Chess has existed for around 1,500 years, and there are different stories about how it was invented. The most colorful is the legend of King Shirham, whose ignorance of exponential math could have bankrupted his kingdom. Here's a nice Eames film from 1961 telling the story in just two minutes:

This is also known as the wheat and chessboard problem, and if you do the math, it works out to impressively large numbers.

(Via The Kid Should See This.)