Heads or Tails

Heads or Tails

Heads or Tails is a coin-tossing game. Most coins have a side where the imprint of a person, such as a current or former head of state, is impressed — this side is called the "heads" side. The other side is called the "tails" side, irrespective of its design. Technically, the heads and tails sides are known as the obverse and reverse, respectively.

In 1870 Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable describes heads in a similar way and details tails as being the opposite and obvious reverse to heads. The expression 'can't make head nor tail of it' expresses this concept of opposites. Generally, one person throws the coin up in the air, and the second person must predict which side of the coin will lay face up after it rests back on the ground. A correct prediction results in a win. Another variation has the person catch the coin in one hand and slap it on the back of their other hand. Traditionally, the second person calls out "heads" or "tails" while the coin is in the air.

National variations

The Australian game of Two-up is closely related, and involves traditionally two pennies. Coin flipping as a game was known to the Romans as "navia aut caput" (ship or head), as some coins had a ship on one side and the head of the emperor on the other.

A related game, Cross and Pile, was played in England for many centuries. The cross was the major design element on one side of many coins, and the Pile was the bottom part of the die used to cast the other side of the coin (see hammered coinage). Cross and Pile is derived from the Greek pastime called Ostrakinda, played by the boys of ancient Greece. Having procured a shell, they smeared it over with pitch on one side and left the other side white. A boy tossed up this shell, and his antagonist called white or black (In the Greek, nux kai hemera, that is, 'night or day') as he thought proper, and his success was determined by the white or black part of the shell being uppermost.

In Italy this game is called Testa o croce, in Spain Cara o cruz and in Catalonia the game is called Cara o Creu (all "head or cross"). In Germany the game is called Kopf oder Zahl ("head or number", because the other side shows the coin's value). In Latvia the game is called Cipars vai ģerbonis ("number or the coat of arms"). In Ireland it is usually called Heads or Harps, since the reverse side of Irish coins (both Euro and the former currency, the Irish punt) always shows a harp. In Brazil, it is called Cara ou Coroa ("face or crown"). On Brazilian coins, one of the sides are called "Cara" (marked with a face); the other side is called "Coroa" (crown, or another symbol). In Mexico it is called Aguila o Sol (Eagle or Sun). In Peru it is called Cara o Sello ("face or seal", because the other side shows the Great Seal of the State). In Russia it is called Орёл или ре́шка (Oryól ili réshka - eagle, or another symbol), similar in Polandorzeł i reszka. In Hong Kong, it is called 公定字 ("Head or word"). On Hong Kong coins, the obverse side of the coin are words that describe the value of the coin. The reverse side, however, is a flower, but Hong Kong citizens still use the term "head" to call the game. In Norway kron denotes the side that shows the kings profile, while mynt is the side that showns the coins value. Swedes use krona eller klave ("crown or hoof"), as old Swedish coinage depicted the regent (or the insignia of the regent) on the obverse (the word "crown" often being used to mean the king), and a highly stylized heraldic shield, reminding people of a hoof, on the reverse. In Israel the game is called Ets o Pally ("tree or Pally"). This name originates in the time of the British Mandate of Palestine when the coins bore the value of the coin with an olive branch on one side and the name Palestine on the other. Today Pally usually refers to the value side of the Israeli coins, while Ets refers to the other side.

Other variations

2 person adaptations

Same or Different

Same or Different is a two person game in which a player tries to guess if two coin flips will be the same or different. The First person flips and then reviles whether they have heads or tails. The second person calls “same” or “different” and flips their coin. If the second person is correct he/she wins (often the stakes in this game are the coins used for flipping), and if the guess was incorrect, the opponent wins. This game is often played with the call (same or different) being made before the coins are tossed, and the two player toss at the same time. This game is most often played with quarters.


Most is a two player game in which one player tries to guess the most common result of multiple coin tosses. This game has two player positions; a thrower and a caller. The thrower tosses up any odd number of coins (usually an amount less then 10 for ease of counting) and the caller tries to guess the most common face prior to the throw. If the guess is correct, the caller wins, and if the guess is incorrect, the thrower wins.

3 or more persons

Odd Man Out

Called Odd man out or simply “flipping” this game is played with multiple people, all with coins. Everyone flips their coins at the same time, and compare. If all of the coins but one match (for example one coin shows heads and the rest show tails), the person with the mismatched coin is called the odd man out and loses the game. Coins are flipped again and again until there is an odd man out, who has to pay all of the other players a predetermined amount. Odd Man Out is often played in offices for a cup of coffee or a soda form the vending machine. After the first few flips it is common for new rules to be added to make the game go faster. Rules usually eliminate the players with the most common face showing (for example, a person would call “most out” and on next flip if heads is the most common face shown, all players with heads are eliminated.) and this process is repeated until there is only one player left. That player has lost the game.

Baisch Rules

The Baisch rules are a standard set of rules for odd man out. The rules were created for playing in an office. The common bet is soda from a vending machine. The rules are as follows:

  • Each player must have a coin with an easily identifiable head and tail side.
  • All players are assembled before a game starts, and no new players can join after the first flip.
  • Flips are conducted simultaneously by placing the coin on one’s hand and “flipped” into the air using the thumb. The coin must make several rotations before being caught by the flipper. Once caught the coin is immediately placed on ones arm or a nearby surface. There is no penalty for dropping the coin.
  • After a flip, each person calls out their result (heads or tails), and the process (steps 3 to 4) is repeated until there is a common face shared by all but one person. The person with the non-matching face is the “odd man out” and must pay the predetermined amount.
  • If on the fifth flip there is no odd man out, a rule called the “elimination” rule is invoked. After each flip, players determine the most common face (from the results of that flip) and players with the most common face are eliminated. If there is an equal amount of heads and tails, the coins are re-flipped. Players continue flipping until there is an odd man out, or there are only two players left. Eliminated players are still in the game, and are considered to have “locked in” their win.
  • If all but two players are eliminated, two players flip until one of them has gotten the “determining face” and the other has not. The determining face is the coin face that was least common on the last elimination flip (the flip that eliminated all but two players). The player who has flipped the determining face has lost the game, and must pay all other players the determined winning amount.
  • Winning players request the type of soda they want, or may request the dollar amount of the soda. A player may not request soda from a far away vending machine.

See also

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