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Word Ping-Pong

father and son playing ping-pong with word WORD between their paddles, with mother looking on
No. of Players: 2+
Type of Game: written
What you need: pen and paper


To change one word into another one letter at a time.

How to play

This game is similar to Word Ladder and its variations, except it requires at least two players. It is best imagined as a verbal table tennis game which takes place on paper: one player acts as the 'server' and writes down a four-letter word. The second player 'returns' the serve by changing either the third or fourth letter of this word to spell out another word. The first player then changes the first or second letter of the new word to make a third word, and so on, until a player can no longer make a new word. The last player to make a new word earns one point. Service alternates between the players every two points. The game is won by being the first player to reach 11 points with at least a 2 point lead. If the game becomes tied at 10–10, service alternates until one player pulls ahead by 2 points. Two teams of players can be formed if more than two people want to play at the same time; in this case, players on each team would simply take turns changing letters.

Here are some additional rules to note: the first word written must be capable of being changed into another word by a change in one of its last two letters. The server of a new word can only change one of the first two letters, and the other player can only change one of the last two letters. No player can introduce the same letter more than three times in a particular position, and words can only be used once.


Amy wins the coin flip to become the first server. She writes down the word MILK. Bill can change either the L or K, and chooses to return the serve by changing the K to another L to make MILL. Amy can then change the M or the I, and chooses to change the I to an A to make MALL. Bill changes the final L to an E to make MALE, Amy changes the M to S to make SALE, Bill then makes SANE, Amy then makes CANE and so on. Here is how the game builds up:


There are many moves yet to make on both sides, but it becomes increasingly difficult because of the limitations on letter use.

Did you know?

It is generally agreed that ping-pong has its origins in the game of tennis. Particularly with Real or Court Tennis, which was popular in England and France during the 16th century. This makes sense given the similarities between the two games. The similarities can even be seen at the level of their names. Most people don't realize that Ping-Pong is actually a trademark name, originally registered in England in 1901. Which is why you see associations, clubs, and tournaments use the term table tennis, not ping-pong, in their titles.

ping-pong table with two paddles

There many interesting table tennis records listed by Guinness World Records. For instance, the longest match ever played was between Danny Price and Randy Nunes. They started on August 20, 1978 and paddled that little hollow ball back and forth for a total of 132 hours and 31 minutes, or over five and a half days!

two old-fashioned men playing ping-pong with one spectator

If you've ever tried to hit a table tennis ball for distance, you know it doesn't go very far since it is so light. So it's pretty amazing that Eric Finkelstein managed to serve a ball 51 feet and 1 inch. Eric achieved this world record distance on July 11, 2021 in Pleasantville, NY. But despite being light, a table tennis ball still travels pretty fast. How fast? Well, the fastest one ever hit was recorded in Częstochowa, Poland on June 4, 2016 by Łukasz Budner. It was clocked at 72.08 miles per hour. Heads-up!

ping-pong paddle with face hitting ball

While you might not be able to break any of these records, here's one you might try to surpass if you are good at using chopsticks: use them to see how many ping-pong balls you can catch in one minute. Current record is 32, achieved by Ashrita Fruman on May 20, 2013 in Jamaica, NY. Or if you fancy yourself an expert at bouncing balls into cups (maybe learned from a college drinking game?), try bouncing one into five cups in under 2.00 seconds. Do it and you'll steal the crown from Alikhan Kazia of Nairobi, Kenya, who achieved that exact time on June 22, 2021. Incidently, Alikha also holds two other ping-pong records in the same year: one for most serves into a cup in one minute (13), and another for most balls bounced into a cup in one minute (17).

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