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Cranium grand poo-bah Tait’s manic Martha mastery

Seattle, Washington-based board game company Cranium co-founder and grand poo-bah Richard Tait has a niggling obsession right now: cupcakes. But before cupcakes, it was banana bread and before that vanilla ice cream. And nachos? They're an ongoing challenge, of course. In fact Tait's made a second career of trying to master one pursuit at a time with the goal of perfecting at least 50 in his lifetime. When he's not busy with the pursuits or shepherding the ever-expanding Cranium, he's also something of an amateur biographer, phew.
October 1, 2006

Seattle, Washington-based board game company Cranium co-founder and grand poo-bah Richard Tait has a niggling obsession right now: cupcakes. But before cupcakes, it was banana bread and before that vanilla ice cream. And nachos? They’re an ongoing challenge, of course. In fact Tait’s made a second career of trying to master one pursuit at a time with the goal of perfecting at least 50 in his lifetime. When he’s not busy with the pursuits or shepherding the ever-expanding Cranium, he’s also something of an amateur biographer, phew.

So back to the banana bread. Last year he tried out more than 20 recipes in search of the perfect loaf. If you think it’s a reasonably straightforward task, he says, you haven’t considered all the variations. Do you like walnuts or not? How about soggy in the middle? Do you like it to taste good toasted? The vanilla ice cream involved shaving real vanilla beans, scouting out goose eggs and visiting the local market regularly to find the best fresh cream. And he may never reach nacho nirvana. Testing new combos has become a family ritual on Sunday nights. He has cherished attempting to achieve the perfect balance of chips, cheese, onions, and homemade salsa and guacamole once a week for the last two years.

In all cases there’s much analysis and testing involved using a highly critical focus group – Tait’s wife, his seven-year-old twin daughters and his two-year-old son.

‘This year is going to be cupcakes,’ Tait, a self-described Peter Pan, says. He’s planning a New Year’s party in which he’ll roll out the decorative confections. His goal is to get really good at it by the beginning of December so he’s got the perfect cupcakes nailed by New Year’s Eve.

‘It’s about mastery and craft. It usually revolves around a passionate pursuit and mastery of something that we all share and consume as a family,’ Tait explains.

Part of the perfecting process involves another of his great obsessions, documenting and recording the people and events around him. To put this pastime in perspective, Tait has about 1,500 GB of storage on his computer hard drive, with roughly 600 GB devoted solely to digital photographs. Tait says he tries not to be the guy with the camera, but he points out that it’s the only way he can refine his given pursuit. ‘You have to keep track of what’s working and what’s not,’ he says.

Tait’s enthusiastic videotaping and photography also includes capturing touchstone moments in his family’s life. Recently, he filmed himself and his mother on their shared birthday returning to the house in Scotland in which he was born. Naturally, creating biographies based on these special life experiences is part of his repertoire.

The moments he captures aren’t all emotional, however. For example, one of his latest video quests is to find footage of the world’s best laughing baby. And he and his girls are working on editing a stop-motion animated home movie they created together, starring some mini-stuffed animals frolicking atop a frozen pond in the San Francisco Arboretum.

‘I love two scales of play. One is larger-than-life play and the other is enjoying simple moments that I like to capture with me and the kids,’ he says.

Tait has also been hard at play at Cranium headquarters with partner and co-founder Whit Alexander. A party in a box is how he describes the company’s new pop culture trivia game, Pop 5, which this summer begat Pop 5 Live, an interactive on-line version. Tait’s also excited about the company’s expansion into the toy realm. A first for the company, 13 SKUs rolled out this year, including the Mega Mask kit with interchangeable components, and Super Fort, a life-size magnetic construction set designed just for kids. KC

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