October 17, 2003

Monopo-Lehman

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One of the hazards of college life is the constant knowledge that we are on a set timeline. We have four years which are supposed to be the sleepless, best, most formative period of our life. There’s a need to be able to have something more than just a piece of paper to show for four years’ worth of work, to be able to answer the simple question of what we did with our time. Most students could say they played a sport or joined an extracurricular activity, and while at it, made some good friends.

President Lehman co-wrote a book.

Published by Dell in 1975, 1000 Ways to Win Monopoly Games, authored by then-sophomores Jeff Lehman ’77 (an “internationally respected Monopoly theorist”) and Jay Walker ’77 (the “Bobby Fischer of the Monopoly world”) while the two lived in Class of ’17 Hall, is, above all else, a product of its time. This was an era when, according to the acknowledgments, there were 114 members of the Cornell division of the Ivy League Monopoly Association, which Walker presided over. (Meanwhile, Lehman directed the Ivy League Real Estate Trading Game Assoc.)

The first page, which previews the book’s content, contains phrases with remarkably Machiavellian overtones which have a constant tension with the authors’ innate politeness throughout. “Learn These Winning Ways,” it says. “How to turn your opponents against each other so that they will destroy themselves.” But don’t worry — “in the game of Monopoly, there are no good losers!” This dichotomy is woven throughout the book in such advice as “DON’T BE AFRAID TO VERBALLY INTIMIDATE A PEST. … [D]o not be afraid to ridicule the terms of the deal and to try to prevent [players] from reaching an agreement, remaining courteous at all times, of course.”

There are also hints of the typical irreverence of the mid-’70s starting as early as the dedication page, where the authors include the trademark sign next to the word “Monopoly” but then a few lines down go on to say that they’re using the trademark “without permission.” From there, the authors drop a little verbal twist every few pages that reminds us they’re college undergrads.

Each chapter deals witsome facet of gameplay. The early ones deal with the basic rules and what they really mean, while the later ones relate fairly complex loopholes and less common situations. Every chapter is subdivided into an overview of each problem — say, what to do if you own two lots of a color group and need the last one — plus the preferred strategy to solve it, why that strategy is the most logical one, constructed scenes which detail how the tactic would work among a range of players and anecdotes from the authors.

Most of the authors’ advice derives from years of experience bolstered by mathematical analysis and probability testing. Lehman himself “coordinated the research team which developed the famous Monopoly Information & Data Analysis System (MIDAS).” Some of their best ideas, however, are indebted to what can only be called a close reading of the text — the text being the official rule book. For example, if you need the third lot in a color group and you already own two, because unclaimed properties are technically unimproved properties (i.e., they have no houses on them), you can exercise an “option” which allows you to pay another player some money in exchange for their promise to turn the property over to you should they land on it.

The illustrative scripts are just about as wooden and reminiscent of educational videos as you’d expect. One typical example of the scenario above:

MR. EXPERT: How does this deal sound, Cathy? If you give me Boardwalk, I’ll build houses on the complete color group and give you half of any money I collect there.

CATHY CAUTIOUS: You want me to give you Boardwalk?

In keeping with the times, the Expert is always a “Mister.” President Lehman, you’ve come a long way.

Ultimately, this book works because more than being tournament players or students or anything else, the authors are fans. The game is genuinely important to them; they think it should be taken seriously and also that a deeper understanding of the rules gives everyone a chance to not only play a better game, but also to have more fun doing so. Lehman and Walker do not want every reader to play the game as well as they do but only to love and enjoy it as much.

Archived article by Erica Stein

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