Time killers: The 1964 guide to hut games

February 20


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How to win friends and battle boredom in the WiFi-less purgatory that is a backcountry hut.

A BACKCOUNTRY HUT IS A TOUGH PLACE FOR AN INTROVERT. NO MATTER HOW REMOTE, THERE’S ALWAYS THE CHANCE YOU’LL BE SHARING YOUR SHELTER WITH STRANGERS, AND YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO HAVE TO TALK TO THEM.

Huts are a social experiment, one made extra treacherous by the ever-dangling threat that you’ll be trapped together for a week due to some sort of New Zealand- ish weather event like unseasonable snow, horrifying gales or rivers made impassable by Biblical rains. You may need strategies. Fortunately, over the years, Aotearoa’s 1000-plus public huts have served as an incubator for the development of a range of breaking-the-ice and passing-the-time activities guaranteed to have the most hermetic of loners high-fiving their hut- mates in no time. Here are some of the 1964 team’s favourites.

TABLE BOULDERING

You are one of two kinds of people in the world when playing this game: someone who is an actual rock climber who can probably wrangle it, or someone who is not. The objective is simple. Cling to the bottom of a table using your hands and heels, then, without touching the ground (it’s lava), get yourself onto the top. Other than the lava-ground, there are no rules. Dirty knees, double heel hooks and any other questionable moves are all on the table, even if you aren’t. Only to be attempted outside of mealtimes, unless your hut-mates enjoy a side of foot with their dehydrated stew. – KP

“it’s the intellectual equivalent of a cheap-ass metal detector”

CARD GAMES

They’re the standard for a reason. Cards are light, small and capable of entertaining from one to more than ten people from any country in the world (a great ice- breaker if you want to meet that Swedish backpacker). Depending on your energy levels, settle in for a cuppa and some hearts, spades, crib or rummy. Or for kids and exhausted adults, you can’t go past war, goldfish and slap jacks. If you happen to be descended from river-boat-gamblers and can’t feel anything without a little heat on the line, I recommend gambling for treats via Texas hold’em on day five of a seven-day trip. You can’t beat the thrill of raking in all the M&Ms when you hit your open ended straight flush draw. – NW

“Huts are a social experiment.”

N E V E R  H A V E  I  E V E R

Traditionally played as a drinking game by binge-ing youngsters, this is also a great way to kill time. Everyone starts by holding up five fingers. A player then offers up a thing they have never done before, and the others must fold a finger if they have done that thing. My personal go to is, “Never have I ever weighed less than ten pounds.” (Let that sink in for a moment. My poor mother.) Anyone who weighed less than ten pounds at birth then has to fold down a finger.

It’s surprising how truthful people will be when the verbal contract was nothing more than, “Sure, I’ll play.” You can either win by keeping five fingers standing, or by being the first one “out”. One suggests you’re “boring”; the other lets on how “fun” you are. – KP

TRIVIAL PURSUIT

A box of Trivial Pursuit cards weighs 710 grams, which is about the same as a one-litre water bottle, three quarters full. Like life- giving liquid, Trivial Pursuit is worth the burden. Featuring 6000 questions organised into six categories (Geography, Sports and Leisure, Arts and Literature, Entertainment, Science and Nature, and History), it looks on the surface like a test of intelligence. It’s not. Like the best pub quizzes, it’s the intellectual equivalent of a cheap-ass metal  detector set to ping at fragments of deeply buried factual detritus. Get the original 1981 edition for delightfully obscure fare like “What did a deaner’s worth of potatoes cost in 1960?” (one shilling) and out-of-date answers. “What country borders the most others?” The Soviet Union, according to 40 years ago. – LW

PASS THE PIGS

An addictive and rowdy cult classic. Each player scores points by tossing two plastic pigs, which land in positions such as the razorback, trotter, snouter or leaning jowler (side statistical note, a double leaning jowler is less probable than a royal flush). It’s a game where experience seems to have a negative impact, and players of any age are equally likely to walk away the top tosser. Just one “makin’ bacon” can bring devastation, while a single “pig out” can crush your dreams. – NW

A RAZORBACK AND A TROTTER. 5+5=10 POINTS. PHOTO: NATHAN WEATHINGTON

THE PSYCHOLOGIST

This game requires nothing more than a few people and someone who is willing to become infuriated. One person in the group is designated “the psychologist”, and it is their objective to figure out the rules of the game by asking penetrating questions of the other players. To start, the psychologist is sent out of the room. You then explain the rules to everyone else. There is, in fact, only one: you must answer questions from the psychologist as if you are answering for the person on your left. This creates a special bond between the players, whether they are life-long friends, or strangers who have just met. The psychologist then comes back in, and as they ask questions like, “Do you have kids?”, each person, with a shit-eating grin, responds as if they are the individual to their left. The game ends when the psychologist either guesses the rule, or flips a table over in frustration. – KP

MEMBERS OF SHACKLETON’S NIMROD EXPEDITION GATHER ‘ROUND THE GRAMOPHONE. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

DRINKING

If anyone knew about passing time in the middle of nowhere, it was Ernest Shackleton. During one failed Antarctic expedition, his ship, Endurance, was crushed by the sea
ice, and he and his boatless crew ended up stranded for two years in the most remote place on earth. Luckily, Shackleton prepared well for such eventualities. As well as ample army biscuits and tinned ox tongues, he always brought along diversions like a gramophone, multiple chess sets, and, apparently, a whole lot of hooch. While working on the restoration of Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds, staff from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust found five cases of whiskey frozen in the ice outside. Excessive alcohol is obviously not good for you, and we don’t want to encourage anything harmful. But there’s something to be said for learning from the master. – LW


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1964: mountain culture / aotearoa is a reader-supported magazine that explores Aotearoa New Zealand’s remote places and the people who seek them out. Working with more than thirty artists, photographers, writers, woodworkers and welders, we advocate for and support Aotearoa’s creatives.

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