Operation is a battery-operated game of
physical skill that tests players' hand-eye coordination and fine
motor skills. The game's prototype was invented in 1964 by John
Spinello, a University of Illinois industrial design student at the
time, who sold his rights to the game to renowned toy designer Marvin
Glass for a sum of $500 (US) and the promise of a job upon graduation
(a promise that was not upheld). Initially produced by Milton Bradley
in 1965, Operation is currently made by Hasbro, with an estimated
franchise worth of $40 million (US).
The game is a variant on the old-fashioned
electrified wire loop game popular at funfairs. It consists of an
"operating table", lithographed with a comic likeness of a
patient (nicknamed "Cavity Sam") with a large red lightbulb
for his nose. This could be a reference to classic cartoons, where
ill characters' noses turn red.
In the surface are a number of openings,
which reveal cavities filled with fictional and humorously named
ailments made of plastic. The general gameplay requires players to
remove these plastic ailments with a pair of tweezers without
touching the edge of the cavity opening.
Operation includes two sets of cards: The
Specialist cards are dealt out evenly amongst the players at the
beginning of the game.
In the U.S and Australian version, players
take turns picking Doctor cards, which offer a cash payment for
removing each particular ailment, using a pair of tweezers (dubbed
Electro Probe in earlier versions) connected with wire to
the board. Successfully removing the ailment is rewarded according to
the dollar amount shown on the card. However, if the tweezers touch
the metal edge of the opening during the attempt (thereby closing a
circuit), a buzzer sounds, Sam's nose lights up red, and the player
loses the turn. The player holding the Specialist card for that piece
then has a try, getting double the fee if he or she succeeds.
Since there will be times when the player
drawing a certain Doctor card also holds the matching Specialist
card, that player can purposely botch the first attempt in order to
attempt a second try for double value.
The winner is the player who holds the
most money after all the ailments are extracted.
Subsequent later games removed the money
and cards, and the winner of these editions is the player who removes
the most ailments. The game can be difficult, due to the shapes of
the plastic ailments and the fact the openings are barely larger than
the pieces themselves.
An apple in the throat ($100). "Adam's
apple" is a colloquial term referring to the thyroid cartilage
surrounding the larynx that becomes more visually prominent during puberty.
A heart shape with a crack through it on
the right side of the chest ($100). The phrase "broken
heart" refers to an emotional feeling in which someone is very
sad for a reason such as a breakup with a romantic partner.
A wrench in the right ankle ($100).
"Wrenched ankle" is an alternative term for a sprained ankle.
Butterflies in Stomach
A large butterfly in the middle of the
torso ($100). The name comes from the feeling in the stomach when
nervous, excited or afraid.
Two ribs fused together as one piece
($150). "Spare Ribs" are a cut of meat or a dish prepared
from that cut.
Water on the Knee
A pail of water in the knee ($150).
Colloquialism for fluid accumulation around the knee joint.
A cartoon-style bone ($200). A reference
to the colloquial name of the ulnar nerve which is itself thought to
be a play on the anatomical name for the upper arm bone (the humerus).
A small horse resting near the hip joint
($200). A "charley horse" is a sudden spasm in the leg or
foot that can be cured by massage or stretching.
A pencil in the forearm ($200). A
"writer's cramp" is a soreness in the wrist that can be
cured by resting it.
The Ankle Bone Connected to the Knee Bone
A rubber band that must be stretched
between two pegs at the left ankle and knee. This is the only
non-plastic piece in the game and the only card that requires the
player to insert rather than remove something ($200). The name is
taken from the African American spiritual "Dem Bones".
A wishbone similar to that of a chicken
located on the left side of the chest ($300). A "wish bone"
is a colloquial name for the Furcula which is a bone found in birds
and some other animals. Traditionally, the Furcula of a chicken may
be used by two people for making competing wishes.
A slice of bread, with a small notch taken
out of the top for grip ($1,000). The word "breadbasket" is
slang for the stomach.
An ice-cream cone located in the brain
($600). Refers to the experience of "brain freeze", a
headache felt after consuming frozen desserts and iced drinks too quickly.
"Brain Freeze" was added in 2004
when Milton Bradley allowed fans a chance to vote on a new piece to
be added to the original game during the previous year, during the
"What's Ailing Sam?" promotion. Voters were given three
choices and could make their selection via the company's official
website or by phone for a chance to win a $5,000 shopping spree. The
winning piece beat out tennis elbow and growling stomach.
In 2020, Hasbro introduced a new variation
on the game called Operation Pet Scan, in which players are to remove
foreign objects from a dog's digestive tract. Later versions have
added Burp Bubbles and flatulent sound effects for an ailment dubbed
Toxic Gas. Hasbro has also offered licensed versions of the game,
including boards based on the Toy Story and Shrek franchises.
John Spinello was an industrial design
student at the University of Illinois in the early 1960s. In class
one day, he was instructed by his professor to design a game or toy.
Remembering an ill-advised moment when he had stuck his finger into a
light socket as a child, Spinello came up with a box that had a mild
electrical current created by one positive and one negative plate a
quarter-inch apart. When players tried to guide a probe through the
boxs grooves, they had to be careful not to touch the sides. If
they did, the probe would complete the circuit and theyd
activate a buzzer.
The game was a hit with Spinellos
fellow students, and Spinello decided to show it to his godfather,
Sam Cottone, who worked at a toy design firm named Marvin Glass and
Associates. Marvin Glass loved the game and paid Spinello $500 for
the rights, as well as a promise of a job upon his graduation in
1965. Spinello got the money but no job, not right away, anyway. He
finally joined at the company in 1976 but never really made any money
off his idea, having never received any royalties from sales of the
game. In 2014, word circulated that Spinello was in need of oral
surgery that would cost around $25,000. Fortunately, a round of
crowdfunding allowed him to get the procedure he needed. Hasbro,
which bought Milton Bradley, also donated to the effort by buying
Spinellos original prototype.
"We were moved to see
the recent outpouring of support from so many fans of the Operation
game around the world regarding the medical needs of the games
original inventor, John Spinello. The Operation game has been a
family favorite for 50 years and while we didnt buy the game
from Mr. Spinello directly, his invention is an important part of
Hasbros history. Mr. Spinello recently announced his plans to
put up for auction the original Operation game prototype that he
designed in the early 1960s. Today we informed Mr. Spinello
that Hasbro plans to purchase the prototype with the hope that the
funds will help to defray his medical costs. We plan to proudly
display it at Hasbros global headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode
Island, to honor his contribution to Hasbros gaming history."
The exact amount Hasbro paid for the
prototype wasn't made public, but reports say the offer was generous
enough for Spinello to accept. Even though Operation has generated
millions of dollars and Spinello lost out on getting a "piece of
the action", he isn't bitter about this situation. Those that
know him say he's "a really sweet guy with a big heart",
happy to tell everybody that he invented Operation, and loves to hear
their stories and authograph copies of the game. Toy designer Tim
Walsh relates a story about attending a Toy Convention with Spinello.
"So many people acted like Wayne and Garth [from "Wayne's
World"] meeting Aerosmith," Walsh said when they meet
Spinello. "He got a few 'we're not worthys.'"
Spinello (above) had created an intriguing
idea for a buzzer-based game, but initially, there was no clear
premise. Cottone suggested the box and probe take on a desert theme,
where players would extract water from holes in the ground. The
working title was Death Valley. When Milton Bradley bought the game
rights from Marvin Glass and Associates, one of their designers, Jim
OConnor, suggested they switch from a probe to a pair of
tweezers in order to actually extract small items from the holes. The
setting was changed from a desert to an operating theater, and
Operation was released in 1965.
IN REAL LIFE THE
PATIENT'S NOSE DOESN'T LIGHT UP
Surgeon Andrew Goldstone was a fan of
Operation as a child. When he got older, he took the games
premise to heart. Goldstone noticed that thyroid surgeries were risky
due to the thyroids proximity to the nerves of the vocal cords.
A small slip could damage the cords, causing hoarseness or airway
obstruction. Goldstone thought surgeons should have a buzzer similar
to the one in the game that alerted them when they got too close. He
applied an electrode to the airway tube used during general
anesthesia. If a surgeon touched the nerves of the vocal cords with a
probe, a signal would pass to the electrode and a buzzer would sound.
Goldstone sold the technology back in 1991. Its been used in
thousands of thyroid surgeries since.
The original idea for
opearation featured the box and probe set on a desert island, where
players would extract water from holes in the ground. The working
title was Death Valley.
Milton Bradley Company or simply Milton
Bradley (MB) was an American board game manufacturer established by
Milton Bradley in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1860. In 1920, it
absorbed the game production of McLoughlin Brothers, formerly the
largest game manufacturer in the United States. Since 1984, it has
been a division of Hasbro.
In 1860 Milton Bradley (below right) set
up the state's first color lithography shop in Springfield,
Massachusetts. Its graphic design of Abraham Lincoln sold very well,
until Lincoln grew his beard and rendered the likeness out-of-date.
to find a new way to use his lithography machine, Bradley visited
his friend George Tapley. Tapley challenged him to a game, most
likely an old English game. Bradley conceived the idea of making a
purely American game. He created The Checkered Game of Life, which
had players move along a track from Infancy to Happy Old Age, in
which the point was to avoid Ruin and reach Happy Old Age. Squares
were labeled with moral positions from honor and bravery to disgrace
and ruin. Players used a spinner instead of dice because of the
negative association with gambling.
By spring of 1861, over 45,000 copies of
The Checkered Game of Life had been sold. Bradley became convinced
board games were his company's future.
When the American Civil War broke out in
early 1861, Bradley temporarily gave up making board games and tried
to make new weaponry. However, upon seeing bored soldiers stationed
in Springfield, Bradley began producing small games which the
soldiers could play during their down time. These are regarded as the
first travel games in the country. These games included chess,
checkers, backgammon, dominoes, and "The Checkered Game of
Life." They were sold for one dollar a piece to soldiers and
charitable organizations, which bought them in bulk to distribute.
The Milton Bradley Company took a new
direction in 1869 after Milton Bradley went to hear a lecture about
the kindergarten movement by early education pioneer, Elizabeth
Peabody (avove right). Peabody promoted the philosophy of the German
scholar Friedrich Froebel. Froebel stated that through education
children learn and develop through creative activities. Bradley would
spend much of the rest of his life promoting the kindergarten
movement both personally and through the Milton Bradley Company. His
company began manufacturing educational items such as colored papers
and paints and he gave many of these materials away free of charge,
which hurt the company financially. Due to the Long Depression of the
late 1870s, his investors told him either his kindergarten work must
go or they would go. Bradley chose to keep his kindergarten work. His
friend George Tapley bought the interest of the lost investors and
took over as president of the Milton Bradley Company.
Bradley was an early advocate of Friedrich Froebel's (left) idea of
Kindergarten. Springfield's first kindergarten students were Milton
Bradley's two daughters, and the first teachers in Springfield were
Milton, his wife and his father. Milton Bradley's company's
involvement with kindergartens began with the production of
"gifts," the term used by Froebel for the geometric wooden
play things that he felt were necessary to properly structure
children's creative development. Bradley spent months devising the
exact shades in which to produce these materials; his final choice of
six pigments of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet would
remain the standard colors for children's art supplies through the
By the 1870s, the company was producing
dozens of games and capitalizing on fads. Milton Bradley became the
first manufacturer in America to make croquet sets. The sets included
wickets, mallets, balls, stakes, and an authoritative set of rules to
play by that Bradley himself had created from oral tradition and his
own sense of fair play. In 1880, the company began making jigsaw puzzles.
The company's educational supplies turned
out to be a large portion of their income at the turn of the century.
They produced supplies any grade school teacher could use, such as
toy money, multiplication sticks, and movable clock dials. Milton
Bradley continued producing games, particularly parlor games played
by adults. They produced "Visit to the Gypsies," "Word
Gardening," "Happy Days in Old New England," and
"Fortune Telling." They also created jigsaw puzzles of
wrecked vehicles, which were popular among young boys.
When Milton Bradley died in 1911, the
company was passed to Robert Ellis, who passed it to Bradley's
son-in-law Robert Ingersoll, who eventually passed it to George
Tapley's son, William. In 1920, Bradley bought out McLoughlin
Brothers, which went out of business after John McLoughlin's death.
Milton Bradley began to decline in the
1920s and fell dramatically in the 1930s during the Great Depression.
Fewer people were spending money on board games. The company kept
losing money until 1940, when they sank too low and banks demanded
payment on loans.
to avoid bankruptcy, the board of directors persuaded James J. Shea
(top right), a Springfield businessman, to take over presidency of
the company. Shea immediately moved to decrease the company's debt.
He began a major renovation of the Milton Bradley plant by burning
old inventory that had been accumulating since the turn of the century.
With the outbreak of World War II, Milton
Bradley started producing a universal joint created by Shea used on
the landing gear of fighter planes. They also reproduced a revised
version of their game kits for soldiers, which earned the company $2
million. Milton Bradley did not stop creating board games, although
they did cut their line from 410 titles to 150. New games were
introduced during this time, such as the patriotic Game of the
States, Chutes & Ladders and Candyland.
The advent of the television could have
threatened the industry, but Shea used it to his advantage. Various
companies acquired licenses to television shows for the purpose of
producing all manner of promotional items including games. In 1959,
Milton Bradley released Concentration, a memory game based on an NBC
television show of the same name; the game was such a success that
editions were issued annually into 1982, long after the show was
cancelled in 1973 (similar practices were used for box game
adaptations of the game shows Password and Jeopardy!).
Milton Bradley celebrated their centennial
in 1960 with the re-release of The Checkered Game of Life, which was
modernized. It was now simply called The Game of Life and the goal
was no longer to reach Happy Old Age, but to become a millionaire.
Twister made its debut in the 1960s as well. Thanks to Johnny
Carson's suggestive comments as Eva Gabor played the game on his
show, Twister became a phenomenon. In the 1960s, Milton Bradley games
were licensed in Australia by John Sands Pty Ltd.
In 1967, James Shea Jr. (bottom right)
took over as president of Milton Bradley (becoming CEO in 1968)
succeeding his father. During his presidency, Milton Bradley bought
Playskool Mfg. Co. the E.S. Lowe Company, makers of Yahtzee, and Body Language.
During the 1970s and 1980s, electronic
games became popular. Milton Bradley released Simon in 1978, which
was fairly late in the movement. By 1980, it was their best-selling item.
In 1979, Milton Bradley also developed the
first hand-held cartridge-based console, the Microvision.
In 1983, seeing the potential in the new
Vectrex vector-based video game console, the company purchased
General Consumer Electronics (GCE). Both the Vectrex and the
Microvision were designed by Jay Smith.
the late 1980s and early 1990s, Milton Bradley marketed a series of
games (such as HeroQuest and Battle Masters) in North America that
were developed in the United Kingdom by Games Workshop (GW) that drew
heavily from GW's Warhammer Fantasy universe, albeit without explicit
reference to the Warhammer product line.
In 1984, Hasbro bought out Milton Bradley
ending 124 years of family ownership. The 1990s saw the release of
Gator Golf, Crack the Case, Mall Madness, and 1313 Dead End Drive.
In 1991, Hasbro acquired Milton Bradley's
former arch-rival Parker Brothers. In 1998, Milton Bradley merged
with Parker Brothers to form Hasbro Games. After the consolidation,
Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers turned into brands of Hasbro
before being both dropped in 2009 in favor of the parent company's
name, since adjusted to Hasbro Gaming.