Maggie Ryan Sandford Wins Twin Cities Literary Death Match!

Todd Zuniga, Curt Lund, Maggie Ryan Sandford and Mark McGinty

After two hours of booze, short stories, jocular judges and pretty much non-stop laughter, Maggie Ryan Sandford was crowned queen of the Twin Cities Literary Death Match. Hosted by Opium Magazine’s Todd Zuniga and co-hosted by Rob Callahan, the night featured four writers and three judges, a lively crowd and one really powerful wind storm that killed the power in many a-Twin Cities home.

But enough about the weather, all the action was at Clubhouse Jager where two pairs of writers squared off in a head-to-head, 7-minute reading of their latest and greatest prose. My story was actually from a 10-year old screenplay that I condensed into a three-page narrative called Addicted to Yahtzee. More on that later.

Dessa Darling opened the night with a pair of readings, one from her book Spiral Bound, which is available from Doomtree. You can check out some of Dessa’s downloads here. Maggie Ryan Sandford was next and she more-than-entertained the crowd with a pair of stories, one called Dear Mother and the other about half-a-dog, his brain, and his sphincters.

Todd introduces the judges

Then Todd and Rob turned it over to the judges, who critiqued the contestants on three categories. Brian Beatty judged literary merit, and qualified the reading by its nouns, verbs, and his own feelings of petty jealousy. Molly Priesmeyer focused on performance, what the contestant was wearing and how icky some of the reading made her feel. She did enjoy Sandford’s description of the dog’s sphincter-to-sphincter experience.

Joseph Scrimshaw reads a haiku (or sends a text)

Best of all was Joseph Scrimshaw, who appeared to be texting throughout the reading but later revealed that he was using actual words and phrases from the readings to write haikus. Brilliant.

At the end of this round, the judges named Maggie the winner and then the (packed) crowd broke up to refill their drinks, step outside for a smoke, or  socialize with their fellow Death Matchgoers.

Round Two was a faceoff between Curt Lund and me, Mark McGinty. I won the “card toss” and opted to read first (I was pumped and ready to go). After reading my Yahtzee story (a tale of obsession and passion), and then downing half a White Russian to calm my jitters I turned my attention to Curt, who read a story about awkward pubescent love, the conditions and requirements of his first kiss, and a romance involving a Tin Man costume. Funny stuff.

Time for more judging. Brian added the category of metaphor to his noun, verb and petty jealousy parameters. Molly enjoyed the term “backdoor” and the image it conjured,  and Scrimshaw constructed the following haiku, using my own words against me:

Lounge music Mars bar butts

Yahtzee probability

I have no goals in life

Classic. In the end, Curt was chosen winner of Round Two and faced off vs. Maggie in a contest of Poet or Madman? The contestants were shown a photgraph of a person and had to decide if they were looking at a poet or a madman. As example of how challenging this was, check out the following photograph and decide if this is a poet or a madman…

Versifier or psychopath?

A complete Manson, right? It’s actually poet, author and Playboy columnist Shel Silverstein. Yeah, see? I read it for the articles.

After a grueling final round that ended with a tie breaker, Maggie conquered the city, stood victorious and was be-medaled with hardware from Boston’s Literary Death Match (I guess they ran out of Twin Cities medallions). The contest was over but the night continued as contestants retreated to their respective corners for pats on backs, handshakes, smiles, hugs and general ass-kissing. It was great fun.

Be sure to check out Will Dinski’s album with lots of great photos from the event. Videos will be posted soon. It was a great night! Thank you to everyone who came out to support the contestants, the bar, the local literary scene, the city and the common good (yes, Rob, another extremely obscure Blues Brothers reference).

Make sure you go here and check out some awesome pictures Lupi drew of each contestant. As a teaser, check me out….

Dice rules


Mark McGinty, October 2010

P.S. here is the text of my story Addicted to Yahtzee

Addicted to Yahtzee

By Mark McGinty

I’ve been sober now for 11 years, 4 months and 2 days. My drug? Yahtzee, by Milton Bradley. While buying supplies for the first apartment after college, my roommate threw a hand-held, battery-powered travel Yahtzee into the cart. I could easily blame him for my troubles, but I did nothing to stop it.

We played. We played until our fingers ached and our butts pooped dice. Then we played some more.

The problem with Yahtzee hand-held was that only one person could play at a time, and we found ourselves fighting over the game. We needed to get our hands on the real thing, the legendary board game I played as a kid. 5 dice in a plastic brown shaker, paper scorecards…these were my needles.

We became so good at Yahtzee, our senses so acute, that we knew what the dice were going to do before they did it. We became masters of probability. We started seeing patterns in each roll, and thought of names for every possible combination, over 7,000 of them.

A Yahtzee on 1’s  – five dice, five 1’s became Yahtzee Bullets, because the arrangement looked like 5 little bullet holes.

Yahtzee on 3’s was the Candy Bar Yahtzee because when you roll a three, it looks like a little Mars bar.

Yahtzee on 5’s was called Yahtzee Perfect, because it just looked so right.

Yahtzee on 6’s was called, what else? Kentucky Boxcars.

People would say I had no goals in life. But my goal was to score at least 300 points in every game. 

People would ask, “Doesn’t it ever get boring?”

It did. We soon needed a new fix, so we bought the CD-Rom version of Yahtzee. It only intensified our addiction with its instant score calculations, automatic odds and authentic casino lounge music.

It had Triple Yahtzee, which tripled the size of your scorecard. Painted Yahtzee, which added colors to each side of the dice. Not only did you need to match your 5’s, now all of them needed to be blue, or green. Pyramid Yahtzee, which used 4-sided dice instead of the traditional six. This opened a world of possibilities. We went to the local board game store and bought 8-sided dice, changing the rules of play to suit 25,000 more possible outcomes. When we built a tolerance to the 8-sided dice, we moved up to the 12-sided. Once that no longer did the trick, it was the 20-sided monster. Imagine a large straight when your dice have to go from 1 to 20 instead of just 1 to 6.

Our girlfriends dumped us and it made us happy. We found new girlfriends who supported our habit, who took part in it. Who learned the lingo and cherished the laws of mathematics and understood basic Yahtzee probability.

We coached them as they played, and they got better and better. “Keep those fours!” I’d shout. “Always roll for Yahtzee if you have the chance.”

“Never, ever break a full house!!”

There was a place called Banana Brown’s where they played Yahtzee for money. We bought weights to exercise our fingers. Hired caddies to carry our dice. The dark, damp basement of Banana Brown’s was home to an underground Yahtzee club. A Yahtzee monastery and we were its monks. We were raised in a Christian nation but our trinity became the full house, the small straight and the 35-point bonus.

We won $400 our first night, then got jumped in the alley on our way home by the losers. They beat us senseless and took our dice. Luckily they left our fingers unbroken and intact but the warning was loud and clear. We were messing with a world we could not control.

I began to miss work because of the good game, and later lost my job, but we rationalized. My roommate told me, “Yahtzee is more important than your job. Work pays the bills but Yahtzee sets you free.”

“Maybe you guys should quit,” my girlfriend said.

“Why would I need to quit?”

“There are people who can help you,” she said.

“I don’t have a fucking problem!” I knew I could quit anytime I wanted to. But rumor grew of a shadow in the west: the big Yahtzee tournament in Vegas. All the world’s best tossers would be there. Billy Orion the 5-time world champ. Alexander Burlington an old Marine POW who had spent 5 years in a cage in Vietnam. Legend had it he carved 5 dice out of stones and kept himself sane by playing Yahtzee every night.

Top prize was half a million dollars, enough to put me back on top, without having to worry about a job getting in the way of my obsession.

I thought I was bad. The guys at Yahtzee Vegas had shakers made from red velvet, Italian leather, or pure silver decorated with gemstones. And they used terminology that we had never heard. The Tennessee Backdoor Yahtzee, the Fast Food Yahtzee, the hated Illinois Yahtzee and the rare No-Footed Can-Can. A large straight was called The Idiot’s Luggage.

We lost – big time. I detested the way those guys played, how they became excited over the small straight –celebrating an award for incompleteness. It was impure – a dishonest, perverted version of Yahtzee.

I began to hate everything that Yahtzee stood for.

We hit rock bottom in Vegas, but kept playing, and kept losing. Two days later and we’d been kicked out of our hotel rooms with stomachs empty and our pockets depleted. To the alleys we went and soon found ourselves rolling chicken bones into the lid of a metal garbage can. We invented a scoring system around the way the bones landed and played for weeks and weeks.

Then, with his skin pale and his eyes colorless from malnutrition, my roommate collapsed, grasping my hand as he choked on his final breaths. “Promise me,” he said. “You’ll never give up. Keep rolling them bones.” *cough cough*

Suddenly, a spiritual awakening as I realized how sick it all was. My best friend was dying on the street and all he could think about was Yahtzee. I held his hand those final moments as he babbled about what kind of dice they’d have in heaven.

My girlfriend nursed me back to health. She enrolled me in the 12-step program.

Step #1: I admitted I was powerless over Yahtzee and that my life had become unmanageable.

Step #2: I made a list of all the people I had wronged because of Yahtzee and promised myself I’d make amends to all of them.

Then I went around to the local schools and warned the children of the dangers of Yahtzee. I was on my way to recovery, a new person. I knew I could make a difference in the lives of others who struggled. Who had just begun the journey I was about to complete.

That Saturday, my girlfriend returned from a shopping trip. She tossed a plastic shopping bag on my lap. Inside was something flat, rectangular.

“I bought Scrabble!” she announced with an eager little grin.

“We shouldn’t,” I said. “We should be good,” I said.

“Come on, it’ll be fun!”

I guess it couldn’t hurt. “Okay,” I nodded. “Just one game.”

3 Responses to Maggie Ryan Sandford Wins Twin Cities Literary Death Match!

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark McGinty and Lupi, Tori Lafferty. Tori Lafferty said: DR's Love Update Maggie Ryan Sandford Wins Twin Cities Literary Death Match! « The … #love #relationships […]

  2. Daniel Olson says:

    Hey man, that was a great show. I’m glad that we were able to come down and support you.

  3. […] Literary Death Match returns to the Twin Cities on March 1st – that’s next Tuesday to you and me! The last time Todd & Co. were here everyone had a great night and Maggie Ryan Sandford took the gold. You can read a summary of the event, with photos and sketches, right here. […]

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