Nowadays I'm faced with an alternate dilemma related to explaining my field. Talking with other computer scientists, I will often simplify things by saying I am studying "game theory". Sometimes there are no follow-up questions, but other times people will assume you mean economic game theory or derivations thereof. I still haven't mastered handling this situation, but here's how it seems to go.
Me: "Oh, I'm more focused in combinatorial game theory, which isn't quite the same."
Me: "Yeah, like board games."
Them: "What is there to study there?"
Me (getting all excited): "Well, we try to say things about who can win a game."
Them: "So you could figure out who's going to win a game of Monopoly?"
Me (somewhat less excited): "Well, we try to work with simpler games, like Hex or Chess."
Them: "Chess is simpler than Monopoly?"
Me: "Well, Chess doesn't have any randomness in it-..."
Them: "I think Monopoly is much easier to play than Chess."
I would much rather replace this with the following conversation:
Me: "It's similar to the economic side.
Them: "Oh. How do you do that?"
Me: "We investigate these things by looking at simple board games. Sometimes what looks simple can wind up being very complex."
Them: "Wow, board games can do that? That's pretty cool!"
Me (beaming): "Yeah, totally!"
I know some of these similarities and differences, but how can I phrase them well? More importantly, how can I state this in a clean way that will not legitimately spark a "whatever!" from someone with a knowledge of economic game theory? A dangerous task indeed!