Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


A SHOW of hands, please, of those who know Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green or Mrs. Peacock. North Americans suspect these people of murder performed mysteriously and variously by revolver, rope, knife, lead pipe or wrench in the kitchen, ballroom, conservatory, dining room, library, billiard room, lounge, study or the hall. (The mystery’s solution is kept in the cellar.)

Of course, it’s the game Clue. Unless you’re a Brit and know the game as Cluedo devised by Anthony and Elva Pratt of Birmingham.

Cluedo/Clue has interesting social history and differences in versions played around the world. It has given rise to spinoffs in other media as well as a 21st century update of the game.


Anthony Pratt and his wife Elva, in the early 1940s, around the time they devised their mystery game. Image by Marcia Davies.

In the interwar years, Anthony Pratt was a talented pianist playing recitals at country hotels and on ocean liners. (At one time, he was accompanist for opera star Kirsten Flagstad.) During World War II, possibly recalling the ambience of country weekends, he had the idea of a murder mystery game. His wife Elva came up with design of the game board. They both envisioned Murder, as the game was originally called, as a diversion for people stuck in underground air raid shelters.

A patent was filed December 1, 1944, with its official granting in April 1947. Postwar shortages delayed production until 1949 when the British manufacturer Waddingtons renamed the game Cluedo (clue mixed with ludo, Latin for “I play”). It was simultaneously licensed to Parker Brothers in the U.S. with the name Clue.

Discarded along the way were a gun room, several characters (including Mssrs. Brown and Gold, Miss Grey and Mrs. Silver) and weapons (no more bomb, fireplace poker, syringe or shillelagh).


Some editions had figurines; others, game tokens. Image by Closettrekker.

The scene is a country house, Tudor Mansion, in Hampshire. It’s 1926. If it’s Clue, Mr. Green is a suspect; if Cluedo, he is no less suspect though ordained as Rev. Green. The North American wrench is a spanner in Brit-speak. A Brit suspect wields a dagger, not a knife.

Early lead pipe tokens were actually made of lead, a practice since discontinued because of the risk of lead poisoning.

Variations of Cluedo/Clue have been marketed since 1949 to the present day. Termed The Great New/Classic Detective Game (depending on timeframe), it has had occasional advertising links with sleuths such as Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade and Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau.


The particular sleuth pictured on this box never appeared in the game. Reality and gaming rarely mix.

Among the game’s variants, some licensed, others not, there are regional versions (London, Edinburgh), one for Evangelical Christians (who stole the biblical artifacts?) and another for fans of The Big Bang Theory (which of his friends betrayed Sheldon?).

There have been computer and video game spinoffs. Cluedo/Clue characters have appeared on TV game shows in Great Britain and Australia, an off-Broadway musical that played 1997 – 1999, a London play and a film, Clue.


Clue the film, 1985, with Madeline Kahn and Tim Curry. Its three endings contained in the DVD were shown in different movie houses.

The musical, play and movie added to the mystery by having multiple possible endings. For the live performances, theater goers helped choose the suspect, weapon and room.

I’ve had first-hand fun with one of Clue’s book spinoffs.


The Clue Armchair Detective puzzles devised by Lawrence Treat, illustrations by George Hardie, Ballantine Books, 1983.

The book contains 24 mysteries, each posed by a brief description and accompanied by an illustration. I’m reminded of Francis Glessner Lee and her elaborate dioramas of crime detection, Like FGL’s “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” solutions in The Clue Armchair Detective depend on keen observation and deduction.

Sherlock Holmes would find them easy-peasy. For the rest of us, author Treat supplies thought-provoking questions and, at the back of the book, answers and solutions. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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