Selling ‘sex in a box’

A Minnesota promotion agency introduces the world to Twister

Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor playing Twister / Photo captured from YouTube

It was December 1965, when a vice president at the Milton Bradley Company called the inventors of a new game, Twister, to say they were stopping production. The game was simply too risque.

Charles Foley and Neil Rabens created the game while working for the Reynolds Guyer Agency, a promotion and design firm in St. Paul. The pair saw the novelty of using a mat as a game board with people as the pieces.

After some tweaks, they patented the game, which they called Pretzel. Foley had a relationship with executives at Milton Bradley and was able to convince the company to buy the rights to market and sell his game, which the company renamed Twister.

Initial sales of Twister were lackluster. Many store owners were uncomfortable with the game’s suggestive connotation. Department store giant Sears refused to include the game in its catalog. Milton Bradley was ready to throw in the towel, until a public relations firm came up with a winning idea.

On May 3, 1966, Johnny Carson and actress Eva Gabor played the game on The Tonight Show. As the game evolved, the pair became intertwined. Eva smiled and made suggestive comments in her heavy Hungarian accent, while Johnny responded with priceless facial expressions that made the audience roar with laughter.

The next day, sales went through the roof and Milton Bradley put the game back into production. By the end of the year, 3 million units had sold, leading some competitors to say Milton Bradley was guilty of selling “sex in a box.”

In 1967, Twister was named Game of the Year, and it’s estimated that more than 65 million people have played Twister since its introduction.

Kate Roberts, developer of the Minnesota History Center exhibit “Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and 70s,” said: “It was the right product at the right time. Social norms were changing quickly. Twister was the perfect fit for the ’60s kids, teens and parents.”

In 1985, Hasbro acquired Milton Bradley. Meanwhile, the Reynolds Goyer Agency went on to produce a number of other successful toys, including the NERF ball.

Minnesota Historical Society staff. This article first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Minnesota Good Age.