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From the 1930s to the 1950s, Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley were the dominate forces in the business of board games. Parker cranked out many of the time-honored classics (Monopoly, Clue, Sorry!, et al), while MB was a major manufacturer of licensed games based on popular TV icons of the day (Howdy Doody, Captain Video, Hopalong Cassidy), as well as a few classics of their own. They were all basically the same: a game board, pawns, cards and a spinner or dice, as well as play money and a few minor wood or plastic pieces for some titles. But by the early 1960s, another major manufacturer--the Hollis-Queens, New York-based Ideal Toy Corporation--would shake up the industry with an avalanche of new games that looked, played, and even sounded like nothing ever before attempted by any other game manufacturer. Their elaborate and highly-unusual games attracted the attention of postwar baby-boomers and influenced the entire game industry...for a while, anyway.

It probably all started with a man named Marvin Glass. He was a free-lance toy designer who, throughout his career, designed some of the best-known and remembered toys and games for a number of manufacturers, including Marx (Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots), Milton Bradley (Operation; Mystery Date), Hubley (Jungle Hunt and Golferino, the latter of which Milton Bradley later brought back as Pivot Golf), and Hasbro (Lite-Brite). But when Marvin teamed up with Ideal, it resulted in his most prolific--and imaginative--output from any one toy manufacturer. When Ideal started adding games to their line of products, they wanted them to stand out among the conventional board games by way of unusual devices and lots of big 3-D plastic. Glass obliged by designing games with mechanical gear-driven components, or just pieces that interlocked with one another and employed gravity, balance and spring power to work. He and Ideal made a good team.

Before Marvin started designing games for Ideal, however, he designed toys for the company. His first solid-gold hit was likely 1960's Mr. Machine. Toy scholars and historians are familiar with the story of how the idea for the red-and-clear plastic wind-up robot came from an argument Glass had over the phone with his ex-wife, who complained that Marvin had become nothing more than a machine. He decided to take her insult for inspiration and designed an ingenious and unusual toy which would later be found under many a Christmas tree in 1960.

After unveiling a couple more mechanical marvels--1961's Robot Commando and 1962's King Zor, Marvin Glass embarked on his first wave of game ideas for Ideal. These included the battery-operated quasi-game Odd Ogg, Bop The Beetle (a great way for kids to go outside and work off excess energy), and Haunted House, Ideal's first board game where the "board" was redesigned as a huge, stand-up plastic diorama. It was the first of many Ideal games to follow (some designed by Glass, some not) to substitute strange-looking plastic devices for ordinary game pieces. Even the spinner was unusual: a plastic box with a 3-D owl which hooted when a lever was pulled to determine moves (some copies, however, featured an ordinary cardboard spinner for some reason).

The following year--1963--was a red-letter year for Ideal and Glass. Their collaboration on the now-classic Mouse Trap Game--which almost got released as just a toy until a game board and die were added--helped put Ideal on the map as a game manufacturer. And even before copies started flying off the store shelves as Christmas was nearing, Ideal decided to make its presence known year-round over television. Prior to that time, Ideal's sponsorship was limited to seasonal spots on CBS' Mighty Mouse Playhouse or NBC's annual coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But, taking a cue from Mattel, who exclusively sponsored Matty's Funday Funnies on ABC (a series which would later introduce viewers to the new animated version of Bob Clampett's Beany and Cecil), Ideal assumed full sponsorship of of a brand new, once-a-week, syndicated cartoon series from Hanna-Barbera Productions, The Magilla Gorilla Show. Debuting in January 1964 in after-school slots on stations around the U.S., it was an instant hit with the kids...and a potential problem for their parents whose kids were now soaking up weekly ads for all the newest Ideal products 52 weeks a year. But hey...at least with Magilla and the later Peter Potamus Show (also sponsored by Ideal), the "stars" were originally conceived as cartoon characters--not as toys who would later become cartoon characters, unlike so many Saturday morning shows of the 1980s that came under attack for being "half-hour toy commercials".

The cast of characters from The Magilla Gorilla Show was featured on the cover of sponsor Ideal's 1964 product catalog.

With the success of their Mouse Trap Game and the two cartoon shows featuring their full sponsorship, Ideal proceeded full-speed with more new big plastic boardless games (plus a few that had boards) introduced in 1964 and continuing on through the decade with more new titles each year. Despite some that failed, Ideal was enjoying enough success with 3-D plastic-dominant games for rival toy companies to grab a piece of the action. Milton Bradley had a hit in 1965 with Bash! (players tried to knock sections of a plastic man's "body" out with a hammer, hoping to not cause him to fall apart), Transogram introduced a few plastic board games that glowed in the dark (most notably Green Ghost), and Mattel brought out Bats In The Belfry in 1964, in which steel balls were dropped into a plastic castle to make bats fly out to be caught by players.

Meanwhile, Parker Brothers tried to steal some of Ideal's thunder with a 1966 offering called "Hey Pa! There's A Goat On The Roof", which was intended to be their contribution to the 3-D game craze. It is commonly believed that the ultimate failure of this game was due to its lengthy and unusual name*, but I beg to differ. "Hey Pa!" had the big plastic and the deep box that distinguished many of Ideal's hits. What it was lacking was a reason for these features to exist. In the hands of Ideal's developers, the game might have included a spring-loaded device used by players to shoot plastic tin cans at the goat to get him off the barn roof, or some similar method of play. But what Parker Brothers came up with instead was an uninspired, ordinary, move-along-the-path board game in which the plastic barn, haystack, tree stump and other pieces affixed to the board served as nothing more than spaces to land on. The metal cowbell didn't add much, and the plastic tin cans were basically a commodity to try and win. Sure, some kids had it and liked it, but alongside Ideal's imaginative plastic devices used in their own games, "Hey Pa!" was definitely a poor--albeit good-looking--cousin.

*During the 1970s when Parker Brothers had a manufacturing plant in Des Moines, Iowa (long since closed), the local newspaper ran a story about the company's successes and failures...and the article's author actually thought "Hey Pa! There's A Goat On The Roof" might have sold better with no other changes if the title had just been shortened to "Goat". Uh, this game was created in 1966--not 1936.

In 1967, Ideal began referring to themselves as "The Good Game People", and Marvin Glass tried to help uphold that claim. The company continued to advertise heavily on television near the holidays, and in 1971 the commercials for their new Rebound and Zig-Zag-Zoom games featured background music that has since turned up in other unlikely places. The music in the Zig-Zag-Zoom spot went by the title "The Good Word", performed by Geoff Love and his orchestra, and a few years later it was used once in a while as one of the rotating themes for Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show which followed Johnny Carson late nights on NBC. The "Rebound" theme was a Stan Worth composition titled (please don't ask me how he came up with this one) "Game In Mulch Wedlock". It's one of several offbeat Worth ditties featured on a cassette tape of theme music from various Jay Ward TV cartoons of the 1960s (Bullwinkle, George Of The Jungle, etc.) which could be ordered from The Dudley Do-Right Emporium in Los Angeles, which is sadly no longer in business.

In 1973, someone came up with a new Ideal sponsor tag that tended to rank up there with the 1965-1974 Screen Gems TV film logo in terms of "eerieness". It began with a medium dark blue outer oval on a white background rapidly spinning toward the screen to the rapid-fire sound of electronic techno beeps. When it stopped, the letters I-D-E-A-L flashed on in different colors, moving into place inside the outer oval as five elongated, electronic "chimes" were heard. Finally, the entire image rapidly flashed repeatedly between the multicolored version on a white background, and an all-white version on a blue background with the words "Ideal Toy Corporation" underneath, to the sound of something like drum-thumping and staying on the white-on-blue visual for the fade-out (oddly enough, the DuPont Corporation--with a similar logo--used an almost-identical sort of tag for shows they sponsored a year or two earlier). But the good times were slowly giving way to the grim realities of time marching on. Plastic was thought to be in short supply, prices were going up and several long-time discount department store chains were forced to call it quits during that poor economic period. Sadly, Marvin Glass died two years later in 1975, and with him may have died the interest, drive and enthusiasm to create imaginative new games as good as his biggest hits for Ideal. Still, the company continued to produce its own trademark big plastic games each year until the company folded in the 1980s. During that decade, the Mouse Trap manufacturing rights went to Milton Bradley, and when I first saw a stack of new copies in a store with the MB logo on the box, I was devastated. A great era in game manufacturing was ending. Near the end the factory was relocated to Newark, then went through several changes of ownership. They became a subsidiary of CBS, then the View Master Corporation, and finally Tyco. When the Ideal name disappeared completely, other companies secured the rights to resume making several of their more durable hits.

Your friendly Webmaster here was one of Ideal's most enthusiastic fans as far as their games and a few other products were concerned (I was eight when they first introduced Mouse Trap and was probably the first kid on the block to have it), and I have put together a partial list of some of their games I had then or acquired many decades later, with descriptions and my personal ratings for each. Admittedly, not all of these were "good" games, and some didn't stay on the market too long as a result (I can name one or two certain individuals I've known who were of the opinion then that NONE of Ideal's games were good, but I'll spare you all that dismal chapter in my adolescence). But when Ideal had a real winner, those fortunate enough to have grown up with the original company knew they did.


KEY TO SYMBOLS

RATINGS:


An outstanding game that has withstood the test of time to remain on store shelves today.


A game which didn't quite reach "classic" status, yet had undeniable appeal in terms of both gameplay and design.


A game that had occasional mechanical hangups or might have worn out over time, but whose gameplay had novel appeal.


A game that was unsuccessful due to an often-malfunctioning and/or easily-broken plastic device, whose only merit was visual appeal.


Indicates a game designed by Marvin Glass & Associates.


Indicates a game which is currently still manufactured by another company.


Indicates a game for which there was definitely a TV commercial. (Animated TV gif courtesy of GAMEZNET)

Mouse Trap (1963)

Before it was rolled out nationwide, the original Mouse Trap game was test-marketed in Pittsburgh. A runaway success, it soon found its way onto store shelves everywhere, and more importantly, they flew off those shelves just as fast--1,232,467 copies during 1963 alone!

The initial appeal of this unusual game was undoubtedly due to the fact that kids then had seen Rube Goldberg chain-reaction devices at work in his own drawings and on television, especially in animated cartoons. With this game, they finally had the opportunity to put one together and set it off themselves. In fact, those who had this game then often ignored the fact that this *was* a game and just set up the trap. And this trap did tend to have a higher success rate of performing flawlessly more often than its two successors would (more about those later).

Some owners of the latter-day copies of this game have complained that it "never worked" and that it was too hard to assemble. For me, that never seemed to be the case, probably because I had one of the early copies that may have been manufactured with a bit more care. A lot of people appear to have trouble with the area where the bowling ball (now a second steel ball) is supposed to roll down the thing-a-ma-jig and the bathtub. At least comedian Dennis Miller did when he tried demonstrating an altered version of the assembly during a "Weekend Update" segment on Saturday Night Live. After failing to budge the ball two or three times, he simply pushed it off its perch on the smaller hole. Watching at home, I could easily see where whoever assembled it made their mistake. Take note, those of you who are concerned: There is a small tab on the Helping Hand Rod which--in the older games with the spring--is supposed to be positioned underneath the lowest hand in the plumbing, which compresses the spring and loads the mechanism so it triggers the ball off the top and on its way down to the diving board. Later copies leading up to today did away with the spring, and the tab on the rod is now repositioned in reverse, to be positioned so it rests on top of that same hand near the bottom of the plumbing. When that step is correctly followed, the mechanism should work just as well as it did in the older "spring" copies.

When I got a later copy in the 1980s to give as a gift to one of my own nieces, I admittedly had trouble getting the shoe to kick over the bucket holding the steel ball. Maybe after all those years of manufacturing, the die just wore out and they had to make a new one, and maybe the shoe is positioned a bit off-kilter so it has trouble hitting the bucket squarely. Or it could be that the later game boards (which got smaller in 1970 as did the box) have the holes to place the parts in positioned a bit differently. Or maybe the steel balls they use now are too heavy. But honest--the game still works today. If it didn't, it wouldn't be on store shelves anymore. It's nice to know at least one game of this type has survived 40 years and counting of buyouts, takeovers and other problems that commonly hound the toy industry...although I personally wasn't too happy with Ideal's eventual decision to complicate the assembly process with cheese cards and numbered spaces that might not allow a player to add a piece to the trap. There certainly wasn't anything wrong with the old method of adding a part when your mouse landed on a plain white space in the pre-1985 version.

Perhaps because this game was such a trendsetter for Ideal back in the day, they made a number of different TV commercials to advertise it instead of just one. The first one was shot on color film (color commercials were somewhat uncommon in 1963) and the excited shouting of "Mouse Trap!" in unison by all the players sounded a bit cloying to me, as I recall. Two years later they made another in which the plastic mouse pawns did the narration. And the year before that, I happened to catch--one time only--an even rarer 60-second spot that pushed both Mouse Trap AND the new Crazy Clock game in the same seamless minute.

Featuring narration by the late commercial voiceover veteran Mason Adams (who was used in a number of Ideal spots during the 1960s, was last heard on Smucker's and Cadbury Creme Eggs commercials and played Charlie Hume on the old Lou Grant series), this unusual ad opened with a shot of circus footage playing on a TV, with the camera panning over to a shot of the Mouse Trap box cover, then to some kids playing the game and operating the trap. Then the camera moved to a shot of the Crazy Clock lid and this game being played. Finally, the two box lids are shown in the same frame, and the camera slowly moves upward, taking in all the action with the kids as Mason asks "Which game do you like best--Ideal's Crazy Clock or Mouse Trap? Either way, they're both more fun than a three-ring circus." The background music used only in this commercial, incidentally, was the main title theme from the movie, "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". I kid you not.

More Mouse Trap TV tidbits: When Danny Kaye had his own variety series on CBS in the 1960s, he came out at the top of one show with an armful of unboxed Mouse Trap parts and proceeded to put the device together while singing an upbeat song. Unfortunately, I didn't really get to see more than the first few seconds of that segment as my folks turned off the TV (his show was on at 10 PM ET on Wednesday, which was a school night...), and for that reason, I dearly hope the tape of this episode has not been erased or thrown away, has been preserved with the same loving care as have all those old Ed Sullivan shows, and will someday turn up on a station or network I can pick up without leaving home.

In 1967, some of the old 1963 color footage from the original commercial was used in tandem with a shortened version of the 1966 ad for Ideal's Kaboom game and with an added-on visual tag of their new "Ideal--The Good Game People" slogan. I saw this one only once as well, on a color set we didn't have in 1963. Finally, if curiosity caused you to click on the picture of the set-up Mouse Trap game higher-up on this page, you were taken to another page showing a picture of the game's original prototype model. You may have noticed that some of the parts were molded in unusual colors not used in any production copies (to the best of my knowledge), and if you were REALLY sharp-eyed, you might have noticed the game board was a nonfolding, borderless sheet and the jet-black bowling ball actually had three "finger holes" in it! It was this prototype that was used in the original 1963 commercial.

Crazy Clock (1964)

Mouse Trap's first year of dominance in the board game field also meant that an offshoot was inevitable. So in the fall of 1964, Ideal unveiled the Crazy Clock game, which came in the same size box as the 1960s version of Mouse Trap, but employed a special deck of cards instead of a board, dice and pawns to play the game. Once again, the picture of the actual game shown above is accompanied by a picture of an oddly-colored prototype with some parts in green (the only colors used in the store copies were red, yellow and dark blue, with no variances in regard to which color was used for which piece) and a deck of what looks like 150 cards (the production copies contained fewer than 30). Each card described a numbered step in building the contraption, with players drawing cards from each other's hand in hope of getting the next one in sequence.

When all pieces were in place, one player was left holding the "Crazy Clock Game" card, and this lucky player got to wind the key in the plastic alarm clock and win the game...unless something went wrong with the mechanism, whereupon an opponent got a chance to wind it and maybe steal the win from their opponents. And there was a lot that went wrong in this contraption--from the ball of yarn stopping in the middle of the stairway or not opening the door, to the running feet rolling down the fence rail cockeyed so the golf ball wouldn't get kicked off the tee, to the golf club or candle not triggering their respective springs. But that was part of the game's appeal--if it worked flawlessly every time, the player who had the special card would automatically win every game. Put yourself in the shoes of a player who *didn't* get the card and had to watch as the kid with the card would the clock. Now picture something going wrong with the mechanism...and the device works for you instead.

Of course, this thing's penchant for failure could act up so often that it might take a bit longer than necessary to find a winner. Maybe that's why it eventually lost to Mouse Trap in the popularity and longevity sweepstakes. Yet this game somehow enjoyed a brief revival in the 1990s. Toys-R-Us sold a repackaged version as part of its in-house Pavillion brand game series, and Cardinal Games sold it elsewhere under the title Wake Up Sam. Both of these remakes were identical, contents-wise to the Ideal original (oddly enough, the alarm clock was once again stamped on the back with a 1964 Ideal Toy copyright), except that three various-sized steel balls were included instead of the one steel ball (the egg) and two marbles (the ball of yarn and the golf ball) Ideal used, as well as a cheaper-quality punch-out card deck and a different type of spring for the busy pole. Speaking of which, if you lost the spring in the old Ideal version (as I did in my original copy; mercifully, Ideal sent me two identical replacements) you were somewhat sunk as far as that part of the mechanism went. That original bouncy, lightweight spring was so unique and necessary to correct operation of the contraption that no hardware store had an acceptable duplicate. I know all too well.

The TV commercial for Crazy Clock was, visually, almost identical to the first Mouse Trap spot, but the background music was a Spike Jones-type "doo-wacka-doo" number with a narrator who sounded somewhat like Buddy Hackett (during the footage of the running feet rolling down the rail, he went "Tick-tock-tick-tock..." to the beat of the music). That commercial was most commonly shown on The Magilla Gorilla Show in its initial run, and there was a blurb in tiny print in the lower-left corner of the colorful and beautifully-designed box lid asking kids to watch the show every week. The same printed plug could be seen on the boxes used for a few of Ideal's non-game items like The Big Press.

Fish Bait (1965)

Another year passed, and another Rube Goldberg-inspired game was introduced by Ideal: Fish Bait. Mouse Trap was still outselling Crazy Clock in 1965, and that may have accounted for the decision to go back to a Mouse Trap-type game board with pawns and a die for this one, which had a smaller box and game board, and fewer pieces. Sadly, although this was certainly a good-looking game, it soon became apparent to almost anyone who owned it that the creative juices at Ideal were running dry, as far as the imagination necessary to creating a hit game of this type was concerned. Nonetheless, I decided to bump up the rating from one to two mice, because having recently gotten it out, setting it up and running the mechanism, it does tend to work...usually.

Like Mouse Trap, players moved their plastic fisherman pawns along a path, adding pieces to the contraption when they landed on a white space. But unlike Mouse Trap, in which a player's pawn needed only to land on a certain space on the flat board to be caught by the device, Fish Bait's method proved awkward. If a man landed on the "Fish Bait" space, the player had to transfer him to a plastic rowboat-pier assembly and slip a small plastic ring (called a life preserver) around his legs. The ring was secured to a long rubber band whose other end was hooked to a large plastic fish with an open mouth, and the player then stretched the rubber band and hooked the notched bottom of his man onto the edge of the pier. Now he was ready to be caught by an opponent who landed on a "Catch Fish" space in the loop, but if another player landed on "Fish Bait", the man on the pier had to be unhooked and returned to the loop, with the attaching process repeated for the new "victim". This meant that--also unlike Mouse Trap, where two or three mice could share the cheese space and a player landing on "Turn Crank" could eliminate them all and win the game--only one player at a time could be eliminated if the Fish Bait device worked.

The way it worked also seem less-inspired than the other two. Mouse Trap's action took on a backward "S" pattern, but Crazy Clock was probably more interesting to watch, what with things going in, out, up, down and around to get the sleeping man out of his bed. Fish Bait's mechanism was not so much chain reaction as it was semi-perpetual motion. After pushing down on an "open hand" which was attached to a pivoting log, a marble was pushed out of a crow's nest by a rod placed between the log and the nest, rolling down a series of logs and into the "open hand log" which pivoted and released a second marble, then the process was repeated with three more marbles. After leaving the logs, each marble rolled along an "s"-shaped path in a "rickety dock", and over a pair of "rocking seabirds". Then they all dropped into a "balancing log" with the last marble tilting the log so they all rolled into the rowboat and caused the poor fisherman to be triggered off the pier and into the fish, whose mouth snapped shut.

This game was plagued with two more problems that likely prevented it from achieving Mouse Trap's success. In the two previous games, the removal of any one piece would disable the device from operating correctly, except the washtub in Mouse Trap. But the Fish Bait contraption would have worked just as well (better, actually) by eliminating four pieces: an "old fisherman" standing in the center of the crow's nest who revolved with each marble's release just for show, the two rocking seabirds who also appeared to be put there just for show, and *especially* a plastic sign reading "Beware--Man-Eating Fish", which sat in a hole in a corner of the dock and contributed nothing at all to the mechanics or support of another moving piece. But perhaps there was a point to the seabirds being in the marbles' path. Without the birds, the marbles rolled through the "s" with no problem. With them, they might get "hung up" on the birds sometimes, thereby providing a would-be "victim" with a "stay of excecution". But a few necessary parts were somewhat prone to breakage: the rod, rubber band and that thin plastic life preserver ring. I've seen (and successfully tried in my copy) rings of this size and denseness made of rubber, and if Ideal had only contracted someone to supply them with break-resistant rubber rings of that type, this game might have gotten more play from its owners and stayed in production a bit longer. But perhaps not: the more this game was played, the more prone the fishermens' undersides were to wearing down to the point where it would be harder to keep them hooked to the pier.

Some sources say this game was advertised on TV, but I swear I never saw any commercial for it. The closest I came to seeing it plugged on TV was on a daytime broadcast of Art Linkletter's House Party, when copies were once given as one of the gifts to the kids who "said the darndest things" that day. (If a real commercial ever was made for this game, I want to see it someday if a print still exists). By 1966, the Fish Bait game was sleeping with the fishes, Ideal threw in the towel on trying to develop the next Mouse Trap, and it remained for Topper Toys to try their luck with the Silly Safari game while Multiple Toymakers pinned their hopes on a series of model kits of devices that--unlike any of the games--actually credited Rube Goldberg.


Tip-It (1965)

Tip-It was the first in a long line of Ideal games which had to do with keeping something balanced to prevent it from toppling and, as was so often the case, only the original such game became the enduring classic which stayed in production. The object here is to use a special plastic fork to scoop up different color discs off three posts attached to a tripod balancing on a perch, post and base assembly below it, taking care not to cause a baldheaded acrobat balancing on a higher post and perch weaving freely with the tripod and discs, to fall off.

In the long-running Ideal original, the discs were worth points--25 for red, 10 for blue and 5 for yellow--with 100 points winning the game. The color of disc a player had to remove was determined by a spinner. If a player caused the acrobat to fall, he/she had to return half of their accumulated rings to the posts. Curiously, though, the original TV commercial mentioned that a player who caused him to fall instead had to give each player a ring. The original version also featured a small rubber Gravity Ring which could be pushed higher up the long pole in order to make the game more challenging for players who got better at it. Players had to use the fork only--never their hands--to steady the weaving tripod or position it correctly to get the desired disc. Those familiar with the game as it existed for the past several decades will probably recall having to transfer discs from one post to another in an effort to get a certain color disc that always seemed to be near the bottom of all three stacks...or just to try and keep the whole thing balanced.

The box went through several design changes during the Ideal years. The side aprons on the 1965 original showed the acrobat balancing on the Ideal logo. It was first redesigned in 1974, then again in 1983 (using a layout that was also used for a few of their other classics, such as Hands Down and Mouse Trap), and a final revamping that hung around during the transition from Ideal to Tyco. Then some time later, Mattel took over production, whereupon the parts were molded in Day-Glo colors and the acrobat became a clown. And for 2004, Mattel has performed a near-makeover on both the game and the rules. The latest revamping retains the original design tripod and rings, but the base is now filled out, both posts are now the same (short) length, and the three posts long enough to hold nine rings each have been replaced by shorter posts that hold three much smaller balancing tripods (called spindles), with three even shorter posts on them which hold three rings apiece. The final cosmetic change is, truthfully, a bit disheartening to me. Instead of an acrobat or clown, the object players have to keep from falling is just a "faceless" piece of plastic with a label bearing the game's name stuck to it. Why do away with its "personality"?

As for the revised game play, the point scoring portion has been eliminated: now all a player has to do to win is successfully remove three discs of the same color. The spinner now features spaces that call for a player to lose a turn or replace one ring. Those changes aren't so bad, but not only is the "Balancing Tip-It" substituting for the acrobat less appealing, it only has ONE opportunity to fall during the course of a game. The first time a player causes it to fall, the game ends. That's it.

Well, at least the rings look cooler in translucent Day-Glo colors and having nine places instead of three to remove and transfer them was a novel idea. My suggestion to Mattel: Bring back the acrobat and long pole, and allow him several chances to fall off with players being penalized rings as before, but retain the other changes.

UPDATE: The 2010 Poof-Slinky/Ideal release of this game--now called Steady Freddy because Mattel holds the rights to the name Tip-It--brings back the classic rules and acrobat (the blue rings are now purple), and despite the box illustration of "Freddy" balancing on a much shorter pole, the top pole is once again the same height; it's now two short poles with a connector in between. Way to go, Poof-Slinky!

Ker Plunk (1968)

This relatively simple game has proven so popular over the past few decades that it's since entered the realm of that select group of games whose format and principle got relentlessly ripped off by other companies trying to cash in, releasing their own variations on the very same theme, like Honey Bee Tree and Tumblin' Monkeys.

But before all the imitations, there was only the Ideal original, in which up to four players took turns pulling skinny plastic sticks, one at a time, out of a transparent tower, trying to keep a cluster of marbles sitting on the nest of sticks from falling down and into their numbered section on a base (if they remembered to turn the tower beforehand so the exit hole for the marbles was correctly lined up with the right compartment. After they all fall off the sticks, the player with the least number of marbles wins. Good players will often study the setup before they pull out a stick to see which ones are most likely to cause more marbles to fall, and avoid pulling them if they can. Once in most games, one unlucky player will pull a stick and cause a whole avalanche of marbles to fall (guess if he or she wins or not), then either put some of those marbles in a neighboring section if there are less than four players, or stack them on top of the bottom layer of marbles in their own compartment while the next player awaits their turn. And toward the end of the game, a player or two will likely have no choice but to pull out a stick that causes a marble or two to fall.

The game still does well in spite of a fairly tedious setup process involving the insertation of all those sticks in tiny holes at the tower's midsection, in hopes that they'll find a a natural point to exit through a hole on the other side (if you're not careful, you could break a stick or two...or three). And in some of the early copies, a few of the marbles were deformed with somewhat flattened sides which caused them to stay inside the bottom of the tower instead of rolling out as they fell. But marbles, at least, can be easily replaced. In the current Mattel version, the tower sections must be assembled, and owners of this version of Ker Plunk have complained of the tower not staying together. To this I say, screw the smaller box and bring back the solid, one-piece tube which only needs to be placed on the base.

Careful (1967)

Standing at over four feet high, Careful was unquestionably the tallest game Ideal made during the 1960s. Also one of the noisiest. As with today's Jenga, the idea was to pull out sections of a tower (plastic pillars in four colors, in this case) without making the whole thing fall. The catch was that which color pillar a player tried to remove was determined by a spinner. Orange and red pillars were worth 10 points each; blue and green pillars worth 5 points. Players could still decide for themselves which blue/green/whatever pillar to take, and a smart, sharp-eyed player would usually go for a pillar with a millimeter or two of space between its top and the underside of the yellow "floor" actually touching the tops of other pillars on that same level. Or he/she would take the second-easiest way out by choosing a pillar close to the square center hole in a floor and carefully pushing it toward the hole and through it. The trickier ways to accomplish a successful removal were to lift up one floor slightly and tilt the desired pillar so it could be safely removed, or by carefully sliding it along the maze-like path molded onto each level.

Another novel feature of this game was the bell tower atop the entire structure, with its bell that would ring anytime the tower was in danger of collapsing as a player worked to take out a pillar. Of course, as more pillars were removed, the tower would get shakier and more unstable, until finally, one player's efforts would cause the inevitable crash of floors and pillars. This ended one round, after which the tower would be rebuilt and a new round begun, with the number of rounds equaling the number of players. Running point totals had to be kept, with the winner being the one with the highest score after the final round.

Intended as a family game but more likely played by the younger members, Careful was advertised on TV in a fashion Ideal had, to the best of my knowledge, never before attempted for one of their games. In the commercial, the players were all teens or twentysomethings, and the music was groovy electric guitar riffs. It was certainly one of their best game commercials and, although it hasn't been produced in decades, the game was interesting and challenging. Most important: it was well made. Not one piece in my original copy ever got broken.

Toss Across (1969)

The time-honored, basic game of Tic-Tac-Toe has one major flaw in it: whenever a couple of well-seasoned players who know all the ins and outs of the game try to compete for a win, they almost always manage to foil each other's strategy until neither player can make three in a row and it ends up a "cat" game. So on occasion, great minds have collaborated on ways to add elements of surprise and chance to the game to make the outcome less predictable. Minds like those of Jack Barry and Dan Enright (Tic Tac Dough), Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley (The Hollywood Squares), and Marvin Glass and Ideal's game division, who near the end of the 1960s introduced the now-classic indoor-outdoor game Toss Across (made by Mattel these days), the first Tic-Tac-Toe variant in which an "X" could later become an "O" in the same spot.

Players take turns throwing bean bags at one of nine three-sided squares which--if they are hit right--revolve to expose a large X or O. The initial position for the squares is a mostly blank side with a small "X" and "O" on opposite ends; each player must aim for the symbol farthest from where he/she stands. The twist here is that a skilled thrower can make *two* squares turn up the symbols he/she needs, or a player can prevent the opponent from a win by causing one of the opposing squares to revert back to the starting position--or even to the opposite symbol. But an off-kilter aim can often spoil a player's strategy...or even give a win to the opponent! Practice makes perfect...

Hands Down (1964)

Hands Down has something in common with the home version of Jeopardy!: you need three or four people to play it with; it wouldn't work with just two. Used to be a real problem when I had this game as a kid. The announcer in the original TV commercial asked the kids to "leave Hands Down around for Mom and Dad to play"...which wouldn't work unless the kid acted as a third player. But for those unaffected by this slight handicap and had enough kids in the family or enough friends, this was a simple yet fun game, which it remains today.

The object is to get the most matching pairs of numbered cards, which is accomplished (hopefully) by taking a card from the deck or another player's hand. When a player gets a matching pair, he/she slams down a plastic hand on the Slam-O-Matic unit, and the other two or three players must immediately slam theirs down, hoping not to be last. The unit is a cleverly-designed device which always shows via the center tabs who was last to go "Hands Down", and that player must then allow the player who matched a pair to take a card from that player's hand. If it results in another match, the process is repeated until the player whose turn it is has no more matching pairs, and the next player goes.

This was the first of a few Ideal games that allowed players to be sneaky with their opponents. If at any stage of the game a player drew a card which didn't match any others he/she held, that player could pretend to hit their hand and fool any opponents into slamming theirs down, whereupon they'd have to lose a card to the trickster. As I would soon discover, this is not the greatest game to play with a sister or brother who regularly gloats over any gullibility flaws you might have. But there is some justice in the fact that if the player who decides to fool the others gets too enthusiastic and slams down their hand by mistake, that player must lose a card!

In the Ideal original, there were a pair of joker cards, a smiling one worth 10 points which served as a wild card and could match any numbered card, and a sad one which would deduct 20 points from a player who held it after all the pairs were laid down at game's end. The later and current copies from Milton Bradley (Hasbro) only have a smiling joker. Maybe they felt kids were brought down enough from being victims of their opponents' trickery.

When Ideal first brought out this game, it came in a box much bigger than it needed to be. The way the cards were packed resulted in a lot of wasted space, with the cards divided into four small piles to fill out a four-compartment shallow tray, and the Slam-O-Matic surrounded by maybe a bit more space than it required. The first adaptation of the MB revival had things a bit more in perspective, with everything in a smaller box (although the size of the Slam-O-Matic was reduced from Ideal's original dimensions as well). But Ideal did try two smaller boxes themselves while they still had the rights to it--a rectangular one in 1974 (with the cards on a punch-out sheet) and a square one in 1982--both of which had those corrugated end flaps that couldn't be closed without taping the box shut. One final change from Ideal days: the current version is devoid of the numbers Ideal used to have printed on the four plastic hands, and only has them differentiated by colors. I can't see a problem with that...but if it's ever presented a problem for latter-day players, I'd sure love to hear about it.

Panic! (1965)

Every so often during their heyday, Ideal's game division would try to expand their consumer base beyond the boundaries of Kiddieland and make a determined attempt to get the grownups interested in their games by unveiling one designed to appeal to them--not just the kids--in the hope that entire families would come together to play a game bearing the Ideal name as opposed to one made by Parker Brothers or Milton Bradley. Years later, their only solid-gold success in this regard would be not a game but a puzzle--Rubik's Cube. But that's another story. Fifteen years earlier, Ideal introduced--with little fanfare--a board game called Panic!, whose centerpiece was a plastic box with a spring-loaded lid which popped open when any one of six "panic buttons" were pressed.

The somewhat complicated game plan: Players are each given a "Panic Card" depicting a poor guy in a harrowing situation (stepping unknowingly into an open manhole, being on fire, meeting up with what appear to be three tough hoods), which have to be kept secret from the other players. They also receive several plastic "trouble discs" (yellow ones are worth one trouble; blue ones are worth five) which they have to dispose of in the course of play to have a shot at winning the game. They take turns rolling a pair of dice and moving their pawns around the board, and if they land on a numbered space, they drop the matching number of "troubles" into a slot in the Panic Box.

Other spaces permit a player to give trouble discs to opponents or vice versa, but as long as he/she keeps landing on numbered spaces only without rolling a "one" on either die, their turn can last as long as desired. But if a "one" is rolled, the player must press one of the six buttons on the box (if "snake eyes" are rolled, *two* buttons must be pressed!). If the lid stays shut, the player is safe. But if it opens, a total of 20 troubles must be taken from the box and given to the player who opened it, then the box is closed, the buttons raised and a plastic wheel spun to change the position of the button that will open it next time.

Any time a player gets rid of all their trouble discs, he/she gets to secretly look at only one of six "Solution Cards" placed face down on the board, hoping to find the one that resolves the specific "Panic" situation on the other card, thereby winning the game. If it's not a match, the player must try and remember not to uncover that card again and--interestingly--collect more troubles to have a chance to get rid of them and then pick a different card. An underlying message in this game, perhaps? That's probably the one major flaw in this game--it could start to drag on if players keep picking the wrong Solution Card. But this was certainly a novel and interesting attempt by Ideal to try and grab the grownups. The box certainly got my attention when I saw it in a store when I was only ten.

BTW, the solutions to the three "Panic" situations described earlier are: (A) a worker underneath the street sticks his head out the manhole just as the unsuspecting guy lowers his foot, (B) a second man throws a bucket of water in the direction of the guy on fire, and (C) the trio of "hoods" are actually a walking advertisement for a costume company.

Battling Tops (1968)

(Above pic courtesy of Chuck Donegan)

First, the bad news: I found out decades ago from sharing my own vintage copy of this game with a fumble-fingered first-grader that the tops were prone to breakage in the wrong hands (when I was down to one top each of four different colors, I decided to put it back in the box and find another game for him to play with me), and it may be for that reason that the original Ideal copies tend to go for big bucks on eBay these days.

Now for the good news: This was one big plastic Ideal game that could be appreciated by the older kids and even teens and some adults. The original Clio award-winning TV commercial showed four kids playing it within the confines of a real boxing ring. The action was fast and furious as two to four players launched as many tops into a blue arena (a few rare copies had a green arena and Ideal's brief 1986 revival featured a red one), where they spun rapidly, collided with each other, and sometimes even got knocked out of the arena. The last one standing (or at least moving) won the round and the player then advanced a score peg into the next hole, with 10 points for one player winning the game.

Although many sources say there were six tops included in the original versions, I insist there were eight--two each of four colors. Each of the tops had a label to be applied to their faces, the labels had names for the various tops, including Rocky Rocko, Twirling Tim, Hurricane Hank and Dizzy Dan. I once brought my old copy to my junior high school card/game club, and one kid who chose Rocky Rocko as one of his tops misread the name as "Raquel Welch"! Ah, 1960s youth...


MORE GOOD NEWS: THE ORIGINAL GAME IS BACK IN PRODUCTION! (more or less)

Now you can buy a Battling Tops game without dipping into your kids' college fund! Mattel has brought back the classic version of the game* with only minor variations from the 1968 original: an arena that's about five inches smaller all around, six tops for real instead of eight, and the launching areas on the corners of the arena instead of the sides. But happily, it still plays just as well as the Ideal version, and at maybe $10 bucks, it's a good deal. So, be a champion...in the bout of the New Millenium!

*Marx Toys temporarily claimed the rights to the name "Battling Tops" after Ideal ceased manufacture of the 1986 red-arena copies and brought out their own version with two tops launched from mechanical ratchet devices. Strangely enough, another company had earlier used this type of launcher for their own knockoff with a different name while Ideal was still making their own original. This led Ideal to make a whole new TV commercial with a new group of kids playing it, and one kid referring to the game near the fade-out as "the original Battling Tops".

Swack! (1968)

Five years after Ideal introduced their hit game Mouse Trap, they decided to try their luck with a new game employing a mouse trap that worked in the more traditional way. Here, players took turns removing pieces of cheese from an outsize trap, scoring a certain number of points on a cheese-shaped scoreboard for the successful removal of a big or little piece, with the winner being first to reach the last hole on the board. If they weren't careful and sprung the trap, they lost some points. This was exactly the same method of game play Ideal used two years earlier in their more successful Kaboom game (take turns pumping up a balloon and scoring points, but lose some if it pops), only in Swack! you didn't have to hold your ears.

When I had a copy of this game around the time it was introduced, I was admittedly a bit long in the tooth to be of the more "appropriate" (read: younger) age to fully appreciate the simplistic play value; it must have been the aesthetics of it--the plastic cheese chunks and the bright red mouse trap and all that, and thus, it didn't get played a whole lot around our house. But my decision to give it a three-mouse rating came from the fact that the cheese pieces were "neat" and that I'd have enjoyed playing it more had I been about the same age I was when I had Ideal's original "mouse trap" game.

In the first copy of Swack! I had, the bar went all the way to the other end of the trap when it was sprung, but in a later copy I bought off eBay and sold shortly thereafter, the bar "stalled" halfway across. I thought that was a defect, but the 1968 TV commercial I saw for the first time around 2004 via an old 16mm print of it proved me wrong. Pictured above to the right of the actual production copy is a shot of the box as depicted in that commercial. For some reason, a number of Ideal game boxes went through total makeovers from the ones seen in the finished commercials to the ones that hit the store shelves, and the Swack! box was no exception. The box in the TV spot shows an actual photograph with some letter art surrounding it, while the final version is an artist's rendering (perhaps Ralph Peredia's work?) in which the trap looks a lot more intimidating than the one in the box. Something to think about here...

Tiger Island (1966)

"Can you feed the hungry tiger before he clobbers you?", asked the blurb on the box. Sadly, the answer appears to be "Usually not". This was one Ideal game I was glad never to have gotten when I was a kid and it was on the market. I can just hear other family members grumbling about "all this stuff being dramatized on TV" and their blatant and unfair dismissal of all big plastic Ideal games as "junk". For the record, folks, I never even knew they made a commercial for this game until I finally saw it in 1989 as part of a collection of old commercials I obtained on videotape. It certainly seemed to work better for the kids in that spot, as I discovered when I came across a copy of the game itself at an antique mall some years ago.

The object is to build a raft by adding "logs" to the frame, then inserting a rescue flag into the finished raft, signifying an "escape from Tiger Island", and a win. Standing between the players--who assume the roles of four plastic castaways affixed to the corners of the island base--and victory is, of course, a large plastic tiger wielding a club.

Players take turns spinning the tiger around by pulling and releasing a lever, then another player presses a button behind his/her castaway, which is supposed to stop the tiger squarely in front of one of the castaways--even the one belonging to the player who stopped the tiger. Once he stops, the tiger prepares to lower his club and clobber the castaway squarely on his little plastic head. The only way for the player to keep him from doing so is to flick the castaway's arm so that a marble he's holding will fly into the tiger's mouth and (hopefully) stop him from lowering the club. If the player is successful, he/she adds a log to the raft, given to him/her by the player who stopped the tiger. If not, the "victim" gives up one of his/her own logs to the opponent. If a player stops the tiger in front of his/her own castaway, he/she is awarded a log from each opponent if the tiger doesn't "lower the boom", but has to give up one log apiece to each opponent if the castaway is clobbered.

All of this undoubtedly looked good on the drawing board, in the commercial and when the finished product was all set up. But it seems like the failure rate for this thing is huge. My own copy NEVER seems to work as it's supposed to. Far too often, the tiger's club comes down while he's spinning, and even if it stays up until he's stopped, the club never seems to hit the castaway on his head; it just grazes the head and falls beside his feet. Furthermore, even if the marble manages to fly into his mouth, it has to land a certain way inside the tiger so the "stop" function is activated, and it often doesn't.

Several copies I've seen pictures of on eBay include a piece of paper with special instructions, presumably "helpful hints" on getting the tiger to work properly. The club stays up, I have heard, by means of a suction cup hidden inside the tiger's body. Anyone with this added instruction sheet, please do me a favor and e-mail me a scan so I can read it myself.

Speaking of hints and instructions, Ideal advises that the tiger's arm be left down for storage. So why did they design the cardboard insert to hold him with the arm in the UP position? At least Ideal gave thought to one important storage point: rather than have a kid risk breakage of the castaways or the island once they were snapped into the corners, they made the box deep enough so the four castaways could be left attached to the island so when putting the lid back on, it would clear everything and not be lopsided.*

If you had this game and managed to get it to work right all the time, I'd sure love to hear about it. Maybe Marvin Glass knew the secret(s), but he's not around to inform anyone. Sorry Mr. Glass, but this tiger was a "bear" to work with. And you wondered why it didn't stay in the stores very long...

*Milton Bradley would have been wise to use a deeper box for their Bird Brain card game, also released in 1966, which required four plastic birds to be snapped into a plastic base, acting as hinged covers for openings underneath that revealed a number or instructions used in game play. I did have that one as a kid and learned about disassembly breakage the hard way.

Baby Sitter (1966)

Details to come

Odd Ogg (1962)

Christmas Morning 1962: Santa Claus had been good to us, bringing me Odd Ogg (we're both in the picture below), while my brother got King Zor and my sister got Thumbelina.

Odd Ogg--one of Ideal's legendary and now-sought-after mechanical marvels created by Marvin Glass in the early 1960s--was a "half turtle and half frog that played ball" according to the TV commercial that mesmerized kids that season (do any prints of this spot still exist today?). Conceived as more of a game than any of his "cousins" (Robot Commando, King Zor, etc.), players took turns rolling plastic balls under him from a distance. If a ball hit him dead-center, he moved toward the player and "croaked" in a monotone sound, but if a ball missed the center and rolled instead under his left or right side, he moved backwards, opened his mouth, stuck out his big red tongue and "laughed" at the kid for missing. The object was to get Odd Ogg to come closer to you after rolling all the balls than any other player.

As beloved and well-remembered by baby-boomers as he is, Odd Ogg, like similar creations, fell victim to shrinking economic feasibility as the 1960s wore on and could no longer be manufactured and sold for an affordable price. As for the ones that still exist and sell on the collectors' circuit, they can't be had cheap, especially if they work properly. As I learned from memories of my own Odd Ogg, this type of toy came along several years before alkaline batteries were invented, so you had to put regular carbon flashlight batteries in it. And unless you were cautious and mindful enough to remove those cheaper batteries whenever you stopped playing with it (especially for a long time), they would leak with wear and neglect, gumming up the works and preventing the mechanism from ever working again. Few kids, if any, bothered with that unwritten rule, so quite a few Odd Oggs ended up as paperweights, non-working display models, garage sale throwaways or candidates for the trash bin.

And what happened to mine? I remember it all too well: in 1967, years after leaking batteries rusted it out and stopped it from working, I learned of a St. Patrick's Day contest sponsored by Kansas City's WDAF-TV in which the grand prize was $1000. Titled "Givin' O' The Green", it called for viewers to send in any green-colored item they could spare for a chance at the cash, the stranger the better (but please, they asked, no live animals). I convinced my folks to let me enter my Odd Ogg, which was then boxed up and mailed to the station. It didn't stand a chance: the big winner was a green ice sculpture of a leprechaun. Plus, I had to endure double the irony. Not only did I lose Odd Ogg forever (all entries became property of WDAF-TV) when keeping it even in non-working condition for the next 30+ years would have truly paid off for me, but I allowed it to fall straight into the hands of a local pre-emption-crazed NBC "affiliate" who had just disallowed me to watch The Hero and Captain Nice, and would continue this practice over the next few years with Snap Judgment after 1967, It Takes Two, the last year or two of the original Match Game, and The Good Life starring Larry Hagman and Donna Mills. Even my old Odd Ogg must be mocking me somewhere...



A MESSAGE TO THOSE SELLING OLD IDEAL GAMES ON EBAY:

There are times when I have gone to eBay to look up copies of old Ideal games for sale, and noticed that occasionally, a seller will state that the instructions for playing the game are missing. Since virtually every new game sold today in regular retail outlets has its rules on a sheet of paper or in a booklet, it's understandable that they'd think they were missing. But the truth is, many Ideal games from the 1960s and maybe a couple from the early '70s had their assembly and game instructions printed on the underside of the box lid (the same was true of many games by Milton Bradley and some other game makers), and I have had to contact them and explain that to them. As a service to those who sell vintage Ideal games on eBay and elsewhere, I present a list of them and indicate whether their rules are found underneath the lid or on a separate sheet.

Bop The Beetle--sheet
Odd Ogg--sheet
Mouse Trap--sheet
Crazy Clock--sheet
Hands Down--lid*
Mystic Skull--lid
Fish Bait--sheet
Tip-It--lid
Panic!--lid
More to come

*Some very early copies had the rules on a sheet.


Sometime in the future, if I ever dredge up the enthusiasm to do so, I hope to offer details and my personal takes on more classic and vintage Ideal games, including:

Hoopla, Watch Word, Winnie The Pooh Honey Tree Game, Mystic Skull, The Sinking Of The Titanic,

And one of today's priciest Ideal games in collectors' circles... JAMES BOND 007'S MESSAGE FROM "M"!

And remember: they were wonderful games...they were

Click on this link to visit another great site devoted to vintage games by Ideal and other past manufacturers, complete with current market prices:


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