Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chuck Foley, Co-inventor of Twister, Passes

On July 1, 2013, one of the men who helped tie us up in knots, passed away. Chuck Foley, along with Neil Rabens and Reyn Guyer, developed the first game where the people playing are the play pieces. Twister debuted in 1965, didn't take off until a year later, and went on to become one of Milton Bradley's most successful games.

Chuck was very passionate about inventing and it was my great fortune to interview him for my book, Timeless Toys, in 2001 and 2002. We continued our correspondence long after the book was published, and he sent me some writings, old poems and articles from his inventing career. According to his obituary, he held 97 patents when he died last week, at the age of 82.

Although Twister was his best-known toy product, he also invented or co-invented Fishville Super-quarium, Striker: A Safe Dart Game, The Zip Code Game, Traffic Jam, Paddle Pool, Grab A Loop, Plot!, NO GO and many, many more playthings.

Another big hit for Chuck came outside the toy world, in the form of a compound known to many in the photography world as UN-DU. It's an acid free adhesive remover that I used for years before I met Chuck. The stuff is incredible - far better than its better-known competitor Goo Gone.

RIP, Charles Foley. Thanks for making the world a far more interesting place.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Following the Bouncing Ball

Hey Kids! It's the WHAM-O Super Ball! Watch this vintage TV commercial, and If you're like me, the memories of summers past will come bouncing back.

Last week, on the first day of summer vacation, I got an email from a Fortune Magazine writer who is doing an upcoming piece on WHAM-O and their iconic line of toys — Frisbee, Hula Hoop, Slip 'n' Slide, Hacky Sack and Super Ball, among others.  As I answered her questions, I was brought back to all the research I did on WHAM-O, their toys and their inventors for my WHAM-O Super Book. I just love a good Toy Story.

I spoke to Rich Knerr, the co-founder of WHAM-O, three times in the fall of 2007. He was so gracious with his time and shared some hilarious stories about the early days of WHAM-O with his partner and co-founder, Spud Melin.
My favorite anecdotes were the ones about the Super Ball, my favorite WHAM-O toy.

I interviewed Fred Morrison, the inventor of Frisbee, and he told me of the day he was driving behind Rich and Spud on the way to some Frisbee event in 1965, the year the WHAM-O Super Ball was introduced. “I’d never seen the damn things before and I didn’t know what they were,” Fred told me. “...All of the sudden here comes all these little black things bouncing all over hell, all over my car, all over the freeway. Here they’re throwing these mini Super Balls out of the back of their car down the freeway! Their senses of humor were just something to be around.”

I had the great privilege of interviewing Norm Stingley, the inventor of Super Ball. He was a great guy and even sent me a Super Ball he had found while tilling his backyard garden. He shared the story of the time Rich and Spud molded a few bowling ball-sized Super Balls for promotional purposes. Messing around in a hotel one night, Spud, Rich and Norm were bouncing one of these giant Super Balls in the hallway, when it broke through the wall of the hotel! 

Then there was the time (or the tall tale) of when Rich and boys dropped a Super Ball out of a 23rd floor window and it bounced back 15 stories! Yarns like that, told in Life Magazine and The Wall Street Journal in the late 1960s, helped the boys sell 20 million Super Balls between 1965 and 1975.

I paged through the book as I answered the reporters questions, and there's Norm Stingley, pictured in 1966, sitting on some Super Ball cartons in the WHAM-O Factory in San Gabriel, California with four bowling ball-sized Super Balls next to him. Imagine dropping those from a helicopter...

Seize the Play!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fun in the Making: Terracotta Lego Army

The Sarasota Chalk Festival is one of my favorite local events. Mix in a LEGO theme and I'm hooked. Thanks for sharing, Joey Panek.

Seize the Play!

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