Let me tell you about a game called Odds, and the way it rules my family’s life.
At base, Odds is a simple betting game that we made into a familial battle about who can think of the most ridiculous propositions. It is not about restraint or filtering your ideas by how they may be received. You must create an environment where any thought can at least be entertained. That’s probably why I love it so much – it is the blankest slate to receive and be received. No matter the situation, you must bring your whole self, and nothing but the self.
The game does not require you to actually sit down and play it. It doesn’t begin or end; it’s a state of being everyone has agreed to. When you and any members of this club are together, you simply let loose with any situation you wish to speak into reality, influenced by your surroundings or not. It is, I suppose, a version of Truth or Dare, but more explicitly a part of the gambling world. The general outline:
- Think of an experiential bet – something someone else will potentially do for you to witness. For example, let your siblings buy you a complete outfit and wear it for a full work day.
- Propose your bet to your target, along with the odds – introducing the element of chance. “Odds you’ll [action]?” Continuing the example: “Odds you’ll let your siblings buy you an outfit and wear it for a full work day?”
- The target fills in the odds: 1 in X. The more adventurous and/or generous they’re feeling, the better odds they’ll give. This is one of the more revealing parts of the game (beyond the bet itself). It’s clearly much more fun if they give you a higher chance of actually having to carry out the bet. Caution is not a virtue here.
- Begin the countdown: 3, 2, 1 and you both say a number in the stated range. If you both say the same number, the target must do the action you dreamed up. If not, keep on odds-ing.
There is such an exhilaration to saying the number number as the other person. I for one can’t keep from screaming and wantonly gesticulating. It’s as if a wondrous door has opened in the universe and you get to go through it. You’ve altered fate somehow, no matter how small a way. You found that world oyster, and the pearl awaits.
Odds dictates how being with my immediate family unfolds. Especially with my siblings, any moment could explode into a series of Odds. Even the most mundane of car rides can turn lethal. Recently, three blocks from my parents’ home, we caught sight of a house under construction. My brother said to me, “Odds you’ll go in the biff [porta-potty] for five seconds?” It was on. I gave him odds I can’t remember, but we said the same number. My dad had to stop the car so I could carry out the bet. As my family watched and documented, I had to run across the street, up the driveway, past the dumpster, and open that nasty, nasty door. Plunged into a hot, cramped darkness, I held my breath and counted. After an eternity, I kicked that door back open and launched myself down the driveway and into the car. My brother and dad had been yelling out of the car at me the entire time.
Not seeing the possibilities of the format yet? Forthwith, some Odds my family has engaged in:
-In an Embassy Suites in Lincoln, Nebraska, we came upon a bevy of beverage bottles. It was the morning after a big football game, and the entire hotel had imbibed heavily in celebration. My brother, perhaps the most watchful for Odds ideas, saw a nearly full wine bottle (Barefoot Moscato, naturally), and Odds’d me that I would take a drink from it. I am normally an enthusiastic good Odds giver, but…the cornfed Midwestern germs on that thing! My brother won out in the Odds declaration, and I had to do it. I hefted that giant bottle, swallowed my pride, and swallowed the wine. Then I ran. Both in case any housekeeping staff saw me debase myself and to go gargle with Purell.
-During a family trip to northern Minnesota, I became particularly inspired to do an Odds around the Ben Franklin, an eclectic, hyper-local general store-type establishment that once sold slivers of wood with renderings of holographic Jesus on them. In my most epic Odds idea, I asked my brother whether my sister and I could pick him out an outfit from this store, and that he would wear it for an entire day at work. This was enhanced by my dad offering to make sure the boss enforced the full day policy. (They text about cars, you see.) My brother gave his insane Odds: 1 in 3. I prayed to holographic Jesus and we said our numbers. When we uttered the same one, my soul leapt out of my body and I ceased to exist for a moment. I probably yelled, though we were in a restaurant. We headed straight to the Ben Franklin for outfit picking time. The good old BF is like a north woods Walmart – items for everyday life but also camouflage for any and all occasions. My sister and I had some tough choices to make. After combing through every option on those clothing racks (and making my brother try on some camo coveralls with no shirt), we settled on a black t-shirt with three deer on it that said “Survival of the Fittest” and a camo hat with a zippable front flap. (We were nice and let him wear his own shorts). The next week, we woke up to texts with photos of this outfit in action at the air traffic control tower. Perfection. He did have to wear the hat with the face flap unzipped due to work necessities, but it was still a masterpiece I brought into the world. Not to mention revenge fuel for my brother…
-Some Odds involve dredging up old memories the betting club shares. When my siblings and I were all home for some holiday, my sister got the idea to Odds my brother if he would go to the concessions stand at a hockey rink she used to work at (it’s Minnesota, okay), buy a hot dog (we call them rollie weenies), and eat it. My sister had described these rollie weenies made by apathetic teens in great, disgusting details many times before, so this was not an especially appetizing prospect, even for your average hot dog appreciator. Once again, my brother lost at Odds, and we got in the car to collect my sister’s reward. Sadly, I had to stay in the car while he purchased the rollie weenie, so I did not witness whatever happened inside the hockey rink, but the bet dictated he couldn’t actually eat the thing until we got back home. We bore the special weenie back to the house like a tubular king, blessed as it was. Then my brother broke out the ketchup and went to town. He survived, having eaten a piece of history for his siblings’ giggling enjoyment.
-Too many episodes to recount involving flights of disgusting shots.
As you can see, my brother and I are the hardest core Odds players in this family. Everyone else plays it safe and is much less fun.
Odds brings with it ascendance or humiliation, and a foundation of communal weirdness – you are continually spurred on, whether you are basking in your good luck and seeming power or serving the whims of your fellow bettors. You have all entered this pact and you are all witnesses to a ridiculous reality you’ve created.
I’m sure sociologists have found humans have been doing some form of Odds since the dawn of our time on earth. Society in general is a collective gambling agreement, weighted more towards some than others. But Odds has shown me so much about my human bonds. We push and pull, and a Newtonian relationship ensues. You give and you get, and no matter how crazy things become, you really never know what will happen next. I now realize what those nice British ladies meant when they sang about spicing up your life.
In my family, in our endless Odds, we gamble on each other, pull the slots on our own bravery/stupidity. We elicit the crazy in each other, all within a world we made and continue making. We are communicating desires and testing each other – with a touch of Schadenfreude, perhaps, but it’s more about enabling creativity and giving carte blanche to each other’s weirdness. When else can we be so ourselves?
Odds is exhilarating, embarrassing, revealing, bonding, all the -ings you’d want with the people you think you know the best. Everyone is large, and everyone contains multitudes. Odds is a rare window into that. I hope you can take these instructions and these stories and go forth and place fun bets with your friends and family. May the Odds be with you.