Monday, November 1, 2021

Up the Lake- Cards Part 2

The other game I haven’t played since its official summer wasn’t due to a conscious choice, or mental damage.
The game ... was Spoons.
The rules, as usual, were deceptively simple. Everyone got four cards at the beginning.  A person that was dealt one card of each suit would “win” at the outset. If no one did, then the dealer took a card, checked it against their hand, and either passed it, or another card, to the next person. This continued around for each player and lead to cards whirling around the table in a tornado of suits, and cries of "go faster!" as everyone tried to amass four of a kind. The first person who did, got the “win.”
“Win” was not the end however; it was the beginning of what should have been largely stealthy motions but instead usually devolved into panicked grabs, slamming of the table, tug of wars and the occasional fistfight.
In the center of the table for each round was a row of spoons. Ominously, there was one spoon less than the number of players. Whoever first reached “win” conditions would quietly (theoretically) take a spoon. When players noticed a spoon missing, they should have also (again, theoretically quietly) grabbed a spoon. Whoever didn’t have one lost that round, or was out, or something. There was a lot of yelling and being smacked with silverware, I'm not really clear on the outcome.
As “Spoons Mania” swept the cabins that summer a problem arose.
Aside- The “Spoons” summer was later that the “Spit” summer. By that point, the number of campers had decreased and the lines between age groups of kids blurred. Therefore, when a game “swept the cabins” it swept ALL of the cabins.
The most likely outcome when a round ended was that all players had a spoon, or several in some cases. This was due to the “strategy” of hiding spoons between benches, under the table, in pockets, or in various other locations. Later on (and possibly due to this summer’s activities, now that I think about it) many cabins switched to plastic cutlery. At this point, it was all done with metal flatware. With many of the kids pulling off impressions of Harpo at the end of Animal Crackers most families found themselves thoroughly spoonless come mealtime.
We never had a Spoons Championship of the Universe, due to the coming together of everyone’s parents to enact the “Great Indian Lake Spoons Ban.”

The parents had their own card game times, without the need to fling serving ware at one another.
For my sub-adult life, and many years before that, the Fathers would go home most weeks to work, and the Mothers (and Grandparents) would stay at the cabins with the kids. For a great many of those years, the primary women’s night activity was Tripoley. 
I’ve seen the game also called “Michigan Rummy” but I think that one uses multiple suits. Tripoley used hearts, and to be properly played required a board made out of a piece of canvas with an image hand drawn by my Grandfather.
The board listed all the heart face cards plus the ten, with spaces for King/Queen together, 8-9-10 of any single suit together, and a “pot” in the middle. There was also a “kitty” for whoever’s kitchen it was. The kitty space was never used, though anything dropped on the floor stayed in that cabin. Otherwise, attempting to pay an Italian woman for the privilege of feeding you was an insult of the highest order. Every woman had her own “penny can,” an old coffee or tea can filled with (obviously) pennies, and maybe a few nickels and dimes after a particular successful evening of Tripoley. In fact, retrieving a penny can for a relative was one of the only reasons someone would dare to face the frowning Fathers’ poker game.
Before each hand, everyone anti-ed a coin into each section on the board, with two pennies in the center “pot.” The dealer rotated around. Whoever’s turn it was would deal out one more pile than the number of players. Then everyone would look at their cards… 
and gripe and complain about how bad their hand was.
The extra hand was sold to the highest bidder, who would immediately gripe and complain than the new hand was worse. The unused hand was key to the game as it was placed face up. Those cards were “dead.”  The first player to the dealer’s left played “low black” in their hand, and the one who had the next card would place it down, continuing counting up until an ace was laid down, or the next card was “dead.” Then the “low of the other color” was played from that same person’s hand.
Anyone who played cards or card combinations with spaces on the board won the money in them. Spaces that weren’t claimed were pushed to the next hand. The King/Queen and 8-9-10 would always pile up during the night, often remaining until everyone was too tired to count anymore. They would be divided up and competed for in reduced groups via open-faced poker hands at the end of the evening. 

The woman that played all their cards first won the pot each hand, and rude stares and Italian profanities from anyone with a winning card that didn’t get put down.
Given the following:
A) On a good night, the light provided from the propane mantles in the cabins was vague at best,
B) The age of many of the players and the quality of “Up the Lake” reading glasses was also vague at best,
C) There was constant conversation during game play, meaning focus was vague at best.
Counting the cards in order was not always as simple as one would think. Invariably, one of the Grandmothers - who was taking the game seriously that hand (likely due to winning cards) - would start yelling, “Who has the five of spades?!? Come on, pay attention, who has the five of spades!!”
This would be shortly followed by a sheepish,
It’s me.”
On some occasions, we slightly older youngsters would be allowed to join the game.  The most common reasons were when one of the Mothers would have to use the outhouse or put a younger-ster to bed, at which point we’d be asked to fill in and play a hand or two. On truly rare, and exciting, nights we’d be spotted a hundred pennies to start from our Mother’s or Grandmother’s can, get to play the whole time, and keep our winnings.
The “leveling up” to be with the adults aspect theoretically may have made playing much more exciting to us, than the game itself.
My best friend, who is now an acclaimed game designer, heard my tales after every summer of this thrilling pastime. When he eventually visited our cabins, he was shocked that the game’s sole purpose seemed to be occupying everyone while they had conversations about other topics, and he felt the generic counting gameplay landed on the dull side.
My cousin Michael from Florida, who looked forward to driving up the coast once a summer as a kid to have Up the Lake time with the family, including the occasional “special invitation” to play Tripoley, answered that review dismissively and matter of factly with:
“He must have never played on a night when someone got the 8-9-10 out.”

While not strictly a card game, the questions were on cards, and the obsession with Trivial Pursuit that swept the Eighties had a huge effect on Up the Lake gaming. It became a major replacement for Tripoley. 

There were two side effects. 
The first was that instead of individual play, to allow both continued conversation and the ending of the game in one evening, no matter how many people were there, the group was always separated into only two teams.
The second was that, due to the warehouse of useless crap nature of my brain, I was invited to play with the adults far more often than in card games because people wanted me on their team. Almost immediately, as further proof of a genetic link, my Mother and I were banned from being on the same team most nights, as it would be an unfair advantage. 
“I know that bit of useless crap,” may be our family motto.
The Trivial Pursuit craze extended to the Crew on their annual vacation and other times. In those cases, the trivia games were the Men against the Women. They'd play at night after their trips to the track or the restaurant of the evening. (The Log Jam a favorite...Suttons was for breakfast) And they all took it very seriously.
Sort of.
Joe, viewing competition as lightly as I usually do, would do things like pass answers to the women to allow the game to finish more quickly if he was tired.

Although the best answer passing came on a night it seemed Janice was on fire with a vast wealth of knowledge never seen by any of her friends before.  When they complimented her, she laughed so hard the Crew could barely understand her explanation.  Linda was “resting” on the floor where she could see the answers through the glass coffee table in Johanna’s room where the Crew would hang out together. Then she’d quietly pass the answers to Janice, who wowed her friends with hitherto unknown knowledge.
While it lasted for multiple years, the trivia craze was a blip compared to card playing history. However, it did create the initial break away from Tripoley, which led to “penny poker” for many years.
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Kim Luer said...

I loved tripoley, I was so good at it I played in my sleep. Hee hee hee.

Jeff McGinley said...

Indeedy. I feel like I wrote about that somewhere, but I can't find it.
Thanx for reading, and joining in.