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10 childhood school and playground games no-one born after 2000 will have played

Playground Games

Heads Down Thumbs Up

The ultimate classroom game.

The teacher chose four pupils to stand at the front, while everyone else put their heads on their desk, closed their eyes, and put their thumbs up on the desk.

The chosen four then tip-toed around the room and each pressed down the thumbs of one person, and returned to the front of the class.

Now the four who had their thumbs pressed down had to guess who had chosen them.

It was a game of tension, basic psychology and suspicion. And it was great.

We didn’t know it at the time, but our primary school teacher was really getting us to play this to give them a bit of peace and quiet. And it worked.

The silent anticipation of hoping to have your thumbs pressed down was equalled only by the tension when you tried to stare out the suspects standing by the blackboard.

Good times.


Another game of tension, although this was because there was something at stake.

You would show up at lunch with your brightest and most beautiful marbles, and battle with all-comers, hoping to claim theirs and not lose yours.

Playing marbles was pretty simple.

Both players start by throwing their marbles on the ground and then taking turns at trying to reach, and hit, the other person’s marble.

You could play ‘friendlies’ or ‘for keeps’.

The latter was a very serious business, meaning that if you lost, the marble was no longer yours.

It could be argued that it was a form of gambling, but it was also a skill game.

What it did teach you at an early age was the frustration of losing something valuable to you.

Click here to read ’10 things teenagers have never heard of’


Like marbles and conkers, playing Pogs was a ruthless exercise.

To play, players stacked up their circular Pogs face up into one stack.

Players then took it in turns to slam the large plastic ‘slammer’ Pogs on to the pile.

The ones that flipped upside down were claimed by the slammer, and the rest would be added back into the pile for the next player.

It was a merciless game where you had very little control over which Pogs you lost or won.

Alternatively, you could just collect and trade them – that was a lot of fun too.

Killer Blink

Killer Blink was a real game of theatrics – and murder!

One person was secretly chosen by the teacher to be the killer, while another was openly picked to be the detective.

Now the detective had to work out who the killer was, while the killer went about his duty killing people.

It all sounds pretty grisly, but really it was very understated.

The killer claimed his victims with a forceful blink.

That blink was enough to send the victim falling lifeless into their desk, and no doubt grabbing the attention of the detective.

The detective had to shout out the name of the killer before all the classmates were blinked at.

The best games would last for ages as an increasingly desperate detective would start panicking as the death toll rose.


One of the all-time classic outdoor games.

Conkers was pretty brutal, but a lot of fun.

The first act of playing conkers was the preparation, which had its own excitement and anticipation.

You had to collect fallen conkers from trees, pierce a hole through them, and feed in the string that would act as a handle.

Finding a huge conker was always a cause for excitement, and veterans of the game would soak them in vinegar to give them a layer of coated armour.

After days or weeks of careful preparation, battle would commence as two rivals would take turns to batter their conker into their opponent’s.

Not the most subtle end to all that creativity, but a lot of fun!

Cat’s cradle

This one was pretty much exclusively played by the girls.

Cat’s cradle was a real skill-based game, and probably the most impressive on this list.

To the untrained eye, those taking part would be aimlessly wrapping their hands up in string. But what was really going on was pure poetry.

Just as the fingers looked hopefully doomed in a stringy trap, the hands would pull back and reveal the finished Eiffel Tower, tea cup, or witches broom creation.


British Bulldog

This game really separated the men from the boys.

It starts with one or two people as the “bulldogs” and the rest as, well, people.

The people line up against one wall and have to run to the other. The bulldog has to tag them…or rugby tackle them, depending on how rough the game is.

If anyone is stopped before reaching the far wall, they become bulldogs.

The game continues until there is only one person left – and they’ve won.

The game is mainly played in Commonwealth countries, although it has also sprung up in New England, USA, where it is known as “cock-a-rooster”.

The rougher version of the game is often banned from schools.

Too many skint knees.

Hand clapping

“A sailor went to sea, sea, sea. To see what he could see, see, see. But all that he could see, see, see. Was the bottom of the great blue sea, sea, sea.”

This was another game mostly played by girls, and another intricate and skilful one.

Kids sat or stood facing each other and mixed clapping their hands and singing with clapping each other’s hands.

The songs were usually annoyingly catching, but the routines could be pretty elaborate and impressive to watch.


This game requires balance, dexterity, fitness and timing. It is not an easy game.

Players mark out a grid and number the squares. The first person has to throw a stone onto the first square. He or she then has to jump through the whole course set out, without touching the square with the stone in it.

They the have to return down the course and pick up the stone before finishing up.

Then the same person has to throw it on to the second square and do the same again.

You win when you have done this with every square.

That’s the easy part.

What makes this game so tough is that your turn is over if the stone you throw touches the edge of the lines of the box, or if your foot does the same while you hopscotch.

Depending on the number of players, it can take a whole lunch time to complete the game, so often the winner was just the person who was furthest ahead when the bell rang.

Noughts and crosses

The ultimate battle of wits – until both players learned how to cancel each other out.

It’s fair to say that most games of noughts and crosses end in draws.

But it’s just about the easiest game to set up and play – provided you’ve a pen and paper.