180619 More heroes
I’ve always had heroes. I’ve never outgrown heroism, that sense there are people greater in stature, intellect, courage and given dumb luck than I. Bill Ritchie in Alexandria, Virginia, is one of them, and evidently, so is his wife, Andrea Barthello. The year of my downfall – 1985 – on the other side of the country, they started designing and selling games for kids. These games had a serious play side, which may owe partly to Bill’s brother, Dennis, who invented C and co-created Unix OS.
Because my goal is to blend a learning game with printmaking to spice up STEM, and do it by making printmaking fit the needed R (for reading) and A (for art) to get STREAM. I want to do for education what “the other Bill Ritchie” did for the good of children and not a few adults like me.
Having read Anne Focke’s entry to her blog, my mind returns to her dilemma, that is, she wonders what a person can do in these times of trouble. She writes about Pollyanna-ism and Panglossian-ism and positions herself outside of both optimism and pessimism because she will do something.
Anne is another one of my heroes. I have many. My autobiography, its first “vomit draft” complete, probably show this from accounts of my elementary school teachers to the most recent – like Bill and Andrea in the article I copied below..
Thus begins my day, a little hero worship (reading a ten-year old Post interview) and it’s back to work on my game-of-life, Emeralda, the games for the gifts of life.
Makers of Mind-Bending Games (from the Washington Post)By Karen Hart
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Bill Ritchie and Andrea Barthello took the old adage about "all work and no play" literally when they started their game company, ThinkFun ( http://www.thinkfun.com), then called Binary Arts, in 1985. Fleeing the world of real estate investment finance, the Alexandria husband-and-wife team found refuge in an opportunity to develop mind-challenging games for kids.
We recently sat down with the two co-founders, both 52, to play some Rush Hour and Cover Your Tracks, two of their biggest hits, and hear how their toy story began.
What was your first game concept?
Bill: Our first game concept was called the Hexadecimal Puzzle, and the tag line for it was "an advanced mathematical puzzle with 16 variations."
Was there much of a market for it?
Bill:[Laughs.] There was almost no market. [But] that's ancient history.
When you come up with an idea, how do you turn it into reality?
Andrea: Rush Hour is a good example of that. It came to us as a one-dimensional just flat thing on wood . . . it was like that type of puzzle where you slide things around. So Bill really innovated on it and said we need something that has multi-levels of challenges so that the thing gets harder as it goes along.
Bill: Rush Hour was 10 years [after Hexadecimal Puzzle], and by that time we had become quite sophisticated. We knew an awful lot about taking an idea and turning it into something that was colorful and well designed and well presented.
So you don't necessarily come up with an idea -- someone may come to you, and you purchase it from them or license it?
Andrea: And we evolve it. But the simple answer is yes.
What made you think you could compete with the Hasbros of the world? Or do you feel as though you compete with them?
Andrea: I think you compete with them because you compete for shelf space, but what we've done, which I think is almost a more difficult thing to do, is created a different category. . . . Everything we've been doing has brought us to now, which is owning the category of mind-challenging games, which is different than a board game.
Did you play games as a kid?
Bill: Yeah. My favorite game is Risk.
Did you ever cheat at games when you were a kid?
Bill: Of course you cheated at games! With Risk, though, it was less about cheating but more about trying to convince the kids that you were playing against that they should be defending things that had nothing to do with what you were planning on attacking.
Some of your games' rules seem kind of intricate. How long does it take you to come up with them?
Bill: From the point of view of a 10-year-old kid, this [Rush Hour] is not an intricate game if you compare it to Monopoly or Risk. Even though solving it is tough, understanding what you are supposed to do is not at the same level of difficulty. An awful lot of work goes in by the challenge inventors to make the challenges as clever as possible.
Do you use your family as guinea pigs to test your games or take prototypes to schools for feedback?
Bill: Oh, yeah. Brick by Brick is a wonderful game, but we tried it with first-graders and it was like giving them spinach. Third- and fourth-graders really enjoy it.
I read that one of your sons invented Math Dice as a school project. Did he get a bigger allowance?
Andrea: He owns the patent and gets royalties!
Have you ever seen a game on the market and thought, "We should have done that"?
Andrea: I have. When Cranium came out, I called them. We were in Starbucks, and I called them to see who had done it and see if we should license it. It turns out that I know them now -- these two great guys from Microsoft who had light-years on us in terms of marketing.
What do you think is going to be big during the holiday season? Are games going to be hot this year?
Andrea: I was just at the Fall Toy Show, which is actually for next year, but people are talking about, in the trades, that nothing is emerging as a big hit. . . . For us, the Rush Hour Ultimate Edition at Barnes & Noble -- it is exclusive to them -- is going to do really well.
Do you play computer or online games?
Bill: I went through a brief bout early in our company history and started going down the path where I was addicted, so I don't play any computer games, with one exception: I just now bought Guitar Hero, and I'm planning on getting good at it.
To try three ThinkFun games online -- Rush Hour, River Crossing and TipOver -- go to http:/
/ www.thinkfun.com and