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How Dingbats Works


Dingbats, From Newspapers to iPhones
This Victorian-era trading card advertisement from the Durham Tobacco company used rebus puzzles, which were in fashion at the time.
This Victorian-era trading card advertisement from the Durham Tobacco company used rebus puzzles, which were in fashion at the time.
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Paul Sellers, a Kent, England-based cartoonist, created newspaper cartoon strips such as the 1960s-era series "Lancelittle" and "Eb & Flo," which were published in Great Britain, the United States and other countries. In 1980, Whatzit?, a word-and-picture puzzler, began appearing in local newspapers, then became internationally syndicated and inspired a board game of the same name. Sellers' career took off with it [source: Holtz].

Within a few years, a Whatzit board game was sold in the United States and Canada; it was called Katch-Its in Australia and Dingbats in every other nation. By the turn of the century, the game had metamorphosed into puzzle books and a number of board game variations (all of which are now out of print), including [source: Board Game Geek]:

  • 1988: Junior Dingbats, licensed to United Kingdom-based Waddington's
  • 1990: Totally Dingbats, which introduced solo play against a timer, also licensed to Waddington's
  • 1999: Dingbats Electronic Edition, licensed to United Kingdom-based Goliath
  • 2003: Dingbats, licensed to United States-based Ravensburger

Today the Whatzit? syndicate is still published on Web sites, publications and mobile platforms, but the game itself is only referred to as Dingbats [source: Universal Uclick].

In 2010, in honor of the game's 30th anniversary, a digital edition of Dingbats was released for iPhone and iPod Touch (there's no word on whether an Android version will launch). It was the first app produced by London-based Starberry, a company named after the Navaho word for blueberry. For the Sellers' family, the app marked more than a milestone in the game's history. It signaled the start of a collaboration that included the entire family.

Seller's sons, Rus and Ben, led the app's production; his daughter, Rachel, did the voiceovers. The game's graphics and sound effects were authored by Seller's grandsons, and his grandchildren tested the game -- along with his wife, Marj, and his daughter-in-law. The game itself was designed by family friends, Tom Gidden and Vince Sneed.