A Little Competition is Good for You

The Baconator: I'm gonna have to ask you to increase your degrees of separation from me right now.
I love a good challenge. Especially when it involves my husband throwing down a gauntlet and me picking up said gauntlet and forging it into something a queen would carry.

He and I used to play the Initial Game, a variation of 20 Questions that I learned on a car trip with my sister Kathy and her husband, Jim, when I was about 19-years-old. One person thinks of someone famous, gives the initials and the other player or players ask yes or no questions to find out who it is.

I taught it to my husband and we quickly turned it from an amusing pastime into a teeth-grinding, dashboard slamming contest that boils my blood.

As soon as we mastered the game, we stopped giving the initials for clues, which was inevitable the first time one of us tried to do Prince Charles, Madonna and Cher.

Then we started doing more and more obscure people. I once took an entire 2½ hour drive from Youngstown to Coshocton before I guessed Jack Nicklaus, and only then because we had arrived at my apartment and I walked right past my golf clubs inside the door. 

There are better people at the Initial Game than me, but I don’t ever give up.


On a trip to South Carolina in 1997, I worked on Tom Jones for an hour and 45 minutes.

Then my husband turned the screws even more. He started doing not just fictional characters, but theoretical characters. “Soccer mom” was one.  “Father Time.” “The New Year Baby.” “Old Man Winter.”  Then he started doing people he didn’t know anything about, so no matter what question I asked, he’d say, “I don’t know.”  (The answer was my high school guidance counselor.) We knew we had gone into the black hole of gaming, the meth-lab-in-a-van of competitions, when he stopped giving me people and did “youth.”  

And I got it. 

There have been times when we’ve gone back to the basics and allowed others to play, with bad results.

My 8-year-old son:  “I’ve got one! W.D.”

Me:  “Oh fer -- Walt Disney. Get out of the car right now!”

Our latest game has been Degrees of Separation, where my husband gives me two famous people and I have to see if I can connect them in a few steps. One of them cannot be Kevin Bacon. And they have to be connected by marriage or co-starring movie roles.

Imagine my surprise when I found a Web site in which you can type in two names and software geniuses who are not yet out of college will tell you the degrees that separate them and the movies and TV shows that connect them. It’s called Oracle of Bacon and it’s my new toy.

Those kids are cheating the hell out of the game. It takes all the fun out of looking through old VHS tapes for the cast lists, calling people and asking them, “Remember that movie about that girl with that thing at that place? Wasn’t Judy Dench in that?” Once I discovered Oracle of Bacon, I had to spend a good 90 minutes thinking of obscure people and trying to get it past two degrees of separation.  

Don Knotts and Bette Davis: 2 degrees.

Joe Piscopo and Gregory Peck: 2 degrees.

John Wayne and Courtney Love: an unbelievable 2 degrees.

Chris Rock and Pope John Paul II: oh yeah, 2 degrees (connected by Janet Jackson, of all people)

Charlie Chaplin and Dakota Fanning: you guessed it – 2 degrees.

As you can see, I was hard pressed to come up with two famous people who were 3 degrees or more separated. I was afraid to stray too far from movie-related people. I feared my brain would start to smoke if the possibilities were infinite. (If my husband were playing it, he would start out with “Soccer Mom” and the word “the” and break the computer.

I guess the theory is true, that all people whoever lived are separated by six degrees of separation or fewer. It’s a small world, after all. 

Oo-oo! I have one:

Walt Disney . . . . and . . . . O.J. Simpson. Get out! Two degrees!