Courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York
Courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York

12 Flexible Facts About Twister for Its 50th Birthday

Courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York
Courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York

Reyn Guyer was working for his father’s ad design firm in 1965 when he had a disruptive idea: What if there were a board game where players were the pieces?

“It was kind of an a-ha moment,” Guyer tells mental_floss. “I was trying to come up with a promotion for shoe polish.” Guyer thought about a mail-away offer for a game where consumers used their feet. He pulled out a large square of corrugated board and had other employees in the firm play a game of tic-tac-toe using their bodies. After enlisting toy industry veterans Neil Rabens and Charles Foley to refine the concept, Twister went on to become one of the most popular—and notorious— games of the 1960s, full of enough innuendo to cause second-guessing among retailers.

On the 50th anniversary of Johnny Carson’s pioneering demonstration on television, check out some facts on prototypes, German resistance, and how the game that ties you in knots has led to more than a few people tying the knot.  


Best known for its adhesive office products, in the 1960s 3M was attempting to diversify with a line of premium strategy games. Since Guyer had an existing relationship with the company for its point-of-purchase displays, he approached them with a square grid he called King’s Footsie. The game required teams of two players to try and line up their feet in a manner similar to Connect Four. (The players wore colored ankle bands.) “Their table top games were good, and a little more expensive than others,” Guyer says. “Crawling around on a mat didn’t really fit their upscale line.”


Courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York

It wasn’t until Rabens and Foley made two key suggestions that Twister finally took shape. Foley designed colored circles in rows of six that gave the mat a more organized look and forced players to physically interact; Rabens thought the game would be more fun if players used their hands. A spinner was added that directed limbs to specific colors, with the last player to lose their balance the winner. The team called it Pretzel. Unfortunately, Pretzel was also the name of a toy dog currently on the market. To avoid consumer confusion, the name was changed to Twister, a marketing decision Guyer disliked: For a midwesterner, “twisters” were catastrophic tornadoes, not a game played during a fun evening at home.


Despite reservations, Guyer went with the name Twister because he had found a home for the game with Milton Bradley, the famed recreations manufacturer known for Yahtzee and The Game of Life.  The company's head of development, Mel Taft, thought Twister had huge potential, but other executives felt playing it with members of the opposite sex could be deemed in poor taste. (The original box art even used cartoon characters instead of people to try and dilute its sexual subtext.)

It was a concern echoed by buyers at Toy Fair: Sears was one of many companies that refused to carry the game. Around the holidays in 1965, Guyer got a phone call from Taft telling him all promotion and manufacturing would be suspended.  “Taft said he was hearing it was too far out,” Guyer says. “And that was the end.”


Talk show hosts and board games could make for an interesting pairing; Art Linkletter had famously endorsed Milton Bradley’s The Game of Life in the 1960s, his picture even appearing on the box and the game’s currency. But airtime on The Tonight Show was a different beast: Johnny Carson was the most popular late-night personality on the air. Before Milton Bradley threw in the towel on Twister, they had already paid a public relations firm to secure a segment on Carson’s show. On May 3, 1966, the host played the risqué game with buxom actress Eva Gabor. “It reversed the engines pretty quickly,” Guyer says. “By Christmas 1966, we were the game of the year.”


While the game sold more than 3 million copies by 1967, Carson’s pseudo-infomercial caused a short-term shortage. The day after the show aired, people were lining up 50 deep in front of the only store in New York that was rumored to have any remaining stock: the original Abercrombie & Fitch, which was best known at the time for selling sporting goods and outdoor apparel.


Historia - Bel99TV via YouTube

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” Guyer says, and so he wasn’t bothered by the fact that other companies tried to capitalize on Twister mania. In 1968, Parker Brothers released a game called Funny Bones, a card deck that required players to try and hold an oversized playing card between various body parts. Without Carson’s seal of approval, Funny Bones came and went. (You can still get it on eBay, though.)


While Twister was able to overcome some initial reluctance from buyers, it still had to contend with a rash of press reports about teenagers who would hold Twister parties and play the game in the nude. Taft told The Guardian in 2014 that he feared the negative publicity might prove ruinous to the company, but it blew over.


Milton Bradley was able to successfully export Twister to a number of other territories. The lone exception? Germany. According to Taft, German culture at the time frowned upon women taking off their shoes in public, making the game a non-starter in the country.


In the late 1990s, the National Federation for the Blind circulated instructions for adapting Twister so people with visual impairments could still play. Using different textures and Braille for the colored circles, players can feel their way through the game. The full modification can be found here.


Thomas Rhett via YouTube

In September 2015, country music singer Thomas Rhett publicized a new album and a concert appearance at AT&T Stadium in Texas by unfurling the world’s largest Twister board. Staff spliced together 1200 regular-sized mats to create a 27,159 square-foot playing area for concert-goers. While it was the largest, it didn’t break the record for the most players: That remains with students at the University of Massachusetts, who assembled 4160 contortionists in 1987.


Casual physical contact at parties thanks to Twister has apparently led to more than just some awkward moments. Guyer says he’s been told on numerous occasions that the game has been the start of a lifetime commitment. “A lot of people have confided in me that Twister sparked a romance or led to wedded bliss,” he says. (There is no word on how many divorces it might have prompted.)


Though Guyer is closely associated with Twister along with co-creators Foley and Rabens—he even titled his recent business book Right Brain Red after the game's instructions—his more lasting contribution might have come in 1969. Guyer was working on new toy development concepts when he and his partners began to throw around foam rocks that were part of another players-as-pieces game with a caveman concept. Sensing they had just come up with a kind of indoor ball, Guyer’s team sold it to Parker Brothers. It became NERF.  

Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
A New Game Show Helps Contestants Pay Off Their Student Loans
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV

Most game shows offer flashy prizes—a trip to Maui, a million dollars, or a brand new car—but TruTV’s latest venture is giving away something much more practical: the opportunity to get out of student loan debt. Set to premiere July 10 on TruTV, Paid Off is designed to help contestants with college degrees win hard cash to put towards their loan payments, MarketWatch reports.

The show gives college graduates with student loan debt "the chance to test the depth of their degrees in a fun, fast-paced trivia game show,” according to TruTV’s description. In each episode, three contestants compete in rounds of trivia, with one contestant eliminated each round.

One Family Feud-style segment asks contestants to guess the most popular answer to college-related poll questions like “What’s the best job you can have while in college?” (Answer: Server.) Other segments test contestants' general trivia knowledge. In one, for example, a contestant is given 20 seconds to guess whether certain characters are from Goodfellas or the children’s show Thomas & Friends. Some segments also give them the chance to answer questions related to their college major.

Game show host Michael Torpey behind a podium

Based on the number of questions they answer correctly, the last contestant standing can win enough money to pay off the entirety of their student debt. (However, like most game shows, all prizes are taxable, so they won't take home the full amount they win.)

Paid Off was created by actor Michael Torpey, who is best known for his portrayal of the sadistic corrections officer Thomas Humphrey in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Torpey, who also hosts the show, says the cause is personal to him.

“My wife and I struggled with student debt and could only pay it off because—true story—I booked an underpants commercial,” Torpey says in the show’s pilot episode. “But what about the other 45 million Americans with student loans? Sadly, there just aren’t that many underpants commercials. That is why I made this game show.”

The show is likely to draw some criticism for its seemingly flippant handling of a serious issue that affects roughly one in four Americans. But according to Torpey, that’s all part of the plan. The host told MarketWatch that the show is designed “to be so stupid that the people in power look at it and say, ‘That guy is making us look like a bunch of dum dums, we’ve got to do something about this.’”

Paid Off will premiere on Tuesday, July 10 at 10 p.m. Eastern time (9 p.m. Central time).

[h/t MarketWatch]

Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Want to Live as Long as an Olympian? Become a Chess Grandmaster
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images

It’s well known that physical fitness can help prolong your life, so it’s not surprising that elite athletes, like Olympians, tend to have longer lifespans than your average couch potato. But it seems that “mind sports” can help keep you alive longer, too. According to BPS Research Digest, a recent study suggests that international chess grandmasters have lifespans comparable to Olympic athletes.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, examined the survival rates of 1208 mostly male chess grandmasters and 15,157 Olympic medalists from 28 countries, and analyzed their life expectancy at 30 years and 60 years after they attained their grandmaster titles. They found that both grandmasters and Olympic medalists exhibited significant lifespan advantages over the general population. In fact, there was no statistical difference between the relative survival rates of chess champions and athletic champions.

There are several variables that the study couldn’t take into account that may be linked to chess players’ long lifespans, though. Grandmasters often employ nutritionists and physical trainers to keep them at their best, according to the researchers, and exercise regularly. Economic and social status can also influence lifespans, and becoming a world-champion chess player likely results in a boost in both areas.

Some research has shown that keeping your mind sharp can help you in old age. Certain kinds of brain training might lower the risk of developing dementia, and one study found that board game players in particular have slightly lower rates of dementia.

If keeping the mind sharp with chess really does extend lifespans, the same effect might apply as well to elite players of other “mind sports,” like Go, poker, or competitive video games. We’ll need more research to find out.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]


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