DEIRDRE Not to mention the fact that most players buy additional papers, 50/50 raffle tickets (through which they can win prizes like blenders or additional lotto tickets — "here's your chance to win more chances!"), and "pull-tab" tickets (like scratch tickets, with a different mechanism). The investment can certainly add up. (That said, so can a night at the Nickelodeon, what with popcorn and soda and candy . . .)

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NICK And while we're on that analogy, there's a fundamental difference between playing bingo and going to the movies. Even at its most banal, a movie conveys a story, one that the viewer relates to in some way. Bingo does no such thing. Besides the issue of winning or losing, it's virtually impossible to reflect on a night playing bingo. Or learn from it at all. The closest I came to learning anything was forming an odd, quasi-mystical relationship with G-59.

DEIRDREBut! When you go to a movie, you're just sitting there, eyes potentially glazed, watching it. Minimal participation, except intellectual (and that depends on the flick). At the bingo hall, you have to be engaged — or else you'll miss a number. My favorite was I-19, in case you're wondering. Players also have to be aware of which pattern they're looking for, whether it be the church cross or the garden shovel or the letter A.

NICK That little twist was a pleasant surprise. I was naive enough to think everyone played the same game every time — five in a row, any direction. Definitely much more interesting this way, but it doesn't strike me as much more than a cosmetic feature. I don't think anyone has trouble identifying the pattern. But you're on to something there. It's a game of chance, but it requires just enough personal input — some might say skill — to keep people engaged.

DEIRDRE I think the only "skill" is in how many squares you can confidently monitor without missing numbers. Many bingo regulars tape together multiple sheets, increasing their odds of winning, but requiring them to scan dozens of additional rows every time a number is called. Fortunately, the silky tones of some callers' voices minimize any sort of frantic mood in the room.

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NICK Right. Paul Cyr's melodious lilt really keeps the numbers flowing. It's almost like he gives them personalities. And we definitely met a lot of people with a real reverence for the game — the ones who come equipped with a fannypack of daubers in copious color options and surround their gameboards with family photos and good-luck totems. But there are also some real hard-core gamblers here. I'm thinking specifically about that group who ritualistically use the night's two intermissions to buy stacks and stacks of pull-tabs and cluster around the trash can expiring them. Do you think you could ever get to that level of enthusiasm?

DEIRDRE I'm not sure I could muster that determination about anything . . . I mean, it speaks to the addictive nature of any game of chance. Once you start, you have a burning desire to keep going until you win. Otherwise, was it worth it?

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