Popular Science‘s history isn’t all flying cars and geodesic domes. Readers of the past liked to have fun, too! Unfortunately, their opportunities to do so, as far as we can tell, were somewhat limited.
See the gallery.
An 1892 issue of the magazine spells out the purpose of games, in case you didn’t know: “They afford needful relaxation to the mind, pleasant diversions to the invalid and afflicted, promoting acquaintance and fellowship.”
Here are 10 games that range from mildly exciting to about as fun as sorting laundry (literally–see “Wash Day” from 1931). Nearly all of these articles came with DIY instructions. Would you still play
Scrabble if you had to carve each piece yourself?
This article originally appeared on PopularScience.com_ February 10, 2012._
Crossmatch: May, 1972
“Crossmatch,” from 1972, is a kind of pictorial version of Scrabble, created using images cut out from back issues of
Popular Science. You place the magnetic image squares on the board based on inventive relationships – two cards might match because they both contain circles, or scenes of nature. The author warns that beginners may be uncomfortable with the lack of competition in Crossmatch. “The subtlety of relationships, the beauty of conception, and the delight of the imagination will become your natural goals.” The best part is that you can store the whole thing on the wall as modern art between games. Read the full story in Crossmatch – The Thinking Man’s Game.
Adult games: November, 1965
“Who are these people? Diplomats? Generals? Heads of State? Actually, they’re a bunch of suburbanites sitting in a game room, playing a new breed of adult games.” In 1965, strategy games like Risk were becoming big hits with grown-ups. The author of this article takes the trend a bit too seriously, though. One game is said to raise players’ IQ by more than 20 points. If games of Risk back then were anything like they are today, players were likely to experience a spike in blood pressure before an intelligence boost. Especially the women. According to John Moot, then-president of Diplomacy publisher Games Research, women just can’t handle the betrayal inherent in these games. Read the full story in
Adult Games – No Easy Kid Stuff.
Marble dodging race: February, 1946
To win this post-WWII game, tilt a homemade racetrack back and forth to guide 10 marbles into high-scoring slots before one of the marbles passes the finish line. “Everyone naturally wants to guide as many marbles as possible into the 100-point stall. But that’s a risky business, for just ahead lies the finish line. One slight error in judgement, and a marble might slip though.” I’m sure the crafty PopSci readers of old were eager to take that tiny DIY diagram out to the workshop. Read the full story in
Marble Dodging Race Calls for a Quick Eye.
Wartime games: May, 1942
This 1942 story advises aspiring game creators on how to make money with a great idea. With these tips, anyone can be like the inventor of Monopoly, who earned a whopping $200,000 for his “smash hit.” As people were increasingly stuck indoors during the blackouts and frugality of World War II, board games rapidly gained popularity. PopSci covered four top-sellers that make me very grateful for
Settlers of Catan. “Treasure Hunt” is an exciting game in which you spell words like “jiggs” and “ai.” The “Foto-Electric Football” game is impressive for 1942. Players choose cards representing football plays, and a light-up screen shows the result. “Tripoley” is great for parties, and “Jingo” is–wait for it–a combination of jigsaw puzzles and Bingo. Huh? “Instead of filling in a numbered card, the player fits odd-shaped pictures into corresponding spaces.” Fun… Read the full story in Wanted: A $1,000,000 Game.
Walking-top game: January, 1936
Judging by the deranged, unfocused look on this young boy’s face, the 1936 walking-top game was a pretty wild time. Grab a wooden board and an old alarm clock wheel, paint or carve a game surface, and then perfect your top-maneuvering skills. “This peculiar walking action of the top and a player’s first attempts to control it will cause much amusement.” Read the full story in
Skill… Luck… Excitement Combined in New Walking-Top Game.
Wari: May, 1935
Oh dear. “Wari” is basically mancala, “a very simple but entertaining game popular among African savages.” Now for little white children in 1935! Like almost all of
Popular Science‘s pre-1940s articles about games, this one comes with instructions to build your own version. DIY has a long history at PopSci. Read the full story in Old Congo Game Amuses in New Form.
Wash Day: October, 1931
This game from 1931 claims to be “both educational and entertaining,” but I’m going to have to disagree. In “Wash Day,” children sort handkerchiefs by color. For fun. Good for a “blue Monday,” the game “gets more interesting toward the end when but two players are left.” I doubt it. Read the full story in
New “Wash Day” Game Amuses Children.
Outdoor checkers: January, 1931
A giant, outdoor version of checkers soon “may rival midget golf in popularity.” Players use 10-foot poles to move the pieces, which each weigh several pounds. The author says the large game is a great opportunity for exercise, but deck chairs come included for the easily tired. In this photo, spectators watch the first exhibition of the game on top of an unnamed hotel in New York City. Ah, the days when everyone dressed up in full suits and hats for a round of oversize checkers. Read the full story in
Giant Checkers New Outdoor Game.
Prospector’s Luck: March, 1929
You know a game is really fun when its sales pitch has to say that “the suspense towards the last is what makes the game amusing.” From 1929, this DIY contraption is kind of like roulette. Players push a little ball onto a spinning pan with one space marked “gold.” If you strike gold, you win! If not, you don’t. Read the full story in
You Must “Strike Gold” to Win This Game.
Games, Ancient and Oriental, and How to Play Them: August, 1892
Way back in 1892, people were so stuffy that even their fun was dull. This super old advertisement is for a book about ancient and oriental games. The author feels the need to explain the point of games: “They afford needful relaxation to the mind, pleasant diversions to the invalid and afflicted, promoting acquaintance and fellowship.” Readers may appreciate learning about old forms of entertainment because the amusements of the day are too “fanciful,” he says. Somehow I don’t want to know what he would have to say about “Crossmatch.” Read the full story in
Games, Ancient and Oriental, and How to Play Them.