Human Knot

Type of Activity: Problem Solving

Props Needed: None (Variations require ropes or bandanna’s)

Set Up: Need enough room for your group(s) to end up standing in a circle. Plays well with 8 to 25 for 17 to 24 minutes.

Process: This activity has been a staple for many adventure programs down through the years. Some like it for its unknown outcome – in a random setup there are several possible answers. We like to set this one up so that we know it will end up in a circle formation. It is possible to gather about 8-12 participants conveniently together to perform the Human Knot initiative when holding hands. Typically this will bring most groups snugly together, and shoulder to shoulder (this will be referred to as the First Circle). At this point have the participants commit to memory the participant to their right and the participant to their left – names, eye color, clothes, whatever helps. When that is done ask everyone to rearrange their circles so that each participant is standing next to two new participants within the same circle (this will be referred to as the Second Circle). Now, to set up the knot, have each participant find the two participants from the First Circle (the ones they committed to memory). Participants then reconnect hands (across this Second Circle they created) with those First Circle participants – holding the same hands they did in that First Circle. The challenge is then to untangle the arms, without breaking hand-to-hand contact, into what will    eventually be the First Circle formation. If a group gets “stuck” you might allow them one “break” and re-grasp, however, everyone will need to agree where the one break will occur – good consensus building.

Variation: The traditional versions starts with groups of 8 to 12 participants standing in a circle. From here everyone reaches into the center of the circle with their right hand and grabs hold of the right hand of someone “across” the circle from them – not a participant standing next to them. Next, participants take their left hand and grab the left hand of someone else across the circle, making sure they do not grab the same person’s hand they are already holding. Without turning lose of hands, the group is challenged to “untie” the Human Knot they created. This random setup has multiple solutions – one full circle, two or more circles “linked” together, or multiple circles un-linked.

Bandana’s: Have each person hold their bandana in their right hand and then bunch together.  Next have  everyone put up both of their hands (with the bandana still I their right hand.)  Ask each person to reach across the circle and grab hold of one end of someone else’s bandana with their left hand.  Have them lower their arms after they are holding two bandanas.  Without letting go of the bandanas, they need to untwist this knot.  Objective is to know up the group and then have the group untangle without letting go.  Variations:  Tie the knot up according to birthdays.  Start with January in the middle then work your way out to December.

*Important:  Do not allow two people to hold onto each other’s bandanas.  They must reach across the circle.

Raccoon Circles: One technique for increasing the number of participants that are able to join hands for the human knot initiative, is to extend their reach via several Raccoon Circles. This is also a great technique if you happen to have some ‘less than 15 foot lengths of Raccoon Circle webbing,’ although even full length, untied Raccoon Circles will work. It is also a great method of extending the comfort level of participants by creating a bit more space between participants, and allowing a bit more freedom of movement with assuming difficult positions. And finally, having multiple Raccoon Circles with different colors assists the problem solving method by making it a bit more obvious which piece of webbing needs to be moved to help the group be successful.

It is also possible to set up this initiative in advance, before the participants arrive. This can be  accomplished by placing one untied Raccoon Circle per participant on the ground, and then having participants approach this collection of Raccoon Circles and take hold of two separate pieces of webbing. Now the challenge of unwinding this mess and forming a circle can begin.

For more complex, but similar initiatives, The Octopus, and It’s KNOT Our Problem.

Debriefing Topics:

  • How was the group able to complete this activity successfully?
  • Describe specific steps taken.
  • What was your contribution to the outcome?


For original write up purchase "The Empty Bag.” 

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