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1880s Party Starters Had Their Own Version of Cards Against Humanity

You can still find copies of the game for sale sometimes (Photo: Ebay)

Here’s how to play “Peter Coddle’s Trip to New York”, a simple word game that was wildly popular in 19th century America. In the game box, there’s a story of a country rube who comes to the big city for the first time. One person is the reader; everyone else has a pile of cards, with strange little phrases on them.

In your pile of cards, you might have “a horrid big spider.” Or a heap of pancakes. An unmarried woman. A broken jackknife, a flood of tears, a ten-cent lunch, some good advice.

The reader’s text will eventually come to a blank, and each of the other players, in turn, gets to fill in that blank with one of their funny little phrases.

“It’s basically an 1800s Cards Against Humanity,” says Max Temkin, one of the co-creators of Cards Against Humanity, who owns an antique copy of Peter Coddle. “All the players have slips of paper, and they’re exactly like ours,” he says. “The phrases are very 1800s, and there’s a lot of double entendres.”

A game of Peter Coddle, anyone? (Photo: Etsy)

The game’s first publication, by the McLoughlin Brothers, is usually pinned to the late 1880s; soon after, other game companies were pumping out their own versions. The story always went about the same, though. One day, countrified Peter Coddle decides to make the trip to New York City. Once he reaches his destination, hijinks ensue.

With the cards in play, a paragraph from the game might read:

A bootblack directed him to the Brooklyn Bridge, remarking he could go over it by paying [a sea of turtle soup]. Peter soon found the bridge…On the Tribune building he could see [a glass eye] above [the Queen of Sheba]; Trinity steeple looked like [a sloop load of clams]. He told one of the bridge police it made his head feel like [a runaway pussy cat], and as light as [a Dutch farmer] to look down into the river.

Rest assured that to a turn-of-the-century audience, this would be very entertaining. “Peter Coddle’s Trip to New York” was a wildly popular game that didn’t go out of print for decades. Coddle didn’t stop traveling after New York, either; he would go on to visit Chicago and Boston, too.

There were no winners or losers in Peter Coddle, and unlike in Cards Against Humanity, players were instructed to pick cards randomly, rather than play for laughs.

Still, the game was guaranteed to produce at least as much fun as [a carpenter’s chest] full of [yellow dogs] and [a pair of pantaloons.]