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Shella Sund via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Shella Sund via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

12 Cold, Hard Facts About Life

Shella Sund via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Shella Sund via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Famed board game manufacturer Milton Bradley has been creating diversions for well over 150 years, and The Game of Life is among its most celebrated. Check out 12 facts about the game’s history, its controversies, and how it wound up someplace far more revered than your closet.

1. IT WAS MILTON BRADLEY’S FIRST-EVER GAME.

Before Milton Bradley became synonymous with cardboard amusements, the 23-year-old developed The Checkered Game of Life in 1860. Because games were considered a waste of time, Bradley tried to downplay its frivolous nature by eliminating any dice or cards, instead boasting of its “virtuous” teachings. Consisting of 64 squares that took players from “Infancy” to “Happy Old Age” with pitfalls in between, the game sold 40,000 copies during its first year of release, making Bradley a recognized name in recreation.

2. "SUICIDE" WAS AN EARLY SQUARE.

In less politically correct times, Bradley’s earliest version of Life offered both great reward—advanced education, marriage—and significant penalties for making poor choices. Instead of a prosperous retirement, players could find themselves on “Suicide,” a square marked with a head encased by a noose. You could also find yourself upon “Ruin,” where you fall over drunk and destitute. 

3. CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS LOVED IT.

Sensing a need to supply Civil War soldiers with items to occupy their minds, Bradley offered a bundled game set that included chess, checkers, dominoes, and his own Checkered Game of Life. At less than five ounces, the package was small and light enough to be mailed virtually anywhere; Bradley advertised it as “just the thing” to send to members of the armed forces during Christmas.

4. IT WAS REINVENTED IN 1960.

To commemorate the game’s 100th anniversary in 1960, Milton Bradley gave freelance designer Reuben Klamer a task: update and retool Bradley’s original idea for contemporary audiences. Klamer added a spinner, tiny plastic avatars in automobiles, piles of cash, and removed most of the more morbid fates for players. The revised, suicide-free edition has gone on to sell over 50 million copies.

5. ART LINKLETTER HELPED SELL IT.

Klamer had a relationship with television host Art Linkletter stemming from an attempt to imitate the success of Wham-O’s Hula Hoop with their Spin-A-Hoop. When Klamer designed the new Life, Linkletter promoted it heavily on air and even appeared on boxes with the quote, “I heartily endorse this family game.” The $10,000 bills were printed with his face on them.

6. BRADLEY APPEARED ON THE MONEY.

As a tribute to the company’s namesake, Milton Bradley manufactured all denominations of bills from their 1977 release with the face of an older, bearded Bradley.

7. IT EVENTUALLY REWARDED GOOD BEHAVIOR.

Klamer’s reimagining of the game drew perpetual criticism for rewarding materialism: The player with the most money wins. In 1992, the company offered an update featuring squares that allowed players to adopt pets, vote, and drive sober.

8. IT BECAME A TV GAME SHOW.

Recognizing Life had unparalleled brand recognition, Hasbro—which absorbed Milton Bradley in 1984—paired with TV network the Hub Network in 2011 to air The Game of Life as a family game show. Teams competed in trivia and activities of daily living like barbecues; a computer-generated board moved car pieces through squares. At least one contestant got motion sickness from having the prop shaken by crew members to simulate driving. It lasted one season.

9. THE ONLINE VERSION OFFERED SAME-SEX MARRIAGES.

Never one to shy away from hot-button issues, Life drew some ire from conservative groups in 2009 when it was discovered that players operating an electronic version of the game could enter into same-sex marriages. As Endgadget pointed out, however, it was always possible to stick two of the same color stick people into their plastic cars in the analog version.

10. THEY SWITCHED TO VISA.

While the paper currency has long been a fixture of Life, in 2007 Hasbro offered Life: Twists & Turns, which switched out hard cash for a Visa-branded credit card reader. Critics huffed that it would devalue money in the eyes of juvenile players; Hasbro countered that the game taught fiscal responsibility.

11. THERE’S BEEN CONTROVERSY OVER OWNERSHIP.

In early 2015, Lorraine Markham sued Hasbro for $2 million in unpaid royalties, claiming her husband, Bill Markham, had revised the game for its 1960 reissue and didn’t receive credit for it. According to NBC News, Reuben Klamer insists Markham only came up with an unused prototype of the game board that underwent revisions before Klamer turned it in. The case is ongoing.

12. IT’S IN THE SMITHSONIAN.

Hasbro

In honor of Life’s enduring place under American beds and on shelves, the Smithsonian Institution made it part of their permanent collection in their National Museum of American History, where it joined another Milton Bradley creation: Simon.

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This Augmented-Reality App Makes the Hospital Experience Less Scary for Kids
UsTwo
UsTwo

Staying in a hospital can be a scary experience for kids, but a little distraction can make it less stressful. According to studies conducted by Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, distracted patients have an easier time with their appointments and require less pain medication. Now, Co.Design reports that the hospital is releasing its own app designed to keep children entertained—and calm—from the moment they check in.

The Android and iOS app, called Alder Play, was designed by ustwo, the makers of the wildly popular smartphone game Monument Valley and the stress relief tool Pause. Patients can download the app before they arrive at the hospital, choosing a virtual animal buddy to guide them through their stay. Then, once they check into the hospital, their furry companion shows them around the facility using augmented-reality technology.

The app features plenty of fun scavenger hunts and other games for kids to play during their downtime, but its most important features are designed to coach young patients through treatments. Short videos walk them through procedures like blood tests so that when the time comes, the situation will feel less intimidating. And for each step in the hospitalization process, from body scans to gown changes, doctors can give kids virtual stickers to reward them for following directions or just being brave. There’s also an AI chatbot (powered by IBM’s Watson) available to answer any questions kids or their parents might have about the hospital.

The app is very new, and Alder Hey is still assessing whether or not it's changing their young hospital guests’ experiences for the better. If the game is successful, children's hospitals around the world may consider developing exclusive apps of their own.

[h/t Co.Design]

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This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology

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