Indoor Games

I previously posted rules for some outdoor games that my brother Steven and I had invented. Here are some word games from the same source.

Phantom

This is a variant of “Ghost”. James Thurber proposed an extension of Ghost which he called Superghost, where players can add letters at either the beginning or end of the word in progress.

Two or more can play Phantom. In each round, one player is the caller. The caller rotates among all the players. The caller calls out a series of letters of the Roman alphabet. The object for the other players is to find an English word that contains those letters consecutively and in the same order. As in almost all such word games, proper nouns, hyphenated words, and abbreviations may not be used. So, for example, if the caller says “P A R”, correct responses could be sePARate, PARagraph, feldsPAR, etc., but not imPAiR or hARP. The object for the caller is to stump the other players.

In competitive play, the first player to find a correct answer (not necessarily the word the caller had in mind) gets a point. If none of the players can think of a correct answer in an agreed-upon time limit (one minute is usual), the caller gets a point. However, to get that point, the caller must say what word he or she had in mind. If unable to do so, the caller loses a point.

Logomachy

This is a game to produce imitation automatic writing. A blank sheet of paper is inserted in a typewriter. (It is easy to see how to adapt this game to computer play.) The players take turns typing just one word at a time. As in “Ghost”, each player must have a possible completion in mind for the sentence he’s working on, which must be grammatical. If a player can’t see any way to go on, he challenges. The previous player is then entitled to end the sentence. If he can’t do so, his word is crossed out, and the player before him is allowed to finish the sentence. Punctuation is added along with the word following it, not with the word preceding.

The object is to produce prose which reflects your own individuality and style more than anyone else’s. When everyone is tired of  the game, players vote on who’s done the best job, and the winner gets to title the work. (The loser is obliged to sign his byline to it.)

Depending on the players, it may be advisable to adopt ad hoc rules like “only one new character allowed in each paragraph.”

Metaphysical Twenty Questions

A variant of “Twenty Questions”. The number of questions is not limited to 20 anymore, and the topic can be any concept, whether real or imaginary. The person choosing a topic doesn’t have to say animal, vegetable, or mineral. A suitable first question might be “Is it a thing?”, followed by “Does it exist?”, but the answer to that could be “I don’t know.”

Some topics that were used when we played the game were (1) the souls of all the cows that have been slaughtered to make McDonald’s hamburgers, (2) the first occasion when an extra-terrestrial intelligence ever watches an episode of “I Love Lucy”, (3) a tent made by the apostle Paul.

For further examples, here are some items for a scavenger hunt that we, with our friend Dave Johnson, made up just for laughs.

(4) A life-size cardboard cutout photograph of Queen Elizabeth II in red hot pants playing shuffleboard with a day-old Table Talk pie while doing a tap dance, (5) a nose cut from Mount Rushmore, with moustache attached, (6) a Sunday New York Times with all the o’s blacked in, (7) a notarized shopping bag, (8) a perpetual-motion machine, (9) a stereopticon slide of the LEM in the Sea of Tranquility, (10) a map of Hell (signed by Satan to guarantee authenticity).

We were thinking about a scenario with college kids ringing someone’s doorbell and saying, “For a scavenger hunt, we need a life-size cardboard cutout photograph of Queen Elizabeth in red hot pants playing shuffleboard with a day-old Table Talk pie while doing a tap dance. Do you have one by any chance?” The guy says, “Let me check my closet. Is that Elizabeth I or II?”

 

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Family Tree Wiki

About a year ago, my adult daughter asked me about keeping track of our ancestry online. We didn’t like the commercial genealogy services, or paying an extra fee. I very much like the wiki interface. It hit me that other people share part of their ancestry with us. Those people would probably like to see what we put online, and they might have their own data to add to it.

I already have a domain that I manage, statoids.com, so I used that to set up wiki.statoids.com. Don’t try to go there. It’s password-protected for our privacy and that of our family.

Anyone who controls a domain can set up a wiki, using software from the Wikimedia Foundation. If you need step-by-step help, there’s plenty of it available online and searchable.

Here is the start of the page I set up for my great-grandmother, who lived to be one hundred years old and forty days. She lived with my grandparents at the end of her life, and my father knew her well, but she died before I was born.

wikisample

The logo at upper left was designed by my daughter. We plan to have one page (one article) for each person in the genealogy, as long as we can get some basic data on them, including how they’re related to other people. We have a few pages that aren’t biographies, including documents such as oral histories, and “galleries”, collections of group photos.

The wiki now contains 377 biographies. Most of them come from materials I already had on hand. Other family members have handed out family trees that I used as sources. In a few cases I was able to find needed data by searching for names online.

When it started to get too confusing telling how people were related, I decided to organize the family by generations. As a starting point, I arbitrarily assigned our grandchildren to generation 50, which left plenty of room to grow. The parent of a person in generation 50 is assigned to generation 49, and so on, decreasing by one every time we go to a parent. The spouse of a person in generation 45 is assigned to generation 45. This scheme could go awry if cousins marry, but so far that hasn’t been a problem. Cousins marrying, if any, were in the same generation even before marrying. As of now, the wiki goes back to generation 31: an ancestor born in the late 14th century.

You can trace all of your direct ancestors who are listed by clicking on both of your parents, and all of their parents, and so on, limited to live links. As in Wikipedia, live links are a different color from dead links. If you click on a dead link, the software lets you create a new page for that person.

If you want to find out how you are related to a person in the wiki, use that procedure to find the closest ancestor that you and that person have in common. There is a simple rule to find the relationship (e.g., third cousin once removed) based on the generation numbers of the three people: you, your relative, and your closest common ancestor.

I regret to report that the wiki concept was not wildly successful. More than 99.5% of the updates have been made by me or my daughter. We’ve given passwords to about a dozen relatives. Some of them sounded grateful that the wiki was there, but they don’t seem to be visiting it.

 

Short Story

Recall that I was editing my dormitory newspaper, the East Campus Intruder, and had plenty of liberty to fool around. In the November 19, 1965 issue, I printed three pages of a short story called The Verdant Leaves of Despair. A couple of years later, I extended the story to fifteen pages. I think it’s too long for a blog post, so I’ve made it a separate page. You are free to decide whether to take a chance on reading it.

The overall concept was to arouse the reader’s expectations as often as possible, and then produce a complete reversal. For that purpose, I used various clichés and stock situations. An added fillip is that the author seems to be trying to show off a large vocabulary, which he hasn’t completely mastered. The overall plot is an adventure yarn, but it’s as far detached from reality as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The story was completed by 1968, and it’s not about you.

 

The Fisher

The following poem was written about 1978. It is original, but a little derivative. The idea of nesting clauses deeper and deeper came from a book on linguistics. The plot is a kind of pastiche of “The House That Jack Built”. I don’t claim any artistic merit for it; it may not even count as poetry. But I do enjoy reciting it aloud. If you like, consider it a tongue-twister.

In each line, the part that’s new is in boldface. You could get the whole story by reading only the boldface.

The Fisher: A Cautionary Tale

The boy was fishing.
The boy who was fishing owned the dog.
The dog the boy who was fishing owned bit the farmer.
The farmer the dog the boy who was fishing owned bit got the gun.
The gun the farmer the dog the boy who was fishing owned bit got
       missed the dog.
The dog the gun the farmer the dog the boy who was fishing owned
       bit got missed chased the cat.
The cat the dog the gun the farmer the dog the boy who was fishing
       owned bit got missed chased caught the rat.
The rat the cat the dog the gun the farmer the dog the boy who was
       fishing owned bit got missed chased caught ate the cheese.
The cheese the rat the cat the dog the gun the farmer the dog the
       boy who was fishing owned bit got missed chased caught ate
       sickened the rat.
The rat the cheese the rat the cat the dog the gun the farmer the
       dog the boy who was fishing owned bit got missed chased
       caught ate sickened sickened the cat.
The cat the rat the cheese the rat the cat the dog the gun the
       farmer the dog the boy who was fishing owned bit got missed
       chased caught ate sickened sickened scratched the cow.
The cow the cat the rat the cheese the rat the cat the dog the gun
       the farmer the dog the boy who was fishing owned bit got
       missed chased caught ate sickened sickened scratched kicked
       the maid.
The maid the cow the cat the rat the cheese the rat the cat the dog
       the gun the farmer the dog the boy who was fishing owned bit
       got missed chased caught ate sickened sickened scratched
       kicked spilled the milk.
The milk the maid the cow the cat the rat the cheese the rat the
       cat the dog the gun the farmer the dog the boy who was
       fishing owned bit got missed chased caught ate sickened
       sickened scratched kicked spilled splashed the man.
The man the milk the maid the cow the cat the rat the cheese the rat
       the cat the dog the gun the farmer the dog the boy who was
       fishing owned bit got missed chased caught ate sickened
       sickened scratched kicked spilled splashed kissed the maid.
The maid the man the milk the maid the cow the cat the rat the cheese
       the rat the cat the dog the gun the farmer the dog the boy who
       was fishing owned bit got missed chased caught ate sickened
       sickened scratched kicked spilled splashed kissed slapped the
       man.
The man the maid the man the milk the maid the cow the cat the rat
       the cheese the rat the cat the dog the gun the farmer the dog
       the boy who was fishing owned bit got missed chased caught ate
       sickened sickened scratched kicked spilled splashed kissed
       slapped cursed the darkness.
The darkness the man the maid the man the milk the maid the cow the
       cat the rat the cheese the rat the cat the dog the gun the
       farmer the dog the boy who was fishing owned bit got missed
       chased caught ate sickened sickened scratched kicked spilled
       splashed kissed slapped cursed swallowed him up.
Oh, the darkness the man the maid the man the milk the maid the cow
       the cat the rat the cheese the rat the cat the dog the gun the
       farmer the dog the boy who was fishing owned bit got missed
       chased caught ate sickened sickened scratched kicked spilled
       splashed kissed slapped cursed swallowed him up.
Yes, the darkness the man the maid the man the milk the maid the cow
       the cat the rat the cheese the rat the cat the dog the gun the
       farmer the dog the boy who was fishing owned bit got missed
       chased caught ate sickened sickened scratched kicked spilled
       splashed kissed slapped cursed swallowed him up,
While the boy fished on.

Forgiveness

Stefan Themerson’s fascinating little book “Wooff wooff or who killed Richard Wagner?” makes a statement that jibes with my thinking. Paraphrased (since my copy is packed away in a box), it is, “The world is more complex than any statement that can be made about it.” As an example, he says, “If you tell me that one and one is two, I insist on an exception for drops of water, where one and one can make just one.” If you make an exception for drops, there is an exception to the exception if one of the drops is water and the other is oil.

That kind of thinking, if carried to extremes, can preclude the making of any generalization. The well-known paradox “All generalizations are false” is itself a generalization; is it true or false? This is one of many paradoxes involving self-reference, which have had mathematicians and logicians scratching their heads. Being a perfectionist, I’m very chary about making general statements.

What does this have to do with forgiveness? If I say, “What you did hurt me,” it’s a generalization. Whatever you did has a ripple of consequences that continues spreading throughout the rest of my life. Some are intended, some unintended. I can’t foresee all of them, and I can’t tell in advance whether the overall effect will be to enhance or to degrade my life.

I feel that it has always been easy for me to forgive. I don’t necessarily forgive and forget. In the future, I may remember how you acted, and be a little less confident in you. If you strike my face, the next time we talk, I will hold my arm ready to ward off a blow. Then what does forgiveness mean? It means that I will still behave cordially toward you. I am no less likely to do favors for you.

The sins that people in general find it hardest to forgive are betrayal, promise-breaking, and harming a young innocent creature. How do I deal with forgiving them?

Suppose you promised to take me to a movie, and broke the promise. It happens. If the promise had been stated properly, it would have been, “I’ll take you to a movie unless some real emergency prevents it.” Or perhaps, “I would like to see such-and-such movie with you, so let’s aim to go to it together.” Either way, it’s understandable that the event may not happen, or may be postponed. With my own children, I’ve tried to be careful to make no promises that I’m not sure I can keep, and hedge them if necessary. Aware of all that, I will forgive you if you feel you have to renege.

If you kill someone who is dear to me, but who I know is secure in Jesus, I can forgive that. I believe that my loved one has left a vale of tears for a paradise of eternal bliss. But I will still insist that the law take its course. I believe it would be bad for you and for society if you faced no consequences. I believe that civilization is a good thing for all its members. Civilization takes some effort to maintain. Part of that effort is enacting just laws and enforcing them.

Child abuse takes various forms: emotional, physical, sexual, and so on. Some people nowadays consider corporal punishment as physical abuse. I have both suffered and inflicted corporal punishment. I hope that it was always justly administered. This is another example of consequences, which can be positive factors in forming character. I can think of no favorable results of emotional or sexual abuse. They are to be avoided as much as possible.

Betrayal is leading someone to believe that you’re on their side, and then turning against them. If unpremeditated, it might be a legitimate reaction to a change in circumstances. A spy is a betrayer by definition. We sometimes honor our own spies, and heap obloquy on the other side’s spies. If a Nazi officer suddenly learned about the death camps, had a revulsion of conscience, and passed military secrets on to the French resistance, would we despise him as a traitor? Hans and Sophie Scholl were executed by the Nazis as traitors, but are honored in present-day Germany.

 

Curses! (PG)

When I was living in France as a child, we became Tintin fans. Tintin, a young reporter who rarely actually writes, is one of the most popular comic book heroes in the world. He has a comic sidekick, Captain Haddock, who is very inventive with invective. Captain Haddock makes his mind clear to all sorts of bad guys and pests. Some of his favorite insults relate to his career as a ship captain, or his predilection for alcohol. For example, “Marin d’eau douce” (fresh-water sailor), “phylloxéra” (an insect that attacks grapevines), “boit-sans-soif” (drinks without thirst), naufrageur (shipwrecker), and “flibustier” (freebooter pirate). Then he has a repertory of words that all pretty much mean bad people: “canaille, scélérat, gredin, lascar, coquin, chenapan”.

haddockThis image from “Coke en Stock” is © 1958 by Casterman, but I believe this reproduction qualifies as fair use while I am making critical commentary.

When translating our old Tintin books for my children, I ran out of English words for bad people. So I’ve been saving some up. Haddock is never obscene and rarely profane.

One of my favorites is “pilgarlic”. In high school, I used to browse through the dictionary. “Pilgarlic” caught my eye, and the definition given was “Poor bald creature.” I wondered, why do we need a word for a poor bald creature?

“Rebarbative” is an adjective meaning, roughly, off-putting. It makes me think of a man with a bristly beard that gets in your face.

“Bismer” has several disparate meanings. One of them is “A person worthy of scorn.”

I like the word “monorchid,” which sounds bad, and denotes a physical defect (look it up if you really want to know). If you are one, please forgive the slur.

“Gunsel” is used as a general term of contempt, but it has an indecent meaning; please don’t look it up.

“Caitiff” is rare nowadays, and means a contemptible person, such as a coward. It’s related to the Italian word cattivo, literally captive but generally meaning bad. In Aldous Huxley’s “Young Archimedes,” a young British boy vacationing in Italy calls his playmate “Cattivo Guido” for refusing to play as he wants. There’s an Italian comic strip called Cattivik, about a villainous character dressed in black.

In Howard R. Garis’s Uncle Wiggily animal stories, the villains were called the “Skeezicks” and the “Pipsisewa.” Skeezix Wallet was a main character in the long-running “Gasoline Alley” comic strip. More generally, “skeezix” was used to tease children that they were rogues. Pipsissewa is an herb with medicinal value, but the Garis character was a rascally rhinoceroid.

A word for teasing children that they were behaving foolishly was “boobledink“.

The English translation of “Madeline et le Chenapan” by Ludwig Bemelmans is titled “Madeline and the Bad Hat” (other variants exist). So sometimes I translate chenapan as “bad hat.” That’s not a phrase we use much in American English.

Four more mundane words for a bad actor are rapscallion, scoundrel, rascal, and scalawag. Is there something about the syllable “scal” that sounds evil?

Please try not to use these in anger. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that anger is a violation of the sixth commandment. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matt. 5:21-22, NIV)

 

The Fourth Degree

Once again I go back to a youthful quodlibet for my post. We were driving somewhere in the countryside of upstate New York. I was thinking about advertisements in a satirical mood, no doubt influenced by Mad magazine. I must have seen a billboard that proclaimed its product to be the best, or to produce the cleanest clean and the whitest white, or whatever. I thought that superlatives were losing their impact due to overuse in ads. What could be done? The superlative (e.g. freshest) is the third degree of comparison for adjectives. The first degree is the positive (fresh), the second is the comparative (fresher). We need a fourth degree but its use must be rigidly controlled.

I made the suggestion, and we discussed implementation. We decided that the fourth degree of comparison should be called the ultralative, from Latin ultra, beyond, and latus, carried. We should apply for trademarks on all ultralative forms. Then you set up a testing bureau like a cross between Consumer Reports and the Guiness Book of World Records. Advertisers who want to apply an ultralative to their product must submit them to the testing bureau, which (for a massive fee) will decide whether the product really deserves the modifier.

How is the ultralative formed? I suggested using the suffix –oop (freshoop!!!). But what if the base adjective ends in a vowel? My father, playing on the spelling rule “change the y to i and add e, s” suggested “change the oop to poop and add i, e.” Thus, the ultralative of new would be newpoopie. (The license on the word newpoopie expires after ten seconds.)