Throwing Fingers: Odd & Even
by Patrick Matthews
Here’s a quick and easy game that I introduced to a class of second-graders to help them remember odd and even. I showed them how to play during class, but the strength of the game is that it persisted beyond class, and ended up getting played both at home and on the playground. Not only that, but I’m happy to report that they can now all spot an odd number without even a moment’s hesitation.
Setting up the game
In theory, you could play this game with as many players as you like, but the practical limit is four players. Once you get beyond that, things get unwieldy. To start, players simply shout out “odd” or “even” to determine which side they are. In a two player game, the first player to shout gets that team and the other player has to be the other team. Once teams have been devised, players stand or sit facing each other.
You don’t have to have the “odds” face the “evens.” they can be all mixed up.
Remember Rock, Paper, Scissors? It’s the same idea. Each player holds one closed fist over an open hand. Players chant together “one, two, three, shoot!” as they smack their closed fists on top of their open hands. By the time they get to “shoot” they should be moving their fists in time with each other. When the players say “shoot,” they stick either one or two fingers out of their closed fist.
Now count the total number of fingers sticking out on all the players. If it’s odd, the odd players win. If it’s even, the even players win.
If you’d like to add a little zip to the game, add some jargon. Sticking one finger out is called “throwing a one.” Sticking two fingers out is called “throwing a two.”
The Educational Value
While the strategy here is pretty much the same as with Rock, Paper, Scissors, this game also gets players thinking in terms of numbers. What happens if you add an odd number to an odd number? Is the result even? How about when an even number is added to an even number? What about three odds?
It’s fascinating watching kids play this game. Initially, everyone tends to throw their own. Odds throw ones and evens throw twos. In two-player games, this means the odds win. As the odds change their approach, the strategy kicks in. The players start laughing and trying to second-guess each other. There’s something nonsensical about throwing an even number when you’re odd, and that nonsense can be appealing.
The Game’s Origins
This game is a variation of an Italian game called Morra. I simplified it by reducing the number of fingers that can be thrown. This change both reduces complexity and prevents new players from freezing up and not throwing any fingers. Also, eliminating the option of throwing “zero fingers” forces kids to participate and prevents the “slow throw” cheat, where you put out a closed fist and then extend a single finger (or not), based on the other fingers being shown.