Get out of jail free: how the WWII Allies used the game Monopoly to help POWs escape

Most of us think of Monopoly as a board game. Intellectual Property folk also think of it as a source of IP issues: trademarks in the name, trade dress of the game, copyright, and even patents. But how about this: a POW escape kit?

Megan Garber writes in the Atlantic about how the WWII Allies used the board game Monopoly to help POWs escape. Turns out that the U.K. manufacturer and licensee of Monopoly, Waddington, had perfected a method of printing on silk, which is in turn an extremely useful way of making maps that can be easily hidden and which make no noise when pocketed or used. (Again patent issues in the method of making the silk!)

The games/escape kits were sent via fake charities:

Posing as “charities” . . ., [the Allies] sent packages to their POWs that featured clandestine escape kits — kits that included tools like compasses, metal files, money, and, most importantly, maps.

And: They disguised those kits as Monopoly games. The compasses and files? Both disguised as playing pieces. The money, in the form of French, German, and Italian bank notes? Hidden below the Monopoly money. The maps? Concealed within the board itself. “The game was too innocent to raise suspicion,” ABC News’s Ki Mae Heussner put it — but “it was the ideal size for a top-secret escape kit.”

As someone who grew up watching Hogan’s Heroes and movies such as The Great Escape, this is fascinating stuff. Although numerous maps were made and helped prisoners to escape, unfortunately, none of the Monopoly escape kits remain.

For more info, see the story Garber links to at ABC News.

Cross-posted at Infoglut Tumblr.

The hindsight of archives: “Popular Science” & incorrect technology predictions

Sci-fi and tech site reports that Popular Science Magazine is now making its archives available online dating back to 1872.  The archives can be searched either at the magazine’s website or via Google Books.  In the archive, I was able to quickly find articles of historical interest, each showing a technological prediction that didn’t pan out.  Of course, for technology, such history can be shockingly recent.

Here’s a failed prediction of success.  1980s computer buffs may remember the venerable Amiga.  A 1985 article describes the $1295 machine in glowing terms.  Even with only 256 kilobytes of memory, the machine could run a Mac-like operating system, and with an emulator, also PC programs like Lotus 1-2-3 (a popular pre-Excel spreadsheet).  An Amiga representative predicted that Amiga would become “the new standard for home- and small-business computer needs.”  Needless to say, this prediction did not become reality, and the Amiga never became a widely used platform, instead outgunned and outnumbered by the less-powerful Macs and PCs of the era.

Here’s a failed prediction of failure, and a good reality check on how far we’ve come.  A 1995 article discusses the emerging use of the Internet:

Set aside for a moment the hype about what the Internet represents (“the assembly line of the electronic era”), what it could become (“the bedrock of the information superhighway”), or what it might turn us into (“a global community of data-seeking homebodies”).  Instead, let’s take stock of what it is.  This worldwide computer network you hear and read so much about is today little more than a high-tech candy dispenser for the eyes, ears, and mind.  It is fuzzy satellite weather maps, canned audio clips from the President, unfettered access to obscure college journals, and very likely, not one damn thing that will make a lasting difference in how you work, play, or live.

In fairness to the author, much of what he said was true in 1995.  He understandably bemoans the “impractical” nature of the web of its time, noting that “you can’t stop and make plane or hotel reservations” online.  But to be sure, the web very quickly made, and continues to make, a transforming difference in our lives.  But enough for now.  I have to pull up Expedia to get some plane tickets before getting back to the work I’m doing from home over Spring Break.  Later on, maybe I’ll order some coffee from Amazon, or watch some Hulu.  Or better yet, maybe I — a “data-seeking homebody” — should unplug and walk the dog, who could care less about computers and archives.

Sleepy sepia golden retriever