Cats have evolved one of the most brilliant, brain-taxing games known to Man. All cats play this game in deadly earnest. It's so exhausting that two hours' play has to be matched by eight hours' sleep.
The rules appear to be simple but the potential playing area is huge. The tournament currently being played in my locality of Surrey and West Sussex in England covers an area of about 300 square kilometres but may be much larger. It is believed that at least 400 cats are involved at any one time, although this may be a conservative estimate because, unlike the much simply human chess, any number can play.
The procedure is that a cat takes up a position where it can keep at least two other cats under constant surveillance. Anywhere will do: a garage roof, a wheelie bin, a tree. Additional points may be scored for the number of additional cats observed. But this may be counter-productive because the object of the game is to make a move to bring at least two more cats under observation without the original cats noticing the move.
Careful analysis of the game play reveals that the advantages of gaining a high vantage point are likely to be negated by the fact that such a position exposes the cat to observation by corresondingly more cats, thus making it difficult for it to change positions without its move being noticed. Experienced players resort to a number of cunning tactics to allay suspicion when they are about to move. These include closing of eyes as though the player is planning to spend a long time in its current position. Furious washing is another although the danger here is that another player might seize the oportunity to make a move. Really seasoned players exercise remarkable cunning. Crouching under a parked car may not seem a good vantage point, but provided two other cats can be seen makes it a valid spot and has the huge advantage of being difficult to be seen, thus ensuring success for that quick hop onto a garden wall.
A cat that comes under observation by two new cats without noticing their arrival is required to forfeit a point and retire from the game for an hour. Being forced to abandon a position by a dog results in the loss of ten points although five points can be redeemed if the offending dog is given a slashed nose.
The competition among players to find high-scoring vantage points is fierce. The search often takes them away from their homebase for anything up to two to four days at a time. So intense is this remarkable game that not even the hours of darkness are wasted. Nightime is set aside for settling disputes over scores and dealing with accusations of cheating.
The above rules have been derived by human observation. All cats are sworn to secrecy not to divulge anything about the game, and any human showing an interest results in play that particular node being suspended until the human gets bored and loses interest.
It is believed that there may be regional variations to the rules. Indeed it may be that there are many unsuspected refinements. Only detailed reports as a result of surreptitious observation will enable us humans to compile a complete set of rules.
Copyright © James Follett
June 3, 1999
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