What's the time, Mr Wolf?

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What's the time, Mr Wolf?
Players 3 or more
Setup time <1 minute
Playing time No limit
Random chance Low
Skill(s) required Running, strategy, endurance, time-keeping, bravery, tenacity

What's the time, Mr Wolf? (also known as What time is it, Mr Wolf?, Grandma's Footsteps,[1] 1 2 3 Piano in Belgium and in the United States What time is it, Mr. Fox?) is a form of tag played in Australia, Belgium, Canada, the English-speaking Caribbean, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

Because it needs attention skills, quick reactions, and working memory for the 'it' child, it is recommended by Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child to assist in developing executive function skills for children aged 5 to 7.[2]

Basic rules[edit]

One player is chosen to be Mr Wolf. Mr Wolf stands at the opposite end of the playing field from the other players, facing away from them. A call-and-response then takes place: all players except for Mr Wolf chant in unison "What's the time, Mr Wolf?", and Mr Wolf will answer in one of the two ways:

  1. Mr Wolf may call a clock time (e.g., "3 o'clock"). The other players will then take that many steps, counting them aloud as they go ("One, two, three"). Then they ask the question again.
  2. Mr Wolf may call "Dinner time!"/"Lunch Time", when Mr Wolf will turn around and chase the other players back to their starting point. If Mr Wolf successfully tags a player, that player becomes the new Mr Wolf for the next round.


It is not uncommon for Mr Wolf to be allowed to look around at the other players, before answering the question; especially if there is a rule involving penalties applied to Mr Wolf if a player reaches him before "Dinner time" is called.

There is also a simpler version of the game where Mr Wolf faces the other players, who must remain stationary until "Dinner time" is called. If any player moves on a time of day being called, that player becomes Mr Wolf.

In another version, Mr Wolf holds a dandelion seed head and blows on it. The other players dance around him/her, taunting him "What's the time, Mr Wolf?" After each blow, Mr Wolf calls out "1 o'clock", "2 o'clock" etc. until all the seed head has been blown away. Then, he calls out "Dinner time!" and chases the other players to tag them before they can claim sanctuary at pre-designated points called "Bar". The players claim "Bar" by yelling out "B - A - R Bar" and touching the safety point. The skill is in deciding when the seed head is going to be completely blown away, as the players cannot run away until this happens. It could happen after one blow by Mr Wolf, or several. The first player tagged becomes Mr Wolf for the next round of the game.

This game can also be played on a hopscotch court. The players chant "What's the time Mr Wolf" and the wolf replies with a time. The players hop that number of spaces forwards on the hopscotch court. If Mr Wolf answers with "It's dinner time" the players try to run back to the beginning of the hopscotch court before they are caught by Mr Wolf.

Similar games include Lupo Delle Ore in Italy, and Captain Midnight in the United States, in which everyone has to start running at midnight. The game also bears some resemblance to Red light, green light and Dahrumasan ga koronda.

Another variant of this game which has become popular is "Mr Shark, Mr Shark, what time is it?" The big difference is that this game is played in a swimming pool, lake, or other swimming area. When Lunch Time is called the player may try running through the water or swimming to get away from the shark.

A variant also exists in which the tagged players become wolves themselves, helping to tag the other players. The original wolf, however, still calls the numbers.

The variant played in the Low Countries, consists of one player at one end of the playfield with his back to the other players. He then calls out "1 2 3 piano!", whilst knocking three times on the wall in front of him. As he calls out, the other players are allowed to move towards him. Once the call is finished, the player quickly turns around. The other players then need to stand as still as possible. If the caller can spot someone moving, he can send that player back to the start. This is repeated until someone is able to tap the caller without being spotted.

Popular culture[edit]

In music[edit]

In print[edit]

  • The game has inspired children's books with this and similar titles. One was published in 2003 and illustrated by Annie Kubler (ISBN 085953944X), a second, published in 2007, was written and illustrated by Gemma Raynor (ISBN 1845392779). Harcourt published What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile (2002), written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Doug Cushman.
  • The game is referenced as part of an assortment of life sized games in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again” (2011) by (Frank Cottrell Boyce). In this charming sequel to “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; The Magical Car” (Ian Fleming), the game is mentioned as being ‘played with real wolves’ along with other games such as Snakes and Ladders ‘with real snakes’. The references to these games take place in scenes that introduce two important characters into the main flow of the story.

In television[edit]

  • In Line of Duty season 1, episode 5 (July 2012), DCI Gates (played by Lennie James) - knowing it's the last interaction they'll ever have - plays What's the time, Mr Wolf? with his daughters, in their grandmother's backyard.
  • On NCIS season 12 episode 3 (October 7th 2014), Ducky (played by David McCallum) mentioned he used to play this game with his best friend Angus as a child.

In film[edit]

  • The 1983 New Zealand film Utu, an historic drama depicting a Maori exacting revenge on English settlers in the 1870s, includes a scene where Maori leader Te Wheke beheads a vicar in a church, then places the bloodied head on the pulpit, saying the line "What's the time, Mr Wolf?"[4]


  1. ^ Trust and power: taking care of ourselves through drama, Penny Casdagli, p 65
  2. ^ "Executive Function Activities for 5- to 7-year-olds" (PDF). Center on the Developing Child. Retrieved 21 March 2017. 
  3. ^ Barry Thompson, "Time has come for Mr. Fox" Boston Herald, January 12, 2010
  4. ^ "Background - Making Utu - Television - NZ On Screen".