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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #38: Hangman

Try guessing letters to save your life while VINCENT PRICE is holding the other end of your noose.

Look, we've all played Hangman. On the back of a paper placemat with a crayon at a diner with glacial waitstaff, in the back of a car on a long road trip in the age before electronic-induced travel comas, pretty much anywhere a stylus and surface were present and no other viable entertainment could be found. Guess the letters, guess the word, don't get strung up. Wheel of Fortune in cuneiform. The only true drama was often found in the sadism of the word-chooser and their patience with the guesser. Will they complete that hanging man in as few pencil-strokes as possible? Or will they add eyes, ears, maybe a lolling tongue, boots on the feet, to prolong your agony?

There's none of that latitude or creative cruelty with Milton Bradley's 1970s version of the game. This game imposes strict limits on the length of your word, and on the number of your guesses. Gameplay was simple, really, in keeping with the humble and straightforward origins of Hangman. The players each select a word and pluck the appropriate letters from their blue or red tray, arranging them in the correct sequence atop their plastic case, blank sides to the opponent. Then the guessing starts, and each miss is rewarded with a ponderous turn of the knob, revealing a stylized man getting closer with each click to his completion and his doom. First one to guess the opposing word wins, or the last one to dance at the end of the rope.

My brother and I played this far more often than its basic premise might suggest. We'd come up with categories, such as city names or superheroes or football teams. It could be fun, honest! Like so many games from that era, the true frustration came with getting everything ready. Arranging your letter tiles in alpha order in your tray could take on Axis & Allies-level preparation, and each time you opened your case, there was a point at which the hinges would pop a little, scattering your tiles like Syrian refugees. I still have nightmares. Speaking of nightmares, take a gander at who the titular hangman is on the cover of the box!

And though you fight to stay alive, your body starts to shiver. For no mere mortal can resist the evil of The Hangman!

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