Basic set up for the two pencil game, with the top pencil balanced the same way as the other, such that minor air movements can cause it to rotate
Basic set up for the two pencil game, with the top pencil balanced the same way as the other, such that minor air movements can cause it to rotate

The Charlie Charlie challenge is a divination game in which the putative answer to a yes–no question is found by waiting for a balanced pencil to point towards the word "Yes" or "No" written on a sheet of paper. As with a Magic 8-Ball, most players, typically teenagers, do not sincerely believe the power of the mechanism. The game is a modern incarnation of an older Spanish game called Juego de la Lapicera ("the Pencil Game"). It was popularized in the English-speaking world in 2015, partly through the hashtag #CharlieCharlieChallenge.[1][2] On 29 April 2015, an alarmist tabloid television newscast about the game being played in Hato Mayor Province of the Dominican Republic was uploaded to YouTube, and the unintentional humor in the report led to the game trending on Twitter, crossing the language barrier to be played around the world.[3][4]


Four pencils

In an early version of the game, two players each hold two pencils in the shape of a square, pressing the ends of their pencils against the other player's. Like a Ouija board, it uses the ideomotor phenomenon, with players moving the pencils without conscious control.[5][6]

Two pencils

The two pencil game involves crossing two pens or pencils to create a grid (with sectors labelled "yes" and "no") and then asking questions to a "supernatural entity" named "Charlie." The upper pencil is then expected to rotate to indicate the answer to such questions. The first question everyone asks by speaking into the pencils is "can we play?" or "are you here?" or "are you there?"[7]

The top pencil is precariously balanced on a central pivot point, meaning that it can easily rotate on the pivot due to slight wind gusts, or the breathing of players expecting the pencil to move.[8][1]


According to Caitlyn Dewey of The Washington Post, this game is valuable as an example of cross-cultural viral trends:

Charlie makes a killer case study in virality and how things move in and out of languages and cultures online. You'll notice, for instance, a lot of players and reporters talking about the game as if it were new, when it's actually—and more interestingly, I think—an old game that has just recently crossed the language divide.[3]

Maria Elena Navez of BBC Mundo said "There's no demon called 'Charlie' in Mexico," and suggested that Mexican demons with English names (rather than, say, "Carlitos") are "usually American inventions."[9] Urban legend expert David Emery says that some versions of the game have copied the ghost story La Llorona, popular in Mexico, Central America and North of South America, but the pencil game is not a Mexican tradition.[10] Joseph Laycock, a professor of religious studies at Texas State University argued that while Charlie is "most often described as a "Mexican ghost," it appears that Christian critics reframed the game as Satanic almost immediately, due to their desire to "claim a monopoly on wholesome encounters with the supernatural."[11]


In May 2015, The Racket Report, a parody website that describes itself as "not intended to communicate any true or factual information,"[12] posted a hoax article claiming that 500 "mysterious" deaths had resulted from playing the Charlie Charlie Challenge.[13] The Fiji Sun reported claims made by the satire website as news in June.[14] The Fijian Ministry of Education banned the game,[15] and three Fijian teachers in Tavua were taken to a police station for questioning over allegations they forced their students to play it,[16][17] before being cleared of all charges.[18]

In May 2015, four teenage girls were sent to a hospital in Tunja, Colombia, and quickly released with a diagnosis of mass hysteria.[19]

Kate Knibbs writes that "once the paranormal fad went viral, it didn't take long for Christian fearmongers to warn against calling on the nefarious spirit world."[20] Pat Robertson denounced the Charlie Charlie challenge as demonic.[21] Several exorcists[22] promoted the idea that the game caused spirit possession, a concern repeated by Muslims in Jamaica[23] and the UAE.[24] Various media outlets described participants in the games as "gullible".[25][26]

In April 2017, the East Libyan government banned the game, blaming it for 6 suicides.[27]


Psychological suggestion can lead people to expect a particular response, which can result in thoughts and behaviors that will help bring the anticipated outcome to fruition – for instance by breathing more heavily.[6] Chris French, head of the anomalistic psychology research unit at the University of London says that human agent detection leads people to see patterns in random events and perceive an intelligence behind them. He argues that divination games involve magical thinking, saying "Often the 'answers' received [in divination games] might be vague and ambiguous, but our inherent ability to find meaning—even when it isn't there—ensures that we will perceive significance in those responses and be convinced that an intelligence of some kind lay behind them."[6] Kate Knibbs, writing in Gizmodo described the game as "a Vine-ready pastiche of kitsch occultism" that "has the familiar pull of pareidolia" where people interpret patterns as having a meaning.[20]

Stuart Vyse, a psychology professor at Connecticut College argues that teenagers often go to see paranormal movies in groups, and "There's a real social bonding aspect to this whole phenomenon,"[5] and "It's almost a developmental passage for some kids, to deal with things that are scary." Donald Saucier, a psychology professor at Kansas State University argues that teenagers go through "a period where social influence is very strong" and they are more prone to superstition. Stephen Schlozman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said "I think kids are interested in the dares that aren't actually all that dangerous, but have that feeling of danger to them."[28] Sharon Hill argues that teenagers playing the game "overreact because of the peer situation."[29]

Pastor Carl Gallups told WPTF news radio "I have done some experiments with this, and I think people are being punked. On my desk in front of me, I have the two pencils set up and the one on the top that is balanced is easily moved by just a puff of air."[30] He continued, "I held my phone up to pretend like I was filming it and just started breathing a little heavy, but it's indiscernible to anybody around, and the pencil just moves so easily." Fred Clark and Rebecca Watson liken the phenomenon of pencils moving on a desk to James Hydrick's debunked claim that he could move a pencil on a desk by psychokinesis.[31][32]

Andrew Griffin wrote in The Independent that the game is "perhaps scarier than a Ouija board because it doesn't have the same explanations. With those boards, players have to keep hold of a glass while it moves around the table—so it's not difficult to imagine that people might be pushing it around without knowing it."[1]

David Emery argues parsimoniously that when simple scientific explanations "can sufficiently explain why a phenomenon occurs, there's no reason to assume supernatural forces are at work." Despite simple scientific explanations being offered by science journalists,[1][33][8][29][34] these are less readily available in mainstream news outlets.

In popular culture

The producers of the 2015 horror film The Gallows promoted their film on the bandwagon of the game, releasing a video clip featuring the game.[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Charlie Charlie Challenge explained: it's just gravity—not a Mexican demon being summoned". The Independent. 27 May 2015.
  2. ^ Zuckerman, Esther. "Here's Why People Are Freaking Out Over the Charlie Charlie Challenge". Time. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b Dewey, Caitlin (26 May 2015). "The complete, true story of Charlie Charlie, the 'demonic' teen game overtaking the Internet". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  4. ^ "Juego supuestamente satánico denominado Charlie – Charlie es practicado en Hato Mayor". Telenoticias 11/Youtube.
  5. ^ a b Phil Edawards (5 June 2015). ""Charlie, Charlie, are you there?" Why teens are summoning demons, explained". Vox.
  6. ^ a b c "Charlie Charlie Challenge: Can You Really Summon a Demon?". Livescience. 3 June 2015.
  7. ^ "Charlie Charlie Challenge – what is the spooky craze, and what is the explanation for it?". The Telegraph. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  8. ^ a b "The Truth About the Charlie Charlie Challenge". SciShow.
  9. ^ "Where did Charlie Charlie Challenge come from?". BBC. 26 May 2015.
  10. ^ David Emery (28 May 2015). "What's the Charlie Charlie Challenge, and Why Does It Freak People Out?". Entertainment/Urban Legends.
  11. ^ Joseph Laycock (15 June 2015). "The 'Charlie Charlie Challenge' and Teenage Yearning for Supernatural Encounters". Religion Dispatches.
  12. ^ "About Us". The Racket Report(satire).
  13. ^ "Hoax Busted: Reports of Mysterious Deaths After Playing Charlie Charlie Challenge are False". International Business Times India. 7 June 2015.
  14. ^ "Year 1 And 2 Students Play 'Charlie Charlie'". Fiji Sun. 6 June 2015. Archived from the original on 15 June 2015. The Racket Report reported online that Charlie Charlie is a dangerous new game going viral and is said to conjure up a group of Mexican demons. “It is considered a mash up of the Ouija board and bloody Mary, but this game is physically injuring its participants. The game, which was believed to be of demonic spirits, leads to scaring children who play the game and can even lead to suicide for those who get possessed by the spirit,” The Racket Report said.
  15. ^ "Schools Crack Down On Charlie Charlie". Fiji Sun. 10 June 2015.
  16. ^ "Three teachers in Tavua allegedly let students play the 'Charlie Charlie' game". Fiji One News. 12 June 2015. Archived from the original on 16 July 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  17. ^ "Teachers probed over Charlie Charlie Challenge". Fiji Times. 14 June 2015. Archived from the original on 16 July 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  18. ^ "Teachers cleared of criminal offence for Charlie Charlie game". Fiji Broadcasting Corporation. 16 June 2015. Archived from the original on 16 July 2015. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  19. ^ Matthew Dancis (28 May 2015). "Charlie Charlie Challenge sends 4 hysteric Colombian teens to hospital". Colombia Reports. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  20. ^ a b Kate Knibbs (28 May 2015). "A Mexican Demon Named Charlie Is The Internet's Newest Urban Legend". Gizmodo. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  21. ^ "RWW News: Pat Robertson Warns Against 'Charlie Charlie Challenge'". People for the American Way. 29 May 2015 – via YouTube.
  22. ^ "Is 'Charlie Charlie' a harmless game? Exorcist says absolutely not". Catholic News Agency.
  23. ^ "Islamic Community Condemns Charlie Charlie Challenge". Jamaica Gleaner.
  24. ^ Rezan Oueiti. "UAE students warned against playing 'Charlie, Charlie' ghost game". The National. Abu Dhabi.
  25. ^ "Charlie Charlie Challenge: Here's everything you need to know about the bizarre internet craze". Brave (or gullible) participants must then repeat the words "Charlie, Charlie are you here" to summon a visit from a demon.
  26. ^ "Tweeting Christians On The 'Charlie Charlie Challenge': Please, Step Away From The Demon". 25 May 2015. In this one, two pencils are crossed over four squares. In each, the gullible participant writes 'yes' and 'no.'
  27. ^ AbdullahBenIbrahim (14 April 2017). "East Libya government bans Charlie Charlie game". The Libya Observer.
  28. ^ "Why teen brains are wired to love 'Charlie Charlie' and the supernatural".
  29. ^ a b "Child's Play: Charlie Charlie Challenge is same old same old..." Doubtful News. 25 May 2015.
  30. ^ "'Charlie Charlie' game summoning Mexican demon goes viral, causing damage real and fake". Fox News Latino. 10 June 2015. Archived from the original on 12 June 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  31. ^ Fred Clark (29 May 2015). "The 'CharlieCharlieChallenge' doesn't lead to demonic possession – but it can nurture credulity and willful ignorance, which is worse".
  32. ^ Rebecca Watson (30 May 2015). "Charlie Charlie: The Science of Summoning Demons with Pencils for Fun and Profit". Skepchick.
  33. ^ Danny Gallagher (27 May 2015). "Sorry, Charlie: The Charlie Charlie Challenge is less spooky than they say". CNET.
  34. ^ "Was the Charlie Charlie Challenge Really a Viral Marketing Hoax?". Snopes. 2 June 2015.
  35. ^ Griffin, Andrew. "Charlie Charlie Challenge: everyone on the internet thinks it's a marketing stunt, but it probably isn't". The Independent. Archived from the original on 1 June 2015. Retrieved 2 June 2015.