Who Invented Trivial Pursuit?

The creators of the Trivial Pursuit game.

Chris Haney and Scott Abbott

Like most good comedy, all good bacon, and the addition of gravy to French Fries, Trivial Pursuit was created in Canada. The little trivia board game that Time Magazine would one day call "the biggest phenomenon in game history" was originally conceived because of a flawed Scrabble board.

It was December 15, 1979--two Canadian journalists, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott, were lamenting the fact that their Scrabble board was missing a few crucial pieces, and theorized that it was a shame that they'd have to buy an entirely new board just to replace a couple of letter tiles. Thinking (falsely) that game board manufacturers must be filthy rich because of this need to fully replace a board missing just a single piece, Haney and Abbott decided to come up with a game of their own. In just a couple of hours, the concept of Trivial Pursuit was born. It's hard to believe that just two years later, the pair would have a best-selling board game and overall entertainment phenomenon on their hands.

A Short Bio of Chris Haney

Chris Haney died early in 2010 after suffering from what newspaper reports call only "a long illness." Chris Haney famously said of Trivial Pursuit that he'd hoped it would make him enough money so that he could live on the beach in Spain and travel all over Europe. Haney had a strong belief in the value of world travel, and his part in the creation of Trivial Pursuit allowed him to travel and live all over the Earth. Chris Haney spent his summers in Spain, and was friendly with his neighbor, actor Sean Connery.

Chris Haney was born in a small town in Ontario and dropped out of high school at age 17. Asked later if he regretted dropping out, he admitted that he did, saying he "should have dropped out earlier." Haney's sharp sense of humor was his trademark.

Chris Haney is credited with coming up with the idea of creating "a trivia game" over a few rounds of beers after that infamous discovery about the Scrabble board he and Abbott shared. Chris Haney also suggested that the pair pose as reporters and attend a games conference taking place that year in Montreal--Haney and Abbott would later say they learned more about games industry during that one afternoon than any other period in their life.

Chris Haney never worked as a photo editor again, and he watched closely as the game he created with his friend Scott Abbott exploded in popularity.

A Short Bio of Scott Abbott

We know much less about Scott Abbott than we do about Chris Haney--Abbott is a much more private person. Abbott has been in the limelight a little more than Haney, post-Trivial Pursuit, because he is a racehorse owner with some success (his horse Smart Sky won some high-profile races in Canada) and his ownership of the Brampton Battalion junior hockey club. Scott Abbott no longer works as a journalist thanks to the success of Trivial Pursuit and his other professional interests.

Back to Trivial Pursuit

The trademark for Trivial Pursuit was registered on November 10, 1981. The first run of Trivial Pursuit was 1,100 games, published in Canada only. To get their game off the ground, Haney and Abbott signed on two business partners--Ed Werner, a corporate lawyer and friend, and John Haney, Chris Haney's brother. This pair helped with legal advice and startup capital, helping Haney and Abbott form the Horn Abbott company to license the game under. The quartet of trivia buffs raised the money necessary to print and advertise the game by selling shares in the company at a price of $1,000 per five share chunk. Haney and Abbott were able to raise about $40,000 this way, though not all of their shares were exchanged for cash. Horn Abbott hired a young artist, eighteen-year-old Michael Wurstlin, to come up with the artwork according to Haney and Abbott's design in exchange for a five share investment in the company. The influence of Wurstlin's artwork can still be seen in Trivial Pursuit editions, though his color scheme and flourishes have been replaced in subsequent Genus and special editions. Wurstlin's stock in the company would one day make him a nice chunk of change.

The first 1,100 copies of Trivial Pursuit were expensive to print, thanks to startup costs, licensing and trademark fees, and other expenses. Each copy of the game cost $75 to print and distribute, and the game sold to retailers for just $15, for a loss of $60 per game. Eventually, the Horn Abbott company would sell the game's license to Selchow & Righter, a large American games manufacturer and distributor. It is unclear how much cash the Horn Abbott company took in exchange for the game, but Selchow & Righter turned a trivia game with a cult following into a household name and gaming phenomenon, mostly by way of a dizzying public relations spree. Within ten years of the sale of Trivial Pursuit to Selchow & Righter, Trivial Pursuit was named to the "Games Hall of Fame" by Games magazine and was the most popular board game in North America.

The story of the creation of Trivial Pursuit is charged with mystery--the legend of the missing Scrabble pieces and "the little trivia game that could" is so distinctly 20th century, it seems made up. Chris Haney and Scott Abbott would face more than a few accusations over the next few decades, including a lawsuit from a man who says Haney stole the idea for Trivial Pursuit from him and another lawsuit from a trivia buff claiming that Haney and Abbott stole a third of their original question and answer cards from his trivia book, but the pair would end up on the right side of the law both times.

Trivial Pursuit has generated as much as $1 billion in revenue for its various owners over the years. And to think it was created by two drunk buddies on a paper placement.