The Reasons Those Scary Games You Played At Sleepovers Actually Worked

There’s a bathroom in my house I can’t go into after dark because I’m still scared I’ll get pulled into the mirror by Bloody Mary.

At every sleepover, someone would suggest playing Bloody Mary, a legitimately terrifying “game," and off we’d go sneaking into the kitchen to find a suitable candle.

If it wasn’t Bloody Mary, we’d play rocks-paper-scissor to decide who would become “light as a feather, stiff as a board.”

These classic sleepover games totally freaked me out and made me wonder if real ghosts and spirits were actually causing all these creepy things to happen.

As an older and slightly less naive person, I can acknowledge most of the sleepover phenomena was less magic and more science.

This is what made your sleepover games work:

Light as a feather, stiff as a board…

Directions: One friend lies down flat on the floor. Everybody else sits around and puts a finger or two under that person's body. The circle starts chanting “light as a feather, stiff as a board” and counts to three.

Supposed outcome: On three, the group should be able to lift the center person off the floor using just a finger or two.

What actually happens: By chanting and counting to three, everybody in the circle is in sync and makes the lift attempt at the exact same moment.

This means weight is equally distributed across everyone, and your fingers only have to hold so much weight. Your fingers are actually pretty strong and can hold up a lot, so it’s not that hard to lift your friend.

Bloody Mary

Directions: The directions vary, but in my experience, you take a lit candle into a dark room with a mirror and repeat “Bloody Mary” 13 times.

Supposed outcome: A woman covered in blood will appear in the mirror and try to take your soul.

What actually happens: Your brain is an assh*le. Seriously. There’s this thing called the Troxler Effect where if you stare at a point for a while, everything else will fade away. Then your brain will start filling in the outside space with a distortion of what you’re staring at.

So if you’re staring at your face in the mirror, your brain will start filling the outer area of your vision with a distortion of your face... or a monster. This is especially pronounced in low-light spaces.

In an experiment where people stared into a mirror in low light for 10 minutes, 48 percent of people said they saw “fantastical and monstrous beings” in the mirror. Thanks, assh*le brain.


Directions: Put your hands on the ouija board. Ask ~the spirits~ a question.

Supposed outcome: The spirits will move your hands to form the answers.

What actually happens: Ouija works thanks to the “ideomotor effect.” Basically, your subconscious is making your hands move, even if you aren’t consciously directing it. But yeah, it’s all you, not spirits.


Directions: Like in “light as a feather,” one person lies down flat and everyone else sits in a circle around him or her. Tell the person lying down to close his or her eyes and relax. Then tell a creepy story about that person being cut open and filled with sand (sleepovers are joy-filled events, y’all).

Supposed outcome: When the person lying down tries to sit up, it’ll feel like he’s actually full of sand and he’ll have trouble pulling himself up.

What actually happens: The effect is probably a mixture of hypnosis and balance. You’re told to relax, so your mind relaxes and is more susceptible to suggestion, like in hypnosis. Then your subconscious kicks in, so when you’re told you’re full of sand, your subconscious will make it feel that way.

At the same time, by lying down, your center of balance is totally off, and relaxing turns you more into a dead-weight than a light-weight (no, this does not affect how much you can drink after you shake the feeling off).

To sit up, you have to get out of the dead-weight hypnosis and change your center of gravity, making it more difficult.

Cat Scratch

Directions: One person sits down and another lies down, using the other's lap as a pillow. The sitting person tells the lying person a scary story about a cat (suggestions) that ends with “cat scratch, cat scratch, cat scratch!”

Supposed outcome: The lying person sits up and, immediately, there will be red marks like a cat scratch on his or her back.

What actually happens: Could be that the scratches were already there, or they’re marks from lying down. But honestly, I couldn’t find a reasonable scientific explanation, so they're probably actual marks from a demon cat.