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Ever played Balderdash? It’s one of those board games for brainiacs where mental acuity and legerdemain are put to the ultimate test — and only those who excel at both emerge as winners. In other words, the perfect game for lawyers. For three years running, the 70-attorney Menlo Park, Calif., office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has hosted a grueling, 10-week Balderdash tournament as part of its annual summer associate schmoozefest. At this year’s white-knuckled Aug. 9 finals, Regis was a no-show and the prize money — a $200 Stanford shopping mall gift certificate — wasn’t exactly the quick ticket to early retirement. Nevertheless, a handful of associates was sweating in the hot seat anyway. For Balderdash neophytes, a brief primer: The board game tests two skills, vocabulary and artifice. A word — an etymon known perhaps only to William Safire — is given to all participants, who must then craft a definition. All explications, including the correct one, are pooled and read aloud to the group. Each player then tries to guess the right definition. The one who nails it gets the most points. But those sly enough to dupe their opponents into picking their definition also score. It’s a game that rewards uber lexicons and expert bluffing. And you thought all the fun ended with moot court. Orrick’s 2001 grand champion of deceit was Matthew Poppe, an intellectual property litigation associate and 1994 University of Chicago Law School graduate. Poppe took top honors for his snookering a few finalists into believing a “paixtle” is a three-pronged utensil known to Mayan cultures. It’s really a Mexican fiesta dance performed by men disguised in costumes of hay. Poppe’s definition was hardly the most outlandish. Senior associate I. Neel Chatterjee adopted the suck-up strategy by appealing to contest hostess and employment litigation partner Lynne Hermle. His proposed definition of paixtle? “The joyful, spirited dance engaged in by Lynn Hermle after class certification is denied.” This followed Chatterjee’s definition of “blellum”: the sound opposing counsel makes after facing Lynn Hermle in trial. Someone, apparently, is up for partner. True, the revelry all sounds a little, well, dorky. But the three dozen or so staffers and associates who attended the event were clearly having a blast. Hermle came up with the idea of a hat theme and participant profiles. Among the showcased chapeaux: a wedding veil, a lamp shade, a plant, even an empty tissue box. Poppe came decked out in dark sunglasses and a Head tennis racquet cover, prompting Hermle to call him “the person you’d least like to meet in a dark alley.” Perhaps the best moment of the shindig came when Poppe donned the silver tiara crowning him the 2001 Balderdash King. See? It’s not all doom and gloom this summer in Silicon Valley.

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