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Ghost Game

The Ghost Game is a fun two player game which involves coloring in or covering up ghosts arranged in a 5 x 5 grid. The player that colors in the last ghost loses.

I put together this Halloween themed game for my high school math students to play in the month of October.

ghost game in dry erase pocket with three clipart ghosts drawn above


On your turn, color in any number of ghosts which lie directly next to one another in a straight line.

Before beginning, choose one player to play horizontally and the other player to play vertically. One player may only color ghosts lying in horizontal rows. The other player may only color ghosts lying in vertical columns.

screenshot of ghost game board with 25 ghosts to be colored in for Halloween

Either player may use their turn to color a single ghost since it is part of both a horizontal row and a vertical column.

The game ends when the last ghost is colored in. The player that colors in the last ghost loses.

Methods of Playing

Bingo Chips or Other Small Counters

An easy way to “color in” the ghosts is to use bingo chips. Laying a bingo chip on top of a ghost counts as coloring it in.

ghost game with pile of bingo chips next to it.

If you look below, you can see that the first player (the horizontal player) has colored in all five ghosts in the top row.

ghost game with first row covered by red bingo chips.

Coloring in the Gameboard

If you want to make it easier to color in the gameboard, you can slide the printable gameboard in a dry erase pocket. To save time and ink, you can simply draw a line through the ghosts instead of meticulously coloring them in.

example of ghost game being played with dry erase markers on top of dry erase pocket.

Removing Pieces

An alternate way to play this would be to start with a grid of 25 items to represent the 25 ghosts. Instead of “coloring in” or “covering” the ghosts, you could take turns removing the ghosts from the grid. In this case the player that removed the last ghost would lose.

If you had a collection of Halloween-themed mini erasers, this could be a lot of fun!

Origin of the Game

This game is actually a variation of a classic game known as CrossCram. I decided to put a little Halloween spin on it and make it a ghost-themed activity before using it in my classroom.

I discovered this game in GAMES Magazine #9 (January/February 1979) in an article titled “Games Mathematicians Play.” The article attributes this game to James Bynum and claims he invented it in 1972.

If you research CrossCram, you will learn that there are multiple, multiple, multiple different variations of the game. The main thing all of the versions have in common, though, is that one player plays their pieces vertically and the other player plays their pieces horizontally.

Using in Class

I plan on using this with some of my classes shortly before Halloween. Due to some scheduling issues, I am seeing some of my class periods more than others which means I need a few filler activities if I want to keep my classes in the same place.

I look forward to seeing how others use this activity with their students.

If you wanted to make a longer activity out of this, you could have students explore the game further. They could explore questions such as:

  • Is there an advantage to going first?
  • What is a winning strategy?
  • Does either the horizontal or vertical player have an advantage?
  • What is the shortest number of turns a game could last?

Want more Halloween themed activities? I have got you covered! I would suggest pairing this Halloween themed game with another short fall themed game called Picking Pumpkins or a fall themed puzzle called 9 Pumpkins.

Free Download of Ghost Game

The gameboard for this ghost game is available to download for free as a PDF file and an editable Publisher file. For the editable file, you will need to have Microsoft Publisher installed on your computer to open and edit the file.

Ghost Game (PDF) (1478 downloads)

Ghost Game (Editable Publisher File ZIP) (260 downloads)

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