Random832 Aug 6 '15 at 22:11
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    Probably just a way to sell Nintendo Power magazine. Add hidden features and charge a premium to learn about them... during an era when those secrets took longer to penetrate the broader audience. – I am Monica Aug 7 '15 at 3:14
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    I imagine plenty are found on accident. I'm pretty sure I discovered that you can drop through the white blocks completely by accident. I just happened to hold down and fell through the block. After that happened I just sprinted through the level and happened to find a whistle. – dphil Aug 7 '15 at 17:53
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    I think many games designed their secrets in no particularly visible fashion. It's expected that you get such knowledge from outside of the game, for example game magazine or some disclosures at official gaming events. Think of all those monsters in Pokemon that you have to get via attending Nitendo live events. Also all the packages in GTA, how are you supposed to know where they are if not for guides. – xji Aug 12 '15 at 3:48
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There were two hints that the warp whistle was there, and both of them were contained in letters from Princess Peach.

Between worlds 3 and 4 you get this message:

The White Block contains magic powers that will enable you to defeat your enemies.

And between worlds 6 and 7 you get this one:

I am well. Please retrieve the Magic Whistle hidden in the darkness at the end of the third world

Although it's not a map and a sign, both hints together are enough to point the way to this particular whistle at 1-3. It looks like a basic way to reward a replay as you made it through the game. There are even less clues for the other whistles; one other letter makes reference to "east of the sand dunes" for the desert world whistle, and for the first fortress whistle, there's nothing to hint at it other than Super Mario Bros hid a warp zone in exactly the same way (plus as mentioned by Ryan, it was practically advertised in a movie).

Otherwise, intentional vagueness and cryptically hidden random-access secrets (like white mushroom house, and pirate ships full of money) was a good way to sell video game guides in the early Nintendo days.

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    An important note related to the clue at the end of world 3: It's not just the white block in 1-3 that you fall through... all white blocks do this. – Powerlord Aug 6 '15 at 19:21
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    I remember accidentally falling though a white block on some other level, this would have been a clue if i had thought about it. – esoterik Aug 6 '15 at 20:36
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    I had always assumed the "white blocks" referred to the ones that you can pick up and throw. Oddly it's the fortress whistle that I stumbled across first, having just decided to try and fly up there! – James Webster Aug 7 '15 at 9:11

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