Column: Scattergories provides remote family fun during coronavirus quarantine

Scattergories is a fun game to play remotely during a coronavirus quarantine. (WTOP/Jason Fraley)
WTOP's Jason Fraley suggests remote Scattergories during quarantine

The coronavirus quarantine has forced us all to find ways to entertain ourselves by streaming movies, binge watching TV shows, reading books and listening to music.

Here’s something you may not have tried: remote board games with family and friends.

Granted, games requiring a board like Monopoly, Life or Risk might be tricky to pull off from a distance, but my family recently had a blast playing Scattergories remotely.

If you have never played Scattergories, the game provides you with a list of categories (i.e. TV shows, sports teams, U.S. capitals). You then roll a dice to receive a specific letter, meaning you have to answer the categories using the letter displayed on the dice.

You then start a timer, giving you two minutes to write down answers to every category on the list, jotting your answers down on a notepad masked by a special red folder. Double points for multiple words with alliteration (“Willy Wonka,” “Sam Spade,” “Greta Garbo”).

While the game was a blast, the remote experiment came with certain pros and cons:

The Pros

Scattergories is uniquely suited for such a remote situation, as the gameplay requires you to write your answers individually before sharing them with the group to compare.

This can easily be done using digital devices in two locations.

My wife and I set up our iPhone horizontally on our kitchen table for a FaceTime call with my sister and parents, who set up their smartphone in their living room 20 miles away.

After a few rounds, we were having so much fun that we shifted to a laptop for a bigger screen so that we could see our family members’ faces laughing in the other house.

If you’re tech savvy, you might even be able to hook your laptop up to a flat-screen TV, which my family did to play a game while my sister was studying abroad in Spain.

It’s a great way to feel connected to family, crack jokes and make new memories.

Yours Truly won thanks to a rare eight-point score on “song titles” with the letter “D,” where I wrote “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” by The Police (sadly, Sting had to postpone his scheduled stage performance in “The Last Ship” this week at National Theatre).

For the record: my wife, Ashley Marie, still holds a 3 to 1 lead in the official Fraley standings after a week of one-on-one contests in Scattergories social distancing.

The Cons

While the experience was great, we encountered several challenges by playing remotely.

First, there was the issue of talking over each other due to lack of proximity and slight digital delay. We had to establish a specific order for family members to read answers.

Second, the video screen froze at one point. At another point, my parents could see us, but we couldn’t see them. Ultimately, we had to call back and reestablish our connection.

Third and most problematic was the fact we were playing with different editions of the game. My parents bought their game in 1988, while my wife bought our version in 2003.

This caused our categories to clash. “List 1” was the same for both editions, but “List 2” for my parents was “List 4” for us. We eventually figured out a system of syncing lists before each round, but it initially caused some hilarious answers based on the wrong categories.

However, this issue has happened in the past during normal times. My uncle infamously wrote “babe” for “terms of measurement” thinking it read “terms of endearment.” To this day, we hold our hands an infant’s length apart to joke, “Eh, it’s about three babes long.”

Finally, the two editions had different timers. Ours was a buzzer you press to run two minutes, while my parents cranked an old-school timer to run three and a half minutes. The competing time limits and ticking sounds forced us to manually yell, “Time!”

Like sand through an hourglass, these are the days of our lives in quarantine. Social distancing doesn’t have to be lonely; just call up family or friends and say, “Game night?”

And if you ever roll “D” for “song titles,” just remember: “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.”

More Coronavirus News

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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