Starts and Ends

Created by Michael Petty

Of all the types of games I play with friends, word games are the most quiet. I can still enjoy them, but it never sounds like we're having any fun. When we play Boggle or Words from Words, we sit for the entire turn or round in silence. I guess that's alright once in awhile, but I wanted to make this word game a little more noisy and frantic.


Pretty basic-to score the most points by listing words in various categories.

Set Up:

This game takes a little preparation, varying slightly depending on which version you want to play. I'll describe what I do to play the standard version. Variations follow below.

First of all, you'll need a few copies of the graphic below. I suggest saving it to a file first. If you can scale it properly in a graphics software package, that will be best. It will work, however, if you have to simply print it from your browser. Print at least one for each number of players, then one extra.

Making these game sheets reusable takes the most effort. There's several ways to do this. The least expensive way that I found is to purchase a six pack of those clear plastic "report covers". I used the ones that come with the plastic spines to slip along the left of the cover. Actually, any sheet protector will work as long as it's clear. Put one copy of the graphic sheet in each cover.

Each player in the game also needs a different colored marker. I bought a set of four dry-erase pens for pretty cheap. You could also use transparency markers, though they require water to wipe them off. A set of supplies for a four-player game only cost me about five dollars. Read the rules over before you buy the materials, but I think you'll be able to see the game is worth this small price.

Now, for the timer used in the game, I'm not suggesting you need to buy any new materials to play it. I would hope you already have them, and if you don't, simply use a watch. In keeping with the upbeat, hectic feel of the game, however, we like to use a CD-player and a rather obnoxious set of CD's while we play. Instead of using the usual sand timers, we simply hit "play" and watch the timer on the CD-player, calling time when it's up.

Standard Rules

Basically, the game consists of listing words related to a topic. Each word must either START or END in a key letter. Look at the graphic below to make this clear. You'll notice that every line has at least one shaded circle. A letter written in those shaded circles are the key letters for the word to be written in the next line. If a word passes through two shaded circles, then the player has a choice as to which letter he or she uses as the key letter for the next word.

For example, lets say the topic was "Kitchen". The first word in the list might be TEASPOON. If you write that word in the first line, using one circle per letter, you'll notice that the "S" and the "N" both end up in a shaded circle. Therefore, the next word could be "STOVE" or "NUTMEG", if the player chose to START the word with one of the key letters. The player could also have used "KNIVES" or "OVEN" in the second line if he or she chose to END the word with the key letter.

Game play: To begin a round, each player should receive one sheet and a marker of a distinct color from all other players. One player should also have an extra sheet that will begin the game in the middle of the playing area. Players number off. Then, the sheets should be passed around so that each player can circle their number along the bottom of the sheet in their color of marker ("Player 1" circles "Player 1", etc.). This serves to remind players who has which color when scoring begins.

Next, players must choose topics for each of the lists. Examples of good topics might be "CIRCUS", "HOSPITAL", "SCHOOL" or "BATHROOM". Essentially, the topic must be broad enough to enable players to list a fair number of words related to it. First, as a group, decide on the topic for the sheet to start in the middle. Once a topic is agreed upon, write that topic in the line at the top of the sheet. Be sure one letter ends up in the circle on the topic line. Place that sheet in the center of the table. Then, each player must choose a topic for his or her list. Again, players must make sure one letter of the topic goes inside the circle on the topic line.

I've made up a graphic of a number of cards, each with three topics on them to aid in this part of the game. If you're interested in receiving the three full page graphics by e-mail, just write to me at and request the "STARTS and ENDS CARDS".

Once the topics are chosen, the fun may begin. One player should start the CD-player (timer). At this moment, all players must put the first word of their list on the first line. This word must START or END with the key letter in the circle of the topic line and it must be related to the topic. As soon as a player finishes the word, he or she must move the list to the center of the table and take the list that is there. If no word is yet on this list from the center, start that list using the same rules as beginning the other lists. Basically, play continues like this until time is up.

Every player must read the topic on the list they currently hold. When they think of a word that is on topic and that STARTS or ENDS with the key letter, then they write that word in the next line. That list is then exchanged with one in the center. If more than one player is exchanging lists at the same time, it doesn't matter who gets which list, as long as each player takes a different list from the center than the one he or she just wrote on. No time should be spent choosing a particular topic, however. Simply grab a different sheet and move on!

Some other details:

Time's up: Play for this game should be three minutes. When a player notices that three minutes have passed, he or she should call "TIME". All players must immediately stop writing. Any unfinished words should be erased from the end of the list before the lists are scored.


To keep scoring simple, each player will figure the score for only one other player each round. Alternate who figures each player's score each time. Sheets will be rotated around the table until every one has been scored. When you receive a list, check only the words of the player you're responsible for.

Use these steps:

  1. If an item on a single sheet is repeated, only the first occurrence of the item counts for points. Quickly read the entire list and mark, with an "X" at the left, any item written by the person you're scoring for if he or she repeated a previous item.
  2. Check each of the player's items to see if they're on topic. If a word is not directly related to the topic, mark it with a check at the left.
  3. Check the spelling of the player's items and make sure that each word STARTS or ENDS with a correct key letter from the previous word. Any violations here result in a check to the left of the item. No word can receive more than one check even if it breaks more than one rule here.
  4. After checking all of the player's items, begin scoring as follows. Keep the score for the sheet at the bottom under the player's number.

After scoring the sheet, begin the next one and repeat until all sheets are scored. At this time, the total scores earned by the players should be recorded on another paper. Game sheets can be erased and the round is repeated.

Judging items: When scoring a sheet, if a player is unsure if an item is really on the topic, he or she should bring it to the attention of the group. The player who wrote it may justify it. If the group feels it doesn't belong, or that it's just too general, then it must get an "X" as explained above. It may be a good idea to simply give a warning for the first time or two that someone does this until everyone gets a feel for what's on topic and what's not.

Ending the Game

Players may play to a set number of rounds, or to a high score as they decide. In case anyone wonders, the player with the highest score at the end wins.


On Your Own

This first variation is played exactly as above, except players don't trade their sheets. Every player writes the same topic on the top and simply fills out the sheet on their own. This is a more laid back version than the original rules. The time limit for this game should be two minutes. Also note that players don't require different colored markers for this version.

The Where-Do-I-Begin Rule

This new rule allows a player to start in the first or second circle on the sheet when writing an item. This gives a little bit of choice as to which letters will be key letters for the next item. Of course, this can be played with the original game or any variations here.

Joint Venture

Players may play as partners or even groups of three or more on each team if there's enough people. To play this, each player needs a sheet, then each team gets one extra sheet. The different topics on the sheets must be identical from team to the next (all teams are playing the same topics). Play will be exactly as described above, but sheets are only traded within the individual teams. Teams must exchange sheets for scoring. Repeated items don't count twice if they're repeated on the same sheet (topic) on the same team. Obviously, the scores of all players on a team are totaled for a team score.

Starts and Ends graphic for game sheet

The Game Cabinet - - Michael Petty