The One Type of Summer Party That Makes Everyone Happy (Seriously)
Combining classic barbecue fare and old-school activities, this low-key gathering is ideal for a mixed crowd where guests don't know one another. Suitable for ages 3 to 93.
For this daytime shindig, you'll need yard space that's a minimum of 30 by 15 feet to use as a playing field. Set up the buffet table along a nearby exterior wall of your house, and top it with a patterned cloth and melamine plates (which are sturdy and shatterproof). Hang paper fans and mini lanterns from trees or beams with twine. A big mash-up of colors, styles, and heights looks festive and unfussy.
You'll want to give your guests about a half hour to arrive and grab a drink before kicking off the games. Instead of running the challenges yourself (which will hamper mingling), pass the baton to your most extroverted friend, who can act as a games emcee. Plan on 30 to 45 minutes for four to six back-to-back games maximum. Any more than that and the energy level will drop.
To make sure that you have at least one game that every guest will like, choose some that are physical, like a three-legged relay and a wheelbarrow race, and some that are relatively stationary brainteasers that you can set up on a table, like Jenga. "It's fun to throw in one that no one's ever heard of, like Mölkky ($50, yardgames.us), which is a Finnish tossing game with elements of bocce and billiards," says Paul Tukey, a coauthor of the book Tag, Toss & Run ($15, amazon.com). "Anything that's new and surprising to people is a great icebreaker."