Whenever people gather to play a group game, there’s always one person who is, for lack of a more affectionate term, a liability. The game will progress smoothly up until this person’s turn, at which point things hit a snag and the outcome of the game begins a hopeless – and often hilarious – downward spiral.
It could be an elderly aunt whose refusal to wear a hearing aid regularly derails your games of Telephone at family gatherings, or an elementary-school-age cousin who has no idea who Charles Dickens is, much less which of his novels you’re trying to act out in charades.
In our family, the liability is 16-year-old Youngest Brother and his unique way of perceiving the world.
We recently vacationed with a group of family friends and played a game that was a hybrid of Pictionary and Telephone, introduced to us by the mother of one of Youngest Brother’s friends. Each person wrote down a phrase on a piece of paper and passed it to the person on their left, who then drew a picture of the phrase on another piece of paper. They then passed the papers to the person on their left, with the drawing on top.
This person had to write on another piece of paper what they thought the drawing was and pass the stack to the next person with their description on top. The process continued, alternating between people writing what they thought a drawing was and drawing a description, until each person received their original phrase back, along with a stack of papers detailing the evolution of what had initially been written.
Everyone took turns to share their stack with the rest of the group, laughing over the more extreme discrepancies between the original phrase and the ending phrase. It wasn’t long, however, before we began to notice a pattern: in nearly every single stack, the chain of communication broke down at Youngest Brother.
Here’s one example:
Mom started off with a lyric from “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by The Smashing Pumpkins: “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.” My youngest siblings and their friends listen to a fair amount of alternative rock from the ‘90s, so she thought it was a reference both the teens and the adults in the group would understand.
This led to a drawing of a rat in a cage and an angry face, which was misinterpreted as “hot rat.” This produced a drawing of a rat with wavy lines coming off of it, which became “stanky dead rat.” The next drawing quite accurately reflected this, and was described as “dinosaur (dead mouse).”
The reason for this description is that one of Younger Sister’s friends had noticed a dinosaur-like silhouette against the ceiling light in the cottage where the girls were staying. The silhouette turned out to be caused by a dead mouse stuck in the light, and Youngest Brother and his friends were summoned to assist in the removal process.
The next picture, drawn by one of Youngest Brother’s friends, thus depicted the boys and girls staring up at the rather morbid shadow puppet in the ceiling light, which happened to be located above one of the beds.
Youngest Brother apparently had no recollection of this incident and wrote, “Children being sucked from their beds into a crack in the window.”
I, unfortunately, was sitting on the other side of Youngest Brother, and did my best to create a drawing according to his specifications. This was interpreted as “dream,” which was the last phrase in the stack.
Now, I was willing to give Youngest Brother the benefit of the doubt on this, as the illustration he had to work from was a bit confusing. When I went through my own stack, however, I realized that we had a problem.
I had chosen “Iron Man” as my phrase, figuring that pretty much everyone would be familiar with the superhero who has been featured in so many recent movies. Instead, it led to an illustration depicting the Ironman Triathlon. This became “Muscle Man Triathlon,” followed by an accurate drawing of the triathlon events, which was in turn described as “strong swimmer, bicyclist and runner.”
The stick-figure illustration of these concepts was summarized as “Many stick figures doing various activities: skating, standing sideways, sitting on someone, wearin’ cool top hat.” This was drawn accordingly and somehow became, “Swag ‘Hunger Games’ on Rollerblades.” As such, the next person drew a stick-figure girl with a long braid shooting a bow and arrow.
You may be taking note of the various snags and misinterpretations that took place along the chain of communication and wondering how Youngest Brother could possibly be blamed as causing the ultimate breakdown.
That would be because, after examining the drawing of the stick-figure girl with a long braid shooting a bow and arrow, he wrote, “Girl’s brain falling out of her head while poking the letter ‘D,’” and proudly handed me the completed stack.
I’m still not sure if the issue is that he interprets pictures very literally – he was by far the most skillful illustrator in the group, drawing detailed pictures that matched the descriptions – or if he just likes to throw a monkey wrench into things. It’s likely a combination of the two.
One thing is certain, however. As much as I love our little liability, I will be positioning myself as far away from him as possible during the next group game. I think it’s only fair that other people get to experience the joy, wonder and utter confusion that comes with having to draw “there is only one girl left in the bubble and she is running from all the men.” (That, by the way, was originally “Octomom.”)
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published Sept. 4, 2014.