Thursday, August 16, 2012


I received an e-mail from a good friend and want to share it with you and I hope you, in turn, will want to share it with your family and friends.  This little known fact about the board game Monopoly has recently come to light after being de-classified by the British Government in 2007.  I checked both the internet and SNOPES, and it is a true story.  Here is the e-mail I received from my friend, JS:

Starting in 1940, an increasing number of British Airmen found themselves as the involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about for ways and means to facilitate their escape.

Now obviously, one of the most helpful   aids to that end is a useful and accurate map, one showing not only where stuff was, but also showing the locations of 'safe houses' where a POW on-the-lam could go for food and shelter.

Paper maps had some real drawbacks -- they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush. Someone in MI-5 got the idea of printing escape maps on silk because it's durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads, and unfolded as many times as needed, and makes no noise whatsoever.

At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington, Ltd. When approached by the government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.

By pure coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the popular American board game, Monopoly. As it happened, 'games and pastimes' was a category of item qualified for insertion into 'CARE packages', dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.

Under the strictest of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington's, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany or Italy where Allied POW camps were located . When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.

As long as they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington's also managed to add:

1. A playing token, containing a small magnetic compass;

2. A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together;

3. Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian, and French currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly money!

British and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first mission, how to identify a 'rigged' Monopoly set -- by means of a tiny red dot, one cleverly rigged to look like an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the Free Parking square.

Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, an estimated one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets.. Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in still another, future war.

The story wasn't declassified until 2007, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington's, as well as the firm itself, were finally honoured in a public ceremony.

Realize most of you are (probably) too young to have any personal connection to WWII (Sep. '39 to Aug. '45), but this is still interesting. 

In my last post, it was hats off to the artisans of Becal, Campeche.  I now take my hat off to those ingenious Brits, and especially to those loyalists working at Waddington’s Ltd, Great Britain.  Thank you just doesn’t seem sufficient for their efforts.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


The tiny pueblo of Becal lies 80 kilometers southeast of Merida, Yucatan, just over the border in the state of Campeche.  Becal’s population of approximately 6,500 is a friendly and hospitable group whose smiles could easily challenge those of a Cheshire cat!  A happy group of industrious folks, still steeped in Mayan traditions, will welcome you with open arms.

Other than smiling faces, Becal has only one industry and that is weaving.  Hats, purses, jewelry, baskets, and other trinkets are all hand woven by individual families, not factories.  And they are the best of the best when it comes to hand weaving, the art of which has been passed down from generation to generation.

The trip there began without fanfare and a map.  Unfortunately, unlike a  “Trip-Tik” map from Triple A Motor Club of America, our map didn’t show any of the road construction and we were forced to navigate numerous detours to the point that we actually missed our turn off.  I must add that it wasn’t our fault as there were no signs! 

As soon as we entered by the main square in Becal, we somehow picked up an escort on a bicycle.  His name was Paco, about 15 or 16 years old, and he obviously knew all the hot spots of Becal.  He offered to take us to some homes that were open and offering their goods for sale and he also offered to show us the best place to eat in town.  I’m 100% sure he was either related to these folks, or at the very least, knew them well. 

We followed him to an unassuming little house where the senora welcomed us with a broad smile.  We entered a small, very clean home and were encouraged to go to the backyard area where the gruta  (cave) was and enjoy its coolness.  It’s been said that most homes in Becal sport a small gruta in their backyard.  I recall that when I had visited there some 20+ years ago, I remembered seeing many such caves in the backyards of the local towns people.

You might ask, “why a small cave in the backyard”?  It all has to do with the processing of the jibi (palm frond leaves) that are required for the construction of the hats and such.  The whole process starts with the selection of the palm frond, and this determines the quality of the hat.  The palms are dried on clothes lines and then stripped into long sections, ready for weaving.  The finer the palm frond, the better quality the hat is.

The hats are hand woven and then placed inside the grutas to cure.  The grutas are  cool and very humid and the dried palm fronds absorb the humidity and add permanent shaping to the hats as they cure.  When the process is complete, the better hats can be folded or rolled and will bounce back to shape in an instant. 

 Hats range in price from 4,000 pesos (approximately $308.00 US) to 200 pesos ($15.50 US).  The old cliché, “you get what you pay for” definitely holds true here.  The hats sold by the vendors on the streets of Merida are usually the lesser quality hats, and the vendors try and get as much as possible for one, usually averaging around 250+ pesos per hat. 

I opted not to buy a hat as I have several at home, but some friends along on the trip each purchased a very nice hat.  I purchased a hand woven skeleton and a colorful rosary, as shown in the photo below.  The senora holding the rosary is the one who wove them.   Having enjoyed our day, our guide, Paco, received a substantial tip, and we headed back to Merida for a late lunch.

Historically, the “Panama Hat” was an integral part of the typical dress of the locals, and remains so today.  Although named Panama hat, the original Panama hats came to us from Ecuador, not Panama!  (Whoda thunk it!”)

To the smiling faces of the locals and artisans of Becal, I say “HATS OFF”!