No. 6: Angry Birds

Pickle-green pig faces meet their matches in the form of wingless, decidedly non-aerodynamic birds. Said birds are hurled through the air by slingshot, sending them crashing into bricks and blocks. A proper trajectory that causes a proper collapse ends all oinking.

If you have no idea what any of that means, you’ve somehow managed to avoid the phenomenon that is the app known as Angry Birds. Even if you haven’t played it, anyone with access to electronic media should have a vague notion of what the game involves.

Cottage industry
But let’s talk a few specifics so we’re all on the same page. How phenomenal has the game been? In early November, the game’s maker, Finland-based Rovio, said Angry Birds had been downloaded 500 million times since its release on the Apple iPhone in December 2009.

That’s right: half a million downloads. Women and men are addicted. Young and old can’t put it down. While it’s not for everyone, Angry Bird-flingers don’t have to be convinced that there’s something pure, fascinating, and downright fun in pitting species vs. species in a little wholesome destruction.

The incredibly successful run has inspired an entire cottage industry. Toys have followed. Movie deals are in the works. Venture capitalists had to woo the makers to take $42 million in funding. One of the avian cast members had a side gig as an unofficial mascot for St. Louis Cardinals fans during this year’s playoffs. Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter played a real-life version on set. People dressed as them on Halloween. They have a taxonomy.

Pop culture giant
Explaining the extraordinary popularity of Angry Birds isn’t easy. If you’re a player and you try describing it to someone who isn’t, you probably know this. If you’ve never tried, do it. And don’t be surprised if you’re met with an “I just don’t get it.” A year ago, in a profile on the game, the Wall Street Journal asked, “Why do smart people love seemingly mindless games?” Maybe we should just agree that it’s OK to not know and to say that what’s fun is fun.

Serious gamers will never confuse it with Modern Warfare. It isn’t Madden, it’s not Zelda, it might not even be Frogger. But in terms of the video games that have become forces of nature, Angry Birds is one of a handful that have become pop culture giants, not entirely unlike another game three decades ago that was strangely simple, exceedingly difficult to quit and massive in its popularity: the yellow, dot-munching, ghost-fleeing Pac-Man.

Chris Nichols is the assistant managing editor of news and investing at Yahoo! Finance. He has been a business journalist for more than 15 years. Before joining Yahoo! in June 2009, he worked for Dow Jones Newswires, Bloomberg, and

Photo by walkerspace/Flickr