The origins of this board game are enveloped in murky Victorian-era miasma. By some accounts, Reversi was invented in 1870 by an Englishman named J.W. Mollett, who originally called it the Game of Annexation [source: Wood]. But another Englishman, Lewis Waterman, claimed to have invented the game as well. In 1887, he registered the name "Reversi" as a trademark, and then obtained a court injunction against Mollett's publisher, F.H. Ayres. Ultimately, Waterman lost his case, when an appeals court decided that the name, which apparently was borrowed from an earlier French card game, was not a "fancy" (i.e., original) word under British law, and thus could not be trademarked [source: Law Times]. To make things ever more confusing, in 1971, a Japanese salesman named Goro Hasegawa invented a similar but not quite identical game, Othello, named after a Shakespearian character that undergoes a dramatic reversal of fortune [source: Time, Associated Press].
Fortunately, compared to its tangled history, the basic game concept is much more straightforward. It's played on a grid with 64 spaces, exactly the same number as the total pieces (each player gets 32). Once the game starts, the players take turns adding pieces to the board, with the restriction that they can only place them on squares that are adjacent to one of their opponent's pieces, and there can only be one piece on each square. In addition, a player can only place a piece on the board after capturing an opponent's piece, by trapping it between two of his or her own pieces. Captured pieces can change sides multiple times during the game as well [source: Botermans]. That simple-yet-complex format allows skilled players to develop elaborate gambits, such as simultaneous multiple captures, and makes the game a favorite among brainy college math and science whizzes.