The coordination game
A travel game I came up with (and by “came up with” I mean “ripped off of Cranium and my college economics classes”) that I’ve been thinking about a lot in elevators and subways recently is what I call the coordination game. You need at least two people to play, as you need a partner, and three people to play competitively. To play around, first come up with some kind of category. You and your partner think of/write down a list of five items that fit in that category and then share your lists. For each item that is on both of your lists, you each get a point. With two players you can just try to get a high score; with three players you could rotate partners and try to individually get a high score, and so on. Because you are trying to coordinate with your partner, you will want to include the five items that he is most likely to include on his list, but at the same time he will be trying to do the same thing with you. It will help if you know a bit about your partner’s background, education, psychology, and likes and dislikes, and also any relevant shared experiences.
A good example is the category “elements of the periodic table.” There is a well-known natural ordering of the periodic table, by atomic number. If two chemists were playing each other, they might simply write the first five: hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, and boron. However these are far from the five best-known elements, with the last two in particular being somewhat obscure. If one partner is not sure whether the other knows the periodic table or not, then she might be inclined to go with more commonly-known elements (and note that this may happen even if both partners do in fact know the periodic table, since both people are trying to guess what the other will do).
The organic chemistry elements might be the ones that jump most readily to mind for someone with a casual background in chemistry, since most people learn the periodic table in high school and those elements are the ones that appear most often in such classes. So someone might write hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, with the fifth being a bit tricky because those first four are the Big Four elements that appear in organic contexts. You might try sulfur or phosphorus.
The context of a chemistry class taken in one’s past is important, because these aren’t the best-known elements either. Elements such as iron, gold, silver, copper, tin, and lead have been known to humanity for thousands of years and as such have “everyday,” non-scientific-sounding names. People with no chemistry background whatsoever know what these elements are. But in fact this may not be the best approach to take, because people do not generally think of these things as “elements of the periodic table,” a phrase which leads one to think of laboratory chemistry and not the silverware in your kitchen.
Another very different example is James Bond movies. You could again go with the first five: Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice. Or you could go with the most recent five: Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale, Die Another Day, The World is Not Enough, and Tomorrow Never Dies. (Would you include the not-yet-released Skyfall in there? Your choice.) You could also try to judge what the most currently famous five Bond movies are, which has no objectively right answer; a film buff or an older partner would probably be more biased towards the “classic” films like Goldfinger, whereas the man on the street, especially if he is younger, might be more biased towards relatively recent hits like Casino Royale or GoldenEye.
Categories should be broad and include many qualified items, far more than five, and have no really obvious natural ordering that everyone will easily seize on (“numbers” is a bad category). They should not be so obscure as to make naming five a challenge; the fun is not in trying to stump people but in trying to tacitly determine where to coordinate out of a large pool of possibilities.