August 15, 2014

Twister board

It took a team to bring Twister into the world. Credit: JaGa / Wikipedia

Who invented the game Twister?

Depends on the source you consult. Some say Chuck Foley, other credit Neil Rabens, and still others point to Reyn Guyer. And this twisted history of the game’s origins reflects that fact that its success is a study in teamwork.

“It’s always multiple hands that touch a concept on its way from light bulb to actual physical product that you can buy in a store,” says Tim Walsh, a toy historian and author of “Timeless Toys.

It all started with Reyn Guyer – an inventor who believed that some of the greatest toys and games in history break a rule.

Guyer broke the “don’t invade my personal space” rule with a game called King Footsie, where players stood on a mat and had to move like chess pieces.

But nobody wanted to play – or buy – King Footsie. Undeterred, Guyer hired two experienced designers, Neil Rabens and Chuck Foley, to figure out a way to make it.

One day, Rabens had an idea. If people can use their feet as the pieces, why not use the whole person? Feet, hands – everything. That’s where Chuck Foley came in. He took Raben’s breakthrough, and added a twist – literally.

“He was the one that decided to lay the circles out in a row so that people would intertwine, and that’s pretty much what made the game,” says Neil Rabens, one of the game’s designers.  

twister box

1966 Twister cover

Guyer took the concept to board game behemoth Milton Bradley, who had never seen anything like it.

They wanted it. Guyer, Rabens and Foley had finally hit the mark.

Milton Bradley figured they had a hit. Instead they had a disaster. Critics branded it "sex in a box." Many retailers, including all-powerful Sears, refused to stock it.

But that all changed when Johnny Carson played a friendly - and hilarious - game of Twister on the Tonight Show with "Green Acres" bombshell Eva Gabor - to the delight of the studio audience, and millions of viewers across the country.

Eva Gabor and Johnny Carson

Johnny and Eva playing Twister on the Tonight Show in 1966.

Sears – and other retailers - clamored to get on board. By the end of the year, 3 million copies of Twister had been sold. By the end of the decade, teenage basement parties were changed forever.

Twister became an American icon, thanks to the minds of Reyn Guyer, Neil Rabens, and Chuck Foley…the judgment of the gang at Milton Bradley…and the magic touch of Johnny Carson.

Culture, Twister, Johnny Carson

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