You’re quite familiar with ‘Connect 4,’ that game where two opponents face off by dropping pieces trying to form a four-in-a-row, and there have been several mathematical ways discovered to win without regard to what the opponent does. And this, despite there being four trillion (with a ‘t’) possible final positions for the game, which still baffles several game theorists. Not bad for a game created by the singer David Bowie. Wait, what!?
The numbers match: Bowie was born in 1947, and ‘Connect 4’ was invented in 1974. Is it possible that a 27-year-old Ziggy Stardust, who hadn’t yet achieved international success, delved into board games? There are quite a few who believe it’s true, and that he’s even listed in the copyright of Milton Bradley’s game. We’ve seen stranger things.
The reality is much sadder and grayer: the myth that Bowie had created ‘Connect 4’ was manufactured by Stuart Maconie, a British presenter known for his jokes and trolling in the style of The Onion. The urban legend spread, and in the end, it remained in the collective imagination, as absurd as it may be.
The concept of ‘Connect 4’ was invented many years ago. In fact, it was already a well-known game among sailors in the 18th century. What Milton Bradley did was license the plastic version, whose patent was created in the name of a toy maker named Howard Wexler. But here’s the drama: apparently, the game had a co-creator named Ned Strongin who, after his death, was forgotten in favor of a Wexler who took credit for all the success.
Ned Strongin’s heirs had to provide documents proving that they both created it simultaneously at Strongin & Wexler Corp. The company lasted a short time, but long enough to create a board game that was originally meant to be played horizontally… until they finally had the fabulous idea to put it vertically to take advantage of, well, the fact that the pieces fell down. And meanwhile, David Bowie remained oblivious to the goldmine.