Games People Play
TAoN No. 123: The Mundane Game and 7 (!) more examples. Plus: Give the gift of noticing! And more.
So it turns out you people like to play!
Last issue, I wrote about a simple re-frame game I like to play when I’m at loose ends in some peopled place like an airport: paying attention to others’ T-shirts and judging which I would be willing to wear (and not). And I got lots of responses about games you play. I want to highlight a few.
“THE MUNDANE GAME”
Dear pals of TAoN Joshua Glenn and Susan Roe invented this one. You need at least two people to play, and as the name suggests, it works best when not much of real interest is going on. A long interstate drive, let’s say. It’s described in Unbored: Road Trip, an activity kit in Josh’s wonderful series of books and products spun off from his popular Unbored activity book for families:
“After you’ve spent time together, anyone can challenge the group, or one person in particular— to recall small, unimportant details about what you’ve been doing.
“For example: ‘When we stopped at the diner, what color shirt was the waiter wearing? What was his name? What was the Special of the Day?’ Or: ‘Last night at the hotel, what TV show did Mom want to watch?’ Or: ‘Name three towns we’ve driven through today.’
“No fair asking a question unless you know what the answer is.”
Longtime readers may see an overlap here with the observation game that both Freakonomics writer Stephen Dubner and mogul Jay-Z have described: In each case, their respective fathers would quiz them about places and situations they’d just experienced, with the explicit goal of sharpening attention skill.
The Mundane game is less calculated and one-sided — and rather lighter. The point — or at least this is how I’d summarize it — is that at some moment in a mundane situation, you think back to something you noticed. Something specific but … well, mundane. And then you see if anyone else noticed. It feels to me less like a test than a kind of bonding exercise.
7 (!) MORE GAMES (YOU) PEOPLE PLAY
Mirja wrote: “Boredom/ anxiety-trick at social events I didn't particularly want to attend is: 'I'm undercover, trying to find useful information, don't know from who, but there is definitely something I should learn here.' This gives me interest and social courage, helps me ask much better questions, and I always end up enjoying the event, even when I was SURE I wouldn't.”
Cathy C wrote: “The t-shirt game sounds great, but it's difficult over the holidays when everyone's wearing coats. Our favorite for busy airports and waiting rooms is ‘Guess their occupation.’ You have to name people's occupation AS THEY PASS BY and make a little story about it, i.e.: ‘Nanny who's kidnapped a rich kid only to find out they're a brat!,’ ‘Blogger moonlighting as shoe model, to make ends meet,’ or ‘Trump's interior designer.’ You can also elaborate with ‘Guess where they're from?’ but sometimes that's too easy. Julio Torres would be my go-to celebrity guest player for this : )”
Rachel wrote: “I like to play ‘How are they connected?’ which works especially well in coffee shops, restaurants, malls, etc. Basically, I just try to guess how two (or more) people are connected to each other. Those two people waiting for their coffee — are they on a first date? Are they married? I don’t see a ring…oh they just waved goodbye and now she’s leaving, maybe they were just strangers making small talk!”
Jacquelyn Ottman wrote: “Maybe I'm an extrovert, but I love having conversations with strangers. When sitting at an airport gate or on the back of a supermarket line, I look around at the people around me, try to find something of interest they might be wearing or reading, and just launch into a little conversation. Amazing how many people relish the opportunity to break their own boredom by having a nice chat with someone new (and presumably about something that's important to them, like their book, a cherished article of clothing, etc.)”
Lindsay wrote: “A driving game along the same lines: I like to imagine that of the next 10 cars that pass me, I get to choose one of those cars as my prize. But, it's like the white elephant game. If I pick the 3rd car that's a 2010 BMW, I don't get to keep that cherry renovated Ford Bronco convertible that passed by at number 7. Buyer’s remorse!”
Elizabeth Morro wrote: “I actually do read people's tee-shirts and not because I'm bored. It's like spotting weird vanity plates — I love the endless speculation about what led them to, in the case of one license plate, declare ‘LIFESND’ = Send life or end life? I still wonder about it. The woman driving the black BMW with this plate had a helmet of platinum hair, huge black sunglasses and a very red mouth.”
And finally Lost In Boston: “When I am bored, I scan the crowd and imagine who I would like to spend the night with — but, hey, the T shirt idea is great too!!” LOL I’m gonna guess you’re not the only one who does that ;)
GIVE THE GIFT OF NOTICING!
TAoN is a reader-supported publication. A paid subscription helps keep it going — AND makes a great gift for the curious friends, family members, students, and colleagues in your life. More about gift subs here.
Paid subscribers get an extra installment every week. In recent subscriber-only issues I wrote about musical rabbit holes (revisited), unpopular culture, doing as arguing, and the best compliment you’ve ever received. For access to past and future subscriber-only posts, discussion threads, and more, support TAoN with a paid subscription.
THE NEXT FREE MONDAY EDITION IN TWO WEEKS!
OPEN CALL FOR FEEDBACK
As 2022 winds down, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about specific TAoN posts you’ve found useful, entertaining, or both. Send to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave in the comments.
IN OTHER NEWS
“Thematically arranged frogs depict everyday situations.” Froggyland. (Thanks Kelsey!)
What’s your “go-to doodle”?
Reminder: If you buy the new book LOST OBJECTS (co-edited by Joshua Glenn and me) directly from the publisher, TAoN readers can get a 20% discount off the retail price, through 12/25, by using the code LOSTOBJECTS. Here.
OKAY THAT’S IT!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: email@example.com. Or use the comments. —> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
To unsubscribe see the grey box at the bottom of the email, or go here.