The Reaction Test

After an unusually busy day working in the capital, I scurry to the National Museum of Scotland to meet my wife and her parents. My in-laws are visiting us from Canada and today had been their Edinburgh day.

By the time I reached them, they’d already seen my favorite items in the museum — the robot who can spell my wife’s name, the Millennium Clock Tower and the Sheep Rotator — so I had to make do with my memories of these particular treasures.

I asked what the family had thought of these treasures and while the Clock Tower had strangely failed to chime on the hour and the spelling robot had been broken (I asked if its blocks had said “out of order” or “help me!” but apparently they had not) but the blockbuster Sheep Rotator was an all-round hit. If only every museum could have a copy of that sheep.

They also spoke enthusiastically of an interactive section of the museum in which they’d learned that my wife can hit the bell on a Strength-o-Meter (not surprising to me, that one) and that they’d all “kicked ass” on some sort of reaction test.

This sounded like precisely the sort of competitive, sportiness I cannot oblige. How typical of my sporty, air-punching, New World family to find such a monstrosity in a place of art and natural history! It slowly dawned on me, however, what, in essence, this so-called reaction test was:

I am not competitive about much in life, dear reader, but I really must defend my honor when it comes to Whack-a-Mole.

The machine was built into a wall with 20 or so touch-sensitive pads. A pad would illuminate soundlessly at random and you’d have to slap it with the palm of your hand before moving to the next one, wherever it might appear.

There were some small Dutch children playing the game when we arrived, so I stood slightly too close in the hopes of intimidating them into leaving. One of their parents came over and said they they should “let the man have a turn”. You’d be surprised how often I hear that expression.

Somehow I stifled my desire to say, “Yes, let the man have a turn. At Whack-a-Mole. He will CRUSH YOU TO DUST,” and instead I said, “It’s okay, you can carry on.”

But the sweet little boy and girl allowed the man to have a turn.

I noticed that the little girl’s score had been a rather childish 17. My family’s high score, meanwhile, was a more respectable 31. Soon, I would feast on their bones.

At first I found it quite difficult. The lack of sound meant less information to work with (some Whack-a-Mole machines have moles that taunt you with little “whee!” and “nah-nah!” noises, but it is TO THEIR DETRIMENT) and the size of the machine meant that some of the pads were outside of your field of vision when they lit up.

But I need not have feared. It seemed like I’d barely started when I heard my father-in-law, somewhere in the distance, saying “You’ve done it, Rob,” in the sort of tone normally heard outside rough London pubs when girlfriends say “He’s not worth it, Les.”

But I was not about to stop. I skittered all over the museum tiles like a Praying Mantis at his first ever pick-n-mix, slapping that wall into the middle of next week.

The timer buzzed and the digital display declared a score of 37. “Yeah!” I said, spinning on my heels and showing off my winning palms in an “it’s showtime!” jazz-hands sort of way.

My family didn’t look particularly impressed so I turned to the Dutch children and said, “Have you ever seen a grown up behave like that?” but I said it in a way that clearly meant “Don’t fuck with me, bitches” and gave the impression of forcing a lit cigarette into my own arm — and I think the message was received.

We went off to look at the Christopher Dresser teapots in silence and I had to hide that I was PUMPED.

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