Glen Ellyn game inventor lands Target deal

  • Joe Barron is the owner and game designer for Glen Ellyn startup Gray Matters Games. The company will move into the incubator portion of Innovation DuPage, a College of DuPage program opening in the Glen Ellyn Civic Center, background, in early 2019.

      Joe Barron is the owner and game designer for Glen Ellyn startup Gray Matters Games. The company will move into the incubator portion of Innovation DuPage, a College of DuPage program opening in the Glen Ellyn Civic Center, background, in early 2019. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • "That one is just about laughs," Joe Barron said of his word game, Ridiculous Expositions. "The funniest part is people are saying something dirty and they don't even realize it."

      "That one is just about laughs," Joe Barron said of his word game, Ridiculous Expositions. "The funniest part is people are saying something dirty and they don't even realize it." Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted8/24/2018 6:31 PM

The Barron household throws the best game night in Glen Ellyn.

Every month, Joe and Lauren Barron invite friends to what sounds like a nostalgic throwback: playing board games over pizza.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But it's really a testing ground for the fruits of Barron's creative mind and his brassy sense of humor.

Barron left a prestigious job in finance to start a game design business, Gray Matters Games, with his wife last June. It was a shrewd move for Barron, a "kid at heart" who holds an MBA from the University of Notre Dame and grew up spending winters in Michigan's Upper Peninsula mastering board games.

"Just being able to follow a passion where other people are benefiting from it and getting people together to have fun -- there's no better business to be in," he said.

Less than a year after the company launched, Barron landed a deal to exclusively sell his latest game, "Ridiculous Expositions," in 700 Target stores. The adult-themed word game hit the shelves this month.

"We put a lot of sweat equity and capital already into the business to grow it, and it showed that we were doing the right things, and this can be something sustainable long-term," Barron said.

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In three months, Barron wrote all 400 cards, each with a surface phrase on one side and "saucy expression" on the other. Players try to correctly guess naughty slang by sounding out the surface phrase to teammates.

Most of the phrases are unsuitable for a family newspaper. But one cheeky example? Try to figure out the hidden phrase behind "Ager Sea Chase Soar." Give up? You should have answered "a jersey chaser."

"The funniest part is people are saying something dirty, and they don't even realize it," said Barron, who also created "You Bet-Cha!", the top-selling game last holiday season at Fair Game in Downers Grove.

All of his products have sharp packaging, thanks to Barron's contacts with Chicago graphic designers. Each box has a reminder Gray Matters Games engages the mind and donates a portion of proceeds to Alzheimer's research in memory of his two grandmothers who died from the disease.

And if you've never been to the Barron household, you can get a feel for their version of game night when their business hosts an afternoon of board games at Dry City Brew Works in Wheaton on Sunday.

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