A Workplace Diversion
Published on January 24, 2012 by guest author: Tatiana Zarnowski

We all need a little diversion in the office.

Something simple, fast and that requires some thought, but not too much.

About three months ago, two newsroom co-workers and I hit on a game that keeps them mockingly competitive while I pretend to be an impartial referee.

We call it The Game, and it's a quiz of celebrity ages that I draw up as I'm compiling our newspaper's gossip column once a week. I present my co-workers with a list of celebs in the news, usually between three and seven of them, and they guess each person's age.

It's fun, but also fairly serious. As soon as I say, "I'm ready for the game when you are," both of them stop what they're doing and look up from their computers. One takes out a sheet of paper to keep score for herself. This co-worker doesn't
have a TV or high-speed Internet at home and is unabashedly out of touch with popular culture. For example, I named Tracy Morgan and mentioned he was in the TV show "30 Rock."

"'30 Rock?' she said. "I've heard of '3rd Rock,' but not '30 Rock.'"

So I'll call her Underdog.

Underdog throws out random ages when she doesn't know the celebrity, and she usually guesses "72" for at least one person on the list, after we made fun of her for thinking Steve Martin was in his 70s. She also once placed Morgan Freeman in his 50s, which sent my other co-worker and I into gales of laughter.

"Think about how old you are," said my other co-worker, whom I'll call Top Dog. "You're 53. How much older than you is Morgan Freeman?"

Top Dog watches several movies a week and owns an extensive music library; I figure she's pretty much an expert on all celebrities other than country music singers and teenage TV stars. She furrows her brow and gazes into the distance in
thought every time I say a name, then pronounces her guess without wavering. She's the first to mock Underdog for a wayward guess.

It's a given that Top Dog is going to win most of the time. She's won 11 times since I started keeping a tally on my cubicle wall. Each week after we play The Game, I remove the sheet from the wall, mark down the winner's name and the date with the seriousness of a sports official, and return it to its spot next to my calendar.

But Top Dog's not doing as well as one would guess. Underdog has won nine times, and as much as I'm supposed to be impartial, I have found myself rooting for Underdog. I delight in the fact that for all of Top Dog's bravado, Underdog isn't
that far behind. Her seemingly random guesses hit the mark more than Top Dog would like to admit.

Back to Tracy Morgan: Underdog guessed 42, one year less than his age, while Top Dog aimed too high at 45.

I'm not a gambling woman, but the thrill of Underdog's random correct answers makes me want to toss a couple of bucks on the table.

But there's a problem with rooting for Underdog: If she tips the balance and starts winning more games, I'm going to have to start rooting for Top Dog. That's the way it works when you root for the underdog. Also, with her Game skills becoming stronger, Underdog is started to get a mite full of herself. Underdog won 3-2 after correctly guessing Morgan, taking Heidi
Klum on the nose (despite saying she didn't know who Klum was until a day before) and guessing within one year of Garth Brooks' age.

"He has an achy-breaky heart, right?" she asked when I named Brooks.

"No," Top Dog moaned. "That's Billy Ray Cyrus."

Top Dog got the last two right, nailing Bo Jackson's age and getting closer to Ted Nugent's age than Underdog did.

"[Underdog] still wins," I pronounced at the end.

"Because I am awesome," Underdog gloated.

"Oh my God," Top Dog said. "This is ridiculous."

Yeah, it pretty much is. Ridiculous that the random guesses hit the mark, while all of Top Dog's pop culture knowledge can only get her wins half the time.

Ridiculous that I spend time every Monday afternoon writing down celebrity names and checking their ages on Wikipedia. And ridiculous that my two intelligent, rational co-workers become primally competitive over something that doesn't matter at all.

Still, we all look forward to it.

And that's the whole point of an office diversion, right?

Tatiana Zarnowski lives in Ballston Spa, N.Y., and has recently learned the ages of Vera Wang, Seal and Kirsten Dunst.

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