When Dennis and Gary first sat down to flesh out what would turn out to be the original version of Who Knew?, they knew one thing for certain; they wanted a game about conversation to spark conversation. The inspiration behind this game was the way certain phrases and quotes made people think, and so it was important that the game itself live up to that inspiration.
This was the main reason that Who Knew? became a multiple-choice game. It doesn’t hurt that being multiple-choice helps place a player in a more comfortable position, knowing that they at least have a chance at guessing the correct answer. But truly, it was important to both Dennis and Gary that Who Knew? spark curiosity, conversation and debate between players, because these kinds of social settings inspire learning and form deeper bonds between individuals.
But multiple-choice is easier said than done.
When I came on to help revamp a game that had already been produced back in the 90’s, I had half the work done for me already. Like I said, Who Knew? was already a published game. The cards were already written. Sure, we were adding more current quotes and we knew that we wanted to sharpen up the writing that was already done, but the bulk of the work was already done…at least I thought.
Hours of fact checking, double-fact checking and then checking them again was for starters. You have to make sure that your actual answers are accurate answers. Once that is done, you have to then come up with realistic, exciting and interesting ‘faux’ answers in order to make the multiple-choice aspect of the game really feel like an asset to gameplay. A poorly researched and poorly written fake answer can tank an entire card, unfortunately. The approach to each category was important, as well, because each category had a different set of requirements and problems.
Quotes are fun. People say so many interesting things; whether because they are insightful and thought provoking or because they are absolutely ridiculous. One thing we needed to keep in mind while constructing these ‘answers’ was that we try and add enough variety so as to make each one feel fresh. I remember calling Gary up alarmed that, after doing a count, I realized we had used a certain Marilyn Monroe nine different times in the game. We couldn’t have that. But, we also needed to make sure that we used recognizable names. We didn’t want to inspire blind guessing, because that takes away from the whole conversational aspect of the game. If you don’t know who the options are, then there is no debate as to whether or not they would make sense as a possible answer. Finding names that fit the quote but that also filled a wide range of eras, occupations and personalities was hard work, but certainly worth the time.
The biggest problem faced when compiling our options for the Say What? category (where the player guesses what the idiom means) was making sure that we didn’t just offer up variations of the same answer. There is a fine line in the use of words to create a ‘different’ meaning that is close enough to actually be deceptive.
And yes, the D answers are all incorrect and there to serve as a laugh, bur believe it or not, some have actually guessed them as the answer.
And then we came to the origin category. Origin stories can be so interesting, and this was no exception. For example, have you ever heard the expression, “How Now, Brown Cow”? You probably notice it as an elocution phrase used by teachers in grade school to teach rounded vowel sounds. You’ve probably heard lots of little ones repeating the phrase over and over, but that phrase didn’t originate with such youthful meaning. In fact, the phrase dates back an 18th century Scottish expression that most likely meant to call for another round of beer. With such interesting and surprising origins (although, when you think about it, ‘brown cow’ and beer makes sense) came the challenge of creating fake origins that actually made sense and were almost more believable than the actual correct answers.
And let’s not even get into the challenge of writing them in such a way that they conveyed the whole idea without being too wordy. I think we rewrote each and every card at least ten times before we felt like they were right.
But all of that work paid off when we sat down to play our refurbished version of Who Knew? for the first time and realized that everyone playing had a good time, learned a thing or two and laughed a lot. That’s what counts, right!