© 1996 by Dan Kimberg and Yuko Munakata

Welcome to the Celebrity Page!

Celebrity is a party game for 9-20 people. You may have played a similar game under a different name, or a different game under the same name. Or you might never have played any game with any resemblance to it whatsoever.

Disclaimer: Celebrity is a pretty sedate game in that it doesn't involve heavy drinking, recreational drugs, emergency medical services, etc. At least not necessarily. It's probably not a good drinking game, and in general if there are a lot of drunk people at your party, it's probably not going to fly. On the other hand, if your plan is more along the lines of having a dozen or so friends over for dinner, Celebrity might be fun. Especially if I'm going to be there.

The Celebrity Page is part of the Useless Page Project ®.


You will need:

(The general idea is that you should have enough stuff for the number of people you have. If you have ten people, you will probably only need ten pens or pencils, although you can get by with fewer if people can share. Of course, if you're using pencils, someone will probably snap off a point or two, so you might want to have an extra. Pens can also run out of ink, start leaking, etc. For additional information on this topic, consult your writing implement manufacturer, local library, or consumer advocacy group.)

Before the game really starts, a little preparation is needed:

  1. Everyone in the room gets a sheet of paper, to be divided into eight smaller pieces.
  2. Everyone writes one name on each piece of paper.
  3. All the pieces of paper are placed into a hat.
  4. Teams are selected randomly.
Now you're ready to play.


The basic idea is that the hat (or whatever the paper slips are in) passes around the room clockwise, from team to team. On each team's turn, one player is selected to give clues (a different player each time, teams are expected to rotate their players in sequence). That player is given one minute to try to make his/her teammates guess as many names from the hat as they can. The team's score for each turn is the number of names correctly identified during that turn, minus any penalties. When there are no slips left, or when no one feels like playing anymore, the team with the most points wins.

What's a legal clue?

The most important and most obvious rule is that, when giving clues, you're not allowed to say any part of the name itself. So if the name is John Doe, you can't say, "Jane Doe's brother," but you can say, "that name they give to unidentified people." A corollary to this is that you also can't give direct clues about the spelling or pronunciation (i.e., surface form) of the name. That is, you can't say, "the last name begins with D," or "last name begins with the same letter as Denver." Both of these are direct in the sense that you yourself would be providing the surface feature you're trying to convey. On the other hand, you could say "the last name begins with the same letter as the name of that cartoon flying elephant."

An alternative rule is that no name whatsoever may be given as a clue. In other words, your clue for Elmer Fudd can't involve actually saying "Bugs." Try the game both ways and do whatever you like best.

The penalty for giving an illegal clue is 1 point. If, during the course of a turn, your team guesses the first name, you give an illegal clue for the second name, and then you run out of time while giving clues for the third, your team's total score for that turn is 0.

What's a legal name?

The name of any person or animal, fictional or real, is legal. Characters in movies, novels, songs, or television shows are all legal. Celebrities, relatives, imaginary friends, and pets are all legal. Pets in songs are legal. Imaginary friends of real friends are legal. Plants are... well, plants are borderline, but Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors is clearly legal. The major proviso is that at least two other people in the room have to know the entire name. If you decide to use the name of your second grade teacher, or the author of an obscure technical reference, you'd better take a long hard look around the room first.

It is considered poor form, and possibly a violation of house rules, to use a name well-known to a clearly defined proper subset of the players. For example, if the players are mostly members of a psychology department, plus a few spouses or other friends, don't pick names known only to psychologists, and don't use the name of the department's computer support person, unless s/he is a world-famous computer support person.

What's a good name?

Tastes differ, but some things are definitely not a good name. A good name is not the name of somebody in the room, since gestures are perfectly legal. A good name is not somebody for whom an incredibly obvious clue exists (e.g., "the president"). The game is no fun if the hat is packed with gimmes. On the other hand, you have to pick names people have heard of, so you can't get too obscure. I personally lean towards names that people know but haven't thought of in a while - names that are moderately well known but often forgotten. For example, actors in old TV shows are often good. But don't fall into the trap of using the same names over and over (especially Dick York).

What counts as a correct answer?

If someone wrote down George Herbert Stanley Edward Herbert Walker Dweezil Herbert Bush XIV, are you obligated to get your entire team to guess the name as it's written? The anwer to this question is: it depends. If the individual is or was well known by the entire name as written, then you have to get it all. On the other hand, you don't have to know the middle names of actors who don't use their middle names, even if they mentioned it on Entertainment Tonight last week. And nobody's required to know what all the R's in J.R.R. Tolkien stand for, although to get it right you have to produce the right number of them.

What happens if an illegal name screws up someone's entire turn?

If you draw an illegal name in the middle of a turn, you have two choices: you can contest it immediately, or you can try to get your team to guess it. If you contest it, the clock is stopped while things are sorted out. In this case, I favor a fifteen second penalty if the name turns out to be legal, and a two point penalty for whoever submitted it if the name turns out to be bogus. Of course, if that illegal name was submitted by someone on your team, you're out of luck.

If you decide not to challenge it, or not immediately, and it screws up your turn, I suggest that you ask the timekeeper to estimate how much time you lost, and play that out, with a two point penalty to the offender.

What do you do with the name you're working on when time runs out?

Put it back in the hat.

Why 9-20 players?

It's good to have at least three teams, and four is better. With only two teams, half the names picked will have been submitted by someone on the team guessing. This is less fun, so you'd like to have it happen less often. You also want at least three on a team, because two is just silly.

What are my obligations if I play Celebrity?

If you play celebrity because you saw this page, and have a great time, you're obligated to send me email.


Obviously, you can manipulate the length of the game by giving everyone more or fewer slips of paper at the beginning, or by giving more or less than a minute per turn. Ten slips of paper will kill a few hours pretty handily.

A fun thing to do after all the slips have run out is to put the slips back into the hat and play again with single-word clues. Players take turns drawing a single slip of paper from the hat and giving just one word as a clue. This time, names are allowed, but all the other restrictions stand. Members of any team can guess, and the first correct answer gets a point. You can try either passing the hat after every clue or letting a player keep picking names until no one gets it. It's probably fairer to keep passing the hat, as the team with the hat is short one guesser, and this can be a bigger problem if the teams are uneven.

Finally, we once played with the following rule: if it's your birthday, you can get away with one bogus name. The bogus name on this occasion turned out to be "Jurgen Hösenflüegen." Like I said, we only used the rule once.