10 July 2008
Word Power(HKTDC Toys & Games , Vol 02,2008)
Not content to give the world the number-based Sudoku Cube brain-teaser, American Classic Toy, Inc is now targeting hundreds of millions of crossword puzzle fans with Word Cube.
"The Word Cube takes crosswords to a new level," enthuses President Jay Horowitz, explaining that each segment features a letter. "Usually, crosswords are played across and down. With Word Cube, you can play across, down, up and left."
Coincidentally, just as was the case with the Sudoku Cube in 2006, Mr Horowitz - the inventor of both toys - says he came up with the idea of the Word Cube in 2007 after chatting with a fellow passenger on an airplane.
"The first passenger introduced me to paper Sudoku puzzles, which led me to think how I could apply Sudoku to what became our 3D puzzle cube," he recounts, explaining how the experience gave rise to the Sudoku Cube, which combines the popular number game with the colour-based Rubik's Cube.
"Then, last year, I was sitting next to a passenger who was deeply engrossed in crossword puzzles and, given my interest in Sudoku, I asked her if she played Sudoku," he continues. "She answered no, because she said she was good with words but not good with numbers."
His first reaction was to ponder how to entice the crossword-loving population to play Sudoku and buy the Sudoku Cube. "Then I thought, I shouldn't educate crossword players to do anything. What I should do is come up with a product that the crossword public wants to play. And that led to the crossword cube, which we named the Word Cube."
In traditional two-dimensional crosswords, the game ends when a player completes the puzzle. However, this 3D version operates with a points system. "Each letter has a point value and when you finish, you add up the points and get a score," the inventor declares. "It's the first time a crossword puzzle has a score."
The innovation features five other word-based games, some of which are played against the clock, and comes in a package complete with an electronic timer and an instruction booklet for all the games.
Mr Horowitz has high hopes for the Word Cube, which had its worldwide launch at the HKTDC Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair in January 2008. "We expect it to catch on," he says. "The reception so far has been excellent."
With production facilities in China and Mexico, American Classic Toy, Inc can produce about 500,000 units each of the Word Cube and Sudoku Cube.
The firm's best export markets are the US, Canada, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Russia and South Africa. "We're also winning new customers in Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia and India," Mr Horowitz states.
"We think there will be similar channels of distribution. Most of my Sudoku Cube customers will also buy the Word Cube. Some people are word people and some are number people and some will play both games."
The third-generation family member in the toy business, Mr Horowitz loves both the new and the old. His company has reissued many American toy favourites from yesteryear, including Skittle Pool, Fort Apache, Tic Tac Throw and American Classic Derby.
"Many of these toys were introduced 30-40 years ago, but today they appeal to a market that is flirting with nostalgia and enjoys retro products," smiles Mr Horowitz. "People in their 30s, 40s and 50s remember them and buy them for their children."
He also acknowledges that name recognition has handsomely benefited his low-overhead enterprise, which has a limited advertising budget. "We're able to provide highly developed products that came originally from major companies with large budgets. This allows us to provide high-quality products to the public at a very affordable price," he says.
For more recent products, such as the Sudoku Cube and the Word Cube, the toymaker has relied on extensive media coverage to get the word out.
The publicity has led to fame. Mr Horowitz has been appointed to the President's Business Advisory Council as a representative from Ohio, where his company is based, and has attended an official dinner with President George W. Bush in Washington. His next planned coup is a nationwide order from Wal-Mart for the Sudoku Cube this spring.
He describes the Hong Kong fair as the most important vehicle for international distribution of his toys. "We get exposure to so many markets that we otherwise wouldn't have. I have business cards from Sweden, Nicaragua, Argentina, the US, Israel, Indonesia and Italy," he says.
TEXT BY ANDREA PAWLYNA