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Guerilla Bingo: the Art of Competitive People-Watching

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By: Hannah Harkness 

Bingo is a game associated with senior citizens looking to pass time, a rainy day activity at summer camp, a cop out substitute teacher lesson plan, or just another fun way to slake your gambling addiction.

The art of people watching

I don’t gamble, and I don’t have the patience to sit in a church basement surrounded by stressed out people with 10 cards going at once taking it way too seriously.

However, filling out a blank bingo card when I am stuck waiting somewhere and checking off items as they walk by is one of my favorite ways to pass time.

I first did this back in my early 20’s when I frequently went to goth/ industrial dance events. The club that I hung out at the most had only one semi-quiet area where music wasn’t playing, which was a room between the indoor and outdoor dance floor where there was a large hand washing sink outside of the bathrooms. The stairs to the 21+ area were also connected to this room, so there was a lot of foot traffic.

When me and my friends needed a break from the ear-bleeding bass and terrifying German vocals (ah, youth), we would occasionally fill out bingo cards with things that we frequently saw at the club and stand in that room checking things off.

We filled spaces with items like ripped fishnets, goggles, weird contact lenses, cat ears, Rammstein shirt, glow sticks, “looks too young to be here”, “didn’t know it was goth night”, “fighting with boyfriend”, “clearly tripping” etc. The first person to get bingo would get a drink from everyone else playing.

90’s goth style

Since then I’ve adapted the concept to a whole bunch of different scenarios, and I’ve found it to be a FANTASTIC way to pass time, especially in “hurry up and wait” places like airports. Even if you’re just alone waiting to catch a flight, you’d be amazed how much the validation of getting five squares checked off in a row will make you hyper-present and interested in your surroundings.

Want to play in New York? Here are a few of my favorite guerilla bingo locations with some suggestions for what to put in the spaces (and remember, always include a free space!)

MOMA people


-French person

-Black turtleneck

-Student with sketchbook

-Museum guard that clearly doesn’t care about art

-Tourist that clearly doesn’t care about art


-Bored/ cranky child

-School trip

-Spouse forced to go to an art museum

-Giant terrible jewelry

Williamsburg Hipsters


-Vape pen


-Flannel shirt

-Purse dog/ therapy dog

-Carrying coffee

-Openly smoking weed

-Carrying an instrument

-Skinny jeans

-Caveman beard

-Loudly complaining about something

Garden variety subway enthusiasm



-Playing candy crush/ angry birds

-Using a dating app

-Knit hat

-Showtime dancers

-Man spreader

-Large earphones

-Talking to invisible people and/or Bluetooth

-Passed out

-Possibly never seen a shower

-Terrified lost tourist

A Garden Variety Open Mic

Open Mic

Panicky person with notebook

-Person leaves directly after their spot


-Several host phrases (“clap it up for yourselves for coming out, please tip your bartender, we have drink specials, remember you only get five minutes, let’s keep that energy going”)

-Performer who doesn’t understand they suck

-Performer reading from phone onstage

-Acoustic guitar

-Unhappy bar patron unaware it was open mic night

-Significant other of performer dragged along

-Too drunk to perform (doing it anyway)

-PBR drinker

-Exits with “I’m going to kill myself now”

-Dick joke (in some environments this can substitute the free space.

Have fun! And try not to point at strangers and yell Bingo, I’ve been there, it’s awkward.

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