A colleague recently drew my attention to a story that ran in The Times a couple of years ago about the late 1960s board game Group Therapy, in which players take turns drawing cards that pose intimate questions and psychological challenges. (A sample: “You have been accused of overintellectualizing your hang-ups. Respond — without falling victim to that criticism.”)
The story’s author, Juli Weiner, insists that the game is great fun, that any awkwardness is paradoxically dissipated by the fact that every single thing about the game is awkward, and therefore nothing about it is. There are only hiccups, she argues, “when someone refuses to grant themselves permission to be awkward — the psychological equivalent of being the only person in the sauna clinging to the towel.”
This is my kind of good time. As a child, I loved the board game Scruples and “The Book of Questions,” social experiments masquerading as parlor games. As an adult, I find corporate icebreakers mildly thrilling — What’s your favorite cereal? What was your first job? — anything that gives people permission to bypass small talk and talk about themselves.
I’m thinking about games because it’s been too hot for picnics, for long walks and bike rides, for the usual summer pastimes. Group Therapy and its ilk may be too emotionally heavy for family game night, but, as many found during the early months of the pandemic, you don’t need much to create hours of diversion.
When it’s more comfortable inside than out, when you’ve streamed all there is to stream, try a game of Charades or Celebrity, low-tech entertainment requiring just your wits and a few rules. Perhaps a talky party game like Scattergories or Taboo? Or go old-school: Monopoly. Uno. A deck of playing cards.
For solitary pursuits, The Times has a bunch of good games that I swear I’d recommend to you even if I didn’t work here. I’m partial to the crossword (I’m part of the team that tests them before publication), but most people I know are Spelling Bee addicts. The weekly news quiz, written by my colleagues at The Morning, is a nerdy delight. (And the internet sensation Wordle will soon be a board game.)
While it seems like, everywhere you turn, normal behavior is being exhaustingly gamified (see: Waze, exercise trackers), there’s still pleasure to be found in inventing games out of thin air as the inspiration arises. As any kid who has ever been dared to make the bed in under three minutes can attest, a challenge makes things interesting.
What are your favorite games? Tell me about them.
THE WEEK IN CULTURE
📺 “The Last Movie Stars” (streaming on HBO Max): While another documentary about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward might have focused on their acting careers and their half-century marriage, this six-part series, directed by Ethan Hawke, adds a unique spin. During the height of the pandemic, Hawke gathered Hollywood pals (George Clooney, Laura Linney, Sam Rockwell, Zoe Kazan …) on Zoom to read from decades-old transcripts of interviews for a scrapped Newman memoir. The resulting film is a fascinating look at stardom, marriage and artistic legacy.
📚 “The Daughter of Dr. Moreau” (out now): Many of us have experienced that wonderful moment of discovering an author and wanting to follow along wherever they go. That’s how I felt after reading the eerie novel “Mexican Gothic” by the genre-hopping writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Her imagination “is a thing of wonder,” The Times’s horror columnist, Danielle Trussoni, wrote. That remains true in her new book, a reimagining of the H.G. Wells science-fiction classic.
🎧 “Renaissance” (Friday): Perhaps you’ve heard that Beyoncé has a new album on the way. This is her first solo studio album since the 2016 instant classic “Lemonade.” One track here is titled “Plastic Off the Sofa,” which is a thing my grandmother would never have approved of.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Heirloom Tomato Tart
In the midst of a heat wave, turning on the oven to bake anything — even Vallery Lomas’s gorgeous heirloom tomato tart — might be an absolutely terrifying idea. But not if you have a large-ish toaster oven, which can get the job done without overheating your kitchen. So I made one this week with some store-bought pesto and the first heirloom tomatoes of the season. I took a tip from commenters and salted the tomatoes as they drained. Not only does this season them through and through, it also helps draw out the moisture, resulting in a firmer, easier-to-slice tart. Then I savored it with a crisp salad and a cold beverage — all without ever breaking a sweat. Or, if cooking anything is just out of the question, we’ve got loads of no-cook recipes to get you through these next few fiery days.
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What you get for $1.8 million: An 1838 cottage in East Hampton, N.Y.; a bungalow in Miami Shores, Fla.; or a house in Richmond, Va.
The hunt: She had a $700,000 budget and wanted to live in Brooklyn. Which home did she choose? Play our game.
Have a seat: Conversation pits are back.
Working near home: Apartment buildings are offering co-working spaces as amenities.
Houston Astros vs. Seattle Mariners, M.L.B.: The Mariners haven’t made the playoffs in 20 seasons, the longest drought in baseball. But this season is starting to feel special. Going into this week’s All-Star break, the Mariners had won 14 straight games. Then, in the Home Run Derby, their star rookie, Julio Rodríguez, smashed more than 60 homers in the first two rounds. Will he help break a streak that’s nearly as old as he is? Today at 4 p.m. on FS1.