After reading about the new and improved Monopoly game piece (the cat), my wife and I were discussing what each piece represented. We have our thoughts on the subject, but wanted to get the facts 100 percent correct. Would you be able to pass Go on this? -- T.E., of Belleville
Remember what Sigmund Freud is always credited for saying (but probably didn't)? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Well, the same apparently is true of the tokens in one of the world's most popular board games. I've found two stories explaining the origin of those well-worn game pieces, but neither links them to any significant symbolism.
According to The Straight Dope, Hasbro, which now holds the Monopoly copyright, says the first games were sold without any tokens. Instead, Charles Darrow, who eventually made millions by selling his game to Parker Brothers, encouraged players to move familiar household items around the board -- buttons, pennies, etc.
At first, Parker Brothers wasn't thrilled with this idea, so it included four small wooden pawns when it began producing the game in 1935. But the more the company thought about it, the more it thought Darrow might be onto something. So in 1937, it started including those iconic die-cast metal tokens.
Like Darrow's original game, most were simply everyday household items: iron, purse, lantern, thimble, shoe and rocking horse. The two exceptions were the top hat, which was modeled after the fancy bucket that Rich "Uncle" Pennybags, the game's mascot, wears, along with Mr. P's fancy 1930s roadster. As you know, some have been replaced over the years by the ship, dog, etc.
Now I noticed a slight variation in the story last week. Many sources reported that Darrow's niece came up with the idea of using charms from her bracelet. I've not found a Darrow biography that tells of a niece playing any significant role, but even if that is true, the thimble charm still would be no more than a thimble, albeit a lot smaller.
Of course, that hasn't stopped some from offering their own street-corner analysis of your personality based on the token you choose to use. Here are a couple of examples from the rundown at www.ekarj.com/monopoly:
Cannon: "You are extremely interested in Civil War re-enactments. In fact, you are obsessed with them to the point where you can't even play a board game without wanting to be reminded of them. Actually, you're kind of creeping me out."
Thimble: "You are a grandmother. There's no other explanation. Also, you're not that good at Monopoly."
I can only imagine what they'd say about my choosing the new cat token now that the game makers have finally come to their senses after including that Scottie for more than 50 years.
Actually, the intrigue behind the game's development turns out to be far more interesting than the tokens. Parker Brothers apparently paid off the makers of several similar games early on to avoid competition and legal hassles. You can find the full story at inventors.about.com; search for "Monopoly."
Monopoly is now sold in 43 languages in 111 countries, and a game reportedly was once played in a bathtub for 99 straight hours. And with that, I'm not only passing Go but I'm also putting a hotel on Park Place and Boardwalk. Two hundred bucks just doesn't go very far these days.
A friend told me that she heard stores may start charging you for using your credit card. Can this be true? -- Fran Gause, of Troy
Usually, I'd be quick to say that your friend was spreading one of those tiresome Internet urban legends.
Not this time. As of Jan. 27, retailers do have the option of charging credit card users an extra "checkout fee," according to Consumer Action, a consumer advocacy group.
You have to understand that while we love the convenience of swiping plastic to pay our bills, the stores are stuck paying the credit card companies a fee for each transaction.
The credit card companies, of course, don't want stores charging us for fear that we'll go back to using cash and, thus, cut into their profits. However, in a settlement reached last summer, stores in most states were given the right to charge customers that "swipe fee" -- usually between 1 percent and 3 percent of the transaction. Ten states, however, ban the practice, including New York and Florida
But just because they can doesn't mean they will for fear of customers defecting to stores that don't add the fee. So far, major retailers have not been found adding the fee -- but you might want to keep inspecting your receipt to be sure.
You're a chiromancer. What do you do?
Answer to Saturday's trivia: The first U.S. coin to contain nickel was ... a penny. By the 1850s, the large penny issued by the U.S. Mint was becoming both unpopular and expensive to mint. So, in 1857 it began to circulate what is called the Flying Eagle cent, which was 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel. The 5-cent nickel coin, which is 25 percent nickel and 75 percent copper, did not come along until 1866.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com