It Happened in Windham: Parlor games for snowy days

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These days, when we have a big snowstorm and we’re stuck inside, there are plenty of things to do. We can plug in a movie, binge-watch our favorite TV show, play a video or board game or pull out a deck of cards. But what would the people of Windham have done in the late 19th century when they were isolated in their homes during a winter storm? They would probably play some parlor games to keep the children occupied while the storm raged outside. These games became popular in the Victorian era and I’ll introduce you to a few of them today.

The Minister’s Cat

This simple word game is fun for old and young alike. Players go through the alphabet using adjectives that describe the minister’s pet. The first player has the letter “a,” so he might say, “The minister’s cat is an adorable cat.” The next person in line, with the letter “b.” He might say, “The minister’s cat is a beautiful cat.” The game continues in this manner until someone is stumped by a letter. The game can end there or play can begin again with another adjective beginning with “a.”

Crambo

Another word game that many people found amusing was Crambo. One person  would leave the room while the remaining players chose a word for the missing person to guess. Let’s say the word was “pickle.” The first player would be brought back into the room while other players gave clues using words that rhyme with “pickle,” such as “tickle,” “trickle,” maybe even “pumpernickel.” When the word was figured out, another player left the room and a new word was chosen.

The Traveler’s Alphabet

This is a more challenging word game and would most likely have been played with the older children in the family. To begin play, one person would choose a place beginning with the letter “a.” That player would say, for example, “I am going to Amsterdam.” The player to his left would ask, “And what will you do in Amsterdam?” The first player must use an adverb, a verb, an adjective and a noun, all beging with “a” to answer the question, something like, “I shall actively acquire amazing anemones.” The player to his left then takes on the letter “b.” The game continues in this way until someone is stumped, usually on the Q, X and Z, of course, the hardest to figure out.

The Endless Story

This game was perfect for children who showed a knack for creativity. One person would volunteer to be the timekeeper and he would also have a bell. When he rang the bell, the first of the players would begin a story. At the conclusion of precisely one minute, the timekeeper would again ring the bell and the next player would continue the story exactly where the first person left off, even if the first player was in the middle of a sentence. The game continues until everyone in the room had spun a part of the tale. Then the first player would take over again and finish the yarn.

These parlor games could easily be an entertaining way to pass the time on a 21st century snow day, too. Instead of watching “Frozen” for the 35th time, why not do as the people of 19th century Windham did? Try playing a game that requires a little thought and lets you use your imagination.

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and an active member of the Windham Historical Society.

The Victorian parlor was the ideal place to play parlor games during severe winter weather. 

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