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"Let's play doctor."

- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium Curator


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.

The Pieces...

Adam's Apple

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.

Broken Heart

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.

Wrenched Ankle

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.

Spare Ribs

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.

Funny Bone

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).

Charley Horse

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.

Writer's Cramp

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".

Wish Bone

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.

Bread Basket

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.

Brain Freeze

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 box’s grooves, they had to be careful not to touch the sides. If they did, the probe would complete the circuit and they’d activate a buzzer.

The game was a hit with Spinello’s 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 Spinello’s 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 game’s original inventor, John Spinello. The Operation game has been a family favorite for 50 years and while we didn’t buy the game from Mr. Spinello directly, his invention is an important part of Hasbro’s history. Mr. Spinello recently announced his plans to put up for auction the original Operation game prototype that he designed in the early 1960’s. 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 Hasbro’s global headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to honor his contribution to Hasbro’s gaming history."

- Hasbro

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 O’Connor, 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.


Surgeon Andrew Goldstone was a fan of Operation as a child. When he got older, he took the game’s premise to heart. Goldstone noticed that thyroid surgeries were risky due to the thyroid’s 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. It’s been used in thousands of thyroid surgeries since.


Remembering the legendary Bettie Page

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.

Struggling 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.

Milton 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 20th century.

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.

Desperate 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.

During 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.

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