Get a Cluedo: The Wonderful Story of Everyone's Favorite Mystery Game

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A few days ago, I was in the grocery store when I came across a board game promising endless hours of family fun called "Cluedo." To my surprise, the game parked at the endcap was the British version of Clue. You might remember Clue as the game that made murder an innocent pastime (not unlike Risk did with Napoleonic world domination and unabashed despotism), that gave rise to phrases like "in drawing room with the rope," and that spawned one of the Greatest Movies of All Time. 

Most stunning of all, I learned that Clue is not an American invention. Along with cricket, irony and the efficient subjugation of many different peoples, the legendary mystery board game is something that the Brits gave us! Here's the full story:

The Retired Clerk with a Pencil in the Study.

Cluedo was invented way back in the 1940s by a retired solicitor's clerk named Anthony Pratt. His idea was simply to create a murder mystery game that unfolded in an old mansion, with players adopting British aristocrat stereotypes. Colonel Mustard, for example, was a certain type of English military man who'd spent time in India; Professor Plum was the absent-minded professor and Miss Scarlett was the sexy femme fatale. It was a precisely British sort of game, inspired by the genteel detective stories written by the likes of Agatha Christie. Of course, the original version did have some major differences.  

cluedoWhen the game was first patented in 1948, the game was called "Murder at Tudor Close." There were also ten characters instead of six, and a few extra weapons like an axe, a shillelagh (a type of traditional Irish truncheon), a bomb, a hypodermic syringe, poison and a poker. The players and gamepieces were whittled down to make the play a little quicker. As for the strange name, Cluedo was a pun on another popular board game, Ludo. But because game makers thought the word joke wouldn't fly in the US, they shortened it to Clue. A few other things didn't survive the transatlantic journey: In the American version, Dr. Black became Mr. John Boddy, the Reverend Green became just Mr. Green, a greed-obsessed mobster-type, and because a "spanner" doesn't make a ton of sense to Americans, it's known here as a wrench.

Clue Goes International

Once the game became popular "“ and it did, reaching more than 50 countries, selling hundreds of millions of copies. In fact, Clue is one of the few board games to surpass $1 billion in sales. Of course, that means game makers had to figure out ways to make it translate into other languages and cultures (many of the cast underwent career changes as well as sex changes to help with the transition). That said, the game is played the same and is generally called Cluedo in countries outside of North America, except in Brazil, where it's called Detetivo.

Meet the new Clue

It was a sad day that Hasbro decided to update Clue. The new Clue offers a whole new cast of characters, new weapons, and even a new mansion (once it was discovered that people didn't really know what a "conservatory" is anymore). While the colonels are professors are gone, the new version includes a a whole cast of tabloid stereotypes: a starlet, a former child actress, a football star turned sports announcer and an overnight billionaire who made his money in video games amongst others. The weapons are updated as well, with a bottle of pills (for poisoning not kicks), a trophy, and a barbell; all of which make us long for the original version even more. 

Essential Trivia you need to memorize before your next Clue Party

Here are just a few things everyone needs to know about Clue: 

* Anthony Pratt, Clue's inventor, allegedly sold his stake in the game in 1953 to fund his career as a concert pianist.

* According to the BBC, Clue is a popular musical in the States. I'm not entirely sure where they've gotten their information on the "popular" part, but Clue is indeed a musical, generally of the high school and community theatre variety. The musical features songs like "She Hasn't Got a Clue," "Once a Widow," and "Seduction Deduction" and premiered off-Broadway in 1997, to somewhat scathing reviews. 

simpsons_clue_3* There are 12 licensed versions of Clue currently published by its makers, Hasbro, including a Harry Potter version and a Simpsons version. And there were many other special editions in the past, including Scooby Doo, Alfred Hitchcock, Dungeons & Dragons, Disney's Haunted Mansion and Disney's Tower of Terror, and Franklin Mint (presumably, this is played with collectible plates of American presidents and kittens). 

* The character of the Singing Telegram girl in the movie Clue was played by Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go's. Wiedlin also played Joan of Arc in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Alien Communications Officer Trillya in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Just one of those things is enough to render a mere mortal awesome.

* In addition to movies, several TV game shows, and a musical, Clue also inspired series of books for young readers, which were published by Scholastic in the 1990s. There were 18 books in total, with names like The Clue in the Shadows, The Revenge of the Mummy, The Secret Secret Passage and The Case of the Invisible Cat. Each one is broken down into a series of mini-mystery chapters, in which the eternally unlucky Mr. Boddy is always getting bumped off, leaving the reader to have to figure out the mystery.

Got any Clue/Cluedo/Detetivo memories you'd like to share? Any particularly memorable games that you've played "“ maybe even the legendary PikaClue?

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June 22, 2009 - 8:57am
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