Farkle forces people to gamble with their comfort. That’s why it’s my favorite game.
It is similar to Truth or Dare, only without the truth option. Before the night is over, all the players know that someone will have to do some undesirable task or challenge. If, rather than bullets, Russian Roulette involved drinking the hair stripped from a hair brush then submerged in eight ounces of water, then it would be the same as Farkle.
The following are some of the consequences I have endured:
· licking a dirty basketball a full revolution
· eating a katydid
· drinking a concoction of such ingredients as Papa John’s garlic sauce, whey protein, pickle juice, habanero pepper sauce, and mayonnaise
· imitating different animals for 30 seconds
· a swirly
· putting alligator clips on my nipples for thirty seconds
· Sharpie mustache
· a variety of activies involving various degrees of nudity
· running up a half-mile long hill in cowboy boots without a shirt on in below freezing tempature
· giving or receiving a snorkel
· wetting my face then putting it in a fireplace full of ash
· doing laps in a salt water pool in the middle of winter
All of these pale in comparison to the consequence suffered by my friend and roommate at the time, Greg Hill, on one fateful night in the spring of 2007.
Lucas had invited the eleven freshman guys in the bible study he led to come over and play Farkle. They would start showing up at our apartment in half an hour. We were trying to convince Greg that he should play with us. On his way upstairs to change into more comfortable clothes, he let out a deep breath and told us that he was tired. He’d had a long day with the after-school care program at the YMCA. Staying up late trying not to lose a game he’d never played was the last thing he wanted to do.
Your chances of losing were slim, we reasoned. After all, we would have a total of fourteen players, if he joined us.
The odds encouraged him.
“Okay, guys, I’ll do it,” he said with characteristic bravado, a smile spreading across his face. “Just don’t let me down.”
He punched me in the shoulder. He must be feeling good now. Nothing like gambling with your hours of sleep to cheer a man up.
He thumped up the wooden stairs to his room to get ready.
The pack of freshmen guys showed up soon after he came back down. We cleared the coffee table, and Lucas and I explained the rules of six-dice Farkle to all the first-timers:
· 1s and 5s always count as 100 and 50
· You can’t get on the board with a score of less than 1000 points, but once you’re on the board, you can end your turn at 50, if you want.
· Three of a kind are worth the number times 100. (For example, three 3s are worth 300.)
· Straights are worth 1000 points.
· If all the dice are scoring dice, you have to roll again. If you farkle, then you lose the point total you just earned. If, however, you roll more scoring dice, you add these points to your total.
· If any dice roll off the table, then you must roll all the dice again.
· 6 of a kind is the number times 1000. (For example, six 3s are worth 3000.) If you roll six 1s, then you score 10,000, and the game is over.
· The game goes to 10,000. After one player reaches that score, the rest of the players drive up their scores in the consolation round so as not to be in last place.
· In the game of Farkle, the point is not to win so much as not to lose. The last-place loser is the only one who suffers the consequence.
With so many players, the game started to drag. Some of the guys had trouble getting on the board, and as the other players drove their scores higher and higher, they participated less and less in the banter, and they wore the same weak smiles that you might see on a guy’s face when he runs into his ex with her new boyfriend. Greg was among these.
I hated to see him not enjoying himself. After all, I’d helped Lucas talk him into playing. He was probably cursing himself for choosing a raucous party with teenage boys instead of his pillow. He finally squeezed above 500 on one turn, and his face lit back up.
Someone broke the 10,000 ceiling, so all that was left was the consolation round.
Greg wasn’t last, but he also wasn’t out of danger.
What is it about really wanting to win or at least really not wanting to be the loser that sets us up for failure?
Greg’s turn came about halfway through the last round. His first roll produced 300 points, which, if he had stopped there, would have proved to keep him ahead of the last loser. Everybody was yelling advice at him—eleven experts who’d only just learned the rules and strategy themselves.
I tried to get Greg’s attention and persuade him to stick with what he had, but he was too distracted. It was like a scene from Wall Street, noise and mayhem, every man screaming what he wants another person to do.
Rather than silence everyone to clear his head, Greg panicked and threw the last of the dice. Nothing. He’d farkled and lost the 300.
One by one the other players rolled better scores, and in an awkward moment of silence, Greg realized his stupidity and started cursing.
That was not the moment to say I told you so.
Our apartment in Sequoyah Village was situated in the middle of Sequoyah Hills on the corner of Kenesaw and Keowee. Kenesaw ran up and over a hill and t-boned the dog park. On the other side of the park was the Lake Loudon.
Because he had lost, the male code of Farkle honor obligated him to take off all his clothes, ride three-quarters of a mile to the park, run through it, and jump in Lake Loudon.
His set jaw and deliberate stalking movements around our den were a warning that any trash talking or sarcastic congratulations might provoke violence. After putting a plastic grocery bag over the seat of my Gary Fisher, I piled in with the rest of the guys, and we drove to the park to wait for his arrival.
After about ten minutes, a tall white shape crested the hill. We started cheering. Encouraged by our support, Greg gave the air a couple of punches. He must have started enjoying himself because he was putting on a show, weaving side to side while picking up speed going downhill.
That moment of glory while he was bathed in streetlight and feeling the crisp air rush across his skin was about as good as it was going to get for Greg that night. He soon saw the same thing we did: to his right and to our left, a car was curving around the bend on Cherokee Boulevard.
I could almost see the gears turning in his head: Do I slow down and wait for the car to pass or do I try to beat it?
You already know what he chose.
Greg stood up again and started hammering the pedals. He was cranking them as fast as he possibly could, his legs a yellowish blur.
At first, we thought he was going to make it. He hit Cherokee Boulevard and was almost through the walking trail before the car’s proximity spooked him.
You’ve probably seen how cars in the distance will seem to move very slowly then all of the sudden appear right next to you. “I never even saw the car coming” is something people say after car accidents.
As Greg crossed the walking trail, the car was right there, thirty feet away.
Everybody knows you don’t hit the front brakes when you’re going really fast. Everybody knows that you always double-check which is the front brake before you go down a hill in the first place. Greg must not have reacquainted himself, because he panicked and mashed the front brakes. The disc brakes on my bike are much more responsive than ordinary v-clamp brakes. The bike kicked up onto its front wheel like an angry bronco bucking up on its two front legs.
Greg’s momentum carried him over the handlebars, and he landed right in the middle of the road.
The black Chevy Camero screeched to a stop about five feet from one of the strangest sights the driver must have ever seen: a big heap of naked man picking itself up and limping off the road. I hustled across the street to pick up my bike and waved at the driver as way of an apology. He honked the horn twice and drove off.
At this point, Greg was standing in the grass just within the curve of streetlight cutting into the darkness of the dog park. He was bent slightly forward, had his hands on his hips, and was rocking slowly backward and forward, moaning, “Uhhhhh aaaahhuhhhhh. Uhhhhh. Awwwwwwwwhhhhhhhhhh.”
“Somebody please put a towel on him!” I yelled.
One of the freshman guys ran and got a towel from one of the cars, and Lucas gave it to Greg who put it around his waist.
The rest of us approached with caution.
Greg had a tear below his chin where he’d bitten through his lower lip. His left shoulder was bright red and oozing lymph where the asphalt had scraped off the skin, and his left knuckle and knee had also made contact with the road.
We all stood in a semi-circle of awkward silence, waiting for him to say something.
“Do I still have to get in the river?” he said, his voice sounded thick from his swollen lip.
“No!” we all said in unison.
It was so pathetic it almost wasn’t funny.
The other guys all piled back into the cars, and I rode my bike home. Most of them had already left by the time I pulled up.
Greg and Lucas were upstairs where Lucas was down on two knees dabbing Greg’s knee with hydrogen peroxide and then Neosporin.
Five minutes later, Greg was in his room, and Lucas and I were in the room that we shared.
“What—just—happened?!!” Lucas hissed in the dark.
“I don’t know!” I whispered.
Our laughter and incredulity had been pent up for too long. We didn’t want to laugh in front of Greg and upset him even more, but what had happened was one of the funniest and most bizarre occurrences either of us had ever seen. We hated that he’d gotten hurt, but 6’4” of naked man tumbling through the air was too good. Laughter rocked us both for the next half hour. We had to be quiet so as not to wake Greg, but trying to suppress that kind of hysterical giggling makes it even worse. Contents under pressure will explode. We laughed harder for our relief that our stupid game hadn’t resulted in Greg getting hit by a car.
How do you explain that to the ER doctor?