Ball Games  

The 'Invisible Ink Puzzle Books'

“I popped into the station bookstall this evening. It isn’t publication day until tomorrow but the rep has assured me there’s some on display. They’re there. One of the ‘Invisible Ink Puzzle Book’ launch titles is ‘Ball Games’ and I bought one.

It had been a struggle. Pan Macmillan had bought the rights to a simple technology in which a colourless ink, quite invisible on the printed page, could be brought to legible life by a reagent solution with which a felt pen could be charged. A puzzle book or two was planned. It looked a reasonably simple task for the paper buyer (me). Bright white to maximise the cured images (which were a light brown), no mechanicals, uncoated, heavy enough (see-through would have new meaning if the pen revealed over-leaf solutions), cheap (of course). I got in several samples and we played with them, swabbing with ink and then squiggling with pen. The following morning half of them had an overall darkened appearance and the first doubts arose, there’d be little future in the idea if exposure to the atmosphere cured the ink. We put them all, and more hastily acquired, on windowsills for a week or two and all of them eventually showed some sort of shadow. Chemistry was involved here. Advice was taken. It didn’t matter too much apparently which bisulphites or sulphides or chlorites or whatever had been used, or in what proportions, only that the resultant paper had a certain and guaranteed pH. Friend Sid of A.H.James undertook to find some and did, from a Swiss mill. It nevertheless continued to worry us and a decision was made to get the printer to bind immediately and to shrink-wrap the books delaying exposure. (We also, of course had to find a printer – Henry Ling – happy to guarantee an invisible register.)

In the mean time I was ‘writing’ ‘Ball Games’ and I devised some way of using the magic pen to simulate some aspect of hockey, badminton, tennis, soccer, cricket, rugger, golf, bowls, basketball and snooker. Treld Bicknell, who soon after published ‘How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books’, edited it, Graham Round illustrated it, Peter Holroyd prepared the copy. It sold I believe some 75,000.

Thereafter, as far as I was concerned, it was rather downhill. ‘Olympic Sport’s timed for, I suppose, Los Angeles followed and then ‘Winter Sports, Water Sports’ all difficult to accommodate in the format (and indeed I had a letter of complaint from a Mrs. Manwaring) and not really puzzle books at all. My last two, which didn’t sell either, I was quite pleased with ‘Twisters & Teasers, Teasers and Twisters Too

I have a few copies. Both invisible ink and magic pen have lost all potency in the intervening twenty years so I can’t check that my answers are correct. ‘From 9 years’ is the guide to the purchaser, bloody difficult some of them. Magic squares, codes, general knowledge, IQ, anagrams.

There’s that game, a sort of word ladder, where you change one letter of a word at a time and progress in as few stages as possible to a second word. I had puzzler going from their seat to Peru (via peat and pert) or to Bali (via beat, belt, bell, ball – I assume magic pen didn’t once reveal faster journey). Not original but I confess I didn’t footnote the Rev Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s rights in the matter, his ‘Doublets for Vanity Fair’; even he was reluctant to cede proprietary claim – ‘I’m told there is an American game involving a similar principle. I have never seen it, and can only say of its inventors, “pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt”’ (He needed nearly 2,500 words for the rules, anathema to us children’s book people, as much pictorial element as possible please, not a word you can manage without.) For that matter I might just as well have made reference to John Francis Shade’s ‘predilection for it’ (Word Golf) noted by his editor Charles Kinbote in Nabakov’s ‘Pale Fire

Deductive reasoning, too, where puzzler has to find in which of the five houses seven children live by using the pen to reveal boys and girls standing in their respective gardens and using clues provided: ‘1. Kim has three next-door neighbours and one of them is Sam, 2. Sam lives next door to Dill, 3. May has to walk past three houses to get to Lee’s and Lal’s.’ All good train journey stuff.

When I left Pan Macmillan Ken Hatherly from the Art Department produced, as publishers are apt to, one of those cute little festschriften which are autograph book, caricature and calumny and mine (which I treasure) is littered not only with the worst royalty statement they could find but with copies of memos purporting to be between the Managing, Sales, and Financial Directors and so on (and I suspect the so on) Only the names have remained unaltered to protect the innocent”

Alan Gordon-Walker to Billy Adair
"I notice from the latest sales figures that the Invisible Ink books are showing negative turnover! How can this be? Tony Knight (who has a financial interest in this series) tells me this is an excellent series. Explain?"

Billy Adair to Alan Gordon-Walker
"Re your memo I can honestly say that in all my years of publishing I have never seen such a turkey as the Invisible Ink series. Booksellers are laughing at my reps, the best before date on the ink was before publication date, returns are of the Hattersley proportions. To be frank, can we press charges against Tony Knight?"

Alan Gordon-Walker to Billy Adair
"You’re not trying hard enough. This series is very high profile. You’re fired"

Alan Gordon-Walker to Brian Davies
"How are we doing on the Invisible Inks, we still have a huge unearned balance against Tony Knight on the author’s ledger, any chance of some remainder sales?"

Brian Davies to Alan Gordon-Walker
"No way, José, them Ink books return like boomerangs. This has never happened before; might I suggest we ask this Knight chap for some money back? Sorry"

Alan Gordon-Walker to Brian Davies
"I’m sorry too, you’re fired. I never rated you anyway"

Ian Metcalfe to Errol Jones, copy Ian Burns and Alan Gordon-Walker
"In order to keep the company solvent I feel we really must recover some money from Tony Knight re the Invisible Ink series. I also notice that the royalty department have made an error with the retentions clause and overpaid Tony. Employee or not, it’s imperative we cut our losses on this one"

Ian Burns to Alan Gordon-Walker, copy Ian Metcalfe
"Re the Invisible Ink situation, I’m sorry but if we, as an International publisher of repute, can’t even recover a few thousand pounds from an employee masquerading as an author of some crappy Ink books… Someone has to carry the can for this one. Sorry Al. Goodbye"

Errol Jones to Ian Metcalfe
Following the meeting held this weekend at which we discussed the Invisible Ink situation, this is to confirm the action we will take on Tony’s last day. Tony Knight still owes the company £795.82. It occurred to me that Tony is the owner of a motor vehicle, might I suggest that we seize the vehicle while Tony is having his lunchtime drink in the Griffin Club? Also any loose change which Tony might have in his pockets on returning to the office. Alan Lewis has arranged for two security guards to body search him before he leaves the premises. As you know this is a very political issue. It’s all our heads on the block if we don’t cut our losses on the Invisible Inks. I hope he doesn’t resent the money/lost car/body search. I’m sure he’ll understand"

Tony Knight to all those who haven’t yet been fired over the Invisible Inks scandal
"So  I came in by train. So I slipped the security guards a couple of quid. So sue me. I’m sure the courts will be astonished to hear that an ‘International publisher of repute’ paid me a miserly royalty of 2.25p for any of the miserly few books of this incredible break-through series which you managed to rouse yourselves to sell"

June 7th 1984

Twisters And Teasers
Twisters And Teasers Too
Water Sports
Winter Sports
Olympic Sports