Monday, January 14, 2008

Ghoul Pool

Dear Ann Landers,

I work in an office where at least once a week someone approaches me about joining a pool. If it isn't the Rose bowl , a professional football fame or the Kentucky Derby, it's the All-Star Game or the World Series.
Gambling is against my principles but I have never criticized those who do it. I just say "No" and let it go. Something new has come up, however, and I wonder if I should say something.
Five of my co-workers have formed a pool in which each of them has listed the names of 100 famous people who may during 1964. When one of these people dies, the ones who had his name add points to their scores by deducting the age of the deceased from 100.
Recently a well-known American died. Mr. X came bounding into the office all smiles and announced triumphantly, "He was on my list."
Under the rules it says, "If the player himself dies, 10 points should be added to his score. If at the end of the year he is the winner, the proceeds of the pool should be spent for flowers for his grave, unless the surviving players should vote to have a party."
What do you think of this?

D. F. (1964)

Dear D. F.,

What you describe is a rehashed version of the old ghoul pool.

Anyone who would make a game out of death is a tasteless clod.

Back in the early sixties there was a news report about an Irish actor or dancer or something who was hit by a car. He didn't die at the scene, but his odds were grim. My dad and a co-worker talked about the story --- and made a wager on whether the guy would make it to the end of the week. My dad, K. M. (aka "D.F.") eventually turned this into the Ghoul Pool.

I didn't know about the Ann Landers correspondence until this weekend. We had the memorial service for my dad back in Dearborn. It was essentially an Irish wake, with this game playing far more of a centerpiece than I would have expected. Despite all of the visitors, relatives, and well-wishers, it is a trifle odd that this game was such a focal point. The guy lived for 74 years, had 7 kids, but this is apparently his legacy. Whatevs, I guess.

The Ghoul Pool wasn't the only game he devised. There was the Personality Pool, which involved guessing how often a preselected list of celebs would end up in the news and for what. News items included marriages, divorces, babies, vehicle accidents, hospitalization, death, and if they appeared on the cover of Time, People, or Newsweek. Some points issues required a bit of research. Time had a cover once with 5 celebrity caricatures. The drawings weren't very good, thereby requiring a letter to the magazine to figure out who 3 of the caricatures were supposed to represent. There was also one week where Walter Cronkite needed the week off to rest his voice. Dad wrote a letter to CBS to find out if Cronkite required hospitalization that week (he did not, but thank you for your concern). Many of the players were intrigued by how they were now reading the newspaper in a completely different way. Missing a two line, space-filling squib about Liz Taylor getting hospitalized for pneumonia could mean missing out on some points.

Another game was the Predictions Pool (which I wouldn't mind trying to revive). 25 predictions for the year were offered and players had to guess whether they would come true. Each prediction was "Yes" or "No" (to avoid being subject to interpretation) and were designed to be determined every couple of weeks to keep people interested.

For example:
  • "Hillary Clinton will win the New Hampshire Primary by at least 4 percentage points."
  • "The combined score of both teams in the Super Bowl will be equal to or greater than 35."
  • "The winner of American Idol will be male."
  • "The price of oil will reach $150/barrel by September 1st."
  • "Paris Hilton will announce that she is pregnant on or before October 15."
It is so weird hearing all these stories. First off, it is interesting to find out where a number of my innate interests, such as propaganda letter-writing and intricate games, come from. Also, all of these games took place before the internet. The news came from newspapers or the evening newscasts, all communication took place via snail mail. The only technological devices used were an electric typewriter and a mimeograph machine. And people from all over the country were playing.

I'm just bothered by how this was the only aspect that people talked about. It wasn't until 2 a.m., when Pat and Eileen and I were sitting in Kathy's kitchen, that the discussion of the Ken McComb we knew began. Although we have developed our own coping mechanisms, a product of trying to survive our respective childhoods, it is troubling that the first two-thirds of this sentence exist. The fact that "survive" is the word that best describes seven childhoods is insane. Stranger still, my experience was vastly different than my siblings'. They got more of the rage-filled-psychotic-break flavor while I got the improperly-medicated-fully-descended-into-depression variety. None of this came up at the party.

This whole weekend I have felt...conflicted. Perhaps the ghost of Ann Landers can offer some advice.

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