Scattergories is a party game that’s been around since 1988 – long enough to merit our, so to speak, serious consideration.

The main ingredients, aside from 2-6 players (and yes, should you be in a sufficiently party-like mood, you can play in teams and engage a small multitude of players) are:

  • six sets of eight, two-sided category cards, each side listing 12 different categories;
  • one 20-sided letter die of such heft that a cardboard die-rolling pad is included to prevent die-rolling table damage;
  • an electronic timer (sans two AAA batteries) with three different duration settings that gets faster as the time limit approaches and can be stopped and reset at the touch of a button (maybe the best made game timer ever);
  • enough answer sheets, cardboard pad and category card holders, and pencils for each player (or one for each team)

To begin a round of play, a list of categories is chosen, the letter die is rolled (carefully), and the timer started. From then, until the timer (or players) expire(s), everyone is heavily engaged in writing examples, beginning with the selected letter, that fit each item on the selected list.

It’s easy enough to think of examples for each of the categories. A little less easy to do it in the allotted time (3 minutes – or, for the more adventurous, 2.5 minutes, or, for the masochistic, 2 minutes). And close to impossible to do it with every example starting with the same letter.

It’s the “close to impossible” part that makes the game so challenging and often so hysterically funny. If you try to think quickly enough of something that goes well with chocolate that starts with “E” you’re likely to come up with an answer like: “everything,” or “Easter eggs,” or even “Europe.” Of course, your opponents can challenge you, and even you, when you finally stop laughing, might decide that perhaps your answer was more witty than accurate.

Of course, you try to find the appropriate answer for each item in the category list. Otherwise it wouldn’t be so funny when you can’t. Equally of course you can write totally inappropriate answers, or even skip a category entirely, since you only get points for correct answers (that are different from anyone else’s correct answers). And yes, there’s a recommended variation which can further exacerbate hilarity where you can try to get extra points by using the key letter more than once as a first letter in your answer (e.g. Hogan’s Heroes, Donald Duck, and the clearly contestable Pussy Paws).

Speaking of the clearly contestable, the success of the game very much depends on the light-heartedness of the players. There are always those who are prone to taking challenges, any challenges, actually, too seriously. Even when the correctness of an answer is determined by something that is as aboveboard as a democratic vote, those who wish to get ugly about things can always find reason, or lack thereof. Our suggestion – invite them to create another variation, e.g.: two-timing (start the timer again after it has run out), timus interruptus (anyone can stop the timer at any time during the game), allowing the use of foreign words, allowing alternate spellings (kawphy anyone?), scoring if you make people laugh.

Scattergories is a good game. The fun is especially major, however, only when you’re playing with people, like you, who so clearly appreciate the sheer humor of it all.

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