(The Board) Games People Play: #22, Master Mind

“Your specialised subject…” 1970s board games

Saturday 15 January 2017

Till I discovered the joys of the Lilywhites, I had never heard of Goole. For an aspiring musician like me, this is no good. Especially when you’re visiting obscure pubs in and around Yorkshire in a Transit van across the Woodhead Pass. Shortly after my paper round, I had a quick wash, got changed, then made my way to Seel Park for the supporters’ coach. Three hours or so later, we arrived at the Victoria Pleasure Ground.

Pleasure Ground was stretching the term: ‘where were the roller coasters and log flumes?’ I thought. It is just a bog standard Northern Premier League ground with a view of the town’s water tower. A one all draw was a far from a roller coasting performance. So, back to Seel Park on Wednesday night.

If he took the train, James South could have played this board game on a table seat.

Mastermind

In spite of its assumed associations with the BBC quiz show, the Master Mind board game had nothing to do with the quiz whatsoever. The board game, published by Invicta Games in the early 1970s, requires powers of deduction. Instead of answering general knowledge questions or as many questions on your specialised subject, you tried to decode a sequence of four different coloured pegs.

There are six different coloured pegs and a selection of smaller black and white pegs for scoring. You have ten chances of decoding your opponent’s sequence of pegs. If you fail to guess correctly, the opponent reveals the correct sequence.

It was invented by Mordecai Meirowitz in 1970, an Israeli postmaster and telecommunications expert. It is based on a paper-based game called Bulls and Cows. The game’s popularity peaked in the mid-1970s. So much so that Master Mind tournaments took place. Mastermind board games – to give its present-day spelling (and similar imitators) – are still available in toy shops today.

Other versions of Mastermind

There was also Mini Master Mind, the same game with a smaller board. With Super Master Mind, you guess the correct sequence of five different coloured pegs. Word Master Mind served the same purpose, though with four letter words instead of pegs.

The models

If you have any of the 1970s versions of Master Mind, each one of its boxes featured a male and female couple. Their names, as seen on the boxes, are Cecilia Fung and Bill Woodward. The original photograph would have seen a cat sat on Bill’s lap, but the cat peeing on Bill put paid to that. Bill owned a chain of hairdressers in Leicestershire whereas Cecilia studied Computer Science at the University of Leicester. Tens of millions of boxes later, Bill Woodward was known as ‘Mr Mastermind’.

In 2003, the couple were reunited, thanks to a television documentary on life in the 1970s. By then, Cecilia Fung had married, now known as Cecilia Masters. Fourteen years ago she was working for Chase Manhattan Bank.

Ten years later, Bill Woodward passed away on the 30 August 2013. He was 89 years of age. Before being the face of Master Mind, he was a RAF mechanic during the Second World War. Bill and his son funded a memorial for the 82nd Airborne Division which stands in the city of Leicester.

The Master Mind board game also outlived its manufacturers, Invicta Plastics. After being sold to its directors in December 2013, the company was dissolved in July 2016. As for the joys of decoding a sequence of coloured pegs, this lives on in Parker Brothers’ version. The John Lewis Partnership’s stores sell a similar game called Codebreaker.

S.V., 22 December 2017.

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