I was recently crafting a scene where I needed to find a pastime for a large group of children. Unfortunately, not just any pastime would do. This group was stranded, along with my heroine, in an old abandoned farmhouse waiting out a storm. My heroine wanted to keep their minds off of the storm so was trying to come up with some form of entertainment for them.
Keeping in mind that this was set in 1894, I started digging into what games my group might have been familiar with. Anything that required components or equipment, such as board games, cards or jacks would be out, as would anything that required large open spaces.
In addition, one of my characters had some mobility issues, so the more familiar games of hide-and-go-seek, blind man’s bluff and tag would also be out.
The first game I came across in my search that fit my criteria was a memory game. There are several variations of this, but the one I honed in on is one I played as a child. A group of small, miscellaneous objects is collected from whatever is on hand. The items are spread out in front of the players. A ‘thief’ is selected and then everyone else covers their eyes. The thief pockets one of the items, rearranges the remaining ones and then instructs the other players to open their eyes and see if they can identify the missing object. The first one to do so earns a point.
This game had definite possibilities for my story. In fact I decided I could turn it into two games. The quest for appropriate items could become and impromptu treasure hunt that would keep the children happily occupied for a while, especially if it became a competition. I envisioned them coming up with all sorts of items like small sticks, nails, seeds or kernels of grain, pebbles, chunks of wood, bits of metal such as the link form a chain, maybe a marble or piece of string from someone’s pocket, a coin or key from my heroine’s purse, one of her hairpins – endless possibilities. Afterwards, my heroine would take the role of ‘thief’ in the game and play would begin.
But I still needed at least one more activity since, having raised four children of my own, I know how quickly children will tire of even the most interesting of distractions.
So I started looking at word games of the period and found three that looked interesting.
There’s the familiar twenty questions, where the person who is ‘it’ thinks of some item and the rest of the group must figure out what ‘it’ is by asking a series of questions. Other than the opening “Animal, vegetable or mineral?” question, all of the questions must be of the yes or no variety.
In this game, the players line up in order, the first player describes the cat with an adjective beginning with the letter ‘A’ – for instance “The Minister’s cat is an amazing cat.” The next person in line must describe the cat with some different adjective also beginning with the letter ‘A’ such as “The Minister’s Cat is an awful cat.” And so on until everyone has had a turn. If a player can’t come up with an appropriate adjective, or repeats one already used, then he or she is out. Once everyone has made it through the letter A, the person who went first moves to the end of the line and they start over with the letter B. Game continues through the alphabet until all but one player has been eliminated. Last person left standing is the winner.
Another version of this game – the one I’m more familiar with – has the players move through the alphabet more rapidly. The first player uses the letter A, the next the letter B and so forth, continuing through the alphabet until only one person is left standing. Traditionally the letters X and Z are skipped.
The third word game I found was “I Packed My Suitcase”, a similar game that employs nouns instead of adjectives. This one, though, is a bit more challenging as the players must remember and recite the prior words used before adding their own. To begin, the players again line up to determine order. The first player thinks of a word starting with the letter A that will complete the sentence “In my suitcase I packed …”
Player 1 “In my suitcase I packed an apple.”
Player 2 “In my suitcase I packed and apple and a ball”
Player 3 “In my suitcase I packed an apple, a ball and a clock”
And so forth.
Once all players have responded, play returns to Player 1 who continues the chain, repeating what came before and adding a new item beginning with the appropriate letter..
If a player skips an item, can’t fill in his own item or loses his place in the alphabet, he’s out.
Since I didn’t want to make things too easy on my heroine, this gave me more than enough to work with for the scene I had in mind.
So what about you – are there games you remember from your own childhood – or from your parenting experience – that helped entertain a restless or cabin-fever stricken group?