The Christmas-New Year’s break is always the most intense time of the year. There are long hours with friends and family, intense travel schedules, lots of opportunity for conflict and argument.
Our family has always smoothed things over by resorting to the dictionary.
Well, that’s where it started at least. More than a decade ago, somebody came home with a game they called “Dictionary.” One player chooses an obscure word out of Webster’s or the OED. Everyone else makes up a fake definition. The chooser then slips them in with the real definition and reads them all out loud. Each player then tries to guess which is the correct meaning. If you guess right you get a point. If someone else guesses your definition, you also get a point. If nobody guesses right, the choosing player gets three points.
We’ve often thought of awarding a point for the funniest definition as well. My mother-in-law once defined a “jillet” as “a pen pal with whom one exchanges mathematical equations.” Somebody said that “kolo” was “an Australian version of polo in which the players are mounted on ostriches.” “Dunkel” was defined, variously, as “the formation of cows waiting to be milked” (that from a 15-year-old) or alternately “a person who can’t pass his driver’s test.”
Even children can play. At age four, my youngest son contributed such definitions as “the first man ever to ride in a car” and “Abraham Lincoln’s friend.”
I once read that Mike Nichols and Elaine May were playing the game at a party and Nichols became so convulsed with laughter over one definition that he was unable to continue playing. The definition he gagged over was “any statue of a chicken.” The amazing thing is that it was the right definition.
As often happens, somebody finally took this informal game and commercialized it. It’s called “Balderdash.” Inevitably somebody gave it as a present and we adopted it. The game includes words you’ll never find in any dictionary. Still, we couldn’t help feeling a bit slothful spending $29.95 for something we could do ourselves.
Then the manufacturers became inspired and created “Beyond Balderdash.” This provides four new categories: “obscure individuals,” “obscure dates,” “obscure acronyms,” and “obscure movie plots.” Who, for example, was Bob Leach? He was “a man who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel but later slipped on an orange peel and died.” What does B.S.M.P. stand for? It’s the “Brussels Sprouts Marketing Program.” What happened in April 29, 1913? The zipper was invented. What was “The Devil Bat” about? It was “a 1940s horror film about a deranged doctor who trains his giant bat to kill people who are wearing a certain shaving lotion.” (You probably think I’m making that one up.)
“Beyond Balderdash” has kept us entertained for many years but this Christmas somebody came up with another new game. It’s called “Loaded Questions.” The principle is the same but it’s much more personal.
The dealer picks a card that asks everyone a question. “What is your most precious possession?” “What is one food you will not eat?” “If you could drive three creatures to extinction, which ones would they be?” (My teenage son answered “mosquitoes, domestic dogs, and the people who invented palm pilots.”) The player sitting next to the dealer reads them all aloud and the dealer tries to guess who wrote what.
Besides being fun, the game is surprisingly revealing. When asked “What historic individual would you like to pattern your life after?” my wife chose “Jesus Christ,” my mother “Nancy Reagan,” my father “Santa Claus.” When asked “What would you like your nickname to be?” my mother-in-law responded “Honeybunch.” After 57 years of marriage, my father-in-law has started calling her “Honeybunch.”
So it goes. Taken in the long run, of course, all this is as inconsequential as discarded 2003 calendars or the Christmas wrappings left beneath the tree. But that’s what’s best about the holidays. It’s a time when the world’s political melodramas can fade briefly and things as inconsequential as the definition of “tib” can become important. (It’s “the ace of trumps in the game of gleek.”)
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