After me, the next member of the household to see Wavelength is the dog, and she doesn’t like it. It contains an extraordinary plastic device that stands up in the box. Around the rim of the device is a wheel that makes a pleasing clickety-clack noise as it turns. Except it doesn’t please the dog. She comes running around the corner, skidding on the floorboards and barks at it until it’s put back in the box and the box is put back on the shelf.
Once she’s calmed down, we get it out again and click the wheel as quietly as we can. Wavelength is one of those party-style guessing games that continue in the deep and popular wake left by Codenames. Like the latter game, it’s very easy to play but quite hard to describe. Players take turns to give clues. There’s a clue card with two extremes, like “soft” and “hard”.
The clue giver spins the clickety wheel hidden from the other players, causing a scoring zone to reach a random position on the dial. Then they have to offer a brief clue to help their teammates guess where on the scale, from left to right, the scoring zone, from two to four points, is.
At this point, I stop trying to explain and decide I’ll just show the family instead. So I’m going to show you too. Here are the seven clues from our first game, played with the co-operative rules. You can play along with us too: read the scale and the clue and have a guess before you find out how things unfolded.
Scale: Tastes Bad - Tastes Good
Clue: Shit with sprinkles
We liked this clue. Not only because it was naughty enough to make the kids laugh but because everyone understood what was meant. Shit is about the worst thing you can imagine tasting but a few sprinkles make it the tiniest bit more bearable. So we guessed just a smidge above the extreme left hand of the dial. Which was exactly right. From this we learn that it’s often easier to give a good clue if the scoring zone is close to one end of the dial.
Scale: Bad Role Model - Good Role Model
Clue: Karl Marx
This turned out to be a fascinating example of how Wavelength can cut both ways. Initial discussion established that it can’t be to one extreme or the other. But one of the players was adamant it had to be a long way toward bad because Marx invented communism, and communism killed millions. But then other players chimed in and said well, he couldn’t foresee that but he was a womaniser and quite a mean bloke, so he was at least a bit bad. One of them was also convinced the clue-giver thought his politics was dangerous. In the end, they settled for halfway toward a bad role model.
In fact, the answer was a bit over the halfway mark toward good. The clue-giver explained that while much of that was true, he also worked hard, was clever and very influential. And contrary to the presumption, they felt that while Marx’s interpreters were dangerous, Marx himself was trying to do the right thing. You can learn a lot about your fellow players in Wavelength.
Scale: Not Addictive - Addictive
Sometimes, you get the psychology of the clue-giver just right. In this case, it was given by a teenager. Someone that’s old enough to understand that heroin and cocaine exist, and what physical addiction means. But someone that also spends most of their time holed up in a dark bedroom with their phone, binge-watching YouTube. So we dialled this about two thirds over toward addictive. And we were just on the scoring edge - it was, in fact, a bit further!
Scale: Temporary - Permanent
Clue: Henna Tattoos
How permanent is permanent? In Wavelength, it’s easy to get fooled by the clue into seeing the scale in a different way from the way the clue-giver interpreted it. A tattoo is pretty permanent. It’s what makes them both popular and undesirable. Of course, they’re not wholly permanent as they can be removed by surgery. A henna tattoo is a flyway thing in comparison but it still lasts a while, measured in weeks.
Or so our train of thought goes, as we guess a bit over toward the permanent side. The clue-giver tries to keep a poker face but their frustration shows. And rightly so, because we’d been idiots. How permanent is a tattoo, let a lone a henna tattoo compared to a mountain, or a star? The real answer is a little over toward the temporary side and we score nothing.
Scale: Straight - Curvy
Clue: A line drawn without a ruler
This is another banging clue. Simple, yet effective and the person who thought of it knows as much, sitting back with a satisfied purse of the lips. Try and draw a straight line without a ruler and you’ll get a decent result but one that’s always, always, got an irritating kink or slope in it. We guess something like three-quarters over the way to straight, and it’s straight to bank the points.
Scale: Bad actor - Good actor
Clue: Martin Freeman
Some clues are tougher than others, and this is a doozy. There’s so much personal taste here that surely, it’s impossible for us to get the points. But we tried to break it down. Martin Freeman is not someone who’s won an Oscar or is going to trouble the “most talented” lists of many critics. At the same time: he’s good and consistently so. So we edged some way over toward “good actor” but not too far and presto! We bagged some points.
Afterwards, we are distracted from the game by a fascinating discussion of who we each think our favourite actors are. Wavelength is very good at engendering this kind of thing. Everyone stands in awe of Antony Hopkins but otherwise, there’s wide disagreement. Making it even more impressive that we got this one.
Scale: Normal Pet - Exotic Pet
Clue: British Shorthair Cat
What’s “exotic”, in terms of pets? Wavelength often challenges you to think about your own personal semantics. We forged ahead on the specificity of this clue. A very specific breed of cat is obviously more exotic than a cat. And specific cat breeds feel more exotic than specific dog breeds, which are now quite common. But they’re not, say like an alligator. So we guess a little bit exotic.
As it turns out, we needed to widen the scale. The actual scoring zone was a little bit toward normal pet. And in retrospect, that’s fair when the pet “cocaine hippos” of drug lord Pablo Escobar are in the news. We probably should have figured that the person giving the clue had just been watching Tiger King.
In truth, once we’d played, we played again. And then a third time. It’s so tempting when it’s such a great, polite way to start discussions and challenge presumptions. Only after that did the dog get a little bit of peace with the dial back in the box. The next morning, while performing some chores around the house, I found my two kids had set it up and were playing by themselves. This is something they’ve never, ever done with one of my games before. It was lovely to feel that they were finally attuning to my own Wavelength.