How to Play Red Letter Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to Play Red Letter

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Back in the days of youth, when you were a young lad or lass in the harrowing world that took you away from home1, forcing you to wake up at some God-forsaken time, the period known as 'playtime' or 'breaktime' was a welcome relief. In the world known as 'primary school'2, there were many methods in alleviating the boredom of what to do on the concrete surface outside the school building.

If you are teaching children games to play at school, or simply want to feel nostalgic, this is a safe game that will be played again... and again... and again...

What is Red Letter?

To put it bluntly, Red Letter is a children's playground game. It is not a new slang phrase for a bank statement you receive that tells you that you are 'in the red', and certainly does not involve painting a pile of letters in rather quaint shades of red. And just because it is a children's playground game it does not mean that adults are not allowed to play it, and it doesn't necessarily need a playground either.


To play Red Letter, you will require:

  • 3 or more people
  • A suitable place to play3
  • A supervising adult (optional)4
  • A good memory for letters

How to Play Red Letter

  1. Choose one person in your group to be the 'letter-picker' - this person chooses the letters, as their title suggests. The letter-picker is posted at the far end of the designated play area. The others gather in a horizontal line at the opposite end.

  2. The letter-picker picks one letter of the alphabet to be the Red Letter, telling the other participants what it is. The point of the Red Letter will become clear as the game gets underway.

  3. After making sure that the other participants are ready, the 'letter-picker' calls out a letter of the alphabet. This can be any letter, including the Red Letter. If the letter is not the Red Letter, the participants (not the letter-picker) take x number of paces forward, depending on the number of that letter in their full name. If the letter called out was 'E', and the person had four 'E's in their name, the person would take four paces forward. On the other hand, if the Red Letter chosen was 'E', and a person starts to move forward, they have to return to the beginning. Therefore, the objective is to get to the same end as the letter-picker first, and to remember not to move on when the Red Letter is called.

  4. The first person to get to the same end as the letter-picker gets the prize that is available (usually bragging rights) and the honour of being the letter-picker in the next game.

Variations on Red Letter

Other twists on the game may include:

  • Doing a forfeit if you move forward when the Red Letter is called

  • Instead of stepping forward, hop, skip, or jump

  • Barring middle-names from the game

  • Having the Red Letter as a letter that is in nobody's name, or is not likely to be called out

  • Sudden death - the letter-picker can only call a letter once, but the Red Letter may be called at any time

Common Problems with Red Letter

Unfortunately, every game is fraught with a multitude of problems that get in the way of a good playtime. Some of the common problems with the game are listed here with possible solutions:

Question - He/She has a larger stride than I do! It's not fair!

Answer - C'est la vie. However, if you enacted a rule that stated 'Persons are only allowed to have a maximum pace width of 30cm', this problem would be solved. But if you have little time, or have no 30cm ruler, then either be the letter-picker, live with it or cheat.
Question - He/She has a name with more letters in it! It's not fair!

Answer - Unfortunately, it is quantity, not quality. You will have to live with it or get a name change via Deed Poll5.
Question - I keep forgetting what the Red Letter is! It's not fair!

Answer - Don't worry. Write it on a piece of paper or your hand, or just ask the letter-picker. If the letter-picker is feeling exceptionally tight, then there is not much you can do.
1AKA school.2A school for children from ages 5 to 11.3A playground, if you want the traditional means, but a field or a long room will do just as well.4That is, if you want that true primary school feeling.5If one person's name was Henrietta Esmerelda Ffoulkes-Shakespeare, and another person was named Andrew Morrison, if the letter 'E' was called, then Mr Morrison may be rather annoyed. On the other hand, Ms Ffoulkes-Shakespeare would be rather irritated if 'E' was actually the Red Letter. This would be just to make it easier. Or people angrier. Either works just as well.

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