Inventing Connect Four

When I first thought of inventing, I began with games. Games required no elaborate tools or machinery, just a lot of thinking. I was very good at inventing games. But I wanted to create a very special game, different than all the games I ever saw.

So my thought was to invent a game that was completely different from all others. I knew that what worked for me was to first place a single thought in my mind: “a game very different than any game I ever saw.” Many weeks went by, and then one day the thought came to me: “All games play on a horizontal plane (Checkers, Chess, Parcheesi, Go…). What if I invented a game that was on a vertical plane? Once that thought came into my mind, Connect Four was not far from being realized. At that time, no vertical strategy game existed. This is the beauty of invention; the idea always seems so simple after it’s realized. I equate invention with magic – you can spend a lifetime trying to figure out the illusion, but once you know how the trick is done, it seems so simple: “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Ask yourself this: Why didn’t we have games that were vertical before Connect Four? Even today, 40 years later, there are very few vertical strategy games. There are plenty of Connect Four imitations (knockoffs), but no real breakthrough vertical strategy games. I suggest that is why Connect Four is so special. It’s because it’s so basic, so simple (like a great magic trick).

Howard Wexler Toy Inventor Interview
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Getting back to what I did after the “vertical thought” came into my mind. See the video. I took some clear plastic cylinders and taped 3, 4, 5, etc. tubes together, then got some ping pong balls, painted them two different colors, and began to play by myself. I played both players, taking a turn at each move. I played over and over again, all trial and error, always assuming both the player and opponent. I was most anxious not to have the game result in a stalemate. After I was satisfied that the game played well, I began to call upon friends and family to play. Everyone agreed that 7 cylinders across and 6 ping pong balls high was the way to go. I then substituted checkers for ping pong balls.

Finally, I felt that simply turning over the game and spilling out the checkers would not be a fun thing to do. So I attached a simple bar at the bottom of the columns to hold up the checkers while playing; moving the bar backward or forward would release the checkers.

The rules of Connect 4 are very simple, and the game is easy to learn how to play. It can be played by very young children as well as by adults. Connect Four is a game that can play very fast, has no setup time, and can be played over and over again. It can be found in just about every country in the world. I enjoy tracking it down whenever I travel. I recently tracked it down in India, and a year later found it in Australia and New Zealand. It continues to be very special to the entire world and me. It is a genuine classic! And it continues to make me feel very proud.

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