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Matt, you snake:

What's up with the kids' game Chutes and Ladders? In Mexico it's called Snakes and Ladders. Did they change the name in the U.S. because people here are afraid of snakes and people in Mexico aren't?

-- Beto, Otay

I had no idea Mexican kids weren't afraid of snakes, but I'll add that to my Matthew Alice Big Bag-o-Facts in case anybody asks. We wussy U.S. kids have been playing the chutes version for 60 years. Kids from India have about a thousand-year head start with the snakes version, though. It was originally a fun way to give them moral instruction on good and evil. If you threw the dice and landed on a square with a snake head (symbolic of bad deeds here on earth) you would retreat to the square with snake's tail and lose any good-deed brownie points you built up as you climbed the ladders toward perfection. Every slide down a snake increased your chances of reincarnating as a goat or a rat or some other low form of life.

Snakes and Ladders is still played all over the world, but without the religious overtones. When the Milton Bradley company brought it to the U.S. in 1943, they kept the ladders but booted the snakes for reasons that the company today says are hazy. There's no documentation to support it, but it's likely that snakes were considered a little icky for U.S. kids, so they substituted chutes that resembled playground slides. Besides, if Milton Bradley trademarked the new name and board design, they could control the marketing and advertising for their unique product. Snakes and Ladders was long in the public domain. So if bankruptcy is the losing hand in Monopoly, then the Snakes and Ladders counterpart is a lifetime as a pigeon or a banana slug. With Chutes and Ladders, I guess you just get a pantsload of sand.

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