I would like to offer a metaphor and the seemingly innocent question I posed to my Lyft driver in route to the city recently: What is the point of the game Twister?
According to at least one person I surveyed, Twister is about “Putting your body in a pretzel without falling.” Twister is a party game disguised as a physical challenge that actually requires skill and a fair degree of physical fitness.
Twister is more than just a game, it seems, it’s ben called an “industry phenomenon” and “toy fad.”
For some of us the game brings back memories of a simpler time but ironically, it was invented during the turbulent 60’s and has been criticized as “sex in a box.” The sultry actress Eva Gabor is attributed to aiding in Twister’s success after she played it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Weird Al Yankovic, Lady Gaga, Brittany Spears and REM all sang about Twister, the characters Bill and Ted defeated Death in a game of Twister in their eponymous film adventure and the game has been featured on many videos, tv shows and films.
What does all of this attention mean? I think that shows that Twister is more than just a game and it could actually be a metaphor for life with practical applications for daily living.
I first came across the idea of Twister as a metaphor when confronted with simple questions …otherwise known as “small talk,” Virtual strangers would ask me casually about my personal life and I would struggle to respond, out of fear of sounding idly rich (which I am not) or as one person put it, “a drifter” (which has such negative connotations).
“Where are you from,” became my least favorite question because I had lived all over and that seemed too vague of a response for most people. “Well, where do you live” was just as difficult for me to answer without a lengthier explanation. For years, I have lived on two continents and in four cities which enables me to draw unparalleled, sometimes fascinating insights- connecting art exhibits, political observations, and other threads from my experiences around the globe that often help me in my professional and social lives.
For strangers though, living as I do (out of a suitcase, as I think these better-rooted folks imagined) means I must have a fascinating job. This line of thought leads most people to follow up with my second least favorite question, “what do you do?” In very short order, I would clam up and sometimes perfect strangers would find my silence off-putting or even rude. “It’s complicated,” I would offer in self-defense. The details include a small business on one coast and a home-base in a hurricane, therefore flood-prone city 3000 miles away… so when I stumbled across the diagram of a Twitter mat, with a player delicately balancing- one hand in green, the other on red, her left foot on red and the other mid-air with a curving arrow indicating that it was moving toward a blue circle, it clicked. I am playing Twister!
It is comforting to think I might have found just the right mix of humor and metaphoric detail to disarm those folks who are threatened by my balancing act. My multi-city existence takes a lot of patience, work and support of friends and family and is only occasionally slightly glamorous. And often times it means schlepping random things like a can opener or my favorite tea from one place to another.
So here goes- a sort of every woman’s guide to life lessons learned while playing Twister:
- Balance is everything - As "playing pieces” we become pseudo athletes - two to four players competing for space on a plastic mat - and our flexibility, stamina and bodyweight are all factors. So while it seems like good clean fun, it might literally be survival of the fittest. A Twister beginner might think putting all four limbs in one line is simple, but as anyone who has played the game can tell you, it’s impossible to keep that type of alignment for long. A tripod or wider stance is easier to maintain. Inversion (flipping over) or reversing your orientation can also be achieved when your limbs are more broadly spaced on the mat. So if you’re hoping to win at Twister, or be successful in life, balance is important. Keeping your perspective in check, and having solid foundation (the Twister mat is the good friend you touch base with to check that you are on the right track) and staying grounded is a place to start.
- Colors make life more full and exciting. If everything were beige, life would be less meaningful and to go through life colorblind (literally) or with blinders on (metaphorically) would be heartbreaking. Could game boards (Life), playing cards (Uno), or a Twister mat be where our tolerance for art begins? ROY G BIV, red orange yellow green blue indigo violet. One of the deepest seated mnemonics we learn is reinforced on the Twister mat.
-Green with it’s earthy goodness and grounding power was an easy choice, but
the shade on the mat is like Easter basket grass, synthetic, artificial.
-What happened to orange? Was it too powerful to be included? Orange-the
color of change... warm like a sunset. Provably too complex and therefore
distracting to use.
-Red, Twister red is the color of Koolaid, totally artificial, not the color of our
hearts, but the color of Valentine’s Day hearts, sugar-coated candy and love. One
of Twister’s creators detailed the game’s history in a book called “Right Brain
-Blue deep and comforting like the sky and the ocean but also an artificial
oversimplified blue without any significant referent or symbolism. It’s depth is
hypnotic for me, bottomless. As a collector I have come to appreciate its power, a la Yves Klein blue.
It turns out an accomplished design artist was responsible for choosing Twister’s
3. Keep your core Strong - It’s bizarre that I just realized how so much yoga and
Twister have in common... Down dog, bridging- this could become a new trend
for kids yoga... or foreplay for tantric yoga...or both.
4. Personal Hygiene is important. There is a statement written on the wall at Soul
Cycle, part of their rider’s code- it says something like sweat is good but body
A. This is especially true in Twister, except that sweat can also be dangerous.
Sweaty palms (or brows) could put and end to an otherwise civil game of Twister.
B. Using body odor to undo your opponents in cruel and unusual punishment.
This clearly doesn’t just apply to Twister, it can apply to contests of any sort. At
a certain age, we all realize that our body odor could be off-putting to relatives
and friends alike. Thus, we start buying into personal care product
advertising campaigns for a wide range of scented (and even unscented)
products for the shower and beyond. I am somewhat of an expert in these
options since I started working at a Fortune 500 personal care products
company while I was still in college.
Employment wasn’t contingent on smelling satisfactorily, but since the products
we made could be purchased for a dollar at the company store, it was possible to try just about everything.
Thirty years laster I was still using their combination deodorant and antiperspirant that promised not to mark your little black dress became my go to. Recently, a
brush with breast cancer sent me searching for a natural product. It wasn’t an
easy process but several sweaty (smelly) weeks later I found my answer and
have linked the natural solution to my cancer-free state. All this is to say, once
you have lain on a table asking the universe if cancer is really going to part of
your story you might develop a higher threshold for naturally occurring body
related odors. This could be a strength in Twister and beyond.
5. Flirting will get you everywhere (in comfortable and uncomfortable positions and
also might topple your opponent if you catch them off guard). This item might be
more appropriately called bending (or breaking) the rules. What fun is life (or
Twister) if everyone plays by the rules? Being “tangled-up” with other players
might be even more fun than winning.
6. Be less self-Conscious. You’re never too old to play Twister but at some point
most of us give it up. Why? Because we are self conscious? Will our low rise
jeans or crop top move the opposite direction and cause a fashion faux pas? Will
our stretch marks (two c-sections reveal a ripple of wrinkles when I am inverted
in down dog or a plank no matter how firm my abdominal muscles are). Or are
we afraid of accidental body contact? There are very few places where informal
physical touch is acceptable- the dance floor maybe; the elevator absolutely not. Maybe playing more Twister could help us as a society to become more tolerant
of ourselves and others.
7. Spin the spinner… Take a chance. The spinner tells Twister players wether to
use their left foot, right foot, left hand or right hand and which color circle to place
their extremity. While Twister is promoted at “the game that ties you up in knots,”
It’s kind of liberating to spin the spinner and let your chance guide your fate.
Twister might put us in “unlikely” or “precarious” positions and we might even fall.
Is this a reminder that life is short and we need to let our hair down every now
and then and unwind?
Metaphor or not, for over fifty years Twister has proven that it can bring people together. It seems to the appropriate metaphor for me when I hope to disarm people who I might have previously befuddled.
Sociologists have even suggested that Twister is an example of how globalization influences culture and diversity because of its socioeconomic inclusiveness and universal simplicity—it can connect people of all cultures across the globe.
It turns out the inventors of Twister actually wanted to call the game “Pretzel” which wasn’t so bad considering Kings Footsie was their original choice, but that’s a story for another day.