Top Stories
8:47 am
Fri August 12, 2011

Puzzlers going bananas over Rhode Island game

Providence, RI – A new game out of Rhode Island is fast becoming a major player in the board game industry. Bananagrams as the company and game is called is an anagram puzzle built for speed. Think of Scrabble with no board or complicated scoring. WRNI's Bradley Campbell explores why this company is thriving despite a down economy.

The first time Seth Snyder played Bananagrams he became an addict. It made sense. The 25-year-old industrial designer is into word games and puzzles. But nothing had him this hooked.

"A year ago I'd never even heard of the game," he says. "And then I think my friend Joshua brought it over. And he took it out and taught us to play and it was just super fun."

On a muggy August night Snyder and eight of his friends crowd around his kitchen table. It's elbow to elbow with scant space for their beers. All are geared-up to play Bananagrams,

"How many letters should we get?" he asks his friends. "Seven? Eleven?"

This how it works: Scrabble like tiles come in a banana shaped pouch. A player un-zips the pouch and puts the tiles on a table. Each person use tiles from the center to form words that connect with each other. When no more tiles in the center are left, the first person to form words with all their tiles wins. And yells:

"Bananas!"

Snyder and his buddies usually play late into the night or until one falls asleep. They say it's hard to stop playing. And that's what Rena Nathason and her father were looking for when their family invented game in a beach house in Narragansett 6-years ago.

"We wanted a game that we could play faster than Scrabble," she says.

Nathansons's late father, Abe, had been frustrated by the slow, plodding nature of Scrabble. But he loved word games. So he ditched the board, took the tiles and began to form and reform words. The family joined in and acted as guinea pigs for the game, creating the basic rules as they played.

"So we came up with the game Bananagrams and we played with family and friends and became addicted to it," she says.

In two months the family had 50 games made. They sold half to local toy stores. The game immediately sold out. So the family had 500 more made. Those sold out. Then in 2006 the family launched the game at the London Toy Fair.

Nathanson had no clue the family was stumbling onto something so big.

"We thought it would be sorta successful, you know, and a little popular. but we had no idea... we had no idea what a phenomenon it would become," she says.

So how many of these little Bananagram pouches have been sold? I asked.

"These little Bananagram pouches," she responds, "There are probably around five and a half million floating around the world today."

Five and a half million?

"Five and a half million. To date."

Bananagrams is bucking the trend of most board game sales. Even toy giant Hasbro saw its games and puzzles division drop by 12-percent over the last 3-months in a company report. Meanwhile, in the non-cardboard section of town, smartphone games are growing. The app Angry Birds is on its way to 1-billion players.

So what makes Bananagrams different?

Adrienne Appell, spokesperson for the Toy Industry Association, guesses that the game appeals to a large variety of people.

"Bananagrams is really turning into a classic game," she says. "Although it was only introduced in the last couple years, it's really starting to have that stature of a long lasting game that we envision will be played by generations of kids to come.

The company now has a fruit line that includes pouches shaped like apples and pears. And yes, there's a Bananagram app, too. You know, in case bird flinging gets old. Or you need some electronic potassium.

You can try out Bananagrams for yourself at Waterfire this weekend. The company is co-sponsoring Saturday's event. They'll be plenty of games, word building, and of course, bananas.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you. news@wrni.org.