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Hasbro’s Classic Game Operation Was Sparked by a Grad Student’s Electric Idea

The original objective of the board game was to avoid dying of thirst in the desert

3 min read
Photo of the Operation game box.
Photo: The Strong, Rochester, N.Y.

Photo of the Operation game box.Remove Funny Bone: In Operation, players try to “cure” Cavity Sam’s ailments by carefully removing game pieces from an electrified board.Photo: The Strong, Rochester, N.Y.

Cavity Sam, the cartoon patient in the board game Operation, suffers from an array of anatomically questionable ailments: writer’s cramp (represented by a tiny plastic pencil), water on the knee (a bucket of water), butterflies in the stomach (you get the idea). Each player takes a turn as Sam’s doctor, using a pair of tweezers to try to remove the plastic piece for each ailment. Dexterity is key. If the tweezers touch the side of the opening, it closes a circuit, causing the red bulb that is Sam’s nose to light up and a buzzer to sound. Your turn is then over. The game’s main flaw, at least from the patient’s perspective, is that it’s more fun to lose your turn than to play perfectly.

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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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