In Memoriam: Allan Calhamer

I have always wanted to become a Diplomacy aficionado, but never really got around to playing the game, let alone becoming good at it. A shame; I would probably have quickly become a fan of the game and I have likely deprived myself of some rather enjoyable experiences in my youth by not having taken it up earlier. (Now that the game is online, I really have no excuse not to try it.)

Diplomacy is back on my radar screen as a consequence of the death of its inventor, Allan Calhamer. This New York Times obituary is both charming and informative. I had no idea that the inventor of one of the world’s most popular games was a postal carrier, and that he invented Diplomacy while at Harvard law school (according to his obituary, Calhamer was not ruthless enough to have been a good player at his own game, or to pursue a career in the law. So much the better for his mental health, I imagine).

Oh, and of course, this passage is worth excerpting:

Mr. Calhamer remained deeply, if quietly, proud of Diplomacy, and though the royalties did not make him rich, they did once let him buy a Mercury Monarch. His other board games, never brought to market, include one in which, as Tatiana Calhamer described it on Monday, players move through dimensions of the space-time continuum.

For 21 years, until his retirement in the early 1990s, Mr. Calhamer delivered the mail in La Grange Park. He took pleasure, his family told The Chicago Sun-Times this week, in factoring into primes the license-plate numbers of cars on his route.

He almost certainly took pleasure, too — for this thought was doubtless not lost on him — in the idea that on any given day, slung unobtrusively over his shoulder, there might lurk a letter from one Great Power to another, filled with all the threats, blandishments and cunning hollow promises Diplomacy entails, awaiting delivery by its creator.

Requiescat in pace.