Bored games

 

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Jan. 26, 1997.)

OK, here's a nostalgia question: What childhood game does this remind you of?

''Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick.''

If you answered, ''Spin the Bottle,'' then I frankly do not want to know any more about your childhood. What I'm referring to is, of course, the classic board game ''Clue,'' in which you try to solve a murder by using a logical process of deduction to narrow down the various possibilities until your sister has to go to the bathroom, at which point you cheat by looking at the answer cards. At least that was always my strategy.

In Monopoly, my strategy was to be the car. The car was one of the little metal game-board pieces; the other ones, as I recall, were the hat, the dog, the shoe, the guy on the horse and the iron. I never wanted to be the shoe, and I definitely did not want to be the iron. I wanted to be the car because I could make car noises by vibrating my lips -- brrrrmmmmm! -- and drive the car around on the floor to amuse myself while waiting my turn, which is mainly what you do in Monopoly, which I always considered to be one of the most boring activities on the planet.

But I had friends who loved it; when we played, they became insane, money-grasping capitalist pigs. They'd crouch next to the game board, looking over the tops of their hotels with greed-crazed eyes, watching me throw the dice, waiting for the little car to come around the corner, motoring innocently along -- brrrrmmmmm! -- until it stopped on -- Hah! --Boardwalk, and they'd triumphantly announce that I owed them some huge amount of pretend money that they knew to the exact pretend cost of landing on Boardwalk without looking at the cards.

I'm not saying that all of these friends went on to become attorneys, but it was a healthy percentage.

I will say this about Monopoly: I was better at it than at chess. My problem with chess was that all my pieces wanted to end the game as soon as possible. ''Let's get this over with!'' was their battle cry. If the rules had allowed it, my pieces would all have charged out onto the board simultaneously the instant the game started. Unfortunately, this was not legal, so they had to content themselves with charging out one at a time, pretty much at random, and immediately getting captured. Here's what it they sounded like:

PAWNS: Oh, no! They got the Knight!

KING: Darn it!

BISHOP: I'll go next!

KING: Good luck!

PAWNS: Oh, no! They got the Bishop!

KING: Darn it!

QUEEN: I'll go next!

KING: Good luck!

PAWNS: Oh, no! They got the Queen!

KING: Good! I mean, Darn it!

Because of the level of my chess game, I was able -- even against a weak opponent, such as my younger brothers or the dog -- to get myself checkmated in under three minutes. I challenge any computer to do it faster.

The one board game that I still play is Scrabble. I like it because, unlike most other board games, which basically are pointless time-consumers, in Scrabble you can do something mentally stimulating and worthwhile: make naughty words. There is nothing quite like the sense of intellectual accomplishment that comes from spelling out, say, ''b-o-s-o-m,'' knowing that it will be sitting there on the board for hours, staring up at your opponents.

The problem with Scrabble is that it leads to arguments like this:

FIRST PLAYER: ... e, e, t. There!

SECOND PLAYER: ''gleet?'' What the hell is ``gleet''?

FIRST PLAYER: I have no idea, but if you can use ''pood,'' I can use ``gleet.''

The thing is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, both ''gleet'' and ''pood'' really are words, as are ''kloof,'' ''fremitus'' and ''woomera.'' It turns out that, if you have a big enough dictionary, just about everything is a word, which means you can put down any old letters you want and claim it's a legal move.

Of course, you have to be careful whom you're playing with. The number of violent Scrabble-related incidents is on the rise. I have here a news item from the Nov. 29, 1996, Hagerstown, Md., Morning Herald, sent to me by alert readers Bill and Louisa Sonnik. Here are the first two sentences of this item, which I am not making up:

``SMITHSBURG -- A Hagerstown woman was charged with second-degree assault on Wednesday night after her husband was struck in the forehead with a Scrabble game board, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Department. The incident happened when the man tried to restrain the woman after she threw the Thanksgiving turkey into the yard.''

The item does not state why the woman threw the turkey, but I would not be surprised to learn that a word like ''gleet'' had something to do with it. I would also not be surprised if, next Thanksgiving, this couple leaves the Scrabble board in the closet and just throws the turkey, which sounds like more fun.

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