Last week when a few units of the family got together in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan we were as unplugged as any of us has been since summer camp in the 60s. Yes, we had electricity and hot water so we weren’t roughing it, but we had no radio,television,internet, or cd player. We didn’t get bored:there was stuff to do, conversation, neighbors to visit and a few after-dinner hours whiled away at a blackjack table at a Chippewa casino.
I wonder how long these amusements would have satisfied us if we’d stayed a week longer? I’m guessing the tribe would be winning way too much of our money, and we’d be reduced to sitting in the forest in our respective cars listening to the radio with an after-dinner drink snug in our cupholders.
But not for too many evenings! I would have remembered Parlor Games, the traditional best fun around the table or the campfire since time immemorial. (I like to think about the first homo erectus to sign “Woolly , tusked mammal, eight syllables .) It’s a shame I forgot about games when we were in the UP, because I haven’t had the numbers after dinner to indulge in their competitive goofiness for a couple of years.
Growing up we played parlor games at any largeish family festival, but they were as compulsory as plum pudding at Christmas. They were as compulsory as wearing the paper hat from your cracker throughout dinner and beyond — it doesn’t matter if a guest shows up in head-to-toe Hermes duds, dignity must be sacrificed in the headwear department. Here’s a snap of my family two Christmases ago — have you ever seen a group so focussed on its dinner?
The minute the dishwasher was humming it was all hands herded to the living room (parlor,if you prefer,) for what my mother called Mandatory Fun. And it was, for every man woman and child, whether stone cold sober or smashed to the eyeballs. Because of age disparities we kept it simple — Charades and Who Am I?, but the hilarity, cheating and cunning that ensued — the only props being strips of paper, a pencil for all, and dressmaker’s pins — was epic. A limited repertoire of amusements, but it worked for us.
I own this book and you should too. In fact, I think the government should provide one for every citizen at birth:
Lagoon Books, 1996, and still available at Amazon, new for about two bucks. It’s British, and the editors divided it into four sections: Table Games, Lively Games, Riotous Games, (“”Most are team games and entail a lot of shouting and hullaballoo”) and Late Night Games (“As long as players have some control over their bodies they should enjoy these.”) I’ll offer one new-to-me game per section.
Table Game: After Dinner Speeches : Everyone makes up a speech topic, the sillier the better, writes it on a strip of paper and places it in the proverbial hat. (I like “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”)One player is ref/ timekeeper. In turn everyone picks a topic and must speak fluently on the subject for one minute. The tricky bit is that the other players can object for repetition, deviation, or hesitation. If the ref agrees, the person calling the penalty takes over the topic. Whoever ends the topic at the minute mark gets two points. Oh, how I’d love to play this with my brother Ian around!
Lively Games: Guess Who? (AKA Analogies) I can see that this could ruffle some tempers. One player chooses another but doesn’t let on. The other players try to guess using analogies: “What kind of flower is she?” What kind of cheese is she?” “If she were a Beatles song, which one?” If you guess right you get to pick next. If you guess wrong, you’re out of the round. You can see the danger here: if you were thinking of me and answered “Skunk cabbage” “Kraft Singles” and “I am the Walrus”I might be a teeny bit hurt. It’s safer played using say, movie stars, but not as much fun.
Riotous Games: I Spy The host has to suspend a blanket over a doorway, leaving a two foot gap at the bottom. One group stays in the room, the other retires behind the door. These folks roll up their trousers or hitch up their skirts and stand behind the blanket in turns. The other team writes down who they think the owner of the legs (or ankles, or feet) is. Points are awarded for correct answers. Then the teams switch.
Riotous Games: Are You There, Moriarty? Rather than typing directly from the book, I present the rules via Wikipedia:
“Are you there Moriarty? is a parlour game in which two players at a time participate in a duel of sorts. Each player is blindfolded and given a rolled up newspaper to use as a weapon. The players then lie on their fronts head (Note: my book says blindfolded and lying on their backs, which sounds funnier to me)to head with about three feet of space between them The starting player says “Are you there Moriarty?”. The other player, when ready, says “Yes”. At this point the start player attempts to hit the other player with his newspaper by swinging it over his head. The other player then attempts to hit the starting player with his newspaper. The first player to be hit is eliminated from the game and another player takes his place. The objective of the game is to remain in the game as long as possible.
There is a small amount of strategy to the game. In order to avoid being hit, each player may roll to one side or the other. The decision of which direction to roll, or whether to roll at all often determines whether the player is hit by his opponent. A player who can quickly roll out of the way after speaking or striking will have a definite advantage in the game. However, like most parlour games, the appeal of this game largely lies in its spectacle and humor rather than its strategy. “
Whoo hoo ! As my book says: “This is one of those games of almost sublime simplicity which is probably more fun to watch than to perform. It may seem ridiculously simple on the page but has to be played to be properly appreciated.”
Do any of you play after dinner games? Which great ones have I missed? Be warned: next time you come to dinner I’ll channel my mother and you’ll be in for some Mandatory Fun.