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CURRICULUM VITAE: Kul-Len

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KUL-LEN
(Trivia)

Six players each have two counters that are moved around a game board featuring a star-shaped pattern of hexagonal cells. The goal is to move the counters from the starting cells to home cells on the opposite side of the board. Counters may move to adjacent cells or make jumps in the style of Chinese checkers. Each cell in the board’s center contain a letter. On each turn a player chooses a central cell and receives a toss-up trivia question whose answer starts with the given letter. A correct answer earns a player the opportunity to move a counter though the chosen cell may dictate the move: if the player can move a counter to the cell he must, otherwise he may make any legal move.

Kul-Len

Blockbusters was a favorite television game show from my childhood, and I made a homemade version for after-hours play at one of my first NPL conventions. The “rectangular” array of hexagons in the game give an advantage to one opponent. The television show offset this advantage by pitting a solo player against a family pair, but I used a triangular board and a “game of Y” winning requirement. Years later I considered a revision using a star-shaped board and entertained the idea of using the movement mechanic of Chinese checkers, which would add elements of strategy. I teamed up with Jeffrey Harris and came up with an after-hours game set for the 2008 convention in Denver. Jeffrey and I split the burden of writing questions. The pyramidal writing style is fun but Blockbusters games require a lot of content. Favorite questions from the 2008 session include:

  • What C is something that might lead to a pin, either as a move in professional wrestling or as a rope strung across the yard of a person who air-dries laundry?
  • What E was the cause of death for both King Minrekyawswa of Burma and sitcom character Chuckles the Clown, though only one was dressed like a peanut when crushed by the animal?
  • What G is traditionally used to herald the entrance of characters in a Chinese opera, and herald the exit of untalented performers on a 1970s Chuck Barris variety show?
  • What I is a place where a person who asks for a FARTFUL receives a child’s desk, which is because the children’s furnishings at this place often have adjective names and “fartful” means “speedy” in Swedish?
  • What J vanished on February 27, 2006, along with his red necktie, pinstriped pants, and trademark smirk, when his search engine website shortened its name to Ask-dot-com?
  • What M is a situation in contract bridge when a player has two 5-card majors with doubletons in clubs and diamonds, or the situation in any card game when a player initially receives the wrong number of cards?

Jeffrey moderated all of the games as I was the Denver convention host and was busy with other matters in the after hours. I only saw a few rounds of play, never a full game, but Jeffrey reported that games lasted about half an hour, which is what I expected. Some players noted a crucial difference between Kul-Len and homemade “Jeopardy!” games: often a player would know a trivia answer but not want to ring in because the chosen letter cell would force a disadvantageous movement of a counter. This was a deliberate game design partly intended to thwart trivia juggernauts, but for some the frustration of not being able to answer was more of a negative than a novelty.

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