Thursday, April 18, 2013

Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with a candlestick

I wrote this post in 2009. With some editing, I am presenting it again.

A few years ago, smitten with nostalgia by a display in a game shop, I had my wife, Sally, buy me a Christmas present, a commemorative edition of the original 1949 board game, Clue.

As a kid in the 1950s I played Clue endlessly. My goal was to be a detective in the Sherlock Holmes style, you see. I figured I needed as much practice as possible. I was pretty good at Clue, and just knew I’d make a crackerjack detective. All I needed was a Meerschaum pipe, deerstalker cap and a large magnifying glass. I never got the first two, but I have the magnifier. At my age I need it.

Sally and I played our Clue game for the first and only time on a snowy New Year’s Eve. I won three games in a row and then we stopped because it wasn’t a contest. Poor Sally was up against my Sherlockian logic and could not hope to win.

If you’ve never played the game, the cards you see in the illustrations, plus the room cards (not shown), are shuffled face down. One card is taken from each of the three stacks and put into an envelope unseen by anyone. With dice a player determines how many spaces to move forward, in and out of rooms. At some point when a player has asked questions of other players and amassed enough clues he is allowed to make an accusation: I believe it's Colonel Mustard, in the conservatory, with a candlestick! At that time the cards are taken out of the envelope and if they match that player’s deductions he wins.

There is a time to enjoy childish delights and there is a time to put them away, so the game went back into a closet where it’s been since, undisturbed, until I thought about it today. Parker Brothers did a nice job on this edition, The reproduction of the original board, murder weapons and cards is impeccable. It was just like looking at my original game of 50 years ago.

What struck me this time is that as you can see by the illustrations, the revolver is not a revolver, but an automatic pistol. I was always under the impression that Clue was set in a British house. I associated houses with conservatories or libraries as English. But one of the weapons is a wrench, and we know that what we call a wrench of that type in England is called a spanner.

The bathroom and the bedroom are missing from the board. If you think about it, maybe Miss Scarlet was boffing the victim, Mr. Boddy (who is never shown, and like all most old-style murder mysteries, unimportant except for the fact he’s dead), in the bedroom and Mrs. Peacock, a socialite widow who had been trying to get Mr. Boddy to marry her, caught them in flagrante delicto.

At the time this game was originally made bathrooms could be shown in movies, but usually lacked a toilet. Bedrooms could be shown, but usually included double beds lest someone get the idea that a couple were actually sleeping together or...shudder...having sex. Parker Brothers avoided them altogether.

But despite those things, and Scarlett O’Hara and Scarlett Johansson notwithstanding, Miss Scarlet is probably a scarlet woman. Maybe they don't use that term anymore — it's probably gone the way of “soiled dove” — but it means prostitute.

Mr. Green could have killed Mr. Boddy because he’s green with envy. Nice house, even without a bathroom or bedroom, and he had his eye on Miss Scarlet.

Clue is about murder. It's not about greed, like Monopoly, or even just getting home, like the Uncle Wiggily Game. It’s about a body, Mr. Boddy, who has been slain by one of his guests. It’s about murder weapons: a gun, a knife (to be fair, a butter knife), a rope for hanging or garroting, and both a lead pipe and wrench for some good old-fashioned blunt force trauma. In retrospect I’m surprised my parents let me play this game, and play it a lot, too. But then, murder is entertainment. We see it every night on television, we see it in movies, from the deadly serious to lightest comedy.

Entertainment, of course, unless it happens in real life. Or to someone we know.

In that regard, Clue is part of the past. I love my memories of the game, and in the age of violent video games who’s to say it’s any worse — and it might be a lot better — than what kids use or watch today to entertain themselves. But for me, Clue will stay in the closet until I decide to pass it on to someone else.

Here are two of my Clue games. The smaller box is of an early edition; it has partial contents and a board. I also have a more modern Clue which I’ve chosen not to show. Parker Brothers updates popular games every once in a while and I can’t keep up.

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