Mornington Crescent (game)
The game consists of each panellist in turn announcing a landmark or street, most often a tube station on the London Underground system. The apparent aim is to be the first to announce "Mornington Crescent", a station on the Northern Line. Interspersed with the turns is humorous discussion amongst the panellists and host regarding the rules and legality of each move, as well as the strategy the panellists are using. Despite appearances, however, there are no rules to the game, and both the naming of stations and the specification of "rules" are based on stream-of-consciousness association and improvisation. Thus the game is intentionally incomprehensible.
Mornington Crescent first appeared in the opening episode of the sixth series of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, broadcast on 22 August 1978. Although five episodes transmitted in 1974–1975 are still lost, Mornington Crescent seems to have made no appearance before 1978. It was played in every surviving episode of the sixth series.
The origins of the game are not clear. One claim is that it was invented by Geoffrey Perkins, who stated in an interview that Mornington Crescent was created as a non-game. Barry Cryer, a panellist on the programme since 1972, has said that Geoffrey Perkins did not invent the game, and that it had been around since the sixties. According to Chairman Humphrey Lyttelton, the game was invented to vex a series producer who was unpopular with the panellists. One day, the team members were drinking, when they heard him coming. "Quick," said one, "let's invent a game with rules he'll never understand."
A similar game called "Finchley Central" was described in the Spring 1969 issue of the mathematical magazine Manifold, edited by Ian Stewart and John Jaworski at the University of Warwick. Douglas Hofstadter referred to the article in his book Metamagical Themas. The game is referred to as an "English game" in an article on "non-games" as follows:
Two players alternate naming the stations of the London Underground. The first to say "Finchley Central" wins. It is clear that the "best" time to say "Finchley Central" is exactly before your opponent does. Failing that, it is good that he should be considering it. You could, of course, say "Finchley Central" on your second turn. In that case, your opponent puffs on his cigarette and says, "Well, shame on you".
Gameplay on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue
The objective was to give the appearance of a game of skill and strategy, with complex and long-winded rules and strategies, to parody games in which similarly circuitous systems have evolved. In general, Humphrey Lyttelton would describe special rules to apply to that session, such as "Trumpington's Variations" or "Tudor Court Rules", so that almost every episode featuring Mornington Crescent introduced a variant.
There have been many variations. In one of them, first introduced in North Yorkshire, a player whose movement is blocked is considered to be "in Nidd" and is forced to remain in place for the next three moves. This tends to block the other players, putting them into Nidd as well and causing a roadblock. In one episode, every player ended up in Nidd and the supposed rule had to be suspended so that the round could continue.
Over time, the destinations named by the panellists expanded beyond the Underground. ISIHAC is recorded around the United Kingdom, and the game is occasionally modified accordingly. There have been versions in Slough and Leeds, as well as one in Scotland, played during the Edinburgh Fringe arts festival (where the name was changed to "Morningside Crescent"). In one episode, recorded in Luton, panellists named locations as far afield as the Place de l'Étoile in Paris, Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg, and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. However, a move to Luton High Street was ruled invalid for being too remote. In other episodes, an attempt was supposedly made to expand the territory to Manhattan (via Heathrow and JFK) but there was some disagreement as to whether or not the New York City Subway system was suited to the game. References have been made in various episodes of ISIHAC to international versions of the game, including "Mornington Croissant", supposedly based on the Paris Metro, and "Mornington Peninsula", the Australian variant. At least one full game of Mornington Croissant was played on air.
Lyttelton joked that the game predated the London Underground. "Tudor Court Rules" were described as "A version of the game formally adopted by Henry VIII and played by Shakespeare. At this time, the underground was far smaller than at present, and so the playing area also was more restricted, primarily due to plague."
Those who asked for the rules were told "NF Stovold’s Mornington Crescent: Rules and Origins" was out of print. They were also advised that "your local bookshop might have a copy of The Little Book of Mornington Crescent by Tim, Graeme, Barry and Humph."
A regular feature that introduces Mornington Crescent, is a fictional letters section which begins with the chairman's comments ("I notice from the sheer weight of this week's postbag, we've received a little over no letters" and "I see from the number of letters raining down on us this week that the Scrabble factory has exploded again"). The single letter each week is from "A Mrs Trellis of North Wales", whose incoherent letters usually mistake the chairman for another Radio 4 presenter or media personality. "Dear Libby" (she writes), "why oh why ... very nearly spells YOYO", or "Dear Mr Titchmarsh, never let them tell you that size isn't important. My aunt told me that, but then all my new wallpaper fell off."
Finchley Central and Mornington Crescent became popular in the United Kingdom as a play-by-mail pastime, and in the 1980s were played by post in a number of play-by-mail magazines. One format involved a series of elimination rounds, with everyone except the winner of the current round going forward onto the next. Mornington Crescent is now played widely online, in the spirit of the radio series. Games are played by fans on Usenet, in diverse web forums, and on the London Underground itself. A Facebook application has also been produced.
There are also regular Mornington Crescent threads on Mumsnet where participants mix the game with chatter about unlikely but amusing relations and friends.
When Mornington Crescent tube station was reopened in 1998 after six years of closure for lift repairs, London Transport invited the Clue team to perform an opening ceremony. A memorial plaque to the late Willie Rushton, one of the show's longest-serving panelists, was installed at the station in 2002.
Spin-offs and publications
During the early 1980s, Radio 4 broadcast a special programme, Everyman's Guide to Mornington Crescent, a "two-part documentary" on the history of the game and its rules, presented by Raymond Baxter. At the end of part one (concentrating on the history), it was announced that part two (about the rules) had been postponed due to "scheduling difficulties".
Two books of rules and history have been published, The Little Book of Mornington Crescent (2001; ISBN 0-7528-1864-3), by Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer and Humphrey Lyttelton, and Stovold's Mornington Crescent Almanac (2001; ISBN 0-7528-4815-1), by Graeme Garden.
The deduction game
A deduction game of the same name was created in 1991 by David Tittle in the play-by-mail zine Smodnoc. The game is played on London tube stations, but can easily be transposed on any set of names (countries, cities in France, games, ...)
Each player designs a secret rule (characteristics of the station, geographical situation, spelling, etc.) that other players attempt to guess in order to win points. Each turn players simultaneously propose a name. The designers or the referee point out which opponent rule is observed or not by the propositions. The proposer gets N points per observed rule, where N is the number of opponents. As an incentive to design rules neither too easy nor too complicated, designers get 2 bonus points per proposition observing their rule, but only during the second half of the game.
- The Steep Approach to Garbadale, by Iain Banks, mentions Mornington Crescent as a game created by the fictional company Wopuld Ltd., described as being "based on the map of the London underground with a complicated double-level board".
- In the novel Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, by Sue Townsend, the protagonist writes to Radio 4 demanding a copy of the rules, in the mistaken belief that it is a real game.
- A song by Mickey Simmonds entitled "Mornington Crescent" appears on the Bonzo Dog Band’s 2007 album, Pour l'Amour des Chiens. The song includes puns based on London Underground names, and includes the lyric "You’re harder to understand than Mornington Crescent!"
On Moorcock's Miscellany and Facebook's Friends of Michael Moorcock the online game has been played since c. 2005.
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