In college, I was introduced to a little game that people play before meals: it’s the “Thumbs-Up” game that determins who’s going to get stuck and have to pray for the meal.

Here’s how to play: you sit down with a group of people at a table, about to eat. Everyone looks around the table with the common thought running through their minds: “who is going to pray?”

Generally, the person who really doesn’t want to pray starts the game by sticking their thumb up. Others who know how to play the game quickly follow suit. The object is to stick some poor sucker who wasn’t paying attention or doesn’t know how to play the game with praying before the meal. Basically, whoever the last person is who doesn’t have their thumb up has to pray. The group knows who that person is.
That’s the game in a nutshell. It has been a fun little tradition that we practice in the Yuen household ever since, frequently suckering poor, unsuspecting visitors in to praying before the meal… just my way of getting even for having been stuck to pray before meals over the years.

We introduced this game to my nephew, Matthew… and as seven-year-olds will do, he’s inventing his own rules:

The Do-Over: Sometimes, in life, we all need a “Do-Over.” Critical “Do-Over” events are typically just after a tragic event like a car accident, falling down the stairs, losing big in the stock market or maybe just after picking a chocolate with coconut in the middle. For Matthew, a critical “Do-Over” event in life is when he gets picked to pray as a result of poor reflexes in the Thumbs-up game. When he loses, he says, “let’s do it again!” Then, when he loses again, he says, “one more time!” This goes on until someone puts him out of our misery and prays.

Come to the table prepared: No one ever said Matthew wasn’t a smart kid. He wakes up in the morning now with his thumbs up and doesn’t put them down until dinner-time, after someone else has prayed.

Start the game while Uncle Paul’s in the bathroom: He likes to start the thumbs-up game before everyone is at the table, sticking someone who hasn’t even gotten to their chair yet… usually me.

That being said, in order to keep things fair, I’ve come up with eight easy rules to keep the playing-field level:

Rule #1: Remember that prayer is a priviledge, not a punishment.
I think that initially the game was developed so that people who weren’t comfortable praying in a mixed group or in front of people had a way to excuse themselves from praying for the blessing of the food.Since no one in our household is uncomfortable praying, the game has simply evolved into a a competitive way to start meals.

We still recognize that prayer is a priviledge… especially for people with slow thumbs.

Rule #2: The game doesn’t start until everyone is seated or at least waiting to pray.
A Jump-Starter is someone who starts the game before everyone is ready. This includes those who come to the table with their thumbs already up. You know who you are. Nobody likes a Jump-Starter. By default, the Jump-Starter will have to pray.

Rule #3: The game doesn’t start until whoever cooked is ready.
This goes hand-in-hand with waiting until everyone’s ready. How fair is it to the cook, who’s slaved over the meal all day and is still serving food to everyone to get stuck because their hands are full of food and serving tools? C’mon!

Rule #4: In the case of a tie, a vote is cast.
Sometimes, with more experienced players, the results can be incredibly close. Without the ability to slo-mo a replay at the dinner-table, everyone at the table votes until a decision is made. The individuals involved in the tie have no voice in the vote.

Rule #5: The first to volunteer to pray renders the results void.
Regardless of who wins or loses at the Thumbs-up game, if someone at the table simply volunteers to pray, the game is void and that person prays.

Rule #6: The host or hostess reserves the right to assign someone to pray.
Regardless of the game’s results, if the host or hostess asks someone specific to pray, that person prays. Penalties for ignoring this rule are severe.This is especially true if you’ve just been asked to pray by the host or hostess. The person who is asked to pray and then sticks their thumb up to try to initiate a “Thumbs-up” game receives “The Scourge:” they still have to pray, get no food, have to wash dishes and serve dessert, followed by 39 lashes.

If it was good enough for the Romans, it’s good enough for me.

Rule #7: No contesting the group vote.
If, after the Thumbs-Up game is played, the loser has been picked by the group, that person cannot contest that they lost… even if they don’t know the rules of the game… everyone learns…

…everyone learns.

Rule #8: Your thumb must be clearly visible to everyone.
If the group decides that you are the loser and you pull your thumb out from under the table and say, “but I had it up the whole time,” don’t expect any sympathy. You’re going to end up praying.

Here are some tips to help you win at the “Thumbs-Up” game:

Pay attention! This is a “ya snooze, ya lose” game that preys on the unaware.

Practice! Practice! Practice! You want the motion of the thumb to be smooth as butter, especially if you’re the initiator of the game. The more discreet, the better. Those who are aware will pick up on your clue… remember, the object is to stick the one who is most unaware. Practice in front of a mirror!

Develop the speed of your thumb-flick. Speed and agility seperate the men from the boys in this game. When you can flip a man-hole cover as effortlessly as a quarter, you’re ready for the pro’s.Start slow. Try tying a full can of coke to your thumb and spinnnig it around, simply by flicking. Work your way up to soup cans, then car batteries. Keep at it! Eventually you’ll get there.

Don’t let yourself be intimidated by experienced players. Even the most experienced and aware players still have to pray at meals every once in a while… but they never forget Rule #1: it’s a priviledge.

Misdirection is a wise tactic. It’s just like cheating at cards: you want peoples’ attention anywhere but on your hands.Good techniques are asking, “what time is it?” and putting your thumb up while all eyes go to the clock. The same technique can be utilized by pointing at a dish on the table and saying, “boy, that looks good!”

Keeping these rules and tips in mind, you too can be a master at the “Thumbs-up” game.

6 thoughts on “Thumbs-up”

  1. Paul my friend, you have done mankind a tremendous service. The world needed these rules to be spelled out. I will sleep well tonight.

  2. Interesting side fact – I often force people who play that “game” with me around into using reverse rules. That being that whomever “thumbs-up” first is the one who has to pray….

    You have been given fair warning 😉

  3. have we ever told the story of the ‘thumbs up for fun check’?

    hmmm…maybe better served for another time, as we might confuse u with all the extra fingers involved…….

  4. While I was taking out my car battery to practice, I smashed my thumb. Then I tried to pick it up off my smashed thumb and smashed my other thumb. Thanks a lot.

  5. Wow. 🙂 Paul, I have been in need of your sense of humor.
    E-mail pending. 😉


    PS, isn’t your birthday this month? Well, I already got you a Spidey key-chain… what more could one possibly want? ;P

  6. Okay, time for another comment.
    I have now read this post in its entirety and am rather stunned. The content is not only profound, but backed up by what one can only conclude to be years of extensive research in a controlled environment and data compilation which has led to this, the most excellent of posts, which would drive the most foolish simpleton into great wisdom by its enlightening nature; indeed, one could hardly hope to find a more uplifting and life-improving post than such as this which thine noble hands have made and thine noble brow hath perspired over many sleepless nights.
    How’s that for obnoxious? *eyes roll* Have a good one! 🙂

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