Who Needs an Indoor Ball? YOU Do, ApparentlyS

Today's Nerf guns are exceedingly complex, with automatic firing and reloadable dart magazines. But Nerf's eureka moment arose from a decidedly more primitive scene: some cavemen chucking boulders around an office.

The year was 1968, three years after toy developer Reyn Guyer had begun bending partygoers into pretzels with his smash hit Twister. Guyer had just formed a new toy and game development company called Winsor Concepts, and he and his cohorts were fleshing out a game based on a caveman concept which incorporated the use of foam rocks. One team member started playing volleyball with one of the rocks, and, like cavemen discovering a new use for a simple tool, the team quickly realized that these rocks were their new toy.

Who Needs an Indoor Ball? YOU Do, ApparentlyS

The Winsor Concepts group sculpted the rocks down to spheres of various sizes and came up with a series of games that could be played with them, chief among them being a version of volleyball that could be played indoors. Milton Bradley, who was enjoying success with Guyer's Twister, didn't see the promise in the foam balls. Parker Brothers did, though they dropped the prepackaged games, to the chagrin of the Winsor Concepts team, and sold the balls individually. Parker Brothers dubbed the product Nerf, after the "non-expanding recreational foam" that off-roaders wrapped around their roll cages, and marketed the 4" sphere as "the world's first official indoor ball."

The Nerf Ball, released in 1970, was an instant success, and nearly four million were sold by the end of the year. It was quickly followed by larger Nerf Super Ball and the Nerfoop, an indoor basketball hoop, in 1972.

The years after that saw the Nerf catalog expand dramatically to include footballs, swords, and dart-shooting blasters, but it all started with that unassuming ball, one that, the package promised, "can't hurt babies or old people." I'm not sure we could say the same about the Nerf guns of today. [Reyn Guyer and Wikipedia]

Eureka is our week-long meditation on the wonders of invention, inventors and genius.