MOST OF WHAT I thought I knew about bingo came from a fourth-season episode of the excellent sitcom Roseanne:
Fussy players, hunched over tables in a church hall, poring over a dizzying array of bingo cards. Bizarre tchotchkes, clutched and fondled for luck like holy relics. And a veritable rainbow of daubers—marker-like devices that drop inky circles on whatever they touch—as far as the eye can see.
It always seemed so intimidating. But then I finally played in real life. And... it's not terrible or intimidating. Bingo is delightful.
I got up the gumption one night and drove to one of the metro area's last remaining bingo halls, the brightly lit joint out on NE Sandy run by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). Here's what I learned!
• Go late! I got super lucky, hitting two bingos in the first two hours after I sat down—winning $135. That's not normal. The women I sat near said you can go weeks without winning and almost as long without "getting on"—their phrase for being one number away from a bingo.
But I also helped my luck. I showed up for a three-hour Wednesday "moonlight" session starting at 10:15 pm. Fewer competitors means fewer chances for someone else to call "bingo" before you can.
(At the DAV, all of the games are fundraisers for nonprofits. My session was sponsored by the Oregon Amateur Sports Foundation.)
• Make friends! If it's your first time, don't be shy. Tell the fellows at the counter where you buy the bingo cards. (They gave me a free Superman-themed dauber.) And talk to the veteran players, who pretty much all love seeing if they can infect you with the same bingo fever that's gripped them for the past 35 years.
Consider spending about $10 to $20 on paper cards. That'll get you a bunch of tries at the regular bingo games, which pay $90 each. But it'll also get you in on some of the trickier, more lucrative games—where you win big for things like being first to fill out your entire card. (That's called a blackout.)
Bonus? If you make friends, they'll peek at your cards and make sure you're not missing anything. And everyone will be tickled instead of grumpy when you inevitably call out a bingo you don't have. (Yes, I did that once.)
• Consider an electronic assist! Bingo's gone digital for the most serious players. DAV puts them on a tablet, but only if you buy $40 in cards, as part of an app that fills in your numbers as they come up and lets you know how close you are to having a bingo—and then beeps very loudly when you do. I played with both paper and the tablet, enjoying the ease of a computer assist without sacrificing the visceral joy of daubing the shit out of my cards.
• Don't sweat the stuff. Charms are needless, a lot of players admit, but people like them anyway. One woman allowed herself a stuffed dog that looked like her dog at home. And daubers? One is fine. Never mind that some people have 10 or more. Maybe, maybe... you could have two. Just so, in case you mark the wrong square, you can mark it with another color.
• Eat! Drink! If you show up before the session, you can order hot meals from the DAV snack bar for cheap. (Important: The snack bar closed around 10:30 pm the night I went.) I had a decent cheeseburger and fries.
They were almost as satisfying as winning.
Disabled American Veterans Bingo, 8725 NE Sandy, open daily, davbingo.com
"Moonlight" prices: Card packets for regular games (18 in all) $2 each. Early-bird packets $1 for each game (3 total). Late-game packets $5 for a pair. Extra packets for special games $1 each.