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The Encyclopedia Lover's Game

"We just hit an iceberg! The ship is sinking!" Over the intercom you can hear someone reading the description of an entry from an encyclopedia. If anyone can guess the entry, the ship will be saved. Do you stick it out with the other passengers, or jump ship before it sinks? Decide before the reading stops. Hurry. You don't know how much time is left. Decide wrongly, and you will be penalized.

I never find anything quickly in an encyclopedia. I always get sidetracked looking at all the other interesting entries. Sound familiar? Then try this game with a few like-minded friends. It is my attempt to capture the enjoyment of browsing an encyclopedia in a casual living room or dining room table game setting.

(Note: Don't worry, you don't have to read this whole page to find out how to play. It is not all instructions. The last three sections concern comments, passing devices, and variations.)


Instructions for Play


The Reader stops reading an entry description when (1) everyone has passed, or (2) he has reached the end of the entry and said "Done", or (3) one of the guessers correctly identified the entry. At this point, the following scores are rendered with beads:


Exceptions: Some entries are merely references to other entries with descriptions that read only "See xxxxxx" where xxxxxx is the referenced entry. It is rather unfair for the Reader to say "Blank, see xxxxxx. Done." This gives the guessers no chance to pass, so these cases should be skipped over.

Another exception is the case where several entries are the same. For instance there are eight entries of "Anderson" in the New American Desk Encyclopedia. We found that the guessers would get in the habit of immediately guessing the previous entry without hearing any of the new description in hopes that the new entry happened to be the same as the previous one. To prevent this, the Reader is allowed to skip duplicate entries after reading one of them. We even say that he may choose which of the duplicate entries to read.

Clarification about "Done": Although no players may pass after the Reader says "Done", players who have not yet passed may continue to try guessing the entry. It should be clear, though, after a few seconds, whether they have any hope of getting it, and they shouldn't be allowed to drag out the game because "it's just on the tip of my tongue!"

Encyclopedia Considerations: A concise, single volume encyclopedia has the advantage of portability, but its primary appeal is the short entries that are of the right length for the game. If you only have a large, multi-volume encyclopedia available, try using just the first paragraph of the entries. These generally provide an overview of the article to follow, and should be enough the guessing and passing aspects of the game.

Passing Devices

Some kind of passing devices could facilitate the passing aspect of the game. Ideally, they would have some or all the following qualities:

  1. made of common, cheap materials, easy to make
  2. easy to use
  3. can be used in a living room setting; does not require players to sit around a table.
  4. audible pass; can tell if someone passed before the Reader said "done".
  5. can easily tell whether someone has already passed or not; can tell if everyone has passed (because this means the Reader can stop reading)
  6. can easily tell who passed first.

I have tried several methods all of which accomplish some, but not all of the qualities listed above. The one I have used in the game rules above, yelling out "Pass", works adequately most of the time, although it fails at #5 and can make # 6 difficult on close calls.

The funnest one is for everyone to have "pop-guns" with corks. This accomplishes #s.2, 3, 4, 5, and to a good degree, #6. It fails #1, however. I have looked all over for them and cannot find them. Have they been declared unsafe, or something?

I also made some oval cardboard markers about the size of a hand that the players toss into a slightly larger bowl (ok, it was a dog's water dish, actually) in the middle of the table when they pass. The markers need to be identified to the player by color or something, and work wonderfully on #6 -- the first passer is clearly identified by the marker on the bottom of the pile. It fails at #3, though, and can be a bit tricky with a large group, so it doesn't do well with #2.

I have thought of trying to give everyone a hardback book to set open in their laps. They pass by slamming the book shut (don't use nice books). This accomplishes #s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and usually 6, so this seems like it may be a good solution, but I haven't tried it out yet.

If you come up with any good possibilities, let me know.


Other types of encyclopedic collections can be used. There are movie and video guides that work well, but be prepared to run across a higher number of unguessed entries. Leonard Maltin's Movie/Video Guide is well set-up for this game, as the year, director, and actors come at the beginning of the entry descriptions (when they are at the end, it becomes obvious when the Reader will say "done" which eliminates some of the challenge of passing.)

I have thought a version of the game that eliminates most "trivia knowledge" advantages might be interesting, although I haven't yet tried it out. In this version, the player that correctly guesses the entry and the first passer do not reap extra rewards for their efforts. The scoring for beads simply depends on whether you are on the right side or not. The way this works is that if the entry is not guessed, each player that did not pass gives one bead to each of the passers. Likewise, if the entry is guessed, each passer gives a bead to each player that did not pass. The Reader is always considered to be on the winning side.

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