Credit: National Toy Hall of Fame
What do the late Johnny Carson, the television show Friends, and more than 4,000 University of Massachusetts students have in common? They have all enjoyed the iconic game that has its players tied up in knots – Twister.
Developed in 1965 by Reyn Guyer, who was working on a shoe polish project for his dad’s design company when he thought of the idea, the concept was initially sold to the board-game company Milton Bradley (which is now owned by Hasbro) and launched onto the market in 1966. But the game’s popularity didn’t take off until May of 1966 when Johnny Carson, the host of The Tonight Show, entangled himself on air with the voluptuous actress Eva Gabor and had the show’s audience in fits of laughter. By 1967, the simple product made of a thin sheet of vinyl sporting red, green, yellow and blue polka dots had sold 3 million copies and was declared “game of the year.” It went on to become a childhood right of passage that has entertained tens of millions of children (even yours truly), as well as adults.
In the event you have somehow managed to avoid one of the most recognizable games of the past half century, Twister is played by spinning a dial to determine where players must place their hands and feet. A spin that lands on “left foot red” requires the participants to quickly locate that part of their body on a free red dot. As the game progresses, the players end up intertwined in an effort to hold their hands and feet in place. When players touch an elbow or knee to the mat, they are considered “out” of the game. The last one left on the slippery surface wins!
Of course, the touchy-feely game of flexibility wasn’t without controversy or competition. Rather quickly, other game developers either discredited the fun by labeling it “sex in a box,” or created their own versions, such as the Parker Brothers game Funny Bones. The Sears Catalog, the standard bearer of mid-20th century shopping, thought it was too provocative to include among its pages. Without a doubt, Twister broke all the rules of social engagement of the 1960s. Even the Germans were squeamish about this kind of flexible fun. The reason why? German women reportedly didn’t like “taking their shoes off in public.”
But the game endured and ultimately inspired numerous versions for kids and kids at heart. In fact, the twists on Twister can be a lot to wrap your head around! There is the rather tame edition of Finger Twister, and a few different educational forms of the game such as Math Twister and Site Word Twister. There are do-it-yourself forms of the game, such as Bubble Wrap Twister, Glow in the Dark Twister, and Painted Lawn Twister. And then there are the more mature (or immature, depending on how you look at it) versions – Drunk Twister, Strip Twister, Drunk & Strip Twister, Oily Twister, Naked Twister and the more tantalizing Pink Twister (involving the addition of pink spots to the game and the touching of another’s “pink” or genitalia).
Famous artists have also gotten into the Twister act. R.E.M. mentioned Twister in their song Man on the Moon. Weird Al Yankovich produced a song about the game in a parody of the Beastie Boys. Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins engaged in a fierce Twister match. And in 1987 a World Record was set when 4,160 students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst played the game on the campus lawn. Who would have thought that a few polka dots on a vinyl mat involving human elasticity and the invasion of one’s personal space would be such a hit?!
No matter what twist you take on Twister, one thing is for sure – you are in for some good clean (or not-so-clean) fun!