There are some things in life that are a real waste of your time: washing your car when there are big, black rain clouds dawdling over your head; believing your toddler when he says he doesn’t need to go to the toilet just before you leave on a long car journey and one my parents will happily attest to: spending half an hour setting up the Mouse Trap ‘trap’ on the premise that the cartoon on the outside of the box made the triggering of said trap look quite fun.
And it wasn’t fun – in the best case scenario it was watching a cheap plastic ball stutter around an unstable, cheap plastic contraption until the cheap plastic cage fell over the unsuspecting mouse so boringly slowly that even though it too was made of cheap plastic it could probably have escaped it if it really felt like it. Worst case scenario was that part of the ball run collapsed halfway round, or the little diving man would miss the little tub thing that he was supposed to launch himself into or the cage would get wedged halfway down the pole and the mouse would just be sat there, unaware of how close to a not very perilous ending he was. Either way there was no sense of excitement or trepidation, just a sort of meandering thought of ‘I could actually trap a real mouse in the garden quicker than this.’
To be fair, I’m recollecting on playing the version of the game that was around in the 1980s; the game is still going now and one would assume that the set-up is a whole-lot more streamlined and efficient now. The concept remains fairly dull though, however well it actually works; in today’s world of flashy consoles and swishy electronic timewasters aimed at kids, I can’t believe that anybody really thinks Mouse Trap is in any way an interesting way to spend a rainy afternoon. If it’s a sort of ‘things falling onto other things’ type of vibe you’re looking for then I don’t reckon you can beat a good old Domino Rally. Far simpler, but so much more addictive…it’s impossible to only do a line of dominoes once. Go on, try it; you’ll do it at least five times before you actually stop and wonder why the hell you’re spending time trying to vertically balance little blocks with differing dots on next to each other.
I’m not even sure why I decided to talk about Mouse Trap here; I so hated it as a child that I refused to play it and was close to unfriending (hey, nostalgic linguistics fans – what did we used to say in place of ‘unfriending’ before Facebook came along?) any of my little pals who even suggested we bothered getting it out of the box.
By the way: whilst I’m typing this I’ve got a sort of nagging feeling that I had some other connection to this irritation of a board game and that’s why I subconsciously chose to write about it. I’ll keep thinking and let you know if I remember it.
Invented by a toymaker called Harvey Kramer, Mouse Trap appeared in toy shops in 1963 under license to the New York- based Ideal Toy Company (you may not have heard of them before, but they invented the teddy bear so they are officially amazing). It was based on Rube Goldberg’s incredible cartoons of over-complicated gadgets doing simple tasks that were massively popular in the US in the early 20th century (if you’ve never seen any of these I urge you to go and look them up at once, they’re brilliant).
At Mouse Trap’s conception it was simply a game where you moved a piece around the board, trying to keep from getting trapped by your opponents; further developments to the gameplay were added over the years, with a major redesign coming in the 1970s. Sid Sackson was a game designer and trouble shooter (this gives me visions of him sitting at his desk answering phone calls to desperate toy company executives saying things like ‘My neck is on the line – I’ve got the dice, the playing pieces and a board but I don’t know what the objective of this game is. Help me, please!’) and he was responsible for the big increase in the game’s interactivity.
So, before I manage to write an entire article about Mouse Trap without actually describing how you play Mouse Trap at all, here is a quick overview of the game. Whilst the layout of the game board and the quirky contraptions has changed over the years, the basic concept has remained the same. Every player has possession of a counter shaped like a coloured mouse. They must travel around the spaces on the board - which are marked with instructions to be followed – building the mouse trap as they go (although in the newer variations this is actually set up before the game begins). Once the trap is complete the object of the game is to capture your opponents’ mice, using the – erm – mouse trap, obviously. To do this you need to set the contraption in motion; this used to be by turning a crank, but a 2006 UK redesign of the game means that you now do this by flushing a toilet. Classy. Once launched, the ball would lurch down various chutes and runs, hitting objects which then set off another bit of the action. Finally, a large cage would swing down and trap the little critter beneath it. The mouse which managed to evade incarceration for longest would be the game’s winner.
So, that’s what Mouse Trap was about. An anti-climactic board game based around a potentially interesting premise. And actually, if the reviews I’ve just been reading of the newest version (which all appear to be written by parents who loved the original version and have since bought it for their children) are accurate, then contrary to what I suggested earlier about the superior quality of the modern day edition there are still major issues with the physical build of the game; fiddly to put together with many of the components not working properly. Shame on you MB Games (who now manufacture it). Those were the reasons I hated it originally anyway, so I’d probably hate it even more now.
And before I go – I’ve just remember what that extra connection to this game was. ITV’s Saturday morning kids’ shout-fest Motormouth hosted a real-life version of Mouse Trap in the late 1980s (the children took the place of the mice) and one of my friends from school went on it. It wasn’t hugely exciting television to be honest but she did get to wear a brightly coloured sweatshirt, as well as then being able to tell an interesting anecdote about meeting Timmy Mallett whilst she was waiting in the studio.