(NEWSER) – Monopoly was more than a game for many World War II POWs, who used tools hidden in the boxed sets to help them escape. Christian Donland at Eurogamer looks deeply into the life of a high-strung, eccentric British intelligence officer named Clayton Hutton, who designed the escape tools and had them shipped to POWs in Monopoly games.
The boxes arrived from phony charities with clues in their letterhead, like the Biblical lines, "Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you." POWs could also spot them by the red dot on the Free Parking space, notes the Atlantic. Inside, they found shears, metal files, a silk escape map, mini-compass, and money in the local currency.
Experts think some 35,000 Allied POWs escaped and made it back home, some presumably with the help of rigged Monopoly sets. But who knows? Hutton was forbidden to mention his ingenious tools, which were government secrets, after all.
Hutton had a nervous breakdown and later died in 1965, most of his work unacknowledged.
His greatest brush with fame likely came as a young man in meeting Harry Houdini, who bet he could escape from a box built by Hutton's colleagues. Houdini won by bribing a carpenter into adding an escape hatch, but Hutton "learned that, when it comes to escape,every trick counts," writes Donland. "Eventually he would put this knowledge ... to work for him in the Second World War."
Click for Donland's full, engrossing article, or click to read about coded letters from a POW that have finally been decoded.