How do you make a 1,000-year-old idea new? Simple. Repackage it, then launch it into new markets. That's what Rex Games, in San Francisco, has done with Tangoes, its modern version of an ancient Chinese tangram game, which president Mark Chester sells as therapy, a training tool, an educational aid, and a sales premium, but rarely as just a game.

To begin, Chester and his partner took the age-old puzzle -- consisting of two sets of seven pieces that players fit together in various shapes -- and housed it in a compact case that could be carried easily on trips and imprinted with corporate logos.

Less creative marketers might have forced the product into an obvious niche in the toy-and-game market. But then they might not be looking at nearly $1 million in sales, with precious little advertising. Instead, Chester and his partner positioned the product as a tool to spark creative thinking in the corporate-training market, improve problem solving in the educational market, speed recovery in the rehabilitation market, and allay trip ennui in the travel market.

Rex boasts customers ranging from New York City's Museum of Modern Art shop to Amoco's training department to a Michigan center for dyslexic children. And the markets keep cross-fertilizing, Chester reports. "It may be an old game, but with so many markets, it has a long life ahead of it."

-- Anne Murphy