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The Hungry Hungry Hippos Games

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The movie The Hunger Games has inspired a number of mash-ups that mix the film with a certain children's game. It's time the meme was extended to the original novel...

Haymitch insisted that we meet in the Training Center for breakfast: Peeta and me to eat it, Haymitch to see if he can keep it down. As he greets us he vomits all over himself, which makes Peeta and me lose our appetites, so in the end the meal is kind of a bust.

I can see Haymitch has been drinking -- there are empties all over the table. Also, he's wearing bottle caps in his eyes like monocles. "Hello, Catnip," he says. My real name is Katniss but Haymitch always calls me Catnip because he's an idiot. He is our mentor -- his job is to help Peeta and me prepare for the Hungry Hungry Hippos Games.

I come from District 12, one of the dozen districts that make up the country of Hasbro. Years ago Hasbro rose from the ashes of what used to be North America after it was laid waste in a game of Risk that got way out of hand. To ensure that the population never again abuses grown-up games of militaristic aggression like Risk, Stratego, and Battleship, the government forces the people of Hasbro to compete in a lame-o kiddie game -- Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Every year, each district must provide two children as Tributes to take part in the Games. This year my little sister Primrose was chosen, but I volunteered to serve in her place. She's only 12. I felt she was still too young to compete, even though Hungry Hungry Hippos is recommended for ages 4 and up.

Peeta Mellark is the other Tribute from District 12. His father operates the local Easy Bake Oven. I'm the only one who seems to notice how absurd it is for a baker's son to be named Peeta. His big sister Flatbred is the one who gets all the laughs.

No one at the table is eating much. Peeta produces a deck of cards and passes the time playing Solitaire. This is considered antisocial behavior in Hasbro, where all officially sanctioned games require a minimum of 2-4 players, but he's a Tribute and can get away with it.

I am homesick, thinking about Gale back in District 12. I'm sure he is completely absorbed watching all this on TV right now, unless there's a basketball game on. Gale isn't my boyfriend, exactly, but I wouldn't mind if he turned up behind the door in a round of Mystery Date. He and I used to talk about running away together to Candy Land and ruling there as King Kandy and Queen Frostine. The memory makes me sad -- I see now that it was just a childish dream and would have put both of us at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes.

"Time for our final run-through," Haymitch says. He seems bored by the prospect of talking about Hungry Hungry Hippos. I'm pretty sure the game he has in mind right now is Beer Pong.

He starts by describing the Opening Ceremonies. These will take place later this afternoon, presided over by the dictator of Hasbro, Milton Bradley. First everyone stands for the Hasbro national anthem, "Build a Better Mouse Trap." Then all the Tributes form a conga line and chant "Hungry Hungry Hip-pos!" as they proceed into the Arena.

I become restless -- Peeta and I have already been briefed about all this by Effie Trinket, our escort at the Games and Haymitch's AA sponsor. Effie Trinket. Peeta Mellark. Katniss. Primrose. The apocalypse sure left some stupid names in its wake.

"What about once we're in the Arena?" I ask.

"Well," Haymitch says, "there are these four hippos."

"And they're hungry?"

"They're hungry hungry."

"And we're supposed to find them and destroy them, is that it?" Peeta says.

"Oh no," Haymitch says. "You can't miss them -- they're huge. Bright primary colors. Just sitting there at the sides of the Arena."

"So what happens?"

"The Games begin and then the hippos gobble up all the Tributes."

"That's it?" says Peeta. "No competition? No tactics or strategy?"

"Nope," says Haymitch. "Just gobbling."

"What a stupid game," I say.

The bottle caps pop out of Haymitch's eyes and clatter onto the table. "You better start taking this seriously, Katniss," he snaps. He points a finger at me for emphasis and seems surprised to find a beer bottle stuck on the end of it. "Damn it, girl, we're talking Hungry Hungry Hippos! You're not going out there to play Ants in the Pants, you know."

"Alright. So how do you win the Hungry Hungry Hippos Games?"

"You don't," Haymitch says. "The hippos win."

"Wait a minute," Peeta says. "I thought you said you were a winner. That's why you're our mentor. You told us you won hands down."

"That's right, I won Hands Down," Haymitch says. "Different game altogether."

Peeta is angry now. "We're nothing more than pawns in the government's game," he says to me. He's bitter because what he really wanted to be is the top hat in Monopoly.

For myself, I intend to give them a fight. I take out my tribute token, a small gold ring adorned with the figure of a bird. An Angry Bird. If properly deployed with a slingshot it can take out a pig -- how effective will it be against a hippo?

Our session seems to be over. Haymitch has one last word of advice for us. "Watch out for those Tributes from District 9 -- they're space aliens." He belches loudly. "Oh man," he says, "this dystopia will be the death of me." His words are truer than he knows -- I'm pretty sure he means dyspepsia.

Peeta and I get up to leave. "Hey, Haymitch," Peeta says, "I have a game for you." He gathers the cards together and throws them up in the air, scattering them all over the floor. As we walk out together, I have to smile. It's been a long time since anyone in Hasbro has played Fifty-Two Pickup.