Pop Culture
Jan 08, 2024, 06:29AM


Board games and cruisin’ for a bruisin’. What year is it (#472)?

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I’ve no clue how the “left brain-right-brain” idea that was bandied about, and about, not long ago, fits into one’s superiority at board games or crossword puzzles, just the certainty that I suck at both. Take Scrabble: my wife Melissa is a Master, perhaps from playing it so often in college at Santa Cruz with her friend Edie, but more likely that she just gets it. She’s also a pro at crosswords, and each morning isn’t complete until she polishes off The New York Times’ offering (as I’ve noted, the only reason we still get the print edition)—and then moves on to The Wall Street Journal’s, but finds it inferior, and, when needing to kill time takes a look at New York’s, but that’s not very challenging—and on a very rare occasion will ask my help for a baseball or political stumper, and I do my best. Which, except for obvious ones like Strom Thurmond or Don Larsen, is hardly a help.

As a kid, I had no patience or affinity for Risk, unlike a lot of friends—naturally, we all played Candyland and checkers as tots—and rarely sat in for more than a round. Monopoly was my game, and I was fucking ruthless, even when the four-way match dragged on for five hours on a rainy Saturday afternoon when I was in junior high school. To me, it’s simple: buy everything you land on, especially the cheap properties, make canny trades once almost all the deeds are purchased, and just wear the competition down. It’s attrition: today, those who are bored, like my wife (who no longer plays) and son Nicky, drop out and I battle with my math-in-his-veins son Booker and sometimes my sweet-as-cherry-pie mother-in-law Daisy, who’s on the diabolical side as well. (Daisy, who lives in Los Angeles, and I agree on little regarding politics, and put a moratorium on that topic, although I have in the past tried to divert her attention by saying the country should move to a flat tax, and while the mini-debate goes on, I’m surveying her properties and thinking three moves ahead. That sounds like chess, but, like golf, I’ve never taken the time to become proficient. Croquet, bocce and mini-golf are my forte, although they’re the most minor of “sports”.)

The picture below is one I took in Barbados many, many years ago, because it was the first and only time I defeated Melissa at Scrabble. I could fib and say I retired as a champ, but we used to travel a lot (when airlines didn’t abuse customers) on long flights and after tiring of reading went to the portable Scrabble board and I always lost.

Anyway, that time in Barbados, staying at a stately home rented by my brother and sister-in-law, Melissa and I arrived the night before them and my nephew, and, aside from the warmth and exotic flowers, our first night wasn’t auspicious since the cook figured we’d prefer “American” cuisine to the local eats, and our meal was tough steak and frozen squash soup. Just awful—and inedible, we tossed it in the bushes outside—but no blame was assigned to the kitchen because it’s likely most guests don’t want flying fish, roti and fish cakes. The next morning, my sister-in-law gently told the staff we all wanted native meals, and they were superb. No more grumpiness from the kitchen!

(It reminds me of the one (and last) commercial cruise I went on, in Egypt with my niece in 1987, and seeing the tourists putting on the feed bag for cling-peach salads, sweaty meats, mayo-laden salads and a whole section of gooey desserts that still makes my stomach turn thinking about them. It was, at first, exciting puttering along the Nile, seeing locals wash their clothes in the water, and trying to imagine the country’s history. That wore off. At the first port the next morning, we said adios to the gruff captain, who was astonished anyone would walk the plank, stayed in a dumpy but cool hotel in Luxor and then flew back to Cairo for another look at the Sphinx and Pyramids, and a memorable night at the Cairo Hilton’s glitzy casino. I was so-so, didn’t bet much, but my niece hit a streak of luck and, for a half hour (until she lost her winnings) we were invited to a second-tier room for high rollers. It didn’t have the panache of Monte Carlo, which is magnificent, but it sure beat sleeping in tight quarters and enduring the noxious behavior of five camera-toting Germans (first in line for the eats) who tried to take over the cruise, which was stifling enough to begin with.

Take a look at the clues to figure out what year it is: Billy Bragg’s Don’t Try This at Home is released; John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest wins the fiction Pulitzer; Graham Greene dies and Tyler, the Creator is born; William Kennedy Smith (Teddy’s nephew) acts like a Kennedy and gets into trouble; Jeffrey Dahmer is arrested for crimes that make Wander Franco look like the late Daniel Berrigan; Tailhook scandal in Las Vegas; Courtney Love breaks up with Billy Corgan and gets together with Kurt Cobain; Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs is released in February; Journalist Terry Anderson is released after seven years of captivity in Beirut; Trevor Bauer is born and Colleen Dewhurst dies; Minnie Pearl makes her final appearance on Hee Haw; and Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is published.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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