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Rediscover The Lost Art of Having Fun with some Christmas family games

You may well have Christmas Day all planned out by now - house decorated, presents wrapped, turkey bought - but what about the post dinner entertainment? What if you're stuck playing charades, again? Never fear as we've pulled together some great family games from Gyles Brandreth's The Lost Art of Having Fun...  

Posted on 23rd December 2013 by Guest contributor


‘Are you there, Moriarty?’

This game has been a rainy day favourite for more than a hundred years, since the heyday, in fact, of the great detective Sherlock Holmes and his arch-enemy, the elusive Professor James Moriarty.

It is a game for two players and an audience; and everybody can take a turn, if they dare!

Once you have your players and your audience, all you need are two blindfolds and two rolled-up newspapers . . . The scene is set for a duel to the death (well, almost).

The two players are blindfolded and made to lie flat on the floor, face down, each grasping the other’s left wrist with his left hand. In their right hands they hold their weapons: the rolled-up newspapers.

On the command ‘Go!’ the first player calls out ‘Are you there, Moriarty?’ to which the other player must reply ‘Yes’. As he does so, the first player will attempt to wallop him with a single well-aimed blow from his rolled-up newspaper, judging the second player’s location by where his voice is coming from. To avoid the attack, of course, an artful player will cry ‘Yes’ in one place and quickly roll to another (without letting go of his opponent’s left wrist).

Players take it in turns and the player with the greater number of direct hits after a set time is the winner.


Pablo Picasso once said: ‘Painting is a blind man’s profession. He paints not what he sees, but what he feels.’ In this game the words of the Master are taken somewhat literally. To play it you will need some simple equipment and an even number of players.

The players are divided into pairs and each couple sit back to back. One of the pair is given a piece of paper, a pencil and something to act as a drawing board; the other is given an object such as a pineapple, an egg whisk, a chess piece or a rubber duck. It can be anything, so long as it is interesting. Without telling their partner what the object is, nor what it is used for, the player must describe it: its size, shape, how it feels, etc. The partner has to draw the object on the basis of the description given, following the directions as best they can.

At the end of the game, either the most accurate or the most remarkable illustration wins the prize. Almost certainly, you will end up with more than a few Surrealist works of art, but don’t worry. As Picasso also pointed out, ‘Art is noble play.’

Kim’s GameThis game takes its name from Rudyard Kipling’s much-loved novel, Kim. The story’s eponymous hero, an orphan growing up in India at the end of the nineteenth century, plays the game as part of his training to become a spy. The game, a true classic, is essentially a test of memory and observation. It requires two or more players and a bit of preparation.

The preparation. Prior to the game, gather up twenty or more different objects and place them on a tray or a table. The objects can be anything that is small and recognisable – an apple, an orange, a cup, a saucer, a thimble, a sugar lump, a ten-pound note, a pen, a pencil sharpener, an egg cup, a bar of chocolate, a playing card, a xylophone hammer, a potato, a copy of this book – anything will do. The items are placed at random and then the whole assemblage is covered with a cloth.

The play. When the preparation is complete, everybody gathers round and the cloth is removed. The players have just thirty seconds to study the collection of objects in front of them before the cloth is replaced. Each player is then given a pencil and some paper with which to list all the objects that they can remember.

A player scores 1 point for each object remembered, but loses a point if he or she lists any object that was not there.

The player scoring the highest number of points is the winner.
Mince Pie Munch

Players divide into two teams, with an equal number of players in each team. Each team has to sit in a row, and each player has a mince pie and a glass of sherry (or milk or juice for the younger players) in front of them.

When the signal is given, the first player has to turn round and feed their mince pie to the player behind them. The player being fed has to keep their hands behind their back the whole time. Once the mince pie has been munched, the first player has to get the second player to drink their drink; again the second player must keep their hands behind their back.

Once their pie has been eaten and their drink has been drunk, it is the second player’s turn to about face and start feeding and watering the player behind. When the end of the row is reached, the last player runs to the front and feeds the first player their mince pie and sherry.

The first team to finish the festive fare is announced the winner and the players get to wear paper hats for the rest of the day.


You can Click & Collect The Lost Art of Having Fun from your local Waterstones bookshop, or buy it online at Waterstones.com

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