Connecting The Clues: How Penn State Alumni Brian & Tara Johnson Created Hit Party Game

While most people stuck to playing board games during the pandemic, Penn State alumni Brian and Tara Johnson took to creating one of their own. The emerging game Connected Clues is gaining traction over TikTok, but the road to creation means much more to the pair.

Happy Valley is intertwined not only in the couple’s story but also in making the game plausible.

Thanks to the GI Bill, Brian attended Penn State after serving his time in the Navy. He graduated with an electrical engineering degree and met his wife, Tara, along the way.

The two moved out to Kentucky following their graduation before deciding to move home around 2015. The pair both found jobs at Penn State, but something still seemed missing.

“We both have our careers, our day jobs, but I’ve really always had kind of a passion for entrepreneurship,” Brian said.

Determined to find a business he felt passionate about creating, Brian returned to school to get his MBA from Penn State to equip him with the skills to do so. Nothing sparked inspiration for the next hit business quite like the pandemic.

As 2020 unleashed its slew of lockdowns, Brian and Tara found themselves playing a lot of board games. After cycling through the usuals, they grew bored and spontaneously decided to create their own game.

Thus, Connected Clues was born. Inspired by a game Tara and her friends used to play in college, the pair began brainstorming endless possibilities for clues and physical cards.

The basics of the game are as such. The physical card has two different parts on it, and the reader gives a clue for each part. Hence the name of the game, the two parts share a mutual connection: the word between them. The mechanism varies by card, but at the end of the day, the two things are somehow connected.

Filled with pop culture references that are perfect for every trivia geek, the references among the cards are far too many to count. With some help from their friends, the Johnsons focused on things people knew and loved.

“Our strategy was to focus on things that people know and love. Movies, actors, actresses, musicians, sports, all of those things that people would know and recognize in the world,” Brian said.

Brian’s favorite clue: A game where you can die of dysentery and a snack you can take while hiking. The fan-favorite answer is Oregon trail mix.

While these connections may be hard to make at first, once players get the hang of it, the connections start to flow. Giving the clues can even help players understand more about how the game works and they can begin to foster those connections in their minds.

After creating hundreds of clues for the original version of the game, it was time to get into the inventory and marketing of the product.

Thanks to some help from the Penn State Law Clinic, Brian began working more on the IP trademarks, copyrights, and the overall creation of the business.

As for holding his game for the first time, Brian described the surrealness of the moment.

“It was pretty crazy because I’ve never done anything like that before. I realized at that moment that it took a lot of work to get to this point, just to have the game physically designed and made,” he said.

Once the game was complete, it was time to market it and get the word out there. The husband and wife duo traveled all over to game conventions to try to earn their spot in the industry. Pushing the game out to different sellers, they were doing anything they could to get the game into people’s hands. What was most effective, however, was harnessing the power of social media to get the word out.

Brian started snapping some simple videos of him playing the game with his friends and family, and it took off on TikTok. Based on the influx of orders from social media exposure, inventory sold out. Because of this, Brian has even moved into making the game available on the new market of TikTok Shop as well.

The Johnsons have received a lot of positive feedback about the game, and people from all over appear to be loving it.

“People send me emails saying that this is their favorite game and that they love it. That’s really exciting to produce something that people are really having a lot of fun with and are excited about,” Brian said.

The main goal of the game is to serve as an addition to a social gathering and never take away from the true purpose of spending time with those around you.

“The game is not taking the spotlight. The spotlight is the friends and family you’re actually spending time with,” Brian said.

Because of the sheer portability and easiness of the game, Connected Clues has also been turned into an app. Now, it can be used on the go with time and team modes.

Accompanying the original version of the game is an uncensored version, and there is soon to be a rhyming version of the game. The end goal is to be able to mix and match the cards from different sets to give players the maximum amount of content.

To test your own luck at the game, you can check out the Connected Clues website and social media.

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About the Author

Ally Eaton

Ally is a freshman public relations major from York, Pennsylvania and is one of Onward State's social media editors. She gets to write awesome feature stories and create epic content for our social media pages. Ally is a lover of country music and Trader Joe's. If you'd like to discuss March Madness or your most creative coffee order, feel free to contact her on Twitter @allyeaton31 or in her inbox [email protected].

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