If you were a teenager at a party in the mid-1960s, and you yearned to get up close and personal with someone else, slow dancing wasn’t much of an option unless you wanted to look like a square who couldn’t do the Frug.
Thank heavens, then, for Twister, the Milton Bradley party game in which participants had to contort themselves into unlikely positions by putting their hands and feet in various colored spots on a big mat, as determined randomly by a spinner. The result, inevitably, was tangled limbs, awkward bumping into one another and nonstop giggling. It was seemingly innocuous, wholesome fun, but at the same time at least mildly titillating.
And for those adolescent thrills, we owe a debt of gratitude to Minnesota inventor Charles Foley, who died on July 1 at age 82 in suburban Minneapolis. In 1966 Foley and his longtime collaborator, artist Neil Rabens, applied for a patent for an “Apparatus for Playing a Game Wherein the Players Constitute the Game Pieces.” Twister’s straight-laced detractors came up with another name for it: “Sex in a Box.” That may have been overstating things, though, since the only item of clothing you needed to remove was your shoes.
Here are some interesting facts about Foley and the party sensation that he created:
- Twister was just one of Foley’s estimated 500 inventions. He also held patents for secret-release toy handcuffs, a blow gun with a mouthpiece and a push-toy robot.
- In a 1994 interview, Foley said that he and Rabens conceived Twister as a more aggressive, competitive version of mat games such as Hopscotch and Beanbag Buccaneer. He said that a successful participatory party game had to have four things: “a bit of skill, a bit of chance, sticking it to an opponent, and watching it has to be entertaining.”
- According to the Associated Press, Foley and Rabens originally wanted to call their game Pretzel, but Milton Bradley came up with a better name.
- At the time Foley and Rabens invented the game, there were only two machines in the country capable of printing the plastic mat that was needed. General Tire, which re-purposed technology for making shower curtains, became the supplier.
- Sales took off after Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor played a racy game of Twister on the Tonight show in 1966.
Also of Interest
- The Man Who Brought Us Target Stores, Dies at 88
- Douglas Engelbart: The Man Behind Your Mouse (And a Lot More)
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
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