A party game that apparently exists in real life under a different name, but during my sheltered college existence, I learned it as Goofy Henkin Pants. Its closest equivalent would be the home game versions of “The $25,000 Pyramid” or “Password.”

Materials:

  • An even number of people (6, 8, or 10 probably works best), divided into two teams
  • One writing implement per person
  • Small pieces of paper
  • Stopwatch, egg timer, or other timing device
  • Optional: One additional person to adjudicate

The Setup: Each person takes the same number of small pieces of paper (usually three or four) and writes three words on each piece. Although the words can be unrelated to each other, the game is more fun if 3-word phrases are used, and if they are inside jokes that some or all of the other people playing the game will find hilarious, so much the better. Proper nouns are encouraged. The name of the game itself serves as a good example of what to write.

Each person folds his or her pieces of paper, and they all go into a jumbled pile in the middle of the seating area, usually on the floor.

The Game Play: After the obligatory argument over who gets to go first (or who has to go first, since going first is not necessarily an advantage), one player from one of the teams stands facing his or her teammates.

That player has 90 seconds to pick the pieces of paper off the floor one at a time and attempt to communicate the three words to his or her teammates by any means necessary, whether description, rhyme, charades, whatever, except using the words themselves or similar forms of the word. The player may attempt to communicate the words either individually or as a phrase, but it doesn’t count until one teammate has said the three words in the order they appear.

After picking up a piece of paper, the player has the option to pass, putting that piece of paper back in the pile and picking up a different one, but having to bend over takes valuable time, and there will likely be a point late in the game when, with very few pieces of paper left in the pile, a “lesser of two evils” situation will come up. (It’s important when initially writing the words/phrases to decide whether or not you’re willing to put something “impossible” in the pile and potentially cause trouble for the other team, but with the risk that you might end up having to communicate it yourself.)

The player tries to communicate as many groups of three words as possible in the allotted 90 seconds; pieces of paper in hand but unguessed by teammates when time’s up are returned to the pile.

Then a player from the other team has 90 seconds, and so on with the teams alternating until the pile has been depleted.

Scoring: Each set of three words correctly guessed counts one point for the team that guessed it. Scoring is usually on the honor system, but if someone has been serving as judge, looking over people’s shoulders, each disqualification due to an illegal clue counts one point for the other team. The team with more points wins.

Variations: It is, of course, quite possible to tweak these rules until Goofy Henkin Pants turns into something unrecognizable. A few suggestions:

  • A shorter or longer time limit
  • Two piles of paper, such that each team is only dealing with groups of three words written by the other team (this obviously requires a change in the scoring system, such as the winning team being the one that took the shorter total time to finish its pile)
  • One word on each piece of paper, but each player must pick them up three at a time

The History, and the Explanation of the Name: In or near the year 1993, a resident of the Communications Residential College at Northwestern University played this game at a party, then later successfully got a group together to play in the dorm despite not remembering the game’s real name. During that first game, one of the 3-word phrases used was “Goofy Henkin Pants,” which sent the entire room into paroxysms of laughter the way a good inside joke should. Greg Henkin was a CRC resident who owned several pairs of baggy pants with bright, vivid patterns of the type seen on arena football uniforms in the early days of the league. (For the record, “Henkin” is supposed to be pronounced “HEN-kin,” but it usually ends up as “HANK-in.”)

Goofy Henkin Pants is an easy game to set up and play without much material investment required, and is probably most fun for the common party/gathering/hanging out situation of a small-to-medium-sized group of good friends with a certain amount of shared experiences. Although it might break the hearts of certain Northwestern alumni, it’s permissible to rename Goofy Henkin Pants to something that makes a little more sense to your particular clique.

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