Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 44, Tuesday November 11, 2008


Games people play

They say that the tough times often bring about the best results. And so it was in Poughkeepsie, New York, during the Depression in 1931 that an unemployed architect named Alfred Mosher Butts decided to come up with a way of keeping his mind off his troubles, and hopefully raise some cash.

Butts disliked dice games because they depended too much on luck, but also figured that all-skill games, like chess, were too high-brow for the general public. Tossing in his love of words to the mix, he devised a word game that was half-luck, half-skill, and called it Lexico. Initially a commercial failure, the game underwent a lengthy process of evolution and renaming processes, until Butts found a manufacturer in James Brunot. On December 16, 1948, Scrabble was born. Today, the game is sold in 121 countries round the world. Over 100 million sets of the game have been sold in 29 different languages making it easily the world's best selling word game.

Dhaka's party scene has seen a lot of flak in the media recently, with colourful reports spewing titillating details about the supposed alcohol, drugs, and even violence. The word 'party' has almost become synonymous with sleaze.

Interestingly enough, Dhaka also boasts a healthy number of events that not only feature wholesome entertainment, but can even be a learning experience. These are events that focus around a game or activity that combine skill, luck, and occasionally teamwork, to bring you an adrenaline-charged round of fun. Enter the game party. This week, we look at three such events.

Sing the letter song
The game was a fairly popular family feature here during the nineties, slowly declining in popularity along with the reading habit as the cable television culture slowly took over, although it never lost its appeal with serious word freaks, who decided a few years ago to take the game out of the living room into a bigger arena.

The first Scrabble tournaments were held at the Amazon Club in Gulshan. As the craze quickly caught on, the lack of space drove the serious players towards a regular venue, and thus the tournament moved to Gulshan Club. Currently, Tuesday afternoons, between 2 pm to 6 pm at the Gulshan Club are reserved for Scrabble contests. The players play in teams of two, which amounts to two teams per game.

“On an average, we get 6-8 tables a week,” says one regular player at the GC Scrabble games. “Sometimes, that number increases, particularly when someone's got foreign guests coming in. Personally, I play for fun, but there are teams that are very serious and competitive. Consider the fact that we were on a break during Ramadan, but the serious players managed to gather at their own homes and squeeze in time to play and thus stay in shape”, she adds.

Part strategy, part vocabulary, Scrabble tournaments are fun for all ages, although currently the scene is being dominated by adults, many of whom are seasoned players.

Revenge of the nerds
When's it cool to be a nerd? When it earns you the Vietcong Helmet at Le Saigon. You guessed it! Since its inception in September 2007, the Le Saigon dinner quiz has become THE event of the month. A beautifully simple concept of merging a quiz contest with a buffet dinner has managed to morph into serious business.

Flamboyantly conducted by Quizmaster Farhan Quddus, one of the proprietors of the Le Saigon restaurant, the tournament features six rounds: Picture, History/Geography, Movies, Lifestyle and Heritage, and Music. Teams of 4-6 players answer ten questions in each round, and the team with the highest cumulative score wins the cash prize, and gets to pose for pictures wearing the coveted trophy, the green helmet. To ensure fair play, the Quiz Police, led by Zarah Quddus and whichever team sets the questions for the month, circulate between the team, on the lookout for Googling and other unfair practices.

This monthly event has been growing in popularity steadily over the past year, and has spawned many seriously competitive teams (some of them even have uniforms!). The current season is being sponsored by Grameenphone, and last month, there was an eye-popping 18 teams vying for the ultimate prize. Sounds like the ultimate geek-fest, doesn't it? Actually, with good food, great music, and witty banter exchanged amongst teams and between players and the Quizmaster, the fierce competition of the contest itself is balanced by a chilled out ambience. What's more, it's a great networking opportunity.

And Bingo was its name-o!
“Two ducks….two and two, TWENTY-TWO”. “A lady with a gun….eight and one, EIGHTY-ONE.” The caller declares the numbers amidst complete silence with the only sound coming from the number blocks that are rolled about. As the caller picks out a block at random and is about to announce the number, one can actually feel the tension in the atmosphere and almost hear those fists being clenched as the players wait in anticipation.

Now that's a typical scene during a game of Bingo, or Tambola, or Housie…whatever you choose to call it. In Dhaka, it seems to be exceptionally popular, and has been around for quite a while now. Dhaka club, Uttara, Gulshan, RAOWA, Cadet College Club, all have a special day of the week when they host Housie events, starting from 7:30 in the evening and continuing well into the wee hours of the night. The crowds that turn up nowadays are almost overwhelming; all hoping to win some of the usual fabulous prizes-loads of cash money, couple tickets to some exotic place, appliances, and of course the diamond ring and brand new car that everyone has their eyes on during 'Super Bumper Housie Night'.

Its not uncommon to see pretty aunties flocking tables, getting ready to play, bringing out colourful pens from their fancy bags with their daintily painted fingers, playing three or even five sheets a game. Now that's called expertise!

There are times when people actually state things like, “look at the size of the crowd. You know, by the time they get to the final prize, which is the car, I have a feeling that they'll have to distribute the nuts and bolts!”

So that can give one an idea of how popular Housie actually is!
Brain-teasing, adrenaline-charging, and yet refreshing, the gaming events are the perfect way to unwind fruitfully. With the irresistible combination of luck and skill, these parties definitely rock. Game on!

By Sabrina F Ahmad and Farina Noireet
Photo: Zahedul I Khan and Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Munsia, Sabrina and Farina
Special thanks to Le Saigon


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