Pick-Up Sticks Game: How To Play This Nostalgic Family Favorite

Pick-Up Sticks Time! 3 Simple Steps To Play This Classic Childhood Game

March 12, 2021 Updated May 7, 2021

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Pressman Toys

Ah, Pick-Up Sticks! Remember the classic kids game that kept us entertained for hours growing up? For many, this game was a source of extreme fun and frustration. It’s simple, sure. And the rules are pretty straightforward. But that combination doesn’t always translate to easy — especially where Pick Up Sticks is concerned. This endeavor requires a lot of luck plus a little bit of finesse. So, if you’re looking for a dynamic new screen-free, at-home social distancing activity for your kids, pick up (#PunIntended) a Pick-Up Sticks game on your next Amazon order!

Like so many others, you may have stocked up your board game closet when COVID hit. You probably picked up well-known staples like Monopoly, Scrabble, Uno, and Clue. Or maybe you already had all of those (family game nights ftw), so you decided to pick up newer favorites like Pie Face, Exploding Kittens, Hedbanz, and Dragonwood. Whatever was on your list, we’re betting it wasn’t Pick-Up Sticks. It seems like this childhood hit fell off the face of the planet in recent years. Great news, though! It didn’t. You can still find it at big-box retailers like Walmart, Target, and Amazon. In-store is a bit tricky, but that’s OK since a game that’s easily purchased online. Even better, it’s a steal at under 10 bucks.

Once you’ve snagged that bargain, all that’s left to do is brush up on your Pick-Up Sticks skills and school your kids in this fun family favorite. Well, friends, read on. We’ve got you covered.

Pick-Up Sticks Game Rules

Many games are non-starters simply because the rules pamphlet is more like a novel, yet not nearly as enjoyable to read. We’ve nixed plenty of games in our home for this very reason. Pick-Up Sticks, however, offers a refreshing change of pace. The rules are simple and straightforward. No muss, no fuss. This is a game you’ll be playing right out of the box (or rather, out of the tube if you wanna get technical).

Here are the rules in three easy steps.

Step 1: To start, we should note that this is a two-player game. Whoever gets deemed player one will hold the sticks in their hand and then gently drop them onto the table. The goal? Pick up as many as possible without moving any sticks other than the one they’re trying to pick up. If the first player manages to pick up all of the sticks, they note their score and repeat the process (don’t worry; we’ll cover scoring down below). Once player one moves any sticks other than the one they’re after, it’s player two’s turn.

Step 2: On player two’s turn, they have a couple of choices. They can keep playing with the pile player one dropped. Or, they can gather up the sticks, drop them again, and start fresh. Play continues on this way until someone reaches the previously agreed upon winning score.

Step 3: While playing, if any player picks up the black stick (AKA the “Master Stick”), they can use it as a helper to maneuver other sticks out of the pile. This is the only stick allowed for use this way.

Pick-Up Sticks Scoring

Typically, when playing Pick-Up Sticks, players will choose a final score before the game starts. Then, the object is to be the first one to reach that number of points. A standard range generally falls between 500 to 1000 points. Here are the specific point numbers associated with each colored stick.

  • Black = 25 points
  • Red = 10 points
  • Blue = five points
  • Green = two points
  • Yellow = one point

We’d be remiss not to mention an important caveat: When a player picks up a red, blue, and green stick in that exact order, the points double for each individual stick. So, if you fall behind, you’ve got a quick way to rack up a high score. Go forth, pick up sticks, and enjoy this quality (competitive!) time with your family.

Pick-Up Sticks Game Origin

No one knows for certain where the game of pick-up sticks came from since a few cultures have their own versions. A similar activity was found in Hungary in 1936 and was called Marokko. It’s also been traced back to Native American culture where they used straws of wheat and shared the game with European settlers.

Pick-Up Sticks Gratitude Game

Pick-Up Sticks is a simple game, but you can make it even more fun by adding a little gratitude. Instead of the sticks representing points, they can symbolize all the things you’re grateful for. For example, when you pick up a blue stick, say something you’re thankful for. For green, name a food you appreciate; for yellow, name a place you’re happy exists; and for red, say the name of a person you appreciate.