The Origins of 7 Popular Board Games

Before there was Monopoly there was "The Landlord's Game."
Before there was Monopoly there was "The Landlord's Game."
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Our definition of fun is constantly changing. In one century, collecting ferns may be the hobby of choice, while in the next people prefer binge-watching cat videos. But no matter what cultural trends are gripping the globe, one form of entertainment always persists.

Board games originated in ancient Egypt, and in today’s digital age they’re as popular as ever. In It's All a Game, out now, author Tristan Donovan traces the history of board games from chess to Monopoly to Settlers of Catan. We’ve pulled some of the most fascinating origin stories from the book for a look at how seven iconic games came to be.

1. MONOPOLY

Many modern players see Monopoly as a glorification of cutthroat capitalism. It was banned in communist China and the Soviet Union, and following his rise to power in Cuba, Fidel Castro accused it of being “symbolic of an imperialistic and capitalistic system.” But the game’s creator intended it to convey something much different.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie was a vocal supporter of the single tax movement during the late 19th century. The proposition called for the abolishment of all taxes in favor of one tax placed on property. By relying on citizens who owned land for tax revenue, the policy would have hopefully narrowed the gap between wealthy landlords and their working-class tenants.

To make these principles as engaging as possible, Lizzie Magie turned them into a board game in 1902. The object of The Landlord’s Game, as it was initially called, was to snatch up as much land as possible. As available properties on the board grew scarce and rent rose higher, the landlords would watch their fortunes multiply while the other players descended into bankruptcy. The winner was the remaining land baron who ended up owning everything in play.

Magie thought the game’s critique of greedy landlords was obvious, but it eventually evolved into a beast far removed from her original creation. After patenting it in 1904, she sent the game to Parker Brothers, where it was rejected for being too political. Nonetheless, the game attracted a small base of fans. Soon people were revising and improving upon the game with handmade versions of their own. One of these new versions, now called Monopoly, found its way back to Parker Brothers in 1934. This time they bit. But before they could publish the game, they had to take care of Magie’s original patent. She agreed to sell them the game for $500 under the condition that copies of her original Landlord’s Game would also be released. It was painfully clear which game consumers preferred; sales of the glitzy, money-grubbing Monopoly soared while Magie’s cardboard political parable lay dead on the shelves.

2. LIFE

The board of the Checkered Game of Life.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By modern board game standards, it doesn’t get much simpler than Life. But the game revolutionized the medium when it was produced by a young Milton Bradley in 1860. Growing up in devout Protestant New England in the 19th century, Bradley had been taught that games were a sinful distraction. At age 23, he attempted to reconcile this cultural belief with his desire to design a board game. The result was The Checkered Game of Life—a lecture on morality presented as a sheet of cardboard. To play, participants lost and collected points by progressing through the stages of life represented on the white squares. Some squares were positive (like Honesty, Perseverance, and Industry) while vice spaces (like the not-so-family-friendly Suicide square) were less desirable. To move across the board, players spun a numbered “teetotum” as dice were still associated with the illicit act of gambling. The first player to reach 100 points was rewarded with the gift of “Happy Old Age.”

Even with its heavy-handed message, Bradley feared his game would be rejected by puritanical audiences in New England. He took his product to New York City instead, and his instincts were proven correct; he sold all of the several hundred copies he brought with him in a matter of days. The Checkered Game of Life would go on to sell 40,000 copies in its first year. After falling into obscurity at the end of the century, it was resurrected as the more secular Game of Life by the Milton Bradley Company in 1959.

3. CLUE

Cover of original Cluedo board game.
Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

In the early 20th century, Great Britain was captivated by crime stories. One of the most enduring pieces of pop culture to come out of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction wasn’t a novel, but rather a board game designed by British husband-and-wife team Anthony and Elva Pratt. According to It's All a Game, their game centered around the same type of rural country houses that served as the settings for so many murder mysteries of the day.

After revising some unsavory elements (the original name of "Murder" was changed to Cluedo; the gun room was replaced with an extension of the dining room), the UK publisher Waddingtons bought the rights in 1945. Getting the game produced overseas proved to be more challenging. Though Parker Brothers president Robert Barton enjoyed Cluedo, he refused to release it based on a long-standing company rule that prohibited any products related to murder. But the game stuck with Barton. He eventually convinced the founder of Parker Brothers to make an exception to his murder rule, and the brand released Cluedo in the U.S. under the name Clue in 1949.

4. OPERATION

Toy designer Marvin Glass was the man responsible for bringing board games into the plastic age. He shook up the industry with Mouse Trap in 1963, then again with Operation two years later. But before Glass got his hands on it, the game was concocted by an industrial design student at the University of Illinois.

For a class project, John Spinello constructed a metal box outfitted with a series of holes along a winding groove through which users had to guide a metal probe. If the tool touched the sides of the path, a buzzer would sound. Spinello arranged a meeting with Marvin Glass through his godfather, a model maker at Glass's game company, to pitch him the concept. Glass bought the invention and transformed it into Operation—a game that had players carefully lift plastic items like spare ribs and stomach butterflies out of a cartoon surgical patient. The object was to remove all the loose bits without hitting the metal edges of the openings with the toy tweezers. Operation was an instant success for Glass and his company. Spinello, meanwhile, came away with nothing but a $500 check and the empty promise of a post-graduation job that never came to fruition.

5. TWISTER

If Twister had been released a decade earlier, it may have never become a household name. But the game hit shelves in the mid-1960s, right as the sexual revolution was starting to buck the uptight ideals of the previous generation.

A design agency co-owner named Reyn Guyer thought up the idea as a promotional item for one of his clients. If customers sent in enough proofs of purchase to the company, they would receive a "free" gift in return. Guyer whipped up a prototype of a full-body game, dubbed "King’s Footsie," on a sheet of fiberboard to see if it would work as a possible prize. He decided it had potential, but not as reward for a mail-in promotion. Instead, he started shopping the concept around to game publishers. By the time he pitched it to Milton Bradley, it had been renamed “Pretzel” and now involved players planting their hands on a mat in addition to their feet.

After negotiating a name change to Twister, the company agreed to make it—a risk that almost didn’t pay off. Retailers were reluctant to stock it. A game that involved the mingling of coed limbs on the floor didn’t flow with the family-friendly vibe many stores were trying to project at the time. Milton Bradley was about to pull the plug on Twister for good when an appearance on The Tonight Show rewrote the game’s history. On May 3, 1966, millions of viewers watched as Carson and his guest Eva Gabor tested out the new game on live television. Sales skyrocketed immediately. The game wasn’t without its scandalized critics, but increasingly liberal attitudes towards sex secured Twister's place on the shelf for decades to follow.

6. TRIVIAL PURSUIT

Prior to the release of Trivial Pursuit, board games carried a bit of a stigma. A handful of titles like chess, backgammon, and Scrabble were acceptable for adults to play, but for the most part a board game wasn’t something you broke out over drinks. As Donovan explains in It's All a Game, a photo editor and a sports journalist from Montreal changed that in the early 1980s. After realizing there was nothing on the market like it, friends Chris Haney and Scott Abbott put together a prototype of a game that quizzed mature players on subjects like art, sports, history, and entertainment. They scoured trivia books to fill out cards with questions like “What is the first flavor in Life Savers candy?” and “How long did Yuri Gagarin spend in space?” The team attracted enough investors to publish the game independently, but even then convincing stores to stock an expensive and old-fashioned-looking board game at the height of Atari mania was a tough job. Not many retailers took a chance on Trivial Pursuit, but those that did watched it fly off the shelves. Soon stores were reordering the game, and it aroused enough attention that the board game producer Selchow and Righter bought the rights in 1983. Trivial Pursuit sold 20 million copies in its first year, proving that board gaming could be a fashionable hobby for older consumers.

7. SETTLERS OF CATAN

Klaus Teuber found success as a board game designer prior to making Settlers of Catan. He’d already won the Spiel des Jahres award, the highest honor in the board game world, three times in his career. But sales were never impressive enough for him to quit his full-time job as a dental technician in Germany. With Catan, he struck upon something huge. The theme of the game was inspired by Teuber’s own fascination with Viking history. He tested various iterations on his family for four years before finally settling on the board of hexagon-tiled spaces players know today. Unlike his previous titles, the initial buzz surrounding Settlers of Catan didn’t fade away following its German release in 1995. The hype only grew stronger until the game migrated overseas, paving the way for the German-style board game trend. The game was the Monopoly antidote U.S. markets desperately needed; the rules were simple, all the players were kept engaged throughout, and a whole game could be completed in about an hour. Catan was hardly the first German board game to offer these qualities, but it was first to introduce that style of gaming to a global audience.

Hungry for more board game history? You can buy It's All a Game here.

25 Different Ways to Say "Fart"

This guy just floated an air biscuit, if you know what I'm saying.
This guy just floated an air biscuit, if you know what I'm saying.
Natty Blissful (farting man), Sudowoodo (speech bubble) // iStock via Getty Images Plus

Over the course of history, the human race has come up with many delightfully creative ways to describe the act of breaking wind. From regional terms to old-timey phrases, here are 25 ways to say fart that you should work into conversation whenever toots come up.

1. Air Biscuit

According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, an air biscuit is “an extremely malodorous fart or belch.” The phrase dates back to the early ‘90s and originated in the south, but clearly needs to be used everywhere. The act of farting or belching is known as floating an air biscuit, by the way.

2. Bottom Burp

Don’t call it a fart; call it a bottom burp. Green’s notes that this is “generally a children’s usage,” but it was “popularized on BBC TV’s 1980s comedy The Young Ones.”

3. Fartick

This term, from the early 1900s, means “a small act of breaking wind”—in other words, a tiny toot. You can also use the term fartkin. Scientists, by the way, have determined that the median weight of a fart is around 90 milliliters.

4. One-Cheek Squeak

According to Green’s, “an instance of breaking wind.”

5. Bafoon

A ‘40s term for “a stench, [especially] a fart,” according to Green’s. It’s also sometimes puffoon.

6., 7., and 8. Cheeser, Cut the Cheese, and Squeeze Cheese

Once a term for a person who made cheese, according to Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, cheeser has meant “a strong smelling fart” since 1811. It’s not the only cheese-related fart term, either: Perhaps you’ve asked “Who cut the cheese?” when you’ve smelled a particularly nasty odor. According to Green’s, this phrase for farting relates to ”the pronounced odor of certain cheeses,” and the Oxford English Dictionary dates oral usage back to 1959. Squeeze cheese is another delightful phrase, seemingly born of the internet, meaning “To fart, flatulate loudly.”

9. Breezer

A 1920s term for an open-topped car, and also an early ‘70s Australian term for a fart.

10. Trump

This word, meaning “to fart,” dates back to the 15th century. It’s also been used as a noun since the early 20th century. Either way, it's derived from the sound of a trumpet, which makes total sense.

11., 12., 13., and 14. Raspberry Tart, Hart and Dart, Horse and Cart, and D’Oyley Carte

Horse and Cart, Raspberry Tart, Hart and Dart, and D’Oyley Carte are all ways to say fart, many originating in England. Welcome to the wonderful world of rhyming slang!

15. and 16. Ringbark and Shoot a Bunny

Ringbark is a term used in New Zealand for breaking wind. Green’s cites the 2003 Reed’s Dictionary of New Zealand Slang, which helpfully notes that “ring is old slang for the anus.” Shoot a Bunny is another New Zealand way to say fart. As a bonus, “Empty house is better than a bad tenant” is what you say in New Zealand after you’ve farted in public. Farting in public is embarrassing, of course, but it's arguably better than the alternative: Holding in a fart could cause the gas to leak out of your mouth.

17. Foist

In early 1600s, the word foist was used to describe something that smelled less than fresh—and before that, in the late 1500s, it was a verb meaning “to break wind silently.” In other words, a more polite way to describe flatulence that’s silent but deadly.

18. Fizzle

This word, which originated in the 16th century, originally meant “to defecate.” But by the mid-17th century, fizzle (also spelled fisle) had acquired an additional meaning: to fart. Want to know how to use it in a sentence? Consider this example from 1653: “The false old trot did so fizzle and foist, that she stunk like a hundred devils.”

19. Prat Whids

Prat (derived from pratfall) is a 16th century British cant or slang word for the buttocks. Whid is a cant word meaning “to speak or tell” or “to lie.” So this phrase for breaking wind literally means “buttock speaks.”

20. Opened One’s Lunchbox

An Australian term for fart that, according to Green’s, debuted in the Barry McKenzie comic strip. You can apparently also say upon tooting that you "dropped your lunchbox."

21. Wind the Horn

This UK term dates back to around 1660.

22. Tail Scutter

An Irish slang term for a fart from the mid-1960s.

23. Rim Slide

According to Green’s, this is a prison slang term from the ‘80s for “a silent but foul-smelling fart,” helpfully noting that “the fart slides from the rim of the anus.” (Emphasis, it must be said, is Green's.)

24. Orange Banana

This isn’t technically a slang term for a fart, but it is toot-adjacent, and we couldn’t resist including it: It’s the “flaring effect produced by breaking wind next to a lit match,” and reportedly comes from college campuses in the late ‘80s.

25. Bronx Cheer

When you make a fart noise with your mouth, that’s called a Bronx Cheer—a term that dates all the way back to 1908.

40 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate in April

Get ready to celebrate Talk Like Shakespeare Day on April 23rd.
Get ready to celebrate Talk Like Shakespeare Day on April 23rd.
YaleShutter/iStock via Getty Images

Spring is in the air, as is the promise of several offbeat holidays—even if you don’t like pranks or chocolate bunnies. Here are 40 of them.

April 2: National Ferret Day

A ferret hanging out on a log
jhayes44/iStock via Getty Images

We'll definitely be celebrating these furry little guys.

April 2: International Children's Book Day

Celebrated since 1967, this holiday takes place on Hans Christian Andersen's birthday.

April 3: Tweed Day

Summer is coming, so dust off your favorite tweed clothing item and get in one last wear before it's crop top and linen season.

April 4: National Tell-A-Lie Day

Honesty is generally the best policy, according to one of our founding fathers. But today, you have carte blanche to fib your heart out.

April 4: International Pillow Fight Day

Have a pillow fight!

April 5: National Deep Dish Pizza Day

Deep fish pizza with candles in it
iStock.com/liveslow

A day to appreciate sky-high pies, or argue over the best pizza in all the land.

April 5: Read a Road Map Day

There was a time not so long ago when we had to consult large, folded pieces of paper to figure out directions from point A to point B. Thanks to GPS and Google Maps, this is now practically a holiday of antiquity. But you can’t use a Sharpie to draw a route on your smartphone, so score one for the road map.

April 6: Tartan Day

Show off your Scottish heritage, and grab your kilt while you're at it.

April 6: Sorry Charlie Day

This holiday was inspired by Charlie the Tuna—the cartoon mascot for StarKist and the subject of an advertising campaign that ran until the 1980s. In the spots, Charlie purports to have good taste, and wants to be recruited by the company, but is perpetually rejected via a sign on a fish hook that reads, "Sorry, Charlie." (As the narrator explains, they're interested in tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste.) The ads spawned a national catchphrase, and this holiday seeks to recognize all those who have lived through rejection and still retain their spunk.

April 7: International Beaver Day

Ferrets aren't the only small mammals we love here at Mental Floss: International Beaver Day will warrant its own party, too.

April 7: National Beer Day

A group of friends celebrating with beer
iStock.com/skynesher

On March 22, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act, legalizing the sale of beer (as long as it was 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or less) after many years of Prohibition. The thirsty public had to wait two long weeks before they could legally imbibe again, and on April 7, the law finally went into effect. Beer drinkers around the country rejoiced, and celebrated with a nice cold one, presumably.

April 10: National Siblings Day

Celebrate the brothers and sisters who drive you mad and keep you sane—often all at the same time.

April 11: Barbershop Quartet Day

Consider a musical ode to these fearsome foursomes on their special day of the year.

April 11: International “Louie Louie” Day

"Louie Louie" is, by some accounts, the most recorded rock song in history. (The most famous version was recorded by The Kingsmen in 1963.) This year, celebrate this offbeat holiday by finally figuring out the lyrics.

April 12: National Licorice Day

A pile of black and red licorice
iStock.com/icelandr

This offbeat holiday—designed to celebrate black licorice specifically—will surely be a contentious commemoration. For those of you who cringed, please enjoy your Twizzlers.

April 12: Drop Everything and Read Day

Also known as D.E.A.R. Day, this holiday encourages you to abandon all prior commitments for the comfort of a good book. It also coincides with the birthday of children’s book author Beverly Cleary, who is a spokesperson for the event. Though marketed toward children, the celebration is open to everyone.

April 12: Walk On Your Wild Side Day

Whatever “wild” means to you, today's the day to do it.

April 13: National Scrabble Day

A Scrabble game board
AnthonyRosenberg/iStock via Getty Images

Created by Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938, Scrabble did not become a national phenomenon until the 1950s. It has since inspired less mobility-impaired games like Bananagrams and Words With Friends. But to honor the holiday, use a classic board and show off your robust vocabulary.

April 13: Dyngus Day

According to Buffalo’s official holiday website, “Historically a Polish-American tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the often restrictive observance of Lent and the joy of Easter.” Some celebratory activities include men chasing around women to drench them with water, and hitting them with pussy willow branches. So basically, Dyngus Day is spring break.

April 14: National Reach as High as You Can Day

National Reach as High as You Can Day is really about grounding yourself in reality. Don’t reach for the stars if you can’t actually touch them—know your limitations. Set attainable goals, and take pleasure in being just good enough.

April 15: National That Sucks Day

It's Tax Day and the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so yeah, kind of sucky.

April 16: National Stress Awareness Day

Stressed out young woman pulling her hair out in front of a yellow background
iStock.com/SIphotography

Founded on the very cute notion that you are not aware of your stress.

April 16: National High Five Day

Make 'em count today, and don't forget to keep an eye on the elbow.

April 17: National Haiku Poetry Day

Celebrate with your
Own haiku that is likely
Much better than mine.

April 19: National Hanging Out Day

Sadly, this is not a day to kick back and relax with some friends. Rather, it's a holiday encouraging people to hang out their laundry—and cut down on energy consumption by doing so.

April 20: Lima Bean Respect Day

Much like Rodney Dangerfield, the lima bean doesn’t get any respect. Well not today! Did you know lima beans are an excellent source of fiber? They also help balance your blood sugar and lower cholesterol. So give this bean a break and try extolling its more admirable qualities for the day.

April 21: National Library Workers Day

A day to honor the hardworking shushers and Dewey Decimal devotees who help us all on our reading journeys.

April 21: National Bulldogs Are Beautiful Day

A pair of bulldogs pose for a portrait
iStock.com/Luka Lajst

If you didn't already know this, you can see yourself out.

April 22: National Jelly Bean Day

When you grab a handful to celebrate this year, just make sure you don't get "BeanBoozled."

April 23: Talk Like Shakespeare Day

We have of late, but wherefore we know not, lost all our mirth. What a perfect day to get it back! In honor of the Bard’s birthday, drop some thous and thees, master iambic pentameter, and cast people away by exclaiming “get thee to a nunnery!” Talk Like Shakespeare Day is the one time of year you can express yourself in rhyming couplets; wethinks thou oughtest useth the opportunity.

April 23: World Book Night

On Shakespeare's birthday passionate volunteers hand out books in the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Germany.

April 24: National Hairball Awareness Day

Don't become a statistic.

April 25: World Penguin Day

Antarctica gentoo penguins fighting
iStock.com/Grafissimo

Seriously, all the animal holidays are fine with us.

April 25: International DNA Day

Unlike many holidays in the Offbeat Family, DNA Day has formal U.S. Congressional recognition. On this day in 1953, scientists first published papers in Nature on the structural makeup of DNA [PDF]. In 2003, the Human Genome Project was declared to be nearly complete; the National Human Genome Research Institute has since developed activities and celebrations to honor the holiday.

April 25: National Go Birding Day

Build bird feeders, bring your binoculars for a walk in the woods, or, if you live in the city, take a little extra time to notice all the pigeons.

April 26: Hug An Australian Day

It does not say they have to be human. Also: Learn some Australian slang while you’re at it.

April 26: National Pretzel Day

The beer is optional.

April 27: Morse Code Day

Wartime Morse Code Communications
iStock.com/cjp

Break out your best dots and dashes, it’s the birthday of Samuel Morse—co-inventor of the eponymous Morse Code. These days any Joe Schmoe can try his hand at transmitting lights, clicks, and tones to send a secret message. But this system of communication used to be a highly specialized field that required a license and a proclivity for spying on communists.

April 30: National Honesty Day

Remember when you celebrated National Tell-A-Lie Day a few weeks ago? Today, do the opposite.

April 30: International Jazz Day

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is responsible for this holiday. Schools, communities, and even government organizations around the world will host programs to highlight the diplomatic role of jazz in bringing people together.

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