“Find the Fossil” – My One-time Favorite Game

I used to play a parlor game I invented called “Find the Fossil.” It was based on content in the Sunday New York Times. As soon as I got home with the newspaper, I would immediately pluck the “Styles” section out from the thick block of newsprint and begin my search. Before I go on, however, some background.

A weekly feature in “Styles” is “Evening Hours”, an egotistical mélange of photographs documenting the festivities at exclusive NYC society parties. It might be something like a black-tie fund-raiser for sub-Saharan orphans sponsored by “The John D. & Catherine T MacArthur Foundation” or an anachronistic debutante ball arranged for stuck-up Dalton School girls outfitted in $20,000 Vera Wang gowns. Truly a compendium of the preposterousness of the gilded age – rich swells living it up to benefit the downtrodden, wretched refuse with the hope they will teem someone else’s shores.

You never knew who might appear in these self-serving documentary photos: mayors, musicians, super-models, business tycoons accompanied by 6-foot-two arm candy. You just never knew . . . except for Brooke Astor. She seemed to pop up all the time. Brooke Astor: wealthy doyenne of New York Society; wife of Vincent Astor, the long-dead chairman of Newsweek magazine and son of the man who went down with the Titanic; ancient, desiccated woman who favored enormous brimmed hats that made her look like a thumbtack; and the “fossil” in the game of “Find the Fossil.” I marveled at how often Mrs. Astor appeared in the “Styles” section, so I invented a game around it which involved hunting for her image each week. Sometimes Mrs. Astor appeared in photos taken at more than one event. I came to enjoy the game so much that started turning straight for the “Styles” section ahead of the headline stories on page one. There’d she be, gripping David Rockefeller by the crook of the arm looking confused in the gloaming of the onset of Alzheimer’s, on their way into Cipriani’s for a fund-raiser in support of the Fresh Air Fund.

Alas, with the demise of Brook Astor a few years ago I needed a new game that would satisfy my sense of righteousness, something that would allow me to feel superior to those who would pose as my betters. And I finally invented it: “Pinpoint the Pan.” In this game, the player peruses the TV section of the NYT, crawling through the movie listings seeking pithy, three- or four-word slams of stinky films that Hollywood deemed worthy of production and distribution. If you play, you’ll find on any given day a half-dozen or more negative reviews of films, many of which starred big-deal actors led by expensive directors. A sampling of some pans I pinpointed in just a couple recent listings illustrates the situation:

“Disappointing” – Dreamgirls
“Like shooting tofu in a barrel” – Wanderlust
“Less than elementary” – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
“Franchise running on fumes” – Transporter 3
“Tumbles into ugliness” – Jack and Jill
“Staggeringly bad with genuine spirit of cruelty” – The Butterfly Effect
“Honey-glazed hokum” – The Help
“Rock-bottom horror” – The Cave
“Close-up gore, bloody bore” – Underworld
“Dumb and sloppy” – Old School
“Muscle-bound, grunting self-seriousness” – 300
“Weak cat-and-mouse story” – Heat
“Will sink your childhood memories” – Battleship
“Loud, pretentious, flat” – Days of Thunder
“Funny until you think about it” – The Hangover
“Self-conscious kitsch” – Clash of the Titans

Like the late Mrs. Brook Astor, the game never disappoints.

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