Inventor Charles F. Foley died this past week. Boomers may not recall Mr. Foley’s name, but mention that he was the co-inventor of the game Twister, and there will be an immediate recognition.
Foley and a co-worker, Neil Rabens, were employed by a manufacturing firm in St. Paul, Minnesota in the mid-60s when the company decided to branch out into toys for the burgeoning boomer generation. Together, the two men came up with the idea for a simple game that got people entangled to such a degree that they suggested the name be “Pretzel.” When they applied for a patent in 1966, the name had evolved to Twister.
A distribution deal was struck almost immediately with Milton Bradley, and game boxes were on store shelves in 1966, where it rang up only modest sales. It was a simple game intended for any number of players, but most often was practiced with two or four. The entire contents of the box were a spinner card, instructions and a white vinyl mat emblazoned with red, yellow, blue and green circles. The spinner card had a circle containing swatches of each of the same colors, along with an indication of which appendage the player should use to touch that color of circle. So a spin could request the player place a left foot on a green circle, or a right hand on a yellow. Players quickly became intertwined as they reached under and over opponents in an effort to touch the selected color circle while avoiding touching a knee or falling on the mat. The fact that people of any age or gender could play the game caused competitors to brand the entanglement as “sex in a box.”
Then on May 3, 1966, Johnny Carson played a game of Twister on his TV show with that evening’s guest, Eva Gabor. That gave the game the star-power boost it needed, not to mention a flirtatious element since Eva Gabor entered the game in a cleavage-exposing dress. Sales spiked immediately, and the game has been selling ever since.
Twister quickly caught on around the world, in all types of cultures and levels of economic strata. Some say it was its simplicity and all-age inclusion that led to its easy acceptance. Despite its success, Foley and his co-inventor did not receive royalties. Several years later, the inventor was awarded $27,000 in a negotiated buyout.
Charles Foley was a prolific inventor, holding 97 patents, including his second-most famous invention of a liquid adhesive remover. Still, none eclipsed the popularity of Twister, as it became a mainstay for boomer teen parties.
Mister Boomer’s sister was the big game person in his household. She had all the popular board games of the era, including Mystery Date, Mousetrap and Operation. Sister Boomer had received Twister as either a birthday or Christmas gift. Mister B was never much into games, especially one that required a player to twist into ridiculous positions. She would attempt to get the family involved in the game in the living room. That was logistically challenging in itself since there was barely enough space between the Twister mat and the TV on one side, and the mat and couch on the other. An added task to a player’s contortions was not to fall into the TV or the feet of the remaining family members sitting on the couch.
Born in 1930, Charles Foley was not a member of the Baby Boom Generation himself, but thanks to his co-invention, Twister, he has left his mark on the memories of boomers across North America.
Today the game is marketed by Hasbro. Teens play the game in various ways, including holding Twister parties for charity, to set world records for the number of people playing the game at once. Twister has come a long way since being branded “sex in a box.”
What memories do Twister evoke for you, boomers?