Back The Tracks – Part 2 – On The Rails

Philadelphia, PA – The early 70s

I remember reading Stephen King’s book, Different Seasons many years later than the events described here. There was that one story entitled, The Body. It always reminded me of how it was when I hung out with my friends when we were young. It was later made into the film, Stand By Me. That story hits as about as close as anything we experienced as kids.

Having a place that was wild and uncivilized adjacent to our picture-perfect neighborhood was always a lure. I remember as a little boy my dad and I would sometimes go back the tracks and cross them over into the woods that lay on the other side. He would puff his cigar and we’d chat and go on a short explore.

There was a fallen tree that lay at the edge of the woods and we would always go back and visit it. I used to call it the whale shark, because it was large, grey, and looked like a fallen marine leviathan. It was fat at one end and broken which resembled a mouth. Along the tapering back of the wooden beast, was a thick broken branch that jutted upward that resembled a huge dorsal fin.

I still like the smell of cigars to this day because they remind me of my time with my father.

I was later told a story that when my older sister and I were really little, dad was carrying us down the embankment that led to the tracks. He was going to take us over to the other side to run around and play in the fields. He had lost his footing on the embankment and started to fall. As he slipped down the hill, he held us both aloft as he took the full brunt of the fall. He got a little banged up, but we both walked away without a scratch.

A classic tale of a lion protecting his cubs.

Let’s proceed with this chapter.

We’d line up all of the bottles and cans we could find on the rails and have contests to see who could break the most by throwing rocks at them. If a train approached you simply ran for cover. There were so many stories back then about the tracks. Horror stories. Like if you stood too close to a speeding freight train the force could suck you under the wheels and you’d surely be squished. We saw what a train could do to a penny if you put it on the rail when a train went by. It would completely flatten and stretch the penny thin. I heard all sorts of terrible tales and legends from other kids about the perils of the train tracks.

There were three sets of rails. The furthest was for the commuter passenger trains, the middle track was for utility purposes and passing, and the main rail closest to us was only for freight trains.

Some other horror stories I heard were gruesome. The story of the two boys who wanted to make a cable car that ran across the tracks from one embankment to the other. They held onto a metal cable and attempted to toss it across to the other side. The cable hit the high wires that the pantagraphs of the passenger trains used for power. Once the metal cable touched the high wires the kids’ bodies burned all the weeds as their dead bodies rolled down the hill.

What is Pantograph? How they are used in Electric Rail Engines? | by Shubhranshu Mishra | Medium

Or, the one about the kid who stepped into between the switch track and the main rail. It snapped shut crushing his foot and trapping him where he remained until he was later run over by a train and killed.

Railroad switch - Wikipedia

Or, this kid who urinated off a bridge and the urine hit the high wire, and voltage traveled up the stream and into his “lightning rod” and electrocuted him. There are 25,000 volts traveling through those overhead wires all day long.

I remember a tragic story where there were a few boxcars just sitting on the middle track on their own. Some kids climbed onto them to explore. One kid was standing on top of the boxcar and his head hit the high wire, and he sadly lost his life. I didn’t know the boy, but it was a terrible day for his friends and family. It showed us all how fragile life can be at any age.

You tell those kinds of stories to little boys and that hits hard. We were very careful playing back the tracks. But it never stopped us from going there and our parents were cool letting us play back there on the tracks all of the time. But life was full of danger for kids back then. But all we thought of was “I”. Invincible. Immune. Indestructible. Immortal.

But not all of us were so lucky back then.

You can read about another poor soul by clicking here:

Innocence Lost

It was so cool. You’re 10 years old, probably weigh around 60 lbs. tops. You’re small and light. You’d be back the tracks playing with your friends and then you’d hear a distant rumbling. If you were lucky, you saw the train coming in the distance. As an unspoken rule, anyone who saw a train coming instinctively yelled, “Train!” to alert his tribe. We all cleared out of there and found cover.

Normally, it was incredibly quiet back there, but when the train approached and roared by at full speed it was an absolute spectacle. The sheer size, speed, and power of that machine were incredible to witness. You see trains in the distance and see them in movies and on TV, but when you’re standing 10 feet from a speeding freight train, it’s like a giant Precambrian monster has come to claim you all. The noise was deafening and you could actually see the rails move up and down across the railroad ties from the sheer weight of the passing freight cars. We would always all stand quietly and let the behemoth pass. Powerless to do anything. Counting each freight car as it passed, sometimes losing count, but most times the number exceeded 100 cars long.

Our parents told us that the first rail went to New York. That always seemed cool to me. There was my little neighborhood on the edge of forever. I could walk down my street and cross Hasbrook Avenue and head back to the lot. We’d walk down the embankment that had long ago been carved out by men who built the railroad. I’d look down the rails and know that it was a direct line to New York. I lived in Philly but had no real concept of the size of the city. Just what I saw when my mom would take me into town. I got on a passenger train (Reading line) with her at the Cheltenham station by Martins Mill road, and off we went. When the doors opened again I’d be in the Reading Terminal in center city. We might as well stepped into a time machine back then. You get in, close the door, and appear somewhere else that looks completely different from your usual surroundings. All tall buildings and bustling people.

My father used to say, “You have to pay attention in school and make something of yourself so you don’t end up like one of those guys in Reading Terminal.” (Homeless, bums, panhandlers, etc.) Funny how back then it was like that. Now Suburban Station is the main hub because the trains no longer go to Reading Terminal. That place is now a thriving open market that’s a thriving tourist destination. Now, I’d love to end up like one of the guys in Reading Terminal. A successful business owner! How things change.

But the idea you could follow that straight train track to New York always intrigued me. What if there was some way we could board one of the boxcars and stowaway to Manhattan? A simple thing like that. Just kids who grew up on the right street near such power and might beyond the trees.

I always liked the notion of living in a quiet peaceful neighborhood. It was clean and safe. But just beyond the end of our block was something wild and dangerous.

But it belonged to us.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Back The Tracks – Part 1 – Forts

Philadelphia, PA – Early 1970s

As a kid, we all loved our toys. Toys were our stuff. Toys were exclusively for kids. Parents had no use for them. When I misbehaved my dad would take things away from me. No TV, or take away certain toys. To me, this made no sense. I loved TV and toys, but without either of them, I always found something else to do. I had just as much fun with found items or making stuff. I could be just as happy with nothing as long as I could go out and play in the big lot at the end of our street. It was full of rocks, weeds, and bushes.

At the far end of the lot was a solitary tree that we fashioned into somewhat of a treehouse. It was really just a few long two by fours we found and stretched across a few of the limbs to make the ledger boards. We drove a bunch of nails into the limbs and then placed any boards we could find for the floor. It didn’t have any sides. It was simply a platform about 20 feet off the ground. We found some shorter bits of wood and nailed them into the trunk so you had something to grab onto and put your feet on to climb up and down to the platform above. It stood at the edge of the lot at the top of an embankment that led down to the railroad tracks.

Sitting in the treehouse just felt good. You were with your friends and safe from anything approaching on the ground. It’s an ancient feeling that washes over you. I’m sure primitive man did the same thing to escape ground-dwelling predators. It also gave you an advantage over your enemies. We always kept a box of rocks up there in case we were ever invaded. No one’s going to attempt to take your fortress if you have potentially lethal projectiles. We never needed them, but it was comforting to know you had them, just in case.

In Carl Sagan’s book, The Dragons of Eden, he stated that there was a theory that when you’re in your bed at night and just about fall asleep, you sometimes feel that sudden jump. He thought that it was a primitive mechanism that was in place to stop us from falling out of the trees as early hominids. When you’re a kid, it seems to occur with greater frequency but could be a long lost survival safeguard. But as children, we just loved to climb up on things. Old instinct? Maybe.

We’d built many forts over the years when we were kids. We kind of liked having several places we could go to hang out whenever we were wandering in the woods across the railroad tracks. Numerous little campsites that were exclusively ours.

One day, we were back in the lot. There was a fence that went all the way around the Peerless Steel factory back there. There was the fence, and along it was a dirt path. If you walked about thirty feet along the fence, at the edge of a hill was suddenly a small fort built there. It had almost appeared that it had gone up overnight. We were a bunch of 9 and 10-year-old kids. It had four walls and a roof. On the ground were pieces of old carpet so you could sit down. It was better than anything we’d ever seen. We figured some bigger kids had constructed it. We knew that older boys would go back the tracks at night and drink beer and smoke weed. It was really the only place to hide in my neighborhood. It was a really nice community, but full of watchful eyes. So they must have constructed it at night. Of course, being the curious boys we were, we went inside and hung out.

Such a primitive thing. A small tribe finds shelter in a place made by bigger more advanced beings. Empty beer cans and bottles littered the area. We would collect the bottles and cans and take them down the embankment to the railroad tracks below so we could set them up and play target practice with them. The trackbed was full of grey stones. So there was an endless supply of ammo to throw at the bottles and break them.

One afternoon we were sitting in the fort and a big kid appeared at the door. It startled us all and we were a bit intimidated by this formidable figure. He told us the fort belonged to him and his friends. We immediately told him we meant no harm and would vacate the premises immediately, but he sensed our fear and respect and told us to keep an eye on it for them. Of course, we accepted the job. We told him we’d clear all of the trash out so if there were any cops or railroad detectives around they wouldn’t find anything. When I think about it now, the older guy seemed like a man, but when you’re 10, a 16-year-old looks like an adult to you.

We played back in the lot and on the railroad tracks all the time. It was our place. No parents ever went back there. Think about how different things were back then. Today most children have organized play in sporting events and teams. They have video games that would have seemed like science fiction to us in the 70s. They wear all sorts of protective gear just to ride their bicycles. We had none of that. It was just your young hide against the elements. There were plenty of injuries back then. Who would let their kids today go play back in a vacant lot, wander through the woods, and play on railroad tracks? You’d be labeled a neglectful parent. But we loved it back there.

About a mile south, there was a church at the top of the hill where Levick Street crossed over the railroad tracks into Cheltenham. Behind its parking lot was a vacant lot. Sort of a landfill. It was just tons of broken rocks and cement that created a cliff on the edge of the woods. We moved some of the rocks and cleared a small enclosure we could get inside to call a fort. It was fun to dislodge giant stones that probably weighed 800 lbs. with our feet, and push them down the side of the hill. There was a certain triumph in being able to collectively move and object of such weight as kids. The joy of watching the boulder roll down the hill like it was all happening in a Road Runner cartoon. Once a space was cleared, we’d claim it as one of our many forts. The Rock Fort was born. We had found some boards and covered the small shelter so it had a roof. Of course, we’d carve out a hole in the dirt wall for the fireplace. My friend Michael had found an old rack from an oven in the trash and we shoved it in the wall over the fire pit. One morning my friend RJ, showed up with an open box of frozen Canadian bacon. I had never heard of that but I was willing to try it. We stuck the patties onto whittled sticks of wood and held them over the fire in our little fort until they sizzled. They were quite good actually, and we really felt like true mountain men that day. I wondered if RJ’s mother ever noticed them missing from her freezer.

Another style of fort we had back then was to dig a hole in the middle of the woods. We would carve out a space about eight feet square and maybe three feet deep. We’d take pieces of the roof from a broken dugout from the ballfields above the woods to make our roof. I liked the idea of the corrugated fiberglass. It was sturdy enough to stand on and any rain could be channeled and runoff during inclement weather. We’d find bits of old carpet from people’s trash and line the floor of the fort. As I said, it was only three feet deep, so you had to lie down in there. I used to love the idea of being in my little Bomb Shelter Fort. It felt safe in there. You could smell the soil in the air of the place. That rich dark clay smell of the earth around you. I would lie on my back in there with my friend and we’d read digest editions of the old EC Mad comics. These were in paperback and black and white reprints of the old comics before there was a Mad magazine.

We’d cover the corrugated roof with soil, rocks, and leaves so the fort was completely camouflaged. No one could see or find the place unless you knew where it was in the woods. It was actually comforting to have my back on the carpet knowing the only thing below me was the Earth itself. No wooden floor. No basement or foundation of a house. Just dirt. If I lifted the old bit of carpet under me and kept digging long enough, I’d hit China.

We had a bunch of forts back them. We always had the treehouse, that was ours, but sometimes we’d venture away down the path past the big kid’s fort, and just hang out behind a big mound of dirt on the side of the railroad tracks. There were plenty of trees and it was just a chill hiding spot.

We called that hangout spot The Dirt Fort. Beyond that about thirty feet away was a lower area that was a nice flat piece of land under a single big tree. We called it The Flat Fort, and let the girls have that space. Of course, they always want to do the cool stuff that boys came up with, so we sublet that bit of real estate to my sister and her friends.

These weren’t really forts per se, they were just little spots by the tracks we liked to hang out in.

One day there was a group of us down in the Flat Fort. I think it was me, my sister Janice, Margie, her brother Michael and my friend RJ. (I think!) We were all just hanging out chatting when this man wandered up. He looked like he was maybe in his twenties. He was skinny and had a t-shirt on and a pair of shorts and sneakers. We greeted the stranger, and he asked us if we had seen anyone else around the area. We told him we hadn’t. The first thing I noticed about him was how his eyes darted about when he spoke. Nobody I knew did that when they spoke. He stated that he was looking for his friends with whom he was out jogging. I was thinking who would go jogging back here by the railroad tracks? Bad place to twist an ankle on all of the irregular ground. He asked again if we had seen any of his friends because they were wearing shorts like his. Then he proceeded to pull down his pants. He had what appeared to be underwear on, but left his shorts down around his thighs and kept talking. We were all getting pretty weirded out at this point and told him again we hadn’t seen anybody else back here. We had him terribly outnumbered, so he pulled up his shorts and moved on.

We all immediately left the area and went straight home and told our parents. I’m glad the incident didn’t go any further and the guy just seemed odd and maybe just what he did in front of us was enough to satisfy his whatever. But after that, the mothers forbade the girls from going down there anymore. Just the boys. Kinda sucked because we didn’t mind having them around that much. But it’s funny how just the girls had to stay away. Like young boys couldn’t get molested too? I’m just glad nothing happened.

There was one other similar incident once when my friend Michael and I were just hanging out on the corner of Magee and Hasbrook Aves. I don’t remember how old we were but we were pretty young. We were both sitting in a wagon. It was right on the corner near our houses. Some guy rolled up on a motorcycle and stopped to chat with us. He seemed cool and we liked his bike. I don’t remember what we were all chatting about but at one point he asked us if we wanted him to pull down his pants. We immediately knew that was weird and got the heck out of there. He rode off but we went and told Michael’s dad about it. We never saw that perv again either.

Can’t be too careful out there, kids.

 

Part 2 of Back the Tracks will publish next Thursday.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Wildwood Daze – Kites – Part 1

Back in the early seventies the world was a different place. Kids played outside. The only time you stayed in was when it rained. That meant playing board games, and dealing with your sisters and brothers.

When we were children we were always coming up with creative things to do. No one had any money, there were no video games, cell phones,  internet, or social media. We could spend a whole day making boats out of whatever we could find, and watching them float down nearby Tookany Creek. We spent so many wonderful hours playing in the woods.

One day, my friend RJ and I found some old trash bags. We tied strings to them and attempted to make kites out of them. We were probably 9 or 10 years old at the time. There was a vacant lot at the end of our street that served as an entrance to the factory, Peerless Steel. We were always hanging out in that lot because it lead to the railroad tracks and beyond that, the woods. We began our foray into the world of flight in that vacant lot.

RJ and I were a couple of creative kids. We were always making things. We had high hopes for our experiments. It was a windy day and that was probably our inspiration. We tied the string to the bags and attempted to make them fly. We thought with a bit of a breeze, our creations would become aloft. But without any knowledge of aerodynamics, our trash bag kites were merely crappy, trash parachutes.

They twisted in the wind and spent more time on the ground than in the air. We continued to modify the design of our bag kites, but to no avail. Once the bags were snagged in the barb wire on the fence that surrounded the factory, we abandoned our experiments.

 

Each summer after 1970, my family stayed at our summer home on 8th street in North Wildwood, New Jersey. Living a block and a half from the beach, there were plenty of places for kids to play. The kid who was my age who lived next door became my summer friend. He and I spent a great deal of time together.

The year was probably 1972.

Over on 10th street, was a grocery/variety store called Botto’s. One day, my sister and I were over there with my mother. They sold all of the things you’d need for your time at the shore. Groceries, snacks, candy, soda, sundries, and beach toys. The usual seashore corner store fare.

But we noticed a box among the other products that held kites! They were made by a company called, Gayla and were rolled up in long cellophane packages. We both picked out the ones we liked and my mom got them for us. Back then, each kite cost a dollar. The twine was probably a quarter or .39 cents. So, not much of an investment for what could be a world of fun.

Janice picked out a blue one, because that was her favorite color. It was called Sting-A-Ree. It resembled a stingray, with cute eyes on it. Here’s a photo I found which will give you an idea what these kites looked like, and also that attractive price point.

I got a white one, called Sky Spy. It had big flaming eyes on it and I dug it’s bright, menacing intensity.

The one in this picture must be a later model, because my kite was the same size as my sister’s with the standard 3 foot wing span. (Also, only one dollar!)

Like it says on my sister’s kite’s packaging, it was literally ready to fly in seconds! Each kite came with a wooden dowel that you placed the ends into the kite horizontally to create the cross spar. You tied one end of the string through a reinforced hole in the brindle. (Which is the triangular guide piece that extends forward from the spine of the kite. Once that was done, all you needed was a good breeze. Kite flying is fun!

Of course, my friend next door immediately got one as well. I don’t remember which design he went with. Possibly a yellow one called, Sky Raider. But I could be wrong. It doesn’t matter.

So we kids would go to the beach in the evenings when all of the tourists were gone, and fly our kites on the beach. I liked that it was still light at night so you could see, but the heat of the day was gone. The cool breeze rolled in from the sea, but the sand was still warm under your bare feet.

My sister Janice never seemed to have any problems getting her kite in the air, and the blue Sting-A-Ree glided through the air with the greatest of ease.

Of course, my friend and I being boys were always having problems. Strings getting tangled, and kites colliding in mid-air. Kites getting hung up in electrical wires, or crashing into the bushes on the dunes.

I think trying to make kites out of trash bags was a creative way to play. Creativity is the highest form of intelligence, and can’t be taught. Funny, how all the stuff you learn in school is just memorizing the memories and words of others who have come before you. History written and spun by the winners.

Kids back then had to find their own fun to keep from getting bored. Making things filled the time, and lit up our young minds. But flying store bought, manufactured kites was easy. As long as the wind was blowing, these kites would take right off, no problem. They looked really cool flying in the air high above our heads. You simply let out the string, and the spool it was wrapped around spun out and the kite rose higher and hire like a bird. You held the string, hoping it wasn’t to windy, because if the string went out too fast it would burn your fingers as it went. (I guess that’s why they had the parental notice for 8 and up on the package.)

But for young boys, once your kite’s in the air, it’s a little boring. So, we of course devised ways to make the experience more interesting.

One of the things we did was, once the kite was fully aloft, we’d pull a special move. Realizing if the line was slack, the kite would fall. Without the tension on the string, the kite would tumble back to earth. That defeats the purpose of flying a kite. But… what we started to do was this. I would place the spool under my arm and hold it tightly in place. Then I would start to pull on the string. I would haul it in arm over arm, and the string would pool at my feet. All the while keeping tension on the line. Once I had about 40 or 50 feet of string in a pile at my feet, I would grab the spool from under my arm and let go of the twine in my hand. This would release the tension on the kite and it would start to fall. Well, not just fall, sort of nose dive toward the ground. The string on the ground would rapidly go out, being pulled by the falling kite in the wind. But there was still no tension. Once the string ran out, and the line tension returned, the kite would once again soar back up into the sky.

Exciting!

It was really about how much wind you had blowing, and how much string you pulled down onto the ground in front of you. It was cool to watch the kite begin to fall from the sky like a plane that had been shot down. The slack line would go out, and once it hit tension again, that sucker would shoot back into the sky before it hit the ground. The key was to let it fall as far as it could and as close to the ground as possible before it took off again. (Even if you had to run in the opposite direction to get the tension back in the line!)

This was super fun and exciting to watch the kite fall aimlessly towards a potential crash, and at the last minute take off again. It was glorious to witness. But more times than not, the kite never recovered, and would crash and be destroyed in the bushes two hundred feet away.

My buddy would always volunteer to go get the fallen vessel. He had the most amazing callouses on the balls of his feet from being barefoot all summer. I mean, this dude was like an Indian with those feet of his. He could step on broken glass and not get cut. I think he did it to show off, but I was happy I didn’t have to trudge through the bushes and dunes on my tender tootsies. (I once watched him put out a cigarette with his bare foot as a teen.)

Fun to watch, but risky. There’s nothing worse than trudging through two blocks worth of heavy bushes loaded with mosquitoes, flies, and whatever else was alive in there to retrieve your fallen kite. You would hold the line, and simply follow the string to your fallen toy. More times than not, the kite was irreparably damaged in the crash. A tangle of string and ripped vinyl. If the wooden dowel snapped, your day of flying kites was terminated. All in the name of your own foolish quest for young boy thrills.

But… when it worked, and your kite flew back up with seconds to spare, it was an amazing thrill. An exciting rush. Cheering, we felt like stunt pilots.

But was that thrilling enough for a couple of 10-year-olds?

You’d think it would be.

But no…

It wasn’t.

We began to have air battles with our kites. It was cool to watch them crash into each other. Most of the time they would get tangled together and crash back to earth. But then we came up with the idea to tape a long carpenter’s nail to the nose of the kite.

So this for boys was like strapping sharp spikes to a rooster’s legs to inflict more damage on his opponent during a cockfight. Think about it. Kites are boring. They look pretty floating through the air, but for 10-year-old boys, that’s boring. Let’s have full on, air battles with metal spikes. Now it’s fun! We have goals. Those nails will do some serious damage!

The order of the day… Destroy your opponent’s kite at all costs.

Due to our destructive nature, my Sky Spy was destroyed after a week, and so was my friend’s kite. But we had fun doing it. We still liked flying kites as something to do at night on the beach.

We headed back to Botto’s to get new kites. All the while, Janice’s kite flew unhindered high above us all.

 

More tomorrow!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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How To Have A Zoom Game Night

Now that the majority of the country is practicing social distancing, the way we entertain ourselves has drastically changed. Musicians are streaming concerts on YouTube, comedians are going live on Instagram, and people all over the world are using Zoom well after their work calls are over in order to spend time with loved ones. But if your video chat hangs are starting to feel a bit repetitive (read: You’re drinking way more wine than usual), a game night on Zoom may provide a much-needed reprieve.

“Using video conferencing technology to have fun, to engage with other people, and to connect socially, reminds us that we are not alone and that we have people there to support us,” Dr. Josh Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and associate professor of public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, tells phicklephilly.

Hopping on video chat can be a great way to feel less isolated. Folks everywhere are propping up their phones while they cook together, watch movies, or simply have conversations. But the fun of a game night, in particular, can make these quiet evenings seem a little less strange and a lot more nostalgic. Battling it out with friends might even ease coronavirus-related anxiety, at least for a little while, as you focus your mind elsewhere.

Here, a few ideas for ways to have a Zoom game night, so you can stay connected from afar.

1. Trivia Night

You may not be crammed into your favorite bar booth with five of your closest friends, but you can still recreate trivia night by playing together on Zoom. Start by assigning a host (like yourself) and coming up with questions. Aim for five or so categories, with about eight questions each.

From there, figure out how you’ll communicate. Each team will need a private space to whisper answers, like a breakout room, but you can all meet back in the main “bar” area on Zoom. Give everyone 30 seconds to deliberate, and then have them submit answers via DM.

Of course, as with any trivia night, you’ll want and need rules. Remind players to stay off Google, to put their phones down, and to only get answers from teammates — not their roommate, who is a fount of 90s music knowledge. And just like that, you’ll have recreated trivia night from the safety of your homes.

2. Punderdome

A rousing game of Punderdome can easily be played via Zoom. To begin, gather at least three people, ensure that someone (again, probably you) has the deck of cards, and spend an evening making awful jokes.

To play, the “prompter” draws two cards from the deck and then reads them out to the rest of the group. Everyone has 90 seconds to create the worst pun they can come up with that combines the two prompts.

The prompter then chooses the pun they like best. The first person who gets 10 pairs of cards wins!

3. What Do You Meme

The “adult party game for meme lovers” is another one you can play from afar. If you’d like to show your cards, simply angle your camera so everyone can see what’s on the table. Get creative with this, and it’ll feel much more interactive.

What Do You Meme is all about matching up photo cards with caption cards to create your own meme. Similar to Cards Against Humanity (we’ve all played that, right?), the winning puns will come down to personal preference and can lead to heated debates over what’s funny and what isn’t.

Since you can only play with up to six people, it’s a great game to try on video chat without feeling too overwhelmed. Drinks, snacks, and other social distancing comfort optional.

4. Truth Or Dare

This classic game is a fun one to try from the privacy of your own home and can be played with as many people as you like. Ask your friends “truth” questions to learn more about each other, or go for a “dare” if your goal is to crack each other up. The possibilities are endless, as long as they all involve staying inside.

5. Charades

In case you need a reminder, charades is that game where you act out a word or phrase without speaking, and your teammates have to guess what it is. To do it over Zoom, simply move your camera when it’s your turn, so everyone can see what you’re doing.

You’ll need two teams, a list of suggestions, and a timer. Each person will get a chance to act out their word, while their team tries to figure it out. You might get something like “gardening,” at which point you’ll get down on your hands and knees, dig in the dirt, plant flowers, etc. Use your imagination.

You can’t, of course, mouth the answer, make noise, or use items in your room as clues. That’s some hardcore charades cheating, right there. But you can think back to your high school theater arts class, and put your old miming skills to work.

6. Dungeons & Dragons

The cool thing about D&D is it’s an imagination-based game, making it something you can easily play on Zoom until you can meet up with your friends in real life.

The majority of the work will fall on the game master (probably you) since it’ll be important to consider ways to keep everyone involved. But it can be done! Just pretend you’re all sitting around the same table, as per usual, and continue your story.

If a player needs dice to roll, they can do so online with a quick Google search. There are also fancy virtual tabletops you can try out. But you may want to keep things simple, especially if you aren’t too experienced with the game or have never tried it before, and stick to fun, light-hearted role-playing.

7. Mind Meld

Have all your friends sign on to Zoom, then take turns going in a circle while trying to “meld minds,” aka say the exact same word at the exact same time.

Two players will start by counting down from three and then saying any word that comes to mind. One player then turns to the person “next to them,” and they count down from three, then say a word that the two previous words made them think of. And so on.

It’s basically a game of word association, and if you play it right — where no one’s trying to be funny or saying random things just for a laugh — you will eventually hone in on the same word, and it’ll feel like magic.

8. Never Have I Ever

This is a classic drinking game that can be played with or without alcohol over video chat.

Have everyone hold up their hand as players take turns sharing something they’ve never done before. If someone in the circle has done it, they put a finger down (or take a drink). Go for spicy questions to keep things interesting, and to make it less likely that everyone’s done it.

Ideas: Never have I ever fainted. Never have I ever bungee jumped. Never have I ever had a paranormal experience. Never have I ever had a one-night stand.

The person with the most fingers remaining up at the end wins!

9. Quiplash

The rules of Quiplash are super easy, as there are no rules or correct answers. All you do is answer prompts within the game, then everyone votes on the wittiest answers.

According to the game’s creators, you can play with up to eight of your friends, as well as up to 10,000 participants in the in app “Audience.” Playing on a stream? Your viewers can join in and participate in the game, too.

10. 21 Questions

Woman using a laptop in the night sitting on a couch in the living room at home
Shutterstock

Get to know your friends even better by playing a game of 21 Questions. To get things started, have everyone come up with a list of 21 Qs, then roll a die, and have the person with the lower number answer first.

The person who is asking should start with easy questions, like, “What did you have for breakfast this morning?” Then move onto ones that are more risqué, if your friends are OK with that.

You can ask “what if?” questions, pose interesting scenarios, ask about dreams and fears — or whatever else sounds fun.

11. Two Truths & A Lie

Two Trusts & A Lie is another party game that focuses on telling, well, two truths and a lie. Each player will have a chance to share two facts about themselves plus something that’s entirely made up, and the goal is to correctly guess which one is the lie.

To throw everyone off, choose two truths about yourself that people might not know, or two things that seem a bit outlandish or out of character for you. Mix those in at random with a lie, which can be equally outlandish, and chances are everyone will have a hard time figuring it out!

12. Read My Lips

To play Read My Lips, have the person who is “it” turn off their microphone. They will then say a series of words in a given amount of time while everyone else reads their lips and writes down what they think they’re saying. The person with the most correct guesses is the obvious winner.

13. Pass It Along

This game is all about creating a story together, one sentence at a time. Start the story, then pass it off to another friend who will add the next sentence, then someone else will add the third sentence, and keep going until it feels like the tale has reached a natural conclusion.

You can be as serious or as silly as you want, but think about the plot, remember to add in characters and details, so the story is interesting. Try to recall what was said before you and work together to create a narrative with rising action.

For an added element, record the story and listen back afterward to hear back how utterly ridiculous it was.

14. Scavenger Hunt

If you’re hosting this event, create a list of things people may (or may not) have around their apartment. Add everyday items to the list, like a coffee mug or a box of pasta, as well as a few unique items, like an antique watch or a Slinky. Set a timer, share the list, and see who can come rushing back to Zoom with the most items on the list.

15. Drawing Challenge

Pick a category, form teams of two, and have one person from each team do a Google image search of abstract shapes or pieces of art that fall within the category.

Go into Zoom breakout rooms so you won’t be talking over each other, and then be as specific as possible as you describe the image to your partner, so they have a better shot at drawing it on a piece of paper, with paint — whatever medium you’ll all be using.

Give everyone five minutes to draw, then come back into the main chat and vote on the winner.

16. Last Letter

If you’d like to keep your brain sharp during this time of social distancing, play Last Letter with your friends. All you need to do is choose a category — ’90s movies, flowers, states, colors, etc. — and say a word within that category. The next person will say a word that starts with the last letter of your word, and on and on you’ll go until someone comes up blank. That person will then sit out the next round. Keep playing until only one player is left standing.

17. Would You Rather?

Ask each other “would you rather” type questions, such as “Would you rather have really long arms or really long legs?” or “Would you rather have super strength or super speed?” Be creative and have fun!

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, call NHS 111 in the UK or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. 

 

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