Having researched dozens of antique books on Victorian parlor games, looking for suitable party game ideas for my children, I regularly come across games that seem bizarre. The following games are a sample of those Victorian parlor games that have safety issues, appear unnecessarily embarrassing to the participants or have other unusual characteristics by today’s standards.
Poor Pussy Cat
The first game, “Poor Pussy Cat”, would come under the general heading, today, of “embarrassing yourself”. Indeed there are many examples of these types of games, which today only the very young would play, whereby the main object of the game (activity) is to act in a highly unusual manner for the amusement of the party. In Victorian times these ’embarrassing’ games were regularly played by adults (both young and old).
The actual game of Poor Pussy Cat is played by selecting one member of the group to be the Poor Pussy Cat. The selected person, playing the Cat’s role, then goes around the room on all fours purring and rubbing up against people, just like a cat. The main goal of the other ‘players’ is to stoke the Cat and utter the phrase “Poor Pussy Cat”, keeping a straight face all of the time. Should one of the party, stroking the Cat, smile or laugh then they would take the ‘Cats’ place and the game continues.
This Victorian parlor game, usually played in the winter months especially around Christmas, typifies the ‘Dangerous’ category of bizarre parlor games. The game is simple enough to play in that raisons are placed in Brandy which is then set on fire and the party guests have to pluck out a raison and pop it in their mouth. For extra ‘affect’ this game is played in a darkened room to give the individuals a devilish appearance as flames come from their fingers and mouth. The raison is ‘extinguished’ when it is in a closed mouth although there are reports of burning to both the fingers and face of those playing. Here are a few lines from a popular song (meant to be sung when playing the game), which further illustrate the experience and “fun” which can had with this simple game:-
With his blue and lapping tongue
Many of you will be stung,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
For he snaps at all that comes
Snatching at his feast of plums,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Are you there, Moriarty?
The final game on my list of bizarre Victorian parlor games typifies the brawling activities that so many of the young Victorian males entered into to impress girls at parties (some things never change!). I have come across other versions of this particular game, also called “Blind Man’s Biff” as well as games with a small variation which also involved men hitting each other with rolled up newspapers or cushions.
The game “Are you there, Moriarty?” is played as follows. Two people (usually males) lay face down on the floor opposite each other (stretched in a manner in which their feet are as far away from each other as possible). They then hold each other’s left hand, which is outstretched so that they move their heads as far away from each other as possible. The players are then given a roiled up newspaper, which they hold in their right hand. One of the players then asks the question “Are you there Moriarty?” to which his opponent responds ‘Yes”. On hearing the response and using the vocal cue as an indicator as to the whereabouts of his opponent’s head, the first player then attempts to hit his opponent on the head. This action is then repeated with the roles reversed, so that the hitting alternates. As noted, in many of the write ups I have read about this type of game, the activity is played more for the amusement of the audience rather than as a sporting challenge for the participants.
There are many examples of similarly bizarre games that I could have cited for my list, but to be fair to the Victorians they did not have Radio, let alone TV and the Internet so truly they did have to “make their own amusement” and by all accounts they were thoroughly occupied and entertained by these activities: So who am I to judge?