Having a stranger call out of the blue and say you really need to try Bean-O can be rather off-putting.
As I discovered over the weekend, Hank Gunning’s Bean-O has nothing whatsoever to do with Beano - the enzyme that supposedly fights flatulence.
Thank the Lord.
“Yeah, we got some laughs over the name similarity,” concedes Gunning, a lanky and well-preserved guy at 64. “But we don’t conflict with that other Beano.”
Gunning and 38-year-old forklift mechanic John Manion have set out to become the next Milton and Bradley of the game world.
The Spokane men have anchored their hopes and some cash on a cross between the old carnival beanbag-toss games and horseshoes.
Bean-O consists of two square wooden targets and four 5-ounce beanbags. The targets are set up at a slight angle, 24 feet apart. Bags are tossed and points are scored for the most accurate throws.
Swishing a bag through the center of the bull’s eye is a Bean-O, worth three points. Your opponent can cancel the three points, however, with a Bean-O of his own.
A game is 21, but it must be hit exactly.
Gunning says he came up with the idea five years ago as a safe alternative to evil lawn darts.
That outdoor target game was rudely yanked off the market after one of the pointy, weighted lawn darts supposedly came down and skewered some young innocent.
Gunning’s wife, Dee, who died last March, came up with the Bean-O name.
At that time Gunning was weighting the bags with beans. Bean-O bags are now filled with steel shot.
Gunning encouraged friends to play. Their enthusiastic response convinced Manion and him to form a company and try to market it.
Part of the enthusiasm may stem from a rule not included in the official Bean-O handbook: It is Bean-O tradition to guzzle a beer whenever the score is tied or at 13.
While it hasn’t reached Frisbee frenzy, the game does have a nucleus of vocal fans.
I met about 30 die-hard Bean-O junkies who were battling it out under the hot sun Saturday at Spokane’s Franklin Park.
It was strange seeing a row of adults hurling beanbags and hollering as if they were watching a Final Four playoff.
“It’s challenging. I don’t like to lose,” says Mary Nanny, who has been a serious Bean-O player from the beginning.
Yeah, well I’m no Bean-O pushover, either. Paired with Terry “T-Boy” Finnerty, my first competition mirrored the usual Seattle Mariners season. We won a few and then folded like a cheap card table.
T-Boy coincidentally is an old classmate who was famous at Ferris High for his gatoring prowess.
The gator was a semi-obscene dance popular back in the 1960s. It involved throwing yourself on a floor and wildly undulating as if you just got “slain in the spirit” at a Benny Hinn holy spirit revival.
Now 44, T-Boy finds it safer to Bean-O than risk those aging knees with any lewd gyrating.
Gunning and Manion need all the support they can find if Bean-O is to catch on.
Selling the fickle public on a new way to entertain itself is one of the toughest adventures in capitalism.
In most ways Bean-O is a winner. It is simple and well-made out of alder.
But all that quality has a nasty trade-off. Manion is offering Bean-O at a special introductory price of 50 bucks. After that, the price shoots up to $59.95.
It boils down to this: Will people shell out that much lettuce for beanbags?
“The potential is there to make money,” says Manion, who nervously awaits the answer, “but the most enjoyment I get is seeing people smiling and having a good time.”