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New Yorker Crossword Constructors Recommend the Best Games to Play While Social Distancing

OtherNew Yorker Crossword Constructors Recommend the Best Games to Play While Social Distancing

If you’re looking for more virtual games, try out Partner Mode, a new feature of our crossword that lets you solve with a friend online.

All the best games are party games disguised as strategy games, and CodeNames is no exception. How it works: everyone sees a board of twenty-five words. There are two teams, Red and Blue, and two positions, Cluer—called the “Spymaster” in the game’s James Bond-esque lingo—and Guesser. (Its setup easily translates to Zoom; my friends and I play using this open-source board generator.) The Spymasters, in addition to seeing the words, can see a colored key with some words bathed in red and some in blue. The Spymaster’s job is to get his teammates to guess his team’s words, by giving one-word prompts that enumerate connections. If two of your words are “England” and “chocolate,” for example, you might give the clue “Cadbury, for two.” But be sure that your clue won’t mislead your teammates to guess the rival team’s words: if “egg” is a blue word, Team Red should abandon that Cadbury clue.

Although CodeNames is competitive—a race to get your team to successfully guess your words first—everyone can appreciate an incredible clue: a friend once trotted out “commissary” for the words “food,” “cell,” and “military,” to all-around applause. The pleasure, as with all party games, is in the sociology. Couples or siblings will always talk up their mind melds, and there’s nothing like an errant guess to test a relationship’s semantic mettle. My friends and I gleefully trash-talk the Spymasters while they spend minutes deep in associative concentration, scrawling and contemplating like John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind.” The downtime for guessers means both that the game is very forgiving of lag and that the jokes are always flowing; it’s fun to get your “sandy, for two” and listen to the other team’s parodic advice (“ ‘Sandy’—that’s gotta be ‘plum.’ Famously Andrew only eats sandy plums”).

CodeNames is a word game for people who find Scrabble cultish or stuffy. It’s a funny game where the humor is incidental to the rules; a deduction game whose strategy will be pretty intuitive to both your preteen cousins and your great-aunts. And while your dad is deep in thought about how to link “magazine” and “Australia,” you can change your Zoom background to a screenshot of him pondering.

Natan Last

I picked up my quarantine video-game habit from a company that’s yet to venture into gaming: Netflix. The Netflix docuseries, which gives housebound viewers vicarious access to the emotions and activities of pre-quarantine days, is the breakout genre of 2020. “Cheer” reminds us of ambition, going to the gym. “How to Fix a Drug Scandal”: intrigue, going to a nonessential workplace. “Tiger King”: abjection, crossing state borders. In “Formula One”—both the Netflix docuseries and the Xbox game that’s scratching my newly developed gaming itch—I’ve accessed recklessness on an international scale. I’ve discovered a couch-bound outlet for the death drive more compulsive than a sleeve of Oreos, and a tragicomic indoor proxy for the thrill of the great outdoors.

“Formula One” the docuseries has inexplicably failed to hit, but it’s a natural fit for our newly confined conditions. Following the ten most successful teams in the cosmopolitan racing league—including Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull, with tracks in Baku, Singapore, and Monte Carlo—the show takes viewers on a drone-shot tour of the spectacular glass-façades of global capitalism, only to plunge us behind the wheel of a compact race-car cockpit. The bodily risks are as devastating as the prolific waste of resources on display: fuel, feats of engineering, charisma. The drivers—twinky teen-agers with thick accents and hard bodies—take us with them beyond the pleasure principle. They’re periodically caught on hot mics saying things like “fuck Netflix” and “Netflix are a bunch of wankers.” Their ire is never explained. Very little is; they just want to go fast.

After speeding through the two seasons currently available, my husband and I purchased F1 for Xbox. The aerial tours and driver P.O.V. shots are perfectly replicated. So, too, are the quasi-fascist coaches delivering facts and figures in your ear, the cyborgian pit crews, and the champions’ inevitably homoerotic champagne showers after a race is won. Most exhilarating, though, is the simulated ride itself: some days, after moving from my stationary exercise bike to my stationary couch, I race for Team Renault in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Moving in more virtual circles, I court the crash.

Anna Shechtman

When it comes to party games, I’m easy to please. Taboo, Charades, Celebrity: if it involves lateral thinking and opportunities to laugh at my friends, then I’m here for it. Unfortunately, party games are tough to orchestrate under quarantine. Between video lags and audio lapses, virtual game play is more likely to end with groans than with laughter.

Enter: Fibbage.

Fibbage, offered by Jackbox Games (the company behind virtual party games like You Don’t Know Jack and Trivia Murder Party) can be played on Xbox, Steam, and other digital platforms. The game involves equal parts trivia knowledge, improv ability, and lie-detection skills. Each round centers on an arcane piece of trivia with one detail left out: for example, “The official bird of Redondo Beach, California is ______.” Your job is to fill in that blank with a fib that your friends might believe is true: maybe you enter “Uncle Toucan,” or “Mother Goose,” or even “a middle finger.” You get points for every friend you trick; you also get points for correctly identifying the true answer (which, in this case, is the Goodyear Blimp). The strategy is to be funny, but not too funny; smart, but not too smart; witty, but impersonal. Because if you sound like yourself, rather than like the state-bird selection committee of Redondo Beach, California, no one will believe your answer.

On the other hand, if you can persuasively channel that state-bird selection committee—or, say, a South Korean hotline for reporting spies, or the writer who decided that Sonic the Hedgehog’s real name should be “Maurice”—then you win the virtual trophy. And you can bask in the glory of how easy it was to lie to your closest friends.

Aimee Lucido


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