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The History of Operation

The original version of Operation was invented in the early 1960s by John Spinello, an industrial design student at the University of Illinois. One of his professors instructed Spinello to design a game or toy. Inspired by the memory of sticking his finger into a light socket as a child, Spinello designed a box with a mild electrical current and grooves that players needed to probe through without touching the sides, because doing so would complete the electrical circuit Spinello had laid into the gameboard and cause a buzzer to sound. Spinello showed the game to his godfather, Sam Cottone, who worked at the toy design firm Marvin Glass and Associates. Marvin Glass loved the game and paid Spinello a small sum for the rights. However, Spinello’s game did not have a unifying them. Cottone suggested using a desert theme for the game where players would try to extract water from holes in the ground; it was called Death Valley. When Milton Bradley purchased the rights to the game from Marvin Glass and Associates, a designer named Jim O’Connor suggested switching the original probe to a pair of tweezers and using an operating theater as the theme of the game so that players could try to extract actual items from the holes. The resulting game, Operation, was released in 1965. After they acquired the game, Hasbro later aquired the game and added a few new “ailments," including "Brain Freeze" in 2004. But it wasn’t all just fun and games. Operation actually inspired real-life surgeon Andrew Goldstone to apply an electrode to the airway tube used during thyroid surgeries in order to alert surgeons that they were nearing the nerves of the vocal chords to decrease the risk of damage to the chords. He sold the technology in 1991 and it has been used in many surgeries since. From creating simple fun to inspiring serious solutions to medical problems, Operation has had a long and storied history. The game still exists today and is enjoyed by many.

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