It might be snowing in Georgia or raining in Tulsa but that doesn’t mean you have to spend an entire conversation yakking about those facts. Talking about the weather is about as boring as you can get for starting a conversation at a party, on a first date or just about anywhere. You can instead kick off a discussion in several much more compelling areas, such as life and death, mental health and money. Each topic has surefire conversation starters that are bound to enlighten, but they also have conversation duds that are sure to totally bomb.

Life and Death

Just like the weather, life and death are pretty much always going to be there. Unlike the weather, the topic is actually interesting. Just be wary of getting into heaven, hell, God or other religious discussions, as religion and politics are topics best left for later in a relationship when you really feel like arguing. The point here is to have a bit of fun.

What works: If today were your last day on earth, what would you do? What doesn’t: Have you ever killed someone?
OK, the question is a bit cliché. But it’s also a good way to dig into someone’s brain while letting him share his greatest fantasies. You’ll know from the get-go what this person’s priorities, interests and values are. For instance, if the person says he would spend his last day on earth at work making sure all his tasks are complete, you’ll know he’s responsible. You’ll also know he’s kind of a stiff. Answers are also allowed to be fanciful. If a person says she would travel the world on her last day, please don’t sit around and argue that the feat could not be feasibly done in 24 hours. Have a little fun here. For some strange reason, people seem to be taken aback if you throw this question at them, especially if it comes out of nowhere. They may be offended that you could even consider them capable of killing someone. Or it may throw them off that you would talk about murder with the same nonchalance with which you discuss things like rain in Tulsa. On the other hand, they may be offended because they actually have killed someone and wonder how the heck you figured that one out. Either way, the question can certainly kill a conversation, pun not intended.

Mental Health

Discussing mental health can lead to hours of amusement, as long as you keep it lighthearted. Here we want to know what makes a person tick, or even what ticks her off. Just be wary of uncovering some skeletons that may be lurking behind the person’s family tree.

What works: What drives you nuts? What doesn’t: Is anyone in your family certifiable?
Perhaps the only thing people love to talk about more than themselves is stuff that makes them angry. Humans love to complain! This question rips the door wide open for them to rant, rave, shout and pout about every pet peeve they have. A big caveat with this conversation starter, however, is that the other person may never shut up. You may also be subjected to irate blathering about politics, the truth behind global warming or conspiracy theories of any sort. If the person looks like a potential hothead you may want to turn the tables and instead ask “What soothes your soul?” First off, most people don’t particularly like to spout about family secrets, especially if it involves a great aunt who used to eat June bugs or a distant cousin who tried to stop traffic by throwing bowling balls from an overpass. Secondly, if someone does admit mental health issues run in the family, you’re going to spend the rest of the conversation wondering if any of those genes happened to have passed down to the person you’re talking to. In either case, you really don’t want to know, at least not unless you’re planning on marrying the person and having children.

Money Matters

Unless you live under a rock somewhere other than America, materialism has been seeped into your veins. This applies to everyone, even those who pretend not to care about money or material things one iota and then drive down the street in a Mercedes. Since materialism is linked to money, cash makes a dandy topic. Just beware to keep money matters fun instead of getting too nosey or obnoxious.

What works: What would you do if you found $1 million in the street? What doesn’t: How much money do you make?
This is yet another borderline cliché similar to the last-day-on-earth inquiry. But it goes a bit deeper. This question gets to the core of what’s important and what type of integrity the person has. Someone who responds that he would immediately bring the stash to the police to find the rightful owner is honest, caring and compassionate. Someone who says he would shoot anyone who tried to get to the cash before he did is not.

The question can also tease out a person’s longer term goals and financial savvy if she starts talking about all the investments she’d make and how those investments could be used to finance her very own designer boutique. You’ve got yourself a savvy clothes horse there. Don’t mess with her Gucci.

Even gold diggers know how to disguise this question a little better. Sure, you might be eager to find out what kind of paycheck a particular profession earns, but you’re probably just trying to figure out if the person is going to pick up the dinner tab. For starters, the information is really none of your business. At least not unless you plan on marrying the person and having children; then it can help you determine if you get to be the stay-at-home parent. Secondly, aren’t there things much more important than how much money someone makes? Geesh.

Just remember if something seems like is none of your business, it probably isn’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t find out about it, it simply means to tease out the information craftily instead of with blatant, offensive questions. Also remember that talking about the weather is a sure sign the conversation’s dying, no matter how much snow is swirling or Georgia or even if Tulsa is breaking a rainfall record.

This is a guest post by Ryn Gargulinski, staff writer for Lifed. There she writes about life hacks, health, finance and relationships.