Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
What’s more disorienting than moving to New York City and having to pick a verb?
Plugging strange words and phrases into blank-filled narratives isn’t just the favorite Friday night occupation of your friends who are obsessed with “Cards Against Humanity.” In fact, the game concept dates back to before Mad Libs, and before even the dawn of the 20th century. Meet “Peter Coddle’s New York,” an 1880s board game that tackled the very modern predicament of the country bumpkin coming to the big city—an experience as ripe for parody then as it is today.
The game, manufactured by companies like McLoughlin Brothers and Parker Brothers (the creators of “Monopoly”), came with a few very important bits of paper. A slim pamphlet told the tale of Mr. Coddle’s trip to New York—minus a few vital phrases. Players used cards, printed with strange expressions (“a sloop load of clams,” “the president of the United States,” “a unicorn”) to fill in those blanks.
“It’s basically an 1800s ‘Cards Against Humanity,’” Max Temkin, a co-creator of “Cards Against Humanity,” told Atlas Obscura about the game. (Temkin owns a copy.) “The phrases are very 1800s, and there's a lot of double entendres.”
You can play around with the game online here. Hit “refresh” to see Peter Coddle’s trip transformed by a new set of cards. This, for example:
Peter was anxious to see A FLANNEL NIGHTCAP so he took a steamer to New York, and put up at PUNCH AND JUDY. The next morning he bought A WATER BUTT and A HOT POKER, was measured for A SORE HEAD, and encased his feet in A BASEBALL.
Peter was anxious to see A FIERCE BULL-DOG so he took a steamer to New York, and put up at A SENSATION. The next morning he bought ICE FRIED IN BATTER and A DANDY DUDE, was measured for A BLUE MONKEY, and encased his feet in BLUE BEARD.
Peter! Don’t you know that blue beards and baseballs don’t go on feet?
The story ends with poor, confused Mr. Coddle leaving the city and never returning. Given his experiences in a rapidly changing and growing New York, one filled with dazzling new wealth and architecture but also STEWED FIDDLES, A HORRID SPIDER, and A SMALL-MOUTHED CROCKODILE, can we truly blame him?
H/t Mental Floss