Game Library: “Crime Endowment”

A common closer in my current home venue, Crime Endowment centers on an in-the-dark suspect confessing to a ludicrous crime that they must piece together in real time. Without a healthy respect for Specificity and calculated risk taking, the task-at-hand can easily fall flat.

The Basics

One player volunteers to serve as the endowee or “criminal” and leaves the space. While they are absent, an absurd crime is cobbled together from typically avowedly non-criminal elements, such as a common weekend activity, harmless object in your attic, recognizable landmark or destination, and the name of a celebrity. I don’t think we’re unique in using a random audience member to share their initials for this last component and then brainstorming a famous personality or fictitious character inspired by this pair of letters. These offers combine to form the “crime” and when the endowee returns, their teammates must use leading questions to make the suspect confess (usually in a set amount of time). Crime features are usually endowed in the order they were obtained.


The assembled crime consists of brewing coffee with a unicorn at the pyramids of Giza with Jacinda Ardern. Player A (the suspect) returns to the stage as two teammates pace in the interrogation room.

Player B: “Alright, take a seat. I’m required to tell you we’re recording this interview.”

Player A: “Look, I’m just happy to clear up this misunderstanding. I honestly didn’t even think it was a crime to park outside the library overnight.”

Player B: “You get that, Joe?”

Player C: “Sure did, boss. You must have had a real late night last night.”

Player A: “I don’t mind admitting I did enjoy a few glasses of red at the local wine bar…”

Player B: “And yet you look fresh as a daisy this morning… right, Joe?”

Player C: “Fresh as a daisy, and completely alert, boss, talking to us all sweet and low like that…”

The Focus

Close collaboration, active listening and playful – often punny – volleys provide the necessary foundation of this endowment tour-de-force.

Traps and Tips

1.) Filter through character. Are you an over-confessor accidentally spilling the beans at the slightest provocation, a hardened criminal who’s defiant and proud of your activities, or a self-proclaimed mastermind toying with your interrogators? Regardless of your persona, you’ll want to make sure you bravely offer up specifics even if you’re feigning a more withholding stance. Quickly establishing a strong point of view as the suspect can gloriously ignite the scenic fire. The same holds true for the interrogators: are they brusque, pleasant, or desperate? Played without finesse the game will closely approximate a transaction scene; imbued with memorable characters it will soon become much much more.

2.) Confess, don’t guess. All endowment scenes are essentially guessing games, but these mundane mechanics should be hidden from the casual observer. Even if your suspect persona clearly wants to please, each attempt should have the certitude of a confession rather than the hesitancy of a guess. (On a simple level, beware of a questioning inflection.) When you respond to the interrogators offer something specific even if you’re confident you’re a hundred percent wrong. Even when you are wrong – and you will be often especially during the opening moves of the scene – being strongly and specifically wrong is more likely to provide a new line of questioning for your teammates. Although I’d add one proviso, if the scene is getting truly stuck, take the risk of being wrong in a detailed new way rather than circling endlessly around the same worn-out idea.

3.) Compel, don’t tell. All the major components of the randomly assembled crime should be uttered first by the suspect. Ideally even after a criminal element has been successfully named it’s good form for teammates to still avoid saying it so that the final confession still has some punch when all the pieces are finally put together and said aloud. Good endowing etiquette applies with players seeking to steer the suspect by unlocking potential clues in the endowee’s dialogue rather than playing charades or providing a series of “fill in the blanks.” While the suspect needs to bravely offer up detailed raw material, the endowers should lean into word play and leading or loaded questions. The more skillful and subtle your strategies, the more miraculous the results will appear.

4.) Recreate the tale. One of my favorite features of this game is the opportunity for the final grand confession – whether or not it ultimately ends up being “correct.” In addition to ticking off the various components on your mental list, enjoy the chance to weave them together in a climactic narrative that fills in any missing blanks or justifications. To help set up this climatic moment it’s wise not to say the final puzzle piece when you think you have it but rather send a clue back of your own that hints at your solution for the interrogators to confirm. This inclination to find the story serves the game well as a whole, linking together established character traits, unique games discovered in the moment, and perhaps even some of the discarded specifics that were seemingly dead ends. The audience appreciates a closing recap even of the most rudimentary nature, but when the suspect owns this closing moment and paints a vivid picture of their misdeeds and motivations, the results can prove breathtaking.

In Performance

The mechanics of Crime Endowment closely resemble those of Naive Expert examined here which offers further insights into skillful endowing and communication techniques. Both endowment games are crowd pleasers but the potential for a dramatic final confession makes the current offering more clearly suited for that coveted closing spot on a short-form playlist.

Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Specificity

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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