The following is an extract from the most excellent book “Playfair – everybody’s guide to non-competive play” by Matt Weinstein and Joel Goodman. It is out of print but you can still get it used in the USA for the cost of shipping at

How to get people into pairs

There are many random ways to partner people up. The more specific you can be about your instructions, the more comfortable the players will be. Here are a few examples:

  • Put either your left thumb or your right pinky in the air, and get together with one other person who is doing the same thing you are.
  • Put from zero to five fingers in the air, and find one other partner so that when you add your fingers to that person’s fingers you get an even number.
  • Check to see whether you are wearing a belt or not. Find one other partner who, like you, is or is not wearing a belt.
  • Find a partner who is wearing within two the same number of rings as you are.
  • Start hopping around on either your right or your left foot, and find a partner who is hopping with the same foot as you are.
  • Find a partner who has a different number of brothers and sisters than you do.
  • Find a partner who is wearing one item of clothing the same color as you are.

There are many elements at play here: people looking carefully at each other, calling out things, moving around, raising their hands into the air – and you can decide which of those works best for your particular group and environment.

How to get people into groups or team

Giving a “forced choice” and letting people select their teams simultaneously is an anxiety-free way of getting groups formed. For example: imagine that you could go on a vacation to the tropics whenever you wanted to. If you’d rather go to Hawaii, go over there; if you want to go to Puerto Rico, over here; and if you want to go to Mozambique, over there.” If the size of your group does matter, then you can always arbitrarily select the number of people in excess in one group and send them as “delegates” to another. If you want to release somewhat more energy during the formation of the groups, you can let the groups sort themselves out without giving them specific meeting points. For example: decide if you would like to eat a banana, a peach, or a bunch of grapes right now. Get together in one large group with everyone else who wants to eat the same thing you do!” Your choice of images from which people may choose should be tailored to the group with which you are working.