Within the past nearly two decades, entrepreneur and Punta Gorda resident Mark Osterhaus watched as a party game he co-created rose to prominence by captivating the hearts and imaginations of its players. He said it’s common for him to run into people who can recount tales of playing “Apples to Apples,” even across generations.
This simple game can be mastered by anyone from ages 6 to 60. This can all be attributed to Mr. Osterhaus’ guiding philosophy — the “‘Apples to Apples mentality,’” as he calls it — that life can be happier and more fulfilling through the process of streamlining. This goes for everything from the games we play to the tools utilized in the kitchen.
It was this very mentality that is responsible for the creation of “Apples to Apples.”
Before Mr. Osterhaus entered the game publishing industry, he had been working in marketing graphic arts when he decided to open his own marketing consultation business. He did this successfully for about a year and a half before he entered the world of publishing — a transition that was sparked by something his brother had said to him: “I figured out how people become successful. You have to design one thing and make it a million times.”
Mr. Osterhaus’ passion about playing board games led to creating and publishing them. After all, growing up in a time with no computers or myriad TV stations, analog board games were practically required for entertainment, and he even stuck with them through college. But by the time he entered gaming as business, he realized that the industry had profoundly changed.
He told his team at his company, Out of the Box Publishing, “We’re not competing against the other game companies — we’re competing against the entertainment business.”
Even then, he knew that for his company to compete with computers, video games and other new forms of media, they would need to make games that could be learned and played nearly instantaneously, which meant the learning curve had to be short.
Out of the Box Publishing went on to create games that were simple yet fun. Their first, Bosworth, was a variant on chess that was a big hit in Europe, if not so much in the United States. They published a few more titles, getting larger in the gaming community, and people began to approach them with ideas for board games.
One such gentleman did so with a game he called “Apples and Oranges.” Despite this contribution to the genesis of “Apples to Apples,” it was a very different animal. It was a full board game with patented dice and board markers. More significantly, it was complicated to learn, violating Mr. Osterhaus’ axiomatic insistence on simplicity.
However, Mr. Osterhaus noted that for one space on the board, people perked up and gained interest in “Apples and Oranges.” This space, called Quick Pick in the game, utilized two different types of cards. Mr. Osterhaus’ recommendation was to discard the rest of the game, and just use the cards. This is the basis for the “Apples to Apples,” and what has made it simple and fun to play for so many people.
Clearly, Mr. Osterhaus’ intuition was correct, because “Apples to Apples” has become an absolute sensation. It frequently made appearances at parties and game nights, eventually selling more than 7 million copies. The game can be played by the whole family and, as a result, has acted as an important conduit for connecting people together. This might explain why the National Parenting Center gave the game its seal of approval in 1999.
“Apples to Apples” — which is now published by Mattel after Out of the Box sold its rights to the toy company in 2007 — garnered other accolades as well. In 1999, Mensa International chose it as a “Mensa Select” prizewinner, an honor awarded to only five games each year. That same year, Games magazine hailed it as the “Party Game of the Year.” But perhaps its popularity could best be measured by the fact that it spawned an interest in similar card-matching/answer-judging party games.
With the glory days of “Apples to Apples” behind him, Mr. Osterhaus is entrenched in another entrepreneurial adventure. While the product couldn’t be further from a game, it still has, at its core, its founder’s “‘Apples to Apples’ mentality.”
Upon first hearing it, it may be surprising to discover that Mr. Osterhaus has been in the business of creating and selling kitchen utilities. Upon further inspection, however, it becomes clear that his focus remains unchanged. He is still just as concerned with bringing people together — he just moved the setting from the game room to the kitchen.
With his team at his latest company, HausLogic LLC, he’s focused on solving problems by what he terms, “Reinventing the world a little bit.”
After leaving the world of game publishing, he built a farm where he and his kids got very involved with food, specifically its production (although its consumption was certainly a perk). Quickly, he and his family realized the connecting power of food, both at the table and in the kitchen. They had a commercial kitchen out in western Wisconsin that they used to cook anything and everything they wanted.
In the process, Mr. Osterhaus’ kids fell in love with culinary arts as well, but the industry certainly had its limitations. One day, Mr. Osterhaus’ son approached his father in frustration. He had been struggling to keep his spices in order. Naturally, he sought out a spice rack, but the only ones he could find in stores held only a handful of spice jars. This was a problem because he, like many cooks, had to keep up to 60 spices organized.
There was no product on the market that could help him keep all of his spices in their proper place. He could have bought numerous spice racks, but that would have created the additional problem of cluttering his counters. The lack of an efficient way to keep spices organized made cooking a frustrating process.
Mr. Osterhaus and his son came up with a solution so simple that it begs for a “Why didn’t I think of that?” response: the AllSpice Spice Rack and jars (www.allspicerack.com). This rack system comes in different sizes, holding anywhere from a dozen to 100 spices in individual cubbies. He also created adhesive labels to identify the spices, customizable with different fonts.
Public response seems to be positive thus far. The AllSpice Spice Rack currently has five stars on Amazon, with more than 300 reviews. Many people have said that this spice rack has changed the way they cook because of how easy it is to experiment and alter spices when they are managed in such a way that they can be quickly found.
Mr. Osterhaus said that, with all his businesses, he and his associates were always looking at problems facing different groups of people, and then asking, “How can we remove the obstacles to get to what people really enjoy doing?”
By cutting out all of the needless or the redundant aspects both of games and now spice racks, Mr. Osterhaus has lowered the barrier of entry for both the game room and the kitchen. “Apples to Apples” is so easy to learn that just about anyone can play it, and the AllSpice Spice Rack has made cooking so much more efficient that it is easier to teach and learn and experiment with cooking.
Both creations bring people together because of their simplicity, with the result being that it allows customers to do what they love faster.
But Mr. Osterhaus isn’t stopping at spice racks. He has other ideas in mind, other products on the drawing board at HausLogic that he believes will make people’s lives happier and more fulfilling by reinventing the world a little bit. ¦