Our Town: Games people still play

Monopoly is one of the many board games that had a real effect on our childhoods

Herein lies the formula: Wintertime plus COVID time equals indoor time. And that mathematical template takes us either to television, video games or board games! You do remember board games. Those were the things that Mother bought her children to keep them busy as the snow fell outside. They came in long flat boxes and contained fold-out boards and a variety of spinners, dice and knickknacks. We all can recall the manufacturers like Hasbro, Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley.

I’m not sure about you but my favorite was Clue because I loved the clever use of little murder weapons like a candlestick, a wrench, a lead pipe and a rope and who doesn’t love a little killing in an English Tudor mansion? Actually, you may be surprised to know that most of these adorable games of childhood are still selling like hot cakes and do manage to hold their own against video game juggernauts like “Game of Thrones” or “Fortnight.”

In 1948 Candyland was invented by Eleanor Abbott in San Diego, Calif., while she was recovering from polio and this simple game, now owned by Hasbro, still sells more than a million sets per year. What kid of 3 or 4 or 5 does not like candy? How I wish Dunkin’ Donuts would get behind the creation of The Doughnut Game where you could roll the dice, land on a square that says “Chocolate Frosted with sprinkles” and then munch out on one right there.

Chutes and Ladders is the worldwide classic board game for youngsters where you roll the dice and depending where you land, you either get to go up the ladder or fall down a chute. This game attempts to teach morality by showing that if you land on a square showing a selfish, cheating or misbehaving child, you fall down a chute far below and if you land on a square showing a generous, kind, helpful and studious child, you go up the ladder and get closer to the finish line or heaven, whichever you prefer.

The game is owned by Milton Bradley but is based upon the ancient India game from the second century called Snakes and Ladders. Their game was based upon the Hindu philosophy of karma, destiny and desire and had many more positive ladders as well as numerous negative traps or snakes. Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” uses this game as the central metaphor for his book, stating “for every ladder that you climb, there is a snake waiting around the corner to bring you back to earth.”

I work with many famous athletes and I can assure you this little tidbit of wisdom is extremely true. The Oracle of Delphi has three ancient maxims inscribed on the wall, which include “know thyself, nothing to excess and surety brings ruin.” Sage advice that kids are actually learning as they play the cute game of Chutes and Ladders.

And the mother of all modern board games is Monopoly developed in 1906 by Lizie Magie in her efforts to expose the nefarious and exploitative ways of real estate developers. Over the years, after Charles Darrow and Hasbro got their hands on it, the game has morphed into the glorification of realtors’ and banks’ impressive ability to produce bankruptcy in the homeowner. Maybe that partially explains the global economic collapse of 2008.

The postmodern writer John McPhee wrote the very sad story “In search of Marvin Gardens,” which was about his interest in the game of Monopoly and also his visit to Atlantic City, N.J., whose streets the Monopoly game uses.

The world of our distant childhood included such marvelous touchstones like jacks, metal slinkys, jump rope, Silly Putty, jig saw puzzles, sidewalk chalk, Scrabble,  Clue, Monopoly and much more. It’s good to see that these little bits of magic from the past still exist not only for us but for our kids and grandkids as well. Good things never seem to die, they’re like those Tonka Toys, they just keep on truckin’.


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