The Fifteen Toughest Book Titles to Play Charades With
What sparked my original interest in writing suspense? Truth is, the suspense novelist Robert Ludlum may be the reason you’re reading this – or any writing from me. Meaning – when I was in junior high, I read an early novel of his, The Osterman Weekend, and it turned my junior-high head around. It was set in a “serene, secure, inviolate” suburb just like the one I was growing up in, and it turned out there was lots of intrigue just below the bucolic surface, and I devoured every page of it. With unblinkered junior-high confidence, I immediately started writing my own suspense novel – about a psychic kid (in junior high, of course!), who is seized by the government for his powers. I got forty pages or so and discovered that when my hero is whisked clandestinely off to Russia, I didn’t know anything about Russia much beyond the word Russia.
But The Osterman Weekend has another legacy for me. It’s the first of Ludlum’s titles that make for absolutely evil choices in a game of charades. Okay, a book. Okay, three words. Now comes the fun. I mean, how are you going to act out “weekend?” – and that’s the easy part! Because you also have to tackle “Osterman.” And Ludlum was just getting started.
I mean, as you read each of the following titles, just think about how you’d act them out. Or can’t.
The Parsifal Mosaic (think your charades team will get “mosaic” when you pantomime a jigsaw puzzle? Doubtful.)
The Holcroft Covenant (come on!)
The Sigma Protocol (come on again!)
The Hades Factor (ok – maybe someone can act out “hell” – but you still have to get from “hell” to “Hades”, and then conquer “Factor”)
The Gemini Contender; The Rhineman Exchange; The Bancroft Strategy; The Lazarus Vendetta; The Moscow Vector; The Cassandra Compact; The Scorpio Illusion; The Aquitaine Progression; The Tristan Betrayal (go ahead – act out “Tristan” for your team – sure, the tragic Cornish knight from the 12th century, they’ll get that, easy!). The Prometheus Deception. Admit it, he’s a charades nightmare! A nightmare that seems to go on – title after title. Ludlum never lost his evil touch!
This is all without even mentioning the Bourne series – sure, on those you can act out “born” pretty readily, or pretend to be Matt Damon, leaping around the living room – but then you’ve got to solve Identity, Ultimatum, Enigma, Imperative, Initiative, Retribution. Unless there’s a Bourne fan playing with you, and they just call out all of those until they hit the winner.
I don’t know whether the suspense writers Alex Garland or Dan Brown took conscious or unconscious inspiration directly from Ludlum – maybe read him as kids like I did? – but you’ve got to admit, Garland’s The Tesseract and Brown’s The Da Vinci Code sure seem to have Ludlum title echoes. (Tesseract: it’s always a good charades strategy to choose a word nobody actually knows.) And I guess if you held out your arms and planted your legs wide one of your teammates might – might – get the Vitruvian Man drawing out of that, and hence DaVinci, and hence the DaVinci Code – but spreading your arms like that might send your team as easily down the path of Jesus, or make them think stretching exercises, or who knows what.
I have a private and completely unsubstantiated theory. I think Robert Ludlum picked his titles specifically based on making them impossible for charades.
In fact, I think you could still have a pretty lively charades game if you agreed beforehand it would all be Ludlum titles!
Here’s to the master of suspense who originally inspired me – and who has undoubtedly ruined any number of charades games.
Jonathan Stone recently retired from a 40-year career in advertising. He was the creative director at a New York advertising agency, and did most of his fiction writing on the commuter train between the Connecticut suburbs and Manhattan. His new novel, Die Next, is due out from Grand Central Publishing on April 14th. Of his eight previously published novels, several are currently optioned for film: Moving Day is set up as a feature at Lionsgate Entertainment, Days of Night has been optioned by New Republic Pictures, and Parting Shot has been optioned by Marc Platt Productions. His short stories are anthologized in Best American Short Stories 2016, New Haven Noir, as well as in The Mystery Box (ed. Brad Meltzer) and Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue from the Cold War (ed. Jeffery Deaver), both Mystery Writers of America collections. A graduate of Yale, Jon is married, with a son and daughter.