Introduction: The Doodle Game

About: I'm a professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University. I do a lot of hobbies, including amateur astronomy, woodworking, and Lego modeling among many others.

The most awesome thing about paper is how ubiquitous it is -- there is always some around, and invariably, you can find a writing utensil as well. That makes it an almost perfect medium for just about anything from writing the next paragraph of the Greatest Novel, to making art, to entertaining yourself.

Let's consider entertainment in this Instructable, in particular games. Simple paper games are great because they can be played anywhere without boards or game pieces. Most of us have played Tic-Tac-Toe or Dots-And-Boxes, but those are competitive head to head games, and can be too simple for some grown-ups to enjoy.

This Instructable describes a favorite game among our family and friends that is creative, non-competitive, and can be played anywhere to pass the time. We particularly enjoy it when we are hanging out in coffee shops or restaurants waiting for our meals, as it can easily be played on the backs of napkins. We call it "The Doodle Game" or "The Napkin Game."

Step 1: Basic Premise

The basic premise of the game is one player makes a simple random squiggle or doodle, and the second player turns it into a picture.

The materials are simple:

  • paper, or something to write on. We use napkins in restaurants a lot
  • writing utensil.

If you have two different color pens, it can be fun -- it lets you clearly see the seed doodle and what it becomes.

Step 2: Player One

The first person makes a small random doodle, without lifting their pen. We call this the seed doodle.

There are a variety of ways to draw the seed doodle. My goal is simply to provide something that my drawing partners can be creative with -- the fun is seeing what they turn it into, so the more "useable" a doodle is, the better.

Sometimes I close my eyes, and just let the pen wander. Sometimes I purposefully make something I think will be hard to turn into a picture. Sometimes I make a mix of curves and straight lines, or corners and curves.

Step 3: Player Two

The second person takes the piece of paper, and with whatever lines they care to draw, add to the seed doodle to create a picture. We usually make the rule that the seed doodle cannot be covered by the new lines added!

If the second person uses a different color pen, you can always see the seed doodle, and the magic that results!

When I'm turning a doodle into a picture, sometimes something strikes me immediately, but other times I find it useful to completely turn the doodle around at least once, looking at it from every side; the different perspectives often spark a creative idea.

Step 4: Last Notes

Play continues until you run out of paper, or until your dinner arrives. :-)

When we're done, we usually write the name of the people playing, date, time, and place the game was played in the corner, and I tape the game in my journal.

This is a great game to play with your kids, even if they are young. When my daughter was in early elementary school, it was hard to convince her to make simple seed doodles; she was fascinated by the challenge of making something so complicated that I might not be able to turn it into a picture!

My advice is be tolerant and just have fun. :-)

Paper Contest 2018

Participated in the
Paper Contest 2018