Watch how Captain Noodles build a massive 518-piece Jenga Tower!
Jenga is played with 54 wooden blocks. Each block is three times as long as it is wide, and one fifth as thick as its length 1.5 cm × 2.5 cm × 7.5 cm (0.59 in × 0.98 in × 2.95 in). Blocks have small, random variations from these dimensions so as to create imperfections in the stacking process and make the game more challenging. To set up the game, the included loading tray is used to stack the initial tower which has eighteen levels of three blocks placed adjacent to one another along their long side and at right angles to the previous level (so, for example, if the blocks in the first level lie lengthwise north–south, the second-level blocks will lie east–west).
Once the tower is built, the person who built the tower gets the first move. Moving in Jenga consists of taking one and only one block from any level (except the one below the incomplete top level) of the tower, and placing it on the topmost level to complete it. Only one hand should be used at a time when taking blocks from the tower. Blocks may be bumped to find a loose block that will not disturb the rest of the tower. Any block that is moved out of place must be returned to its original location before removing another block. The turn ends when the next person to move touches the tower or after ten seconds, whichever occurs first.
The game ends when the tower falls, or if any piece falls from the tower other than the piece being knocked out to move to the top. The winner is the last person to remove and place a block successfully.
Jenga was created by Leslie Scott, the co-founder of Oxford Games Ltd, based on a game that evolved within her family in the early 1970s using children’s wooden building blocks the family purchased from a sawmill in Takoradi, Ghana. The name jenga is derived from kujenga, a Swahili word which means “to build”. A British national, Scott was born in Tanganyika, where she was raised speaking English and Swahili, before moving to live in Ghana, West Africa. Scott launched the game she named and trademarked as “Jenga” at the London Toy Fair in January 1983 and sold it through her own company, Leslie Scott Associates. The blocks of the first sets of Jenga were manufactured for Scott by the Camphill Village Trust in Botton, Yorkshire. The V&A Museum of Childhood has exhibited one of the original sets of Jenga since 1982.
In 1984, Robert Grebler, an entrepreneur from California who was the brother of a close friend of Scott, contacted her and expressed interest in importing and distributing Jenga in Canada. In April 1985, Grebler acquired from Scott the exclusive rights to Jenga for the United States and Canada, and then in October of that year, Scott assigned the worldwide rights in Jenga to Grebler, which he in turn assigned to Pokonobe Associates. Convinced of Jenga’s potential, Grebler had invited two cousins to form Pokonobe Associates with him in 1985 to increase distribution of Jenga. Pokonobe then licensed Irwin Toy to sell Jenga in Canada and to be master licensee worldwide. Irwin Toy licensed Jenga to Schaper in the United States and when that company was bought by Hasbro, Jenga was launched under the Milton Bradley banner in 1987. Eventually, Hasbro became licensee in most countries around the world.
As of late 2017, according to Pokonobe Associates, owners of the Jenga brand, over 80 million Jenga games, equivalent to more than 4.3 billion Jenga blocks, have been sold worldwide.