It may be time to revise the old maxim, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” The mousetrap in the board game of the same name may have been the most inefficient, Rube-Goldberg-esque contraption even intended to imprison a rodent. Honestly, were the diving guy and the bathtub really necessary? And yet, as convoluted as this rat-catcher may have been, people have been beating a path to Mouse Trap’s door for over 35 years.
Four plastic mice played the starring roles in this odyssey of survival. The elaborate, multi-part mousetrap at the center of the board was the game’s focus, and in a touch of irony, players were encouraged to build the very machine that might eventually spell their doom. As the mice moved around the board according to the roll of the die, certain spaces allowed them to add a new part to the mousetrap—everything from a set of gears to a rickety staircase to a “helping hand.” Last of all came the tall, studded post and the final blow, the bell-shaped cage.
The object of the game was to trap and not be trapped, but the balance was a risky one. At the end of the game, board was a neverending loop, containing two key spaces: “Turn Crank” let players put the mousetrap in motion, turning the crank that moved the gears that pushed the stop sign into the shoe that kicked over the bucket that spilled the marble that rolled down the stairs that ran into the drainpipe that led to the helping hand rod that prodded the bowling ball that fell through the bathtub and landed on the diving board that catapulted the diver into the washtub that triggered the cage that fell from the post and caught the mouse (and all on the trap that mice built).
The recipient of this unlucky chain of events was the poor mouse who happened to be on the Cheese, another key space on the final loop. If the hand of fate was kind, the trap failed somewhere along the way (there were a lot of steps, after all), and the mouse survived to scurry another day. Play continued around and around the loop until all but one mouse was trapped, the lone survivor was declared the winner, and the mousetrap was dismantled before it could cause any more heartache.
The path toward the final loop was littered with special spaces—move ahead, move back, etc.—and starting in the 1980s, the game added yet another twist. Every time a player added to the mousetrap or landed on a designated space, that mouse got a “cheese card.” When a mouse landed on the “Turn Crank” space, those cheese cards could be traded in for die rolls to move the other mice, hopefully landing them on the fateful cheese bait.
The colorful, kooky trap was complex, but a set of blueprints on the game board made sure even the youngest players would be able to assemble their convoluted masterpiece. With helpful touches like these, Mouse Trap became a favorite of all ages, and its marvelously inefficient mousetrap can still be found on toy shelves and in family game closets everywhere.