Friday, December 04, 2009

The history of othello

Othello was invented by James Othello, a Lancashire coal miner and barrister, in 1937. The invention of the game was a happy accident. Othello, who in his spare time was a board game designer, had been working on a game involving an 8x8 board and 64 discs, but it wasn't working out very well as all the discs were white, so it was hard to tell which belonged to which player, and it wasn't possible to move them, because there weren't any free spaces on the board to move them to. Othello, who was also a talented amateur artist who sold watercolours to local and national galleries whenever he had a spare moment, decided to relieve his frustrations by painting a picture of himself throwing a pot of black paint over his unsuccessful board game. However, he accidentally upset his pot of black paint over the game while reaching for the green, and found that it had half covered all of the discs, so that they were black on one side and white on the other. Furthermore, while picking the newly-painted discs up to examine them, he hit upon the idea of a game in which the aim was to put discs down on the board in strategic positions.

Quickly, he ran to his study, put aside the novel he'd been working on in his spare time, and typed out a set of rules to his newly-invented board game, which he decided to call "Othello's Game" (named not after himself but after the Shakespeare character whom James Othello mistakenly believed to be the hero of a play about board games). The book of rules was published the following week and became a best-seller. With the proceeds, James Othello was able to buy a new house in Aldershot for one of his wives and their three children, thus making his bigamous life a great deal easier, as up until this point he had been maintaining two different families in neighbouring houses and lived in fear of his two wives becoming friends and comparing notes about their husbands.

The only problem encountered by the billions of people who bought the book of rules was the unavailability of othello sets to play on - the rules specified that the only "official" set was the one owned by James Othello, and he refused to allow anyone to play on that in case they got dirty fingerprints on it (somewhat germ-phobic, James Othello spent up to six hours a day cleaning his house from top to bottom and back up to top again). It fell to Goro Othello (no relation) to re-invent the game in 1972, removing the rule about the official set and renaming the game "Othello", after his mother, Mrs Othello Othello.

James Othello was somewhat embittered by this, but was never able to prove to the satisfaction of the courts that he had ever invented othello in the first place, as all copies of his book had been lost. He spent the rest of his life, when he wasn't coal-mining, trying to invent a better game, but it kept turning into the exact same game as chess, only with no knights, and everyone hated it.

In tribute to James Othello, everyone nowadays refrains from typing up their transcripts and sending them to Geoff until at least a week after the Cambridge Christmas tournament, in accordance with a strangely specific provision in his last will and testament.


Anonymous said...

Aha, wikipedia is missing this historical information. I will go and correct it immediately!

Thanks Zoomy :)

Anonymous said...

Mein Othello Abschriftblatt ist durch einen frechen Koalabären gestohlen worden.

Bear said...

I was scrolling in hurry to check for that<< article and I thought it was written "The history of Buffalo".

Geoff said...

This explains a lot.