What it is: A quiet indoor game that sharpens your observational skills…and can lead to lots of laughs, too.

Best for: Group of 8 to 12ish.

What you need: A group of people and a room they can all sit in. It’s harder to play this one on the floor, so it’s best if everyone’s sitting on chairs or couches arranged in a circle.

How to play: Before you start, everyone who’s playing needs to choose a sign—something distinct enough that it’s clearly theirs, but (usually) inconspicuous and silent. For example, let’s say Mike, Lori, Ben, and Kate are choosing their signs. Mike’s is pulling his right ear. Lori’s is touching her nose with her finger. Ben’s is making a “peace” sign with his hand. And Kate’s is a wink.

signs game

Next, choose someone to be It (this time it’s Ben). Ben stands up in the middle of the circle and picks someone in the circle (like Kate) to have the Sign. Then he closes his eyes. The point of the game is to pass the Sign around the circle without Ben knowing who has it. Kate has the Sign now. To pass it to someone else, she has to make their sign to them. So, what if Kate wants to pass the Sign to Mike? She’ll make sure Mike’s looking at her and then pull her right ear (remember, that’s Mike’s sign). For Mike to officially receive the Sign, he has to acknowledge to Kate by pulling his ear. As soon as Mike makes his sign, he has the Sign. Until then, Kate still has it. Make sense?

So that’s how the Sign is passed around the circle. Now remember that Ben closed his eyes? After he counts to ten, he opens them, and by then Kate will have passed the Sign on to someone else (and maybe the Sign has been passed a few times), so Ben doesn’t know who has it. Since he’s standing in the middle of the circle, his back is always turned to part of it, allowing the players to pass and receive the Sign when he’s not looking. But Ben can be quick. Let’s say he catches a glimpse of Lori making her sign (touching her nose with her finger) and he guesses that she just accepted the Sign. Ben can then ask, “Lori, do you have the Sign?” She has to respond truthfully, and then Lori is the new It. She stands in the middle of the circle, picks a new person to start with the Sign, and closes her eyes to count. If Lori (or any other It) guesses incorrectly, the game keeps going. She can guess as many times as she wants. So that’s how the game is played.

A few things to remember while playing signs: First, make sure that everyone remembers everyone else’s signs. It’s okay if people forget momentarily, but if none of the other players can ever remember Ben’s sign, they’ll never pass the Sign to him, and that would be sad. So it might be good to review everyone’s signs every once in a while. Another thing, sometimes the game can get confusing. If you’re not paying attention, it could be easy to lose track of who has the Sign, or multiple people could think they have it. At that point, it’s best to pause the game and have whoever’s It pick a new person to start and then count to ten. Finally, you can get pretty sneaky with passing the Sign. If Ben’s It and he asks, “Do you have the sign?” and you do, but technically you just passed it to someone else who accepted it before you have to answer, you can say “no” and you’re off the hook. So practice being sneaky and inconspicuous and go have fun with signs!

Variations: There are many other games similar to signs that you perhaps call the same name. The games newspaper and animal signs are similar, just not as quiet. Know any others? Oh, and one of my favorites is playing signs in a perhaps less formal setting, say if you’re in a boring meeting and want some entertainment. Get your buddies to all very quietly and inconspicuously choose a sign and then pass it around without the People in Charge catching on.* Good times. 😉

* Of course, you should be responsible. Always.


  1. Sydney, good point. It is a more complicated game. But I’ve found that once everyone gets the hang of it, it’s easy and fun to play and works really well for teenagers. I’ve also played in big family groups with ages ranging from adults to pre-teens and it’s been a lot of fun; the older players can kind of help the younger ones out. Maybe more laughing and silliness will be involved, but hey, that can be fun too. But I think you’re right in that it wouldn’t be the best game for a big group of little kids.

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