Operation (game)

Operation is a battery-operated game of physical skill that tests players' eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. The game's prototype was invented in 1964 by John Spinello, a University of Illinois industrial design student at the time, who sold his rights to the game to renowned toy designer Marvin Glass for a sum of US$500 and the promise of a job upon graduation (a promise that was not upheld).[1] Initially produced by Milton Bradley in 1965, Operation is currently made by Hasbro, with an estimated franchise worth of US$40 million.[2][3]

1960's edition of Operation.jpg
1965 edition of Operation, with the tweezers originally referred to as "Electro Probe"
DesignersJohn Spinello
PublicationMarch 27, 1965; 56 years ago (1965-03-27)
Players1-4 players
Setup time2 minutes
Playing time10-20 minutes
Random chanceLow
Age range6+
Skills requiredDexterity

The game is a variant of the old-fashioned electrified wire loop game popular at funfairs. It consists of an "operating table", lithographed with a comic likeness of a patient (nicknamed "Cavity Sam") with a large red lightbulb for his nose. This could be a reference to classic cartoons, where ill characters' noses turn red. On the surface are several openings, which reveal cavities filled with fictional and humorously named ailments made of plastic. The general gameplay requires players to remove these plastic ailments with a pair of tweezers without touching the edge of the cavity opening.


Operation includes two sets of cards: The Specialist cards are dealt out evenly amongst the players at the beginning of the game.

In the US and Australian versions, players take turns picking Doctor cards, which offer a cash payment for removing each particular ailment, using a pair of tweezers (dubbed "Electro Probe" in earlier versions) connected with wire to the board. Successfully removing the ailment is rewarded according to the dollar amount shown on the card. However, if the tweezers touch the metal edge of the opening during the attempt (thereby closing a circuit), a buzzer sounds, Sam's nose lights up red, and the player loses the turn. The player holding the Specialist card for that piece then has a try, getting double the fee if he or she succeeds.

Since there will be times when the player drawing a certain Doctor card also holds the matching Specialist card, that player can purposely botch the first attempt to attempt a second try for double value.

The winner is the player who holds the most money after all the ailments are extracted.

Subsequent later games removed the money and cards, and the winner of these editions is the player who removes the most ailments.

The game can be difficult, due to the shapes of the plastic ailments and the fact the openings are barely larger than the pieces themselves.

Play piecesEdit

  • Adam's Apple: an apple in the throat ($100). The term "Adam's apple" is colloquial and refers to the thyroid cartilage surrounding the larynx that becomes more visually prominent during puberty.
  • Broken Heart: a heart-shape with a crack through it on the right side of the chest ($100). The phrase "broken heart" refers to an emotional feeling in which someone is very sad for any reasons (such as a person's breakup with their romantic partner).
  • Wrenched Ankle: a wrench in the right ankle ($100). The term "wrenched ankle" is alternative for a sprained ankle.
  • Butterflies in Stomach: a large butterfly in the middle of the torso. Its name comes from the feeling in the stomach when feeling nervous, excited or afraid. (worth $100)
  • Spare Ribs: two ribs that are fused together as one piece ($150). "Spare ribs" are a cut of meat or a dish prepared from that cut.
  • Water on the Knee: a pail of water in the knee ($150). The term "water on the knee" is colloquial and refers to fluid accumulation around the knee joint.
  • Funny Bone: a cartoon-styled bone ($200). This is a reference to the colloquial term of the distal portion of the ulnar nerve, which is vulnerable to an injury at the elbow.
  • Charlie Horse: a small horse that rests near the hip joint ($200). A "charley horse" is a sudden spasm in the leg or foot that usually can be cured by massage or stretching. It also looks like a rocking horse.
  • Writer's Cramp: a pencil in the forearm ($200). A "writer's cramp" is soreness in the wrist that usually can be cured by resting it.
  • Ankle Bone Connected to the Knee Bone: a rubber band that must be stretched between two pegs at the left ankle and knee. This is the only non-plastic piece in the game and the only card that requires the player to insert rather than remove something ($200). Its name is taken from the African-American spiritual of "Dem Bones".
  • Wish Bone: a wishbone similar to that of a chicken located on the left side of the chest ($300). The term "wishbone" is colloquial for the Furcula which is a bone that can be found in birds and other animals. Traditionally, a chicken's Furcula may be used by two people for making competing wishes.
  • Brain Freeze: an ice-cream cone located in the brain. It refers to the experience of "brain freeze", a headache felt after consuming frozen desserts and iced drinks too quickly ($600). This was added in 2004 when Milton Bradley allowed fans a chance to vote on a new piece to be added to the original game during the previous year, during the promotion of "What's Ailing Sam?". Voters had been given three choices and could make their selection via the company's official website,[4] or by phone for a chance to win a $5,000 shopping spree.[5] The winning piece had beat out tennis elbow and growling stomach.
  • Bread Basket: a slice of bread that has a small notch taken out of the top for grip. It is one of the most difficult pieces to remove ($1,000). The word "breadbasket" is a slang name for the stomach.

Other variationsEdit

In 2020, Hasbro introduced a new variation of the game called Operation Pet Scan, in which players have to remove foreign objects from a dog's digestive tract.[6]

A video game also appeared. It is only available on apps.


  1. ^ "John Spinello, Inventor Of 'Operation' Game, Can't Afford Real-Life Operation". Huffington Post. 27 Oct 2014. Retrieved 29 Oct 2014.
  2. ^ "OPERATION Game History". Hasbro.com. Archived from the original on 2011-01-02. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  3. ^ "'Operation' Inventor, 77, Can't Afford Real Life Operation". TIME. 28 Oct 2014. Retrieved 29 Oct 2014.
  4. ^ http://www.operation.com
  5. ^ "Brain Freeze, Tennis Elbow or Growling Stomach?". Boardgames.about.com. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  6. ^ "Hasbro Gaming Introduces Operation Pet Scan". Red Tricycle. 2020-07-02. Retrieved 2020-09-06.

External linksEdit