Here’s your emergency cheat sheet for seeming smart at your holiday parties

Don't be caught unaware this Christmas.

Don't be caught unaware this Christmas. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Got an uncle who has strong opinions based on ludicrously inaccurate information?

Need to keep pace with your civic-minded in-laws who will invariably ask what you think about subjects you have not been paying attention to for weeks?

Do you draw a blank when your parents ask questions like “who’s that guy who did the thing last week?” and “what’s this I hear about the government bulldozing every single-family home in Minneapolis?”

Fear not. Master your dinner party conversation with these eight topics, including the latest information on city planning, legal weed, and the guy who did the thing last week.

1. Minneapolis’ 2040 plan

Somebody from out of town is bound to ask about this one. Minneapolis’ approach to the next 20 years or so of city planning has been making national headlines for weeks.

What you need to know: The plan covers everything from helping small businesses adapt to a new economy to addressing climate change, but the part everyone is most curious about is the plan’s provisions for housing. Most of the city is reserved for single-family homes. In order to make it easier to develop more affordable housing, the plan will up-zone the whole city to allow for denser housing options, like triplexes and apartment buildings. Opponents of the plan worry this will allow developers to replace affordable-ish single-family homes with luxury apartments.

Where you can learn more: This handy guide to the 2040 plan, which answers questions like “Why is everybody yelling?” and “When again is this stuff supposed to happen?

2. The homeless encampment along Hiawatha

Minneapolis’ largest homeless encampment, stationed in the heart of the city’s Native American community, has been in the headlines pretty much constantly since this summer. It had, at its largest point, about 300 people living there, some of them sleeping seven to a tent. Residents called it the Wall of Forgotten Natives.

What you need to know: After struggles with fire, drug use, plunging temperatures, and untenable promises to fix the situation by September, the camp has mostly been cleared. Three large heated tents have been completed and opened to the public. Up to 120 people can take shelter, sleep, and take a shower there -- no drugs allowed. At least 150 have found permanent housing or temporary shelter, about 100 have transitioned to the heated tents, and about 65 remain in the camp.

Where you can learn more: This in-depth profile on what it was like to live in the encampment, and this follow-up on the difficulty building trust and providing services to its residents.

3. The racist Christmas tree

The Minneapolis Police Department’s fourth precinct, which serves an area where a lot of people of color live, put up a Christmas tree decorated with bags of Takis, liquor containers, a Popeye’s chicken fast food cup, and cigarettes. The reaction was what you might expect.

What do you need to know: The tree’s gone, and there’s a better one in its place. Two officers (unnamed) were placed on unpaid leave, and the department later announced a change of leadership: Inspector Aaron Birard had been immediately demoted.

Where you can learn more: This summary of the whole debacle as it unfolded.

4. The war in Yemen

Saudi Arabia’s assault on the poorest country in the Middle East has led to thousands starving to death, many of them children. As the Saudis’ ally, the United States has been fueling much of this throttling with weapons and jet fuel.

What you need to know: The United States Senate voted a couple of weeks ago to debate perhaps not supporting this cruelty any longer. But in the House, Republicans proposed a measure against having that very discussion, slipping it into an unrelated farm bill -- and it passed. Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson was among the five Democrats who voted for it, because (and we’re quoting him directly here) he didn’t “know a damn thing” about the war.

Where you can learn more: This article, which includes the entire transcript of Peterson’s candidly abysmal interview on the subject.

5. Ilhan Omar

This Minneapolis Representative-Elect, along with Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, will be among the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. She will also be the only one to wear a hijab.

What you need to know: Democrats want to reverse an archaic rule from 1837 barring any sort of headwear on the House floor, and hyper-conservatives are freaking out about it, including a pastor from Virginia who warned the floor would soon look like “an Islamic Republic.” Omar told him quickly and decisively over Twitter that he’s just going to have to “deal.”

Where you can learn more: This article right here, which outlines the whole fight. You might also want to bop over to this article in the Star Tribune, which outlines the bizarre history of the no-hats rule and other buckwild moments in congressional propriety.

6. The Vikings

They’re doing bad. People thought they’d be doing good, but they’re doing bad.

What you need to know: We’re at seven wins, six losses, and a tie, which is not where fans thought we’d be at this point. A lot of people are mad at Vikings coach Mike Zimmer right now. So mad, in fact, that his daughter came to his defense on the internet and told the trolls, essentially, to look in the mirror before they took to their keyboards, and that the stress of the season has been killing him. The responses varied from praise, to even grosser comments, to a weirdly deep moment of Buddhist reflection.

Where you can learn more: This article on the whole blow-up, and the comment section below it, which we suppose we should have anticipated.

7. Smash Brothers

It’s both a video game and the only thing your 12-year-old nephew wants to talk about.

What you need to know: The new installment of Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers franchise came out and it’s really popular. So popular, in fact, a noise complaint in St. Paul ended in two police officers playing a round of Smash with some brand-new friends. Video of the scene went viral. You can use this story to relate instead of asking what Fortnite is for the 20th time.

Where you can learn more: This article here. But all you really need to know is that all Pikachu players are cops, apparently.

8. Legal weed

Do we have it? No. Are we close? Hard to say.

What you need to know: This is probably going to be the Capitol’s next big fight. Our new governor, Tim Walz, is into legalization, both from a functionality and racial justice standpoint, as are a fair few Democrats. But there are still plenty of holdouts in both parties. We’re far from a shoo-in for legal weed anytime soon.

Where you can learn more: This article about North Dakota’s push for legal weed, plus this article from the Star Tribune, and any local Reddit discussion threads.