Last week, I had cousins over. One of them was a particularly frisky six-year old whose idea of fun was turning on electrical appliances and then turning them off. Repeatedly.
Chagrined, I decided that I would introduce him to some real fun. So out came the board games. I asked my brother to set up the games while I pinned my cousin to the ground just as he was preparing to switch off the power supply to our house.
Eventually, though, we managed to set up Countdown and we managed to hold his attention for long enough to convince him that he could have fun without having to press buttons. For those of you who haven’t played, Countdown is a lot like hangman. You think of a word, use alphabet tokens to set up the word so that the opponent can’t see it, and then the opponent tries to guess the word one alphabet at a time. For every alphabet the opponent gets wrong, you turn a dial which has little diagrams of a stick figure drowning, well…progressively. We explained these rules to him, and he seemed to have understood.
I must admit, it all seemed to be going brilliantly until I realized that my six-year old cousin could spell precisely two words: ‘orange’ and ‘New York’. I have absolutely no idea what was so special about these two words, but that was all he knew. I had to spend the next two hours trying not to say ‘o’ or ‘n’ or any of the alphabets in these two words just so that he would win. Worse still, he mistook his winning streak for an actual aptitude for the game, and developed a liking for it. There’s only one thing worse than a six-year old who can’t spell: a six-year old who can’t spell but wants to play Countdown with you.
Somehow I convinced him that he should go play the game with my mother instead. These opponents seemed like a good match: a mother who had never played Countdown before, and a cousin who couldn’t spell. I watched gleefully as my cousin kept spelling out ‘orange’ and my mother kept looking apologetic every time the stick figure drowned because of her inability to guess the word. Eventually, though, my mother caught on, and proclaimed triumphantly, “Orange!” This was too much for the six-year old. He set about destroying the game set, the dial – everything. When he began throwing the alphabet tokens at us, I decided that it was time for a different game.
My mother suggested ‘snakes and ladders’, but we couldn’t possibly play that for fear of being transported back to 853 BC. Monopoly was too risky – what if my cousin landed on Oxford Street and ate all the pieces as a mark of protest against the high rent? And plus, I have no idea how to finish a game of Monopoly. We could be sitting there for days on end, waiting for a slow, painful death. Mastermind was out of the question too – I couldn’t possibly teach the nuances of probability and sequences to a six-year old who can barely spell. So finally, we settled on Jenga.
Jenga was also a bad idea because every time the Jenga tower collapsed, my cousin would start weeping. If it collapsed because of his clumsiness, he would simply weep. If it collapsed because of my carelessness, he would not only cry but would also hit me. This hypocrisy irked me and eventually I secretly began nudging the tower from the back every time it was his turn to remove a block. This would ensure that it would fall whenever he got his turn. I must admit, I had started to get a bit competitive. The game ended when he began crying and accusing me of being a ‘cheater’. Then I laughed wickedly and he started to throw the Jenga blocks at me. Everything got a bit out of control after that. Alright, I admit, it was wrong of me to throw the blocks back at him. But I was just fighting fire with fire. Or rather, with Jenga blocks.
After an hour’s time-out, we had cooled down and I offered to compete against him in a game of his choice. He chose the i-Pad classic, Fruit Ninja. Six-year olds have a short memory span. He failed to remember my kindness to him in letting him win the numerous Countdown games, and beat me hollow at Fruit Ninja. He then proceeded to laugh at me for several minutes, after which I called him a hypocrite and he called me a cheater, and then, well…it ended badly. Our shouting match was temporarily interrupted by my mother coming between us, not to stop the quarrel, as I presumed, but to save the i-Pad. At the peak of the quarrel, the six-year old did something odd with his hands, twisting them together and scrunching his fingers. I later found out that it is called ‘the Dragonfly’, and it is a six-year old’s equivalent of the Finger.
And thus I learnt an important lesson:
Never play board games with a six-year old. It will end in tears, and those tears will be yours. I speak from experience.