Publish date:


The Monopoly Book, by Maxine Brady (David McKay Company, $5.95) might win second prize in a beauty contest; it's a dandy little item, lovingly illustrated. But too much of the book underestimates its obvious audience of Monopoly freaks. Needing a treatise, we are given a primer.

When the book is at its best it is at its deepest, analyzing arcane strategy and dissecting heavy statistical probability (Illinois Avenue will be landed on more than any other space; the Property Desirability Index of Maroon is 1.3077 with two houses, 2.9584 with three). That is the stuff Monopoly buffs crave. But in the main, Maxine Brady writes for novices at the game, of which there are next to none literate enough to buy books. She ignores her own best statistics, which show that 80 million sets have been sold since 1934, sales increasing in each succeeding year. The game has been translated into 15 languages (Boardwalk is Rue de la Paix in France, Paseo del Prado in Spain). NASA has already pretty much decided to stock Monopoly as a substitute for sex on the first three-year Mars flight.

Riders on the Reading and the other roads have handled $1.216 trillion in Parker Bros, play money and 2.56 billion green houses since a Philadelphia salesman named Charles Darrow invented the game when he was out of work in the Depression. Parker Bros. initially told him to forget Monopoly because, you see, their experts had divined that the game had "52 fundamental errors." Eventually they made a deal with Darrow, and he retired a millionaire at 46. His memory is kept alive with a plaque on the Boardwalk near Park Place in Atlantic City, N.J., which he had borrowed as the urban model for his game.

While Brady slights us on Darrow's development of the game, she also tells us little about the people who play it—and why. Look, I have locked horns with a grown man who nearly cried when he could not be The Racing Car; I will stomp and sulk if I cannot be The Boot. But there is not a clue to these fetishes. Do Thimbles want Boardwalk? Do Top Hats go for Railroads? The author tells us that people have played Monopoly underwater, in elevators, caves and for 42 days straight, but she never tells us about these people, about their fascination, their love.

And most curious of all, despite the obvious statistics that certify what I stumbled upon—The Living Monopoly Truth—one rainy day in Dewey Beach, Del., Brady does not tell us that the one guaranteed way to win at Monopoly is to get the oranges—St. James Place, Tennessee and New York—and clean up on their rents as everybody comes out of the slammer.

There is a school of thought which holds that Monopoly is a game of skill, that the roll of the dice is incidental to strategy and probabilities. It is an adult view, one used to rationalize the loss of hours that could have been spent studying for midterms, cleaning the basement or running in place.

Children know better. Monopoly is for rainy days. The fun is the familiar rituals, and one wins because one is lucky or one is older, or both. (Kid Monopoly lasts longer than most rainstorms, anyway, and therefore rarely reaches definitive conclusion.)

It is pleasant to report that the reigning world Monopoly champion, though 23, is still a kid about the game. Alvin Aldridge (ho likes to be called Big Al) is a thin, shy accounting student from Dayton who is currently between schools. At the world title match played in Manhattan's St. Regis Hotel in November, he blinked often behind his gold-rimmed glasses and spoke very little. When a television reporter asked him what, in his opinion, made a good Monopoly player, he said softly, "Lucky moves," which sent a shudder through the Monopoly-mad audience, his three opponents and Author Maxine Brady, the referee.

Relying stoutly on luck and intuition, Big Al whipped the best that Parker Bros., the company which sponsored the matches, could offer. He outlasted a devilish but legal ploy that two of his opponents—Jay Walker, a Cornell sophomore who has used computers to study Monopoly probabilities, and Lee Bayrd, the owner of a Los Angeles icecream parlor—had devised only the night before. Forbidden by the tournament's strict interpretation of the Parker rules to trade in options and immunities, the sort of variation that sophisticated Monopolists consider de rigueur, the canny pair nevertheless cornered the bank's supply of houses and kept them out of circulation for most of the game by selling the Get Out of Jail Free card back and forth to each other whenever either was threatened with having to sell houses.

Near the end, with the last opposing players only a roll or two away from bankruptcy, Aldridge baffled the experts by choosing to bail out the doomed men again and again.

Afterward a puzzled reporter asked, "Big Al, why didn't you put them out 45 minutes ago?"

And the gentle champ explained, in the spirit of true amateurism, "Well, you know, so the game would last longer."