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November 29, 2017

The Chameleon


The last game we played at this yearשll Shortzׯnderful World of Words is The Chameleon, created by an English company that has the best name in the biz -- Big Potato. Itऩstributed in the U.S. by Bananagrams, whose name ain೯ bad, either.

I젬et this video describe the mechanics: Hereനe gist: Randomly, all players except one are given a secret word and one player is The Chameleon for that round. The goal of the non-Chameleons is to figure out who the Chameleon is; the goal of Chameleons is to blend in and avoid tipping off their identity.

The secret word is one of 16 alternatives on a topic card. Letೡy the topic is food, and the secret word is ᣯs.šch non-Chameleon will offer a one-word clue that, with luck, will let his counterparts know that he or she knows the secret word, without being so obvious that it will indicate what the secret word is. The Chameleon attempts to offer a single word that would plausibly blend in with the others who know the real secret word.

Here෨at makes The Chameleon special to me: Itࡠteam game where you have no idea who your teammates are! Unlike any other bluffing game I堳een, there are no personal rewards for fooling others into thinking you are the Chameleon. After each player offers their clue, and a little trash-talking ensues, players simultaneously vote on who the Chameleon is (by pointing their fingers at their target -- great fun). If the majority pick the Chameleon correctly, the team wins. If the majority is wrong, the Chameleon wins. But there is one more twist. If the Chameleon is detected, the Chameleon has one more chance to prevail -- has one shot by guessing the secret word, punishing the non-Chameleons for providing too obvious clues. The player who gives a clue as obvious as 帩can毲 ᣯs䥳erves the derision of all the other non-Chameleons.

The Chameleon is a fantastic word game. Anyone who likes Codenames will probably love it. I have only one caveat: One weak player can ruin the game. It஡tural, when first playing the game, for players to give clues that make the secret word obvious, but eventually, even semi-serious game players will figure out the strategy. If you have a friend who can঩gure out the right tactics, this might not be the right game for you.

The Chameleon was a huge hit at Words Weekend, and I think it will be at your game party, too. Although The Chameleon plays well with four people, but itॶen more fun with 6-8 players.

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November 27, 2017

In Or Out


Remember the feeling of taking a standardized test and facing a math problem requiring skills you never learned or have long forgotten? Remember the relief when you could eliminate a couple of the possibilities? Better to have a 50-50 shot than a 25% one. I always thought you should get credit for what you know is wrong.

If you can identify with these sentiments, do I have a trivia game for you! The premise and gameplay of In or Out couldn't be simpler. You are given 12 cards and a category, and all you have to do is commit to whether an alternative is IN (i.e., fits the category) or OUT (doesn't belong in the category).

Hereਯw a round works. Each category is numbered and you place all 12 cards face up on the table. Each number is associated with a category, such as 塬 Places.Ϯe by one, players scan all 12 cards to look for one that is clearly IN or OUT. For example, the first player might feel strongly that Camelot is not a real place, so she would say 崔 and flip the card over and find out immediately that she was right. As a reward, she receives a green chip. If you are wrong, you get a red chip. Play continues until the alternatives get harder (is Andromeda a real place?) and you堥xhausted all the cards in the category.

Most trivia games have lousy gameplay (everyone I know has long abandoned anything but the questions and answers when playing Trivial Pursuit), but the mechanics of In or Out add appeal. There is a nice variety of categories and a wide range of difficulty. In or Out is a terrific party game for the whole family, and fun for two to six players.

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November 22, 2017

Out of Order


How do you get from 岲y Mother䯠Ჲy Potter?ɦ you are playing Out of Order, the answer is: usually, one letter at a time. Players are given a category (in this case, 衲acter࡮d a nonsense phrase on top of the card (here, 咒Y MOTHERThe card is housed in a console with 5 closed windows below the first word. Each player has a chance to guess what character஡me is derived from 咒Y MOTHER.ﰾ

If someone guesses, 5 points are awarded. If no one succeeds, the highest window is opened. In this case, the new clue is 咒Y OTHER.Ϯe letter has been removed from the previous clue. Anyone can guess again and have a chance to score four points.

No one? Then the next window is opened to reveal: 咒Y OTHERﮥ letter has been replaced by another.

Everyone still stumped? Another window displays: 咒Y OTTERᮯther letter has been swapped.

No luck? The last clue should be a sure thing: 咒Y POTTER.ﮥ letter has been added to a word.

And of course, one letter only has to be switched to yield Ჲy Potter.༯p>

There are a few other ways the phrases can be altered: replacing a word with one that rhymes ( becomes and rearranging the letters in a word (ㅒ鳠switched to 郅p>

If this sounds like fun, you젥njoy Out of Order. Out of Order was the most polarizing game we played during the weekend. One pair played the game for close to two hours straight, with no interest in trying any of the others -- they liked the game so much they didn෡nt to talk about why they liked it -- they just wanted to play!, Some players grumbled that the gameలemise wasn಩ch enough to sustain a long session.

The gameplay is simple and effective and you can be up and playing in a matter of minutes. Out of Order is most fun for three or four players, as all but the Host must all be able to study the console. Out of Order retails for twenty bucks but right now is available at Amazon for under $15.

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November 20, 2017

Bring Your Own Book

Bring Your Own Book.jpg

If itίvember, itഩme for Will Shortzׯnderful World of Words at the beautiful Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. And as we do every year, word fanatics from all over the country played four board games, three of them brand new.

Bring Your Own Book is two years old, but deserves to be better known. The mechanics of the game couldnࢥ simpler, and will be familiar to anyone who has played Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity.. Enclosed cards give you prompts (e.g., 咤 all be in trouble if this were true,だuniversal truth,だline from a horoscope젡nd you find the answers to these prompts from within the contents of books that you and your fellow players have brought to the table. Your job is to come up with a word, phrase, or sentence in your book that will please one player, the judge (called 襠PickerYou can try to find a serious answer or find something you think The Picker will find funny.

We堰layed this game with a romance novel, a Mediterranean cookbook, a thriller, the Bible, an anatomical dictionary, a graphic novel, a children఩cture book, a guide to fantasy sports, a diet book, and a poetry book, among others, and it is surprisingly easy and amusing to find appropriate answers, even in the most unlikely places. Itడrticularly fun to rotate the books, so that everyone has a chance to mine each publication (yes, you can even play with magazines and/or newspapers, as well as books).

The gameplay is so simple and seamless that you젢e playing within minutes of opening the box. Bring Your Own Book is appropriate party game for the whole family and for all ages (you can regulate any potential 䵬t�erial by which books you choose to play with). Bring Your Own Book plays well with 4 players but add a few more and itॶen more fun. Word lovers are book lovers. What could be more fun than going on a scavenger hunt in books?

BYOB is brought to you by Gamewright. Amazon is currently selling it for $11.99, and sometimes even less.

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December 16, 2015

Letter Tycoon

Letter Tycoon.png

Letter Tycoon (from Squirmy Beast and Breaking Games) is the last of the four games we played at Will Shortzׯnderful World of Words weekend, and it was a huge hit. The illustrations and graphic design (by Mackenzie Schubert) of the game are spectacular, and mesh perfectly with the gameplay created by Brad Brooks and developed by Peter Vaughan). The game pieces are also sturdy and well-crafted -- totally worth the slightly higher price-point. Best of all, it࡮ original, fascinating word game.

One warning. Learning the rules and setting up the paraphernalia takes a bit longer than most word games, but to compensate, the instruction pamphlet, eight large pages of profusely illustrated material, is as helpful and lovely to look at as any I堥ver seen. And you donਡve to remember all the details -- many reference guides are presented so you can learn as you play.

Once you get started, game play is remarkably fast and hassle-free. Letter Tycoon is a combination word game and stock market game. You form words using your own letters combined with three ﭭunity cards.Ԩe longer the words you form, the more assets (in the form of cash and stocks) you earn. If you accumulate enough cash, you can buy patents in the letter(s) you have used to form your words. These patents function like houses and hotels in Monopoly; you get paid every time another player forms a word using ﵲࡴented letters. As youॸpect, it costs more to buy a patent on the most frequently-used letters, but some more obscure letters possess special powers that can make them valuable.

Letter Tycoon is the opposite of a disposable game. It takes awhile to figure out what the best strategy is for even common situations. Is it better to buy the frequently used 䠯r to purchase the less-expensive 䠴hat offers double the stock and cash if you form words that begin and end in vowels? Should you form a shorter word in order not to use letters patented by your opponents? This kind of push-and-pull is what will keep players coming back to Letter Tycoon.

[For 2-5 players, age 8+. Letter Tycoon is available directly from Breaking Games]

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December 15, 2015

Alpha Bandits


Compared to the frenzy of Anomia, our third game, Alpha Bandits (from Wiggity Bang Games), is downright sedate. But beware of sedate games. Just as with people, it࡬ways the quiet games that you have to watch out for -- behind the placid surface lies a downright diabolical diversion.

Alpha Bandits is beautifully designed, with attention to every detail. Each player grabs seven double-sided tiles, with letters on both sides (one red and one blue). You place all seven behind a small screen to keep them away from the prying eyes of your opponents. After you assemble three-letter or longer words utilizing as many tiles as possible, you place them in front of your screen in the playing area. When all players are satisfied with what they堰layed, the round ends. Unlike most games, the tiles remain in play during subsequent rounds. You can add letters to make longer words and create new words alongside the 줩es.ﰾ

Sounds easy, right? Alas, there are many flies in the ointment -- in the form of Bandit Tiles -- which allow the possessor to wreak havoc on the opponents. For example, one tile allows you to steal one tile from an opponent to use as your own; another allows you to flip over any one tile in the playing area; and one even allows you to stop a round as soon as it is played. You score points for every letter used in a word, but you also are docked with negative points for any tiles in the playing area that arenడrt of words. Players who hold destructive tiles often go after those with the highest scores or the longest words in the playing area, so the bandit tiles help even out the game, adding to the excitement. Players at Mohonk enjoyed employing one of the 䶡ncedﰴional rules -- you double your score if all the tiles in one word either alternate colors or all are of the same color.

Although Alpha Bandits involves assembling words with letter tiles, the words tend to be shorter
than in most games, so you neednࢥ a walking thesaurus to succeed. Folks at Words Weekend who stayed with the game enjoyed Alpha Bandits tremendously, but several tables found the rules confusing and some gave up, which is a shame. The charming linked video from two of the game੮ventors shows how easy and fun the game play of Alpha Bandits really is.

[For 2-4 players, suitable for ages 9+, available directly from the publisher, at Amazon and the usual suspects].

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December 14, 2015



Anomia was the second game we played at this yearשll Shortzׯnderful World of Words (invented by Andrew Innes, published by Anomia Press, and distributed by Everest). Anomia is a simple card game. The cards contain a colored symbol and a category. Players draw a card and place it in front of them, face up. As soon as two players㹭bols match, they announce one example of the category on the matching player࣡rd -- this is called a face-up.. The first to announce a correct answer grabs the opponent࣡rd and keeps it in his 鮮ing pile.רen the loserയp card is picked up, his new symbol might match one of the other players, which initiates a new face-off. This kind of ᳣ade裂face-offs further speeds up the pace of the game and keeps all the players involved in the game.

Before the weekend, I was worried about two aspects of the game:. The symbol recognition element of the game play might not appeal to hard-core word game folks; and that the category part of the game would be too simple for our brainiacs. As usual, I was wrong on both counts. Players loved the pattern recognition aspect of the game and in practice, the time pressure induced the exact condition that Anomia is designed to create (ia⥦ers to the inability to name objects). Imagine a bunch of word people not being able to think of one example of ANY website or any toothpaste brand. Players who could nonchalantly generate the name of a toothpaste brand whose third letter is an 䠡re rendered tongue-tied when under pressure -- engendering many laughs and occasional trash-talking.

Anomia works well as a family game. Kids have a natural edge in the speed of their symbol recognition, enough to compensate for whatever disadvantage they may have in the other part of the game. And all can start playing within minutes of opening the box (indeed, the rules suggest reading the directions 崠loud as you begin to playOut of the 12 tables playing Anomia, there wasn௮e question or criticism of the rules. I canಥmember ever encountering a game that plays so much better than the premise appears at first blush. I might not be able to articulate why Anomia is so much fun to play, but trust me: it is.

[We played the basic edition of Anomia, available for less than $13 from Amazon. There is also a party edition with over 400 cards:]

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December 12, 2015



Switcheroo! is a fun category game from Endless Games, the company that brought you Oddly Obvious. Switcheroo! is like Scattergories on helium: Instead of silently filling out a grid, in Switcheroo! players hold cards with either a letter or a subject card (e.g., ﭥthing that you put on pizza,㓯mething that often gets stolenOn the table is a discard pile of the same cards, face up. When it is your turn, you can take any card from your hand and place it over the appropriate card in either of the two piles. For example, if you have a P card in your hand, you could say 尰eroniᮤ place your P card over the appropriate subject card. Then the player to your left can play her subject card or letter card. There are a few wild cards that add an element of luck and strategy.

While the categories in Scattergories are mundane and clear-cut in most cases, many of the subject cards in 穴cheroo!Ქ goofy and more subjective. Players might disagree about what movies make you cry, or something that you are embarrassed to own, so the rules stipulate that any disagreements are settled by a majority vote of the players. Another ambiguity lies in multi-word answers, especially ones where the first word isnനe key element in the phrase. If an answer is ﵧh drops,鴠makes sense to count that as a 䠷ord, but what about ⥮ch Horn毲 a musical instrument? Is only F acceptable? Is a ﲮᠭusical instrument? As always, establishing house rules is a good idea, and the key decision is whether to use the 10-second slap-timer. For expert word gamers, Scattergories! without time pressure is on the easy side, but in our experience, enforcing a time limit not only increases the challenges, but boosts the fun quotient.

The rules and game play are so simple you can be up and playing within minutes of opening the box. Switcheroo! is a terrific party game, faster-paced than Scattergories (even if you don൳e the timer), and with a chill group of friends, full of laughs.

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May 20, 2015

My David Letterman Story

I堷ritten before ( about how the beginning of my work career coincided with DLॡrly network television days. At that time, I was working in the daytime programming department at 30 Rock, but got bumped up to primetime when my boss was axed. One of the great pleasures of working there was being able to watch live feeds from all the studios, and I spent altogether too much time looking at rehearsals for Saturday Night Live, Bryant Gumbel and Bob CostasΆL show, and my favorite, the morning David Letterman Show. Not since Steve Allen೹ndicated Westinghouse Show had I seen such an inventive, hilarious talk show. And sometime during the first year of his Late Night, David Letterman displaced my adolescent main squeeze, Soupy Sales, as my all-time favorite TV humorist.

Flash forward five years or so, and my writing career commences. Iॸpected to make appearances on radio and television to promote my books. For some reason, while bookstore appearances made me nervous, I was happy doing media interviews, and as a student of popular culture, obsessed with both mediums, I was thrilled to meet and talk to most of my favorite broadcasters in both mediums. As a native Los Angeleno, I was thrilled to talk to my two radio idols, Michael Jackson and Bill Ballance, or to national figures like Regis Philbin, Tom Snyder, Joan Rivers, Martin Short, and Howard Cosell. Although I was on either Good Morning America or CBS Morning Show for every book, the Today Show eluded me. The Today Show was known for selling books. But the show I wanted to get on was David Lettermanp>

And then I got the call. I found out from a staff member of the show that executive producer Rob Burnett was a fan of my books. They were interested in booking me for the show, shortly before Letterman moved to CBS. I got a call from a segment producer and we talked about what Imponderables might work on the show, and less than a week later, I found out from my publicist at HarperCollins that I was booked. In no way was I thinking about this appearance as a career move. I know it sounds pathetic, but what I wanted more than anything was for DL to like me.

If I wasn෯rried about talking to DL, I did obsess about what to wear. I୯st comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, but I knew Letterman preferred guests to dress up. So I did. I wore my best itchy Italian suit and instead of a conservative tie, I went with a pattern that I must have thought was ᵮtyᴠthe time. The same segment producer met me more than an hour before the taping commenced, and I knew it was going to be a long haul, as authors are always on late in the show. We went over the Imponderables that Dave would be asking me about. I had never been asked to role-play like this before, and the producer stopped me many times and reiterated that I try not to be funny, that Dave liked authors to be authors and not be comedians. I knew exactly what he meant, as I had only watched David Letterman every night he had ever broadcast on NBC, but I pointed out that even done in a Tom Poston deadpan, some of the answers were inherently funny. But we hit an impasse. He implored: 쥡se donലy to be funny.ɠthought: ૮ow what Iयing.µt I said: 뮔 I was fine when I walked into 30 Rock, feeling comfortable saying hi to some of the staff I knew from working on other NBC shows in the past. A cameraman I knew from soap operas remembered me and said: 飥 tie. That젬ook great on camera.ʡuntiness rules!

That night, Paul and the band were playing all Rolling Stones songs leading into and out of guest spots, and I remember standing in the wings waiting to go on while the band played a great cover of ﵠCanlways Get What You Want.Ԩe segment producer had his hands on my shoulders and I젮ever forget the exact words he said: ᶥ fun, and please: Donലy to be funny!ﰾ

Dave got up from his desk to greet me, and I remember only two things: he had an enormous head, and that he was the only host I can ever remember that not only gave me a firm handshake, but made genuine eye contact. He said to me something bland but welcoming, 衮ks for coming.ﰾ

But the first thing he said that the audience could hear was: 衴നe deal with the tie?Ԩe audience laughed. I laughed, as I heard him say this more than once to a sartorial offender. Dave doesnय jaunty.

Dave started going off-script immediately. Most hosts are nervous themselves, and are concerned with the logistics of the work. They know when they are on-camera and when they are off-camera, and often give you nothing when there is a one-shot on the guest. Letterman was not like this. Even if he ignored most of the research, he was totally focused, and was generous. I was used to working with comedians, and especially enjoyed being interviewed by Joan Rivers (who I was not particularly a fan of as a comedian) -- her improv background made her listen intently to what a guest was saying, if only to score punchlines. But I loved being a straight man, and Letterman was gracious enough to feed me some straight lines, and to my eternal regret, the producer෯rds echoed in my mind: 쥡se donലy to be funny!nd to my eternal regret, I didnലy, even though I knew Letterman wanted me to succeed. The segment went OK but was a little flat. I never watched it, even though I recorded it for posterity -- I knew I could have done better. I saw my tie in the monitor and I had to agree with Dave. It looked horrible.

But hereനe best part. As a viewer, I was obsessed with how Letterman treated his guests during commercial breaks, when he didnਡve to feign interest. I൳ed to being ushered out before the next segment, but in this case, it was a musical act, so Dave told me to just stay in the chair. Letterman was in an exceedingly good mood (I am guessing that he had just made the deal to move to CBS to the 11:30 slot). As soon as the commercial started, he leaned over to me and said: 襠colors in your tie are going to bleed together.nd then he told me that he enjoyed my appearances on Tom Snyderಡdio show, especially when we talked about broadcasting (as we always did after dispensing with the obligatory talk about my latest book). And then we talked some more about Snyderಡdio show. He was talking as a fan, and this just made me love Letterman more, if it was possible.

Despite any layers of irony, Letterman has always loved broadcasting. I have no doubt that his professions of affection for old-school performers like Regis Philbin, Tom Snyder, Bob & Ray, Howard Stern, etc., is heartfelt. I hope he can appreciate that his fans love him with a similar passion. For me, this is the hardest TV goodbye since the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. We may have never become buddies, but I젡lways cherish that commercial break with Dave.

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April 06, 2015

Spice Trends

Chiles are up. Celery salt is down.

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January 16, 2015

Word Dominoes

Imagine a word game without letters, one that requires all the verbal dexterity you can muster. Word Dominoes is that game.

Game play couldn't be simpler. Each domino contains 2 images. One player places two images next to each other, and all players try to come up with a word, title, name, or phrase suggested by the two.

For example, I just pulled two dominoes at random. One was the kind of stick figure drawing of a male used to denote a restroom at public places; the second was of a cow. The turn player (who placed those two dominoes together) might write down "cowboy" to describe these two images. The next person might have written down "cattleman," the next "milkman,"the next, "animal," and the fifth, cowboy."

When it's your turn, you score points by matching as many other players as possible, without matching everyone (in which case you are penalized). If only one other player matches the turn players he or she gets a bonus. In our hypothetical example, the turn player gets one point for every match -- in this case, one. The last player, who matched, scores two rather than one point because she was the only person to match the turn player.

The gameplay is simple but in practice it's a challenging task, especially for the literal-minded. While watching folks play at Words Weekend, some folks were so literal that they would only see "cowboy" for this combination, while others might think of movie and song titles. If we have any criticism of the game, it's a weird target to try to match all but one other player, as the scoring encourages coming up with duller answers than necessary. We prefer the game play of Proclaim, where the highest score is achieved by matching exactly one other player. When we tried switching our house rules, we enjoyed it more.

Word Dominoes is beautifully packaged with a small footprint and sturdy dominoes, and the graphics are appealingly retro-classic. Word Dominoes is a new game, invented by Forrest-Pruzan Creative and distributed by Chronicle Books. It is already a big seller on Amazon, and it deserves to be.

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January 13, 2015

Show Me the Kwan

One shining development in the board game world is that toy companies have abandoned the expense and heft of unnecessary boards, not only saving trees but preventing hernias and shelf congestion. Our third word game, Show Me the Kwan, comes in a handsome carrying case smaller and lighter than most women's pocketbooks.

But the packaging isn't the only thing we like about Show Me the Kwan. We're fond of category game, and this one is different because you have to name words where the key letters are not just in first position, but second or last, as well. Kwan is faster-paced and more challenging than Scattergories, as the video above will show you. It is surprisingly difficult to come up with, say, a word associated with pasta with a second letter of G, especially when your opponents are grabbing other letters and shouting out words.

And there are two other bits of strategy that liven up the game. Some letters are worth more than others, but it is often unclear whether it is better to work on words with harder letters or grab the easier but lower-scoring letters. Also, any player can stop play by announcing "Show Me the Kwan." That player must use any one letter that was rolled in first, second, and last letters to form words that fit the category, you get the point value for all three words plus a bonus. It isn't that hard with most categories to form a Kwan, but it's more tenuous under the stress of play. And while you are working on your Kwan, you aren't busy scoring single words like the other players, and risk scoring zero for your efforts.

Show Me the Kwan is another terrific entry from Griddly Games. You can buy it directly from the manufacturer or from Amazon.

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December 08, 2014


When I worked at NBC, one of my stranger tasks was to sit in a room with another programmer and come up with titles for theatrical movies that we had bought. These movies had bombed so badly at the box-office that they might have more commercial appeal if we renamed them so the audience wouldn't recognize them. My colleague Rod and I would brainstorm and start tossing out titles with abandon -- some of them were so ridiculous we couldn't stop laughing.

Playing Schmovie, "The Hilarious Game of Outlandish Films," brought back the same same sense of playfulness and silliness of those brainstorming sessions. You are given a "who" and a "what" card and a movie genre, and your job is to come up with a title to please "the producer" (another player who temporarily assumes Spielbergian-like power).

For example, you might have to come up with the title for a comedy featuring a constipated (what) princess (who). Now each player (or team) tries to come up with a title that will please the producer. It might be a play on words from an existing title ("The Miralax View"), a pun ("Prunestruck"), or randomly goofy ("The Sovereign Obstruction").

Part of the fun is the absolute power of the producer to judge. Somehow, your own contribution always seems the best, but just as in real life, producers come with their own (often bad) taste. But please, no whining!

Schmovie isn't for everyone, but for the folks who love it are passionate. It works best for folks who can laugh at themselves and be silly. Kids are less inhibited and can compete well. You don't need to be a movie expert, just someone who enjoys wordplay. If you have a hard time coming up with answers, then just make something up and write it down -- you'd be surprised how often the last minute flail ends up a winner.

Although as few as three people can play Schmovie (two friends and I had a blast playing), the more the merrier. Schmovie works well with teams, and even combination of singles and teams.

The creators of Schmovie, Sara Farber and Bryan Wilson, run a great Facebook page for Schmovie, where they post a new Schmovie six days a week and commenters compete for glory. Schmovie is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many independent game stores.

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December 05, 2014


It's December, so that means the annual Will Shortz's Wonderful World of Words just ended, and once again, we played four terrific word games. We especially enjoy supporting the products of independent game companies, who have seen many toy stores close and face an uphill battle placing their wares into big-box stores.

Our group loved to play KerFlip! It's much faster-paced than most anagram games, but there is still strategy involved. All players must form a word from 10-12 common tiles: there are great advantages to be the first to find a word, but slower players might come up with longer and higher-scoring words.

Inventor Damon Tabb has incorporated so many cool design choices:

1. You play the game on the inside of the box.

2. In most rounds of KerFlip!, some tiles are "thrown away" but unused tiles are put back in the bag to be drawn again. To get rid of unwanted tiles you just sweep them the the bottom of the playing area. When you are through, one flip of the box and the tiles are automatically retrieved by in an inner box.

3. The first edition of KerFlip! featured a set of timers. In the second edition, there is only one, and players can choose whether to use the timer or not. Even if you do, only the slowest player is on the clock after the other players have come up with a word, so no one has to look for the sandtimer to empty while trying to play the game.

Kerflip! is easy to learn and bright kids can be competitive with adults, especially if they are fast. There are many more features to the game, well documented by the Watch It Play video above. If you like pure word games, I think you'll love KerFlip!

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October 17, 2014

How To Make Ceviche

Don't forget the love!

[Thanks to John DiBartolo]

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October 07, 2014

God Only Knows

[Thanks to Maggie Wittenburg]

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June 21, 2014

David Letterman: Game Show Host

Mark Evanier, major domo at the estimable blog, News from Me, recently posted a wonderful link to an interview with a very young David Letterman, in which Letterman alludes to hosting a game show:

As it so happens,the game show pilot that Letterman alludes to was shot just before I started working for NBC daytime in New York City, but one of my first duties when I started working in NBC Daytime Programming department was attending the focus group for The Riddlers. Here, minus the Elvira wraparound is what our group of women saw:

At the time, Family Feud was the hottest show in daytime, and the VP of NBC daytime was looking for a comedian who could create the kind of byplay with contestants that Richard Dawson accomplished on a daily basis. I believe we already had a holding deal with Letterman. Everyone knew he was a great talent and game-show hosting was unlikely to be his ultimate gig. Wheel of Fortune and Hollywood Squares were performing reasonably well for us, but Knockout and The New High Rollers were not. Since we were paying Letterman anyway, why not see if he could fulfill a need for us.

I remember how much fun it was to sit on the ﬩ce side裂the one-way glass and watch the focus group watching 襠Riddlers.Ԩere was a lot of laughter on both sides of the glass. Everyone knew the premise of the show was flimsy: The crucial element would be how much the audience liked the host, and whether Letterman෩secracks would be perceived as affectionate witty banter or cruel sarcasm. As much as the audience laughed at Letterman, they were clearly taken aback by Lettermanࢡnter, especially toward the 鶩lians裥lebrities were fair game). Combined with research indicating that the gameplay itself generated no interest, The Riddlers was destined for oblivion. But as copies of the pilot circulated around 30 Rock, Letterman೴ock went up rather than down, and helped cement the idea of giving Letterman his morning show.

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June 09, 2014

Does Refrigeration Really Ruin Bread?

Daniel Gritzer, at Serious Eats, has done the research, and here it is.

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April 27, 2014

Do Penguins Have Knees?

The New England Aquarium is a little late to the fair, but the photos are cool.

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February 20, 2014

Why Do We Itch? [Redux]

In my first book of Imponderables, we discussed this weighty question. In the almost thirty years since it was written, the theory that the neural pathways for itching are identical to the ones for pain seems to be degenerating. Now there are scientists doing research and clinics specializing in treating chronic itchiness. The New York Times weighs in...

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February 19, 2014

So You Want To Be a Chef-Owner?

A cautionary tale from one of my favorite chefs, Dave Santos. Here is an interview about the trials and tribulations of surviving in NYC and here's a photo-essay that shows you the kind of hours Dave and his staff work.

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February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

[Thanks to Peg Bowen]

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January 12, 2014

Carole King: Beautiful

Tonight is the Broadway opening of Beautiful, the musical devoted to the life and songs of Carole King (and once-husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin). Without getting into the merits of the show, which I saw last night, let's just say it makes a strong case for Carole King's brilliance as both a writer and singer.

While searching on YouTube for a video of Maxine Brown's superb performance of "Oh No Not My Baby," I stumbled onto this tantalizing clip of King teaching the song to Merry Clayton, one of the vocalists featured in "20 Feet from Stardom":

And given the death of the great Phil Everly, I wanted to share another classic song she wrote with Howard Greenfield, "Crying in the Rain":

But listen to Carole King's demo of the song, never meant to be released to the public. It' just as moving:

And while we're at it, let's listen to Maxine Brown:

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December 16, 2013

WOW -- World of Words

How appropriate that at our event, The Wonderful World of Words, we played WOW -- World of Words. The fourth and final of the four word games we played has the simplest of rules. If you see this video, you'll be ready to play in under three minutes:

I was worried that the game was so simple that it wouldn't hold the interest of our word sharks, but two tables played the game for close to two hours straight, foregoing the chance to try another of the games. Sometimes simple is good.

WOW is produced by U.S. Games, a specialist in card games. Instead of burdened with a useless board, WOW is small enough to carry in your pocket, so it's a great travel game for word lovers. And the price is right: eight bucks.

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December 09, 2013

Pass-Ack Words


Pass-Ack Words, the third of our highlighted word games, is a variant of Password. In Password, the purpose is to give one-word clues to your partner to get him or her to provide a supplied answer. In Pass-Ack Words, all the clues you give partner must be chosen from a provided list. Doesn't sound very challenging, does it?

It might, except for a twist. The clue-givers are not sending clues to their partners, but the opponents. The challenge is to offer clues that won't help your opponent find the right answer, but might help your partner.

Let's use an actual card from the game as an example. Let's say Apple and Orange are playing against Tuna and Mackerel. Apple and Tuna see that the first answer is OIL, and they are provided with 9 clues:


Apple might decide that there is no way that his opponent, Mackerel, can guess OIL from "corn," but has to consider whether combined with any second clue, whether Orange could guess it properly when it is her turn. At any time, the guessers can get all the given clues read back to them, but sometimes the laundry list just leads to confusion. Just imagine that you have received these clues: corn; paint; well; baron; snake. Not so easy to guess OIL, is it?

Pass-Ack Words is a terrific party game, suitable for the whole family because the clue list makes it easier for kids to compete. Pass-Ackwards is designed for four players, although you could accommodate a few more by adding a guesser or two to each team. You can buy Pass-Ack Words directly from R & R Games R&R Games, or the usual online sources.

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December 04, 2013

Oddly Obvious

Imagine the clue to a crossword entry is: "A cow with no legs." Or another clue is: "A turtle without a shell." Any answers come to mind? Would you be confident? When you are solving a crossword, you usually have crossing answers providing some of the correct letters.

But what if there were a game that presented crossword-like clues but the answers were right in front of your face? That's the premise of Oddly Obvious, the second game that we played at Will Shortz's Wonderful World of Words last month. Of the four board games we played, Oddly Obvious was the game I was most worried about. Would having the answers provided render the game too easy for hardcore word gamers?

I needn't have worried. It turns out that having the answers provided led to many laughs, intense time pressure, and even a genuine challenge. The rules are simple enough that you can be up and running within a couple minutes. Oddly Obvious is great fun.

The answers to our puzzlers. A cow with no legs is "ground beef." And a turtle with no shell is "homeless."

Here's a video review with a recommended rule change:

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October 31, 2013


Every November, a group of word fanatics congregate at Mohonk Mountain House for Will Shortzׯnderful World of Words weekend. On Saturday afternoons, we play word games, and the group that selects what we play tries to find newish word-oriented games, especially from smaller game companies. With the loss of many independent toy stores and even chain stores, such as Toys R Us, it is harder than ever for consumers to find new games, ones that the big box stores won࣡rry.

Now that the holidays are nigh, I thought Iෲite a little about the four games we are playing. First up: Dabble, from INI, LLC. The rules to Dabble are so simple that you can be up and playing within a few minutes. You pick 20 tiles with one letter and point value on each. With these tiles, you need to make exactly one 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5- and 6-letter word. If you succeed, itࢥtter to have put the higher scoring tiles in the longer words.

Dabble was invented by a man in his 80s, George Weiss, who is beyond cool:

The board game is not brand new, but the app is, and Iࡤdicted. There are other apps on my iPad, I think, but I havenࢥen using them lately. The point values on the tiles make Dabble more versatile than Text Twist and similar anagram games. Once you get proficient at finishing all 5 required words, you can try to garner higher scores and faster times. The app will keep track for you. Want to challenge your friends via the app? No problem. Care to try the game free on Facebook? Why not?

What separates both the board game and the app from the competition is its elegance and simplicity. There are usually elements even in games I love that I would like to change. Dabble is a pure word game, without gimmicks and doodads, one that is easy to play, but difficult to conquer, and even harder to put down.

[Dabble is available directly from INI, or Barnes & Noble stores, Amazon and B&N online. The app is available from the usual sources in all popular formats.]

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October 21, 2013

Urination Times in Mammals

I've never thought of it before, but Slate informs us that mammals tend to urinate for about the same amount of time -- 21 seconds. They take a stab at an answer too, with a not particularly compelling answer.

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October 14, 2013

Joni Mitchell Rocks!

[Thanks to Sal Nunziato and Steve Simels]

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September 02, 2013

A Startling Scientific Discovery

Study: People Far Away From You Not Actually Smaller

[Thanks to Michael Feldman]

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