Pass the Dictionary

by Natalie
(Minnesota )

Long before Parker Bros. and other board game biggies got in on the act, our extended family loved to get together with nothing more than a dictionary for entertainment.

Games like Monopoly, with their strict rules and formulaic fun held less appeal than games created out of our own need for intellectual challenge on a bare-bones budget.

"Pass the Dictionary" is a suitable game for any age, as long as the participants can read or write. But the game is most entertaining when the competitors are closely matched in skill. Contests between generations are a source of hilarity and good-natured fun too - especially when parents are pitted against school-aged kids.

Any living room or kitchen table is an ideal setting for this game, which also makes a fun ice-breaker and conversation-starter for parties. It's a good alternative to a weekly bridge game, for instance.

The only required supplies are a big dictionary (the bigger the better!), pen and paper for taking turns and keeping score (cut a stack of paper in strips and distribute 30 or so to each player), and egg-timer to keep the game moving.

Games can be open-ended, or you can set a fixed time or target score if you don't want to let the game continue till everyone is ready to call it quits. Forty-five minutes to one hour is probably a good time limit, but I'm sure before the age of the internet, cable TV and video games, we spent hours whiling away the time on lazy Sundays.

Rules of Play: Let the youngest player start. This player gets the dictionary, and the challenge is to flip open a page at random and find an unfamiliar word so no one is liable to know the definition. Any word is fair game, as long as it's in English and it's not capitalized.

Allow this player one turn of the egg-timer to find a good bluff word, then announce the word to the other players. These players get an equal amount of time to write down a good bluff definition, trying to make it sound as much like a dictionary definition as possible.

Meanwhile, the player with the dictionary writes down the real definition, strategically wording it to sound more conversational and not so readily identifiable as a dictionary entry.

Then this player collects the strips of paper with the bluff entries, and proceeds to read all the definitions at random - taking care not to give it away by giggling, or alternatively strategically giggling at the real definition.

Next, players secretly write down their best guess as to the real definition (voting for definition #1, 2, 3 and so on), and pass this on to the player with the dictionary. Score 10 points if anyone reproduces the right definition (this never happens!), 5 points for successful bluffs - both for the player who wrote the bluff and the player who had the dictionary, and 5 points for correct guesses.

Then pass the dictionary to the next player in the circle, and proceed until the time limit is up or someone has reached the target score (say, 50 points).

Hilarity ensues when players try to concoct definitions for funny archaic terms like taradiddle (a fib or white lie), or botanical terms like bladdernose.

Try to confuse the other players by writing a definition that is extremely literal (e.g. bladdernose - condition of nasal-type drip from the bladder) or completely ludicrous (bladdernose - born with a bladder for a nose), or a combination, as in this example!

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