Charles F. Foley, co-creator of Twister, dies at 82

Twister co-inventors Charles Foley, left, and Neil Rabens demonstrate the game in 1966. (Pioneer Press: Buzz Magnuson)

Charles F. Foley, a creator of Twister, the party game that for nearly five decades has employed a dotted mat, a spinner, bare hands and stockinged feet to leave players of all ages tied up in knots, died July 1 in St. Louis Park, Minn. He was 82.

The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said his son Mark Foley.

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A lifelong tinkerer, Mr. Foley was credited with numerous innovations — among them an adhesive remover dubbed Un-Du and designs for plastic toy handcuffs and safety-tipped darts. But he was best known for his work on Twister, the game he created with artist Neil W. Rabens at a Minnesota design firm.

Twister was released in 1966 by Milton Bradley and exploded in popularity after a demonstration on “The Tonight Show” by Johnny Carson and the buxom actress Eva Gabor. Several generations later, with tens of millions of copies sold, the game remains an essential party diversion.

Left foot green, right foot blue, left hand red, and the next thing players know, they’re on the floor spread-eagled and all tangled up. Much to Mr. Foley’s chagrin, buttoned-up critics decried Twister’s physical fun as “sex in a box.” Milton Bradley ran television commercials presenting the game as old-fashioned rumpus-room family entertainment.

Consumers determined that derrieres in the air were fun at most all phases of life. Twister’s bodily contortions became a favorite outlet for silliness at children’s birthday celebrations as well as a not-so-subtle icebreaker at adult gatherings.

“If you take your shoes and socks off,” Mr. Foley once told an interviewer, “anybody will become a different person.”

He began working on the game at the Reynolds Guyer House of Design in St. Paul.

The company’s chief executive, Reyn Guyer — later credited as the creator of the Nerf football — recounted Twister’s gen­esis in an interview for Brett Stern’s book “Inventors at Work.”

Guyer said that he designed a game called King’s Footsie — a Twister-esque affair that was originally intended as a promotion for children’s shoe polish, according to an account on the Web site Mental Floss. He pitched the idea to 3M, but the company favored bookish games and declined.

Mr. Foley and Rabens were hired to refine the concept. In an interview with The Washington Post, Rabens said that he initially devised a game called Pretzel, in which people made “goofy moves” on a grid but did not intertwine.

Mr. Foley, whom Rabens described as the “idea man,” altered the concept to create the Twister played today.

It encompassed Mr. Foley’s four requisites for a participatory game: “a bit of skill, a bit of chance, sticking it to an opponent, and watching it has to be entertaining.”

The game was licensed to Milton Bradley, the company known for games such as Candyland. Milton Bradley took Twister to Sears, the largest toy seller at the time, Guyer said in his interview. Executives there passed, calling it “too risky — too risque, actually.”

With Christmas approaching, Milton Bradley decided to pull the game.

However, the company had already engaged a public relations firm that landed Twister on “The Tonight Show” with Carson and Gabor, regal in her blond up-do and enticingly demure in a white dress.

“You can’t buy advertising like that,” Rabens said in the interview.

Twister became a top seller and brought Mr. Foley a level of fame, if not great fortune. The patent was issued to him and Rabens for the “apparatus for playing a game wherein the players constitute the game pieces,” according to a news account. Guyer credited the men with “the fabulous idea of getting on the mat with the players’ hands as well as the feet.”

The issue of royalties was a matter of dispute, however. Mr. Foley told the Charlotte Observer in 2006 that he pocketed $27,000 — far less than he thought due to him — after intense disagreement with the Guyer firm.

The Observer reported that Mr. Foley lived largely on Social Security and a modest royalty check from a card game.

“Maybe I’m just too darn naive,” Mr. Foley said.

Charles Frederick Foley II was born Sept. 6, 1930, in Lafayette, Ind. As a boy, he fashioned a gate latch that prevented his family’s cattle from escaping their pen. He attended school through the eighth grade, his son said.

He worked on a Ford Motor Co. assembly line during high school and later served in the Michigan Air National Guard. He sold furnace-cleaning services before finding a job at a toy design shop in Minneapolis and then joining Guyer. After his falling out with the firm, he collaborated with Rabens in a design business and later worked for a toy company in Charlotte. He held 97 patents, according to his son.

His first wife, Kathleen Maley Foley, died in 1975 after 21 years of marriage. His second and third marriages, to Dorothy Zimmerman and Betty Prudhom, ended in divorce. His fourth wife, Melonie Reece Foley, whom he married in 1990, died in 2007.

Survivors include nine children from his first marriage; two brothers; two sisters; 16 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Rabens said that neither he nor Mr. Foley approved of the adult-oriented versions of Twister that evolved after its release. Besides, Mr. Foley once said, “Once you get men and women in play positions, unless you’re drinking, you forget the sex thing. . . . The urge to win takes over.”

 
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