Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sticks and Stones ... and Spoons

In high school, I had a good friend whose family owned a beach house. And that made her an even BETTER friend. Add to that the fact that we lived about one hour from the beach, and you have The Best Friend EVER. During spring breaks and long weekends, she would invite five or six of us to join her and, usually, her mom.

We were a relatively tame group, and the most awful things we did at the beach were no more awful than most of the things we did at home. We didn't drink, we let out only the occasional cuss word, we spent our hard-earned money from our part-time jobs on the requisite airbrushed t-shirts at Surf Shak, and we took every opportunity we could to stray from The Mom. Heaven help us, we strayed from that poor woman.

But the highlight of each day at the beach came about 10 p.m. A deck of cards, a handful of spoons, all the chairs in the house pushed tightly around the wooden kitchen table, and the ensuing fever-pitch competition. We played Spoons into the night, into the morning and often stayed awake until The Mom emerged from her bedroom and said, "Good morning! Time to clear the table and eat breakfast!" We looked like we were coming off a three-day drunk ... only without the alcohol. In addition to the sleep deprivation and glazed eyes, there was pulled hair, abrasions to the arms and legs, and a few bruises sustained when teen-age bodies hit the hard tile floor.

"But Amy, what the hay is the relevance of this story?" Well, I will tell you that these memories came flooding back on Thanksgiving night as we sat around the kitchen table and treated ourselves to a few rounds of Spoons. And Spoons, as I will explain, should be on everyone's repertoire of holiday games. Reindeer games, even. Like Monopoly.

This is what Thanksgiving looks like. Until someone breaks out the spoons.

Despite what game manufacturers will have you believe, Spoons does NOT require a purchase of any sort. Don't be wooed by mass marketing. A cardboard box filled with a deck of cards, seven plastic spoons and a pad of paper should not cost $9.99. If you have even a modestly equipped kitchen and a deck of cards, then you have all the regulation components. I repeat, do NOT buy a kit of any sort. Like when Bunco hit its peak several years ago and women all over the place were buying cute polka-dot bags filled with dice and notepads and tied with a clever bow, all in a neat package at the retail price of $14.99. Suckers. (This is the Poverty Party portion of the blog. And it ranks Poverty Party status because I'm telling you how not to spend $9.99 and, rather, how to make your own fun by using only kitchen utensils.)

Back to Spoons. In your modestly equipped kitchen, check your utensil drawer for spoons — table spoons, soup spoons, serving spoons. Heck, use plastic spoons. I don't really care, as long as you have just one shy of the number of players. Six players? Five spoons. Eight players? Seven spoons. And so it goes.

The setup: Deal each player four cards. The objective is to collect four of a kind; suits don't matter. You may have only four cards in your hand at any time. Everyone passes to their left, with the dealer setting the pace and pulling only from the original pile of cards. As the player to your right passes you a card at breakneck speed, you must act quickly, discarding one of your cards to the next player and taking the new one, or discarding the new one and moving on. The first player to collect four of a kind is to pull a spoon, but quietly and mysteriously so as not to tip off the other players. But as other players see or hear a spoon being collected, they must quickly grab a spoon for themselves. Oh, but wait! That means one person isn't going to get a spoon, you might be saying. And that is where the anxiety enters, creating sweaty palms, upset stomachs and streaks of violence you may have never seen before. And the shouting. Oh, you will not BELIEVE the shouting.

Our first few rounds Thursday night: pleasant, anemic, innocuous, cordial ... dare I say, BORING.

But the warfare cranked up a notch when we (or, my friend Caprice) decided that we should PILE the spoons together in the middle of the table — a bold variation on their previous arrangement of being spread so that everyone had a fair chance at grabbing a spoon. But what happens when spoons are piled and the grabbing begins is a distracting and ALARMING clinking sound that brings out the ugly.

During one round, I had the four of a kind. But did I get a spoon? No. A player from across the table ripped it out of my hands, and that led to all KINDS of unrest and profanity. A husband really should be more sportsmanlike when his wife is clearly THE WINNER.

In the rounds that followed, my 10-year-old suffered an impressive wound across her lower back as she slid at top speed from her chair under the table to retrieve the last spoon, which had fallen during a wrestling match over another spoon. (She didn't get it. An adult shoe pushed the spoon in the other direction, and some fingers were crushed in the process.) A teenager took a hit to the nose that made her eyes water. Several hands had deep scratches that required the administration of Neosporin the following morning. Another suffered a punch to the arm that should have led to some sort of disqualification, but we were laughing too hard to determine who was really at fault. With no eye witnesses, she really didn't have a case. A bruise, yes; a case, no.

And that, in a nutshell, is how to play Spoons. Just as you can't eat only one potato chip, you can't play only one round of Spoons. "But Amy, how will we know when the game is over?" Well, you can set your own rules. You can say, perhaps, that when you draw blood, it might be time for everyone to go home. Or, maybe you're more of a broken bone crowd, and that will determine the game's length. Crying is also a common game-ender. But if you can manage to combine crying and throwing the cards across the room? Well, you've scored.