The entertainments photographed on the preceding pages have two things in common: they appeal to adults, and they are well designed. People are rejecting poor-quality games. "Everyone is tired of paying substantial sums for things that break apart," says Stanley R. James, vice-president in charge of sales at Parker Brothers, which manufactures the alltime best-selling Monopoly.
Whatever the reason, games are something of a new status symbol, and this Christmas they are special. Dominoes are no longer just black-and-white wood but are available in offbeat materials like brass and cork. Roulette wheels of wood and chrome are outselling the plastic ones. The honest poker chip is barely recognizable: some are gold-plated, others square. Backgammon, a dropout from the '20s, is reappearing in well-made leather cases.
Chess is more popular than ever, with an estimated 35 million players in the U.S. There are some beautiful sets around: fragile Venetian glass, vermeil kings with ruby crowns, huge ivory chessmen representing the Japanese dynasties. They may never move on a chessboard—the serious player usually prefers a classic design that allows him to distinguish the knight from the bishop—but they are moving in the stores.
Games of physical dexterity, with Labyrinth leading and Shoot the Moon running it close, are selling well. Both are played with a steel ball manipulated by rods or knobs held in both hands and need skill and quick thinking. Good airplane pilots learn fastest.
People are buying beautiful wooden jigsaw puzzles again. The Matisse shown in the color pages should take only four hours and 50 minutes, but others are so difficult that the exhausted puzzlers are framing their masterpieces for posterity.
"I don't know what started it," says one store buyer, "but there's a big think boom. Mothers come in for chess sets for their 8-year-olds. And for games like Wff'n Proof. Wff'n Proof's one of the hardest games ever thought up. You almost have to be a scientist to play it."
Wff'n Proof, a game developed by a Yale law professor, provides practice in abstract thinking and mathematical logic. In spite of its difficulty, or perhaps because of it, it is selling briskly.
That logic and math should equal fun and games is an odd proposition. But mathematical games, such as the ancient kalah—a game in which there is absolutely no element of chance—are fascinating the new game-playing generation.
Ten years ago only retired generals would have held still for a three-hour replay of the Battle of the Bulge but strategy games are also part of the think-games trend. The most sophisticated of the war games is Diplomacy, in which players rearrange the pre-World War I map of Europe by alliances, bargaining and skulduggery. Diplomacy doesn't exactly foster the Christmas spirit, but it's a remarkable game.
Rollette ($15), the gambling game on page 72, can be bought at V. C. Morris, 140 Maiden Lane, San Francisco. The stores that carry the games in the photographs are listed alphabetically: T. Anthony, 772 Madison Avenue, New York City; Boutique Caprice, Cross Keys Village Square, Baltimore; Buffum's, 209 East Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, Calif.; Cepelia, 5 East 57 Street, New York City; Gucci Shops Inc., 699 Fifth Avenue, New York City; Mark Cross, 711 Fifth Avenue, New York City; Marshall Field, Chicago; Merrin Jewels, 530 Madison Avenue, New York City; Neiman-Marcus, Dallas; Par Puzzles, 18 East 53 Street, New York City; Scarabaeus Ltd., 223 East 60 Street, New York City.