The game of “Contact”

Many years ago, someone taught me a party game suitable for four to a-whole-bunch-of players. The game is called Contact. It’s a word game. It’s also a “one versus many” game in the vein of Zendo and Elon Musk’s iPod Submarine. Unlike those games, this one requires no physical components at all. Like them, it’s a lot of fun. Here’s how to play.

One player is designated the “master.” (Or whatever; another ruleset goes with “defender,” but I like Zendo so I’m sticking with “master.”) The “master” thinks of a word. It must be a single dictionary word. I was taught that the only two hard and fast rules are “no proper nouns, and nothing from Lord of the Rings.” The “master” announces the first letter of their secret word. The goal of the other players is to guess the word.

For example: Alice is designated as master. Alice secretly thinks of the word DIAMOND. Alice announces, “I’m thinking of a word beginning with D.”

(By the way, over the course of the game, additional consecutive letters of the secret word will gradually be revealed.)

The way you try to guess the word is: You think of a word \(w\) that might be the secret word. You formulate a leading question, to which the answer would be “yes” if \(w\) were the word. You state your question.

There are no “turns.” Any player can pipe up with a question at any time.

For example: Bob is secretly thinking that Alice’s word-beginning-with-D might be DOG. He asks, “Is Asta one?”

Once someone has posed a question, all the other players start trying to think of a word that would answer the question. If a non-master player comes up with a satisfactory word first, they announce: “Contact!”

For example: Bob has asked, “Is Asta one?” Carol realizes that Bob is probably thinking of a DOG; out loud, she says “Contact!”

Dave, meanwhile, for some reason thinks Asta was a DRAGON. Dave also announces “Contact!”

At this point, the “master” is given a reasonable but short time — perhaps five seconds — to puzzle out a word that would match the questioner’s question. If the “master” thinks of such a word, they say out loud: “No, it’s not __.”

For example: Bob has asked his question “Is Asta one?” Carol and/or Dave have announced contact. Alice quickly replies, “No, it’s not a DOG.” Bob’s question fizzles. Now it is fair game for Carol or Dave to ask a new question, such as “Is it potentially harmful?”

Notice that the “master” might not think of the same word that the questioner had in mind; but as long as it’s a reasonable answer to the question, it counts.

For example, Alice might say “No, it’s not a DETECTIVE.” The players admit that that’s a fair answer, and Bob’s question fizzles. Of course, Bob might immediately ask again, “Is Asta one?” — Carol will probably say “Contact!” again, although Dave has now realized that he doesn’t know this reference and decides to keep quiet.

On the other hand, if the “master” cannot come up with any guess as to what word might match the questioner’s question, she must reluctantly issue a “Challenge.” The questioner and anyone who announced “Contact” count down in unison and then say the words they’re thinking of. If any contactee says the same word as the questioner, the players have just gained some ground! The “master” must reveal the next letter of the secret word. On the other hand, if nobody matches the questioner’s word (even if they match amongst each other), the question fizzles.

Bob asks, “Is Asta one?” Carol and Dave say “Contact!” Alice ponders for a short moment, then reluctantly announces, “Challenge.”

Bob, Carol, and Dave immediately count down: “Three, two, one, DOG!” (Actually, Dave says “Three, two, one, DRAGON!” and then has to live it down for the rest of the night.) Since Carol did indeed match Bob, Alice must give up a letter: “Okay, I’m thinking of a word beginning with D-I.”

Alternatively, if nobody announces “contact” with the questioner within a reasonable timeframe, then the question fizzles, and all the players just go back to thinking up possibilities for the master’s secret word.

By the way, the “master” is allowed to answer (and thus fizzle) an easy question immediately, without waiting for someone else to say “Contact!” There’s no strategic benefit to this, but it certainly makes things more fun.

By the way, when Bob says “Is Asta one?” and Carol says “Contact!” Alice might incorrectly answer something like “No, it’s not a DEBUTANTE,” indicating a misapprehension on her part. Honest mistakes are fine, but if Bob and Carol keep making contact on the Asta thing, eventually Alice will have to stop bullshitting and say “Challenge,” or face social consequences. Of course, if Bob is the only one at the table who gets the Asta reference, such that nobody says “Contact” to him, then Alice doesn’t have to answer Bob’s question at all.

The game ends when a challenge reveals the last letter of the word; or when someone makes contact on the secret word itself.

For example: Carol asks, “Is it very hard?”
Alice knows that in fact DIAMOND is very hard, but prefers to answer in a way that keeps her in the game: “No, it’s not DIFFICULT.”

Bob asks, “Is baseball played on it?”
Carol and Dave, in unison: “Contact!”
Alice: “No, it’s not… DIRECTTV?”

Dave: “Is it a suit of cards?”
Alice, seeing the writing on the wall, capitulates: “Yes, it’s a DIAMOND.”

Alternatively, Alice could have waited in silence after Dave’s question. Theoretically, if nobody makes contact, the question will fizzle. But the hook is set now.

Bob: “Contact!”
Alice: “…Challenge.”

Bob and Dave, in unison: “Three, two, one, DIAMOND!”
Alice: “Darn it, you got me. Yes, it’s a DIAMOND.”

The player who successfully guessed the secret word gets to be “master” for the next round.

Dave: “I’m thinking of a word that begins with E.”

Posted 2021-11-12