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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Dueling Bingos: Emphasis on “Duel”

I have promised you tales of BINGO, have I not?  Tales to curl the very insides of your soul.  Tales that recount my magnificent victory over Lady Luck, Charlie Chance, and Sarah Serendipity!  And recount my tale I shall!

A week and a half ago I asked you, my faithful readers, to sponsor me in the 826NYC Dueling Bingos challenge.  Not only did you respond in kind but for a while there I was wiping the floor with the competition.  Then the competition bit back, but for quite some time we were really riding the wave of most-money awesomeness.  I promised that in return I would give you one heckuva recap of the event.  And recap I shall!

Oh, the outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Betsy Bird that day.  Having just finished moderating two brilliant panelists at NYPL for my Children’s Literary Salon (Stephen Roxburgh and Jennifer Perry, and it went beautifully) I immediately sped after work with husband in tow from Manhattan to Brooklyn on a Saturday night.  If you know the New York subway system then you’ll realize what a miracle it was to get there precisely on time.

I decided to wear something appropriately Bingo-ish.  I don’t know what constitutes correct Bingo attire, but I figured it should probably involve a lot of dots, right?  Here’s what it looked like during the Lit Salon:

Thanks to Melanie Hope Greenberg for the pic.  So with dress, husband, camera, and Flip camera in tow we burst through the doors of 826NYC.

A quick word about the actual physical doors of 826NYC.  Each 826 venue (there are many throughout America) is fronted by a faux storefront that covers up the true nature of the facility in an amusing fashion.  In New York, the front is a Superhero Supply Store.  Inside you can buy many of the fun “superhero” products that they sell.

Inside the place filled up fast.  That was when we heard the rules behind the game.  You see, in dueling bingo you have an actual opponent.  Whoever you sit across from is your rival.  Then there are three games of lightning quick speed and whoever gets the best of three is crowned the ultimate winner.  Easy peasy.

To make the game a bit more lively you can take the money folks have donated in your name and “buy” extra bingo cards and even balls for the caller with your preferred number and letter.  So if you look at these cards:

… you’d know you’d want to buy B3, I22 and I17 because at least two cards sport those numbers.

Jon Scieszka, our beloved former Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, was on hand with what I think must have been his smoking jacket / Bingo attire.  Other celebs would join as the night wore on, but he was the most prominent and, truth be told, most outgoing of the crew.  He even had his lovely wife Jeri Hansen and daughter Casey Scieszka on hand as well.  It was a family affair!

Matt and I sat side-by-side.  I had a clear view of the caller, which was good because it allowed me to videotape the opening.  See?

Would I lie to you?  Here’s the video I took:

And here’s the amount of success I had in filming with one hand and taking photos with another.

Oog.  You can’t even really tell that’s Sarah Vowell seated by the door.

Our host this evening was one sitcom writer Eric Gilliland, a man who has worked on everything from Roseanne to That 70’s Show.  Then, without further ado, the games began!

Within two minutes the person across from me was the very first person to cry “Bingo!” long and loud.

You think I kid?  How could I?  I couldn’t come up with that kind of plotting if I tried.  Yes, before any other person in the room of 40 could assemble their pieces and win, my opponent (we’ll call her Madame X) showed that she had the mad skillz to not only beat me, but beat me FIRST!

That’s okay.  I still had a couple more chances, right? If I won the next round I could possibly rebound and beat her back.  To my right, Matt also lost his first game.  I nursed my hurt ego with the completely silly knowledge that Madame X had learned her Bingo at her grandma’s knee.  Even better, she had one dinky card to my impressive three.

Round Two and I decided not to be distracted by the puppets that were leering down at me.

Begone, vile pieces of felt!  I’ve a Bingo game to win!

This time the competition was fierce.  For the longest time no one at my table won at all.  I was locked in with my competitor.  Sweat was flowing.  Beer was chugged (not by me, alas).  Tensions mounted . . . .

And she beat me again.  Again!

Outside on the back patio, nursing our wounds, Matt proclaimed that our strategy had been all wrong.  If I had played HIM then that would have guaranteed at least one of us entrance into the next round.  Sacre bleu!  I hadn’t thought of that.

Really, the only thing for it at this point was to do some celebrity watching.  I’d already seen Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock inside:

And Sarah Vowell was lurking about elsewhere.  So I stood chatting with Scieszka, Matt, and Lori Ess (most recently known to you as the I’m okay girl, which was filmed that very night).  Lori works at Scholastic Book Group and recently they were doing some housekeeping, when they found several fun press shots of Mr. Scieszka from the early days when he and Lane Smith were first promoting stuff like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.

Jon pointed out the problem with this photo.  It was supposed to be cropped so that it looks like they were in jail.  Instead, it just looks like they’re holding up the headboard of a bed . . . which they are.  Strangely enough, that makes me like the photo even more.

So we’re standing there admiring the poor cropping when I look up and I see . . . well, check out the guy on the left in this photo wearing the orange/red shirt.

At the time he’s coming down the steps into the back patio.  And I think to myself, “Huh.  That looks like Mike Myers, kinda.”  And as he gets closer I realize, “Aw, shoot.  That IS Mike Myers, kinda.”  But I don’t trust my eyes so I whisper to Lori, “Is that Mike Myers?”  She assures me that it is indeed and Scieszka tells us that the man plays a mean ping pong game.  It’s so random I’m sort of flustered.  So I watch and Kinnear some shots of him and John Oliver (one of the Daily Show correspondents).

That being the very limits of the amount of excitement I can handle in one day, I take off.

But who, you may ask, won the ultimate tournament?  Who got the grand prize?  Who was number one?

Well, Scieszka’s clan stayed on longer than most.

And in the end, when all was said and done, here’s how Jon summed up the night:

“The bingo-mad mob was eventually boiled down to 6 All Stars who played a single X match (who knew there were so many variations?  I learned the L, the T, Four Corners, the Postage Stamp, and the Black Out) to determine the Champ.

Daughter Casey did her parents proud and brought home the hardware, taking a victory lap around the celeb-studded room to Queen’s inevitable We Are the Champions.”

That’s right!  Jon’s daughter Casey Scieszka (who has a graphic novel coming out next year, so keep your eyes peeled, folks) won the day!

Some of the photos you’ve seen here were mine, but others are from 826NYC.  For the vast range of photos from the evening in question, look no further than this Flickr page.  You can see every gory detail, down to the last drop.

Now a special thanks to all my sponsors.  Without you guys, the evening really wouldn’t have been as much fun.  Huge thanks indeed to one Gina Beaumont for her ginormous contribution.  Big time thanks too to Lori Ess and James Kirkley as well as Christine Kelly, Peggy Popp, William Greenberg, and Carolyn Dooman.  You guys are the best.  If some children get free tutoring out of this, it all comes down to you.

Happy Ending

Total amount raised for 826NYC: $10,000.  Thank you!

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. What a fun re-cap! I love Bingo and wish I could have been there. Nancy and I *did* make it to 826NYC’s ping pong fundraiser a while back, and I can back up Jon Scieszka on Mike Myers’ skillz. His appearance at the table was the highlight of the night. (Although people paying Catherine Keener to slap them was also strangely entertaining.)

  2. Mama-Mama-razzi! (sung to Lady Gaga)
    Thanks Betsy! Always a pleasure to visit your Salon.