How to Play Charades

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Charades is one of the oldest and best known of the classic parlor games, and has been a staple of Christmas celebrations for a century or more.

In a game of Charades, one player is assigned a phrase, which might be a proverb, expression, quotation, location, historical event, or the title of a movie, play, or song. That player must convey the meaning of the phrase to his or her team mates using gestures only and no words. If a team mate guesses the phrase within the time limit, the team scores a point. Play continues until all players have had a turn acting out a phrase.

There are many variations to the rules, so players should feel free to modify the arrangements as appropriate to their gathering. What follows is a general framework common to most games of Charades:

Players divide into two teams. Each team takes turns delivering to the other team the secret phrase that is to be acted out. The phrase is usually written on a piece of paper and handed to the person on the other team whose turn it is to act out. The actor then protests that the phrase is too difficult, while the perpetrating team smirks gleefully. The actor's teammates nonetheless guess the phrase within the time limit. While the winning team does a happy-dance, the losing team vows revenge.

In conveying the phrase, the actor may not make any sounds or lip movements, nor point to any objects in the room.

Most commonly, the actor is allowed to make any other gestures other than blatantly spelling out the word

The guessers attempt to guess the word or phrase based on the actor's performance. They can ask questions, to which the actor may give non-verbal responses, such as nodding in affirmation. If any of the guessers says the correct word or phrase within the time limit in the literal form as written on the slip, their team wins that round; if the phrase is not guessed when the time limit expires, the team that produced the secret phrase wins the round.

Most games also involve a library of standard short-cut gestures to indicate the number of words in the phrase, the type of phrase (e.g., book title or song title), whether the guessers are getting warmer or colder, or whether a word is plural, or "sounds like" a rhyming word.

For example, a proficient actor might hold her palms together then unfold them as if opening a book to indicate that the phrase is book title, then hold up three fingers to indicate that there are three words in the title, then hold up one finger to indicate that the first word is about to be depicted, then point to her ear to indicate that the actual first word is a rhyme of the one that is about to be depicted, then act out a snore. Once the guessers have confirmed that they first word sounds like "snore," a few aggressive battle gestures might get them to say "War." With just a few more calculated gestures, the actor might convey to the guessers the full title, "War and Peace."

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