"A wanghee? What the hell is a wanghee?"
It was Christmas Day, and I had left my friends in the pub in order to play Balderdash with my eleven-year-old neighbour and his family. Balderdash is like a board game version of Call My Bluff, and it's a favourite Yuletide game for my neighbours, the Ellis family. The player acting as quizmaster reads out a question, and the individual players make up plausible answers. The quizmaster selects up to six answers to read out, including the real one. Your aim is to make your fabrication so believable that your opponents select it instead of the real one.
As the game progressed, many of the family members fell by the wayside. Lewis, the eleven-year-old, and his brother, Danny, remained strong competitors, but their mum and grandparents struggled with the ever-increasing pace of the game. You could tell that Linda, Lewis' grandmother, was the most in need of help--her countless shrugs and blank stares were a dead giveaway. Each of her responses was either an unwitting "Oh, the second one" or "I don't know. I'll go for the same as Lisa." These answers always prompted an ardent outcry from Lewis, who was starting to become frustrated at his nan's inability to follow the play. She was sound in mind, but when it really counted--playing board games--she clearly lacked the relevant criteria required for victory.
Lewis was in total charge. He was the youngest player in the game and wanted to win it fairly, and I respected him for his integrity. He was also the most competitive, and as he was just a mere point from victory, he obviously didn't need any favours. I, on the other hand, was five points from being crowned Balderdash champ, and not only did I need to come up with a definition that would fool everybody, but also I would have to choose the true meaning of the word after all the definitions had been read out. This was the most crucial stage in the game, and as Lewis selected a card from the box, he clearly thought that even though he was the designated reader and this turn was probably going to be a non-scoring round for him, his substantial lead couldn't slip--only a miracle would stop him from claiming board game supremacy when it was my turn to play quizmaster.
A wanghee . . . a bloody wanghee? I thought. This made-up definition had to be brilliant--good just wouldn't cut it.
"Hurry up!" shouted Lewis, becoming impatient. He was anxious to get through this round and on to his coronation in the next.
"OK, OK. Hang on. I've almost finished," I replied. I had finished writing, and my definition was believable, I thought. I read it back to myself: Wanghee: a small South American bird that nests in the fur of other animals. It sounded good. Very good. I handed it to Lewis and awaited the usual smirk of confirmation that normally followed the reading of the answers. It never came. In fact, my submission was greeted with a slight shake of the head.
What did that mean?
Lewis had played this game many times before, and I was but a Balderdash virgin. Had the definition been used in a previous game that the members of his family were sure to recollect? Was it so stupid that not even Linda might choose it?
"A wanghee," Lewis began. "Is it . . ." My heart raced as Lewis read the first four definitions, leaving mine as one of the final two: ". . . Chinese bamboo used for making canes; or a small South American bird that nests in the fur of other animals?"
God, it sounded even better when accompanied by the other definitions.
"Yep. I've heard of that. It's the South American bird." There was an air of certainty about Lisa's response. She sounded so convincing, it was just enough to plant a seed of belief in the minds of the others.
"I'll go for that too," added Cliff, the grandfather.
"Oh, I'll just go with what Lisa said." It was good to hear Linda's trademark one final time.
Lewis looked concerned.
"It might be the bird one," said Danny cautiously. He wasn't about to rush into any decision like the other members of his family. He was cagey and played the game logically. "That bird one's yours, isn't it, Rich?" he asked. He paused and waited for a crack in my poker-faced defence. I remained stoic. In an act of allegiance to his mother's intellect, he proudly declared, "Yeah, I'm going for the bird one too."
"Well, the bird one does sound tempting," I said, trying to hide any signs of ownership. "But the only thing that stops me guessing that is the fact that I wrote it," I added, finally flashing a toothy grin. The hard work had already been done--they had all picked my answer. That meant four points for me, one for each person I had convinced. I now needed only to select the correct definition from the remaining five, in order to gain the fifth point that would take me ahead of Lewis in a crushing upset.
"It's got to be the bamboo," I said to Lewis. "Yeah, I'll go for the bamboo, Lew."
Lewis stared down at the board, clearly counting the number of squares I'd be moving.
"And Rich wins," came Lewis' disappointed drone of congratulation.
"Sorry, mate," I replied sincerely.
I was sorry. I felt bad about my success. I had snatched triumph from an eleven-year-old's grasp at the very last second, just when he could taste victory--and on Christmas Day, of all days. I didn't quite know what to say to cheer him up.
"Winner!" I yelled jubilantly at the top of my lungs, "I can't believe you all fell for it!"
I figured you only get one chance to spoil a young boy's Christmas, so I was going to make the most of it. Lewis knew I was only joking, anyway.
"Yeah, good game, Rich," Lewis said, already sounding as if he'd recovered from his defeat. The boy was competitive, there was no doubt about it, but he was also a good sportsman. He knew he'd been beaten by a better man that day, but he had to be pleased that he'd come so close to beating someone who was twice his age. We chatted as we packed the game away. I started to flick through the box of questions. I remembered one from an earlier round that had intrigued me to such a degree, I hoped to find some similar ones. Like Trivial Pursuit, each card has questions on several topics--in this case it was unknown abbreviations, film titles, people, or (the most bemusing of them all) a completely inane law. Earlier in the game, the Ellises and I had been asked what activity was illegal for divorced women to do in Florida on Sundays. No one's answer even came close to the truth.
"And the real answer is: it is illegal for a divorced woman to go parachuting on a Sunday."
For the first time that evening, the real answer turned out to be far more ludicrous than any of our manufactured ones.
Divorced women couldn't parachute on Sundays? It simply made no sense. I spent the next few minutes completely distracted from the game, thinking of reasons as to why such a law existed. Maybe women with failed marriages were heavily frowned upon from a reverent viewpoint in the state of Florida, and God wanted nothing to do with them--especially on his day, with them being so close to him up in the clouds.
I was sure there was some sort of fabulously esoteric explanation, but in truth the reason for the law's existence didn't intrigue me so much. What fascinated me was the mere fact that such a law existed. The most entertaining country in the world had given me yet another reason to smile.
Excerpted from You Can Get Arrested for That by Rich Smith. Copyright © 2006 by Rich Smith. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.