Jenga creator talks strategy


Q. Some players use the “tap method” to move the blocks out of place while players like the “slow slide and pull” trick. Which do you suggest?

A. I use both techniques, depending on the circumstances. I also resort to the ‘squeeze and shift’ move when things get desperate. If the central block has been removed from a layer, it is possible to squeeze the remaining two outer blocks together, thus shifting the tower so that the layers above are now balancing on just one of the blocks, leaving one block free to remove. (Hard to explain, easier to demonstrate)

Extract from an email Q & A exchange with Chris Illuminati  (I never did get around to asking him if this is his real name or just a nom de keyboard?) about Jenga strategy, which gave rise to an article in phillyburbs.com (click for full article, and more Jenga tips)

About Jenga in the News

About Jenga was published on October 1st.  I’m now two weeks into my tour across the United States promoting the book, and currently in Los Angeles about to attend a book- signing event at Chevalier’s Books, hosted by Bob Peirce, the Chairman of Brit Week.

Media coverage for About Jenga has been widespread and diverse, and reviews have been reassuringly good – on the whole – and where critical, the criticism has been both fair and constructive.

The Wall Street Journal’s review, for example, criticises me for displaying a tendency in the book to meander off course from time to time, which I agree I do. But, in my defence, I would say that I take these side trips deliberately and with a purpose; they are not just aimless rambles through the park.

As the WSJ points out About Jenga is a book of three separate, but interconnected parts.

In part, it is a history of the game. Today, 70 % of all families in the United States (Hasbro’s market survey 200) recognise the name Jenga, and know the game even if they have never played it themselves; yet very few people know Jenga’s provenance. In part it is a business case study of how I took Jenga, and other games, to market. And, in part it is an exploration of why Jenga, the game, is so successful and why Jenga, the word, has stuck.

To do justice to any of these three themes, I found it necessary to go off on the odd tangent. For example, in asking why Jenga has become a household name; I explore just what branding is in the first place, and in asking why Jenga is so successful a game; I consider what makes a ‘good game’ and why we play games at all.

Geoff Williams in an article in AOL Business says

‘Not that Scott, who will turn 54 this December, has ever said she wrote the book to let people know that she is the one behind the game, but, boy, if you had created a global phenomenon, wouldn’t you want a little recognition?’

Well, of course one of the reasons I wrote About Jenga was that I wanted to be recognized as the game’s creator.  However, in truth, this was not because I sought fame per se, but because it puzzled me that neither Pokonobe nor Hasbro (who own the rights to the game) were actively promoting the fact that Jenga has a living, breathing (almost 54 year old!) author. Promoting this fact would, in my opinion, be a pretty powerful tool to use to counteract the growing impression that Jenga is a generic or ancient game. An utterly false impression that suits Jenga’s many imitators very well.

Jenga, the generalist

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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’

Good design is not a matter of taste

Good design, like good art is not a matter of taste  – according to the sculptor Anish Kapoor.

Writing in the tastefully produced magazine of The National Trust, Kapoor takes a subtle dig at the Trust’s predominantly middle-class membership by suggesting that it is time the British ‘powers that be’ (i.e. Prince Charles & his ilk?) developed the aesthetic equipment to be able to know the difference. And, that until they do, design in this country – architecture in particular – will continue to be judged good or bad in terms that are based on the most banal questions of taste.

Kapoor suggests that our inability to view contemporary design in terms of style and with an open mind to how it relates to life now, not to life as it was in the past, is due to a surprising lack of confidence we British have in our own culture.

I think Anish Kapoor is right, but I don’t know when or how as a nation we grew so timorous as to fear our identity cannot withstand, let alone rejoice in, the so-called shock of the new. The cultural history, which defines us and which we so venerate, is rich. But it is rich precisely because our ancestors were innovative and daring artists, architects and engineers – designing to meet the needs of their time, as we should design to meet the needs of today; with an eye on the future.

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

Trademarks and Other Hazards

The following is an excerpt from a chapter on the tricky business of intellectual property rights in About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name.

In the same Massive Change interview, Lawrence Lessig points an accusatory finger at the Walt Disney Corporation, whose founder happily and lucratively created much of his greatest work by building on ideas in the public domain, such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Yet, the corporation has since very successfully persuaded governments to extend copyright, with the effect that nobody is free to build on any work the corporation has created or property it now owns for an exceedingly long time – for example, my particular bugbear, Winnie the Pooh.