If one day you find yourself sitting down to pen that long-imagined bestselling science-fiction or fantasy novel and you’re looking for one particular trick that will give your speculative story a sense of reality (and lead to shameless marketing opportunities), just throw in a made-up card game or chess variant that everyone in your fake universe knows, enjoys, and plays with inhuman regularity. You don’t have to make up any actual rules for the game, as your devoted fan base (geeks) will retroactively conjure them based on the clues you drop in the prose — even if those clues don’t make any sense.

Don’t believe me? Then explain how it is that I can find “official” rules for fizzbin, a fictional card game that was fictional even in the Star Trek episode in which it originally appeared? The Trekkers among us will recall that fizzbin was a game made up on the spot by Captain Kirk to distract some gangster-inspired Iotians in the episode “A Piece of the Action,” with a set of rules that contradicted themselves even as the good Captain was explaining them. Nonetheless, Star Trek fanatics have gone so far as to conjure forth rules for fizzbin, and one can sometimes find them playing it at sci-fi conventions.

The same is true of the infamous Tri-D multilevel variant of chess, which Trek producers cobbled together from various 3D checkers and tic-tac-toe boards simply as a prop with no legitimate rules. Nonetheless, I can download rules and instructions for building my own fully functioning Tri-D chess game board. (Key point: The board has to be able to change configurations to be fully legal.)

I can also get rules (and cards) for the Star Wars gambling game sabacc — a game that allowed Han Solo to win the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian. Heck, the TV show Firefly aired barely a dozen episodes during its 2002 run, and the draw poker-inspired game Tall Card appeared in exactly one of them, but I can download cards and rules to play Tall Card too.

Not all fictional games are just for show, however. One hacker-favorite made-up card game actually served a real-life purpose — it was an anti-piracy measure for a classic video game.


Get the answer.

What hacker-favorite fictional card game first surfaced — at least in part — as an anti-piracy measure to prevent the illegal copying of a classic PC video game?

The pastime in question is Double Fanucci, which appeared in the Zork series of PC games, from which the iconic, mysterious dungeon-monsters known as grues gained their contemporary notoriety. The game was in some measure designed by developers at Infocom as part of an elaborate (and humorous) anti-piracy measure for Zork Zero, released in 1988, in which Double Fanucci arguably makes its most memorable appearance.

To combat the widespread copying of its wildly popular PC games in the 1980s, Infocom packaged many of its boxed interactive fiction software titles with feelies — collectible objects that served as clues or guides to portions of the games. Without the feelies, you couldn’t easily complete the adventure storyline (as this was before the days of online strategy guides).

In the case of Zork Zero, you had to win a game of Double Fanucci to complete a portion of the story, but the only way to win was to use a technique hidden in the game’s documentation, as revealed by a feelie. It was very unlikely that a player would have deduced the winning moves, as Double Fanucci is an intentionally complex game that — as part of the Zork storyline in-joke — has rules so complicated everyone plays his or her own abridged variant version.

Double Fanucci requires a deck of 174 cards, comprising 15 suits of 11 cards each and nine unsuited face cards. Each player has a hand of four cards, and each possible combination of cards played allows an unpredictable (or illogical) special counterplay — a library of possibilities that only a computer can reasonably handle.

That said, several enterprising geeks have nonetheless tried to divine playable (and no doubt abridged) rules for actually running an analogue do-it-yourself game of Double Fanucci, which includes charts of several dozen interacting attacks and counters, all worth random point values (and sometimes, unexplained point losses). That’s not just some devoted fandom — that’s some stranger than game-fiction Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week’s quibble comes from the July 11 edition of Geek Trivia, “Date with (incan)destiny.” I managed to offend the whole of Canada, including TechRepublic members rndmacts, renaud.larue-langlois, mike.n, and support, who described my mistake as such:

“Just to let you know, here in Canada we celebrate the equivalent of July 4th on July 1st — Canada’s birthday — with a large volume of smoke-spewing, non-environmentally friendly, colorful explosions (gotta love them!). There are relatively few fireworks on Victoria Day. It’s more viewed as [a] day off with pay than a particularly memorial holiday.”

Sorry for overstating the firepower of Victoria Day and understating the import of Canada Day, maple-leafers. Next time, I’ll just ask one of you northern neighbors rather than try to divine the relative flammability of each Canadian holiday based on tourism brochures. Thanks for educating yours truly, and keep those quibbles coming.

(P.S. Next week, I apologize to Australia.)

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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

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