The Addictive Appeal Of Bananagrams Bananagrams is an anagram puzzle built for speed — think of Scrabble with no board or complicated scoring. And despite a down economy and heavy competition from smartphone apps, the company that makes the game is thriving.
NPR logo

The Addictive Appeal Of Bananagrams

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Addictive Appeal Of Bananagrams

The Addictive Appeal Of Bananagrams

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Bradley Campbell from member station WRNI spells out why the company's thriving, despite a downward trend for sales of most board games.

BRADLEY CAMPBELL: The first time Seth Snyder played Bananagrams, he became an addict. It made sense. The 25-year-old industrial designer is into word games and puzzles. But nothing had him this hooked.

SETH SNYDER: A year ago, I'd never even heard of the game. And then I think my friend Joshua brought it over. And he took it out and taught us how to play it, and it was just super fun.


CAMPBELL: On a muggy August night, Snyder and eight of his friends crowd around his kitchen table. It's elbow-to-elbow, with scant space for their beers. All are geared-up to play Bananagrams.

SNYDER: Unidentified Man #1: Well, that's the beauty of the game. We can do whatever you want.

SNYDER: Let's try seven.

GREENE: Scrabble-like tiles come in a banana-shaped pouch. A player un-zips the pouch...


CAMPBELL: ...and puts the tiles on the table.


CAMPBELL: Each person uses tiles from the center to form words that connect with each other. When no more tiles in the center are left, the first person to form words with all their tiles wins.


CAMPBELL: Unidentified Man #2: Bananas.

CAMPBELL: Snyder and his buddies usually play late into the night, or until one falls asleep. They say it's hard to stop playing. And that's what Rena Nathanson and her late father were looking for when their family invented game in a beach house in Narragansett, Rhode Island six years ago.

RENA NATHANSON: We wanted a game that we could play faster than Scrabble.

CAMPBELL: Nathanson's father, Abe, had been frustrated by the slow, plodding nature of Scrabble, but he loved word games. So he ditched the board, took the tiles and began to form and reform words. The family joined in and acted as guinea pigs for the game, creating the basic rules as they played.

NATHANSON: So we came up with the game Bananagrams, and we started playing it just with friends and with family, and we became very addicted to it.

CAMPBELL: The family had some games made for local toy stores, and they immediately sold out. Then in 2006, they launched the game at the London Toy Fair.

NATHANSON: We thought it would be sort of successful, you know, and a little bit popular, but we had no idea. We really had absolutely no idea how - what phenomenon it would become.

CAMPBELL: So how many of these little Bananagram pouches have been sold?

NATHANSON: These little yellow Bananagram pouches, there are probably about five-and-a-half million floating around the world today.

CAMPBELL: Five-and-a-half million?

NATHANSON: Five-and-a-half million, yeah, to date.

CAMPBELL: Bananagrams is bucking the trend of most board game sales. Even toy giant Hasbro saw its games and puzzles division drop by 12 percent over the last three months - this while smartphone games are growing.



CAMPBELL: The app "Angry Birds" just passed 300 million downloads.



CAMPBELL: But Adrienne Appell thinks Bananagrams will continue to flourish. The spokesperson for the Toy Industry Association says it has mass appeal.

ADRIENNE APPELL: Bananagrams is really turning into a classic game. Although it was only introduced in the last couple years, it's really starting to really have that stature of a long- lasting game that we envision will be played by generations of kids to come.

CAMPBELL: For NPR News, I'm Bradley Campbell in Providence.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.