Tuesday, July 27, 2010

WordString: Best Word Game Ever?

This post isn't about a videogame; it's about a word game. I love word games. Particularly on long road trips, they make for a great way to pass the time without having to resort to pedantic activities like, well, actually talking to one another. But as fun as "M/F/K" and "The Alphabet Game" are, this past weekend I rediscovered my favorite of them all: WordString.

At least, that's its working title - "WordChain" was taken. While I doubt that a game as simple and fun as WordString could have been definitively invented, I do believe that  I was present at one of its moments of inception. It was during my freshman year in music school, in spring of 2000. Our crew of jazz dudes was wandering around the frond-laden UMiami campus, probably after/while drinking, when apropos nothing my friends Russ and Kenji started to combine words.

It started when Kenji said: "HarMonica Lewinsky."

Russ added on to it: "HarMonica LewinSki mobile."

Kenji: "HarMonica LewinSki MoBill Stewart."

Russ: "HarMonica LewinSkiMoBill StewArt Taylor."

From there, they were off to the races. Over the next half hour or so, the two of them mixed pop culture references, slang, jazz tunes and inside jokes to create a Tower of Babel too ridiculous and twisted to recreate here. It grew until it had reached such an epically convoluted length that we had all stopped what we were doing and started trying to master it, chanting it together, cracking up and eventually writing out the finished product. It was kind of a singular moment.

Truly singular, in fact; for the remainder of our time in school together, none of us ever really played the game again. It seemed destined to be remembered as a funny thing Russ and Kenji did this one time.

Several years later, I remember seeing a short-lived game show on TV that used a version of WordString as its central conceit. (Wikipedia informs me that the game aired on GSN in 2006 and was called Chain Reaction. It was originally created by Bob Stewart in 1980.) I never really watched it - something about playing the game competitively for cash prizes seemed to miss the point. It was the collaborative aspect that made WordString so fun; when you played it, you were building something together.

So for ten years after the HarMonica Lewinsky incident, WordString laid dormant, all but lost to history. Until last weekend, that is, when Dan, David, our friend Nervo and I headed up to Lake Tahoe for Dan's bachelor party. On the drive from our cabin in Incline Village to the South Lake casinos (hives of scum and villainy that will most likely merit their own post), we somehow started playing the game. With everyone in on the action, we managed to come up with both

Lady GaGanJambalaYa-Ya Sisterhood of the traveling pAnts in your pantSantAnarexia NervoSa-WEET bRed is the color of my true love’s hAir JordIn the middle of the NItemized Deduction WatSon of Samuel L. Jackson PolLoch Ness MonStir the Pot au Crème of Son Yon GEye of the TiGrraniMulled Wine Country

and

Bone Thugz ‘n HarmoNeo from the MaTrix are for Kids IncorporaTeddy Bare Naked LaDeez NUtz Potato ChIpso FacToad the Wet SpRocket ManWitch is a MeUltimate Fighting ChampionShipping and Handle-Lingenberry Sauce-olito, CaliforNyuck nyuck nyUkulele SolOAKLAHOMA!

I'm sure it didn't hurt that no small amount of libation was involved, but it was a freakin' riot. Each turn became an ever-longer build-up of tension (is Dan going to nail the whole string?) coupled with expectation (what is he going to add? Will it be what I would've added?) that made the eventual reveal that much more hilarious.

Despite how complex a given game can become, the rules to WordString as simple as they are immediately apparent.

1) Each time a player adds to the string, he or she must first say the entire string out loud

2) If a player slips up or pauses for too long, he or she must start from the top

3) Players may only add one word or phrase per turn

4) Connecting whole words is fine (e.g. "Ya-Ya Sisterhood of the traveling pants") but style points are awarded for converting a word's last sound into the start of the next word (e.g. "Sisterhood of the traveling pAnts in your pants")

So, the next time you are stuck on a prolonged car trip, I highly recommend giving a game of WordString a go. You don't even need to explain the rules - when your friend says "You know, I really admire the films of Christopher Nolan," just look at him and say:

"Christopher Nolan North. Now you go."

"Um... Christopher Nolan North Pole."

"Christopher Nolan North Polecat."

"Christopher Nolan North PoleCAT-scan."

"Christopher Nolan North PoleCAT-Scanner Darkly"

"Christopher Nolan North PoleCAT-Scanner DarkLee Iacocca."
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