Interview with Leslie Scott & Alan Hassenfeld in The Guardian

How we made Jenga

Inventor Leslie Scott: ‘Computer games were just taking off – and there I was trying to sell a pile of little wooden blocks’

A child playing Jenga
‘It’s a great game, they told me, but it’s got a lousy name’ … Jenga, named after the Swahili for ‘build’. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Interview by


Leslie Scott, inventor

When I was 18, my family moved to Ghana, a country rich in wood. We would often play a game with these little wooden blocks from the local sawmill. I brought a few sets with me when I moved to Oxford in my 20s and, whenever I played it with friends, they became obsessed – so much so that I’m sure I was only invited out because I used to bring my blocks. It was clear everybody loved this game, but it took me a while to realise that it didn’t actually exist as a product. So I decided to put it on the market.

I must have been mad. Even though I was only in my early 20s and knew nothing about the toy business, I had 100 or so sets made at Camphill, a community in Yorkshire where people with learning disabilities live and work. They bake, make cheese, and run a small woodworking shop. They agreed provided that, if the game was a success, I’d find an alternative manufacturer, as they didn’t want to be stuck making little blocks for the rest of their lives.

I took the game to a London toy show in 1983. I’d grown up speaking Swahili and gave it the name Jenga, which means “build”. I was convinced people would only need to see the game, and it would sell out. But computer games were just taking off, and everyone thought the board game was dead. And there I was trying to sell a pile of wooden blocks. I didn’t make a single sale, but a man from Harrods gave me a break. He said they’d take some if I agreed to do a demonstration in the store. It was Christmas, and the shop was frenetic. People would stop, play the game, the blocks would fall over, and they’d walk off, leaving me on my hands and knees, being trodden on by shoppers as I picked the pieces up.

The game sold, but I had mounting debts. Then, one day, the brother of a friend I had given a set to called and asked if he could be my agent. He was demonstrating it at a mall in Toronto when a salesman from Irwin Toys had walked past and got very excited. Irwin fell in love with the game, and I signed a deal for them to produce it in Canada.

Jenga was an enormous hit at the 1986 Toronto toy fair. I took orders for 400,000 games! Irwin had a good relationship with Hasbro – who would become key to Jenga’s worldwide success. But neither company wanted it to be called Jenga. They said: “It’s a great game, but it’s got a lousy name.” I’d thought very hard about the name, though. I had deliberately not chosen a descriptive name like Tumbling Towers. I had this idea: that when you said Jenga, everyone would think of the game and nothing else.

It took off in Canada and the US, but I didn’t know it was big in Britain until I went into a toy shop near Oxford with my sister one day. There was a Jenga on the shelf. A woman picked it up and my sister shrieked: “That’s my sister’s game!” And the woman clutched it to her chest and said: “No, it isn’t – it’s mine!” I got such a kick out of that.

Alan Hassenfeld, Hasbro

A squirrel gets in on the action.

A squirrel gets in on the action. Photograph: Max Ellis/Rex

Anyone good in the toy industry thinks like a seven-year-old. George Irwin, whose company was making Jenga in Canada, called me and said: “Look, I have this wonderful game!” He came over to my brother’s apartment in New York. I remember sitting on a white carpet with six other grown men and playing Jenga for about two hours. We may have drunk some wine.

My brother and I fell in love with it. When we launched in 1986, we were at the cusp of video games like ColecoVision and Atari. But one of the most magical things about Jenga was that you could open up the box and just start playing immediately. And it played so well – the hoots when the whole thing tumbles feel good. You can do a lot of market research, but every once in a while you look at a product and, in the bottom of your stomach, you just know it’s good.

Jenga Classic on SALE at Oxford Games online shop.

Oxford Games Ltd has a very limited number of JENGA Classic games for SALE at the very special price of £11.30 (plus P&P). So hurry along to the OG online shop before it sells out! (and check out some of the other games I had a hand in designing – eg Ex Libris, the game of first lines and last words)

Jenga box


Amazing meeting Adrian Fisher, again.

Last week, at a Celebration of Mind gathering (hosted by Philip Sheppard and Tanya Thompson), I bumped into Adrian Fisher, the world’s leading maze designer – again.

Adrian thought we were meeting for the first time. But I recall clearly not only when we first met (circa 1989), but also how this meeting had inspired me to devise a board game that became an Oxford Games’ favourite, The Game of Garden Maze.

Here’s what I say in About Jenga (under the heading Mazes & Taverns) about Adrian and The Game of Garden Maze

‘ The idea for this game was sparked off by meeting the maze designer Adrian Fisher at the opening of the hedge maze he had designed and planted at Leeds Castle. Adrian, now regarded as one of the greatest maze designers of all times, had with his partner Randoll Coate led the resurgence of interest in labyrinths and mazes that resulted in dozens of new hedge, stone, and even mirror mazes popping up in private homes and public spaces around the globe. Our maze game, played out on a board illustrated as a seventeenth-century formal garden, incorporated a short history of the labyrinth written for us by Adrian Fisher.’




Unique Gift Edition Jenga

Exclusive to Oxford Games Ltd new online store.Jenga Unique

Jenga’s 30th birthday!

Leslie Scott launched Jenga at the London Toy Fair on 29th January 1983 – so Jenga turned 30 last week!

BBC interview with Leslie Scott on Jenga’s 30th Birthday

Jenga & The Great Highland Bagpipe Competition?

The connection between a game of Jenga and the bagpipes may not be apparent, so let me explain. Leslie Scott, the inventor of Jenga, proudly sponsors the Scott-Vollrath Piobaireachd Trophy that is awarded to the winner of the Piobarieachd portion of the The Pipe-Major Sandy Jone Invitational competition held in Charleston South Carolina each year. Along with the award, the winning piper receives a game of Jenga.

So now you know!

But why Leslie, who lives in England and does not play the bagpipes, should sponsor this event in Charleston is another question. The answer to which may be garned when I let you in on a secret. Leslie has a bagpipe playing brother living in Charleston who, way back in 1983, helped her  launch Jenga into the United States.

Jenga App towering success

NaturalMotion Games has worked closely with Leslie Scott, the inventor of Jenga, to create the most authentic Jenga experience ever.

I’m delighted by how the team at NaturalMotion Games has so skilfully captured the essence and universal appeal of Jenga,  while adding new and thrilling dimensions to my original game.” – Leslie Scott

Wired Magazine

How to beat anyone at Jenga by Dan Smith

Dan Smith of Wired asks Leslie Scott, the creator of Jenga, for her top tips on how to win the game.

Craig Brown is thankful for Jenga

Craig Brown, in his Mail Online article‘ 1000 things to avoid before you die’, says  ‘Thankfully Jenga has made Pick-a-Stick obsolete.

Many of our childhoods, he claims,  were marred by Pick-a-Stick because the game invariably ended in a quarrel between players insisting that a stick was or wasn’t moved.

Happily, the launch of the game Jenga in 1983 meant that there was no need for anyone to play Pick-a-Stick ever again.

Jenga is a marvellous game, consisting of a tower ­constructed from sturdy rectangular building-blocks. Each player in turn removes one block from below and places it on top; the game continues like this until the tower collapses.

The collapse, when it comes, is dramatic, and even rather beautiful, leaving no room for argument. Furthermore, though Jenga is competitive, the shared process of building a tower higher and higher tends to induce a clubbable, all-in-this-together atmosphere among ­players, so that tiffs and tantrums are avoided.

Leslie Scott @ the 303 Gallery Somerset

Leslie Scott & Sara Finch will be at the

303 Gallery’s Christmas Party

on Sunday 7th November

‘ The party will be from 4pm ‘til 6pm and we are very happy to be featuring the participation of the founders of The Oxford Games Company, one of whom is none other than our very own Sara Finch of Bower Hinton Bears fame. They will be introducing the reissue of their celebrated “Ex Libris” & “Anagram” games, along with About Jenga, the book of the story of Jenga by Leslie Scott co-founder of Oxford Games and inventor of Jenga. She recounts “the remarkable business of creating a game that became a household name” with several useful lessons for makers & artists who dream of inspiring the world.’ The 303 Gallery

Yandle & Son Ltd Hurst Works Hurst Martock Somerset TA12 6JU