Snakes And Ladders is most likely the most simple and well-known children's game ever. Dating from ancient times not a lot is known about its history but it remains popular with children to this day.

The Rules

The game is played on a 10x10 checkered board, each square being numbered from one to one hundred. The object of the game is to simply get to the one hundredth square.

Each player takes it in turns to roll a die, and move their counter (usually a tiddlywink) along the rolled number of squares. If the counter ends up at the bottom of a ladder, the player moves the counter up to the top of the ladder, cutting out entire rows of the board. If the head of a snake was landed on, however, the counter would have to be moved to the bottom of the snake, causing a major setback.

Snakes and ladders can be played by just about any number of players (although it's almost always two) and play continues until all but one player has reached the one hundredth square.

Historically (mainly during the 19th and earlier 20th century) the heads of the snakes would be accompanied by a child performing some selfish or naughty act, and at the bottom of the snake would be the consequences of such an action. Similarly the bottom of ladders would be illustrated with a kind deed and the top would be the reward gotten from it.

Board game popular with children

"You're aiming to actually reach [nirvana, or moksha]"
— Marcus du Sautoy

The game originated in India around the second century BCE, where it was known as Moksha Patam. There it was much more than a game, being a vehicle for teaching various Hindu and Jain philosophies, notably karma and moksha. The board represented a person's journey through life, dealing with destiny and the need to accept one's fate and still press forward to achieve nirvana. The boards varied a little in the number of squares though 72 seems to have been a common number. They were elaborately decorated, often with images of gods and spirits that were doubtless used to teach lessons about religion and philosophy.

"In the original game the squares of virtue are: Faith, Reliability, Generosity, Knowledge, and Asceticism. The squares of vice or evil are: Disobedience, Vanity, Vulgarity, Theft, Lying, Drunkenness, Debt, Murder, Rage, Greed, Pride, and Lust"Wikipedia

Variations of the game have been found across the Middle East and into Turkey and North Africa, some of which were used to teach Sufi Muslim philosphy. These shatranj al-'urafa are sill popular in some areas of the Islamic world.

The game as we know it today dates to Victorian times, where it was used to teach both counting and morality. The original boards tended to reflect the Indian designs, but by the 1940s all references to that culture had disappeared. The hundred-square board most commonly used was also adopted in the United States as "chutes and ladders", and that design seems to be the more popular in modern times.

There is a Numberphile video that explores the number of moves required to win the game with differing rolls and placement of the ladders and snakes. Entertaining, if you like diving into probability and Markov chains. Surprisingly enough, it seems, falling down snakes can actually be beneficial to one's chances of winning. The universe is strange, lesson learned.

Iron node 28

$ xclip -o | wc -w

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