How Rummikub Works

The Oppressive Origins of Rummikub

Many of us sit around trying to think of a way to earn money with a fun product, only to discover it's not quite as easy as it sounds. Most of us are doing this not necessarily out of necessity but because we haven't gotten a raise in five years or dream of retiring near a warm body of water. The inventor of Rummikub puts us all to shame. Not only did he find an ingenious way to make money, he did it simply because he needed a little fun from the (literal) tyranny he was living under.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Romanian Ephraim Hertzano and his wife, Hanna, began mulling the idea of substituting colored cubes for playing cards in a rummy-like game. And it wasn't just to mix things up; under the communist regime that occupied Romania at the time, card games were banned for being lavish [source:]. A manufacturer of toothbrushes, Hertzano was fortunate to have some access to plastics. After sniffing out a shop that recycled used airplane cockpit canopies, he commissioned some tiles for what would become Rummikub.


At first, Hertzano made Rummikub on demand when friends asked for it. But after World War II, Hertzano and his family emigrated from Romania to Israel, and he began spending more time putting together games by hand to sell more widely. Hertzano sold the games door-to-door, sometimes giving shop owners copies on consignment to convince them to carry the game. The shop expanded into a production facility as popularity grew and when Hertzano's son, Micha, entered business school in the U.S., they figured they might as well attempt to break into the American market, too.

And it happened in the most American way possible. According to Micha Hertzano, it was a 1977 Don Rickles appearance on Johnny Carson — where he mentioned playing the Israeli game — that put Rummikub on the U.S. map [source: Sedan]. That year, Rummikub became the best-selling game globally. As of this writing, the Hertzano family still owns Lemada Light Industries Ltd, which manufactures the game. Rummikub is distributed globally by companies such as Pressman and Hasbro.

Even more telling of its popularity? The World Rummikub Championship is held every three years, and the competition is fierce. Japanese, Dutch, Egyptian and Brazilian winners have all been crowned. Not only do they snare the coveted Rummikub World Cup but also a pair of airline tickets for around-the-globe travel.

But you're not going to get to the World Rummikub Championship on good looks alone, my friend. If you want to hoist that trophy high, head to the next page for tips and tricks.