From left, brothers Nick and Fred Acosta hold some of...

From left, brothers Nick and Fred Acosta hold some of the games they have created in Port Jefferson Station. Credit: Morgan Campbell

In his Port Jefferson Station home, Fred Acosta, 76, flipped through a thick binder filled with ideas for new inventions and games. As he turned the pages, he beamed over renderings of board games, toys, outdoor recreational products and household items.

Turning to his brother, he said with a laugh, “We should be millionaires by now, what’s goin’ on here?”

Nick Acosta, 75, of New Hyde Park, a builder and fixer by trade who brings the ideas and artwork to life, agreed: “We should be!”

For three decades, the Acosta brothers have bonded over inventing. Through their passion, perseverance and lots and lots of patience, they’ve accumulated a stack of ready-to-pitch ideas, been awarded a patent and seen their games sold in stores.

It’s only in recent years, however, that they’ve been able to enjoy every inventor’s dream: an international hit.

Around 2017, inspired by the popular street game he and his brother played as kids in Brooklyn, Fred Acosta said he conceived of and designed “Red Light Green Light 1-2-3,” a simple, fast-paced card game geared to players aged 5 and up and their families.

“I always loved that name, it’s just in the culture of America,” Acosta said, “and sometimes you design a game around a name!”

Originally a board game concept, Acosta said he reworked it for cards, sketched it out, ran it by his brother and made a fully designed prototype.

It was one of several products they pitched to their agency at the time, Design Edge Inc. in Bethpage, a major independent toy developing company with ties to Mattel and Hasbro. As part of the pitch, they played the game in the office and it went over big.

Inventor brothers Nick Acosta, left, and Fred Acosta hold their...

Inventor brothers Nick Acosta, left, and Fred Acosta hold their game Red Light Green Light 1-2-3 and an earlier game, Paddle Pal, in Port Jefferson Station. Credit: Morgan Campbell

‘VERY TOUGH BUSINESS’

“The name and gameplay had a lot to do with it — plus, its design and palatability,” said Matt Nuccio, who was the Acosta brothers’ agent for about a decade starting in 2010. “It’s a very tough business. Some people come to me with ideas and it feels like a shot in the dark. But they took it seriously, put the time in, studied the craft and did their due diligence.”

The prototype was brought to Endless Games Inc., a New Jersey-based company, and in a matter of weeks, the Acostas got “the green light” in the form of a contract.

“It happened so fast it was unbelievable,” Fred Acosta said. “It doesn’t usually work that way. Someone at Endless Games said, ‘Be patient, but I think you have a hit on your hands.’ ”

Both Kohl’s and Walmart initially sold Red Light Green Light only online — the standard way to test the market and gauge sales — before ultimately stocking store shelves with it. And then in 2021, as the game started becoming more popular, Endless Games was acquired by Goliath Games, a tentpole family-focused company, which helped catapult them to even wider distribution.

Now carried in more than 1,000 stores, the game — which sells for about $5 — is also sold on Amazon. There, it has a global rating of 4.6 out of 5 and glowing customer reviews. These include “Fun game for all ages. We play with our young grandkids,” “We love family games, this one will be a regular for game night!” and “My students love it! It’s simple and it helps them understand the concept of patterns.”

INTERNATIONAL SALES

The game has been sold in England, Spain, Poland, Australia and India. And closer to home, the game is also a big hit among families at Learning Tower Toys in Port Jefferson Station.

“We play it with people, and it gets quite exciting,” said employee Gwen Karnes. “It’s easy to teach, which makes it very sellable. [Fred] comes in every so often. ... Sometimes he throws out ideas to us.”

For the Acosta brothers, the success has been sweet and feels like a long time coming.

“Inventors don’t get respect until they sell something, that’s how it goes,” Fred Acosta said. “You hear ‘That ain’t goin’ nowhere!’ or ‘Waste of time!’ You have to earn it, so this kind of justifies the means. It didn’t happen overnight, but this is a biggie, and it feels good.”

He declined to say how much he and his brother have made on the game, characterizing their earnings only as “decent money.”

Regardless of how much they have been paid, his brother said, “We’re part of history, that’s the way I look at it. We have something that’s out there and people are buying it. I enjoy the work and spending time with my brother.”

FATHER WAS A TINKERER

As kids, Fred and Nick Acosta didn’t have to go far to find an inventor mentor.

They fondly remember their father, Nicholas, tinkering in his workshop throughout their childhood — drawing up ideas, building parts for machines, fixing cars and even creating a contraption that would go around one’s waist and attach to a camera so it could be held up and carried hands-free.

Nick and Fred Acosta in an undated family photo.

Nick and Fred Acosta in an undated family photo. Credit: Morgan Campbell

“He could do everything, so I picked it up from him,” said Nick Acosta.

While Nick gravitated to the more mechanical aspects of creation, his brother said he spent his free time drawing and painting.

Always close, the brothers’ paths diverged as young men. In 1964, just out of high school, Fred Acosta enlisted in the Navy but was medically discharged the next year due to asthma. His brother, meanwhile, joined the Marines in 1967 and served in the Vietnam War. There, he said he saw combat and developed lifelong health issues as a result of water exposure.

Fred Acosta said he started inventing years into his career as a graphic and packaging designer — a role he held for more than 40 years before his retirement in 2008 — and raising a family with his wife, Ruth. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, he’d sketch out little ideas from his living room and, watching his three kids grow up, started developing toys and games.

It was in 1988 that he first saw one of his creations — Paddle Pal, a paddleball game with a paddle in the shape and design of various animals, including a bear, a dog and a cat — packaged and sold in stores including Toys R Us and Child World.

But life took over and he put his passion on hold for a while after that. Around 1995, though, he got serious again.

Fred Acosta said he knew he was good at coming up with ideas and designing them, but he sought his brother’s help when it came to creations made out of wood or metal or that required mechanics and electronics.

“So we got together. Basically I’d be the designer and he would be the prototype maker,” Fred Acosta said.

Nick Acosta worked as a carpenter for New York City for decades and then as a maintenance man for a medical facility before his retirement about six years ago.

Nick Acosta’s craftsmanship came through on their more intricate games that went to market, like the Penguin Ice Fishing Game, which included a magnetic rod that dragged fish along the ice on the board, and Silly Stix, a memory game centered on hollow wooden blocks.

These were sold in stores, but “they weren’t hits,” said Fred Acosta.

HEARING ‘NO’ A LOT

“You have to learn to accept rejection, because most of them will get rejected, but you keep going on,” he said. “You have to satisfy that urge to create things. It becomes almost like a drug. Sometimes I won’t sleep at night because my mind is racing.”

His brother has the same energy: “I put everything into it,” Nick Acosta said. “I’ll spend hours and hours and days and days until I get it to work. ... [But] it is fun.”

They’re not the only inventors in the family: Their brothers, Adan and Aldo, who live in Puerto Rico, have come up with their own innovations over the years. Aldo has two patents.

“It kind of runs in the blood,” said Fred Acosta. “I see it with my granddaughter. She’s only 7, but I already see how creative she is.”

Fred’s daughter, Candice Perlow, who also lives in Port Jefferson Station, remembers her father always bouncing ideas off her and her brothers when they were kids. Now, she said, he tests new game ideas on his nine grandchildren.

GAME NIGHTS

“We’re big on having family game nights, and my dad will bring over a new one for us to try,” Perlow, 52, said. “I’ll be like ‘All right guys, listen, Grandpa wants to pitch his game,’ and they’re like, ‘Ahhh,’ but when we sit down and start playing, it’s always a lot of fun, and we give suggestions on rules. I had those memories and now my kids have them.”

Similarly, Nick Acosta has lent his carpentry skills and inventiveness to his family, which includes his wife, Soraida, their two children and five grandchildren. His daughter, Nicole Sanchez, of Massapequa, said, “Imagine how lucky my boys feel to not only have an awesome grandpa that is always there for them but [who] could also make and fix any toy.”

Perlow said the bond between her father and uncle has grown stronger over the years: “They talk every single day and they’ve never been closer. It’s great to see how far they’ve gotten for two guys who are basically doing it on a whim.”

And the Acosta brothers aren’t slowing down anytime soon.

They have continued to create and frequently attend the annual toy fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan with Nick’s son. They patented an invention, the Paint Buddy, which is a tray that a painter can clip onto his or her belt. Fred Acosta drew it and his brother built it. They hope to one day manufacture it and market it to hardware stores.

Fred Acosta demonstrates how to use Paint Buddy, a patented...

Fred Acosta demonstrates how to use Paint Buddy, a patented invention he and his brother created. Credit: Morgan Campbell

They said they have also been meeting with their agent, Mary Ellroy, about bringing new ideas to market and reworking the old ones.

“It’s helped take my mind off of health problems,” Nick Acosta said of their projects together. “You gotta have something to do, keep your mind busy, keep your mind working. Gotta keep going!”

Fred Acosta, who stays active playing basketball at his local LA Fitness, said, “I’ll keep doing that until I can’t walk anymore. And we’ll keep inventing until we can’t anymore. Because we love it.”

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