‘Moby-Dick’ card game strikes at the bawdy

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY RON CHARLES ron.charles@wash­post.com Ron Charles is the editor of Book World. You can fol­low him on Twit­ter @RonCharles

Reread­ing pas­sages of “MobyDick,” I have no idea how my old English teacher once kept 20 hor­monal teenagers from stag­ing a mutiny of bawdy wise­cracks. It helped, I sup­pose, that ours was a very con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian prep school. If any of us was tempted to see risque puns lurk­ing in Melville’s clas­sic novel, we knew to pray rather than tit­ter. Times have changed. Oct. 18 marks the 164th birth­day of “Moby-Dick,” and if you’re look­ing for the per­fect gift for a lit­er­ary nerd with a rib­ald sense of hu­mor,

ahoy — thar she blows: An English pro­fes­sor and a cou­ple of his former stu­dents have pro­duced a card game based on “Moby-Dick” called sim­ply “Dick.”

For $19.75, you get a box of 400 white cards con­tain­ing short phrases from Melville’s novel. Each player starts with 12. Here, for ex­am­ple, are sev­eral cards cho­sen at ran­dom (and then re­jected and cho­sen again and again un­til I found three that could get by the copy desk): all the slime of the sea an ev­er­last­ing itch the in­glo­ri­ous bow­els of a sick whale

For each round, one per­son serves as the judge and asks all the other play­ers to sub­mit cards that com­plete the phrase on one

of the green cards, such as:

“Dearly beloved friends, we are gath­ered here to join to­gether th­ese two per­sons in. . . ”

“Ted Cruz caused a stir to­day when he called a press con­fer­ence to de­nounce. . . ”

The judge chooses the best sub­mis­sion, “con­stru­ing ‘best’ how­ever he or she sees fit.” Then the next player serves as judge.

At a very late hour, with suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties of grog, this may lead to hi­lar­ity be­low deck no mat­ter how much or how lit­tle you know about the text of “MobyDick.” Or it may feel like you’re stuck on a long voy­age with a boor­ish sailor who thinks “That’s what she said!” is the height of wit.

But the game ac­tu­ally arose from the dark wa­ters of academia. Tim Cassedy, who grew up in the Wash­ing­ton area, har­pooned the ba­sic idea while teach­ing a course at South­ern Methodist Univer­sity in Dal­las. Once he had the con­cept in mind, he was struck anew by the “hi­lar­i­ous, fas­ci­nat­ing lan­guage and im­agery” in Melville’s novel. Af­ter test­ing the game on fel­low English pro­fes­sors, he and two stu­dent co-cre­ators be­gan sell­ing it on Etsy. tons of tu­mul­tuous white curds an erup­tion of bears a sud­den sharp poke in the rear

If noth­ing else, this is proof that the 200,000 words of “MobyDick” can hu­mor­ously com­plete just about any ran­dom phrase. But this is a game you may not want to play with your par­ents — or your kids. On the very first round, Amer­i­cans’ most in­tim­i­dat­ing novel sud­denly seems like a vast ocean of dirty Mad Libs.

Cassedy has no pa­tience with those who turn up their fluked tails at the idea of hav­ing fun with clas­sic lit­er­a­ture. “Moby-Dick,” he says, “ques­tions every­thing and holds noth­ing sa­cred. It’s weirder, fun­nier, much more ir­rev­er­ent than you think. It would be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that the book is non­stop sex jokes, but it is non­stop play­ful­ness and ir­rev­er­ence. If the book were sen­tient and knew that it had be­come some kind of sa­cred cow, I think it would be de­lighted for us to tip that cow over.” (Stop

that metaphor!)

Ide­ally, Cassedy says, peo­ple play­ing this game might dis­cover “that ‘Moby-Dick’ isn’t the sober tome they had been led to ex­pect and feel em­pow­ered to read it.”

And I only am es­caped alone to tell thee.

“‘Moby-Dick’ isn’t the sober tome they had been led to ex­pect.” Tim Cassedy, creator of the ‘Dick’ par­ody card game

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