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Man Bites Dog: Now Fun!: Kevan and Holly are here! They brought Sumana and me some games as gifts, including Man Bites Dog, a deck of cards with common New York Post-style headline words like "FEDS", "CROOKED", and "BLASTS". There are also some rules for a game, but upon reading the rules we came to the same conclusion as Board Game Geek reviewers ("it is totally about luck", mean rating 4.74 out of 10). Instead of playing, we started experimenting to try to make a more fun game using the same cards. Here's what we eventually came up with.

Everyone gets five cards, and when you play a card you draw back up to five. Everyone scans their hand looking for a word that can be a headline all by itself, like "HERO" or "TERROR". If you've got one, play it in the center of the board. If no one has one, exchange cards until someone does.

Your goal is to make magic squares of headlines: an NxN grid of headlines that can be read either horizontally or vertically. You start off with a 1x1 magic square:

HERO

Now play proceeds clockwise from whoever played the first card. Play three additional cards around the first one to make a 2x2 magic square:

HERO  COP
DRUGS CRAZY

Now you've got four front-page Post headlines: "HERO COP", about a heroic cop, "DRUGS CRAZY", about someone who really likes drugs, "HERO DRUGS", about new lifesaving drugs, and "COP CRAZY", which might be about a crazy cop or about someone who's crazy for cops.

Now do it again. Build around two of the edges to make a 3x3 magic square. You're free to play a card on top of a card already played if you really need to get rid of a problematic word, but in general you should just fill in the two new edges. Here's a 3x3 square I made up--you can see there are now nine headlines.

INDICTED HERO  COP  
MAYOR    DRUGS CRAZY
ATTACKS  RARE  CZAR

That's "Attacks Rare: Czar", clearly some kind of Homeland Security thing. I don't recommend playing to ensure the diagonals also work, but you can often find something fun by reading them, like "INDICTED DRUGS CZAR" in this case.

Fill in another two edges to get a 4x4 magic square, and then another two to get a 5x5 square. You've won! Laugh and learn. There is no way and no reason to keep score.

The fun of newspaper headlines, as longtime readers of either this weblog or Language Log know, stems from the fact that they've given up the short words that let you figure out what the longer words mean. In a crossword puzzle, a letter can be used in two different words. By making a crossword puzzle out of headline words, a word can be in two different headlines and pleasingly mean different things each time.

We tried a number of crossword variations, but we liked the magic square version the best. At every stage you end up with valid headlines, and the headlines grow over the course of the game, from "HERO" to "HERO COP" to "INDICTED HERO COP" to "INDICTED HERO COP NAKED" to "INDICTED HERO COP NAKED AGAIN". At the end you have a compact mass of silliness.

So, that's our variant. You can make your own MBD deck by picking nouns and verbs from actual headlines, a process that if automated would keep the game fresh and topical. I would also really like to see a magic square made from four or five real headlines.


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