If you’ve ever delighted in the ailments afflicting the aptly named “Cavity Sam” in the game Operation, or jumped when a slip of the hand produced that harmlessly terrifying buzz, you have John Spinello to thank.
Spinello came up with the idea for the game as part of a class project while he was studying at the University of Illinois in 1963. Originally called “Death Valley,” the game required players to trek through the desert, investigating each hole and crevasse for water. The object of the game was somewhat similar to today's version—avoid touching the sides of the holes, lest you set off the buzzer. This early prototype also had an alarm bell, so any slip-ups were twice as jolting. The mass-produced version of the game made the goal more challenging by also requiring players to pick up tiny objects with tweezers.
After receiving an "A" on the project, Spinello shopped his concept to Marvin Glass Associates (MGA), a Chicago-based toy design firm. MGA purchased the idea for just $500, and by 1965, Milton Bradley had picked up the rights. They retooled it, giving it the surgical theme we know and love today.
The game has since sold millions of copies, but Spinello has said he doesn’t regret his decision to sell the rights so early on. Unfortunately, the extra money certainly would have come in handy in 2014, when the septuagenarian inventor found himself in need of $25,000 to pay for oral surgery not covered by insurance. After friends of Spinello’s stepped in with a website and a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdrise, the donations began to pour in—hundreds of board game enthusiasts gave more than $32,000 to help the creator of Operation get the surgery he needed.
But the good news didn’t end there. Hasbro, the company that now owns Operation, also stepped in to buy the original prototype, "with the hope that the funds will help to defray his medical costs. We plan to proudly display it at Hasbro's global headquarters in Pawtucket, RI, to honor his contribution to Hasbro's gaming history."