The calendar, the radio, the news and everybody else who looks so happy they can’t stand it keeps telling me that summer has officially begun, so what better way for a hot-weather-hating grump like myself to celebrate the season by doing something, anything, other than discussing anything outdoor-related? This is why this week’s Throwback brings you, from the Nov. 27, 1982, Journal Gazette, this excerpt of an ad from what was once Osco’s in Mattoon, featuring some great deals on a real odd selection of board games sure to give you a reason to hide inside with the air conditioning as the mercury rises.
First of all, let’s talk for a minute about that Nerf Ping Pong set. Sure, Nerf is still around today, specializing almost exclusively in various forms of air-powered weaponry designed to be fired directly at your younger brother’s more sensitive areas while your parents aren’t around. But there for a while Nerf was carving out this odd niche of equipment that would let you modify pieces of furniture around the house for recreational purposes. For instance, as with this product, all you needed to do was set the net and brackets up on the dining room table and boom, you’ve got the ping pong table that Santa never deemed you fit enough to have. Although a buddy of mine in high school accomplished the exact same thing himself with only some popsicle sticks, toilet paper and two tiny novelty ping pong paddles he lifted from one of those “executive” gifts his dad had lying around. Bonus points: The dining room table was right in front of the window air conditioning unit.
But if even modified Nerf Ping Pong was just a little too “active” for you this time of the year, stop on by Osco’s for Connect Four, the number one game on my “why in the world can’t I ever win at this” list. Honestly, Connect Four was one of those games I never owned as a kid. I know Mrs. Sawyer had one in her third-grade classroom for those rainy days when we couldn’t have recess outside and the gym was in use. There was one classmate in particular whose name I won’t mention here, but I will say he’s the same one who always thought he was outdoing everybody during show and tell with his endlessly annoying fascination with whales and Sea World (big deal, honestly) while I brought in awesome rocks that looked like spaceships from my very own collection and everyone just sat on their hands and yawned.
This kid just loved holding court at the round activity table next to the “Reading Corral” with the Connect Four board and destroying us all one by one. I just discovered that, according to Wikipedia, Connect Four has actually been “solved” in the sense that “perfect play” by the first player will result in a win every time. Good to know. I’d really like a rematch now.
A Family Feud Board Game? Not quite my taste. Not that I didn’t like game shows. Heck if they ever made board games based off of “Card Sharks” or “Sale of the Century,” I would have been all over it, and I had a travel version of “Mall Madness” that was a lot like a game show in spirit even though I had to discreetly tuck it away in my book bag because it was bright pink and probably meant for girls to play. Hey, games are for everybody. I know a 3-year-old girl who loved playing around with my vintage M.U.S.C.L.E. Mega Match wrestling board game last weekend and no one got on her case about that.
“Inner Circle”, the game I’m sure you’ve never heard of, is, of course, the one I actually own. It’s a weird little abstract game where you actually lift up the game boards (there were four) every few turns, and any pawns that didn’t make it to the “holes” in the board would go with them. It sounds better than it plays, truth be told, although I did end up using one of the pawns to complete my vintage copy of the 1983 “Dragon’s Lair” board game which was missing a pawn that happened to be the exact same size and shape.
We all know “Boggle” right? That game for folks who love their words and just don’t have a copy of Scrabble, a game which used to be an old standby and, by my reasoning, is now played almost exclusively by professors, know-it-alls you work with and other assorted flatheads who don’t get out much. Seriously, what used to be a game of actually being able to unscramble and form words is now just a battle of who can slop a bunch of gibberish on the board and then dare you to challenge it just so they can look it up in a Scrabble-brand dictionary that’s full of words that, you know…aren’t really words.
And then finally, Pyraminx. Not a game, but one of those “hey let's rip off Rubik’s Cube” puzzles. Which means I’m sure your dad liked it, but why should you bother stressing out over how you hated puzzles when there are so many real games to play?
Along those lines, I remember one hot summer day as a kid, me, prattling on endlessly about a gaming magazine I was leafing through, thus prompting a stern admonition from my mom that, “There’s more to life than games." At the time, the comment stung, even if I was probably being really annoying about my obsessive interests. So yes, there is more to life than games, but there’s also a lot more to life than you know, boring old “life.”
If Buddha said, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment," then writing Throwback each week means I’ve failed the first one by a county mile, but playing games is a great way to keep up with the last one.