By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer
Before they created Bananagrams, the high-speed word game now played in elementary school classrooms and pubs and from Bristol to Brazil, the Nathanson family invented other games to pass summer-vacation hours by the beach in Narragansett.
Guessing whether food and kitchen utensils dropped in a bucket of water would sink was one, but it didn’t have the portability or addictive potential of their anagram game, which the family took with them wherever they went.
And it didn’t have a catchy name like Bananagrams, a moniker that gave the word game not only its marketing punch, but the fruit theme and packaging concept.
“My dad said: ‘This anagram game is driving me bananas,” and we knew we had to put the whole thing in a banana shape,” said Banagrams President Rena Nathanson. “We never planned to do it. It just grew organically.”
Although its kitchen-table creation by three generations of Nathansons gave the game built-in market testing and authenticity, Bananagrams was not entirely an amateur affair.
Nathanson’s father, Abe, the driving, creative force behind the Bananagram family of games, was a graphic designer who founded a commercial-design studio, George Nathan Design, before he turned to creating games in his later years.
It was Abe Nathanson’s knowledge of manufacturing that resulted in a test batch of 50 Bananagrams games being made in 2005.
At the time, the younger Nathanson was also a graphic designer with two children trying to launch an interior-design business.
She took 25 of the games to London, where she lives part of the year, while 25 went to The World Store in North Kingstown.
On both sides of the pond, the games, packaged in banana-shaped, yellow pouches, flew off the shelves, prompting the Nathansons to have 500 of the games made. Those too sold rapidly and when Nathanson took Bananagrams to an international toy show in London, a business was born.
Nathanson quit her décor enterprise and the family opened an office on Allens Avenue in Providence, which they quickly painted yellow and made the headquarters of an international sales operation.
By 2011, Bananagrams had sold 6 million games and, in addition to the original game, now makes four others, including Appleletters, Pairs in Pears, Zip-It and Fruitominoes.