Pursuing Success : Lawyer Launches New Board Game Based on Quotes


Whoever first said, "Take a good idea and run with it," must have had George Chanos in mind.

The San Diego lawyer took a leave of absence from his law firm this year to promote Notable Quotables, a game he invented that is selling well in San Diego stores amid a spattering of media attention.

"It's being heralded as the next Trivial Pursuit," the enthusiastic 32-year-old said.

The game hit store shelves Nov. 29, just in time for Christmas shoppers. Nordstrom and local game stores are reporting strong sales, with Notable Quotables rivaling Trivial Pursuit, Scattergories and Taboo in quantities sold, games licensed by giants in the hard-to-enter toy industry with a lot of advertising dollars behind them.

"You would expect them to be blowing us out of the water," Chanos said.

Chanos has sold 4,489 copies of the game to date, and is confident he will sell 511 more, or the rest of the games manufactured, by January. He said he has already met with Parker Brothers and other game companies to discuss a possible licensing agreement and is anxiously waiting to introduce the game to the nation at the New York Toy Fair in February.

Notable Quotables challenges players to match provocative quotations with the famous people who uttered them. Less celebrity-conscious players can opt to fill in a missing word from a quote rather than guess who said it. Answers are provided in a multiple-choice format, so "you always have something to say and you have a 33.3% chance of being right," Chanos said.

There are quotes from Madonna and Charles Manson, from Albert Einstein and Leona Helmsley. Chanos' criteria were that the quotes be funny, profound or risque.

"The game mirrors society," he said. "It's the news over the past five years condensed in a box."

But getting the game off the drawing board and into the stores took five years of almost obsessive dedication, during which Chanos used his business savvy and magnetic personality to sell the idea to everyone from investors to manufacturers to the lawyers he worked for.

"I began the revolution with 82 men. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and a plan of action." - Fidel Castro Chanos first started collecting quotes while attending law school at the University of San Diego. He originally planned to publish a book of quotes, but during his last year of law school, in 1984, he came across a magazine article about Trivial Pursuit, which posted $750 million in sales just one year after being introduced.

"That's a huge, huge amount of money," he said. "You could buy all of Eastern Airlines for $500 million."

The article detailed how the inventors of Trivial Pursuit struggled to get people to notice them, persevered and eventually became millionaires.

Chanos understood how difficult it is to introduce a new game in the toy industry, where thousands of new games are invented each year, some by large companies and some by individuals like Chanos, only to never be heard of again.

But he strongly believed in his idea, and decided to minimize his risk by researching the game industry, studying why some games fail while others succeed. He met with successful game inventors and traveled to the New York Toy Fair.

He started a habit he maintains to this day of reading through a hundred publications each week, most of which are unsold throwaways he gets from a distributor. Five hundred magazines translates to about 50 quotes he feels are appropriate for his game.

"If I would believe what I read about myself, I would hate my guts, too." - Zsa Zsa Gabor In 1989, Chanos developed a prototype version of the game, bartering work from designers in exchange for shares in a small company he created called GameMakers Ltd., which owns the rights to the game.

During this time, he became a successful lawyer practicing business litigation and transactional work for San Diego's Lorenz Alhadeff Lundin & Oggel. But, during his third year there, he decided to step off the partnership track and work on Notable Quotables full time.

The law firm was sold on the idea also, offering Chanos a job if things didn't work out, and drawing up an investment package in exchange for a stake in GameMakers.

By 1990, Chanos had raised $400,000 from investors, who included fellow lawyers, former clients, Alex Spanos, the owner of the San Diego Chargers, Mary Papas, the owner of Athens Market, and others.

Many were won over more by Chanos than his idea.

"I invested in the person," said Donald Cohn, president of DataQuick, a San Diego-based on-line information service. "I invested in George."

Cohn said he usually goes for more traditional investments, but was so impressed with Chanos' thoroughness, which included market studies, that he simply felt it was a worth the risk.

"After a certain point, money is meaningless. It ceases to be the goal. The game is what counts." - Aristotle Onassis The stores Chanos approached with his game are also glad they decided to believe in him.

"It's done better than I had anticipated," said David Lyon, a buyer for the four Nordstrom department stores in San Diego County. Lyon said he looks for a unique game each holiday season for the men's department, and this year he chose Notable Quotables.

Sales of the game, which retails for $39.95, accounted for a major percentage of total sales for the department, especially on weekends when Chanos demonstrates the game to passing customers, Lyon said.

"I don't have another single item, except socks and belts, that sells more than this," he said.

Chanos believes the game is popular because people are fascinated by the famous and what they have to say.

"There are a lot of people in the country that like quotations," he said.

"Also, the timing is perfect. People played Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary. They got used to a big new game every three to four years. I think people are waiting for this."

And what is Chanos' favorite quote?

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever hope to achieve greatly." Robert F. Kennedy.

Famous Faces, Revealing Quotes

Are you up on the speak-styles of the rich and famous? Try your hand at the following questions and see:

1. Who said, "I'd definitely get more respect if I was a little uglier"?

a. Phyllis Diller (comedian).

b. George Michael (musician).

c. Rodney Dangerfield (comedian).

2. Who said, "I think I am the best reporter on television"?

a. Sam Donaldson (journalist).

b. Geraldo Rivera (journalist).

c. Dan Rather (journalist).

3. Who said, "I go for women--usually tall blondes--with an overbite and flared nostrils, an aggressive, slightly hostile look"?

a. Cary Grant (actor).

b. Dudley Moore (actor).

c. Billy Joel (musician).

4. Who said, "I did not see a reaction on this scale"?

a. Saddam Hussein (president of Iraq).

b. Chris Haney (co-inventor of Trivial Pursuit).

c. Salman Rushdie (author).

5. Who said, "As a matter of fact, I have broken wedding vows. I think I probably am not alone in that connection. You know, there are a lot of red-blooded American males out there"?

a. Richard Pryor (comedian).

b. Orson Welles (filmmaker).

c. John Tower (U.S. senator).

Answers: 1-b, 2-b, 3-b, 4-c, 5-c.

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