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Family Games: Charades

Winning Plays

Charades is believed to have originated in France in the eighteenth century as a riddle game. The goal of the game was to come up with a word or phrase by trying to figure out the riddle. The riddles were given either in prose or in rhyme.

Here is an example:

    “My first is a Tartar,

    My second a letter;

    My all is a country,

    No Christmas dish better.”

    (The answer is Turkey.)

The word version of the Charade game later evolved into an acted game where players had to guess the word or phrase by watching others act them out. That is the version of the game we are most familiar with today.

Charades is often played as an after-dinner entertainment at adult parties. But with a bit of coaching, kids can join in, making it a great family party game. While it started out as a riddle game where you guessed a word, it eventually evolved into the acting game we are familiar with today.

Charade Parade

Here is what you will need:

  • A stopwatch or watch with a minute hand to time each charade
  • A pen and paper to keep score
  • Index cards to write words, sentences, phrases, names of people (your charade cards)
  • A neutral player to keep the time and score

The point of the game is for players to act out a word, an idea, quotation, name of a person, name of a book, movie, or television show, in the shortest amount of time possible. Players should split up into two teams.

You should write-up the charades on index cards in one of two ways: You can write up the cards in advance—if you do this, you won't be able to play because you'll know the answers. If you choose to write them up before the game, then you should also be the neutral party that keeps the time and score. That way you have a part to play in the game but not in the guessing of the charades.

The other way you can write up charades is to have team 1 write up the charades for team 2 and vice versa. That way you ensure that team 1 and team 2 will not be acting charades that they already know. Each card can also have a theme written on it—something that will help the teams focus on a certain idea so the guessing doesn't take too long.

Winning Plays

Acted Charades is believed to have originated in England. In fact, William Makepeace Thackeray makes reference to the game of acted Charades in his 1848 novel Vanity Fair. The game enjoyed a boost in popularity in the 1930s and then again after World War II. It was a party game then and remains a party game today.

Three Strikes

The opposing team is not allowed to shout out any guesses and may not do anything to derail the team doing the guessing. So tell them to butt out and follow the rules!

To start the game, each team designates a leader. It is the goal of the leader's team to guess the charade that he or she is acting out. The leader cannot use his or her voice in any way and cannot point to any inanimate object in the room as a means to aid the guessers. The secret word or phrase must be completely acted out. The guessing begins the second the acting begins. This is where things can get really rowdy. The closer the team gets to the answer, and the shorter the time left, you'll find people yelling and waving and laughing their heads off.

Team members can shout out randomly what they think the syllable, word, or sentence is. The other players should also try to listen to the guesses made by other players because every guess could stimulate other ideas—and you don't want to repeat the same guess over and over again. When a team member gets something right the actor can point to that team member and nod, then move onto the next syllable or word.

If the team successfully guesses the answer, the person who comes out with the final word or sentence gets to do the acting, and that team continues play. If the team doesn't guess the answer and time is up, the next team takes the stage with a new word or sentence.

You can play charades in large or small groups. Most commonly it is played by a small group in a living room setting.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Family Games © 2002 by BookEnds, LLC. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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