Ah, Chutes and Ladders, the classic Milton Bradley game of good deeds and ladders, bad deeds and chutes (fancy-talk for slides.) Just as its inspiration and predecessor (the ancient game of Snakes & Ladders) did, Milton Bradley's version rewards kindness, generosity and hard work, and punishes... well, whatever's the opposite. The illustrations on the game board attempt to convey everyday choices children make and their typical and/or justifiable outcomes.
Not long ago, I came across a copy of a 1950s Chutes and Ladders game board. I studied it in an attempt to make heads or tails of the lessons presented within. And I asked myself the following:
1. Were the rewards really deserved?
2. Did the punishments adequately fit the crimes?
3. Why is climbing ladders considered the "good" thing, when everyone knows slides (or "chutes," if you must) are superior to ladders? Just ask any child on the playground.
4. What kinds of deeds were considered "bad" in the 50s? Genuinely curious.
Below is my attempt at unraveling the mystery that is Milton Bradley's 1950s Chutes and Ladders game board.
Good Deed #1: Digging up dandelions from your own yard and planting them in your neighbors' yard. Soon they, too, will be able to enjoy the delights of owning their own lawnful of "wish" flowers! How kind.
Reward: Your neighbors will be so pleased, they'll offer you fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes as a thank you! Unfortunately, you hate tomatoes, so of course you give them to the poor. The self-satisfaction you feel upon doing so is its own reward, is it not?
Bad Deed #98: Attempting to hitch a ride via your cat's tail.
Punishment: Nothing you didn't absolutely deserve.
And you know it.
Good Deed #9: Doing yard work without being asked.
Reward: After an exhausting day of working out in the hot sun, a shimmering circus tent will suddenly appear before you. You will be compelled towards it. You will never be seen again.
Bad Deed #47: Going fishing directly behind a No Fishing sign.
Punishment: After catching, cooking, and consuming what turns out to be a radioactive fish (the sign did try to warn you), you begin to hallucinate you're being chased by a disembodied leg. It chases you to the ends of the earth and makes you very, very sorry for what you've done.
Good Deed #36: Eating lots of delicious White Bread.
Reward: No more pesky belly button for you to worry about!
Bad Deed #87: Forming a human ladder to reach a jar of cookies when a simple summoning charm would have done the trick.
Punishment: Augh!! The broken glass!! The copious amounts of horrible blood!! And where are the cookies? That's right: they were never there to begin with. This was a test, and you FAILED. Now go see Madam Pomfrey about that arm.
Good Deed #71: Helping a lady out by suggesting the perfect accessory for her ensemble -- in this case, a handbag that exquisitely complements her emerald-green frock. Chase after her with said handbag if you must. She'd be lost without you.
Reward: Go on. Treat yourself. You know you deserve it.
Punishment: It's back to remedial beauty school for you, young man!
Good Deed #28: Tying up your little brother. Little scamp needs to be taught a lesson!
Reward: He'll thank you later.
Bad Deed #62: Accepting a job as a waitress at your aunt Millie's roadside diner. Child Labor laws have been around for decades, but neither of you seems to care.
Punishment: Laws exist for a reason, Sally. You just had to have that new bike, didn't you? Well, now Millie's garnishing your wages for a week! Let's be a little more careful in the future, hmm?
Bad Deed #56: Skating near a No Skating sign.
Punishment: Frostbite, naturally. It's a real shame about those toes.
Bad Deed #95: Throwing your mom's vase out the window.
Punishment: "You break my vase, I break your pig, got it?"
Good Deed #4: Reading books.
Reward: Graduate 10 years early.
[Also in this photo...]
Bad Deed #16: Shooting rubber bands from behind your books instead of reading them.
Punishment: I dunno, for some reason pointy hats are bad and flat hats are good?
Bad Deed #93: Making crappy art!
Punishment: Your monthly bath gets moved up to today. That'll teach you to be creative!
Good Deed #80: Making crappy art!
Reward: Fame & glory!
I know, I know. Life just isn't fair.