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Happy Little Trees

Most weekdays, I work in an office. There's no real reason for it – but it does grant me license to say "Yep" to a much higher salary range in telephone polls than I ever would have expected. Days when I don't get roped into sharing my lunchtime with colleagues, I share it with Richard Dawson and The Family Feud on GSN.

I love The Family Feud (at least the Dawson version). Every so often there's a category that's time-sensitive (such as, "Name a famous person with 'Lee' in their name," although I did better on that one than the people from the actual '70s) but usually you can easily play along at home. What's great about the game is that it's not about picking what you think the right answer is, it's about picking what most people would say. So it kind of overlaps with skills that are useful for two of my very favorite party games: Taboo! (where you have to think of words or phrases that people might associate with other words or phrases) and Outburst (where you have to name things from a category, just like on the Feud). My favorite part is the final round ("Big Money," as Dawson calls it), in which contestants get one chance to guess for each category, striving for the most popular answer they can think of. I'm really good at picking out what will be the #1 answer, and almost as good at predicting what score (0-100) will result from each of the contestant's guesses. Usually I can get it within +/- 6, which is pretty good considering this was thirty years ago.

Actually, that's my favorite part of the game – the best part of the show is undeniably Richard Dawson, who has been given a hard time for his antics on the show, but I find him endearing and hilarious. He does something that my dad sometimes does which is always funny (I doubt Dad got it from him, but who knows? This was the '70s.) – when a contestant gives an answer that sounds kind of strange, he'll turn it into an acronym when he calls it out to the big board. So, if you said "dish towel hanger," Dawson would turn to the board and call out, "Let's see the ol' D-T-H!" It has me in stitches every time. Also, he does a little wiggly-finger thing sometimes that I think is a W.C. Fields reference, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, I love watching the game, and I love shouting in food-spraying fury when the contestants violate my strict strategic rules for playing the Feud – which of course they almost always do; these rules are known only to me. They include minor things like, you should always choose to play a category in the rare case where two responses are revealed at the buzzer battle that begins each round. (This occurs if the first person to buzz in doesn't guess the top answer – then the other person gets a chance to try to name a higher answer, potentially revealing two answers before play has even begun.) This goes double if the #1 answer still hasn't been revealed, because theoretically it's the easiest one to guess, so you've basically got that one turned over also. So, fewer hidden responses still need to be guessed by your team. Alternatively, if the other person buzzes in and their answer is entirely wrong, and yours isn't the #1, it might be a good idea to "pass" (hand over play of that round to the other team). Also, when someone at the buzzer wins control of the round and turns to the family for advice – play vs. pass – the next three people in the line are the ones who need to respond. If they don't have good ideas in mind, they should say "pass" and the family member at the buzzer should weight their advice the most. Too often, the whole family is leaping and squealing "PLAY!" but then you come to the next person and s/he can't think of anything. Why didn't you say "pass," jackass?! You only get three strikes – if you can't depend on your first three teammates, you may as well pass the question and hope to steal. (Then everyone can pool their ideas.)

The most important rule, of course, is that the two players in the "Big Money" final round should be from different: genders, age ranges, households (as many of these as possible – some teams are all female, for example). The reason for this is that you don't know what questions will be asked. You want the greatest variety of answers so that you have a) a better chance at getting the most popular answer, and the most points; and b) a diminished chance at duplicating answers, which wastes time. If it's a sewing question and you've got two guys up there, you're unlikely to score big points. If it's a math question and you've got two girls, same thing. (Oh, I'm teasing; don't e-mail me.) Also, if it's "name a dishwasher detergent," and your husband-and-wife team are answering, they're both going to say the same product – theirs – which wastes time with a duplicate, but also it's entirely likely that they won't be able to think of another one, which also wastes points.

So, if you ever go on the Family Feud (and I love Richard Karn, but damn him to hell for usurping Dawson's rightful place!), print this out and take it with you. My strategies are proven: I used my Rock, Paper, Scissors strategy shortly after its publication and won huge. (Later, Tim Matheson followed suit on The West Wing.)

Anyway, weekdays at 1:00 when I wasn't nodding at my co-workers' "witty" remarks, I'd be watching Dawson yuk it up on The Family Feud. Until last week. GSN has switched its daytime schedule. Which – pardon the language – why the fuck would anybody do that?! Daytime programming is for shut-ins, housewives, and nannies (sometimes, all three). These are people who are slaves to routine. Days of Our Lives has aired in the same time slot since the Pleistocene, for crying out loud. Don't mess around with the daytime schedule. But now GSN is airing The Weakest Link at one (which – just... why?) and I haven't checked TiVo or the internets to find out where they've shuffled Dawson to.

And, on Thursday, when this first affected me, ESPN2 wasn't airing ping pong or curling or poker the way they usually are when I need a lunchtime bailout option. So I ended up watching The Joy of Painting with the late Bob Ross on KOCE. This wasn't really a last resort: I used to love watching his show as a teenager. (Unironically.) Same with Dragnet – I formed a deep connection with these sort of unashamed displays of sincerity and simple values. Anyway, the first thing that I was reminded of is that every time Bob lays a quick brushstroke onto the canvas, it immediately looks great. And then, as he builds on it, you realize that he's making it look even better! It never starts off as a blob; it is a perfectly recognizable cloud, and then the details come in. But, despite his considerable skill, the most important part of the show is his attitude. He's goofy and weird, but he totally gets it. He laughs at himself the whole way through – maybe not as hard as we're laughing, but he's far from oblivious. In this episode, he referred to the flung spume of a wave crashing against a rock as "little splasher-doers" and then chuckled that "that's something my son and I do sometimes, make up words." How adorable! Mom and I do that, too.

He's got a great message, too. He's filled with the joy of discovery. When you hear hack screenwriters talk about how they sit at the keyboard and wait for their characters to speak to them, it sounds so phony – but when Bob Ross paints his umpteenth seascape purely from his own imagination, he really is finding the elements of the scene as they present themselves to him. And he's so upbeat. He finds a way to enjoy the foundation work – sketching in the horizon, layering levels of inky ocean depths atop each other – and then once that's done, he's even more excited about the details. "Now," he says, smiling, "we can really have some fun." It's a refreshing viewpoint, and it's true: even in the most personal, creative pursuits, there always exists an amount of legwork that must be done. With his enthusiasm and anticipation, Bob makes this part fun, too.

As I've recently mentioned, there's a great deal of labor underlying the fun parts of the onebee redesign (or, as Andy has artfully dubbed it, the "re-bee"). And the Pixar slog will encompass countless hours of intricate setup work for every character, prop, or background of every scene – more hours than I can even imagine. I'm going to try to keep Bob Ross's philosophy in the front of my mind as I head in. Sometimes, a splasher-doer makes all the difference.

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