Conversations in Management: Chuck Foley—Twister!

He never stopped having fun.

Mark Foley

FoleyMark was talking about his dad, Charles “Chuck” Foley, who, among other things, invented Twister. The elder Foley would have objected to the title, “inventor.” He maintained that, “inventors make something from nothing, like the light bulb.” He preferred to call himself, “a free-lance toy designer.” It wasn’t much of a distinction, because Twister did make something out of nothing. Well, almost nothing. The game consisted of a polka dotted vinyl sheet and a cardboard spinner. Twister’s patent called it, “an apparatus for playing a game wherein the players constitute the game pieces.” Its critics called it, “sex in a box.”

Chuck Foley may have set about creating a game that, “could light up a party,” but he was by no means all fun and games. A life-long tinkerer, his first successful invention came at age ten when he built a locking mechanism for his grandfather’s cattle pen. After a hitch in the Air Force, he tried a career in sales but soon drifted back to his first love—invention. His mother called him a dreamer and predicted a dire future (thanks Mom!) but he persisted none-the-less. He went to work for a series of R&D firms and in time produced over 500 inventions. They included the flexible gun cleaner and the automatic cocktail shaker. Lightning struck in 1966 when he along with Neil Rabens brainstormed a game they called Pretzel. The company shopped it to Milton Bradley who changed the name to Twister and began to market it with some degree of trepidation. After all, with the possible exception of spin-the-bottle, no other game put men and women in direct physical contact the way Twister did. Sales were slow until the King of Late Night, Johnny Carson took note. On May 3, 1966 Johnny and his guest, Eva Gabor, demonstrated the game. Eva went first. When Johnny spun the dial and climbed on top of her, the audience exploded with laughter and a new fad was born. Milton Bradley would sell more than 3 million copies of Twister in 1966 alone. Forty-five years later, Twister is still lighting up parties.

Twister didn’t make its inventors rich. The royalties on the game went to their employer and both men moved on to other things. Foley continued to dabble in toys—safety tipped darts, plastic handcuffs that could be opened without a key, a backstop for a Nerf game—but hit it big again with a decidedly un-fun product. It’s an adhesive remover called un-du and while it won’t light up a party, it’s proven profitable for the entire Foley family.

Twister hit the market just as the sex-charged 60s hit their stride. With its risqué overtones, it changed the way men and women, girls and boys could interact in polite society. But, most of all, it was and remains fun. And that’s all it is. It’s a non-competitive game. There are no leagues, no pro players and no one has ever suggested it as an Olympic sport. It’s fun for the sake of fun. In our tense and often troubled world, even our entertainment can turn stressful. You pass through metal detectors to catch a professional game and a fist fight among parents at youth sporting events is no longer uncommon. It’s time for some Twister-like fun in our lives. No winners. No losers. This summer, play for laughs and relaxation. Tune out stress and dial in playfulness. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, remember Chuck Foley and never stop having fun!         —Ebert

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