Classic Games

Entertaining ourselves without technology.

Last week I was crossing the hot, remote Uzbek desert with five other women when our van broke down. We found shade and settled in while the leak got fixed. ASE subscriber, Charlotte S. pulled out a small pad of paper and six pencils. It was brilliant, and it reminded me of how much fun it is to play simple ‘pencil and paper’ games. It seemed almost ‘retro’ in this era of apps and iPhones. Here are some favorite games that require just pencil and paper.

Charlotte led us in Categories – for trivia experts.

Each player creates a grid with categories down the left-hand column and room for more columns off to the right. The players go around in a circle with each player naming two or three categories like capital cities, singers in the ‘60’s, U.S. Presidents, candy… Each player writes the category as it is chosen until the first column is full.

Play commences when a letter is chosen at random (point to a letter in any text). That letter is placed at the top of the first column next to the categories. Players have five minutes to put one answer which begins with the random letter next to each Category. For instance, Capital – Buenos Aires, Singer – David Bowie, U.S. President – James Buchanan and Candy – Gummy Bears.

At the end of five minutes, a player gets a point if she wrote down an original answer. If someone else wrote the same idea, they cancel each other out. Choose another letter and play another round.

Hint: Here are some categories: Fruits, Animals, Movies, Things in the ocean, Colors, Things to wear, Things in a college dorm room…



Word Squares is like Boggle – for word lovers.

Each player draws a grid of five boxes across and five down. Each player, in turn, calls out a letter and all players write the letters in across the first row and the subsequent rows until the grid is filled.

Players have five minutes to form as many words as they can from ‘touching’ letters in any direction on the grid. Words are formed by a chain of letters which can double back and go up, down or diagonally – as long as each letter adjoins the next one in the word. Letters can be used only once.

Players get points only for unique words. If another player has the same word, you both cross it out. Players earn more points for longer words.

3 or 4 letters = 1 point

5 letters = 2 points

6 letters = 3 points

7 letters = 4 points

8 or more letters = 11 points

Pen and paper Pictionary, Charades

Players each write down a movie title, book title or common phrase and folding the paper to keep the writing secret. Players take turns picking a paper out of the pile and either drawing it or acting out to get other players to guess the phrase or title. No talking allowed.

Paper Telephone

Three or more people each begin with a piece of paper. At the top of the page, they all draw a picture and pass the paper to the next player. With this new piece of paper, each person writes a caption sentence below the picture then folds the top of the paper over so only the sentence can be seen. This piece of paper is then passed to the next player who will draw a picture to go along with the sentence. Each player again folds the paper, now so only the picture can be seen and passes it along. The game continues until there is no more room and every player can open up the paper and be amused!


One player thinks of a word and draws a gallows and an empty hangman’s rope with a space for each letter in the word below it. Other players guess one letter at a time. If the letter is in the word, it goes in the appropriate space. If the letter is not in the word, a head is added to the noose. The next miss yields a torso, two arms and two legs. If the word is guessed correctly before the hanging man is complete, the guesser wins. If not, the one who chose the word wins.


This verbal word games requires no equipment unless one person is chosen to keep score. If available, a dictionary (or an iPhone with Wikipedia) cuts down on controversy.

The first player says a letter, then each player in turn adds a letter and a word begins to form. The object is to add a letter which builds toward a word, without adding the last letter to the word. The word must be at least four letters long. Any player may challenge the last player to add a letter. That last player must say the word she has in mind which includes all the letters added so far – but is not yet ended. The player loses if she cannot give a word which incorporates the previous letters. She gets a “G”, the first letter in GHOST. She would also get a “G” if she had ended a word which has four or more letters. The next time she loses, she would get an “H” and onward until one player is a GHOST and loses the game. Any player can challenge the player who last added a letter. If the player who added the letter cannot name a word beginning with the letters chosen so far, the challenger wins and gets to give back one of the letters in GHOST which she has accumulated.

AT – Alex Trebek
DR – Diana Ross
IN – Isaac Newton


Players write the alphabet down the left side of a piece of paper. One player chooses a sentence in a magazine or book and reads it aloud. All players write the sentence, one letter at a time as far as it will go, next to the alphabet. In the above image, the sentence is “the rain in Spain stays mainly i…

Players work silently and independently to come up with famous people whose initials match as many of the 26 letter pairings. Scoring is 10 points for every unique famous pair of initials and 5 points for a famous set of initials that another player also had. Whoever has the most points wins.