It's an article by Allan Brien from the March 9, 1969 London Times, though it describes a visit to the USA a few months before. It mentions a puzzly treasure-hunt game and also a gossip game, which reminded me of "The Last of Sheila."


HALLOWEEN NIGHT in New York, five people, strictly following their instructions, arrive at an old brownstone house. They ring the bell and are invited in by an unknown white-haired old lady who is sworn to answer no questions. Tensely, they wait for their next message as she serves coffee and cake in silence. Film star Lee Remick (played by film star Lee Remick) is hungry and bolts her portion. "Stop!" shouts the group-leader—too late. Rearranged, the icing on the cake would have revealed the map reference of their next rendezvous. Now, who could tell?

This Hitchcockian moment was only one of many during a holiday clue-hunt stagedd for their showbiz friends by actor Tony Perkins and composer Stephen Sondheim. Others in the cast of this do-it-yourself parody thriller, moving purposefully in six squads of five through the drifting crowds, were Hal Prince, producer of half a dozen hit musicals including "Cabaret" and "Fiddler on the Roof," Arthur Laurents, author of "West Side Story," Herbert Ross, who directed the new Peter O'Toole musical, "Goodbye, Mr Chips," and his dancer wife, Nora Kaye.

Clues were concealed, not only in cakes (the old lady turned out to be Tony Perkins' mother) and bowling pins, but in envelopes pasted under benches in blacked-out parks, dangling from strings in deserted alleys overhanging the East River, and various other clandestine message drops made familiar from the evidence in spy trials, all identified by a campaign poster of a failed and forgotten lady politician.

"It taught me never to try to commit a murder," said Sondheim last week. "Tony and I were planting one poster in a street full of warehouses where no sane person would be found alone after dark. Two minutes after we arrived, an alarm rang and our way out was blocked for an hour by fire trucks and police cars."

Bright and talented Americans display a serious, almost religious, devotion to gamesmanship--to charades, anagrams, arithmetical puzzles, double-acrostic crosswords whose rules I cannot even understand, to three-dimensional noughts and crosses, four-handed chess, jigsaws constructed from abstract paintings or cut out of black and white circles, to elaborate toy mazes, boxes and trays and jars of coloured marbles, numbered bricks, geometric shapes, which must be arranged in sequences of patterns, to late-night "Truth or Forfeit" sessions, group therapy seances designed to inflame rather than relax tensions, to knock-out tournaments of pencil-and-paper competitions like "Dictionary" or "Bartlett's" where the object is to invent the most convincing false definition or quotation. London playgoers are familiar with what can happen when one of these jousts gets out of hand from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "The Boys in the Band."

But even at one of the most good-tempered games evenings, a British visitor is apt to find his reactions shuttling rapidly from condescension to panic, to grim determination not to be the worst player. He begins to suspect that if our intellectuals put into their work a tenth of the ingenuity, cunning, imagination and ruthlessness their American counterparts put into their leisure, the balance-of-payments crisis would be over.

Stephen Sondheim's living room is almost a museum of games, including a rather tasteless Victorian item, donated by the Brien family, and called "The New and Original Game of the Jew." "I'm not a collector," he says, "I'm a repository. For every one I buy, I'm given half a dozen. I like informal party games, but the only one I ever play at a table is bridge." Nevertheless, between shows, he invests thought an money in creating board games to amuse his friends. One he designed as an adolescent was pirated, by a firm to whom he offered it, in an altered and cheapened form. Ten years ago, I remember another called "Stardom," set in Hollywood, were the object was to sleep with an imaginary (at least in name) movie queen, and the cards were full of unprintable, and largely accurate, studio gossip. Later there was "Analysis" where the pieces were miniature hand-upholstered couches.

Last week, he showed me his latest invention, "The Great Conductor Hunt", which is dedicated to, and is all about, Leonard Bernstein, with whom he collaborated on "West Side Story." It is played in three stages, each on a different board, and the object is to determine which of the four student pieces will capture the Lenny piece and replace him as conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Beautiful and intricately executed, both as a physical object and a mental challenge, it is already a rare collector's piece of which only the original and six copies will ever be made.

As a game, its originality lies in the use of an unpredictable, moving target who flits around the globe, protected by secretaries and agents, unanswered telephones and locked dressing rooms. The final chase takes place in the labyrinthine recesses of Carnegie Hall, presented by a plexiglass maze, spectacularly planned so that even its inventor cannot memorise its convolutions, because before each session the corridors are blocked in ever-changing random patterns by Lenny's entourage, and the whole maze turns through 90 degrees.

The American toys and games business is booming, partly, I feel, through this expanding adult obsesion with what was once just kids stuff. Their 66th annual trade fair opened last week in New York at the Toy Center, twin skyscrapers linked on the ninth floor by a bridge which groaned in the snowy gales. Nine thousand buyers roamed the corridors, disputing knowledgeably about the merits and faults of the goods bulging out of the doors of each Aladdin's cave. Last year, said the Manufacturer's Trade Association president, Lionel Weintraub, the sales at factory prices were =A3760 million--a 17 percent increase over 1967, easily outstripping the increase in population, gross national product and disposable personal income.

The children are still the final consumers. "Every Seventeen Seconds a Girl is Born in the U.S.A." spelled out a doll manufacturer's slogan in a running electric sign. One doll catches a ball, and throws it back, another tells jokes and plays the accordion. Sets of play money include play credit cards. There is an Apollo space capsule, four feet long and a whole armoury of astronautical hardware including power limbs for picking up radioactive material.

The grown-up is also increasingly represented--a game called Seduction, "a new variation on the oldest game in the world to captivate the fun-loving adult... in regular and king sizes"; Chug-a-lug, a drinker's game where the object seems to be to get as boozed as possible; Propaganda, where the winner is the one who learns most about techniques of moulding public opinion such as "quotation out of context, faulty analogy, technical jargon, appeals to pity or prestige and the bandwagon effect"; battle games based on actual military encounters, with names like D-Day, Gettysburg, Afrika Corps, Stalingrad, Waterloo, and the latest, Anzio. What about something titled Ad-diction--would this involve a search for the best pusher and the most reliable drug? (It turned out to be a word game of the Scrabble type).

Nobody seems to have to a convincing explanation for this American games fixation. It cannot be that work is so dull--because many of the most fanatical games-people are successful actors, writers, painters, directors, composers. It cannot be that they seek triumphs here which elude them in their professions--for the same reason. There seems some need to wind-up rather than run-down, to relax by becoming tense, to demonstrate your Olympic stamina, at any hour in any place that competitors can be found. I find it impressive, but sometimes awfully wearying.