Clueless no more Popular board game: Was inventor done in by Prof. Plum in the study with the candlestick?

December 03, 1996

IT IS AN elegant but slightly seedy Victorian mansion containing nine rooms, including the parlor, the library, the ballroom, the study and the billiard room. Guests for the evening include Colonel Mustard, Miss Scarlet, Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White and Mr. Green. A murder has been committed by one of them using a knife, a revolver, a rope, a candlestick or five other available weapons.

Your job is to figure out whodunit.

That's the essence of Clue, one of the most popular board games ever. Soon the maker of the detective mystery will celebrate the sale of the 150 millionth copy of Clue, or Cluedo as it is known in Britain, where it all began nearly a half-century ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the celebration: The manufacturer lost track of the inventor. Search as it might, Waddington's Games couldn't locate Anthony E. Pratt, a legal clerk who came up with the idea for the parlor game while walking the streets of Leeds during World War II as a fire warden. With help from his wife, he designed the game board layout, named the characters, selected the weapons and obtained a patent.

By process of elimination (or pure luck), you have to deduce how the murder was committed, where and by whom. There are 324 possible combinations.

Finding Mr. Pratt proved even more elusive. Waddington's Games launched a major public relations campaign and even set up a telephone hot line to locate Mr. Pratt, who had sold his rights to Clue for a lump-sum payment in the 1950s. He left his job as a law clerk and toured the country as a pianist. Then he dropped out of sight.

Alas, there was no mystery at all. A cemetery superintendent called the company to tell them Mr. Pratt, having lived a quiet life in a town near Birmingham, had died two years ago. No, it wasn't as a result of a blow to the head from a candlestick wielded by Professor Plum in the parlor: It was from natural causes in a nursing home, at the age of 90.

Pub Date: 12/03/96

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