The Curious Story of The History of Jenga

While over 50 million sets and approximately 2.7 billion individual blocks of the popular game Jenga have been sold, most people don’t know it’s history. We aim to help address that…

Frequently Asked Questions About The History of Jenga

Who invented Jenga? Who Makes Jenga?

Hasbro, the game’s current manufacturer, credits Leslie Scott, a well-known British board game designer, as the game’s creator. But is this the truth? The game that many people only know as “that tower building game with the blocks,” has a much more interesting history than one might imagine.

Where Does The Word Jenga Come From?

The word Jenga literally means “to build” in the Swahili language. So we’re pretty certain that either Jenga, or some primitive version of the game, originated in West Africa. In fact, If you’ve ever played it then you know that “to build” perfectly describes the game.

What Are The Rules of Jenga?

In Jenga a tower is built out of 54 wooden blocks. The tower consists of 18 levels of the blocks stacked in rows of three. As each level is built the direction of the three blocks alternates so they are always perpendicular to the row beneath them.

Each player takes turns removing one block from the tower and placing it on the top. Players must only use one hand and are allowed to nudge blocks to see how loose they are. If a player starts to remove a block, he must continue taking it and cannot push it back in to choose another. The game ends when the tower topples. The last player to successfully remove a block and place it on top of the tower is the winner.

When Was Jenga Invented?

The current rules of Jenga have remained nearly the same since the early 1980’s when the game was first released by Leslie Scott. She launched the game at the 1983 London Toy Fair through her own company, and it instantly became a hit. Offers were soon pouring in from all over the country and the United States and Canada as well. Over the years Jenga was manufactured by such big names as Camphill Village Trust, Pokonobe Associates, Irwin Toy, Milton Bradley, and Hasbro.

Scott claims to have invented the game in Ghana, West Africa where she lived with her family during childhood. No one in the family remembers exactly how the game was invented, but the game we know today evolved from a rudimentary version that they played with children’s wooden building blocks since the early 1970’s.

A Similar Game Exists!

The Parsons family began selling a very similar game they named Ta-Ka-Radi in 1978 – five years before the release of Jenga. There are two main differences between the games. Ta-Ka-Radi is played with 50 blocks instead of 54 and they are stacked on their narrow sides with gaps in between blocks, instead of on their broad sides with no gaps.

According to the Parsons family an African friend brought a simple version of the game to their home on a visit. They were told that it had originated in West Africa decades before. In fact, the Ta-Ka-Radi website states that “Ta-Ka-Radi is the original game as it has been played by generations of West African people.”

Behold! Drama and Controversy!

Which version came first? Is Jenga really the original as Scott says or is Jenga merely a rip-off of the less popular Ta-Ka-Radi? While board game conspiracy theorists insist that it has to be, information has come to light in the last few years that says otherwise. As unbelievable as it sounds, the visitor to the Parson’s home actually learned the game from a stay with the Scott family in West Africa! They had given him an early version of their game where the blocks were stacked on their narrow sides with gaps in between. Furthermore, there seems to be no evidence that the game was around any earlier than the 1970’s or that native Africans had created it. So, it looks like the Scotts really were the creators after all.

But We All Like the Same Thing!

Rarely has a game come along that is so easily shared by both young and old, neither have an advantage in Jenga and the thrill of putting a block on top of the wobbly tower and hoping it doesn’t collapse is shared by all. Whether you are primarily a Jenga or a Ta-Ka-Radi fan, be sure to share your new knowledge of the game with family and friends on your next game night!

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