Tonight Jacinta and I and the older kids played Ticket to Ride. The game board is a map, and the pieces are railroad cars, and the goal is to build a network of railroads. At the beginning of the game, each player is assigned routes to accomplish, and beyond that a player wins more points for having more cars on the board, and an extra bonus for having the longest continuous chain of them. So there are a number of factors to keep in mind at once while deciding whether to draw more cards, lay down train pieces, or look at new routes: Am I making my assigned route? Am I keeping a line continuous? How do I maximize my number of cars?
Undaunted by the complexity of the situation, David the ten-year-old plugged away cheerfully. Towards the end of the game, with obvious pleasure, he used his turn to lay out two railroad cars that didn’t maximize his number of cars, didn’t keep the line continuous, and didn’t appear to make any headway toward any assigned route. “David, what are you doing?” his mother asked.
“I’m adding the feet to my flamingo,” he explained. And suddenly we all saw that David was winning his own private contest: all his railroad cars taken together made an elaborate picture of a long-legged bird.
The humor of the situation didn’t come just from the suddenness of the revelation, or from the untroubled contentment on David’s face. It was also funny because all of us with our long, continuous railways suddenly saw that–Hey! My cars don’t make a picture!