“It takes a steady hand…”

We’ll never know how many surgeons got their start by removing spare ribs and funny bones. Nor will we ever know how many cardiac doctors have woken up in the middle of the night from a terrifying dream where someone’s nose lit up like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer due to their incompetence. One thing is clear though – to play the Milton Bradley game of Operation, one needed a steady hand and patience, or they were apt to lose their patients.

Introduced by Milton Bradley in 1965, Operation was the brainchild of an industrial design student named John Spinello who conceived this game that has challenged the dexterity of millions of young players over the decades that followed.

At the center of the action is the hapless victim, a man with a goofy face named Cavity Sam, who suffers from a number of ailments that require surgery. Players take turns picking “Doctor” cards, which instruct them to remove an item from poor Sam with a set of tweezers, for a nominal fee of course. Each of Sam’s openings is lined with metal, however, and should those tweezers touch the sides, a buzzer sounds and Sam’s nose lights up like a Christmas tree.

Prior to the game, players also deal out a pile of “Specialist” cards, with each one representing a particular ailment. Should someone, say, try to remove a wrenched ankle and fail, the person holding the “Specialist” card can step up to the plate and try their hand, receiving double the fee if they are successful.

All in all, there were twelve medical conditions that needed fixing – Adam’s Apple, Broken Heart, Wrenched Ankle, Butterflies in Stomach, Spare Ribs, Water on the Knee, Funny Bone, Charlie Horse, Writer’s Cramp, Wish Bone, Bread Basket, and the last one which required extra skill – The Ankle Bone Connected to the Knee Bone. This one was particularly challenging because the player had to connect a rubber band between two pegs. In 2004, Milton Bradley added a new ailment, Brain Freeze, after giving loyal fans of the game a chance to vote its inclusion. Brain Freeze managed to beat out Tennis Elbow and Growling Stomach.

With every successful game, there are bound to be alternate versions, and Operation is no exception. There have been tie-in editions featuring everyone from Shrek and The Simpsons to Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk. A PC version of the game was released in 1998, and a Brain Surgeon version in 2002.

If those don’t strike your fancy, the original version, complete with Cavity Sam bearing his all, is still readily available, proving that the appeal of Operation has yet to wain. After all, how are you going to know whether or not the surgical field is a viable career path if you don’t first get your feet wet. Better to make Sam’s nose light up the room than face a malpractice lawsuit.

If you grew up playing Operation with friends and family, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories with us in our comments section below, as we tip our hat to this classic Milton Bradley game.

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