How One British Soldier Turned a Parlor Game into Clue

Since its introduction in the 1940s, Clue has proven—over and over again—that murder can be quite fun.

The game, which also inspired the 1985 cult film of the same name, centers on deducing who killed Mr. Boddy (known as Doctor Black in the original British version). The first player to guess the weapon, suspect, and room of the crime, tucked away in a small envelope in the center of the game’s board, wins.

Board game lore has it that Englishman Anthony Pratt refined the idea for the game while on night patrol during World War II. He described it as a variation of a murder mystery parlor game he used to play with friends, and saw it as a way to reinvigorate his peers' social lives.

''Between the wars,'' he once said, ''all the bright young things would congregate in each other's homes for parties at weekends. We'd play a stupid game called Murder, where guests crept up on each other in corridors and the victim would shriek and fall on the floor.’' The war—and its associated air raids and blackouts—put a stop to these regular gatherings. “It all went, 'Pouf!' Overnight, all the fun ended," he later recalled. "We were reduced to creeping off to the cinema between air raids to watch thrillers ... I did so miss the partying and those awful games of murder." 

Pratt wasn’t necessarily a dark soul. Mystery and detective themes were having a moment in popular culture, as authors Agatha Christie's and Raymond Chandler's sleuths captured the public's imagination. Party games, like the one that inspired Pratt, were commonplace; legions of children and adults were trying to follow in Sherlock Holmes' footsteps. (Early versions of Clue's game boxes touted it as the “great detective game” and featured a Sherlock character.) 

In 1944, Pratt applied for a patent for his game. (His application reportedly boasted illustrations drawn by his wife, Elva.) According to Ann Treneman, author of Finding the Plot, Pratt initially called his game “Murder,” inspired by the era’s favorite mystery genre. The game eventually went by Cluedo in the United Kingdom, a spin on the Latin word for play, "ludo," which was also the name of a then-popular game in Britain.

Pratt’s board was “marked out to depict the ground floor of a house” with eight or 10 rooms, according to his patent. The cast of 10 characters included a Doctor Black, Mr. Brown, Mr. Gold, and Miss Grey. There was also a Rev. Green (who was defrocked when the game came to America), a Nurse White (she became a Mrs.), and a Colonel Yellow, who was renamed Colonel Mustard. The weaponry was far more grim, and included a bomb, a syringe, and poison. His map had a layout similar to the one known by American fans of the game, but included a “gun room” in between the lounge and the dining room. In the original patent, Pratt planned to have his victim be a rotating character. But by the time it got into production, Doctor Black had become the permanent victim.

Pratt sold his design to Waddingtons, a British company that also published Monopoly in England, and by 1949, production for Cluedo was underway. At first, according to Treneman, Cluedo sales were weak, leading Pratt to sign over all overseas royalties to the game for £5,000—that's around £124,000, or $200,000, today. By doing so, Pratt missed out on millions of dollars in royalties. (The British patents eventually lapsed, too, which means the royalties from domestic sales disappeared as well.)

Initially, the sum he earned allowed Pratt to return to his first love: music. As a young man, Pratt had dropped out of school in order to play piano aboard various ocean liners. Using his Cluedo funds, he began touring with his cousin Paul Beard, who was then the leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. But the money soon ran out, and Pratt was forced to return to his pre-Clue work as a patent clerk—and to fade into relative obscurity. 

In later years, Pratt's daughter Marcia admitted that her parents almost never discussed the iconic game her father had invented. “My mum was angrier than he was about it,” she revealed in 2009. “In those days you didn’t go to financial advisers or agents. Ordinary people like us didn’t even know they existed.” Her father was more at peace with the decisions he had made: “He felt we’d had a good time for a few years on the back of the game. He didn’t court the recognition and we weren’t penniless but I can’t help thinking the money would have made my parents’ final days so much more comfortable.”

In 1996, as part of a celebration for Clue's 150 millionth sale, Waddingtons executives attempted to track down Pratt. They could not find him. Authorities began an official search, even establishing a hotline for tips, according to The New York Times

Ultimately, Pratt was located—in a cemetery. An undertaker called in to report that two years prior, Pratt had died peacefully at the age of 90. Miss Scarlet (in the Billiard Room, with the Candlestick) was exonerated.  

Nearly 70 years later, Clue remains as popular as ever, remaining relatively the same in terms of technical game play as it was in the '40s (although illustrations have been swapped out or updated along the way to make it feel more "contemporary.") Today, much like its Parker Brothers sibling Monopoly, a wide variety of Clue games now exist, including sets paying tribute to The SimpsonsFamily GuySeinfeld, and Scooby Doo, just to name a few.

Pop Culture
The Princess Ride: Here's What a Princess Bride Theme Park Attraction Might Look Like

Do you fight the urge to say “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” when introducing yourself? Have you spent the past 30 years mispronouncing the word “marriage”? If so, you may be a diehard fan of The Princess Bride. The cult film (and the book on which it’s based) has inspired board games, merchandise, and countless pop culture references. Now, two theme park designers from Universal have conceived the inconceivable. As Nerdist reports, Jon Plsek and Olivia West have designed the plans for a hypothetical attraction called “The Princess Ride.

Their idea follows the classic river boat ride structure and adds highlights from the movie around each corner. After watching Buttercup and Wesley’s love story unfold, riders are taken past the Cliffs of Insanity, through the Fire Swamp, and into the Pit of Despair. The climax unfolds at Prince Humperdinck’s castle and leads up to the two protagonists riding off into the sunset. The last thing the passengers see is Miracle Max and Valerie waving goodbye saying, “Hope ya had fun stormin’ the castle!”

The ride’s designers make a living turning stories into thrilling attractions. Plsek works as a concept artist for Universal Creative, the group behind Universal’s theme parks, and West works there as a concept writer. While The Princess Ride was just a fun side project for the pair, it isn’t hard to imagine their ride bringing Princess Bride fans to the parks in real life.

For more of Jon Plesk’s concept rides inspired by classics like Dr. Strangelove (1964) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), check out his website.

[h/t Nerdist]

Watch a Chain of Dominos Climb a Flight of Stairs

Dominos are made to fall down—it's what they do. But in the hands of 19-year-old professional domino artist Lily Hevesh, known as Hevesh5 on YouTube, the tiny plastic tiles can be arranged to fall up a flight of stairs in spectacular fashion.

The video spotted by Thrillist shows the chain reaction being set off at the top a staircase. The momentum travels to the bottom of the stairs and is then carried back up through a Rube Goldberg machine of balls, cups, dominos, and other toys spanning the steps. The contraption leads back up to the platform where it began, only to end with a basketball bouncing down the steps and toppling a wall of dominos below.

The domino art seems to flow effortlessly, but it took more than a few shots to get it right. The footage below shows the 32nd attempt at having all the elements come together in one, unbroken take. (You can catch the blooper at the end of an uncooperative basketball ruining a near-perfect run.)

Hevesh’s domino chains that don't appear to defy gravity are no less impressive. Check out this ambitious rainbow domino spiral that took her 25 hours to construct.

[h/t Thrillist]


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