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Insanity

Once upon a time I was a member of the MIT Science Fiction Society (MITSFS). In those days the membership criteria were, ah, flexible. The membership included coeds from Boston University (BU), cliffies from Radcliffe, persons from Harvard, and some hangers on. It also included the greater plant and the lesser plant. As I say, the membership criteria were flexible.

For the most part, MITSFS was the MITSFS library. There were some other activities. The club put out a fanzine called Twilight Zine. As far as I know it still does. It held meetings every once in a while at which perversions of Robert's Rules of Order were performed. For example, adjournment was usually signalled by the attendees chanting the adjournment song:

Rabbits have no tails at all,
Tails at all, tails at all,
Rabbits have no tails at all,
Just a powder puff.
Same song, next verse,
Never gets better,
Never gets worse.

Rabbits have no tails at all,
...
The library was located in the basement of Walker building. (It has since moved to the Student Union.) It had numerous shelves filled with books and magazines, sundry tables and chairs, and several partially filled wooden coke cases. The latter takes a bit of explanation; there was a coke machine in the basement. In those days coke came in real glass bottles that could be returned for some nominal fee. The wooden cases were used for collecting empty bottles; every so often full cases would be redeemed.

On evenings and weekends there were usually a number of people in the library; it was a social center of sorts. People read books, and they talked. From time to time they played games. At one point there was a Risk epidemic. This was the source of the Afghanistan strategy and the Schultz strategy. The Afghanistan strategy is to hold Afghanistan for the entire game; if you can do this, you win. Schultz was a coed from BU. Her strategy was simple; if you attacked any of her territories she launched an all out attack against you. And then there was Insanity.

One evening Tony Lewis and I were sitting at a table that had a half filled coke case sitting on it. I don't remember how it all started but I imagine it went something like this: One of us idly moved a coke bottle from one hole to another, and the other equally casually remarked, "That's a good move." That started it; we took turns making moves, capturing bottles, and making gamesmanship noises as we went along. Sometimes one of us would cackle with delight, announcing a crushing move, and the other would groan in despair. Mind you, this was a spur of the moment thing, an improvisation. We were playing at playing a game.

All of this would have been a transient bit of japery were it not for the onlookers. There were onlookers, you see, onlookers who wanted to know what we were doing, and what the rules were for the game we were playing. Who could resist such an opportunity? Not us. Naturally we told people that they should watch the game being played and figure out the rules for themselves. And they did.

For the next several weeks Tony and I would play the coke case game. When people asked what the name of the game was, we told them that it was called Insanity. People would watch us playing and try to deduce what the rules were. Some people took copious notes and would gravely ask if such and such move was legal. Sometimes we would say yes and sometimes no. Eventually, over time, people caught on, one by one. Some people even played their own games. Tony and I would kibitz and make approving noises at good moves, or argue about whether moves were good or not. All of this was done with the best gamesmanship chatter. All of this went on until ...

One of the more earnest deducers was a chap named George Phillies. He had a notebook in which he recorded every move of every game that he watched. He carefully analyzed every sequence to determine what rules were consistent with the play. One evening the truth dawned on him, and he stood up and said, "This game better not be what I think it is or ...". The dots indicate something he was going to do. I no longer recall the precise threat, but it definitely an expression of severe displeasure. That more or less killed the game.

George is now a professor of Physics, a Libertarian, and is running for President. It figures.


This page was last updated February 1, 2007.

Richard Harter's World
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February 2007
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Hyde County, South Dakota is the Pin Tail Duck Capital of the world. Visit scenic Highmore, SD in 2007!