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5 Easy Party Activities for Grown-Ups

Easy Party Activities for Grown-Ups

When my kids were young, they used to be perplexed by the idea of grown-up parties. “So, you just, like, talk to each other all night?” they’d ask. “Isn’t that so boring?”

“You’d be surprised,” I’d find myself responding. But they were, as usual, kind of right. It’s always so nice when you show up at a party and there’s an unexpected organized activity on the agenda that didn’t require you to shop for, say, a 1980s themed costume.

We used to do this all the time, and it was only when I started working with Joanna here at Cup of Jo that I realized how much I miss it. Joanna has many talents, but one of her greatest is infusing a memorable detail or specialness into get-togethers.* Even if it’s as simple as making people go around a table and share a hidden talent or serving just-baked still-warm cookies at reader events. (Coming soon! Don’t you just want to be in that room, whatever and wherever it is?) Here are a few more ideas in case you’re looking for some inspo:

A Taste Test

Calvin Trillin wrote a famous New Yorker story about how most people, even sommeliers, couldn’t tell the difference between red wine and white wine when they were blindfolded, and the wine was served at room temperature. When I first read it, I thought 1) how can that possibly be true and 2) what a fun idea for a party game.  I was right about the fun part — so many people guessed wrong and they were incredulous! I’d say this was more of an “organized activity table” — something you could saunter over to in between conversations — as opposed to full-on entertainment where everyone stops to listen or watch.

Pop Quiz

When my daughter, Phoebe, turned one, my husband and I created a “How Well Do You Know Phoebe?” quiz for the dozen or so adult family members in attendance. The questions were all pretty silly (“What was Phoebe’s first word?” or “In what shape does she prefer her strawberries?”) but it was a sweet way to commemorate a big year. (Plus: There were small prizes, and it’s always amazing to me how into it some people get when there are prizes involved.) P.S. Joanna did a fun version of this with handouts. We just read the questions in front of our guests and looked for the first person to raise his or her hand.

White Elephant (or Grab Bag)

We played this game — which I first became aware of on The Office — last year at the Cup of Jo holiday party. Everyone brings a small gift and throws it into a grab bag. Guests pick numbers out of a hat to determine the picking order, like a typical grab bag, but there’s a twist. You want to get a later number because you’re allowed to swap with anyone who’s picked a better gift before you. “Better” is completely subjective, of course and that’s what makes it fun.

Celebrity or Charades

These are two examples of games that sound super dorky but then, once you start playing, end up being the most fun you’ve had all year. (Plus, Charades gets bonus points for requiring no gear whatsoever, not even a pencil.) Celebrity is the best when you have a party that can be divided into two 8-10 person teams. Fun fact: My friend Liz always puts the same name in the celebrity basket: Tina Yothers, which should earn her some kind of international award for its completely brilliant randomness. (And of course now I always do that, too.)

Headline Entertainment!
If it’s a milestone party or a big occasion — and if the budget can stretch to cover it — you can go nuts and hire a fortune teller or a mentalist. (Above, mentalist Jason Suran with our illustrator friend Alessandra at the Cup of Jo holiday party.) Or, if the budget isn’t there, think about your friends and their talents. My sister just went to a party where the host played the piano while her daughter, an actress and performer, sang a few songs from classic musicals. She said it nearly brought her to tears. Maybe you don’t know a pianist-soprano duo, but maybe you have a friend who is an amazing violinist? Maybe there’s a local a capella group or the AP Chorus kids from the local high school. No one is expecting Broadway! Just remember there is almost nothing happier than kids singing.

What games or activities have you had luck with?

*FYI Joanna tried to get me to delete this but I said too bad.

P.S. How to throw an easy party, and a Trader Joe’s cheese plate.

(Photo by Steve Schapiro.)

  1. Sydni Jackson says...

    We love Fishbowl and The Game of Things for big group party games. A couple of other good ones are All in the Family (aka Kingdoms), and if your group is more adventurous, Body Body (like a 3D game of Mafia – you turn all the lights off and one person designated as the killer goes sneaks around and taps people on the shoulder; if you get tapped you have to fall down quietly and can’t speak the rest of the game. Everyone else’s goal is to figure out who the killer is.) or Sardines (Reverse Hide & Seek – one person hides and everyone else looks; as each person finds the hider, they hide with them! The last person to find everyone loses).

  2. One time a group of us ended up talking about funny things we did or wore as little kids, and everyone started sharing memories of their hilarious or over-the-top outfits or dress-up clothes. That prompted everyone to look through old pictures on Google Photos, and would share a picture to a group text whenever someone found a great picture of themselves dressed up for Halloween, or wearing an extremely 90’s Christmas get-up, or simply being 9 years old and holding up a tomato with a goofy smile. It was so sweet and resulted in a lot of laughs! We still text each other good pictures when we find them!

  3. Megan says...

    My grandparents used to give each couple at parties a blown up balloon and see who could pop it first using only their bodies, no hands. Just imagine?!

  4. Laura says...

    I love it! TOO BAD is right haha. So nice to see you include a detail like that about Joanna.

    Printing these great ideas! I always include some kind of activity because I usually find parties kind of boring.

  5. KAH says...

    Your comments about Calvin Trillan’s article are a bit misleading. Did you actually read it? He goes on quite a journey that leads through a lot of what ends up being urban legend (a Davis test that never happened and may have evolved from a smell test — which was real — to a taste test in the rumor), so he and his friend do a test of their own, and ends the article by saying: “I concluded that experienced wine drinkers can tell red from white by taste about seventy per cent of the time, as long as the test is being administered by someone who isn’t interested in trying to fool them.”

    That’s hardly “most people, even sommeliers.” :\

    As a follow-up to the story, The Wine Spectator did a blind test with volunteers (six wines and seven tasters) and got 40 out 42 guesses correct. They concluded even inexperienced wine drinkers can tell the difference.

    • margaret says...

      Hi Kah, thanks for the recap of the article. Very interesting! But I suspect the comments aren’t misleading so much as that they reflect her memory of the article. I’m sure she did read it!

  6. Kari says...

    I have 2 ideas to share: The first is a gift swap I do with my girlfriends of our favourite things. Each person brings a favourite thing (maybe a lip gloss, an accessory, even a cheese!) as the gifts to swap and brings 3 them (the same item). Then each lady gets up and shares why this is her favourite thing/cheese/lipgloss/whatever, and chooses three names out of a hat – those three people each get the thing! Everyone leaves with fun goodies and it’s so fun to hear what everyone else is using and loving lately.

    The other is a game I play with my family where we wrap a gift with a million layers of wrapping paper and tape, and then pass it around the circle trying to open it while wearing oven mitts. My family generally hates games and forced activities but everyone cracks up playing this and really gets into it!

    • C says...

      Does the person who opens it get it or is it a gift to share??

    • Kari says...

      Hi C – They keep it! Or in our family this year, the prize was a gift card and fancy chocolates, the latter of which were shared so I guess both. :)

  7. Amy says...

    I haaaaaaate white elephant stuff. HATE it. We did this every year at my old office, and there was a seriously passive-aggressive element to who took what from whom. The last straw for me was when I got something I actually liked and could use (knitting needles and bowl)–which was then taken by somebody else who DID NOT KNIT, specifically because they thought taking the gifts was funny. Thank God I got another job the next year. I would NEVER do this to my guests, ever, and I’d be seriously turned off if friends did it at a party. Maybe I was introduced to it the wrong way, but the “fun” of this 100% escapes me.

    • J says...

      Agreed! I recently participated in a white elephant gift exchange and got plastic IKEA cups. I’m not even kidding :(

    • Karen says...

      Agree! So many of those White Elephant / Dirty Santa / Yankee Swap exchanges are people unloading last years’ White Elephant or other junk, and it ends up being funny and then in a landfill forever. Do I want a Game of Thrones inspired drinking horn? No, no I do not. But I have one stuffed in a closet somewhere.

    • Alexandra says...

      I’ve only ever had two good white elephant experiences.

      The first had a theme of “used books” and it was fantastic. People brought books they loved, books they owned but didn’t care for, and old books they were ready to part with. The Sherlock Holmes collection was the surprise hit.

      The second “white elephant” (it was a grab bag, so no trading) was at a Hanukkah party. The limit was $10 and the gift had to be useful. People went home with batteries, bandaids, windshield wiper fluid, dish towels. It was fun and everyone was thrilled to go home with something they could actually use.

  8. Lauren says...

    My husband and I love to play charades with two other couples that we’re close with. The catch is that we always do boys vs girls and the charades clues are ALWAYS puns. Things like “squid pro quo” and “if it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it”. It’s definitely nerdy but endlessly fun. Us girls even started a shared iPhone note so we can write down clue ideas in the weeks between charades matches!

  9. Damn just reading about kids singing has me tearing up. *Shakes fist.*

  10. Lana says...

    My friends and I have been trying so hard to find a way to get together this holiday season. The hang up is that between 4 couples we have 11 kids and a small house. I marvel at the days my grandparents could play cards and my mom and uncles wouldn’t dare interrupt. So two questions: how do you have a party in a small house with lots of kids and second, if you are the host and decide on no kids, what do you do with YOUR kids, especially when you live far away from family and don’t have that babysitter card to pull?

    • Elizabeth says...

      Some ideas for a “no kids” party when you’re the host and don’t have a babysitter:
      1. Have the party start after the kids go to bed, or shortly before bedtime. The kids can say goodnight to everyone, and then one parent can put them to bed while the other parent greets guests/gets drinks.
      2. Have your kids watch a movie (or two!) during the party in another room.
      3. Get your kids some new activity books or toys to play with during the party, again in another room.
      4. Arrange a sleepover for your kids at a friend’s house for the night. You can offer to host another time when those parents need a break.

  11. Reenie says...

    I just played such a fun game at a girls night a few weeks back. We put questions into a bowl (ranging from what is the story of your first kiss, if you could live in a holiday movie which would it be, to many others that I cannot share here!) and we went around the room reading the questions, letting each girl share their response, and laughing A LOT!

  12. Lacey says...

    We love to play Heads Up (thanks Ellen Degeneres)! It’s especially hilarious at the end of the evening when everyone is delirious and exhausted. Think you can do an Irish accent? THINK AGAIN.

  13. Alice says...

    My absolute favourite party games involve chocolate.
    1. The After Eight game. Each person has to get an after eight from their forehead to their mouth without using their hands. This can be done either all at once, in small teams, individually, etc- but it’s best to have timers so you can work out who was actually fastest (my record is four seconds ;) )
    2. The Flour and Chocolate game. Now, this one sounds ridiculous, and I’ve met very few people who play it, but it’s AMAZING and a family favourite. You basically make a sandcastle with flour (just pack it into a large bowl and turn it out onto a tray. Then, put a single unwrapped chocolate on top. Players take turns using a kitchen knife to cut away chunks of the flour, and the person that makes the flour collapse has to go in face first to get the chocolate with their mouth. Everyone ends up covered in flour when someone inevitably pushes someone else’s face in….
    3. The one with dice and a slab of chocolate. In the middle of a circle, you put a hat, gloves, a scarf, a knife and fork, and a big bar of chocolate (large bars of dairy milk are excellent for this). You go round the circle, and take turns rolling the dice- if someone gets a six, they then have to go into the middle, put on the hat/ gloves/ scarf, and use the knife and fork to chop pieces off the chocolate and eat as much as they can as quickly as they can, before the next person rolls a six! This is most fun when it’s fast paced rolling and always descends into complete chaos very quickly.

    OBVIOUSLY all of these are much funnier after a few glasses of wine, but one of my favourite memories is playing the After Eight game with my mum, my brother, and a large assortment of friends at 3am one New Year’s Eve. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.

    • Ez says...

      Are you in Aus?? I remember playing all of these as a kid, growing up in Melbourne! Thanks for the reminders – you have made my Christmas! 😄

    • Hannah says...

      I live in Germany, and that last one was my favourite game at birthday parties! I love chocolate and, damn, I was good at that game!

    • Alice says...

      EZ- I’m not, I’m in the UK! But so glad that these games are transcontinental, and that I’ve brought back some happy memories!! Merry Christmas!

  14. Evelyn Rodd says...

    For a Christmas party – play part of a Christmas song and stop it – say the next line -if you get it wrong – jello shot. (Jello shot if you get it right too because hey, why not?)

  15. Jess says...

    I was recently introduced to Linkee, which I am now completely addicted too. Any other Linkee fans out there? Such a fun, brainy game to play with a group on a weekend away or at a dinner party!

    • Christy says...

      I bought Linkee for our family gift (we love games) after reading about it here. It was a huge hit and we’re looking forward to playing it with friends over New Year’s. Thanks for the recommendation!

  16. Katie says...

    I love that Jenny wrote about Joanna infusing a party with something special!! We never get to hear others perspectives about her (I imagine it would seem braggy) but I’d love a post about things Joanna is great at from her friends!

    • Jackie says...

      I agree! A fun insight and something I’d love in a friend/host as well!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is the sweetest, thank you :)

  17. Margaret says...

    Hahaha, love the “too bad.” 😆

    • Katie says...

      Follow up – I just saw the asterisk

      “Joanna has many talents, but one of her greatest is infusing a memorable detail or specialness into get-togethers.*”

      Right!! This sort of content is neverrrrr in the blog, which of course is why we love her, but maybe there could be a special Joanna day on a blogiversary. Please? Would be fun.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you guys are so, so sweet. i’m blushing!

  18. CS says...

    All these sound like fun ideas, but I have to admit (and I realize that I am probably part of a small minority) that I love just sitting and chatting with no organized activities whatsoever! I just love to relax with friends and family. At our staff parties, they always organize some games etc, and it actually keeps me from wanting to attend!

    • t says...

      YES! I much prefer when there aren’t organized activities. It feels disruptive to the conversations and catching up and I never feel authentic when participating.

      I guess for a party where no one knows anyone an icebreaker type activity is good but other than that rare exception, no thank you!

    • caitlin says...

      I like to make YouTube playlists with weird, random videos that relate to the theme of the party (ie christmas) and keep it on mute so you can play music. It gives people something to talk about if the icebreaker is needed, but no one has to participate, and conversation is still the highlight of the night.

    • CEW says...

      Agreed. I’m pretty introverted and idk. A lot of these ideas are a little much for me. Especially when we have a sober household. :p

      To each their own! I prefer cozy evenings just chatting and catching up, maybe watching the kids play or everyone playing a board game together.

      When I was a kid, we would spend the night at my grandma’s and play a game where we all wrote a poem about a random writing prompt. The prompt was always just an object, nothing crazy. That was super creative and cool and lowkey.

  19. Molly K says...

    I just got off the phone with my sister who asked if I had any game ideas for our family party (all ages), so I was excited to open my blog reader app to a trove of ideas to peruse! At another party last week I brought paper plates and pens, and I had a screenshot (from the blog post where I learned of the game) of a description of a Christmas scene. While everyone held their paper plate on top of their head like it was a hat, I gave the prompts (1. On your plate, draw a line for the floor. 2. Draw a Christmas tree, etc. There were about 6 prompts.) Then we took the plates down and laughed at our artistic skills. I read a rubric that awarded points for technical accuracy and things like that. (“2 pts if your tree touches the floor.”) The person with the most points got a bag of Lindt truffles.

    • Noelle says...

      Oh, I just played a boardgame like this with adult English students in France (cool job right?) It’s called Duplik, (first published as Portrayal then Identik), in case anyone’s interested!

  20. Trish says...

    Ok, I’m sorry, but hiring a group of chorus students from the local high school to sing at a private party just sounds…so uncomfortable. Would their parents drop them off? Would you have to chat? For that matter, would the parents be a bit concerned about letting their kids go into a private home? I don’t know, I would never do this unless it was a party at the old-folks home.

    • Brooke says...

      Haha, it does sound awkward if you’ve never heard of such a thing! But I was in a choir in high school and we got hired for private events and parties during the Christmas season all the time. We would meet at the school and car pool there with our teacher. It was strictly business and raised money for the school choir program. Everyone always loved it. Not awkward at all :-)

    • jessica says...

      this made me laugh out loud!!!

    • Kara says...

      We had gigs like this a lot in my high school show choir. It was a much more chill endeavor than you are imagining. We met at school first, and then went to the house together in the arts van if it was available, or pooled our cars and caravanned. Our parents did not come, just our director. We sang some songs, the host thanked us, and we left. No awkward schmoozing with teenagers!

  21. Kristen says...

    Our friends recently showed up to a dinner party with a broomstick and a bagful of Hostess mini donuts. After dinner, we all “bobbed” for donuts. It is impossible not to look ridiculous when trying to catch a swinging donut with your mouth…I have not laughed that hard in years!

  22. Madylyn says...

    At the “rehearsal dinner” the night before my wedding a few months back, my now-husband and I decided we wanted it to be fun and representative of us- no stuffy dinner and strict program. We created a Trivia gameshow with questions about each of us individually and our relationship. We have 5 quick rounds (4 questions per round) and had everyone tally their own answers. Those who knew us best won small prized relevant to some of the questions! Ex question: “What collectible item did Eric accumulate well into his teenage years?” We then awarded a beanie baby (Eric’s favorite collectible) to our third place winner. It was such a fun way to break the ice and get everyone laughing, talking, and exchanging stories.

    • Alix says...

      Omg reminds me of that early episode of Friends. Brilliant!! 👌🏼

  23. LaReesa says...

    I used to hate games, but I love them so much now! I think once you get into adulthood, it can be harder to expand your social circle and to welcome new people to established groups, so I love games as a way to make everyone feel welcome and to see who is freakishly competitive haha!

    We love playing Fish Bowl. It’s a twist on charades. Every person comes up with three things on slips of paper to put in the “fish bowl”, and then you split into two teams. One person from each team draws the items and acts them out, and their team gets a minute to get as many correct as possible. You then switch to the other team, and do minute-long rounds until you’ve used up all the slips of paper. The difference is that you do three rounds with the same items – for the first round, you “act out” the items by explaining what they are in sentences, with no actions. For the second round, you act out the items with no words, ala classic charades. Then, for the last round, you can only use one word to “act out” the item, so you’re drawing heavily on memory from the first two rounds.

    • Kelly says...

      We call this the “blanket game” bc we do a 4th round- act out the words from under a blanket! It needs to be the right crowd, but it’s hysterical.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha

  24. agnes says...

    There are several things we do with a small group of friends: bring a poem to read (it has to be funny or weird, and short), or a song to sing; but there is a “game” i LOVE to play, i call it “bibliomancie” (wouldn’t know how to translate it); you ask a question to the universe (in your heart), then you pick a friend and you give 3 numbers: the first is the place of the book in the host’s bookshelves (7, that’s the 7th book), the second is the page number, the third is the sentence (3, third sentence, etc). It is AMAZING what you get. People have to take it seriously (or pretend), you have to feel a little tension in the air. You can then share what you asked for. Maybe we’re weird. And the other best activity is dancing!

    • Emily says...

      this sounds so great! – i’d love to try it!

    • Mims says...

      I want to try bibliomancy! But the only books I have are cookbooks, professional/medical related and craft books…..but I imagine you could get some very interesting answers from the universe with my bookshelves!

  25. Mimi says...

    Jenny – I started writing silly poems about my kids to read at their family birthday party after reading about your beloved family member who did this in “How to Celebrate Everything.” It creates such a fun moment to stop and focus on what we love about the birthday girl or boy. I’m inspired to write one for our Christmas gathering after reading this.

  26. Kelsey says...

    We play the gambling game LRC (left, right, center) at my mom and dad’s Christmas Eve party every year. It’s so fun because it’s very easy to understand, very low buy in but EVERYONE plays from my 93 year old grandma to my friend’s four year old son and we’re all fiercely competing but it’s also collaborative and we LOVE to see who wins!

  27. Tess says...

    My mother is the queen of making parties special! At my sister’s engagement party, she hired a magician – but told no one! There was a funny guy going around entertaining everyone all night. When asked who he was, he said he was a cousin on the groom’s side (Not so!) , and no one asked any more questions. It was a wild reveal at the end of the night!

    She recently hosted a “talent” show before Thanksgiving meal. We had a sad year in our family and I think she knew it would be hard to sit around feeling the absence of those lost. So a talent show it was! She hung a curtain in a doorway and the performances were amazing! Talents ranged from poetry recitation, to a song on the piano, to a two-year-old making noise on a harmonica. We had loads of laughs and applause over appetizers, and there couldn’t have been more joy going to the table together.

    • agnes says...

      You mom seems so much fun!

    • mym says...

      Two year old making noise on a harmonica… love love love!

  28. My regular celebrity name play is “Maria Callas.” But, “Tina Yothers” beats this HANDS DOWN!

    • AJ says...

      But HOW can you do Tina Yothers, just how??? My brain just can’t come to terms with it.

  29. LK says...

    OH last year for New Year’s, my neighbors and I did a fried chicken blind taste test. We all picked up chicken from different Boston places, including KFC (which came in last). Our TOP choice was Pollo Campero (fast food)! Our second choice was a local place (Highland Fried) and was much more expensive than the first. It was such a blast…and went well with champagne!

  30. Olivia says...

    This reminded me of a time our daughter’s friend invited her over for a playdate and said that he guessed the adults could have a meeting or something while they were there. Haha Ever since then, I have tried to keep the level of seriousness at grown up functions in check with a few silly games.

  31. LK says...

    My office did a blind beer tasting one evening, where we ranked Coors Light, Bud Light, Miller Light, etc. Some people said they would absolutely know their favorite beer from their frat days…and it was hilarious to see how low they ranked them! Haha. We also included a local brewery’s version of a light beer, and everyone ranked it the best. Night Shift’s Night Light.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so funny!

    • Amanda says...

      Haha! We did this one winter night at a dive bar in Minneapolis. My friends and I all got a cheap beer, and all blind tested them then ranked. We were very sad that our group’s cult classic and official cabin beer (Hamm’s!) didn’t win for anyone…

  32. Blythe says...

    My favorite party game is perfect for groups under 10. It’s called Television! Each player gets a stack of paper – the number corresponds to how many people are playing. Everyone writes down a scene or a word or whatever they want. You then pass your stack of paper to the person on your right who has to illustrate whatever the first person wrote – and you only have one minute! Once time is up you pass to the right again and that person has to guess what your picture is. It continues so on and so forth. Once you get your stack back everyone goes around and shares their stack. It’s HILARIOUS to see what was originally written and what manages to hang on or what gets totally twisted. I love busting it out at small parties because it brings the group together in a lovely way.

    • Amy says...

      This game sounds so underwhelming when described but ended up being the most fun I’ve ever had with a very close group of friends. We start out with full sentences ‘banana sunbathing on the beach’ or ‘rhino on a swing smoking a pipe’. It ends up ludicrous. I have the artistic skills of a small child, about which I’m usually very embarrassed and self-conscious; but for this game the pay off in hilarity is worth it!

    • Rae says...

      Oooh, I am hosting a party on Sunday and am going to “encourage” folks to play this! Sounds really fun : )

    • We’ve played this with groups of around 15 people which is crazy but so much fun! We also call it Telephone Pictionary and the results are always hilarious. For some reason when we play it 9 times out of 10 we always have a Dinosaur at a Disco as a result.

    • Megan says...

      Completely agree! A group of us played this while snowed in years ago, it is SO FUN and all you need is pens and paper!

    • Rebecca says...

      THE BEST GAME. My friends and I went through a phase of playing this all the time. We had the best belly laughs from the outcomes!!

    • This is THE BEST game! We call it telephone Pictionary. Each time the paper stack moves to the right, the action alternates. If you are given a picture, you have to describe it in words; and if you are given words your task is to illustrate them. Guaranteed to be hystericallly funny…especially if you have that one friend like mine who doesn’t get it, and just draws whatever comes into her mind at that moment!

    • LEN says...

      You just described the party game, Telestrations! It’s my absolute favorite.

  33. Kirstie says...

    We just hosted a holiday coloring party, at the request of our 10-year-old. I printed out a bunch of holiday coloring (some more like “adult coloring” with tiny spaces, some more for kids). We had gel pens, colored pencils, washable markers, and regular markers (all of which we already had). It’s kind of a weird party idea, so a strange mix of people came over, but it was totally fun. All the kids were sitting at the table, coloring pretty solidly for about 2 hours. After a while, the adults joined them and we may or may not have gotten a little too into it :). Simple supper was available if people were hungry- boxed tomato soup from costco and a cheese and cracker platter and other munchies. Add in some holiday music and it was a low-stress get-together for everyone. We’re repeating it again this weekend!

    • Emily says...

      This sounds so delightful and low key—perfect holiday entertaining. ❤️

  34. My favorite party game was discovered by accident. One night, my friends and I tried to draw a map of all 50 states freehand. I can’t even remember why, but the results were hilarious. I’ve brought out the scrap paper and pencils at other parties since and the result is the same: it is IMPOSSIBLE. No one has ever done it even remotely accurately, and it’s so interesting to see what areas of the country line up with people’s personal geography. (I can do the east coast, no sweat, but when I get to Ohio, all bets are off.) You end up learning a lot about each other and teasing each other in equal measure.

    • Kristin says...

      This is a favorite game with my closest friends, we made it up in a silly mood one night and still play it from time to time. Our “version” usually begins with a challenge to write all 50 states in under 5 min (my brother in law always wins because he learned the states song in elementary school). Then we take a stack of post it notes or small pieces of paper and choose a state. We all try to draw that state outline from memory, and then show to the group and everyone votes on whose is the most accurate. Then we google the answer and the “winner” keeps the stack — if there’s debate or a tie, we might divvy up “points”. Most scraps of paper at the end wins, but really it’s the laughter at the fact that my sister and I draw at least 50% of states backwards that is the real win.

  35. Ramona says...

    hmmm…I never thought of trying a wine taste test! honestly you’d think you could tell between the two?! but hmmm…interesting! might have to try that sometime! 🍷

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i know, i was so surprised!

  36. emily says...

    that top picture though!!!

    • Grace says...

      I know! It instantly made me smile.

  37. Lauren E. says...

    My co-worker said he sometimes pulls up the Table Topics app on his phone while he and his husband are out to eat, and as much as his husband hates it, they always end up having fascinating conversations. So we did it at a group dinner and it was so much fun! Sometimes you just need a little fuel on the fire.

  38. Maggie says...

    Love these ideas! At my end of year Christmas party we have a tradition of playing trivia. Me and my partner (and this year, my best friend too) write it the day of, and make people get into teams. This year the theme was “What happened in 2019?” It’s always tons of fun and makes people who don’t know each other super well hang out and play.

  39. Patricia says...

    I hate to have to dissent, but with RBG as my lodestar, I’m going to say that I really hate party games. I think it’s great if others want to participate, but that whole forced participation/forced jocularity thing is so terrible for me (and I suspect, for lots of others who don’t want to have to *perform* at a party).

    • CS says...

      This!

    • Ally says...

      I am a big organizer of games when I host and while I never force people to play games at parties, my typically nay-sayer friends always end up playing when they see how low stakes the games are (we’re all friends here, no judgement!) and that everyone else is having fun. There’s nothing like seeing other people having a great time to convince someone to get outside their comfort zone. And if they don’t end up playing, it’s all good.

  40. Ruth says...

    Love these! And would totally love to hang out with all you ladies :-)

  41. Rachel says...

    At work, we play a very simple game that has been going strong for months where one person describes the plot of a movie (or book or show) from the perspective of one of the characters e.g. “my first bedroom was a tiny closet…” = Harry Potter. People feel comfortable because there’s no acting or drawing, and there’s no prep needed since one person just has to start talking. Bonus points to pick a perspective of a supporting character e.g. “I had to take in my nephew after his parent’s died and it’s not MY fault the only room left was a closet…” ;)

    • Emily says...

      Love this idea!!

  42. Sadie says...

    It is nice to hear praise for Joanna from a contributor. <3

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      <3

  43. Jeannie says...

    My office holiday party was at a Russian restaurant, and part way through dinner, my colleague asked maybe 6 or 7 Russian trivia questions to the group with Russian prizes. It was perfect – just enough questions to get people in the vibe but not too much to take over the evening. It also provided people with some conversation fodder at an event where half the group (co-workers) know each other well and the other half (spouses/friends) don’t know each other as well.

  44. Lane says...

    My dad is obsessed with Jeopardy and always keeps a few episodes recorded on our living room TV so that any time people come over to our house he can rope them into a competition. He assigns everyone to a team (adults vs kids, moms vs dads, etc.) and makes sure everyone has a full drink in hand. Inevitably, we end up standing and yelling at the TV and having the best time. Now when people visit our house they just assume my dad will make them stick around for an episode. Gotta love a little friendly competition and Alex Trebek!

  45. Cara Mills says...

    I’m in charge of a fun activity for the whole family (little kids and adults alike) when our Christmas gathering rolls around. The biggest hit of the last five years is a game called “Tiny Hands.” The game (which you can purchase online) includes a set of tiny hands and tinier hands. A member of each team has to complete an activity using only the tiny or tinier hands (drink a cup of water, toss a ball into a cup a yard away). It made for the best pictures and laughs. Every new game I select just doesn’t compete (so I bring it along). At Thanksgiving, we also played Christmas charades which was a hoot and got everyone excited for the next holiday.

    • ANDREA says...

      Yes, but I’d rather not support the Trump Industrial Complex.

    • J says...

      In response to the Trump comment, I must say Tiny Hands has been a joke in my family for yearrrrrs, mostly because of Kristen Wiig’s SNL character “Dooneese” on the “Lawrence Welk Show.” Nothing to do with Trump at all!! Look it up, if your sense of humor is even slightly bizarre, you might think it’s hilarious!

  46. Abbie says...

    I love how you wax poetic about Joanna. What wonderful friends you seem to be :)

  47. Kellie P says...

    My mom is a planner for MnDOT and is a real-life Leslie Knope. Recently, she had a newspaper article written about her efforts to save and restore an old bridge. Her heartfelt defense of the bridge (and goofy quote about people doing “naughty things” on it) could have been straight out of Parks and Rec. So, at her 60th birthday party, we played a game called “Lisa or Leslie?” We read off quotes and people had to guess if they were said by Leslie Knope or my mom by holding up a stick with either of their faces. It was hilarious how many people got wrong. My mom laughed so hard she peed her pants — in true Leslie Knope fashion. :)

    • Mallory says...

      This is so endearing! What a special experience for your mom!

    • Mims says...

      OMG, I think I just peed my pants a little bit laughing over this! SO precious.

    • Ruth says...

      ROTFL

    • Sarah says...

      Kellie, this made me laugh so hard. I love it! How memorable and wonderful.

    • Kara says...

      I love your mom!!

    • Megan says...

      This is a great game idea, and I love that your mom is a Leslie!

    • Lily says...

      This is so adorable! Is it weird that I kind of want to watch a video of “Lisa or Leslie?” being played? I bet your mom is just the greatest person :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that is so so funny!

  48. Emily says...

    Just so you know, this is tagged under “Airplane Survival”!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oops, thank you!

  49. Charlotte K says...

    I want to be at the party in the picture at the top!

  50. Lisa B says...

    My company holiday party is always pretty staid, but we have started doing a Yankee Swap during dessert and it has gotten good! Everyone brings a wrapped gift valed around $20 and we follow the usual trading rules but with unlimited trades on the same item. I like to bring more of a gag gift …one year I brought a big box of Lucky Charms marshmallows only (yes you can buy that!) But this year someone wrapped up a $20 bill and everyone went bananas trying to trade for it!

  51. Jen says...

    I love this community.

  52. Claire says...

    I just glanced up and realized that this article had been filed under “Airplane Survival” which made to chuckle to think of doing these things on airplanes, because parties kind of are like airplanes…you’re kind of stuck somewhere for a while…and hopefully you can make it fun!

    My best girlfriend has the best party game at her parties-everyone gets sheets of paper-equal to the number of people playing-and writes down a silly sentence on the first one. They then pass it to the next person, who has to draw the sentence. They then pass it to the next person, who has to write a sentence describing the silly picture, on and on flipping between writing and drawing until you’re out of paper. It’s like a visual telephone, and is absolutely hysterical when you reveal at the end how everything turned out!

    • Anna says...

      That’s the homemade version of a game called telestrations. Hilarious in big groups!

  53. Mali says...

    If you want to introduce an element of giving and loving-kindness into a party, you can always write everyone’s names on slips of paper, put them in a dish, and then draw a name. You then choose something nice you can do for that person in the next week or two. Of course, this has to work out geographically, etc., but it can be bringing them dinner, offering to watch their kids, bringing over fresh-baked cookies, picking up stuff for them at the store, whatever would help that person out.

  54. HM says...

    My friends and I once hosted a “blind taste test” party, which was a blast. We brought one category out at a time, then everyone logged their guesses on a big board before we revealed each category.

    Categories:
    -Pepsi vs. Coke (only a few monsters got this wrong)
    -Fiji vs. Dasani vs. Tap water (impossible)
    -Pizza–we ordered from 3 chains, a local place, and made a DiGiorno because “it’s not delivery” (the only person fooled by DiGiorno was a doctor)
    -Cheap red wine vs. expensive red wine; cheap white wine vs. expensive red wine (almost 100% were wrong)
    -Miller Light vs. Bud Light (we live in Milwaukee, so everyone who guessed wrong was pretty sheepish)

    The theme was a little labor intensive but an absolute blast. It would definitely be easier without orchestrating all the pizza deliveries… but then you wouldn’t have pizza.

    • S says...

      Yes to taste tests! The first year my sister’s and my now-husbands first joined our family for Christmas, my mom had everyone in the family bring a couple bottles of local beer to do a blind taste test/ranking of beers, and it was so fun (and a great way to discover new beers and our own tastes). Both guys felt included by choosing what beers to bring, and drinking together with purpose helped to break the ice a bit :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      these are such fun ideas, HM!

    • Mimi says...

      As a family, we do taste tests on Valentine’s Day. We’ve tried different chocolates from the area we lived in at the time, different salsas another year, different mint and chocolate candy, various vanilla ice creams, different foreign sodas when we lived overseas, various mint chip ice creams, various root beers, different hot chocolate brands, etc. We each try them then rank them and share our results.

  55. Aimee says...

    Our friends just hosted a playful holiday party that had us all involved and singing. They hired a piano player from a local university to play requests only so party goers had lots of buy-in about the songs (that we all looked up on our phones so we could sing-along). Who knew “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” could be such a hoot?

  56. Meghan says...

    I belong to a Masters synchronized swimming club. During one of our end-of-season parties, we were all instructed to bring an old video of us swimming a routine from when we were kids. The hostess even hooked up a VHS player because most of us are just that old.

    It is the absolute funniest thing to see people who you met as adults when they were children. Especially something as embarrassing as synchronized swimming, with the sequins and the sparkle and the oh so awkward smiles. I’d really like to do something similar with my work friends – have a party where everyone brings a video of themselves doing some kind of sport or activity from when they were children.

    • emily says...

      Meghan that sounds like the single coolest club anyone could belong to, I love it!

    • Meghan says...

      You got it, Emily! Middle aged women volunteering to be seen in public wearing sequin covered bathing suits and day-glo makeup. Courage doesn’t even begin to describe it!

  57. Robin says...

    My mom and I are also a pianist-soprano duo! We take lessons together with a “collaborative music” coach. As a kid/teen, I HATED being trotted out to sing for guests. Even now I’m a little reluctant at first (usually because the request from Mom comes after a glass or two of wine). However, once we get rolling I’m filled with the joy of performing for family & friends, all in our socks in the living room. Working on music with my mom has brought us closer as friends and collaborators.

  58. Chelsea says...

    We’ve started playing games when we get together with our friends – What Do you Meme is a great one and super hilarious (bought for our white elephant exchange after reading about it here on the gift guide!) or Guesstures or Cards Against Humanity or Five Crowns. It’s so fun to sit around a table with some of your favorite people and just have fun together.

    • Emma says...

      Space Team is a fun one in that same vein that you might enjoy! A lot of yelling and silliness.

  59. L says...

    My aunt used to make all the kids (me, at the time) sing Christmas songs on Christmas Eve and I have to say – it was SO boring. Every year, we were like… “this, again?” I thought maybe it would be sweet to reminisce and our caroling came up on a VHS the other and I can confirm: still boring. Maybe if we only had to sing one song it would’ve been cute, but by around the 3rd song on the VHS, we fast forwarded through the singing. The only silly part is that on the VHS, you can see none of the adults are paying attention to the singing kids. It might’ve just been my aunt living out some theatre director dream which, in itself, is sort of funny.

    • josie O. says...

      Wait, are you my cousin? Because my mom totally did this.

    • Stacey says...

      OMG do we have the same aunt?! She still tries to make us do this, and I’m 35!

    • C says...

      Omg. We had to do this too but learn them, in German! So. Not. Fun.

  60. Leslie says...

    Actually my favorite party game I read about on here (I think!). It’s the one where everyone goes around and tells the story of their name. We did it a few years ago at thanksgiving with my entire side of the family and we were STUNNED at the stories that we all heard and this was within my own close-knit family. Then, this year at thanksgiving we did it with a new group of in-laws and it was equally as revealing, funny, and heartwarming. Even the people who said they “didn’t have a story” had one because that in itself is a story. (“My mom just liked the name even though my dad didn’t!”)

    • Jules says...

      LOL I love this. My mom always tells me with pride about how I was the one she got to name on her own. I was the fourth kid and they first wanted to name the boys after my grandfather and then after my dad, and my dad was adamant about my sisters name Amanda. But then after my mom lost a baby right before me she said she was putting her foot down and naming me herself. And she settled on Julie and I love that. I can just imagine her feeling the weight of ALL the name options after winning that compromise. Lol

    • Andrea says...

      What a fantastic game idea! My dad loved ships so I was named after one. That sunk! Nuff said……

  61. marcella says...

    Lol the last paragraph about the piano made me think of the newest season of The Crown where Princess Margaret just ends up playing the piano/singing at every party!! I always wondered, how does this happen? Ha. We try to play a couple of games at Christmas – last year we did this game where my aunt wrapped a bunch of prizes in saran/bubble wrap and we had to go around a circle and unroll it as fast as we could to get a prize. It was really fun!!

  62. Suzyn says...

    My inlaws play Dictionary Fictionary. My favorite ever response: Zamboni: a light cream gravy served exclusively at the Vatican.

  63. Emma says...

    This is such a sweet post! My nerdy little group of friends always tries to do some sort of activity when we get together. Challenging board games are fantastic for smaller groups. Power Grid, Scythe, Cyclades, and The Captain is Dead are some favorites. But for years, the absolute most fun thing is the video game “Drawful” from Jackbox Party Pack. It’s a quirky form of Pictionary. Everyone plays/draws on their phone, and then all if the artwork-if-you-can-call-it-that is displayed one at a time on the tv, and everyone has to guess what the heck the prompt was. It’s hilarious, addictive, and a great way to get everyone involved.

    • Marcella says...

      Love Jackbox!! We always end up playing the creepy killer one, lol. The rap one is also a fave.

    • Rachel A says...

      Seconded Jackbox Party Pack and Drawful in particular! Some of my hardest laughs in the past few years have been because of that game!

    • J says...

      Yes to Jackbox! And Mario Party on Nintendo Switch can be fun, even for non-video-game-people.

  64. Theresa says...

    Jason Suran is AMAZING. I saw him do a quick 10 minute set earlier this year and I’ve never stopped thinking about how he was able to correctly name a dog of someone in the audience. It was the strangest German name and he convinced me that magic is real!!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      he’s incredible! my jaw was on the floor the whole time.

  65. Maryann says...

    That footnote made me grin. Thanks for all the great ideas! We always end up hosting a bunch of impromptu holiday get-togethers with family or friends and I’m always trying to figure out a fun activity. I started this after hosting an office party where I am the only woman and worried about talking football the whole time. I really have nothing to say about football! The taste test is a great idea. I would love to experience a mentalist – that must be so wild!