The One Type of Summer Party That Makes Everyone Happy (Seriously)
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."
The Game Plan
Players from two or more teams run or race-walk the length of the field and back while balancing a wooden "egg" on a spoon. Drop the egg and you have to go back to the starting line. Raise the stakes: Give teens and adults a real egg instead of the wooden one. EggCiting game, $10 for a set of six, orientaltrading.com.
This Swedish pick is played with two teams. Ten small, rectangular blocks are arranged in two rows of five, 26 feet apart, with the crown-tipped "king" block in the middle. Players toss wooden dowels to knock over the other team's blocks and then the king. But topple the king too soon and you lose. Raise the stakes: Have stronger players use their weaker arm. King's Game, $172, fruitsuperdesign.com.
Land beanbags on the board's surface for one point each. Or, even better, into the hole for three points. The victor is the player or the team to reach 21 first. The pitching range is normally at least 27 feet, but feel free to shorten it for kids. Raise the stakes: Blindfold the big kids and grown-ups. Pyramid triangle cornhole sets, $180 for two four-foot boards and eight bags, cornhole.com.
A Spin on Twister
Create a field of fun by spraypainting a game board right on the grass. (It will all wash off later!) First make a stencil by tracing a 10-inch plate inside a shallow cardboard box. Cut out the circle with a box cutter or an X-Acto knife. Use quick-drying, safe-for-grass Stripe Inverted Tip Temporary Marking Paints ($26 each, seymourpaint.com) in red, green, blue, and yellow to spray-paint rows of at least six circles of each color an inch or two apart. Have one guest call out the positions using the spinner from the original board game (Twister, $12, walmart.com).
Shades of Pe
Orchestrating lawn games for a big group can be a challenge. Have a whistle on hand (or give one to the friend you've put in charge) in case you need help keeping your crowd on track.
Send guests on their way with a potted thyme plant (available at garden centers) to liven up a windowsill and their next batch of lemonade. A few sprigs infuse a whole pitcher. Download this tag.