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Monday, October 13, 2014

Games Magazine Story

In 2002, I hosted the first New York Puzzle Party. One of the attendees was Robin King. I had actually met Robin a year or two before, very briefly, at the New York Toy Fair.  The company that produces the card game SET, had a competition. Using their computer, how many sets could you find in 1 minute. I was in the lead. They told me to come back at 3:00 to claim my prize. So I did. I think I won a brand new deck of SET.  5 minutes later, Robin shows up and beats my record. But it was after 3:00. I saw her name on the badge and was very impressed with the company she worked for: Games Magazine.

After the NYPP in 2002, Robin invited me to play test some games with her husband John McCallion.  On the way there, I thought to myself: my sisters are going to be so envious because I'm entering the Games Magazine office to play test. In fact, we met at the Manhattan Fire Safety office on 32nd street. This, I learned, was John's real job. It's really one of the most boring offices I've ever seen. 20 desks with telephones. Everybody's job: to sell fire extinguishers. I never actually saw anybody except John & Robin in the office, since I would always arrive at 6:00.

Over the next 10 years I would play test with John & Robin, usually on a Wednesday night. Typically, we would play 3 games for about 2 hours. All sorts of games: card games, board games, games with a thousand rules. John would always read the rules. About 90% of the time, Robin would win. During the night, John would lose his temper at me, or at Robin  or another play tester because we had forgotten an obscure rule. It was always amusing to me to see him so frustrated and him cursing - in a genteel way! - with his Irish accent.

I never met the man who owned/ran Manhattan Fire Safety, but I noticed that he left sarcastic memos around the office.

On and off I would tell John & Robin that they should write more about mechanical puzzles. One day, Robin suggested to me that I give it a shot. My first article for Games Magazine appeared in the February 2006 issues. 6 pages called The Puzzling World of Oskar van Deventer. I was off and running and gave myself the title Mechanical Puzzle Correspondent. I wrote 27 articles.

But it's all come to an end. Last year, around Thanksgiving, Robin passed away during a lung transplant. I knew she had been in the hospital for months, and felt guilty about not visiting her. Then I saw John on the 7 train. He told me that she had gotten the transplant and it was a success. According to the hospital officials.  He was overjoyed. Unfortunately, it was not a success and Robin passed away several days later.

My editor at Games Magazine, Wayne Schmittberger, was recently fired. The entire magazine has been downsized. It may even stop publishing. John has quit. What I've learned is that when things fall apart, they do so very rapidly.

Below are some links from Drew Davidson. I play tested with John & Robin and a bunch of others. I don't think I met Drew.  Perhaps I have. Robin & John always had a thank-you dinner at an Indian restaurant at the end of the year for all the play testers.  Drew's 3 part story is better written and more comprehensive than mine.


  1. Very sad. Games has had several owners over the years, but it would be great if they had the money, resources, and permission to digitize all of their old magazines. Such good content!

  2. Thank you, Tom, for a very warm and touching reminiscence. I don't think we did share a table at John's but perhaps someday we will. - Drew