All work and no play are bad, so now it's time to play!



Return to Gary Sockut's home page.



I learned a set of signals that some friends use. Later I searched the web for signals, and I found some differences. There is no universally used set of signals, so I used what I consider the best from all the sources. Here are documents for charades:
  1. Two pages of signals and tips for charades. This document includes tips for acting. I suggest distributing two-sided copies to the charaders.
  2. A copy of the signals with a larger font. This version lists only the words and signals, not the surrounding text. I suggest keeping a one-sided copy near where the actors will act.
  3. An entry form on which players can write their entries.
The following list of tips for acting an entry is longer and more detailed than the list of tips in the signals document:
  1. I'll misquote John F. Kennedy: Think not about what's easy for you to translate from words into signals. Think about what's easy for guessers to translate from signals into words.
  2. You may act a word that's pronounced the same as the entry's word, e.g., “2” for “too.”
  3. Acting a word might speed the guessing of other words. Here are ways in which this can occur:
    • If a word rarely occurs in examples of an entry's category, then acting that word first might inspire guessers to think of the entire entry immediately, although this can happen only if at least one guesser has heard of the entry. For example, if you start by acting the word “salesman” in the title of a certain play, a guesser might immediately think of the entire title (“Death of a Salesman”). Similarly, if you start by acting the word “monoxide” in a certain quote from a song, a guesser might immediately think of the entire quote (“If the hoods don't get you, the monoxide will.”), from Tom Lehrer's song “Pollution.”
    • In a sequence of related words, one word might be easier than another. Acting the easier word first might make it easier for guessers to interpret your method for the harder word. For example, I once acted an entry that contained the sequence “Baptist Church.” I probably acted “Church” before “Baptist.” The guessers' knowledge of the presence of “Church” would make it easier for them to interpret a signal of crossed forearms as “Christian” (which can be modified with more specific to produce “Baptist”) instead of something like “plus.”
  4. Try to act a word (or a word pronounced the same) directly. If that's too hard, act syllables, and/or act an easier word plus one or more modifications. I'll use the name “Leroy” as an example, and I'll describe how to think backwards from the entry's word to pick the starting word and the modification or series of modifications to use. Let's try syllables:
    1. “Le”: Can “Le” result from deleting a letter from a word that's easy to act? It can result from “lean.” So you might lean and then act delete last letter to produce “Le.” Alternatively, does “Le” sound like a word that's easy to act? It sounds like “me” and other words. Often you have a choice of methods.
    2. “roy”: Does “roy” sound like something? It sounds like “boy,” which can be derived from “man.” So you might act woman, act opposite to produce “man,” lower your hand (symbolizing “small”) to produce “boy,” and act sounds like to produce “roy.”
  5. If a method for acting fails, try a different method, or postpone the word and hope that somebody will later guess it from the context.
  6. After acting sounds like, add to beginning, or add to end, optionally you can speed the guessing by signaling the alphabetic position of the desired letter: Hold your hand high and lower it (for a letter in the range A through M), or hold your hand low and raise it (for Z through N).
  7. You may use a signal for an unintended purpose; one quote from a movie (“Play it, Sam”) may begin with the signal for the category of play.
  8. A use of a signal may be nonsensical; “4” + past tense = “ford.” ☺
  9. You can do something unorthodox, on the rare occasions when you think that it would help. For example, when acting one 8-word quote, I moved my hands like a boxer instead of acting any individual words, and that sufficed for somebody to guess the entry (“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”). As another example, you might invent a nonstandard category and act it, instead of acting the category that the writer wrote. However, you must act the actual entry exactly as it is written, unless the writer gives you permission to change it or you make a change that preserves the original pronunciation, like splitting the word “$200” into two words (“200” and “dollars”).
  10. Relax and have fun!
Here are tips for thinking of entries to write:
  1. Remember to write your name on the entry.
  2. Think of a song, play, TV show, movie, book, or poem. Use either the title or a quote from that work.
  3. Use the category of quote by thinking of a quote from a person, proverb, slogan, advertisement, joke, or (if you are at a convention) convention's printed program.
  4. Think of the name of a well-known person, event, or location.
  5. If you are desperate, ask a person next to you to suggest an entry. In this case, write both people's names on the entry form, because neither one should guess.
  6. Very few entries contain foreign words. I recommend considering the use of a foreign word only if it is likely to be known even by people who have not studied the foreign language. For example, a quote from a play (“Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!”) and the Spanish word “señor” are likely to be known. If a word is unlikely to be known, then the actor and the guessers might not know its meaning or pronunciation, so I recommend against using it. When in doubt, stay with English (or a language of the country where you are playing charades).
  7. Make sure that the entry is no more than 10 words long, and make sure that you know how to act it, because you might be the person who acts it!
If you have arrived at this section only because you want to see the signals and tips, you can ignore the rest of this Charades section of my web site. If you are more deeply interested in charades (or the other leisure topics), continue reading.


Here are my suggestions: Some charades parties randomly divide the players into two teams for competitive play (after the entries have gone into the bag), and some play charades noncompetitively: Some people prefer competitive charades. I think that novices would feel more comfortable with noncompetitive charades. If your charades group is just beginning, I suggest noncompetitive charades for the first few parties, and then (after gaining experience) you can try competitive play if the players want it.

When I played competitive charades, all the entries went into one bag, and the two teams alternated in picking an entry from the bag. Therefore, for each entry, the writer's team might act it, or the other team might act it. In some charades groups, each team writes entries only for the other team; there are separate bags. I have never used the latter approach, but I can imagine a possible problem with it: Since every writer of an entry knows that the other team will act the entry, there is a motivation to write an entry that is very hard to act. With one bag, there is a 50% chance that the writer's team will act the entry, so the motivation for extreme difficulty disappears. The disadvantage of one bag (a disadvantage that also applies to noncompetitive charades) is that the players must be reminded to include their names on the entries that they write, because the actor always starts by announcing the name of the writer, so that the writer will know that he/she should not participate in the guessing.


Here are some other web sites that deal with charades:


Simplicity and ease of communication motivated many of my decisions. Here are reasons for my decisions on some specific signals:


Mensa is an international society that was founded in 1946 in the UK and that has groups in many countries; I will concentrate on American Mensa. The sole requirement for membership is a score in the top 2% of the general population on any of various intelligence tests. American Mensa's web site says that members range in age from 4 to 100. I (and, I suspect, most members) view Mensa primarily as a social organization, but the official goals are broader: “to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity, to encourage research in the nature, characteristics and uses of intelligence, and to promote stimulating intellectual and social opportunities for its members.”

American Mensa has many local groups. Examples are Boston and San Francisco. There are some national activities, including a monthly magazine and an annual gathering (with speakers, games, and other activities), but most social activities are within the local groups. The types of social activities vary among different local groups.

Here are examples of Mensa activities: potluck dinners, games (charades, Encore, Scrabble, bridge, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Puerto Rico, Bang!, Settlers of Catan, Alhambra, Cranium, etc.), restaurant dining, videos in members' homes, movies at movie theatres, sing-alongs, wine tasting, miscellaneous parties, discussions, speakers, hiking, target shooting, self-defense classes, and annual local gatherings. These are activities that many people (not just Mensans) would enjoy. A few aspects of Mensa (e.g., some discussions, colloquia, and one journal) do have a more cerebral tone, and there are some community service activities. If you join Mensa, you can start an activity! You might even attend an afternoon activity and an evening activity in the same day.

The web sites for local groups list local officers to contact and (for many local groups) list calendars of events. Some local groups list a “Mensa phone,” where you can leave a message to request information. Many but not all events welcome prospective members who want to experience Mensa events before deciding whether to join Mensa; contact the event's host if you are unsure whether an event welcomes people who are not yet members.

You would join through American Mensa, not through a local group. If you move between local groups, your membership moves with you. Mensa accepts many tests. For example, if you scored at least 1300 on the SAT taken before September 30, 1974 or at least 1250 on the SAT taken from September 30, 1974 to January 31, 1994, you qualify; scores on later SAT test dates are not accepted. Local groups tend to offer tests periodically, or you can go to a private psychologist for a test.


Encore is a board game for two teams that like to sing. You do not need to sing well; you only need to remember song lyrics. Some people love Encore, and some have a very different opinion. Each card in the deck has 6 colors, 5 of which have words and 1 of which has a category. Each position on the board has 1 color, to indicate which word to use (or whether to use the category instead). One team must sing at least 8 consecutive words of a song that includes the word or category, then the other team must, then the first team must, etc. For example, if the word is “life,” a team might sing “I tell you life ain't easy for a boy named Sue” (from the song “A Boy Named Sue”). If the category is “musical instruments,” a team might sing “just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze,” which is also from “A Boy Named Sue.” A word in a song can match a category even if the word has a completely different meaning in the song's context; the rules' example is the category of “automobile names” and the song excerpt of “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow.” Some people (e.g., the owner of this web site) enjoy such outrageous double meanings, and some do not.

There are two editions of Encore: In either edition, a team that reaches the end of the board has an opportunity to win the game via a special set of singing, described in the rules. I consider it unsportsmanlike for the winning team to sing “We are the Champions” at this point, and I have no control over what the losing team would do to the winning team!

Some other games that I enjoy are Scrabble, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, and Pictionary.

I haven't played Monopoly in many years. Apparently it has been brought up to date. I saw a current edition, in which one “Go to jail” card says that you have been arrested for insider trading.

Crossword, mathematical, and logic puzzles are good mental exercises that can be hard to put down.


The National Park Service has a great collection of parks. You can save time on the day(s) of your visit by planning your visit in advance. Information is available on the web, and if you need more information, you can call the park to ask about obtaining additional information.

One good hiking trail, the Appalachian Trail, extends from Maine to Georgia.

In Massachusetts, the Department of Conservation and Recreation provides many hiking trails. Also, here's a book: C. W. G. Smith, Massachusetts Trail Guide, Appalachian Mountain Club Books.

In Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County's Department of Parks and Recreation provides many hiking trails. Also, here's a book: T. Taber, The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, Oak Valley Press.


When using a search engine to find the lyrics of a song, inclusion of some of the lyrics (not just the title) in your search criteria will concentrate the results on sites that list the lyrics, as opposed to sites that just mention the song without listing the lyrics. There are many web sites that include lyrics. Some but not all also include guitar chords. I make no promises about the accuracy of the lyrics or chords on the web sites. You will find cases where two sites differ on the lyrics and/or differ on the guitar chords. That's life! Buying the sheet music or photocopying it in a public library can give you the melody, the harmony, the guitar chords, and probably the official lyrics. The web sites of some (but apparently not most) singers and groups include lyrics. The Wikipedia articles on many singers and groups list their official web sites.

Here are some but not nearly all of the sites that include lyrics:
When I took a drawing class, I concluded that learning how to observe is a large part of learning how to draw.

One museum that actually combines science and art is the Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art in Providence, Rhode Island. The museum has a variety of programs and interactive exhibits that let visitors explore areas of science and areas of art simultaneously.

Forward to Miscellaneous.

Return to Gary Sockut's home page.