This year for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I’m writing about the 1800s in celebration of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s race around the world in 1889, the subject of my new novel based on this adventure: Liz and Nellie.


Nellie Bly board game

What to do when there is no Netflix, cable or even rabbit ears for your TV? People back in the 1800s used to socialize a bit more than we do today, and one of those ways to pass the time was through parlor games. A well-equipped parlor came with plenty of chairs for company, a table for games and a piano forte. What games? Tiddledy winks, board games, card games such as whist, as well as verbal games of logic. (If you’ve ever been part of a church youth group, chances are you’ve played some version of these old games like Wink Murder and Do You Love Your Neighbor?)

On their respective trips around the world, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland played games aboard ship to pass the time. On New Year’s Eve 1889 Nellie Bly’s table played singing games, including one that sounded like a sneeze:

As we sat around the table the doctor gave us each a word to say, such as Ish! Ash! Osh! Then when we were sure of our word, it coming in rotation around the circle, he told us to shout the words in unison when he gave the signal. We did, and it made one great big sneeze–the most gigantic and absurd sneeze I ever heard in my life.

New York World newspaper printed a game board of Nellie Bly’s trip around the world. It was then made into a colorful board game that you can often find for sale on Ebay (not cheap!)

For more games and rules:

Victorian Parlour Games

10 Weird Parlour Games Played Before TV Existed



This other P word was too good to pass up. Another 1800s pastime I’d never heard of before involved a philopena:

The hurricane deck was a great resort for lovers, so Chief Officer Sleeman told me; and evidently he knew, for he talked a great deal about two American girls who had traveled to Egypt, I believe, on the Thames when he was first officer of it. He had lost their address but his heart was true, for he had lost a philopoena to one and though he did not know her habitation he bought the philopoena and put it in a bank in London where it awaits some farther knowledge of the fair young American’s whereabouts. – Nellie Bly

This took some digging for me to find out what a philopena was. Here are the best explanations I could find as gathered on Wordnik:

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A game in which a person, on finding a double-kernelled almond or nut, may offer the second kernel to another person and demand a playful forfeit from that person to be paid on their next meeting. The forfeit may simply be to exchange the greeting “Good-day, Philopena” or it may be more elaborate. Philopenas were often played as a form of flirtation.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A custom or game of reputed German origin: two persons share a nut containing two kernels, and one of them incurs the obligation of giving something as forfeit to the other, either by being first addressed by the latter with the word philopena at their next meeting, or by receiving something from the other’s hand, or by answering a question with yes or no, or by some other similar test as agreed upon.

Another source I read which is no longer online explained that the game was flirtatious, and that the person who won should not say exactly what they wanted, but hint at with a clue such as: “I wear size 6 gloves.”



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