Twister is a great game; at least it is if you’re playing with people you like. Or would like to get to know a little better. It’s not a great game if you’re playing with anybody who has – how shall I put this delicately? - any kind of personal hygiene issue.
It’s a very simple game; all you need is a plastic mat, a spinner and some flexible friends. And by that, I don’t mean an Access card (remember the adverts for that?).
The plastic mat is large, goes on the floor and has four rows of six dots; each row is just one colour: red, blue, yellow or green. The spinner board is split up into four different sections: left hand, right hand, left foot and right foot, and each of those sections is then also divided into the four colours of the mat.
To begin the game the players stand around the edge of the mat and it is decided in which order they will go in. The spinner is then spun (this can be done by one of the players although it is generally easier if it is operated by somebody who is not playing) then the combination of body part and colour is called out (i.e. ‘Right hand green’) and the first player has to place their right hand on to any of the green spots. Play then moves on to the next person and the spinner is spun again. When everybody has had their go then the spinner returns to the first person and everybody goes again.
The fun part of the game comes when all players have both hands and feet on the mat – the spinner continues to spin and the contestants must ensure that they move to another directed spot each time. This means entwining limbs with or leaning under or over other players to get to an available spot of the correct colour (you can’t occupy a spot that’s already being used) – see what I mean about the importance of playing with only squeaky clean people? The object of the game is to stay stable – the moment you fall over or your knees or elbows touch the mat then you’re out – and the more you twist around people to find a free spot then the more precarious your stability becomes.
You can play the game with as many people as you want but around four is the optimum number; any more than that and the number of spots is reduced and you’ll end up playing most of the game just standing on one leg.
Twister’s history is, fittingly, slightly twisted itself – in that several people lay claim to its creation. Neil Rabens and Charles Foley are officially credited with inventing and patenting the game in 1966, although Reyn Guyer has argued that the original idea was his. Rabens , Foley and Guyer all worked for the Reynolds Guyer Agency of Design at the time of Twister’s conception, which was Reyn’s father’s company.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office paid no heed to Guyer and Twister sits with them as entirely Raben’s and Foley’s invention, although the patent rights are registered with the Reynolds Guyer Agency. The duo’s first name for the game was Pretzel but when they sold the concept to Milton Bradley (MB Games) they changed it to Twister. Sensibly, I think. And much more marketable than the name that Milton Bradley’s rivals tried to discredit it with after U.S. audiences witnessed talk show host Johnny Carson playing the new game with guest Eva Gabor on The Tonight Show: Sex on the Box.
Twister may have looked shocking to some back then as it was the first marketed game where the playing pieces were real human limbs and at one point Milton Bradley almost reconsidered their backing as they felt the game may be considered too risqué. After The Tonight Show aired, however, the games company saw how many people swarmed to Manhattan’s branch of Abercrombie and Fitch, where early copies of the game were on sale, to buy it and decided to push ahead with selling the flexible floor game.
It was a good move; Twister quickly became phenomenally popular with U.S. adults and children alike before going on to be sold all over the world. Hasbro took over Milton Bradley in 1985 and continued Twister’s success story; over time they have published many other versions of the game.
Twister Moves was introduced in 2003: this includes CDs with music on that players have to listen to and follow instructions on the coloured dance mats. Twister Dance arrived in 2006: more dancing but this time to coloured lights on individual spots on the floor. Twister Scram was a bit like Runaround (the Mike Reid 1970’s kids’ game show): once the spinner has been spun the players have to run to the corresponding coloured dots. This hit the market in 2007. In 2008 Hasbro added Twister Hopscotch, which is a version of the playground game involving coloured rings. Twister Dance was updated to Twister Dance Rave in 2012, with pop queen Britney Spears brought in to be the face of it and in 2013 Twister Rave Skip It (are you keeping up?) added flashing lights and a skipping rope to the fun.
And of course there’s the inevitable pop tie-in…Twister One Direction came out in 2014. From what I can gather it is purely Twister with a photograph of One Direction on the box, although without having actually seen a physical copy of this game then for all I know the coloured spots on the mat could have been replaced with pictures of the band member’s faces. Which would give plonking your foot down on them a certain extra satisfaction, I suppose.
Over the years, Twister has become intertwined in popular culture: it’s been played in Friends, mentioned in REM’s hit song Man on the Moon and was one of the games that Death challenged the boys to in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey amongst others. It is a brilliant party game. Just don’t play it with people whose armpits you don’t particularly want to get to know any better.