Sometimes You Can Be Too Smart



If confession is good for the soul then this week's column is bound to do me a world of good.

You see, like most people, I've done and said a few dumb things in my life, but the one I'm going to tell you about is a genuine classic.

I was in Okinawa, not exactly a place with an awful lot to do in the evening.

Those of us who were stationed there with our families mostly got together and entertained ourselves the old-fashioned way -- chatting with each other or playing games. Scrabble was big. So was Parcheesi. And so was a game called "Find the Brown Spot."

Find the Brown Spot was played by tearing a one inch circle out of a brown paper bag, moistening it, and sticking it somewhere in the room in plain sight while everybody else was looking the other way. I don't remember too much about the rules. You were allowed to ask questions, I think, and the idea was, of course, to find the brown spot. I do remember, though, that we thought it was great fun, and that tells you a little something about just how little we had to do over there back in those days.

We played another game I've never seen anywhere else. It was called "The Name of the Game." We sat in a circle and someone began the game by calling out a subject, like birds. Then everyone chanted, "The name of the game is birds," clapping hands in rhythm as, one by one, each person in the circle called out the name of a bird.

Around and around went the chant as each person struggled to come up with a new name.

Simple as it was, that game was a real challenge because you had to respond with a new name the instant your turn came. The slightest pause meant you lost that round. The penalty for losing varied from evening to evening, but it was always something that you really didn't want to do.

There was one aspect of this game that almost always tripped up the poor victim who lost. If the subject was flowers, for example, you might be sitting there waiting for your turn to come around and silently thinking the name of a not-too-common flower.

"Aster ... aster ... aster."

And what? The dumbbell just ahead of would, of course, say, "Aster."

With no time to come up with another name, you lost.

So, thinking myself quite clever, I evolved a winning strategy. I silently chanted to myself the names of two of whatever we were naming, safe and secure in the knowledge that if the dodo just ahead of me called out one of the two names, I still had a backup.

So, there I was. Friday night. We'd gone through a dozen rounds and my strategy was working as slick as ever. The subject was dogs. I chanted silently to myself.

"Pointer, setter. Pointer, setter. Pointer, setter."

The players clapped their hands. The turn swung around to me. I called out a name, "poinsettia."

I never heard people laugh so hard or so long in my life. My face stayed red for six weeks, maybe eight.

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