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Forbidden Words

words YES and NO in forbidden sign
No. of Players: 2+
Type of Game: spoken
What you need: nothing


To answer questions without saying a particular word.

How to play

One player asks another player a series of quick questions usually answerable by a single word or set of words. However, this word or set of words has been designated as forbidden to say. The second player must therefore think of alternative ways to answer the questions, and must do so both quickly and verbally. For instance, if the forbidden word is yes, the answerer could not simply nod his head. Likewise, if the forbidden word is the name of a person who happens to be in the same room, finger pointing is not allowed. The game is won by the answerer if he successfully answers questions for, say, one minute without saying the forbidden word. But if the questioner trips up the answerer, he loses. Alternatively, two players can question each other in turn until only one is left standing. In rounds where there are multiple answerers and a single questioner, the questioner asks questions of each of them in turn. Answerers who make mistakes, or take too long to answer, are eliminated until there is only one answerer left: the winner. Winners go on to become questioners in the next round.

To prolong gameplay, each player is given five toothpicks or similar items. Players then alternate the questioner role until one player makes a mistake. Each time a player makes a mistake, that player is given a toothpick by the questioner. The winner is the first player to get rid of all his toothpicks.


Artie and Betsy agree that the forbidden words will be yes and no. Synonyms of these words can only be used once. The rapid questioning will be for one minute. Artie wins the coin toss to become the first questioner.

Artie: Does the US have fifty states?
Betsy: Certainly.
Artie: Are you positive?
Betsy: Positive.
Artie: Have you ever been to New York City?
Betsy: One time.
Artie: So just one time?
Betsy: It was more than zero and less than two.
Artie: There is a number between zero and two?
Betsy: All people agree this is the case.
Artie: Are you good at math?
Betsy: Not really.
Artie: You like English better?
Betsy: Much better.
Artie: Are you sure?
Betsy: I'm sure.
Artie: Do you really?
Betsy: Yes, I really...
Artie: Ha! Gotcha! You lasted less than 30 seconds. Another round?

And so on.

Did you know?

The historical origins of the question mark is (pardon the pun) a bit of a question mark.

scroll with letters and words QUESTIO, QO, and ?

One theory says that scholars in the Middle Ages would write the Latin word quaestio at the end of a sentence to show it was a question. Since this was rather cumbersome to write out each time, it was eventually abbreviated. First to qo, then to q on top of o, and finally into the "?" symbol we know today. This is much like how our own cursive signature, which we once perfected in third grade, eventually morphed into the squiggly lines we now use as adults. But alas, there is little evidence to back up this theory.

cat with tail in shape of question mark, with Egyptian pyramids

A competing theory, also unsubstantiated, argues that the curve of the question mark traces back to the ancient Egyptians. Since Egyptians were famed for their worship of cats, it makes sense they would have been inspired by the similar shape of an inquisitive cat's tail.

man thinking, with question marks

In the end, perhaps it's appropriate this question remains a mystery. What do you think?

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