Former Math Prof Ed Ghandour Has the World on a String with His Foolproof Yo-Yo

updated 01/11/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/11/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Three years ago Tamara Ghandour walked into her father's study with a yo-yo in her hand. "How do you make this thing work?" she demanded. Her dad, at the time a University of California (Berkeley) math professor, looked up from his work. "In a split second," recalls Ed Ghandour, "I saw a yo-yo that always comes back to your hand, really a yo-yo for klutzes."

And so Addi Ben "Ed" Ghandour, 36, created the Yo Ball, a plastic sphere with a spring inside that guarantees its return. Ghandour cut up a window shade "to make the guts" of the prototype. He tried it out on 6-year-old Tamara and her friends. It was such a success that he decided to take "a 180-degree turn away from the academic world" and go into business. With $300,000 from private investors and loans, Ghandour hired a dozen people and started to make Yo Balls 24 hours a day.

Today Knots, Inc. (a knot is an obscure term in topology, a branch of mathematics that studies curves in space), has 175 employees. In addition to the Yo Ball, which sells at places like J.C. Penney and mart for $1.99 to $2.99, Ghandour markets the Gizmo, a yo-yo hybrid that spins like a top, and the Mystic, which uses static electricity to keep paper suspended in midair. Eight new toys will be added to the Knots line this year.

"I've always been an inventor," says Ghandour, who was raised by his mother, a nurse, on an Israeli kibbutz after his father was killed in the 1948 War of Independence. There, at 14, Ed devised an automatic fishing system (a conveyor with nets that swept through the water). Scholarships took him to the U.S., where he earned a Ph.D. in math from Harvard in 1971. Since then he's taught at Oxford, the University of Tel Aviv and Berkeley.

Ghandour lives with his wife, Anna, and daughters Naomi and Tamara in Piedmont, 17 miles from his factory-warehouse in San Francisco. As president of Knots, Ghandour has taken on additional roles—as media strategist and marketing director as well as machinist. Now he longs for more time to wool-gather. "My real dream," says the businessman who grossed $12 million last year, "is to sit in Katmandu and write a book."

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