10 ridiculous family games that need no equipment

This Christmas vacation, all 10 of my kids were are under one roof! I don’t know how many more times this is likely to happen; but while it lasts, we’re going to enjoy it. One thing we like doing is playing games — video games, certainly, and board games, sometimes. But my favorites are the ones we can play without any equipment except our own goofy brains. Here are some of them:


A rhyming riddle game that you can play at all different levels, with kids who just barely know how to rhyme, to people with complex and mysterious brains. My seven-year-old loves to play this in the car. One person thinks of two words that rhyme and have the same number of syllables, and supplies hints, and everyone else has to guess. Whoever guesses correctly first gets to think of the next riddle. If the words have two syllables each, you say you have a stinky pinky. If they have three syllables each, it’s a stinkity pinkity. Four syllables, a stink-inkity pink-inkity; and so one. One syllable word pairs are a stink pink, of course.

A simple example:  A stink pink that’s a container for an orange animal with a big tail. The answer is: Fox box.

A more complicated one: What’s a wild, irresponsible string of pearls? Answer: a reckless necklace. I asked my son this one, and he guessed “unruly jewelry,” which doesn’t scan right, but is pretty good! I also gave him the hint of something that fastens pants and goes upside down, with “zipper flipper” in mind, but he guessed “suspender up-ender.”

Charades mashed up with ‘The Office’ can entertain the whole families for hours.

This one involves getting out of your chair, unfortunately. It’s good for ages 6 to adult, and it’s very easy to drop in and out of, and is very entertaining to watch other people play.

The set-up:  one person is the boss, one person is the employee who is late for work, and one person is the co-worker.  The boss faces the employee, and the co-worker stands behind the boss, so the employee can see him, but the boss cannot.

The boss barks at the employee, “Why were you late?”  The employee starts to make his excuses — but he has to describe what the co-worker is miming.  Remember, the boss can’t see him.

So the co-worker is marching, dancing, swatting imaginary flies, being strangled, fighting invisible gorillas, etc., and the employee is narrating it.

Then the boss, at any point he wants to, whips his head around to and yells at the co-worker, “What are you doing?”  And the co-worker has to instantly come up with a plausible, office-appropriate explanation for whatever he was caught doing.  If he was acting out “killing a bear with my teeth,” for instance, he might say, “Oh, I was just eating one of these crullers.  Thanks for the crullers, boss!”

If the boss likes the excuse, he says, “Okay,” and the game resumes.  But if he doesn’t, he says, “You’re fired!” and the next person gets to be the co-worker


Okay, just for this one, you do need some equipment, but I had to include it because I love it so. You will need a thick dictionary and a bunch of paper and pens.  It’s best for players at least 8 years old and up, and you need at least four players to make it fun. More is better.

The person who’s “it” finds a word that no one is familiar with, and he writes down the real definition. Everyone else writes down a fake definition. The person who is “it” reads them all out loud, and everyone but “it” has to guess which one is real.

Then “it” reveals the true definition. You get a point if you guess the real one, if someone votes for your fake one, or if you’re “it” and no one guesses the real one. Everyone gets a turn being “it” to complete one round of play.

Proper nouns, foreign language words, acronyms, and abbreviations are out. Spell and pronounce the word for everyone, and say what part of speech it is. If you’re “it,” you can simplify the real definition a bit, as long as you don’t significantly change it. Read all the definitions over silently to make sure you understand and can pronounce everything before reading them aloud. Be sure to shuffle them before reading aloud, so there are no clues about who wrote what.

You can’t vote for your own definition. The person who’s “it” does not vote. If there is one person who is head and shoulders above all the others when it comes to guessing, that person can vote last, so as not to influence the others.

The brilliance of this game is the psychology that goes into it. You have to use your knowledge of the people involved, not just your knowledge of language. And there’s always that one person who doesn’t care about the score and just wants to mess with people.

  1. GHOST

A spelling game, but it’s more fun than it sounds, and also involves more psychology than you’d think. A group of people spells a word out loud together, one letter at a time. The goal is to draw the word out as long as possible without being the one who says the last letter. So the person who starts will say, for instance, “R.” Then the next person will add the next letter — say, “E.” Then the next person will say “S.”

The hard part is, you have to supply a letter that doesn’t spell an entire word; but you have to have a real word in mind, that you’re working on spelling. The idea is to force someone else into ending the word. So if I am thinking of the word “restaurant,” and I supply the “T” when it’s my turn, then the round is over, because I’ve spelled “rest.”

But if someone supplies a letter that doesn’t spell a word — say “A” — and you can’t figure out what word they could possibly be working on (“‘Resa?’ What word starts with ‘resa?’” you’re thinking, because you keep thinking about “reservation,” but of course the word is “resale,” silly) you may challenge that person to reveal what the heck kind of ridiculous word they’re thinking of.

If they’re bluffing and it’s not a word, but they’re just trying to make it difficult for the next person with the letter they’ve chosen, then they’re out; but if they’re actually spelling a word, then they win.


This is a game that only works if no one announces that you’re playing it. It replicates the experience of being a member of the secret service whose job it is to protect the president. I know you guys have a prime minister or whatever, but work with me, here. One person begins by holding two fingers up against his ear as if listening intently to some intel coming through an earpiece.

If you notice someone is doing this, you will realize that the game is in session, and you must silently begin to also hold up two fingers against your ear. One by one, everyone in the room begins to realize what is happening, and stifles giggles while exchanging significant looks. When there is only one clueless person remaining who hasn’t noticed what is going on, then that is the president, and everyone else can simultaneously shriek, “GET DOWN, MR. PRESIDENT!” and tackle that person to the floor.

It’s so much fun, and hardly anyone ever dies of terror. Note: Husbands generally don’t care for this game, so act accordingly.


One person thinks of an adverb, and everyone else has to guess what it is, by watching him do things in the manner of that adverb.

For instance, say I’m thinking about “bitterly.” The other shout, “Make some biscuits in the manner of the adverb!” so you commence muttering resentfully about the stupid butter not being cold enough, and how everybody else has a pastry blender, but you have to get along with two pathetic butter knives, and how you certainly hope they appreciate how much trouble you went to, but it doesn’t seem likely, and so on. And they shout out words like “Resentfully?” or “Angrily?” until someone guesses it. This is a good game for finding out whether or not your kids really know what an adverb is, or how biscuits are made.

  1. JEBRAHAMADIAH AND BALTHAZAR (also called “Master and Servant”)

Another role-playing/narrative game, but you can sit down for this one. I am not sure why my kids call this one “Jebrahamadiah and Balthazar,” except that (a) it has something to do with the Jeb! flyers we kept getting in the mail when Jeb Bush was running for president, and (b) they are weirdos.

One person gives orders, the other person explains why he can’t carry them out. The answer has to be part of a consistent narrative — you can’t just make up a new excuse for each command.

Here is an abbreviated example. The longer you can draw it out, the funnier it gets:

Jebrahamadiah! Go get me a glass of water.
I would, but I just broke the last glass.
Then go get me a cup of water.
I would, but when I broke the glass, I cut my finger, and I can’t use my hand.
Well, use your other hand.
I would, but when I was searching for a Band-aid for my one hand, I slammed the medicine chest door on my finger, and now both hands are useless.
Then call an ambulance.
I can’t, because, if you’ll recall, my hands don’t work.
Then use the speaker phone.
I would, but when I slammed the medicine chest door, some nail polish remover fell on my phone and now the speaker doesn’t work.
Then just shout out the window for help.
I would, but the neighbors saw me wrecking my phone, and he’s a big jerk, and laughed so hard that he drove off the road and now he’s in a coma.
Well, shout out the other window on the other side of the house.
I would, but when the other neighbor drove off the road, he knocked a utility pole down, and a live wire landed on the house on the other side and now it’s on fire, so I don’t want to bother them.
Well . . . okay, fine, I’ll get my own water.


This one can be played all day long, while cooking, while setting the table, during the meal, and so on, until you put your foot down and tell them to knock it off or you’re going to strangle somebody.

THE RULES: Life goes on as normal, until someone shouts, “Shatner!” — and then everyone has to do what they’re doing as William Shatner.

I actually stink at this game, but my kids are horrifyingly good at it.

8a. Companion game: DUCHOVNY

The opposite of Shatner. You respond in such an understated way that people have to fight the urge to check your vital signs.


You sing a song, except everyone in it becomes two people. Thus, Moana’s cri de couer:

We are some girls who love our islands
We are some girls who love the sea
It calls us
We are the daughters of the village chiefs
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call us
We’ve delivered us to where we are
We have journeyed farther
We are everything we’ve learned and more
Still it calls us
And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside us
It’s like the tide; always falling and rising
We will carry you here in our hearts you’ll remind us
That come what may
We know the way
We are Moanas!

  1. GREG

This one benefits more than others from either having a few glasses of wine in you, or being eleven years old (I cannot recommend both).

THE RULES: You sing songs, but instead of “I,” “me,” or “mine,” you say “Greg.”

There’s “With or Without Greg” by U2; “Amazing Grace” (How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like Greg); and who can forget that sentimental ballad from The Music Man, “Till There Was Greg.”

Extra points if someone in the house is actually named Greg.


Image: From Wikihow Play Charades (Creative Commons)

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4 thoughts on “10 ridiculous family games that need no equipment”

  1. The game you call Ghost I learned from my mother when I was a kid in the 60s. My husband and I have often played it on long, late night car trips to keep each other awake. I’ve never heard of anyone else playing this game.
    The game you call Fictionary I know as just Dictionary. We played this a lot at gatherings in college and in our early marriage…until the board game Balderdash came along. It’s basically the same game, but moves faster because you don’t have to look up words.
    Now I look forward to trying some of these others, though I expect I’ll suck at being Shatner.

  2. Game number 2 is also a scene from Fawlty Towers–you know, the one where Basil wins a bet on a horse that he doesn’t want Sybil to know he bet on, so he says the bet was Polly’s, and he just barely manages to alert Polly before Sybil arrives to interrogate her, and he’s standing behind Sybil when she asks Polly what was the name of the horse, and Basil has to mime it to her without letting Sybil see him. And no, I did not watch every single episode of Fawlty Towers 200 times when I was a teenager, why do you ask?

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