Old journal entries: 1 Jan 2018 - 28 June 2019

“Old” might be a bit of an overstatement, but I filled a journal recently and before I put it on the shelf with the others there are at least 1 or 2 (maybe just 1) things I want to immortalize.

These are my notes from attending the first Immersive Design Summit, Jan 2018.

Users approve of Slack. I’m hearing this from multiple sources.

The audience wants directed freedom, not to be pushed around.

You cast the audience

Something about a bard: “Great Caesar,” an article on Mashable

Note to myself about fairy tale puppet game set on Berkeley campus, staged as a walkabout/promenade with songs

Sometimes the choices you make don’t actually matter but the act of making the choice changes how you relate to the story. In other instances that’s not the case. Or: an early choice that seems unimportant but pays off later.

An architectural museum: History San Jose

A meetup group: Designers & Geeks

Drip from Kickstarter (I think this has gone under since these notes maybe?)

A deck toplines the big ideas so you become palatable. Make a pitch deck for the sponsor. The Critical Thought is the 1 idea you must know to enter. Don’t put the terms of revenue sharing in the deck: it commits you. To determine your rate Google “consultant [blank]” and fill in the blank with the term relevant to the subject you’re advising on.

What makes a great deck that will get you money?

  1. Write out your ideas.

  2. Simplify

  3. Repeat

  4. What can you replace with an image? Make it a clear story, using images

FB ads are for corporate clients

You should be spending money on PR. Allocate 10% of your budget for marketing. Also include in your budget 10-15% contingency.

In a regional theater, 30% of revenue comes from ticket sales. They fill the gap with raising money.

The Void: [at the time of these notes it was available only in Anaheim but since then I’ve played the Ralph Wrecks the Internet version at Glendale Galleria]

Ghostbusters throughput is 90 pax per hour

Pay the actors [and the musicians]

Your 5 senses give you memories - memories give you allegiance, and customers stick with those brands

“I really don’t have much.” - Sara Thacher

A show: The Universe is a Small Hat (did this indeed play in Philadelphia this summer? Who went? Is there a write-up anywhere?)

A speaker associated with The Void and with a background in magic told us the magicians’ trope about how to make something disappear: hide it, move it, or it was never there to begin with. The crowd gasped at this utterance and the speaker seemed surprised that more people didn’t already know that old saying, which you could also call a saw, but then you’d have to use it to cut a volunteer in half.

And on that note…

CWC 2018

You know the expression “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it?” June 25-30 was hard to believe but I'll try and it’ll probably end up being a few thousand words. In that hard to believe week there were moments where I felt a duality, as though two timelines were overlapping each other. Sometimes it was thrilling, sometimes the effect was sickening. But that doesn’t do justice to how much of the week was spent fully being present, giving my undivided attention to the celebration around me, and how nourishing it was. It was Championship in the city where I started ComedySportz, 16 years and 10 miles from where I attended my first practice in a church with James Bailey, Mark Mohelnitzky, and Chris Tallman. Now that I’ve been a Berkeley resident for 1 year, returning to my CSz city of origin as a tourist was a great fit, because Los Angeles is in most ways better for tourists than it is for living. Some people are eco-tourists, others are safari diehards. We are into laughteravel. We floss every day and we wear nice shoes.

So what did I do? I carpooled with my fellow CSz San Jose players. Yes such current team members as Chayton Whiskey, Courtney Pong, Sam Bowers, and Charles Hug, whom I had never met before, and still didn’t by the end of our caravan because we each were in our own cars. But he cuts quite the dashing figure, you must agree. Taylor Sternberg and Laura Lineback rounded out our passenger manifest, as the only other proper players from the city in our retinue, except then Laura moved away. There really is a wall in the CSz SJ green room of people who are dead to Jeff Kramer. My worry is if the wall eventually collapses under the burden. I mean we just did this big remodel.

Our caravan pit stopped at the Firebaugh Chevron and Chayton stealthily fed Sam a ghost pepper tortilla chip but Sam liked it so much he bought his own bag. At the Jayne Travel Center we musical chaired passengers, and I got Pong and Whiskey for the last leg of the trip and we talked about ComedySportz but also families and finances. Everyone talk to your parents about their will, especially if you live in California. Please make a note and do this.

Our travel was timed so well that we had plenty of time to freshen up and appear at the Monday night party. My AirBnB had three parties: Mary Ann Rambo and Jay Rambo, Bron and Sean from Manchester, and me. The couples had already put their kit in the house earlier in the day, and I took the 3rd bedroom which was just the right size for me, and in a trice I was at the taco place and James Bailey handed me a taco first thing when I walked in, so that’s a fine start. Nobody handed me a big margarita but I loved watching you people put them away, the big ones and the really big ones. That was such a beautiful night and everyone looked so jolly and snazzy and the taco James gave me was really good and then a bunch of us lollygagged on over to ComedySportz.

I’d heard good things about improv karaoke but it was my first time seeing it live and Chris Matieu really rocked it off right from the jump. How great it was to see Matt Young there playing with Will Herndon and Scott Passarella. That band kicked booty, kicked BIG booty.

I wish I had seen Bron and Rachel’s duet live, but she sent me the video so now I’ve almost seen the real deal. (I remember years ago when they did “Take Me Or Leave Me.” And Rachel and I sang a duet in a musical all-play in Philadelphia, if I’m not mistaken.)

Also I’m told Bill Chott sang my improve karaoke that night song (“Bum Bum Ba Da Bum Bum” or something like that) and that Scott Palmason sang under my name, ooh la la! But I had already stolen away with my old heist friends from when I lived in LA. We banged out a quick room escape in mid-town. We raided an Egyptian tomb, dynamited a wall, defused booby traps, destroyed artifacts, and rescued the Red Giant, a gemstone of immeasurable value. Yeah and then I shimmied back over to ComedySportz where there were so many beautiful faces to see. If memory serves, we started the Games Garden that night and played a long, long game of Egg Roll (AKA Dancing Eggs), where Eric from Detroit was both the best at getting eggs, and also the most prone to drop them.

That may well have been the night we played Happy Salmon with both bags of cards, 12 players all together. I love how happy Ria was to see that game, and I love her version where you treat the cards like they’re all the same color, and shuffle them all together and deal them out to however many players are present. Thank you for teaching me the house rules!

But Tuesday was the morning meeting and we were all freshly showered and happy to begin the festivities. That kickoff video with CSz LA players auditioning and shout-outs from CSz alum was charming, and now we know exactly who was too big-time to contribute. Looking at you Jason Alexander and Jessica Williams.

Then James Bailey and Rick Steadman talked about a hex wrench and a light bolt, or that’s what I remember. I remember burning Sacramento for being clique-y, which I shouldn’t have done, and now take back, but I think I was nervous to unveil the Games Garden jingle. Thanks to everyone who sang, knocked, and clapped along. And extra thanks to everyone who remembers that it begins with a “bum bum bum,” like the “I’m Very Sorry” song in Calvin Ball. Ask me in 2 years if it withstood the test of time.

James Bailey on the new games at the New Games workshop: “Some of them are wonderful.” I had to leave to make my way to the west side to take a meeting, but I saw Matt Russell’s “Cats.” Did anything grander happen after that?

For the meeting I took, which took me away from you all for a few hours, I’ll say this. I ate a brisket breakfast burrito that I think got me pregnant, and I had a chance to share some feedback with a fellow designer, a fellow white fellow, privileged hetero designer like myself. He’s a dude, naturally. And I commented on an aspect of his upcoming immersive project that showcased an actor tied to a chair and gagged and blindfolded. A woman, naturally. And I told him that although there may be various subjective interpretations of that image’s connotation, there’s no misinterpreting what it is, which is a woman subjected to a dangerous circumstance, and to me and audiences like me that is a turn-off. He really seemed to want to push back, but I hope maybe he’ll come around to it and go with a less ugly and stale choice. Rah feminism.

I wish I’d gotten some of the blueberry coffee cake at the café but I didn’t. I drove back to ComedySportz and took Danny Ricker’s joke writing class. Danny is so charming and awesome, and I loved hearing the ideas, like the one about the daytime drinkers, and the skit was excellent. I confess I loved playing the desperate-to-fill-for-time soccer announcer. Danny is someone whose success really pleases me, and I hope he continues to rise and work hard just as long as it’s fun for him.

Tuesday night’s retinue of shows began with Quarters and June. Remember how blisteringly good that was? And how when we thought it couldn’t get any better, they did improv, with fun names? And then there were guests? And the guests had talents? Tinkles had talent. They all had talents. James Bailey should have said that both Elaine May AND Mike Nichols are accomplished directors, but never mind, we forgive him because he taught a master class in how to upstage. Chin up! Hey how come he didn’t balance anything on his chin at the final match?

Then there was Time Bomb. Rance and Kimya in the first scene, and the runner, about using a shared dinner to advance cures was a dream to watch, with subtlety and nuance and patience and giving gifts. The runner of Kelsey’s cries for “KEVIN!” Michael Barryte deserves big credit for inventing this show. He revealed to me that there was one 5 minute scene in the package that was selected by the audience member. It happened to be an ensemble number: the first all-school scrum (where I think “KEVIN” originated) at the school where there are constantly drills and everyone has a fun gun of some kind. So the 5 was an ensemble! That’s quite fitting.

And then Up Late with Adam Fisher, which I’d been looking forward to since it closed 5 years ago. I hope Adam, Danny, Kyle, and all the writers feel really good about the show they made. You knew it was going to be real when the Passarella Six had 6 pieces, and what a band it was! And those monologue jokes – I remember the one about the lava (FEMA says just pretend it’s carpet) – and then Amelia and her song, and then Tara as Stickdog, and Taylor as SHANE (SHANE Has A Nice Energy) and then Eric Price with his punchline. I can’t remember what it was. It must not have been memorable. Can’t think of it at all. Can’t hear it ringing in my ears. OK I can and it’s making me laugh as I type this hot dog.

Yessir that was quite a trifecta of shows. And then it was quiz time, ack!

The book we read questions from:

“Crowd Pleasing Puzzles” by my friend Todd McClary with Patrick Berry.

The quiz was a sneak-peek that we were in for a gale force wind by the name Erin Kennedy. I couldn’t have wished for a stronger way to begin the quiz than her holding court and reading clues about words A, B, and C. She was boffo. A lot of this part of the program is a blur to me, I confess, but I remember it was fun reading the bonus round questions to Chayton et al and I was pleased that the score was in the 20-25 range, which was what I was hoping for to make a good fight against a Chaser.

Once the top team had been announced, and the runner-up team had a chance to add some bonus points with a speed round, I revealed that the whole room was playing against a single adversary and introduced the first game’s Chaser, Pat Short. He’d asked to be introduced as The Bassoon, and I failed to do that, and I also forgot to do some banter with him, but then I passed it off to our host, Sean Mason, who was commendable in a high-pressure situation.

The questions Sean read were from the boxed board game Bezzerwizzer, which I highly recommend despite its terrible name.

For more on The Chase, check out some Final Chase rounds on YouTube. That’s the vibe I was going for. We didn’t have a wall-sized screen showing how many steps the Chaser was behind the team but we had Doug Neithercott as our Post-It taker-downer and he did a serviceable job, 5 stars, would let him take down Post-Its again.

And then there was a staged theatrical bit where Jon Dinerstein, who had just played the role of Tinkles in Quarters and June, heckled Pat for letting the team beat him and Pat said, “You think you could do better?” and Jon and Pat trade places so Pat played music for the second game and Jon was the chaser. Ha ha! Chiasmus! Parallel inversion of rhetorical structure hot dog.

Becky Ward is an improviser and musician who played violin for Manorhouse Manor as well as my haunted house game Danse Macabre. She did both of these jobs with her husband Jon, the chaser! She read the “vowels only” quiz questions. I thought those were pretty fun. And a different team won the second game, awesome. There was actually a tie for 1st place between a solo player and an all-star team of Rick Steadman, Rich Prouty, Stephen Bennett, and Sarah Murphy. I was going to have them do the speed round as a tie break, and whoever got the most answers right would face the chaser, but the single player volunteered to play speed only and to put the other team into the finals. Three random players joined him to try to boost their score in 90 seconds of “Partners in Rhyme.” It was pointed out to me that Kander seems like a good partner for “ebb” but it’s never spoken Ebb & Kander and you were looking for pairs that fit that frame, so ebb & flow was the correct answer, but it was wrong of me not to indicate that ebb was lower-case. Sorry. But great job, you faced the Chaser with 20 questions, I think.

I realized after that Bezzerwizzer questions, unlike Final Chase questions, are not necessarily written for brevity. Jon answered a FEROCIOUS streak of questions correctly right from the jump, really seemed like he would gobble up the whole lead, but a couple of wrong answers, including 1 push back from the team, and some long-winded Q’s meant a second game ending in the team victory. Which you have to root for, unless you’re the Chaser. I had a third game lined up, but it seemed like the perfect time to call it a night…

By which I meant go back to the Games Garden. We played two very funny games of Secret Hitler. I was on the losing team both times, but we actually had a ton of laughs doing that game. I only played one game of Banangrams, but I did beat the other 7 people at the table including Bron.

I went to bed before 2 on Tuesday. What was I thinking?

On Wednesday I got a haircut from Boyd, who I learned on this trip cuts simply everyone’s hair. There’s no one in Berkeley I like as much, and I was in town a month ago for the Survivor finale and Boyd cut my hair, and then a month went by and I was all, hey I’ll get a cleanup. This is another instance where my week of championship and a week from some other chapter of my life appeared to be vibrating together at the same frequency.

Because then, minutes from Boyd’s, I drove to Andy Crocker’s house and we had a long lunch and she gave me the whole break-down on her recent show Escape From Godot, a show which drew heavily upon the improv community and featured CSz LA players alongside great talent from the LA immersive and rock scene, and was the toast of the Fringe. Andy is family to me – we are learning to parent together, and we’re both working pretty much independently to get our work out there – and she’s a ComedySportz friend. Of course she is, because she’s just a tip-top person.

Then I did a 3 hour sprint of responding to emails and phone calls and clients from the outside world, dealt with homeowner stuff, squeezed in a few business days into a pita pocket of time. Then I freshened up because it was time for Cut the Comedy.

Here’s what happened at Cut the Comedy. (I typed that sentence and then a few weeks went by where I worked crazy hard, multiple long days in a row burning the candle at both ends but I am 30 minutes early to play a match in San Jose so let’s type here at Iguanas which has the worst bathrooms of any restaurant ever built  and great food and no wifi)

For those of you who weren’t there, Cut the Comedy is a show format, a game I had played once, and it was in the last couple of months before I moved from LA, my home for 18 years, to the SF Bay Area, the home of my first 18 years. And as I said to the audience on that night on the CSz stage, “When you’ve been in the company for 15 years and you’re moving away, sometimes they’ll let you do a new show that’s never been rehearsed before.”

In that show, 11 players competed in games where 1 or more would be safe from elimination and the audience voted on who would go home. The opening round was Da Do Rap Rap and it took forever to eliminate 10 players and then vote, but there were some format things, including the line-up of games, that I felt really good about. The premiere was a thrill like few others I’ve experienced, and my players echoed that sentiment. Rick Steadman beat Mike McNeal in the final game, clinching the victory. James asked if I’d fill a Wed night space by doing the game a second time and of course I said yes, partly because I’d devised some improvements to the competition.

At morning meeting on Wednesday Rance wrote a note and had it passed to me across the room. It contained the name of the Cinci player who he wanted in the show. Starting with that, I spoke to other interested players and filled 11 spots. Actually I filled 12. I had resolved not to admit any LA players to the team thinking that LA had enough representation through the week. But in my mind I wrote down a special-case exception, for my friend Rachel Kottcamp. Rachel was hurt during a criminal run-in with a violent drunk while touring Australia with her boyfriend, who was hospitalized during the attack, and Rachel had really been through some crummy luck. I made up my mind that if she asked me for a spot in the show I’d find one for her, and I did. And somehow I booked 1 player too many: maybe it was when Matt Russell had to deal with some issues related to his big opening in Maine, and Glenn Packman took his spot, but I think it was an inevitable consequence of casting a show with limited spaces by scribbling names down on a scrap of paper. So when I huddled everyone in the lobby I had to start things off on a crummy note by asking someone to sacrifice and help me as field ref. Ashley from Boise volunteered and I have to say I’m glad he did because he was super helpful during the show and we shared some really cool moments including another special case exception in the Final 7 round.

But anyhow thanks to Ashley’s goodness and covering for my inability to count, we had 11 players. I told them almost nothing before we went on the stage except that we would open with Expert Challenge and I expected them to play in such a way that allowed the game to breathe, giving players at least a sentence or more before challenging them, and generally just to play the game clean. And other than that I told them that if they get eliminated, to demonstrate the model of ComedySportz, we play to win, we don’t care if we lose… and that was about it.

We took the field and played Big Booty. Rachel went in the booth because she was the only one about who knew how to get the Google deck I’d built to project on the screen, so I made her #1 (which I now know means William Riker). I was Big Booty. We played the game for 3 minutes. The audience was surprisingly engaged! The stage picture is bad but I was pleasantly surprised by how much the audience was into watching our warm-up. I made a mistake and got knocked down to #11 but Rachel never wavered and so when time was up she was Big Booty and she earned a benefit. I offered her 1 of 2 yellow index cards and she picked one at random. Then the game began.

I needed a single-player elimination game better than Da Do Rap Rap and I was thinking Limerick is hard enough that people would certainly fail out. But an hour before the show I had the idea to play Expert Challenge for 5 minutes and it was a beautiful game, with the subject of Fish, and Bron talked about tickling trout, and there was all kinds of fun but not one person used the word “ichthyologist.” The most amazing part, to me, was that Kevin from Columbus did not take the box for the entire game, slow-playing and watching the whole time… I was planning on singling him out and making an example of him… and with 10 seconds remaining on the clock, he called a challenge, took over the box, and cruised to the win. It was great! I knew we were in for an exciting match.

The audience voted. The technology failed again, same as last time, so I had the players turn their backs and counted the vote with a manual tally. Ah, but here’s where I made the biggest change of them all:

The audience voted for a player to save from the vote: someone they wanted to join Kevin, the winner of the game, and for sure make it to the next round.

With two players safe – one from winning, the other from getting the audience vote – the others were given a number 1-9 and the eliminated player was determined by random draw. Ta-DA! Russian Foolette. Joshin’ Roulette. I’m open to other names, jk I don’t care. But it’s so much more in the CSz spirit, n’est-ce pas? The audience votes for whom they LIKE and the person who goes home, well that’s just the way it is. Them’s the berries.

And that first eliminated player was Josh Keuhn from Twin Cities, who was whisked up to the booth to be the announcer, where he offered SFX from the laptop to accompany the random number draws.

And I forgot to mention that during the game of Expert Challenge Bron found the Hidden Benefit, which the players were only allowed to take from its hiding place while improvising. I’d question if she was really improvising in Expert Challenge when she took it, but she got it and it stayed with her.

With Josh eliminated I split the remaining players into 2 groups and we played Battle Scene. Two scenes from the same suggestion. Each group had to designate 1 player to be all the props in the scene. The first group had Rachel Kottcamp as the human prop, the second group had Rachel Garmon as the human prop, and the suggestion was Branson Missouri. Bron used 2 distinct character accents. The audience voted to save the second group and Erica Gooch of Philadelphia, who was voted by the audience safe into the second round, had her number randomly drawn. As a consolation prize I gave her an entire bottle of wine generously donated by Anne Etue, original CSz LA player and concessionaire extraordinaire. It was a strawberry shortcake wine or something. I gave it to Erica, with a bottle opener. James came and took the bottle opener from Erica, who sat in the front row, and left with it, saying, “It’s a screw-top.” I followed James to the lobby saying, “Give that back it’s from my Air BNB” and meanwhile Erica opened the bottle of wine and began swigging right from it, so the night was already fun.

In Cut the Comedy 1 from last year, Rachel Kottcamp was the second player eliminated from the game – although not by random number draw, as you remember, but by audience vote – and she was also given a bottle of wine, which she shared with the rest of the players as they were eliminated. I don’t remember Erica doing that but perhaps I am wrong.

The next round was Reboot, AKA Replay (I love having license to call these games whatever I want) and mostly I remember how silly the Vaudeville replay was. I’m not entirely sure what else was happening around now this part of the show. The next game was Monogram Slam (AKA What Are You Doing with all audience-initial suggestions) and Rachel won safety – not for her group of 4, but as an individual.

This is as good a time as any to tell you about the benefits. Bron’s benefit, which she found under a stool while (arguably) improvising, could give her a pass from the random-number draw – basically, safety through any one round. Rachel K’s Big Booty Benefit gave her the option to guess correctly who would win an audience vote. If her guess was right, Rachel would get safety INSTEAD of the vote winner. If she guessed wrong though there would be a penalty. (And if you really want to know what the penalty was – her card did not state it – it’s that she would be given 2 random numbers before the elimination, making her twice as likely as any other candidate to be selected).

So: here is Rachel Garmon, she has just won safety by prevailing in Mongram Slam, but I pull a Monty Hall and offer her a bargain. She can GIVE UP safety and allow herself to be put into the random number draw, and in exchange she would receive the third and final benefit in the game. With an adventurer’s spirit, she took the deal. The audience voted 1 player safe and a random number was drawn. Rachel Garmon’s number did not come up, so her gamble paid off.

The next round was Story with 7 players, and I don’t remember much but I’m sure it was ridiculous. But what I DO remember is what happened after the vote. Somebody won safety, and somebody got voted safe by the audience. The random number came up and eliminated Ryan from Detroit. BUT WAIT. I took my little notebook out of my pocket and gave it to Ashley who read out loud:

Runner-up rule: Once per game, if the eliminated player is the second-highest vote getter of the round, that player shall NOT be eliminated. Instead, that player is safe, and a new player is selected for elimination.”

I was so happy that circumstance, which I anticipated might happen, came to pass, and our show had another big surprise!

With 6 players we played Minority Retort (AKA I Can Do It Better) and the two onstage players from the winning team were the only ones safe from the vote. With 4 players left, the audience was all primed to vote, when Rachel – Garmon, not Kottcamp – announced she was using her benefit. She whispered in my ear her guess of the person she predicted would win the vote. The audience voted. Rachel Kottcamp was saved from elimination by the audience vote. Rachel Garmon had guessed correctly, so she too was safe, leaving only Bill and Bron, so rather than do a random number draw, I flipped a coin. It was, unless I am mistaken, the only proper coin toss that happened through the entire week of shows. Bill, the American, was assigned Heads, for George Washington the father of our country. “Does that mean I’m the arse?” Bron asked. It was a New Jersey quarter, so it meant that Bron was New Jersey, but tails it was indeed and Bron was eliminated. Trenton makes, the world takes.

With 5 players left we played Stick Em Up AKA Dirty Hand Randy for safety. An audience vote, an elimination, and we were down to the final four.

With 4 players left, we played three minutes of Free for All Freeze. At this point the audience voted for which pair of players they wanted to see face off in the final two. Ryan and Bill had gone as far as they could go (Bill was getting a lot of mileage out of his “How am I STILL HERE?!” refrain but then he was eliminated, so he had to stop). The final two contestants were Rachel G. from Richmond and Rachel K. from LA. Did you catch that they were the two human props from way back in round 2?

We split the eliminated players in half and each Rachel got a team of 3 to support her, and we played Charoids (AKA 6 Things) for the win. Bron volunteered to go work the booth so Josh K. got to come down to the field and give clues. Erica was cool with her bottle of wine.

Ashley had given out slips of paper to the audience, who had written out clues for the guessers. I suggested that, on a scale of 1-10, clues should be at a 4-7 level of difficulty and I think the audience abided by that. Each Rachel had 3 clues, and they could score points by guessing correctly or stealing from the other side.

After the first 3 clues the score was tied. I sent them out of the room and we got 2 new clues from the stack. Brought them back in, tied again. “I got nowhere to be til morning meeting,” I said. “We’ll do this all night if we have to.” It crossed my mind to declare them joint winners. But only for a moment. I mean, pretty clear that they were both the winners in all but name, but having come this far we really did have to have one victor.

Rachel K. guessed her 5th clue correctly meaning Rachel G. had to get hers right to keep the score tied and stay in the game. She got everything right but could not identify that her team was clueing her rock icon Prince and with that, after a frantic crazy-making 2+ hours of improv, Rachel Kottcamp of Los Angeles, who had been eliminated second in her first attempt to climb Mount Cut the Comedy, was declared the winner of the game’s second iteration. In the spirit of ComedySportz, Rachel received a medal that she was permitted to pose with but not keep. It was an MS Word trophy from 1987. With a tear in her eye she said, “I know it’s dumb but I needed this.” We play to win, we don’t care if we lose. I think it’s a story we can all feel good about. Or maybe all of us except Rachel Garmon. But I’m pretty sure even she.

So. Can you believe there was even more to the week? At this point it’s been nearly a month since Championship began and I don’t remember a ton about the matches. I know that, on Thursday, I was pretty glad I had the quiz and Cut the Comedy behind me, because I didn’t have any other responsibilities aside from being Field Ref for Bron on Saturday

Here’s some thoughts about the workshops I attended after Danny’s:

I enjoyed Dave Gau’s BattleProv Madness – I did it once before in Milwaukee, and I lost my second match-up there, and this time I won my first 2, but we ran out of time before I – and everyone else - could lose to Doug Nethercott. I guess making it to a 5-way tie that includes Doug is its own form of winning. This was the workshop where I first saw Andy Wegg and Jekeva work and I was really impressed: they are players I hope I will see much more from in years to come. Dave takes such great care in this workshop, like a kindly improv dad, even calling the workshop a 5-way tie rather than going over time, in order to make sure that everyone gets feedback instead of just powering through. Like our matches, the competition provides structure but it isn’t the most important thing.

In a different way, I appreciated the care Josh Keuhn took in his structure of his I Must Break You workshop. 16 participants only. A group of 4 would improvise a 10 minute set and Josh would give feedback. He repeated this with 4 groups, then repeated with different groups of 4. It was tight and slick and I might do something like it some time. I was quite impressed with the overall level of quality in that workshop, across all cities. Josh might have come prepared to shatter a few people, but I don’t think anyone really got blistering feedback. This was a good year for improv, especially in this workshop.

Here’s a few thoughts from some of the matches:

Yay for the Quad Cities team. Emma and Torrey were new to me and I thought they really brought the fire, and Jeff is such a pleasure to watch. His business with throwing the bottled water into the crowd was great and I’d never seen the game “Best of Times, Worst of Times” before. Jeff going from dad with picnic sandwiches to drunken dad with sandwich in his pocket was a great illustration of how the game should be played, and Torrey’s ending by forgiving everyone’s student debt: now that’s what I call a button

I thought Kelly Scruggs lived up to her nickname “The Dominator” in her match, with a vivacious physicality in Forward Reverse and some really good, subtle space work and paying attention in Foreign Movie.

Emily Binion is such a powerhouse. This is my second year seeing her play and being totally blown away, but I’ve never actually had a conversation with her. Maybe next time. She’s in the highest echelon as far as I’m concerned.

I’m such a big fan of the Manchester team. Last year I particularly missed Rachel Wareing’s presence but she surely made up for it this year with her captaining of the team. I remember Courtney Pong’s “call it in the air” bit, which Rachel then took one step further by throwing it to the front row. I remember her and Emily in the “got into heaven” scene, where Rachel made great hay out of her position reaction to getting into heaven, her wry side-swiping of American beer, and her perplexed yes-anding of Emily’s shirt-flipping up action.

Those Downtown Chicago Bosses never disappoint. I particularly liked their game of Lounge Lizard – Sean Sullivan is just enchanting – and Nicole ROCKED her song, including a nice detail in her song about someone who loves an actor: “just be glad he’s not an improviser.” Word. This was the match where after every game they shook Bob the musician’s hand. That became very fun as it built.

The Provo team stood out – Chayton and JR have a great energy together, but we can all agree that Jasmine’s presence in the match was a highlight, both for what it represented, but also as a fine ComedySportz team member by any criteria. Rah rah feminism. I hope we’ll see much more of Jasmine and her high-flying energy for years to come and I told her as much to her face. Being a hippie-dippy Berkeley dad now means that I’m very free with the in-person compliments.

I was star struck by the Buffalo team, and they had a great match. Matt Russell’s “plant in the audience” bit (Dick Chudnow level mayhem achieved) became a mascot and also a source of hydration. Kelsey drinking from the mug was still not enough to erase from my mind the image of her mic falling down last year and Brian having to fix it while she stood there and pretended nothing was happening. “Take care of… that,” I think is what Nicole said, and this is as good a time as any to remember the time Wade’s pants blew off in the garage in Milwaukee.

And I’ll always remember being the field ref for Bron at the Saturday early match. Being Bron’s house mate and having a chance to confer before our work together was a great fun and a good way to prepare. I loved being part of the LA team’s match – those 4 young people have been improvising together for something like a decade – and Em Hanke got in a classic Em bit of “It’s me, H.R.” while taking off her mask. Other memories of being field ref for that match was being snagged by Konstantine’s son and allowing him to give the first suggestion of the match and asking for a young person to name something that people used to have in the olden days and getting the suggestion “health care.”

All credit to Bron for the bit (which wasn’t really a bit) of getting rid of the things she didn’t want to take back to England with her. We even gave away the bag! But the wiley audience member left it behind, so she ended up with it anyway

I know the other thing I wanted to for sure write about (and it only took me 19 pages to get there) was my choice to take the suggestion “tampon.” Though in truth I don’t know that it was really a choice at all. I was so focused on getting the suggestions quickly, making sure Bron heard them clearly, and getting out of the way of the forward progress, that it didn’t occur to me to use any particularly strict editorial discretion. I’m sure if the audience had said something vulgar or brown-baggable I wouldn’t have repeated it reflexively, but I’ve been married almost 10 years and tampons are just not something I raise an eyebrow at. But when I turned and saw Bron’s face even I, who cannot read faces, perceived that she was conflicted. But we moved on, and there were several funny jokes about tampons, and it was no big deal. After the match, Bron cornered me and said, “Would you ordinarily take tampon? Because our team wouldn’t take it, and then afterward we’d have a big conversation about how we should not NOT take it.” And I knew exactly what she meant; I’ve been a part of that precise conversation. So I guess my reflexive decision ends up being a statement in hindsight only, but I don’t think I deserve credit for it because I wasn’t intentionally furthering an agenda other than “this is fine, let’s move along” but with hindsight I’m glad for the side of this debate that I came down on. I feel good about it. Rah rah rah feminism! By the way in case you’ve forgotten what game we’re talking about, tampon was paired with flyswatter in the game of Smackdown, and my joke would have been:

“I saw a fight between a tampon and a flyswatter.”

“Who won?”

“The flyswatter, because it is literally a killing machine and a tampon is nothing more than an ordinary household hygiene product.”

On Friday I had another one of these out-of-body experiences, because I took a meeting at Starburns Industries, Dan Harmon’s production company, which I thought was going to be a total waste of time but was anything but. The guy I met with there actually knew my work, was a huge game show fan, and he was excited about the ideas I presented. Do I think anything will come of it? Not really. But I did get to take a dimly-lit photo with a maquette from Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas, so it was worth it for sure. This is why I say, my week was like a palimpsest, multiple weeks worth of best life being lived layered on top of each other. Wowza.

Guys we haven’t talked about Murder yet.

We played a special game of Murder – just 11 players! – in a conference room where the Jenny Craig executive team had been having a meeting earlier that day. We sat in the 11 chairs around the conference table – 12 including Lionel Twain – and assumed the roles of the nametags placed in front of us. It was Lionel Twain’s corporate retreat in his high-rise office building, including a team building day led by Mr. Pat Short. There was raucous laughter, Mary Ann was a real dirty bird, and the murderers won an overwhelming victory, with both of them surviving to the final round and shaking hands with each other. The majority of the players were experiencing the game for the first time, and to be sure, it did go 2 hours – from 1:30 to 3:30 AM – but it didn’t feel long. Jeremy from Sacramento played a descendent of the character he played last year, and he was killed off first, just as his father was a year ago. But very much to his credit, he stayed for the duration of the game to see how it all played out. That is dedication. Also I found out for the first time that, at a game last year, when the murderers selected me as a victim during the night phase, Rich gave them a head shake “no.” Can you believe that? With a game so unfair, it’s a wonder anyone wants to play at all. But it is good to have a friend like Rich. We should all be so lucky. I always say, he’s the Mozart of Murder. It’s the most special game I know and I get to play it 1x a year max, so we’re grateful when it happens, and I think those of us who have been around the block with Murder a few times will remember this game fondly. I don’t know if anything can ever equal the Old West experience, but this was a special one. Ah hell they’re all special.

Final odds and ends

There isn’t another comedy theater in town with as many women on stage as we had, and that story really ought to be told. We had a mother-and-son team on a stage! Not to mention Jeff Adamson who is the dad of everyone on every team in all the cities, not just the quads

It felt odd to introduce myself as Myles from CSz San Jose, but I am happy to be part of such a fun and welcoming team and Jeff bought us all dinner so I think I’ll stay.

There were 2 times where the announcers from the LA team made me wonder if maybe they were on PCP. One was when Kelly from LA called the last match of the first night a tie (when I feel like she should have just said "LA wins") and the other was Andrew who sometimes awarded points before both teams had gotten applause. But maybe it was me who was on PCP and I just didn't know it.

It turns out that not everyone knows this: Luis was scheduled to ref the final match but was taken ill with food poisoning and James, who I’m sure would have been happy to relax after a week of hard work and enjoy a bottle of wine, stepped in because the show (match) must go on. This was very disappointing, because I love to watch Luis ref, but the hour or so we spent together on Friday before the matches was one of the highlights of my week, catching up and sparking up, and even though he and his wife played a mean prank on me, I still love him and I look forward to seeing him when he stops throwing up out his butthole.

And I’ve seen James ref about 1 billion matches, and I know his bits, and he was in fine fettle on this night. His call of “Reverse” in the second act during the Unicorn musical was inspired.

And hey. How about that final match with Twin Cities vs. LA huh? Grace Blakeman, formerly of CSz New Orleans, now on the LA Sunday team, asked me, “Does LA have to win?” The Minnesota team was certainly on fire, that much is clear, and nobody was blazing brighter than Erin Kennedy. Call me crazy, but I think that gal has real skill when it comes to improv. No I mean it. But it wouldn’t have achieved its heights without Josh and Doug contributing their skill. Josh’s lumberjack felling a tree, Doug as the airship delivery guy: the whole thing was a tour de force. I appreciated the LA team supporting the end of the unicorn musical, though I believe the appropriate designation for what they did is “uni-chorus line.”

Can I also kvell on my home girl? I joined ComedySportz LA the same week Lauren Pritchard did and it is such a gift to watch her do the show. I love the way she takes care of the audience. You notice the way she makes sure they get to their seat and back without incident? We’d all be lucky to have a friend look after us with as much care as Lauren looks after a random fan volunteer.

Did you guys watch this video? Because I CANNOT.


A toast to all the other Field Refs! I loved Taylor “Made” Jarvis (whom I nicknamed at CSz SJ last week) gradually endowing Von as her dad. Konstantine as the guy who won a radio contest! I remember Michael Barryte being good-natured about being the guy who misunderstood “navel lint” as “Naval lint” in a big room on a mic, and he took it like a champ. It’s understandable, it could have been any of us. And thanks to Will Rubio who helped all us field refs remember to use a mic, did it a few times in fact.

Two moments from the final night's party and then we're about ready to wrap it up. Mary Ann Rambo, my friend and confidante and house mate, won a paper airplane made by my son in a raffle drawing back. I gave it to her at the closing night party. I had hoped to sail it in through her window during the match when I was field reffing, preferably from the stage, but it didn't end up happening. You make my heart soar like a paper airplane made, with love, by a happy 6 year old.

And after James had a chance to eat something, in between answering questions for a million people, I told him the story about the song. I said, "There was so much going on tonight, you might not even remember that at the end of the match, before the final score was announced, a few of us came on stage to pay you thanks for starting the company, making this whole week happen, and all for all the great gifts of leadership you give us. And then the music started up and we began to sing the march:

James! He taught us the games

Thomas! He helps to calm us

Bailey! He does it all gaily

Oh James Thomas Bailey he’s our guy


When I met James he knew the names of each young improviser

(James, at this point: “Oh, there’s more”)

I’m old today but safe to say that I am none the wiser

He’s the reason you’re all in LA so everybody cheer!

We were surprised to learn he’d paid off the debt

From the last time you were here


James! It’s more than just claims

Thomas! We make you a promise

Bailey! We think of you daily


Oh James Thomas Bailey he’s our guy!


And then someone handed you a dozen long stemmed roses. It was a really nice moment." Maybe now that's how we'll all remember it.

So to sum up, the first night of the matches I found some seats near some fans: a mom and her kids, who were in town from Riverside, over an hour drive away. “We LOVE ComedySportz,” they told me and they even told me their favorite player on the LA team: it’s Eric Zipper! (Eric and I, along with Ian, did a Mountain Goats sing along at the top of our voices on a walk from 7-11 to the hotel, that was pretty cool.) Anyhow, these fans: the older girl just graduated high school, and the other was going to CSz camp. The next night I sat behind another high school girl with her friends. They were snogging right up to and including the ref shpiel but their friend who had brought them didn’t even notice because she was BOUNCING in her seat with energy and anticipation for the show begin. “You don’t even know, you’re going to love this,” she said. Those fans are the reason we do it.

And in conclusion hot dog.

CWC 2017

I haven’t forgotten about you. I never do. I remember a lot. I remember when we all used to post on the forums. Especially Bron. Some years after tournament I’d type out a long Word document and post it on the forums. And although Championship was weeks ago I am on a long conference call where my line is muted and all I’m expected to do is verify at the end of the call and confirm I was here. It is implied that I have to pay attention, but not enforced, so I think instead I’ll cast my memory back to our time together at Laugh Camp.

One line I repeated to many of you all week long was, “I should be home filling boxes.” That turned out to be a slight overstatement, but I did move from LA to Berkeley less than a week after I returned from CWC. In fact, when I arrived on the SJSU campus, it was after filling my car with 14 moving boxes (books mostly), driving those to Berkeley and loading them into my otherwise empty new house, then turning around and driving south to San Jose. The first person I saw was Chayton. It was 2 hours before I got to San Jose, he’s really tall and can be seen from far away. No, just kidding, but it was rad that I knew exactly where to go and what to do because of Lizzie, Lucinda, Laura, and everyone who helped pull off the planning.

 On Friday I blew off an afternoon workshop and went to the Games Garden where I got a chance to sit quietly, stack a pile of game boxes so their first letters spelled out a vulgar word (no one noticed) and write down a few thoughts about what I loved so far. Here’s what I wrote, which keep in mind only goes up until Friday afternoon:

 ·      Rick Steadman in the Quad Cities Forward Reverse

 ·      Vicki from Manchester: “We all know a moist apple is just an avocado”

 ·      Josh from Twin Cities to Ref Betse: “Not so easy, is it?”

 ·      The following from Lionel Twain and our 2 games of murder: Twain’s sing-song inflection of “Doctor,” the rope around the Disney princess’s foot, the vampire, Salem Harold, the second coming of Applesauce, and Baron Dark (Micah): “Well we’ll never get anywhere if we don’t start randomly accusing people”

 ·      The Manchester game of Finishing School

 ·      All the hugs

 ·      Kelly Scruggs and MJ in the Baked Beans scene

 ·      Starting things off with Kelsey’s workshop, in which we shanghaied John Cooper and ambushed him with an ovation, then turned out the lights, turned over all the furniture, and destroyed the room, including a newspaper catwalk runway fashion show. And this is the workshop where I learned there is a Cassie, which was a highlight

 ·      Jeff Kramer’s morning perorations: that opening day talk was really spot-on. I was proud to be the first person to join Rachel Garmon’s “iMprov” chant

 ·      Foliage

 ·      12th place out of 17 teams playing Trivia.


But that was just what I could capture during a few quiet moments in the Games Garden. Now that I’ve had over a month to reminisce, I have so much more that I want to commit to memory and to celebrate.

I love our four values, I really do. I think next year those of us who teach workshops should think about how the values can be more evident in our lesson plan: e.g, this is the Collaborative part of our musical workshop, this is the Fun part of Shakespeare (which in case you are wondering is kicking Rick Steadman in the balls and saying “Forsooth!”). Anyhow, that being said, the rest of this blog post is going to rely heavily upon the Gratitude value.

I’m grateful that we had two excellent games of Murder this year, and neither of them went on for a billion hours, and both of them had Mr. Lionel Twain in fine fettle. What a national treasure Rich Prouty is. I love that dude. And exciting that we had some new players seeing their very first handshake endgame. I remember that Chris Crotty was the murderer who made it to the end: who were the two civilians that shook hands? It was a late night, sorry I don’t remember.

I’m grateful for the other games we played in the Garden this year. I especially liked playing Beasts of Balance, Concept, and Exquisite Fruit with you all. The latter in particular: does anyone still have any good photos of the best Q&As, like the Guy Fieri one?

I’m grateful for the smooth production and powerful razzle-dazzle of the opening ceremony. All those flags and everyone marching in uniform. And a lot of you lost confidence when the mayor’s opening joke appeared to take a dark turn but then it all came together. And that’s like watching a ComedySportz match, n’est-ce pas? And then there was a huge ribbon and a tiny pair of scissors, and that’s definitely perfect to kick off a ComedySportz match. I didn’t miss the national anthem this year. No, not at all, and not only did I not miss the anthem but what’s more the video ref shpiel worked so, so well: better than I would ever have predicted. Not anyone could pull that off, but with a talent bench like San Jose has, it’s no surprise. This was my first time seeing Lizzie’s talent, and she is amazing.

I’m grateful to Rachel Kottcamp, attending her second championship, who graciously and skillfully ironed all the arm patches onto the uniforms for the CSzLA players. That was critical, you really came through when we needed you. Since I started writing this blog post, I read another long screed that you had to say about a different organization. I am very grateful that you and I are part of ComedySportz, and hope that all that other junk will soon just be an unpleasant memory.

I’m grateful to the two bald guys in the balcony. The musical gifts throughout all the matches brought everything to this heavenly level, such as when they played “Auld Lang Syne” after Courtney Pong had 1/3 of the audience cheer “Happy New Year” while the other 2/3 said “HALF TIME.” My understanding from Pat is the reason that song was a trio was because a friend of Pat’s whom he had not seen in years popped into the balcony to join them for a few numbers: “I just happened to bring my saxophone.”  With Pat on the field with us as ref during our match, it spoiled my opportunity to refer to the 2 bald guys in the balcony as “Pat-ler and Scott-dorf” or possibly “Scott-ler and Wald-short.” I couldn’t decide which one was funnier, but I didn’t get a chance to anyhow. That was the ONLY downside of having Pat Short as the ref. What fun to play with him in “I Dream of Genie” as well as our mat chat (“Take a point away for saying The 580”). Pong caught that the set-up included “hella.” I was surprised the San Jose fanz didn’t have a bigger reaction to that, but they did when I told them Silicon Valley excludes women and too many startups are all-male, so that was OK. ScoldemySportz, it’s not comedy about scolding, it’s scolding played as a sport.

I’m grateful to Captain Rachel Garmon and CSz Richmond for a grand match, valiantly played fought. I’m not sure where we went wrong and why we lost, but I think probably our fatal mistake was winning both audience voting rounds. Kididng aside, playing Dance Party Freeze with your team was among the best improv experiences of my life, and you’re talking to a guy who played combination Moving Bodies/Replay at Bernie’s with volunteer player Spiderman. Also against Richmond, I believe. Thanks for a fun, collaborative match.

I was sorry that we didn’t do the “Eveyone stand up, now sit down if it’s your first year at championship, sit down if it’s your second year, etc etc” activity. I hope that comes back next year in LA. But I am grateful that when the managers introduce everybody, Kirk Keevert and Mary Ann Rambo get chanted. They deserve that, and all the fine things in life. It’s amazing to see what Kirk is achieving, and my heart just swells with pride for him – he was a founding member of the Games Garden in Quad Ciites. And Mary Ann: it’s a good thing the league has her, it seems like she is personally and specifically holding together about half the players and staff. Seems like a lot of work, but we’re all grateful and inspired.

I’m grateful for our host city. San Jose was on such beautiful display. I love the weather there – I think rain was in the forecast but it never came – and the Super Tacos at Iguana’s and the Dutch Crunch at Ike’s, and the milkshake place, lots of easy parking: Downtown San Jose seems like a really cool place to visit, I’m glad I’ll be spending more time there.

Even though I was sore about missing out on participating in some of the workshops, on the whole I am grateful I taught a workshop, to spread Clapenhaagen and Hue Goes There. I remember in the first class talking about the “butt pizza people” and in the second class we discovered a new way to play String of Pearls where we all chant “Once upon a time” and “And the moral of the story is” and “Seminal fluid.” And I won you all over when I said, “Three characters? What is this, Game of Thrones?” and then I lost you  when I said I don’t care for animals but then I said, “Remember when I said the Game of Thrones thing and you all liked me?” and then it was all OK. I was particularly happy to have Steph DeWagener join us because I think her input is so intelligent, and I was gratified that J’leen and Eric’s mom (who I know has a name) mentioned to me that they had some good breakthroughs. Remember that you have to read the “Impro” book and you cannot get too good at String of Pearls. It is a different game with 6 people, 7 people, 8 people, 9 people. Congratulations to Jaclynn and to Kate, the Clapenhaagen champs, and Eric from Detroit who is the indefatigable Ninja champion. I really enjoyed our awesome game of Zombie Tag also.

I’m grateful we played some practice Only Connect clues in the quad. You guys got the Wizard of Oz and Zodiac clues correct, good job! Getting to gab about Only Connect with a proper British Victoria was a real privilege. If you haven’t started watching, follow YouTuber WheelsOnGenius for the new episodes most Mondays. You won’t regret it. And it might help you prepare for a game in LA next year.

I’m grateful for Eddie Quintana, who gives so generously of himself to our team all year round, and this year gave me the opportunity to surprise James with a wine bottle opener.

I'm grateful to Joy and Eric for joining me and Konstantine in the championship match. I particularly enjoyed being dueling DJs with Joy. "I DJ'd his Bar Mitzvah last year" "I'm 14."

I’m grateful for what Tammy whispered to me at the toga party.

I’m grateful for Diana Dulaney, who was missed. And for Rachel Wareing, who I hope got my video greeting card from Bron. I felt these two women’s absence strongly and I love them all the way to Europe. What a fine showing Manchester had in its match to honor Rachel, and what a fitting tribute that Diana’s Houston team played in the championship match with so much distinguishment.

I’m grateful for the woman who volunteered her phone for a game and we read this text: “I’m getting in the shower, feel free to join me.” So good (I say “we” even though I wasn’t on the field – but it’s like if you root for the Giants or something and you’re like “We won!”).

I’m grateful I dipped Jessica Carson after her first-ever performance in a championship match after attending as a free agent more than I have as a player.

I’m grateful for Sean M. who told me “I heard your first ‘Endgame’ joke” and for Sean S. who appreciated my accent/language endowment and “garrotte cravat” which I’d already… forgot.

I’m grateful I made Jill Bernard laugh by doing a goony dance with my arms. I’m grateful for ALL the dancing on the dance floor on the closing night party.

Also from that final night, I’m grateful I played Frisbee with Kate in her Xena get-up. And for those of you who felt like joining in tossing a disc to a hero but for some reason didn’t: next time, do.

I have to say that I can’t say enough about my affection for John Kehoe from Buffalo, Matt Garnaas from Milwaukee, and Darryl Fishwick from Manchester. I could talk to John about anything, I wish more people were like him. Matt is the kindest, gentlest soul in the world, and maybe the most true-blue person I ever met. I was proud to hold Darryl’s hand and hold him tight during the finals match.

And then there was the closing ceremony. I stuck around for the morning meeting where we rehearsed it, and after our 7 PM match on Saturday night was over and the announcement about Houston vs. San Jose got made, I changed out of my sweaty uniform and into my comfy waffle shirt (I do love the weather in San Jose). I forgot all about the Les Miz ending until the last chance round was almost over. I scrambled backstage and scurried under the light of the projector, crawling like volunteer player Spider-Man, and joined the stage right players. The only other representative from our team was Konstantine, who was appropriately wearing his uniform. “Hi, MYLES” he said, in the tone you say to someone who almost forgot to show up, leaving one person from your team to represent the entire city, one person alone standing between a total flake-out on the finale, which would just be too fitting for Los Angeles. We were both grateful I’d made it.

So Konstantine, my great buddy, fellow LA dad, and previous Championship teammate (he was in the Spider-Man game) and my former summer camper whom I nickdubbed Kelsey “Scala” Wagner – who got to dominate in her match with her home team, even when her mic pack fell into her butt and Brian pulled it out - looked at me and frowned because I wasn’t wearing my uniform. “Are you still going to go out there?” they said.

Uh: YES.

Konstantine moved the flag through the air in a proud arc. It was a hell of a moment when that music played. I wish the songs from Les Miz were always that short. Boom, roasted.

When it was time to say goodbye and drive home I listened mostly to the show tunes station on satellite radio, because I love showtunes and singing along with those big emotional songs for 5.5 hours is about the best thing I know to match the big feelings I have when I’m with all of you. And I would often think back on all these things that I’ve been writing about for 9 pages now and I’d laugh on purpose, a big belly laugh, all alone by myself in the car driving home on the freeway, so that I wouldn’t get the bends as I readjusted to the altitude of life at home. And even though it was technically in Indianapolis, I still sang to myself, “Gepeppe no drive a car.”

Probably the thing that made me laugh the most on that drive was remembering back the reaction to the prompt “robbing Rob”: “MAY I ROB YOU?” #consent

And if you have read this far, and if you have also enjoyed casting your mind back to Laugh Camp and steeping in all the memories, I have a suggestion – nay, a request, from a Scoldypantz All-Star. Next year, before “paws up” and you get on the airplane, try this: deactivate your Facebook account. Just try it. After the first day or so, you won’t even care. I recommend this because 1) I am an alter cocker 2) when I do it, it permits me to more deeply and fully connect with you all. There will be time for phone phun later. So just think about it. Try it for a year. See what you think. Maybe over time it will become something that you look forward to every year, like reading Courtney Pong’s “How to get ready for CWC” blog post.

One person who will not take me up on the advice, but whom I love unconditionally anyhow, is my manager James Thomas Bailey and oh boy am I grateful for him. James chose me out of all the people who auditioned in 2002 along with Lauren Pritchard, Jen Bascom, Adam Fisher, Dawn Stahlak, Greg Beirne, Massie Ritsch, that guy Britain, that woman Katie… and I think that was it. On the day I auditioned 2 other guys from UCLA showed up without having RSVP'd and tried to drop Andy's name to get in and one of them was wearing shoes. But James still cast me instead and I can’t think of a better gift a person could receive than the kind of leadership James has demonstrated during my time with him as Artistic Director of the company. He gives me stuff to live up to. Before our team took the stage to compete against Richmond, I said, “Make James proud. Do good improv.” I will keep trying to make James proud when I play with CSzSJ. James remembers what I asked him about next year.

Since we attended championship, I am sorry to learn that James’s mother passed away. I never met her but I am grateful for the role she played in James’s life in making him who he was so that I could have him in my life. This is all all about me.

And in the same breath where I tell my teammates to make James proud, I follow that with “Make Dick proud. Make mischief.”

We were all there when Dick reffed the Saturday 4 PM show. I’m not sure Dick was all there, but we were all there. I was also there for the Milwaukee-Twin Cities championship match that ended in a draw after 40 hours of consecutive ComedySportz. Or at least that’s how I remember it. I also remember: Dick plunking down a crinkly plastic shopping bag on the field; Dick’s fanny pack; Dick dispatching a kid to get him a drink (and putting a mustache on him when all he got back was pop); hula hoops materializing; Dick giving out bath lotions from his hotel room (but coquettishly declining to say “douche”); Taylor as the announcer (“This will be our last suggestion”). But I didn’t get to see much of the second half of the match where Seattle played because I was getting ready for our match, which was timed very well to give the earlier match enough time to run long. Anyone got any good stories from the second half? I remember players saying of Dick’s reffing, “Is the audience with him?” and I think they were. I also remember Dick saying to Jeff Kramer, “You could have been a big star if you hadn’t started with this crap” and Jeff saying of Dick, “Everything I have, I owe to him. And everything I don’t have I owe to him, which is only money.”

I told Dick stories all week long. I don’t mean stories about seeing Dick do something crazy, although the best new one I heard this year was from Matt Garnaas and involved a chafing dish and a wedding guest. No, I told stories to Dick about Dick, new old-sounding stories: I’d do an old-timey sea captain voice and tell him a story that took place on a dark and stormy night, 100 years ago, when the moon shone just like this, and most of the stories – well all of them actually – ended up with finding Dick dead. He couldn’t get enough and kept asking me for more. He told Jill, “Ask Niles to tell you a story.” After the last night’s last show, I told him a story that went kind of like, “Thirty years ago, a bunch of dopes started doing a show around here. It was never a good idea. And then, when they least expected it, they become a bunch of alter cockers and made everyone happy.” Dick pouted, so I added a part about how he fell into a volcano and that seemed to mollify him. Anyway, I thought it was cool Dick came to San Jose and reffed and founded ComedySportz instead of furthering his career as a scrap metallurgist.

I think it is only fitting that the last word should be one of more appreciation and expression of gratitude to CSz San Jose, to Jeff and Lizzie and Lucinda and Laura and everyone on the committees who worked so hard to make the event a success. Laura you are welcome for the room temperature LaCroix I gave you while you were practicing yoga. In my defense, I did give you a cup of ice a minute later. CSzSJ, you gave us a gift beyond measure, an experience too valuable for words (but that didn’t stop me from writing at this point 11 pages of them). I am grateful for you, thanks for the collaboration, inspiration, and fun. See you next year in LA. Nice shoes.


P.S. You all know the Happy Birthday bandit was Mary Ann right?

When I Played "The Mole"

Recently at about 6 in the evening I was lying on my back on the floor in Eric’s bedroom. Eric is someone I don’t know, and have never met – still haven’t, because he wasn’t home. His roommate Matt was home, though, and Eric must be a very understanding roommate because Matt had hidden a series of treasure-hunt style clues in Eric’s room, and I was waiting a cue from my coalition partner Stacey, who was in another room, to begin searching for the clues. Matt, the clue-writer, had invited 13 people over to his house for a daylong game that lasted into the evening, and this hunt was just one part of it. The reason I was lying down was because at this point in the day it had already been a long and cerebrally fatiguing experiment, to say nothing of the lap I took around the block in my underwear about 4 hours previous. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Or is it behind, since that happened previously?

In time, Stacey arrived with a clue from a different room (she had been assigned to the hallway, and was the courier for all the clues, which were unlocked in sequence). The clue she delivered indicated that the “Murricane’s movies” would lead me to a clue concerning “star crossed lovers.” I’d been in the room for about 20 minutes waiting for something to happen and rather than take the place apart and look for clues (which we’d been instructed not to do) I had used that time to familiarize myself with the things in the room. Eric’s belongings.

I pulled the four DVDs off the shelf that had Bill Murray in the cast: “Ghostbusters,” “Caddyshack,” “The Royal Tennenbaums,” and “Groundhog Day.” Each DVD case had a slip of paper inside. Two had arrows on them and two had ellipses at the beginning and end, so I was able to group them together into two pairs of clues in order. One pair of clues indicated that I should count the number of drawers in the room and subtract from it the number of Isaac Asimov books on the shelf. The other pair prompted me to count the number of laserdiscs (laserdiscs!) in the room and hinted at the number of Easter eggs, which was a reference to an out-of-season Easter bucket found on a shelf. Performing some basic mathematical functions produced an Act number, Scene number, and line number. A hardcover copy of Complete Works of William Shakespeare was on the shelf, and the clues yielded the line from Romeo and Juliet that goes, in part, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Behind a bottle of Rose Grenadine on Eric’s top shelf, I found the last clue and handed it to Stacey, who delivered to Monica, who was waiting in the kitchen, and was next in the sequence to solve her room-specific treasure hunt. She began by observing which of the Christmas cards stuck to the fridge with magnets had, upon closer examination, some letters circled. The circled letters spelled out a message. And so on.

My hunt in Eric’s room was the fourth part of the larger treasure hunt, which was in seven parts, and was itself only one part of a 10 part game that lasted 11.5 hours. The winner claimed a prize of $65. This is the kind of thing I like to do with my weekends. Luckily there are guys like Matt who make it possible.

Here’s the story from the beginning.

I’d heard of Matt’s work before I met him. Before his move to LA, he was a Brooklynite and he’d achieved some renown in the Survivor fan community for producing home-brewed Survivor games, which played out in the park over the course of one long day. There’s a niche subculture of people who play Survivor and Big Brother games with their friends.

Max Dawson, a Survivor contestant I've become friendly with, alerted me that Matt had moved to LA and was planning a west coast Survivor day. Through Max, I asked if I could play and Matt invited me to participate. It was a fun day –also long, about 10 hours on the beach – and Matt filmed it with a retinue of helpers using iPhones. He may edit and put it online some time so I won’t say too much about the game itself. I will say a little about the prep I did for that game.

Aside from already being an avid and engaged Survivor watcher since season 1 and a serial consumer of podcasts (pun intended), I further prepared for the competition by watching the videos of Matt’s Survivor Brooklyn games, two of which are available on YouTube. Some of them I watched while taking the bus to the world’s largest maze on the Dole Pineapple Planation on the island of Hawaii. From watching Survivor Brooklyn 1 and 2, I learned two important things.

1.   The best player doesn’t always win. The final 2 in Matt’s first game included a competitor named Steve who played the better strategic game, but the guy sitting next to him had burned fewer bridges and the jury rewarded him. I watched that and thought, “If I make it to the jury and I don’t win, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. These people aren’t going to play and vote like Survivors on the show would.”

2.   Not very many women participate in Matt’s games. There are always more men present.

So when I showed up on the beach I brought a relaxed competitive attitude and a determination to bond with the women, first by being friendly and cordial to them, and then forming strategic alliances with them and keeping them. There were two women on my tribe, and I told both of them in confidence and without any deceit that I would be loyal to them all the way to the end. One of them didn’t survive a tribe-switch scenario, but the other one, a woman named Stacey (the courier in the hallway), was my closest ally in Survivor Malibu, and we made it deep.

Stacey and I formed a tremendous bond that day. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. It was just a game. But we played it so full-heartedly, and being in such a tense, dramatic scenario fraught with paranoia, having someone I was completely loyal to and whom I believed was honest gave me great comfort. In a tiny way, it’s like the relationship the castaways form on the real show. I’ve run into Stacey once or twice since then and it’s always a delight, like a rare meeting a beloved kid sister who lives far away.

Matt must have liked having me play his Survivor game because some months I received an invitation from him to play “The Mole.” For those of you who are not familiar with the early 21st century reality show “The Mole,” I’m not going to describe it here: there are other online resources. It sounded like a fun opportunity and Laurel and I were able to work out childcare and timing. So in the morning I showed up, one of 13 contestants in Matt’s first ever home-brewed Mole game.

Weeks before the game, I replied to Matt’s email questionnaire with answers about when and where I was born, how many siblings I had, and favorite foods, TV shows, and celebrity crushes. He also asked all the players if we had any of the following colored shirts: red, blue, yellow, green. Like any good game designer, I have all. I was assigned to wear a yellow shirt.

I packed my shirt, cell phone and charger, a notebook and pen, and a variety of snacks. This turned out to be one of my best strategic moves of the entire game, for although the invitation told people to bring something to eat or drink, many people did not, and the only food available for the whole day was a selection of popcorn, crackers, and cookies. I ate everything I brought and even had enough to share with a couple of my more whiney and hungry competitors. For those who had brought nothing to eat, it was a very long day, but I had an advantage going into the game: four years’ experience being a dad. Always bring snacks. And bottled water.

Here’s what happened when I got to Matt’s house.

Thirteen suspects assembled. In the kitchen, we put on nametags and picked up a red or a blue cup that had our name written on it in Sharpie. There were also dollar store notebooks and pens for us to write in. I surveyed the other guests as they arrived. My thought going in was that being the Mole would be psychological torture, and that whoever was in that role would be having absolutely no fun whatsoever. My eye was drawn to one guest who was quiet, often sat by himself, and touched his face and eyes and hands in a way that, to me, indicated agony. Here’s the roster of suspects.

Me: Not the Mole. On the email survey, Matt asked us if we would like to be considered to be the Mole. I said no. I already know I’m good at lying, I wanted to test my skills of deduction and observation.

Stacey: My old alliance buddy from Survivor LA. She was also in yellow, and I was very happy to see her.

Steve: The runner-up from Matt’s first Survivor game. I introduce myself and said I’d seen him, and that he should have won. I also proposed a yellow-strong coalition (that’s what you call alliances on The Mole) and Steve and Stacey were on board, so that started things off well.

Paul: Paul and I do ComedySportz together, and 1 week earlier he’d been at my birthday party to play Food Chain. Paul arrived late, hung over, and hungry. He was in for a long day.

Kerry: We played Survivor together. She asked me the best jury question, which was, “You seemed to do a lot of weaseling around to get this far in the game. How do you have any respect for yourself?” Kerry does not mince words. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t like me. She guessed I was the Mole in every round until she was eliminated, which was early on.

Monica: I’d never met her before and didn’t talk to her until after the first few rounds were through. Turns out she and Matt know each other through a Gay Board Gaymers Meetup that I’ve attended before, and she is quite a games maven, which factored in to some of the later rounds.

Mauricio – the last and latest person to arrive. He also had no shoes on.

Corey R and Corey J – Two nice guys named Corey, both on the red team.

Adam – Someone else I barely spoke to the entire game. He’s a huge Survivor fan though and we did get a chance to talk about that a little; he tipped me off to a good sounding podcast with some Survivor tittle-tattle.

Joaquin – Also played Survivor with me and Stacey. He won a push-up contest and expertly deployed a hidden immunity idol. Also a Survivor fan, a good athlete and a smarty.

Ryan – Also played Survivor with me. I was in an alliance with him but ultimately helped vote him out because he was my last remaining tribemate and I thought it would make me seem like less of a target if I had no allies left, Chris Daugherty style.

Brian – Definitely the Mole. Seemed very stressed out and often sat apart from everyone else.

Matt explained the rules, and the most intriguing was about the hidden exemptions. There were some hidden around the house, Matt told us, and they were small. The first person to give him one during a round would be exempt, and could not be eliminated no matter how they did on the quiz. Anyone else who gave him a hidden exemption in that round once one had already been handed in would have no bearing: in effect, they would have wasted it. And you could only play it once per game, i.e. once total.

The first challenge was a game of Celebrity with some wrinkles: players were divided into those who could speak and those who couldn’t. Everyone was collectively trying to get as many clues as possible to put more money into the pot. Brian (the Mole) got a ton of clues in his guessing round, but I figured that’s because he was laying low: no Mole would do anything brazen in the first rounds to reveal himself as such. In fact, it was better to identify the Mole early on – as I had, with Brian – because in later rounds that person would have learned how to model behavior and would be harder to detect.

Stacey tied for high score giving successful clues, which was remarkable because she couldn’t speak, and she cunningly won the tie breaker which required you to estimate the combined heights of everyone playing the game. She won the first exemption and we all took the quiz.

Each player got a group text from Matt containing a link to an online quizzing system. It worked smoothly, quickly, and slickly, and in what seemed like an instant Matt was able to calculate who was safe and who was out. And then just for style points, Matt had a play list with genuine music from the original season of The Mole, which heightened the experience, and he even put our faces up on the screen, using his phone, along with the green or red thumbprint depending on how we did. Very tech-savvy and impressive. It heightened game play. We were all breathless during the elimination ceremonies.

But there wasn’t one yet: after that first quiz, Matt revealed that no elimination would take place. Instead, we would play another game and the points would carry on, but Stacey’s exemption still held true.

During the strategizing and before the second round began, Steve pulled me and Stacey aside. “I found the hidden exemptions,” he said. “I found all of them. They were taped under our cups. I went around and collected them all.”

I was gobsmacked. Steve was a genius! He gave an exemption to me and one to Stacey. He’d already played his, so he was sure to survive the first elimination. This was some high level game play. I was glad I’d made the alliance with the yellow players, since they were doing so tremendously well already and the game had only just begun. We talked about who was suspicious, and I told them I was all-in on Brian, but Stacey and Steve thought it might be Kerry. I was in talks with Brian and Joaquin also, because I wanted to do some information sharing with Brian to help me do better on the quiz. And I was growing suspicious of Steve, my alliance mate.

Round 2 was a relay race. One person out of the 13 had to volunteer as being “Fast”. Steve, Paul, and Brian all volunteered, but Paul was voted in. The other 12 people would split into pairs of leaders and followers. Leaders guided blindfolded Followers through their portion of a racecourse through Barnsdall Park, next to Matt’s home. If the Fast person (Paul) could lap the group, he would win individual exemption but reduce the prize pot for the winners.

I’d forgotten about this part of The Mole, but was awakening to the prospect that the group’s winnings were always going to seem pitifully small compared to what we could potentially earn. I wanted to keep a lot of money in the game if at all possible so I formulated a plan.

I was paired with Corey R. and put in the second position of the team relay. When the first team reached us and handed off the blindfold, Fast Paul ran by us. I stopped and asked him to throw the challenge, and, when he demurred, I gave him the hidden exemption that Steve had given to me. Corey R’s jaw hit the floor, and I was struck by the thought that, if this were TV, it would be a very exciting episode. Paul agreed to go back to the house and not meet his win condition, so the only thing holding us back was how fast we could the rest of us could go which, it turns out, is not very fast. Once I began to run with the blindfolded Corey by my side, he got quite nervous, so we slowed down and I talked him through each step and each turn.

Players who completed their portion of the course returned to the house. Ryan and Monica, the first two to do the race, got back first and were looking for exemptions everywhere, though of course they didn’t know they were all gone already. I was counting on Steve, my coalition partner, giving me another exemption I could use for myself to replace the one I’d given to bribe Paul, since he’d used his already and had no need for all the extras. Monica and I strategized in the stairwell and she told me she was certain Paul was the Mole. We both agreed Steve was the 2nd most likely culprit, but I didn’t want to tell her the truth, that Brian was definitely the Mole. Steve and Stacey were thinking Kerry, but I just didn’t see the evidence.

After the race was over, another pitifully small dollar amount was added to the prize pot and we took quiz number two. Brian did his quiz the fastest, and why wouldn’t he? There was no incentive for him to think about the answers, because he was the Mole.

Matt revealed yet another non-elimination, meaning that the next quiz would result in 3 eliminations: the lowest scoring 3 people would be out at the end of the next round.

That round required players to divide up into 2 groups, Voyeurs and Exhibitionists. We picked our role without knowing what they meant. Every subsequent round started this way. Matt revealed the Voyeurs had to go out and take photos of a bunch of people and get back in time. The Exhibitionists, of whom there were 6, were given the challenge: run around the block in your underwear. The more of you who do it, the higher fraction… of five dollars… will be added to the prize pot… that one of you will eventually win. After 11 PM tonight.

It seemed pretty easy. The six of us all said no thanks. For me, there was a time in my life where I would have been gung-ho about it, but no. And it would have been one thing if everyone was itching to do it and one person was balking – but there wasn’t any, “He won’t do it, he must be the Mole!” talk. It just didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

But then Joaquin murmured that he might be willing to. And Ryan said if someone else did it, he would do it. And Corey R. said the same thing. So I urged Joaquin to go through with it, and Joaquin said OK and stripped down. And I told Ryan and Corey R. that they couldn’t let Joaquin do it alone. That’s just wasn’t right. But then they backed out.

And letting Joaquin be the only person to suffer for the team just didn’t sit right with me. So I took off my clothes, and Joaquin and I ran around the block in our underwear. That’s the part I didn’t know if I wanted to tell my wife about. I still haven’t. And Ryan, that joker, hid our pants while we were gone. Classy, Ryan.

Anyway, so we made it around the block. We hardly saw anybody. I don’t know how many people saw us. Turned out the worst part of it was the cardio exercise, for though I have lost almost 20 pounds this year, I am not a runner. Joaquin is. I had to keep telling him to slow down. But we bonded on that run. I told him I was suspicious of Steve.

Joaquin, me, and the Voyeur with the highest score were in a tie-break competition for who would join Stacey and (secretly) Steve, for exemption in this round. The tie-break involved guessing how long the slowest person took to respond to Matt’s email questionnaire. I had the closest guess and won the tie-break. When Matt awarded me exemption, I declared, “I give my exemption to Joaquin, for being willing to do the underwear run by himself.”

I don’t know what I was thinking. I regretted it. Although I was pretty sure Brian was the Mole, there were going to be 3 people knocked out of the game in this round. It was a very risky move. But it was kind of outside the game. Also, I knew I wasn’t the Mole. I had nothing to lose by playing with brio. I figured the Mole would be playing quietly and subtly, not making as much noise as me. And if people thought that was a double-bluff and therefore I was the Mole, that helped me too because they would flunk the quizzes and be eliminated. There was absolutely no downside to playing flamboyantly, which is good, because that’s my natural inclination.

We took the third quiz, Matt cued up the suspenseful music, and began the first elimination ceremony. Ryan, the hider of pants, was eliminated. “From the moment I saw everyone writing stuff in their notebooks,” he said as he gathered his things, “I knew I wasn’t going to be good at this game.”

Corey J. was eliminated. He was one of the silent players in Celebrity, and I never interacted with him at all. Turns out he was not good at the game. Cheers, Corey.

The third person eliminated was Brian, the person I was certain was the Mole. The person who I thought was so obviously the Mole, that I was going to be bored playing because I’d just observe Brian’s actions all day and coast to the end. But no. Brian left. 10 players remained. And I had no idea who the Mole was.


Next we played a game of Telestrations with modified points scoring. Another total fiasco in terms of adding money to the pot. Some particularly undrawable guesses and unguessable drawings included “wheel mountain top” and “river camera.”

Joaquin was eliminated. At least I saved him once before he went. In the days after the game ended, Matt sent out a graph with some stats in the game and there were some interesting things about this round. Kerry had the worst performance in the quiz, but she played a hidden exemption – not sure how she got one – and that’s why Joaquin went home. Kerry, who was certain I was the Mole, would have gone home sooner if not for that.

In the next round, we split into 2 groups and played 2 different card games – Timeline and Cranium Pop 5 – and Kerry, no longer saved by hidden exemption and convinced that I was the Mole – did the worst on the quiz and went home.

In the final 8, half of us went to play Flip Cup and the other half did a memory challenge, looking at pages of a ghost story in one room and running to another room to transcribe it accurately. I came within 15 words of finishing mine, and made no mistakes, so won the most for the pot. Around now, I was pretty sure Paul was the Mole, but was distributing my answers around on a few people to cover my bases. I was also beginning to get worried about making it home on time to relieve the babysitter.

Stacey, Steve, and I had done nothing to conceal our coalition, and we were doing a lot of talking with Monica too. Corey and Adam were clearly always together talking. Paul was always kind of doing his own thing, whining about why there wasn’t any food and giving inconsistent or side-stepping answers to his own biographical questions. But around now, people started to say: what’s the deal with Mauricio? He has no partners, no alliance. He’s never talking to anyone. How is he still hanging in there?

Steve in particular was suspicious of Mauricio, and I was still suspicious of Steve. Steve did give me another hidden exemption, which I played in the round after Kerry used hers, just to keep myself in the game long enough to observe a little more. But despite his loyalty to me, Steve’s moves were so bold it reminded me of how I probably would have played as the Mole. But it wasn’t Steve: he was eliminated after the card game round, the first of the yellow alliance to fall.

And then there were seven, as Anderson Cooper would say. This is where the room-by-room treasure hunt happened. To hide the clues, Matt made all of us go into a bedroom for sequestering. During that time, various groupings conferred to trade theories and share info. To do so with privacy, we took turns stepping into the closet, until we noticed there was also a bathroom to step into, which was a lot less awkward. I talked to Monica and Mauricio, whom I didn’t suspect at all, and to Paul, who seemed to be getting more focused on the game. I hadn’t collected any info on Stacey at all. If she were the Mole, she’d have so completely hoodwinked me that I wouldn’t still be in the game because my quiz answers would have been so far off base.

Around here is where my suspect list got too broad. Adam hadn’t done much to shake up the game, and I didn’t know much about Corey either. I always think it’s a bad job when Survivors in their post-game interviews say that there were some people they simply didn’t speak to at all. With so few people in the game, it seems obvious you have to spend at least a little bit of time talking to everyone. But I had fallen prey to that same lapse, and what I didn’t know was making my paranoid. I tried to compensate for my lack of certainty by pointing the answers to my quiz questions at a range of people, to give me a better chance of being right on at least some questions.

The treasure hunt took us, collectively, 43 minutes. Paul went first and seemed especially dense about finding clues in the Friends DVDs. Each of us was confined to our assigned room, but I was adjacent to Monica and to Stacey, and I compared notes and conspired with them both.

The next round was that new popular spy themed card game about guessing secret words; I’d never played it before, but Monica had, and she was good at it. I would have been better if I had some experience: remembering all the hint words from earlier in the game is crucial, but I figured that out too late. Also, we’d been up and playing games for not a few hours already, and I was worrying about getting home on time. The group I was on lost that game and, though the remaining Corey said at the beginning of the elimination ceremony that he felt sure he’d tanked the quiz, it turned out this was the end of the line for me. With 6 people left in the game, I was eliminated.

I was sorry that I couldn’t play any more, but it was a blessing for sure because by the time I drove home, picked up some stuff, and went to pick up my son, it was 9:26 and I only had until 9:30 so if I’d lasted even one more round I would have been late. I wish I’d won, but I definitely got my money’s worth of entertainment.

When I left, I hugged Stacey and told her to fill me in on what happened. I was so utterly puzzled by the time I left that I had no certainty at all about who the Mole was. As I drove back to the west side, I really thought Adam and Corey, who had done so little to draw attention to themselves, were the most likely candidates.

Adam and Corey were the next two to be eliminated, Stacey texted me.

That left Monica and Stacey, the two people I felt certain were not the Mole, and Mauricio and Paul, the two people who’d been the last to arrive at the party in the morning. I felt sure the Mole would never be late. I still didn't know what to think.

Mauricio’s luck ran out. Stacey told me that it was her and Monica in the finals, with Paul the obvious Mole. Monica did better on the quiz questions; Stacey came in second, and Monica collected $65 for her troubles.

Paul was the Mole. Paul! Paul who had volunteered for the running position. Paul who accepted the hidden exemption I gave him and pretended to be happy. Paul, who only the week before at my birthday Food Chain had been at the dining room table with me when we were the first two players eaten in the first round. Paul who, according to his Twitter, had been stealing people’s notebooks and trashing their cups (one quiz question in every round was, “What color is the Mole’s cup?”). Paul who didn’t tell anyone his home town, his favorite food, or favorite TV show. Paul who, if he had not been the Mole, would surely have tanked the quiz so he could go home to eat, sleep, and hydrate. It all seemed clear to me in hindsight, but I didn’t have the wits of Monica, Mauricio, and Stacey, whose longevity in the game was assured by their early intuition that Paul was the Mole. Monica tried to tell me that, starting before even the first elimination, but I guess I just wasn’t prepared to believe her.

As I said, I felt sure going into the game of that whoever was the Mole would be tortured and would have  no fun at all. When I look at the group photo we took, Brian, my original suspect candidate, has a big smile on his face. The only person with the corners of his mouth turned down into an exaggerated frown is Paul.

It’s not like I didn’t suspect Paul. Another question that appeared on every quiz was, “Who is the Mole?” and I did list Paul as my choice, though only once, according to Matt’s stats. I pointed many of my other quiz answers at him. I wasn’t the only one on the wrong track though: the person who most people thought was the Mole was me. Paul received 30 total votes over the course of the game, most of them from Monica. I was the runner up, with 10, and the only reason that number was so low was that most people who gave answers indicating me didn’t last long in the game.

So what did I learn from playing the Mole? My observational skills are OK when it comes to absorbing a lot of information, but when it comes to sifting through it and deciding what’s important and what’s not, I am still highly prone to missing out on what’s staring me right in the face. Maybe because I knew Paul from ComedySportz and knew how idiosyncratic he can be, I was inclined to give his odd behavior a pass, whereas someone like Monica was able to see him more clearly for being a traitor.

I had a great time, just like I did when I played Matt’s Survivor game. I played the only way I know how which is with exuberance and zeal. I wish I could do something like that every weekend.

Thanks to all the players for a fun day. And thanks for Matt for working so hard. No thanks at all to Paul. And thanks to you for reading.

When I Played Secret Hitler

I spent the last days of 2015 the way I spent the beginning and middle days, and the way I intend to spend 2016: playing games. For the 10 days we were in Berkeley, I packed a big stack of games. With my friends and family, most notably my sister’s 8 year old girl Madeleine, we played J.S. Joust, Slap .45, and Discount Salmon, which was by far my niece’s favorite and will be her next birthday present for sure.

But what I was most excited for was Secret Hitler. I was very excited to have a chance playing the game, so here is my report.

I should start by saying that I feel like I have a lot of experience learning rules and teaching them to new people, even if it’s a game I’m not familiar with. I hosted Food Chain from “The Genius” twice in the last two years and explained to a room of 20 people at widely varying levels of tricky-game-comprehension how to play Food Chain, which is also about secret identities, incomplete information, bluffing, and strategy.

I’ll also add that the “Print and Play” PDF provided generously by the game’s designers to every backer on Kickstarter is, while awesome, named somewhat misleadingly. Quite a lot of cutting is involved, so it’s lucky I brought scissors and set aside some cutting time in advance of game night. Also, buried in the rules is the suggestion that coin envelopes should be provided to the players. If I’d known this before departing LA, I could have easily provided them for the players, as I have many, but as you’ll see below I advocate for some revisions to gameplay that make the envelopes unnecessary.

Though it’s not in the rules, one of the blog posts or KS updates indicated that, with the policy deck, it’s very important that the cards not be flipped over, and that the print and play versions of the cards are a little too flimsy, so I had the bright idea to tape all the policy cards to dominos and put them in a bag that players could draw out of. The problem of course is that the dominos were all different colors and they end up going back into the bag, so this idea was actually terrible, but it didn’t end up impairing our game, though it could have. The other mistake I made was, when the policy bag was down to just 2 dominos left, instead of pulling those out and then putting the discards back into the bag, I refilled the bag before the next legislative section, so we didn’t quite get the proper experience of having every card from the deck get played once before any got played twice. Next time I would do it differently.

We gathered at The Albatross on San Pablo in Albany, my favorite game bar in the world. My mother-in-law says she used to socialize with friends there in the 60’s and 70’s, so it’s been a fine bar for generations. I’m proud to be part of the tradition. We got the best table in the bar, a huge round number made of serious lumber in the back corner, conveniently close to the popcorn machine and self-serve water station.

Me and my wife were in attendance along with my friends Mimosa, Austin, and Casey. I’ve been friends with those three for years, dating back to when we were (variously) campers and counselors at Live at CCCT Drama Camp in El Cerrito. Casey brought her friend Arianna. Sal also came: Sal is another drama camp alum but one I don’t see nearly as often, and he brought his delightful girlfriend Monica. They provided chips and salsa for everybody. The last player was Jake, a dear friend from high school I haven’t seen in years and years. Nobody at the table knew him except me, and Laurel a little bit. That’s a 9-player game, where nobody knew everybody. Seemed like a promising group for my first outing. I was excited.

Once everyone was settled and we got to the rules, it became clear – to me at least – that the rules were too long for non-experienced gamers. Everyone there was eager and willing to try the new game but, and this was especially the case since we were at a bar and many people had been drinking, I was absolutely deluged the entire time I was reading by people going “I’m confused,” “I don’t get it,” “Wait, what?” and asking many, many questions. This is quite common across many games, and people do a better job of understanding once they begin playing, but since the game involves secret identities, players really should be armed with all the info they need before the game begins, because if you’re secretly a Fascist you don’t want to give it away by asking questions about how the Fascists win. I mean, you can do that, and if you’re a savvy game player it’s simple enough to do so under the guise of pretending to be a Liberal, but it was too much for most of this group.

I also found the strategy notes at the end a mixed blessing. They are quite important, but after the painful process of getting us all the way to the rules document, I then had to say, “OK let me just read these strategy notes before we get started. There are NINE OF THEM.” Groans. The rules lack brevity, is what I’m trying to say. I think part of the problem is that things that don’t happen very often – such as Veto power - are described in detail, when perhaps they should be in a separate section called “Things That Don’t Happen Very Often.”

Another source of confusion was the name “Policy Deck.” Since the cards in the deck themselves do not actually represent policies at all, but instead unlock policies on the Fascist victory track (except for when they don’t), it took a lot of explaining for the players to grasp what exactly the policy deck represented.

Although we never failed more than 1 election in a row, the failed election gameplay mechanism doesn’t seem quite right to me. Since the Liberals’ majority is so small, and the deck is so heavily weighted in favor of the Fascists, it seems that failed elections favor the Fascists. I think if bots played this game, the Fascists would vote Nein on every election, hoping that at least 1 Liberal would do the same, and just let the random draw of policies help advance the Fascist cause. Fortunately, bots don’t play this game, but I do think there are some holes in the mechanism of failed elections.

A more practical problem with failed elections is that the print and play version of the game has a “Failed Election” track on the Liberals’ board, but no token to advance, nor is one mentioned in the rules. As long as you have someone at the table who knows how games work, that person can find a penny or a cigar butt or something and move it along the tracker when elections fail.

Speaking of the rules, just in case anyone from CAH is reading this, the version that I downloaded has a few typos. In paragraph 1 sentence 1 (really?), the word “are” is missing between the words “players” and “German.” In Gameplay>Election>Vote on the Government, at the end of sentence 2, it should be “ready to vote” and not “read to vote.”

Also on the topic of game bits, our group’s biggest problem by far involved the game cards. What happened was this: a player revealed her Fascist Party Loyalty card face up during an election phase because she thought it was her “Ja!” card. This had a chilling effect on game play, since she had investigated another player in the second round, who it turned out was Hitler, so electing Hitler Chancellor became impossible. As it turned out, the Fascists still won, and although this kind of error is really one player’s fault for making a mistake, it did illustrate to me how a little more economy of design could prevent such a thing from happening.

When I was giving the game bits out to the players, I was in fact quite surprised by the redundancy of the Role cards and the Party Loyalty Cards. Once game play began, I understood that they exist solely to protect Hitler’s identity during investigations. Put another way, in order to protect 1 player during 2 of a possible 11 (or more) rounds of the game, we double the number of cards we give to every player. As my Jewish mother would say, “Ongepatchket.”

I suggest that role cards are simply marked with Red (Fascist) or Blue (Liberal), or any color scheme you want. During investigation, you show the color of your card but not its text. This idea is inspired by “Two Rooms and a Boom” from Tuesday Knight games.

Furthermore (Fuhrer-more?), I suggest the “Ja” and “Nein” cards be combined into a double-sided, circular card, like a drink coaster. So now instead of giving each player 4 identical rectangular cards, we’re giving them a round one and a rectangular one that have different functions and that look and feel differently.

I’m actually really surprised this hasn’t come up before with other playtesters. Like I said, it could have just been my friend, but I think the principle stands.

Lastly, the clockwise rotation of the Presidency meant that, with 9 players, it was quite a long time before the people at the far end of the table got to do anything other than vote, and the prospect of the Special Election meant that it could have been even longer.

Anyhow, those are my main objections to the game as it stands. All that aside, the game ended in a fun, dramatic fashion: it came down to one final policy that would win the game for one side or the other. The President and Chancellor – Jake the stranger and my diabolical wife - were two terribly clever Fascists who had successfully duped everyone for the whole game starting right from the very beginning. Despite the accidental outing of a Fascist and the useless Hitler, the Liberals had a tough road because Ari was so suspicious of everyone at the table that she voted Nein on everything. No matter how much we tried to explain that any Liberal at the table is allied with HALF the other players, and she should consider trusting at least one of them, we could never get any traction so the Liberals had a real uphill battle.

I left feeling like I didn’t get a real good experience of play, and slightly miffed that an error resulting partly from player foul-up and partly from overabundant game bits undermined the significant investment in time that I’d put in to preparing, explaining, and trying the game. If I wanted a powerful force with an exposed frailty that made the whole structure vulnerable to collapse, I’d build a Death Star like in 3/7 of the “Star Wars” movies.

tl;dr Secret Hitler could surely be fun for a group of experienced game players, but the rules and strategy tips lack brevity, and there is redundancy in the design of the game bits that can create confusion and spoil the fun.

The Happiest Puzzlers on Earth

This is the in-depth story of how our team won the Shinteki Field Trip Disneyland puzzle hunt on November 8th 2014. When I wrote this blog post in Word, I put all the spoiler-specific information in white font, but it seems you can't do that in Squarespace. So be forewarned: here there be explicit and specific answers to puzzles in Shinteki's Field Trip Disneyland.

Tammy picked me up and we carpooled from the west side to Anaheim where she parked her magical car on the ground floor and plugged it in. I got breakfast at La Brea bakery and we entered the park. We visited check-in where Linda and Brent welcomed us. Shortly thereafter, Marc and Balki, the other half of our team (named “Tammyles”) met us at the appointed spot. Marc saw a friend who had traveled from out of town for the hunt, and though there were many other puzzle hunters who we knew and occasionally saw roaming the park over the course of the day, some of them – like my good friend Elissa – I never spotted once, despite the fact that we were surely within 30 feet of each other more than once during the day. A bit of randomness, a bit of tunnel vision.

When we all checked in, we got a binder and name badges. Tammy knows the park extremely well and has been a season passholder for many years. I know the park quite well too. Marc and Balki had never been to Disneyland before. Marc and Tammy have a lot of experience in puzzle hunts, and I have a lot of experience too, and Balki had never done one before. Our combined talents were formidable, and best of all everyone on the team had a simply splendid personality. This is so important when you spend a whole, long day with your team occasionally butting your head against knotty and even frustrating problems.

For no particular reason, we picked Adventure Land to attack first, beginning our adventure at the Enchanted Tiki Room, where we solved two puzzles. I quite like starting a visit to Disneyland at this attraction, and it was a good choice on this day too. We loved the discovery about the rhymes and the pictures in the waiting area puzzle: the cast member there wanted to know what we were doing and offered to help, but we had to nicely explain that her guidance was of limited value. She was impressed when she saw the answer though. Our puzzle had a series of pictures; we realized that the pictures were words that occurred at the ends of lines in the rhyming couplets found around the waiting area, each rhyme associated with a name that we indexed to extract the solution word.

Marc solved the Jungle Cruise puzzle on the walk from the Main Street train station with a bit of help (I anagrammed the 9-letter P word in my head: GASP SNEER to PASSENGER). This was the first of a number of instances where, in Tammy’s words, “Marc breathed on a puzzle and solved it.”

We walked up and through Tarzan’s Treehouse and solved the puzzle there; while aloft in the treetops, Tammy informed us that one puzzle in the binder was a photo scavenger hunt and furthermore that one of the tableaux we had to re-create was partway across the Tarzan rope bridge. We got a family to take a picture of us and returned to ground level. This was an early instance (one of several) where knowing the park and the Disney characters benefitted us: the fact that the Tarzan attraction was repurposed from the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse factored into the puzzle’s solution.

At this point, before we moved on to New Orleans Square, we made a game-changing decision. It affected everything we did that day. We sat down and looked at the whole binder from start to finish. We got familiar with the “Anywhere” and the “Somewhere” chapters and delegated them. Marc and Balki were responsible for looking for the different styles and fonts on the trash and recycling cans throughout the park. This was a big job and often Tammy and I would say, “Where are those guys? Oh they probably got hung up looking at trash.” But they were very attentive and they did a great job. Looking at trash. Tammy took charge of the photo scavenger hunt list and the pin trading (which she does for fun on visit to the park anyhow) and I captained the word-swapping puzzle. Balki also helped remind me to approach other teams and strangers for information: “Go ahead, Mr. Gregarious!” Balki also played the part of Captain of Competitiveness, always humorously suggesting opportunities to sweep the knees of the other teams.

We burned through a lot of the “Anywhere” puzzles in the early part of the day. This included, among other things, me doing the double acrostic in flickering torch light while walking through the uneven pavement in the long indoor queue at the Indiana Jones attraction. Knowing what I do about the rooms in which Indy speaks, I bet I could have solved the puzzle without riding, but was glad that Marc and Balki got to experience it, and was pleased with the solution words. Among many misdirects, the puzzle solved to AUTO RACE BLANK FIVE HUNDRED, to which the answer of course was “Indy.”

Reading the Forbidden Eye code, like the Star Wars code, was a matter of squinting at it until you saw the Matrix. Marc and Tammy were good at that. The Star Wars was even harder to make progress with until you realized what was peculiar about the syntax. It was written in the style of Yoda. But when we did read it, Tammy was able to answer the trivia question based on her knowledge of the ride without us having to go on Star Tours.

We moved on to New Orleans Square puzzles and solved the Haunted Mansion puzzle from the café where we read through the binder. I’d seen the mechanism before, but didn’t see the importance of the partial answer until we entered it into Clue Keeper, and then we all got a big happy gasp when we realized what we had to do next. Answers to multiple choice questions spelled out NOW BE A KID, which Clue Keeper registered as a partial solve. When you went back and answered the same questions as though you were naïve about the technology in the mansion, you got the puzzle’s true solution. And the Pirates of the Caribbean ride-through puzzle was a good example of something fun that enhanced but did not distract from the ride: you had a list of events that take place over the course of the ride and you had to note what order they occurred in and whether they were to the port or starboard of your boat. Marc correctly intuited that it was a binary puzzle, but that didn’t stop me from insisting that it would be first and last letters of lines. I was wrong. The pirate anagrams were of course outstandingly good.

The honeycomb Pooh puzzle was a tough one for us: we had to visit some place in the park that I didn’t think we’d have had to go (a gift shop), but then again I’m not very familiar with Critter Country. If the Country Bears are gone, then so am I.

This land was where two of our best triumphs took place, in the sense that we could intuit or shortcut answers without going on rides. Normally when visiting Disneyland you don’t try to find ways of getting out of going on rides, but we were feeling bullish on our chances of sweeping the day so we wanted to be efficient with time. This included, at my suggestion, making Tom Sawyer’s Island a low priority due to the hassle involved in getting there.

Anyway, the morse code/ternary puzzle directed us to the tableau at the end of Splash Mountain and asked us a specific question about what could be seen there. I’ve been on that ride scores of times but didn’t know the answer to the question. I asked the cast members at the front and exit the question and they didn’t know. I asked every cast member I could find on the walk to Main Street. Then I started asking guests wearing pins, figuring that they would know a lot of Disney trivia but none of them knew the answer either. A nice couple dressed as Steampunk Mickey and Minnie said, “We’re about to go on that ride” and I asked them to text me the answer. I gave them my number and they held up their end of the bargain. A win!

Rather than ride The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which was broken physically and also in the sense that I didn’t want to ride it, we guessed the answer based on the mechanism of the puzzle and the names of Pooh bear’s friends. The puzzle was based on double letters and the partial solution indicated that the answer referred to three of Pooh’s friends who were standing in a particular place at one point of the ride. Since Rabbit, Eeyore, and Tigger all have double letters, we guessed the answer was BEG. Our guess was verified by Cluekeeper. Another win!

Cluekeeper, as always, was perfect all day long. What an amazing interface. It’s also helpful for me as I try to reconstruct the events of the day for this blog.

The Anywhere word-exchange puzzle was 20 blanks and 2 words. Each team had a different 2 words, so you had to be on the lookout for other teams and ask them to swap. For many of the teams we approached early in the day, they didn’t know they had 2 words or even what the puzzle was: they hadn’t read the whole binder like we did. But by later in the day some teams had nearly all the words so there was room for more negotiating in the exchanges. One team demonstrated a bit of poor sportsmanship by demanding many words in exchange for a few we didn’t have, but we politely demurred and removed ourselves from the situation.

There were about 3 words that had not been provided to any team: the only way to get those was to ask a Game Control member during one of a few windows of opportunity over the course of the day. One such was around this time in Fantasy Land, and when we got the word we also got to play a bonus anagram game, where we looked at cards and had to unscramble the names of notable Disney Characters. We did better than all but 1 of the teams and got one point less than the highest possible score. At the time we played, I got the last anagram for our team before time ran out and pushed us into the high score up to that point. I am not your guy for binary puzzles or for mentally rotating things to determine solutions, but give me an anagram and I punch above my weight.

 We finished out Fantasy Land, including the answer to the double acrostic I’d been working on all day. It was an answer word that Tammy knew based on her familiarity with the movie but we had to enter the attraction to confirm it. Tammy breathed on Casey Jones and got it right: I helped by identifying where the monkeys were relative to the caboose.

 The Princess Binaries was an amazing, cool puzzle based on a naturally occurring artifact and it was a lot of fun to untangle (no pun intended). We intuited the answer with about half the letters solved, and the confirmation built into the text of the puzzle encouraged us to enter it into ClueKeeper. Another right answer.

 It took even less legwork to solve Snow White, as it happened. We all agreed that it was going to be difficult to stay oriented in the ride. Marc mused aloud if there might be a way to sniff out the correct path… and then he uttered the phrase out loud as simply as if it were just printed normally on the page. We all cracked up. It was another breathe-solve for Marc. We still went on the ride, and got a new thrill when we discovered the surprise the game makers had left for us. Such a fun memory. The correct path through the jumble of letters printed on the page was marked with blacklight ink, so as soon as you entered the ride the answer was basically provided for you.

 We gathered all the data needed to solve the deck of cards puzzle: it was a good thing we had players of both sexes on our team. Yay diversity! We really struggled with decoding the 4 instructions for dismissing cards. We fought with that one a bunch while we stood in line for It’s a Small World, and while Balki and Marc were trying to tough that one out, I was also struggling with the puzzle that was partly in Spanish. I conferred with the family standing in front of us in line; they were fluent in English and Spanish, but we still had to kind of go on a hunch. It was a IGIBIDGI situation (I get it but I don’t get it). Once we realized how it fit in with the other answers in the meta for this group of Anywheres, we corrected a couple letters we had wrong (we think… still not sure) and pulled out an answer.

 So then we turned the attention back to the playing cards. The particular angle of the sun and the heat at this time, and the length of the line for a ride we didn’t really want to go on all added up to the only time I felt really frustrated all day. But happily just when I felt that emotion I looked at the flavor text again realized what to index. That was a huge relief. It’s a Small World is so slow that Marc and Balki then figured out the whole cards puzzle on the ride while Tammy and I did the Small World counting puzzle.

Small World is 15 minutes long! Plus, there was such a backup of guests disembarking that we came perilously close to missing one of the other windows of opportunity to receive a clue word from GC. We had to bob and weave and race through the crowd where a parade was dispersing. We got it though.

 Somewhere along the way we stopped and got lunch, and this was one of the toughest things we did all day because I am picky and wanted Tammy to keep showing me choices before settling on an option. We had a great lunch at Main Street, at a table juxtaposing another team. We took photos of one another: “a picture of your team at lunch” was one of the items on the photo scavenger hunt, which Tammy had done a great job captaining. I helped: we used my phone after we discovered that the family who photographed us at Tarzan’s Treehouse, using Tammy’s Google phone, had not done it correctly and there was no photo. After that, we took all the pics on my iPhone. Families who attend Disneyland are apparently more proficient with Apple technology than with Google products.

We backtracked to Mickey’s Toontown because we knew it would close early. While at the gates we got the last of the exchange words needed and then solved that whole puzzle, which was a really impressive use of the words. The same 20 words were used as a before-and-after clue, a binary clue, and a first-and-last-letter clue, which spelled out the message EARLY SPACE WOMAN SALLY, leading to the solution RIDE, which was part of the larger solution “STAR WARS RIDE,” and the ultimate answer “Star Tours”. Doing the Mickey house walk-through was fun, and we ran into Clavis Cryptica’s team which was a thrill, cause she’s a puzzle celebrity! I remembered a bunch of the license plates in the Roger Rabbit wait queue before we got there and although we still had to go inside and get the rest plus more to solve, but I did make my team laugh by guessing the rebuses we were about to see.

Tomorrow Land was in our future. Tammy’s favorite ride is Buzz Lightyear and despite strategizing how to maximize score we did not get the bonus for this. A cheerful cast member gave us some completely wrong information about the points symbols on the attraction, but Tammy’s memory helped us get it right. The naturally indexed word painted on the wall was a very impressive find by the Shinteki team. It wasn’t until later that we returned and did Space Mountain: our one and only FastPass for the day. Marc recused himself from solving and thrilled to the ride while Tammy, Balki and I chanted out loud, counting together until the car turned left. The instructions told us to strategize prior to riding and we determined that since only 5 of the 22 turns were left, we could create a sequence of 5 numbers (easy to remember) by counting up and restarting at 1 every time there was a new left turn. This worked great and was a fun way to add a new twist to ride an already premium attraction. We were pretty silly, chanting and counting out loud on the ride, but I doubt the other guests noticed. We celebrated getting the correct answer to this difficult puzzle with pizza from Red Rockett’s Pizza Port, one of my favorite places to eat in the park.

Now it was getting dark and we were nearly out of time but we still had two lands left: Frontierland and Main Street. We couldn’t finish Frontierland because we had left Tom Sawyer’s Island for too late in the day: the final boat had already departed. This was partly because, as I mentioned, I didn’t think it was that important to go to TSI (I never thought we were going to sweep the binder) and so didn’t bring it up, but also because we had remembered the time wrong of the last departure (even though Shinteki put it in our binders). Tammy was really surprised by this: getting a detail like that wrong, or allowing a cutoff to slip by her, is not very Tammy-like. So I think she was a bit flummoxed, but we focused on the puzzles we could still solve.

At one point, earlier in the day, I used the bathroom in New Orleans Square and while I was gone the team solved the train/Morse code puzzle. I used the bathroom in Frontierland too and when I came back my team told me I had to do the shooting gallery game. I don’t know what made them think I’d be right for it – Laurel is a better shot than I am, as I learned when we went out in the desert to shoot off guns (another story for another time) – but I think that gallery must be really easy because I hit everything I aimed at the first try. One of the signals wasn’t working, but we had enough letters to fill in the blanks mentally and get the solution. Now I can claim to be the best marksman on the best puzzle hunt team at Shinteki Field Trip Disneyland.

We stood in line for Thunder Mountain, tried to reason through the tunnels problem without riding it, but then determined that we only needed to know how long 3 of the tunnels were, and exited the ride with 2 more correct answers and only 1 land left.

On Main Street, we solved the want ads and the checkers puzzle easily before getting a little hung up on the index puzzle, which is funny because it was one of the few where they told you exactly what you needed to do to solve, but by that point it was nearing the end of a long day and we were a bit mentally frazzled.

This meant there was only one puzzle left in the whole park for us to solve and, somewhat fittingly I think, it was the central hub. We were struggling to figure out what was going on until Marc realized that “Two Flags” was a semaphore reference. Even then we were struggling a bit, but we fought fatigue to come up with an answer and, as a few letters emerged from our work, I blurted out a guess to the Walt-related solution: CRYOGENICS. Clue Keeper made it official. We high-fived and went back to Frontierland to meet Game Control.

“You crushed it!” Brent told us when we arrived. “You’ve been crushing it all day. But you’ve done some of these before.” This was directed to me. “No I haven’t,” I said. “You didn’t do any of the previous iterations of the Field Trip?” No. “Then you’re REALLY crushing it!”

Here’s where the waiting game began: we had completed every puzzle in the binder but had 75 minutes left. Which meant some of the other teams could close the gap: especially the ones who had been to Tom Sawyer’s Island! We bit our nails. Marc and Balki had to drive back to LA, so Tammy and I sat there and gabbed with GC while other teams arrived, checked in, played the anagram game if they hadn’t done so already, and departed to solve more. We fidgeted.

We hadn’t gotten the bonus for Buzz Lightyear because our scores weren’t that great. We got the second-highest score for anagrams possible, but 1-2 teams had gotten the last and final point. So we were in pretty solid shape, but there was a lot of puzzle solving talent on the teams that were still in competition.

Another puzzle in which we had received the maximum points was the pin trading. This was all Tammy’s doing. She does pin trading for fun anyway, and skillfully used her knowledge and exchanges to get us three pins that were all blue, all round, and all had hidden Mickeys. Maximum points. We’d also swept the photo scavenger hunt, even though my camera battery was at less than 10%, but it was enough to show to Linda and get full credit.

At the finish line, with some time to spare, I had the chance to review some Anywhere puzzles I hadn’t seen before. Someone had solved the Toy Story jokes puzzle without my ever having seen it, but I did observe that I knew most of the punchlines without having to do the letter-substitution code. Marc and Balki figured out the Halloween=Christmas puzzle, which they explained to me, and I still don’t understand. The Pixar re-mix puzzle was a lot of fun, though we were stuck until we figured out that the answer was FACE CARDS and not CARD NAMES (same number of letters).

Anyway, although the second place team got us sweating, when time ran out, we were the champions! Considering that the second place team included the mastermind behind the Washington Post Hunt, Tammy and I felt quite proud of our accomplishment. Turned out not going to Tom Sawyer’s Island was the right choice all along! We had plenty of time to agonize over that decision, but it turned out for the best. One funny thing is that the only Sudoku puzzle of the whole day was on the island, so Tammy never got to solve it. She is the reigning US Sudoku champ. Irony? Maybe.

While biding our time at the finish line, Linda told me some great stories from the old days of hunts at Stanford, and we also learned that there had been several iterations of this hunt before, though this was the first one with Clue Keeper. The introduction of the app explained how we were able to solve it all within the time constraint, which had never been possible before, and indeed we had been told in the morning that no team would solve every puzzle. What really helped us win though was the New Orleans Square strategy session where we read through the whole binder. As a real-life treasure hunter told me before I began the “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets,” “Don’t confuse motion with progress.”

In the above photo, notice Tammy's Google Glass and us being photo bombed by the cast member who works at the petting zoo. Did you know Disneyland had a petting zoo? I didn't.

There was so much laughter, good sportsmanship, wonder, and Disney magic this day. It was a wonderful hunt and one I’ll remember for a long time. I feel like a heel because I now realize I will probably never get around to blogging about the Shinteki Decathlon I did earlier this year. I’m so fortunate because I got to do TWO Shinteki games in 2014, and in a way I feel like it’s the least I can do to blog about them, as my way of saying thanks for the hard work GC does to create the games. They put so much effort into it – I can’t imagine how many hours it takes – and even though I have spent several nights, spread out over weeks, writing this blog post, it is a drop in the ocean compared to what Shinteki did to create the games, and I feel like it’s appropriate to return with an in-kind tribute, but this might be the only one I have in me. I consider myself very lucky to have good puzzle-solving (and solution-breathing) friends who play with me, and that I live in a world with wonderful groups like Shinteki who are so good to us puzzle-hungry maniacs. Cheers to all the maniacs. Zip-a-dee-lady!

Double press

I've been busy making a nuisance of myself on the internet lately. Here's me on Rob Cesternino's podcast:


And here's an interview with me in The Business of Play:


And here is a drawing Willa did of a sea lion enjoying a burrito:

CSz30 in Milwaukee 2014

There’s a short way to say this and a long way. The short way is, thanks to everyone who was there for the laughs, the smiles, and the good times. To everyone who wasn’t, I’ve just come back from a marvelous vacation in Milwaukee.


The long way ends here, with feelings of longing, and a pronounced reluctance to accept it’s over. Adjusting to my everyday life is taking sustained effort, and not just because of my general sleep debt. That is certainly a factor though; I’m not as young as I used to be and those sleepless nights and action filled days (and nights) take a toll. Consider yourself lucky, young people who can bounce back with a couple days’ worth of extra snoozing. Once there’s a toddler rising at 7 every day, he doesn’t care how little you slept while you were at Championship.


But it’s not just fatigue that has me in a bit of a funk. It’s detox. I was intoxicated for days by my ComedySportz family and I hate to think it’s over, and that it’ll be another year (at least) before I get my next fix.


So let’s try to cast aside today’s snit and think back. I can’t remember exactly when I decided with certainty to attend CSz30 but I suspect it was shortly before last year’s tournament in Buffalo began. I bought my plane tickets for Wisconsin in the spring but for a moment it looked like an incredible professional opportunity was going to prevent me from going. All I’ll say is, the opportunity to design a Muppets game was dangled in front of me. The dates changed and my trip to tournament was saved. I felt cautiously optimistic, but had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t the first time the trip would be jeopardized.


Instead, the day of my flight neared without conflict, personal or professional. Then the day before I learned that the gig I’d thought was virtually a sure thing was not being offered to us. It was a real kick in the dick, I don’t mind telling you. But it was actually the best timing I could have asked for: what better way to wash away a disappointment than with a week with my ComedySportz family? There’s no twist to this story. That’s what happened next.


My flight was drama-free and, on the plane, I took care of the final item on my to-do list. I deactivated my Facebook account. To future attendees of tourney, I strongly recommend considering taking this non-permanent move. I felt vividly and constantly connected to the people I was talking to and scarcely looked at my phone. Seriously, think it over. Was your tournament experience enhanced by constant connection to FB? Or would it have been better looking at the posts after you got home, as I did? Took me about an hour.


At the baggage claim, I saw Kevin from San Jose, Jenn formerly of Portland, and Amanda of Milwaukee, who tirelessly and indefatigably made a loop between the hotels and the airport for so long that she knew all the limo drivers by name, and even the pilots saw her and said, “She’s with ComedySportz.” What better ambassador could there be for our company? We should have had promotional 3-D glasses for her to hand out.


The laughs began in the car on the drive to the theater; Amanda dropped me off at ComedySportz and all was quiet, for the most part. The managers were part way through a long meeting: I saw Susan Scoville first and then stood at the glass door and made faces at Dick to distract him. I did a bit where I hiked up my trouser to show some leg and he did wolf-whistle bits and bits about his glasses fogging up. When they stood up for a leg stretch break I got to give Bron a (sweaty) hug.


Also for those who don’t know, Dick was on a scooter. He had one foot in a Velcro cast and rather than use crutches, he had his knee up on a motorized scooter that he zoomed dangerously around the theater. I was with him when he picked up the 3 nested cake pans that he dropped on the hard floor of the theater before fake falling off his scooter and lying prone on the floor, alarming everybody. It was a “crash box” bit. Great stuff. His name badge said “Scooty.” Whether he had a Star Wars tattoo on his injured leg we still do not know.



By now it was mid-afternoon on Tuesday and many more players were arriving, including Ben, Nate, and Frank from Twin Cities. Frank was a mainstay of CSz LA when I joined the company in 2002 but I hadn’t seen nor heard from him in years, so I was quite surprised to see he’d become a member of the Minneapolis roster but very pleased to see him at tournament because he is one of the all-time funniest and most skilled ComedySportz improvisers I have ever seen. He’ll fit right in on that team because what with the 2 Dougs, Ben, Nate, Jill – this is a rock star team.


The Twin Cities players got their lanyards at ComedySportz and then wanted to visit their hotel at the Residence Inn. This hotel’s 8th floor was the designated location of our Games Garden.


Quick word on the Games Garden. In 2007, my third year attending tournament, I brought some board and card games with me because I thought a few people might want to play instead of hitting the bars. Hitting the bars had never really been my scene. Still isn’t, though I drink now more than I did then. Did I mention I have a toddler?


Anyhow, the way I expected it to go was this: I’d sit in the hotel lobby with the games in my lap and people would stream by on their way out into the nightlife of Rock Island Illinois. “What’s that?” they’d say. “Games,” I’d say. “That’s cute,” they’d say. “Maybe later,” they’d say.


I was way off. The founding fathers of the Games Garden, including Nicole Devin, Jason Stockdale, Kirk Keevert, Von Daniels, and many others, seized onto the nubbins of games I’d brought and we took over a whole room on the ground floor, moved the furniture, scavenged for extra chairs, and transformed the room into a destination where groups of 40 people or more played games til well past midnight. This was also the debut year of Rich Prouty as host of Murder, the year Kat Gottsick of Chicago fooled me all the way to the end, as thoroughly as anybody has ever been fooled.


The Garden came back in Portland, in Milwaukee, and in Philadelphia. I wasn’t there in Indianapolis or Buffalo but I’m told it lived on there, and you can be sure two years ago in Chicago, my last tournament before this one, we made the garden happen. At the Golden Apple Diner, of all places! Made famous by This American Life, made a games garden by us.


This was the first year the Games Garden sported my name, a responsibility I took seriously, even though it meant missing out on some improv content. Players from around the country contributed games of all different kinds and the garden flourished. Rachael Garmon suggested using the upstairs at ComedySportz as the Games Garden location instead, so all the activity would be under one roof. I ran this idea by Mary Baird and Dick and they liked it: more space, air conditioning, games tables, lots of comfy chairs. It was a great place to make my home away from home.


Our garden was sloppy this year but it isn’t going to be featured in any magazines, but I felt proud of the fruitful playfulness that blossomed there.


And want to know something I think is great? I wasn’t even the player who started the Games Garden this year. It was  

Ellen D., a Houston player at her first tournament; she had a deck of cards on her and got 5 of us in a heated game of 99. Ellen said we need some counters in addition to the cards to play and I emptied the glass beads out of the candle on the table’s centerpiece. We had everything we needed. It was the first game of the week. Tournament had really begun.


After that, we tagged along and checked out the Games Garden. Micah, Ellen, and I played Bananagrams in the board room they’d saved for us but to my knowledge this is one of only two games that got played in the 8th floor conference room. Much later that night, a group of unnamed improvisers played Celebrity there (AKA Trash Bucket, AKA Time’s Up, AKA Twime’s Up) and, when the game ended in a tie, resolved it by determining which team could take all their clothes off the fastest. I’ve been a game master a long time but I never could have come up with something like that. I believe that was John Kehoe from Buffalo’s innovation. I also heard it was a Manchester player who took the photo.


We returned to ComedySportz and the opening night welcome party was underway. I saw Kelsey Wagner squatting in the parking lot and when we walked in the door we, like everyone else, were enveloped in a hug huddle that grew to be more than 200 people strong.


This was the first moment that I realized: this place is chock-a-block with heavy hitters. By which I mean, I saw scores of familiar faces who were not just some of the best improvisers I know and some of the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet… but they were all the same people. Skill onstage, chill offstage, kindness every which way: what a remarkable family we have!


My expectations for tournament are always high. They are always met. Yes, and they are always exceeded.


Rachel W. and Sam B. from San Jose and I got the best position in line for the food that night so we ate delicious barbecue courtesy of our hosts and then got back to the important business of gabbing and grab-assery. We got one more game in that night: Two Rooms and a Boom, played with scavenged materials. Two pads of Post-Its, a hat purloined from the Milwaukee prop collection, and 18 good sports. Here’s the thing about this game: the red team always wins. The President doesn’t stand a chance. Anyone else have any memories of this first game? I love how seriously Rich Prouty took the game, and all the good sports who entered the arena and joined us in the game, not knowing anything about it.


The next morning I was grateful for 2 well-selected workshops to ease me into a week of focusing on improv. Bron taught Silence is Golden in the art studio, but the dogs at the adjacent day care didn’t agree with the title, so we relocated to the green room. I’ll admit I dozed off a bit, but it was a fine start. Then Craig taught 2 Person Scenes upstairs, the fundamental building block of all non-silent improv, and it was so enriching and valuable to slow down and focus on these 2 critical skills.


After this was the big reveal! We all crowded onto the front lawn, bits proliferating in 360 degrees, for a group photo and a denouement: the Howie-obsolescensing logo! I didn’t have my jersey but I liked seeing the big sign. A nice bit of razzle-dazzle and the appearance by the mascot version of Howie.


Then a couple days went by and I paused in writing this account and was a dad and a business owner and now all these adventures are a lifetime ago across an ocean of time. Want to know what’s top of mind though? Mary Baird and the way she and Alex and the host city of Milwaukee made our stay fantastic, and also Rich Prouty and Murder. But we’re not there yet.


For lunch most of us went to the market and when Rachael Garmon went to the bathroom we all left her there. I picked up some random chocolates for her that she paid for, so I think we’re square.


Then it was the New Games workshop. It was fun teaching YouTube it with Scott P. I thought Frank’s scene as the aspiring Eagle Scout in Synonym Rolls was classic Frank and a highlight of the workshop; that’s the big take-away game as far as I’m concerned. It was fun being spun around in Dizzy Rascal, and to have been there for its appearance so I could see the Manchester team play it against LA.


I’m logging into the easy-to-use website now to remind me of what happened in what order. I’m really sorry I lost my water bottle. I think it was at the market. I should have hung back for Rachael, I might have remembered it.


After New Games was Playing Positively with Andrew Berkowitz, meaning on my first day of tournament I got a double-dose of Portland’s most dashing and skilled gentlemen. My warm-up group where we talked about something negative from our outside life comprised Courtney and Sam and it was a great workshop to take with San Jose players, who are such a positive bunch.


While I’m looking at the workshop list, here are some highlights from other workshops I attended.


Cheating at ComedySportz: Loved getting to attend Alex elaborating on this topic. I got beat up playing 185, everyone was trying to get in the box so aggressively . Some great playing of Story that foreshadowed in the Boston/Chicago match. The cheaters piled into that workshop and we were way above enrollment capacity, and we shared a wall with the other half of the space and when the workshop on the other side of the wall laughed, Alex would cue us to laugh LOUDER (sort of an obnoxious thing to do as neighbors, I thought) and we repeated it until Stephen Bennett came over and screamed, “ALL RIGHT ENOUGH YOU GUYS” and threw the doors and chairs around. I’m not lying. That guy is an anger ball. That part is a lie.


Dick’s workshop about using the entire space was really like Dick doing a workshop-length performance piece about putting on a workshop. We did scenes from all around the arena, that much is true. For a guy who gets a bad rap for being ADD he was really adamant about the 3D thing and had a high degree of follow-through and every time a team used the 3-D in their shows – like the town meeting vignette in the Meanwhile, Elsewhere Manchester played against LA – I thought it was really good.


But about 20 minutes into the workshop Dick decided that, moreover, he wanted each game to incorporate more games. So he’d have a team of 4 (or 5 or 6) up to play New Choice, but urge us to put some rap in there also and “more games, games within the games.”


I remember Danette from Buffalo saying she’d never been the Dimestore Novelist and she did a FANTASTIC job.


When it was my team’s turn to go up, I’ll admit I’d been snoozing in the darkness of the arena. From a sleeping position, I went on stage with my group and Dick told me to do a coin toss. It was one they used to do in the show from the old days - where you have 30 seconds to do a scene with as many characters as you can.


On Dick’s whistle (actually it was his bell) I played a man and his wife who were unhappy with the guide Mohammad who had gotten them lost (the suggestion was “caravan”). Mohammad apologized but the man said, “It’s not just me you’re inconveniencing. I’ve got the high school marching band with me” and played all the instruments, which is something I do for Fenton all the time. And then in the last couple seconds, the marching band’s parents, who were along for the trip, piped up, and Mohammaed pleaded on behalf of his four children, who also had a few words to say. The other team didn’t do it, which is not like any coin toss I’ve ever seen, but I was grateful for the opportunity to do that gag. Later Dick said to me, “Thanks for showing em how it’s done” and I walked on air.


Here’s something else that happened. Dick was telling me a story from the old days, about someone who was fucking someone else. He told me this story as part of a chain of events that included me observing Dick dandling a baby on his knee. The baby was the younger sister of Nelson, whose mom and dad are both ComedySportz players. The story also involved Dave Gaudet of Chicago and other people too. Partway through the story, Dianah Dulaney interrupted to discuss something with Dick and of course I let the President do so and I stepped aside, and got involved in something else, somewhere else, with someone else. But 25 minutes later, all the way on the other side of the building, Dick chased me down on his scooter and, breathless, picked up the story precisely where he’d left it off. For a guy who gets a lot of flak for being ADD I think we should award credit where credit was due. Tim from New Orleans was there and got the tail end of the salacious story. Snitches get stitches, Tim.


Alli Soowal’s workshop was one I absolutely wanted to get up early for even though the sleep deprivation was really taking a toll on me by this stage. If it had been anybody else I might have stayed in bed. Highlight for me was probably getting to do a scene with Micah as two 1 per centers, high status ganging up on a working class reporter. I entered the scene having just flown in from Luxembourg and denigrated Tracey’s tax bracket. Wish this workshop had been longer, felt like it went by way too fast.


And Dave Gau’s Improv Battle was the workshop I had the most expectations about and it delivered. What a fun competition, very much in the nature of what we do in the ComedySportz show. It was here that Bron coined the term “Dick Chudnow-style mayhem” as a genre. I think the highlight of my competition was the mostly-silent Western that then became avant-garde theater: “STUDENT I.D., STUDENT I.D.” The highlight of the whole thing was probably the Cinderella story of Buffalo upsetting Portland in a series of heats (this did not prove predictive of that night’s match in the garage) and then my teammate from LA Scott Palmason winning the whole enchilada. LA pride.


I wanted to attend the Warm Ups workshop but took a break instead and ended up at Spy House, which I’d missed out on in 2009. To be honest though if the best thing I missed out on was Kitty Cat Career, I’m fine with having gone to the bar. I did the chicken dance and spotted the camera in the wall right at the end. Bill Cernansky told me I pointed right at him.


That structure, using the artifacts of the week to reconstruct the workshops in sequence, was useful. Now I’ll reach for my handy blue book to try to reconstruct the matches in my mind. They all blend together you guys. Was this the year Tara DeFrancisco pretended to be an audience volunteer and joined the Chicago team for a musical? No that was 2007 in Quad Cities. This was the year Jason Stockdale pretended to be an audience volunteer. We’ll get there.


Some shows were in the arena and some were in the garage so no one could see all of them because no one could be in two places at once. I talked about this from all different angles with a lot of people at tournament. I feel that this decision was a net positive but not an unqualified positive. More players got to perform: that was great. I now believe that the hardest thing I’ve ever seen a ref do is the second half of the late show in the garage, when the whole audience is improvisers and they’ve pretty much all been drinking. Bron and Pat both did admirable jobs and should be commended.


The primary thing I remember from the 1st match on the 1st night was Alex’s amazing commitment to explain “What Are You Doing?” before every game in every round. He didn’t miss or skip one. Sensational. The rest of these matches have receded in my memory. Watching Manchester’s team is a privilege, and it was my first time seeing Kate McCabe play and she was a star. Same is true for Jade, whom I saw play against LA in the Arena. It’s always a treat having Pat on music. And Rich Prouty, the most dangerous man in improv, wearing the Portland jersey and nailing it as the Announcer.


I had to cross-reference the web site against the book to see which teams actually played against each other. The book says Boise played against Provo but the web site says Provo played Philadelphia, which is what I remember. I know Buffalo did a replay scene with a koala (Justin Green, when someone tells him there’s a cougar behind him: “Hello, ma’am”) and Alli S. played a panda in a replay scene. Great animal work from Alli. I saw three horror genre scenes on the arena stage on Saturday. What I’m trying to say is, this effort to keep the matches straight is not going well at all.


But the DC match against Boise is one I do remember. It was great seeing Boise back on the field, and I was surprised to learn that Tim was actually a New Orleans player: seems like he’d fit right in, Idaho-wise. He is a bright promising player and certainly going places.


It was DC’s match though. This was the match where I fell in love with Sleet. That’s David Sly and Stephen Heaton. Together they’re Sleet, a force of nature. I was lucky enough to gab with these guys while scamming the free happy-hour food at the Residence Inn on Tuesday evening. We talked about improv and neuroplasticity. They are as charming off the field as they are skilled on it.


But for all that, the match belonged to the power duo of Liz and Rachael. Rachael’s constant gleeful terror and Liz’s manic whirlwind of Looney Toons slapstick and unbridled Id-like commentary are a peerless combo. The fairy tale countdown became something of a masterpiece with Liz pimping Rachael through the whole Crossfit gauntlet, “I’m barren!”, and the escalation of eating the prince. Add to all this Sleet throwing each other around as horse and rider and it was a stand-out game in a strong week of matches. The object freeze at the end was another good opportunity for mayhem, but the Rock Star all over Randy was super gross. Liz got in one last classic Liz blurt with the dart gun used as super vaccination: “Ugh, autism!”


The late show in the garage on Friday also had a strong booth. MJ from New York as the Announcer was slaying me with the score updates by reading pitch-perfect commercials referencing things that happened in the show that were so good they sounded like they were written out. And Dan Czuba from Buffalo is a priori one of the best musicians working at any improv theater anywhere. I can count his peers on the fingers of one hand. Great showing from this guy.


That last chance game in Quad Cities vs San Antonio where they have to guess 24 different locations in 5 second rounds? That’s a hell of a game. Hell of a game for Pat to have to ref too, so nice job putting the onus on Pat.


When I single players out for doing or saying something funny, I classify that as “bragging” because whether or not they happen to me, we are family, whir hulled wide. After a ComedySportz show when I go home, I tell my wife all the funny things I said. Then I tell her the funny things other people said but I tell her that I said them. What I’m trying to say is, if you have read this far for some reason and you did something in one of the shows mentioned above that you think I should have bragged about but didn’t, leave a comment so I can give you props for it.


The next day I slept 8 hours and got up just in time to take a bus to the Arena and see LA play Manchester, another highly anticipated match. Seeing James do a match as a player is always a joy, and I love Rick as captain, and seeing Em and Molly in their first tournament with the LA jersey also gave me a sense of pride for James and all he’s done for our team. I remember reading Em’s Tweet when the joined the team: “ComedySportz LA Main Company player. Well 14 year old me, we did it.” And she had a fine showing in the match. I loved all Molly’s bench energy and support in the styles replay, and James getting to do opera. The return of Dizzy Rascal!  Jade’s groaner foul about “tofood poisoning.”


I missed the second half of the match because I was gabbing with James and Dianah at the bar, so I was very sad not to have seen Richmond play Milwaukee because I had so much quality time with Richmond players this year but the silver lining is I saw Matt Garnaas ref that show, and just when you can’t think that guy can’t get any greater, guess what, it turns out he can. What a champ.


The next match was the one I played in against Richmond. I think that match can best be described as the one where Spider-Man played Moving Bodies. My team had selected this game backstage because I knew non-players would be in the audience. What I didn’t know was that Dan, the guy whose place I was staying at, and his friend (let’s call her Katniss) would hit the Lyft button and receive a driver dressed in head-to-toe in a high-quality Spider-Man costume. This guy wasn’t grungy or even especially bulgy and he out-classed the 7 guys standing in front of the Chinese Theater at this moment by a country mile.


When the Lyft driver in the costume took them to ComedySportz, they invited him in and he joined them. So when I asked Dan if anyone in his party wanted to join us onstage, Spider-Man was volunteered by acclamation. It was a hell of a thing. I told Konstantine during the other team’s game that I would add the Replay at Bernie’s angle, which was simply because 4 people is a lot for 1 volunteer and I am a germ phobic and don’t like playing Moving Bodies. I didn’t know the volunteer would be a superhero or I might have changed my decision.


We lost that round to Richmond for their gibberish opera. “A TWIST!” I briefly played a bobble head in that scene because, hey, any excuse to jiggle my fluffy hair. But note to future bobbleheads: don’t choose a squatting position. It’s painful to the thighs. On your knees is fine. I commented later that maybe if we’d had the Avengers instead we could have won the round, but someone said there were so many Richmond players in the audience we never could have won, so that made me feel a little better.


I’m burying the lead here which is Dave Gaudet was the referee. Is that guy a legend or what? And so handsome. No one can touch him. In Freeze we all touched each other, a lot, which I thought was great: the whole point of doing a game like that in these shows is we got to play with each other. I had my arms around Michael Wheeler before I put them around Kim to pierce her ears at a Transylvanian Hot Topic.


We lost that round also so the stakes were high for B Movie. Our team did German accents, then Farsi, which I sidestepped, and then Cajun which was when I told a long joke in a character voice, the punchline to which was “Rotten Tomatoes gave it an A-Team.” I have never seen The A-Team. I bet Rich Prouty has.


I also want to mention how amazing Liz our stage manager was. We don’t have those in LA. There’s lots of things we don’t have in LA, but in Milwaukee we had hospitality and friendly support in an unfamiliar theater and we were never for a moment made to feel like we were second-class citizens because we were doing a garage show. I felt lucky to be in such capable hands. This was the same night that I congratulated the bar staff on how often they take out the trash and replace the paper towels. Those young people. If they keep working hard, they might grow up to be President.


In the second half of my match, Wade’s pants blew off. It  took me 19 pages to get this story, but I want to try to describe it up for those of you who weren’t there. Then again I may not be terribly reliable, even though (or, I suppose, because) I was an eyewitness.


Here’s what I feel sure about: the game was Continuation. H. Wade Minter in red was playing for Boston. Jason Stockdale from Chicago’s team was Wade’s double on the blue team. On the ref’s whistle, as the red team cleared the stage, Wade’s pants – track pants with snaps up both sides – flew forward and up into the air. He wasn’t touching them. His pants just exploded off him, revealing his boxers and knee pads underneath. And Jason, playing Wade’s character, took his spot on the stage and pulled his pants down to his ankles. Pandemonium ensued. Half the Boston team did the last chance round sans pants – a foreshadowing of the dance party on the last night perhaps? Wade says he’s been wearing pants like that in the match for a decade and that’s never happened.


If the rumors going around are true, and Angelo’s ghost blew off Wade’s pants, then I think the next 30 years and the whole CSzWorldwide campaign is off to a good, mischievous start.


There was a lot of adorable mischief in this match. Ben from Boston made a reference on stage to the fact that he’d misunderstood when his team was competing and had woken up from a nap to come do the show. Sean, a new (to me) player from Chicago snuck back into Story after being ejected, and escaped Dave’s noticing until he turned around, pointed at him, and Sean said: “Everything was resolved.”


Jason also made mischief in Story and got himself kicked out. After the Boston team’s game, he came back in wearing a false mustache and oversized plaid shirt. When Chiacgo called an audience volunteer game, Jason from the back of the garage said, “I’ll volunteer.” He came onstage for a game of Slow Jam Word From Our Sponsor and introduced himself as Matt Elwell. He was wearing Matt’s shirt. From there, as Jason told me later, he just played us all like a fiddle, with inside baseball references to Matt’s “don’t call it that, call it this” Power Point. Lots of fun lovingly poked at a guy who works hard for the league.


For the 9 PM arena show, I bought a ticket for my Couchsurfing friends and one for me, so I got to see the penultimate show in the Arena from a proper seat. Portland vs. Buffalo (grudge match from the Battle Prov workshop) and Manchester vs. Milwaukee. One thing I loved from the second half was that both teams had a BBW improviser and they both brought huge comic chops to the team. In “What You Got,” on the suggestion “kangaroo,” Rachael W. from Manchester crossed one arm across her bosom, started jumping, and said: “Support! Support! Support! What you got?” Also from this round I quite liked Matt Garnaas from Milwaukee with the suggestion “spider” nailing it with both “Walking through a web” and “Honey, can you get this?” What you got?


Also the Manchester team in “Right, Sure” where they all spoofed Americans and Rachael put on a wig to play a Valley Girl was priceless. Two other great Wareing moments from the bench: in that game, when Darryl explained the rules and how they would lose points for failing to convince the audience they were Americans, Rachael gestured with exasperation at the scoreboard, showing her team’s score: nil. Also, her frustration at herself after doing a 185 joke where she attempted to subtract 99 and got the wrong difference. Better luck next time, Rachie. Did you say you worked in a bank?


And then the championship match. For me the biggest memory from that game is Brian Green guessing all 5 Things, ending with, “Smells like freedom?” From his eye-rolling to the suggestion of “watermelon” to challenging Darryl from Philadelphia, because “I just wanted to challenge another brother without ending up in a fight,” Brian played every angle and every take on the “affably angry black improviser” to hilarious effect and had the audience eating out of his hand.


So that was the workshops and the shows. Then there’s the games. On the second night of shows we played Pit – my first time! - and some Tokyo Train and then went outside and played Ninja and Cat and Mouse before we came back inside and played Murder again. Sarah from Richmond was a remarkable Ninja player because she has those long arms and legs. I loved playing with Kevin O’Shea. There’s basically nothing I wouldn’t play with that guy. The damp ground and the threat of Michael Wheeler getting assassinated made the game even more exciting.


Now let’s talk about Murder. If you don’t know how the game works, I’m not going to explain it now. It’s now Monday, more than a full week after the last night of tournament, and I’ve put hours into writing this blog post nearly every night and it’s time for Murder. Some games are special because you don’t get to play them all the time. The Olympics is a good example, though the World Cup is a more relevant one. Playing Murder with Rich Prouty is a privilege: it’s a game that happens, if we’re lucky, a couple times a year. And I got to play it twice this year.


I am a player in Murder, which the other players seem to forget, or at least overlook. It’s unfair the way I generally get a buy to the final round, but the murderers are always free to kill me, and the townspeople are certainly free to lynch me. At this point, though, I’ve played so many times that I’m quite adept at defending myself.


I love the way we play with just 2 murderers and 1 detective: no special roles, no funny business. I love the commitment from the players, especially when they buy into the whole enterprise as real. I love the quips that come out of the game: many of the biggest laughs pay off because they are 2 hours or more in the making. I love the dedication the players bring, new and returning, to sit through a game that can last 2-3 hours. And I love the way Rich Prouty hosts the whole affair. That man is a national treasure. I vary between describing him as “The Michael Jordan of Murder” or “The Mozart of Murder” because I don’t know much about classical music or basketball so I don’t know what’s more accurate. All I know is, no matter how long he has to do it, he never complains and the well never goes dry.


So what were the highlights? Night one was Lionel Twain’s Boy Scout Jamboree. It’s always interesting to see who makes character choices: Betse Green consistently does, and so does Konstantine. This year, Konstantine as the Latino Boy Scout was quickly killed by the murderers, largely because he could not correctly execute the Scout Salute.


This was the extraordinary game where veteran Murder players Kevin O’Shea and Darryl Fishwick (who once played the game as Matt Garnaas) were selected as the Murderers and would likely have won if not for the remarkable detective work of Dick Johnson, CIA, FBI, NCIS (walk-on role) AKA Craig from Provo who revealed himself with 6 players only left in the game and outed both murderers. It was a remarkable gambit and created a great deal of drama. Kevin said later that he was going to do the same thing himself if he’d lived one more round, based on the math of how many players were left. The detective living so long, and identifying two murderers after so many wrong guesses, were extreme long shots, but it happened.


This was the same game where Sam Bowers revealed himself as the detective and promised to reveal who the murderers were if he lived another round. This was a unique game move and we talked it round and round from every angle. Kelsey, the sister of temporarily Latina Betse, was more willing than I was to give faux-detective Sam the benefit of the doubt, but although he survived the lynching at the end of the day phase he was murdered during the night and left the game room without saying a word. There are those who say it was a murderer-assisted suicide because he wanted to leave and drink alcohol, but we may never know because Sam is dead now.


There was an instance where I put my thumb on the scales. Dan Czuba from Buffalo, whom I hadn’t yet see improvise, though I now know that he has incredible musical chops, was being quiet. And I don’t trust the quiet people in the game. I draw them out. But instead of doing that to Dan, I planted evidence on him. One night Lionel Twain provided us all magazines in our rooms; during the following day phase I revealed that mine was a Highlights for Children magazine and, when I turned it to the hidden image search, a piece of paper fell out. It was a police report on Dan with info about his rap sheet, aliases, and past run-ins with the law. Dan didn’t defend himself well, and the townspeople lynched him. I didn’t expect the repercussions of my evidence to be so quickly damning, and I felt guilty that I’d gotten Dan out of the game so directly.


Matt Garnaas cool-headedly pointed out that Goofus would be the kind of guest at Twain manor who would throw out wild accusations like mine, but Gallant would rise above such things. Gallant, like Matt, is such a good role model in such affairs.


This was also the game where Matthew Wheeler of Richmond claimed the top bunk every time the lights went out, much to Lionel Twain’s annoyance. But it was all worth it because the first night after he died, Matt Garnaas claimed the top bunk to a huge reaction from the room. This was also the night I trotted out a beloved plot point from years past and revealed that Ellen from Houston was pregnant with my child… or Kevin O’Shea’s child. “Fifty-fifty,” Ellen said. Lionel Twain brought her to the basement with the time machine to kill her but, upon discovering that she was an uncommonly savvy player, he quickly shivved her and never activated the time machine, so we won’t find out what he had in store for her and her unborn child. This was the night of the return of triple-AIDS, but in its advanced stage, which is even more deadly.


This was the night Glenn made himself a mime and, when he entered the arena where Lionel Twain commanded him to kill himself, I asked if he had any final words. Glenn gave me the double bird, then gouged his eyes out with those same middle fingers and bled to death.


WHO BESIDES ME AND MATT GARNAAS SURVIVED THE NIGHT? It’s really important that you tell me. There were about 6 of us total who lived that first night and beat the murderers. It’s worth noting that neither Kevin nor Darryl played again: I do not blame them. They got to be murderers and got a great game out of it. Sometimes it’s best to walk away on top.


I was pleased that Trevor from Provo played the game; when another player claimed that his disfiguring macramé accident made his hands too weak to commit murder, Travis drolly intoned, “Oh how sad for you.” This was the game where Michael Wheeler had a cockamamie theory for the murders based on their similarities to candies, or egg dishes or… it all got rather surreal and I think it’s not just the drinks I’ve had tonight talking when I say that his arguments were less than cogent, but it was entertaining (if exasperating).


On night two, Lionel Twain invited us all to his Old West recreation themed weekend retreat where, of course, the corpses of murdered guests soon were piled up high. I remember someone in her defense referring to Twain’s “house of death and despair” and Rich responding with a subdued “Well now” which got a huge laugh. This was the night with Brit Belsheim, who barely made it in under the wire for the start, and then endowed herself as the prostitute who would die after 3 days… and then she did! I was so happy that I wasn’t the only suspect who noticed.


Of course, before that, this was the round of the invisible detective, who didn’t open his eyes during the first night phase. It was so great having all the players, eyes closed, listen to Rich make fun of him when he eventually realized he had the red ace.


The character choices were most extraordinary on this night. I’m partly to blame. After Rich-as-Twain revealed that he’d prepared tailor-made costumes for all of us I had the thought: maybe we also have an Old West persona. I would introduce mine and then, over the course of several rounds, come to identify with my Old West alter ego to the point of delusion. What I could not have expected was that a raft of other players would jump on my offer and commit themselves to their characters far more than me, to the point of intentional delusion. It was amazing.


It started when I explained that I had an index card in the inside pocket of my costume telling me that I was John Banker, and advisor to the mayor of the town. I was thinking of “House of Cards” and imagined that I’d learn who the mayor was and serve that person with blind fealty. Nate (I think) from Milwaukee asked if I was of the Providence Bankers. “I literally just know what’s on this index card,” I told him, but Nate – and he wasn’t the only one – was all in on his Old West character. It got him killed right away, which was unfortunate because he was the detective, and he died in the first round, lynched by the townspeople. But Brendon was similarly committed to his role as Mrs. Ann Ouncer and when he said, “The only man who made me angry enough to kill was my husband, “John Kehoe said, “You shut yer mouth” and the whole room went berserk. That same night, a similar reaction occurred when Brit, the prostitute, made reference to the handerkerchiefs she’d stained with blood from coughing (she had consumption) and I, slow to get the reference, said, “Oh I thought that was a period costume joke” and looked down.


It was a tragedy that Stephen’s commitment to Stephen Kneival, daredevil didn’t get many rounds to show itself. He was right that the murderers were a man and a woman: how did he know?! But I’m very glad after his head was found in bed with Lionel Twain’s horse, in a genre-bending homage to “The Godfather,” he returned as the condor who made lazy circles in the sky, absconded with my cookies (I shot at it with a double barreled shotgun, swearing and saying, “I don’t care if you are endangered”) and ultimately had glorious retribution when he exacted revenge upon Sarah, killing her as she had done to him with her accomplice Peter.


It was a strange end-mechanism: because there had been a tie earlier that night, when Elyssa and Brandon both received 10 votes and both died in a sniper-assisted recreation of the OK Corral, the final handshake round took place with 3 players who, it turns out, were all civilians. That’s because we’d voted to kill Bruce in the final lynching. The remaining players were Pat from Richmond, who became an all-star quickly, and Glenn, who abandoned his character voice after Lionel Twain opined that he’d preferred his character from the night before (a mime). Pat and I shook hands to win the game, but any of us could have. It was a peculiarity of numbers, but for those who either lived to the end or played no-looksies it was another tense game. So I survived 2 games of Murder. You see why I say it’s unfair? I’m not complaining, but I do check my privilege.


Bruce from Chicago really impressed me in this game. For a first-time murderer, he was quite calm and contributed just enough to completely escape my suspicion. I will ALWAYS kill the quiet people. Once I get you talking I can probably get you to reveal your guilt. This was certainly true of Bruce’s accomplice, tall Sarah from Richmond. Two first-time players, first-time murderers. Sarah got tangled up in her unlikely alibi which involved cookies. Cookies will never escape my attention.


The leg tattoo. Someone got murdered with a C3PO robot. Mary Ann accused me of having an R2D2 tattoo on my leg, which got a huge gasp from the crowd, and seemed to make them think that I was guilty of the crime. I said that I did not have a tattoo and Pat asked me to prove it. And I sighed and said that I’d ask the same thing if I were in his place, but for reasons I cannot go into, I could not show my legs. Pat showed his: he dropped his pants so we could all see he had no tattoos on his legs. I made up a back story involving a gypsy’s curse that would take effect if I ever showed a group of people in an Old West town my legs, but it never came up outside of my own head. Once Pat’s pants dropped, the issue sort of did too.


File under “miscellaneous”:


The saga of ordering Jimmy John’s. The same night the maniacs in the musical improv brought a delivery guy on stage and serenaded him (I wasn’t there for it, but I heard about it), Kelsey and I just wanted some food. Every place was closed. Our sandwiches took an hour to arrive. Kelsey said, “You know I stopped eating Jimmy John’s because their sandwiches all have too many things on them, so there’s always 1-2 things I don’t want and when I try to make modifications they act like I’m crazy.” I told her I could handle it on the phone, but the guy on the other end did indeed make it sound like I was asking him to perform long division. Actually the phone just kind of went dead: “We’d like the #8 with turkey instead of salami. … Hello? Hello?” He asked if I’d like the #5 instead. I said no. I said I wanted provolone on that sandwich too. “… Hello? Hello?!” It’s not like they don’t have those things in the kitchen. The sandwiches came 45 minutes later. Mine was right. Kelsey’s, which was supposed to be a salami sandwich with turkey on it instead, came with roast beef. Nobody mentioned roast beef. Fuck you Jimmy John’s. There were also no napkins. I can’t blame them though: we did shanghai their driver for our make-em-ups.


I remember Tom New playing in the championship match five years ago, improvising Shakespeare in story while Doug Neithercott improvised in the genre of Hot Topic, and it was a tie for who could last longer: the improvisers or the audience’s pleasure. This year Tom gave a shout-out to Angelo before ending his match with 185. What a pro.


Matt Elwell’s Power Point and Courtney’s follow-up. I take the note about how we will put on our CSz shoes. There’s a board game called Robo Rally where robots crash into each other and cause mayhem. The robots follow a “priority.” If two robots attempt to do the same thing at the same time in the same space, the robot with higher priority for that command will prevail. I have a command, which is: whenever someone tells me “use these words instead of those words,” I bristle. A higher priority for me than that is: I wear nice shoes. So that’s an open-and-shut case. The bottom line is, these are ways we can better serve our fans. That’s what we’re in the business of doing. So let’s get to it. But boy Dave Gaudet didn’t get the memo about the new lingo. And James Bailey calling the fans the audience all night: is that a new drinking game too?


Tournament is a week when there are so many free-flowing compliments. I remember some especially heartfelt ones I payed to Theresa from Buffalo and receiving some lovely ones from Christine of Richmond. Both those cities I thought had an especially nice showing this year.


Jeff K’s interview with Dick Chudnow. Like Frost/Nixon. Two wizards brimming with strengths. What a privilege to have been there for the back-and-forth. Dick’s saying that, when it came to the Hollywood opportunities he’d missed out in the 70’s and 80’s, his therapist telling him, “You’ve suffered enough” was something I’ll file away. And the image of David Zucker doing work on a drug house in East LA is hard for me to picture. I worked for him for 4 months before he fired me for a prank, but that is another story. He wasn’t what I’d call handy, but he was younger way back then.


The LA team lunch. That particular sub-set of our roster would likely never get together and schmooz like that at home, and I’m quite glad we did. And James picked up the check for lunch, hey hey. Our very competent waitress. Frank joining us. The adjacent Brits. Konstantine drawing the Eiffel Tower with Em attempting to block (more Tiny Games).


What were the other Tiny Games we played? I played the touch two colors game with Kelsey and Melissa from Seattle watched but didn’t play. Who else played a Tiny Game with me?


The Resistance with two guys named Ben. The Tiny Games series, including the pointing game where we gave each other pennies, the game where we made disgusting foods using the words on the menu (I think Jason Stockdale won this game) and the long-lasting napkin game that Konstantine and I played all through one half of a garage show and settled standing on one foot, that I lost when the napkin touched my wrist. A decisive and glorious victory for Konstantine. LA Pride. I bought him a drink.


Oh my god Claire Wilcher is amazing.


Thank you to Anjil from Seattle for telling me in person that I was your improv crush.


The scrimmage: our group of 10 did puns and then for the last 2 minutes we did “16 Candles” only the more aggressive of us hadn’t seen it, so Rich and I were in a scene about sacred texts and he named a cast member. This was one of a series of names Rich said that I did not understand at all. Dawkin was another.


Seeing Mary Ann in her majorly slimmed-down state was a lightning strike moment. Over 400 pounds she’s lost. And then to get to play games with her, have her accuse me of having a tattoo on my leg, shut down the theater with her on the last night – I felt in the presence of someone really extraordinary. I guess I gotta go visit Portland again soon. After my brother’s baby is born.


Jacob Bach’s nametags said Fire Island, and then a sequence of increasingly fantastic locations. Some other Milwaukee players had custom made ones, and Rich Prouty’s said The Most Dangerous Man in Improv. Kelsey W. and I were like, what are we second-class citizens because ours say our actual home towns? Also Jacob Bach told me that I hate gays because I was minding the games garden instead of attending the LBQT show and he told me some other reason he briefly hated me so I think I have to work harder to win that guy over next time. I think he’s amazing.


I talked to an improviser whose dog died during tournament. I talked to an improviser who had a grapefruit-sized cyst removed from her uterus earlier this year. My own professional disappointment seemed trivial in comparison, but at tournament we all felt happy in spite of the vicissitudes of the outside world . This unstoppable good-tidings tidal wave was carrying us all high above whatever misfortunes the outside world had in store for us. We were untouchable under the roof of the arena.


The dance party. I loved the way the men AND THERESA took off their clothes hoping the other women would do the same. No dice. But I’d attend a dance party like that every weekend if I could: the highlight for me was probably the marching band, but the Breakfast Club move was also pretty good. Bron in an email to me: “I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye but you were too busy dance humping a bleacher.” I perspired a lot and was glad I brought a change of clothes. After putting on my jammies, we played 3 more games of Two Rooms and Boom and shut down the whole fucking building, locking up and saying goodbye at about 5:30 AM.


The next day, Matt Garnaas was at the theater, gamely trying to help jump start John Kehoe’s car so he could make it home in time for his daughter’s graduation. If a meteor should strike the earth, is there anyone more deserving of being saved than Matt? I admired John who, like me, didn’t look at Facebook once during the week. Then Matt gave me and Melissa from Seattle a ride to the airport, and it was lovely to have my final moments of tournament spent with a longtime friend and a new player from a new team in a new city. Best of luck to Boston, Seattle, Detroit, and anyone trying to share CSz Worldwide in a new city.


This is the 35th page of this blog post, and I’ve finished it just in time for Throwback Thursday: a throwback to 2 weeks ago when we were in Milwaukee. If you went to tournament I love you. If you are reading this I love you. If you made it to the end I will answer any question you ask me honestly. Thank you for caring about ComedySportz. Four more years. Lots more chants.

DASH 6 - Puzzle solutions discussed here (for DASH 5 too)

My wife has a hard time telling apart the different game and puzzle activities I do. She doesn't realize that I hardly ever do puzzle events. But she remembers that last year I played DASH in Portland with my brother James, his wife Ashley-Renee, and our son Fenton who at that time was under 1.5 years old. Here is a link with photos.

We finished third in Portland and didn't even submit an answer to the final puzzle, the meta. We had reached the end of everyone's rope, not just the little guy, and we called it a night. GC said they had been calling us "Team Baby." Some months later when James and Ashley-Renee came to visit us in LA, I pulled out the bits from the meta and we picked up exactly where we left off. We had the solution in about 20 minutes. We got a big boost, however, in the living room when Laurel, walking from one room to another as we were assembling the puzzle pieces, commented, "That looks like a caffeine molecule." About 10 minutes later we found out just how right she was. Where was she when we needed her, all wiped out at the end of a rainy day solving with a toddler?

Anyhow this year I played with an all new team: Tammy from Google and her friends Brian and Alex. Alex is Brian's wife, and they all work at Google. Our team was Quirksome Quells. At the starting line I shmoozed with Team Team which comprised many of the NPL's most formidable solvers. They weren't the only familiar faces: Elissa and John Beck were competing too, but I didn't find out their team name. The return of Grover's Heroes, maybe?

DASH 6 was as perfect a game to play in LA as DASH 5 was to play in Portland. Last year's theme was about a contagion infecting all mankind, which is not to be confused with the previous year, which was about the Mayan Apocalypse ending the world. This year's theme was most refreshing: two kids starting a lemonade stand. This tickled me pink as certain lemonade and I really liked the twist, or is it a squeeze? In LA we were pretending it was "Outbreak" while the rain periodically broke out, whereas in LA (or, more properly, Old Town Pasadena) the sun was shining beautifully, and the breeze kept it pleasant. It also provided an additional obstacle in solving some puzzles down the road.

GC took good care of us, started promptly, took team photos, offered us water. When the game began, everyone had to pair up with two other teams. This was the same mechanism as the first event of the only Shinteki Decathalon I competed in: we all drew Scrabble tiles and formed groups of 12 players and played the donut-based Duck Konundrum. This remains one of the coolest things I've ever done in a puzzle hunt, including the remarkable solution to that puzzle.

Our start envelope was marked with a sticker of Lemon so we paired up with a group who had a Sugar puzzle and the group with the Water puzzle. There was a recipe card and since I have a loud voice (I took voice and speech at UCLA Theater school) I just read loud to our whole group. This part of the puzzle wasn't timed but both the Water and Sugar groups finished quickly.

A single recipe card told all 3 groups what to do. The recipe said to squeeze the lemon; our lemon puzzle comprised 5 canoe-shaped slips of paper that, when folded over like a taco, revealed the shape of a letter on the visible half: sort of like a Mad Fold-In. The recipe also said water had to be cleansed of impurities; I believe the water puzzle showed a picture of a pitcher with many 5 letter words; removing all the letters in the word IMPURITIES left a final solution word. I never saw the sugar puzzle, but the recipe said it had to be measured out in tablespoons or something. I experienced a trace of sadness that I didn't get to see the puzzles, but I didn't feel like I was puzzle impoverished over the course of the day.

The recipe told us to combine the results so our 3 teams took the solution words and wrote them all together. "INGREDIENT," someone on another team said. I crossed out those letters and suggested that what was left could be anagrammed to "ADDITIONAL."

Everyone was using ClueKeeper, the nifty new technology for solving puzzles, and it worked amazingly well. Tammy was the group leader and input all the info, but as a team member I could sync my phone up so I saw what she saw. I taunted her that there was a button on my phone that said "Take leadership" but then she showed me she had a button that said "Release leadership." I told if her the phone battery died she should dive across the room and jab that button as her final act of heroic leadership, allowing me to take over. Then I spent the rest of the hunt plotting how to get her phone away from her and push the button that would allow me to take over as leader. So I wasn't much help in solving the other puzzles.

ClueKeeper confirmed that ADDITIONAL INGREDIENT was the right answer and then it coughed up the location of our second puzzle, where we would get the additional ingredient.

Game control, with lemon adornments, welcomes us to the first location after leaving the park.

Game control, with lemon adornments, welcomes us to the first location after leaving the park.

The puzzle at this cafe was in two parts. The first part was a series of cryptic clues. I've been solving Cryptic All-Stars (slowly: my friend Trip has long ago finished it) and cryptics were my first puzzle, so I got the answers to all of them quickly except 2 which took me longer, including one where the answer was LAVENDER. It was a reversal of RED and anagram of VENAL: Venal disorder ... something something ... cardinal color. The trick was cardinal was a clue for red and color was the definition. But I got em all.

Then the second part was a picture made out of a grid of buckets. Tammy said that it looked like a soduku: like a grid of tic-tac-toe grids, 3x3 of them. A diagonal line ran from the top left to the bottom right. The answers to the cryptic clues were indexed against the buckets, double-acrostic style, so we wrote some of the letters into some of the buckets. Only 9 letters were used - maybe every solution only had the same 9 letters. Anyhow, it looked enough like a sudoku that Tammy could start solving it.

This is a good time to observe that Tammy is the reigning US Sudoku champ and I do not know how to spell sodoko. It never looks right to me, and Spellcheck doesn't even recognize Spellcheck, or playtest, so it's not trustworthy. Oh sure I could check a reference book. Whose recap is this anyway? On that subject, Trip maintains that last week's Survivor immunity challenge contained Bags o' Puzzle Pieces, and I refute that. They were balls. Balls you put in a maze, but they didn't interlock or connect to or with anything. They just traveled through a maze and then came to a rest in a divot.

Anyhow, while I've been sidetracked by Survivor, Tammy is grinding away at that logic puzzle but it's slower going because she has to do it with letters instead of numbers. So I took the back of a piece of paper and copied the sudoku over. I wrote the 9 letters in a vertical stack in alphabetical order and assigned a number to them starting with the top letter, which happened to be A, being 1, and then looking at Tammy's grid and writing in the same spaces on mine, but writing numbers on mine where letters appeared on hers, checking it to my vertical stack each time because I didn't want to mess Tammy up.

When I handed it to her, she slipped into super Tammy mode and before I could finish composing a Tweet she had it solved. And I got to feel like I helped a champ solve a sudoku, something I couldn't even do in the National Treasure Book of Secrets Clue Hunt, and this is many years later and I still haven't learned.

Those red buckets across the diagonal were filled with numbers that, when I used my vertical chart to turn them back into letters spelled "CHOICE ENDING." We typed that into ClueKeeper who responded with, "That seems cryptic." The end of the puzzle, like the beginning, was a cryptic clue. The ending of CHOICE is the additional ingredient, ICE.

We moved to our next location, the plaza with the big art. This, like all the locations in the game save 1 or 2, were all places we'd played the Pasadena game 3 years earlier. In the intervening year, I know there was a game at UCLA and I don't know where the LA game was last year. I would have liked to visit a new part of LA (downtown Culver City suits me just fine, or even Santa Monica) but Pasadena is lovely, I don't get there often, and it reminded me of past puzzle hunts there I've run and competed in.

One thing about Pasadena, there was a dance competition for young teenage women, so they were walking around in groups with chaperones, wearing flamboyant costumes or athletic jackets and lots of make-up.

At the plaza location, we learned why we'd been told to bring tape in no uncertain terms. Tammy brought two rolls and 1 roller. This puzzle was really great so here goes describing it.

The lemonade stand is making a lot of money.

There were two pictures, about a foot square, that had been cut into strips. The two pictures were the same, but one had been sliced horizontally and the other vertically. The assembled image showed pictures of currency from around the world. The insight that helped us make progress was to look for the US dollars where they appeared. Tammy and Alex made very good, quick progress on this and I did little to help.

While I was focussed on these strips, I didn't realize that Brian had discovered the other puzzle in the envelope. It was a set of square pieces, each piece made of a 2 x 2 letter grid. The pieces could be placed next to each other, because against the background there were wedges in different colors that, when adjoined correctly, made circles against which the letters were layered on top. Trust me, it was easy to figure out what was going on. I'm just not describing it well.

But figuring out the best way to put the pieces next to each other wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. First we just looked at colors. Then we realized the coins, irrespective of color, had text printed around their diameters: "In DASH we trust" and "Different Area Same Hunt." So we tried matching them up with that text, but after a little while we noticed the green border running around the whole perimeter of the assembled grid, which made solving it much easier and we then only needed the colored coins for the inside pieces and as a check against our work.

Tammy and Alex had finished taping together the pictures of the shredded bills, and Brian and I taped up the letter tiles of the coin jar. A black line connecting letters on the coins page spelled out the message: TWELVE DIFFERENCES, ONE IN EACH ROW AND COLUMN. The two pictures of the bills aren't exactly the same: it's a spot the hidden pictures game. The members of the team all call out differences; I catch fewer than the others, even as we are ruling out rows and columns and I'm looking at the last 4 spaces and I know 2 of them have a difference. It was remarkable how some of the most glaring, obvious differences, like a bright colored E on a bill that had nothing in that spot at all, was not among the first differences we noticed.

Since the bills pages and coin pages were the same size, when we put the bills pages over the coins page and noted which letters appeared in the boxes where the differences we circled were found, the indicated letters told us to identify money in Japan: YEN. Two puzzles, two three letter answers. If we had noted that then we would have saved some time at the first meta.

Between getting YEN and arriving at the next puzzle, Brian treated our team to a box of madeleines. I ate the green tea one and it was yummy. I think Alex might have a sweet tooth like I do, though probably not as over the top.

The only sweetness I took at this puzzle break was Splenda in a Coffee Bean Pacific Coast black iced tea. Caffeine, good advice from last year's final meta. This part of the story was about putting up posters advertising the lemonade stand. Two delivery kids on bikes who obey a series of bizarre rules about when they will turn right and when they will go straight, and what happens if they cross paths. It was a bit foolish as a story conceit but I'm told it's a kind of logic puzzle and with Tammy captaining, our team solved it quickly.

I helped the group fill in the list of crossword-style clues, all of which described occupations in a rather straightforward way. The map Tammy was solving on had numbered boxes, so I just wrote the names of the jobs in the boxes starting in the boxes with the numbers in them. Then the squares where the two kids on bikes crossed paths were the index to letters that, when dropped into the dashes below spelled out "CARTOONIST," a clue to the ideal metier for the kid who drew the map. 3 lemons in the dashes indicated the real answer, our final three-letter word: ART. A container within "cartoonist." Nice discovery.

That's my clipboard on the left. Note Tammy's nails. She did those herself.

That's my clipboard on the left. Note Tammy's nails. She did those herself.

I haven't mentioned that at every step of the way we'd been receiving business cards for people who wish the kids well in their enterprise. That's because we weren't giving the business cards much thought. We gave them to Alex to hold on to, but they didn't have any bearing on the solutions to puzzles 1-3. At a bank plaza with a water fountain, we got an End of the First Day puzzle (the kids are staying with GC for just a few days during Spring Break). The kids wanted to play a word game with us.

When I don't know the answer to something on a puzzle hunt, I call out things I can see. I knew there was a reason the 3 dots above each column were not, for instance, red blue and yellow but rather orange, pink, and brown. If we had noticed these were the colors on each business card, we would have had a jump start. We would have also maybe thought to fit the cards over the card-sized boxes on the page and determined that each word written on the back of the business card could be translated into a single letter.

Instead of that, we just tried to drop letters into the blanks and dashes on the page. Many of them we could fill because no other word would fit there, but some were like this: - O O - There's many different words that could go there. How were we supposed to tell which ones?

We were supposed to understand that you could only fill the blanks in each column with the three letters in the solution to the puzzles, in order. The first card we got was pink, so the pink column had blanks you were supposed to fill in with I, C, or E, the letters in the solution to the first ("pink") puzzle. Doing that for all three columns... gave us lists of words.

The ClueKeeper helpful was giving us free hints and we were taking them as they came. When it nudged us to think about what translated a word into a letter, Brian had the breakthrough that it had to do with ternary... how many of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd letters you used from ICE, YEN, and ART - listen, trust me, it made sense when Brian explained it and when we did what he said to all the words in the blanks, it gave us a clue that we solved from the back and front simultaneously... "THE BLANK DIARIES BY ... ER S. THOMPSON" So the answer to the top half was RUM. And since we knew from the ternary mabobbers that this answer had to use all those letters twice, the answer was MURMUR.

"Those late-night murmurs you heard - what could the kids be planning now?" We had solved the first meta. I'd never been in a puzzle hunt that had a meta part way through it, and it was great. I wish I could say it helped me solve the final meta faster, but it didn't. It was great to see everything we'd encountered up to this point all working together so beautifully.

The next puzzle was also really fun. There's a focus group and you have to use logic and deduction to figure out exactly who the 8 people are, and where they're sitting, based on their relation to each other, and what's more there's one guy who is described as having an internal monologue imagining seeing the sun rise in the direction he's facing. So we know where they are, oriented to a compass.

Then we have a list for each of them: a list telling what kind of things they like. There's a pattern to each. One person only likes things that name elements, someone else only likes things that has titles of Beatles songs in them. Finding the pattern for each one was easy. Then you have a list of possible slogans you read to the group; each slogan is going to make two people raise their hand. I called out, "It's semaphore." We decoded the message from the front and back simultaneously again. Now that I'm putting it into words, I guess it's weird that we do that. I guess Tammy usually worked from the front and I worked from the back because I didn't want to duplicate her work and I didn't want to do nothing either.

So I'm looking at the end of this string of letters and I'm seeing ADEKI and I'm thinking, that's not good, and then Brian points out there's one more at the end I missed and it's a T. ADEKIT is better: the group is, like Michael Gerber the author of "The E-Myth" would recommend, they are selling not the lemonade but the process by which a lemonade stand is set up. OUR FIRST ADE KIT.

The viral marketing puzzle printed on Post-Its was diabolical because you could really connect them anywhere. It took us way too long to notice there was a center one. However, filling in the crossword blanks without clues came pretty easy to me: we'd already figured out the words in each square seemed related before ClueKeeper told us all intersections were synonyms. I'd thought the answer might be YELLOW FEVER but in fact it was CITRUS FEVER.

Then we solved this puzzle, which was fun and rather straightforward but the wind added an enormous layer of additional challenge.

Notice the dark shapes in silhouette on the page near Brian's knee. We had to lay the same 6 pages down so they matched 1 of these silhouettes, then do it again for the other two. The pages were taped to each other and, more importantly, to the ground. Lots of tape. The different colored crayons were also crucial.

Notice the dark shapes in silhouette on the page near Brian's knee. We had to lay the same 6 pages down so they matched 1 of these silhouettes, then do it again for the other two. The pages were taped to each other and, more importantly, to the ground. Lots of tape. The different colored crayons were also crucial.

Pipeline 4.jpg

Doing this puzzle in what amounted to a wind tunnel was, as I said, an extra layer of challenge but we all had a good sense of humor about it and ample tape. Much better than my first DASH when my team just came up empty here on a Hansel and Gretel themed word search with a final extraction that should have been gettable. Having ClueKeeper nudge us in the right direction at timed intervals was great. For this one, we felt a little silly that we didn't catch on to the hints earlier about Braille - the name Louis B., using phrase "must be blind." But as soon as we had the pages done, Brian identified them as Braille right away, so we got the answer as quick as we could have.

The next puzzle was humorous captions with punny illustrations of the names of companies. Someone running across lanes of busy traffic avoiding being hit by vehicles, all of which are picksups: DODGE TRUCKS. We LOL'd at this one and it was a nice bit of refreshment between the labor-intensive pipeline maze and the meta that promised a par of 90 minutes.

It was time to make sense of all the business cards. We examined them on the walk to the library, but I don't think anyone said, "Hey each card has a single color it's identified with" or "Each card contains a rebus." If they did, I was not listening, which is totally possible.

We fiddled with wedges of lemon for a while, and the business cards.

GC waiting for us with portable lemon balloons affixed to a backpack.

GC waiting for us with portable lemon balloons affixed to a backpack.

This is also wrong.

This is also wrong.

We did not run out of stuff to try, and we kept trying wrong stuff til we found stuff that was right. Solving all the rebuses helped, and after a little work we started connecting them to the chapter titles. Tammy had the insight that the rebus solutions were all 9 letters long, and it broke from there. Since all the central letters on the wedges could be used to spell LEMONADE, and 8 letter word, you'd spell out the solution to each rebus based on the colors in position and get a 9 letter word: 1 letter out of place. We had to go back and do the first few over again because we forgot to take note of what position the out of place letter was in; that info was needed to index letters into the rebus solution word, and our team edited one letter giving a wrong answer before giving the right one: we'd submitted WE MADE AN EMPIRE before understanding that the kids really m-ade was a LEMPIRE. The end!

Great job DASH GC. Thanks for giving us so much fun. I could not have asked for a better hunt. That first meta puzzle with the ternary was really something, and I might rank it up there with the sitcom married couples from the TV one, and the SHUN GIANTS meta by Dave Shukan in the Fairy Tales one, and the "Only Connect" clues style puzzle from last year's DASH as my favorite puzzles in DASH. There are more I'm leaving out, but those ones are really impressive.

Did you have favorite moments or player experiences I left out?

Game on

I wrote blog posts lately - really, I did. But they weren't here. They were here:

Tombstone Hold 'Em

Two Rooms and a Boom

And the other exciting thing that happened to me lately in case you missed it was a shout out from Sophie G. Clarke on Rob Cesternino's podcast:

Beat that with a stick. Or a sock, I suppose.

Rob Has a Shadow

Last week there were two events that brought me in proximity with this man.


A week ago, my episode of The Experts aired. Believe it or not, the day I taped the episode was the same day as this. It was a very busy day, full of exciting games around a Survivor theme.

Rob C. and I arrived at the studio at the same time. I was a bit bashful and star struck but introduced myself.

Those of you who don't know anything about the reality show Survivor and don't care need not read on. For the rest of you, more after the jump. Oh, I can't figure out how to do those in Squarespace. Well, more in the next paragraph.

When Survivor was only in its single digits (now it is embarking on its 27th season), I was in college and I wrote, directed, and starred in Survivor: The Musical. This is how my enthusiasm for the new smash competition strategy show manifested itself.

Rob - my age - was living in New York at the time and he applied to the show. He was, I would venture to say, the first Survivor superfan who got a chance to play. He made all us other Survivor fans proud. He won an immunity, had lots of funny sound bites and fine strategy moments, and made it to the final three, which put him in noble company with Rudy, Lex, and Kathy. He also got to play again in Season 8 All-Stars but his reputation as a clever player worked against him and he was eliminated very early on.

Since then, Rob has parlayed his Survivor notoriety into a media empire where he podcasts about all manner of pop culture, from Survivor and other reality shows to The Walking Dead and SNL. Rob has the gift of gab and legions of loyal fans and listeners who are always tuning in to find out what Rob has now.

Back to that parking lot. I found myself there because I'd emailed The Experts offering my services as a Survivor expert: I know a lot about the show. Alan and his team wrote back enthusiastically, saying they needed a Survivor expert to come compete against Rob, who would be competing in the category Seinfeld. I said yes immediately.

Rob and I chatted a little about Survivor and parenthood, and about the musical I'd written in college. We also gabbed with our fellow competitor, Alex, who had driven through horrendous traffic but had not re-watched the Star Wars prequels in preparation for the game. I know which one I would rather do.

My friend Jaclyn was there: I'd invited her to come along, and as it happens she knows Rob through friends of friends and they have played tennis together. She watched the episode that taped before ours, also hosted by Kurt, which she said was a bit bumpy. I have to say that Kurt's performance in our episode was also somewhat rocky but credit where credit's due, hosting a show full of names and references you don't know must be really hard and he gave it the old college try.

So this, in case you can't tell, is my post-game analysis. I'm taking a page from the book for the board gamers who won Only Connect and blogged about their episodes. I only have the 1, but here's what I remember from a game show I competed in last June.

The episode itself tapes in an office with a green screen. There were people doing work who were not part of the show, that I could tell anyhow. Alan and his team made things go really smoothly. There is a board the players can see with real-time standings. We sat on stools and all declined the proffered beers.

In the first round, the first three questions were no-brainers that even the most casual fan could probably answer. I'm paraphrasing:

1. Who was the first winner, jailed for tax evasion?

2. Who is the only two-time winner?

3. Whom did Johnny Fairplay untruthfully say had died?

4. What college sport does Coach coach?

5. What three players won in a shut-out?

This one was rather easy, but I had it quickly because I'd been taking Sporcle quizzes including a wonderful game presented as a logic grid based on the names of winners.

6. What was Ethan's luxury item?

7. What season featured the tribes Chapera, Mogo Mogo, and Saboga?

I spent more time drilling tribe names than any other single piece of preparation for this game, because there are so many of them and I knew it was my weakness, so I didn't want to get asked a tribe name question and get caught flatfooted. When it came, it was actually a bit easier than I was expecting because so few seasons have had 3 tribes but I suppose in hindsight they could have been asking about two pre-merge tribe names and the merge tribe name (they weren't). Rob C. got cheeky because he knew full well that he was the first boot off the very formidable Chapera tribe.

8. Who betrayed Yau-Man after being given a car?

9. Who is the only player to be voted out of the same season 3 times?

10. Whom did Jeff Probst describe as the "smartest player never to win the game"?

These questions weren't very difficult, but then again I know a lot about Survivor. The last question of the round is supposed to be very hard, but they made it a softball because the answer was sitting right next to me. In the last edit, they cut a remark where I criticize Kurt for glossing over my perfect score. It didn't help, because I still come off as very self-satisfied in these videos. The truth is, I'm having a great time talking about my favorite show on my favorite YouTube show.

In the second round, I got a freebie when Alex gave his first question to Rob. This was a strategic mis-step but it benefited me. I'd like to say it's because of a pre-show alliance I made with him but that would not be true.

I regret not getting the $5 question right. I know more answers to questions about votes, challenges, and strategy than I do about day-to-day camp life. On top of which, I did no review of Redemption Island in preparation for the show, other than tribe names. In the post-question discussion, Rob did his trademark BR impression, but they cut it from the final edit. After the show, Alan read me the $6 and $7 questions and I got those right. Boston Rob's GI issues kept me from getting a perfect game. Rats.

Some have said that I faced a very easy selection of questions. That's a matter of opinion. But I want credit for two things. I practiced my "I don't know face" before going on this show so I would have a good chance of successfully bluffing my opponents whether or not I knew the answer - the host even commented on it. I would like credit for the bluff.

You can't say that spelling S. La Grossa's first name was a terribly easy question.

This is the other thing I want credit for: Rob wagered aggressively, and I had to anticipate his wager - as well as answering both questions correctly - to beat him. I hope my brother was proud of me; he understands the proper wagering on Jeopardy!, although I haven't discussed this wager-to-tie guy everyone is talking about.

I'm a big Eliza Orlins fan so it was good to be able to give her a shout-out. She is very active in social media; so far I haven't seen her recognize this game. I'll be posting this to the #RHAP subreddit when I'm done, maybe that'll elicit a response.

I was so focused I didn't realize until I watched the episode later that I didn't need to answer the second question right to win, but if you compare our wagers you'll see that I wagered properly, assuming Rob would answer both of his questions right.

The second question was easy for me because I work in the challenge department, and balut has become the sine qua non of the gross food challenge.

Here's where I win all the moolah, I was anticipating a jury question in round 5 because the HQITW is always a list question, and juries are a great place to find lists. Remembering the Pagong tribe was the hardest, but once I clicked into Sean's "fat naked fag" remark, it all fell into place. And after this I took the producers out for a drink. I invited Rob and Alex along too but they couldn't make it. I'm sad The Experts has stopped airing the additional footage they shot; there's a post-game interview where Rob calls me the most "sponge-worthy" competitor on The Experts. My wife had to explain that one to me.

And that was my triumph! What a fun show. I can't wait to see the episodes they taped in Las Vegas.

Due to our having met on the episode, Rob was nice enough to invite me to attend the roast he threw in his honor at the Hollywood Improv. This was a fun night of amateur joke-tellers to celebrate Rob's recent victory at the Podcast Awards, also in Las Vegas.

After the roast, which you can hear in its entirety on Rob's site, everyone went to another bar where I had a chance to gab a bit with Tyson and also Sophie. I wish I had anything very interesting to report; Tyson and I talked about Provo UT where he is from and where my friends to comedy, and he tipped me off to some deep-bench LDS scripture references he worked into his on-camera time in Blood vs. Water. We also chatted about which competitors he was most worried about (Candace) and how it was probably good he didn't propose to Rachel at the reunion show, since that's not what every girl wants. I bought Sophie a beer but she was mostly being monopolized by a guy who had made it to the finals of casting but not on the show. It was interesting listening in on their conversation. Also I met Allie from Fans Vs. Favorites II, but did not recognize her and put my foot in my mouth when I asked if she'd tried out for the show. She works in casting now. She is very lovely in person but exactly the kind of face I cannot recognize, even though I am an expert at Survivor. And she had lipstick on her teeth.

Rob and I also gabbed a bit at the bar, about how good he is to his fans and a little bit about fatherhood.

So those are my 2 run-ins with Rob Cesternino, the smartest podcaster ever to play Survivor. I hope I will run into him again.



Sleep No More

            On October 11th and October 12th of 2013 I attended Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel. I traveled from California to attend a wedding and bought tickets for consecutive nights. I’d been given by friends select details about the performance and best practices for enhancing my participation but still felt like I knew very little. What follows is a description, as best as I can recall, of what I saw on those two nights.


            First a word about my background. I studied theater at UCLA and got my B.A. from the School of Theater, Film, and Television. I was a good student and graduated magna cum laude and Dean’s List. I’m a pretty big theater nerd so I brought to bear my experience of having seen various incarnations of live performance including modern dance, interpretations of Shakespeare, and esoteric genres.


            Also since for more than 10 years I’ve been a professional improviser, in the sense that I get paid to make things up for audience members who don’t know me but paid for the privilege of seeing me perform; that also impacted the way I interacted with the performers of Sleep No More. It is also likely that my profession, game designer, catalyzed me to make choices that another person in my place mightn’t have.


            I arrived at the Chelsea address plenty early and the doorman at the adjacent space tried to tell me I was supposed to be having dinner before the show and ushered me and two couples into an elevator. The elevator operator was in character, but not in a campy, Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure kind of way. He commented wryly on the piercing noises of the elevator’s pulley mechanisms and gave me a postcard of the hotel. It was a vintage photograph of a building on a hill. He told us it was taken last week.


            When we got off on the rooftop bar, Gallows Green, a friendly man greeted us and asked me if I was waiting for Paul. I said yes, because I didn’t know if this was part of the show, and I am an improviser, and we just say yes to things. He said I could go to the bar and he’d send Paul to me. “Don’t let him skip out on me,” I said. At the bar I got a glass of water, checked in on Foursquare, and had a pee. When I left, the man in the elevator lobby seemed surprised. “Peter found you, right?” That’s how I remember it: the name switched from Paul to Peter. “No,” I said. “Hang on,” he said, “I’ll get him.”


            That man came back with another man. Meanwhile, a guy standing nearby using his phone was, I think, the person who was waiting for another person – that is, the person I’d been mistaken for. I don’t know. “This guy asked me if I was waiting for someone so I just said yes,” I said.


            The first guy’s eyes bugged out but Paul (or Peter) smiled. “Yeah? Well played. You here for the show? I mean, are you staying at the hotel?”


            “Yes,” I said. I took the elevator back down to the ground floor and entered the hotel with 5 or 6 other people. I don’t know if I saw him again, but I have a very bad memory for faces, so I will never know. At the bag check window, we checked everything we had with us for three dollars. Then at check-in I gave my name but provided no document and they handed me a playing card: an ace.


            “This is your room key,” the woman said to me. I handed it to an attendant at the end of a hallway; he punched it with a hole punch and told me to go up stairs.


            I went up two dark staircases illuminated only by tea candles and then through a hallway that zigged and zagged back on itself like the maze on a family restaurant activity placemat. This is intentionally messing with me, I thought, because all the corners meant it was very dark and you could only go forward but you couldn’t tell where you were going or when you would get there.


            After a couple minutes, I got to the end: the switchback corridor deposited you at the mouth of a bar where the specialty of the house was an absinthe punch which was delicious. Most people drank at least one. I checked the men’s room for clues but found none. There was a stage with instruments for a band to play: a drum set and a piano, covered. The room evoked The Great Gatsby.


            A man in a tuxedo took the stage and purred into the microphone that anyone with an ace should join him by the side of the stage. He ushered a group of about 16 of us behind a curtain and that’s when he and two other men in tuxedos handed out white masks that covered the entire top part of the face. “Put these on,” Sebastian told us, “and make it looser or tighter with the plastic thingamabobber in the back. Now my lovelies, there will be no talking. Goodbye.” And he and another man beckoned us through another curtained door. This door, I could tell, was the elevator that I’d been advised to be the last person to board. I had not been told about the masks, but I was told that it was good to be the first person off the elevator.


            As we traveled up, the man in the elevator repeated that there was to be no talking in the hotel, and no cameras or phones. He said the hotel was 5 stories tall, and you could always return to the bar on the 2nd floor. He advised us that black-masked characters were there, not to advise us, but to guide us. “Things are not always what they seem at the McKittrick Hotel,” he said, and added, “Fortune favors the bold.”


            That was when the elevator stopped. I was let off the elevator, and I felt the other white masks behind me move but when I turned, all I saw was the elevator door closing and the man in tuxedo holding his arm out to bar the other passengers from disembarking. And then I was alone in the McKittrick Hotel: the first person to enter the performance space of Sleep No More.


            My first impressions were that the light was very low, the ambient music on the floor was imbued with portent and dread, and there were many rooms to explore. I took off running, knowing that there was action somewhere and not wanting to miss anything. In very short order, it became clear that “not wanting to miss anything” was an invalid tactic: every room was a complete environmental art piece of its own, even if no actors were present. The floor where the elevator let me off looked like a hospital; there was a room with many bathtubs, and another room with many infirmary beds. I entered a room that looked like an office with a desk and telephone. I picked up the phone and wanted to say “hello” but remembered the admonishment not to speak. There was no dial tone. The papers on the desk let me know that I was in St. James infirmary. The room was also decorated with a half-dozen strings stretching from floor to ceiling, each one with several pages from books hanging off it, like how a clothesline would look if you were parallel to the ground. Each page also had a maze of negative space where someone had cut a zig-zag line with an Exacto knife tracing a switchback path like the one I walked in the dark after coat check. I left the office and continued exploring.


            In the room with the tubs, I now saw a man in formal evening wear, jacket removed, putting some clothes into the tub. Since I’d been advised that the show was, in many ways, a retelling of the MacBeth story, I assumed that this ritual was related to the title character, who murders a lot of people and gets blood all over himself in the process. Getting the blood out of his clothes, and his hands, becomes something of a fixation for himself and his wife, and ultimately is part of what drives Lady MacBeth mad. There were only two of us in the room, so I stood close to the man washing the clothes and watched his slow deliberate movements, but then I set off to explore more.


            Just across a dark hallway from the room with the bathtubs was a room much larger than any I’d seen up until now. This room was The Woods. Leafless trees sprouted from the floor, dotted along a sort of walkway that made the room a maze. Moonlight shone from overhead, and the sound of nightlife in the woods and gusty gales filled the space. It was about now that I first recognized how prominent and how astonishing the sound design was in the entire space. Over the course of seeing the show twice, I came to admire the use of recorded, period 1940’s-era popular music blended with original sound and operatic instrumental music, rising and falling along with the action in every tableau, seemingly timed with great precision. Of course the use of sound and music, along with the lights, go a great distance in creating a fully enveloping experience design, and Sleep No More did this with great skill.


            In the corner of the woods room was a wooden hut with a door and a window. I moved to open the door, but a guide in a black mask extended an arm to block my way: not allowed. I left the woods.


            Finding my way to a stairwell, I walked down one flight. Now instead of a hospital with the woods outside, the fourth floor resembled a main street in a small town. There was a candy shop, complete with three shelves and jars full of different candies; a commenter on Foursquare said the candy tasted about 80 years old, but I ate a red Swedish fish and it tasted good to me. With the hallway running down the middle of the floor acting sort of like the street, on either side there were shops: a tailor, a mortuary, a taxidermist’s, with big plate glass windows looking out. I also found a detective agency, and when I entered, a man – the detective, I presume – was in the back, looking at photographs he’d developed himself and hung up on a string. He passed through a curtain into the front office and there were a young woman and a small group of white masks, who must have followed her there. Since one way to enjoy seeing Sleep No More is to pick an actor and follow him, it’s not uncommon to find yourself part of a group of 30 chasing someone up or down a flight of stairs, or through a corridor. Of course, like with birdwatchers who lust after rarely-seen animals, another school of thought might be that an actor who isn’t being followed by anyone is a more appealing person to follow.


            This was my first time seeing two actors interact with each other. The detective had an open file on his desk with a photograph of a woman. The lady who was in his office placed a second, identical photograph next to it. This caused the detective to grab her wrist and look at her arm, her hand, and the back of her neck: as if examining her for blemishes or identifying marks or features. The two of them shared a passionate kiss and she crossed to the door as if to leave, but they kissed once more before she fled.


            Watching this interaction was the first time I suspected that Sleep No More was wordless. And it is – nearly.


            Simultaneous with the mystery woman’s exit, another man in evening clothes, also sans jacket, was walking up the main street, in plain view of everyone who could see him through the plate glass windows. He caused quite a commotion, and many white masks came out to see what was going on: he was breathing heavily and groaning and seemed to be having some kind of fit. Many of us followed him into a room that was a bar made out of cardboard boxes. There was a pool table, and the groaning man collapsed onto it and his body spasmed in a fit that was a bit like dance and a bit like combat, though without an adversary. He twitched and thrashed in a series of movements that was violent but also beautiful. There were more men in tuxedos in the bar, sitting around the table. The mystery woman was there too – she’d beaten me and the crowd to the bar – but she left shortly after the groaning man fell onto the pool table.


            I left too because I’d been told about another room I should look for, accessible from (or near) the cardboard bar. I made my way down a hallway lined with corrugated metal, as I’d been told to, and found another bar, this one with much more wide open space and a stage with a setup much like the one in the bar I’d entered on the 2nd floor of the McKittrick, before the performance began. A very intense scene takes place here, I’d been told, and pretty soon it started.


            The scene was scored with contemporary music: when it ramped up, it was like a rave. There were three woman, a short woman in a green dress, a slim bald woman, and a red-haired woman in a flowy red dress who sat at a table far removed from the main action, and never got up. The women danced for the men, and I realized that this is the scene from MacBeth where the witches – “three weird sisters” – make their prophesies that catalyze the play’s main, tragic action. One woman took off the top of the short  dress and she danced, breasts exposed, to the rave music. There was lots of haze in the room and suddenly green laser lights and a strobe. The man I’d seen soaking clothes – MacBeth, I now felt certain – took in all the crazy action, including the appearance of a fully naked man with a horse’s head on. As if accepting his fate, MacBeth prepared to fellate the naked horse man. The lights blacked out briefly, and when they came back on, MacBeth was holding a bloody baby.


            There was a lot to take in; I don’t remember the precise order of events, but the rave/orgy ended and the characters left separately; each time somebody left, white masks would follow, but I wanted to know more about the red-haired woman. She, me, and the short woman, still topless, were the only ones left. The short woman performed a very acrobatic dance behind and on the bar; she was wet, and as she thrashed her head around, she splashed water. The woman in red watched approvingly from her table. If I weren’t here, I thought, they’d still be doing this for no one. Unfortunately, the woman in red exited somewhere I wasn’t allowed to follow: a black mask barred my way. I went off to explore other floors.


            The bottommost floor contained almost nothing except an enormous open floor: a dance floor with a stage. Up on the stage, a long banquet table was set. All around were Christmas trees on wheels. The space was extremely dark with almost no light except for the decorative bulbs on the Christmas trees. When I arrived, MacBeth was there; I stayed close to him as he walked closer to a bright light coming from up above. I was close enough to him, that he turned and grasped me by the arm, and this was the first time I’d heard anyone speak since I entered the hotel. “I had to kill him,” MacBeth hissed to me, and spoke some more lines from Shakespeare, concluding with, “Get thee gone.”


            One of the three sisters, the bald one, arrived and began moving the Christmas trees, wheeling them to the perimeter of the room and clearing the dance floor. I followed her closely too: my experience as an improviser helped me here as it did throughout, giving me the courage to thrust myself into the action without fear. As she went about her tasks, she stopped and allowed her eyes to rest on me. She made the choice to notice me. She took me by the hand and, with her index finger, slowly and deliberately traced the line in my palm between my thumb and forefinger, followed the arc to my wrist, and then made two more lines in my palm with her finger. Then she took my hand in hers, moved my other hand to my waist, and we danced to the music that was now filling the space. She smiled at me kindly before departing.


            Soon there was more light, the music grew louder, and many more guests appeared in formal wear. Taking off their coats as they entered, they coupled and performed a wonderful, celebratory dance. There were conspiratorial looks, but for the most part, they were enjoying a party. Later, in this same room, there would be a banquet: after some further exploring, I followed Lady MacBeth as she and MacBeth returned, and I with them. Entering the banquet room later in the night, I saw several things that surprised me: one, the room was full of white masks, the biggest group of people I’d seen yet. This was attributable to my second discovery, namely that eight characters were seated onstage at the table, the largest aggregation of actors I’d seen yet. Among the characters was a pregnant woman I hadn’t seen up until now, so that surprised me too: that someone had eluded me this entire time. Lord and Lady MacBeth took their place at the banquet, which turned into something like another orgy as characters sloshed their wine glasses and kissed each other at the table, all in extremely slow motion. The sound slowed down too.


            This banquet marked the end of the first act; the main action of the play, I’d been told, looped three times, allowing guests to see different things at different times. For the next two hours or so, I went up and down stairs and explored more rooms and followed more actors. I saw the mystery woman one more time; she wrote a note with a pencil and tucked into a blotter on the detective’s desk. Then the phone rang; she answered it, whispered inaudibly, and left. I though this was another commendable example of the skill of the hidden designers: somebody cued that phone to ring at just the right time. After she left, I removed the note and read it: in faint pencil lead, she’d written a short poem about a seed growing into a tree. This was one of many letters I found around the hotel: in the MacBeth master bedroom on the third floor – the same floor with the graveyard, just outside the master, and rather like the woods but with bombed out brick walls in place of trees – multiple copies of the same letter written by MacBeth, pledging eternal devotion to his wife, were scattered around the bathtub that was in the center of the floor. There was a letter from Lady MacBeth to the queen, thanking her for the necklace and promising to wear it always: this I found in the room that was the hotel check-in desk. Once, I happened to be exiting the cardboard bar when MacBeth was entering it; he carried a small cardboard box, which he vouchsafed in a crevasse in the wall as he walked in the door. A group of white masks followed him. I reached for the small box; it contained a piece of red yarn and a note. We have her, it said.


            I returned to St James infirmary and saw Lady MacBeth strip naked and get in the bath; in the third act, she took a bath in the master bedroom as well. Also on the hospital floor, later in the night, I saw that someone had placed a dozen stones into one of the beds and pulled the covers up over them.


            Aside from MacBeth’s whispers, no one else spoke: Sleep No More is, truly, dance theater. Characters rush at each other and push each other away, all with beautiful violence: the dances are combative and at times gravity-defying. Men threw men and women against walls, men wracked with pain climbed up walls to the ceiling, and everyone was always all over all the furniture. I can’t imagine how exhausting the piece must be to perform: having to do many of those dances three times, to say nothing of the endlessly changing environment. There were times where black masks would keep us from getting too close to the bodies whirling in space, but other times there was no guide at all, and if a whipping body came close to you, you’d better move quick to avoid getting a boot to the head.


            Nearly as I could tell, the main action of the show moved roughly from the top to the bottom; there were times where black masks stood in the stairwell, keeping you from climbing to the next floor up, as if to say, There’s nothing to see here. With the banquet, in which Banquo’s ghost appears in the traditional Shakespeare version, nearly all the characters were on the bottom floor three times during the show. The second time, I saw a maiden of some kind eating jellied toast presented to her by another servant character, a sour-faced older woman. But       when the play ends, at the third banquet, there is no reason to be anywhere else. Instead of an orgy, this time the action ends with the characters leaving the table at the stage and dispersing into the crowd, except for MacBeth, who stands front and center as a noose, previously hidden, descends from the rafters. A tuxedoed man fixes it around his neck, and MacBeth is hanged over our very heads. This is an old bit of theatrical hokum, but it is used to good effect here, and though I saw the hanging twice from different angles, I could never spot the actor being braced at his waist, which is, I believe, how the stunt is accomplished. A blackout. The end of the action. There is no curtain call; rather, the actors all grab the nearest white mask, escort them to the lounge we all started in on the second floor, remove their masks, and give them a kiss and perhaps a few words. I was up on the balcony so I did not get an escort; I just left, ushered by the black masks. The band is playing and there are more absinthe punches for sale, but I collected my things from coat check and departed minutes after the show ended.


            I left knowing I’d seen something really special. If that had been the end of my experience with Sleep No More, I would still have told people that it lived up to my (high) expectations and that the show was absolutely worth a visit. But I got a second chance at it, and I had an agenda.


            My game plan had been to try to see what I believed to be the main action the first time, and try to see some of the more esoteric nooks and crannies the second time around, if necessary. It also seemed to me that, if I had been successful at following the “main action,” whatever that might be, that it favored the men: I’d seen a lot of men, and many of them had been difficult for me to tell apart. (I have very poor facial recognition skills, usually relying on things like clothes, glasses, and hair to identify people; none of these were very helpful in differentiating unfamiliar men, all wearing tuxedoes, in hazy rooms with low lighting.) I’d seen MacBeth kill Banquo in the cardboard bar, bludgeoning him with a brick, and I’d seen fights and plots with the men. But I’d seen almost nothing of the pregnant woman, and wanted to know how she fit into the story. And the mystery woman: she didn’t seem to appear very often for the second half of the night. And I also wanted to know what happened in the woods. I don’t know if there is action in every single room – some rooms more than others, obviously – but there had to be some reason for the woods to be there and I wanted to know what it was. Woods and the women: that was my agenda for Sleep No More night 2.


            I entered the hotel closer to 7:30 PM and my room key was an 8. Though they were taking 4s, a man with a tuxedo saw that I was eager. “Are you ready?” he said and I nodded. He allowed me behind the curtain. Masks distributed, instructions, thingamabobber: everything was about the same, except the starting bar was much more crowded. Once more I boarded the elevator last; once more I left first and was allowed on my own, only this time I turned to the elevator as the door closed and extended a hand toward my fellow passengers, as if to say, “Noooooooooo.” Just for fun.


            I quickly ran down the stairs and found to my surprise that the first banquet was underway. Were we this far into the story already? Another surprise followed quickly: a woman dressed as a nurse stood in the dark, on the dance floor, watching the action on the stage along with all the white masks, but seemingly entirely unnoticed by all of them. I thought, You mean there was a nurse here all night last night and I never saw her once? Since I’d determined to see more of the women this time, I decided to follow her and, once she moved, I followed closely on her heels. And when I say close, if I followed you on a city street as closely as I followed the actors in Sleep No More, you would call the police immediately. But this isn’t a city street. I employed a technique my friend dubbed “silverfishing”: think of a bad dad at Disneyland, racing ahead of his family, bobbing and weaving through the crowd and sometimes turning sideways to gain the speed advantage. That was me. Only in a dark hotel full of people wearing masks.


            Anyway, that nurse. She was not easy to follow: she went up flights of stairs, across floors, and then down stairs again, as if trying to lose anyone who might follow her. Immediately after the banquet, she went all the way to the top of the hotel, into the room I’d picked up the phone first thing after getting off the elevator. I saw she had a key around her neck. “I hope I get to see what it unlocks,” I thought, and I didn’t have to wait long: she took a locked box out of a desk drawer. Every drawer of every desk, as well as every shelf in every room, was bedecked with appropriately curious knickknacks. I don’t know what happens if an audience member tampers with an important prop, but it wouldn’t be hard. The nurse opened the box, took out a much-abused book and an Xacto knife. Slowly, deliberately, meticulously, she cut a zig-zag path out of the page and cut the page out of the book. She returned the book and knife to the box, locked it, and returned it to the drawer. By now, more white masks had found us in the office: it seemed like there were more people overall on the second night, and we followed her down stairs and up – she stopped at the MacBeth master bedroom long enough to lay out the clothes that Lady MacBeth would wear later, after emerging from the bath - until she arrived at the woods.


            The entrance to the woods were closed off with a locked gate that I did not remember seeing the night before. The nurse scampered between the bars and deeper into the woods, in the direction of the hut and a bright light. My body was too big to follow her. Another white mask, a small woman, pushed past me and passed easily through the same opening. Me and several other white masks made efforts to climb the gate, but then another man found a hole between the trees close to the floor but big enough to climb through, and we pursued the nurse. Following the turning paths of the woods, which resembled the lines she’d cut out of the page, we found the nurse at the hut I’d been prohibited from entering the night before. Right when we arrived, the door to the hut was open. Another nurse was inside the hut. Two nurses! There were two nurses in the show I never saw on the first night. She welcomed an audience member into the hut and the door closed behind them. I felt regret that it wasn’t me. We attempted to peer into the hut to see what was going on; a short time later, the first nurse appeared and the audience member emerged. The first nurse sat on the lap of the nurse who dwelt in the hut, and they rocked on a rocking chair for a while. I decided I’d seen enough of the nurse and, glad I’d gotten to see at least one thing happen in the woods, I branched off.


            It wasn’t hard to find the mystery woman; it was still early in the second run of the action, and I’d found her early in the story on the floor with the shops. Once more I saw her kiss the detective, only this was a different actress playing the woman. I followed her to the bar made of corrugated cardboard, where she raced off into the night after the man convulsed on the pool table.


            A crowd of other white masks gathered as the mysterious woman slowly, meticulously, deliberately set about the task of slicing a thin strip from a book – the Bible I think – and wrapping it around a piece of rice until it was a small speck. She found a locket, clasped the speck inside, and then cut a length of red thread off a bobbin. All the actors I saw handling props did so with this solemnity and minute detail, and so it was that she knotted the locket, speck enclosed, on the thread.

            She fled the tailor’s shop and shed several whitemasks in the hallway representing the main street. So much action was gathering there now that audience members less purpose-driven than I jumped to follow other actors, perhaps fearing more slow-paced knot tying in this woman’s future. Meaning that when I followed her to the only residency on the block, her home, with the sitting room in the front and the bedroom behind a door that was locked more often than it was open on my visits the night before, it was just us, and I’d been following her for some time.

            My friend told me that if an actor offers you a hand, you should take it. The woman stopped by the table room. We were the only ones there, I’m pretty sure. She looked not in my direction but at me. She held my gaze and extended her hand. I took it quickly, eagerly. With her other hand, she opened the door to her bedroom and pulled me inside.

            I felt the same adrenaline-fueled eagerness that I always have when a pretty woman invites me into her bedroom and closes the door. That this was only a simulation of that moment mattered not at all. I experienced it in every sensory way as if it was a real intimate encounter. This was an entirely new kind of theater.

            It got more real. She pushed me into her closet, a standing wardrobe. She lifted off my mask and hung it on a peg. Inches divided us. She kept my gaze and I kept hers. She spoke.

            “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.”


            I recognized these as the opening sentences to the novel Rebecca, upon which the Hitchcock film is based.


            There was Manderly, our Manderly, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, not the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.”


            My background as an actor and improviser had prepared me to be ready to receive the performance this woman was giving me. It was hard to focus on her words because of the excitement buzzing in my head. Thoughts of What’s going to happen next? obscured what was happening currently. But I focused on the slight drawl of her words, the slur and lilt of the speech and the moistness of her unvoiced plosives. She raised her hands and placed the locket on the red thread around my neck. Then she leaned forward and kissed me on the side of my face. Hands still raised, she returned my mask to my face.

            “Wear this,” she said, touching the locket. “It will keep you safe.” And with force but not roughly, she pushed me through the secret passage against the rear wardrobe wall. I emerged in the back room of the butcher shop. I raced out to the street and in through the front door of the house, but the bedroom I’d just been pushed out of was locked. It remained that way for the rest of the performance, even when I returned with only minutes left before the hanging. That was the last I ever saw of the mysterious woman.

            I’m not going to lie, I was pretty happy right then. I’d had a memorable experience at the play (I later learned these are called 1:1s), and had a keepsake to show for it. I wanted to know more about the woman with the red hair, so I returned to the scene where the orgy with the three weird sisters took place and made another interesting discovery: this important scene, that I’d heard about from multiple sources, is being observed by a character who is not in it – that is, not at first glance. The King, Duncan, is standing at the door spying on the depravity inside. I believed him to be Duncan based on his clothes and his mien, and the other actors’ behavior toward him – including a murder I saw on the first night. MacBeth kills Duncan, king, so I figured I had that right.

            Well the orgy just sent the king into a tizzy, and he ran back to the tailor shop where I’d already been not long before. He took out the same damn Bible and took some precautions of the voodoo variety: wrapping a dead crow and murmuring incantations, sprinkling a powder of some protective property around the door frame to prevent evildoers’ ingress. I stayed with him a while and took off looking for the pregnant woman.

            By now, it was near the end of the second cycle of action so everyone was at the banquet. It was easy enough to follow the pregnant woman, whom I now believe to be Lady MacDuff based on blog posts I’ve read, to the lobby area of the hotel, half a flight up from the banquet hall.

            During this scene, I saw a violent dance sequence between Lady MacDuff and another actor – one in which her character dies. Her husband finds her and mourns her in silent agony and through dance. And then the action loops and Lady MacDuff, alone now, wakes up as though from a deep sleep. She picks up a suitcase and begins her action anew, but this time with me following.

            She went to a part of the hotel that I had not visited much at all before, which explains why I hadn’t seen much of her. There are actual bathrooms the audience can use, but also a guest room where Lady MacBeth set down her suitcase, took off her clothes, put on her nighttime clothes, and set out her fancy evening wear. Her husband came and joined her, and they did a few dances; one of happiness and celebration and, later, in a hotel lounge, in a small crevasse above the mantel and close to the ceiling, a more bombastic back-and-forth dance. She had some compulsive behaviors she kept repeating that her husband tried to prevent. When they got dressed to go to the ball, I felt content about seeing more of this character who I’d missed before.


            I ran around the hotel looking for more action I hadn’t seen before. Once, when I was running in an elevator lobby, I rounded a corner and encountered the bald weird sister with a big group behind her. She strode right up to me like she’d been waiting for me and held my face with her hand, pressing me back against the wall. I held my position there, frozen. She took off, taking her entourage with her.


            The performance drew to a close and I returned to the woods one more time. A few white masks were there, but the running nurse was nowhere to be seen. There was no guarantee the door to the hut would open before the show ended. The other white masks left. I stayed. Three minutes passed, then three more. I thought, Either I will go into the hut with the seated nurse or I will spend ten minutes in this environmental area of the show and that will have been my experience. More white masks arrived. They left. After about ten minutes, the door opened and a nurse invited me in. She took off my mask and said, “That’s better,” and for the second time that night I was in the company of an actor performing a private piece of theater meant only for me.

            She made me a cup of tea and through gestures I told her that I wanted milk and a little sugar. She fed me the tea with a spoon, cupping her other hand to prevent any drips. There were none. Then she sat in a chair and took my hand in hers. She traced on my palm the same two intersecting arcs that the bald weird sister had done with her finger one night before. There are many fine details in Sleep No More that many audience members will never have the chance to appreciate.

            The nurse sat down, looked at me with gimlet eyes that were still kind, and she spoke.


Once upon a time, there was a poor child,
With no father and no mother,
And everything was dead,
And no one was left in the whole world.
Everything was dead.
And the child went and searched day and night,
And since nobody was left on the earth,
He wanted to go up in to the heavens,
And the moon was looking at him so friendly,
And when he finally got to the moon,
The moon was a piece of rotten wood.
And then he went to the sun,
And when he got there,
The sun was a wilted sunflower.
And when he got to the stars,
They were little golden flies, stuck up there like the shrike sticks among the black thorn.
And when he wanted to go back down to Earth,
The Earth was an overturned piss-pot, And he was all alone.
And he sat down and he cried.
And he is there to this day.
All alone.”


            Though less well-known, I recognized this text also. It is from a German folk tale called Woyzek, only the reason that I know it is because it is a spoken-word piece on a Tom Waits B-sides compilation. Waits is my favorite music artist, living or dead, and has been since I was a sophomore in high school. There are few people who have been more influential on me than Waits. I thought maybe many people would recognize this text. It turns out it is not well known, and only widely known because of Tom Waits. And I was alone in a hut with an actor reciting this text for me alone. I’ve written nearly 7000 words so far and I don’t have any words to describe that, except to say it happened.


            The nurse stiffened in her chair and turned as pale as her bleached, stiff cap. She rose, opened the door, and ushered me out so the second nurse could enter. After going to see if I could visit with my mysterious, locket-distributing woman again but failing, I watched MacBeth get hanged one final time before exiting the McKittrick Hotel, probably forever.


            It’s now been a month since I saw these shows. Already many parts have blurred in my memory, but the sensation and my reactions and many of the important moments will stay in my memory a long time. In the process of writing this, I’ve discovered many more have written of their experiences, though I haven’t found any that go into as much details as this one. If you can send me any, I’d like very much to read them. Also, if you’ve read this long I’ll certainly answer any questions you might have.



Who's Watching "Whose Line" Anyway?

I am an improviser, meaning I have done shows at 8 PM on weekends in well-lit theaters for paying audiences for over 10 years and sometimes I got money to do it. The show I do, ComedySportz, at the National Comedy Theater, is the longest running show in LA. I love doing the shows there, and ComedySportz is my family.  I am also part of the national and worldwide ComedySportz family and it makes me proud.

I use a lot of Twitter and a bit of Facebook plus some Google+ and LinkedIn. I play Foursquare. I get social media. I don't know anyone who's talking about Whose Line Is It Anyway? Is it that improvisers aren't watching it? Are non-improvisers? It's so strange: this formative show that was a masterpiece on British television and always good on ABC and now it's back on TV and I don't care enough to watch it. Does it connect with audiences like it used to? Why aren't more ComedySportz people piggybacking on the return of this show to TV in marketing materials? If they did, would ticket sales go up? 

I understand that more people would see this if it were a Note on Facebook but I also don't care. 

Camp Tuolumne burned down

In October of 1991 my house burned down in the Oakland Hills firestorm. It's not something I think about very often but it's on my mind right now because of the fires in California that are burning now. 

My wife's cousin Lark is like a sister: they grew up together, they're about the same age, and Lark, forever an iconoclast, was Laurel's Best Man at her wedding. As kids, Lark and Laurel spent many summers together at Tuolumne. Lark's family, the Doolans, are a legacy family at the camp, going back for generations. Though camp was only a few days in the summer, it was something Lark brought up all year long, because camp was something she carried with her and not just a place her family went to sit in the green chair circle and have a good time.

I only went to Tulolumne one time, when Laurel was pregnant with Fenton, who is 1.5 years old now. I appreciated Tuolumne right away. It reminded me of being at Camp Tawonga, which I went to for years, or what I imagined Lair of the Bear was like. During that first stay, I did climb Beaverhead on my second day trying. I also had what some would describe as a near-death experience. We were visiting Little Falls and the river was very strong and I got caught in a position that was difficult to extract myself from with some hazard involved. Laurel's dad Jed helped me get out and I was fine, only a little banged up. There's no need to be dramatic about it. 

We thought about going to camp this year but decided to skip it and go next year. We were only just talking about it. We didn't know what Fenton's temperament would be like as a 1.5 year old when we made the decision. In hindsight we now see he would have been fine and he would have loved it. But we also had agreed that given everything else about the summer, we were relieved we didn't go to Tuolumne. And then the fires burned out of control.

The thing about replacing the structure, is that can be done easily enough. But the trees won't grow back for decades. Camp is something you carry within you and not just a place with a green chair circle, but those trees won't be back soon. It's a bloody shame.

A building from Camp Tawonga burned down, so I hear. I don't know what that means. In the Oakland firestorm, our whole block of houses burned down but not the school I attended across the street. From the schoolyard every day I saw them rebuild my house during recess. When we rebuilt I was able once more to cross 1 crosswalk and enter my schoolyard.

Fires burn things. Fire always wins. Trees always win in cities - look at the sidewalks - and fires beat trees. The deck is stacked in favor of fire. It's just rough when it happens. 


Survivor games with Google


I hope your summer weekends have been everything you hoped for. As a game designer, I love it when my weekends are full of play and mirth as this past one was. Friday in particular which was as lovely and satisfying as any day I could hope for.


Two Xmases ago, Greg and I ran the December Game at a holiday party for Google. And then earlier this year we booked our second game for the LA Google team. A July luncheon at the beach, with fun and games and a Survivor theme. Our mission: design a challenge course of 3 mini games that anyone could play in any order over the course of a couple hours. Expected attendance was 600, plus kids.


Based on a game event we’d previously run for our friends and family at a church in El Cerrito, we designed a passport players could take around to every station collecting scores and stamps. The players with the highest total scores won prizes, but the point was a fun day of mental and physical games suitable for family play. In hindsight, I wish we had been notified how many kids would be present but luckily the games were suitable for all ages.



In designing the day we quickly settled on two of our perennial games, Dot Racing and No Match Catch. Myriad reasons make these games suitable for just such an event, not to mention the coincidence of the colors in the client’s iconic logo.



Our conjectural o course had a balance beam, retrieving something from the water, digging up a buried chest at coordinates, a lock and key, or perhaps combination lock (less vulnerable to sand when buried), ending with a puzzle or code as a mental catch-up. But problems multiplied before we even began. A game like this can be played only once at the party: no re-setting things that need to be dug up, plus a code or puzzle is only good once: when people see how it’s solved, it’s spoiled.


I came across the name of the game first, while looking on Wikipedia at lists of songs by the band KISS. It’s John Kirhoffer’s favorite band, and as challenge producer John ultimately decides which challenges make it past the idea stage and onto the board, which is one step on the way to a playtest, none of which is a one-way street to making it on the air. No matter how good a challenge is, it has to have a good name or it’ll never make it on the board. Sometimes we sit around getting sick of a good challenge because nobody can name it and we can’t move on until it goes on the board. Greg holds the record for best name for an endurance challenge that didn’t make it to air. I’ll let him post it in the comments, I don’t want to steal his thunder.


So there I was, mining for challenge names among rock songs with the plan to work backwards. When I read the track listing for Unmasked (1980), the song title Two Sides of the Coin made me think of this challenge. It came to me fully formed.


This, in its entirety, is a write-up from March 2011:


Two Sides of the Coin.

            In this individual challenge, every player has a solving station in front of him made of 4 colored stripes with 4 matching colored coins on them, each coin with a heads and tails side. Jeff reads a series of instruction on how the players are to turn, swap and move the coins. They must listen to the directions, try to remember them, and then move the pieces on their station. Then Jeff checks to see who is right; anyone whose station doesn't match his card is eliminated.

            With each elimination, instructions get longer and more complicated. Also, additional coins can be added to increase difficulty. Sample instruction: 

"Turn over the red coin. Swap the first two coins. Turn over the coin on the yellow space. Swap the middle two coins. Turn the first coin showing heads."


Before and after:

Pitch image 1.jpg
Pitch image 2.jpg

I did not make a playtest of this game for the Survivor room, which was probably its downfall, but a few weeks ago when Greg and Laura the intern were over at my house, I made up a playtest of it with scratch paper, Sharpies filched from my wife’s desk, and coasters we don’t use any more for a game where you roll coasters across the floor of a bar at a target, like a cuspidor. It’s called Roller Coasters and it could be suitable for Tiny Games.


We determined that the game was good enough and replay value high enough to build out further. Greg had the crucial idea that it could be played with 3 coins to start and then moving up to 4 coins, perhaps with a reversible game board.


To make the mats, I assigned Laura to find cheap placemats we could paint but she observed that getting raw materials and fabricating the boards out of items purchased in the garment district would be better. It took Greg a whole day to get what he needed because none of his usual haunts had all 4 colors, and he is very particular about quantities. He’s been to a lot of foreign countries and shopped in many bazaars so he’s a tough negotiator. He is the guy who will walk out the door. Many merchants have called him “my friend” but not meant it.


Greg designed boards that folded over and used Velcro to transform between three and four stripes. Funny story about the Velcro. We obtained it for the original Dot Racing board back in 2011 by getting it for free off Craigslist because a woman didn’t want it. Greg failed to bring it to the East Bay so we hot glued the dots on the big mat instead – that is, until someone suggested a pencilution.


During the move into our new workspace, I put the Velcro in a safe place, alongside other seldom used items. I retrieved the Velcro which Greg then hot glued to the fabric. Greg observed that in its initial state the game board resembled the flag of Romania. He also recognized that its reverse looked like the flag of Mexico, but rotated and lacking an Eagle. Further research showed its reverse is the flag of Mali.


I ordered wooden disks for the coins from this store. Never use this store: Stuff4crafts.com

I still have no idea where the disks are. This store is terrible.


Greg got the wooden disks necessary from Michael’s in Burbank, along with other craft items. He also got some 1/8 inch foam in the correct colors and hole punches in the right sizes. This way, the coins could be punched out fully formed. There need be no painting, only stenciling on the heads and tails images. We agreed that the foam might be lighter than the wood coins, but it might be okay.


Greg’s first stencils were of eagles and George Washington heads but I opined that I preferred snakes and skulls for heads and tails. I used Bing to find images and sent them to him to make and cut stencils. He modified them in Photoshop first and printed them a couple times to get the right size. Cutting them then was accomplished easily enough but painting them was time consuming. After finishing half the job (1 side of each coin) we worked together to move the newspaper outside so the paint could dry and the lightest breeze blew the coins everywhere. This was a game intended for the beach. Wind would be a major factor.


As if with one mind, we had the idea to glue the foam coins to either side of the wooden disks. This would have more weight than foam or wood alone and, another nice side effect, look like madeleines. As we’ve learned from Minute to Win It, people have a good time when they’re playing with cookies.


Greg completed the coins and also fashioned boards that would somewhat elegantly serve two purposes, protecting players from wind and cheating competitors. He used foam board, bookends, and hot glue.


The hardest item to come up with was rubber stamps to put in the programs. Unless you get them custom made, and we were out of time, you can’t get a one-inch square stamp with a torch, a skull, a rat, a snake, an idol, an X marks the spot… Feel free to prove me wrong. Who would have thought this would be the item that would prove so tough? We went with bugs, as in what Survivors ate on season 1. Specifically, we used a scarab, a spider, and a ladybug (for Dot Racing of course).


Then there was the snafu at the printers where 250 of the passports were printed 50% offset, but it turns out Greg designed them with a nice symmetry so it wasn’t a problem, plus we gave away the good ones first. Adam the new intern did a noble job folding all those programs.

But Adam’s most noble work by far was building the Two Sides of the Coin application from scratch, with instructions from 2 guys he barely knew who were not always communicating in the best way. And he did it under deadline, on hardware that wasn’t easy to work with (mark 1 iPad), away from home and out of his comfort zone. It was a bang-up job. He has already named two good ideas for improvements to the app, but the product we played with on Friday was robust and easy to use. It’s a wonder. For someone like me who sees coding as achievable magic, it’s a fine thing. And I don’t usually work in digital games. I don’t think Two Sides of the Coin counts as a digital game, but the app is a crucial addition.


In addition to his proficiency at digital games, Adam was a great game show host for No Match Catch. It was a pleasure to be on the beach next to him as he capably led the teams through this game. But I’m getting ahead of myself.


I packed everything the night before the game. Adam and Greg beat me to the restaurant but there wasn’t much for them to do until I arrive. I got there 10 minutes before the appointed time of 10 AM. The weather was partially cloudy and there was a snap in the air. I was permitted to park near the restaurant for loading, right off the Pacific Coast Highway. We loaded items.


First we snapped together the carpet pieces that assemble like a puzzle; Greg bought scores of them on a visit to the Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland. Now we lay them on hardwood floors to put under the Dot Racing game for players’ comfort. We oriented the mat so as no to obstruct the bar but to block the door that led to the dangerous staircase to the beach. Down on the beach we placed the balls and buckets for No Match Catch. I taught Adam how to call the game and he understood it right away. I knew he had the right attitude when he asked me if he could tease and encourage the players.



  The two smartest things we did were show up early and expect wind would be a factor. Wind was a factor and being there early gave us time to deal with it. Part of the solution was borrowing duct tape; I had the idea to ask the guy with the ladder to use his. We never did give it back to him. Sorry mate. Then there was the remarkable coincidence of having 4 magnets that were packed along with the dry erase board on which I used red and blue tape to transform it into a scoreboard that looks like the American flag. Those magnets were also enlisted in the battle against the wind, adhered to the bookends hotglued to the foam board and duct taped to the table.


The restaurant manager gave his waitstaff a terrific pep talk. I’m going to do that more. Our support team comprised Jaclyn and Clinton, two all-star game confederates. You know they’re good because they both own Wise Guys shirts. They’re family. Greg and I wore polos. It was that kind of day.


The whole lunch was a big success and our games were a big success too. I was so grateful we didn’t build an O course. I had a great time playing Two Sides of the Coin. I hogged it so much I hardly let Jaclyn host any rounds at all, but she was there to step in and did a splendid job, allowing me to get some extra water, relieve myself, and check out the rest of the event.


If I’d hosted a little more I would have fallen into a more easy rhythm like I did with E3GoMania, but I got some good lines in there. I borrowed a line from Jeff Adamson, manager of ComedySportz Quad City, used in describing the brown bag foul: “Put your hands up in the I-work-at-7-11-position.”




But beyond the games going very well, which they did, there were some other remarkable things about the day. Some were very small but they added up to a day that was full of wonderful surprises and smiles.

  • The woman who gave out programs to guests as they arrived was Pamela. Pamela was a student in an improv class I taught earlier this summer: other than that, we’d never met before. No coincidence, no story.

  • During the very first coin game of the day, a woman earned the high score: 23 points. Her name was Tammy and after she played she said, “Aren’t you Owler from the NPL?” Which indeed I am. She also remembered me from when I ran a Go Game for Google interns about 6 years ago. Her intellect is simply off the charts. She has to be super human. Late in the day another contestant, Jesse, equaled her score but no one topped it. EDIT: Larry Hosken, a brilliant puzzler in his own right, has identified this player as Tammy McLeod, the reigning US Sudoku champ, so that kind of helps explain that.

  • Another fun, spirited contestant who played our games had a mustache with waxed tips (styled points, Greg calls them) and piercings: his face rang a bell but I’m not good with faces. He confirmed that we knew each other; he’s Joseph, friends with Jason Stein, who is in graduate school with my wife. Actually Jason graduated recently but that’s beside the point. Another chance encounter: Joseph (or Seph) is a summer intern for Google.

  • And then as I passed the elaborately presented desert buffet, featuring a volcano of Cocoa Krispies Rice Krispie treats with Oreos and gummy worms that looked like lava, a woman called me by name. It was Sara, whose husband works at Google, and whose son Charlie attends My Gym with my son Fenton. At this point I was kind of gobsmacked, but I was having so much fun it just felt like a party where I kept seeing people I liked but never expected to run into. Because that’s what it was.

Greg and I did some fun back and forth MC banter at the scoring ceremony; we guilt tripped some people into rescinding their high scores so as not to exclude Ariella, a very bright girl of about age 11 who, with 17 points, had the second-highest score of the day in Two Sides of the Coin. About 4 people got 14 points in that game but the winners had 49, 52, and 59 points total.  

We gave out gag gifts as well as nice gifts donated by Google and a trophy for our first place finisher Adam (no relation to our intern). The highest scoring team at No Match Catch got Spelling Bee Participant ribbons. Their high score was 20. I’ve seen scores of 25 and I’m told at Lair of the Bear they got 30, but they are exceptional there.


And after all that, I got to go compete on The Experts, the YouTube game show, where my topic was Survivor. I won’t say too much about what happened until the episode airs but I did get to meet Rob Cesternino which was a privilege. I attest that in person he is warm and self-effacing and a pleasure to talk to. Jaclyn, who knows Rob through tennis friends they have in common, came along to cheer on all the contestants. But mostly me.


I won’t reveal the outcome of the competition, but afterward Jaclyn and I went out to celebratory drinks at Kay n Dave’s ;) and invited along Marty and Alan, the co-creators of The Experts. We geeked out on game shows like Million Dollar Mind Game, Merv Griffin Crosswords, Only Connect, Mastermind, and many more. Plus I drank a frozen blended mango margarita, make it a grande for $1 more. It was like putting a fruity milkshake of booze in my gob and I loved it. And that’s why I attest Friday was really great.


It’s times like this that make me appreciate how fortunate I am to have play in my life. Thank play, as intern Adam would say.