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Entertainment Earth



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SuperHeroStuff - Shop Now!

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"We got trouble right here in River City."

- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium Curator

TROUBLE

Trouble (known as Frustration in the UK and Kimble in Finland) is a board game in which players compete to be the first to send four pieces all the way around a board. Pieces are moved according to the roll of a die. Trouble was developed by the Kohner Brothers and initially manufactured by the Canadian Irwin Toy company, later by Milton Bradley (now part of Hasbro). The game was launched in America in 1965. The classic version is now marketed by Winning Moves.

Its design is a variation of the British game Ludo (below left), which is itself, derived from the Indian game Pachisi. Pachisi dates back to the 13 Century, Late Indian Medieval period, and shares many similarities with Frustration/Trouble.

A similar game called Headache was also produced by the Milton Bradley Company; besides a different track layout, its pawns are conical, compared to the cylindrical pieces used in Trouble.

Players can send opponents' pieces back to the start by landing on them. Players may not touch the other player's piece, otherwise the piece's owner must redo the pop/roll. Teaming is not allowed in the game. Pieces are protected from capture after arriving in the final four slots. Unlike more complex race games, however, counters cannot be maneuvered to block opponents' moves.

The most notable feature of Trouble is the "Pop-O-Matic" die container. This device is a clear plastic hemisphere containing the die, placed over a flexible sheet. Players roll the die by pressing down quickly on the bubble, which flexes the sheet and causes the die to tumble upon its rebound. The Pop-O-Matic container produces a popping sound when it is used, and prevents the die from being lost (and players from cheating by improper rolling). It allows for quick die rolls, and players' turns can be performed in rapid succession. The die is imprinted with Arabic numerals rather than the traditional circular pips (though the circular pips are used in the Travel version, which contains a cover to keep the pegs from being lost).

Players may move pieces out of their start only when the die lands on 6. Getting a 6 at any point in the game also allows the player to take another turn, even if the player cannot move any of their pieces (as they cannot land on any of their own pieces). They can also move a new piece out even if they have another piece currently in play, and can also do the same if another player's piece is occupying their "start" space, but cannot do so when one of their own pieces is occupying their "start" space.

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Trouble is derived from the game Pachisi that dates back to the 13th Century.

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KOHNER BROTHERS

The Kohner family has a long heritage in woodworking, dating back to the middle 1800s. Paul Kohner (below left) fled his hometown of Tachau, Czechoslovakia in 1940 to escape the Nazis and came to the United States. Two years later, he would get his younger brother, Frank (below center), out of europe as well and the brothers started Kohner Bros., in New York City. Before expanding into toys, they manufactured wooden beads and beaded purses, a wartime fashion rage during World War II.

The first Kohner toys took the form of beads and craft sets. These items evolved into wooden pull toys such as Tricycle Tom and Ice Cream Mike. For the next 35 years, would make millions of the Baby Boomer classic Push Button Puppets, Tricky Trapeze and other toys and games. They would also revolutionize an entire segment of the industry with an infant activity toy called the Busy Box.

The brothers worked very closely together on all aspects of the company. Paul directed the manufacturing, operations and production for the company. Frank steered the business administration and product selection process.

The Kohner Brothers business was booming and they had a new state-of-the-art 150,000 square foot factory under construction in New Jersey when Paul died suddenly in 1965. Paul’s son, Michael (seen above right in 2019), then just 22 years old, joined the company to help fill the void, taking over international licensing for the company, expanding those activities around the world.

Kohner Brothers continued to grow and by 1070 was sold to General Foods. Frank retired from the toy business but Michael stayed on until 1974 when General Foods sold the business to Gabriel Industries. Michael Kohner decided to continue in the toy business and founded the Michael Kohner Corporation. His uncle Frank would go on to launch a successful housewares business and published a collection of anecdotes and memories of the people in the old country, "Tachau Tales" in 1995. He lived to be 100 years old and died in 2011.

As Michael was growing up during World War II, and shortly thereafter, his father and uncle carefully and systematically worked and saved money to bring his entire family, and many others, out of Nazi controlled Eastern Europe and concentration camps and got them to America all at their own expense. A married couple who arrived in New York from the old country, thanks to the Kohner Brothers. The wife was afraid to meet Paul when she got off the boat because she had brought her small Scottie dog, "Happy," under her coat and was afraid he would be angry. Instead, he laughed and welcomed them. He would go on to create a dog Push Button Puppet and called it "Happy the Wonder Dog". These people and many others became dedicated Kohner Bros employees for many years, so grateful for the new life they were given in America.

The Kohner Brothers had an open door policy when it came to outside inventors. They would listen to anyone’s idea, and if they thought it had potential, they would do whatever they could to help turn it into a real product, all while ensuring that the inventor was given fair royalties in the process. While the brothers generally had a knack for seeing value in an idea, they did pass on the Hula Hoop. Still there were plenty of other incredible products that Kohner Bros brought to market such as the Busy Box. Pitched to the Kohner Brothers by independent inventors Tim and Tom McHugh, the Busy Box is wooden table filled with tactile, sensory activities that promoted motor skills in infants and toddlers. Albert Stubbmann of Kohner’s R&D department, converted the original concept into a much smaller, colorful, flat toy that mounted on crib rails. This product marked a strategic shift, filling a gap in the industry that no one had addressed before. Prior to that, the infant toy market was limited mainly to rattles and teethers. Kohner expanded the Busy Box from a single item into a full product line that included multiple iterations of the concept, including bath toys, floor toys and was essentially the genesis of a whole new category of infant toys that continues to be one of the largest in the industry today.

The Kohners also introduced Push Button Puppets to the United States, licensing the idea from a Swiss inventor named Marty Meinard. Kohner would be one of the mid-century pioneers of character licensed toys with dozens of puppets in the line, like Howdy Doody, The Flintstones, Superman, Batman & Robin, Disney, Hanna Barbera, among many others. They would find themselves battling many competitor infringements on their intellectual property for Push Button Puppets and Busy Box items in the coming years. But they always won.

The brothers also set up a side company called AMKO that imported small carved wooden game pieces to the U.S. from Heinz Lorenz, a very high quality German company in the Bavarian Black Forest. For years, Lorenz supplied the wooden pieces for Monopoly and the wooden tiles for Scrabble among other games. AMKO served as the agent for these transactions on Lorenz’ behalf with companies like Parker Brothers, Selchow & Righter and Hasbro.

When World War II ended, plastic, that had been conserved for the war effort, suddenly became readily available as a raw material for manufacturing and offered creative, colorful, cost effective product possibilities that couldn't be achieved with wood.

Albert Stubbmann was an engineer hired by Paul to convert the Kohner factory from wood to plastic production after the war. They procured an injection molding machine and the conversion took about a year to complete. He had a hand in 90% of the products that came out of Kohner Bros. from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. His name is on over 20 patents for at least 50 products.

The first plastic product they made was a popular item called "Looney Links." Kohner had been making it out of wood. It became a transitional product made with both wood and plastic components and eventually was all plastic. The Busy Box was the second plastic toy they ever made. And Stubbmann is credited with fine-tuning that as well. The company would go on to create a whole line of Busy Box products and in the late 1960’s, would reach an exclusive licensing agreement with Sears Roebuck to stock their entire infant department with Winnie The Pooh Busy line products licensed through Disney.

Kohner entered into an endorsement deal with renowned psychologist, Dr. Joyce Brothers. They used her likeness, name and quotes heavily in print and television advertising to promote the innovative Busy Box line as educational and developmentally beneficial for young children.

While many Kohner products were licensed from outside inventors, the game "Trouble" was developed internally. The working name during development was "Frustration" but was changed to "Trouble" before launch. It has been distributed in some international markets under the name "Frustration". Stubbmann was commissioned to come up with a promotional feature for the game. The Pop-O-Matic (plastic domed dice mechanism) in the center of the board was conceived by him and took about six months to develop. The game debuted in 1963, sold over a million copies annually year after year. It is still part of the HASBRO product line today.

In the early 1970s, Michael Kohner got some of his greatest personal satisfaction organizing Kohner factory field trip tours for countless school children. Students would be escorted through to see how toys and games were made. Every child would walk out at the end with a smile on their face and a Trouble game under their arm.

The Pop-O-Matic feature was incorporated into multiple Kohner games in the next few years including "Headache", "Side Track", "Bingo with Pop-O-Matic", "Cross Over The Bridge", "Pop-Cheks" and others. The Pop-O-Matic blossomed into a brand unto itself, and in time, the intellectual property would be licensed to other companies for use in even more games.

When Michael started the Michael Kohner Corporation, he was immediately contracted by a company called A.R.C. Toys (which later became Broadway Toys). A.R.C. was manufacturing children's vanity sets under the Barbie license amongst many other products. Michael would maintain a desk in their offices at the Toy Center in Manhattan for many years, but kept his independent status, working with them as well as building his game licenses business for games such as "Magic Tooth Fairy", "Don’t Panic" and "Loopin’ Louie". Michael was honored at the Toy & Game Innovation Awards in 2014 and accepted the TAGIEs Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of his family.

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