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Baltimost

When it comes to peculiar charms, Charm City is the best.

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page C02

When I step into the bright lights and litter-festooned rooms of Bingo World on a recent Saturday night, I believe I have found the gaudiest place in Baltimore.

On this occasion, I have great gusto for the gaudiest. And the oldest. And cheeriest. And craziest. I am on a search for the superlative in the city with the comparative name.


Bingo knight: It's not Baltimore's oldest attraction, but in a city of superlatives Bingo World may rank as gaudiest. (Grant L. Gursky For The Washington Post)

There just has to be more to Baltimore. More than the Orioles, the National Aquarium, the Inner Harbor. There has to be a Baltimost, a city of firsts and lasts and bests and worsts. A parallel Baltimore without parallel. This is, after all, the baseball home of Ironman Cal Ripken, who played the most games in a row.

In doing research, I consult Baltimore's City Paper, Baltimore Magazine and several Baltimore-centric Web sites. And by seeking out the superlatives, I get to know Baltimore more. And better. And best.

My quest for the "est" begins at the:

1. Gaudiest Place: Bingo World on Belle Grove Road stands on the city's southern edge as the smoke-choked, largest bingo emporium in the state. Inside I swiftly realize that the people aren't playing that little-old-lady game I once knew, with plastic buttons and a 24-number card.

"It's not like at the firehouse," says Marie Leber, an amiable woman of a certain age from Shady Side who has been playing serious for-profit bingo two nights a week for the past 30 years.

She sits in a cheap metal chair at a cheap folding table surrounded by more than 600 other players. She has three sheets spread on the table before her. Each sheet contains nine bingo cards, so she is monitoring 27 cards at the same time. That's 648 numbered squares under her eye. The caller announces a new letter-number combination every 16 seconds. B-2, N-37. She punches each number with a specially designed ink stamp called a dauber.

In the brave new bingo world, only a few games are played the old-fashioned way. At this main session, Leber will juggle nearly 40 different variations on paper, with names such as "postage stamp" (four numbers in a corner of the card must be covered) and "round robin" (the eight numbers surrounding the center free space must be covered).

I have bought a starter kit of three games (27 cards) and can't keep up. I try for several rounds but am not sure I will even know if I get a bingo. My head is swirling and my teeth hurt.


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© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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