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Fun and games

By Ann Mroz

It's late afternoon on Christmas Day and everyone is stuffed and just wants to snooze. It's a time of peace and goodwill to all men. Unfortunately, no one told your little angels. Out come all those new games Santa brought them, as well as that vicious competitive streak that may, or may not, have lain dormant for the rest of the year.

More than 100 years ago, at Christmas everyone would have gathered in the parlour to play charades, Twenty Questions or the delightfully named Dumb Crambo from which many of today's games derive. Nowadays, though, families just congregate round the television.

So it is not surprising that the first of the games featured here is based on a TV quiz show. Countdown from Spear's Games (Pounds 16.50; from age 10-plus) requires its two to six players to unscramble words - crossword enthusiasts are at a definite advantage. Here is your chance to be Carol Vorderman!

My children, a six and a 10-year-old, loved trying to make words out of jumbled-up consonants and vowels. The six-year-old surprised us all by coming up with a six-letter word when the rest of us could only come up with five-letter - and a few four-letter - ones. The mathematical gymnastics that are a vital part of Countdown (the programme) are not forgotten - you get the answer but have to come up with the sum using given numbers - and the much loved Countdown conundrum was there to baffle us all.

Again puzzling to the adults was a game the six-year-old turned into an art form. The skills you need for Articulate (from Drummond Park Ltd, Pounds 24.75, age 12-plus, four to 20-plus players) include an ability to talk 19-to-the-dozen as well as extensive general knowledge. You describe to your team members as many words as you can in one of six categories in the allotted time (an egg timer is provided) without using sound-like clues or saying what letter the word starts with.

All the words the six-year-old described (he was allowed to choose only the ones he recognised) involved frenzied flapping of the arms. Even reading the words correctly proved a problem at times. "You have them running down the outside of the house and, and (flap, flap) they've got water in them." Yes, you've guessed it - a pip! The 10-year-old displayed a keen awareness of our sporting legends. The description "a famous boxer" elicited the response "Bruce Forsyth". You can just picture him stepping into the ring with Joe Bugner - "Nice to see you, to see you nice." Smack.

An easier - and cheaper - way to play this game with small children is to get everyone to write words on scraps of paper and put them into a hat to be pulled out at random and answered within a time limit. This way the words can be tailored to the ages of the children involved (many of the words in Articulate c would be difficult for anyone under 16). With Rapidough there is more fun to be had guessing at words (The London Game Co Ltd, Pounds 24.75, four or more players, from eight to 80), but this time they have to be fashioned out of Play-Doh. A sausage? Easy-peasy. A snake? No sweat. Gravity? Huh?

Children, however, can always rise to a challenge and the 10-year-old, in what would have to be generously interpreted as a re-enactment of Newton's apple falling from the tree, dropped a large ball of Play-Doh from a great height on to her brother's head. Luckily some nice sharp sticks are provided for retaliation - and for picking all those bits of Play-Doh out of the carpet later.

For Butthead (Pounds 9.99) all you need are two players (even the dog will do) and very little skill. This is the game children will no doubt love to inflict on aged grandparents as they snore contentedly in their armchairs after Christmas dinner. Each player dons a pink and yellow Velcro hat (guaranteed to make everyone look like Benny Hill) and throws soft sponge balls at the other's head. Great fun.

Apart from Butthead, all the games were supplied by the John Lewis Partnership which has 23 branches across the UK. It specialises in traditional toys and games

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