Suzanne Tobias

March 26, 2014

Parents require a power-up to keep up on pop culture references

I’ll take away lots of good memories from this year’s Wichita State basketball season, including one that has nothing to do with basketball.

I’ll take away lots of good memories from this year’s Wichita State basketball season, including one that has nothing to do with basketball.

While covering the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis, my colleague Rick Plumlee happened upon a cluster of Shocker fans waiting outside the arena one chilly morning. They were passing time playing something called Heads Up, he tweeted.

Rick didn’t know anything about the game, only that it somehow involved cellphones held up against students’ heads. Turns out, it was a popular game app created by Ellen Degeneres – a modernized version of Catch Phrase that creates videos as you play and allows you to share them via Facebook.

You know, if you read this column regularly, that I happen to love games. Doesn’t matter if it’s chess or Tenzi or Tobias-tested family favorites, if ever someone says, “Hey, you wanna try this new game I just got?” my answer is usually … often … definitely yes.

Because the Heads Up app costs only 99 cents, I downloaded it quicker than you can say, “Which category?” And because my 13-year-old son, Jack, loves games nearly as much as I do, we spent the next couple of hours playing it.

We got pretty good, especially with the “Animals Gone Wild” category. As I shouted clues, Jack guessed tick, clam, coral, grizzly bear, cub, boa constrictor, blue whale and chicken in less than a minute. For the final word, I didn’t even have to speak. I merely raised my left foot, rested it on my right knee, and boom! Flamingo! We’re just that like-minded.

We also scored high with “Accents & Impressions.” Jack delivered passionate impressions of a gangster, Transylvanian, C3PO and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his clue for Scottish – “Get in mah belleh!” – was especially inspired.

Then we downloaded the “Video Game Land” add-on deck, and things went downhill.

“It’s a game where you play as a magician that has a staff, and you jump around and kill people,” Jack said, describing something called “Devil May Cry.”

“No idea,” I said.

“It’s mostly known by its acronym?”

“Again,” I shook my head. “No idea.”


“In Mario, it’s a mushroom,” Jack tried again, describing the term 1-Up. “A green mushroom is a …?”

“Uhhh. A power?” I said.

“A green mushroom gives you a …?”

“A life?”

“Another word for life in video games is a …?


“Ugh! Terrible! Pass!”

Jack tried once more with Disney Infinity, another game I’d never heard of.

“It’s the new game that’s out now? Where you put figures on a platform?”

“Oh!” I screamed. “Tetris!”

Jack sighed and laid his head on the table. He didn’t say it out loud, but his expression shouted loud and clear: “Why are you so OLD?!”

The buzzer sounded and Jack shook his head. “You got none,” he said. “None!”

I suddenly understood how my kids must have felt when we played Trivial Pursuit over Thanksgiving, and I successfully answered a question about Frank Sinatra’s signature “doo-be-doo-be-doo.”

“Strangers in the Night!” I remember shouting. “Gah! How can anyone not know that?!”

Frank Sinatra? I remember whispering as the kids stared blankly. Ol’ Blue Eyes? “That’s Life”? “My Way”?

They finally recognized my crooning, leg-kicking version of “New York, New York,” but only vaguely and only because they heard it after the ball dropped on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”

For years I’ve used these game-playing episodes as teaching moments. Even in Heads Up there are terms like Marlon Brando and Astro Jetson that my children don’t recognize.

But more and more – whether it’s with video games, document-based questions, Our Second Life or new math – I’m the one staring blankly. They’re the ones teaching, or just shaking their heads, and I’m the one learning.

Either way, thank goodness, we find ways to laugh and have fun. We clear the board, reload the app, shake our heads, try again.

Everybody can use a 1-Up.

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