Columbians Roll The Dice, Market Their Own New Game

Humm. . .ble On Sale, Faces Some Long Odds

September 22, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

Mary Pat Blaylock hopes to have the toy industry humming about her fledgling business in Columbia's Long Reach Village next year.

Two years ago, while studying for her master's degree in business administration at Georgetown University, she decided she wanted to start herown business.

Last week, a Mall in Columbia toy store agreed to buy the first 24 boxes of "Humm. . .ble," a board game Blaylock and her husband created that challenges players to "hum a few bars" to get their teammates to guess song titles.

"I think this can create a nice stir if the customers come around humming," says John Hall, owner of Patowmack Toys in the mall.

"I'm a famous one for humming; I can hum a song,but I can't sing it. The salable plus is that you don't have to knowthe words to a song."

Patowmack will sell the games for $29.99.

Using techniques popularized by Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary, Blaylock, 26, and her husband, Stan, an investment banker with Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. in Baltimore, have invented and produced a board game that they say is unique to area store shelves.

"It's something that's very simple and will catch on," Blaylock said, explaining that she and her husband are avid board-game players and have enlisted family members and friends to field-test the game.

Stan's mother, Mary Jane Blaylock, a former concert pianist, helped the couple choose Broadway numbers. Mary Pat's three brothers and three sisters played.

"There were many an evening where we would would stay up until 2, picking out songs and so on," Blaylock said.

You've got to stay up pretty late to compete with the hundreds of games that are invented each year. One thing that reassures the Blaylocks is that starting small is the way other hit games have gotten off the ground.

"Games for the most part are developed by individuals, and those individuals take one of two avenues usually," said Hank Fitzpatrick, a salesman for the Games Gang Ltd., a New York-based game sales and marketing company.

One is to obtain financing (the Blaylocks have invested about$20,000 on Humm. . .ble so far), produce the game and cart it aroundto stores and "sometimes sell them door-to-door, perhaps collating cards in their basement," Fitzpatrick said.

That method has been used by the independent creators of Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary, two"mega-hits," which Fitzpatrick describes as "games that become part of the popular culture and become classics that will be on the shelf for many years to come."

He should know: The Games Gang was formedby executives and salesmen who had discovered Trivial Pursuit and bought the rights to it for Selchow & Righter Co., earning the company millions of dollars. They broke away in 1986, when S&R was taken overby toy giant Coleco Industries Inc., and later discovered Pictionaryand made millions on their own.

The other method is to take an idea straight to the big companies, but Fitzpatrick warns that game companies are inundatedwith submissions from people who think they have "a better way to play checkers" and that route is unlikely to get a game noticed.

Fear of drowning in a sea of submissions was one of the reasons the Blaylocks decided not to approach game companies for anything other than generic advice about how to proceed.

Another fear was that the idea could be stolen and reconfigured to get around the Blaylocks' copyrights and registered trademark.

"You have to bevery careful about letting your ideas escape too early," Blaylock said. "The key is to really get our game to catch on before any other game catches on. You take a risk, just like any entrepreneur takes a risk."

The third reason for not peddling the idea to toymakers or game companies, she said, was that "I really wanted to start my own business. I really wanted to try it on my own."

When Blaylock first considered starting a business, she didn't know what type of businessshe wanted to get into. Then her husband recalled a speaker in his Harvard Business School entrepreneurship class who produced games for a living.

"We thought, 'We could do that; we love to play board games,' " Mary Pat Blaylock said.

How they arrived at humming she can't remember, but the name, she explains, weds humming to the fact that "it's kind of a humbling experience. It definitely was for me."

While some may be reluctant to share the discordant hums, "la, la, las," "do, do, dos" and "shoo be do bes" allowed in Humm. . .ble's rules, Blaylock points out the embarrassment gleefully accepted by players of Pictionary and other such team guessing games.

And if a player absolutely refuses or can't hum, the rules allow charade-type clues.

As simple as its rules, the game's 20-inch square board is dotted with musical notes on a musical score. In the middle is a large musical note broken up by colored spaces designated "B" for Broadway musicals, "F" for folk and family favorites, "O" for oldies (1950 to 1975), "T" for television and movies and "C" for "contemporary" (from 1976 to the present).

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