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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #42: Yahtzee!

I admire a game that comes with an implied, if not explicit, exclamation point. One of my favorite promotional spots of all time came from the 1990s when one of the snarky deskminders of ESPN's briefly hip, briefly must-watch SportsCenter could be seen in the film room, working on his catch-phrases for homerun calls. He tried the usual stuff, "it's outta here!" before moving on to pop culture ejaculations like "Jumanji!" My favorite of these, and one that I believe got actual use on highlight shows, was "Yahtzee!" It was a perfect choice - it encapsulates elements of joy, of surprise, of triumph.

The game of Yahtzee itself, whether played with dice and paper or some electronic assistance, is simple yet devilish. It involves both chance and strategy, which is always a ticklish admixture. You have to get the rolls, sure, but then you have to assign them to certain slots with plodding conservative uncreativity or ambitious insanity. If you get a bunch of threes, do you fill up your numbers bucket, or your three of a kind? Do you hold out for an influx of sixes? How much cayenne do you like with your risk stew? It's beautiful and asinine.

Back in 1997 or so, the first wife and I were on a trip to Texas for the completion of her graduate work, and we stayed as guests of her faculty advisor for a couple of weeks. This was before smart phones or tablets or really even laptops (I can remember working on one of my early manuscripts that year by walking to the campus library with a floppy disk - it was basically prehistory), and killing time was not as easy as it would be in later days. We were staying in one of the kids' rooms, and in it we discovered this handheld electronic Yahtzee game. For the next several days, it became the center of our entertainment universe. Our short-lived marriage was always one of contest more than love-fest, and so promptly it grew critical for each of us to outscore the other. I seem to recall at some point our host had to take the game away from us and scold us like the overgrown toddlers we were. To this day, I don't recall who got the best of it in the end. All I can say is...Yahtzee!!

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