What could be simpler than a game that requires no equipment, except for a set of limbs, facial muscles, and a mouth, tongue and vocal cords for shouting out guesses? Charades is a game in which one player wordlessly pantomimes a word or phrase drawn from a hat -- often the title of a book or movie -- for teammates to try to guess.
The origins of charades are a bit obscure; the name may come from the Italian word schiarare, which means "to disentangle," or schiarato, which translates as "clear" or "unraveled" [source: Cantab]. But by the late 1800s, it had become a popular pastime among affluent ladies' luncheon groups and gatherings of male artists and intellectuals alike. An 1896 dispatch published in The New York Times bemusedly describes a club of young male intellectuals in Chicago who staged regular public events, in which they pantomimed current events suggested to them by members of the audience [source: The New York Times].
But while the rules of charades are relatively simple -- basically, you can't speak what you are trying to convey, or use gestures to spell it out -- the game can be devilishly difficult, if it's played by competitors who delight in filling the hat with exceedingly complex or obscure words or phrases, or ones that are too abstract to portray visually with ease.