Since the early 1980s, players all over the world have tested their nerves and tried to maintain a steady hand while hovering around Jenga. The deceptively simple rules of the building-block game require participants to try and withdraw a single piece from the tower of 54 blocks and place it on top. As the structure grows, it threatens to topple over. The player who pushes things too far and extracts that fateful support beam loses. For more on the game that’s sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, keep reading.
1. Jenga's inventor didn’t know she had invented Jenga.
Leslie Scott was born in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and spent her youth moving to cities across Africa. In the 1970s, Scott’s family often played with her brother’s amassed pile of building blocks, using them to build a swaying tower that would crumble if they weren’t careful. The family loved the game so much that they eventually ordered professionally-crafted bricks from a carpenter. It wasn’t until later on that Scott realized the game had been conceived within her household. “It was only when I moved to Oxford that I realized this wasn’t something everyone did,” Scott told the Somerset County Gazette in 2010.
In Oxford, England, Scott worked at Intel as an internal game designer to help employees learn new skills. In her spare time, she held dinner parties for friends. When they kept insisting on playing the “game with bricks," Scott decided to bring the game to market. Jenga—which is Swahili for “build”—was launched in the UK in 1983 and in Canada in 1984.
2. Jenga nearly bankrupted inventor Leslie Scott.
The early sales of Jenga were not encouraging. Because Scott was paying for production herself, the game’s lack of success had personal consequences. At one point, she told the Oxford Times in 2009, she contemplated selling both her house and her shares of Intel to help continue funding the game. Fortunately, her family backed the idea. Her then-partner agreed to be a guarantor on a loan, and Scott’s mother agreed to put her house up as collateral for a second loan.
Their trust was rewarded when the game appeared at the 1986 Toronto Toy Fair; Scott received orders for 400,000 copies. When Hasbro's then-chief executive Alan Hassenfeld saw the game, his reaction was: "We just have to have it." He quickly bought the distribution rights for the United States.
Jenga was released in North America in 1986 and became an immediate hit, though Scott’s deal left a lot to be desired: Scott has said she receives just 20 percent of the royalties on the game, an amount she said comes to about five cents for every $10 Jenga earns.
3. Jenga owes a debt to Trivial Pursuit.
The games couldn’t be more different: Jenga requires fine motor skills, while Trivial Pursuit requires a memory warehouse of knowledge. But according to Scott, Jenga might not have taken off if Trivial Pursuit, which launched in the U.S. in 1983, hadn’t been such a success. “I was extremely lucky that I launched Jenga just after Trivial Pursuit had hit the big time and the toy trade was actively looking for the next big board game,” she said.
At the time, the toy industry was heavily into electronic diversions, including the recently-released Nintendo Entertainment System. When Trivial Pursuit proved there was still a market for analog games—it sold 15 million copies in 1984 alone—Jenga was able to wedge a foot (or a block) in the door.
4. Jenga blocks aren’t identical.
While they may look similar, Jenga blocks have subtle differences in dimensions to make their construction less stable. Each brick is a different size and weight so no two games are alike.
5. There’s a world record for the tallest Jenga structure.
In 1985, Jenga sales representative Robert Grebler pursued competitive play, stacking increasingly large towers of blocks. That year, he was able to complete a 40-layer structure consisting of three blocks per layer. According to Hasbro, it’s believed to be the tallest on record. He was apparently two blocks into the 41st layer before the structure became unstable. The official Jenga website indicates it’s actively seeking someone to beat the record.
A different, potentially more impressive feat was accomplished in 2019, when Tai Star Valianti of Pima, Arizona, managed to stack 353 Jenga blocks on top of one single upright block. The achievement earned Valianti a Guinness World Record.
6. There’s a Louis Vuitton version of Jenga.
Tired of playing Jenga with primitive wooden blocks? In 2019, luxury fashion label Louis Vuitton introduced a Jenga game made out of plexiglass. The set, which is simply called a "monogram tower" on LV's website, retails for $3050.
7. Someone played Jenga with construction equipment.
A 2019 publicity stunt by construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar USA involved recruiting enormous excavators, telehandlers, and loaders in service of manipulating 27 8-foot-long, 600-pound custom Jenga bricks. The 28-hour game ended with 13 layers.