Advice From 1891 – No Electricity Entertainment | Anyclean

updated: 20/11/2023

If you are lucky enough to get hold of either The Cyclopedia of Universal Knowledge printed in the USA in 1891, or else the selection of advice and advice collected and edited from this in Remedies, Potions and Razzmatazz by Don Roberts, you are in for a treat of advice and amusement. For those who aren’t so lucky to find these books, here is a summary of some household tips from 1891.You used to hear of older people sniffing disdainfully at television and movies (nowadays, you’d add in DVD players, computer games and PlayStations), with the words “In my day, we made our own entertainment.” Did you ever wonder what they did when they made their own entertainment? Cards, billiards and dancing may spring to mind, but these were once considered to be “worldly” and not for respectable people. What did they do?

Here are some of the things they did. These might prove useful to entertain children – or even older people (although you may need to ply them with enough alcohol to get rid of some inhibitions first).

Buff with the Wand:

Requires a blindfold and a stick. One person is blindfolded and holds the stick. Everyone else gets in a circle around him/her and while the music plays, they move around the person who is It (the original called for skipping around while holding hands – yes, adults included). When the music stops, everyone stands still, and It points the stick at random at part of the circle. The person closest to it grabs the end of the stick and makes an animal noise. The blindfolded person then has to guess who is making the animal noise. A correct guess means that the person who made the noise is now It and must wear the blindfold. An incorrect guess means that the blindfolded person is It for another round. This game is also called “Squeak, Piggy, Squeak” but this version limits the animal noises to pig grunts.


Variations on this game have been turned into TV game shows. This is the original. Divide into two teams. The team who is “in” selects a word that can be divided into syllables or smaller words that make sense by themselves (e.g. the word “particle” can be split into “party” and “kill”, while “gangrene” can be split into “gang” and “green”). The team who is “in” lets the other team know how many syllables (or lesser words) the word has, then acts out each lesser word, and finally the whole word. The other team guesses what the whole word is. Then the teams swap places. The acting is usually done in mime, but you can agree to allow dialogue and/or sound effects. Elaborate props and costumes were used in the past, although modern ones usually just mime. An example of how to play charades in this way is described in Jane Eyre, where Mr Rochester’s team acts out the word “Bridewell” (a famous British prison). Good words for charades include: pyrethrum (pie/pi, wreath, rum), godfather (God, father), pirate (pie/pi, rat), hedgehog (hedge, hog) and carpet (car, pet). How to act them out is up to your imagination and ingenuity, and English contains many other possibilities. For a real challenge, you can do bilingual charades where either the lesser words or the whole word can be in English or one other (agreed upon) language.


Have the video camera handy for this one. Put a small circle of chairs close together facing inwards, close enough so the people sitting on them have their knees almost touching. The “referee” (who isn’t sitting on a chair) drops a fluffy feather into the group. The contestants have to stop the feather landing on them and make it land on someone else, but are only allowed to blow the feather. If the feather lands on someone, he/she pays a forfeit.

Comic Concert: Another one to get on video. Sit in a circle. One person is the band leader; everyone else is the band. The leader tells each player what instrument they have. Then at the leader’s signal, everyone begins to “play” their invisible instrument, making the right noises and doing the right movements. Whenever s/he likes, the leader can take over someone’s instrument – e.g. instead of “playing” the violin, the leader begins to play the drums. The former “drummer” then has to take over the violin. Swap band leaders from time to time.

Mixed up poetry: This may be best kept to scholarly types or as a classroom exercise. All you have to do is take lines from different poems and stick them together so that they “go” together. The original version looks at rhyme only, but rhythm can be considered. The aim is to end up with something like the following examples (one using rhyme; the other, rhythm):

“There was a sound of revelry by night/Away down south where I was born./Let dogs delight to bark and bite/Cows in the meadow and sheep in the corn.”

“The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold with his cohorts all gleaming in purple and gold/And save his good broadsword, he weapons had none/He had joined the wild bush horses; he was worth ten thousand pound/And the Red Gods call me out and I must go.”

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.