What it is: A talking, guessing game for four players

Best for: Teens to adults

What you need:

How to play: You play password with two teams of two. There’s one word (the password) that one player on each team knows, and both are trying to get their teammate to guess the word first by taking turns giving one-word clues.

Here’s how it works.

Let’s say our players are Ben and Brooke (on one team) and Dan and Donna (on the other team).

Each team chooses one player to go first. We’ll say Ben and Dan. Using a word generator or paper slips or cards with words written on them, one word is chosen, the word that will be the password for both of them. We’ll say it’s “key.”

Ben and Dan both know the password, while it’s kept secret from Brooke and Donna.

Once Ben and Dan both know the password, the game can start. One of them will go first, say Ben. He gets a chance to get his teammate Brooke to guess the password. The trick is, Ben can only give a one-word clue. He might say “lock.” With her one-word clue, Brooke thinks and makes a one-word guess as to what the password might be. She might say, “door?” Because she guesses incorrectly, it’s now Dan and Donna’s turn.

Dan can now give Donna a one-word clue. He might say “metal.” Now Donna has the benefit of knowing Dan’s clue (metal) as well as Ben’s (lock). But she might still guess incorrectly and say, “safe?”

Now it’s Ben’s turn again. He thinks hard and gives the clue “unlock.” It’s Brooke’s turn to guess, and now she has three clues to work with: lock, metal, and unlock. That might be enough for her to correctly guess, “key?”

Play goes back and forth between the two teams, as many turns as it takes, until someone guesses the password. Once someone correctly guesses the password, the round is over, that team gets a point, and you start another round. Switch roles first, so Brooke and Donna are giving the clues and Ben and Dan are guessing. Every two rounds, switch which team goes first.

That’s the basic gameplay! It’s simple and might even seem boring, but it can actually get really funny. You might have seen the game played on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Depending on how you play, the game might also be a fun test as to how well two players know each other. If you are OK with using shared knowledge as clues, the more you know about your partner and the way they think, the better chance you have of figuring out their clues. For example, once when my husband and I were playing, the password was stomp. The other team had given the clue foot, and it was my turn to give my husband a clue. Our three-year-old daughter was going through a very stubborn phase where she was apt to throw mini tantrums, so I only had to say Annelise for my husband to know exactly what I was talking about. 🙂

As for what words to use, the word lists for catchphrase, either easy or medium, might work well. My online or app form word generator is a great resource. Multi-meaning words like organ and wave are always interesting, because the clue-givers can say any one-word clue they want, even if they use a different definition of the password that has previously been used. The same goes for words like coach or bruise that can be either verbs or nouns.

Rules: Like in catchphrase, rhyming words are not allowed as clues. So, for example, if the password were sassy and someone, after a few rounds, tried to use the word Lassie as a clue, that would be against the rules, because sassy and Lassie have no relation except for the fact that they rhyme (well, unless you have a pet dog named Lassie with some serious sass). The same goes for using clue words simply because they have the same first letter as the password.

There are lots of other rules that many readers have shared! Check out the comments below for some. I think when you play with your friends and family, if you are serious about the rules, clarify them all with everyone beforehand and be prepared to settle disputes if they arise.

Variations: The game is similar to catchphrase.

Comments

  1. Ooops Game Gal! I think the game is best played when “inside information” is disallowed. So, your example of using your daughter’s name to reference what’s been going on in your home is unfair to the other team. The way I’ve always played (for fifty years now! I can hardly believe it!) is that all clues must be referring to things that are common knowledge to all in the game. e.g. I live in Hawaii, so we can use “Hawaii” references if all players are Hawaii people, since we all share that understanding, but to use a clue that references a thing that happened with my partner and I while on our honeymoon, wouldn’t be fair. What do you think?

    1. Thanks Tracy, that’s a great clarification, especially if you want the game to be a test of word association more than how well two people know each other. I can see how a clue that only two players would understand wouldn’t seem fair, because to the other team, the clue isn’t helpful at all, and part of the fun is being able to use your partner’s clues AND the other team’s.
      I do have some questions. When my husband and I were playing and we mentioned my daughter, we were playing with close family members. Everyone knew her name and personality. They may not have seen her stomp quite as much as my husband and I, but what’s the rule for declaring if something is inside information or not? What if players assume all players are familiar with something that they in fact aren’t? Is it difficult when you’re playing with people (on your team or on the other) you don’t know well (since you might not be familiar with what they know or don’t know)? For example, would names of historical people or movie stars be against the rules, since all players might not be equally familiar with them? Have disputes ever arisen? I would love to hear from your experience!

  2. I’ve been looking around for word sites to recommend. We played password with friends on zoom last night. A great quarantine game so long as both ends have access to word lists. Thanks. Don

  3. We played last night and had a disagreement about allowable clues. One team used rhyming words as clues and others thought that wasn’t permitted. Here are the two examples. We need you to make a ruling! LOL First example, the word was Jiggle. A few clues were given and then they said “wiggle…” Second example, the word was Severe. A few clues were given and then they said “revere…”

    1. Ah, good question! I would say the rules for password would be the same for catchphrase, where rhyming words are against the rules, as are words that begin with the same first letter (like using the word “January” as a clue for jiggle and emphasizing the J sound). So, to the people who used “wiggle” and “revere,” I would say sorry, that’s against the rules! (Though I could see “wiggle” being a little problematic because I think someone might be able to argue that wiggle and jiggle kind of mean the same thing or are at least related…so that one’s a little trickier. Severe/revere, though, that one’s clearly against the rules.) Thanks for asking! I’ll clarify that in the post!

  4. I found a pdf of the official rules to password and scoring each round which makes it more fun.
    No hyphenated words, no rhyming words, no hand or body gestures, no form of the word…e.g. password is chemist the word chemistry cannot be used as a clue. Voice inflection can be used. Example giver whispers “quiet” for password “silence”.
    If the password is not guessed after 10 clues, there is no score. Play passes from Team 1 to Team 2 at each clue. Each team is made up of a player A & a player B.
    The point value starts at 10 and reduces to 1.
    If the password is given as a clue by mistake, the round is thrown out.
    Challenges to clues are resolved by dictionary lookup.
    Each time a new word is to be guessed, play should switch to the opposite team for the first clue. Example Team 1 is Player A -Ben & Player B- Allie Team 2 is Player A – Mary & Player B – John.
    If in the first round Player As are the Givers, then the Next Round Player Bs will be the Givers.

  5. Boy, I’d like to have a link to that “pdf of the official rules to password”. I have the commercially-distributed boxed Password game I’ve saved for years that has the rules my friends and I have been following over the last many months as we’ve played via Zoom. Nowhere does it say that rhyming words are unacceptable. I couldn’t find the pdf you found online. I did find this site that’s has transcribed what’s written in my game box — https://www.ultraboardgames.com/password/game-rules.php

    BUT we’ve had numerous debates about the use of rhymes. We tried to research it and found YouTube videos of the TV show where they did use rhymes as clues. TV Host Allen Ludden did say that rhymes were discouraged because they confuse players — such as if the Password is “rhyme” and the clue is “crime”, it could throw the through-line of clues way off — but he did not say rhymes were against the rules.

    Still, I agree it would be far simpler and clearer if no rhymes were allowed (for clues that have no relation other than rhyming with the Password).

    The TV game had a team of judges who determined if a clue was acceptable and would buzz their buzzer if it wasn’t. We’re on our own.

    (They also buzzed if the player took too long to come up with a clue or a guess. The host would give a warning — “10 seconds” — I think that warning came after 10 seconds had passed. That’s another discussion we’ve had, as some players take forever to give a clue or a response. In that matter, we agreed that the clues and guesses should be made within a “reasonable” amount of time. And we have gotten out a buzzer and/or, when someone was taking an unreasonable amount of time, said “10 seconds” and eventually buzzed the player.)

    Because we’ve found that there are sometimes great depths of discussion in determining whether or not a clue was acceptable — sometimes discussions and debates worthy of Talmudic scholars! Some of our players have been very serious about playing — we agreed to incorporate a few other rules for clues:

    (one of our group speaks a few languages, so…)
    – No foreign language translation of the Password. Only foreign words that are allowed are those that are commonly used in English speech, such as chutzpah, karate, façade or cliché are allowed.)

    – A plural can be a correct response. (for example, the Password is “asset” and the guess is “assets”.

    – Writing down the clues or taking notes is not allowed. (Yes, in Zoom, we discovered one player, who was doing this and didn’t know it wasn’t allowed.) Nor is using a dictionary or an internet search prior to giving a clue or it being challenged.

    – No editorializing or giving a preamble to a clue, such as “I’m going in a different direction with this clue” or “this clue relates to the first clue I gave” or even “wow, this is a hard one”. Stick to the clues.

    – If there is disagreement about whether or not a clue is acceptable… try to be impartial and vote on it.

    AND, as regards some players being so familiar with and in tune with each other that they connect words in a way other players would not, such as husbands and wives, we simply say those couples should not be on the same team. We do often play more than one game and switch up partners for the subsequent games and sometimes do eventually team the married couples together — it doesn’t always help them, but usually it does. They have some kind of mind-reading going on.

  6. We have the Milton-Bradley box game and their printed rules don’t rule out rhyming words. But it’s a good idea since rhyming words usually confuse the game. Also, we don’t let couples (husbands/wives, etc.) on the same team, as they almost always would have inside information about particular words. Similarly with best friends. We try to partner players with the person they know the least.

  7. Wow, so many good rule clarifications here! I admit that my friends and family and I have never really had trouble with most of them while playing, and as far as husbands/wives/friends playing on the same team, we don’t have a problem with it. We just rotate the teams often, and personally we think using shared knowledge with your teammate is kind of fun. In the end I guess there are just multiple ways to play the game, depending on how serious about rules you are. If you are serious about the rules, it seems like debates over acceptable clues would be inevitable, but maybe that’s part of the fun? Thanks for sharing, everyone!

    1. Hi Jim. First of all, this is all just my opinion! And this has never come up for me and my friends, so for me at least, it’s all hypothetical.

      Now I gave this a lot of thought, and I want to make sure things are clear.

      For those of us who don’t remember all of our English language terms, a homonym is two words that are spelled the same but mean different things; for example, “lead” the metal and “lead” the verb, or “bat” the fuzzy flying mammal and “bat” the stick you use to hit a baseball. Similar to a homonym is a homophone, which is two words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings, such as “to” and “two” or “knew” and “new.”

      I’m not exactly sure which scenario you are asking about, but hopefully I can cover them all.

      If the password is “lead,” are you wondering if the clue-giver could actually say “lead” (that rhymes with “seed”) or “lead” (that rhymes with “bed”) as a clue? I would say no to both. Especially if the clue-givers are getting these passwords from a word list or somewhere that doesn’t specify the definition, saying either pronunciation of “lead” out loud would be straight-up saying the password, and that’s not allowed.

      If the password is “lead,” are you wondering if a clue-giver could say “metal” as a clue, while another uses “follow” as a clue? To this, I would say yes to both, UNLESS the words are given to the clue-givers in a way that specifies their definition, either by speaking them out loud or clarifying the meaning of the word on paper or something. Basically, if clue-givers are free to interpret the meaning of the word however they want, as long as the word is spelled the same, clues can be given to help players guess either form of the password. I would say this even applies with words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. For example, if the password were “lead,” a player would win if they said either pronunciation of the word.

      As far as homophones (like “knew” and “new”), I would say the same thing applies. If the password is “knew,” a clue-giver would not be allowed to say “new” as a clue word because it sounds just like the password, especially as clue-givers are not allowed to clarify their clues’ definitions or spellings at all.

      All that said, perhaps it might be best to just avoid passwords that have homonyms and homophones. 🙂

      Just my opinion! If anyone else has any other thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

  8. Regarding homonyms, The Game Gal took the words right out of my mouth… pretty much. But since I started writing my admittedly long reply before I saw Game Gal’s reply, I might as well post it here in its entirety:

    I say no to homonyms as clues. A homonym is a word that is spelled exactly the same as another word, and is pronounced the same way as the other word, but has a different meaning. Such as “fair”, which could mean “a light complexion” or “an equitable judgment” or “a gathering of buyers and sellers, such as a county fair”.
    So, if any of those homonyms were used as a clue for one of the other meanings of the word in Password, it would blatantly just be giving the Password as the clue.

    The word “address” fits that category as well — it can be used as a noun or a verb, but with different meanings, e.g. as a noun it means a speech or written statement, directed to a group of people… But as a verb, it means a place on street map, a location, such as a person’s home or a business. (And…some people pronounce “address” differently, depending on how they’re using it. And some people pronounce it with an emphasis on the first syllable and some people pronounce it with an emphasis on the second syllable.)

    Homonym – words that are spelled the same but have different meanings – e.g. “Lie” could mean “untruth” or “recline”.

    Homophone (also known as Heterograph) – words that have the same pronunciation, but different spellings and different meanings – e.g. “too” and “two” and “to”…. Also, “they’re”, “their” and “there”.

    Heteronym – words that have same spelling, different meaning, different pronunciation. e.g. “desert”, which could mean “an arid region usually associated with large areas of sand, such as the Sahara Desert” or “to leave, as in someone who decides to desert their military troop”.

    Password is largely a game of Synonyms – words with the same meaning, but different spelling AND pronunciation. Or words that are at least somewhat similar in meaning or are related in some way to the Password. So, in that regard, neither homonyms, homophones, heterographs nor heteronyms would be acceptable as clues.

    HOWEVER, homonyms and homophones sometimes also work as acceptable clues.… because Password is a verbal game, clue-givers only needs to speak a correct answer, even if the meaning of the answer is different than what’s written as the Password. For instance, if the Password is “Tailor”, some reasonable clues would be “costumer”, “clothier”, “seamstress”. AND, if a clue-giver thinks outside the ordinary, the word “Elizabeth” could also be used as an acceptable clue, if they think they can get their partner to think of “Elizabeth Taylor”. Saying it out loud as an answer, “Taylor” IS the same as “tailor” and would be a winning guess.

    That’s what I think.

    1. Great thoughts! Totally agree. I think it’s so interesting that there are so many comments on this post about rule specifics! I guess when you can only give clues one word at a time (as opposed to catchphrase), the clues are very open to scrutiny. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone!

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