Thursday, October 30, 2014

I Invented 'Operation' And All I Got Is This Lousy T-Shirt

What? No oral surgery option?
When John Spinello was a student of industrial design, he invented this game that involved some skill, a steady hand, and enough electronics to make some noise and light up a small bulb.

It was the early 1960s and games were a lot more simple, as were the abilities to amuse the younger set.

Mr. Spinello sold the rights to the game for $500 and went on with his life. He was a creative type and wasn't thinking in terms of marketing or potential sales. He got on with his life, while the man who bought the game for next to nothing sold it on to toymaker Milton Bradley Co., and earned a very tidy return on his investment.

Mr. Spinello kept the bragging rights, but he is not the bragging type. Few people knew that he had invented Operation, a game that is still popular, and still making money for the game's owner. As for the inventor, he took a severe hit in the recent economic downturn and ended up declaring bankruptcy, even as the Operation game kept right on amusing children, even in our more sophisticated times. Every now and then you need some silliness, like a plastic pencil representing writer's block or a little butterfly to be removed from a patient's stomach. And the desire to not sound the buzzer has not diminished, either. Fifty years on, and people are still a little competitive in that way.

Now it is Mr. Spinello who needs an operation but he's broke. Word got out, and the response has been overwhelming for the unassuming Bloomingdale, IL, resident.

A couple of game inventors who knew of Mr. Spinello's contribution to the industry got wind of his financial distress and set up a crowd funding site to raise money for some much needed oral surgery. In a little over a week, they nearly hit their goal of $25,000 so Mr. Spinelli can get the dental implants he needs. Hasbro, which now owns the game rights, has offered to buy the original prototype from Mr. Spinello. What could be more perfect for the company's archives than the mock-up that started it all? It's a museum piece. And considering how much profit they've earned on the game, they should be able to make a respectable offer.

If all goes well, the inventor of a classic game will get the medical care he needs, and have enough left over to help him through a rough patch.

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