5 Classic Board Games With Disturbing Origin Stories

#2. Trivial Pursuit -- The Pursuit of Plagiarism

It's that infuriating family trivia game that your annoying know-it-all uncle always wins.

The Disturbing Origins:

Long before Trivial Pursuit famously became the bane of George Costanza, its distributors found themselves in the middle of a damning lawsuit. It turned out as many as one third of the questions in the game were lifted from the book Super Trivia, vol. II by Fred L. Worth.


Which, in a way, invalidates every victory your asshole older cousin ever claimed.

How do we know this? Because Worth deliberately slipped an error into his book to catch any would-be plagiarists. Sure enough, when Trivial Pursuit hit the stores, that one bad answer turned up on the cards (Detective Columbo's first name is Frank, not Philiip). This seemed like a key point to Worth, since, you know, trivia was the entire point of the game. He sued.

Unfortunately for Worth, Trivial Pursuit foiled his clever plan -- the game's creators, Scott Abbott and Chris Haney, successfully convinced every lower court that being both lazy and stupid was not a crime now that they were rich. Worth took his case all the way to the US Supreme Court, figuring that writing a third of their material for them entitled him to a cut of the game's gargantuan profits ("Trivial Pursuit" was basically the national pastime in the 80s).

But the creators' argument (which the court agreed with) was that you can't copyright facts. It's the same reason you can't copyright a phone book -- those numbers belong to everybody, even if somebody else spent hundreds of hours assembling and researching them.

Still, it'd have been nice if they had at least thanked the man.


"Deluxe" means "twice the thievery".

#1. Chutes and Ladders -- A Game of Hell

A favorite with preschoolers, Chutes and Ladders is billed by Hasbro as a game about "rewards and consequences." Do good deeds and you get to ascend up the board on some ladders. Dick around and down the chutes you go.

The Disturbing Origins:

For those of you who are British, you may be familiar with the game's foreign incarnation: Snakes and Ladders.

The British Empire was once in the business of terrorizing India and subsequently robbing it of everything good to come out of that country. Snakes and Ladders was one of those things. Over there, the game was known as Vaikuntapaali or Paramapada Sopanam, which meant "the ladder to salvation."

Sure enough, all this "salvation" business has to do with Hinduism, and all those snakes scattered across the board are temptations. Except that, in this version, landing on a snake's head didn't just send you back a few squares. The idea is that for each temptation you land on you die and have to go through life all over again.

Vaikuntapaali was meant to illustrate how even a successful life can be ruined at the zero-hour due to one small screw up. Some of its original squares of "evil" included disobedience, vanity, vulgarity, theft, lying, drunkenness, and debt. As you advance through the game, you have to contend with still greater challenges such as rage, greed, pride, murder, and, yes, lust.


The original game box.

As though the game we know today isn't frustrating enough, in the Indian original it is virtually impossible to advance to the end without landing on at least several temptations. It's almost as if whoever came up with this fun party game viewed everyone as some kind of a Hell-worthy sinner, especially those with the unfortunate luck to land on temptation after temptation for eternity.


"GENTLEMEN, I HAVE A GAME FOR YOU TO PLAY."

Discover other secretly disturbing toys in our New York Times bestselling book.

For more things we probably shouldn't give to kids, check out 15 Unintentionally Perverted Toys for Children and The 13 Most Unintentionally Disturbing Children's Toys.

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