The Game of Telephone

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

The Game of Telephone

December 28, 2014

Have you ever played the game of Telephone? In a group of people, one person thinks of something secret to say, and whispers it to next person. That person whispers it to the next person, who whispers it to the next, until finally the last person says to everyone what he or she heard. The thing is, people don’t always hear the whisper right, so they end up passing on something different. The sentence at the end is never anything like how it started. The world record for the most people playing this silly game happened in 2008, when 1,330 kids in England played at a stadium. The starting sentence was “Together we can make a difference,” which is a real mouthful…small surprise that it turned into all kinds of other words, like “We’re going to break a world record” and “Everybody is evil” and finally just “Haaaaa!” when it finished over 2 hours later. Try the game sometime, and see if you and your friends can do any better!

Wee ones: How many words are there in “Play the game of Telephone!”?

Little kids: If you play this game with 7 friends, how many of you are playing?  Bonus: How many whispers to other people will happen?

Big kids: If in the record-breaker every 3rd player added a wrong word, starting with the 3rd person, which player would have been the 8th person to mess it up?  Bonus: How many mess-ups would there have been by the 1200th player?

The sky’s the limit: If a group of 10 people play, and it starts with just 1 word but the 2nd person adds 2 more words, then the 3rd person adds 3 more words, and so on…how many words does the final sentence have?




Wee ones: 5 words.

Little kids: 8 people in total.  Bonus: Just 7, since the 8th (last) person says it to the whole group.

Big kids: The 24th player.  Bonus: 400 mess-ups!

The sky’s the limit: 55 words. This is a “triangle number,” the type of number you get when you stack 1 item on a row of 2, on top of a row of 3, etc. to make a nice neat triangle. For any number n across the bottom, the total will be n x (n+1) then cut in half.

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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