Research Day: Carpool Lanes and Outdoor Survival

Do infants count toward the carpool lane? Driving on 520 the other day, The Queen urged me to use the HOV lane. “The carpool on this freeway is for three or more people,” I told her. “We are three people,” she rejoined. “You, me, and baby.”

I said that I was sure the baby doesn’t count. “The whole point of an carpool lane,” lectured I, “is to reduce the number of drivers on the road.” The Queen reiterated her belief that I was wrong; I challenged her to our standard bet (“one beer”) and then moved over to the HOV lane all the same, since. As with many husbands, I have long since learned that the key strategy for harmonic spousal relationsis is “make your point and capitulate.”

But I still wanted my brewski, so I looked it up on the Washington State Department of Transportation webpage. What do thay have to say about the issue?

Damn it!

From the FAQ:

Why are parents with kids younger than driving age allowed to use HOV lanes?

HOV lanes have simple objectives: to maximize the number of people that can be carried on the highway and to provide a reliable trip to as many people as possible. Developing and enforcing a more complicated definition of who is eligible to use HOV lanes would be difficult to explain and enforce and would reduce the number of people who benefit from the reliability that HOV lanes offer. Allowing adults with children to use the lanes enhances enforcement, simplicity, and efficiency.

Fah! Allow me to translate: “People are too dumb to understand rules, so we accommodate them by making rules dumb.”

Wouldn’t you know it: the one time government opts to eschew bureaucracy and it costs me a beer.

What’s the story behind Outdoor Survival? In gaming circles, Outdoor Survival has an almost mythical reputation as one of the worst games ever, a kind of Plan Nine From Outer Space of boardgames.

The game has the players lost in the wilderness, relying on their wits (and a bevy of favorable die rolls) to survive. As they struggle to make their way to the edge of the map, they must find food and water to stay alive; typically they do not, and the whole game becomes one of slowing starving to death. In a USENET discussion entitled “Worst Game“, one poster described Outdoor Survival as “sad, depressing, and frustrating.” As another fondly recalled, “we always referred to it as ‘that one where you die’.” It’s like Hi-Ho Cherry-O, except, in the end, raccoons eat your desiccated corpse

According to rumor, the game was literally invented on a dare and designed in a week. It’s a fun story, but it sounds too good to be true. So I wrote the designer, James Dunnigan to get the scoop. To my surprise, he told me the the legend is essentially correct, writing:

I told [then head of Avalon Hill] Tom Shaw I could design a game on any situation and he challenged me to do one on "getting lost in the woods." He said if I designed it, he would publish it.

It took several weeks, but I only spent a few hours a day even thinking about it ... Considering how busy I was at the time, I believe there was assurance of publication, otherwise I would not have wasted my time.

Curiously, Outdoor Survival went on to become one of Avalon Hill’s bestselling games, not only because many people genuinely enjoyed playing it (as with most “worst evers,” its reputation for awfulness is largely exaggerated), but also because the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons specifically mentioned the enclosed map as a good player aide for outdoor scenarios. Adds Dunnigan, “It also became popular with hikers and campers. D&D made it a best seller, otherwise it would have simply been a success (made a profit).”

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19 comments.

  1. Roughly a century ago, back when child labor laws were nonexistent, urban working-class families bore children as a source of income — they’d put them to work at an early age to help make ends meet.

    In that spirit, I think today’s middle-class families should have kids because it makes the morning commute quicker.

  2. Or urban working-class families can continue to bear children as a source of income — by putting them to work at an early age as rental passengers to middle-class single commuters.

  3. Wow. I haven’t seen this game in years. I played it with my D&D friends in high school. We also used to play Quest (The knights and feats chivalry kinda game) and another game about jewels that was very Clue-Mastermindy. Aw…memories.

  4. Hey Yeti? Do you know the game Ultimatum? Just wonderin’.
    We have an old copy here.
    (And old one? And old game? And old board? What’s the protocal when referring to a board game?)

  5. On n=3: People are considered similarly stupid on the right coast, if that’s any consolation; NJ’s HOV had the same rule. But. we couldn’t even agree on THAT, so now we have painted-over diamonds, blank signposts, and a succession of highway intersections near Newark Airport that make gumball machines look like empty checkerboards.

    On the game: Don’t care for it for the same reason that I threw out my copy of Into Thin Air after reporting on it for class, but it’s hardly the worst ever. I would think the plethora of Pictionary and Trival Pursuit wannabes that the late 80’s threw up would populate that list. Calibrate my comments with this, though: History of the World is my favorite game (used to be Magic Realm), and I will play Empire Builder (or its derivatives) with anyone, anytime.

    Keep up the great writing, Oh Glorious Host; let the Sqirrely continue to inspire!

  6. A somewhat similar thing happened to me in San Francisco this summer. I was out visiting and friend, and we and all her dirty hippie buddies were going into the city for a protest. Coming across the Golden Gate, it didn’t occur to any of us to ask, but the person in the toll booth said “No charge for carpools” and let us through.

  7. Hey…

    HOV doesn’t put it this way, so I guess I had it wrong, but I always thought kids count in carpool lanes because you can’t get another driver off the road if you don’t have an empty seat, and kids make seats “non-empty” just like grown-ups do…

  8. I got pulled over by a cop in the HOV lane on 520 a couple weeks ago, with 1 person and my dog in the car. The cop didn’t think it was funny when I argued my dog was as much a 3rd occupant as anyone’s kid, since neither can drive a car.

    Yet, I got away with a warning, and the cop said (again, evidence of stupid human logic) “Doesn’t count. Does your dog pay taxes?” Well, no, but neither do people’s under-18 kids. Besides, the amount of money I spend on dog food and vet bills with two 90-pound dogs, I may as well just have ‘em in daycare anyhow…And for that I should get to use the HOV lane.

  9. Wow, I had Outdoor Survival…that brings back memories. I wonder where that game is now…. Probably up in my parent’s attic.

  10. Man. Outdoor Survival.
    Now there is a game they could never make a tv show about, eh?

  11. It seems to me that Yeti is right, that the point of HOV is to reduce the number of cars driven by separate drivers by incentivizing the driver to become a passenger. By that logic, I think a single kid shouldn’t count since he/she wouldn’t have been driving anyway, but two or more kids should count because potentially they might have required additional adults to drive them. (If you’re driving your kid and your niece, for instance, rather than having your sister drive her kid separately.) If I have a pregnant right-to-lifer in the car, can she argue that her unborn child deserves to be counted as a third passenger?

    And by the way, your dog should get off his lazy ass and pay his taxes!

  12. yeti,you’ll read and weep about the woman who drove in the two person Carpool Lane and argued that her fetus she is carrying in her womb is also a person when she was pulled over by a cop. =p

  13. I once had a board game called Rat Race that was about getting up in the morning and going to work.

  14. it is important to note that a corpse does not count towards HOV status. squirrellies, however, do. at least in california.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/89422.stm

    so if courtney’s cop was telling the truth, it relates not to the payment of taxes (or the corpse would count, and the baby would not) but to their potential payment. which, you know, the dog is never going to file.

    it’s a board game waiting to happen, since the truth is really probably that you roll the die and get a cop/magistrate with a sense of fairness or a sense of justice or a sense of humor, and that is what actually determines the outcome. call mr. dunnigan back and see if he runs with it.

  15. I’ve never played Outdoor Survival, but in freshmen math, we split into groups and made our own board games to see probability and chaos theory in action. My group made a two-level board and called it Widespread Panic II.

    Play involved rolling the die and moving your piece (either a green army man, a quarter, a rock, or whatever lint was in your pocket) that many spaces ahead on the track, and then performing the task written in the space.

    These ranged from “Go next door and squawk like a chicken–do it loud, we want to hear you” to “Go next door and write ‘I love School!’ on the blackboard”, or just “Hail Ashley!” referring to a girl in the class we didn’t like.

    Then we all switched tables for a few days until everybody had had a chance to play all the other groups’ games.

    Considering how many of our tasks were designed to annoy Ashley or the next classroom, I was amazed that the teacher let people play our game at all, let alone that she asked if she could keep it to show to the next year’s class because it was “the most original thing she’d ever seen”.

    I wish she hadn’t, though, ’cause we never got it back.

  16. Wow… I didn’t know anyone else played that game. It is sitting on my self right now. I played a number of AH games, got that one, but no one ever wanted to play it. I have never heard the story behind it. Thanks!

  17. I suspect the HOV thing is just a matter of enforceability.

    “There are three heads in that car. …Waitaminute, that one looks 15! Better pull ‘em over.”

    Nah. Peoples is peoples, and that saves you from slippery slope arguments.

  18. Hm. HOV lanes. I’m going to ramble politically now, so feel free to ignore the following paragraphs:

    Seattlites (and other denizens of Washington State, though I imagine to a generally lesser degree) may remember Tim Eyman’s proposal to do away with HOV lanes, the logic being that opening more lanes to everyone will help ease up congestion.

    This idea died quickly, and my gut reaction was in favor of said death. But the gay-marriage debate has recently made me think hot, turgid thoughts of contempt for the concept of societal conditioning through legislature, and I wonder if the case for HOV lanes is anything more substantial than mere societal conditioning in favor of my own beliefs.

    Ideally, the only way to justify a law that restricts people is to demonstrate that harm would result otherwise. For instance, we have laws against beating people up because beating people up harms the people getting beaten up. That’s pretty straightforward. But the harm in not carpooling is more abstract. More cars on the road would presumably mean more congestion and more pollution, which are reasonable examples of “harm” (especially to those who would take action to avoid them if they had the option).

    But is it true that Seattle’s HOV lanes prevent congestion and pollution? They’re not what I would think of as a “new” experiment – they’ve been here for at least the six years I’ve been here, surely more. Assuming that Seattle has reached a plateau of HOV-lane usage, I wonder if anyone has crunched the numbers and estimated the tradeoff between increased road-space and increased cars. While it’s tempting to think that more cars = more pollution, what if those cars all spend less time on the road because of relieved congestion?

    Now, I also have a suspicion that any such numbers would be flawed because they wouldn’t be able to account for a potential increase in casual driving in the event of congestion relief. Assuming HOV-lane excision did clear up the roads, then suddenly people would feel more cavalier (ha!*) about taking extra trips, the roads would clog back up again, and we’d be in the same shape, only without ANY open lanes, so pollution and congestion would INCREASE in the end. Maybe.

    Basically, what I’m getting at is, is the proof of HOV lanes really in the pudding? Or is it just an attempt by us anti-car types to force everyone else to behave the way we think is best for them, based on sheer principle rather than evidence? And how would that be any better than those who would try to mold the country in the form of their religious beliefs?

    Okay, I’m going to bed now.

    * It’s a car, you see. My girlfriend used to drive one. It broke down, though.

  19. For a moment there I thought you were talking about Outdoor Life, a board game I have not thought of in years. It, too, was bad. My brother and I, both elementary-aged, had a very difficult time answering trivia questions about fly-tying, wildlife biology, and firearms.