To Build is to Jenga

Born in East Africa, Leslie Scott grew up fluent in both English and Swahili. Jenga evolved from a stacking game her family played with simple wood blocks. Back in England in the 1980s, Scott began manufacturing her game and trademarked the name “Jenga,” a form of the Swahili word kujenga, which means “to build.”

Traditionally Jenga is played with 54 wooden blocks stacked into a tower. Each block is three times as long as it is wide, and one fifth as thick as its length. The blocks are intentionally manufactured with subtle variations, which add randomness and heighten the challenge. A rack supplied with the game allows for a quick tower set-up, in which each layer of three blocks is set at a 90-degree angle to the last. Players remove any block on their turn, placing it on top to heighten the tower without knocking it over. Topple the tower and you’ve lost. The game is simple and easy to understand, and it tempts players for a rematch. Success requires balance, patience, and manual dexterity. Best of all, it’s fun!

Like many popular games, variations on classic Jenga soon appeared. Hasbro, now official licensee for Jenga in most of the world, made Throw & Go Jenga, with the added excitement of special colored blocks and a six-sided die to determine which color to pull. Truth or Dare Jenga evolved from written “dares” scrawled onto blocks by mischievous adults. Soon kid-friendly versions appeared. Both miniature and giant-sized sets are available, as are electronic versions for the Nintendo Wii and DS, and in IOS and Android phone formats. And of course, Jenga comes in hundreds of branded versions, from sports teams to nationally recognized products, characters, and organizations.


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