Guerilla Bingo: the Art of Competitive People-Watching
By: Hannah Harkness
Bingo is a game associated with senior citizens looking to pass time, a rainy day activity at summer camp, a cop out substitute teacher lesson plan, or just another fun way to slake your gambling addiction.
I don’t gamble, and I don’t have the patience to sit in a church basement surrounded by stressed out people with 10 cards going at once taking it way too seriously.
However, filling out a blank bingo card when I am stuck waiting somewhere and checking off items as they walk by is one of my favorite ways to pass time.
I first did this back in my early 20’s when I frequently went to goth/ industrial dance events. The club that I hung out at the most had only one semi-quiet area where music wasn’t playing, which was a room between the indoor and outdoor dance floor where there was a large hand washing sink outside of the bathrooms. The stairs to the 21+ area were also connected to this room, so there was a lot of foot traffic.
When me and my friends needed a break from the ear-bleeding bass and terrifying German vocals (ah, youth), we would occasionally fill out bingo cards with things that we frequently saw at the club and stand in that room checking things off.
We filled spaces with items like ripped fishnets, goggles, weird contact lenses, cat ears, Rammstein shirt, glow sticks, “looks too young to be here”, “didn’t know it was goth night”, “fighting with boyfriend”, “clearly tripping” etc. The first person to get bingo would get a drink from everyone else playing.
Since then I’ve adapted the concept to a whole bunch of different scenarios, and I’ve found it to be a FANTASTIC way to pass time, especially in “hurry up and wait” places like airports. Even if you’re just alone waiting to catch a flight, you’d be amazed how much the validation of getting five squares checked off in a row will make you hyper-present and interested in your surroundings.
Want to play in New York? Here are a few of my favorite guerilla bingo locations with some suggestions for what to put in the spaces (and remember, always include a free space!)
-Student with sketchbook
-Museum guard that clearly doesn’t care about art
-Tourist that clearly doesn’t care about art
-Bored/ cranky child
-Spouse forced to go to an art museum
-Giant terrible jewelry
-Purse dog/ therapy dog
-Openly smoking weed
-Carrying an instrument
-Loudly complaining about something
-Playing candy crush/ angry birds
-Using a dating app
-Talking to invisible people and/or Bluetooth
-Possibly never seen a shower
-Terrified lost tourist
–Panicky person with notebook
-Person leaves directly after their spot
-Several host phrases (“clap it up for yourselves for coming out, please tip your bartender, we have drink specials, remember you only get five minutes, let’s keep that energy going”)
-Performer who doesn’t understand they suck
-Performer reading from phone onstage
-Unhappy bar patron unaware it was open mic night
-Significant other of performer dragged along
-Too drunk to perform (doing it anyway)
-Exits with “I’m going to kill myself now”
-Dick joke (in some environments this can substitute the free space.