Tag: Board Game

Day 994: The Game Of Milton Bradley’s Life


I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.

As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.

The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.

Milton Bradley, 1860s

Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…

Day 848: No One Is Very Far From Bacon


Those who know me (or who have read enough of my articles to have observed when my jokes and references get tired and therefore repeated) know that I love to write about bacon. Today I’m offering a new take on the topic; in fact, I’m refocussing my literary lens on a wholly different variety of bacon.

Kevin Bacon.

By now I’m sure everyone has heard of the game/meme/phenomenon that is Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. If you’ve somehow escaped this snippet of pop culture, or if you only ever visit the internet to read this site and play solitaire (hi mom!), this is a game in which you try to match any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon through their film and television appearances, using as few steps as possible. For example, Brian Dennehy was in Annie Oakley with Jamie Lee Curtis, who starred with Bacon in 8. Two degrees.

Even if you dip into the more obscure actors it’s hard to find a connection that requires more than three steps. I looked up Loni Nest, who had a small uncredited role as “child in window” in the 1925 silent German horror classic Nosferatu, and still it was only three paces away from Bacon (via Lil Dagover in Harakiri, who appeared with Max Schell in The Pedestrian, who appeared with Bacon in Telling Lies In America). It’s a little weird, really.


The game is based on the small world theory, that everyone is at most six steps away from everyone else via acquaintances. Its origins lie in a January, 1994 interview Bacon gave to Premiere magazine whilst hyping his new flick, The River Wild. He jokingly commented that he had worked with everyone in Hollywood, or at least with someone who had worked with them. Three months later the newsgroup rec.arts.movies began a lengthy discussion about Kevin Bacon as the ‘Center of the Universe’. Read more…

Day 664: The Toys In Marvin’s Playroom


Do you recognize this man?

Probably not, but if you’re over 30 he probably had a thunderous impact on your childhood. That’s Marvin Glass, concoctor of toys, brewmaster of amusement, mixologist of mirth. Marvin Glass & Associates was a fiendishly clever company, foregoing the tedious chore of peddling their goods to every toy merchant in the land, and instead focussing on creation. License it out to Hasbro or Kenner or Milton Bradley – let them do the filthy work of shipping this crap all over the country.

Let’s just make some good crap.

And oh did they make some astoundingly bodacious crap. Toys that spurned obsessions, toys that became icons. For a few marvelous decades in the 20th century, back before every toy needed a synergetic tie-in to a movie franchise, book series or procession of idiotic movies, Marvin Glass’s goods reigned supreme.


It all started with a set of chattering teeth. Marvin’s employee, Eddy Goldfarb, came up with a concept so ludicrously simple and noisy it had to be a hit: the Yakkity-Yak Talking Teeth. This windup novelty put Marvin Glass & Associates on the map in 1949. The dentist community was finally rewarded with the desktop gimmick they’d craved for centuries. Overnight, the world was a happier and more peaceful place. Read more…

Day 546: The Chef Of Chain Reaction


Many savvy inventors devote their lives to looking at how we do things and trying to find an easier way. Leave it to an artist, someone who lives and breathes the abstract and absurd for a living, to create a lasting legacy based on transforming simple tasks into breathtakingly complicated maneuvers. Such is the footprint of Rube Goldberg, no doubt planted by a mighty iron boot, which was lowered on a large pole, which dropped down when a string was cut by a blade that was set into motion when a hamster ran on his wheel in pursuit of a chunk of cheese that was raised to his eye level when the opposing platform was weighted down when a bag of sand filled a container after being cut open by an ice pick that had been propelled forward by a small parachute when Rube sneezed.

Yes, Rube Goldberg’s lasting impression on our planet was the over-complicated machine, a concoction which picks at the meaty parts of the curious mind, demonstrating a chain of causes and effects that leaves some baffled and others agape with inspired awe.

So who was this guy? What compelled him to create such contraptions on the tenuous border between physics and madness? Well, I’m glad I asked.


Rube’s foray into the world of mad mechanics came not through hours in his garage or woodworking shop, looking for a clever way to polish his wingtips by pushing a ball down a ramp, but rather through his pen. Rube abandoned a career as an engineer for the San Francisco Water & Sewers Department, a career for which he’d trained with years of post-secondary schooling, to become a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read more…

Day 150: Operation – A Game Of Skill, Patience, And OH CRAP! I Hit The Damn Buzzer!

Opearation Game Board

If you grew up in western society during the last 50 years, chances are you have spent some fraction of your time on Earth hunched over a cardboard human with a red plastic nose, steadying your tweezer hand while digging for a plastic wishbone tucked within his innards. Maybe you owned a copy of the game. Maybe, like me, you owned a few copies, having occasionally lost your temper and smashed Cavity Sam right in his baffled little face when the buzzer shattered your concentration.

Operation is a game of hand-eye coordination. If you have the steadiest hand among all your friends, luck will rarely tilt this game their way. That said, this is probably the most pointless game to attempt if you’ve been drinking. Just saying.

In 1962 John Spinello was a sophomore at the University of Illinois. He received the assignment of designing a toy, because university is that awesome. Spinello was an industrial design student – he wasn’t about to make a game dependent on something as crude and boring as a dice roll. He built a 10-inch-by-10-inch metal box with an attached metal probe. The idea was to stick the probe in the box’s holes (I’m resisting all dirty jokes here, and I urge you to do the same) without touching the sides. Touching the edge would close the circuit and set off a loud atonal buzz.

Wait... was Milton Bradley not familiar with the concept of anesthesia?

Spinello’s godfather worked for Marvin Glass & Associates, a Chicago-based game manufacturer. He arranged a meeting between Spinello and Marvin Glass himself. Marvin was not impressed by the box, but all it took was one failed try to make him jump in surprise, and completely change his mind about the game. He cut Spinello a $500 check and promised him a job.

That five hundred bucks was all Spinello would ever earn from his invention. Marvin never followed through with the job offer, and started marketing the game himself as “Death Valley”, a game in which you had to cross the desert by inserting the metal probe into ‘watering holes’ without touching the edges. Milton Bradley took notice and bought the rights to the game.

Spinello got five hundred bucks. Marvin Glass got a visit (and probably a much bigger check) from this guy.

Spinello didn't even get second prize in a beauty contest.

Read more…