Years before we had TV, portable music players, and board games, people needed to entertain themselves at parties with more than just drinks and conversations. Some of the games they came up with would be genuinely fun to play with friends, even today. Others are so awkward, we have to wonder what they were thinking.
20. “Vegetable Hop” was harder than it sounds.
Before the party begins, the host of the early 1900’s game “vegetable hop” had to scatter various vegetables around their backyard. Small, medium, and large vegetables are worth 5, 10, and 20 pounds, respectively. Each player has to grab as many vegetables as they can carry, and hop on one foot back to the finish line. If they drop the vegetables, they have to start all over again. Whoever has the most veggies with the highest points at the end is the winner.
19. “Are You There, Moriarty?” was an excuse for kids to hit each other.
Inspired by the famous villain from Sherlock Holmes, people living in Victorian England invented a game to play their favorite characters. Both players would wear blindfolds and lay on their stomachs a few feet away from one another, holding their left hands, to ensure that the other hasn’t run away. They both hold rolled up newspapers in their right hand. The two players take turns being Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Just like the game Marco Polo, the person playing Sherlock will be blindfolded, and ask, “Are you there, Moriarty?” The other player says, “Yes”, as they avoid getting hit by the newspaper while they are still lying on their stomach.
Apparently, the came Colonial Mitten was around since the 1700’s, and George and Martha Washington would have their house guests play when they came over for dinner.
Guests were forced to wear thick wool mittens, and they were given a number of tasks to accomplish that would be impossible without using their fingers. Some of these tasks included buttoning teeny tiny baby clothes, picking up individual grains of rice, and whatever the party host could come up with. When it was time to eat, everyone had to keep the mittens on as well, and the party hosts had to think of food that would be nearly impossible without their fingers.
Whoever had the talent to get through all of the tasks faster than everyone else was the winner. This game continued on into the 1930’s.
17. People got a face full of powder in “Bullet Pudding”
The 1800’s British game called “bullet pudding” may have been the inspiration for Jenga. The host pulled out a large serving tray with a little mountain of flour piled on top. They placed a bullet on the top of the flour mountain. Each player would stick their finger into the flour, which would cause a mini-avalanche of powder, and the bullet would roll down the sides, or fall inside of the mound. Whichever player caused the bullet to fall inside of the pile has to use bury their face in the flour and pick up the metal ammunition with their teeth, like bobbing for apples. When they came back up, their face would be completely white and covered in flour, and surely, everyone would be laughing at them.
16. “Dogs and Cats” had two teams fighting for glory.
In the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, the game “dogs and cats” just needs a deck of playing cards. The host of the party hides the cards around the house. They can be hidden inside of magazines, books, vases, drawers, cookie jars- just about anywhere. (Hopefully not in the bedroom or any other private spaces!)
The party guests have team captains that split off into two teams- the “dogs” and the “cats’. The goal for the dogs is to find all of the black cards, and the cats have to find all of the red ones. It is the team captain’s responsibility to gather all of their team’s cards. If a member of the dog team finds a black card, they have to bark loudly until their captain gets to them, and the cats have to meow.
If a guest finds a card of the opposite team, they can quietly put it back, or choose an even more difficult hiding place. As you might imagine, the game is over when one of the teams gets their half of the deck completed. We can only imagine that people stopped playing this game after too many incidents when players tear a house apart looking for cards.
15. “Prussian Exercises” let people scream silly things at their friends.
A group of people gets together while one person pretends to be a drill sergeant. They start to scream at the “cadets” to do certain things, and they have make up the most ridiculous commands possible. The cadets try not to laugh, and keep a stony serious face. If they burst out in a fit a giggles, it means they are out of the game. After a while, if the remaining players get bored or they really just aren’t going to laugh, they get down on their knees and the drill sergeant knocks them all down like a line of dominos. If there was one winner, they could become the drill sergeant in the next round.
14. “Curio Party” was a way to show off your souvenirs.
Like an adult version of show-and-tell, a curio party was an event where people would invite their friends over to bring a souvenir they bought during their travels. In the early 1900’s, cars were a new invention, so it was a lot more interesting to see what kinds of objects were available in far-off towns and states that their friends had probably never seen before. If the game were to be played today, it may not be as interesting as the past, but it could still be worth a try.
There is a very good reason why very few people play “snap-dragon” anymore. This game was developed in the 16th century, and it continued on for hundreds of years. Party guests fill up a metal bowl or pan with brandy, and drop raisins into the bottom of the bowl. Then, the brandy is lit on fire. Usually, the flame is so hot, it turns blue. The object of the game is to stick your hands into the burning brandy and get the raisins and dried plums from the bottom. Apparently, the whole point of the game was to enjoy watching their friends look like demonic spirits who could pick up blue flaming raisins and pop them in their mouths.
In 1879, a writer named Robert Chambers wrote a poem about the game, and there is also a reference to a creature called a “snap-dragon” in Alice in Wonderland. Today, most people would never play this game, but there is a group of adventure-seeking people playing on YouTube during a Halloween party. They admit that their hands and wrists have been burned, but they don’t seem to mind.
The early 1900’s game “sweet spelling” used sugar cubes like dice. Letters were written on each side of the cube with ink, omitting difficult letters like X or Z. Each player tossed the cubes onto the table, in hopes that it will spell out a word. The game keeps going until someone finally gets a word. The winner gets to eat the sugar…But who would really want to eat them after everyone has touched them, and they are filled with ink?
Who knew that Christmas day in the 1800’s meant that the kids were very literally kicking each other? One person sits in a chair, with another sits on their knees, and lays their head in the lap of the person sitting down, and closes their eyes. The rest of the kids have to kick the person on their knees.while their eyes are closed, and then they guess who just kicked them. If they guess correctly, they get to stand up and give the spot over to the next kid, who has to be kicked.
10. “Kitchen Sounds” brings out player’s competitive spirits.
This game was popular in the 1800’s and 1900’s. Apparently, people would get very competitive. The party host or hostess goes into the kitchen, while the rest of the guests are in another room that is within earshot of the kitchen. They may need to hang a curtain or a blanket across the doorway to block the player’s view of the kitchen, if necessary.
The host has to start doing a task in the kitchen like chopping vegetables, sweeping the floor, husking corn, etc. The player has to guess what they are doing based on sound alone. The first one to shout out the correct answer gets a point. Whoever can guess correctly the most by the end is the winner.
9. “Wink Murder” gave people an opportunity to dramatically fall to the floor.
The game “wink murder” is like having a murder mystery night, only without the costumes, characters, and elaborate clues. Party members draw paper from a bowl. One person is given the identity of the murderer, and another is the detective. The rest of the guests are just civilians. No one is allowed to reveal who they are, and just go about the party like they would normally- Talking, laughing, and drinking. But as soon as the murderer makes eye contact with someone, they are supposed to wink. The person who has been winked at must pretend to die, and collapse on the floor. They play dead for the rest of the party. The detective has to figure out who winked before they can start over again.
The game peanut hunt is like an indoor version of an Easter egg hunt. The party host hides peanuts around the house in hiding places, and the guests have to find them. In a more advanced version of the game, the peanut shells have ribbons tied around them, so that the players can only keep their like-colored peanuts. The game doesn’t end until every single peanut has been found. Whoever has the most by the end is the winner, and everyone gets to eat their peanuts as a snack.
7. Players could lose their shirts playing “Christmas Forfeit”.
This was a parlor game that became a Christmas tradition during the Victorian Era. In England, Christmas Eve is spent doing festive and fun parties with friends, Christmas Day is usually spent visiting family and eating dinner, and “boxing day” is the day after Christmas, where everyone unwraps and enjoys their presents. This game was usually played on Christmas Eve, especially among the young 20-sometimes who were going to parties with other single people.
A leader was chosen to hold a box, and everyone playing the game had to take off either a piece of jewelry, a watch, a necktie, etc. and forfeit it in the box. The leader would pull the objects out at random, and dare the owner to do something in order to get it back. Many of these dares were usually over-the-top, like requiring a man to full-on make out with at least five women before he could get his watch back. If he said “no”, then the leader of the game got to keep his watch. Of course, playing this game was risky, and it probably meant some kids lost their parent’s family heirlooms. It’s probably best that no one plays this anymore.
One person ties a rope around a heavy leather shoe, and then starts to swing it around in a circle around them. The other players have to jump as the shoe is coming towards them. This is kind of like the elementary school game “snake in the grass”, which is usually played with just a jump rope. However, the swinging shoe is far more dangerous, because it has the potential to trip up and cause bruises to the players.
5. “The Bellman” probably caused kids to tackle each other.
During the Victorian Era, a game that was sort of the opposite of blindman’s bluff called “The Bellman” came out. Based on the ad, it seems like every other modern-day toy that may have been a popular fad for a couple years before it faded away. One child would ring a bell, while the rest of the players wore blindfolds. Once they heard the sound of the bell, the kids tried to run in the direction of the sound in order to catch them. It’s very likely that the blindfolded kids collided into one another, and possibly ended up getting a concussion.
During the Great Depression, the idea of a “hobo” was actually kind of charming and endearing. People even admired hobos in a way, because they were seen as adventurers who had the freedom to jump on the next train and travel across the country. Of course, the reality of a hobo’s life was very different than the romanticized version.
A “Hobo Party” was themed entirely around pretending that you were homeless. Party guests showed up dirty, and wearing their oldest clothing. All of the games were themed around the idea of being homeless, like one game similar to “musical chairs”, except that players had to jump on top of crates that were supposed to be box cars. When it was time to eat, party guests had to knock on neighbor’s doors to beg for sandwiches, beer, and spare change. Party hosts were supposed to let their neighbors know ahead of time that they were getting ready to play an adult version of trick-or-treat, and provide food for them beforehand. This tradition was strange and downright insulting, so it’s not surprising that it didn’t last long.
This game was a combination of “musical chairs” and “Simon says.” The leader would stand in the middle of a circle of party guests sitting in chairs. The person in the middle points to a random person and asks, “Do you love the neighbor to your right (or left)?” If that person says “No, I love…” and points to another person in the circle, the “neighbor” and the person being pointed at both have to stand up and change seats with one another as quickly as possible. If they aren’t fast enough, the person in the middle will steal the seat of one of the people who stood up. Whoever is left standing becomes the new leader in the middle of the circle, and ask the same question.
Instead of saying “no”, they could respond with, “Yes. I love all of my neighbors, except for those with blue pants.” Just like “Simon Says”, the players had to listen carefully to what was said to make sure they fit that description. Then, they had to jump up and change to a different seat with someone else, before the person in the middle could grab the chair, and so on.
The one major downside to this game was the fact that there was really no way to make it stop or choose a winner. It also apparently lead to a lot of precious household objects breaking from kids running around the chairs in the family parlor.
2. The “Marriage” and “Marriage and Divorce” Games prepped young people for their futures.
For young people who can’t seem to figure out what the opposite sex is looking for in a mate, the “marriage” game was a good way for teenagers and people in their 20’s to talk about what they look for in relationships without burning their own egos. The girls in the party talked about the names of various male celebrities and even fictional characters, wrote the names down, and put them in a bowl. The boys would draw a name, and they would have to take on the persona of that man.
Next, the man would ask a girl to marry him. She would have to say “yes” or “no” based on the characteristics of the character he was playing, not the boy himself. Then, they had to explain to the whole group what her logic was for her decision. For example, if a young man had to take on the persona of the fictional character Dorian Gray, the girl might say, “No, I don’t want to marry Dorian Gray, because he is too arrogant.” He has to move on to the next girl, and ask for her hand in marriage. Sometimes, a girl might say “yes” and give her reasons for why she would marry that person or character, even if others would not.
It was actually a great lesson for young folks that different qualities are attractive to different people, and that even if they are rejected by someone they like, there is still someone else out there for them.
Another similar game was called “Marriage and Divorce”, which was kind of like speed-dating. A young man and woman would come together for the night to get to know one another, but they were forced to talk about the serious issues that only married couples get into. If they realized they were not a good match, they could choose to “divorce” them.
1. You could hide a bad hair day going to a “Paper Sack Party”.
Yet another strange 1900’s game required party guests to wear a paper bag over their head during the entire party. Each bag had a number written on it. The object of the game was to have people talking to one another without knowing who was behind the paper sack. They would have to guess the identity of the person based on the conversation. Each person had a notepad where they would keep track of who they thought the people were. One would hope that they could recognize the voices of their friends, but maybe trying to disguise your voice was part of the fun in messing with people.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: