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A Game of Refractions

Aaron Guest

A_family_group_playing_cards_in_the_Community_Building_on_a_rainy_day_at_the_South_Kawishiwi_River_camp_and_Picnic_Ground,_8_1_1940_(5188124888) As holidays with my extended family arrive, so does the expectation of playing games. Whether in a pool, in the snow, in a gym, on the floor of a living room, or, especially, at the table. Ah! The evening table game. We’ve played everything from “Awkward Family Photos” to “Risk” to “Tenzi” to “Reverse Charades” to the incredible, mind-bending card game “Killer Bunnies”.

It begins innocently every year. One person suggests altering a rule of a game because of an injustice. It descends quite rapidly. Soon we are borrowing the rules, pieces, boards, dice of any number of games and combining them into one. It is not lightly we alter the rules of games — but we’ve found it’s great fun to create new rules and new games. Especially when hilarious calamity can ensue: a roll of the dice being named after someone despite indignant protestations, a chandelier almost yanked out of a ceiling, a mirror nearly shattered, a dining room table upturned.

This suspension of the imposed order is the epicenter of creativity. We’ve all seen the phenomena of the broken straw in the glass, or the way a shimmying pencil bends. Quickly it is explained. There is nothing to see here, the rules are still in place. The pencil is still the pencil. But doesn’t creativity abound when we marvel at refractions, not define them? Perhaps it is a disservice to the immutable and often, in and of themselves, astounding laws of the physical universe. But give me a three-year-old and a No.2 and I can alter reality.

One game my family has successfully refracted is “War”. There are five pages of new rules; it takes a lot of energy and attention to play it. Our most clever rule is a combination of cards — a straight flush— that will reset the entire game. It’s likelihood explained away by statistics. It was foolish to think this could actually happen, but still we hoped.

It was nearing two am. Three players were left. The other seven of us watched. Nerves were frayed. The game had dragged on. A play of the cards. An almost straight flush. One number off. The ten of us froze before erupting into astonishment and agony —and admittedly gratefulness at such an hour— that it hadn’t happened. And as we resumed our seats around the coffee table, still hemming and hawing about the nearness of such a realized but possibly, now that it had almost happened, stupid rule. The remaining players played their next cards.

It sounds simplistic and obvious if I tell you what happened next.

So remember when you were toddling along unaware, and, then suddenly, in a flash, the rules that govern the universe could make a pencil bend.