The Greatest Game Ever Played (Probably)
Month of Collecting, Day 16, Y17. We're at 703 issues of the Neopian Times, folks! The news archives indicate that our beloved periodical got started on the 25th Day of Sleeping, Y2. This issue comes just a few months shy of the Times' 16th birthday—16 years of our collective material. I don't know about you guys, but I think that's pretty darn cool!
My journey as a Neopian Times writer began on the 9th Day of Swimming, Y6, with a short story about Xenon, the eldest of my Kyrii, and his loyal Anubis, Jack. Since then, I've contributed a small sundry of stuff; with this article, I will have been published a total of 11 times. And since this issue of the Times comes hot on the heels of #700, I feel like I owe you all something a bit personal, deeper—some sort of reflection on myself as your fellow Neopian, y'know?
Across the years I've spent as part of this strange and wonderful world, my fortunes have ebbed and flowed. I've never been good at making Neopoints by playing games; I never thought of anything nifty to enter into the Random Contest while it was still around; and for all the times I've entered my pets in the Beauty Contest, I've won scarce few trophies—none gold. Still, I feel like things have mostly been looking up for me. I never thought that I'd have a pet with stats in the triple digits, but Xenon did it. I was also sure that I'd never be able to afford expensive paint brushes, but I now have a cross-painted Draik!
I think the greatest change to my luck, however, has been an increased boldness, the daring to push past my comfort zone and explore new things to do in Neopia. I'd always written off various activities as too hard without even giving myself a shot at them; these included Neoquest (which, to be fair, I'm still slogging my way through in Insane! mode), Cellblock, earning the gold Pyramids trophy, and Cheat!
In fact, I'm going to tell you a story about Cheat!, about a single game that I once watched Xenon play. It took less than ten minutes, and yet it stands head and shoulders above all else as the embodiment of what a roller coaster my decade-plus here has been.
* * *Month of Hiding, Day 24, Y15, 9:20 AM. At this point in my life, my sleep schedule was much like Jelly World: non-existent. If I was ever awake this early, it was because I'd already been up all night and I still wasn't ready to surrender to my brain's aggressive melatonin assault. It was the same with Xenon, so we were a two-person team of dubious consciousness as he sat down at the Cheat! table that morning and I settled in to observe.
To Xenon's left sat Branston; across from him sat Chuffer Bob; and to his right sat Brucey B. The game began like any other: Xenon chose the starting card value, and the usual cycle of truths, lies, and accusations progressed.
Then something inexplicable happened.
In a usual game of Cheat!, the pile rarely gets much larger than 15 or so cards—it's frequently picked up and restarted as the game goes on. But this time, everyone suddenly felt compelled to avoid the pile at all costs, as if it was a coiled Reptillior ready to strike. So it grew. And grew. And grew. Oh, sure, they all knew that each of their rivals was lying through his teeth as he laid his cards on the table, but who was going to risk evoking the wrath of the terrifying pile beast?
That brave soul was none other than Brucey B. Perhaps his lucky coin was speaking to him, because he locked eyes with Xenon as the Kyrii tried to pass a two for a nine and declared, with no hesitation, “Cheater!”
Let me do some math for you, dear reader:
As Xenon put down that fateful card, he had a hand of seven cards. The pile consisted of 34 cards. When Brucey B revealed his deception, he was suddenly juggling a hefty hand of 41 cards. There are always 52 cards in total; this means that he had roughly 79% of the deck to dispose of, and he had to do it before everyone else—who each had five or fewer cards—if he wanted to win.
Here's a visual, because words alone do not adequately convey that sense of utter failure.
But Xenon kept playing. Even grossly sleep-deprived, his persistence and wit rapidly shrank his hand to three cards—all Jacks. Then, a small miracle: Brucey B was caught cheating and Xenon found himself able to put down the last of his cards. Branston, who had had only two cards of his own when that absurdly huge pile was dumped on Xenon, actually flipped the table when he found out that he'd finished in third place. (Brucey B finished dead last with 28 cards—more than half the total deck. Ha!)
Neither of us remembers how the rest of the day went (except that we basically passed out as soon as we came within falling distance of our beds), but there is no way that it was bad enough to override the morning's undiluted awesomeness.
* * *If there's one thing my years here have taught me, it's this: no matter how lousy your day is, life moves forward and you need to move with it (even if all you can manage is a winded, confused stagger). You're going to mess up. You're going to fail. You'll find that you just stink at something, no matter how hard you practice. But if you can give yourself a chance, you'll also discover your strengths—and you'll probably discover that you're strong in ways you'd never even considered. And pay attention to where you fell flat—that's where you will learn the most valuable of life's lessons.
Oh, and as far as a bad day goes: don't consider it a total loss until it's over. Who knows? Maybe Brucey B will be caught cheating just in time for you to put down the last of your cards.