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Fun with eye contact

Brooks Smith | Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Many people mistakenly think you need a board game, an Internet connection or a 40 to have some fun. Wrong, wrong and accurate but not the answer I have in mind. All you need is a sidewalk full of strangers to amuse yourself endlessly. That, and the ability to see. If you are blind you will find the activities I am going to describe difficult, or even impossible, to carry out properly. The game is called “Eye Contact.” A fundamental feature of human nature: Making eye contact with a stranger on the sidewalk (or anyone in the range of stranger to distant acquaintance) is off-putting, unnerving, for the other participant. It knocks them off balance for just a moment. You will exploit this temporary vulnerability for your own amusement.

1) “The Twitch.” This is the easiest eye-contact activity to pull off well. Make eye contact with the other person, make sure they notice, and then begin contracting the muscles around or under one eye rapidly. Try to make it appear that you are having a seizure. If the other person gives you a horrified stare, you have won. If not, you’re ready for game No. 2:

2) “The Horrified Stare.” It helps to have a very expressive face for this one. Make eye contact with the other person when they are close enough to read your facial expression, then widen your eyes, contract and raise your eyebrows just slightly, and open your mouth — don’t gape, but move your mouth like you’re about to gasp. If you can curl your lower lip downwards in disgust, so much the better. Try to maintain the eye contact, and the expression, for as long as possible People who are advanced at the horrified stare may want to work in groups of two or more. Multiple horrified stares make the other person feel much more self-conscious.

Additionally, if you are in a group, you can whisper furiously but inaudibly to one another once your victim has passed by, enhancing the self-consciousness effect. I don’t give conditions under which you ‘win’ at the horrified stare, because you really can’t lose.

3) “The Sultry Wink.” Ahh, the wink. There are as many different winks as there are people. All winks, however, share one essential feature, which can be described as closing one eye (either one will do, although most people will have an intrinsic preference or ‘wink handedness’) while keeping the other eye open. Some people are able to move one eyelid without the other, while others will need to scrunch up their face to perform a wink. The key to this one is the sultriness. Here I find it necessary to be brutally candid: Not everyone can pull off a sultry wink. The test is simple. Look in the mirror and wink at yourself, or wink at a friend, and ask their reaction. If they, or you, burst out in fits of giggles, it’s not going to work. Although it’s not strictly necessary, it helps to be an attractive girl in order to wink convincingly. If the other person’s ears, face, or neck begin to redden, you have won.

4) “The Snort of Involuntary Laughter.” This one is devastating. Deliberately make eye contact, then release a brief snort and smile slightly while breaking the eye contact. It helps to bend forwards a little—the further the bend, the greater the perceived amusement. Subtlety is key to the snort. It’s not necessary to point, laugh uproariously, or otherwise call attention to yourself—this may tip the other person off that the social error lies with you and not them. However, if you are playing this game with a group of friends, it’s acceptable to nudge one another or whisper back and forth, while looking at the victim. If the other person puts a hand up to their face to examine it or checks their shirt for stains, you have won.

So there you have it. With these four techniques under your belt, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself in almost any situation that involves walking and features other pedestrians (which is quite a few). Just don’t try #4 on any football players coming your way.


Brooks Smith is a senior honors mathematics major and can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.