Confessions of a Games Designer: A Leg Too Far

1974 was a productive year for me (note to all students: you get far more done if you avoid going to lectures) – in between raising an army and invading the country next door (see Free Cornish Army) I invented two games. Three-Legged Football, which was a great success, and …The Giant Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum Relay – the never-attempt-this-under-any-circumstances disaster – labelled in some quarters as ‘the most dangerous game ever played.’

Which do you want to hear about?

I thought so.

It’s 1974 and I was Plymouth Area Rag Chairman – the person in charge of organising Plymouth Students’ Rag Week, a week long series of events, stunts and charity fundraisers.

We’d opened the week by liberating Cornwall, sealing off all the bridges into England, installing customs posts, immigration controls, issuing passports and informing motorists where the safest routes were so they could avoid all the zones where fighting was still going on. As you do.

We’d been on newspaper front pages and the telly. Now we needed something relaxing. So, I invented a couple of games.

The first was a success and drew large crowds. The second drew blood.

The idea for the game came to me while watching a Wrigley’s advert on TV. An ad starring a man carrying a giant pack of Wrigley’s spearmint gum under his arm. The pack was enormous – three feet long and a foot across. Now if I could get hold of some of those…

I rang Wrigley’s. They had a factory in Plymouth and, yes, they’d love to help local students raise money for charity. They sent six of their giant cardboard packs.

Yay! Now I had to find something to do with them. Naturally, I thought relay! – they’d make excellent joke batons. Six batons, six teams. I then descended a slippery slope – all game designers, please take note – in the pursuit of the ultimate fun spectacle I added one too many embellishments. Some, the police included, would say two too many.

I added a blindfold. I added a spin start. And … a little something else.

I didn’t have time to organise a dry run – invading the country next door takes it out of you – so six virgin teams assembled on Plymouth Hoe for the great Wrigley’s Giant Spearmint Gum Relay Race. All team members were blindfolded. There were four in each team. Two were at the start and two were a hundred yards away. The second leg runner would shout to the first leg runner to let them know where they were. The third would then shout to the second etc. And the first leg runner would be spun around five times before starting.

Disaster. Six runners were spun and six runners shot off in six different directions. One found a park bench with his shins, another ran into the cheering crowd (whose noise drowned out the second leg runners) and three – this is the ‘something else’ mentioned earlier – ran straight for the cliff.

Yes, Plymouth Hoe, that grassy expanse famous for Sir Francis Drake playing bowls, just happened to be on top of a cliff. People shouted at the three to stop, people chased after them. Naturally, this being a disaster movie in the making, all the shouting and thundering pursuit spurred them on. They lengthened their stride, pumped their gum-laden arms. I’m sure I saw Shelley Winters and several guitar playing nuns appear on the horizon. Then, one by one, the three cliff runners began to fall. Luckily not over the cliff but over their own feet or rugby tackled from behind.

The event was abandoned. Not one runner managed to get within fifty yards of the first change over.

Note to the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics: you can add a blindfold to the 4x100m relay, maybe a spin start, but the cliff … no.


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his  BVC bookshelf .

Just released from Book View Press:  Magical Crimes – a fun CSI with Magic and … ‘a little something else’ story.

Also available from Amazon and Smashwords.

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