How to Play Charades

How to Play Charades

Step 1: Divide players into two equal teams of two or more, and grab some paper, pencils, two hats (or bowls or baskets), a score pad, and a stopwatch. Select a neutral timekeeper, or just take turns minding the clock.

Step 2: Ask each player to write down a phrase on a slip of paper. (If you have a bazillion people playing, teams can come up with, say, five or so phrases collectively.) Once the phrases have been chosen, fold the papers and toss them into your own team’s hat. If you’d like, you may agree, in advance, on certain categories, like famous people, songs, quotes, plays, movies, or books.

Step 3: Flip a coin (or thumb wrestle or, if it’s that kind of party, mud wrestle) to decide which team goes first, and then select one person on the winning team to draw a phrase from the opposing team’s hat. Shh, keep it secret! Give that person a few seconds to gather her thoughts, and then say “Go” and start the timer. Set a have-mercy max of three minutes per round.

Step 4: Without making a peep, the lucky player must now act out the chosen phrase until her teammates correctly guess it. (Aside from letting out whelps of laughter, the other team should remain mum during this guessing phase.)

Step 5: If the team correctly shouts out the phrase, cheer and then jot down the amount of time it took them to do so. If their three minutes expire before they’ve gotten it, moan and jot down three minutes as their score. Take turns, alternating between teams and actors, until you’ve played all the slips of paper (or are too tired or too tipsy to proceed). The team with the lowest score wins.

More Nifty Tips

When selecting phrases to write down, avoid total stumpers or long sentences, or your game will turn into a snoozefest.

You don’t have to act out each word in order. The best strategy is usually to convey the category of the phrase (a movie, a book, etc.), followed by the number of words in the phrase, the position of the word you’re working on, the length of the word, and finally the syllables in that word. Start with the easiest word, and then go from there.

Use these universal code gestures to indicate the category:

  • A book: Put your hands together, as if in prayer but with fingers pointing outward, and then open them up.
  • A movie: Pretend to operate an old-fashioned movie camera by forming an O with one hand in front of your eye (the lens) and cranking your other hand by your ear.
  • A play: Get on bended knee, place one hand on your chest, and extend the other out to the side.
  • A song: Pretend to sing.
  • A TV show: Draw a square with two fingers.
  • A quote: Make air quotes with your fingers.
  • A famous person: Do your best Napoleon. Puff up your chest and pretend to tuck one hand into the front of your shirt.

Use these gestures to indicate the words:

  • The number of words in the phrase: Hold up the appropriate number of fingers.
  • The position of the word you’re acting: Hold up the appropriate number of fingers once more.
  • The number of syllables in the word: Tap the appropriate number of fingers on your forearm.
  • The syllable you’re acting: Tap the appropriate number of fingers on your forearm again.
  • The length of the word: Hold up your thumb and forefinger, spread small or large.

Use these gestures to guide your team with their guessing:

  • A correct guess: Point to your nose with one hand, and the teammate who got it right with the other.
  • They’re getting hot: Wipe sweat from your forehead.
  • They’re getting cold: Wrap your arms around yourself and shiver.
  • Sounds like: Cup your hand behind your ear.
  • Plural: Link your pinkies.
  • Past tense: Wave your hand over your shoulder.

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