10:21:36 pm on
Sunday 15 Dec 2019

Clueless Conduct
David Simmonds

Have you ever been in a situation where something goes horribly wrong and it’s obvious to all concerned that it’s entirely your fault? I recently found myself in such circumstances. It involved a casual game of Clue.


Clue, is a board game that’s been around since 1949.

The board design shows nine rooms of a country house: the Conservatory, the Ballroom, the Library and so on. There are six characters, such as Professor Plum and Miss Scarlet, one of whom has committed a murder. The murder weapon is one of six implements, such as the Rope, the Candlestick and the Lead Pipe. The murder victim is the mansion owner, the unfortunately named Mr Boddy, who plays no part in the game, which is just as well because, after all, he is dead.

The object of the game is to deduce which one of those six characters committed the murder, with which implement and in which room. Each character, weapon and room has a representative card. At the outset of a game, one card from each pile of weapon, room and character, goes into a Confidential Case File envelope; the piles are face-down and selection is ostensibly random. Dealing the remaining cards among the players is the final step in setting up a game of Clue.

Each player then mines the others for clues to the solution by suggesting to the person to his or her left that the murderer may be, say, Mr. Green, with the Revolver in the Study. If the suggestee has one of the cards, he or she shows it to the suggester, privately. If he or she has none, then the player goes to next person in line.

As the questioning proceeds, you slowly gain insight into what cards each player holds. Get enough answers to your suggestions and you can deduce what’s in the Confidential Case File. You can then use your turn to accuse, formally, a person, with a specific weapon and in a particular room. You consult the Confidential Case File, without revealing its contents to the other players. If you are right, you win the game. If you are wrong, you keep the details to yourself, put the cards back in the Confidential Case File and forfeit your chance to win.


Black and white or grey areas led to suspense.

Some of the information you obtain by this questioning is black and white: if an opponent has shown you a card, you can cross that one off your suspect list. There are also grey areas. You don’t know if your opponent holds either of the two other cards about which you asked, because he or she only has to show you one card, and will show you the same card again if asked about it. Another player watching the transaction can only guess which of the three cards the suggester has been shown..

All of which is to say that the game is usually fun, although it can quickly get quite complex. So when a friend dropped by recently and said he had just heard about the game and wondered what it was all about, I jumped at the chance to show it to him, dragging my wife in as well.

I carefully explained the rules to him, no doubt in a somewhat patronizing tone. I dealt the cards intro three piles, one for each of the murderer, the weapon and the room. I then took each pile and shuffled it, face down, selected one card at random from each pile. Then I put those three cards in the Confidential Case File. I dealt the remaining cards among the three of us and the game began.

After a while, a problem developed. I had eliminated all six weapons as the murder weapon, but that was not possible because it had to be one of them. I thought my note taking must be faulty. I went over familiar ground but came up with the same result. My game mates began to get restless and commented on how we seemed to be going round in circles.

Eventually, with an I-can’t-take-this-any-more expression on his face, my friend summoned the courage to make a formal accusation. He opened the Confidential Case File. He looked puzzled at first, then frowned and then scowled. How, he asked, could a murder be committed in two rooms and without a weapon?

It was my turn to scowl and then turn ashen. Obviously, in assembling the piles from which cards went into the Confidential Case File, I mixed one of the room cards in with the weapon cards; that card became the weapon card. I had not checked that the cards were first in their appropriate piles. Because the cards were confidential until the end of the game, nobody had an opportunity to check my mistake. The blame lay entirely on my shoulders. I had nowhere to run and hide my shame.

I had just caused my friend and my wife to spend an hour of their lives trying to make sense out of something that was inherently nonsense, It was an hour they could have spent fighting global climate change or listening to George Jones records. Of course, they were gracious about it, but I suspect my clueless conduct will come back to haunt me if I someday blithely assert that of course I turned off the stove before I left the house. It hasn’t done wonders for my self-confidence either.


I lost my chance to hold world Clue championship at my home.

To the makers of Clue, I am sorry but I have failed to recruit a new devotee, have effectively ruled out any chance of a major Clue tournament being held at my house anytime soon and may be responsible for a major sales slump in the coming months. I hope that you have done well enough with the game over the past seventy years that my transgression will not matter in the big scheme of things.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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