Twister Made Boomers Twist & Shout

It happened this past week: The National Toy Hall of Fame inducted another boomer toy — Twister — into its ranks. The Hall was established in 1998 by Ed Sobey and originally resided at A. C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village in Salem, Oregon. When it had outgrown its surroundings in 2002, the Hall was moved to the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

The Hall was established to recognize toys that had staying power beyond fads and trends to establish themselves as icons that cultivated learning, creativity and discovery through innovative play or design. A look at the inductees over the past decade and a half reveals many Boomer Era favorites, including Etch A Sketch, Barbie, Play Doh and many more.

Now Twister joins the illustrious ranks. Twister was conceived in 1964 by Reyn Guyer as a promotional item for Johnson’s Shoe Polish, a client of his father’s design company, Reynolds Guyer Agency of Design. He called his game Pretzel. When salesman Charles Foley called on the purchasing agent of the company, he saw a model of the game displayed. Foley approached Guyer, telling him he had some connections in the toy business and thought his game might be viable in the marketplace. With funding from his father, Guyer started a toy division with Foley and another man, Neil Rabens.

The three men worked out the now-familiar mat design of colored circles arranged in rows, with each row having the same color, and added hands to the original feet-only-placement game play. It was simple enough for people of any age to play: a spinner card was printed with color blocks of red, yellow, blue and green repeated four times, with each of the quadrants assigned to the left foot, right hand, right foot and right hand. So, a spin could result in the spinner card arrow pointing to “right foot, green,” for example. The player would then have to find a green colored circle on the mat to place his or her right foot. When a player touched a knee to the floor or fell, he or she was eliminated; the last person remaining on the mat was the winner. The game was designed for two or more players.

In 1964, the men submitted Pretzel to the Milton Bradley toy company which saw merit in the game and agreed to produce it. However, when Milton Bradley discovered the name was already trademarked the name was changed to Twister, much to the chagrin of Reyn Guyer.

The game was not well received in its early days. In 1965 Sears Roebuck told Milton Bradley they would not sell it in their stores because toy competitors had labelled it “sex in a box,” referring to the potential of co-ed play with overlapping body parts. Milton Bradley was reconsidering whether there was a future for the game when a P.R. firm got word of it to Johnny Carson in 1966, and arranged for Eva Gabor to play a game of Twister on air with The Tonight Show talk show host. That TV appearance invigorated sales and Foley and Rabens submitted it for a patent that same year.

For many boomers, Twister was a family game. As early TV commercials suggested, children, parents and grandparents could participate in the fun. For teenage boomers, Twister became a party game — a chance to interact with the opposite sex while listening to increasingly popular rock ‘n roll 45 RPM records in many a suburban basement. In Mister Boomer’s household, both were true.

His younger sister was the gamester in the family. She had all the popular games of the day — including other Hall inductees Candy Land and The Game of Life — so when Twister hit the scene, she wanted that one, too. As with all “major” toy purchases, her games were acquired by way of birthday or Christmas gifts. She’d enlist Mister B and his father in the game. His mother rarely participated, and Brother Boomer, a high school teenager, was hardly ever home. The mat, once spread out on the living room floor, took up all of the space between the couch and TV.

Mister B didn’t find the game all that interesting, but then his brother told him teens were playing it at parties. Brother Boomer went to many parties, carting his collection of 45s with him. Those 45s, marked with his name so if they got mixed on the turntable stack, he’d be able to retrieve which were his, are now in Mister B’s possession. The Twister game, however, did not survive the years.

How about you, boomers? Was Twister a family game for you, or a “sex in a box” teen party game?

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