How to Play Hangman

By James Holloway
There's nothing more frustrating than coming up one letter short in a game of Hangman.

The traditional word game Hangman is not only a fun way to pass the time but also a test of spelling and vocabulary. Requiring only something to write on and something to write with, it's equally easy to play at home, in a classroom or during a long car journey.

Getting Started

To play Hangman you need something to write on. This could be a whiteboard, a notepad or just the back of an envelope -- as long as all the players can see it clearly, it will work. Hangman requires a minimum of two players; one player chooses a word and draws, while the other players will try to guess the word. Players can use any method to choose who will draw first.

Choosing a Word

The player chosen to draw first decides on a word; she then draws a number of blanks equal to the number of letters in the word at the bottom of the play area. For example, if this player chose the word "suitcase," she would draw eight blanks. The other player then tries to guess a letter that appears in the word. If there are multiple other players, they may take turns guessing or simply allow the first person who has an idea to speak.

Tightening the Noose

If the players guess a letter correctly, the drawing player fills in each blank where the letter occurs. For instance, if the players in the example guessed "S," the blanks would now read "S_ _ ___ S _." However, if they guess incorrectly, the drawing player draws part of a stick figure image of a man being hanged. This picture usually consists of 11 parts; these are the arms, body, head and legs, as well as the rope, upright, crossbar and angle of the gallows. The drawing player also writes down any letters that don't appear in the word as a reminder for future turns.

Winning and Losing

The guessing players win if they manage to guess all the letters in the word before the drawing player completes the diagram. They can do this either by guessing all the letters individually, or by guessing the word once they have enough letters to suggest it. For example, once "SU _ _ C _ S E" is filled in, the players may feel confident enough to guess that the word is "suitcase." However, if they guess the word incorrectly, the drawing player adds another line to the drawing.

Rules Variations

As a traditional game, Hangman doesn't have a fixed set of rules. Variations are common. Some versions start with the gallows already drawn, for example, and only draw the rope and body, while others lengthen the drawing by giving the hanged man facial features. Others may not penalize guessing the word wrong.

About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.