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How to Play: Bowl of Nouns

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When I was at my first bridal shower, we played a game in which the girls wrote a fun or cute memory they had of me on a piece of paper – the memory was read aloud, and I was to try and guess who wrote the memory. One girl wrote “You taught me how to play my favorite party game – bowl of nouns!” This was particularly tough for me to figure out, because I had taught nearly everyone in the room how to play this game. The only person I had NOT taught was the girl who had taught me. Well, lo and behold, the one who wrote down the memory happened to be that girl. “No!” I laughed, “YOU taught ME how to play bowl of nouns!” There was a brief moment of confusion, going back and forth with memories before she realized that indeed, she and her boyfriend had in fact been the ones to teach ME how to play. I asked her who had taught her and she shrugged and said she had no idea, she had always thought it had been me. Later at a party I asked her boyfriend (who is Chris’s cousin), and he had the same problem. He, too, had thought we had been the first. We all had a good belly laugh, but the question still remains… where the hell did this game come from?

I noticed that a lot of people end up on my site because they google “bowl of nouns”. I mention bowl of nouns a lot here, because I play it a lot, but I don’t explain how to play, which is douche-y of me. Sorry world. You came all the way to my blog and all I did was brag brag brag about how awesome this game is and gosh how I love it and then say something rude like “I should teach you sometime” – why are you even friends with me? Not that you are, of course, we’re probably perfect strangers. Nonetheless, I’ve decided to alter the reality of my blog and explain the rules of Bowl of Nouns. Right here, right now. Don’t try and stop me, Smee.

At least, explain how I play it. Are there other ways? Don’t tell me, I like thinking I’m the only one to exist.

Alright, first of all. I find that I’m usually the one to explain how to play this game, so many people think of it as my game, which it is not. As I mentioned before, I take NO credit for coming up with this game or any part of its awesomeness. I’m not even good at explaining how to play – I just always end up doing so, probably out of tradition or because I like explaining things and others might not as much. I’m still trying to perfect how to explain this game to make it super easy to every newbie right away, but as it is – it’s a game. It’s an easy one, but as with all games, it takes a minute and a little bit of playing to truly get it. Still, I shall try my best.

All posts are better with pics. These are not from playing the game, though it’s possible we played the game on this night?

HGH_8628 HGH_8630 HGH_8631 HGH_8642 HGH_8648



The basics:

The game is pretty much a combination of catch phrase and charades. An even number of people is best but doesn’t really matter. You can have as many people play as you want.  (Although 2-3 people is too little… it’s definitely best as a party game). You need a bowl, you need little slips of paper, you’ll need some pens/pencils. There are three rounds.

The rounds:

First round: Catch phrase. You can say anything except what’s on the paper, and of course not things like “it rhymes with…”, “it starts with the letter…”

Second round: Same thing, except you are now limited to THREE WORDS per slip of paper, and no more.

Third round: Charades.

This will make more sense in a second. It’s sometimes easier to just go round by round and explain the round when you get to it, but it can also be good to keep the rounds in mind when you’re creating your slips.

The slips.

There’s probably a better thing to call them but whatever. I’ll refer to the little pieces of paper as “the slips”. You need at least 3 slips of paper for each person, 4 if you want the game to last a little longer, 2 a little shorter, etc. Make sure all the slips are the same or you’ll run into the problem of people recognizing the size and shape of the slip before a person has the chance to dive into explaining/charading. Some might consider this “cheating”. It’s easy to avoid, though.

The slips MAKE the game. They ARE the game. What is put onto the slips will drive the hilarity of the rest of the game. It’s important to keep this in mind. The fate of the game rests with you before the game even begins, when you have the pen in one hand and you’re staring down at your blank slips, pondering the world around you. You control how fun this game is going to be. It’s up to you.

But no pressure!

What to put on the slips:

No more than 3 or 4 words (take your pic) (it’s also up to you whether words like “of” or “the” count as words)(also, try to stay away from words like “of” or “the” because they’re hard to get people to say). I used to say “nouns” but would always end up with some one taking it entirely too literally and just writing a list of four boring nouns. Instead, I suggest this: Pick ONE noun, and glorify it. Make it funny, weird, strange, vulgar, totally odd, unusual, imaginative, whatever. Remember that people will be explaining it and eventually acting it out. You can certainly add another noun, but make it all the same, singular concept.

Some examples:

  • Singing purple clouds
  • naked Santa Claus
  • unicorn hamburger
  • tasty worm salad
  • happy honey badger
  • evil green elves
  • your grandfather’s lubricant

(for other examples, just search “bowl of nouns” in the search bar of this blog).

I mentioned once that this isn’t a family game. Well, that was a lie. It can be. Just keep in mind your audience. If you’re playing with your grandfather, it might be wise to refrain from something like “your grandfather’s lubricant”. If your playing with your friends (and they’re not easily offended – hopefully), then something like that might be hilarious (to watch some one act out)(amirite)

Careful: People go brain-dead here. You could have  a multitude of good slip ideas anytime else, but once it comes time to write them down, you’ll be blank. This leads to a lot of looking around the room and writing what you see. Be careful to not be too boring (“Red couch pillow” – yawn) or write what three other people in the room might also be writing. Stretch your brains. You can do it. I believe in you.

When you finish with a slip, fold it once or twice and put it in the bowl. You will use the SAME slips for ALL THREE rounds.

Begin Play – Round one

Sit in a circle, with the people on each side of you being on the other team (every other person is on your team). You do NOT need to keep score DURING the round. Score is taken after the round is over – this is the easiest way to do it.  You DO need a timer. The way we always do it is to have a timer for each team. We use our phones and time the other team’s play.

Each play is ONE minute long. Whoever is up has the bowl and has one minute to get their teammates to say EXACTLY what is on the slip, IN THAT ORDER. So, let’s take an example: singing purple clouds.

Remember round one is just talking. The person up grabs the slip and begins to explain what’s on it. They might say:

“This is putting words to melody” – Singing! “Right, and then this is a color you get when you combine blue and red” PURPLE! “Good and these are things in the sky, big and white…” CLOUDS! “Put that together” SINGING PURPLE CLOUDS!

Once the entire phrase on the slip is said, he puts it in his pile outside of the bowl and moves on to the next slip. He will keep going until the timer stops him.

Question: Can you skip slips if you don’t like them? Yes you absolutely can. As many times as you like. Keep in mind it might waste your time, though.

Question: What if you get your own slip? Then you get your own slip. Hopefully you didn’t make it too hard to explain!

Question: What if you get the slips of people on your team?  That’s their (and your) good luck! Hopefully they’ll recognize/remember their slip early on in your explanation! The same thing will likely happen to the other team.

Question: Who keeps tabs on the person speaking, to make sure they don’t use words in the phrase? Everyone. It’ll be pretty obvious once people say the word if the speaker used the word beforehand. But also the people sitting next to him/her.

WARNING: This happens nearly every game I play: some one is sitting by a light and picks up a slip, barely holding it in their fingers. The light shines through that little slip making it clear to everyone sitting near (or even in the entire room) what’s written on it and making it super easy for teammates to say the phrase on the slip. Sometimes some one speaks up, but often not. This is cheating! Ask people to cover the slip with their hands!

RULE: Other than the obvious (no rhymes, no starts with), you may not use hand motions or signs or pointing in this round.

Once  a person’s time is up, the bowl is passed to the next person (on either side). That person then has one minute, just the same as the person before. And so on. This continues around the circle until ALL the slips have been won. Make sure to keep your WON slips outside of the bowl, and collect them into your own pile during the round. When the round is over, collect your team’s won slips into one pile and tally the totals.

Round two: Three words

All the slips go back into the bowl.

You pick up with the NEXT person, that is, the person after the last person who went (not back at the beginning). In this round you can only say THREE words per slip. The advantage is that you will probably remember many of the slips.

So for example, for singing purple clouds you might say “melody color sky” or “musical violet thunderheads”. Some people go for opposites in this round, too, as that can be the easiest way to quickly explain a slip.

Round three: Charades

All the slips go back into the bowl.

Again you pick up with the next person.

In this round the person must ACT OUT the slip, no talking allowed. Pointing is fine.

Here is a video of ME doing the charades round at a cabin trip with my friends two years ago: (sorry if any of it is crude…friends, you know).

At the end of the game, tally up the points as usual then add all the rounds together to get your total. And that’s that! Bowl of Nouns, explained. It’s hard to really put into words how fun this game is – you just have to play it to know or to see or to feel. Hilarity always ensues in one way or another. People get silly and giggly and goofy and it just goes from there. Play it and watch! You won’t regret it, I promise.


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