Cracking Open The Prince Floppy After The Purple Reign

Readers of a certain vintage will no doubt remember the time when Prince eschewed his royal position and became an unpronounceable symbol. People had no choice but to refer to him as TAFKAP, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, and members of the music press were sent a 3.5″ floppy disk with a font file containing a single character — that gender-transcending shape that would soon become another one of Prince’s guitars. But it’s 2021, and now you can get it from the Internet Archive. Fun fact: the file wasn’t ever locked down. In fact, the symbol was available on Prince’s Compuserve and fan club CD-ROM.

While some people trawl auction sites for overalls and weird keyboards, others look for ridiculous items from the zeitgeist, like a copy of this floppy. Take [Anil Dash] for instance. [Anil] finally pulled the trigger after 15 years of debating this particular purchase. [Anil]’s interest was reignited after reading this analysis of whether the symbol could ever be put into Unicode. (Between being trademarked, a logo, and a personal character, it’s ineligible for inclusion.)

Earlier this week, [Anil] teamed up with Adafruit to extract the data from the floppy. The Twitter thread that ensued led readers to another old source of the font — the 1994 game Prince Interactive. We wonder if they broke out the oscilloscope, though it doesn’t look like it.

Thanks for the tip, [pt and limor]!

21 thoughts on “Cracking Open The Prince Floppy After The Purple Reign

    1. Interesting, I didn’t know that. It was also a bit before my time, I guess. Just had to read the Wikipedia article about Prince, thus. I vaguely remember a reference to Prince in Animaniacs, though. It was a show run from the same label, I guess. There’s a short blog/story thingy entitled “Who Remembers Prince’s NSFW Cameo In ‘Animaniacs’?” Hope it’s okay to mention that here, also. The life of Prince sure had its highs and lows..

  1. Adafruit rocks! I say this as an EE designing embedded systems (consumer, medical and industrial). Their project boards and parts allow me to quickly prototype for clients as well as for proof of concept in-house projects. Best of all are the comprehensive software libraries for Arduino that allow us to get to a working system by allowing us to concentrate on our firmware, not writing driver libraries.

    No financial interest in Adafruit at all, just a very satisfied customer. And their support while we were all WFH during the past 2 years has been exceptional. If you haven’t looked at them yet, you’re missing out. Some of their stuff is also available from Digikey.

  2. Why would they have to “extract” the data from the floppy? It’s a font file. If it’s a Mac TrueType file then it’d need some easy conversion to be a Windows TrueType file. If the original is OpenType then it needs no conversion.

    1. Probably the hard part was wrapping their head around the very concept of “floppy”, finding a floppy drive and plugging it in. Kids these days…

      To be fair tho, perhaps the old disc was damaged and borderline unreadable, and they had to use some other tools like BadCopyPro.

      1. Looks like an 800k ds/dd floppy, which would have been GCR encoded – only a mac floppy drive (800k or 1.44 “superdrive”) on a mac would have been able to read it. A normal usb 1.44 floppy drive wouldn’t know how to see the data. (Pc 720k ds/dd were mfm encoded, as were all 1.44mb floppies.) So you’d either need a vintage mac, or something like a greaseweazle/fluxengine to pull the data from the disk.

    2. That reminds me of Adobe Type Manager (aka ATM).
      It was the defacto standard for scalable fonts in the Windows 3.0 days..
      ATM used PostScript, from what I remember and had a Mac version, too. That being said, I’m not sure if this related to the Prince font. Maybe it used TrueType, rather, not sure.

  3. “While some people trawl auction sites for overalls and weird keyboards, others look for ridiculous items from the zeitgeist, like a copy of this floppy.”

    But then there was the campaign of the same era – “Don’t copy that floppy!” :-) :-) :-)

  4. The symbol itself cannot be a unicode character but that doesn’t mean it cannot be reproduced by composing it using other unicode characters. It should be entirely possible to reconstructruct the symbol in unicode.

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