Volume VIII, No. 3, Spring 1981



Written by Kathy Long, Illustrated by James Heck

[Title drawing]

Games have always been a popular form of entertainment. However, years ago the local store's shelves were not stacked with technically designed games in bright packages with an enclosed instruction pamphlet. Where were they purchased? They weren't, of course. People relied heavily on their own individual creativity and a few common household supplies for their fun and entertainment. The games were generally simple with a few basic rules. Families often played these games in the parlor among themselves, and especially when company came. Today, men, women and children of all ages can still enjoy similar games. The following games require very little equipment, physical effort and space. But probably the foremost reason that these games have maintained their popularity through the generations is that they may be played over and over again without their players losing interest.

The simpler games which require little or no strategy, more accurately defined as tricks, are often dependent upon an unsuspecting participant.


The person on whom the trick is to be played stands or sits. It is helpful for the leader to first demonstrate by pressing the penny onto the center of his forehead above the eyebrows to show that it will stay when he takes his hands away. Also, handling the penny helps it to become body temperature. The leader then firmly presses the penny onto the center of the player's forehead and removes the penny without his knowledge.

It will feel to the player that the penny is still there. Ask him to make the penny fall from his forehead, again without moving any part of his body except facial muscles. He will automatically entertain the rest of the group by making exaggerated facial expressions as he tries to remove an imaginary penny from his forehead.


A member of the group lies flat on his back and balances a penny on the tip of his nose. He is then told to knock it off without moving any part of his body except facial muscles. This also provides good entertainment for a group of any size.



This trick is played on one person at a time, and it requires the help of three other people who already know the trick. Elevate a board approximately six inches from the floor using bricks, books or other supports. Blindfold the unaware person and ask him to step upon the elevated board. When he is in place, ask a helper to stand on the floor next to him. Then explain that you are taking him to heaven on a board. As each of the other two helpers slowly raise the board slightly, the first helper slowly squats to give the blindfolded player the sensation of being lifted high into the air. Then ask him to jump off the board. He, of course, prepares for a big jump and is surprised to discover he is only inches from the floor.

A second version involves the same equipment, plus a broom. The player, however, does not place his hand on a helper's head. Instead, as the other helpers raise the board, the first helper lightly taps the top of the player's head with the broom. The player will think he has bumped into the ceiling. When asked to jump off of the board, he will take a big jump and will discover the floor is only inches beneath him, providing the same effect as in the previous version.


This trick requires a regular household broom, a bowl or shallow pan and water. Fill the bowl or pan half full of water, place it against the ceiling and support it with the broom handle. Then ask someone in your audience to hold the broom handle temporarily. As soon as he takes the handle, everyone else leaves the room. The joke is on the person left holding the container of water against the ceiling with a broom, because, of course, there is absolutely no way he can retrieve the container without spilling the water on himself.

Another version of this trick involves a hinged door and a drinking glass. Ask someone in the group to put his hand through the crack between an open door and the casing. Then ask him to hold a drinking glass for you. As in the previous version, leave him trapped in the doorway awaiting someone to rescue him.

Above--GOING TO HEAVEN ON A BOARD. Being tapped on the head with a broom gives the blindfolded player the illusion of bumping the ceiling on his way to heaven. Below--The BROOM AND WATER TRICK requires only a pan of water, a broom and a very good-humored participant.

Some tricks are also suitable for amusing oneself alone or among a group, as the following tricks indicate.



Stand in an open doorway, and firmly press the back side of each hand against the two opposite door facings. Exert pressure against the facings for approximately fifteen seconds. Then step from the doorway and watch your arms automatically rise.


Stand arm's length away from a wall and extend both arms and hands, allowing only your fingertips to touch the wall. Keeping one arm in place, rotate the other above your head and back around to the wall making a full circle. As you move this arm to the wall, don't stretch it to touch the wall. It will appear shorter than the other arm that is touching the wall.

Or standing in the same Position arm's length from the wall, first bend one arm and rub the elbow with the other hand. Then extend both arms out again to the wall. Do not stretch the bent arm to touch the wall, but allow the other to touch. The arm whose elbow was rubbed will appear shorter.


Straighten your arm out in front of you. Place a straight pin in the loose skin inside your arm at the elbow, with the sharp point toward your shoulder. Then slowly bend your arm. The pin won't prick you because of the protective loose skin, but it will appear to go through your skin.

Many parlor games were played by sitting in a circle, since the sofas and chairs were scattered around the room in somewhat of a circle, convenient for visiting as well as for playing games.


Ghost is an oral word game based on the players' ability to spell. The object of the game is to avoid being the one to complete a word, but to have a real word in mind as you add letters. Proper names are not allowed. The first player begins by saying any letter in the alphabet. The second player and each player in turn adds a letter, forming more and more of the letters of a word without completely spelling a word. For example, if the first player chooses to start with t, the next player should not say o, because he would then complete the word to. Instead, he could say i, having the word tie in mind. The third player might add a g, thinking of the word tight

Each time a player cannot think of any other possible words that could be spelled using the letters named and must end a word, or he simply doesn't know a letter to add that will help to spell a word, he becomes one-third of a ghost. If he does not believe such a word exists, at this point he may challenge the player before him by asking him to tell the word he had in mind to spell. If he chooses to challenge, and the player challenged did indeed have a word in mind, the challenger becomes one-third of a ghost. If the one challenged had no word in mind and was simply bluffing, then he becomes one-third of a ghost.

Each time a player becomes one-third of a ghost, the next player begins a new word. When a player errs three times (or becomes a full ghost), he cannot spell anymore, but he is still in the game. However, since he is a ghost, no one can speak to him. If someone does, he automatically becomes a ghost, also, and can not spell anymore. The ghosts can make their part much more exciting by trying to trick the other players into speaking to them. The winner remains after all other players have become ghosts.


The first player begins by saying, "Our minister's cat is angry," or any adjective beginning with a. The next player adds an adjective beginning with the next letter of the alphabet, and repeats, "Our minister's cat is angry and bad," or any adjective beginning with b. Each player in turn repeats the entire sentence and adds one more adjective beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. If a player errs, he drops out of the game. Continue through the alphabet, more than once if necessary, until only one person is left in the game. He is the winner.



This is a variation of Our Minister's Cat, using nouns instead of adjectives. The first player begins by saying, "When I go to New York, I'm going to take an apple," or any noun beginning with a. The game continues in the same manner as Our Minister's Cat.

The following games, also played in a circle, involve physical activity and require alertness and endurance as well as creativity. Most rely on a leader or a player designated as 'it,' to begin the game.


This game is best suited for not more than ten players. It is a game of endurance. The weak drop out. The leader begins by saying, "The Widow Jones died last night." The first player then asks, "How'd she die?" The leader replies, "Going like this," and begins tapping his right hand on his right knee. He continues this action throughout the entire game. The first player turns to the second player, and they repeat the same dialogue. When the first player says, "Going like this," he too, begins tapping his hand on his knee. This dialogue and its subsequent action continues until every player is tapping his right hand. The second round begins with the same dialogue, but the leader, still tapping his right hand, also begins tapping his left hand on his left knee. Each player when his turn comes begins tapping his left hand as well as continuing with his right hand. In the third round, the leader begins tapping his right foot, and in the fourth round, his left foot. In the fifth and final round, the leader nods his head vigorously. At the end of the game, each player should be tapping both his hands and feet and nodding his head. Those completing the game without pausing in any of the motions are the winners.

Another less active version of this game begins with the same statement and question, except the leader replies, "With one shut eye." He closes one eye and keeps it shut throughout the game. The answer to the second round is, "With one shut eye and mouth awry." The leader twists his mouth into an uncomfortable position and holds it. In the third round, the leader replies, "With one shut eye, mouth awry and foot on high." He holds one foot straight out the remainder of the game. At the end of the fourth and final round, everyone should be "With one shut eye, mouth awry, foot on high and waving bye, bye."


This game is best suited for a group of eight or more players. 'It' leaves the room while the rest of the group choose a leader. The leader starts some action, such as patting his left foot on the floor or folding his arms. The other members are to be aware of the leader's actions and to imitate him as quickly as possible without revealing to 'it' who the leader is. 'It' is called back into the room and tries to determine the leader. The more often the leader changes his action, the more fun the game will become. When 'it' discovers the leader, 'it' becomes one of the players in the circle, the leader becomes the new 'it' and the game repeats.


'It,' standing in the middle of the circle of players, goes to one player and places his hand on any part of his body, except his nose, for instance his knee, and says, "This is my nose." Before 'it' counts to ten, the person addressed must immediately grasp his nose and say, "This is my knee," or whatever part of the body 'it' designated. If a player makes a mistake, he automatically becomes the new 'it.' Subsequent tries do not have to begin with the nose. The player might say, "This is my elbow," while holding his foot.



This game requires a circle of players sitting or standing next to each other. Cut a piece of heavy twine long enough to extend around the inside of the circle. Allow about twenty inches per player. Slide a ring on the string and tie the ends in a knot. 'It' stands in the middle of the circle and closes his eyes until the ring starts moving around the string. All other players grasp the string, palms down, and slide their hands outward to touch their neighbors' hands and back together again. As they slide their hands along the string in this manner without moving the string, the player with the ring starts passing it to the player on one side of him, who continues to pass it around the circle. After the ring has started moving, 'it' may open his eyes. The object of this game is to keep 'it' from discovering who has the ring at any time. The motion of passing the ring from one player to another is camouflaged by the movement of the other players' hands. Players may pass the ring in a different direction as frequently as they wish, but the ring must not remain in any one player's possession for more than a few seconds at a time. When 'it' correctly guesses who has the ring, 'it' becomes a player within the circle, the player caught with the ring becomes the new 'it,' and the game repeats.


One player volunteers or is chosen to be the pussy. The pussy crawls from one person to another in the circle trying to make someone smile or laugh. The pussy may purr, meow, rub against players' legs or imitate a cat's behavior in any way. After each attempt from the pussy, the player must pat the pussy on the head and say, "Poor Pussy" with a straight, solemn expression. If he can't keep a straight face, he must exchange roles with the pussy. If a player will not laugh or smile, the pussy moves on to another player.


Standing within a circle of players, 'it' points to a player and says, "Stick 'em up!" At that instant, the player must place each hand over an ear, the person to his right must place his left hand over his left ear, and the person to his left must place his right hand over his right ear. 'It' goes from player to player, pointing and saying, "Stick 'em up," trying to get someone to make a mistake. It is more fun, and 'it' is more likely to catch someone making a mistake if he moves from player to player very quickly. If any one of the three players make a mistake, or if anyone in the circle moves when he isn't supposed to, he becomes the new 'it.'






All players participate in this game simultaneously. Players can stand in a circle if the leader is part of the circle, or the players can all face the leader. The leader begins by waving his arms at his sides and says, for example, "Bees fly." He can name any plural noun that does or does not fly. Players must wave their arms at their sides only when the leader names something that does actually fly. If 'it' should say, "Bees fly," everyone should wave his arms. If 'it' should say, "Chairs fly," no one should wave his arms because, of course, chairs do not fly. The leader may try to trick the other players by waving his arms when he names something that does not fly or not waving his arms when he names something that does fly. The faster the leader goes, the more likely he is to catch someone making a mistake. If the leader catches a player making a mistake, the player must sit down. The one left standing is the winner and becomes the new leader.


This game requires a hot potato--a flexible object such as a handkerchief tied in a knot. 'It' stands in the center of the circle with the other players encircling him. One of the players begins by quickly tossing the hot potato around the circle or across it in any direction to any other player, trying to keep the potato away from 'it.' Remember it is hot, so players must keep it moving constantly or it will burn their hands. If anyone holds the hot potato for more than a very few seconds, he becomes the new 'it.' When 'it' finally succeeds in catching the hot potato, he becomes one of the players within the circle and the player who threw the potato is the new 'it.'

A second version of Hot Potato involves passing a hot potato around the circle. When someone blows a whistle, the person holding the potato is eliminated from the game. The winner is the player left when all other players have been eliminated.

Still another version used a hot potato in the form of a wrapped gift. Players pass the gift around the circle while someone is playing music. The instant the music stops, the player holding the package tries to unwrap the gift, but as soon as the music starts, he must pass it around the circle again. These intervals of music are repeated until a player has completely unwrapped the gift. He is the winner and his reward is the gift itself. It is more exciting if the gift is wrapped in several layers of paper and lots of strong fastenings, such as heavy knotted string.


This game requires constant attention and quick responses. Players form a circle with their chairs. Each chair is then assigned a number, beginning with one. Only as long as the player remains in a chair, does he correspond with the number of his chair. The player in the highest numbered chair begins by calling his chair number and another number of another chair. For instance, a player sitting in chair number twelve may say, "Twelve calling two." The player sitting in chair number two must immediately respond by calling the number of another chair, such as, "Two calling nine." The game continues until someone fails to answer quickly, properly, or speaks out of turn. At that point, the one who made the mistake moves to the highest numbered seat, and all players between him and that seat move to the next seat and take on a new number, one less than their last number. The object of this game is to move to seat number one and stay there.

These next guessing games are a bit more advanced in that they are based on knowledge known only by a very few players who act as leaders. The others must discover this knowledge as the game is being played. These games require alertness, logic and ingenuity.



Players sit in a circle while one of the leaders passes a pair of scissors to the next player saying, "I pass these scissors to you crossed," or uncrossed, depending on whether his legs are crossed or uncrossed. The next player says, "I receive these scissors crossed (or uncrossed), and I pass them to you (the next player) crossed (or uncrossed)," still depending on the position of the speaker's legs when he says it. The game can be made more fun if those who know the game pretend to hold the scissors in a certain position as they pass them. Those who do not know will make many mistakes because they will assume the crossed or uncrossed refers to the position of the scissors. Whether the scissors are crossed or not doesn't matter. The crossed or uncrossed means the legs. If a player passes or receives the scissors incorrectly, the leader tells him, but he continues in the game watching to discover the clue.


Players sit in a circle, and one of the leaders begins by tossing the ship (a ball, knotted handkerchief, etc.) to another player in the circle saying, "My ship comes sailing." The player who catches the ship asks, "What is it carrying?'' The first player then names something beginning with the first letter of his last name. Sometimes you may wish to use the first letter of your first name, especially if you play this game among family members who have the same last name. The second player tosses the ship to someone else. When those who have not discovered the correct cargo their ship can carry make an error, their ships sink, but they remain in the game until they discover the clue. Repeat the game until nearly everyone knows.


Charades is based on players' ability to be creative, act out ideas and make good guesses. Even though there are many ways to play Charades, in every variation, one player acts out something such as the title of a book, movie, TV series, or the name of a fictional character or a famous person. However, the player must act it out, using hand signals, expressions and body movements only. He cannot use sounds or physical props. As an example, a player might indicate the title of a book by pretending to hold an invisible book and moving his eyes back and forth across its pages. The actor can act out any word or part of the idea to give clues to the others who help him by constant guesses. To indicate a specific word in a title, he might hold up one finger to mean the first word, or two fingers to mean the second word. A common signal for syllables of a word is placing one finger on the opposite wrist to mean the first syllable of a word, or two fingers to mean the second syllable. Each time the acting player attempts to give a clue, the other players begin guessing the clue's meaning. If one of the other players correctly guesses what the acting player was trying to relate, the actor shows a happy expression or a nod of his head to show that the guess was correct. The object of the game is to guess what the actor is trying to act out as quickly as possible.

You may play Charades in one group of any size, by having volunteers act out an idea which they have thought of while the rest of the group guess. Two other variations involve equally dividing the group of players into two teams to compete against each other. In one version each team collectively makes an itemized list of approximately ten ideas. A player from one team goes to the opposing team's list, looks at the first item on the list (keep the others covered) and acts it out for his teammates to guess while the opposing team watches and times him. The teams alternately act out all ten items. The team that spends the least time is the winning team.


If you have access to two separate rooms, you may wish to have the teams act out one list simultaneously, having one team per room. The rooms need to be far enough apart so that each team cannot hear comments or see actions from the other. In this version, an objective player writes out the ten ideas and stands in a neutral area equidistant from both rooms, holding the list of ideas to be acted out. Both teams begin at the same time. When a team has correctly guessed one item, the player who guessed it goes to look at the next idea on the list and begins acting it out as quickly as possible. The leader obviously keeps track of each team's progress, showing only the next items on the list. The team that correctly guesses all ten ideas first is the winner.

In the final two guessing games, one player must solve a mystery by asking questions of the other players. These games probably require more logic, strategy and intellect than most.


'It' leaves the room while all the other players are seated. They then decide upon the coffee pot, which is an action, such as eating an apple. 'It' returns to the room and begins asking only yes/no questions to any player he wishes to find out what the coffee pot is. For example, a common question might be, "Did you coffee pot this morning?'' which means, "Did you eat an apple this morning?" Each player must be truthful in replying to a question. When 'it' thinks he knows the action, he says it, and if he is correct, the player whose answer gave away the action must take his place as 'it' as the game continues.


This game is designed generally for players who are young adults or older, and it must be played in darkness. First pick from a regular deck of playing cards, the same number of cards as players. Designate one of the cards to indicate that the holder of that card is the detective and another to indicate a murderer. Each player secretly looks at his card and returns it to the stack. The murderer keeps his identity a secret, but the detective immediately identifies himself and leaves the room, turning out all the lights. The players must move about in the room. This is more exciting if the players bump into each other, because no one knows when they might bump into the murderer! To build suspense the murderer may take as much time as he likes, within reason, in choosing his victim. When he has chosen a victim, he puts his hands around the victim's neck and pretends to strangle him. The murdered player immediately screams and falls to the floor. When the other players, excluding the murderer, hear the scream, they must freeze in place. The murderer may move anywhere in the room if he wishes. Upon hearing the scream, the detective comes into the room and turns on the lights, revealing the victim and a room full of suspects. The suspects must stay where they are until the detective gives them permission to move. Obviously, the murdered player is out of the game and can enjoy the rest as an observer. The detective may not gain information from him because he is dead. Of course, the detective's job is to solve the murder. He can ask questions of anyone to determine who was where, what happened and what suspicions anyone might have. Everyone, but the murderer must answer all questions truthfully. The murderer can lie as much as he likes. When the detective discovers the murderer, the game repeats again with the players selecting new cards.


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

Next Article | Table of Contents | Other Issues

Local History Home

 Springfield-Greene County Library