First, a reminder: You are not Zooey Deschanel. There are things Zooey Deschanel can get away with doing that you will never be able to get away with. One of those things is playing New Girl’s fictional drinking game, True American.
True American is perhaps the pinnacle of absurd in-sitcom group games. That’s an area with surprisingly stiff competition—from Friends‘ apartment bet to Cougar Town’s Penny Can to Parks and Recreation’s Cones of Dunshire. But New Girl has managed to win out, mostly because it’s returned to the game in no less than three different episodes, adding more ridiculous conceits each time: The best include Moon Landing and Cotton Gin rules, the latter of which involves drinking actual gin.
The fact that True American was invented as a joke hasn’t stopped people from attempting to make actual rules for the game. This is because the show hasn’t enumerated how to play beyond a few core concepts: the floor is lava; you drink from a king of the castle (a bottle of whiskey) surrounded by sets of pawns (beers); you start the game by shotgunning a beer; you pick teams by throwing numbers on your head; there’s something involving shouting “JFK, FDR”; and everything you hear in True American is a lie.
One breezy college night, my friends and I decided to play True American. We’d seen a lot of episodes of New Girl, and were pretty big fans. We figured we could lay out a bunch of pillows in the common room (remember: the floor is lava) and then waste a perfectly good night trying to re-create the shenanigans that Jess Day (Deschanel) and her roommates have on the show. (College! It’s so much fun.)
What you need to play True American:
- 4+ players
- 24+ beers, 1 bottle of whiskey
- A large room stocked with pillows and chairs
- The willful self-delusion of a coddled Millennial
Like any good group of college students, we got to work on a Google spreadsheet detailing the rules a couple days in advance of playing. Extrapolating from the basic set-up, we decided that each turn a player would call out a rule to decide who got to advance and/or drink. Every rule was based in American tradition and/or American history. In one, a person shouts ”God Bless America,” and everybody moves between pillows and drinks. In another, you can shout ”Manifest Destiny” and grab a beer from the person closest to you, claiming their resources as your right. Other rules were more complex: a McCarthyism mini-game involved an impromptu round of Mafia, followed by the expulsion of the losing player to Soviet Russia (where vodka is the only drink). That in turn incites a space race, where teams try to build the largest possible ship by taping together scrap metal (empty beers).
Pro tip: If you ever decide to play True American, have a frank discussion about the many racist/imperialist/downright cruel spots in American history before you start playing the game. In fact, have this conversation as often as you can, just not when you’re imitating the drinking habits of imaginary people.
Now you’re probably thinking one of two things: 1) I want to play this game 2) Dude, stop. Both responses are accurate, because while it’s possible that playing a drinking game based on a television show is a bad idea, it’s the kind of bad idea that you have to experience before realizing its utter bad idea-ness. I don’t know if this will convince you either way, but here’s a brief blow by blow:
- The game begins: You think, Okay, I feel a little ridiculous.
- Ten minutes in: Hey, this could be fun
- Half-hour in: The Monroe Doctrine goes into effect; non-intervention means no one is allowed to text anyone outside of the game.
- One hour in: Ford Fusion product placement.
- 90 minutes in: The Spanish-American war begins; non-intervention ends.
- Two hours in: You’ve sent over 42 snapchats. You’ll never learn what’s on them.
- Some indefinite point in time: All sensation coalesces into a sort of singularity, Americaaaaaaaa.
(If you’re wondering about the soundtrack, I’m 99 percent sure it was just ”Party in the USA” on repeat.)
On New Girl, the characters wake up with hangovers, grumble about mistakes, and the episode ends. Next week, they will be fresh-faced and ready for another set of misadventures. The consequences are funny, but also contained, visible, and (of course) written by people with a sense of humor about the universe.
In real life, there is no showrunner. You lose a weekend to exhaustion after playing, and while you might have survived, the consequences are unexpected and permanent. One minor example: A week later, you run into a friend. Small talk ensues. Out of the blue, he asks, “Did you send me a text at 3 a.m. that was just the words ‘1960s = sexual liberation?’” You mumble, “Dammit, Zooey.” You wonder who else got that text.