THERE'S a new board game that is taking Vancouver, if not by storm, at least by refreshing breeze. It is Jon Steeves' language game, called MooT.
MooT has elements in common with a couple of other Canadian-born games, Trivial Pursuit and Balderdash. But unlike Trivial Pursuit, it is exclusively concerned with language, and unlike Balderdash, its interest is in everyday words, not the obscure or specialized outer reaches of the language.
Steeves, a former history student, parliamentary speech-writer, and computer programmer, says he first came up with the idea for the game when working in Ottawa, studying French in his spare time and writing questions for question period.
"The point of political language is to say something without actually conveying meaning," he says.
"As a result, I became very interested in the real meanings of a lot of the words I heard used, and I developed a system of remembering these meanings. I would make up questions for myself as a memory aid."
Later, when working as a computer programmer, Steeves experimented with creating games. His most successful one was a pinball game that helped kids learn math.
MooT was developed over three years and the questions were proofread and test-marketed on Steeves' friends during many nights of playing.
At the heart of the game is a set of 1,000 cards, each with a question on one side and an answer on the other.
(1) What item of clothing was named for an atomic bomb test?
(Answer: The bikini - which commemorates the atomic bomb tests on the Bikini Islands in 1945. )
(2) Which is scum: deck or dross?
(3) Which word entered the language first: capitalist or socialist?
(4) Which frustrates your opponent, a ploy or a stratagem?
(Answer: a ploy)
(5) Which glows: a fervent suitor or an ardent lover?
(Answer: a fervent suitor)
(5) Which sound does a smooth object dropped in water make: plunk or plop?
(5) Which animal's name supposedly means "I don't know" in an aboriginal language?
(Answer: the Kangaroo)
The source, nearly always, is the Concise Oxford Dictionary although obscure bits of information crop up from a variety of sources, including the language guidelines put out by the Ontario Ministry of Education.
Steeves likes people to play MooT in teams, thus the title of the game. MooT means "to debate or discuss" or, in older usage, a council where debates are held.
The score-keeping system of MooT is simple: three different colors of cards representing levels of difficulty, a 12-sided die, and a cribbage board to mark the movement. Steeves admits the cribbage board is primitive, and if he ever sells his game to a large manufacturer, he knows it will go.
There are also some cards that will be omitted if MooT ever goes mainstream: the ones which inform players that a gay term for sailors is seafood, and that Bill Vander Zalm's [at that time, the Premier of BC] mouth is not "literally a sphincter."
"Most often, though, the difficulty (games) publishers seem to have with MooT is that they want the questions to be simpler, which, I think, would destroy the fun of the game. Frankly, I'd rather have it published by a book publisher. We're at a point now where I think we can recognize word games as a literary genre."