by: Jo Sarah Stanford, BFP Staff Writer
Think of a game you played as a child. What comes to mind? If you said Guess Who?, Mastermind or Rummikub, you have an Israeli to thank for those hours of fun.
Growing up, all three of these games were favorites of mine. I fondly remember pulling them out of the cupboard and lying on the lounge floor as I played with my friends or little brother, testing my logic with Mastermind, trying to find just the right tile in Rummikub or hearing the satisfying click of the cards in Guess Who? as I flicked down the faces eliminated from the game.
For decades, children across the world have played these games—and they all came from Israel!
Guess Who? is a two-person game of elimination. The game starts with each player having a board with 24 different character cards, each with a cartoon drawing of a fictional person. Both players then draw a character card from a third pile of cards containing the same 24 cartoon drawings. The aim of the game is for players to discover which cartoon character their opponent selected by asking only “yes” or “no” questions, like: “Does your person wear a hat?” or “Does he have a beard?” As each cartoon character is eliminated, players flip his or her cards face-down on the board until only one character remains.
The game was created by Theora Design (originally called Matat, Hebrew for “gift’) in 1979. It was brought to the UK in 1982 and increased in popularity worldwide, even into the 90s. The game continues to be in demand today and comes in a few different versions. Some people even replace the original characters with pictures of their friends and family.
Guess Who? has also been used for more than just fun. In a 2011 study in Pakistan, it was used to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Over a period of six weeks, ASD children played the game while their social interaction was measured. The game helped build communication skills as the children asked and answered questions. It also helped with facial recognition as they learned to differentiate between different facial features.
Mastermind, released in 1971, was the most popular board game of the 1970s. It has now sold over 50 million sets in 80 different countries, but it was a game that almost didn’t happen. Created by Israeli Mordecai Meirowitz, the game was rejected by multiple toy companies until he took it to the Nuremburg International Toy Fair, where it was discovered by an English plastics company. Meirowitz sold the rights, and the game is still being produced (in multiple forms) today.
The object of the two-player game is for one player to guess the other’s code using logic. One player (the code maker) creates a code using four different colored pegs, placing them in a hidden compartment on the board. The other player (the code breaker) must attempt to replicate the pattern by guessing the color and order of the pegs. After each guess, the code maker replies with a red peg for each correct color in the correct place or a white peg for a correct color in the wrong place. The code breaker is given only 12 guesses to get it right. Eager mathematicians have created formulas for winning the game with as few guesses as possible.
Rummikub, or Rummikid, dates back to the 1930s and was invented by Romanian Jew Ephraim Hertzano. It is much like the card game Rummy, but uses Domino-like tiles. Hertzano developed the game while he still lived in Communist Romania, where card playing was outlawed at the time. He made aliyah (immigration to Israel) after World War II and began hand carving the game pieces in his own backyard. He then sold them to small toy stores or to neighbors door-to-door. Slowly, sales expanded to Europe and eventually to the United States in 1977. The game immediately became a huge hit in the US and was Israel’s number one export for 1978. With Rummikub proving a success, Hertzano founded his own game company, Lemada Light Industries Inc. that same year.
The aim of the Rummikub is for players to get rid of all their tiles by creating sets (for example, 4,4,4 or 7,7,7) or runs (like 1,2,3 or 6,7,8) of the same color. Points are given for the corresponding numbers on the tiles.
It has proven a popular game over the years and has won “Game of the Year” six times since its invention. It is now played in over 50 countries and has been translated into 26 languages. There is even a Rummikub World Championship. First held in 1991, it takes place every three years, with the Netherlands scoring the most wins to date.
It is incredible to think how Guess Who?, Mastermind and Rummikub have had such a big impact on children and adults over the past decades. The stories behind the creation of these games is the same story that shows up throughout the history of the Jewish people—one of ingenuity and determination. These games have been—and still are—enjoyed by families all across the world today, showing that even in something as simple as a game, Israel is truly a light to the nations.
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