Last November at ChiTag I had the opportunity to meet the inventor of Jenga, Leslie Scott (pic above). She was the featured Women In Toys speaker and had the entire audience hanging on her every word while she told of her experience with Jenga. It’s a wonderful story and I encourage you all to buy her book which talks about the adventure of taking Jenga from a household game to self production to a mass-market staple. It’s called “About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name” and you can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders. To give you a little peek into the book, I asked Leslie to do a little interview for my fantastic reader. Enjoy!
1. Can you tell me the history of Jenga? How did you come up with the game?
Hard to keep this answer brief as quite a long time elapsed between devising the first version of the game, and putting Jenga on the market. But in short – I came up with the game some time in the mid-1970s when playing around with my then baby brother’s set of building blocks. Seven years later, I figured out how to mass produce the game, dubbed it Jenga, and took it to market.
2. What other names did you consider giving your game?
Once I had decided to turn it into a commercial product, what had, for many years, been a game played exclusively with my family and friends, Jenga was the only name I considered naming it. For some reason, the name felt so utterly right.
3. What was the most exciting part of the invention process for you?
The most exciting part of the process for me is witnessing people I don’t know playing and enjoying the game I designed. I still get a kick from this.
4. What has been the most frustrating?
I wouldn’t call it frustrating exactly, but the oddest part of having designed something that has become a household name, is the feeling that it has taken on a life of its own.
5. Anything else you’d like to say about inventing, Jenga, the game industry, etc.?
I think any designer in any industry would probably agree that truly novel ideas are rare, and are very hard to sell, both to the trade and to the consumer. I was extremely lucky that I launched Jenga just after Trivial Pursuit had hit the big time and the toy trade was actively looking for the next big board (as opposed to computer) game. I think the game would have been passed up if TP had not blazed a trail.
6. What is your favorite game? (can’t be Jenga)
Is it okay to pick a game I co-designed??? My favourite game in all honesty is ANAGRAM: The ingenious game of juggling words, which is an Oxford Games (my company) version of an old Victorian game called Word Making, Word Taking. I LOVE this game. And as everybody who knows me well knows, will play it at the drop of a hat!
But if it’s cheating to pick one of my own games…. then I think I would have to choose DIPLOMACY, which I confess I haven’t played for a while, but which I think is a brilliant game. I also like The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game.
I hear rumors that Leslie will again make the trek across the Atlantic this November to be in Chicago for ChiTag and the TAGI awards. You should definitely stop by — and maybe you’ll get to see Leslie and (fingers crossed) Hasbro’s GIANT JENGA set that was such a hit at ChiTag last year! Because really, games that make adults look tiny are just AWESOME!!