Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dear John...

I first met John Spinello in 2004 when I was researching my book, Timeless Toys. Listed at the bottom of the 1965 Operation game I owned was "US PATENT No. 3,333,846" I had crossed paths with the name Marvin Glass many times in my research on toys, so too the name Gunnars Licitis, but who was this John O. Spinello?

I looked up all the John Spinellos I could find in the Chicago area. "I'm looking for the inventor of Operation..." was my opening line. In just a few calls I found my man.

Turns out, John sold the rights to his game to Marvin Glass for $500 and the promise of a job upon his graduation from the University of Illinois. He got the $500. Marvin Glass & Associates licensed the game to Milton Bradley, which in turn modified it with the surgery theme we recognize today. In 1965, Operation, the "skill game where you're the doctor" was released. It was an immediate hit.

Over the years John and I stayed in touch. In 2008 when Director Ken Sons and I set out to make Toyland, our documentary film on toy and game inventors, I knew John and his story had to be a part of it. Ken and I flew up to Chicago with our small crew and spent the day with John and his wife, Madeline. After several hours and several courses of the best Italian food ever,  our friendship was secured. We shared a love of toys and family. Over the years I've met John's kids and grandkids and through every interaction I've ever had with him, I was always struck by his positivity. He was never bitter over the raw deal he got from Marvin Glass and instead, focused on the joy the game brought people and his legacy. Here's John's segment from Toyland, filmed in 2008.

John has come upon some tough times and could use help covering some medical biils. Fellow game inventor Peggy Brown and I have launched a website and have planned an upcoming Crowdrise campaign for John. We're asking you to send John a $3 thank you for giving so many of us, so much joy over the years. Or simply offer him some encouragement by writing him a Dear John letter. Please head here to learn more:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Vertical Marketing

There's a man in a tree in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

We didn't notice him right away. It was the white cup that first got our attention. We were walking along the other side of the street when this thing on a string caught the sun and then our eye. "Is that a bird feeder?" I asked my wife. "It's hanging kind of low, isn't it?" she responded.

We walked closer and heard the music at the same time. Looking in that direction and seeing no one, we were puzzled. Then it dawned on us, "There's a guitar player in that tree and that's his tip cup."

We smiled and continued our window shopping. His exceptionally different approach won me over, and before we headed back to the car, I had to cross the street and see for myself.

"Hello, there!" I called. He was way up there, sitting on a branch like he'd been there many times before. It seemed too intrusive to take his picture, so we just listened for a bit. 

There's a man in a tree in Black Mountain, North Carolina. He has my admiration and two more bucks.

Seize the Play!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

25 Years of Making Connections

I'm not sure where the years went, but TriBond, a game about making the connection among 3 clues, turns 25 next year. We are gearing up for one heck of a party (and a new edition), but in the meantime, you can play along with the TriBond of the Day, at

We believe people long for connection with their friends and family through shared experiences that involve play. That's because play is a powerful force. Over the years we’ve gotten hundreds of letters and email from fans who have used the game to connect to one another. There was the man who wrote to thank us for creating the game because it reconnected him with his father. They were estranged and got together only on holidays. One Thanksgiving, while playing TriBond, he heard his dad laugh and something changed. Play reconnected them. 

Another young man wrote to tell us how he used TriBond to ask his girlfriend to marry him. He secretly placed his proposal on one of the game cards, because they had met playing TriBond at a party years before. She pulled the card and almost passed out. She said yes, but the way. 

Stories like these make the connections created by our game, all the more rewarding. Over the years, we’ve sold 3 millions copies of TriBond. That’s a lot of connections!

Here's to 25 more years of making more... Seize the Play!

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