John Michals got two surprises for his birthday — a thoughtful gift from his wife and a viral, very New York following.
Genevieve Wilson presented her husband with a custom Guess Who? game for his birthday Tuesday. It was redesigned to feature faces from the MTA’s New Yorkers Keep New York Safe campaign. The campaign has become a source of humor for subway, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North riders on social media, and now photos of Wilson’s gift have gone viral.
After opening the present, Michals, 26, of Brooklyn, loved it so much, he shared a photo on Reddit’s NYC subpage, writing “Well, my wife went ahead and made me the best birthday present I could’ve asked for.”
About 48 hours later, the photo remains one of the most popular posts in the NYC Reddit community and has jumped to Facebook and Twitter. Commenters were especially fond of the box, which features Gregg T, a Long Island Rail Road commuter who became an online celebrity after participating in the campaign.
“It was equal parts hilarious and touching,” Michals said in an interview. “I knew there was a following, but I didn’t know it would blow up the way it did.”
Wilson said the ad campaign, which debuted in March 2016 and featured photos of real New York commuters who reported something suspicious, was a source of entertainment for the couple whenever they rode the subway.
“My husband and I used to always sit on the trains and play ‘objective guess who,’ ” she said. “Questions like ‘Did this person skip work to be at this shoot?’ ”
Wilson said she and her husband also enjoy playing the Hasbro board game Guess Who? and got the idea to mash up the games around Christmas.
She then put Guess Who’s Keeping New York Safe? together in about two weeks. She collected images from the campaign by searching Google and reviewing photos she took. She then used photo shop to put it all together as two game boards and a box.
The star of the Wilson’s game is Gregg T, also known as Gregg Turkin, 57, a Valley Stream resident and attorney. He appears as both the image on the box and a character in the game, Wilson said.
Turkin’s image has become a popular meme on social media, inspiring fan pages, though it’s not clear why. Turkin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I guess he just has the strongest character face,” Michals said.
The other faces in the campaign are labeled with Guess Who names like “old mate”and “this lady” while Wilson and her husband make appearances as “wife” and “married guy.”
The response to the game was so positive, Wilson said she’s decided to offer the game for others. She set up an Etsy store Thursday, where she is offering to make custom versions of the game for $49. She said Friday she had already gotten a handful of orders.
“It’s nice to know other New Yorkers share the same feelings as us about the ads,” Wilson said.