Monday, March 24, 2008

Bread, Butter, and Jest a Little Jam

Back in high school, I frittered away far too much of my time on (but made a bit of money from) something called Jest-a-Minute (JAM). I was surprised to see little documentation of this on the Web (though Felix Klock II pointed me to something similar at the BBC).

Anyway, here’s how it worked in my circle.

Six contestants sit in a semi-circle, and each is equipped w/ a buzzer (or its low-tech equivalent, a steel chair, that the participant can thump with vigor to dramatic effect). The contestants take turns. The judge reads aloud a title, usually something a little ridiculous (eg, “Bread, Butter, and Traffic Jam”). The contestant whose turn it is has to begin speaking on the topic within one second.

While the contestant speaks, the others can object. Contestants object by buzzing (or thumping); the judge decides which contestant objected first, and asks for the objection; if the objection is sustained the objector begins speaking, else the previous speaker resumes.

Scoring: every second you speak scores you 1 point. Every sustained objection gets you 5-10 points (and control of the mic). Every overruled objection loses you 5-10 points. Whoever is speaking when the buzzer goes off at second 60 gets a bonus of 10-15 points no matter how long they have spoken, except...if you manage to speak a whole minute without any objections sustained, you get a whomping bonus (100-500 points).

The unwritten rule is that the speaker has to strive to be funny. Judges and audiences are sympathetic to speakers who kept it lively. On the other hand, judges are smart-alecks who don’t too much appreciate being out-smart-alecked by participants.

Categories of objections (all subject to the judge’s opinion):

  • pause
  • stutter or stammer
  • repetition (words, phrases, concepts)
  • ungrammatical speech
  • irrelevant speech (no connection with the given title)
  • and the catch-all, “TWT” (time-wasting tactics)

Speakers can try to defend themselves. For instance, if they appear to pause for longer than the normal time between words and someone objects, they can respond, “I was at a comma” or “I was at a period”. They would then be obliged to resume accordingly. Well, they aren’t required to, but if they don’t, someone could object that they were ungrammatical and that objection would be sustained.

A good contestant stretches the limit. If, for instance, I had said “The world is—” and was interrupted, but the objection was overruled, I could resume with “The world is”. If someone then objected to a repeition or TWT, the judge would find that unfair and overrule that objection too. But if I again began with “The world is” and someone again objected to a repetition or TWT, the objection would be sustained (usually with a sarcastic remark by the judge).

For advanced rounds, judges sometimes throw in twists: eg, no sentence can be logically tied to its predecessor, or no-one may use words that begin with a particular letter. Needless to say, these result in general mayhem: like the closing minutes of an American football game, it can take 10-15 minutes to get through a “minute”.

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