The Best of TimesDecember 29, 2011
My mom’s side of the family and my dad’s side have at least one thing in common besides my sister and me: an interest in and aptitude for writing. My aunts and uncles have written and edited works ranging from Don’t Tread On Me: The Selected Letters of S.J. Perelman to A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota to an unpublished organic chemistry textbook. It follows that our favorite game to play at family reunions entails creating and judging opening sentences of novels.
WHAT IS NEEDED: a bookshelf full of books, four or more players, one pen or pencil per player, and plenty of scrap paper.
HOW TO PLAY: One player — the Reader — selects a novel from the shelf and reads the title, author, and cover blurb to the others. Then he/she writes the first sentence of the book on a piece of paper while everyone else composes an alternative beginning. The Reader collects all of the sentences, mixes them up, and reads them aloud in random order. Everyone besides the Reader picks the sentence he/she thinks is the real one. One point is awarded for guessing the real first sentence; one point is also awarded for writing a sentence that someone else chooses. If nobody’s choice is correct, the Reader gets two points. Play continues until every player has had a turn as the Reader.
We didn’t invent this game, but we don’t know where it came from or what it is called. This Christmas I decided that we should give it a proper name, at least for intra-family purposes, and my proposal to call it “The Best of Times” (a reference both to Charles Dickens’ most famous lead-off sentence and our enjoyment of the game) was accepted by a majority of the Family Council.
My father, with his knack for conjuring up plausible geographical features, is the perennial champion. He didn’t play on Tuesday night, though, allowing me to carve out a rare victory, which I clinched with this hypothetical opening to Clive Cussler’s Treasure: “The secret to navigating out on the open sea is to ignore the compass and trust the sextant.” That’s not true, but it has a ring of authenticity and two people fell for it.
My Uncle Scott has also achieved a kind of notoriety for his opening sentences. On Tuesday, when Angela’s Ashes came up, he wrote, “Mount St. Angela really blew her stack.”
In another game, years ago, a turn was devoted to Too Late The Phalarope. Scott offered, “The phalarope was running late — very late.”
In our family, that’s right up there with “It was a dark and stormy night.”