Whenever I play Monopoly, sure, I’m playing to survive — well, survive the shame that inevitably befalls the worst player on the board. But a new report says the game did a lot more for prisoners of war during World War II, who used rigged sets to escape to freedom. Now that’s survival of the fittest. Or at least the cleverest.
Christian Donland over at Eurogamer takes an extensive look at the game’s contribution to springing many WWII POWs, who already loved Monopoly and would play it to make the days pass at prison camps.
“The German guards knew that if the prisoners were diverted by some pastime, like playing Monopoly, they would be less inclined to spend their time thinking about how to escape,” Phil Orbanes, chief judge of the Monopoly World Championships and author of the book Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game tells Donland.
“The Germans were actually glad when games and pastimes came into the camps because it meant that more of the prisoners could be engaged in calming activities.” Ha! Calming, indeed.
Because Monopoly was a common sight at these camps, a British intelligence officer named Clayton Hutton took advantage of that, and designed escape tools that could be hidden in boxed sets shipped from phony charities to help prisoners escape.
“My aim, right from the start of my association with the escape department had always been to discover a foolproof system for introducing my ‘toys’ into the camps themselves,” Hutton wrote. “To arrange for the odd map and compass to be smuggled to particular prisoners was one thing; to initiate and maintain a steady flow of all our devices was another.”
These games would show up with clues to the tools in their letterhead, hinting that this Monopoly set was not what it seemed at first. Another sign you had shears, metal files, a silk escape map, mini-compass and money stashed in the game? A red dot on the Free Parking space.
It’s still unclear how many Allied POWs got out and made it back home with the help of the rigged sets — Hutton had to keep his mouth shut since he was an intelligence officer and all. We salute you, Hutton, in the name of all those game players who were actually playing for their lives, and not so their older brothers would stop teasing them about being such a sore loser.
Check out the source link for the full, very lengthy and interesting piece by Donland. You’ll learn more about tiny compasses than you ever thought you could know.