Can you match wits with a 12 year-old? Tackle these questions from Brain Quest’s seventh-grade edition: “In what African country can you visit Nairobi?” and “What do you call the arrangement of elements started by Mendeleyev?” Go to the head of the class if you answered “Kenya” and “the periodic table.”

For two decades, Brain Quest’s curriculum-based question-and-answer game has entertained kids – lots of them. Workman, which launched the line in 1992, reports sales of close to 37 million copies of Brain Quest editions for children at the pre-K through seventh grade levels. To mark the line’s 20th anniversary, the publisher in May issued revised fourth editions of 11 core Brain Quest titles with a combined first printing of one million copies. Also launched in spring was a Brain Quest app, developed in conjunction with Dreamkind, for iPad, iPhone, iPod, and Nook. And Workman has teamed up with Chrysler Brand for a $1 million, year-long marketing campaign that includes a 100-city tour featuring Brain Quest challenges and a $150,000 advertising campaign targeted at consumers, educators, and the trade.

But first a look at how Brain Quest, which was created by French publisher Play Bac under the name Les Incollables, came to be published by Workman. “The line had a bit of a tough entry here,” says Janet Harris, publisher of Brain Quest. She was Workman’s sales and marketing director in the early 1990s, when Gaëtan Burrus of Play Bac shopped around his company’s game at ABA (before the convention became the BEA). “He pitched the product to a couple of people at Workman, including Peter Workman, and they turned it down,” Harris recalls. “But Burrus was persistent, and Ina Stern, who was then Workman’s school and library manager, fell in love with the product and asked Peter to look at it again.” (Stern is now associate publisher at Algonquin.)

Harris says she vividly remembers Peter Workman asking her if she thought she could sell the game in the marketplace. “I said I thought we could, and Workman licensed the product, and it took off right away,” she says. “We were very quickly at a million copies, and here we are 37 million copies later!”

Transforming Les Incollables into Brain Quest entailed a complete editorial overhaul of the question-and-answer game to conform to U.S. schools’ curriculum. Twenty years later, the newly revised editions feature a fresh logo, updated packaging, and 20 percent new material – including a host of questions tapping into technological innovations since the product was last revised five years ago. As with previous editions, all of the new content was vetted by the Brain Quest Advisory Board, which comprises award-winning educators.

Brain Quest Promotion Hits the Road

A highlight of the Brain Quest/Chrysler marketing campaign is a tour involving three custom-wrapped Brain Quest Town & Country minivans, which will cross the country from Connecticut to California, making stops at book and toy stores, libraries, schools, and book and science festivals. The vans will visit 100 cities in 32 states, where Brain Quest Challenges will be staged for kids of various ages. The tour kicks off on August 1 with an event at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn.

Another component of the partnership is Chrysler’s Drive 4 the Kids fundraising initiative, scheduled to take place at select stops on the tour. Originally introduced in 1993, this annual event encourages parents to test drive a minivan for a $10 fee, which is donated to the participating school. The school with the highest number of test drives in each of five geographic regions will win an additional cash prize. This promotion also features a college scholarship sweepstakes.

Rounding out the campaign is the Teacher Awards Contest, designed to recognize creative teachers who make classroom learning an adventure. Once each month throughout the year, Brain Quest and Chrysler representatives will select one teacher to receive a cash prize and a supply of Brain Quest products for his or her school.

When contacted by phone, Harris noted that she had two of the Brain Quest minivans parked outside her Westchester County home – waiting to roll out on tour. “Brain Quest has become an evergreen product and an iconic educational mainstay of stores’ learning sections,” she says, “and our retailers have enthusiastically joined in the anniversary celebration.”

One bookseller who says she is “more than thrilled” to host a Brain Quest challenge is Kirsten Hess, new business development manager at RJ Julia. “When we heard that Workman had put together an event with a spelling-bee format, we signed up immediately,” she says. “At the beginning of August, we kick into the back-to-school mentality and Brain Quest is one great way to make learning and reading fun. We sell a lot of Brain Quest workbooks in the summer, to parents who want to keep up their kids’ skills and not have them fall off before school begins. I think our customers are going to love this challenge event.”