May 15, 2012

How to Play Human Hungry Hungry Hippos

Human Hungry Hungry Hippos started as a joke. When our church built the new youth center I joked that we should strap teens to the pillars in the room and play Human Hungry Hungry Hippos. After a few years of saying this we decided to get some bungee cord and try it for real.

Lately I’ve been getting quite a few emails from people asking how to do this event with their group. So, it seemed worth putting this together in a post that I can point people to. In addition, check out the videos from the times we have done this event in 2009, 2010, and 2012. There is also the promo test video we made for our group when we were experimenting with this idea.

To get the bungee cord, go to Ebay and search for 3/8 inch shock cord. When we played we used four strands that were each at least 75 feet long. The most economical way to do this is to look for a good deal on a 300 foot spool and cut it. Maybe it would work with just 50 feet for each player, but I don't know.

We wrapped the cord around everyone's waist with something like a slipknot. We had the cords doubled or tripled over so that it had the right amount of "pull." It’s hard to describe, so make sure to experiment and test everything out with some of your leaders before the day of the event. It's somewhat of an art to make sure the players have enough stretch to get to the center, but just barely. You want there to be enough tension so that they will get pulled back hard. Make the students play in their socks (so there is less grip) and make them have to work VERY HARD to get to the middle; that's what makes it fun.
We had an adult man by each of the poles to hold the ends of the ropes, wrapped around the poles. They were also able to adjust the slack to give the teens the right amount of tension. They were also there to be a human shield in case the teens came back at the poles too fast.

Make sure to get elbow and knee pads for the teens or else they will lose a lot of skin! When we tested it, I tried it without knee pads and lost skin even though I was wearing jeans. I bought enough knee and elbow pads so that the “on deck” teens could be putting them on while another set of teens were playing. This helped keep things moving.

This past year we had the idea to attach the cords to the teens using life jackets. However we tested this and felt there would be too many problems and that it would actually take longer than wrapping around their waist. We were also worried about how uncomfortable it would be for the girls, so we scraped that idea.

The goal of the game is for the players to grab as many balls as they can from the middle and put them in a container back at their pole. They can grab balls of any color, but they can only grab one at a time. Also, they are only allowed to grab a ball that is inside the circle in the center of the room. Any balls that roll outside the circle are dead. This important rule keeps players from swashing balls closer to them and then getting them later. Also, discourage teens from “splashing the pot” by hitting most of the balls from the center. It’s funny the first time a teens does it, but it wrecks that round for everyone else. The balls we used were just hollow plastic play balls like the kind we used to be able to jump into at McDonalds. You should be able to get a box of 100 at Wal-Mart or somewhere like that in the little kids’ toy section.

To find the center of the playing area, cross the bungee cords between opposite poles and then put a piece of making tape at the center of the X. The circle itself had the diameter of the pool cue that I used to make it.

When we played we had all the teens who wanted to play put their names on slips of paper and then we drew them out randomly. For most rounds we did guys with guys and girls with girls. Each player was able to play in two back to back rounds. For hype, I would try to get the teens to make hippo noises and I would yell “One Two Three Hippo!” to start the match. Most years we just pretended to keep score, although this past year I did give a prize to the student who go the most balls. Keeping score helps them keep motivated; however it is hard to make it fair since some teens will probably receive more slack than others. The most important thing is to keep it fun.


  1. just wanted to say thanks for that ;) !!
    and ask ya, where can you get 300 ft of bungee cord???

    Versailles MO first AG Youth Group

  2. "However we tested this and felt there would be too many problems and that it would actually take longer than wrapping around their waste."

    WAIST :)

  3. Ha! Well, the type-o is funnier but I'll change it to waist. Thanks for catching that!

    To get the bungee cord, go to Ebay and search for 3/8 inch shock cord.

  4. I play this game in my fitness boot camp class. Another option to use instead of bungee cord is Gold's Gym red-line knee wraps. You can get them at Walmart. A person has to hold the wraps, so we play this in partners and the person holding the wraps also gets a good workout; there is not enough tension to pull somebody back so hard that they fall or slide, which is probably less fun for kids, but safer, especially for adults. This is a class of grown women (a couple are even in there 60's) and they love don't assume it's just for teens. :-)

  5. Any idea how to play if you don't have the poles to attach to?

  6. In Ebay ,no such thing lke 3/8 inch shock cord canu u plz tell d proper name of the product...

  7. I just searched ebay for "3/8 inch shock cord" and got several results. If it doesn't work for you, just search for "shock cord" and go from there.

  8. I just did the first trial run by myself by tying the cord off to a huge screwed in eye bolt (answer to the question about what else you can tie it to). I am glad I was the one testing it because the know slipped and the bungee came at me with lighting speed. Needless to say I have some good welts across my back side. It was a good test though, thanks for the idea. This is going to be great!

  9. Sweet! I hope it works well for you Ryan.

    Yes, testing is very important in new youth games. I'm glad we tested this ourselves first. Otherwise we would have sent teens home with exposed bones where their knees used to be. (Knee pads are a must!)

  10. would it work with 3/16 in shock cord?

  11. No, I would not use 3/16 shock cord. It will be far too thin. Also, even if it didn't break it would dig into the skin pretty badly. Use 3/8 inch cord. (It IS on Ebay.)

  12. do you know how far spaced apart the posts are in the room?

  13. ARE you just useing one strand of bungee cord per person or 3 cause way it looks in the video looks like theres 3 or 4 strand?

  14. How would you do this without the poles? We want to play on a grass field.

    1. Staff members at our school played this using utility carts/laundry baskets and balloons in the gymnasium for a student assembly.
      1 person laid down on their stomachs and was the "hippo's mouth" collecting the balloons. The other staff member was controlling the cart.

      I don't see why you couldn't use varying size balls and maybe for team playing ....wheel barrels, little pull wagons, combine it with a 2 legged sack race where they can use the sack to carry back their "loot"....

      If you weren't playing with teams but rather by individuals (and depending on the size of your players).... use some Little Tikes vehicles. That might be hilarious to watch a larger person trying to maneuver that little vehicle. Again - combine with a sack race.....

      You can adapt/change the rules - just make sure everyone agrees to the conditions!

  15. Can you please tell me what type of floor was used, will it be okay if we play this on a marble floor.
    what are the possible injuries that may occur? and isn't it possible that kids may fall face down on the floor when they are being pulled back?
    if we use manpower to hold the chords at all ends instead of the poles, will it work?


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