Drinking games under the table

But let's get back to this drinking games business for a minute. When we last visited the topic we learned about Free Association, the Ten Worst Movies Ever Made, and the dreadful I Never, and it seems to me that with the holiday season officially underway we'll all need more than those to tide us over. My thought was that, for this column, I might try to include one or two that are actually fun, in a reasonable, non-esoteric way, to play.

Who Am I?

Let's take for instance Who Am I? At first glance the name of this game might make it appear as though it's something you'd play the day after you'd been out celebrating the nativity, awakening, say, in a stranger's home with a car but no car keys and a message on your cell phone from Jim at Jezebel's saying that you left your debit card there.

But that's not it. Who Am I? is essentially a variation on Twenty Questions in which players take turns posing as famous people while the others try to guess, using only yes/no questions, who they are. The game requires two or more players; an arbitrarily chosen player goes first, writing down the name of a celebrity on a piece of paper, and the other players then ask questions, in no particular order, ideally culminating in, "Are you Paris Hilton?" Or Washington Irving. Or whoever. The player posing as Washington Irving tallies the questions (all questions are tallied, not just those to which the answer is "no") and if thirty questions are asked (not twenty) and the fake celebrity isn't unmasked, he gets to go again. Otherwise, the player who guesses the fake celebrity's identity gets the next turn.

My friend Teri and I used to play Who Am I? nonstop until one night when she posed as Kay Lenz (Ms. Lenz, star of Against Their Will: Women in Prison, Hitler's Daughter, Shakespeare's Plan 12 from Outer Space, and Stripped to Kill is perhaps best remembered as Lisa in 1973's Lisa, Bright and Dark) and I as Johnny Carson's ex-wife Joanne consecutively; when we got them both, we decided that no celebrity was too marginal or obscure enough to stump us any longer and we more or less stopped playing. We once got the Dalai Lama in eight questions. Once, experimentally, I was Tom Cruise twice in a row, but that didn't work, either.

A quicker way to tire of Who Am I? is to be an asshole when it's your turn to be Kay Lenz. You can do this by choosing someone you don't really know anything about (if you can't answer a question, by the way, don't, but don't tally it, either), by deliberately choosing someone that no one is likely to have heard of, or by misleading the other players with a strict adherence to yes/no answers; because even though the questions must be posed so that they can be answered with a "yes" or "no," Ms. Lenz can answer any way she likes. Thus, if you're Sonny Bono, and a player asks if you're famous for politics, a better answer might be "not exclusively" than "yes."

Don't use fictional people or regional or local celebrities. The whole glittering world of celebrity is enough.

What Am I?

That same night that Teri and I abandoned Who Am I? we experimented with What Am I? It was unendurable. The first player was carbon monoxide and the second vinyl, and we stopped right then and haven't played since.

The Incredible John Davidson

There's an important rule that goes along with all of the drinking games associated with famous names, and it comes into play more with our next game, Link, than with Who Am I? The rule is that should any player use the name John Davidson, that player automatically loses or is disqualified or is punished, whether he was aware of the rule or not.

Not everyone remembers John Davidson, but Teri and I do. In the seventies, he was the jumpsuited enemy of popular music, releasing homogenized LPs comprising the very most grotesque versions of such already-unlistenable, soft-serve classics as "Bridge over Troubled Water." (One of these LPs was titled The Incredible John Davidson, and it was truly incredible, in the sense of "too improbable to be believed.") Once when Teri and I were trying to remember who had first made "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" a hit, we speculated that John Davidson had, and on another occasion when I was forced to spend a night in Branson, Missouri, I in turn forced my companion to go see his show with me. John Davidson is the author of a how-to book for performers called The Singing Entertainer: A Contemporary Study of the Art and Business of Being a Professional that includes foot charts showing how singers can best stand to transmit dynamism or intimacy to their audiences. He writes:

As we approach the 80s, the country is literally laughing, dancing, jogging, and dressing up again. We have entered The Glitter Era… If you want to be a singing entertainer you probably couldn't pick a better time that right now.

Ah, yes. The Glitter Era.

To be fair to players younger than me, I'm willing to be flexible on the John Davidson rule. Feel free to choose your own celebrity, one for whom you feel contempt, and prohibit the use of his or her name, but be loyal to it and apply the prohibition injudiciously.


Here's how Link is played:

To play Link you will need two or more players. The beginning player starts by saying the name of a famous person, and the next player is required to say the name of another famous person that shares one of the previous person's names. For instance, if the first player says "Christian Brando" the second player could use Marlon Brando, Christian Dior, Christian Fletcher, etc. Names are linked phonetically, not by spelling, so that, in my favorite example, introspective singer/songwriter Edie Brickell can be followed by ruthless Ugandan dictator and alleged cannibal Idi Amin Dada. A player may use any part of a name given to her, so that Alexander the Great can be followed by Alexander Calder or, because of "the," the Aphex Twin. It's obviously unfair to claim that Johnny Cash must legally have been name "John" and thus to try to use John Cash to follow Elton John. Another player must be able to vouch for the authenticity of any celebrity name used, and, again, regional fame doesn't qualify a person for use. Names may be used only once per round. If your turn arrives and you don't have a name, you are eliminated for the rest of that round. The game is won by the last player remaining and he begins the next round.

Playing Link you'll find yourself falling into certain familiar spirals; for instance, you'll often tour the Kennedy family tree and it's helpful to have Rose and Eunice on hand when you do. And then there's George, but remember too that celebrities going by a single name, such as the vee-jay Kennedy, are unusable.

But surely you're not still reading this? Happy holidays! Go and order a beer.