Inventor of Twister dies at 81

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Twister called itself “the game that ties you up in knots.” Its detractors called it “sex in a box.”

Charles “Chuck” Foley, the father of nine who invented the game that became a naughty sensation in living rooms across America in the 1960s and 1970s because of the way it put men and women in compromising positions, has died. He was 82.

Foley died July 1 at a care facility in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. His son, Mark Foley, said Thursday that his father had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Foley and a collaborator, Neil Rabens, were hired in the mid-1960s by a St. Paul manufacturing firm that wanted to expand into games and toys. They came up with a game to be played on a mat on the floor, using a spinner to direct players to place their hands and feet on different colored circles.

“Dad wanted to make a game that could light up a party,” Mark Foley said. “They originally called it ‘Pretzel.’ But they sold it to Milton Bradley, which came up with the ‘Twister’ name.”

The game became a sensation after Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor played it on “The Tonight Show” in 1966.

To be sure, the game got plenty of innocent play, too, becoming popular in grade schools and at children’s parties. But its popularity among teens and young adults was owed to an undeniable sex appeal.

Players would become tangled up, and various body parts — male and female — would inevitably come into close and embarrassing proximity. Players would often lose their balance and fall on top of each other in a heap.

Hasbro Inc., which now manufacturers the game, said it continues to be a top seller.

“What makes the Twister game timeless is the fact that it’s always been about showing off your free spirit and just having some laugh-out-loud, out-of-your-seat fun,” Hasbro said in a statement noting Foley’s death.

Mark Foley said his father made little money from Twister but that never seemed to bother him much. The game was not his first invention, and far from his last.

Born in Lafayette, Ind., Foley was just 8 when he made his first invention — a locking system for the cattle pen at his grandfather’s farm. As a young man he worked as a salesman, but his interest in games and toys led him to apply for a job at a toy company in the Minneapolis area. He moved his family to Minnesota in 1962.

Over the years, Foley invented dozens of other toys and games. He also invented a product called un-du, a liquid adhesive remover.

Mark Foley is now president of un-du Products Inc., based in St. Louis Park.

Chuck Foley had lived in North Carolina for a number of years, but his son said he returned to Minnesota six years ago when his health began to decline, to be closer to his family. Foley’s wife, Kathleen, died of breast cancer in 1975, and he never remarried.

“He never stopped having fun,” Mark Foley said. “He tried to think like young people thought. He never wanted to grow up, and he always maintained his enthusiasm for seeing things through the eyes of a child.”

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