Hurrah for Inventors!

Excerpts from the PLAY STUFF blog of the Strong National Museum of Play

Toy and game inventors deserve their time in the spotlight, according to the annual TAGIE (Toy and Game Inventors Expo) Awards. Bestselling books and hit songs earn authors and singers publicity as well as financial rewards. But create a million-selling toy or game and practically no one knows your name. The TAGIE Awards honor the people behind the playthings, celebrating their creations and the fun they’ve brought to our lives.

A few weeks ago, Nic Ricketts, the museum’s games curator, and I traveled to Chicago to attend the second annual TAGIE Award dinner and explore the world of toy and game inventors. Our first stop was the design studio of Lund and Company Invention. The firm and its founder, Bruce Lund, are probably best known for TMX Elmo, but they’ve created dozens of other fun and famous playthings as well. We felt honored to get a peek behind the scenes.

Leslie Scott

From there, we made our way to Navy Pier where Nic and I appeared as part of TAGIE’s two-day seminar for new toy and game inventors. We were excited to share information about Strong National Museum of Play with a group of eager inventors and to learn firsthand about their creations. Nic’s high point for the afternoon was meeting Leslie Scott, the creator of Jenga, who was promoting her new book and playing Jenga with her fans.

by Chris Bensch, Vice President for Collections at the Strong National Museum of Play

Investor’s Business Daily

Having read ‘About Jenga’, Victor Reklaitis interviewed me a few weeks ago when I was in Los Angeles for a book signing event at Chevaliers’ Books, hosted by Bob Peirce, Chairman of BritWeek.

I thoroughly enjoyed Victor’s always friendly, but challenging interview. And I really appreciate the resultant IBD article ‘Leslie Scott Raised Her Game’, primarily because Victor went to the trouble of interviewing and quoting two key figures in the story of Jenga’s success; Alan Hassenfeld of Hasbro, and Hal Ross, the toy expert’s expert.

A Reader’s View

Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (10/09)

About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name

I have to start this review with a confession. I had never heard of Jenga before I started reading Leslie Scott’s “About Jenga,” so I had no real idea what to expect. Even after reading the first few pages, I still did not know exactly what kind of a game Ms. Scott was talking about, yet by that point it simply did not matter any more. I was enthralled by the unfolding story and thoroughly entertained throughout it.

If I had to classify “About Jenga,” I would find it really hard to decide whether to call it a memoir, a business manual, a story of a journey or simply a grandly entertaining and truly intriguing tale of a brilliant mind. The account of one woman’s idea about a new, outwardly very simple, yet greatly addictive game and the path this idea took was simply fascinating. It mattered little whether Ms. Scott was talking directly about Jenga or about any of thereto sometimes loosely connected ideas, events and influences – I wanted to know more. I found myself running to my computer to delve deeper into some of the facts and ideas she mentioned in her book, I found myself stopping and thinking, “Oh, that’s why!” and more often than not, I simply found myself admiring the brilliant and witty writing style.

English by definition, but born and raised in Africa, Leslie Scott developed a challenging and very competitive game of Jenga from some simple wooden blocks that were made for her family while they were still living in Africa. Her quest to market and properly protect her invention was not easy and straightforward, and anybody trying to launch a new idea or a new product could greatly benefit from reading “About Jenga.” Ms. Scott’s narrative deftly presents a great number of valuable insights into business concepts and practices, but does not simply stop there. The parts that I found particularly astute were those dealing with protection of intellectual property and the intricacies of branding.

“About Jenga” by Leslie Scott is a book that can and should be enjoyed on many levels. If you simply read it as an account of a beguiling mission to profitably market an idea, I am convinced you will enjoy it greatly. If you take it as a handy manual on how to proceed with your business venture, it should help you avoid countless snares that one usually encounters while doing that. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in the business side of it, I am certain that the ease and grace with which Ms. Scott writes will enchant and delight you. Fresh, engaging and endlessly intellectually stimulating, this book will without a doubt delight a vast circle of very different readers.

Jenga, the generalist


A large part of Jenga’s success can be attributed to the fact that Jenga is, to borrow a concept from the natural world, a generalist. Being a generalist -as, for example, are the plants that gardeners accuse of being weeds – Jenga has managed to colonize, as weeds do, a wide range of different territories simultaneously . Children like to play it, so it’s available in toy stores. Teachers like to use it as a teaching aid, so it’s available through educational suppliers. It is a popular adult drinking game, so you find it in pubs. Language is no barrier and neither is age, hence it can be perennially popular without acquiring craze status and is thus less likely to drop in and out of fashion as many other toys have done, such as the yo-yo and the hula hoop.
The flip side to such general success is that Jenga spawned a number of copies of knockoffs, some of which, like weeds themselves, rushed in to take advantage of the cleared space and perfect growing conditions Jenga created. Keeping the ground free of these imitations remains a challenge and, at the risk of taking this analogy a step too far, the most effective method of suppressing them has been to treat them like weeds and try to fill any gap in the market with an original Jenga game (or genuine Jenga line extension) as a gardener fills every space in a bed with desirable plants, leaving no room for weeds to take hold.

A brief excerpt from chapter 12 of ‘About Jenga’

Jenga, the Name of the Game

Excerpt from: Jenga. Jenga? Jenga!

‘What’s in a name, anyway? From the Ouija board to Twister, from Rubik’s Cube to Pictureka, toy and game designers often seek unique and memorable names, or names that cleverly describe both the thing and the play. “Jenga” is one clever game name.’

-Nicolas Ricketts,  Curator of Strong Museum of Childhood. Play Stuff

Excerpt from: About Jenga

‘So, why did this word jenga feel so right to me? Why, when most new words failed, did it succeed? And why, despite this success, have I avoided – albeit unconsciously until now-launching any other game with a seemingly meaningless word for its name.’

Leslie Scott, author of About Jenga

Chapter Four: ‘Real Tennis and Flappy Ducks’

‘But of the myriad games I have played over the years, Real Tennis is undoubtedly the one to have exercised the greatest influence over my life. I met my husband through Real Tennis, and in many respects, it was because of the game of Real Tennis that I became a professional designer of games.’ About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name.’

Chapter Three: ‘Intel Inside’

book image‘For three years in Oxford, a city world famous for its ancient university, its beautiful buildings, its “dreaming spires,” Intel UK occupied a few uninspiring little offices about the Potato Marketing Board in a drab three-story sixties building situated on Between Towns Road in Cowley.’ About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name

Chapter One: Building Blocks

About Jenga Cover

‘ Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, East Africa, 1955. Are when and where I was born relevant to this story of the origin of Jenga or its success as a game, or even to my own success as a games designer? Well, maybe. Certainly, many people argue that both nature and nurture significantly influence the talents you have and the choices you make throughout life. So, perhaps a brief summary of my background and family might shed some light on how and why Jenga came about in the first place.’  About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that became a Household Name (7)

The ‘About Jenga’ ARCs have arrived!

About Jenga Cover

The Advance Reader’s Copy editions of the book  About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that became a Household Name are now being sent out to the book trade by the publishers Greenleaf Book Group Press,  and to the media by the publicists

Seeing this, my first book, set and bound  (albeit as an uncorrected paperback, galley proof ) is almost as exciting -for me -as seeing Jenga, my first game, packed and ready for its launch at the London Toy Fair in 1983.