My grandmother had a Ouija board once used by my mother and her sisters when they were children but now kept in her dining room coat closet, high up on the shelf. The dark closet added to its mystery. The set was very well made of solid wood. The planchette had three turned feet resting on felt pads and had a round glass window with a brass nail at its center pointing down to an exact spot on the board. The wooden board had a warm, aged yellow varnish finish and smelled faintly of moth balls. It was not plain. It was in a Victorian style, overly-decorated in curling, dark green vines with the smiling face of a turbaned magi from the East who guaranteed to answer all questions. The letters and numbers were laid out in an arch with Yes and No at the corners and Goodbye at the bottom. The upper corners also had drawings of a sun and moon. In the upper center was the word “Ouija” and “Mystifying Oracle” under it. Various patent numbers were scattered around. (Patented? Really?) The planchette had the words, “Let the spirit move you.” My sister and I placed the board on the dining room table and asked a question that could be answered with a simple yes or no. We both knew the correct answer because it was a test. We placed our fingers lightly on the planchette as our grandmother showed us, but we could soon feel the other pushing. We would push back against it. We both pushed harder and harder until one of us suddenly let go. The planchette flew off the table, bounced across the carpet, and stopped against the wall. Our grandmother came out from the kitchen and explained again the proper technique. She stressed we had to believe, as I now suspect she really did. We tried again. The planchette remained motionless a little longer, but the end result was the same. More than the spirit moved it.
(Ta-da! I have just set a Guinness world record for using the obscure word “planchette” five times in one paragraph.)
We occasionally got out the board and tried again. We both wanted it to work, but the only question it ever answered was who would be the first to let go.
I think it was a subtle way of asking your date a personal question. For example, a guy might sit down with his date and ask, “Am I going to have sex tonight?” and immediately feel it move to “No.” That was correct, but the answer wasn’t coming from the turbaned magi.
Ouija is pronounced Weegee everywhere, not just in Philadelphia. No one knows how it got its name or why it is pronounced the way it is.
We were too young to understand its real use. To get it to work, I have now concluded, you must be (1) at a party, (2) with a date, and (3) drunk. None of these conditions were at my grandmother’s house on a Saturday afternoon with my sister.