Tag: Milton Bradley

Day 994: The Game Of Milton Bradley’s Life

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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 664: The Toys In Marvin’s Playroom

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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.

TalkingTeeth

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 577: Uncle Pennybags’ Wild Ride

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At this stage in my adult life, when heading out to the bar requires a much higher douche-bag resistance quotient than I personally possess, not to mention an unfathomable tolerance for mediocre music and overpriced beer, I tend to pursue more sedentary party options. My wife and I occasionally indulge our socialization appetite through board games nights: friends, snacks, booze and a lot more Dr. John and Tower of Power than one would expect to hear at almost any happening night spot, in this decade anyway.

But beneath the scads of Scattergories pads and beneath the cache of Cards Against Humanity combos, one sad box that never gets cracked on games night is Monopoly. We have our reasons. A single game of Monopoly would dominate the entire evening. The game itself is 90% waiting for your turn, with no real options for creativity, which means that alcohol does not make the game more fun. And unless you happen to be the one with all the colorful paper cash at the end, then you probably stopped having fun a while ago.

But Monopoly was never meant to be a 3-4 hour romp of unrestrained mirth. It was meant to be a lesson.

LizzieMagie

That fun-looking lady with the fun-looking eyebrows is Lizzie Magie, who patented a game called The Landlord Game back in 1903. She wanted to espouse her confidence in Georgist economics – the belief that people should own what they create, but things like land should belong equally to everyone. She wanted the world to see that the concept of ‘rent’ enriched land owners and drained tenants to the poor house. Read more…

Day 516: Because It’s May 30

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I don’t normally do this, but then this is no normal occasion. Today is the birthday of one of the finest people I know. Some would say he is the perfect brother, in that I love the guy like family, yet share no actual biological connection to him, which is convenient if he ever needs a kidney or something. And though he may live a full hemisphere away, we are in tune with one another’s sense of absurdity as much today as we were when he lived here some two decades ago.

Twenty-one years ago, Josh wasted no time in giddily gloating that he was 18 and legally allowed to drink. I was 17 and relying on a terribly phony-looking fake ID. We’ll see how that feels one year from now when he’s staring down the shotgun barrels of 40 and I’m still living it up in my thirties.

Happy birthday, Joshie. Here are a few other reasons to celebrate the glory that is May 30.

SiegeOfJerusalem

Well, this isn’t a great start. Way back in 70AD, Titus and his angry batch of Roman legions broke through the Second Wall of Jerusalem, sending the Jewish defenders back behind the First Wall. The Jews wound up losing the famous Second Temple in the Siege of Jerusalem, but they’d get their revenge in a few centuries when they’d make their way to America and invent show business.

May 30 was also a less than stellar day for Joan of Arc, who faced execution by fire on this day back in 1431. The charge was heresy, and – let’s face it – making 15th century men uncomfortable by being a little too brilliant and a little too tough for them. Read more…

Day 227: The Hasbro Conspiracy

On the surface, Hasbro brings joy and smiles to hundreds of billions of people every second by giving Shortcake to our Strawberry, Action to our Figures, Ladders to our Chutes, and Head to our Mr. Potato. But underneath lies something more insidious, more… well, I don’t want to say evil, because then they’ll come after me. But it’s entirely possible they are evil.

First off, look at their name. Founded by Henry and Helal Hassenfeld, the company was originally called Hassenfeld Brothers. Look at all those H’s – and we all know that ‘H’ is the most decidedly evil letter in the alphabet (I’m looking at you, Howard Hesseman).

Oh God. I think he heard me.

But there’s more. Did they get the name ‘Hasbro’ as an abbreviation of Hassenfeld Brothers, or because the company was originally located in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey? More ‘H’s. I’m telling you, this is a conspiracy.

They transitioned from selling textiles to producing pencils and school supplies, then to toys. The Hassenfeld Brothers decided they wanted to own the spirit of every American child. They aimed to invade their young minds through the Fun Cortex, which is located right beside the tiny part of the brain that remembers the lyrics to old Doobie Brothers songs.

Also known as the ChinaGroveocampus.

In 1952, the Hassenfeld Brothers bought the rights to Mr. Potato Head from its inventor, George Lerner. All George got in return was fifty cents and a half-empty fifth of cheap gin (probably). Lerner, despondent and depressed, later took the lives of more than a dozen civilians when he flew a hijacked blimp into a busy frozen yogurt store.

Sometimes it’s easier to just make this stuff up. Research is for the weak.

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…