Update:  Well, we have been off the grid for awhile. If you are reading this I just want to say thanks for your interest in the Bandit Ball Project.  We are still working with the manufacturer and engineers to produce the perfect toy ball.  This has taken some time but patience is a virtue.  Hoping to launch in the spring or summer of this year!

OFF THE GRID:  What follows is the story of an idea which has taken up the second most amount of time in my design career.  It's not on the market and may never reach that point.  I just wanted to put it out there to illustrate the effort and expense which folks like me go through to follow a dream.

"OFF THE GRID" is a cool table top game that I came up with in 2008.  In a span of 5 or 6 years, I sent it out to a number of companies, all with the hope of getting a license agreement.   It's a highly speculative endeavor and the chances for success are slim.  We kept at it because this was/is a good idea.   I say "keep at it" because I am not alone.  There are so many people out there with hopes and ideas. So many who work during the day and spend time at night or weekends to pursue a goal or creative idea.  I wish you all the best of luck and perseverance in following your passions. 

OFF THE GRID had several names and iterations.  I spent hundreds of hours on design and detail of this new word game, all while working full time, sometimes overtime, at my job.


       GRIDSTER  Version  2011                      Color Version with Cards  2012

How it works:  You quickly shake up letter discs and each falls into a space on the playing venue, which is the unique Grid surface.  In each play you want to be the first to find a random word.  This is determined by the roll of a die or the turn of a card.  To win the game, be the first to get a certain number of discs "Off The Grid".

Nate and Kailee with GRIDSTER 

Cousins Emily and Jack with an early version of OFF THE GRID.

In 2010 I got an interview with a very large toy company from Toronto, Canada.  I won't mention their name because this is a blog, but they have lots of cool products in the toy industry.   The appointment was at a hotel in downtown Chicago with their world traveling product discovery V.P.   I had been trying to develop a relationship with them and wanted to show them my crazy new game.  The V.P. was seeing several inventors that day, as is the custom.  He was to text when ready for me.  What was funny was I didn't even have a cell phone at the time. Had to borrow my son's!

I recall being sooo nervous.  Where was that gutsy young entrepreneur from my twenties?   Wise enough not to wear cowboy boots (see post # 3), I was dressed in "business casual".  The text came and I was on my way to room #945.  I got into the elevator, only to find that there was no 9th floor!  I had to text back.  It was his mistake and I traveled to room 745.  Big breath.  Knock on the door.  

"Oh my Gosh... I'm over dressed!", was my introduction.  There was Ben, the international vice president... with a week's growth of beard, sweatshirt and cut offs!  I quickly lost all nervousness.  We had a great meeting and he directed me to send the prototype to Toronto.  As luck would have it, the company was just about to start a game division. 

That was a big deal.  I remember calling  Michael on the way home to share the good news.  It began an exciting period of about 4 months.  "A time of hope," I've always called it.  A company has your concept in hand to review and they might say yes!

I ended up sending the game to Toronto at least three separate times over the next few years.  Each time with a couple of revisions.  But they never did say yes.   It's just the law of averages.  Keep trying.  Hard to sometimes, but you've gotta do it!

A photo from the most recent submission in 2016.

If there has been a constant in all the years I've spent doing this, it's the love and support of my wife, kids and grand kids.  Son-in-law David has come into the picture.  You can see how Nate has grown.  Ideas come and go but your family is always with you.  For me this has truly been a blessing! 

Here is a short video, filmed at our kitchen table as we tested an early version of the concept. At least my kids have put up with me!  It has been a long journey and in some ways it is just beginning...

It does take a village, or a family, to raise a child.  Even if the child is the dad!  You can add friends, acquaintances and community to the equation of inventing or entrepreneurial ideas.

We are all in this together people.  Stay tuned for Bandit Ball ... it's a hopeful time!


John Hinnen

Hi Marie,

Thank you for your post and kind words. Wham-O is, of course, open to outside inventors through their website. Another toy and game company that will review product concepts from independents is Spin Master, Ltd. To present to either of these companies, one should do some due diligence to see if a project would be a fit with their product lines. Then there’s the submission process, but it can be fun. And sometimes … it works. :)

It’s so great that you have such a passion for design. The push to get outdoors to play is as important as ever! Please feel free to contact me at

Thanks again and all the best… John

Marie Jackson

Hi John!
Don’t give up on any of your products! No matter what! You are exactly what America’s youth needs right now. I am also in the process of doing a bit of what you are doing. While I am not a engineer I am a creative consumer products designer. I just read your story in Entrepreneur magazine and was so impressed!

I would love to speak with you by phone for a few minutes because I believe we can help each other in a “big” way. I live in Columbus Ohio. However about to relocate to Dallas TX. I would like to send you by email a short write up about me and then if you like what you read we could proceed from there. John, you and I and Wham-O think very much a like and I did not know this until my son and I read the article. In fact we could not believe that there was a company that still had bit of “yesteryear” in there thinking when it comes to toys and games in this 21st century environment. I would love to show you some of my creations they are for sure WHAM-O type products. In addition my number one financial backer lives in Aurora Illinois and I once lived in Naperville and Oakbrook and will be their in a church conference I think next weekend.

I might add that the article in the magazine was a great article! It reflects a true rise above the obstacles and hardships of people that are determine to win! And hat’s off to the new head of marketing Olyvia Pronin sounds like a wonderful, smart, lady and of course Mr. Todd Richards? Well he speaks for himself a brillant man called to a company for such a time as this!

Tell him for me that I have designs that will be the next greatest products for children, teenagers and adults. They are the kind of items that will get families back outside having fun again! Hope to hear from you or just keep your eyes open for Maries Signature Designs coming soon!!!!!!

Marie Jackson

John Vespa

I admire you and what you are doing, John. I had no idea you had this in you! Good luck and let me know if I can help!

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