If you want to go west, turn to page 57. If you want to go east, turn to page 62.
The was the birthday in 1931 of Edward Packard, one of the founders of the books that gave millions of young readers the chance to pick the ending to the story: Choose Your Own Adventure.
Packard served in the U.S. Navy and worked as a lawyer.
He liked to tell his kids bedtime stories about a character named Pete, and he had his kids choose what happened next.
In the late 1960s, Packard turned one of the Pete stories into a book called Sugarcane Island.
His literary agent sent the book to publishers in New York, but they all said no.
They said it was more of a game than a book, that it would confuse some readers and wouldn’t challenge any of them.
But in the 1970s, he got in touch with publishing company in Vermont that was looking for fresh ideas for kids’ books.
Its co-owner, R.A. Montgomery, had once worked as a scenario builder for companies and government agencies.
So he got what Packard was trying to do.
Montgomery not only published Sugarcane Island, he and Packard eventually reached a deal with a bigger publisher to sell a series of books, which they called Choose Your Own Adventure.
Each of them started writing books in the new series, which would go on to sell hundreds of millions of copies.
And here’s essentially why.
Since the main character in almost every book was just known as “you,” readers could see themselves in each situation.
They got to decide which part of the haunted house to check out next, or which kind of car to drive in the big race, or which suspect might have killed Harlowe Thrombey.
In one extremely meta book called “Hyperspace,” the main character could travel through a kind of bizarre alternate reality in which they could meet and talk with Edward Packard!
Not all of the choices worked out so well, but in those cases, you could always flip back to the last decision you’d made and try something else.
Choose Your Own Adventure turned each book into multiple books.
A few even had pages you couldn’t reach through any of the decisions, that you actually had to cheat to find.
The books hit peak popularity in the 80s, before the video games got really interactive, and before the spread of the World Wide Web, which is a Choose Your Own Adventure of a very different kind.
But they’re still published and they’re still popular today.
Just ask any young reader who feels like taking a trip through the Cave of Time.
Today in 1967, the first broadcast of the Star Trek episode known as “Space Seed,” which featured Ricardo Montalban as the iconic villain Khan Noonien Singh.
According to the 1999 book The Name’s Familiar, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry named the character after an actual Noonien Singh he’d met during World War II.
He’d lost touch with Singh and thought a shout-out on his TV show might catch his old friend’s attention and they could reconnect.
It didn’t work out, but still, a clever idea.
The Enduring Allure of Choose Your Own Adventure Books (The New Yorker)
The Name’s Familiar Mr. Leotard, Barbie, and Chef Boyardee (via Google Books)