In 1966, advertising exec Reyn Guyer was working on a promotion for shoe polish when he came up with the idea for a game where people used their feet. After enlisting the help of toy industry vets Chuck Foley and Neil Rabens, the idea for Twister was born. “As far as I knew, there were no games on the market where the players acted as the game pieces,” Guyer writes on his website. But Twister was far from an instant success - a Milton-Bradley competitor called it “sex in a box,” and Sears Roebuck thought it too risqué for their catalog. But after Johnny Carson played Twister with Eva Gabor on a segment of The Tonight Show, “it reversed the engines pretty quickly,” Guyer told Mental Floss. By Christmas, Twister was the game of the year, with 50 people lining up at the only store rumored to have it left in stock: the original Abercrombie & Fitch in New York. If you are looking to grab the classic for a family game night, Twister is available for purchase here.
New York Architect Alfred Mosher Butts created the famous tile game in 1933. It was originally called Lexico and later Criss-Cross Words, until Butt’s business partner James Brunot came up with the name “Scrabble.” Butts developed the number of letters and their point values by calculating letter frequency on the the front page of the New York Times, and most of the original rules have stayed the same. “That’s something pretty neat about the game. It hasn’t changed one iota. The previous squares are exactly what they were...the same 100 tiles and the same distribution,” Chris Cree, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association told Mental Floss. The highest-scoring word you could possibly get in a game of scrabble is OXYPHENBUTAZONE, which if placed on the top row would net you 1,782 points. You can purchase the game of words for your next family game night here.
After watching his 12-year-old son and his friends trying to throw curve balls with a regular baseball while playing in the backyard one summer in 1953, David Mullany decided to create a ball that was easier on the arm. After several attempts using different materials, Mullany created the white, perforated, lightweight plastic ball now known as the Wiffle Ball. Wiffle Ball has remained popular, in part, due to large tournaments organized by fans. The backyard classic can be purchased here.
Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, came up with the idea for Barbie after watching her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls of adult women over her baby dolls. Barbara and her friends "used them to play adult or teenage make-believe, imagining roles as college students, cheerleaders, and adults with careers," according to Barbie Media. Handler realized there was a niche market for dolls that allowed girls to imagine the future, and she named the doll Barbara Millicent Roberts after her daughter. Barbie debuted on March 9th, 1959 at the New York Toy Fair. The first Barbie doll sold for $3, but today, a mint condition original Barbie can fetch $27,000 at auction. Despite her long relationship with Ken, the male counterpart of Barbie introduced in 1961, Barbie has never been married or pregnant. And her popularity hasn’t faded after all these years - Mattel sells two Barbie dolls every second, with 172,800 dolls sold every single day. This Barbie Doctor playset is a great way to start a collection or add to an existing one.
Inspired by the success of Barbie, inventor Stan Weston wanted to create a similar toy for boys. In 1964, G.I. Joe Action Figures hit store shelves. The term “action figure” was specifically coined as a marketing strategy for G.I. Joes, as executives at Hasbro were worried boys wouldn’t want to play with “dolls.” The original lineup of 11 1/2-inch characters included one from each branch of the U.S. military: Action Soldier, Action Pilot, Action Marine, and Action Sailor. Sales struggled in the 1970s, when the Vietnam War made war-related items taboo. G.I. Joe saw a revival following the release of Star Wars and the subsequent toy line. Hasbro shrank their action figures to 3 3/4 inches to match the sizes made popular by Star Wars toys, but returned to the original size in the 1990s. By 2004, Hasbro had sold more than 400 million G.I. Joe figures, according to the National Toy Hall of Fame. Grab a 50th anniversary edition G.I. Joe Action Figure Set here.
When Thomas Dam couldn’t afford a Christmas present for his daughter in 1959, the Danish woodcutter and fisherman hand-carved a “Good Luck Troll” in his workshop. When the other children saw the doll, they all wanted one. Dam started making plastic dolls, complete with glass eyes and wool hair. Troll Dolls spread across Europe and eventually made its way to the store shelves of the U.S. Despite their immense popularity, Dam struggled making much profit off of Troll Dolls sold in the United States. Because of a loophole in his patent, Dam’s creation was duplicated and sold without royalties going back to the toy inventor as toy companies flooded the market with trolls. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association named the trolls to its Century of Toys List, a list of the 100 most creative and memorable toys during the 20th century. You can grab these inexpensive and cute toys here.
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