Name that status: The rules

If you’re my Facebook friend, you have probably noticed that I don’t use some of the site’s main features in the way that they were intended to be used. And while it’s been a while since I’ve toyed with Facebook’s check-ins, for several years I’ve held pretty steady to my routine of using my status updates as an ongoing game of “Name That Tune.” Barring major life or world events that seem too big to ignore, my status updates are always song lyrics, and an unusually eclectic spread of my friends will chime in with their guesses as to what song I’m quoting. What you probably didn’t know, even if you have been following those status-lyrics closely, is that there are extensive rules to that game. And the time has come, gentle readers, for me to share those rules with you.

To be clear, these are almost entirely rules for me. For folks who are playing along at home, there’s really only one rule: no cheating. If you can identify a lyric on your own, that’s cool. But if you need to start dropping my statuses into search engines to figure things out, that’s verboten. Still, even that rule is only enforced by my friends’ personal senses of honor. Once, I think, I suspected someone was Googling their way to correct guess after correct guess after guess, even across a diverse spread of genres and historical moments. But otherwise, I’ve simply assumed that everyone knows that the game isn’t really any fun (or much of a challenge) if you’re just firing up Google every time I change my status.

From my end, though, things are slightly more complicated.

  • I do my best never to repeat a song. Every so often, I screw this up. But I keep a running file of used songs/lyrics to try and avoid duplication. That same running file also contains long lists of lyrics that are still waiting their turn to be used.
  • The lyrics I quote never contain major words from the actual title. I also try not to be too obvious with the lyrics I actually choose, though what counts as “too obvious” is also a difficult thing to guess in advance. I do my best to pick songs that I expect more than a handful of people would know, but I’m often surprised by how quickly some of my (ostensibly) tricky efforts gets recognized, and by how lyrics that strike me as low-hanging fruit nonetheless flummox people left and right.
  • I try very heard not to use lyrics that appear in multiple songs. This is much easier said than done of course, since there are lots of songs I have never heard, and every so often, someone will swear that I’m quoting (for example) some obscure Gladys Knight tune that I’ve never heard of that just happens to use the same lyrics I’ve quoted. But I don’t aim for deliberate confusion of this sort.
  • This game began back when Facebook statuses were still set up (and mostly used) in such a way that your actual status was the back end of a sentence that began with your name: e.g., “Gil Rodman doesn’t trust you anymore” (which, incidentally, is Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddamn”). And I’ve stuck by that formulation, even as both Facebook and popular custom has moved away from it. One of the major consequences this has for status-lyrics is that I will sometimes make minor alterations to verbs and pronouns so as to fit this shift to the third-person singular. Otherwise, I leave the lyrics unchanged.
  • Statuses stay “live” until someone correctly identifies the tune in a comment. Typically, people do this with some other lyric of the same song, though I don’t get all Jeopardy-fussy about this sort of thing. If I can tell that you know the song I’m quoting, I’ll tip my hat your way, and move on to the next lyric. If 72 hours have passed and no one has IDed some lyric, I’ll post the answer and move on.
  • The bit you probably didn’t know, unless you’ve been paying exceptionally close attention (only one person I know of has figured this out on their own): lyrics are posted in alphabetical order by song title. My original plan was to do one status for each letter of the alphabet, and then cycle back around again to A every time we got done with Z. Not surprisingly, though, some letters (I, L, S, T) offer a lot more opportunities than others (J, Q, X, Z), and so I started letting some of those letters get multiple turns during any given pass through the alphabet. Right now, a little less than half the alphabet is “on vacation,” and so a typical sequence now may look something like ABBCDGHIIIJLMPRSSTW.

Admittedly, all this inside information will be of limited value if you want to play the game yourself. Knowing that the most recently used (and unguessed) lyric (as I type these words anyway) was from “I Got Rhythm” will tell you that the current tune’s title is probably going to begin with an I or a J . . . but that clue will only get you so far, eh?

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