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Mandelbrot Set

I grimaced at the tiny slip of paper in my hand. “I think this one’s written in German,” I groaned. “How am I supposed to give clues or act it out if I don’t even know what it is?” My teammates watched in frustration as I continued to stare at the slip of paper until Jordan called time. I tossed the slip back in the hat with the others. “Okay, someone tell me, what the hell is a Mandelbrot set?”

“You don’t know what a Mandelbrot set is? How do you not know that?” David gaped at his teammates — me, and Terri, who’d seconded my call for a definition. “Fractals? Hello?”

“Your incredulity at our stupidity is not helping,” I snapped.

“Well, maybe I need to switch teams,” David bit back.

The silence stretched for nearly a full minute as I glared at my husband. When I realized our guests were getting uncomfortable — Kimberly was inching her way toward her purse as though making to leave — I did my best to break the tension. “Come on, this is supposed to be fun. Right? Remember the show? They were having fun up there.”

I was referencing the improv show we’d all been to the week before. We’d learned about the venue — National Comedy Theatre — from Terri, who’d signed up for one of their improv classes. We’d all gone to one of the weekend shows, which feature comedians improvising scenes based on audience suggestions, very much like the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? Because we’d had so much fun, and the theater is within walking distance from our place, David suggested we make a weekly thing of it. After catching the acts two weeks in a row, I thought it would be fun to invite a handful of people over to our place for game night.

“Remember what Drew Carey says at the beginning of Whose Line is it Anyway?” I asked. “He says, ‘Points don’t matter. Points are like the part of the Victoria’s Secret catalog where they sell the pants.’ So, how ’bout for the next round, we choose words that aren’t hard, but funny. I mean, think about the name of this game — ‘Poop Smoothie’ — does that sound like it’s in the same category as ‘Mandelbrot set’? No.”

“So, you want us to dumb it down,” David said, seemingly speaking on behalf of the men in the room, who were the culprits behind all of the esoteric terms that had been thrown into the hat.

“You don’t have to be a dick about it,” I said. Again, the air grew thick with tension. “It’s not about smart or dumb; it’s about intention. It’s not fun to try to act out — what was Jordan’s last one? The ‘change of rate of velocity’? Whatever. Mathematical formulas are not funny. Terri’s ‘turd kebab,’ Katie’s ‘sandal fart,’ those are funny.”

“So, potty humor, then,” David countered.

“You’re just not getting it,” I said. “I bet if we were playing with only the girls in this room, we wouldn’t be having this problem. Not because we’re stupid, but because we ‘get it.’”

“Hey, I’m not the one who’s writing math formulas,” David said. “I came up with ‘pimp hat’ and ‘The Matrix’ — those are fun.”

“I warned you that Jordan was no good at this game,” Katie said. “One of the terms he threw in the hat last time we played was ‘orthogonal vector.’”

The traditional name of the game we’d gathered to play was based on a game called “Celebrity”; the homemade, altered versions are known as “The Bag Game” or “Poop Smoothie” (named after some anonymous player’s gross-but-hilarious made-up term). I’d never played the Password/Charades/memory game, but I’d heard Katie talk about how much fun it was, and no one else wanted to play Cranium (my suggestion) or drunken Scrabble (David’s suggestion).

To play Poop Smoothie, everyone writes nouns on three slips of paper and tosses them in a hat. Each player has one minute per turn to get their team to guess what’s written on the slips of paper they draw from the hat. The first round is like Password — you can use any and all words not written on the slip to get your team to guess. The second round is Charades — you can only act out what is written. The final, third round limits players to one word — this is where memory comes into play, because all slips would have gone through the first two rounds by this point.

I’d written “glitter,” “The Last Unicorn,” and “Madonna,” things that might be amusing and awkward for people to act out, but they were words everyone would surely recognize. David was apoplectic when no one got his references for “Corinthian leather.” He hadn’t written that one, but he’d drawn it and was trying to get Terri and me to guess. His first clue was a name. “Who’s Ricardo Montalban?” I’d asked.

“Who’s Ricardo Montalban?” David echoed. “You don’t know who Ricardo Montalban is?” This time, Terri and I sighed as we waited for David’s shock to subside.

“Corinthian,” I said, after the word had been revealed. “Isn’t that from one of the Ghostbusters movies? That bad guy Vigo was Corinthian, right? Or, wait, that was Carpathian…never mind.”

As frustrated as David was when we all turned up ignorant of 1980s pop culture, his annoyance was tame compared to the rage I felt when I drew one of Shawn’s slips, which read “Kuiper Belt.” I looked it up later: “a disc-shaped region of icy objects beyond the orbit of Neptune.”

“I hate this game,” I said later, after I’d tried and failed to act out Jordan’s “change of rate of velocity.” “Next time we’re playing Cranium or some game where the suggestions are written for us, and if there’s one we don’t like or don’t know, we won’t get angry at each other. We can just be frustrated with whoever wrote it for the game. I love the idea of game night, but I want it to end with laughter, not arguments.”

“We’ve all had dark moments tonight that we’re not proud of,” Katie said.

“I just want to have fun and be silly on a Saturday night,” Kimberly said.

“Yeah, I don’t need to be made to feel stupid,” I said. “This isn’t astronomy class or calculus. This is comedy. And, I’m sorry. I don’t care who you are, but there’s nothing even remotely funny about the Kuiper Belt.”

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