Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mid-Week Diversion

I thought I’d have a change of pace from the usual post about writing and creativity and propose something fun to provide a mid-week diversion. In the spirit of summer nostalgia that's been prevalent these last couple of weeks on some of my favorite blogs, pull up a wicker chair on the screened in porch.

My stepmother’s family has a simple game they often play when they get together. I’d never heard of it the first time I played one Thanksgiving visit and have never seen anyone else play it, but it is easy and it’s really a lot of fun. Kids can join in too and usually manage to do pretty well. With all the kids home and/or visiting for summer, it might it make a fun family night for some of you.

One of the relatives put this out on a blog that he helps to run recently. He posts under a pseudonym, so although I’d like to give him credit, I'll honor his anonymity. He devised this method of playing the game in the blogosphere, as opposed to playing in real life. It takes about two minutes to explain the game and its rules. I copied the explanation and rules that follow verbatim from his post:

We call it The Alphabet Game, but there are a lot of games that use that name.

Every player takes a pencil/pen and paper. We all write the alphabet down the sheet. Then someone picks up a magazine or newspaper or book and reads a short passage.

We only care about the first 26 letters of the passage. We write those down next to the letters of the alphabet, creating 26 pairs of letters.

For example: if the chosen passage were "The Road Not Taken," with its first line "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," each player's sheet would now begin:



Now the game begins. (There are two italicized points about the game that I'll explain further in a moment.)

Each player tries to think of a famous person with each of those 26 initials. Players write them down on their sheets; an experienced player may get 15-20 names on an average game.

After time is up, we score. If a player has a famous person that no one else named, s/he gets two points. If several players have chosen the same famous person, each gets one point.

We've recently tried a variant that has promise: adding a bonus point for names in a particular category. So, if the bonus category is "Music," 'Stevie Wonder' earns three as a unique pick and two as a shared answer.

(The scoring is the raucous part in my family. We refuse to go round-robin and announce our answers -- we keep interrupting each other. But we keep playing, so I guess we like it that way.)

Those are the rules -- pretty straightforward. But we have developed a history of "case law" (translation: consensus reached after an extra beer) on several matters of definition.

Who is a "famous person"? Lots of case law here.

  • It cannot be someone that we only know within our group. So, "Benny Nogood, that boy Aunt Edith used to date," doesn't count for BN.
  • In cases of doubt, another player must vouch that the name is indeed famous. In our house this is seldom invoked. We tend to accept it when one player says, "If you weren't such bookish dweebs and lived in the Real World, you'd know all about Nomar Garciaparra!" Or conversely, when someone says, "Oliver Gogarty is the guy that Joyce based Buck Mulligan on, and I've been to the pub of that name in Dublin, and if you don't believe me you can Kiss My Royal Irish Arse!"
  • The same person may qualify under multiple initials. It's common to use "Dwight Eisenhower" and "Ike Eisenhower" for DE and IE in the same game. "Queen Elizabeth" also counts (sometimes a player specifies QE I or QE II, just to make a duplicate less likely and get a 2 rather than a 1.
  • "Person" is the wrong word, based on case law. "Character" is closer to the rule. It need not be a real person: Oliver Twist counts. It need not even be a person-person: Mickey Mouse and Mister Ed count. Non-character names do not: no Led Zeppelin for LZ, no General Electric for GE. (But Jethro Tull and Aunt Jemima would count.)
  • When is "time up"? We don't use a timer. When someone thinks it has been long enough, and no one else seems to be inspired, s/he proposes "Are we done?" Usually someone says "Not yet!" and we keep going. But the peer pressure timer is now ticking. By the third quorum call we usually get agreement to score.

The above description completely describes the face-to-face game. I recommend it. Now comes the experiment.

We'll need a few rules changes from the face-to-face game. My proposal:

No Googling. Not for finding names, and not for confirming someone else's name.

No points for dupes. The first person to post a particular name gets two points; there is no point earned for saying "I was thinking of him/her too!"

No "Are we done yet?" discussion. When the game gets posted, it includes the deadline.

The diarist cannot post any names until someone else has posted a name on the diary. (The diarist is a player in the game, too. Otherwise s/he has an advantage: just formatting the diary will trigger thoughts of people.) Lisa’s Note: I think what he was saying here was that since he was going to play, he wouldn’t post his answers until someone else went first.

Less latitude on "famous." I know I can rely on my cousin Freddie's knowledge of Famous Racecar Drivers, but we don't know that about each other. So, feel free to challenge another player's answer on the "famous" ground. If I use "Dick Tuck," I'll need another Old Person to back me up. Lisa's Note: In this forum, assume anybody published or with a book deal is famous :)

Lisa’s Bonus Point Category: I propose an extra bonus point for every debut novelist named.

Lisa’s Made Up Rule on the Text Source: I propose an extra five bonus points if you can guess the name of the book these first letters come from. I’ve chosen the very first sentence of the book.

Lisa’s Time Limit: Scoring as of whatever time I decide to go to bed Wednesday night. If you copy down the game below, it’s normally about a 5 – 10 minute process to come up with as many answers as you can without any references except what’s in your head.

Note on Posting Your Answers: Once you decide to play (and who wouldn’t!), don’t look at any comments posted first because they’ll get stuck in your head before you think of yours. Work out your answers and when you go to post them, scroll past comments without reading them and post first, then look. I’ll check periodically and keep a running tally. When you post your answers, if you’ve got esoteric names feel free to note next to them who they are so we all learn something. Also, for those of you Type-A personalities (like me); accept the fact that you will spell names wrong or say one name when you really mean another. That's what happens in the in-person version of the game since we can't look anything up. It's OK!

OK, here’s the game:


Not about art, literature, publishing, creativity or struggling, but we all need a break from our day sometimes that’s just fun. Come on -- play!


The Writers' Group said...

Family gatherings at your house must be a hoot! You folks are so clever.


Lisa said...

Amy -- yes, these guys are a lot of fun and some of them are frighteningly smart.

Now just to show how not especially smart I am, I'll go first. I started writing down the letters at 11:15 my time and ran out of steam at 11:25, so here's what I came up with:

AJ - Alan Jackson
CW - Charlie Watt
DE - Dennis Eckersly (baseball guy)
FA - Fred Astaire
HD - Howard Dean
JC - James Cameron
LM - Lorne Michaels
PF - Patry Francis * BONUS
RO - Rosie O'Donnell
SM - Sarah Miles
TT - Thomas Tryon (wrote The Other)

That's it --- as you can see, my answers are sadly tied primarily to celebrities :) OK, now somebody else play!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

I LOOOOVE games like this (yes, I'm a dork).

AJ--Andrew jackson
BE--Blake Edwards
CW--Caddy Woodlawn
DE--Dwight Eisenhower
EL--Elmore Leonard
FA--Frank Anderson (newsperson, CNN, I think)
GN--Greg Norman
HD--Hilda Doolittle
JC--Jesus Christ
KO--Kerry O'Donnel (NBC newswoman)
LM--Les Moonves
ME--Mister Ed
PF--Paul Frost (isn't he somebody?)
RO--Roy Orbison
SM--Sue Miller
TT--Tiny Tim
UH--Ursula Hegi
WF--William Faulkner
ZL--Zoo Lander (???)

Lisa said...

Now we're talking! Great answers Judy -- now, for the bonus 5 points, can you cite the novel that the reference text (the second letters in each pair read from top to bottom) comes from - You in particular I think know this. Awesome -- anybody else?

Larramie said...

Lisa, this is such fun! Unfortunately I've been out most of the day, hence my tardy response.

AJ = Andruw Jones, Atlanta Braves playe
BE = Billy Eckstein
CW = Christopher Walken
DE = David Eisenhower, Dwight's grandson
EL = Estee Lauder
FA = Frankie Avalon
GN = Greg Norman, pro golfer
HD = Hugh Downs
II =
JC = James Carvell
KO = Keith Oberman, talk host on MSNBC
LM = Larry Mize, pro golfer
ME = Mary Englebright, artist of cards/calendars
NU =
OP =
PF = Peter Fonda
QR =
RO = Robert Oreck, the vacuum cleaner man
SM = Steve Martin (actually Scott Mattlin)
TT = Tommy Tune
UH =
VE =
WF =
XI =
YE =
ZL =

As for those bonus points, I can't name the novel. Thank you, though, for a terrific mental exercise!

Lisa said...

More good ones! Judy actually emailed me the correct answer to the novel in question, but I won't post it until later on. Thanks for playing!

reality said...

I'll play later, but have to go the hospital now for my dad's check up.

I was in the midst of a writing crisis yesterday; if you see my blog.
Just one thing: I assume we can't use the answers that others have given. Though we might have avoided looking at others lists.
One other problem , I know a lot of famous people from Asia, What do I do with them. Declare them person inrecognito. (Ok i made that up, at least the re part.)

Lisa said...


I hope all goes well with your father's appointment. I did see your post and commented -- no practical advice but I did tell you to buckle up and finish and to remember, they call it a 1st draft for a reason!

To the contrary, I declare in the first ever Eudaemonia Alphabet Game Tourney that Asian famous people are "recognito" -- we will all learn something. If you duplicate a previously given answer, it just doesn't get scored for either of you. When you list Asian famous people, you'll just have to note next to them who they are if you don't think we'll know. I think that will add a great spin to things.

Yellow said...

Hiya Lisa, superb idea, I've been telling friends at work & I set them to it, but here are my answers (with some explinations as you may not be familiar with some UK celebs)
Al Jolson
Ben Elton (author of Stark ....)
Edward Lear
Frank Arneson (Holland footballer)
Grant Naylor (RedDwarf)
Hugh Dennis (UK comedian)
Jesus Christ
Kelly Osbourne
Liza Manelli
Mick Elliott (UK comedian & actor)
Optimus Prime(transformers)
Peter Faulk (Columbo)
Richard OBrien (Rocky Horror)
Steve Martin
Tiny Tim
Will Ferrel (also William Faulkner, but I looked that up after I'd done the list - serendipitous)
Zane Lowe

Lisa said...

Yellow, this is great! I love that we've got an international game going. Great new work on your site by the way. Now I'll have to leave this going for a few more hours before I tally up :)

Patti said...

omgoodness i have such a sinus headache that i couldn't even read thru all the instructions...will be back.

Larramie said...

Thank goodness this was discovered. I kept wondering all last night where everyone was and why weren't they playing??? ;o))

Therese said...

What a cool game! Would love to play but have a long list of things I'm already putting off by stopping by. :)

kristen said...

It does (did?) look like fun, but considering I came up with about two names, I figured I'd leave the game to the professionals. Of course, reading the comments/posts/answers, I am slapping my leg and shouting "I knew that!!!" Just not quick enough.

Lisa said...

Patti, I hope you are feeling better.

Therese, I totally understand -- I've been pretty buried with work myself so thank you for stopping by anyway.

Larramie, I think people are pretty busy AND it's officially summer so minutes are precious. I'm glad to have had as many people play as they did -- hopefully, people will try it at home now ;)

Kristen, this is one of those games where you really improve rapidly after playing one or two games in person. The first time around, it's like your brain just isn't thinking on the right frequency. Since this game is played by my stepmother's family, I didn't grow up playing it and so the first time I played with them I was totally intimidated. Her mother and sister both have library science degrees and her brother went to Dartmouth -- and they're all hysterically funny, read all the time and they're up on all the current events and even popular music. The cool thing about the game is that everybody in the world knows tons of names of famous people, so it's just a matter of getting into the zone and calling them up. Maybe I'll do this again sometime -- like now when I've been too busy to write an original post :)

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Lisa, I hope this does become a "fallback feature" for you when you're feelign swamped. As I said before, i love this kind of stuff.

Lisa said...

OK and the winner is:

Judy Merrill Larsen with a 38 points plus an additional 5 bonus points for knowing that the reference text used came from the first sentence of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner!

Kudos to Yellow and Larramie for coming in right behind Judy.

Next week we will return to your regularly scheduled confusion ;)

Yellow said...

I really enjoyed that. And I didn't Google to search, only to check spellings which stopped me using two names because I started their surnames with the wrong letter.
Thanks again for this game. I'm visiting family over summer and I know I'll be teaching this game. My 6 year old son is fantastic at the old 'I went to the shops and I bought....' alphabet game.

debra said...

I'll give it a go--

AJ Andrew Jackson
BE Billy Echstein
CW-Charlie Watts
DE Dwight Eisenhower
II-Ivan Illych
JC Jesus Christ
ME--Mary Engelbreit
QR Quentin Reynolds
UH Uriah Heep
WF william Faulkner
Glad I found your blog--I'll try again when I'm not so fried.

Lisa said...

Debra, I am so glad to have found you too. With your permission I'd like to add a link to your site under my artists' web sites. The work you and your husband do is absolutely stunning. And -- some great names on the alphabet game too. I had to look up Ivan Illych -- fantastic! You must be a trivia fanatic :)

debra said...

Thanks, Lisa. Please feel free to add a link :-) The work on the site right now is Steve's and the writing is mine. I make one of a kind porcelain tiles, carved and inlaid; I am not in the studio too often since we homeschool our kids and our aging parents have had significant health issues.
Don't know where Ivan Illych came from--somewhere in the depths of my consciousness I guess!

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf