Twister: A Brief History of Toys

Consisting of a colourful mat and a spinner, where you end up contorted into impossible shapes, Twister is a game that most of us have played – but when was it released, and what’s it’s story? Well, alright, you’ve convinced me, I’ll tell you…

People as the playing pieces

In 1964, Charles Foley, a respected toy designer from Minneapolis, and Neil Rabens, a product design artist with an art degree, found themselves working for the new ‘product development’ division of design firm Guyer Company.

Foley wanted to create a party game where the players were the pieces. Rabens, working from an idea he’d developed in design school, wanted to use a coloured mat where players could interact with each other.

Foley took Rabens’ idea of having a coloured mat, and added in a spinner that would command player’s hand and feet to the coloured dots. This, of course, would cause entanglement between players, and eventually people would fall; eliminating them from the game.

With their idea now finalised, they applied for patents under the name Pretzel, since they figured that’s what players would end up looking like.

Milton Bradley like Pretzel

In 1965, Foley presented Pretzel to Mel Taft; the vice president of Milton Bradley, which was one of the biggest manufacturers of board games in the world. Mel loved it, and Milton Bradley took on the game.

However, the name Pretzel wasn’t available when it came to trademarking the game, so MB opted to call it Twister instead, with the tagline, ‘The game that ties you up in knots.’

Johnny Carson plays twister on The Tonight Show

In 1966, Milton Bradley began marketing Twister, and it was booked to go on The Tonight Show by the Public Relations agency that Mel Taft had hired.

However, Milton Bradley found out that a number of retailers were refusing to stock the game, calling it ‘sex in a box,’ which threatened their family-friendly appearance and caused Milton Bradley to plan to abandon the game and pull it from shelves.

They were going to cancel the game’s appearance on The Tonight Show – one of the USA’s biggest TV shows – but they learned that that the PR company had already been paid their fee, so they let the appearance occur.

On The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson was coaxed into playing Twister by actress Eva Gabor.

Game of the Year 1967

The day after its appearance on The Tonight Show in 1966, outside Abercrombie & Fitch (one of the few stores not to turn away the game), 50 people waited in line to purchase their Twister set.

In the twelve months following the game’s appearance on The Tonight Show, 3 million copies of Twister were sold. The game went on to be named the Game of the Year 1987.

Hasbro take over

Hasbro acquired Milton Bradley in 1985, and became the parent company of Twister.

They have since released many variations on the original game such as Twister Moves, Twister Dance, Twister Scram, Twister Hopscotch, Twister Hoopla, and Twister Dance Rave, which they brought Britney Spears in to help promote.

The world’s largest Twister mat

On June 18, 2010, Hasbro donated 1008 Twister mats to a fundraiser drive for charity Jessica’s Boundless Playground, which took place at the Belchertown High School. On the football field, all 1008 were joined together to create the world’s largest twister mat!

National Toy Hall of Fame

In 2015, Twister was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

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