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Mad Libs - Dastardly Review #029

Updated: Jul 2, 2018

Mad Libs were invented by Leonard Stern and Roger Price in 1953. Leonard was working on the script for the Jackie Gleason Show. He has having trouble finding the perfect adjective to describe a nose. When Roger heard that he needed an adjective (without knowing what it would describe) Roger said, “Clumsy and Naked”. And thus the first Mad Lib was created - A clumsy, naked nose.

The two friends put the script aside and spent the rest of the day writing stories with key words left out. They took the game to a party and everyone loved providing words without knowing their context and hearing the completed story read back to them.

Five years later in 1958, the two friends still didn’t know what to call their game. They were in a restaurant and overheard a conversation snippet about an ‘ad-lib interview’ and that it would be a ‘mad thing to do’. The rest is history.

They couldn’t find a publisher (Was it a game? Was it a book?) so they had 14,000 copies printed and delivered to Roger’s dining room! Now how to sell them?

Leonard was now the head writer for the Steve Allen show. Leonard showed Mr Allen Mad Libs and suggested they use that technique as a fun way to introduce Mr Allen’s guests. On a Sunday they introduced their first guest NOUN, Bob Hope. By Wednesday they sold out of Mad Libs!

Decades later, according to Leonard Stern: "When the sales of Mad Libs reached an astonishing one hundred million, I didn’t walk, I ran to Roger’s office to tell him the great news. Roger didn’t speak at first, but when he did he issued a Rogerism that I have quoted continuously over the years. “Well,” he said, “you can fool some of the people some of the time — and that’s enough.”’

Our kids filled in hundreds if not thousands of Mad Libs on road trips or while sitting around the house. It is a sneaky way to get kids to read and think about nouns, verbs, adjective and adverbs.

The game (is it a game?) is absurdly simple: the Mad Lib is a story with keywords left out leaving a long blank with a horizontal line. Under the line is what type of word is missing (noun, verb etc). The reader does not read the story aloud on the first pass through the Mad Lib. The reader only says what type of word in missing. The other players (can there be players if it isn’t a game?) shout out a corresponding word. The reader is now a writer and writes the shouted word into the blank. Then on to the next blank. Once all the blanks are full the story is read aloud.

The newer versions even provide a list of the missing word types on a different page than the story so you can play with just one player.

The Good: Pure fun with a bit of sneaky learning hidden in the laughs.

The Bad: There are now Mad Lib apps... The Dastardly: 110,000,000 copies? And it all started from having trouble describing a nose?


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