14 Parlor Games to Bring Back This Holiday Season

Even without television, video games, and the internet, our Victorian predecessors found plenty of ways to entertain themselves around the holidays. They just had to get creative, using everything from flaming raisins to pure imagination to pass the time. Here are 15 classic parlor games to break out if you and your loved ones feel like unplugging during the holiday season. 

1. FICTIONARY 

Whether they’re played in the form of board games or mobile apps, word games are incredibly popular. They were also a hit with Victorian audiences, though the options they had back then were severely limited. Instead of pulling up a game on their phone, players would pull out a dictionary. To play Fictionary, one person reads an obscure word from the dictionary while everyone else jots down their made-up definitions. After the person with the dictionary reads the fake definitions out loud along with the real one, players vote on whichever definition they think is true. Fake submissions earn points for each vote they receive and players earn points for guessing the right answer. If no one guesses correctly, whoever is holding the dictionary gets a point. 

2. SQUEAK PIGGY SQUEAK 

Also known as Oink Piggy Oink or Grunt Piggy Grunt, Squeak Piggy Squeak is a spin off Blind Man’s Bluff. One player chosen to be the “farmer” gets blindfolded and sits on a pillow in the center of a circle of “piggies.” After spinning around a few times, the farmer stumbles over to a random piggy and places the pillow on their lap. When he sits down and says “Squeak Piggy Squeak” the piggy must make a squeaking sound: If the farmer can guess who he’s sitting on based on the noise alone the piggy becomes the new farmer. This game hasn’t proven to be as timeless as Blind Man’s Bluff, but we bet it would still make for a successful icebreaker with modern party guests. 

3. THE MINISTER’S CAT 

The Minister’s Cat follows the formula of many classic word games: Players sit around in a circle and take turns describing the minister’s cat with a different adjective. Each adjective must start with a different letter of the alphabet, starting with “A.” For example, the first player might say, “The minister’s cat is an angry cat,” followed next by, “The minister’s cat is a brilliant cat.” Players are eliminated if they repeat an adjective or fail to come up with a new one.

4. THE SCULPTOR 

This game gives players a chance to show off their inner artist. Players stand still while the person chosen to be “the sculptor” walks around positioning everyone into silly poses. Participants aren’t allowed to laugh, move, or smile. If this happens the sculptor becomes a statue and the player who broke character assumes the role. Everyone should get to be the sculptor at least once, since he or she obviously has the most fun of anyone. 

5. CHANGE SEATS! 

And you thought musical chairs could get rowdy. During Change Seats!, players sit in a circle of chairs, while one player stands in the center of the circle. Whoever is “It” picks someone in the circle and asks him or her, “Do you love your neighbor?” If the answer is “No,” the people seated on either side must quickly change seats, before the person in the center can steal one of their chairs. However, the person being questioned may also answer, “Yes, I love my neighbor, except those who … [are wearing red, have blue eyes, etc.].” At that point, everyone who falls into the category must stand up and try to change seats as quickly as they can, while the person in the middle tries to steal one.  

6. ARE YOU THERE, MORIARTY? 

Are You There, Moriarty? is similar to Marco Polo, except instead of playing in a pool, a pair of players lay face-down on the floor about arm’s length apart. Both participants are blindfolded and each is equipped with a rolled-up newspaper. The game begins when the first player calls out “Are you there, Moriarty?” When the second player responds, the caller attempts to bop him over the head with his makeshift weapon. The newspaper swordfight proceeds until both parties feel too silly to continue. 

7. FRUIT BOWL 

Fruit Bowl is like musical chairs with a delicious twist. Game participants are assigned one of a handful of fruit categories: apple, banana, strawberry, etc. Everyone takes a seat while one player is left standing. That player chooses a fruit to call out—if he or she says “apple,” for example, then all the apples have to switch seats while the person who is “It” scrambles to find a seat as well. The last player left standing takes over the job of calling out names. 

8. PASS THE SLIPPER 

If you don’t have a slipper for this game, any light object you trust your party guests to handle will do. One person sits in the middle of the circle with their eyes closed while people around the perimeter pass along an item. The player at the center opens their eyes at random moments and the passing stops. If he or she can’t see who’s holding the “slipper,” he or she must guess where it stopped. The two players switch spots if the guesser succeeds. 

9. CONSEQUENCES 

If you’ve ever made up a story one piece at a time as a group, you know the basic concept of Consequences. This version can lead to even more hilarious, and often horrifying results. The first player kicks things off by drawing a head (whether human, animal, or mythical) on a sheet of paper, then folds it over to cover the creation. After passing it on, the next player draws a torso, the next legs, and so on. Once the sheet has made the rounds, players can unfold it to marvel at whatever monstrosity they created as a team.

10. THE LAUGHING GAME

The rules of the Laughing Game are straightforward. One player begins by saying the word “ha” with a straight face. The second player continues saying “ha ha,” followed by “ha ha ha” and so forth in a circle. The object is to keeping going as long as possible without cracking up. If a player breaks so much as a smile, he’s out of the game. 

11. WINK MURDER 

Nothing spices up a holiday party like a good murder mystery. To play this game, one participant acts as the “murderer,” while another plays the detective whose job it is to identify him or her. The murderer covertly winks at the other players in the circle, causing them to drop dead. Using his or her deductive reasoning skills the detective has three shots to guess which of the players left alive is the murderer. 

12. ELEPHANT’S FOOT UMBRELLA STAND

Elephant’s foot umbrella stands may not be as common as they were in the Victorian Era, but the game named after them is still fun to play. The leader starts the game by saying “I went to the store and bought…” followed by an object. Whatever object the leader names has to fit a secret rule they’ve decided to follow throughout the game. For example, if the rule is that every object must end with the letter “E,” the leader might say “I went to the store and bought an orange.” Players then taking turns guessing the rule by naming objects they think apply. If a player says “I went to the store and bought a boat” the leader would say something like “They’re all out of boats.” But if they said they bought a kite instead, the leader would approve their purchase without sharing why. The game becomes more fun the longer you play, assuming you’re not the last player to catch on. 

13. LOOKABOUT 

The only thing you need to play Lookabout is an object. The host shows the selected item—whether it’s a shoe, a vase, or a pillow—to the party guests and asks them to leave the room. Once it’s hidden, guests are allowed to return and attempt to locate the object. Players take a seat whenever they spot it, and the last person remaining becomes the next hider. 

14. FORFEITS 

A round of Forfeits is a fast way to loosen up your party guests. To start, everyone forfeits an item of value (keys, phone, wallet, etc.). A player selected to be the “auctioneer” stands at the front of the room and presents each item as if it were to sale. Players can get their item back for a price—the auctioneer might tell them to sing a song, share a secret, or do 100 jumping jacks. In the smartphone era the stakes of this Victorian parlor game are even higher. 

15. SNAP-DRAGON 

This game, while certainly an ice-breaker, is probably best left to the Victorians. To play snap-dragon, party guests, typically together for Christmas Eve, would dunk raisins in a bowl of brandy and set the booze on fire. Players would then attempt to pick out the raisins and pop them in their mouths. There’s not really a point to the game other than to avoid getting burnt. Suddenly spending the holidays glued to your phone sounds like the saner option. 

The 13 Scariest Haunted Houses in America

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iStock

Horror lovers will feel right at home in New York or Ohio. Attractions in those states claim four out of 13 spots on Halloween expert Larry Kirchner’s new list of America’s scariest haunted houses. Drawing upon his 25 years of experience designing and installing Halloween attractions, Kirchner releases the list on his website, Hauntworld.com, each year.

This year, Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses in Ulster Park, New York, tops the list. A historic 18th-century manor provides a spooky backdrop to the haunt, which includes a theatrical hayride, corn maze, eight haunted attractions, and escape rooms. “Dr. Dark’s Circus Side Show” (with everyone’s favorite: creepy clowns) will be one of the new themes offered this year, and another new section called “Two Raven’s Manor” will feature stunt actors and a magician.

The runner-up on Kirchner’s list is Field of Screams in Mountville, Pennsylvania. The attraction promises its hayride will be “the most disturbing ride of your life through thick rows of corn.” Expect to see demented doctors, evil nurses, chainsaw and ax murderers, and miscellaneous monsters.

Check out the full list of attractions below, and head to Haunt World’s website for additional details.

1. Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses: Ulster Park, New York
2. Field of Screams: Mountville, Pennsylvania
3. The Dent Schoolhouse: Cincinnati, Ohio
4. 13th Gate: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
5. Netherworld: Atlanta, Georgia
6. Nightmare on 13th: Salt Lake City, Utah
7. Haunted Schoolhouse & Laboratory: Akron, Ohio
8. Bennett’s Curse: Baltimore, Maryland
9. Haunted Overload: Lee, New Hampshire
10. Erebus: Pontiac, Michigan
11. Hell’s Gate: Lockport, Illinois
12. The Darkness: St. Louis, Missouri
13. Bayville Screampark: Bayville, New York

Autumn Equinox: The Science Behind the First Day of Fall

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iStock

On September 22, the Sun will shine directly over the equator—the midpoint of the Earth. (For 2018, this moment will happen at 9:54 p.m. ET.) The whole world will thus experience a day and night of equal length. In the Northern Hemisphere, we call this the autumn equinox. It marks the first day of fall. Around the world, people are marking the day with ceremonies, some of them ancient (and some less so).

You might be wondering two things: 1. Why on almost every other day of the year (the vernal equinox being the other exception) do different parts of the world have days and nights of differing length? 2. What do they call the day in the Southern Hemisphere?

A DAY AT THE BEACH

The answer to each of these questions resides in the Earth's axial tilt. The easiest way to imagine that tilt is to think about tanning on the beach. (Stay with me here.) If you lay on your stomach, your back gets blasted by the Sun. You don't wait 30 minutes then flop over and call it a day. Rather, as you tan, every once in a while, you shift positions a little. Maybe you lay a bit more on one side. Maybe you lift a shoulder, move a leg a little. Why? Because you want the Sun to shine directly on a different part of you. You want an even tan.

It might seem a little silly when you think about it. The Sun is a giant fusion reactor 93 million miles away. Solar radiation is hitting your entire back and arms and legs and so on whether or not you adjust your shoulder just so. But you adjust, and it really does improve your tan, and you know this instinctively.

People light candles during the autumn equinox celebration at Neris River waterfront in Vilnius, Lithuania after sunset on September 21, 2013.
People light candles during the autumn equinox celebration at Neris River waterfront in Vilnius, Lithuania after sunset on September 21, 2013.
PETRAS MALUKAS, AFP/Getty Images

The Earth works a lot like that, except it's operating by physics, not instinct. If there were no tilt, only one line of latitude would ever receive the most direct blast of sunlight: the equator. As the Earth revolved around the Sun, the planet would be bathed in sunlight, but it would only be the equator that would always get the most direct hit (and the darkest tan). But the Earth does have a tilt. Shove a pole through the planet with one end sticking out the North Pole and one end sticking out the South, and angle the whole thing by 23.5 degrees. That's the grade of Earth's tilt.

Now spin our little skewered Earth and place it in orbit around the Sun. At various points in the orbit, the Sun will shine directly on different latitudes. It will shine directly on the equator twice in a complete orbit—the fall and spring equinoxes—and at various points in the year, the most direct blast of sunlight will slide up or down. The highest latitude receiving direct sunlight is called the Tropic of Cancer. The lowest point is the Tropic of Capricorn. The poles, you will note, are snow white. They have, if you will, a terrible tan—and that's because they never receive solar radiation from a directly overhead Sun (even during the long polar summer, when the Sun never sinks below the horizon).

WHEN DO THE SEASONS CHANGE?

A Maya priestess conducts an autumn equinox ceremony at El Salvador's Cihuatan Archeological Park.
A Maya priestess conducts an autumn equinox ceremony at El Salvador's Cihuatan Archeological Park.
Jose CABEZAS, AFP/Getty Images

The seasons have nothing to do with the Earth's distance from the Sun. Axial tilt is the reason for the seasons. The Sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer (66.5 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere) on June 21 or 22. When that occurs, the Northern Hemisphere is in the summer solstice. The days grow long and hot. As the year elapses, the days slowly get shorter and cooler as summer gives way to autumn. On September 21 or 22, the Sun's direct light has reached the equator. Days and night reach parity, and because the Sun is hitting the whole world head-on, every latitude experiences this simultaneously.

On December 21 or 22, the Sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning the Northern Hemisphere is receiving the least sunlight it will get all year. The Northern Hemisphere is therefore in winter solstice. Our days are short and nights are long. Parity will again be reached on March 21 or 22, the vernal equinox for the Northern Hemisphere, and the whole process will repeat itself.

Members of The Druid Order of London conduct a ceremony on Primrose Hill to celebrate the Autumn Equinox on September 22, 2008 in London, England.
Members of The Druid Order of London conduct a ceremony on Primrose Hill to celebrate the Autumn Equinox on September 22, 2008 in London, England. The Druid Order of London, which was founded in Oxford in 1245, has been conducting the Autumn Equinox ceremony on Primrose Hill since 1717.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

Now reverse all of this for the Southern Hemisphere. When we're at autumnal equinox, they're at vernal equinox. Happy first day of spring, Southern Hemisphere!

And welcome to fall, Northern Hemisphere! Enjoy this long day of sunlight, because dark days are ahead. You'll get less and less light until the winter solstice, and the days will grow colder. Take solace, though, in knowing that the whole world is experiencing the very same thing. Now it's the Southern Hemisphere's turn to get ready to spend some time at the beach.

This story first ran in 2016.

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