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Institute of Advanced Study

Conference Bluff

At the Institute of Advanced Study’s international conference Transfusion and Transformation: the Creative Potential of Interdisciplinary Knowledge Exchange (July 15th-17th 2014) the conference dinner was followed, not by the usual after-dinner speech, but by the IAS’s unique approach to exchanging disciplinary languages: a game of Durham Bluff. Introduced to the IAS in 2012, this is similar to a longstanding British game, Call My Bluff, in which players (in two teams of three) take obscure terms and, as well as defining the true meaning of each, offer two false definitions or ‘bluffs’. In Durham Bluff, each team employs jargon from different disciplinary areas, and points are gained either by getting the right answer, or by successfully bluffing the other team. 

The game was played with Martin Ward bringing colourful Hawaiian flair as the Director of Ceremonies and Audrey Bowron – as ever – keeping things well on track. Disrupting a long run of winning duplicity by Durham Home teams, this occasion saw the Visitors triumph. On the Home team, Ben Campbell launched the event with an outstanding rendition of the ‘lapilli’ of a sensitive plant; Angela Woods offered some very dashing fiction with her description of the camouflage-inspired design in a post-war ‘Ophiolite Suite’; and Tom McLeish’s brave foray into a West Country accent lent Hardyesque verisimilitude to his description of the ‘scumble’ wooden barrels (not in fact) used to contain cider. 

But the Durham team’s fraudulent attempts were no match for the international visitors. Jill Gordon caught them out with her authoritative description of a ‘bokken’ Boer canvas tent; and Stephen Lansing’s deadpan style persuaded them that ‘scapular’ was indeed a homologous term describing a cornice or shoulder decorating the top of a classical pillar. They rallied briefly and resisted Brad Gregory’s Shakespearean performance as Touchstone stroking his ‘arbelest’ beard, concluding that he was indeed a knave. But it was too late: with a score of 5-3, the Visitors emerged as winning bluffers, earning pride of place on the ‘loafing platform’ which was not, as it turned out, a platform lowered by ropes to enable the cleaning of skyscraper windows with ‘loaf-shaped’ sponges…