What’s in Ned’s Head? is one of the most bizarre games I have ever played, and it works very well on a level few consider for gaming. Ned’s Head consists simply of a somewhat monstrous plush folding head, a slew of weird plastic items, and a deck of cards with each card matching an item. Combining these, we get something almost magical in its weird sense of fun.
Game play is straightforward: Unfold Ned’s head, which pops up on a wire system into something of a tent with entry points at his ears and nose. The fifteen “silly things” are put into the head and shuffled to ensure randomization. Each player draws a card, and the round is then declared with everyone calling out “What’s in Ned’s Head!” sticking their hands inside the head. The game is tactile, with a few pieces of logic and skill but also plenty of luck. Hands dash about, feeling the various items until a player decides he or she has chosen the card’s match. First player to pull out his or her item correctly wins. If a player draws out an incorrect item, that person being disqualified for the round ala Clue rules. If no one gets the correct item, Ned himself is declared the winner. A short online video shows the game in play.
It sounds very simple, and it is, being a game for two to four kids ages four and up, but What’s in Ned’s Head? carries several additional layers that turn it into an impressive game. A single round can last a few minutes at most, but the rules are expanded for a longer game in which players collect cards and the one with the most after several rounds wins. Some kids might get bored after a round or two, while others would want to keep going for hours. For these reasons, What’s in Ned’s Head has won a plethora of awards, including the FamilyFun Toy of the Year for 2003.
Much of the draw of What’s in Ned’s Head? that will keep play going time and again is the plain weirdness and almost unnerving grossness of it all. Players stick their hands up a plush head’s nose and draw out plastic rats, teeth, spilled suckers, or what have you. Kids love that stuff! Looking back at some of the most beloved stories from childhood, the Grimm Fairytales or Tom & Jerry, crazy and often horrific things happen, but it is all pretend, and that makes it all the more enjoyable. The initial draw of the game was made even more impressive with a nationwide contest put on by Fundex in which kids were able to suggest new items. The common plastic “silly things” such as a Visiting Space Man, a Tongue In Cheek, Ned’s Lost Lunch, and Ned’s Flippy Frog were supplemented with the winning Old Gym Sock, Pea Brain, Dirty Diaper, Sticky Sucker, and, perhaps the strangest of all, Bird Poop With a Worm. One has to love the creativity of giggling children.
As a further bonus and rather a stroke of genius, additional blank cards are included, allowing players to add up to ten more items to the Ned’s Head fray. Every child has collections of untold small items whether action figures, dinos, amusingly shaped erasers, or just about anything else that might pique a kid’s interest. A beloved Halloween spider-ring can easily be incorporated into the game just by drawing on and labeling a blank card, then tossing the new silly thing into the head with the rest, giving perhaps endless game variations.
While most likely a game that could be outgrown as kids hit those late pubescent years of “everything’s lame,” the childhood memories in the cacophony of scrambling to pull things out of some poor guy’s nose will last a lifetime.