Friday Fun – Ghosts

I haven’t got a book scan for this post, but this is a top game for any fellow word-lovers out there.

When we were little, one night a week me and my brother went round to my Grandad and Nan’s house for tea. We played games all night long, while eating crunchy spaghetti (Nan’s rather unintentional speciality) and cherry cake. Our favourite were Up Jenkyns ,Yahtzee and Ghosts.

Ghosts is a game of two halves – it’s starts off as a spelling game and then subtly turns into a fun and annoying exercise in sabotage. I’m sure there’s a million different rules of the game out there, but this is how we played it:

You need at least three people for this game, but four to six people is probably ideal. We played it as a spoken word game, but you could also write it down, which would be easier way to keep track of the letters. Everyone begins the game with three lives. One person chooses a letter to start and then everyone takes turns to add a letter onto the growing word. The aim is not to be the one to complete a word, and if you do, you lose a life.

You do need to agree a minimum word limit – we had the rule that three-letter words didn’t count as it would be pretty hard to avoid completing three-letter words all the time. You also need to have a word in mind when you add your letter as if the next person thinks you’re bluffing they can challenge you to state your word. If you can give them a valid word the challenger loses a life, if you can’t, you lose the life.

What tends to happen is that you’re thinking of a longer word, and you end up making a shorter word by accident – say, you’ve just added a “d” to SAN because you’re thinking of “sandwich” but, bad luck, you’ve completed “sand” instead.

So far, so straightforward.

The fun bit is when someone loses their three lives. In a lesser game, that would be it, the end of your go. But in Ghosts, the logical consequence of losing your lives is that you turn into a ghost. And, as a ghost, all players must pretend you don’t exist. If the ghost manages to get another person to talk to them, the player immediately loses all their remaining lives and becomes a ghost themself. The last non-ghost left is the winner.

I quite liked becoming a ghost in order to perfect the techniques of getting people to talk to you by accident. The best way is just to sit quietly for a while until they forget about you, wait until the rest of the players are concentrating on a tricky set of letters and then say something innocuous like “Does anyone want a drink?” or “It’s getting dark, shall I stick the light on?”.

Can’t wait to teach it to my kids when they’re good enough at spelling – although as they’re currently 5 and 1, I have a bit of a while to go….

There’s some more variations on Wikipedia.

Blimey, I love the game but a look at all the more expert ways to play hurts my head:

“Superghost (also known as Lexicant or Llano) is played by choosing either the beginning or end of the growing word fragment and adding a letter there. For example, given the fragment ERA, a player might offer BERA or ERAD.

Superduperghost is played by deciding whether to reverse the letters of the word fragment before adding a letter to the fragment’s beginning or end. For example, given the fragment ERA, a player might offer BERA, ERAD, NARE, or AREN. This variant was first broadly adopted at the 1978 World Science Fiction Convention in Phoenix, Arizona.

Xghost (sometimes also known as Superduperghost or Llama) is played by adding a letter anywhere in the growing word fragment, including between letters. For example, given the fragment ERA, a player might offer BERA, ERAD, EBRA, or ERMA. This version was invented by Daniel Asimov around 1970.”

The Radio 4 show “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” (which I had the pleasure of seeing live in Liverpool a few weeks ago) has its own version, called “Cheddar Gorge” in which you add whole words onto a growing sentence, and having to avoid ending the sentence. Here it is (any excuse to have a look at the divine Graeme Garden) –

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