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Think hink-pink

By Paul O. Williams / September 29, 1987



IF you were to come upon a group of friends standing around in silence staring, they might possibly be trying to remember batting averages from the 1934 World Series. Or they might be planning future investments. Maybe, though it seems unlikely, they could be in awe of a just-recited Miltonic poem. And maybe they could be playing hink-pink. Hink-pink is that sort of game, involving a lot of silence punctuated by occasional exclamations and guffaws. It is a word game, impromptu in nature, without scores or winners, and, whenever the fad resurfaces, amusing.

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To play, one person suggests a creative definition for two rhyming words. It is the task of the others to think of the rhyming pair.

The definer also announces the number of syllables in each word. If there is one, it is a hink-pink. If two, it is a hinky-pinky. Three makes a hinkedy-pinkedy. Four each is very rare. Imagination is supposed to play a part, certainly more than sober sense. For example, if someone were to ask for a hink-pink that was described as a means by which a saddle could be attached to a certain smallish songbird, the answer would be, of course, a finch cinch.

Hink-pinks vary in difficulty. Footwear worn by a famous A.A. Milne character needs no explanation. Nor does a beverage for a small, popular fur-bearing weasel. A hink-pink for a twig might be a slim limb. A lethargic adversary would be a slow foe. A strange example of a fish popular in Boston would be an odd scrod.

Hinky-pinkies tend to be slightly more difficult. Someone on the lookout for small water-loving mammals might be an otter spotter. A tepid thundershower would be a lukewarm rainstorm. A deep-fried food to be served to animals is a critter fritter. A somewhat difficult hinky-pinky might be defined as the embarrassment of a certain kind of whale. That is, of course, bowfin chagrin. An eating implement for Chinese Lilliputians is a toothpick chopstick. Irrational love of yachting is boating doting.

But some are easier. Most readers can figure out what a smart remark made by a football player from the backfield might be. Or the chitchat of a synagogue singer. Or a more observant person following the harvesters to pick up what they missed.

Hinkedy-pinkedies sometimes offer a challenge. A spear used by a certain kind of turtle is a terrapin javelin. A Tyrannosaurus rex engaged in bullfighting might be a dinosaur matador. A portrait painter of boas is a constrictor depicter. Stuff and nonsense spoken by Arthur's most famous knight would be Lancelot tommyrot.

Believe it or not, people can guess these things, but often not without staring at the wall for a time. A more humorous seller of salad vegetables might be easier for a British player than an American one. It is a jocoser greengrocer.

Much depends on the mercies of the definer, too. For example, if someone asked for a hinkedy-pinkedy describing a feeling of great well-being or elation on the part of people from a city in Illinois, some players would mull a long while. But if the definer said it was a city in Illinois famous as a test of political designs, some player would soon shout out, ``Peoria euphoria.''

Players ought also to limit themselves to rhyme pairs having the same syllable count to keep the game moving, though I recall a game in which someone asked for a hinkedy-pinkedy defined as a doubtful wastebasket. Almost immediately, another player said, ``Skeptical receptacle.''

One ought to try to keep the rhymes close to exact, and be merciful about dialect differences. A gong belonging to a large marine mammal (hink-pink) would be a whale bell, and an exact rhyme in certain Southern states, but others would be confused.

Two players idling away a bus ride can play hink-pink, but it goes faster with a larger group, because astonishingly adroit answers come fast with more people thinking.

No doubt some reader will determine what is the trembling of a lobster or shrimp (hinkedy-pinkedy) without too much trouble, while others may ponder it awhile. On the other hand, most people could figure out quickly what an insect living in a floor covering (hink-pink) would be. Or the pleasingly fat protuberance on a camel (hink-pink). Or, perhaps, a good-looking window above a door (hinky-pinky). Someone who creates music while riding on earthmoving equipment (hinkedy pinkedy) might offer a few problems.

Finding the pairs and creating definitions is as amusing as figuring them out. Hink-pink is a leisurely game with all winners. If not deduction instruction, it is at least fun won from moments of leisure. If played while leaving the country, it would be an emigration cogitation. A game in a province of Germany could be a Hessian session. This amusement tends not to end but only to pause, only to rear its head again later. There is no real game frame.