Saturday, February 24, 2007


Edwardian Mad Libs

I'm on NPR Weekend Edition today to talk about one of my odder recent finds: an Edwardian version of Mad Libs. (And yes, I got Scott Simon to play!)

Mad Libs were famously created in the living room of Leonard Stern and Roger Price in 1953, when the two were working as writers for The Honeymooners. But it turns out our Edwardian great-grandparents were playing the exact same game in their parlors. Utterly forgotten today, around 1912 London publishers released Revelations of My Friends, a cleverly designed book of paired perforated pages to pass around to friends at a party. The top page contained cut outs directing them to write in place names, terms of abuse, numbers, and so forth:

Open it up at the perforation, and the page below revealed their life story with nonsense words filled in at appropriately embarrassing spots. Such as this one, for instance:

...the original Mad Lib!

The book was one of a series. The Fortunes of My Friends invited friends to calculate a magic number based on their initials; this corresponded to a page and a fortune within the book. The Truth About My Friends simply used a flap over a page. Autograph the bottom and lift the flap, and you discover you've signed your name to such "Truths" as "I am very conceited!" or "I have Socialist tendencies!" Very scandalous for 1915, no doubt. My copy of Truths has a page razored out -- presumably by someone none too pleased with what they signed. Another page revealing "I like naughty stories!" has a signature that's been crossed out.

While Mad Libs now release tie-in editions for The Office and Napoleon Dynamite, "Revelations of My Friends" remains rather more of its time. For one thing, it has a charming art-nouveau cover...

...for another, its stories begin with such sentiments as "I am an ardent Suffragette." But few surviving copies are ever entirely filled in. Unperforated pages remain, waiting for Proper Nouns, Terms of Abuse, and Favorite Colors... waiting, almost a century later, to reveal a truth about your friends.

If, at least, your friends happen to be suffragettes.

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