Lincoln Boehm: An underrated column

BY LINCOLN BOEHM

Published January 21, 2010

There is nothing worse than being on a first date or out with friends, and reaching a point in the conversation where nobody knows what to say. The well is dry. You sit there and pretend to look around, admiring the scenery while desperately searching your brain for something remotely interesting to break the deafening silence.

Beyond being as awkward as farting during sex, these conversation-less circumstances leave all parties involved feeling uninteresting. Well, those days are over. I recently invented a game perfect for such situations. I call it "overrated/underrated." While the game’s premise is simple — and at first glance seems too simple to be fun — it’s hard to stop playing once you start. The game goes like this: one person names something that they find to be overrated or underrated. For example, I think that air is underrated. We breathe it all day and can’t live without it, but rarely think about it. From here, other parties either argue or agree with my assessment of air’s value and then move on to a different topic.

Not only is this game surprisingly entertaining and endless, but the more you play it, the more you learn about the person you’re playing with. In contrast to the awkward conversations that persist on first dates, playing overrated/underrated gets to the core of what the person on the other side of the table values. As opposed to hearing about what sports they played in high school, you’ll find out whether or not they agree that Nickelodeon’s “Doug” is vastly underrated.

Here is a sample game for you to study:

Massages: underrated — “The Rock” on Washtenaw Ave.: overrated — Hubie Brown: underrated — CPK soups: underrated — Peanut Butter and Jelly: underrated — Manny Harris: overrated — Leather: overrated — Finished wood: underrated — Stickers: overrated — The NFL: overrated — Nature: overrated — Playing basketball in your driveway: underrated — Detroit Metro Airport: underrated — Bar Louie’s food: underrated — Middle Earth (as far as shopping for presents is concerned): underrated — Hanging out in your underwear: underrated — Watching sports with your best bros: overrated — Florida: overrated — The beach: overrated — Sunblock: underrated — Lloyd Carr: underrated — Bo Schembechler: overrated (I’m not saying he wasn’t a great coach, but he didn’t even win a national championship! I have a feeling that one is going to get me stabbed. Ugh.) — Clint Eastwood: overrated — Mel Gibson: underrated — Performance art: underrated — Skateboards: underrated (were overrated back in like 2001 but have recently become less popular, making them now underrated) — Moses’ accomplishments: underrated.

At this point, you might be wondering, “What am I learning from this other than your opinions on about 20 random things?” The answer: enough to determine whether or not you and I have anything in common. If I were to tell you that I love writing and travelling and am from California, you would know general things about me. But, if I told you that I think potato salad is an underrated appetizer, and find the “cuteness” of babies to generally be overrated, you would know much more about my substance as a person and probably be able to guess how I feel about other similar topics.

Now, where was I?

Playboy: overrated — Egotastic.com: underrated — John F. Kennedy: overrated — Queso: underrated — Subway on South U.: underrated — No Thai!: overrated — JC Rich Korean Restaurant: underrated — The periodic table of elements: underrated — The refractory period: underrated (that’s when you get all your work done) — G-strings: overrated — Boy shorts (sexiness): underrated — “MILFS”: overrated — George Karl: underrated — Numbers: underrated — Instincts: underrated — Washing machines: underrated — Arnold Palmer (the drink): underrated — Arnold Palmer (the golfer): overrated — Identity theft: underrated (as far as it’s ability to ruin your life) — Ashton Kutcher: underrated — Sex appeal: underrated — Ancient Egypt: underrated.

I’m stopping here only because my editors are making me stick to a word count. I could go on for days.

In a world with tons of serious problems, why am I writing about Moses, Lloyd Carr and Ashton Kutcher as underrated cultural figures? Because it’s easier for people to argue about guacamole than about the United States’s involvement in Iraq. Learning to engage one another in intellectual discussions is a great goal, but we have to get to know each other and learn to communicate first.

This game takes you on a rollercoaster of topics, and in the end gives you a pretty solid understanding of what a person is like. My guarantee to you — on a side note, “The Guarantee” is my Jersey Shore nickname — is that after playing this game with people you don’t know very well, you will be able to immediately determine whether or not you want to hang out with them again. That’s “The Guarantee.”

And by the way, Daily opinion columns: underrated.

Lincoln Boehm can be reached at lsboehm@umich.edu.