For nearly 50 years, kids and adults have been constructing elaborate scenarios in Mouse Trap, the board game that makes pest control a family affair. Using plastic pieces, players build a series of perils for the mouse-shaped game tokens, hoping to eventually ensnare rival mice in their trap. For more on the origins of the game, including why Rube Goldberg may have gotten stiffed, keep reading.
1. Mouse Trap was inspired by Rube Goldberg.
When someone mentions a “Rube Goldberg device,” they’re usually referring to a design that pays homage to cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who published a series of clever contraptions in daily newspapers as commentary on the increasingly—and needlessly—complex modern world. When toy design firm owner Marvin Glass wanted to create a three-dimensional board game inspired by Goldberg that could be built vertically, he turned to employees Gordon Barlow and Burt Meyer. The two conceived the Mouse Trap concept and had it ready for the 1963 Toy Fair.
2. Mouse Trap was rejected by Milton Bradley for being “junk.”
A board game that dispensed with conventional play methods like rolling dice or board squares was a radical departure for the toy industry of the 1960s, and not everyone was on board. When Marvin Glass and Burt Meyer took the game to Milton Bradley to see if the popular board game company might be interested, they were surprised at the reaction. The president of Milton Bradley, James Shea Sr., thought it was an awful idea. “This is not a game, this is nothing,” he said. “A game, you play it on a board and you roll dice, but this, this is a lot of plastic junk. We can’t use this.” Parker Brothers also turned them down. But Glass had the last laugh. The game, released by Ideal, wound up selling 1.2 million copies in 1963 alone.
3. Rube Goldberg never saw a dime from Mouse Trap.
Despite its Goldberg-esque design, the cartoonist was never directly involved in Mouse Trap. His syndicate, King Features, asked Glass for a royalty on the game but Glass refused. Goldberg himself was 80 and about to retire, and apparently the prospect of a legal fight was unappealing. Instead, he licensed his name for a series of playsets produced by Multiple Products, Inc. that paid homage to his work. Glass, meanwhile, offered the Crazy Clock and Fish Bait games in quick succession, which were also knock-offs of Goldberg’s work. None of it was as popular as Mouse Trap.
4. Someone once built a life-size Mouse Trap.
Mouse Trap fan and San Francisco-based general contractor Mark Perez thought Mouse Trap did an excellent job of demonstrating various facets of physics, from the kinetic energy of the game’s spring and cable-powered hammer hitting a boot to the incline plane of the staircase. In 2005, he created a full-size model of the game’s various pieces, a set-up weighing 25 tons that he went on tour with to explain the science behind the design. At the Henry Ford Museum in 2012, the contraption finished its sequence by crushing a car. As of 2018, the attraction was still touring.
5. The UK version of Mouse Trap comes with a toilet.
Not many board games invite players to flush a toilet to advance, but the UK version of Mouse Trap is an exception. Among the playing pieces (baskets, a bathtub, fulcrums) is a plastic toilet that can be utilized to keep the momentum of the game rolling.
6. You might be able to use Mouse Trap to catch an actual mouse.
But only a very, very patient one. YouTuber Shawn Woods posted a video of his Mouse Trap display that works just like the classic version of the game, except it adds a conventional snap trap at the beginning and end of the course. When the design finishes its machinations, a trap door closes on the wayward rodent. Woods used his own mouse as the test subject, but not to worry—it’s humane and harmless.