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Saturday, September 07, 2013


I always love it when I do a blog entry on a toy from my childhood. Whenever I reminisce about a toy from my past, I am instantly taken back to a time period in which the only worry I ever had was deciding on whether I wanted Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms, or Frosted Flakes for breakfast.

Sigh. If only we could go back in time to the days in which life was so much simpler.

Now, I've told you all before, but a lot of my toys growing up were secondhand toys. Part of the reason for this was because of the fact that my family didn't have a whole lot of disposable income to spend on luxuries, and they became the masters of stretching a dollar. Believe me, I appreciated it in the long run, because it has made me appreciate what I do have in this world, and it certainly didn't make me a very materialistic person. I know how to shop on a budget and don't need to have luxury things to make me happy.

(Of course, if the opportunity did come around where I did have the chance to enjoy the life of luxury, I would take it. I'd probably be very uncomfortable with it all, but I would take the opportunity. After all, we all deserve to treat ourselves once in a while, right?)

Okay, what was I talking about? Oh yeah. Secondhand toys.

I grew up playing with toys that were older than I was, which was okay. A lot of those classic Fisher-Price playsets kept me entertained for hours, and I think that I played with my sister's Weeble treehouse millions of times as I was growing up. Why wouldn't I? They were still fantastic toys.

Of course, as a child I couldn't help but get mesmerized by the television ads that used to air during Saturday Morning Cartoons. You know the ones I mean, don't you? The ones that advertised the latest toys and games that kids had to have! I gotta say, those toys were tempting, and I know that I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed – and a slight bit jealous – to see some of my classmates bringing in some of these toys in for show and tell, when I didn't have the toys myself.

You know something though? I always found ways around all that. If I couldn't afford the toys myself, I would find ways to enjoy them on a budget. For video games, I would rent them from the local video store. The elementary school classrooms always had toys on hand in case we were stuck inside on a rainy day for recess. And, you know those kids who wander through the toy department in stores pushing the buttons on every toy to listen to them talk or play music? Yep. I used to be one of those kids.

It almost seems like some sort of karmic retribution that I now work inches away from a toy department and get incredibly annoyed by kids who wander through the department to play with all of the toys there. But, you know what? I would be a hypocrite if I said anything to them because I used to do the same thing.

And of course there was always Christmas, in which Santa would always bring all of us kids one big gift. I often wondered how Santa Claus managed to be able to always surprise all of us with presents. I didn't exactly consider myself to be the most behaved child in the world, and was always surprised at how generous he was. And as I grew older, I still have to admit how Christmas was always executed so well, considering how things really were like. But you know, all of those memories were generated by love and warmth. Nothing could be better than that.

So, I present to you one of these special memories, courtesy of Christmas 1987.

That was the year that I seem to recall getting dozens of presents from a variety of relatives, and even a couple of family friends. Mostly I received new clothes, but there were a few books, toys, and games to unwrap underneath the tree that year.

And today's blog subject happens to be all about the gift that I loved the most that year.

When I was younger, I was always big on toys which allowed me to be able to build things. I certainly was a little mini-architect back in those days. It's a wonder that I didn't pursue architecture as a career choice with the number of Lego buildings and wood block sculptures that I created as a child.

Or, perhaps maybe I should have taken on a career in demolitions, as I often would be the best at knocking down the buildings that I just spent hours creating.

So, needless to say, when I grabbed a present under the tree and beneath the red and green paper was the game “Jenga”, I was so excited!

Yes, we are going to be talking about the board game Jenga in the blog today. It was the one present that I wanted more than anything in the world that Christmas, and it was the one gift that I practically begged my parents to buy for me that Christmas. I think I must have written Santa Claus two dozen letters asking him for various toys – Jenga being top priority.

Of course I would play Jenga the way that Jenga was meant to be played. You build up a tower, and then you try to take pieces out from the bottom and stick them on top, building the tower higher and higher without making the tower collapse. The person who made the tower collapse lost the game. It was a game that required far more skill than people realized. You really had to have a steady hand and a calm demeanor to make sure that your piece did not knock down the leaning tower of Jenga. It was a game that sounded easy, but was actually quite challenging. And anyone who knows me knows that I enjoy a challenge when it comes to playing games.

Of course, there were other uses for Jenga that I came up with when building a simple skyscraper got to be boring. Jenga blocks could be built into a pyramid if you were creative enough. I was really into the Ewoks and Droids cartoons when I was a kid, and I used Jenga blocks to build Ewok huts! I even had a Fisher-Price school house play set in which I had lost the furniture that went with it, and I used Jenga blocks to build tables and chairs! Believe me, Jenga blocks were that versatile – if you had a vivid imagination as I did as a child.

Now here's a question for you. Do you know how Jenga was created, or even where the name Jenga came from?

Well, apparently in Swahili, Jenga is loosely translated as meaning “to build”. Makes sense, given that the whole idea of Jenga was all about building. Jenga was created by a woman named Leslie Scott, who co-founded Oxford Games. Scott was born and raised in East Africa, where she learned to speak both English and Swahili. And, the inspiration behind Jenga was based on a game that she grew up playing with her family in the early 1970s using children's wooden building blocks that were purchased from a sawmill located in Ghana.

It was a game that provided Scott's family so much joy that Leslie Scott believed that she had a game idea that other children would enjoy as much as she did. It took her a few years to get everything together, but Jenga was first exhibited at the 1983 London Toy Fair, selling the game through her own production company – Leslie Scott Associates.

TRIVIA: Did you know that the first sets of Jenga were manufactured by the Campbell Village Trust in Botton, Yorkshire? And that the V&A Museum of Childhood exhibited one of the original Jenga sets from thirty years ago?

So, the toy garnered some interest at the 1983 London Toy Fair, but it wouldn't be until the following year when Jenga really exploded in popularity. In 1984, a California entrepreneur talked to Scott about importing and distributing the game throughout Canada and the United States, and by 1985, Jenga began appearing on toy shelves all over North America.

It is estimated that since Jenga's introduction to the world in 1983, Jenga has sold upwards of fifty million sets! That's an equivalent to more than 2.7 billion Jenga blocks!

TRIVIA: Now did you know what the unofficial record was for tallest Jenga tower ever built before the whole thing collapsed? According to the packaging copy of one edition of Jenga, the tallest tower was built by Robert Grebler, reaching a height of forty and one-half levels. The tallest I think I ever built one was twenty-six. So, that's pretty impressive.

And, did you also know that there have been several different versions of Jenga made? There's “Throw N' Go Jenga”, in which players would throw a coloured die and have to remove blocks based on what colour the die showed. There's “Truth or Dare Jenga”, in which you'd have to share a juicy secret or perform a silly stunt based on the colour of brick you remove. And, there's even a Jenga XXL version, which had life-size pieces for players to build a life-size tower!

Come to think of it, I kind of want one of those life-size Jenga sets!

And to conclude this story off...a lot of my board games that I owned as a child are now long gone...but I still have my original Jenga set from 1987. Anytime you want a Jenga challenge...come find me.

1 comment:

  1. I played Jenga A LOT throughout middle school, high school and college and, to this day, I still love the game. I never knew any of its background or this trivia, so that's interesting. But now I feel the need to play!