How to Be Entertaining: 10 Simple Instructions from 1904

Being the life of the party was hard in the early 20th century, especially if you weren’t into reciting poetry or being Jay Gatsby. Thankfully, there were plenty of guidebooks available to help the uninteresting; of those, the least prominent was likely a little book called Cupology: How to Be Entertaining, authored by an Ohio woman known only as Clara. Here are 10 of Clara’s tips, directly from 1904.

1. Be a Fortuneteller

According to Clara, through careful analysis of personalities and mystical tells, a person “can become his own prophet.” The arrangement of dregs in a coffee or teacup can be interpreted in entertaining ways, as the “sensing of atmospheres” can be performed “for the pleasure of guests, both young and old.” And if reading leaves doesn’t suit you, “palm reading [or] solar biology forecasts” are equally diverting for guests and company. Here’s a condensed list of images you’ll probably see in your guests’ leaves, and their interpretations:

Accordion—Primitive talent
Apples—Health, Knowledge
Atlas—Sight, Seeing
Bats—Moral blindness
Bees—Thrift
Bed—Illness or need of rest
Birds—News, Singing, Joys
Bridge—Some event in life
Books—Learning
Cake—Luxury
Cats—Jealousies
Children—Good omen
Circles—Fine realizations
Cow—Good nutriment
Crescent—Love token
Children at play—Universal good
Crosses—Some trials
Chickens—Gains
Crows—Intrigues
Ditch—Dangers ahead
Dogs—Friends
Door—Some opening
Elephant—Some imposition
Eyes—To observe
Feet—Traveler
Feet (bare)—Poverty
Flowers—Joy, Pleasure
Floods—Sickness, Sorrow
Fountain—Public benefit
Fruit—Health
Hearts—Artistic love of Unity, Friends, Home
Hand—Friendship
Houses—Home building
Jewel-Box—Wealth
Lock and Keys—To be put in trust
Lion—Moral courage
Lighted Lamp—Great success
Lock—A secret
Moon—Honors
Monkeys—Evolution—Darwin
News-Boys—Public excitement
Palms—Restful victory
Bats—Thieving
Ring—Contract
Road—An outlook
Rabbit—Timidity, Cowardice
Rainbow—Sublime promise
Saw or Scissors—Vexations
Star—Hope, Promise
Squares—Realizations
Ships—Commerce
Sinking Ships—Perils and loss
Sofa—Social or Courtship
Spiders or Scorpions—Illness, Venom
Tiger—Onslaught
Trees—Lofty thoughts
Wheat—Plenty
Whirlwind—Distraction
Wavy lines—Vexations
Weeds—Petty trials
Window—In a new light.
Scattered objects—Lack of harmony and no propitious time for action

2. It Takes Two to Party

It’s hard to be a lady, what with being constantly nervous and inept. And it’s perhaps just as difficult to be a man with seemingly no ability whatsoever to remember who anyone is or how everyone knows one another. So it’s best to have one of each, a man and a woman, to host each party. What could go wrong?

"The most successful social functions are those managed by a host and hostess," says a society scribe, "not by either alone. Leave a man to make up a party and he is sure to forget that Mrs. B. was engaged to C. before she married D., and that Mrs. C. is aware of the fact, and that the D.s and E.s have long been at daggers drawn, and he will have no eyes to detect the designs of Mrs. H. On the other hand, a woman gets nervous and fatigued with the constant effort to keep the ball rolling, and fails just where a man would succeed. What is wanted is a division of labor, and if this were done oftener there would be less disappointment on the part of entertainers and entertained."

3. Play a Game! (Ladies Only)

Ever heard of the “progressive peanut party”? Well, hold onto your hatpins, chickens, because this is exciting:

Four guests are seated about each table, and on the table is placed a crock full of peanuts. Each guest is provided with a hatpin, and when the word is given all begin jabbing for peanuts. The quartet that empties its crock first wins the game, and then the sets of players change. It is needless to say that the peanut party is strictly a "hen" function. A man couldn't jab a crockful of peanuts with a hatpin in a week, but the young women of Lamar [Missouri] played thirty games in a single afternoon.

4. Check Out Each Other’s Nails

If staring into your own spent teacup and stabbing legumes didn’t overexert you, there’s probably still time to discover your personality through the condition and shape of your fingernails. Get all the ladies in a circle (men need not apply) and take turns examining the hands of the woman to your left. Everything you need to know about her can be summed up thusly:

Broad nails denote a gentle natured person, inclined to be modest and unassuming.

Narrow nails denote a studious but not very gentle nature, with a desire for scientific knowledge.

White nails denote a fondness for society of opposite sex, not overstrong in health and subject to fevers.

Round nails denote a desire for knowledge in general, apt to take great pride in own accomplishments, rather hasty, yet fairly good natured and forgiving.

Long nails denote caution, lacking confidence in human nature, decided in opinion and strictly virtuous.

5. Amaze Her with Simple Math (Men Only!)

Men have long been at a loss for polite methods of determining a woman’s age. Here’s an easy trick, quite entertaining, that would have made for an excellent Facebook post five years ago. Simply approach the woman whose approximate age escapes you and follow this script:

"There is a very simple problem in arithmetic which very few people are able to see
through, yet it is as easy as possible. I wonder if you can do it?"

This sets the person on his dignity, and he or she wants to do it at once. Then you go on:

"Think of a number corresponding to the numerical order of the month in which you were born. Oh, no, you need not tell me." (To make the explanation clear, we will assume that the figure is two—standing for February—and that the age is 30.)

"Now, multiply that figure by 2," you continue, "and add 5. Done that? Well, multiply that by 50 and add your own age. From the total subtract 365, and to the total add 115. Now, what figure have you got?"

"230," replies the person addressed, "Isn't that correct?"

"Exactly," you exclaim. "You are one of the very few persons who have managed it." And you turn away to hide your smile of satisfaction at having discovered that your victim was born in February and that she is thirty years of age. You have arrived at this result by separating the figures 230 into 2 (February) and 30. And you can do this with everybody's age. Try it on your sweetheart.

Just don't ask, ever.

6. Know How to Get a Man (Probably Ladies Only in 1904)

What’s the sense in having a party if you’re just going to sit around bowls of peanuts telling people how old you are? Better have a plan, ladies, and know the rules. To get a man, a woman should:

7. Know an Off-Color Lawyer Joke

Everyone has one. If you don’t have one, don’t use this one, either.

8. Know Other Jokes, Too

Clara’s suggestions leave a little to be desired, but these are the types of jokes an entertaining man or lady tells at a party.

"Goodness," exclaimed the nervous visitor. "What vulgar little hoodlums those noisy boys are out there in the street!"

"I can't see them," said the hostess, "I'm rather near-sighted, you know."

"But surely you can hear how they're shouting and carrying on."

"Yes, but I can't tell whether they're my children or the neighbors’."

9. Finally, a Co-Ed Game

Twentieth century party games are more fun when they don’t involve examining cuticles. (Maybe not much more fun.) Here’s a set of cards for the host or hostess. Give each guest a list of famous assumed names, then a writing implement and a predetermined amount of time in which to guess the real names of the people listed. Offer a prize to the winner, which is the person who correctly guesses the highest number within the allotted time.

10. Maybe Know Just a Little Poetry

Every entertaining person knows one great toast. According to Clara, these were always the most popular at her parties, and she was a lady who knew what it meant to please a crowd.

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April 24, 2014 - 11:00am
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