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November 28, 2012

Old But New: Generals Smuggled Maps, Compasses, and Real Money to German-Held POWs Via "Monopoly" Games

I saw part of a documentary on Monopoly (available on Netflix) and they mentioned this neat bit trivia.

Someone mentioned Hogan's Heroes in a comment. So, here was some Hogan's Heroes stuff. This was kept top secret for 45 years.

The British distributor of Monopoly, by the way, was in on the espionage.

It's a story that will forever change the way you think of the phrase, "Get Out of Jail Free."

During World War II, as the number of British airmen held hostage behind enemy lines escalated, the country's secret service enlisted an unlikely partner in the ongoing war effort: The board game Monopoly.

It was the perfect accomplice.

Included in the items the German army allowed humanitarian groups to distribute in care packages to imprisoned soldiers, the game was too innocent to raise suspicion. But it was the ideal size for a top-secret escape kit that could help spring British POWs from German war camps.

The British secret service conspired with the U.K. manufacturer to stuff a compass, small metal tools, such as files, and, most importantly, a map, into cut-out compartments in the Monopoly board itself.

The British maker of Monopoly, Waddington's, turns out to have already perfected, for another industry, printing on sheets of silk. This made them especially well-positioned to make maps for would-be escapees. Military maps had to be durable, and so were often printed on silk.

Here's another bit of trivia I learned from the documentary: The game wasn't actually invented by Charles Darrow (as most believe, and when I say "most," I mean "some of the very few people who know any trivia about Monopoly at all).

It was actually invented by a Philadelphia Socialite Socialist who wanted the game to be a subversive "teachable moment" sort of thing which would demonstrate to people that property was a tool of repression and unfair and enslaving and all of that. Her idea was that the game would be sort of cruel and random. That was sort of the point of the arbitrary "Go Directly to Jail" and the cruel misfortunes, and undeserved rewards, of the Chance and Community Chest cards.

And then people would learn capitalism was evil. The game is unfair, arbitrary, impoverishing, and rigged against you, you were supposed to learn.

I'm not sure if Darrow removed or softened these elements from the game he began making (having now changed the names of the streets to, famously, the streets in Atlantic City). Or if people just decided they didn't care about the intended Lesson in Marxism and just wanted to have fun bankrupting their opponents.

One guy in this documentary pointed out that in a way this woman's socialist point remains in the game: One guy wins and has everything, and everyone else is in the poorhouse.

It kind of makes me want to play Monopoly, and for real this time. When I say "real," I mean... with trading.

When I was a kid, I never traded crap. I didn't even understand that was the main point of the game. I just wanted to go around the board and get lucky and buy Boardwalk and Park Place.

We almost never traded, ever. Ever. Like, I think it happened twice. I just could not get over the idea that if my brother wanted one of my Orange properties, I ought not to give it to him, because he certainly had malice on his mind.



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posted by Ace at 04:19 PM

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