Charades - the Party Game Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Charades - the Party Game

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Three cards in a hand, ready to play charades

For hundreds of years the game of 'charades' has kept people entertained with amusing pieces of mime. Its popularity may be due to its broad range of topics and flexible strategies. Whatever the reason, charades is one of the best loved of all party games, and quite possibly the oldest party game in the world.

The idea of charades is that one person acts out, in mime, a well-known phrase, saying, or entertainment title, to their team, who then have to try and guess what it is. This entry describes how you play the game.


  • A stopwatch or other timing device
  • A notepad and pencil for scorekeeping
  • Blank slips of paper (many)
  • Two baskets, hats, or other containers for the slips


  • Divide the players into two teams, preferably of equal numbers.
  • Divide the slips of paper between the two teams.
  • Select a 'neutral' timekeeper/scorekeeper, or pick members from each team to take turns.
  • Agree on how many rounds to play.
  • Review the gestures and hand signals listed below, and invent any others you deem appropriate.

Each team thinks up and decides on phrases to write down on pieces of paper for the opposing team to guess. The two teams should separate, so that the teams cannot hear each other's discussion while coming up with phrases. These phrases may be quotations (but not proverbs), or titles of books, movies, plays, television shows or songs.

Here are some guidelines to prevent the phrases from being too hard to guess:

  • No team should write down any phrase unless at least three people in the team have heard of it.
  • No phrase should be longer than seven words.
  • No phrase should consist solely of a proper name - it should also contain other words.

Once they have finished writing their phrases, the teams put their slips into their respective containers before coming back together. Some players may want to divide up the chairs in the room so that teams A and B have their seats on opposite sides of the room.

To Play

Each round of the game proceeds as follows:

  1. A player from team A draws a phrase slip from team B's basket.

  2. After the player has had a short time to review the slip, the timekeeper for team B notes the time and tells the player to start.

  3. Team A now has three minutes to guess the phrase.

  4. If they get it right, the timekeeper records how long it took. If they do not get it within three minutes, the timekeeper announces that time is up, and records a time of three minutes.

  5. A player from team B draws a phrase slip from team A's basket, and play proceeds as above.

Normally the game continues until every player has had a chance to 'act out' a phrase. The score for each team is the total time that the team needed for all of the rounds. The team with the lower score wins the game.


To act out a phrase, you usually start by indicating what category the phrase is in, and how many words are in the phrase. From then on the usual procedure is to act out the words one at a time (though not necessarily in the order that they appear in the phrase).

In some cases, however, it may make more sense to try to act out the entire 'concept' of the phrase in one go.

To Indicate Categories

  • Book title - unfold your hands as if they were pages of a book.

  • Movie title - mime cranking an old-fashioned hand-cranked movie camera.

  • Play title - mime pulling the rope that opens a theatre curtain.

  • Song title - pretend to sing.

  • TV show - 'draw' a rectangle in the air to outline a TV screen.

  • Quote or phrase - make quotation marks in the air with your fingers.

To Indicate Other Things:

To indicate this:Do this:
Number of words in the title:Hold up the same number of fingers.
Which word you are working on:Hold up a number of fingers again.
Number of syllables in the word:Lay the number of fingers on your arm.
Which syllable you're working on:Lay the number of fingers on your arm again.
Length of word:Make a 'little' or 'big' sign as if you were measuring a fish.
The entire concept:Sweep your arms through the air.
'On the nose' (ie someone has made a correct guess): Point at your nose with one hand, while pointing at the person with your other hand.
'Sounds like':Cup one hand behind an ear.
'Longer version of':Pretend to stretch a piece of elastic.
'Shorter version of':Do a 'karate chop' with your hand.
'Plural':Link your little fingers.
'Past tense':Wave your hand over your shoulder towards your back.
A letter of the alphabet:Move your hand in a chopping motion towards your arm (near the top of your forearm if the letter is near the beginning of the alphabet, and near the bottom of your arm if the letter is near the end of the alphabet).

An Example

To Kill A Mockingbird

  1. Open your hands like a book, then pretend to crank the camera. This means 'a book made into a movie.'

  2. Hold up four fingers indicating four words.

  3. Indicate the first word - make 'little word' hand sign, then cup your hand behind your ear and tap your shoe to imply 'to';

  4. Indicate second word - pretend to stab at the air like Norman Bates in Psycho. Shorten 'killing' to 'kill';

  5. Indicate third word - make 'little word' hand sign and move your hand in a chopping motion near your shoulder. Implies 'a';

  6. Indicate fourth word - lay three fingers on your arm and then one finger.

  7. First syllable - indicate 'sounds like', then pretend to play 'Rock, Paper, Scissors'.

  8. Second syllable - pretend there is a ring on your finger, then do a karate chop to shorten it to 'ing'.

  9. Third syllable - flap your arms as if you are a bird.

Now try to get your team-mates to put the phrase together!

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