Inventor continues to benefit from game


Photo by Catherine Miller

The inspiration for Operation came from Spinello shocking himself as a child. Spinello signs a copy of the board game in his home.

By Catherine Miller, Reporter

After 50 years of Operation, the creator is still enjoying the game.

The beginnings of what would eventually become the beloved game Operation have their roots in a college project. As a sophomore industrial design student at the University of Illinois, John Spinello was asked to create a game or a toy for class.

The result of his decision would change the game world forever. Spinello chose a game, and he drew upon a very unique source of inspiration.

“When I was a little guy about 3 or 3 ½ years old, I crawled under my mother’s television set and I had a safety pin in my hand, and I put it in the light socket. And it went zap, bang. Turned me over backwards and burned my thumb,” Spinello described. “I said you know this game that I’m going to do. It would be wonderful if I could duplicate that sensation which is what I set about to do.”

From this idea came Spinello’s prototype. It consisted of a basic box with a 12 volt battery, six volt buzzer, a probe, and a maze.

“As you played my prototype if you shorted it out, if you went off your beaten path, it would arc and buzz,” Spinello said. “It didn’t quite electrocute you but it got your attention which is what I was looking for.”

The prototype was then offered to Milton Bradley who liked the concept. Spinello’s name was put on the patent.

Spinello originally sold his rights to the game for $500 and was promised a job upon his return from his honeymoon trip.

However, Spinello was never given this job and did not receive more money for his invention.

“Since then I’ve been enjoying the game Operation and I’ve been to toy fairs and to toy and game shows and been interviewed on TV,” Spinello said. “They’re doing a documentary on me now.”

The people who are creating Spinello’s documentary titled “The Buzz Heard ‘Round the World” also played a major role in Spinello’s life recently.

Spinello was in need of major dental work but couldn’t afford his own operation.  The creators of Spinello’s documentary began a campaign for him.

“I didn’t really know how big it was going to be until one  night I was sitting there watching the news,” Spinello said.“And I was watching the dialogue of Jimmy Kimmel and he came out there and said ‘Do you believe that John Spinello, the inventor of Operation, needs an operation and can’t afford it.’”

“He did about 3 minutes on the game of Operation and on myself,” Spinello said.

Kimmel told his audience to donate money and gave the web address for where they could go to donate. This was only the beginning for Spinello.

“A couple days later we had the driveway full of ABC and CBS and it just took off,” Spinello said. “And we’re enjoying it.”

Spinello had his operation a year ago at a dental office in Algonquin after receiving 15 to 18 offers from different dentists and doctors across the nation.

To this day, Operation has had an incredible effect on so many people. For this reason, Spinello is not upset that he didn’t get the job he was originally promised.

“When I’m at these toy fairs and I meet the people that have played the game for three generations, and their children, and their grandchildren, and they give me hugs and say ‘Thank you Mr. Spinello. That was really wonderful’,” Spinello described, “That’s what it’s about.”

In addition to receiving hugs, Spinello has also received many “Dear John” letters.

“We received letters from all throughout the world,” Spinello said.

He has heard from people in England, Spain, Germany, and many other places.

Spinello received letters of thanks from fans but also from doctors that took more away from Operation then just the shocking fun.

“Because of the game, a simple game, they’ve become doctors heavily involved in the medical profession,” Spinello said.

One of these doctors in particular, took the ideas of Operation to a whole new level. Andrew Goldstone created a device used for thyroid surgeries in which the device is put down the throat. If the device gets too close to the vocal cords, it will buzz. Over a million of these devices have been sold.

All of this came full circle when Spinello’s daughter needed surgery, and Goldstone’s device was used during her surgery.

“My daughter benefited from my Operation game which was really awesome. Pretty emotional too,” Spinello said.

Operation is a game that has provided millions with enjoyment and inspiration for generations.

“People have enjoyed the game for 50 years, what else can I say. It’s worth the price of admission,” Spinello said.