Epic Gumdrop Ep 31: Twister


This episode we take a deep huff of offgassing vinyl and look back at Twister. Is it sex in a box? The idea of sex in a box? Or is it just a great party game?

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(Length: approx 29min)

Here’s our notes from the show:


From what I could gather from the vaguely confusing stories online is that its creation comes down to three people. Chuck Foley, Neil W. Rabens and Reyn Guyer. While Chuck Foley and Neil Rabens are the patent holders, the idea itself is accredited to Reyn Guyer. Geyer had the idea while working for his dad’s company doing ad work. He was working on a game for a children’s shoe polish ad and birthed the idea for a game called Pretzel. Guyer took it to 3M, who we recall from our boardgame box episode, was a boardgame manufacturer at that time. They passed on the idea. Guyer states that Chuck Foley and Neil Rabens developed it with him. Foley was a game designer and Rabens was an artist. “Foley suggested having circles in a row, Rubens had the idea of putting your hands down as well as your feet.”

So who credit goes to is complicated. Guyer seems to have the original idea, but it was not entirely developed. It needed more than some game testing, it needed an overhaul. Foley and Rabens seem to sort out the mechanical issues of the game, which enables them to take the game to Milton Bradley. Milton Bradley couldn’t use the name Pretzel so it became Twister, which Guyer wasn’t a fan of because of the natural disaster connection. Nonetheless, the game is born.

But there’s trouble. In 1965 Sears decided they wouldn’t carry the game. Prudes. This is where the story is interesting, though. Mel Taft at Milton Bradley doesn’t cancel the PR campaign for Twister despite the rejection from Sears and from telling Foley, Rabens and Guyer that the game is a no-go. The game is set to make its national debut on the Johnny Carson show in 1966. And what a debut. Johnny plays the game with Eva Gabor and the nation was sold. The next morning it begins to fly off the shelf. In that first year Mel Taft said it sold more than a million copies.

Or that’s how the story goes. It seems that the game had already been printed if people were able to go and get that limited number of copies, so the cancellation of the Sears contract couldn’t have been catastrophic to the game. Sears was a huge distributor, but not the only one. There’s reference to people lining up outside Abercrombie & Fitch, who were rumoured to be carrying the game, the morning after Carson. The story certainly sounds better with the success against the odds narrative, though, doesn’t it?

Guyer’s company goes on to collect the royalties for the game, while Foley and Rabens had the patent. Guyer states that he settled with Foley for a limited cut of the royalties and then Foley and Rabens went on their way. Guyer goes on to start a new firm to develop games. They come up with a foam ball game, which Milton Bradley passes on. Parker Brothers sees an idea and develops it as NERF. Two massive hits, Guyer became a very wealthy man from games. Since it first hit shelves Twister has had 70 million in sales in 35 countries, as of 2012.

Box Covers
Early editions shoe 5 adults, 3 men and 2 women having fun while one of the men and one of the women get red cheeked and up close and personal. Later in the Japanese version of the game two of the background figures have been changed to children, I guess to show it as more family friendly. Much later, the 1986 edition shows all pre-teen kids, 3 boys and 3 girls. The audience of the game had shifted entirely. No longer marketed as a game for adults, the audience was now hormonal kids looking for a legitimate excuse to get close to the opposite sex without having to play Spin the Bottle. As a side note, Spin the Bottle came out of the 1920s and 7 Minutes in Heaven came out in the early 1950s. The world was really ready for another excuse for touching the opposite sex game by 1966.

As A Game
Twister rates 4.6/10 at BoardGameGeek, with 2230 ratings. Is it that a few thousand people rating with their sexually frustrated teenage memories or recollections of ruined adult parties? It’s difficult to even rate as a game there’s so little to it.

Guyer’s concept of using people as the pieces in the game is really good, although it sounds like they only saw the fun in it initially. Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor showed us there was a lot more going on with a simple looking kids game.

The game is easily internationalized, with a universal board and spinner. Players just need to be willing to take off their shoes, which Mel Taft states was a problem in the German market where German women didn’t like to take their shoes off. Regardless, it did very well internationally.

Sex in a Box?
So is Twister guilty of being “sex in a box” or is the reality more like “the idea of sex in a box”? Was Twister really going to bring down society, leading to countless depraved parties and destroying the minds of 1960s youth? Seems there was already plenty of change on the horizon. In January of 1966 there were the first of the famous Acid Tests and in April the Church of Satan is formed. The west coast is a hotbed for change as the mid-60s shift in the late 60s.

Oh, and in September of 1966 Star Trek premieres. So if we really need to blame something for destroying the youth of the 60s, well I think we have our culprit.

Party Game
Twister is thought of as a party game, but it seems like the definition of what constitutes a party game is shifting. In those olden days a party game was Twister, musical chairs, charades, pin the tail on the donkey. But now a party game is Codenames, Two Rooms and A Boom, The Resistance, or Ultimate Ultra Super Werewolf With Vampires On One Evening or whatever it goes by these days.

Or is it that the definition of a “party game” is one where it’s less about competition and more about group fun during a social gathering, with the game being secondary to the party? And do party games need to avoid high degrees of skill and an obsession with winning over fun and socialization?

Or can any game be a party game if played with the right spirit?

Twister Legacy
It comes as no surprise that Twister has come out in a variety of versions (like the completely unnecessary Finger Twister of 2007). And I cannot tell you if any of them are fun. I do not play twister. I have played it, but my childhood recollections only involve the stench of a vinyl play mat and rapidly growing boredom as I don’t believe there were members of the opposite sex involved.

Twister: 1966 Ad