22 Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Board Games

The Classic Detective Game

The Classic Detective Game by Derek Bruff (CC BY-NC)

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The Classic Detective Game
The Classic Detective Game by Derek Bruff (CC BY-NC)

No Trivial Matter

Stuck inside? Chances are good that you've blown the dust off your stash of trusty board games. Chances are also good that your stash includes Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue, and other classics that have endured for decades, becoming cultural touchstones for generations. But how much do you really know about your favorite board games? Here are plenty of tidbits you can use to impress (and distract) your opponents during the next round of fun.

Candy Land
Candy Land by Micah Sittig (CC BY)
Monopoly Helped British Prisoners Escape the Nazis
Edward Miller/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Monopoly Helped British Prisoners Escape the Nazis

During World War II, the Germans allowed humanitarian groups to distribute care packages to soldiers imprisoned in their war camps. Because Monopoly was often part of those packages, the British secret service conspired with a game manufacturer to hide a compass, map, and small tools inside secret compartments built into the game board.

the game of life
the game of life by kathryn (CC BY)

Crime, Poverty Used to be Options in Game of Life

Invented by Milton Bradley himself in 1860, the original game of Life, played on a checkered board, included game spaces that doomed players to a life of crime, a gambling addiction, poverty, prison, and simple ruin and disgrace. Bradley also decided on a spinner instead of dice because dice were too closely associated with gambling.

A Board Game 11/115 - Week 33
A Board Game 11/115 - Week 33 by Karen Borter (CC BY-ND)

Clue's Lead Pipe Was Made of Real Lead

The original game of Clue, patented in 1947 by a British man who invented it to pass time during World War II air-raid blackouts, included a lead pipe token that was made of very real, very poisonous, lead (it was eventually replaced by steel, then pewter). The original version also included slightly more exotic weapons like a hypodermic syringe and an Irish walking stick.

Scrabble by scorzonera (CC BY-NC)

Skydivers Played Scrabble During a 13,000-Foot Drop

There are plenty of passionate Scrabble fans out there, but it might be hard to top the stunt that two of them pulled to celebrate the game's 60th birthday. In 2008, two skydivers played a short but sweet game after jumping out of a plane high above Florida. Of course, to keep the game intact, they made a specially reinforced wooden board and super-sticky adhesive pieces. Other extreme fans played the game inside a lion cage and an alligator park.


A Checkers Board Has Been Dated to 3,000 B.C.

Fans of Checkers can claim to play a game that was enjoyed by ancient civilizations. A version of a Checkers board dating to 3,000 B.C. was uncovered during a dig in the Sumerian city-state of Ur, now located in Iraq. Other versions have been traced to the ancient Egyptians. Checkers continued to evolve and reached something closer to its present-day form in medieval France.

Pictionary by Glen Campbell (CC BY-NC)

A Bored Waiter Invented Pictionary

Back in the early '80s, a young Seattle waiter would pick words from the dictionary and draw them for others to guess when he wasn't taking orders or schlepping food. Inspired by the recent success of Trivial Pursuit, he decided to make his party pastime into a full-on board game, Pictionary, assembling the first 1,000 games in his one-bedroom apartment.

Risk Board
Risk Board by Nathan Huth (CC BY-NC-ND)

Risk Was Created By an Oscar Winner

Inventing a world-famous board game would likely be tops on the list of most people's lifetime accomplishments, but it was just a whimsical vacation project for Albert Lamorisse. The Frenchman created Risk, first known as "La Conquête du Monde," or "The Conquest of the World," while on a family trip to the Netherlands. But he was far better known as a filmmaker. The previous year, he'd even won an Academy Award for a short film called "The Red Balloon" that is still considered a classic to this day.

Chutes and Ladders
Chutes and Ladders by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

Chutes and Ladders Began as a Morality Lesson

The game, also known as "Snakes and Ladders," traces its roots to ancient India. Ladders were meant to represent rebirth, with the player ascending to higher life forms via good deeds, while snakes whisked players to lower life forms because of evil doings. When the British adopted the game in the late 1800s, Victorian ideals like obedience and vices like indulgence made their way into the game. Once it came to the U.S. in the 1940s, it was rebranded as Chutes and Ladders, and the heavy-handed focus on morality was softened.

Yahtzee by Joe King (CC BY)

Yahtzee Was First Played on a Yacht

Ever wonder how this iconic dice game got its odd name? A wealthy Canadian couple invented the game as a way to entertain their friends on board their yacht. After it proved a big hit among their friends, the couple consulted with a toy maker who loved it, bought the rights, and changed the name from the relatively generic "Yacht game" to "Yahtzee."

Lifesize Game of Mouse Trap
Lifesize Game of Mouse Trap by Chris Petrilli (CC BY-NC)

A Man Created a Life-Size Version of Mouse Trap

Everyone's favorite Rube Goldberg-inspired board game, MouseTrap, has always been a kid favorite, even as parents cursed its many plastic parts. A contractor from California captured that youthful excitement by scaling the game up — way up — then touring the country with performers who used the huge setup to teach about gravity, simple machines, kinetic energy, and more.

Bones by John Wright (CC BY-NC-ND)

'Columbo' Touched Off a Trivial Pursuit Lawsuit

An encyclopedist sued the marketers and designers of Trivial Pursuit in the '80s for $300 million, alleging that they infringed on his copyright by taking many of the game's facts from his trivia books. He detected the alleged infringement by planting false "facts" in his book, including one that claimed TV detective Columbo's first name was Phillip. It was all for naught: The judge dismissed the suit.

MONOPOLY by Yamanaka Tamaki (CC BY-NC-ND)

A Jeweler Made a $2 Million Monopoly Set

Most of us have seen luxe versions of classic board games, but a San Francisco jeweler took the concept to the extreme in 1988. He created a $2 million Monopoly set with a gold board, diamond-encrusted dice, and ruby- and sapphire-embellished houses and hotels.

Connect four game over a black surface
Connect four game over a black surface by Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker (CC BY)

There Are Over 4 Trillion Ways to Fill a Connect Four Board

Expert number crunchers have also found that there are close to 2 trillion ways to win the game by getting four in a row, and more than 700 million ways to tie. However, assuming you're playing a "perfect" opponent, there's also one way to guarantee a win: Go first, and play in the center column.

Scrabble Tournaments Use Special Tiles
Gareth Cattermole/Staff/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images Europe

Scrabble Tournaments Use Special Tiles

While traditional Scrabble sets come with wooden tiles with grooved letters, these tiles aren't used in high-level tournaments. That's because players have been caught "brailling" while choosing tiles: that is, feeling for the smooth tiles that are the valuable blanks.

Operation brain freeze

Operation's Cavity Sam Got a New Ailment for His Birthday

After close to 40 years of charlie horses, writer's cramps, and other common maladies, Americans voted in 2003 to add an ice-cream-cone-shaped "brain freeze" to Operation's electronic board. The new affliction for Cavity Sam beat out a growling stomach and tennis elbow.

Monopoly by William Warby (CC BY)

You Can Play a Full Game of Monopoly in 21 Seconds

Next time your family complains that Monopoly takes too long, hit 'em with this fact: It's possible to win the game in just over 20 seconds. That means snapping up Park Place and Boardwalk almost immediately, building houses on them, and praying your opponent draws a Chance card that sends them to Boardwalk so you can bleed them dry. (Just don't mention that the chances of this actually happening are roughly 1 in 254 trillion.)

Politics and chess at the EP
Politics and chess at the EP by European Parliament (CC BY-NC-ND)

Computer Bug Hastened Chess Master's Defeat

It was the story that shook the chess world: In 1997, Garry Kasparov, widely considered among the most brilliant chess players of all time, lost a match to an IBM computer named Deep Blue. One of Deep Blue's designers has since admitted that the computer's most masterful move, one that likely doomed Kasparov, was the result of a programming bug that the engineers had been trying to fix.

Fidel Castro
Keystone/Staff/ Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fidel Castro Banned Monopoly

Though it had plenty of ardent fans in Cuba, Monopoly fell victim to a ban in 1959 when Fidel Castro seized power. A game so blatantly driven by capitalist ideals had no place in the socialist nation, so all versions, including a Cuban knockoff called "Capitolio" that features the streets of Havana, were ordered destroyed.

Jenga by Claudia_midori (CC BY-NC)

The World's Largest Jenga Set Had 8' Blocks

Caterpillar Inc. used five of its construction vehicles to play a super-sized game of Jenga in 2015. The solid pine blocks were 8 feet long, 32 times the length of a standard Jenga block, and weighed a whopping 600 pounds each. The 28-hour game lasted until the 14th level, when the tower collapsed.

Guess who?
Guess who? by Bethany Khan (CC BY-ND)

Guess Who Has Faced Charges of Sexism, Racism

In 2012, a 6-year-old made headlines by railing at Hasbro for including only five women in the 24-face lineup of Guess Who. Hasbro responded that because the game is based on a numerical equation, "there are five of any given characteristics" — an explanation that received further blowback. As Cracked points out, Guess Who has also had issues with diversity, at one point even removing the only black character from play. The current game includes a wider variety of faces.

Golden Girls Clue

It Was Dorothy in the Kitchen With the Bathrobe!

The original version of Clue challenges players to determine which character committed a brutal murder, and there have been several spin-offs, from "Star Wars" to "The Office" to "Harry Potter." Among the most creative versions is the one made specially for fans of "The Golden Girls." It challenges players to determine which character ate the last piece of cheesecake, where in Blanche's house they overindulged, and what evidence they left behind: a bathrobe, a slipper, a rattan chair, a purse, lipstick, or whipped cream.