Five months (years?) into quarantine, my boyfriend and I have developed a primitive mode of communication.
Short phrases such as “lunch?”; “this clean?”; “Netflix? Babylon Berlin?”; and “need groceries” have replaced the lively conversations we once had when we didn’t spend every single moment together. A new game, developed by the creators of the wildly popular Exploding Kittens, hopes to help us develop our monosyllabic vocabulary—and give us a way to blow off steam from our quarantine frustration.
The premise behind Poetry for Neanderthals is simple: Contestants must describe something using only one-syllable sounds. If they make a mistake, another contestant can use an inflatable club to bonk them on the head.
Exploding Kittens cofounder Elan Lee, who was previously the chief design officer at Microsoft’s Xbox, says the idea was brought to him by some friends. “Some friends came to me and said, ‘What if you had to describe an experience, like falling in love or passing a driving test, with one-syllable words?’ It was really funny because immediately, your vocabulary goes down to almost zero and you sound like an idiot, but everyone listening to you is busting up laughing, trying to interpret what you’re describing,” Lee says.
From there, the team made the concepts to describe a little easier—writing them out as one word, like ‘broccoli’ on a deck of cards—so that people of all ages could play.
Cofounder Matt Inman, who created and continues to run The Oatmeal, one of most popular webcomics in the world, in addition to working as Exploding Kittens’s cofounder, says, “As we started playing that version, we realized that we all sound like cavemen, and it’s kind of this weird, clunky version of poetry. So let’s call the game Poetry For Neanderthals, and that’s how it was born.” He adds, “This is as if we gave you something like the New York Times but made you spell like a third grader.”
While Lee immediately saw that the game would be perfect for families to play as they are quarantined, getting it manufactured quickly was another matter. “We hit go on this game in February, and it came out in June—the production cycle was super fast,” Lee says. “It was hard get the inflatable clubs manufactured, because inflatables are all made in China, which was dealing with the coronavirus so everything was shut down.” Eventually, the team split their orders between multiple production plants, even teaching some plants how to make inflatables where they hadn’t before.
Poetry For Neanderthals comes at a time when people may have exhausted the TV shows they want to stream, and when it can be difficult to concentrate on reading a book. “I think people are stuck at home with each other, driving each other bonkers,” Inman says. “People are bored, and they’re lonely and they need something to do interact with their family other than watching TV. This game is good for that.”
Inman says that the game can even be played over Zoom. “We just bonk the camera with the inflatable club—everything else is talking so it’s fine.”