They’ve Got Game  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   January/February 2003

They’ve Got Game   

The craziest headlines win in a new game created by journalists

By Carla Correa
Carla Correa is a former AJR editorial assistant.     


A tabloid-esque headline like "Blind thug snubs crooked cop" may provoke a few grimaces--maybe even a libel suit--at most newspapers. But in the new card game "Man Bites Dog," it scores major points.

New York Post TV editor Michael Shain, retired Post crime reporter Mike Pearl and retired Young & Rubicam Senior Art Director and Vice President Tony Carillo created the game that allows news aficionados and novices alike to get a taste of copydesk creativity. It went on sale this fall.

Players are dealt five cards sporting random words and phrases that they must use together to form a headline. The more tabloidy the words--meaning, the sexier or the more shocking--the higher their point value. For example, run-of-the-mill things like "Wall St." and "Feds" earn zero points, but "mayor" or "actor" would score five, while "slays," "intern" and "cruel" grab 10. The big 50-point prize is reserved for words like "naked," "revealed" and "bizarre," the kind of stuff that makes a headline writer drool. The more juicy words players can pile into a head, the more points they score, and the first player to net 500 wins.

You're off to a good start if your hand can produce something like "340 lb. urologist stabs blind nun," which is worth 200 points.

"The main idea was to show that in the newspaper world there were certain ideas and concepts that sold papers better than others," Shain says. "A blond woman has more interest than a brunette. 'Sex scandal' has more impact than 'school board,' babies more impact than headlines about lawyers and politicians."

"Man Bites Dog" sells for about $10 in stores and on www.areyougame.com.

University Games spokeswoman Deborah Castro expected to sell about 25,000 copies by the end of 2002.

"It's a lot of fun when we play it with journalists," says Pearl, who spent more than 30 years at the Post. "They get more involved. They get into arguments, make up their own rules, debate whose headline is better."

The trio originally designed a headline-oriented board game in the mid-1980s, when they began noticing people's fascination with the bold type big-city tabloids are famous for. "We'd say we work for the Post," Shain says, "and they'd say, 'Who writes your headlines?' "

Shain and Pearl devised the game while Carillo, father of former Post reporter and columnist Charles Carillo, drew on his print advertising background and helped with the design. They eventually ditched the complicated board game idea, but sold the newer card version in September to University Games, makers of Colorforms and toys featuring Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter, for an undisclosed amount--not enough to quit their day jobs. "It's not going to change our lifestyles one bit," Shain says.

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