How Cranium Works

Not Just Fun and Games (But Mostly)

Cranium took the game world by storm in the late '90s and early 2000s, and it wasn't just due to everyone's enthusiasm for impersonating Clint Eastwood characters, or a strong unspoken desire to draw a greenhouse with eyes closed.

Several groups have noted that Cranium (and some of its offshoots explored in the sidebar) is a terrific tool for autistic children. Notably, they cite board games that teach social skills and language in a collective context [source: NAR]. With an emphasis on team building and "shining moments" for all players regardless of who "wins," Cranium could be a good fit for older children who need a little help with socialization, following rules and competition.


The founders of Cranium weren't just looking for pure fun when they dreamed up the game; they've cited the writings of psychologist Howard Gardner as a source of their theory behind the game [source: Dojc]. The Harvard professor wrote the book "The Theory of Multiple Intelligences," which stated that there are nine areas of intelligence (like spatial, linguistic or kinesthetic intelligence) in which every person can excel or lag. "The essence of it [the theory] is that humans have multiple talents and skills that aren't recognized in today's academic environment, which is largely based on numbers and letters," Cranium founder Richard Tait said in an interview with Mike Dojc of

Speaking of psychology, Cranium was famous for its fun and casual office mindset when it first took off in Seattle. Cranium adopted the acronym CHIFF (Clever, High Quality, Innovative, Friendly and Fun) as its motto for how to succeed in business. Taking it to heart, Cranium's office was known for its perks: 10 games a month to employees (and five to be donated to charities of their choice), all corner offices set up as communal spaces, afternoons off for a company-wide movie party and an office space designed like the Cranium game. In the spirit of their employers, anyone could make up his or her own job title (as long as it applied to the job -- no "Princess of Power" on any business cards) [source: Horowitz].

But Cranium's popularity also proved to be the independent, small-minded company's undoing. In 2008, the game company was a hot commodity, and Tait and Alexander agreed to sell it to Hasbro for a tidy $77.5 million [source: Martinez]. Shortly after the sale, the Seattle office was closed down, and all Cranium operations were run from other Hasbro offices.

But Cranium is still going strong and has a cult of devoted followers. If you're one of them, check out lots more information about Cranium and its board game competition o the next page.

Cranium FAQ

How do you play Cranium?
Each team puts their game piece at start, which is a Planet Cranium. This means that the team gets to pick their category, and it happens four times in a game. At each Planet Cranium space, success or failure will decide whether you're fast-tracking it or meandering along until the next Planet. The first to complete all four activities in Cranium Central plus the other team's choice wins.
Who made Cranium?
Using $100,000 of their own money, Richard Tait and Whit Alexander came up with a prototype and began the process of shopping it around. Tait convinced Alexander that a board game where everyone's skills were celebrated was missing from the market.
How do you win Cranium?
After each four activities are complete, the other team will pick a final card for you from any deck. If your team is the first to complete all four activities in Cranium Central plus the other team's choice, congratulations, smarties — you've won Cranium.
What is Cranium Cadoo?
Cranium Cadoo is a version of Cranium for younger kids, suggested for ages 6-12, and the variety of age-appropriate and thoughtful activities makes it a great learning tool.
Can you play Cranium with two players?
Cranium is a team game, so you'll need at least four people to play.

Related Articles


  • Autism Teaching "Social Skills and Board Games." 2003. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • "Cariboo Cranium: A Great Communication Game." Jan. 17, 2008. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Bick, Julie. "Inside the Smartest Little Company in America." Jan. 1, 2002. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Broom, Jack. "Brain Trust--Local Inventors Bring an Array of Cerebral Elements To Hit Game Cranium." Seattle Times. Aug. 30, 1999. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Cook, John. "Cranium founder Richard Tait's 8 tips for entrepreneurial success." Nov. 12, 2010. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Dojc, Mike. "Big, Buzzy, Brand Idea Flashback: An interview with Cranium's Creator." Mar. 27, 2008. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Dunnewind, Stephanie. "Seattle's Cranium is winning awards with innovative, entertaining play for all ages." Seattle Times. Feb. 28, 2004. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Hasbro. "Cranium." 2012. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Horovitz, Bruce. "Cranium guys have inner child on speed dial." USA Today. May 9, 2006. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • James, Andrea. "Hasbro decapitates Cranium's Seattle office." Seattle Post-Intelligencer. May 20, 2009. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Maital, Shlomo. "Key Lessons From the Inventor of Cranium." TIMnovate. Mar. 6, 2012. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Martinez, Amy. "Nice Move: Cranium's $77 million sale." Seattle Times. Jan. 5, 2008. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • National Autism Resources. "Fun Developmental Toys for Boys & Girls with Autism, PDD-NOS & Aspergers." 2011. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Public Broadcasting System. "Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory." (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Tait, Richard. "Let's Play." Parade Magazine. Jul. 30, 2006. (Feb. 16, 2012)
  • Thompson, Clive. "The Play's the Thing." The New York Times. Nov. 28, 2004. (Feb. 16, 2012)