Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bigger or Better

It’s a common tale. Your doorbell rings and you answer to find Pocahontas and a Boy Scout on your front porch carrying a toaster oven and a knife sharpener. You immediately invite them in, and a few minutes later they leave with your water skis. We’ve all been there, right?


Well, I’ve been there, and the memory of that night was spurred by my favorite Super Bowl commercial this year.  I really enjoyed the Bud Light “Up for Whatever” series of ads with the unwitting guy named Ian who goes on a very lavish and totally pre-planned blind date, where he is the only one who isn’t an actor in on the gag. He has no idea what to expect, and ends up in a stretch limo with a DJ inside, rides an elevator with Don Cheadle and a llama, plays ping pong against Arnold Schwarzenegger who looks like Bjorn Borg on HGH, and winds up the evening onstage with a band called OneRepublic. All in all, a pretty weird night for Ian.

Those commercials brought back a lot of memories, actually. Sure, many of them are hazy, but still…
Here’s a checklist of things in those commercials that Anheuser-Busch has brought me over the years:
(I say Anheuser-Busch because many of these events were brought to me by Keystone Light, long before I could afford fancy beer like Bud Light)

Blind dates – check
Ending up in someone else’s limo - check
Drinking in elevators – check
Meeting Don Cheadle – no
Bringing livestock indoors as a prank – check
Playing ping pong – check
Meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger – no
Dressing like Bjorn Borg – check
Ending up singing on stage – check

The funny thing is, beer was not involved in the main event I was reminded of by the commercial, namely the Pocahontas/water skis situation. The randomness and the unexpected aspects of Ian’s Bud Light-sponsored evening were what jogged my memory, not the drinking aspect.

Pocahontas and the Boy Scout were college kids that showed up on my doorstep on Halloween night this year, after our kids had long since slipped into a sugar coma and been carted off to bed. On any other night of the year, if costumed twenty-year-olds show up at your door you would reach for the shotgun, but on Halloween you gladly open the door to offer them candy. Instead of leading with the standard “Trick or Treat,” they stood there timidly - the Boy Scout hugging a full-sized toaster oven and Pocahontas holding an electric knife sharpener - and began to explain that they were from the Christian college just up the road.

Bells and whistles went off in my head and I stopped the Boy Scout mid-sentence and said, “You’re playing ‘Bigger or Better,’ aren’t you?”

“Yes!” they both exclaimed in unison, obviously both shocked and relieved that I knew about the game.

I invited them inside and explained to them in great detail that this was their lucky night, because not only did I know all about the game, but I happen to be the reigning world champion of said game, as far as I know.

“Bigger or Better” is a scavenger hunt game played primarily on Halloween, since All Hallows Eve is really the only socially acceptable time to knock on strangers’ doors at night (Yeah, I’m looking at you, guy who wants to sell me magazine subscriptions and chocolate bars), and played primarily by youth groups looking for wholesome fun. The rules are simple: Each team starts with a single penny. At the first door you ask to trade that penny for something bigger or better. Maybe you get a dime. Maybe you get an old box of used paper clips. Whatever. You take your new-found loot to the next house to trade up, and so on and so forth. You are due back at the starting point at a specific time, and the teams are judged on which has returned with the biggest and/or best item.

I have been riding high for almost twenty-five years after my glorious “Bigger or Better” win on that fateful Halloween night in high school. The sleepy little town of Davis, California has yet to recover from the sheer magnitude of the victory. So when Pocahontas and the Boy Scout showed up on my doorstep a few months ago, I knew what I had to do. I needed to pay back the karma that helped this skinny little kid turn the world on its ear so many years before.

I knew I could never give them an item great enough to rival my victory, and frankly, I wasn’t about to try. That victory is, and always will be, mine, and Pocahontas and the Boy Scout don’t deserve it. I was going to try to help them win their game, however. It was the least I could do to somehow cosmically repay the good fortune of my youth.

They left my house and headed back to the judging panel with a pair of old six-foot-long, purple and black water skis. I’m pretty sure they won.

That wasn’t all they left with, though. They also walked away from my home with the story of the greatest “Bigger or Better” victory of all time. The story of the night that I turned a single penny into a regulation-sized ping pong table AND a Peugeot motorcycle in less than two hours. (I am not making that up.)

I know I will never top that win, so I will never try. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it a go. I highly recommend playing the game at your next Halloween party. There’s no reason why the youth groups of America should have all the fun.

And if you happen to be having an adult Halloween party, all the better! I say, don’t be afraid to take a cue from the intrepid Ian in the Bud Light ads. “Bigger or Better” would probably be even bigger and better if alcohol was involved. Who knows? You might just end up trading Don Cheadle a pair of water skis for a llama.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. I have never heard of that game, but I like it! It's a pumped up scavenger hunt! And now you are even more a celebrity than I previously thought. Who knew? ;)

  2. Not a lot of people know this, but I'm very famous.