In the parlor game du jour, players ID as many stars as possible from clues and hints

Uh…uh…he’s that annoying cereal kid who exploded from Pop Rocks…

He’s the, um, third tenor guy nobody ever remembers…

Okay, okay. He’s really, really hairy and was Mary Tyler Moore’s boss at WJM-TV…

Time’s up! And if you didn’t instantly come up with the names Mikey, Jose Carreras, and Ed Asner, you obviously aren’t hip to the ways of Celebrity, the latest game that pop-culture heads are obsessing over when they aren’t busy connecting Kevin Bacon to Zeppo Marx via Bo Derek.

From the Strand at Malibu to the Range Rovered beaches of East Hampton, media-savvy savants are suddenly playing this Charades-meets-Password parlor game. The rules are simple: Write down a bunch of celebrity names, toss them into a bowl, then see how many can be guessed by you and your pals — without actually mentioning the famous faces — in just 60 seconds.

Not surprisingly, the game has become, well, a cause celebre among the very boldfaced names that average folks are jotting down on paper. Mr. Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is said to love the game. It’s also a popular distraction on the sets of a Must See TV comedy (Friends) and that George Clooney drama (ER). And even the blond studly guy from 12 Monkeys and his Emma fiancee (Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow) reportedly play.

What often begins as a simple after-dinner activity usually devolves into out-and-out war. ”This game will drive you totally crazy,” says Friends‘ Matthew Perry, who admits to using himself as an entry. ”The time limit’s annoying, and then if you’re paired off with somebody who doesn’t give you good clues, you’re going to want to kill them. I mean, if somebody’s trying to give you ‘John Wayne’ they should just say, ‘He’s the Duke.’ But I’ll usually get stuck with some idiot who’ll say, ‘Okay, the first name is where you go to the bathroom.’ And you’re like, ‘What? Urinal who?”’

Perry’s costar Jennifer Aniston confesses the game often leaves her clueless. ”I get totally terrified that I’m going to forget Gerard Depardieu’s name or something in front of a whole group of people.” Adds Liv Tyler, who played Celebrity with her That Thing You Do! cast mates during the movie’s European press tour: ”It’s not peaceful. You have to be really quick and sharp and perform.” And this from a woman who acts for a living.

Though we may never know, word has it that the game was developed in the early ’80s by the cast of an obscure Broadway show called Harrigan ‘n Hart — a five-performance flop about turn-of-the-century showmen starring Christine Ebersole and Star Wars‘ Mark Hamill.

Live With Regis & Kathie Lee producer Michael Gelman, who counts himself among ”the secret fraternity of Celebrity players,” agrees that the game brings on Schwarzenegger-size passions. ”Fights often break out over the question of who is a celebrity,” he says. ”There’s a Scrabble dictionary but no official Celebrity register.” And Minnie Driver stretches the boundaries of famous people who can be included when names drop in the bowl. ”I always end up putting in cartoon characters,” she says, ”especially Betty Boop and Elmer Fudd.”