Early in 1998 Michael Smith and Tom Boardman had the sickeningly clever idea of combining the noblest of all ancient board games - chess - with the most primitive of all ancient pastimes - heavy drinking. However, instead of swigging from a glass or bottle every time a piece is lost (which is probably how most people combine the two pursuits), they rather ingeniously decided that not only would the player who won the piece be the person to drink, but also that that player would drink their prize from the very piece they had won. And so Shot Glass Chess was born.
With this as a starting point, Smith and Boardman founded games- based Internet retailer hotbox.co.uk. A little over a year later they relaunched as the much snappier (if slightly less porny) Firebox.com.
On Wednesday TFT went along to Firebox's first open-to-all 'Playing with Fire' night. Imagine an ordinary pub, then add free games and entertainment. Not a couple of scabby old board games and a karaoke machine like you might find in your motheaten local of a Sunday afternoon, but more games than you could ever get round to playing in a single evening and an uber-camp lounge singer with a penchant for Motorhead.
As well as an array of the exclusive and innovative games in which Firebox specialises, 'Playing with Fire' also hosts a fantastic line-up of nostalgic gasp-inspiring retro games, the best of which are Pac-man (on a giant screen), Buckaroo, Giant Connect Four, Giant Downfall, Jenga, Giant Jenga, Crossfire, Marble Racer, Twister, Table Ice Hockey and last but certainly not least, the evergreen Hungry Hungry Hippos, the clatter of which will ring in your ears all the way home.
Of the non-retro stuff, we were particularly taken with 20Q, the plastic ball that reads minds (or certainly does a more convincing job than Derren Brown), and a strangely masochistic contraption called Shocking Roulette. A less fatal version of Russian Roulette, this is basically a saucer-sized lightweight console with spaces around the edge for the fingers of up to four players. Once the fingers are safely inside, a button is pressed and an imaginary ball rattles around an imaginary roulette wheel.
The winner is the one leaping into the air and swearing as a small electric shock courses through their body. Can be used as a genuine gambling tool or as the perfect decision-making or argument-ending device. Finger-holes may also house tongues. And the like. Epileptics are apparently meant to steer clear of this product. The ideal gift then for the epileptic in your life.
Imagine a toy that can trigger a grand mal! What larks!
Incidentally, as well as toys and games, Firebox.com is also well worth a visit if you're gift-shopping for someone with a bit of a fucked-up sense of humour. Whether it's curry made from crocodile meat, super-alcoholic lollypops with scorpions and worms inside them, a head-massaging instrument called an Orgasmatron, a vibrating rubber duck that seems (although no-one will come out and say it) to double as a dildo, or a vast range of supercool techno-gadgets, there really is a gift for every occasion. Excepting perhaps a Mormon christening.
All in all, Firebox's now monthly 'Playing with Fire' evening is one of the funnest and funniest free evenings you will *ever* find in London. And if you dont believe us, ask Jim and Luke. Here they are nearing the stalemate conclusion of a hard-fought game of Shot Glass Chess.
Apparently Jim hadn't a clue how to play before he started but got gradually better as the game wore on - or rather Luke, who was winning, got worse. Such is the cruel twist of the game. (Luke is the one with fire in his eyes.)
Oh, and here they are a little later, enjoying a game of Twister:
Jim is the one with Satan written all over his face. The blonde
incidentally, was never seen again.
So there you have it.
Unless you're a sour-faced old reptile who allowed your inner child to die the day you bought your first broadsheet, you definitely won't want to miss out on the next 'Playing with Fire' night. And the best way to avoid doing so is to sign up to Firebox's mailing list. You can do so here
For more pictures from the night itself, go here.
For MissChief's Original Forfeit Cookies, go here.
And if you're a sour-faced old reptile, go here.