A New Year's guide to self-improvement

Hello! Congratulations on your purchase of Robson’s Kith and Kin Kleanser, the exciting New Year’s Eve game for the whole family to make sure there’s no whole family this time next year. Works great on acquaintances, too. Horrible truths can be yours. The rules are simple, and all four fun variants start the same way. Assemble the players in a vicious circle at least 90 minutes before midnight so no goodwill, off-key singing or chanting countdowns can spoil the fun. Write everyone’s name on a slip of paper, fold and place in a cocked hat or other suitable container such as a can of worms or pretty kettle of fish.

Next, everyone draws out one name that’s not their own. Then after a brief pause for people to refresh their drinks, and give their claws a quick sharpen, each participant formulates a New Year’s resolution for whomever they have drawn. It can’t be physically impossible like flap your arms and fly to the moon or financially impossible or ludicrous like buy a Caribbean island or give away everything you own. No. We’re serious, folks. As serious as disinheritance. It has to be something they could and should do but almost certainly won’t and will probably resent. Fun? Wait, we’ve hardly begun.

In Variant 1, “Yes, I mean you,” each player in randomly chosen order names his or her target and reads the resolution. After each turn allow a few minutes for ill-tempered bickering, including the should-have-said gambit in which other players deftly clobber both author and target by scorning a proposed resolution for overlooking other, far more serious, flaws. But to avoid premature destruction of the family unit, players may not bring in targets not yet named.

In Variant 2, “You know who I mean,” each player reads out the resolution without naming the target, whose identity players try to guess. In addition to entertainingly feeble denials of relevancy by suggested targets, this variant permits the truly cutting ploy in which other players say, for example, “No, the quit-gambling one can’t be for Joe because his womanizing is way more serious.” And what could be more family-oriented than reopening old wounds as fresh resolutions lead to revising earlier target choices? Wheeee!

Variants 3 and 4 work better with a computer and printer than handwriting because the resolutions are deposited back in the hat unsigned, then randomly drawn and read. In Variant 3, “We all know you do it,” the unsigned resolution names its target so the players can squabble not only about relevancy but also over who was most likely to know about or hate the behaviour in question.

In the advanced Variant 4, “Furtive glances all round,” the doubly anonymous resolution combines the guess-the-target fun of Variant 2 with the guess-the-author fun of Variant 3. Targets can deny everything, hit back at the supposed author with “That’s exactly the sort of petty thing you’d say” or, better yet, do both with “That’s exactly the sort of thing you’d imagine I’d do.” Think of the bond-shattering possibilities when both guesses are wrong. Or right. It doesn’t matter. Time flies when you play this variant. Along with insults and possibly plates.

The fun never stops. Among the obvious “I will drink less ... before noon” and “I will adopt the habit of semi-regular bathing” contributions to the evening’s amusement, the occasional “I will stop embezzling” can kill the conversation while everyone stares around to see who’s turning red and fidgeting. Oh the laughs.

A few rounds make starkly clear that our families and supposed friends are painfully aware of the character flaws we thought we’d cleverly concealed by ignoring them. They’ve just been afraid to say anything. In a mellow, Auld-Lang-Syne mood, we might appreciate people who’ve always known us for dishonest inebriated layabouts yet who’ve stuck by us anyway. On the other hand, the less pleasant conclusion, that the only people willing to associate with us are equally repulsive types who lack better options, will at least cut down tremendously on the social obligations next holiday season.

Before you give me my resolution that “I will stop making maliciously amusing but socially destructive suggestions in print,” here’s one final wrinkle. In the solitaire Variant 5 you simply imagine the resolutions that your family and friends might make for you.

And of course you already know. Horrible, isn’t it?

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson