Parlor Games

by Bernard De Koven

Jim Moskowitz’s Officially Incomplete List of Parlor Games

The Name Game

Everyone gets N slips of paper (usually 8 or 16) and writes on them names of (somewhat) famous people. They may be real or fictional, dead or alive, even nonhuman, but must be well-known enough that at least some of the other players likely know of them–or, if you’re not certain of that, should have a straightforward name like April Smith. Into the hat go all the names, and the clueing begins. The randomly-chosen starting player will have 30 seconds to get the person to their left to say the name on a randomly-drawn slip (and if they succeed with time to spare, continue with a 2nd slip, etc.). You may clue a name by saying anything you wish as long as it doesn’t involve saying any names (of persons real or fictional, living or dead… i.e. any names that could be written on a slip. You _may_ say movie names, place names, etc, as long as they don’t contain a character’s name…). When time’s up, both clue-giver and guesser get one point for each correctly gotten; any unfinished slip goes back into the hat. (If a cluer accidentally says a name, that slip is put back and another is drawn). Then play passes to the left; the guesser is now the cluer and a new person is guessing. Once you’ve gone all round the circle giving to the person immediately next to you, continue by cluing to the person two places away from you, until eventually everyone has clued to everyone else.


The Place Game

The Name Game using places, real or fictional.


Plenty Questions

One player thinks of something, any noun from “Niagara Falls” to “a subway token” to “existentialism”. Other players try to figure out what it is by guessing other nouns. To the first guess, the player will say “no it’s not” (or else it was a very lucky guess; start again!). To all subsequent guesses the answer is either “warmer” or “colder” (or occasionally “same temperature”), depending on whether in their judgement the latest guess is closer, in whatever sense they can figure, to the correct answer than the previous closest guess. We’ve sometimes taken to saying this more explicitly to make it easier to follow, e.g. [with the noun “oyster”] “Is it a steamroller?” “No, it’s not.” “Babe Ruth?” “Babe Ruth is closer than steamroller”. “um… jalapeno?” “Jalapeno is farther than Babe Ruth.” “Possum?” “Possum is closer than Babe Ruth”…


Pavlov

One person leaves the room; others in the group decide what action to make them perform when they return. The only method the group has to communicate with the person is by clapping when the person does something right — louder or softer depending on how close to the target action they’ve gotten.


Categories

The first player names a category, such as “places” or “things with feet”. All the others write something that fits in this category on sheets of paper, and hand them in to the first player, who then reads each of them aloud clearly two or three times. Beginning with the next person on the left, everyone but the first player makes a guess at what one person in the circle wrote. If wrong, play passes to the next person. If correct, the person guessed is out of this round, and the guessee goes again. Last remaining person wins. The next round, there’s a new first player (we usually just go around the circle once or twice). For a memory challenge, and to prevent people from being eliminated immediately, you may want to have everyone write two items on two slips of paper.


Comparatives

Write lots of comparative adjectives (bigger, quicker, calmer,…) on slips of paper. Draw them out two at a time and try to fit a saying to the words, along the lines of “The Bigger they are, The Harder they fall.”


Chain-Link Murder

Four people are chosen and leave the room. Everyone remaining decides on an occupation (of the victim), a nongeographic location, and a method of murder. For example, an altar boy, in a blimp, by being baked into a pie. The first person is called back into the room and told these three things. Then person 2 is called back, and person 1 must charade the occupation, location, and method to them, one at a time. Neither person 1 nor 2 is allowed to say _anything_, except person 2 says “got it” when they think they understand what 1 is trying to charade. When 2 thinks they know each of the three things, 3 is called in and 2 must now charade to 3, just as 1 did to them. Finally 4 is called in, 3 charades to 4, and 4 gets to deliver the results of their investigation: “the victim was a blind cabdriver, in a submarine, killed by paper cut” (or whatever)


Knots

At least five people (eight is good) stand in a circle, hands in and touching in the center. On ‘go!’ everybody scrambles hands and grabs onto two. Getting untangled without letting go of the two hands you’re holding is the group goal. Climbing over, under and around are encouraged – and necessary!


Patterns

One person leaves the room, and the remaining people decide on a pattern they’ll use in answering. When the ‘it’ is called back in, she asks questions and meta-questions (though the latter are discouraged) to figure out the pattern. [I don’t think this game is as much fun for the rest of the people as it is for ‘it’, unless ‘it’ is very silly or clever.] A variant, called ‘Proverbs’, involves the people choosing a proverb, and answering each succeeding question in a sentence that includes the next word in the proverb, until ‘it’ figures out the proverb.


Questions

As described in Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the object of this two-player game is to have a conversation involving only questions. As described in the play, scoring is as in tennis. Statements, repeating questions, rhetoric and non sequiturs, if caught by the other player, count as ‘out’s.


Fictionary

Marketed as ‘Balderdash’, this game requires no more than a dictionary, paper, and pencils. Players rotate being ‘it’. ‘It’ looks through the dictionary, finding an obscure word (but one with some relatively simple definition; no rare diseases of lower mollusks) which none of the other players know the definition of. ‘It’ writes the definition of the word on hir piece of paper, while the others make up likely-sounding definitions on theirs. All sheets are given to ‘it’, who shuffles them and reads them all. Players vote on which they think is the true definition. A player gets a point for guessing right, and for tricking others into guessing their spurious definition. ‘It’ does not receive points. // Poem/Bible/Shakespeare // fictionary


Telephone Pictionary

Players sit in a circle, each starting with a blank piece of paper. At the top they write any sentence. Each player passes the sheet to the person on their left. Whenever you are handed a sheet that shows writing, draw a picture of that sentence immediately below it, trying not to take up more than one or two vertical inches of the page. Then fold the paper down so the sentence you saw is now covered, and all that remains visible is your drawing. Again pass it to your left. Whenever you are handed a sheet that shows an illustration, immediately below it write what you think the picture is trying to convey, fold the paper down so the picture is covered and all that remains visible is what you wrote, and pass it along.  After the sheets are filled from top to bottom (always being sure to end with a sentence, unfold them and read each – we tend to announce the first sentence and then final sentence from a page, then read the entire thing through to show how the metamorphosis happened.


Telephone Oracle

Players sit in a circle, each starting with a blank piece of paper. At the top they write some question they would like The Oracle to answer. They can be serious or ridiculous, anything from “Q: What is the meaning of life?” to “Q: How much hair would a panda bear, if a panda bear had hair?”.  Each player passes the sheet to the person on their left. Whenever you are handed a sheet that shows a question, write an answer immediately below it. For example, “A: Seventeen wigs worth”. Then fold the paper down so all that is visible is your answer, and pass it on to the next person. Whenever you are handed a sheet that shows an answer, below it write a question to which that might be the answer. For example, “Q: How much talcum powder was required for the Moliere play?” Then fold the paper down so all that is visible is your question, and pass it on to the next person. After the sheets are filled from top to bottom (always being sure to end with an answer, unfold them and read aloud the initial question and the Oracle’s final answer.  We then read the entire thing through to show how the metamorphosis happened.

An example from an actual game:

Q: Where is the gibbous moon?

A: It was eaten by a giant flying dragon
Q: What happened to my stash of tasty human flesh?
A: E.N.R.F.: Epic Necromantic Ritual Fail.
Q: What would happen if the Apocalyptic Trumpeter forgot to unmute his instrument?
A: DOOM, in F-sharp.
Q: What’s the popular name of the fifth movement of Faust’s “Hell Symphony”?
A: Mephistopheles Finale.
Q: What software does the devil-in-music get set with?
A: Hooked on Tritonics!
Q: What is used to teach the Mer-Prince remedial triton use?
A: A short staff and lots of patience.
Q: What do you need in order to follow Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy advice?
A: Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy advice.
Q: Why did my teddy bear decide to take a tour of Europe?
A: It had won the war and declared victory, so it decided to visit its new territories.
Q: Why did Grand Fenwick go to Sacramento?
A: They made an importunate left turn at Albuquerque.
Q: How did Bugs Meany and Bugsy Moran wind up in Amarillo?
A: Google Maps does not guarantee the accuracy of its directions. Please check your transit reports for up-to-date information on construction and detours.



Charades
(regular / full concept / quotation)
The full-concept variant of charades requires that the mimer describe only the entire answer, not words or syllables. The quotation version involves charading an entire (brief) quotation from Bartlett’s or some other source.


Limerick to Death

Players sit in a circle. Words are placed on pieces of paper in a hat. The (arbitrarily-chosen) first person draws a word out of a hat and says a line ending with that word with the correct scansion to be the first line of a limerick. The next player adds line two, and so on. When the limerick is done the sixth person picks a new word and the process repeats. If someone can’t come up with a line within a few seconds, or comes up with one which is generally thought bad (a chorus of buzzer-sounds being the way to express discontent), they’re out, and that limerick ends there. The next person draws a new word and starts again. Play continues until only one person is left (by some traditions the survivor must prove herself worthy by drawing a word and coming up with an entire limerick). The “to Death” suffix refers to a theater-game way of playing this, where once a person goes out, they must act out their “death” due to something suggested by anyone in the group (e.g. death by sneezing, death by Chicken McNuggets, or death by geography)


Similes

Players write down several nouns on pieces of paper (anywhere from two to ten), half of which are concrete objects (toothpaste, submarines, caffeine, etc), the other half of which are abstract concepts (time, paranoia, justice…).

The papers are put into two piles, one of each type of noun. The top of each pile gets turned over, and players call out as many reasons as they can for why the one noun is like the other. Usually after two minutes no one can think of any more similarities, so the next two slips are turned over. No scoring, just mutual appreciation of each others’ lateral thinking.


Mnemonic Story

Have letters available (scrabble? generate own set?); remove six to ten and start a story with a sentence that acronyms to those letters:

HLWATECOM: Hurricane Louie was approaching the eastern coast of Maryland.

Continue drawing tiles a few at a time and add on to the story, trying to make as much sense as possible. Make each player take turns? Have players race to see who can come up with a sentence first? ņLet players choose the order of the letters?


Encore (songs w/ word)

Players sit in two groups. After a suitable word is agreed on (like, cats) the two teams alternate naming song titles with that word in it. Anyone on the team may answer, but if no one on a team comes up with an appropriate title within five seconds, the other team gets the point.


Storytelling

Players make up a story. A person adds as much to the tale as they wish, after which they may indicate a new bard, or just continue around a circle. In one variant, the teller must stop as soon as the person on their left shouts out a word. The person on their right then takes over, and must include that word in the story as soon as possible, while trying to keep the story coherent.


Story acting-out

An addition to storytelling, where other players stand in a ‘stage’ area acting out whatever the bard(s) say[s]


Darling, if you love me

“…won’t you please, PLEASE, smile?” completes the quote. Players sit in a circle with ‘it’ in the center. ‘It’ tries to make another player, of hir choosing, break into a smile by saying that sentence to them, in whatever manner they feel may provoke the response. If ‘it’ succeeds, the laugher becomes the new ‘it’, else ‘it’ must try again on a new victim.


Passing patterns (I give the fork to you knowingly)

One person starts passing an object to another person, making some statement as he does. He does this several times, sometimes saying different things, and then invites the others to try passing the object and saying things. When the others do, he tells them whether they’re wrong or not in their statements. As more people figure out the pattern, they too can state whether or not someone has spoken correctly, but final judgement always rests with the original person. There are generally only a few of these, with specific patterns, but it might be possible to come up with more on the spur of the moment and I’ve just never played that way. My experience is limited only to patterns like, “I give you the ball hurriedly”, “I take the ball, dip it in liquid nitrogen, throw it against a wall, stack the pieces in a pile with the smallest on the top and sell it to a museum. Who has the ball?”, or the related family that doesn’t involve actually passing things, like “My Aunt Emma”, or “How many fingers am I holding up?”


Zeugma

Try to come up with funny examples of zeugma. Some samples: “He stole the show and my wallet”, “I grew alfalfa and bored”, “Do you have a cold, or a sister?”


Movie portmanteau

String together movie titles!

  • My Favorite Year of Living Dangerous Liaisons
  • Free Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory


The Movie Project

Two (or n) people take turns saying an actor and a movie they appeared in. The first person has no restrictions, but after that, succeeding people must name a different actor who was in the previous movie, and a different movie that that person appeared in. Example: “Sigourney Weaver, Working Girl” “Harrison Ford, Star Wars” “Alec Guinness, . . . .


Password

Like the game show. Two (or more?) teams of two play against each other. One member of each team starts out as the receiver. The others, the givers, agree on a word they will try to get the receivers to say. Once they select a word, the team farther behind has the option of going first, or letting the other team do so. The givers take turns saying one word to their partner; their partner says one word in return. The givers can’t say the target word outright, or any part/form of it. They have to rely on word association to get the point across. If the receiver responds with the correct word, or a close variant (“end” instead of “ending”, e.g.) that team wins the point. Play until happy.


Counting up to 20

A group sits in a circle facing outward, so they can’t see each other (or play in a darkened room). The goal is to count to twenty. At any time anyone may start by saying, “one”. At any time thereafter someone else can say “two”, and so on. One person can’t call out two numbers in a row. If two people try to say a number simultaneously, counting has to begin again from one.


Blob

Tag where ‘it’ is a blob who absorbs those it touches, until a huge string of people are chasing a few survivors.


Mirror

One person tries to simultaneously mirror what they other person is doing


Scrumble 1

Spread scrabble letters out on a table face down. Turn twenty of them up, and everyone simultaneously looks for words in them, calling out the word as they see it and taking the letters. They must fit this word in to any words they have previously grabbed, as if they are building their own little scrabble-board. When the 20 letters are gone or everyone gives up trying to find new words out of them, twenty more are turned over. Score based on the number of words of different lengths in each players finished grid.


Scrumble 2

Spread scrabble letters out in the center of a table face down. Turn one of them face up, then another and another. As soon as someone sees a word that they can make with those letters (decide on a 3 or 4 letter minimum), they call it out and ‘win’ that word, which goes to the table in front of them. The game continues like this, with the additional rule that you may call out a word that is made from letters from the center of the table and all the letters of a word you’ve already won, anagramming as necessary into one new word. For example, if you’ve already won HEW and you see the letters AL on the table, you can call out ‘WHALE’ and build that word using the five letters.


Hush Little Baby

Sing the lullaby, passing it from one person to another while adding on new verses without breaking rhythm: “Hush little baby — don’t say a word; Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.” “And if that mockingbird gets hoarse, Mama’s gonna buy you a nice golf course.” “And if that golf course fills with divots, Mama’s gonna buy you a pair of civets.” “And if those civets lose their scent, Mama’s gonna buy you a tenement.” “And if that tenement goes condo, Mama’s gonna buy you a date with Londo.”….


Slideshow

Three people agree on a topic for their slides. Then two of them strike a pose; the third has to explain immediately what’s going on in this slide; that person then says “click” and the two change to a new ‘slide’.


Sprouts

A number of dots are placed randomly on a page. Players alternate connecting two dots, and adding a new dot somewhere along the line they’ve just added. Lines may not cross other lines. Once a dot has three lines coming to into it, it’s “full” and no more may be drawn to it. The last player who can add a line wins.


Segregation

(From Michael Bernstein to Jed to you) Get a group together; divide them along some criterion. either tell the larger group what the criterion is, and then restrict the types of questions that members of the smaller group can ask, or don’t tell anyone, and the goal is for the smaller group to figure out what the criterion is. if the larger group knows the criterion, tell the smaller group members that they can’t ask the same person questions twice in a row. if nobody knows the criterion, people will have to circulate anyway. and make sure members of the minority group don’t go around together — the game can only be won by an individual, even though working within the group would be more efficient. the criterion, by the way, should not be anything obvious on the surface, so the person picking the criterion and dividing the group should know the players reasonably well. it’s ok to make some mistakes, though, since that mirrors real life.


Rock-Paper-Anything

An improvisational expansion of the familiar hand-gesture game.  Two players stand facing each other, each holding out a fist. They bring them up and down rhythmically four times while chanting “Three, Two, One, Shoot!”. On “shoot” they form their hand into some shape and say what it is. Rock, Paper, and Scissors you already know, but you might spread your fingers as wide as possible and say “starfish!”, or form your hand into a tube and say “telescope!”, or whatever you think of. Then each player makes a superbrief argument as to why their shape defeats their opponent’s, in parallel with “rock breaks scissors!” For example “starfish covers up telescope!” and “telescope focuses sunlight on starfish, burning it!”. To determine the winner, everyone else in the room votes on which player made the more believable argument.


Words of Just One Part

All of the words you read here, that tell you of this game, have an odd trait. These words, all of these words, have just one… part… each. There is a more apt word for what I mean, but since it has three parts, I must not say it.  By now I bet you see what I mean, and though it makes for a bit of an odd read, I tell you it is not too hard to write this way, and get all the words to come out in a fine flow. All that’s to this game is to have a few folks talk this way, for as long as they can and as quick as they can, with just words of one part. They are out when they mess up and say a word that has more than one syllable <— Drat!!

 

New Games

Stand-Off

Two players stand facing each other, feet together, hands out, palms touching the other player’s. The palms are the only parts of the players bodies which may touch. They try to throw each other off balance, either by pushing or suddenly not pushing, drawing back in an attempt to cause the other to topple forward.


Aura

Two people stand facing each other at arm’s length. They touch right palms together and close their eyes. Then they drop their arms, turn around three times, and try to re-touch palms without opening their eyes.


Dragon’s Tail

A group of people line up, hands around the waist of the person ahead of them. The person on the end tucks a handkerchief into their pocket. The ‘head’ then tries to chase the ‘tail’, while the tail attempts to avoid being caught. Or, if there are enough people for two dragons, they each try to catch the other’s tail while protecting their own.


Stand Up

People (2 to ??) sit back to back, arms linked, and try to stand!


Go-Tag

People squat in a line, alternate players facing opposite directions. The person at one end is the first runner, and may run around the line group clockwise or counter. At the other end is first chaser, who may start running either way, but must then stick to that direction. As the chaser runs round the track, they may tap the back of any squatting player and shout ‘Go!’ This person is the new chaser, and the old chaser takes their place. When the runner is finally tagged, they go to one end of the line, the person at the other end is new chaser, and the tagger is the new runner.


Fox and Hounds

This requires three balls, two similar (hounds), and another to be fox. Players stand in a circle, passing the balls. Hounds can only be passed to a neighbor, while foxes can be thrown across the circle as well. (It’s good practice to make eye contact and yell ‘Fox!’ before throwing the fox to someone)


Islands

Put a frisbee or three on the ground and have people wander around them (singing? chanting?) When the referee shouts “Go!” everyone tries to touch a frisbee. The last person to touch one is out, and any people who touch other people while trying to get to the island are out also (along with the person they touched).


Spirals

People join hands in a circle. One person releases the hand of a neighbor and begins to walk around the circle, pulling the others behind, spiralling around tighter and tighter. When sufficiently twisted, the spiral unwinds outward from the center, with the middle person threading their way outward, pulling the rest of the group behind.


Toe Fencing

Two people face each other, and remain holding hands throughout the game. They try to tap (not squash) the tops of the others toes. Three taps wins!


Human spring

A 2-player trust game – they stand a few feet apart and fall in toward each other, springing back off each others palms. Then take a small step back and try again.


Triangle Tag

Three people stand armslength apart, and grasp hands to form a triangle. A fourth person tries to tag a specific member of the trio, while the triangle tries to spin around to prevent this. No tags may be made on the arms or legs, or across the triangle – only from outside.

Jim Moskowitz


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