The Day After

Sometimes tradition gets a little warped along the way. 

I’m referring to one of my favorite days of the holiday season, which is today.  Not because it’s Black Friday, but because it’s the day when my dad’s side of the family celebrates — in our own special way. 

This started when my aunt and uncle were in the restuaurant business.  They always had to work on Thanksgiving so they started hosting their dinner on Friday instead.  Yes, we have the whole turkey dinner, lots of friends and family, great conversation, tons of cocktails. 

But we also have a dirty little secret — an annual night of highly competitive and somewhat unorthodox gaming.  Catch Phrase is our Thanksgiving game of choice (come Christmas, I’ll cover Extreme Charades).

The instrument of competitive holiday evil

Quick primer for those who don’t know the game.  Basically, this disc of terror beeps with increasing frequency as it’s passed around a circle, while each person has a turn, and the opposing team gets a point if you’re left holding the game when it buzzes.  Your turn requires you to look at the word you get on the screen and describe it to your team mates until they guess it.  Sounds easy, right?  Wait until you’ve had four glasses of wine and a near-tryptophan overdose while trying to convey “Leningrad” to your equally disadvantaged team mates.

This all seems harmless enough on the surface.  But I need to reiterate that it’s *highly* competitive.  As in, yelling, screaming and utter intimidation — all in the name of advancing to the championship round (yes, we have so many people that we use a bracket tourney set up) and ultimately claiming the title.

Yeah.  We’re out for blood. 

The hard part is the arrival of a few newcomers every year.  These poor people — they arrive for a nice holiday meal and maybe they’ve been told we’ll play a game afterwards.  How sweet. 


Meanwhile, my cousin, my sister’s boyfriend and I are sizing up the newbies over dinner — their overall global knowledge, speed of response and academic background (would asking for transcripts be too much?). Because the teams are randomly drawn, you can really get hosed by having a new player on board.  Or my Aunt J.  She’s an awful player — truly — but she’s the hostess, so there’s a required level of acceptance/resignation that applies only to her.  A highlight of her Catch Phrase career was calling out “Uncle Ben’s Tavern” instead of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”  It’s true. Then there was my cousin’s neighbor who thought “Lasagna” was “Los Angeles.”  That one really cost us dearly and I have lobbied to never allow him to come back.  What a shit head.  If my kids ever turn into such a Catch Phrase liability, I’ll be so upset.  I have to start training them young.

Keep in mind that this all happens while wearing required, hand-crafted headgear to designate your team affiliation (Pilgrims vs Indians, Santa vs Reindeer, etc). So just picture some tipsy, screaming, competitive lunatics with homemade headgear and a beeping Catch Phrase disc.  It hits a fever pitch at the championship round with all eliminated teams gathered around as spectators.  I’m pretty convinced you can hear us down the street.  Really.

Anyway, it has been a few years since I was on the winning team but I’m feeling pretty good about 2010 — as long as I don’t get any dumb-ass newcomers.  Wish me luck.

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  1. Markus says:

    Hope you kick some serious Catch Phrase behind! Best to P, C and C!

    • fordeville says:

      Ugh — my team was eliminated in the first round! It was a travesty. We had a great lead and blew it (I won’t point fingers — OK, it was my aunt). But I did get some admirable turns in there along the way. Now, I have to look ahead to Christmas charades to regain some family gaming credibility.

  2. Sounds like my kind of fun. Enjoy!

  3. Erinn says:

    Hmm. Sounds easier than Taboo. Are any expressions banned from use (other than the one you are trying to describe)?

    Using games to expose newcomers. Cut throat. My kind of family past time.

    Especially like the addition of a BUZZZZZzzzzer. Big improvement on that passive mini hourglass offered in so many of these Cranium kids games now.

    When your kids start getting more into board games you’ll notice that these contemporary we-all-have-a-talent-find-your inner-muse games all lack the Perfection- ticking-time-bomb sound quality we were given to have “fun” with. I am 100% certain that playing Perfection shaved a year or two off my life.

    On the flip side, maybe that’s why I just shrugged my shoulders when I found out in my early 20’s that I would likely be responsible for 100% of the cost of my own retirement. The meter started early! (That and the fact that I would have at least two less years on the back end to worry about.)

    Numbers Up had a pretty hostile clock as well, if I remember correctly.

    Funny post. I particularly liked your Aunt J’s reference. Hope you had a great Thankgiving with your family.

    • fordeville says:

      Thanks Erinn. I wish I could tell you that this is a really hard game. In the real world, it’s not — only with the pressure-cooker family dynamics that we impose upon it.

      But you make a great point about the ticking-time-bomb sound of games from our childhood. It’s funny that the silent hourglass has stepped in as the kinder, gentler timekeeper. I hadn’t thought about that.

      Anyway, my team (complete with my Aunt J) suffered a crushing first round defeat on Friday. But I’m coming back strong for Charades on Christmas Day.

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