CLOSE
Original image

Trivial Pursuit Trivia

Original image

During a game of Scrabble in December of 1979, Canadian journalists Chris Haney and Scott Abbott decided to create their own board game. They sketched out the basic concept in a single evening, and they doodled several game board designs before settling on a "ship's wheel" with six spokes leading to the center winner's circle. Keeping with the wheel theme, they also decided that the game tokens should be round and should double as "scorekeepers" "“ that is, the tokens should immediately reflect the player's status without having to refer to a separate score pad.

Putting a team together

trivia-teamHaney and Abbott had no prior retail experience, much less any knowledge of promoting and selling a board game, so they enlisted the help of Chris' brother, John, and an attorney friend, Ed Werner. In January 1980, the four formed Horn Abbot Ltd.; the company name was based on Chris Haney's nickname, "The Horn," and an abbreviated spelling of Scott's surname.


Once Horn Abbot was incorporated and actually started investigating the ins and outs of selling a board game, the partners realized that they needed about $75,000 to create a prototype game board, the necessary game pieces and the question cards. They enlisted the help of family members, friends and co-workers in order to raise the necessary capital, offering them shares of their company in exchange for their investment. A lot of folks naturally turned them down (how many of us have heard from friends and relatives with a "million dollar idea"?), but eventually they managed to convince 34 people to buy into their dream. Four years later, those 34 investors were each receiving five-digit dividend checks.

Designing on a budget

trivial-pursuitThe quirky, archaic images that gave the original Trivial Pursuit game board its unique character came from the mind of graphic designer Michael Wurstlin. Wurstlin was 18 years old and unemployed when Horn Abbot approached him to use his artistic expertise to create not only a game board, but also a logo and a design for the question cards. Wurstlin took the job because his unemployment insurance had run out and he desperately needed the $1,000 they offered him. His budget for the project was almost non-existent, which is why he turned to archival art books that provided free clip art.


When he turned in the finished product, Haney and Abbott asked whether he'd prefer five shares of stock in their company over the mere $1,000 they'd originally contracted for. Wurstlin only capitulated and took the stock after much cajoling of the "What are you, chicken?" variety. He earned enough from his investment to found Wurstlingroup, a very successful Toronto-based marketing company.

Keeping up with demand

game-piecesOne of the many problems Horn Abbot encountered when Trivial Pursuit began gaining popularity was manufacturing the components quickly enough to meet demand. In 1983, only one company in the U.S. had the special card stock (10 point Carolina Coated Bristol, covered with clay on both sides) used to print the question cards, and Federal Paper Board could only afford to dedicate 20% of their machine capacity to the Trivial Pursuit job, since at the time they also were the major supplier of the nation's cigarette cartons, record album covers and laundry detergent boxes. Delivery of completed games to distributors was often delayed as a result.


They had better luck with the injection molding company that produces the game tokens. Northern Plastics in Elroy, Wisconsin, had three presses and four full-time employees when Horn Abbot came calling in 1983. Horn Abbot advanced Northern the cash to buy the plastic and the molds. One year later, Northern had 140 employees and eight presses working seven days per week.

Coming up with the questions

Ever wonder where the Trivial Pursuit folks get their ideas for all those questions (6,000 per edition)? Many of the topics come from the recesses of their complex minds, of course, but they also got some outside help, as Fred L. Worth discovered. Worth was a fellow triviot who'd published three exhaustive volumes of a "trivia encyclopedia" prior to 1981. Worth knew that legally one could not "own" facts of public record, but one could copyright the form of one's own material.

Worth used a common mapmaker's trick to trip up anyone who dared copy information from his books verbatim—he purposely included an erroneous fact. In this case, his "bunny" (as such red herrings are called in the industry) was to state that the first name of TV's Columbo was "Philip."

(Peter Falk's character's first name was never actually mentioned during the run of the series.)

Lo and behold, a Trivial Pursuit question in the Genus Edition included the Columbo question along with the "Philip" answer. Worth jumped on Horn Abbot like a rabid wolverine and on October 23, 1984, filed a $300 million lawsuit against them. Judge William Byrne tossed the case before it came to trial, stating that Trivial Pursuit was "substantially different" than the Super Trivia encyclopedia.

"You always get the nuts coming out of the woodwork who say they've invented this before," patent attorney Jim Carson stated in a 1984 interview (his firm represented Horn Abbot at the time). One such "nut" was Buddie Miller of Trinidad and Tobago, who invented a board game called Brainstorm in 1977. Brainstorm was a trivia game of sorts, and Miller's contention was that because his game featured cards printed with questions, Horn Abbot had copied his idea. He wasn't able to pursue the case very far legally, because he'd only copyrighted his game in Trinidad and Tobago. How similar are the two games? Check out Miller's website (yes, he's still pretty bitter to this day) and make your own decision.

Original image
Tengi
arrow
Design
The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
Original image
Tengi

Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

Original image
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
arrow
#TBT
Fart Gallery: A Novel History of Spencer Gifts
Original image
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When U.S. Army Corps bombardier Max Spencer Adler was shot down over Europe and imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, it’s not likely he dreamed of one day becoming the czar of penis-shaped lollipops and lava lamps. But when Adler became a free man, he decided to capitalize on a booming post-war economy by doing exactly that—pursuing a career as the head of a gag gift mail-order empire that would eventually stretch across 600 retail locations and become a rite of passage for mall-trekking teens in the 1980s and 1990s.

To sneak into a Spencer Gifts store against your parents' wishes and revel in its array of tacky novelties and adult toys felt a little like getting away with something. Glowing with lasers and stuffed with Halloween masks, the layout always had something interesting within arm’s reach. But stocking the stores with such provocations sometimes carried consequences.

A row of lava lamps on display at Spencer Gifts
Dean Hochman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Returning from the war, Adler sensed a wave of relief running through the general population. Goods no longer had to be rationed, and toy factories could return to making nonessential items. The guilt of spending time or money on frivolous items was disappearing.

With his brother Harry, Adler started Spencer Gifts as a mail-order business in 1947. Their catalog, which became an immediate success, was populated with items like do-it-yourself backyard skating rinks and cotton candy makers [PDF]—items no one really needed but were inexpensive enough to indulge in. In some ways, the Spencer catalogs resembled the mail-order comic ads promising X-ray glasses and undersea fish kingdoms. Instead of kids, Adler was targeting the deeper pockets of adults.

Bolstered by that early success, Adler moved into a curious category: live animals. He had small donkeys transported from Mexico and marketed them as the new trend in domestic pets. LIFE magazine took note of the fad in 1954, observing the $85 burros, being sold at a clip of 40 a day, “except for stubbornness, are very placid.”

Burro fever foreshadowed the direction of Spencer’s in the years to come. The Adlers opened their first physical location—minus livestock—in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1963, expanding on their notion to peddle unique gift items like the Reduce-Eze girdle, which promised to shave inches off the wearer’s stomach. That claim caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which chastised the company for advertising the device could reduce body weight without exercise [PDF]. The FTC also took them to task for implying their jewelry contained precious metals [PDF] when the items did not.

Offending the FTC aside, Spencer’s did a brisk enough business to garner the attention of California-based entertainment company Music Corporation of America, Inc. (MCA), which purchased the brand and proceeded to expand it in the rapidly growing number of malls across the country in the 1970s and 1980s. (The mail order business closed in 1990.)

Brick and mortar retail was ideal for their inventory, which encouraged perusal, store demonstrations, and roving bands of giggling teenagers. The company wanted its stores to capture foot traffic by stuffing its aisles with items that had a look-at-this factor—a novelty that invited someone to pick it up and show it to a friend. When executives saw specific categories taking off, they “Spencerized,” or amalgamated them. When there was a resurgence of interest in Rubik’s Cubes and merchandise from the 1983 Al Pacino film Scarface, visitors were soon greeted in stores by stacks of Scarface-themed Rubik’s Cubes.

Mike Mozart via Flickr

Apart from its busy aesthetic—“like the stage from an old Poison video,” as one journalist put it—Spencer's was also known for its inventory of risqué adult novelty items. Pole-dancing kits and sex-themed card games occupied a portion of the store’s layout. The toys captured a demographic that might have been too embarrassed to visit a dedicated adult store but felt that browsing in a mall was harmless.

Sometimes, the store’s blasé attitude toward stocking such items drew critical attention. In 2010, police in Rapid City, South Dakota seized hundreds of items because Spencer's had failed to register as an “adult-oriented business,” something the city ordinance required. As far back as the 1980s, parents in various locales had complained that suggestive material was viewable by minors. In 2008, ABC news affiliate WTVD in Durham, North Carolina dispatched two teenage girls with hidden cameras to see what they would be allowed to buy. While they were shooed away from a back-of-store display, they were able to purchase “two toy rabbits that vibrate, moan, and simulate sex” as well as a penis-shaped necklace.

As a possible consequence of the internet, there are fewer incidences of parental outrage directed at Spencer’s these days. And despite the general downturn of both malls and retail shopping, the company bolsters its bottom line with the seasonal arrival of Spirit Halloween, a pop-up store specializing in costumes. Despite only being open two months out of the year, their Spirit locations contribute to roughly half of Spencer's $250 million in annual revenue.

Today, the chain’s 650 stores remain a source for impulse shopping. They still occasionally court controversy over items that appear to stereotype the Irish as drunken oafs or other inflammatory merchandise. With traditional mall locations expected to shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next five years, it’s not quite clear whether their assortment of novelties will continue to have a large retail footprint. But so long as demand exists for fake poop, fart sprays, and penis ring toss kits, Spencer’s will probably have a home.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios