Codex 99

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Twister, 1966, click for larger image


Let’s Play Twister!

Here is the original box art for the 1966 Milton Bradley game Twister (MB 4645). The illustration, done in-house, and in the MB house style of the time, perfectly captures the spirit of the game, perhaps even better than later photographic box images do. It is also a wonderful period design that stands on its own. The guys in in jackets and ties, and coeds in single-buttoned sweaters and post Jackie-O headbands, pretty much capture the mid-1960s.

As a general barometer of popular graphic design, the board game is probably as good as anything else. The large format of the boxes and game boards offered the mid-century designer a nearly poster-sized canvas. Aside from the plastic, wood or metal playing piece, the board game is really just an exercise in large-scale printing.

Reyn Guyer, a packaging designer working for his father’s company, originally came up with the idea for Twister as a back-to-school premium for Johnson Wax. He pitched the idea to several game companies without success. Guyer then hired the game developers Chuck Foley and Neil Rabens to further develop the idea, and the result was patented by Foley, et. al, as an “Apparatus for Playing a Game Wherein the Players Constitute the Game Pieces:”1

US patent, click for larger image

Guyer sold the rights to Milton Bradley who debuted it at the 1966 New York Toy Fair. But the game seemed doomed; consumers didn’t get the idea and Sears, the Wal-Mart of the 1960s, declined to stock it, deeming it too risqué. Mel Taft, MB’s VP, decided to cancel the game and pulled all further advertising.2 Of course, no one bothered to tell this to the PR firm assigned the account, and they managed to get the game on the Tonight Show. On the 3 May 1966 show Johnny Carson demonstrated the game with his guest, Eva Gabor:

Twister on the Tonight Show

The image of Johnny and Eva splayed out on the floor sent the audience into hysterics and created a huge demand for the game. By the end of the year MB had sold over three million copies of the game. It became the hula-hoop of the mid 1960s.

Over the years Twister has entered the canon of classic board games and has been inducted into the Games Magazine Hall of Fame. Forty years later Hasbro still produces the game.

1. Foley, Charles and Rabens, Neil. “Apparatus for Playing a Game Wherein the Players Constitute the Game Pieces.” US patent 3,454,279. 8 Jul 1969. Wherein apparatus refers to a playing surface marked thereon a plurality of columns of loci (the mat) and a chance controlled selection device (the spinner):

Twister spinner

2. Here, from an esoteric site you have probably never seen before, is the original MB Twister TV commercial.

6 Jun 2009 ‧ Design