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DOUBLE TALK IS TAKEN TO NEW HEIGHTS

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Lots of people stare at cloud formations and see fluffy bunnies. John Boyle sees homophones.

Boyle first began thinking about homophones - words that sound alike but have different meanings - when he was lying atop a Utah mountain pass watching the clouds go by during a backpack trip in the early 1970s.He found a pencil in his backpack and scribbled the words on the tag of his sleeping bag.

Since then, he's compiled a file of more than 6,000 sound-alike words and phases, and turned his passion into a hot selling game.

The computerized version of Double Talk has hit the market.

Double Talk offers its players the fast-paced, brain-teasing challenge of solving a puzzle using homophone clues. The software version adds in sophisticated computer graphics, sound effects and one-on-one computer interactivity.

Professor Double Talk, a funny little character whose costumes range from cheerleader to baseball player, critiques each player: "Fabulous!" "Ah ha!" "Strike one."

If a player is doing too badly, Professor Double Talk melts away into a wordless pool.

Boyle, now 51, began test-marketing his board game in Salt Lake City two years ago. Before long, he was selling it to area retailers and, later, marketing it in five urban markets. By 1993, Games magazine had named Double Talk one of its top 100 games.

The National Parenting Center soon jumped on board with a "best game" award. So far, more than 25,000 board games have been sold.

Before the debut of computer Double Talk, Boyle had already been approached by several networks interested in adapting his creation into a television show.

Boyle is currently working on a sports versions of his game, as well as additional clue packs. All of this may sound quick and easy, but it's not.

"You are looking at an industry that kills 98 percent of all new products in 24 months," said Steve Peek, president of the Dallas-based Game Inventors of America Inc.

Only one in 500 games is successful enough to make money for its inventor, he said.

And the idea is just the start. An inventor also needs lots of expensive legal work to protect his idea, lots of cash to develop prototypes and money to get into the market.

"You're generally looking at six figures to get something off the ground," Boyle said.

His two brothers-in-law are his principal investors. His son, Adam, did the programming for the computer version. Another son, Tucker, did the animation.

Boyle recently gave up a lucrative financial planning career in Twin Falls to play Double Talk full-time. He works up to 40 hours a week on the game during "slack season" and up to 65 hours a week from October to February.