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Big bitcoin exchange has roots in...trading cards?

Playing cards at Magic the Gathering: Grand Prix Utrecht in March 2013.
Max Mayorov | Flickr
Playing cards at Magic the Gathering: Grand Prix Utrecht in March 2013.

Bitcoin's most widely watched exchange has interesting origins from the world of online role-playing games.

While there are an assortment of ways to track and trade the online cryptocurrency, the exchange most often cited is Mt.Gox. The natural temptation is to look at the name and think "Mount Gox," which would seem to have little to do with bitcoin's operation.

The name, in fact, is an acronym that stands for "Magic: The Gathering Online eXchange."

"Magic: The Gathering Online" is, as the name implies, the online version of a card game that pits wizards against their opponents in an intricate fantasy game that involves playing cards that are traded and can be valuable.

(Read more: As bitcoin tops $1,200, its fate could rest in China)

The MtGox site was used for the game until 2010 and then switched over to bitcoin trading, with the present version making no mention of "Magic."

Its history, though, could help explain some of the glitches that have happened with bitcoin as its popularity has exploded and its exchange rate ballooned past $1,200 in Friday morning trade. According to Vice.com:

The current infrastructure still relies on this outdated platform and it's why the exchange has struggled to deal with rising volume. When the most recent bubble popped, MtGox was forced to suspend trading for an entire day, adding to the chaos of the crash. The company has never been known for its customer service.

The origins also may help explain why many still consider bitcoin a fad, despite a heavy commitment from the twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss as well as an endorsement from Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who announced on CNBC last week the company will accept bitcoins for space travel.

(Read more: Bitcoin-the world's best boost to a brand?)

—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.

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