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.  

"American Mall," Bloomberg
Unwinnable Video Game Challenges You to Keep a Shopping Mall in Business
"American Mall," Bloomberg
"American Mall," Bloomberg

Shopping malls, once the cultural hub of every suburb in America, have become a punchline in the e-commerce era. There are plenty of malls around today, but they tend to be money pits, considering the hundreds of "dead malls" haunting the landscape. Just how hard is it to keep a mall afloat in the current economy? American Mall, a new video game from Bloomberg, attempts to give an answer.

After choosing which tycoon character you want as your stand-in, you're thrown into a mall—rendered in 1980s-style graphics—already struggling to stay in business. The building is filled with rats and garbage you have to clean up if you want to keep shoppers happy. Every few seconds you're contacted by another store owner begging you to lower their rent, and you must either take the loss or risk them packing up for good. When stores are vacated, it's your job to fill them, but it turns out there aren't too many businesses interested in setting up shop in a dying mall.

You can try gimmicks like food trucks and indoor playgrounds to keep customers interested, but in the end your mall will bleed too much money to support itself. You can try playing the bleak game for yourself here—maybe it will put some of the retail casualties of the last decade into perspective.

[h/t Co.Design]

Live Smarter
Why the Soundtracks to Games Like 'Mario' or 'The Sims' Can Help You Work

When I sat down to write this article, I was feeling a little distracted. My desk salad was calling me. I had new emails in my inbox to read. I had three different articles on my to-do list, and I couldn't decide which to start first. And then, I jumped over to Spotify and hit play on the theme to The Sims. As I listened to the upbeat, fast-paced, wordless music, my writing became faster and more fluid. I felt more “in the zone,” so to speak, than I had all morning. There's a perfectly good explanation: Video games provide the ideal productivity soundtrack. At Popular Science, Sara Chodosh explains why video game music can get you motivated and keep you focused while you work, especially if you're doing relatively menial tasks. It's baked into their composition.

There are several reasons to choose video game music over your favorite pop album. For one, they tend not to have lyrics. A 2012 study of more than 100 people found that playing background music with lyrics tended to distract participants while studying. The research suggested that lyric-less music would be more conducive to attention and performance in the workplace. Another study conducted in open-plan offices in Finland found that people were better at proofreading if there was some kind of continuous, speechless noise going on in the background. Video game music would fit that bill.

Plus, video game music is specifically made not to distract from the task at hand. The songs are meant to be listened to over and over again, fading into the background as you navigate Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom or help Link save Zelda. My friend Josie Brechner, a composer who has scored the music for video games like the recently released Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, says that game music is definitely written with this in mind.

"Basically, successful video game music straddles the balance between being engaging and exciting, but also not wanting to make you tear your ears off after the 10th or 100th listen," Brechner says. Game music often has a lot of repetition, along with variation on musical themes, to keep the player engaged but still focused on what they're playing, "and that translates well to doing other work that requires focus and concentration."

If you're a particularly high-strung worker, you might want to tune into some relaxing classical music or turn on a song specifically designed to calm you. But if you want to finish those expense reports on a Monday morning, you're better off choosing a fast-tempo ditty designed for seemingly pointless activities like making your Sims eat and go to the toilet regularly. (It can help you with more exciting work responsibilities, too: Other research has found that moderate background noise can increase performance on creative tasks.)

These types of songs work so well that there are entire playlists online devoted just to songs from video game soundtracks that work well for studying. One, for instance, includes songs written for The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Super Smash Bros., and other popular games.

The effect of certain theme songs on your productivity may, however, depend on your particular preferences. A 2010 study of elementary school students found that while calming music could improve performance on math and memory tests, music perceived as aggressive or unpleasant distracted them. I was distracted by the deep-voiced chanting of the "Dragonborn Theme" from Skyrim, but felt charged up by the theme from Street Fighter II. There's plenty of variety in video game scores—after all, a battle scene doesn't call for the same type of music as a puzzle game. Not all of them are going to work for you, but by their nature, you probably don't need a lot of variation in your work music if you're using video game soundtracks. If you can play a game for days on end, you can surely listen to the same game soundtrack over and over again.

[h/t Popular Science]


More from mental floss studios