Friday, December 19, 2008


So ... we have been playing Assassins.

For those of you who don't know, Assassins is the best game in the world. You have at least 30 players, and the organizers arrange them in some sort of circle; each player is assigned a "target", who is another player in the game. You only know who your target is; you obviously don't know whose target you are, not unless he or she screws up big time. You are supposed to "kill" your target, which may happen in a variety of ways. At SSP, there were three ways of killing: "sniping", i.e. throwing a rolled up sock at your target, "poisoning", i.e. sticking a toothpick in your target's food before he or she noticed it, and "stabbing", i.e. pasting a sticker discreetly on your target. What made the game complicated in the SSP version was that no one could kill his or her target in the presence of a witness, who could be anyone, a player, a teacher, a random person, whatever. So if I threw a sock at my target furtively, and someone else was present when that happened, my target would not die; the move would backfire, and he would know who I am, so that he would take precautions ensuring he was never alone with me.

So much for SSP assassins (there are funny stories with that too, remind me to tell you one day).

Here at Princeton, the International Students Association organized a game of Assassins recently; which is to say, it is still going on, but no one except the dead people seem to care too much any longer. Also, the game is not solely for international students - in fact, the most zealous participant so far (read: most bloodthirsty) is from Ohio; perhaps more relevantly, he is dead now. Someone squirted him with a water gun.

So, the Princeton Assassins rules are different in some key respects. First of all, there is only one way of killing, "shooting", which is just a fancy name for squirting with a water gun. One of the more zealous participants went to the extent of sending ISAP (that's the organizer) an email asking them to define "shooting with a water gun". He got back a reply containing the technical definition, which is to say "at least two or more square inches of the target's clothing (when unfolded) or body must be clearly wet or moist with water of or relating to that squirted from one of the water guns specified by Princeton University, or any similar water gun, orange or green in color, whose range may not exceed 12 meters. Furthermore, the target must clearly feel the sensation of being squirted, and in the event of any confusion, an amenable agreement must be reached by the two parties involved" - the email went on. That's how ivy league universities work. Anyway, the other, more important rule in this version of Assassins was that there was no No-Witness rule. So I was allowed to shoot my target even in the presence of witnesses. There were, of course, "safe zones", which were classrooms in session, bathrooms, the Street, and so on. There was also a "safe time", from 1 a.m. till 8 a.m. No player is allowed to kill anyone in a safe zone, or during safe time. Once I killed a target, I got his or her next target as my next. So the whole circle got smaller and smaller until only one remained, and this was the winner. So much for the rules.

Now, I consider myself to be a great Assassins player. In fact, a number of people will vouch for the fact. So I said to myself, "Ok, you have to win this. You know the game inside out, you have resources, you have the looks, you have the style, what more do you need?" It is true; I am too modest to actually ever admit this, but I am the essence of the sexy killer, a James Bond reincarnate. Daniel Craig - pooh. I brush my teeth with ten Daniel Craigs every morning.

Anyway, so I started preparing. I set up shady alliances with all the other Forbes players (Forbes, for those of you who don't know, is the residential college in Princeton where I live). I sent spies throughout Princeton to look for clues and mysterious strangers. I ignored the beautiful girls who always seem to gaggle around me and set to work with cold, steely resolve.

My first target was Edvin. Edvin Memet, the genius from Romania, the International Physics Olympiad gold medallist, soccer fanatic, who had placed into a ridiculously advanced physics class (one that is affectionately called Death Mechanics in Princeton). And my job was to kill him.

It was intense. I stalked him on Facebook, sent out spies after him, kept a dossier on him; this was weekend, unfortunately, so I couldn't get him before or after his classes. But fate was on my side. Dressed impeccably (shirt, formal trousers, tie. I had considered a tuxedo, but decided in the end to leave that for the more important targets) a la the Mafia, I waited in the afternoon for Edvin to walk out of a building I had traced him to. He did, and I said in my sexy tenor Al Pacino voice, "Edvin. I am really sorry that this had to happen." and squirted him with my green water gun.

It was heroic! He took his death like a man, falling in a slow motion, and I could almost hear choral music all around me. He was going out, he said, but he would give me the name of my next target when he came back.

I went back to Forbes, thirsty for more blood. All the perfumes of Arabia and all that was just complete shit. I needed to kill more people. I sent ISAP an email, because we had to register each kill within 3 hours.

Within 10 minutes, they sent me a reply. The game, apparently, would not begin until midnight, and so my target, Edvin Memet, was still alive.

I was shocked. I had killed him, and watched him die slowly and painfully, and extracted the promise of his next target. Now he knew who was after him. Worst of all, I had already used up my Al Pacino voice.

No matter. I am a professional in these matters. At 12:39 a.m., I killed Edvin Memet again. He died slowly, just as before. I had taken some of my friends with me, and they had served as the bait. They had knocked on his door, pretending to collect support for Obama, and his roommate had answered, and apparently Edvin was not in. At that point I had just started using four-letter words randomly when he actually walked straight into the corridor. I quickly arranged my shirt and everything, and started using a Johnny Depp voice, found that I had lost my voice from the cold, ended up growling menacing and then almost choking, then chucked the whole idea and emptied my water gun on Edvin for the second time in 10 hours.

He was drenched, but he took it like a man ... again. My next target was Estefania Fiallos. Freshman, again. In Wilson College, too, that complicated things.

My first attempt on Estefy failed disastrously. I made the mistake of walking right up to her door and knocking. A guy answered, and I could tell he was suspicious. I admit it was stupid of me.

But who has ever stopped me from doing what I want? My sources told me (doesn't that sound insanely mysterious?) that Estefy was going to go out that night with Justin, who was a friend's roommate. To watch a movie (ha!). So I collected a small band of followers (Katharina, Jon, Michael), and went to Frist, waiting for her to turn up with Justin.

It was short. I recognized Justin's booming voice, and looked up to find him waiting outside the theater with a smallish girl who I recognized as Estefy. This time, because she was a pretty girl after all, I used my deadly Charlton Heston voice.

"I want you to know, Estefy, that this is not personal", I said in a sexy growl, and shot her. It was tragic, watching her eyes tremble, in the knowledge that I had ruined the date, and sort of betrayed Justin. Justin stood stoically beside her, and I suspect he was rather amused. Estefy took it like a man, too, except of course, she was a woman. She told me my next target was Jonathan Erlichman.

That one was hard. Jonathan proved to be insanely paranoid. I spent four hours outside his door, and he didn't come out. I knocked on his door, and his roommate opened, and spotted my water gun, and almost slammed the door shut in my face. I managed to convince them that I was after Chris Perlman (I couldn't come up with any other name; I have never heard of any Chris Perlman in my life), and I had simply mixed the rooms up. Anyway, I couldn't do much after that.

Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of humor. The next day I attended a lecture on Pythagorean triples in Fine Hall (yes, I am a math major. Funny how similar I am to Moriarty), and enjoyed every minute of it. When it was over, I made a rather fine point about Pell's Equation and how it was relevant to the lecture, and - glowing at my own brilliance - turned around to leave the lecture hall with everyone else. When I found my target sitting two rows behind me, ready to leave the hall too. Apparently, he had listened to the lecture too. And ALL this bloody while, he had been at my mercy. Now I was essentially stuck, because I had my water gun but it was empty. The nearest bathroom was three floors above. By the time I would fill my gun and bring it down, my target would have left.

But I had an advantage; my bike. I knew where my target lived, and hoped he would be going straight back to Whitman. I watched him leave and rushed upstairs to the bathroom to fill my water gun. I used warm water, and rushed down again, and got onto my bike and pedaled furiously to Whitman. To make matters worse, my gun had a leak, and I could feel my jacket getting wet all the while I rode. I hoped it would not seem inappropriate.

I was looking out for Jonathan all along the way, but I missed him completely. No matter; I had overtaken him. I met a friend, Waqas, near the entrance to Whitman, started talking with him (a cover, gentle reader, a cover) animatedly, and soon found Jonathan walking up to his death.

I was vicious this time. I don't know why, probably because my own jacket was half wet from the dripping water; but I basically soaked Jonathan top to bottom. He looked more like a bedraggled crow than I could ever have imagined.

And then it was Olaf's turn. Olaf, a very nice Buddhist students in charge of several student groups around campus, was a junior (third-year). I went to look for him in the Whitman Dining Hall, where he worked; but my efforts failed, and I was almost caught as a spy. I managed to lay the blame on someone else (don't squirm; he survived the angry mob), and escaped to my target's room. I had decided on a full frontal attack, so I knocked authoritatively. He lived in a 9-person suite, with TWO floors and a luxurious living room. He wasn't there. His suitemates told me to come in, and I did. I introduced myself as Hamza Aftab, a Buddhist student (Hamza is one of my closest friends, also playing; he's a Muslim from Pakistan), interested in racial abuse (I later wondered how this had sounded), and in joining the group "Conversations", of which Olaf was the President. His suitemates were very friendly, and gave me a Sprite, and heard all about my Buddhist roots (I was brilliant here!), and what Tibet was like (I let my imagination run wild), and so on. And still he didn't come back.

I took my leave after an hour and a half, and waited in the landing for Olaf. He came in, with a friend too, and came up the stairs cautiously. It was like The Untouchables stairway scene. I started talking on the phone (with no one, of course. Just a decoy) in Bengali, fingering my water gun inside my pocket with the other hand, waiting till he came within range. I started talking animatedly in the language I knew he wouldn't understand (I was reciting a Chandrabindoo song, for Christ's sake), and sometimes laughing aloud to make it convincing.

Olaf had been eyeing me warily for quite some time. As soon as he came to the landing, I whipped out my gun and started to squirt him with it; and he did something completely unexpected. He actually jumped forward, and grasped my hand. It would have been scary if I hadn't shot him by then, he would have taken the gun out of my hand, probably. But I had managed to give him one good squirt before, so that was okay. His friend, apparently, was playing too. I introduced myself as Hamza, again (of course; what if his friend had been after Rik? I couldn't afford to take a chance), and learned that my new target was Atanas Petkov.

That was really, really hard. Atanas had been prewarned by Olaf's friend (who was a Bulgarian like Atanas himself), so he was prepared. I went and lurked in his corridor, and suddenly his roommates came out and took pictures of me. This was really freaky. I had been expecting paranoia, but not intelligent counterplanning. The fact that Atanas now had my picture made things very, very inconvenient.

I decided to use one of my contacts who lived in the same building as Atanas. Mehek Punatar, also from India. I explained my plans, and counted on her.

A day later, I realized she was double-crossing me, and helping Atanas.

Sick of the ways of the world, I arranged for an accident to meet Mehek, and set out on my way to find a new contact. It came unexpectedly, in my Freshman Seminar class. Andreas Sakellaris, my classmate.

Apparently, Atanas and Andreas attended the same mathematics class, MAT 201 (prospective math majors like me who start off in MAT 215 use MAT 201 to crack hideously arrogant jokes). And the last class of the semester was the next day in Lewis Library.

So I was ready. I skipped the last few seconds of Rahul Pandharipande's MAT 215 class to take position. I filled my water gun to the brim, and lurked outside the classroom Andreas had shown me. As soon as the class was over, the professor walked out and I walked in. Atanas was smiling, a dejected, fallen smile; he knew death when he saw it ... and I was death in a sexy package.

And then ... I got my new target, Cristian Rastapopoulos. He isn't called Rastapopoulos, of course. I just named him so because his last name is unpronounceable. He is a Romanian SENIOR.

I have not killed him yet. Because the first time in my life, I am facing the prospect of a task that is in essence impossible.

He goes out of his dorm before 8 in the morning and comes back after 1 at night. So I can't get him in his dorm (safe time, remember?). What he does in between is deeply mysterious. To make matters worse, he is a Taekwondo fanatic. As is each and every one of his 8 suitemates.

I did everything possible. I tracked him down individually in three sites and searched his interests. I talked to professors and tried bribing certain people in power to help me get him. I assumed a new identity. To half the campus now, I am known as Sreedev Basu, who is in reality a classmate who stays in Forbes in the room opposite. I went to the official Taekwondo club, where Cristian is a regular member, and attended the last six practice sessions; he didn't turn up. I am now known in the Club as Sreedev, the guy passionate about Taekwondo, who is going to join the Club next semester. I have taken a few kicks during the sessions, and learned terms like "Fang!" and "Chop!", which are the grunts that we're supposed to do before kicking the hell out of someone in Taekwondo. And he still hasn't turned up.

There was a Romanian night in Princeton the day before Winter Break, and I hoped Crisitian would be patriotic or homesick enough to attend. I went there beforehand, and slipped in, the only non-Romanian in the entire hall, hoping to pass off inconspicuously as an Indian immigrant in Romania. I drank Romanian apple juice, had Romanian food, tried to convince some babbling Romanians that I was Sreedev Basu from Romania who just happened to be unable to speak Romanian at the moment, and then adjusted my disguise. I was still Sreedev Basu of Romania, only hard of hearing, so I didn't have to participate in conversations. I learned the basic words, "Buna!" for greetings, and "La revedere" for goodbye. I wandered among those throngs of Romanian math geniuses, my frail disguise holding out, saying "Buna!" randomly and receiving stares and blank looks. I even learned the Romanian national dance and danced with a pretty little Romanian girl for a minute, later introducing myself in English as Sreedev Basu. The girl immediately said "Oh! I know a Sreedev too, at Princeton! He's at Forbes, do you know him?" I mumbled, went back to my hard-of-hearing disguise, and said "La revedere!" and slunk off.

Which was when I bumped into Edvin. My first target.

I will never forget the nightmare that followed, Edvin grasping me by the hand and introducing me to everyone else in his loud voice "This is Rik, from India. He is playing Assassins ... he killed me - TWICE! Har har har."

My disguise was falling to pieces. Everywhere I could hear mutters like "Assassins? What is he doing here?", "India? This is a Romanian thing, isn't it?", "Rik? I thought he said he was Sreedev or something?", "Holy shit I just danced with him and he said his name was Sreedev", and so on.

My exit was not graceful. I practically fled.

So that's how things stand now. I have not yet killed Crisitian. I have infiltrated at the highest level, true, so much that the entire Taekwondo Club except him now knows and loves me and uses me occasionally as a punching bag. I have learned Romanian customs, added my name (i.e. Sreedev's) to the Taekwondo mailing list, and have done everything except killing him.

Now what?

At least my water gun is not dysfunctional, like Dan's. His gun's trigger came loose, so that before killing someone, he had an elaborate process; he took out the gun itself, took out the trigger, screwed the trigger on to the gun, squirted it at the ceiling to test it, then squirted his target.

And yet he managed to kill 10 people before he died. My assassination list is now only 5.

But what the hell, I'm alive.