This Clever Dinner Table Football Game Tests Kid’s Creative Thinking — and Keeps Their Attention

The perfect game to try when you're waiting for that order of chicken fingers to arrive.

by Ryan Stuart
Illustration of a parent and a kid playing a table football game

An adult friend once teased me with a coin-drop trick. He would drop the coin out of his hand and easily catch it before it hit the ground. When I tried, I could never grab the coin in time. At first, I felt like my reflexes were terrible, but then my friend took pity on me and showed me it was all about how he dropped the coin. It’s one of those activities for kids I’ll never forget because the twist baffled me so.

‘The Field Goal Slide’ has nothing to do with that coin-drop trick, but similarly, it’s a mind puzzle that’s all about execution — and it really comes in handy when you’re sitting in a booth at a restaurant and trying to entertain your kids. You position four butter knives on a table in the shape of football goal post and try to move the knives in such a way that the upright is recreated, but the salt shaker is now outside the posts ⏤ and the attempted field goal is no good! The catch: You can only move two knives. It’s simple to set up, requires few props, and teaches creativity while acclimating kids to trial and error and geometry.

Prep Time: Less than one minute

Entertainment Time: 10 minutesEnergy Expended by Child: Minimal physical, moderate mental

What You Need:

  • Four butter knives, chopsticks, or anything else skinny and not deadly; one salt shaker, cork, or another small object.

How to Play:

Position the butter knives into the shape of a football upright, using two knives as the vertical posts, one across the bottom and the fourth as the solo post into the ground. Now place the salt shaker or round object between the uprights. Again, the objective is to move only two knives so that the goal post is recreated but the salt shaker is on the outside of the uprights. The kick can be wide right, wide left, or low. And the knives can be either slide or picked up off the table and moved.

The most common response is to start lifting knives and repositioning them in different patterns. It’s easy to move three knives to accomplish the goal, but moving only two is pretty tough. Let the kids play around for a few minutes. Ensure everyone gets a turn trying out their theory. After everybody gives it a shot, solve the puzzle.

The secret is to slide, not lift, the first knife. Slide the horizontal crossbar to the right until the left end is lined up with the ‘post’ in the ground (which just became the new left upright). The original right upright should be pretty much in the middle of the crossbar. Now pick up the lonely left vertical knife and position it below the crossbar as the new right upright. Just like that, you have the goal post recreated, except that it’s upside down, and the salt shaker is outside. The kick is low.

Wrap Up

No, this little game won’t sap your kids of energy. But, when you’re sitting at a restaurant and looking for a way to entertain your kids until chicken fingers arrive? It’s pretty handy to have in your back pocket. When playing, it’s more fun to solve the puzzle — teasing it along with hints — than it is to just demonstrate the trick. Answer questions. Find the balance between fun challenge and frustration. If the kids are younger or need more help, you can reverse the two moves and reposition the vertical upright first, leaving them to come up with the slide on their own.