Photograph by Rena Nathanson
Aaron Haggas and his grandfather Abe Nathanson were playing board games one day when they were struck with the inspiration to create their own word game! The whole family pitched in to come up with the design and rules for Bananagrams®. The game begins with each player drawing the same number of tiles. Each player builds interconnecting words in front of him/her. The first player to use all his tiles and yell "Bananas!" is the winner.
We spoke with Aaron, 16, his sister Ava, 13, and their mom Rena to learn how they helped bring their family's word game to the marketplace, where more than 5 million sets have been sold.
NG Kids: How did you and your family come up with the idea for Bananagrams®?
Aaron: I was playing Scrabble with my granddad at our beach house in Rhode Island, and it took about two hours to finish the game. He said, "We need to find an anagram game that will drive us bananas." From there, we were inspired to create a game that could be for all ages and played together as a family. So he set his mind to create the game, and then me and my sister helped with the instructions.
NG Kids: How old were you when you came up with Bananagrams®?
Ava: I was 7, and Aaron was 10.
NG Kids: How did you get the games made?
Rena: When we were sitting around playing the game, my mom [Aaron and Ava's grandmother] and I looked at each other and said, "It has to be in a banana-shaped bag." A local seamstress made the bags, and a local toy parts company made some tiles. I took 25 to England and my dad sold the rest in Rhode Island. They sold out immediately. Then we had 500 made, and they sold out. Then we took a gamble and produced 5,000. I went to Toy Fair 2006 and took orders. The kids were there for the whole fair. It was a blast. Aaron was the walking banana. The kids helped promote the game even then, at such a young age.
NG Kids: How long did it take to come up with your other word games after creating the first one?
Rena: I'd say about two and a half or three years later we got a lot of requests for games for younger children, so we came up with Appletters, and then Pairs in Pears. In the past year we've done Zip-It and Fruitominoes.
NG Kids: Are you working on any other games?
Rena: At the moment we're getting prototypes for Jumbo Bananagrams® and Jumbo Zip-It. Each tile will be about three inches. Kids can play on the ground, or at the beach, or in a gymnasium, fairly crazily. Exercise your body as well as your brain! We're really excited about it. We'll launch those in spring 2012.
NG Kids: And you have a Bananagrams® app out. Tell us about that.
Aaron: You can play on iPhone or iPad.
Ava: It's quite similar to the game.
NG Kids: What other sorts of games do you like?
Ava: We like playing Boggle and charades as a family.
NG Kids: What else do you like to do in your spare time?
Aaron: I recently got back into playing guitar. I've been playing a lot with my cousin in America. [Aaron and Ava live in London and spend their summers in Rhode Island.] I read magazines and play a lot of sports, like football (soccer).
Ava: I love photography. I have quite a collection of different cameras now. I love creative things.
NG Kids: What would you like to be when you grow up?
Ava: I want to keep with my photography. I also like decorating things, so maybe an interior decorator incorporating my photography.
Aaron: I want to be involved in Bananagrams® somehow, but I'm also quite interested in marine biology. I have a trip this upcoming year with my school, which should be really enjoyable.
NG Kids: Do either of you have a hero?
Aaron: The person who inspires me most would have to be my granddad, who had the original idea for Bananagrams®.
Ava: Mine, too.