Many of your favorite family games — like Chutes and Ladders and Operation — have been around for decades or even centuries. Though they're the hit of family game nights, most were originally designed as something quite different from what they are today. Here's some fascinating trivia that you may not know about some of the most well-known board games.
Chutes and Ladders. It may look like a silly kids' game, but Chutes and Ladders has ancient Hindu roots. The game is derived from an Indian game called Jña¯na Chaupa¯r in which players tried to land on a virtue to climb a ladder toward the god Vishnu while avoiding the vices that would slide them into the belly of a snake. Around 1892, Jña¯na Chaupa¯r was sold in Europe as Snakes and Ladders. When it hit the U.S. market, it became Chutes and Ladders.
The original Checkered Game of Life included squares for Idleness, Gambling and worst of all ... Politics. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The Game of Life. Originally called The Checkered Game of Life, this board game was the first — and actually the only — board game invented by Milton Bradley. Bradley created the game in 1860 as a "moral" game to teach children about the benefits of leading a virtuous life. Players tried to land on squares such as Honesty and Bravery that would lead them to Happy Old Age, while squares such as Crime and Disgrace sent them backward. The original game also included a Suicide square. Oh, and while landing on the Politics square might earn the player five points, it also moved them away from Happy Old Age and increased the likelihood that a player would land on Crime and be sent to Prison.
Operation. Everyone's favorite game involving improbable surgery and mild electrocution got its start in life as a college assignment. In 1962, John Spinello was a sophomore industrial design student at the University of Illinois when he was tasked with creating a toy or game. He made what he called a "magic box," a 10-by-10-inch box that was connected to a 12-volt lantern battery and a bell. When players touched the sides of the box, they got dinged.
Spinello's godfather worked for a toy company, and he convinced the young college student to show his prototype to the company's president, Marvin Glass. "Marvin Glass loved it," Spinello said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. "He gave me a check for $500 and promised me a job, which I never got."
In the end, that $500 was the only compensation Spinello would ever receive for inventing a game that has since made millions. But he doesn't care. "That game has brought so much joy," he told the Tribune. "I’ve had so many people thank me for it. That’s my reward."
Monopoly. The game of Monopoly was originally designed by a very early social justice advocate, Elizabeth Magie, who wanted to explain how landlords were taking advantage of their renters. Oddly, what was once a critique of capitalism has become a game most famous for celebrating it.
But the game of Monopoly is also a lifesaver. During World War II, the Nazi army allowed the British government to send games, among other things, to their POW soldiers. With the cooperation of the game’s publisher, the Brits hid real money within the stack of Monopoly money as well as compasses, metal files and a folded silk map (because silk would not disintegrate like paper). The British soldiers were able to use these supplies to flee the POW camp.
Rubik's Cube. Since it's invention in 1974, the Rubik's Cube has stumped more than 350 million people around the world with its puzzling colored squares. But the cube was originally developed by an architecture professor as a 3-D model of a geometric principle. It's satisfying then to know that it took the game's creator, Ernő Rubik, a full month to figure out the puzzle once he twisted the cube and realized he didn't know how to get the cubes realigned.
Candy Land. Many adults fondly remember Candy Land as the first board game they ever played as a child. With no reading or complex number skills required, the game is a perfect fit for little kids who are learning to count. And with a backdrop that includes brightly colored squares as well as a Candy Cane Forest, most kids are more than happy to practice their 1-2-3's while they take in the eye candy. And that's the whole point.
Candy Lane was invented by retired school teacher Eleanor Abbott while she was in the hospital recovering from polio. She created the game as a distraction for the children in the hospital who were also recovering from the disease. Abbott wanted to help take the kids' minds off their illness with a game that involved little thought and lots of fun images. She sold the game to Milton Bradley in 1949.
Mr. Potato Head. When this classic game was invented in 1952, kids received a box filled with legs, arms, eyes, a mustache and a corn cob pipe — but no potato. That didn't come along until newly created toy safety regulations released in the 1960s meant that toy pieces could no longer be sharp — and therefore they could no longer pierce real veggies. Toy maker Hasbro solved the dilemma by including a plastic potato in every box.
Catan tournaments are held all over the world with the most prestigious being two biennial championships that alternate years: the World Championships and the European Championships. (Photo: Matěj Baťha/Wikimedia)
Settlers of Catan: Settlers of Catan has been called "the 'Monopoly of our time" due to its huge and sudden popularity around the world. Created by dental technician Klaus Teuber in 1995, the first 5,000 copies of Settlers of Catan sold out so quickly that Teuber doesn’t even own a copy of the first edition. Since its release, Catan has been translated into 30 languages, comes in more than 80 official editions and variants, and sells nearly a million copies a year.