Game Poem 4: Behind Their Back

This game requires an even number of people – at least six, but no more than ten or so – a deck of regular playing cards, and someone to be the dealer and referee for the game. If there aren’t the enough people to choose a referee, have the most trustworthy person available act as the dealer for the game.

To set up the cards, go through the deck and pick matching pairs of unique numbers, one card for each player. (That is, do not pick the same number for two pairs, so that all four suited cards for that number are in play.) So, for example, for a group of eight players, the dealer might choose the cards: twos of hearts and diamonds, jacks of spades and hearts, threes of clubs and spades, and eights of hearts and spades. The dealer should choose the cards as randomly as possible, maybe by secretly dealing out a card, then going through the shuffled deck in order until they find a matching number, and repeating the process until all the cards are chosen. Or, if they’re feeling wicked, picking a set of cards that will ensure optimal mayhem. It is completely up to the dealer, but a random selection of card pairs should be totally fine. Regardless, the actual cards selected should be kept a secret from the rest of the players. Dealer, be a decent person and try not to commit the chosen cards to memory, as well as you can.

After the cards are selected (and the dealer has done their best to forget what they were, if possible), put the rest of the deck away, shuffle the selected cards and deal one to each player. Everyone now has a mate – the person who has the other card that matches their number – and at least two people will have one or more secret lovers – the person (or persons!) who match their card’s suit. Players should announce their number, find their mate, and join them. At no time should anyone show anybody else their card, not even their mate, or say what their card’s suit is.

(It should go without saying that “mates” and “secret lovers” are assigned and accepted without regard to gender. But I’m saying it, anyway.)

Each mated pair should privately decide on some casual physical signal of intimacy that they will use to show their devotion to each other. It may be silently mouthing a certain endearing word or words to the other person. It may be touching your fingers to the other’s arm, shoulder, neck, or ear. It may be making a specific funny face at each other. It could be a playful sock to the jaw, or a tweak of the nose. Whatever it is, spend a minute or so establishing the signal and making small talk with your mate. After everybody is settled in, the dealer will say, “mingle!”, and each person should find someone else to talk to – preferably, not their mate.

You may now be talking to your secret lover, or you may just be chatting with a pleasant stranger. You have no idea at this point. You must find a way to subtly indicate your suit through normal conversation, without being too obvious, or stating it outright. Maybe you talk about your jewelry, or golfing, or valentine’s day. Maybe you tend to alliterate the starting letter of your suit a bit more than you would normally. Whatever you do, you must make sure that nobody else could possibly overhear what you’re trying to tell (and find out) from your conversation partner. If you do happen to overhear someone else being crass and obvious about their suit, you are well within your right to pause in your chit-chat, tap them on the shoulder, and explain to them gently, but clearly, how embarrassed they should be about speaking of private matters so openly.

After a minute or so – maybe more, maybe less, according to the number of players – the dealer will again call out “mingle!”. Everyone must find a new partner to talk with. The dealer will continue to encourage the players to mingle, until everyone has had a chance to talk with everyone else at least once, and this may go on for fifteen minutes or so. When the dealer thinks that everyone has had their fun, they may say, “mates!”, at which point everyone should find their mate, and attempt to make their signal of intimacy once again.

Attempt? Oh, yes. In the course of mingling and attempting to allude to your true nature – the suit of your card – you may very well run into someone who shares your suit. This person is your secret lover, and you must try to express your covert relationship with them. If at all possible, when you find a secret lover, you should attempt to share your signal of intimacy with them, and if they recognize that you are doing that, they will try to share theirs with you, as well. If you happened to notice what the original couples were doing with each other in their initial conversations, you may be able to recognize this immediately. Once you’ve done this, attempt to discreetly establish a new, secret signal of intimacy with your lover. This should be something that will be recognizable across a room, but only to the two of you. Inevitably, you will be separated, but you may try to reconnect as many times as is feasible in the brief course of the game.

Public intimacy between secret lovers is not without its dangers, of course. While mingling, people should be aware of who their mates are talking to, and what they’re doing. If they see that your mate is sharing your private intimacy signals with someone else, it’s a good chance that they’re carrying on behind your back! Do not say anything. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe you should try to reconnect with them the next time mingling is called for. Are they going back to the same person? Are they acting funny with them now? Be cool. Wait until the dealer calls “mates!” – if they try to use your private signal with you now, after they’ve done it with someone else, you are well within your right to brush them away or glare at them, to let them know that you’re on to their shenanigans.

After allowing the couples to check in with each other, the dealer should ask for pairs of people to turn in their cards. If your partner has discovered your perfidy and brushed aside your intimacy, you’d probably be best off turning in with your secret lover, if possible. If you’ve been cuckolded, you probably don’t want to turn in your card with the person who’s been sneaking around behind your back. Maybe you’ve got a secret lover of your own – you may turn to them, and see if they’d like to turn in with you. Unless they haven’t been caught out by their mate, of course. Then it might be best to just exchange your secret signals, swallow your pride, and go with the one who brought you. You may not win as hard as the pairs that remained true to each other, but at least you won’t be turning in alone.

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