My introduction to the group hinged on my clue: "car-crash competition." If they got this clue for the game Cranium Hoopla, perhaps I would be in.
Well, I was already in, sort of. But my acceptance really hinged on my ability to construct an alliterative clue to an off-the-wall thing for this game, a mix of Pictionary, charades and Trivial Pursuit.
A while ago, after services at a hip, popular synagogue in New York City, I was invited to a Shabbat dinner gathering at someone's apartment. The congregation, which is quite welcoming to strangers, has a nice, inviting network of members in their 20s and 30s. The young person's group, officially recognized by the temple, does both social networking and social-action activities. Outreach and welcoming strangers are clearly elements in this synagogue's mission.
On this particular Friday, groups were going out for dinner, as they often do. And as I lingered around after services, looking for people I may know, a nice woman approached me and asked if I'd like to join people for dinner.
It was not just dinner, though; it was a real gathering of friends. A dozen or so people got together for pizza, salad and a range of desserts.
Though I had never met any of the people in the room, I had seen some of them before. They were friendly, welcoming and smart. It was so nice to spend a night with such interesting and intelligent professionals. There were a couple of lawyers, graduate students and other professionals. Most of them were single women, too, which was nice.
In our small world, one woman also went to my college; another had been neighbors with one of the rabbis in Syracuse, N.Y.; and everyone knew a guy I went to high school with who is now active in the synagogue.
As a newcomer, I was sort of on display, introducing myself and explaining how a guy from New Jersey who lives in Syracuse was hanging out several Fridays a year on New York's Upper West Side. It's always a bit intimidating being the one person in the room who is not part of the group. But that can also be exciting, especially in a room of genuinely warm people.
An Expert Group
Although I can pretty much talk with anyone, the true test of my acceptance rested with the game. Many were not only familiar with it, but were so expert that they knew many of the answers with little or no effort.
It had been quite some time since I played a board game; in fact, I can't even remember the last time I spent a Friday night playing a board game.
In Hoopla, players draw a card with clues of people, places or things. A player then rolls a die to see how the clue will be delivered to the other players. There are four modes of delivery: Cloodle, which involves drawing the clue; Soundstage, which requires acting out the clue; Tweener, which the player describes the clue as bigger than so-and-so, but smaller than so-and-so; and then Tongue-Tied, in which the player describes the clue with as many alliterative terms as possible.
Oh yeah, there's a timer to add a bit more pressure.
My first card required a Tongue-Tied delivery, which I thought I had expertly crafted. Three simple words starting with "C" — to me, it seemed on the mark. Each time I repeated it, I was met with blank stares and incredulous looks. Could I be failing at my first attempt here? Would these new people think I'm an imbecile or incompetent because they couldn't get my Tongue-Tied Hoopla clue? Would they immediately banish me from the group? Kick me out into the cold night and never welcome me back?
After the clock expired, the frustration boiled over, and they started asking for other clues. I could not come up with any more alliteration beyond "car-crash competition."
To the group's defense (and my own vindication), when I ultimately revealed the clue, only a handful had ever even heard of the term I was trying to describe.
Luckily, I later redeemed myself.
My Soundstage performance of "elevator" was solved in about two seconds — likely due to their urban lifestyle. My drawing of The Wall Street Journal took a few more seconds, but they got it before time ran out.
In the end, will skill — or a lack thereof — in a board game make or break a social engagement?
Probably not, but why risk letting a "Demolition Derby" impeded attempts at meeting new and interesting people?
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. Contact him at: www.Lrev.com.